Tag: Longships

The Battle of Buttington

The Battle of Buttington was fought, in 893, between a Viking army and an alliance of Anglo-Saxons and Welsh.

The annals, for 893, reported that a large Viking army had landed in the Lympne Estuary, Kent and a smaller force had landed in the Thames estuary under the command of Danish king Hastein. These were reinforced by ships from the settled Danes of East Anglia and Northumbria, some of this contingent sailed round the coast to besiege a fortified place (known as a burh) and Exeter, both in Devon. The English king Alfred the Great, on hearing of Exeter’s demise led all his mounted men to relieve the city. He left his Æthelred, Lord of the Mercians and ealdormen Æthelhelm, Æthelnoth, and others in charge of defending various towns and cities from the rest of the Viking army.

The king’s thegns managed to assemble a great army consisting of both Saxons and Welsh. The combined army laid siege to the Vikings who had built a fortification at Buttington. After several weeks the starving Vikings broke out of their fortification only to be beaten by the combined English and Welsh army with many of the Vikings being put to flight.

The Kingdom of Wessex.

Viking raids began in England in the late 8th century. The raiding continued on and off until the 860s, when instead of raiding the Viking changed their tactics and sent a great army to invade England. This army was described by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as a “Great Heathen Army“. Alfred defeated the Great Heathen Army at the Battle of Edington in 878. A treaty followed whereby Alfred ceded an enlarged East Anglia to the Danes.

After Edington, Alfred reorganised the defences of Wessex, he built a navy and a standing army. He also built a series of fortified towns, known as burhs that ringed Wessex. To maintain the burhs, and the standing army, he set up a taxation system known as the Burghal Hidage. Viking raids still continued but his defences made it difficult for the Vikings to make progress. As the political system in Francia (part of modern day France) was in turmoil the Vikings concentrated their efforts there as the raiding was more profitable.

By late 892 the leadership in Francia had become more stable and the Vikings were finding it difficult to make progress there too, so they again attempted a conquest of England. In 893 two hundred and fifty ships landed an army in the Lympne Estuary in Kent where they built a fortification at Appledore. A smaller force of eighty ships under Hastein, landed in the Thames estuary before entrenching themselves at Milton, also in Kent.

The invaders brought their wives and children with them, indicating a meaningful attempt at conquest and colonisation. Alfred took up a position from which he could observe both of the Viking armies. The Vikings were further reinforced with 240 ships, that were provided by the Danes of East Anglia and Northumbria who had settled there after the wars of the 860s and 870s. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says that they did it “contrary to [their] pledges.”

At some point Alfred’s army captured Hastein’s family. The annals report that Alfred was in talks with Hastein, but do not say why. Horspool speculates that it may well be to do with Hastein’s family, however while the talks were going on, the Danes at Appledore broke out and struck northwestwards. They were overtaken by Alfred’s eldest son, Edward, and were defeated in a general engagement at Farnham in Surrey. They took refuge on an island at Thorney, on Hertfordshire’s River Colne, where they were blockaded and were ultimately forced to submit. The force fell back on Essex and, after suffering another defeat at Benfleet, joined Hastein’s army at Shoebury.

Alfred had been on his way to relieve his son at Thorney when he heard that the Northumbrian and East Anglian Danes were besieging Exeter and an unnamed burh on the North Devon shore. Alfred at once hurried westward and when he arrived at Exeter, the Danes took to their ships. The siege of Exeter was lifted but the fate of the unnamed North Devon burh is not recorded.

Meanwhile, the force under Hastein set out to march up the Thames Valley, possibly with the idea of assisting their friends in the west. But they were met by the Western army that consisted of West Saxons, Mercians and some Welsh, it was led by three eldermen namely Æthelred the Lord of the Mercians, Æthelhelm the Ealdorman of Wiltshire and Æthelnoth the Ealdorman of Somerset.

The chronicle says that they “were drawn from every burh east of the Parret; both west and east of Selwood, also north of the Thames and west of the Severn as well as some part of the Welsh people”. Æthelred although a Mercian was married to Alfred’s daughter and thus as his son in law was able to cross the borders of Wessex in pursuit of Vikings. The combined Anglo-Saxon and Welsh army forced the Vikings to the northwest, where they were finally overtaken and besieged at Buttington.

