More Brunanburh links


King Athelstan depicted on a Victorian cigarette card.

The Battle of Brunanburh was a great victory for the English king Athelstan over an alliance of Vikings, Scots and Strathclyde Britons. It took place in 937 but its location has long been a mystery.

This blogpost adds four more links to the two I noted in an earlier post relating to the battle.

In a new paper uploaded to his webspace at Academia, Mick Deakin examines the case for locating the battle near Kirkburn in Yorkshire. Using old chronicles alongside place-name data, Mick reminds us that we should not be too quick to place the battlefield west of the Pennines (as many of us do – including myself). Several pieces of information in this paper were completely new to me, and it has certainly got me thinking about my own westward-leaning view of the campaign.

Those of you who follow the comment thread below my previous ‘Brunanburh links’ blogpost will have seen Damian Bullen’s recent comments supporting the case for Burnley. Damian sets this out in more detail at his blog where, among other things, he looks at possible clues offered by local place-names. Lancashire antiquarians of the 18th and 19th centuries were happy to believe that Athelstan’s great victory was indeed won on the moors above Burnley, just as their Yorkshire counterparts thought that its true location lay in the White Rose county. Whatever our own individual views on the location of Brunanburh, the important point is that neither Burnley nor Kirkburn can be ruled out as long as the site of the battle remains a mystery.

It’s good to see these and other theories being brought into the limelight, not least to keep the debate alive, and to remind everyone that the mystery still persists. At the moment, there’s a real risk of the debate being pushed aside by a growing academic consensus that the battle took place at Bromborough on the Wirral. In the paper cited above, Mick Deakin quotes from the recently published Brunanburh Casebook, a collection of articles dealing with various aspects of the topic. The book’s editor Michael Livingston writes: ‘…put simply, the case for Bromborough is currently so firm that many scholars are engaged not with the question of whether Brunanburh occurred on the Wirral, but where on the peninsula it took place…’. While it is true that Bromborough has a strong case on place-name grounds, its identification as the battlefield of 937 remains unproven, and this uncertainty needs to be acknowledged. Alternative theories should therefore be kept in the foreground, to be studied alongside Bromborough, and with equal scholarly vigour.

My third link is to an item by Kevin Halloran, an expert on 10th-century history and the author of two fascinating studies of the Brunanburh campaign (both published in Scottish Historical Review). In a paper recently uploaded at his Academia webspace, Kevin looks in detail at Athelstan’s invasion of Scotland in 934, a military venture that turned out to be a prelude to Brunanburh. Much of the background to the latter campaign was put in place three years earlier, so Kevin’s paper will be useful to anyone with an interest in the wider political context. Some of you will already be aware that Kevin has made a strong case for identifying Burnswark, a prominent hill in southwest Scotland, as the location of Brunanburh.

Finally, a valuable resource is Jon Ingledew’s Battle of Brunanburh website which summarises the respective arguments for Burnley, Bromborough and Broomridge (in Northumberland). Jon has also gathered the various chronicle references, which makes it easier to see the different names given to the battle by medieval writers.

And so the debate continues……

N.B. You’ll need to be signed up to Academia to download the papers by Kevin and Mick.

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82 comments on “More Brunanburh links

  1. Always enjoy the info and updates, thanks

  2. kevin halloran says:

    Fascinating stuff as ever, Tim. Interesting that there’s some support for Burnley as you’ll remember I wrote a full treatment on the identification back in the 1990s in a now oop book, ‘The Lost Battle of Brunanburh’.
    Mick’s work (and for that matter Damo’s) confirms my view that it is relatively easy to construct a decent case for Brunanburh being just about anywhere but on the evidence now available impossible to establish a wholly convincing case.
    The Bromborough people have surmounted this problem by simply dominating the media (and, regrettably the BBC) with frankly half-baked ideas. Livingstone et al resort imo to the old tactic of ‘it is widely accepted…etc’ as a substitute for evidence.
    We have now turned full circle. Thirty years ago it was accepted that Brunanburh could not be proved on place name evidence and that we had to pay greater attention to politics, logistics and military and diplomatic realities. We now seem to be back to selective ‘sounds like’ investigation.
    As to the Humber, might I say that JoW (and William of Malmesbury) are a pair of scoundrels. JoW alone blamed Causantin for the 934 crisis, changed the status of King Edmund’s consort to suit his pro-monarchy/pro-Church propaganda, and the pair of them gave laughable and contradictory accounts of Edmund’s murder in 946. The Humber reference has to be judged in the context of the wider purposes of JoW and his treatment of Anglo-Scottish relations. I have no doubt whatsoever that being still in Ireland in August 937 Anlaf sailed to land on the west coast and it would take rather more than the unsupported testimony of JoW to convince me otherwise!

    • kevin halloran says:

      A couple of points which the Burnley angle reminded me off. My work on that identification brought first contact with the Bromborough mob and convinced me that there is no prospect for reasoned and objective debate on the subject of Brunanburh. Peoples minds are generally closed to argument. I remember a leading proponent of the Wirral declaring that the river Brun could not be the source of the first element in Brunanburh as ‘it was the wrong sort of brun’ while the very promising ‘Battle place’ identified in several early maps above the river Brun hard by Brown Hill near Mereclough and with its ancient commemorative stone ‘Battle stone’ was dismissed out of hand as ‘probably a site for cock fighting’!!
      Of all the stuff I’ve written on B one of the most important points was to sink, through careful analysis of several hundred ‘burh’ forms, the idea that the burh and werce forms were paraphrases. Has this evidence caused the Bromborough people to qualify their argument that ‘werce’ was used interchangeably with ‘burh’? You can guess the answer. Much better to feed the compliant media with another blockbusting revelation on dingesmere! Aaaarg!

      • kevin halloran says:

        Sorry, me again. Astonishingly – to me anyway – copies of my great work suggesting the Burnley area as Brunanburh are still available. The ISBN number is 1 84042 021 9. I had assumed that good sense had prevailed and these had all been pulped long ago.

        • Damo says:

          Hi Kevin – I agree with your thoughts on the Wirral stuff – its a square-peg round hole situation. However, when John of Worcester says Analf arrived at the Humber, it makes perfect sense. Looking at the list of allies he gathered, we can trace a route from Dublin, past the Western Isles, across to the Orkneys & down to Dunadd, where he would have met up with Constantine. From here, Constantine invaded by land while the Vikings met up with the Danes & Norwegians reported at the battle somewhere off the shores of Northumberland. From there we are told that this alliance took York first (Egil’s Saga) before fighting at Brunanburh. Burnley, then, is placed perfectly for Analf & Constantine joining up with the Strathclyde Welsh & any reinforcements/supplies coming in from Ireland. Then, knowing that Analf escaped with only a few men from the west coast (at the Ribble), we can see how his main fleet was still moored at York.

          • Mick Deakin says:

            I know the perils all too well, of trying to extract useful clues from within the text of ‘Egils Saga’, however, I will continue !
            I read the ‘Saga’ again today, (my previous encounter was prior to my building an association between Kirkburn and Brunanburh).
            When I arrived at the bit where Alfgar fled the field and rode until “he and his men came west into Earlsness”, I remembered, something from reading Peddie’s ‘Alfred – Warrior King’. Peddie commented that it was not uncommon for east and west to be transposed in the accounts of where battles were fought. I fully concur with this statement, in fact I myself have done this several times ! Even Mr Cavill et al in ‘Revisiting Dingesmere’ made the very same error. So I looked back on my notes, particularly Holderness. Ekwall explains Holderness as meaning the ‘the ness of the hold’ and goes on to say that a ‘hold’ (ON holdr) was a man of high rank in the Danelaw.

            Man of high rank , hold=earl
            Holderness = Jarlesnes (Earlsness)?

            Worth considering I’d say 🙂

          • kevin halloran says:

            An expedition from Dublin at a time of equinoxial gales (see for example M. Wood ‘In Search of the Dark Ages’ and the Annals of Innisfallen) sailing right around the north of Britain hardly makes ‘perfect sense’ to me. Nor is it readily apparent how the various link-ups were arranged; the coordination of two or more separate armies to arrive at a common goal at an agreed time with the enemy’s location uncertain is almost impossible to achieve.
            The capture of York is interesting but apparently of such little significance that – Egils apart – no English, Irish or Welsh chronicler bothered to mention it. Contrast this with 940-1 where Irish sources state York was the Vikings destination and the ASC mentions specifically Northumbrian involvement. It simply beggars belief that Malmesbury, for example, would not have mention or even hinted at the capture of York.
            Finally, I find your reference to ‘supply lines’ rather at odds with my understanding of the 10th Dublin Vikings. 937 was not Operation Overlord. Anlaf was not being supplied from Dublin (or anywhere else for that matter) with food, weapons and reinforcements via the Ribble. His was a self-sustaining warband and the idea that it would have left its ships at York and ambled over the Pennines is in my view preposterous. To have the armies of Strathclyde and Alba likewise taking a jaunt way down to York for no very good reason at the onset of winter defies logistics and would make an experienced commander like Causantin an imbecile.

          • Mick Deakin says:

            The AClon does mention that ‘Gebeachan’ was slain in the battle and he was a sub-king of the Dublin Norse who ruled the Hebrides and possibly Man. There are other names that have not been identified and it is possible some may have been the Orkney and Caithness earls – which would hardly be surprising considering Athelstan gave them a rude awakening back in 934.
            As you say, the maritime trail led north around the coast of Scotland and the islands and as I pointed out in my article Anlaf would likely have added to his ranks and re-supplied and rested along the way.


