c.880. End of Ceolwulf's authority in Mercia
(Ealdorman) Æthelred succeeds to Mercia, under Alfred of Wessex

The length of Ceolwulf's reign is uncertain. A regnal list kept at Worcester (in the western half of Mercia, and so unaffected by the partition of 877) gives him a reign of five years, which would take it to 879. By 883 (according to S 218), Ealdorman Æthelred was in charge of Mercia, under the overall authority of King Alfred of Wessex. No contemporary sources explain how this came about, though the Viking army which settled in Cirencester in western Mercia for a year in 878/9 might have finally extinguished Ceolwulf's independent Mercian kingdom.

c.880. Alfred's second coinage reform

880. Army from Cirencester to East Anglia
Army settles in East Anglia and shares out the land

882. Alfred wins a naval battle against the Vikings

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in the 880s follows the career of the Viking army on the Continent, until its return in 892. The entry for 882 also notes that Alfred went out to sea and fought against four Viking ships, and he captured two of them and killed all who were on board, and the other two surrendered. A charter of 882 (S 345) notes that Alfred was also in this year on campaign (in expeditione) at Epsom in Surrey, quite possibly against another Viking incursion, but there are no further details.

883. English encamped against the enemy army at London

885. Viking army arrives, besieges Rochester
Alfred arrives and the Vikings flee (some overseas, some to Viking East Anglia)
East Anglians and new arrivals raid Benfleet in Essex
Alfred raids East Anglia

A part of the army that had gone to the Continent in 880 seems to have returned to England in this year and besieged Rochester. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that the city held out until Alfred came with his army, at which point the Vikings fled to their ships. The Chronicle implies they then went back over the sea, but Æthelweard's version of the Chronicle suggests that the army split again, and some went back over the sea and some stayed on, joining up with Guthrum's East Anglians, and the East Anglians and the newly-arrived Vikings attacked Benfleet in Essex. (The main Chronicle confirms that in this year the Viking army in East Anglia broke their truce with King Alfred.) Æthelweard goes on to say that then the new Vikings and the East Anglian Vikings fell out, and some (presumably the newcomers) went back over the sea. Æthelweard and the main Chronicle then agree that Alfred sent a fleet into East Anglia, which was defeated by the Vikings.

886. Alfred occupies London
All the English not under Viking control submit to him (Kingdom of the Anglo-Saxons?)
Alfred entrusts London to Ealdorman Æthelred of Mercia

890. Guthrum of Viking East Anglia dies

892. "Great Danish Army" returns from the Continent, in 250 ships
Hasteinn comes with 80 ships
Both armies make fortresses in Kent

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes that the "Great Danish Army" arrived with 250 ships in the estuary of the Lympne, and rowed four miles inland to the Weald, where they found and occupied a half-built fortress at Appledore. In the same year Hasteinn came with 80 ships up the Thames estuary and made a fortress at Milton. (This Hasteinn is perhaps identical with the Viking chief who was on the Loire in the late 860s and in 882.)

893-6. Northumbrians and East Anglians break truces and join forces with newly-arrived Vikings
Viking raids on remaining English areas
After three years of fighting, the English see off the new arrivals

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle gives a quite detailed account of the attacks and counter-attacks of these years, and it emerges clearly from this that the England faced by the Vikings in the 890s was very different from the walkover they faced in the 860s. They face well-organized resistance and armies gathered on at least one occasion from large parts of England and Wales, they are chased up and down the country and holed up in sieges, and so it is no surprise that in the summer of 896 they split up, some of them retreating into Viking-held Northumbria and East Anglia, and the others returning to the Continent.

The Chronicle starts by condemning the Northumbrians and East Anglians for siding with the Vikings, even though they had sworn oaths to King Alfred and the East Anglians at least had given hostages. Given that the Northumbrians and East Anglians concerned are presumably the remnants or the descendants of Halfdan's "Great Heathen Army" (which settled Northumbria in 876) and Guthrum's "Great Summer Army" (which settled East Anglia in 880), their loyalty to the newly-arrived Vikings is not surprising.

In 893, after the Vikings had occupied their fortresses in Kent (see 892), Alfred gathered his army and took up a position between the enemy forces, so that he could reach either army if they left their fortresses. What the chronicler only relates later in the annal is that Alfred seems also to have come to an agreement with Hasteinn at this point, by which Alfred gave Hasteinn rich gifts of money, and Hasteinn gave Alfred oaths and hostages, and Hasteinn's two sons were baptized with the sponsorship of Alfred and Ealdorman Æthelred. This was presumably done to make peace with Hasteinn's forces, but Hasteinn then took his army from Milton to Benfleet and ravaged the province. The Vikings at Appledore went on a long raid inland, as far as Wessex, and ravaged Hampshire and Berkshire. They returned, loaded with booty, which they wanted to take back to their ships, but they were cut off at Farnham in Surrey by an army led by Alfred's son, Edward the Elder. Edward's army recovered the spoils and put the Vikings to flight, and eventually caught up with them and besieged them.

