KING ALFRED, THE VIKINGS AND THE CHIPPENHAM RAID

Posted on Thursday 5th January 2017


On the Twelfth Night after Christmas the Vikings crossed the border from Mercia to raid Chippenham thus setting in train events that make the year 878 AD one of the most remarkable in English history.

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The Viking Invasion Map

The Norse peoples, with their long ships at the heart of their culture had by the second half of the Ninth Century, moved from trading and piracy, through coastal raiding, to penetrating up the rivers of Britain to rich pickings in-land and finally to conquest. Following the arrival of the Great Heathen Army in 865 AD, East Anglia, Mercia and Northumberland had all been subjugated to Danish rule and Guthram the Viking commander turned his attention to King Alfred’s Wessex in 876 AD.

Learning from the experience of the failed invasion of Wessex in 871, Guthram rode into the heart of the Kingdom with a small mounted force and occupied Wareham, where he was joined by an amphibious force of 150 ships. Confined, however, within the town by Alfred’s Saxon army, largely made up of peasants, stalemate for the rest of the year resulted.

In 877, Guthram made a deal to head east and leave Wessex but having sworn oaths and surrendered hostages, he broke his word and headed west to Exeter where he hoped to forge an alliance with the Cornish. Meanwhile, however, disaster had befallen the amphibious force in ‘The Battle of Swanage’ where 120 ships were lost; not in battle but to a combination of fog, squalls and tides. The Cornish, were less than impressed with Guthram’s much reduced force and sat on the fence. Again, stalemate resulted, until finally Guthram was forced to leave Wessex for Mercia, this time swearing oaths of pagan relics.

Closely, followed by the Saxons Guthram crossed the border and occupied Gloucester, while Huber and the thirty remaining long ships headed for South Wales.

With winter setting in and the impossibility of maintaining the peasant army in the field, the fyed was sent home but Alfred was wary of treacherous Guthram and wanted to keep a close eye on him. Consequently, he was at the royal manor of Chippenham, not for the hunting as is often implied but, being only thirty miles across the Cotswolds, it was from where he could send out spies and patrols to monitor Viking activity.

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King Alfred, The Great

Guthram was no doubt also gathering intelligence and realised that Alfred protected only by his hauscarls was vulnerable at Chipenham but if he brought his army out of winter quarters it would surely be reported. Therefore, the Chippenham Raid, probably timed to coincide with celebration of Twelfth Night, was most likely carried out by a relatively small and mobile group of mounted warriors, who could cover the distance from Gloucester in a matter of hours.

How Alfred with only a handful of retainers escaped from Chippenham and the Vikings, who fanned out across northern Wessex, is not known but in Battlefield History TV’s documentary, the team of historians and soldiers, along with members of the Guild of Battlefield Guides, follow Alfred’s flight first into the dark mysterious forest of Selwood and on to the impenetrable Somerset Marshes. Here Alfred fought guerrilla warfare and staged one of the most unlikely comebacks in all English history …

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Taking it Further


The Viking Invasion of Wessex 878 AD: The Dark Ages
(DVD)
ISBN: 5060247620091

by Battlefield History TV
Only £11.99 RRP £15.99

The Viking Invasion of Wessex 878 AD is the second DVD in this sensational new series, The Dark Ages, which delves into a war-torn and obscure period of Britain's past to focus on some of the pivotal events that completely altered the history, culture and politics of the British Isles.

In the year 878 AD, Alfred King of Wessex faced the fourth and most serious attempt by the devious Viking chieftain Guthrum to seize the last remaining Saxon kingdom. Thwarted in their conventional attempts in 871, 876…
Read more at Pen & Sword Books...
For further interest:

Taking it Further


The 1066 Hastings Campaign: The Dark Ages
(DVD)
ISBN: 5060247620114

by BHTV
Only £11.99 RRP £15.99

The Battle of Hastings in 1066 is with out a doubt one of the most significant events in English history. In the aftermath of the battle, King Harold's Saxon England was brutally swept away by the Conqueror to be replaced by Norman Feudalism. With the decisive nature of the battle, it is often forgotten just how narrowly Duke William succeeded. This DVD identifies and examines those turning points in the 1066 Campaign and explains why Harold lost.

Not only is Hastings covered in detail but also the…
Read more at Pen & Sword Books...

Of further interest...