Siege and battle

Battle of Buttington – A map of places named in the Burghal Hidage.

The western English army came up the River Severn, and besieged all sides of the fortification (at Buttington) where the Vikings had taken refuge. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says that “after many weeks had passed, some of the heathen [Vikings] died of hunger, but some, having by then eaten their horses, broke out of the fortress, and joined battle with those who were on the east bank of the river. But, when many thousands of pagans had been slain, and all the others had been put to flight, the Christians [English] were masters of the place of death. In that battle the most noble Ordheah and many of the king’s thegns were killed.”

Depiction of a typical Viking fortified town.

The annals say that the Vikings came up the Severn from the Thames making the most likely candidate for the location of the battle as present-day Buttington, Welshpool in the county of Powys, Wales. Another place that has been suggested is Buttington Tump at the mouth of the River Wye, where it flows into the Severn but this is seen as less likely.

The Vikings who had taken to their ships after Alfred’s arrival, at Exeter, sailed along the south coast and attempted to raid Chichester, a burh according to the Burghal Hidage, manned by 1500 men. The chronicle says that the citizens “put many [Vikings] to flight and killed hundreds of them and captured some of their ships”.

According to the Anglo-Saxon historian Æthelweard writing nearly a hundred years later, “Hastein made a rush with a large force from Benfleet, and ravaged savagely through all the lands of the Mercians, until he and his men reached the borders of the Welsh; the army stationed then in the east of the country gave them support, and the Northumbrian one similarly. The famous Ealdorman Æthelhelm made open preparation with a cavalry force, and gave pursuit together with the western English army under the generalship of Æthelnoth. And King Æthelred of the Mercians was afterwards present with them, being at hand with a large army.”

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The Battle of Niså, the Invasion of Demark by Norwegian king Harald Hardrada

Battle of Niså – king Harald Hardrada aboard his Longship during his attempt to invade Denmark.

The Battle of Niså (Slaget ved Niså) was a naval battle fought on 9 August 1062 between the forces of Norwegian king Harald Hardrada and king Sweyn II of Denmark.

Harald had claimed the Danish throne since 1047, and had launched raids into Denmark ever since. With his invasion in 1062, he wanted to decisively defeat the Danes, and thus finally be able to conquer Denmark. The battle was won clearly by the Norwegians, but since many Danes managed to escape, including Sweyn, it proved indecisive in Harald’s attempt to conquer Denmark.

When Harald became the sole king of Norway in 1047, he also claimed the Danish throne, despite that his predecessor and co-ruler Magnus the Good (king of Norway and Denmark) had appointed Sweyn Estridsen as his successor in Denmark. Since 1048, Harald launched raids into Denmark almost annually, attempting to force Sweyn out of the country. Although the raids were largely successful, Harald never managed to occupy Denmark. With the invasion in 1062, he sought to gain a decisive victory over Sweyn.

Harald Hardrada – the last of the ‘great Vikings’ who invaded England in 1066 AD.

According to the Icelandic saga writer Snorri Sturluson, the battle had been preassigned a time and place, but Sweyn did not appear as agreed. Harald thus sent home his non-professional ships and soldiers, the “peasant army” (bóndaherrin), which had made up around half of his forces. When the ships were out of sight, Sweyn finally appeared and engaged Harald’s fleet. With his own so-called drekanum ship in the middle, Harald tied his ships together in order to prevent gaps in the line. He placed earl Haakon Ivarsson and his forces from Trøndelag on the flanks. Sweyn used the same tactic, but unlike Harald had his own earl Finn Arnesson placed right next to himself, instead of on the flanks. The battle commenced in the evening, and lasted through the night.

The History Channel show ‘Vikings’ naval battle between the Vikings and the Franks gives a good representation of how the Vikings prepared for and conducted naval battles (see video above).

The two sides were evenly matched for a long time into the battle, until Haakon disengaged his ships from the flanks and started attacking the weakened Danish ships on the flanks. Sweyn had no similar reserve force, and his fleet was defeated by dawn, with 70 ships left “empty” and the remainder retreating.