Meanwhile, the Vikings of Northumbria and East Anglia gathered a fleet together and besieged Exeter and a fortress on the north coast of Devon. Alfred, who had been going to help besiege the Vikings cut off by his son, turned instead and took most of his army to Exeter, where he attacked the Vikings. Alfred sent part of his army on to London, where they gathered reinforcements and stormed and took Hasteinn's camp at Benfleet, and destroyed or captured all of the ships there. (Hasteinn was away on a raid.)

While Alfred was in Exeter, the other Viking armies assembled at Shoebury in Essex, and built a fortress there, and went up along the Thames, where they received reinforcements from the Northumbrians and East Anglians, and then continued along the Severn. At Buttington by the Severn they were met by the English, led by the ealdormen Æthelred (of Mercia) and Æthelhelm (of Wiltshire) and Æthelnoth (of Somerset), and comprising men from Wessex and Mercia and Wales (the Chronicle notes king's thegns from every fortress east of the Parret, and both west and east of Selwood, and also north of the Thames and west of the Severn). This combined English/Welsh force besieged the Vikings at Buttington for several weeks, starving them out until finally the Vikings had to emerge and they were defeated there by the English and the Welsh: the surviving Vikings fled back to Essex.

The Vikings regrouped in Essex, again collected a large army from Northumbria and East Anglia, placed their women and ships and property in Viking-held East Anglia, and travelled to the deserted city of Chester. The English army could not overtake them before they reached the fortress, but they did besiege the fortress and seize all the cattle outside and burn or consume all the corn in the surrounding districts, so that, as at Buttington, the Vikings were starved out and had to leave the fortification.

The annal for 894 begins with the Viking army leaving Chester and raiding Wales, and then returning from Wales through Northumbria and East Anglia (where the English army could not reach them) to eastern Essex. These Vikings then rowed up the Thames and up the Lea, where they built a fortress, 20 miles above London, and stayed the winter there.

The other Viking army, which had gathered from Northumbria and East Anglia and attacked Exeter and then been besieged by Alfred in 893, also went home this year. Though they stopped and tried to ravage in Sussex near Chichester on the way, the locals put them to flight and killed hundreds of them and captured some of their ships.

In the summer of 895 the English from London and elsewhere marched on the fortress of the Vikings by the Lea, but they were put to flight. In the autumn, though, Alfred camped his army nearby to contain the Vikings, and built two fortresses lower down the river Lea so that the Vikings could not get their ships back out. When the Vikings discovered this, they abandoned their ships and went overland to Bridgnorth on the Severn where they built a fortress. The English army rode after the Vikings, and the men of London (as before with Hasteinn's fleet at Benfleet in Essex) fetched the ships from the camp by the Lea, and destroyed the ones they could not bring away. The Vikings stayed the winter at Bridgnorth.

In the summer of 896, as noted at the beginning of this entry, the Vikings gave up their assaults, and some of them went into East Anglia and some into Northumbria, and the rest went south across the sea to the Seine.

896. Wessex raided from Viking East Anglia and Northumbria
Alfred orders the building of English "long ships"

Though the summer of 896 saw the departure of the Vikings who had come in 892, East Anglia and Northumbria were still Viking-held areas and marauding bands continued to harrass the south coast of Wessex. The Chronicle notes that they were still doing damage, mostly with the warships which they had built many years before, so Alfred ordered the building of bigger ships (almost twice as long as the Viking ships) to defeat them. These new ships were tested when a force of six Viking ships were harrying around the Isle of Wight, and Alfred sent nine of his new ships to contain them. The account of this local skirmish in the Chronicle is interesting because of the significant proportion of Frisians in the English force: casualty figures for one pitched battle record 62 "Frisians and English" and 120 Danes. Asser, in chapter 76 of his Life of King Alfred, mentions the Frisians among several other races who received a warm welcome at Alfred's court.

October 26, 899. Death of King Alfred
Succession of King Edward (the Elder)
Revolt of Æthelwold, son of Alfred's brother Æthelred

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes that Alfred died on October 26, and that his son Edward succeeded to the kingdom. However, the ætheling Æthelwold, son of Alfred's elder brother Æthelred (king of the West Saxons 865-71), refused to accept Edward's lordship and rode instead and seized royal residences at Wimborne (Dorset) and at Christchurch (Hants), against the will of the king. Edward took his army to Badbury near Wimborne, and Æthelwold barricaded himself within Wimborne with his men and a nun he had kidnapped, saying that he would live there or die there. The stage seems set for another set-piece of loyalty and heroism like the fights of Cynewulf and Cyneheard (see entry for 786), but instead Æthelwold fled by night and went to the Viking army in Northumbria, who accepted him as king and swore allegiance to him.

The earliest record of King Edward being called senior ("the Elder") is near the beginning of a Life of St Æthelwold from the end of the 10th century, presumably to distinguish him from the more recent King Edward (the Martyr, of 975-8).

