halesworth

A history of Halesworth, Suffolk, UK, through the ages.

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Volume 1



east anglia



The Arrival of the Vikings in 838 AD

The Wuffing Dynasty came to an end about 740 AD, but we have little information for a number of years. A king of East Anglia called Aethelbert was put to death by Offa of Mercia in 794 AD, and we know that this kingdom lost its independance in 823 AD.

The Vikings made their first raid on the East Anglian coast in 838 AD, returning again to harass the coastal villages in 841 AD. In 865 a large army landed and stayed the winter in Suffolk. They left in Spring 866 AD to attack Northumberland and captured York, Yorkshire, in their advances. They returned to Suffolk in 869 AD, making their headquarter at Thetford. Soon they were in action, attacking and destroying the monasteries of Ramsey, Ely, Soham and Thorney. At Framlingham they held King Edmund under siege in the Saxon fortress in 869-70 AD.

Edmund was King of East Anglia, and was soon in the position to lead his army against the invading Danish forces. He held the field against them at Thetford, but was forced back eastwards towards the coast and his army was defeated. Edmund himself was surrounded, captured and tied to a tree. His body was shot full of arrows and then his head was cut off. Traditionally Edmund's head and body were thrown into a wood, but later a wolf led the sorrowing English to the spot and it was found holding Edmund's head in his mouth by the hair.

 Legend says that Edmund was captured at Hoxne, after being espied by a young bride crossing a bridge under which he was hiding. She caught a glimpse of sunlight glittering on his golden spurs and cried out, and Edmund, in his anger, cursed any bride who passed over the bridge to her wedding. Since that date, few have dared to take the risk. A Benedictine Priory was built at Hoxne in 950 AD to commemorate the Martyr.

Although I have linked the betrayal, capture and death of St. Edmund with the village of Hoxne, other places also seek that honour. They include Wissett, for here tradition claims that the death took place near the bridge which crosses the stream at Wash Lane. An old villager talking of the past to Jim Rees spoke of the osier beds as the 'burial place of Saxon Kings' while a nearby field was named 'King's Danger'.

The Danes next attempted to fight and defeat the might of Wessex and in 870 AD King Ethelred and his brother Alfred led their troops unsuccessfully against the Danes. Ethelred died in 871 AD and Alfred, at the age of 22 became king. Several battles followed before he and the Danish leader Guthrum made a treaty in 886 AD and fixed the frontiers of the land under Danish control, known as Danelaw. This land included East Anglia, so Suffolk was under Danish control until 920 AD.

Danelaw country was actually a number of loosely connected settlements, rather than a single conquered state. It was under the control of various warrior chiefs who were under the orders of Guthrum, the leader of the Danish forces. Between 900 - 920 AD this part of England was re-conquered by Edward the Elder, but when Ethelred succeeded to the throne in 978 AD things were rather difficult. The Vikings were attacking year after year, and as Ethelred was not a military leader, he found it easier to collect extra taxes and pay the invaders large sums of money to leave his kingdom alone - this was called Danegeld, and was paid year after year.

These Danish raids caused the fall of most of the monasteries and many churches were destroyed. The list of Bishops at North Elmham has a gap of nearly a hundred years until 955 AD. King Alfred died in 899 AD and the Danelaw part of the country was won back by Edward the Elder between 900 - 920 AD. A second wave of enemy attacks came in 991 AD when Olaf landed with 93 ships ready to conquer the land. Battles took place at Maldon, Essex and at Ashingdon, Essex, which set Cnut, also known as Canute, on the throne in 1016, and East Anglia became part of the Scandinavian Empire.

The invaders were always overlords, leaving the natives to continue their way of life largely unhindered. They are remembered by their jewellery as well as their savagery, large magnificent brooches, neck and arm rings, as well as by their weapons. They also had their own alphabet in a form of writing known as runes which were cut with a sharp knife into wood, stone, metal or bone. The signs used are known and their inscriptions can be deciphered.


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