Bridgnorth Hustain the Lusty Viking

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Bridgnorth Hustain the Lusty Viking

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Before Hastain the marauder left what is now Bridgnorth for France in Spring 896 AD, they told stories around their winter camp.

One being when Thor went fishing for the monster sea serpent Jörmungandr using a giant's bull's head.

Locals tell of the red dragon that killed the white dragon. A prophesy of the defeat of the Saxon invaders by the Celts over 400 years before. And a new prophesy, that when the blood moon rises, the Saxons will join with the Welsh to defeat the Vikings in Mercia forever.

15 years later their escape back to Bridgnorth and The Severn was blocked by the Welsh forces. Those Northumbrian Vikings wished Hastain hadn't angered the Welsh as they were pursued by the Mercian and Wessex armies. They were massacred at the Battle of Tettenhall...

Aethelflaeda, the daughter of Alfred the Great set up a burh at what would become Bridgnorth a year later.

(Photograph taken over Christmas 2011 on a balmy Winter night using a heat sensitive story filter.)

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In the year

896AD

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The stories told around the last winter camp of Hastain the Viking

The Prophecy of Merlin

Vortigern (Welsh: Gwrtheyrn; Old English: Wyrtgeorn; Breton: Guorthigern; Irish: Foirtchern) was a 5th-century warlord in Britain, a leading ruler among the Britons. His existence is considered likely, though information about him is shrouded in legend. He is said to have invited the Saxons to settle in Kent as mercenaries to aid him in fighting the Picts and the Scots beyond Hadrian's Wall. But they revolted, killing his son in the process and adding Sussex and Essex to their own kingdom. It is said that he took refuge in north Wales, and that his grave is in Dyfed or the Lleyn Peninsula.

According to legend, when Vortigern fled into Wales to escape the Anglo-Saxon invaders, he chose the lofty hillfort Dinas Emrys as the site for his royal retreat. Every day his men would work hard erecting the first of several proposed towers; but the next morning they would return to find the masonry collapsed in a heap. This continued for many weeks until Vortigern was advised to seek the help of a young boy born of a virgin mother. The King sent his soldiers out across the land to find such a lad. The boy they found was called Myrddin Emrys (Merlin Ambrosius). Vortigern, following the advice of his councillors, was planning to kill the boy in order to appease supernatural powers that prevented him from building a fortress here. Merlin scorned this advice, and instead explained that the hill fort could not stand due to a hidden pool containing two vermes (dragons). He explained how the White Dragon of the Saxons though winning the battle at present, would soon be defeated by the British Red Dragon. After Vortigern's downfall, the fort was given to alias Emrys Wledig (Ambrosius Aurelianus), hence its name.

Origin and confinement of the dragons

Dinas Emrys is a rocky and wooded hillock near Beddgelert in Gwynedd, north-west Wales. Rising some 250 ft above the floor of the Glaslyn river valley, it overlooks the southern end of Llyn Dinas in Snowdonia

The earliest sources regard the two dragons as distinctly different, and in a metaphor of the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain describes one as being native to the island of Britain (it had arrived first) which was then joined by another new and alien dragon that fought it for supremacy.
As to how the dragons became confined there, the story of Lludd and Llefelys in the Mabinogion gives details...

The Mabinogion is the title given to a collection of eleven prose stories collated from medieval Welsh manuscripts. The tales draw on pre-Christian Celtic mythology, international folktale motifs, and early medieval historical traditions. While some details may hark back to older Iron Age traditions, each of these tales is the product of a highly developed medieval Welsh narrative tradition, both oral and written. Lady Charlotte Guest in the mid 19th century was the first to publish English translations of the collection, popularising the name "Mabinogion" at the same time.

According to the legend, when Lludd ruled Britain (c.100 BCE), a hideous scream, whose origin could not be determined, was heard each May Eve. This scream so perplexed the Britons that it caused infertility, panic and mayhem throughout the realm. In need of help Lludd sought counsel on this and other matters from his brother Llefelys, a King of Gaul. Llefelys furnished the information that the scream was caused by battling dragons. The scream would be uttered by the dragon of the Britons when it was fighting another alien dragon and was being defeated. Lludd heeded the advice given to him by Llefelys and captured both dragons in a cauldron filled with beer when they had transformed themselves, as apparently dragons did, into pigs. The captured dragons were buried at the place later called Dinas Emrys, as it was regarded as the safest place to put them.

Hastein

A notable Viking chieftain of the late 9th century who made several raiding voyages.