M. Lapidge and M. Winterbottom (edd.), Wulfstan of Winchester: Life of St Æthelwold (Oxford: 1991), pp.2-3

901. Foundation of the New Minster, Winchester

We can deduce that the New Minster was founded in 901 from charters (S 365, 366, and 1443) and from an entry in the late version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (dated 903, but other events in that annal took place in 901). It seems clear that Edward intended the new foundation to look after the spiritual interests of his family: two of the initial charters (S 366 and 1443) mention this in general terms, while the third (S 365) notes that a grant of land is made on condition that prayers are said at the monastery every day for Edward, his father, and his ancestors.

For the first quarter of the 10th century, the New Minster also functioned as a royal mausoleum: Alfred's body was moved from its place in the Old Minster to the New Minster, Alfred's wife Ealhswith was buried at the New Minster on her death in 902, as were Edward's younger brother Æthelweard on his death in 920/922, Edward himself in 924, and Edward's son Ælfweard (also in 924). King Æthelstan preferred Malmesbury for royal burial in his reign, and the tradition was broken, but King Eadwig was also buried at the New Minster at his death in 959.

It may be that the New Minster, built not twenty feet from the Old Minster which had stood there since the West Saxon Cenwealh ordered its construction in the mid-7th century (see entry on 660), was also a tangible statement that Alfred and Edward were at the head of a new dynasty, kings of the Anglo-Saxons rather than just the West Saxons.

S. Keynes, "The West Saxon Charters of King Æthelwulf and His Sons", English Historical Review 109 (1994), pp.1109-49

S. Keynes, The Liber Vitae of the New Minster and Hyde Abbey, Winchester (Copenhagen: 1996)

S. Miller, Charters of the New Minster, Winchester (Oxford: 2001)

B. Yorke, "Æthelwold and the Politics of the Tenth Century", Bishop Æthelwold: His Career and Influence (Woodbridge: 1988), pp.65-88

901. Æthelwold, Æthelred's son, comes to Essex

Nothing is heard of Æthelwold between his revolt and flight to Northumbria at the end of 899 and his return south, in the fall of 901. There are Northumbrian coins in the name of Alvaldus from about this period: these may be coins of Æthelwold, which would corroborate the Chronicle's assertion that he was accepted as king by the Northumbrian Vikings (see Grierson and Blackburn, p.321).

P. Grierson and M. Blackburn, Medieval European Coinage, 1: The Early Middle Ages (5th-10th centuries) (Cambridge: 1986)

902. Æthelwold, with the East Anglians, harries Mercia and into Wessex
December 13, 902. Battle of the Holme: Edward defeats Æthelwold

In the fall of 902 Æthelwold induced the East Anglian Vikings to break the peace and they harried all over Mercia as far as Cricklade in Wiltshire. When Æthelwold and his forces crossed the Thames into Wessex and raided Braydon (also in Wiltshire), King Edward pursued them with his army, and harried Essex and East Anglia (or as the Chronicle puts it, "all their lands between the Dykes and the Ouse, as far north as the fens"). Then Edward tried to stage an orderly withdrawal, but the men of Kent lingered behind against his command. The Chronicle notes that Edward had sent seven messengers to them, which implies that, like Nelson much later, they were turning a blind eye... The Danish army overtook the men of Kent at the Holme (unidentified) and fought them there, and very many people were killed on both sides, including Æthelwold. (The Chronicle names the most important of the dead as the ealdormen Sigewulf and Sigehelm, the thegn Eadwold, abbot Cenwulf, Sigeberht Sigewulf's son, Eadwold Acca's son, and on the Danish side king Eohric, ætheling Æthelwold, Brihtsige son of the ætheling Beornoth, Ysopa and Oscetel.) Æthelweard in his Chronicle dates the battle to December 13. The Chronicle admits that the Danes won the victory, though more of them than of the English were killed, but the death of the rebel Æthelwold will have been the most important result of the battle as far as Edward was concerned.

It would be interesting to know more about Brihtsige son of the ætheling Beornoth: the name (alliterating on B- like the names of the 9th-century Mercian kings, Beornwulf and Beorhtwulf and Burgred) suggests that he might have been the son of a prince of the Mercians. It is possible that in the uncertainty of the disputed succession after Alfred the Mercians attempted to claim independence from Edward and his kingdom of the Anglo-Saxons: a Mercian charter of 901 (S 221) issued by Æthelred and Æthelflæd has somewhat grander titles than usual and makes no mention of Edward's overall authority. However, there is no clearer evidence of Mercian independence at this point (no coins have survivied in the names of Æthelred or Æthelflæd, for example), and by 903 they were appearing in charters very much as the subordinates of Edward (S 367).

906. Edward makes peace with the East Angles and the Northumbrians

Nothing is reported of English / Danish hostilities between the Battle of the Holme in December 902 and 906: that there were ongoing troubles is suggested by the fact that in 906 the Chronicle reports that Edward made peace at Tiddingford (Berks.) with the Northumbrians and the East Anglians. One version of the Chronicle notes that he did this "from necessity", a formula which suggests that Edward was hard-pressed and might even suggest the "making peace" of an earlier generation by paying for the East Anglians and Northumbrians to cease harrying. The "restoration" of Chester in the following year suggests that hostilities continued in spite of the peace, and it was in 909 that the campaigns which led to the reconquest of the Danelaw began.

