Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Battle of Maldon - Bryhtnoth

A statue of Bryhtnoth on the South wall of the church
'But English silver is not so softly won:
first iron and edge shall make arbitrement
Harsh war-trial, ere we yield tribute'

One of the earliest poems is about the battle of Maldon, in the year 991 AD as told in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The poem itself is very long and very eloquent, for it is about defeat rather than victory. Again it is about a Viking raid on the English shores, the leader was Anlaf who came with 93 ships to Folkestone and ravaged the area, and then to Ipswich and overran the whole area and thence to Maldon. And there Eleadorman Bryhtnoth and his fryd came to meet him...

The Vikings landed on Northsey Island which is a stretch of land in the estuary of the Blackwater river. Such places were easy for the Vikings to hold up in and get away should the need necessitate. Bryhtnoth, one of the five most important people in England, though elderly gathered together his men to ward off the attack of the Vikings. They met them on the banks of the estuary opposite the island, but it is here that Bryhtnoth made a terrible mistake, all to do with honour and gallantry, of course honour does not always win battles. The Vikings had to cross a causeway from the island to Maldon, and Bryhtnoth instead of fighting them on this narrow isthmus and taking them one by one chose to let the Vikings assemble in front of his own army. He also had all his horses chased away so that none of his men would retreat,

Then he bade each man let go bridles
drive far the horses and fare forward
fit thought to hand-work and heart to fighting

the battle was long and bloody, and in the end many of his followers fled, leaving a core of faithful men to fight around their lord; Bryhtnorth was killed and his men gathered round his body defending him till all were killed in the end.

Then they hewed him down, the heathen churls,
and with him those warriors, Wulfmaer and Aelfnoth,
who had stood at his side; stretched on the field
the two followers felled in death

It is a heroic tale and it is probable that the author of the poem was an eye-witness at the battle, it is written in a heartbreaking tone, the wearisome killing and fighting minutely described, the desertion of his own men, Godric, who on Bryhtnoth's death seizes his horse and rides off...

Godric turned, betrayed the lord
who had made him a gift of many good horses.
He leapt onto the harness that had been Bryhtnoth's
unrightfully rode in his place,
and with him his brothers both ran,
Godwine and Godwiy, who had no gust for fighting
they wheeled from the war to the wood's fastness,
sought shelter and saved their lives.

The following are a couple of photos from out trip yesterday to Maldon, it is a popular place, a town of small shops and lots of chinese restaurants! The church is at the highest point and much restored, it sits in a pleasant close.

these are sailing ships from the beginning of the 20th century

The Estuary as seen from a rather steep hill in Maldon, note the old barges

                                                               The side of the church

Extracts taken from Michael Alexander - The Earliest English Poems

A different version of the poem by Wilfrid Berridge -

No comments:

Post a Comment