Thetford, chapter 4
Of the coming of the Danes and destruction of the city

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Institute of Historical Research

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Author

Francis Blomefield

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1805

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22-26

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'Thetford, chapter 4: Of the coming of the Danes and destruction of the city', An Essay towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: volume 2 (1805), pp. 22-26. URL: http://british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=78020 Date accessed: 31 August 2014.


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CHAPTER IV.

OF THE COMING OF THE DANES, AND DESTRUCTION OF THE CITY.

In the year 787 (fn. 1) there arrived three Danish ships upon the English coasts, upon which the Lieutenant of the adjoining province, endeavouring to bring them to the King, to give an account who they were, was murdered; these were the first Danes that came into England, (fn. 2) being only sent (as was afterwards seen) to view the country, search the coasts, and know with how great a power they might be able to invade it, as they did afterwards, and that so fiercely, that they conquered part of the land, and held it some time in possession, though they were contented to defer their return to the days of King Egbert, anno 800; from which time I shall take notice only of what occurs in relation to this city and province, the rest being foreign to my purpose: in the year 838, (fn. 3) it appears that they were in these parts, for the Saxon Chronicle under that year, tells us, that they slew many of the East-Angles, and it is plain that they had been much here, for, in 866, (fn. 4) their chief army came and wintered at Thetford, which so terrified the inhabitants, that they made peace with them, and the next year (fn. 5) the army went into Mercia, and they were also glad to do as the East-Angles had done; and from this time the Danes got such footing and settlement in these countries, that they were not wholly dispossessed any more, but the whole land afterwards, with these provinces, established the Danish monarchy. In the year 870 (fn. 6) (or as others 871) the army returned out of Mercia, came to East-England, and wintered at Theodford, and the same year fought with King Edmund,and conquered and slew him, and totally subdued the whole province, first burning and then pulling down and destroying all the monasteries, Ingwar and Ubba being their principal leaders; but here it will be necessary to insert a larger account of this king and the Danish proceedings, as I find it in Register Curteys, fol. 211, in the life of King Edmund, as follows:

In 841, Edmund, son of Alkmund King of Saxony, was born at Noremburg in Saxony, of Queen Siwara, and soon after it happened, that Offa King of the East-Angles, who had no heir, passed through Saxony, in his journey to the Holy-Land, where he went in pilgrimage to beseech God to give him an heir, and calling upon his cousin Alkmund, he adopted Edmund, his son, his heir, and then hastened to Jerusalem, where having performed his vows, he returned; but at a place called St. George's Arm, (fn. 7) he was taken violently ill, upon which he immediately sent for his Council, appointed Edmund his successour, and sent him his ring, which he received from the Bishop, when he was made King of the East-Angles; after Offa's death, the Angles went to the King of Saxony, and demanded Edmund his son, and received him as Offa's successour, (fn. 8) and hastening home, they landed at Hunstanton, (fn. 9) from whence they carried him to the ancient city called Atleburg, where he lived a whole year, giving himself up chiefly to devotion; here he perfected what he had begun in Saxony, namely, to repeat all the psalms without a book; and at the year's end he went to Suffolk, and at the town of Bures, on Christmas day, was crowned King of the East-Angles, by Humbert Bishop of Elmham, in the fifteenth year of his age, and in the year of our Lord 856. Some time after this, Ingwar and Hubba, sons of Lothbroc King of Denmark, being excited by the reproof of their father, for keeping at home and doing nothing praise-worthy, when Edmund, son of the King of Saxony, had a kingdom at his disposal, they resolved either to conquer Edmund, or kill him, being very angry at their father's reproof; but soon after, Lothbroc went into his boat with his hawk only, in order to hawk by the sea side, (fn. 10) but a tempest arising, he was carried across the ocean, and landed at a town called Redham, in that province of the East-Angles which is called Northfolch, and was taken with his hawk, and presented to King Edmund, of whom he obtained leave to stay in his court, where he used to live and hunt with Berno, (fn. 11) the King's huntsman, and gat the King's favour by his skill in that art, which Berno perceiving, envied him very much, and as soon as a seasonable opportunity offered, as they hunted together in a wood, Berno slew him, and buried him there, but Lothbroc's hound staid with his master's body, till he was almost starved, and then went to the palace, and fawned on the King, and as soon as he had filled his belly, returned to his dead master, and continued to do so often, till he was followed, and the body found, all which was told the King, who having examined the matter, found that Berno his huntsman was the murderer, upon which, by the King's order, he was set afloat, and committed to the mercy of the sea, in Lothbroc's boat, which, as Providence ordered, was thrown ashore in Denmark. The Danes knowing the boat, enquired what was become of their King; at this Berno, pretending great sorrow, feigned a lie, and told them he was cast ashore in East-England, and by King Edmund's order was slain, upon which their hatred being raised by the former reproof of their father, and now completed, in order to revenge his death, they most solemnly swore to do all manner of mischief that they possibly could, to King Edmund and his subjects; and besides this, another accident also happened, which encouraged them to attempt it, as Speed informs us, fol. 397; Osbert, a Northumbrian viceroy, deputed by the West-Saxons, as he followed his hunting, came to a nobleman's house, named Beorn-Bocador, who was not at home, but his lady, who was a very beautiful woman, received Osbert and his company, and honourably entertained them; but after dinner desiring a secret conference with the lady, to the advancement of herself and husband, as he pretended, after he could not prevail upon her to be false to her lord, by any persuasions, he forcibly ravished her, which she with many tears informed her husband of, at his return, and would not let him rest till, after promises from his friends of their assistance, he had defied the libidinous prince, in his open court, after which he went to Denmark, where he had been brought up in his youth, being of alliance to the Danish royal blood, and asked assistance of Goderick, King of that country, who, glad to have some quarrel to enter into Britain, immediately levied an army, prepared all things necessary, made Ingwar and Hubbs, commanders in chief over this host, well knowing that they were the fittest at this time, not only for their value and conduct, but for the aforesaid particular motives, which implacably enraged them against the English, and thus taking Berno with them as a leader, who knew the country, they came, as they declared, to revenge themselves and him upon the King and his subjects: and thus in the year 865, being the tenth of King Edmund's reign, Ingwar and Ubba, with Berno, Halfdene, Oskitel, Bagseg, Hosten, Eowils, Hamand, and Guthrum, the chief leaders, with 20,000 armed men, took ships and set sail for EastEngland, but by contrary winds, they were driven ashore in Scotland, at Berwick upon Tweed, where they destroyed all things, killed old and young, spared no age, sex, or religious profession, but burned the towns and villages, and destroyed the monasteries, for every one that acknowledged the Christian faith was reputed as a publick enemy to those heathen miscreants; this being done, they went home; but the year following, being the eleventh of King Edmund's reign, they put to sea again, and spent the whole year in coasting about, going sometimes by sea, sometimes by land, burning and destroying all they could meet with on the East-English coasts, seizing all the horses they could find in the country, and getting many from King Edmund's army, with which they often skirmished, and oftentimes many of them were killed; nay once this year they besieged the King in one of his castles, so long, that the besieged were almost starved, at which time the King, to keep the knowledge thereof from the Danes, caused the only fatted bull which they had in the castle to be fed with what clear wheat they had left, and then to be turned out among the Danes, who seized on him, and opening him, seeing the wheat in his bowels, they concluded they had provision enough in the castle, if they could feed their cattle so, and thereupon brake up the siege, and the King following them, slew a great number. Another time, the Danes followed the King and enclosed him in a place, (fn. 12) where the marshes and rivers surrounded him, at which time he had very few with him; but the King found out the ford called Berneford, (fn. 13) and passed it, and joining his army, came suddenly on the Danes, and made so great a slaughter of them, that they were forced to leave the country. The next year, being the third time of their coming, they wet to York, and soon after, in a pitched battle, overcame the men of Northumberland, and killed their two kings, the lustful Osbrich, or Osbert, and Alla, and those that remained were forced to make peace with the Pagans, and become subject to them. (fn. 14) The next year, being their fourth voyage, they left Notyngham and Northumberland, and went to Mercia, and staid there the whole winter, burning the monasteries, deflowering the nuns, committing all manner of rapine and cruelty; they burnt St. Ebba, (fn. 15) with her nuns and monastery, together with Landaff, Tynemouth, Weremouth, Streveshall, and several other great monasteries. The year following, being their fifth excursion, they returned to York, where they ravaged a year more; and the year following, (fn. 16) being the sixth from their first coming, and the fifteenth of King Edmund's reign, they came again to EastEngland to revenge themselves further of the King, at which time they burnt the monasteries of Croiland, Thorney, Peterburgh, Ramsey, Seham, and Ely, with most of the religious in them, and from thence went through the country from west to north, seizing and spoiling all they could, Ubba staying to guard all their spoil, and what they had taken, at or near Ely: Ingwar with his army entered East-England, and went to a city of King Edmund's, called Theodford, where he encamped, and entered soon after and burned it, killing old and young, ravishing both virgins and matrons; King Edmund, who was then at Eglesdune, (now called Hoxon, in Suffolk,) received a message from Ingwar, that if he would renounce Christianity, and worship his idols, and become his vassal and servant, then he would divide his treasure and kingdom with him; as soon as King Edmund received this message, he marched with his army against his enemies, and engaged not far from Theodford, where they fought sharply from morning till evening, a great number being slain on both sides, for which King Edmund was much grieved, as well for the pagans deaths, as for those martyrs of his army who died there in defence of their faith. On the morrow the Danes departed, and the King, with the remains of his army, returned to Eglesdune, resolving never more to fight against the pagans, but if it was necessary to yield up himself a sacrifice for his people, and for the faith of Christ. Ingwar, much vexed for the loss of his men, went again to Theodford, where Ubba came to him with 10,000 men, and joining forces, went to Eglesdune, and there martyred the King, in the year of our Lord 871, and of his age twenty-nine, and of his reign fifteen, and he was buried in the earth at Eglesdune, and laid there thirty-three years; Speed relates it thus, in the life of this King, (fol. 328,) the Danes leaving Northumberland, &c. "came with fury into Edmund's territories, and sacked Tketford, a frequent [or much frequented] city in those days, but be not able to withstand their violence, fled into his castle at Framlingham, (in Suffolk,) wherein he was of them besieged, and lastly taken in a village called Heghsdune, of a wood bearing the same name, or rather yielding himself to their torments, to save more Christian blood: for it is recorded, that because of his most constant Faith and Profession, those pagans first beat him with bats, then scourged him with whips, he still calling upon the name of Jesus, for rage whereof they bound him to a stake, and with their arrows shot him to death, and cutting off his head, contemptuously threw it into a bush, after he had reigned over the East-Angles the space of fifteen years, having had neither wife nor issue that is read of." With him was martyred Humbert Bishop of Elmham, (fn. 17) and almost all the nobility of his kingdom, (fn. 18) for which the Danes much rejoiced, the inhabitants being totally subdued, and obliged to submit to them for want of leaders; after this they wintered at Thetford, ravaging all the adjacent country, Gutrum, Gytro, or Guthram, coming hither and wintering with them; and it seems as if he staid here, notwithstanding it is said that this spring all the Danes withdrew out of East-England. (fn. 19)

