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10th August 991Battle of Maldon


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Battle of Maldon


Ealdorman Brihtnoth’s army, which fought at the battle of Maldon, was mainly a militia force from Essex. At most perhaps 3-4,000 strong, it was raised following the Viking attack on Ipswich and marched to challenge the Viking forces as they advanced on Maldon. It is believed that the Viking boats landed on Northey Island to the east of Maldon and that the East Saxon army cornered them there. But it was high tide and so there was a shouted negotiation where Brihtnoth refused to pay the invaders to depart but rather challenged them to battle.








The Viking force is thought to have landed in the Blackwater estuary on the coast of Essex. At the head of the estuary is the town of Maldon. After Ipswich this was a logical target for the Viking raids. It was a port and town of sufficient commercial importance to have a royal mint.




With the death of their leader the majority of the Saxon force, presumably including most if not all of the fyrd, fled to the relative safety of the nearby woods. The collapse of an army at the death of its leader appears to have been a major factor in medieval battles, as is seen in the Bayeux Tapestry where great play is made of the fact that William had to reassure his troops that he was still alive at a critical stage of the Hastings battle. Indeed, as late as 1485 one can see Richard III, at Bosworth, attempt to reach and kill the rebel Henry Tudor in one last desperate attempt to save the day. Such personal influence can only have been possible in battles where only a few thousand troops were involved. It was certainly a far less significant influence on major later battles, where troop numbers reach ten thousand or more.




It has been argued that Maldon was one of the largest of the battles of the period and yet in 994, just three years later a fleet of 94 ships once more attacked the south east of England. Indeed there were many other engagements large and small during Aethelred’s reign. Other battles were fought across England, the Ealdormen of other regions raising their fyrd, sometimes of one county sometimes several together. The importance of Maldon is that it is the best documented of battles of this dramatic period which ended in the subjugation of England under a Danish king.



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