      • Mick Deakin says:

        I suppose it could be possible that burh and werce were paraphrased forms Kevin. The origin of the word burh is in bergian ‘to shelter’. Its base meaning is a defensive wall composed of earth, wood or stone. In this respect they would have similar meanings.

        • kevin halloran says:

          Mick, no one disputes that elements of a ‘burh’ might reasonably be described as ‘werce’. The Bromborough argument is much more specific and is intended to explain away the existence of ‘werce’ forms. It is that in place names the two elements were interchangeable so that on occasion a ‘brunanburh’ might be described as ‘brunanwerce’. There is no evidence for this supposition and if it were actually so might we not expect to find in the volumes of the EPNS a single example of Bromborough or any other ‘burh’ settlement being referred to in the ‘werce’ form? I’ve examined hundreds and there isn’t a SINGLE example anywhere.

  3. Tim says:

    Many thanks to Kevin, Damian and Mick for continuing the Brunanburh debate in the comments thread here. Anyone who thinks the battle’s location has been placed beyond doubt by supporters of the Bromborough theory will now see that this is not the case.

    It has always seemed to me that the environs of Burnley have a valid claim as the site of the battlefield, but I would then tend to envisage the allied forces arriving from the west (Anlaf) and north (Scots & Strathclyde Britons). Like Kevin, I find it difficult to square a co-ordinated assault from the east with the logistical capabilities of the allies. My hunch is that the Scots and Britons marched south as a joint force, via the western route, meeting Anlaf’s army at Brunanburh (wherever it was) and there awaiting Athelstan.

    One thing in Burnley’s favour, for me at least, is its position in relation to the southern border of Strathclyde (assuming this lay at Penrith in 937). If the Scots and Britons entered English territory from a point along this border, a couple of days’ march would easily bring them to the Ribble and the vicinity of the River Brun. The Scots pretty much trod this same route 200 years later, in 1138, when they came down from Carlisle to attack Clitheroe, in a campaign that preceded the Battle of the Standard.

    • kevin halloran says:

      A problem that I have with Burnley and indeed all southern locations is the question of war aims. What were Strathclyde and Alba hoping to achieve in 937? A consideration of their actions throughout the late 9th and 10th centuries shows very clearly that administrative and military limitations meant that they could only absorb small areas of new territory over decades. Are we seriously suggesting they intended to conquer and hold the whole of Northumbria in 937 when it took until 1018 to reach and hold the area north of the Tees?
      If not, what could an expedition to York, Burnley or the Wirral achieve for them? The defeat of Athelstan and his replacement with a resurgent Viking power ruling the north from the Mersey/Humber to Cumbria and Lothian!! Oh, yes; Causantin and Owain, who fought against the Vikings at Corbridge, would relish the prospect of replacing the Wessex dynasty with a Viking axis of Dublin-York.
      The experience of 934 and the introduction of the subreguli system incorporating the Welsh from 927 and Strathclyde and Alba from 934-5 surely tells us that the primary concern of the northern kings was to restrict English dominance in the far north. This could be best assured by drawing Athelstan northwards; to have ventured south would not only have been needlessly dangerous, probably beyond their logistical capabilities and requiring a communication and coordination with their Viking allies that simply didn’t exist, but could only benefit the Vikings.

      • damo says:

        Id just like to reply to Mick & Kevin.

        Firstly, Mick, the Earl’s Ness mentioned in Egils’ Saga would be the same as the Jarls Ness mentioned in the Orkneyinga Saga. This is the landing place of some warriors after they left the Isle of Man.

        Secondly, Kevin, the sources tell us that the ‘Axis’ took York (Egils Saga) & ravaged Northumbria (William of Malmesbury’s Latin poem). They also tell us Analf entered the Humber with 615 ships & later a few men fled to Ireland. The only explanation for this sequence of events is for Analf to have sailed round the north of the island, meeting allies & gathering troops as he did so before meeting the Danes in the North Sea. We then have the straight line – Humber-York-Burnley-Ribble which takes Analf from the Humber to The Irish Sea. The war-aims of the alliance were simple – The Vikings wanted to retake Northumbria, Constantine wanted revenge after 934, while the Strathclyde Welsh were allied to Constantine – strength in numbers enough to launch a major expedition into England. Also, Constantine, ‘Through flight came
        to his own region in the north,’ indicating he was in England when Brunanburh was fought.

        Ive also found a couple more connections between Burnley & Brunanburh

        Brunanburh is also named ‘Wendune’ by Symeon of Durham, the Wen- element remaining in the village of Winwall, next to the battlefield (near Colne) & the name ‘Vinheath’ given by Egil’s Saga. Both ‘heath’ & ‘dune’ relate to the wide, raised land that the field lies on, as the word dun being, ‘consistenly used for a low hill with a fairly extensive summit which provided a sood settlement-site in open country (Margaret Gelling). One final name for the battle, on ‘The Plains of Othlynn’ (Annals of Clonmacnoise) connects to the Domesday Book’s Othlei, for Otley, whose lands stretched at least as far as Ilkley, a few short miles from the field.

        • Mick Deakin says:

          It would be interesting Damo, to see if the -wall element of Winwall could be traced back to ON vollr – field ?

          • damo says:

            Well spotted Mick! Indeed, looking at the names WINEWALL / VINHEATH & WENDUNE we get Wall / Vollr – Old Norse for an open & untilled plain or field (Margaret Gelling and Ann Cole, The Landscape of Place-Names p.253), with the suggestion that a wooded area lies next to it Wendune – The dune Vinheath –

            • damo says:

              Continuing from the last post (after accidentally sending it)…

              Wendune – Here he have the Anglo-Saxon version of Winewall, with the Anglo-Saxon -Dune element matching the Old Norse Vollr (see the post on 3rd September). In addiition, the name Wendune remains in Swinden, a river & valley that skirts the southern edge of the heath/dune/vollr which the situates the village of Winewall on its northern edge. Note that inbetween, on Shelfield Hill, lies the mysterious dark age monument on which Walton Spire was built.

              Vinheath – The Icelandic ‘heath’ again matches the dune/vollr elements, meaning all three names can be traced back to the original Viking Winevollr!

              In adition, we have the name Brunfeld, which would be another for the heath. That Vin-heath/vollr/dune changed to Brunfeld remains in the exisitence of a Brunshaw (wood of teh Brun), the anglo-saxon ‘shaw’ element relating to the Icelandic ‘Skogi’ as in the Vinskogi (Vinwood) which was found by the Vinheath of Egil’s Saga.

              • Mick Deakin says:

                If I were researching the Burnley site Damo, I would certainly try an get a copy of Kevins book (ISBN above). There may be other leads that may develop from reading it.
                I have a copy of ‘Casebook’ – obviously Pro-Bromborough, but an excellent reference source for the wealth of other useful information in there.


      • I don’t have a view on the location of the battle site, but as far as war aims goes, I think we should probably avoid seeing any side’s aims as necessarily territorial. The aim for either side would be as much to discredit the opposition leader by demonstrating his inability to stop them raiding and to protect his people(s) as to actually take and control territory. After all, that would mean troops staying put in that territory for the long term, rather than heading back home with a bag full of war booty. As long as ravaging might thus be a means to a political end, for the Northerners, the further south they could get the more embarrassing it would be for Æthelstan. I don’t say this to promote the argument for a southern location, but just to say that a territorial view of the goals of the campaign may be too narrow a basis from which to dismiss one.

        • kevin halloran says:

          I make just this point in my Brunanburh campaign article and have expanded on it in a subsequent piece on Athelstan’s Scottish wars. It’s always been my contention that the war aims of the northern kings in 937 were two-fold. Firstly, a rejection of the attempt by Athelstan to impose a hegemony in Britain – demonstrated in the invasion of 934 and through the subreguli system imposed on the Welsh from around 927 and on Alba and Strathclyde from 934. Secondly, to further political and territorial interests in Lothian and the Cumbric west. I believe that these aims could both be best achieved by raiding English possessions in northern Northumbria. The point I was making when I suggested an attack on southern Northumbria would not serve the interests of the northern kings was that it would have likely resulted in a renewal of the York-Dublin Viking axis which had proved so destructive to the interests of Alba and Strathclyde over the years.

        • kevin halloran says:

          Jonathan, without being presumptive as to the point you’re making here I quote from my Camapign article at p.139:’ By remaining in the north and raiding extensively in the English possessions there the coalition could achieve its objectives at much less risk. Unless Athelstan took action to stop the ravaging of his northern dominions his authority throughout Northumbria would be undermined.’ As I said, I’ve expanded on this aspect in an as yet unpublished article entitled; ‘Athelstan’s Scottish wars: the failure of empire.’

          • Ah, I’m sorry, I understand you better now and we seem to be in agreement. There’s also the useful point in what you say that the long-term interests of the coalition probably didn’t lie together (and who said medieval history has no lessons for contemporary politics, eh…). What price would the Scots and North Welsh have reckoned tolerable to get Norse help against the would-be KIng of All Britain, though?