Footnotes

1 Sax. Cron. p. 64.
2 Holinsh. tol. 200.
3 Cron. Sax. p. 73.
4 Ibidem, fol. 78. Higden says 869.
5 Ibid. p. 79.
6 Ibid. p. 80.
7 Speed, fol. 329. Fort St. George.
8 Speed says, Alkmund maintained his son's election, and sent him with a power to claim the kingdom.
9 Speed, fol. 328, says, they landed at a place called Maydenboure, and built a royal tower, which he named, and to this day is called Hunstanton, situate upon the N.W. point of Norfolk, that likewise beareth his own name, (viz. St. Edmund's point.)
10 Speed, fol. 398, says, that as Lothbroke (which signifies Leather-briche) hawked on the shore, his hawk in flying the game fell into the sea, which made him go into his cock-boat to save her, and so was driven as aforesaid.
11 Speed calls him Bericke.
12 Probably Lothingland in Suffolk, which some imagine was so called from Lothbroke the Dane, by his descendants, after they settled in it.
13 Probably somewhere near Barnbye, called by him Berneford, because he escaped from Berno by it. I take this more likely than Brentford.
14 Speed agrees, fol. 198.
15 She was Abbess of Coldingham, and fearing to be ravished by the Danes, she cut off her own nose and upper lip, and persuaded her sisters to do the same, that they being odious to the Danes, might keep their virginity; in despite whereof, the Danes burned them all. Stow, qo. edit. p. 121.
16 Stow says, that they divided themselves this year, part wintered by the Tyne and subdued that country, the other part went with Guthram, Oskecellus (or Osketellus) and Amandus, three of the pagan kings, to Grantbridge, (or Cambridge, and wintered there,) and these were they that made such havocks in these parts.
17 Mat. Westm. Dug. Mon. Ang. vol. i. fol. 235.
18 Asserij Annales Ang'. Edit. per Tho. Gale, D. D. vol. l. p. 152.
19 Ibidem.