Early life

Little is known of Hastein's early life, described as a Dane in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, he is often given as a son of Ragnar Lodbrok. He is first recorded taking part in the Viking attack on the Frankish Empire, occupying Noirmoutier in 843 and on the Loire again in 859 for his great raid into the Mediterranean.

Spain and the Mediterranean

One of the most famous Viking raids was Hastein's voyage to the Mediterranean (859-862AD), having set out with Björn Ironside, another son of Ragnar Lodbrok with 62 ships from the Loire.

At first the raiding did not go well, with Hastein being defeated by the Asturians and later the Muslims of the Umayyad Caliphate of Córdoba at Niebla in 859. Success followed with the sacking of Algeciras, where the mosque was burned, and then the ravaging of Mazimma in the Idrisid Caliphate on the north coast of Africa, followed by further raids into the Umayyad Caliphate at Orihuela, the Balearic Islands and Roussillon.

Hastein and Björn wintered at Camargue island on the mouth of the Rhone before ravaging Narbonne, Nîmes and Arles, then as far north as Valence, before moving onto Italy. There they attacked the city of Luna. Believing it to be Rome, Hastein had his men carry him to the gate and tell the guards he was dying and wished to convert to Christianity. Once inside, he was taken to the town's church where he received the sacraments, before jumping from his stretcher and leading his men in a sack of the town. Another account has him wanting to convert before he dies and the following day feigns death. The city then lets 50 robed men come in for his burial all of which had swords under their robes. Hastein then jumps from his coffin and chops off the religious leaders heads on the way to sacking the city. As might be imagined, the veracity of this is much debated. The fleet then possibly raided Byzantine Empire sites in the eastern Mediterranean.

Æthelred, Ealdorman of Mercia

Ealdorman Æthelred (died 911) was ruler of Mercia from about 883, when he submitted to King Alfred of Wessex. He married Alfred's daughter Æthelflaed between 882 and 887, and his title was "Lord of the Mercians". Although he had many attributes of a king, he was subject to the power of his close ally Wessex. His descent is unknown, and he does not appear to have been closely related to his immediate predecessors.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says that Æthelred spent much of the 890s leading military campaigns in eastern England. He was recorded as fighting many battles against the Welsh, and at one point Brochwael ab Meurig, joint ruler with his brother of the Welsh Kingdom of Gwent appealed to Alfred for help against Earldorman Æthelred. From about 902, Æthelfleda became the effective ruler of Mercia due to Æthelred's ill health, and when he died in 911 she succeeded him. After Æthelfleda's death in 918, their daughter Ælfwynn briefly ruled Mercia until deposed by Edward the Elder.

On the way back to the Loire, he stopped off in North Africa where he bought several African slaves (known to the Vikings as 'blámenn', blue men, possibly West Africans or Touaregs) who he later sold in Ireland. Homeward bound, Hastein and Björn were defeated by a Muslim fleet soon after the Straits of Gibraltar, but still managed to ravage Pamplona before returning home to the Loire with 20 ships.

The Loire and the Seine

Settled back in Brittany, Hastein allied himself with Salomon, King of Brittany against the Franks in 866, and as part of a Viking-Breton army he killed Robert the Strong at the Battle of Brissarthe near Châteauneuf-sur-Sarthe. In 867 he went on to ravage Bourges and a year later attacked Orléans. Peace lasted until spring 872 when the Viking fleet sailed up the Maine and occupied Angers, which led to a siege by the Frankish king Charles the Bald and a peace being agreed in October 873.

Hastein remained in the Loire country until 882, when he was finally expelled by the Charles and then relocated his army north to the Seine. There he stayed until the Franks besieged Paris and his territory in the Picardy was threatened. It was at this point he became one of many experienced Vikings to look to England for riches and plunder.

Hastein's Army in England

Hastein first crossed to England from Boulogne in 892 leading one of two great companies. His army, the smaller of the two, landed in 80 ships and occupied the royal village of Milton in Kent, whilst his allies landed at Appledore with 250 ships. Alfred the Great positioned the West Saxon army between them to keep them from uniting, the result of which was that Hastein agreed terms, including allowing his two sons to be baptised, and left Kent for Essex. The larger army attempted to reunite with Hastein after raiding Hampshire and Berkshire in the late spring of 893, but was defeated at Farnham by an army under Prince Edward, Alfred's son. The survivors eventually reached Hastein's army at Mersea Island, after a combined West Saxon and Mercian army failed to dislodge them from their fortress at Thorney.