            • kevin halloran says:

              Brunanburh has not in my opinion been well served by historians. I’m not enough of one to know if this is peculiar to the subject, a characteristic of Dark Age and medieval studies more generally or a weakness in the historical method itself. So far as I can judge the ‘search’ for Brunanburh has not advanced one step since Alastair Campbell’s brilliant study in 1938. Nothing written since can be considered indispensable and again in my opinion very little of it could even be described as useful and indeed subsequent scholarship has simply muddied the water.
              A great problem seems to me that we lack that bedrock of the scientific method which is falsifiability. Theories in science are only acceptable to the extent that they can be tested and disproved. This would not be so great a problem if historians approached the subject in a dispassionate and objective manner but they do not. They are (almost) invariably attached to a position – most usually a specific geographical location – and evidence is weighed, adopted and discarded primarily on the basis of how far it can be stretched to support that already established certainty.
              Professor T. F. Tout’s dismissive verdict on the approach to Brunanburh remains as valid today as when he made it in the early twentieth century: ‘…any place-name with Bryn or Burn, or Burgh or Brom or anything of the sort is selected. Then some sort of show (is made) which generally involves a grave mound, cairn, cross or commemorative stone…’ I would refine this criticism as being of the ‘constellation approach’. Just as the ancients perceived patterns in the night sky our intrepid Brunanburh detectives draw an illusion of interrelationship from a pot pourri of random elements; a likely place-name, an ancient earthwork, a burial mound, a landcape similarity to Egils Saga, a buried hoard or whatever. If the particular element doesn’t fit with the evidence then the evidence is either amended or dismissed. The Bromborough
              supporters’ identification of the word ‘dingesmere’ in the OE poem with Thingwall seems a case in point. The fact that this had the rather bizarre consequence of the Vikings fleeing in their ships over a landlocked marsh should not be allowed to detract from the ‘discovery’.
              One other notable aspect of Brunanburh studies in my experience is the promotion of consensus over evidence. Michael Livingstone’s assertion to the effect that Bromborough is now so well-accepted by historians that only the specific location of the battlefield remains at issue is only the most idiotic in a long tradition of similar statements. Nick Higham proclaimed in his article on Brunanburh that ‘It is widely-accepted that Anlaf commenced the Brunanburh campaign by raiding in Mercia’. This stuff is typical and widespread but assumptions are not evidence (except of intellectual laziness and the herd instinct among academics) and weight of opinion is irrelevant if that opinion is not based soundly on the facts. If it were the phlogiston theory would still rule the roost and Darwin would be a forgotten crank.
              What is needed are not new theories but new evidence and/or a refined approach to the existing evidence. The search for Brunanburh may well be futile but I think it needs to be both incremental and disinterested. There is little chance of the former and probably none for the latter.

  4. Damo says:

    Hi Mick

    I don’t think there’ll be anything in Kevin’s Book that tops TT Whitaker’s extensive analysis of the Battle of Brunanburh in the ‘Proceedings of the Historical Society of Lancashire & Cheshire’ (1857). The ‘battle place’ at Mereclough was suggested by Whitaker as Werstan’s death-site a long time before Kevin found it on on OS map. During my researches I discovered nothing new had really come up, which explains how the Burnley theory had been surpassed in the century & a half since. However, my own work work on Burnley has uncovered quite a number of interesting new leads.

  5. A tangent to the discussion, but how very English to have cigarette cards (like baseball cards?) of medieval kings! 🙂

    • Damo says:

      I’d just like to add one last piece of evidence for Burnley.

      Ive just managed to redate the Cuerdale to at least 930 AD, which means it could have been deposited by Analf as he fled Burnley for Dublin. With his main fleet at the Humber, he reached the Ribble but at first could not find a boat. Eventually he did, which explains why, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, that only he & a few followers escaped. Here’s my findings;

      • kevin halloran says:

        Imagination is no substitute for evidence and i find the idea of Anlaf scampering along the banks of the Ribble crying ‘a ship, a ship, my kingdom for a ship’ owes a great deal to the former and none to the latter. It seems much more likely that the ‘nailed ships’ referred to in the OE poem were part of Anlaf’s fleet. As Campbell pointed out the embarkation onto ‘fealene flot’ probably meant the light brown colour of the sea in sandy shallows (OE ‘fealo’ means the shingle of a beach when the tide is out) and the poem’s use of ‘ut’ (line 35b) is invariably used when speaking of putting out to sea. An escape down the Ribble is a non-starter.

        • kevin halloran says:

          Just to clarify some of the above. The references in the OE poem to Anlaf’s escape have a wording and context that suggests embarkation from a beach directly onto the sea. There is no suggestion whatsoever that the Vikings first sailed down a river.
          Why was the Cuerdale hoard found on the banks of the river Ribble? Almost certainly because the 40 kilos of silver etc were transported by boat. To relate them to Brunanburh on Damo’s hypothesis requires firstly that the treasure was not left either on the Humber with the fleet or at York but carried with the army. As the army fled from the battle Anlaf was able to keep in touch with the wagon carrying his hoard all the way to the Ribble. Although the OE poem describes a desperate pursuit with the Vikings being hacked from behind and crowding aboard a ship just in time to save their lives Anlaf apparently had time to bury his treasure and also find a boat on the Ribble. For reasons that remain unclear on his return to England in the winter of 939-40 he didn’t bother to recover the treasure.

          • Damo says:

            Interesting stuff Kevin!

            If the departure was by beach as you say, then that would explain why Analf buried the treasure at Curedale, which is a few miles short of the Ribble estuary.

            As for forgetting the site of the deposition, we must remember that it took place at the end of a long day’s pursuit, either at dusk or even night time. If Analf buried the hoard, which seems likely, then when he returned he would have searched fruitlessly, scrambling about in the dark if you will. However, the locals must have observed his vain endeavors, for hundreds of years later there was still a folk tradition that if you stood on the south bank of the Ribble at Cuerdale, you would be near the ‘greatest treasure in Christendom.’

    • Tim says:

      Yes, those cigarette card series were a quaint old custom. Much missed by nostalgic types such as myself.

  6. Mick Deakin says:


    I dont believe Kevin meant returning that same night, but when he eventually came back to England after the death of Athelstan, which is fair comment.

    • Damo says:

      I meant when he got back a couple of years later, he was metaphorically ‘scrambling in the dark’ – he had no landmarks to help him find the treasure

  7. Damo says:

    I’ve just unearthed a vital clue for the Burnley theory.

    In my blogpost I suggest that Orsnaford is Heasanford. The River Brun flows through it by the way, which leads us to Brunford & Brunanburh. Two of the feeder streams of the Brun are named after Viking Gods – Thorsden (Thor) & Hell Clough (Hela). After isome quite interesting investigations through Scandinavian sagas I’ve just realised that Heasanford is named after the Asen, another name for the Aesir.

    This is the best bit & should really clinch Burnley. In Norse mythology there is another group of gods known as the Vanir, or Van, a name anglicized to Wane. Suddenly we have the elements for VANheath, WANdune & WANEwall, which foreign accents changed to Vinheath, Wendune & Winewall. The Burnley area is packed full of Scandinavian place-names, & was presumably settled by them in the 9th century. My instinct tells me that the battlefield was named after the action & not before, for the Vanir were the defeated party in a great war with the Aesir just as the Vikings were defeated at Brunanburh… it would have been a very poetic naming made by a local Viking who had just witnessed Britain’s greatest battle on his home turf!

    To remove all doubt from the Orsnaford-Heasanford association, we must turn to Osnabrück, a city in Lower Saxony, whose ‘brück’ element meaning bridge. Through the city runs the Hase river, named after the Aesir, & as Orsna became Heasan, so the river Osna became the River Hase. The name probably originated during the reign of the Viking king, Rorik of Dorestad (d.882), who ruled over Lower Saxony. The slight difference between Orsna & Osna is probably down to some ancient Teutonic dialect dispersion.

    • Damo says:

      Ive put the above information into a blog-post, along with some more por-burnley evidence

      • Tim says:

        Note to everyone: the new blogpost by Damian (‘Orsnaford – Burnley’s Viking Burh’) includes a photo of the River Brun, a feature much-mentioned in this thread (and a river I hadn’t seen before).

        Thanks again to all commentators for maintaining an interesting discussion. There’s still plenty of room for additional comments if anyone wants to pitch in with their own views.

        • kevin halloran says:

          All this discussion on Brunanburh has reminded me of a question that has been rattling around in the back of my mind for years and perhaps someone on here may have an answer. How did the Scots render English place-names in this period? I ask because I note that Simeon of Durham referred to Dunnottar in respect of the 934 campaign rather than Anglicize it as Ottarburg or similar. The Pictish chronicle refers to Brunanburh as Dunbrunde. Was it standard practice for English ‘burhs’ to be rendered as ‘duns’ in Scottish sources or might it imply that the site of the battle actually had a Gaelic name as well as an English one? Of course, if my argument in ‘Etbrunnanwerc’ regarding the ‘wen’ (OE) and ‘brun’ (Cumbric) forms as synonymous and meaning ‘a swelling’ was correct (big if) and we added in the fact that the Scots also had a name for the place it surely has implications as to location? Just a thought.

          • Tim says:

            I’ve often wondered if Brunanburh had anything more than a fleeting existence as a place-name. Maybe it didn’t even exist outside contemporary poetry and folklore. We don’t know if it was used in everyday speech, by a local English-speaking population, or whether it was simply a literary Anglicised form of a Celtic name such as Dun Brunde.