907. Chester was restored

This is recorded in the Mercian annals incorporated into the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. No details are given of who restored it or from whom. Chester is described as deserted when the Vikings occupied it briefly in 894, but the English army starved them out. It may be that the inhabitants of the Danelaw recaptured Chester early in the 10th century, in the unrecorded battles which presumably led to Edward making peace with the East Angles and Northumbrians in 906.

909. Further subdivision of West Saxon bishoprics

For the earlier history of the West Saxon bishopric, see entry on 705, in which year the original see was split in two, Winchester and Sherborne. The further split of 909, which added the new sees of Ramsbury, Wells, and Crediton, is recorded in two documents of the later 10th century, dealing with disputes between the West Saxon see of Crediton and the neighbouring see of Cornwall (see EHD 229, and Whitelock, Councils & Synods, no. 35). The division can confidently be dated to 909, because new bishops are appointed to replace Denewulf of Winchester (who last appears in 908) and Asser of Sherborne (who dies in 909), and one of the new appointees, Frithestan of Winchester, first appears in 909.

Whitelock (ed.), Councils & Synods with Other Documents Relating to the English Church, I: 871-1066 (Oxford: 1981)

909. Edward sends a West Saxon and Mercian army to harry Northumbria

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes that Edward sent an army of West Saxons and Mercians to the territory of the northern army (i.e. Northumbria), and that they spent five weeks there, killing many of the Danes and their cattle.

It is noteworthy that Edward is commanding both the West Saxons and the Mercians: this lends substance to the claim that he was in overall charge of all of the Anglo-Saxons.

910. Northumbrians harry in Mercia
August 5/6, 910. Battle of Wednesfield/Tettenhall: West Saxons and Mercians defeat Northumbrians

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, conveniently ignoring Edward's campaign of the previous year, claims that the Northumbrians broke the peace and ravaged Mercia, and that Edward, who was in Kent at the time, sent an army of West Saxons and Mercians against them. Æthelweard gives more details, noting that the Northumbrians harried Mercia as far as the river Avon and the West Saxon border, that they then crossed the Severn into the west country, and were returning home with rich spoil and crossing back over the Severn at Bridgnorth when the troops of the Mercians and the West Saxons suddenly appeared against them. Battle was joined at Wednesfield (according to Æthelweard) or Tettenhall (according to the Chronicle; the two are only about four miles apart). The English won and killed very many of the Northumbrians ("many thousands of men", according to the Chronicle), and put the rest to flight. Æthelweard tells us the battle is said to have taken place on August 5, while one of the versions of the Chronicle prefers August 6.

A very important result of this battle is that the Northumbrian Danes remained north of the Humber from then on: there are no records of the Northumbrian Vikings becoming involved in southern battles until (presumably) Brunanburh in 937, which enabled Edward and his Mercian allies, Æthelred and Æthelflæd, to concentrate on the Danish armies south of the Humber.

910. Æthelflæd builds a fortress at Bremesbyrig (unidentified)

911. Death of Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes that in this year Ealdorman Æthelred of the Mercians died and Edward succeeded to London and Oxford and all the lands which had belonged to them. Although this is clearly a sign of Edward taking more direct control over the Mercian territories, it should be emphasized that he was king of the Anglo-Saxons (including the Mercians) from the beginning: coins were minted in his name, not those of Æthelred or Æthelflæd, and charters from as early as 903 (S 367) note explicitly that Æthelred and Æthelflæd hold the governance of the Mercians under the authority of Edward. (It may be worth noting though that the Mercian annals in the Chronicle mention Æthelred's death without mentioning Edward's succession to London and Oxford, and it is tempting -- especially in light of more pointed remarks in 918 -- to read Mercian dissatisfaction into this omission.)

November 11, 911. Edward orders fortress built at Hertford

The date is given in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle ("around Martinmas"). This fort would block the southern advance of East Anglian Danes from Bedford and Cambridge, and its position near the river Lea would place it near the camp where the Vikings wintered in 894/5.

912. Death of Eadwulf of Bamburgh
Ealdred, son of Eadwulf, succeeds to Bamburgh (?)

This is recorded by Æthelweard, and also by the Annals of Ulster, which call him "king of the North Saxons". The last known ruler of what was probably Bernicia before this was Ecgberht the second, whose accession Simeon of Durham reports in 876; Eadwulf presumably succeeded some years after that, but there is no way of knowing when. That the rulers of Bernicia were no longer the puppet-kings of the Northumbrian Vikings, as the first appointee Ecgberht had been in 867, is suggested from the comment in the History of St Cuthbert (extracts at EHD 6) that there was a warm friendship between Eadwulf and King Alfred.