The result left Hastein in command of a formidable Danish army at his fortified camp (or burh) at Benfleet in Essex, where he combined the men and ships from Appledore and Milton. He set out on a raid in Mercia, but whilst the main army was away the garrison was defeated by the bolstered militia of eastern Wessex. The West Saxons captured the fort, along with the ships, booty, women and children. This was a major blow for Hastein, who had lost his wife and sons in the loss of Benfleet. He re-established his combined force at a new fort at Shoebury further north in Essex, and received reinforcements from the Danish Kingdom of East Anglia and the Scandinavian Kingdom of York. He also had his two sons returned to him since Alfred and Athelred had stood sponsor at their baptism early in 893.

Next, Hastein launched his men on a savage retaliatory raid along the Thames valley then up the River Severn. It was pursued all the way by Aethelred of Ealdorman of Mercia and a combined Mercian and West Saxon army, reinforced by a contingent of warriors from the Welsh kingdoms. Eventually the Viking army was trapped on the island of Buttingham on the Severn near Welshpool, but they fought their way out several weeks later, and lost many men, and returned to the fortress at Shoebury. In late summer 893, Hastein's men struck out again. First they wisely moved all their booty, women and ships in East Anglia, and after being reinforced marched to Chester to occupy the ruined Roman fortress. The refortified fortress should have made an excellent base for raiding northern Mercia, but the Mercians took the drastic Scorched earth measure of destroying all crops and livestock in the surrounding countryside to starve the Danes out.

In the autumn the besieged army left Chester, marched down to the south of Wales and devastated the Welsh kingdoms of Brycheiniog, Gwent and Glywysing until the summer of 894.

The old kingdoms of Wales

They return via Northumbria, the Danish held midlands of the Five Burghs, and East Anglia to return to the fort at Mersea Island. In the autumn of 894, the army towed their ships up the Thames to a new fort on the River Lea. In the summer of 895 Alfred arrived with the West Saxon army, and obstructed the course of the Lea with a fort either side of the river. The Danes abandoned their camp, returned their women to East Anglia and made another great march across the Midlands to a site on the Severn (where Bridgnorth now stands), followed all the way by hostile forces. There they stayed until the spring of 896 when the army finally dispersed into East Anglia, Northumbria and the Seine

Legacy

Hastein disappeared from history in around 896, by then an old man having already been described as "the lusty and terrifying old warrior of the Loire and the Somme", when he arrived in England several years earlier. He was one of the most notorious and successful Vikings of all times, having raided dozens of cities across many kingdoms in Europe and North Africa.

Jörmungandr

In Norse mythology, Jörmungandr or Midgard Serpent or World Serpent, is a sea serpent, and the middle child of the giantess Angrboða and the god Loki. According to the Prose Edda, Odin took Loki's three children, Fenrisúlfr, Hel and Jörmungandr, and tossed Jörmungandr into the great ocean that encircles Midgard. The serpent grew so large that he was able to surround the Earth and grasp his own tail. When he lets go, the world will end. As a result, he received the name of the Midgard Serpent or World Serpent. Jörmungandr's arch-enemy is the god Thor.

Thor's fishing trip

Another encounter came when Thor went fishing with the giant Hymir. When Hymir refused to provide Thor with bait, Thor struck the head off Hymir's largest ox to use as such.[3] They rowed to a point where Hymir often sat and caught flat fish, where he drew up two whales. Thor demanded to go farther into the water, and did so despite Hymir's warnings.

Thor then prepared a strong line and a large hook, which Jörmungandr bit. Thor pulled the serpent from the water, whereupon the two faced one another, Jörmungandr dribbling poison and blood. Hymir went pale with fear, and as Thor grabbed his hammer to kill the serpent, the giant cut the line, leaving the serpent to sink beneath the waves.

Battle of Tettenhall

The Battle of Tettenhall (sometimes referred to as the Battle of Wōdnesfeld now called Wednesfield) took place, according to the Anglo Saxon Chronicle near Tettenhall, on the 5 August 910. The allied forces of Mercia and Wessex met an army of Northumbrian Vikings in Mercia. The allied army scored a great victory over the Viking force, the last major army sent by the Danes to ravage England.

Æthelflæd (869–918)

The eldest daughter of King Alfred the Great of Wessex and Ealhswith, wife of Æthelred, ealdorman of Mercia, and after his death, ruler of Mercia (911–918

During a sustained campaign of repeated attack between 865 and 878 the Danish Vikings overran most of the English Kingdoms such as Northumbria, Eastern Mercia, East Anglia and even threatened the very existence of Wessex. Alfred and his descendants reconquered these lands from the Danes by 937. The aid given him in this by Mercia had to be acknowledged. Instead of making the dominion of Wessex over Mercia seem like a conquest, Alfred married Æthelflæd to Æthelred of Mercia and gave his son-in-law the title Ealdorman or Earl of Mercia, thus allowing some ongoing autonomy. Since much of Western Mercia was never under the control of the Danes, and remained strong, this was a prudent move. Further prudence prevailed when the kingdoms were finally absorbed; they were not absorbed into Wessex or greater Wessex but into England. The term Anglo-Saxon thus reflects King Alfred's diplomatic integration of the Mercians Angles and the Saxons.