            • kevin halloran says:

              Tim, you make several interesting observations here. Firstly, Brunanburh studies exhibit Anglo-centrism, a tendency for which I seem to remember a number of Scottish historians criticised the BBC’s heroic History of Scotland (RIP). Brunanburh is used as a name for the battle site only in the OE poem in the ASC, prose versions of the ASC and in later chronicles that drew heavily on the ASC (eg JoW). It is mentioned in a Northumbrian history but is relegated to third place behind Weondune and Etbrunnanwerc. It is ignored altogether in another Durham history that gives the name only as Wendune. Even subsequent southern English sources do not universally adopt it, most surprisingly Aethelweard (c.975) who preferred Brunandune.
              The Welsh use a simplex form Brun or Brune in those sources that unequivocally refer to the 937 battle. This suggests strongly that the first element derives from a landscape feature known to the Welsh (Breeze) rather than the preferred Cavill/Wood options of an OE personal name.
              The Irish never use Brunanburh and only mention a single name in the AClon ( a source with well-known problems) which to me suggests a larger region which might well have contained Brunanburh, ie. the plaines of othlyn(n).
              The Pictish Chronicle’s Dunbrunde is generally ignored or dismissed in the tradition of English scholars as some bizarre Gaelic paraphrase of an English place name. It is never suggested (so far as I know) that a). Dunbrunde might be the actual name and Brunanburh a poetic English rendering, or b). The place had a Gaelic name and an English name (my belief by the way)
              I might mention in passing on the subject of paraphrases that every Gaelic ‘dun’ would qualify as an OE ‘burh’ which has a wide meaning, most usually some form of ‘fortified place’. But not every ‘burh’ would qualify as a ‘dun’ which has a rather narrower meaning of ‘hill fort’ (usually, I think, a circumvaliate (from contacts at Scotsplace!). Therefore, even if we accept that the Pictish Chronicle would not have simply recorded the English name for the battlefield in the absence of a Scottish one, it seems nonsensical that they would have adopted ‘dun’ in respect of Bromborough which is nothing like one.

  8. Tim says:

    The conversation between Kevin and Jonathan on the military objectives of Athelstan’s foes brings the debate closer to my own area of interest in the battle of 937. Given what we can reasonably infer about the pattern of military activity in the tenth-century North, I now struggle to see how the two northern Celtic armies (Scots and Britons) got as far south as the Mersey estuary (Wirral/Bromborough theory). The sheer logistical effort involved in such a scenario would, I believe, have made it an unattractive prospect for the respective kings Constantin and Owain. However, this needs to be weighed against another point – raised here by Jonathan – about the desirability of ravaging as far south into Athelstan’s dominions as possible. For me, this brings the Ribble Valley into play as a possible southerly limit for the campaign, at least on the western side of the Pennines. If the battle occurred on the eastern side, I would place it well north of York and no further south than Teesdale, chiefly because of the Anglo-Scandinavian presence at York which (as Kevin has pointed out) had a volatile relationship with Alba and Strathclyde.

    • kevin halloran says:

      Well, I’m concerned by your enthusiasm ( a bit strong, I know) for the Ribble. I remain certain that if and when Brunanburh is discovered it will be within spitting distance of Hadrian’s Wall. The experience of 927, 934 and 945 suggest it. Logistics suggest it. The balance of military and political power post 934 suggest it. The Vikings we know were delayed in Ireland by the aggressive movement of the Limerick Vikings to Loch Ree at Xmas 936, eventually doing battle at Lammas (1st August) and carting the defeated enemy off to Dublin to join the armada to England. The chronicles describe a long campaign, surely suggesting that Causantin and Owain kicked off before Anlaf arrived (the Latin poem states that ‘the northern land’ rose up ‘at the will of the king of the Scots’ (no mention of Anlaf at this stage). That poem and Egils both state that Athelstan was slow to respond and had trouble recruiting an army. Surely both are more likely if the trouble was up in Lothian rather than down on the Ribble? No, I think the Scots and Britons stayed north knowing that the ‘thunderbolt’ would eventually come to them. He did but unfortunately the ragged band of conscripts and adventurers that Anlaf finally turned up with did a runner during the battle leaving Owain and Causantin to make the best of a bad job. I suspect they made a much better fist of it than the OE poem suggests, that the English army was badly mauled and that as a consequence the Vikings were able to return and take Northumbria nd much of the Danelaw within a couple of years.

  9. Mick Deakin says:

    Athelstans annexation of Northumbria shifted the balance of power in the North and put him on the doorstep of Scotland, Strathclyde and Bamburgh and this must have been unsettling for the rulers of these regions. The 934 campaign, whether or not it was preemptive following the death of Ealdred of Bamburgh or in response to a direct threat from Scotland clearly highlighted the strategic advantage of acquiring York. Athelstan could not otherwise have carried out such an effective land and sea campaign so far from Wessex. York must therefore have been the target of the coalition and would benefit Anlaf via the restoration of the Dublin-York network and Causantin and Owain by severely limiting Athelstans ability to mount further land and sea incursions into their territory.
    Maybe as is suggested, Causantin and Owain did kick off and harried North Northumbria, and perhaps Athelstan was not too worried by all this sabre rattling at this time. However, as they pushed south towards the line in the sand that was York, then this is when he was motivated into action.
    Also there is the possibility that indeed it did all begin initially as cross border raiding and harrying,and that because there was no response from Athelstan, Causantin and Owain grew bolder and pushed further south. If there was still no reaction from Athelstan, then maybe Causantin encouraged by the unchallenged move southwards, called upon Anlaf to bolster the coalition force for a final push towards York.
    This might explain the puzzle of why the conflict so late in the campaigning season. Maybe the original intent as you stated earlier Kevin, was to draw Athelstan closer to the northern territories and engage him in familiar territory. When this did not happen,they began their progress south. If we acknowledge this as a possibility, then we must also recognise that Athelstan sat back and waited a-la ‘Step into my parlour said the spider to the fly’ !!

    • kevin halloran says:

      with the greatest respect, to state ‘York must therefore have been the target of the coalition…’ is an assumption based on YOUR strategic view and NOT that of Causantin, Owain and Anlaf. I repeat again that there’s no evidence in the chronicles that the coalition threatened or took York. As the OE poet, the author of the Latin poem, WoM and JoW were all keen to present the English in a favourable light I’m sure they would have mentioned York had it featured.
      You also completely fail to consider various other points made – by Tim, for example on logistics – and by me on the sheer idiocy from the northern kings point of view of replacing a neighbour based in Wessex with the Dublin Vikings at York. Look at the history of Viking activity in Britain c.900-960 and you’ll appreciate that the greatest victims were Strathclyde, Alba and Bamburgh.
      The pattern of Alban-Strathclyde military and political activity from 870 to 1018 time after time is an attempt to increase territory and political authority in Lothian, the Solway area and Cumbria.
      What you are doing here is AFTER deciding that you have located Brunanburh then constructing a political/diplomatic context to justify that location.

    • kevin halloran says:

      I apologise if my reply seems a bit condescending and for the capitalised emphases – it was very early in the morning!
      However, I stand by the gist of my response. Throughout your piece you make assertions and assumptions that are unjustified in my view. Your either/or in respect of 934 misses the point that the invasion may have had entirely different motives – as I try to explore in my draft on Academia.
      It is not immediately apparent to me how you can conclude that without York Athelstan could not have conducted an effective campaign in 934. He brought his army together at Winchester and Nottingham and then marched through Northumbria while his fleet presumably sailed up the coast. We have no idea of the attitude of the Northumbrians to his expedition but the Danes of York or anyone else in Northumbria were unlikely to have had much say either way.
      Your suggestion that the 937 campaign may have begun as cross border raiding and then expanded in scope as the northern kings became emboldened is unconvincing. You can’t just transform a cross border raid into an invasion of over a hundred miles. How do you feed the army? How do you transport it? How long does it take to gather together the wagons and provisions needed? How and why did you muster such a large army for an initial cross border raid and what is the attitude of your troops aand commanders when you say, ‘By the way we’re off to York.’ What may be obvious to historians and armchair generals is an impracrical nightmare in reality.
      Had you used the word ‘might’ rather than ‘must’ in describing York as the target of the coalition I’d have let it pass. But proponents of every Brunanburh location can similarly point to ‘obvious’ strategic aims. For Wood, Causantin intended to usurp Athelstan’s throne and the forts along the Don were the ‘obvious’ location for the climactic struggle. Higham rejected York but thought it was obvious that the aim was to secure the trans-pennine crossings allowing a convenient route from Dublin. Another respected historian thought that ‘London must have been the ultimate aim of the invasion…’ Why not Winchester, why not Edinburgh, Bamburgh, Lancaster, Manchester or Carlisle? You could (and historians have) construct arguments in favour of any of them.
      Again, you don’t appreciate practical considerations when you make statements like ‘…called upon Anlaf to bolster the coalition force for a final push towards York.’ Called upon him!? How and when? Did he just happen to have several hundred ships and an army of thousands from all over the Viking world just hanging out in Dublin? What form did negotiations take and how could they ensure that the Vikings would not pursue their own contrary aims? Were the Danes of York included in negotations or had they to accept a dictated fait accompli? Where in Northumbria were the two armies to meet up and on what date and how did they know that Athelstan would not be there first to meet and defeat them in detail before they could meet up? If we consider 1066 and several other sea-borne expeditions in the medieval period the idea that you could simply arrange a date and place to rendevous is nonsense; you could be delayed for weeks. If the coalition armies met up they did so in their own territory or very close to it; the alternative is simply too fraught with risk and requires a level of planning, coordination and communication not available in the circumstances of 937.