While Finn Arnesson fought until he was captured, Sweyn jumped into the water and was rescued by his former ally Haakon (albeit unknowingly to Harald). Haakon was after the battle universally recognized, including by Harald, as the hero of the battle, but when his treachery in rescuing Sweyn was discovered he fell into disfavour (even though Haakon claimed Sweyn had been in disguise, and that he had not recognized it was him).

Sweyn II King of Denmark 1047-1074.

Aftermath

Although Harald won the battle, the victory was not decisive since many Danish ships and men had managed to escape, including Sweyn. Denmark’s economic and social fabric had been destroyed by the yearly raids, but the lengthy war had also taken its toll in Norway. After the Battle of Niså, Harald had trouble collecting taxes in the Uplands, and probably also in other areas. In 1064, Harald finally offered Sweyn unconditional peace without reparations or loss of land, and the two kings concluded peace.

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The Viking Siege of Paris (885-886)

The Siege of Paris of 885–886 was part of a Viking raid on the Seine, in the Kingdom of the West Franks. The siege was the most important event of the reign of Charles the Fat, and a turning point in the fortunes of the Carolingian dynasty and the history of France.

It also proved to the Franks the strategic importance of Paris, at a time when it also was one of the largest cities in France. The siege is the subject of an eyewitness account in the Latin poem Bella Parisiacae urbis of Abbo Cernuus.

With hundreds of ships, and possibly tens of thousands of men, the Vikings arrived outside Paris in late November 885, at first demanding tribute. This was denied by Odo, Count of Paris, despite the fact that he could assemble only a couple of hundred soldiers to defend the city. The Vikings attacked with a variety of siege engines, but failed to break through the city walls after some days of intense attacks. The siege was upheld after the initial attacks, but without any significant offence for months after the attack. As the siege went on, most of the Vikings left Paris to pillage further upriver. The Vikings made a final unsuccessful attempt to take the city during the summer, and in October, Charles the Fat arrived with his army.

To the frustration of the Parisians who had fought for a long time to defend the city, Charles stopped short of attacking the Viking besiegers, and instead allowed them to sail further up the Seine to raid Burgundy (which was in revolt), as well as promising a payment of 700 livres (257 kg) of silver. Odo, highly critical of this, tried his best to defy the promises of Charles, and when Charles died in 888, Odo was elected the first non-Carolingian king of the Franks.

Although the Vikings had attacked parts of Francia previously, they reached Paris for the first time in 845, eventually sacking the city. They attacked Paris three times more in the 860s, leaving only when they had acquired sufficient loot or bribes. In 864, by the Edict of Pistres, bridges were ordered built across the Seine at Pîtres and in Paris, where two were built, one on each side of the Île de la Cité. These would serve admirably in the siege of 885. The chief ruler in the region around Paris (the Île-de-France) was the duke of Francia (who was also count of Paris), who controlled the lands between the Seine and Loire.Odo,

Originally this was Robert the Strong, margrave of Neustria and missus dominicus for the Loire Valley. He began fortifying the capital and fought the Norsemen continuously until his death in battle against them at Brissarthe. Although his son Odo succeeded him, royal power declined. However, Paris continued to be fortified but due to local rather than royal initiative.

Meanwhile, West Francia suffered under a series of short-reigning kings after the death of Charles the Bald in 877. This situation prevailed until 884, when Charles the Fat, already King of Germany and Italy, became king, and hopes were raised of a reunification of Charlemagne’s empire. It had been thought that the Franks had gained an upper hand against the Vikings after the victory of Louis III at the Battle of Saucourt in 881, but in 885, a year after the succession of Charles, the Vikings launched their most massive attack on Paris yet.

Charles the Fat.

Danish Vikings under Sigfred and Sinric sailed towards West Francia again in 885, having raided the north-eastern parts of the country before. Sigfred demanded a bribe from Charles, but was refused, and promptly led 700 ships up the Seine, carrying perhaps as many as 30,000 or 40,000 men. The number, the largest ever recorded for a Viking fleet in contemporary sources, originates from Abbo Cernuus.

Although an eyewitness, there is general agreement among historians that Abbo’s numbers are “a gross exaggeration,” with Abbo being “in a class of his own as an exaggerator.” Historian C. W. Previté-Orton has instead put the number of ships at 300, and John Norris at “some 300.” Although the Franks tried to block the Vikings from sailing up the Seine, the Vikings eventually managed to reach Paris.

