daning in the dark

6

Well who is [good enough for Rory]? A prince maybe. One that’s in line to be king. You know, not one of those waiting for a brother to die ones, but a real one.

On this day in 871 the Battle of Marton takes place.

Æthelred of Wessex was forced (along with his brother Alfred) into retreat following their pyrrhic victory against an army of Danish invaders at the Battle of Ashdown . The King had retreated to Basing in Hampshire, where he was again forced to battle, but this time defeated by the Great Heathen Army under the command of Ivar the Boneless.

It was the last of eight battles known to be fought by Æthelred against the Danes that year, and the defeated King is reported to have died on 15 April 871. Whether he died in battle, or as a result of wounds suffered in battle, is unclear. The site of the battle is unknown. Suggestions include Marden in Wiltshire or Martin in Dorset. The more westerly locations tend to be favoured because King Ethelred was buried in Wimborne Minster in Dorset shortly afterwards.

On the death of his brother, Alfred, succeeded to the throne of Wessex and inherited the burden of its defence. This was in despite of the fact that Æthelred left two under-age sons, Æthelhelm and Æthelwold. This was in accordance with the agreement that Æthelred and Alfred had made earlier that year in an assembly at Swinbeorg. The brothers had agreed that whichever of them outlived the other would inherit the personal property of their father, King Æthelwulf.

Many of the Anglo-Saxon kings subsequently began to capitulate to the Viking demands, and handed over land to the invading Norse settlers. In 876, the Northumbrian monarch Healfdene gave up his lands to them, and in the next four years they gained further land in the kingdoms of Mercia and East Anglia as well. King Alfred continued his conflict with the invading forces, but was driven back into Somerset in the south-west of his kingdom in 878.

Here the fugitive King was forced to take refuge and, among the marches of Athelney, Alfred had his rendezvous with fate, or, more precisely, some cakes…