  10. Mick Deakin says:

    “Anlaf, the Pagan king of Ireland and many other isles, at the instigation of his father-in-law Constantine, king of the Scots, entered the mouth of the Humber with a powerful fleet”

    I have assumed the Southern push was already underway when (according to JoW) Causantin called for Anlaf to join the coalition.
    As for the ability to rendezvous, Athelstan must have had in place some pretty decent methods of communicatiion between his land and sea forces during the 934 campaign. Is it not possible that the coalition forces also possessed this ability?
    I dont buy into the coalition armies staying put in their own territories. I think we can count on the fingers of one hand the occasions that Athelstan set foot outside of Wessex and Mercia during his whole reign. He would have moved only when absolutely necessary – ie. the line in the sand that was York.

    • kevin halloran says:

      Mick, you are confusing two separate things here. In the normal workings of his court it is true that Athelstan tended to remain mainly in Wessex but that is an entirely different thing to his campaigns. In 927 he attacked York and met the northern kings at Eamont; he may well have campaigned in Wales and Cornwall too. In 934 he ranged as far as Dunnottar and had his fleet raiding Caithness.
      To compare the circumstances of 934 and the Brunanburh campaign is frankly a bit silly. Athelstan organised the campaign in the Spring and early Summer and met with his Welsh allies and Scandinavian and English thegns at Winchester and Nottingham in May and June. He then moved ceremoniously northwards via York, Ripon and Chester-le-Street, holding courts and dispensing gifts and grants and taking several weeks. His progress was pre-planned and uncontested and it would not have been difficult to rendevous with his fleet if necessary although it is perfectly possible that the fleet raided independently up to Caithness. How does this shed any light on how the northern kings communicated and coordinated their actions with Anlaf in Ireland?
      I’m grateful that you quoted JoW as I hadn’t encountered that reference before! I can’t see for the life of me how it justifies your assertion that ‘…the Southern push was already underway when Causantin called for Anlaf to join the coalition.’ That’s simply ridiculous. You’re saying that Owain and Causantin were moving south when they invited Anlaf to join in!!?? How long do you think it takes for an expedition from Ireland and the wider Viking world to prepare for an invasion of England?
      I’m also afraid that to describe York as ‘the line in the sand’ for Athelstan pretends to a knowledge of his political and strategic priorities that neither you nor anyone possesses; it’s entirely an invention on your part.
      Finally, I have to say it doesn’i bother me at all that you ‘don’t buy into the coalition armies staying put in their own territories (although had you read my arguments you would know that I stated they probably met up in their own territories or close to them and have always argued they then raided extensively in the English possessions in northern Northumbria). if you wish to hang a theory of how the 937 campaign unfolded on JoW that’s fine by me.

      • Mick Deakin says:

        Kevin, as always I am impressed by the knowledgeable manner in which you debate these subjects. This is not a snipe and I only wish that I could infuse my article with such fluidity of text as this would surely attract the wider audience it deserves.

        To the point.

        The only historical sources that give any clue to the battles location are the ones that identify the River Humber.

        And as Michael Wood in his review of ‘Casebook’ clearly emphasises:

        “…to take one key example, John of Worcester (c1122) says the Viking fleet landed in the Humber: his very circumstantial account appears verbatim in six northern annals of the 12th century and clearly derives from pre-conquest Northumbria. That this is good evidence has been accepted by most leading authorities over the last 200 years. To reject it therefore needs good reason, especially as other texts point to the same area…”

        Let us suppose that completely new evidence was brought to the fore that whilst not naming the actual battle location did corroborate JoW account of a Humber landing.
        Within a very short space of time, I am reasonably sure that one of the leading, if not the only ‘contender’ for the site of the battle would be the Kirkburn area of the East Riding of Yorkshire.

        The earliest simplex names for the site given in the Welsh Annales and traditions are Brun and Brune which happen to be the metathesized identicals of two of the early names for Kirkburn – Burn and Burne. In two separate Gaimar accounts of the conflict the name Burneweste is given, which likely corresponds to the DB name of Westburne. The Cattybrunawc and Kattybrudawt in the Welsh poems is taken by Max Förster (and supported by Andrew Breeze) to mean ‘Battle of the Streamy House’. Again – this is a 100% match for Ekwalls interpretation of another Kirkburn DB alternative Burnous/Burnous – ‘House on a stream’.

        The ASC manuscript ‘C’ spelling is Brunnanburh, MS ‘A’ has been amended to Brunnanburh by a later hand whilst both Campbell and Whitelock read MS ‘B’ as Brunnanburh. Here we have the earliest recorded spellings of the battle location that CLEARLY identify a connection with a stream (s) and or spring(s).

        Symeon of Durham, likewise in his Et Brunnanwerc and Brunnanbyrig indicates the presence in the locality of streams and springs.

        I can now also reveal that I have reason to believe that the first element of Symeons ‘Weondune’ may be connected with water. I presently have three definite and soon possibly four names with ‘Weon’ as the first element that appear to indicate a connection with water. I am awaiting a reply from an Icelandic newspaper that printed an article in the early 90s where the author uniquely identified Egils Vin[heath] as being an oasis – a fertile tract of land surrounding a spring or water course.

        These are not the findings of a ‘sounds like’ venture Kevin. I believe this is the real McCoy.

  11. Tim says:

    While keeping an open mind on the possibility of a Yorkshire location for Brunanburh (supported here by Mick) I remain more favourable to areas further north, beyond the River Tees, if we’re looking at the eastern side of Britain. I think the two northern kings would have stayed well clear of York, for a number of compelling reasons including those already noted by Kevin. There is no indication, for instance, that any king of Alba or Strathclyde ever regarded York as a useful military objective. I cannot imagine Constantin (Causantin) or Owain perceiving any benefit to the security of their southern borders by helping Anlaf seize control of the city.

    On the western side of the Pennines I’m still prepared to place Brunanburh as far south as the River Ribble but no further. Logistical factors are fairly crucial on this point but, as both Kevin and myself have observed here and elsewhere, they are rarely incorporated in modern studies of the Brunanburh campaign. I think we can reasonably infer from the meeting of kings and warlords at the River Eamont (near Penrith) in 927, and from place-name evidence, that what later became the English county of Cumberland was under Owain’s authority at that time. If the Eamont was still the southern frontier of Strathclyde ten years later, I see no logistical problem in imagining the combined forces of Owain and Constantin crossing the river and advancing south through the Tebay Gorge to ravage North Lancashire. Whether this region was rich enough to make such an expedition worth their while is another matter, as is their relationship with the Scandinavian coastal settlements along the Lancashire coast. The area around Burnley and the River Brun therefore remains a possibility in the search for Brunanburh but I have to agree with Kevin that somewhere further north does seem more plausible. The little we know of warfare undertaken by the kings of Strathclyde suggests that their primary interests lay northwest of a line drawn between Penrith and the River Tyne. Aside from a legend which fancifully locates the demise of Owain’s son Dyfnwal at Dunmail Raise in the Lake District we possess no traditions of Strathclyde incursions deep inside English territory. The Scots besieged Durham in 1006 but presumably without help from the Clyde Britons (whose kings still ruled independently). Major Scottish raids as far south as the Tees seem to have occurred c.1030 but by then Lothian had fallen under Scottish rule and offered a springboard for southward military ventures that was not available to Constantin in 937.

    • kevin halloran says:

      Sensible observations as ever, Tim. We have to remember that we don’t really have a clue as to the true context of Brunanburh.
      We have WoM and also the Latin poem in WoM’s GRA that state the coalition was the aggressor and had invaded Athelstan’s territory. We have JoW who suggests Anlaf sailed into the Humber but doesn’t mention the Scots or Strathclyde armies, only that Causantin acted as instigator.
      The OE poem and ASC are really silent as to who went where, as are the Northumbrian accounts, the Welsh annals and all the Irish annals. We have assumed that – for reasons unknown – the coalition decided at some time in 937 to invade Athelstan’s kingdom, or some unknown part of it. To this end the northern kings took the extrordinary step of calling over a vast armada of their erstwhile arch foes. How and when did they negotiate this alliance? Who determined the war aims and course of the campaign? How did the various parties know that the others would stick to the bargain? Who was to get what?
      We have a great gap in our knowledge from Xmas 935 until late 937. We know that Athelstan was able with Welsh help to invade Scotland in 934 and then force Owain and Causantin to enter the subreguli system and attend his court for a year or so. They then disappear. In 936 Anlaf begins raiding in Ireland – a sign but not a certain sign that the Vikings are preparing for an expedition. At Xmas 936 his Limerick rivals move to Loch Ree and stay for six months. In August 937 he fights them and returns with his defeated enemies to Dublin. Some time later he leaves for England.
      What has been the relationship of the northern kings to Athelstan during their absence from the English court after Xmas 935? Has the Basileos Anglorum just given up on the idea of hegemony in Britain? Perhaps he had not. It strikes me as much more likely that the northern kings would seek a Viking alliance only in extremis, ie that Athelstan’s overlordship remained onerous in some way (perhaps financial) or that they feared another invasion. We simply don’t know but it seems strange to me that the northern kings, defeated on their own territory in 934 and obliged to acknowledge Athelstan’s supremacy, have by 937 the wherewithal and confidence to strike deep into his kingdom.
      We come back always to the obsession on the part of English commentators with the Viking part of the coalition. The armies of Alba and Strathclyde wander around Mercia, the Wirral and York as appendages of Anlaf. The war aims and strategy implicit in the analyses of Wood, Higham, Cavill, Mick and damo et al make sense from a Viking perspective but none at all from that of Alba and Strathclyde. Having read all of the arguments on here I’m more certain than ever that Burnswark is probably Brunanburh.