912. Edward takes army to Essex, builds fortress at Witham, receives submissions from Essex
Æthelflæd builds fortresses at Scergeat and Bridgnorth

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes that in the summer Edward went with some of his forces to Maldon in Essex, and camped there while a fortress was built at Witham, and many of the people who had been under Danish rule submitted to him. Little is known of Essex since Benfleet there was used as a Viking base in the 893-6 campaign and Æthelwold landed there in 901, but from this context it seems likely that it fell under the control of the East Anglian Danes, and that 912 marks a stage of its recapture by the English. The fort at Witham would block the westwards advance of Danes from Colchester. Meanwhile, another part of Edward's army built a second fortress at Hertford.

The Mercian annals note that Æthelflæd built a fortress at Scergeat (unidentified), and another at Bridgnorth (which is where the Vikings had crossed the Severn in 910 before meeting the English at Wednesfield/Tettenhall).

913. Raiding parties from Northampton and Leicester
Æthelflæd builds fortresses at Tamworth and Stafford

The main Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, recording Edward's campaign, notes no fortress-building this year, but only the activities of armies from Northampton and Leicester which raided around Hook Norton and Luton. The people of the district defeated the raiding band and put them to flight and recaptured their booty.

Æthelflæd, meanwhile, built the fortress at Tamworth in the early summer, and another before August at Stafford. These fortresses would shore up the northeastern boundaries of English Mercia against the Danish armies in the Five Boroughs.

c.914. Battle of Corbridge: Ragnall defeats the Scots and the English Northumbrians

F. Wainwright, "The Submission to Edward the Elder", History, n.s., 27 (1952), 114-30

914. Viking fleet comes from Brittany, ravages in Wales and along the southwest
Edward builds fortresses at Buckingham, receives submissions from Bedford and Northampton

Æthelflæd builds fortresses at Eddisbury and Warwick

The Viking fleet from Brittany was led by two earls, Ohter and Hroald, and they arrived at the Severn estuary and ravaged in Wales and around the coast. They went inland into Herefordshire, but the men of Hereford and Gloucester and the nearest fortresses met them and put them to flight and killed Hroald and Ohter's brother, and besieged them until they gave hostages and promised to leave. After this, Edward arranged that men were stationed along the south side of the Severn estuary, to deter attacks. The Vikings nonetheless did manage twice to steal inland, once to Watchet and once to Porlock . On both occasions, however, they were caught and heavy casualties were inflicted. They were camped on the island of Steepholme, and they remained there until the autumn when they grew very short of food, at which point they went on to Dyfed, and from there to Ireland.

Also in the same year, before Martinmas (November 11), Edward stayed at Buckingham with his army, and built two fortresses there, and the Earl Thurcetel submitted to him there, as did the principal lords of Bedford and many of those at Northampton. Edward took his army to Bedford and occupied the borough and stayed there four weeks and ordered another fortress to be built there.

Æthelflæd meanwhile built a fortress at Eddisbury in the early summer (which would block raids into northern Mercia from the Mersey) and another at Warwick in the early autumn (another fortress, like Tamworth and Stafford, on the northeastern border of English Mercia, against the Five Boroughs).

915. Æthelflæd builds fortresses at Chirbury and at Weardburh and at Runcorn

The fort at Chirbury was on the Welsh / Mercian border, that at Weardburh is unidentified, and that at Runcorn, like that at Eddisbury, was presumably designed to block raids into northern Mercia from the Mersey.

916. Edward builds fortress at Maldon
Earl Thurcetel leaves England for France

The main Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes that Edward built the fortress at Maldon, and that Earl Thurcetel, who had submitted to Edward late in 914, went with his followers across the sea to France.

916. Æthelflæd sends an army into Wales, destroys Brecenanmere (Llangorse Lake, near Brecon)

The Mercian annals meanwhile reveal that Æthelflæd, in addition to dealing with the Danes, had conflicts with the Welsh. The innocent abbot Ecgberht was slain with his companions on June 16, presumably by the Welsh; in retaliation Æthelflæd sent an army into Wales three days later, and destroyed Brecenanmere (Llangorse Lake, near Brecon), and captured the king's wife and 33 others. These events, and the building of the fortress at Chirbury in 915, should perhaps be seen as parts of ongoing Welsh / English hostilities that are otherwise unrecorded -- like the English attack on Gwynedd in 878.

917. Edward builds fortresses at Towcester and Wigingamere
Much campaigning: Edward receives submissions of armies of Northampton, East Anglia, Cambridge
Æthelflæd takes the borough of Derby (one of the Five Boroughs)

In 917, before Easter, Edward ordered a fort built at Towcester (which would block the southern advance of Danes from Northampton), and another at Wigingamere (unidentified).

In the summer, the Danes of Northampton and Leicester and the area to the north stormed the new fort at Towcester but were repelled; they then successfully raided a less well-protected area, near Aylesbury. Meanwhile, the Danish army of Huntingdon and East Anglia built a fortress at Tempsford, some ten miles south of Huntingford, abandoning Huntingford because Tempsford was closer to the English border. The Danes of Tempsford attacked the nearby English fortress at Bedford, but were repulsed. Another Danish army from East Anglia and Mercia gathered, and attacked the fortress at Wigingamere, but were repulsed.

