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OTD 23rd May 913: Burh building at Hertford

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Phyllis:
Today we’re talking about the last years of the Danelaw. It’s 913 AD, picture the scene, described for us here by the chronicler, John of Worcester…

“After Rogation days [23rd May], King Edward [“the Elder”] detached part of his troops to build a town on the south side of the river Lea, and, marching the rest into Essex, pitched his camp at Maldon. He took up his quarters there while a town was building at Witham, which was afterwards fortified; and a great portion of the inhabitants who were enthralled by the Pagans submitted themselves to him, with all they possessed.”

During Rogationtide in 913 AD Edward left a garrison completing a burh at Hertford and marched his army into Essex. They built a burh at Witham on the Roman road between London and Colchester, while camping at Maldon. The logistics were complex. Edward had to have a fighting army but also builders and enough men to garrison his burh once it was completed and the army moved on. There is no record of local resistance to the building activity and once it was completed they submitted to Edward.
Witham was not as significant a settlement as some that were built. It didn’t produce coins and it was smaller scale.
912-914 AD saw the first phase of Edward’s campaign to re-conquer (or conquer, depending on your point of view) the Danelaw, which had a Scandinavian leadership following the Treaty of Alfred and Guþrum, and was later renegotiated under the Treaty of Tiddingford between Edward and the Danes around 905-906 AD. That treaty held the peace for about 3 years until Æþelred of Mercia and his wife Æþelflæd raided Bardney in 909-910 AD to recover the relics of Oswald, breaking the terms of the treaty. The Danes retaliated with raids of their own and relations fractured.  In 910 AD the two sides met at the Battle of Tettenhall in August 910 AD with an overwhelming victory for Edward.
From 912-914 AD Edward and Æþelflæd (leader of Mercia since her husband’s death in 910/911 AD) fought persistently and uncompromisingly to take the Danish territories under their control.
Following a victory in the field, Edward established a burh to maintain control of the area. With this approach we see Edward diverging from his father Alfred’s use of burhs as defensive fortifications, and developing them into offensive devices. There was no occupying army to be driven out; the Danes had settled on the land for a couple of generations and the population was now integrated. It no longer made sense to talk about Angelcynn and Danish. Edward had to consolidate his rule over the people as a whole after winning his battles and the establishment of the burhs allowed him to do so. In this phase of the campaign Edward and Æþelflæd built 11 burhs, including a double burh at Hertford either side of the river.
In the second phase of the campaign, 915-916 AD, Edward started to work into the Outer Danelaw: Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Huntingdonshire and Northamptonshire. He was back at Maldon in 916 AD building another burh to support Witham.
Æþelflæd died in 918 AD just as York was on the cusp of submitting to her. From that point on Edward took sole control of the campaign into the remaining Scandinavian territories and also established control over Mercia. In total by 921 AD thirty burhs had been constructed or refortified, from Bremesburh in 910 AD to Cledemuþa (Rhuddlan) in 921 AD. The project also included, in 920 AD, building a bridge over the River Trent at Nottingham, which in construction and length was second only to the London Bridge restored by Alfred during his reign. By the end of 920 AD he had secured the submission of the kings in the north:

“At that time the king of the Scots, with all his people, Regnald, king of the Danes, with the English and Danes of Northumbria, and the king of the Strathclyde Britons, with his subjects, chose king Edward the Elder for their father and lord, and made a firm alliance with him.”

Edward died in 924 AD and his son, Æþelstan eventually was recognised as his successor and crowned the following year. His father’s legacy enabled him to complete the task of taking control of the Danelaw and establishing a potential kingdom of England.
 
Image: Map of burhs in 912 AD, from The History of England website thehistoryofengland.co.uk/2011/01/21/10-english-reconquest/

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