  12. Tim says:

    Over on Twitter I’ve recently received a tweet from Michelle Ziegler drawing my attention to a new book by Ryan Lavelle: Alfred’s Wars: Sources and Interpretations of Anglo-Saxon Warfare in the Viking Age. I mention this here because the blurb at Amazon tells me that it deals with military logistics, an important but all-too-often overlooked topic in the Brunanburh debate.

    The starting-point with all studies of Brunanburh is that we don’t know where it was. Nor, indeed, do I believe that this position is likely to change anytime soon. But there’s no harm in having a go and bouncing a few theories around. Unfortunately, the various chroniclers who mention the battle aren’t particularly helpful. So we must look elsewhere for clues. Also, we need to step back and observe the wider picture, especially the broad political context. The Brunanburh campaign was one incident in a longer sequence of northern events that spanned the entirety of Athelstan’s reign. This is why Kevin’s references to Athelstan’s invasion of Scotland in 934 and the subreguli system are relevant to our discussion here.

    Kevin wrote:
    ‘We come back always to the obsession on the part of English commentators with the Viking part of the coalition. The armies of Alba and Strathclyde wander around Mercia, the Wirral and York as appendages of Anlaf. The war aims and strategy implicit in the analyses of Wood, Higham, Cavill, Mick and Damo et al make sense from a Viking perspective but none at all from that of Alba and Strathclyde.’

    To this I might add that Athelstan himself would probably have been surprised at the way today’s Brunanburh scholars all too often marginalise the kings of Alba and Strathclyde. To him, they were key players on the political stage and (from September 934) the most important subreguli or ‘client rulers’ at his court (when they could be bothered to attend). Any doubts that this was the case are swept aside by a glance at the list of dignitaries at Cirencester in 935 where Athelstan held a big gathering of his court. The list of subreguli in attendance includes the powerful Welsh king Hywel Dda, whose forces had assisted Athelstan in the previous year’s Scottish expedition, but it begins with Constantin of Alba and Owain of Strathclyde. This prominence accorded by Athelstan to the two northerners at such a high-profile event should be enough to warrant the inclusion of their own political and military objectives in modern analyses of the Brunanburh campaign. But it evidently isn’t enough. Here’s what Alex Woolf wrote in a footnote to his remarks on the order of precedence at the Cirencester meeting:

    ‘I think it goes without saying that Athelstan probably had a better grasp of the political situation in early tenth-century Britain than the rest of us.’ (From Pictland to Alba, p.167, note 86).

    If we feel inclined to agree with Athelstan that Constantin and Owain were, respectively, second and third in importance after himself (in mainland Britain) in 935, we should accord them equal prominence with Anlaf at Brunanburh two years later. We also have to explain the whys and wherefores of their involvement in the battle. Their objectives are likely to have been rather different from those of their ‘coalition partner’.

    The strategic and logistical aspects of the battle do deserve a fuller study than space allows in this thread so I won’t get into it just yet. A couple of points do however spring to mind. One is the question of communication between the three allies (mentioned by Kevin) and, on a practical level, the co-ordination of their forces to reach the battlefield simultaneously. No real problem for the two northern kings: they may have held a rendezvous of their own at some designated meeting-place or landmark within Owain’s realm before heading south. Supporters of the Burnley theory may wish to note that the southern border of Strathclyde lay comfortably within a two-day march of Athelstan’s landholdings in North Lancashire (gifted to the archbishop of York in 934). But how and where did the northerners arrange a rendezvous with Anlaf? And what happened next?

  13. Tim says:

    Here’s what Kevin Halloran wrote at the end of his most recent comment in this thread:
    ‘Having read all of the arguments on here I’m more certain than ever that Burnswark is probably Brunanburh.’

    The reasoning behind Kevin’s belief is laid out in two important articles published in Scottish Historical Review. Anyone with a keen interest in Brunanburh and an awareness that the matter of the battle’s location has not been settled should read both of these.

    Yesterday I was driving along the M74 motorway in the vicinity of Ecclefechan and saw the distinctive shape of Burnswark dominating the skyline. This is a familiar view for travellers heading north: a large, flat-topped hill looming above the green slopes of a rolling agricultural landscape. The rich archaeological features on Burnswark leave us in no doubt that it was an important landmark in early times.

    Looking at the hill again as I passed it on the west, I was reminded of its suitability as the backdrop for a major battle. As far as the Brunanburh debate is concerned, Burnswark is undoubtedly the most dramatic candidate in a topographical sense. Similarly prominent hills (with ancient forts on top) appear in the historical sources in connection with early medieval battlefields, in contexts where the event is not an actual siege of the hill. In Scotland, examples include Dunnichen and Moncrieffe (both in Pictland).

    Although I remain non-committal on the site of Brunanburh, I can see why Kevin (and others) support the candidacy of Burnswark. Topographically, as a major landmark associated with ancient power (Iron Age and Roman), it literally stands head and shoulders above all other candidates.

    • kevin halloran says:

      How interesting an observation, Tim. You’ll know from our past discussions that I originally sought Brunanburh further south, having accepted the Wood-Higham view that the Mercian-Northumbrian borderlands were the crucial area of conflict in 937.
      I then began to question that assumption largely based on an appreciation of the geographical location of Alba and Strathclyde and a growing sense that their political and military ambitions might suggest a location much further north.
      At the same time I’d started to reconsider the Weondune (Holy Hill) interpretation of the name given in Durham chronicles and thought that if the form in the Historia Regum ie Wendune was correct it might suggest a shape of the hill as being behind the name.
      Then, like you, (and having not previously taken Burnswark seriously) I saw the hill from the road and its wen-like appearance was striking.
      Subsequently I read the article on generic elements referred to in my Etbrunnanwerc article and the significance of the iron age hill fort (an OE ‘burh and Gaelic ‘dun as in Dunbrunde) together with the quite separate Roman camps which were not recognised as such until the 19th century and hence always simply referred to as ‘works’. OE ‘werce’, became clear.
      Burnswark, in my opinion, remains the only candidate site that makes sense militarily and politically and also could satisfy the dun/burh/werce variants. Mick’s brilliant work on the hill at Terschelling of a very similar shape and called Waendune is I still feel a major breakthrough and I am disappointed that he seems to have been diverted from it into a search for another candidate. This is what I meant when I said the discovery of Brunanburh necessitated an incremental approach – a detailed consideration of every piece of evidence – rather than.yet another attempt at an all-embracing solution unearthing yet another unsatisfactory candidate.

    • kevin halloran says:

      Tim, just a quick addition to the above. You’ll know from my Etbrunnanwerc article that I suggest the ‘wen’ form is the OE Northumbrian name and the ‘brun’ forms are a composite derived from an original Cumbrian simplex form ‘brun’ with generic OE elements added by later English settlers into the Solway area.
      What I didn’t put in the article but explored with people of the Scottish Place Names group (Scotsplace) was that this might be an example of a phenomenon that I called far and near naming.
      It struck me that the hill at Burnswark might have been known (and named) by the Northumbrians long before they settled its environs. From that distance the hill appears wen-like and I believe they knew it as Wendune.
      Crucially there are no ‘burh’ or ‘werce’ elements attached to the ‘wen’ form, only the hill suffix, ‘dune’. This, in my view, is because seen from afar the hill-fort ‘burh’ and Roman camp earthworks, ‘werce’ are invisible. Only when English settlers moved into the area did they attach significance to the ‘burh’ and ‘werce’ and I believe they adopted the Brittonic simplex name and added OE generic elements ‘dune’ (Aethelweard’s Brunandune), ‘burh’ and ‘werce’. That’s why we’ll never encounter a form ‘Wenburh’ or ‘Wenwerce’ because the ‘wen’ form was a distance name superceded by the ‘Brun’ form as the Northumbrians settled Dumfriesshire.

  14. kevin halloran says:

    Tim, I thought it might be useful to provide some pictures of Burnswark so that people might understand some of the comments more.

    The above is the link to one of the several archives at RCAHMS Canmore.
    Images 1 and 2 show the Roman camp earthworks. For a long time the nature of these earthworks was unknown and they were simply described by the generic term ‘works’, which in OE would be ‘werce’.
    Image 3, a drawing and image 5, a photo, show the works in relation to the hill and hill-fort which lies between the two sets of Roman earthworks. This would have been easily identifiable in the tenth-century as a hill-fort and described accordingly as a ‘burh’ (OE) or ‘dun’ (Gaelic).
    Images 4 and 11 show both the ‘wen-like’ characteristics of Burnswark and the hill-fort on its summit.

    Anyone seriously interested in understanding why Brunanburh has a number of names with different suffixes ‘dune/burh/werce/feld’ really should read Simon Taylor’s ‘Generic-element variation, with special reference to eastern Scotland’, Nomina 20 (1997), 5-22.
    I used it for my ‘Etbrunnanwerc’ piece and in my opinion it’s the most important article written in the search for Brunanburh (even though it’s not about Brunanburh) and worth more than a whole library of Victorian antiquarian pieces purporting to have ‘discovered’ the battle site.