In the English counterattack, Edward gathered an army and attacked the Danish fortress at Tempsford and took it by storm, killing the king and Earl Toglos and his son, Earl Manna. Another English host assembled in the autumn from Kent, Surrey, and Essex and the nearest fortresses on all sides, and besieged the Danish fortress of Colchester and took that and killed all the people within.

In the autumn, an army of East Anglians and Vikings went to Maldon and attacked the fortress, but more English troops came from outside, and the Danes were put to flight. (This East Anglian army may have been fragmenting, since their king and many nobles had been killed at Tempsford.)

Shortly afterwards, in that same autumn, Edward brought the army of the West Saxons to Passenham, and stayed there while the fortress of Towcester was given a stone wall. Then Earl Thurferth submitted to him, as did the army of Northampton. The English army went on to restore the fortresses at Huntingdon and Colchester (abandoned by and taken from the Danes earlier in the year), and many of the people who had been under Danish rule in East Anglia and Essex submitted to him, as did the Danish army in East Anglia, and the army of Cambridge.

These decisive English victories are partly the result of the system of fortifications that had been perhaps a decade (counting from the restoration of Chester in 907) in the making, and partly also of the fact that the Danes were actually under attack from both sides. While Edward was holding the southward advance from the Five Boroughs and advancing westwards from East Anglia, his sister Æthelflæd took Derby, one of the Five Boroughs, and all that belonged to it. The Mercian annals report that this took place before Lammas (August 1).

918. Second Battle of Corbridge: Ragnall against the Scots and the English Northumbrians

918. Æthelflæd peacefully obtains control of Leicester and receives pledges from the people of York
Edward takes Stamford and Nottingham

In the first half of the year, Æthelflæd peacefully obtained control of Leicester (another of the Five Boroughs), and also received pledges from the people of York that they would be under her direction. It is not certain whether the "people of York" at this point were English or Danes or whether they were already a mixed people, but they seem to be displaying the political pragmatism seen among the Northumbrians of the 8th century and later in the mid-10th century. The submission to Æthelflæd was probably designed to gain a strong southern ally against the depradations of Ragnall and his Norse Vikings: if with Æthelflæd's help they could defend themselves more successfully against the Norse, then so be it. Very shortly after this, Æthelflæd died.

Also in the first half of 918, Edward took his army to Stamford, and started to build another fortress there, and Stamford submitted to him (third of the Five Boroughs to fall). On Æthelflæd's death Edward went back south to Tamworth (see next entry), but after that he came back and captured Nottingham and ordered it to be repaired and manned with both Englishmen and Danes. The Chronicle concludes that all the people who had settled in Mercia, both Danish and English, submitted to him. This implies that Edward also took Lincoln, the last of the Five Boroughs. However, the existence of a Viking coinage of Lincoln in the early 920s suggests either that Edward did not recapture Lincoln, or that it regained its independence almost immediately (see Grierson and Blackburn, p.323).

P. Grierson and M. Blackburn, Medieval European Coinage, 1: The Early Middle Ages (5th-10th centuries) (Cambridge: 1986)

June 12, 918. Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, dies at Tamworth
Edward occupies Tamworth, receives submissions of all the English Mercians (and some Welsh kings)
December 918. Ælfwyn, Æthelflæd's daughter, taken into Wessex

On June 12, 918, Æthelflæd died at Tamworth, seven years after the death of her husband Æthelred in 911. The Mercian annals note that this was in the eighth year in which with lawful authority she was holding dominion over the Mercians, and that she was buried at Gloucester. They continue in their next annal that three weeks before Christmas, Ælfwyn, daughter of Æthelred, lord of the Mercians, was deprived of all authority in Mercia and taken into Wessex.

The main body of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (or what can more properly be called the West Saxon version) states only that Edward's sister Æthelflæd died and that Edward occupied Tamworth and all the Mercians who had been subject to Æthelflæd submitted to him, as did also three Welsh kings, Hywel, Clydog and Idwal. As far as West Saxon observers were concerned, Æthelflæd was to be the last separate ruler of Mercia.

It is clear from several sources that Edward was in overall charge of both Wessex and Mercia in the first twenty years of the 10th century, and the change in 918 was not so much Edward taking over Mercia as Edward removing an intermediate level of government between himself and his Mercian subjects. Edward commanded armies of West Saxons and Mercians in 909 and 910; he seems to have issued coins in his own name throughout Wessex and Mercia (no coins survive in the names of Æthelred and Æthelflæd); the charters make clear that Æthelred and Æthelflæd hold their power under Edward's authority (e.g. S 367 of 903).