Lady of the Mercians (911–918)

While her husband was alive, she signed agreements, leading some to think that she was the real leader. On her husband's death in 911 after the Battle of Tettenhall, she was elevated to the status of "Lady of the Mercians". This title was not a nominal position; she was a formidable military leader and tactician. Æthelflæd ruled for approximately eight years. During this time she built founded several famous towns, or burhs: 910: Bremesbyrig (unidentified). 912: Scergeat (unidentified) and Bridgnorth. 913: Tamworth, Stafford. 914: Eddisbury, Warwick. 915: Chirbury, Weardbyrig (unidentified), Runcorn.

Subsequently, she engaged in hostile expeditions: 916: into Wales, breaking down Brecenan Mere, perhaps at Llangorse Lake. 917: capture of the Danish stronghold of Derby. 918: capture of Leicester.

After successful raids by Danish Vikings, significant parts of North-Eastern England, formerly Northumbria, were under their control. Danish attacks into central England had been resisted and effectively reduced by Alfred the Great, to the point where his son, King Edward of Wessex, could launch offensive attacks against the foreigners. Edward was allied with the Mercians under his sister Æthelfleda, and their combined forces were formidable. The allies launched a five-week campaign against Lindsey (a petty Anglo-Saxon kingdom, absorbed into Northumbria in the 7th century) in 909, and successfully captured the relics of Saint Oswald of Northumbria.

The dark red moon

In Viking mythology Skoll and Hati are two wolves. They chase after the sun and the moon. The Vikings believed when the wolves caught the sun or moon the light went out. To save the light the Vikings made as much noise as possible to distract the wolves so the sun or moon could escape. So every time there was an eclipse normally the Vikings would howl like wolves until the light returned. This time, however, they remained silent, and this heralded their downfall.

The first day of November 909AD. On a clear frosty morning, the moon turned red for nearly an hour.

The battle

The Vikings quickly sought retaliation for the Northern excursion. In 910, the Danelaw Kings assembled a fleet and transported a Danish army, via the River Severn, directly into the heart of Mercia. There they ravaged the land and collected large amounts of valuable plunder, but quickly sought to return North rather than be trapped in hostile territory. They knew King Edward was away, massing a fleet of ships in Kent. However, to the surprise of the Danes, the King met with his Mercian allies and moved to surround the raiders. The Vikings' found their way to Bridgnorth was blocked by the allied army strengthened with Welsh warriors. Unable to reach their exit route to the sea, and pursued through hostile land by Edward and Æthelfleda 's forces, they were forced to choose battle.

While little is known of the exact manoeuvres employed at the battle, it is obvious the allies trapped their Viking opponents and inflicted heavy casualties on them. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle states that "many thousands of men" were killed, referring to the Danes. Seemingly unable to retreat, the Kings leading the Viking raid were both killed by the allied troops - King Eowils and King Halfdan.

Burh

A Burh is an Old English name for a fortified town or other defended site, sometimes centred upon a hill fort though always intended as a place of permanent settlement, its origin was in military defence; it represented only a stage, though a vitally important one, in the evolution of the medieval English borough and of the medieval town. The boundaries of ancient burhs can often still be traced to modern urban borough limits. Most of these were founded by Alfred the Great in a consciously planned policy that was continued under his son Edward the Elder and his daughter, Æthelflaed, "Lady of the Mercians" and her husband Æthelred, Ealdorman of Mercia; the Mercian Register tells of the building of ten burhs by Aethelflaed, some as important as Tamworth and Stafford, others now unidentifiable. Some were based on pre-existing Roman structures, some newly built, though some may have been built later. Athelstan granted these burhs the right to mint coinage, and in the tenth and eleventh century the firm rule was that no coin was to be struck outside a burh.

A 10th century document called the Burghal Hidage cites 30 burhs in Wessex and three in Mercia (then under the domination of the West Saxon kings), built to defend the region against Viking raids.

Consequences

With the Northern Danes subdued, the forces of Wessex and Mercia could be focused against those who had settled further South. It was also the defeat of the last great raiding army from Denmark to ravage England. With allied strength rising, England was soon united under one domestic monarch, and Danish expansion was quelled permanently. However, a power vacuum was created in the North. Vikings in Ireland saw their chance to occupy Northern England and did so.

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