    • Mick Deakin says:

      I am a wee bit disappointed with the RCAHMS Canmore site for Burnswark Kevin.
      Since when has ‘Brunanburgh’ been regarded as an alternative name for the site? its position alongside the other historically documented names, implies that ‘Brunanburgh’ has also been proven as an alternative name.

    • Mick Deakin says:

      I do agree that the Canmore images reveal the ‘Wen’ like shape of the Hill. However, these images are taken from aerial photography at several thousand feet !
      I am not so sure that the similarity to a ‘Wen’ can still be maintained when viewed from the ground.
      I have also contacted RCAHMS regarding the Brunanburgh alternative name (see my previous note).

      • Tim says:

        Could there be a vague analogy here between wen, ‘swelling’, and the presumed Roman name of the hill: Blatobulgium, ‘flour sack’ (if this name doesn’t simply refer to the granaries at Birrens fort)?

  15. Tim says:


    Many thanks for your latest input to this thread. Even setting aside the battle of 937 it should be obvious to anyone who reads your comments that Burnswark is a place of historical and archaeological significance. The Canmore images will be very useful for people who have never seen the site before.

    The article by Simon Taylor looks like something I need to get hold of soon. I imagine it will be relevant to a whole range of studies where the main theory rests on a particular interpretation of a place-name. If so, it may be useful in debates over other lost battles.

    One additional observation I would make with regard to Burnswark is that I’ve tended to see it as lying within Owain’s kingdom in 937. If this was the case, and if Burnswark is Brunanburh, then the battle was fought in Strathclyde (‘Cumbria’) and not, as is conventionally believed, in English territory. On the other hand, we know too little of the real extent of Athelstan’s authority after his Scottish campaign of 934. It is possible, for instance, that Owain was compelled to relinquish control of the Eden Valley as part of his submission to Athelstan. I usually think of Strathclyde holding a more-or-less permanent frontier along the Eamont throughout the tenth century but the campaigns of 934 and 945 perhaps pushed the boundary back to the head of Clydesdale. This might mean that both Owain and his son Dyfnwal were obliged, at times, to acknowledge English rule in ‘Cumbrian’ lands south of Beattock.

    The above musing may overlap with certain points already made by you in the two SHR articles or in your recent Academia paper.

    • kevin halloran says:

      The Simon Taylor article was, to me, revelatory. It touches a number of points relevant to Brunanburh and other ‘lost’ sites.
      Firstly, it argues that where there are a number of second elements to a place name, eg, ‘dun’, ‘burh’ etc, it is likely that these were originally different features on a common site and that, over time, the name of one of them has emerged as the now extant place name. The process usually involves back-formation.
      Secondly, it shows that ‘paraphrasing’ or name substitution invariably involves the substitution of a rare element by a common one and NOT vice versa. Therefore, in the case of Brunanburh, if the ‘werce’ (rare in toponyms) and ‘burh’ (common in toponyms) forms were paraphrases then the ‘werce’ form would almost certainly be the correct original. This destroys the theoretical foundation of the Dodgson/Cavill argument that Brunnanwerc was merely a paraphrase of Brunanburh. I might add that my research into ‘burh’ place names supported Taylor’s theory 100% and showed the whole basis of the Bromborough case in this respect to be nonsense.
      Thirdly, it explains the existence of the Welsh simplex forms, ‘brun’, ‘brune’ by showing that compound landscape features such as Brunandune, Brunanburh, Brunanwerce, etc probably derived from an early simplex name to which were added defining elements. It suggests therefore that in the earliest times Burnswark (Brunswork until the 18th century) and other similar features may have been named simply by the first element, ie., Brun.
      This means that Burnswark on my interpretation was once simply known as ‘brun’, ‘a swelling’ (Cumbrian influenced by Pictish) and only later were secondary elements added to it, the ‘burh’, the ‘werce’ etc.
      If you apply the ST findings to Simeon’s reference to Brunanburh it suggests we are looking for a hill (‘dun’) which has fortifications (burh’) and separate ‘works’ (‘werce’) associated with it.
      I know of only one such site which also:-
      1). Would have been known to the Welsh (Breeze);
      2). Is a prominent landscape feature very close to a major incursion route for the Dublin Vikings, the Solway
      3). Would control access for an invading English army coming up through Carlisle to a network of Roman roads leading to the Strathclyde heartlands and north to Alba.
      4). Fits the bill to qualify as a Gaelic ‘dun’ as in Dunbrunde.

      • Tim says:

        What Kevin’s research has demonstrated is that the name Brunanburh is not the only ancient Brun– name to consider in a search for the battle-site. Nor does it hold primacy over other names such as Brunnanwerc or Dunbrunde. This is just one of a number of important points that seem to be overlooked far too often in Brunanburh studies.

        I notice this thread hasn’t attracted comment from supporters of the Wirral/Bromborough theory. It would be useful to have some input from that side of the debate, especially as it seems to be the front-runner as far as the popular media are concerned. Any takers out there?

        • kevin halloran says:

          Apologies, but it occurred to me that readers would merely think this is a case of sour grapes. If they do, so be it. But, I told the BBC in respect of a HOS that had they come to me to suggest Burnswark was Brunanburh I would have absolutely refused to be involved unless Michael Wood (Brinsworth) and Nick Higham/ Paul Cavill (Bromborough) were also invited to contribute. Unfortunately, my attitude was not reciprocated: Alex Woolf and Cavill allowed no contrary input whatsoever and remain in my view irreparably diminished.

  16. kevin halloran says:

    I’m afraid you’re missing the point, Tim. The Bromborough group are not interested in finding Brunanburh but only in proving the battle took place on the Wirral. Reputations, media and tourist interests are involved. Michael Wood, in his review of the Brunanburh Casebook (the editors of which ignored any contrary scholarship), expressed surprise that there is apparently a Brunanburh Trail already established on the Wirral. When I disputed the BBC’s presentation of Brunanburh in a History of Scotland they referred my arguments to ‘the leading Brunanburh expert’ Paul Cavill who unsurprisingly found in favour of Bromborough. Alex Woolf weighed in arguing that ‘there were many points in favour of Bromborough.’ The Times and other leading broadsheets gave copious coverage to the Dingesmere ‘discovery’ based on the work of ‘leading academics at Nottingham University.’ Those same papers refused absolutely to print my counter-arguments. The Bromborough group are a disgrace: read their website. They don’t even mention scholarship that disagrees with them. What they do is laughable. Cavill provides the BBC with ‘expert’ advice on Brunanburh. Then Harding is interviewed by BBC Merseyside and intones how important Cavill’s findings are. Then the Bromborough group’s website states that ‘the BBC supports the Bromborough identification’!!! Pathetic.

    • Tim says:

      I didn’t know about the Brunanburh Trail on the Wirral. Not a positive development for serious research on the battle, but no doubt a useful boost for local tourism. What we are seeing here is the formation of a classic factoid (a fact-shaped object) which will hinder, rather than advance, future studies of the topic.

      I plan to return to the mystery of Brunanburh in a future blogpost, probably after I’ve got hold of the Casebook referred to in this thread. Kevin knows from past conversations that it was my intention at one time to write a detailed paper on the logistical aspects of the battle, drawing on themes covered in my doctoral thesis. I might still do this, and publish it here as a blogpost rather than submit it elsewhere. My main reason for tackling such a study is its apparent absence from the Bromborough theory which, as Kevin has often pointed out, fails to address the question of how the northern kings brought their forces to the Mersey estuary.

    • Mick Deakin says:

      I just realised something whilst reading Stephen Hardings article in ‘Casebook’ regarding Red Hill Road on the Wirral.

      “..The first piece of Victorian tradition concerns the roadway
      leading down from Mount Road to Storeton Hall known as Red Hill Road (the road running
      below “Danton Dale” on Figure 1), which was so named from “the blood that once ran down
      it.” In reality the Red Hill refers to the red sandstone..”

      The large red sandstone sea arch that once graced the coastline around what is todays Heysham Harbour was called ‘Bruneberh’. ( Brown Rock) A small portion of this remains today and is called ‘Red Nab’

      One of the earliest spellings for Bromborough was Bruneburgh. I just wondered if Bruneburgh was so named because of the colour of the outlying red sandstone in the area – maybe it was even built from it ?

      If this was the case, would thisnstrengthen or weaken the Bromborough / Brunanburh location claim?

      • Tim says:

        The Heysham info is an interesting snippet, Mick. This was an area of some importance in the Viking period so it’s useful to hear of a lost (Norse?) place-name in the vicinity. I imagine the name Bruneberh would be seen by supporters of Bromborough as adding extra weight to their case.

  17. Mick Deakin says:

    I have just uploaded some notes on ‘Weondune’ to my Academia web space.
    I believe there may be a basis there for some interesting debate.


    • Tim says:

      Interesting indeed, Mick. Picking up the end of the paper, I think the possibility of a Celtic origin for weon seems worth exploring further. I don’t have enough philological expertise to know if it works or not, but a specialist could no doubt advise.

  18. Tim says:

    Kevin Halloran has recently published another perceptive paper at his Academia webspace. The title is ‘Brunanburh: the defeat of empire’. It looks at the wider political context of the battle (all too frequently ignored) and assesses the ambitions and military capabilities of Athelstan and the other protagonists. Well worth a read.