However, the references to Æthelflæd's "legitimate authority" and Ælfwyn being "deprived of all authority" in the Mercian annals make it equally clear that at least one Mercian observer expected that the Mercians would keep their own governor. It is most unfortunate that no royal diplomas survive from the period, so we have no evidence of whether Ælfwyn ever exercised authority in Mercia. A charter from the second half of 918 in Ælfwyn's name, witnessed by the members of her court, might offer a fascinating glimpse into the politics of the period. (The West Saxon version of the Chronicle, which states that all the Mercians submitted to Edward shortly after Æthelflæd's death, implies that the West Saxons would see any attempt by Ælfwyn to issue charters in her own name as a revolt -- but the way the Mercian annals suggest that Ælfwyn was deprived of authority may suggest the attempt was made.)

The most tantalizing question about Mercian politics in 918 is what part was taken by Edward's son Æthelstan. Pre-Conquest sources tell us little about Æthelstan's upbringing, but the 12th-century William of Malmesbury notes that he was brought up at the court of Æthelred and Æthelflæd. If this is so, he may have played a key part in these events, either for Edward or for Ælfwyn, and his actions here might well relate to his own apparently problematic succession in 924/5.

918. Edward builds and occupies a fortress at Thelwall (Cheshire)
Edward orders a Mercian army to occupy and repair the fortress at Manchester in Northumbria

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle puts these events "after autumn", so towards the end of 918. Edward takes the army to Thelwall (the new fortress is just northeast and east of Æthelflæd's fortresses of Runcorn and Eddisbury, defending the northern border of Mercia), and orders a Mercian army to go farther northeast (this time north of the Mersey) to build another fortress at Manchester. The Danelaw south of the Humber may have been almost entirely under Edward's control, but the Norse Vikings north of the Humber were still a threat, as Ragnall's storming of York in 919 and Sihtric's storming of Davenport in Cheshire in 920 would make clear.

919. Ragnall takes York

920. Edward takes army north and builds second fortress at Nottingham, and another at Bakewell
The Scots, Ragnall, the sons of Eadwulf, all the Northumbrians, and the Strathclyde Britons submit to Edward

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes that Edward built this second fortress at Nottingham before midsummer (he had taken the existing fortress from the Danes in 918), and a bridge across the Trent between the two fortresses. Then he took his army to Bakewell in the Peak District, built another fortress, and received the general submission of the people of the north, who "chose him as father and lord". The Chronicle mentions the king of the Scots, all the people of the Scots, Ragnall (the Norse Viking), the sons of Eadwulf and all the Northumbrians, English and Danish, Norsemen and others, and the king of the Strathclyde Welsh and all the Strathclyde Welsh. While a peace may have been agreed, the fact that Ragnall's brother Sihtric was issuing coins in his own name in the 920s (see CTCE p.107) shows that the agreement of 920 did not give Edward effective control of the north.

C. Blunt, I. Stewart, S. Lyon, Coinage in Tenth-Century England (Oxford: 1989)

920. Ragnall dies
Sihtric, Ragnall's brother, takes over York
Sihtric takes Davenport in Mercia

921. Edward builds a fortress at Cledemutha (the mouth of the Clwyd in Cheshire?)

July 17, 924. Edward dies
Ælfweard, Edward's son, succeeds (in Wessex?)
August 924. Ælfweard dies
Æthelstan, Edward's son, succeeds
September 4, 925. Æthelstan's coronation

Pulling together information from several pre-Conquest sources we can say that Edward died on July 17, 924, at Farndon in Mercia. His son Ælfweard was recognized as king at least in Winchester (the Liber Vitae of the New Minster at Winchester calls him king, and one version of the West Saxon regnal list includes his reign), but he died either 16 days or 4 weeks later (either way, in the first half of August 924). Both Edward and Ælfweard were buried at the New Minster. No version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle mentions Ælfweard's kingship: the West Saxon branch says only that Edward died and Æthelstan succeeded, while the Mercian annals say that Edward died, Ælfweard died shortly after (without suggesting that Ælfweard was king), the Mercians chose Æthelstan as king, and he was consecrated at Kingston. A charter issued on the day of Æthelstan's coronation gives us the date, September 4, 925 (S 394).

The puzzle in all this is why was the coronation delayed for over a year, from Ælfweard's death in August 924 until September 925? Pre-Conquest sources shed no light on this problem, so later sources must be cautiously invoked. From William of Malmesbury's writings in the 12th century come hints that the delay should be seen in terms of a division between the Mercians and the West Saxons.

First of all, William adds the detail that Edward died shortly after putting down an English and British revolt in Chester (in Mercian territory; Farndon, where the Mercian annals report Edward died, is nearby). Unfortunately the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is blank for the last three years of Edward's reign, so there is no contemporary corroboration of this revolt, but in view of the apparent resentment in the Mercian annals of the treatment of Ælfwyn in 918, a Mercian revolt is plausible. (Another reason for revolt might be the reorganization of western Mercia into shires, which it has been suggested took place in the last years of Edward's reign, after his assertion of direct control over Mercia in 918; see Gelling, p.141. These new boundaries ran rough-shod over the older divisions of Mercia, and the rearrangement would probably have caused at least as much outrage in the 10th as it did in the 20th century.)