Paris at this time was a town on an island, known today as Île de la Cité. Its strategic importance came from the ability to block ships’ passage with its two low-lying foot bridges, one of wood and one of stone. Not even the shallow Viking ships could pass Paris because of the bridges. Odo, Count of Paris prepared for the arrival of the Vikings by fortifying the bridgehead with two towers guarding each bridge.

He was low on men, having no more than 200 men-at-arms available (also according to Abbo Cernuus), but led a joint defence with Gozlin, Bishop of Paris (the first “fighting bishop” in medieval literature), and had the aid of his brother, Robert, two counts and a marquis.

Paris – Ile de la Cité, clearly showing the island where the City was situated during the 9th Century.

The Vikings arrived in Paris on 24 or 25 November 885, initially asking for tribute from the Franks. When this was denied, they began a siege. On 26 November the Danes attacked the northeast tower with ballistae, mangonels, and catapults. They were repulsed by a mixture of hot wax and pitch.

All Viking attacks that day were repulsed, and during the night the Parisians constructed another storey on the tower. On 27 November the Viking attack included mining, battering rams, and fire, but to no avail. Bishop Gozlin entered the fray with a bow and an axe. He planted a cross on the outer defences and exhorted the people.

His brother Ebles also joined the fighting. The Vikings withdrew after the failed initial attacks and built a camp on the right side of the river bank, using stone as construction material. While preparing for new attacks, the Vikings also started constructing additional siege engines. In a renewed assault, they shot a thousand grenades against the city, sent a ship for the bridge, and made a land attack with three groups.

The forces surrounded the bridgehead tower, possibly mainly aiming to bring down the river obstacle. While they tried setting fire to the bridge, they also attacked the city itself with siege engines.

For two months the Vikings maintained the siege, making trenches and provisioning themselves off the land. In January 886 they tried to fill the river shallows with debris, plant matter, and the bodies of dead animals and dead prisoners to try to get around the tower. They continued this for two days. On the third day they set three ships alight and guided them towards the wooden bridge.

The burning ships sank before they could set the bridge on fire, but the wooden construction was nonetheless weakened. On 6 February, rains caused the debris-filled river to overflow and the bridge supports to give way. The bridge gone, the northeast tower was now isolated with only twelve defenders inside. The Vikings asked the twelve to surrender, but they refused, and were all subsequently killed.

The Vikings left a force around Paris, but many ventured further to pillage Le Mans, Chartres, Evreux and into the Loire. Odo successfully slipped some men through Norse lines to go to Italy and plead with Charles to come to their aid. Henry, Count of Saxony, Charles’ chief man in Germany, marched to Paris. Weakened by marching during the winter, Henry’s soldiers made only one abortive attack in February before retreating.

The besieged forces sallied forth and to obtain supplies. Morale of the besiegers was low and Sigfred asked for sixty pounds of silver. He left the siege in April. Another Viking leader, Rollo, stayed behind with his men. In May, disease began to spread in the Parisian ranks and Gozlin died. Odo then slipped through Viking-controlled territory to petition Charles for support; Charles consented.

Rollo, (Clive Standen) as depicted in the History Channels hit TV series ‘Vikings’.

Odo fought his way back into Paris and Charles and Henry of Saxony marched northward. Henry died after he fell into the Viking ditches, where he was captured and killed.

That summer, the Danes made a final attempt to take the city, but were repulsed. The imperial army arrived in October and scattered the Vikings. Charles encircled Rollo and his army and set up a camp at Montmartre. However, Charles had no intention of fighting. He allowed the Vikings to sail up the Seine to ravage Burgundy, which was in revolt. When the Vikings withdrew from France the next spring, he gave them 700 livres (pounds) of silver as promised, amounting to approximately 257 kg.

Aftermath

The Parisians and Odo refused to let the Vikings down the Seine, and the invaders had to drag their boats overland to the Marne in order to leave the country. When Charles died in 888, the French elected Odo as their king. Odo’s brother was later elected king as well. Throughout the next century the Robertians, descendants of Robert the Strong, fought the Carolingians for the French throne. Their duchy (Francia) gave its name to the Kingdom of France and the Carolingian Empire was never again reconstituted.

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