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Battlefield: Maldon

With thousands of Viking raiders wreaking havoc along the coast of south-east England, a defensive army was assembled to deal with them on the banks of an Essex river. Julian Humphrys reports on the action…

Return of the Vikings

Almost as soon as the fleet of Viking ships arrived in the English Channel in AD 991, its crew made clear they weren’t on a goodwill mission. Within weeks, they had attacked and plundered Folkestone and Sandwich, and also paid an equally unwelcome visit to Ipswich. By early August, they had sailed up the Blackwater Estuary, and set up camp on Northey Island, where they were threatening the Essex town of Maldon. A prosperous spot with a royal mint, it’s not surprising that Maldon made a tempting target for the Scandinavian raiders.

We don’t know for certain who led this Viking raiding force. It may have been Olaf Trygvasson, a Norwegian adventurer who made himself King of Norway, or it might have been the notorious warrior, Svein Forkbeard, King of Denmark. It may, in fact, have been both of them or even someone else but, whoever it was, the raiders presented a threat that couldn’t be ignored. It fell to a veteran servant of King Æthelred called Ealdorman Brihtnoth to lead the English response. An ‘ealdorman’ was a type of noble, responsible for the defence and government of a particular region, which in Brihtnoth’s case was Essex.

WARRIOR POSE At the annual Up Helly Aa festival in the Shetlands, Viking re-enactors stand shieldto-shield. The English force at Maldon would have faced a similar, if less glittering, sight
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The October 2015 issue of History Revealed