William also notes that Æthelstan was brought up at the court of Æthelred and Æthelflæd. This might have made him more acceptable as a ruler to the Mercians, though this might well depend on what part he played (if any) in the suppression of Ælfwyn in 918 and the Mercian revolt at Chester in 924 (if this really happened). If he had sided with the Mercians against his father on either occasion, it might also have made him less acceptable as a ruler to the West Saxons. That some of the West Saxons did object to Æthelstan is suggested by William's note that there was a conspiracy, led by a certain Alfred, to have Æthelstan blinded at Winchester. William reports that Alfred's conspiracy was based on the assertion that Æthelstan was illegitimate, the son of a concubine. This suggests that there may have been a faction, based perhaps at Winchester, which favoured the accession of Ælfweard's brother Edwin after Ælfweard's death in August 924. (According to William of Malmesbury, Ælfweard and Edwin were sons of Edward and Ælfflæd, while Æthelstan was the son of Edward and Ecgwynn.)

Perhaps the Mercians chose Æthelstan as king immediately after Ælfweard's death in August 924, and the West Saxons chose Edwin, and it was the resolution of this conflict that delayed the coronation. (The only document of Æthelstan's reign witnessed by Edwin is a charter of the New Minster of Winchester, S 1417, which may strengthen the case that support for Ælfweard and Edwin was based at Winchester.) Edwin lived on until 933, when he was driven abroad by troubles in the kingdom and died at sea; later legend (perhaps inevitably) suggested that Æthelstan was somehow to blame.

D. Dumville, "The West Saxon Genealogical Regnal List: Manuscripts and Texts", Anglia 104 (1986), pp.1-32 [for Ælfweard see p.29]

M. Gelling, The West Midlands in the Early Middle Ages (Leicester: 1992)

B. Yorke, "Æthelwold and the Politics of the Tenth Century", Bishop Æthelwold: His Career and Influence (Woodbridge: 1988), pp.65-88

January 30, 926. Æthelstan and Sihtric of Northumbria meet at Tamworth

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes this meeting, and states that Æthelstan gave Sihtric his sister in marriage. This attempt to ensure peace with Northumbria came to nothing because Sihtric died the following year.

927. Sihtric of Northumbria dies
Guthfrith succeeds to Northumbria, but is driven out by Æthelstan

Sihtric's death is recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. One manuscript goes on to say that Æthelstan succeded him without mentioning any other claimants, while another notes that Æthelstan drove out a King Guthfrith. Sihtric left a son, Olaf Cuaran, who would return to seize York after Æthelstan's death in 939. Guthfrith was Sihtric's brother and Olaf's uncle, and after being expelled from York by Æthelstan went back to being king of Dublin.

R. Mynors and others, William of Malmesbury: Gesta Regum Anglorum (Oxford: 1998)

A. Smyth, Scandinavian York and Dublin (Dublin: 1975-8)

July 12, 927. Æthelstan's great meeting at Eamont
Æthelstan's title becomes Rex Anglorum, King of the English

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that in this year Æthelstan succeeded to Northumbria, and that he brought under his rule all the kings of the island, Hywel of the West Welsh, Constantine of the Scots, Owain of Gwent, and Ealdred, son of Eadwulf of Bamburgh. At a meeting at Eamont (in Cumbria) on 12 July they made peace with pledge and oaths. William of Malmesbury in the 12th century mentions a meeting at Dacre where Constantine of the Scots and Owain of Strathclylde pledged peace to Æthelstan, so it may be that Owain of Strathclyde should be added to the Eamont list (GRA, ii.134.2).

Michael Lapidge has demonstrated that a Latin poem about Æthelstan, the Carta Dirige Gressus, was composed in the immediate aftermath of the council at Eamont (see Lapidge, pp. 90-93). The poem agrees with the triumphal tone of the Chronicle entry, noting that England was now "made whole" (perfecta Saxonia), and there are other indications that the victory of 927 was seen as a turning point. Æthelstan's coins after 927 often bear an abbreviation of the style Rex Totius Britanniae, "King of the Whole of Britain", and coins in Æthelstan's name are minted all over the country, including Northumbria. Charters also show the change to the perfecta Saxonia: the king's style changed from the Rex Angul-Saxonum, "King of the Anglo-Saxons", used by Alfred and Edward and Æthelstan in his earliest years and implying rule over the West Saxons and the Mercians, to the simpler Rex Anglorum, "King of [all] the English". In the early 930s, the style expanded to "King of the English and by Grace of God Leader of all Britain". The witness-lists of some charters from 928 to 935 include the attestations of Welsh and Scottish rulers (Hywel Dda of Dyfed, Idwal of Gwynedd, Constantine of the Scots), who appear as sub-kings (subreguli) of Æthelstan.

C. Blunt, "The coinage of Athelstan, 924-939", British Numismatic Journal 42 (special vol., 1974), pp.35-160

M. Lapidge, "Some Latin poems as evidence for the reign of Athelstan", Anglo-Saxon England 9 (1981), pp.61-98

R. Mynors and others, William of Malmesbury: Gesta Regum Anglorum (Oxford: 1998)