  19. kevin halloran says:

    Thanks for the mention, Tim. I figured the location aspects of B had just about been done to death but as a reviewer of Woolf’s ‘Pictland’ once noted, there isn’t a great deal on the causes and consequences of such a supposedly ‘decisive’ battle. Some aspects (most notably the Vikings in Northumbria and the Anlafs at York) require more research – I’m not sure, for example, if the Anlaf coinage at York can be reliably dated and if this would affect my hypothesis but I’m hoping for some input in these respects and can always update the paper.
    Anyone not able to access Academia can just e-mail me for a copy. I would also point out that some aspects of politics in the years leading up to Brunanburh assume that my arguments in another paper, ‘The Invasion of Scotland, 934’ have been read. These papers are meant to be thought provoking rather than definitive. They haven’t been peer reviewed and they may contain factual errors as well as errors of interpretation and judgement! However, I’ve checked everything so far as I can and hope there’s nothing too glaring.

  20. Mick Deakin says:

    Thanks for this Kevin.

    I have added the article to my ever increasing collection of Brunanburh papers.

    The final re-edit of my own article is now finished and on my Academia webspace.
    I can now confirm that the article will appear in an Historical Journal next summer (August I believe) It may still be subject to the occasional update, prior to going to print, but I think I have gone as far as I can regarding ‘new’ material.

    I will provide full confirmation of release date, as soon as I know. (which will be a while yet !)

    • kevin halloran says:

      Good to hear about the publication of your article, Mick. I’ll have a read through of the final draft in the next day or so. One thing occurred to me recently about Othlyn. You’ll remember that Nick Higham suggested it may have derived from ‘od’ and meant up to the Lyne and as this suited Cavill’s argument he described it as a ‘brilliant’ hypothesis.
      Well, in my view it’s far from brilliant and decidedly odd. The original of the AClon was in Irish and it doesn’t seem likely that the author would have used on OE expression. It seems much more likely that the reason that Othlyn (or anything like it) doesn’t appear in any English (or Welsh or Scottish for that matter) sources is that it was an Irish Gaelic name for the region or area in which the battle was fought.
      This is one of the aspects of the Bromborough advocates that I find most troubling. Higham, Cavill and Livingstone have all seized on an interpretation of othlyn that suits their case rather than one that is convincing or plausible. Time after time they work from an ‘established truth’, ie., Bromborough is Brunanburh and all evidence is shoe-horned to fit. It’s exactly the wrong way of assessing evidence!

      • Mick Deakin says:

        I agree entirely Kevin and I have burned the midnight oil puzzling over Othlyn(n).
        There will always be a concern over how much of the name if indeed any of it had been altered from the original Annals.
        One thing we can be reasonably sure of and that is that the name would have been anglicised by Macgeoghan during the transcription.
        I have use the example of ‘Bithlynn’ from the AClon to show this in my article. Following on from this it would seem that the -lynn element could be an anglicised ‘lainn’ – House. The oth- could be absolutely anything.
        I’m sure we are missing something here as well Kevin – almost like ‘not being able to see the wood for the trees’.
        I think that over the coming months, I am going to concentrate solely on Othlynn. I might have to familiarise myself with all the irish annals first !

        • kevin halloran says:

          Yes, you’ve done some good stuff on Irish ‘-lynn’ forms, I remember. Did you not also show that the use of capital and small letters in AClon seemed random – hence demolishing another plank of Higham’s argument that ‘othlyn(n)’ could not be a proper name? Your interpretation of the second element as ‘house’ no doubt gives some credence to Breeze’s ‘streamy house’ suggestion for Cattybrunnwrc! I’m still more inclined to believe that othlyn was a larger region and somehow related to the names for Viking Scotland of Lothlynn, Laithlinn etc considered in D O’C’s article on Viking Scotland. The ‘plaines of othlyn’ to me suggests a big area. Of course, if Burnswark was correct it would suggest othlyn was the Irish name for the Solway plain.

          • Mick Deakin says:

            If I remember correctly Kevin.
            Irish Gaelic Loth = Mud, Swamp,Quagmire and Linn = lake
            Could possibly have ‘Muddy lake’ ?

  21. Mick Deakin says:

    Another pointer Kevin ?

    Eas Uí Fhloinn (The waterfall of O’ Flynn) in County Roscommon, is anglicised as Assylin !

    We could spend an eternity on his 🙂

    • kevin halloran says:

      Mick, these findings are important as a general pointer to the likely derivation of othlyn and certainly undermine the Cheshire Lyme argument. I hope you mention them in your article.

    • kevin halloran says:

      Just read the revised article and found much of interest although it’s not altogether flattering that it contains no single mention of my work!
      I’m not in favour of pushing the evidential boat out too far in support of a particular identification and think you do this in a couple of places including the treatment of Waendune on Terschelling. You’ve dropped all reference to the shape of that hill and to the ‘wen’ form in the HR to promote a particular interpretation of the ‘weon’ form.
      I’ve said before that there is too much of a tendency in Brunanburh studies to ‘gild the lily’ and I think the attempt to link the OE poem use of ‘daennede’ (or whatever) to Driffield is a case in point. Campbell considers this in great detail and even if we accept that the poet meant ‘manured’ is it really likely he had a specific geographical location in mind?
      The fact that Anlaf’s army may have contained allies from the Hebrides and Orkney in no way suggests he must have sailed via those areas any more than the AClon’s reference to a contingent from Denmark in his army suggests he sailed past there! The evidence is good or bad, strong or weak, irrespective of where we try to locate Brunanburh. For example, John of Worcester’s Humber reference can’t be ignored when we propose a Cumbrian, Fife or Wirral location and then promoted as Gospel when we argue for the east coast. I would have liked to see the actual entries supporting JoW mentioned by Wood and quoted by you. MW has referred to them in a review and a newspaper article but so far as I’m aware their location has never been specified and so we can’t evaluate or date them or consider their provenance or how they might relate to JoW. They are just hearsay at present.

    • kevin halloran says:

      The above comments seem more negative than I intended. There’s a great deal in your article that is both interesting and thought provoking. I particularly like the possible explanation for the Welsh simplex forms ‘brun’ and ‘brune’. I do think you should explore the corroborating evidence for JoW though. The most recent editors of JoW don’t mention these Northumbrian annals at all and a detailed analysis of them is surely crucial? If they provide convincing support for a Humber landing it would certainly make me rethink my position on Brunanburh but as I say at present it’s just hearsay. MW, for example, continues to quote the AClon reference that the coalition was assisted by ‘Danes’ in England as support for the involvement of the Danes of York. But he must be aware of the weaknesses of that source and of Clare Downham’s work on the use of terms such as ‘Dane’, ‘Viking’ and ‘Norse’ which shows that such a statement cannot be trusted as support for his hypothesis. Therefore, until he presents these Humber annals in a form where they can be properly considered I don’t feel they can be just accepted as good evidence.

  22. Mick Deakin says:


    I did take out the vast majority of the section on othlynn in my article and just left in the bare references to ‘lainn’ and its anglicised forms. Similarly you will notice that very little detail has been entered into for Etbrunnanwerc. This is because I fully intend to create a new article dealing solely with these variant names. On othlynn alone there is a wealth of material to consider and it may be that othlynn will be an article in itself !

    The reference to the Terschelling ‘waendune’ and the other examples of weon in my article came about only when I realised that the topography in this area did indeed match the other areas I had highlighted. If you remember, I could not with any confidence, suggest the connection between weondune, waendune and wenduine in flanders. I decided not to include the flanders wenduine as it was a fairly ‘recent’ name (as you quite rightly pointed out).

    • kevin halloran says:

      Mick, I fully understand your decision on Wenduine. I also acknowledge your right to treat place names as you see fit. However, I think your research could have been more fully expressed and the readers allowed to ‘weigh’ the evidence. Even a footnote mentioning my interpretation of the ‘wen’ form – from ‘wen(ne)’ or ‘waen’, a ‘swelling’ – and a note that the hill on Terschelling is very similar in shape to Burnswark would in my opinion have given your research an importance extending beyond a specific identification for the site of Brunanburh. You will remember that even though it didn’t support my identification at Burnswark I allowed the real possibility that the first element may have derived from OE forms meaning ‘a stream’. I just think it’s a shame that your excellent work on Terschelling has not been fully presented and someone else may one day get the credit for what was your idea. Best wishes.

  23. Tim says:

    Useful points from Kevin and Mick. I’m again grateful to both of them, and to all other commentators, for turning this thread into a valuable discussion. With this comment of mine bringing the total to 80, the time has come to close off the thread (in the interests of space). Blogposts about Brunanburh, like those on the battle of Degsastan, always seem to attract a lot of input from readers here at Senchus. It’s great when this happens, because it makes me feel my posts are helping to stir the cauldron of debate.

    There’s room for a final word from Kevin and/or Mick (or indeed someone else) before I throw the switch. I’ll do that tomorrow morning (Tuesday).

    Another Brunanburh post is in the pending tray. It will look at the role of the Strathclyde Britons in the campaign of 937.

    • kevin halloran says:

      A wise and timely decision. I await your Britons at Brunanburh piece. Of course, we first have to establish that they were actually at the battle!

  24. Mick Deakin says:

    I really look forward to the Strathclyde British involvement thread Tim.
    Its time to broaden my horizons !

    Best Wishes

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