Ivar the Boneless
, leader of the Great Heathen army, disappeared from the records. He may have died or returned to Scandinavia.
870 (4th February)
870 (28th December)
The Viking force took Reading in Wessex.
870 (31st December)
Battle of Englefield
A group of Vikings left Reading and approached Englefield where a number of Saxons
had mustered under King Aethelred I
. The Saxons succeeded in killing a number of Vikings and the rest retreated to Reading.
871 (4th January)
Battle of Reading
King Aethelred I of Wessex and his brother Alfred
attacked the gateway to the town of Reading but were beaten back by the Vikings.
871 (8th January)
Battle of Ashdown
Aethelred and Alfred regrouped their forces and split into two sections. Seeing the Vikings approach Alfred ordered his men to attack and they successfully repulsed the Vikings.
871 (22nd January)
Battle of Basing
The Saxons, led by Aethelred and Alfred, fought the Vikings but were forced to retreat.
871 (22nd March)
Battle of Meretum
Aethelred, supported by his brother Alfred, fought the Vikings. The battle was inconclusive and both sides withdrew. Aethelred had been badly injured in the battle.
871 (23rd April)
King Aethelred I died of injuries sustained at Meretum. He was succeeded by his younger brother Alfred because his sons Aethelhelm
were considered too young to rule.
King Aethelred I was buried at Wimborne.
871 (early Summer)
Battle of Wilton
The Saxons, now led by King Alfred, were beaten by the Viking force.
After suffering a year of minor defeats by the Danes, Alfred was forced to buy them off. They promised to leave Wessex alone for five years.
An uprising in Northumbria overthrew the Viking puppet King Ecgbert. The Viking force established a new base in Lindsey and quickly suppressed the Northumbrian revolt.
The Vikings turned their attention to Mercia and captured Repton.
The Vikings continued to attack Mercia and King Burgred
was forced to leave the county. This allowed the Vikings to take control of Mercia and install Ceowulf as a puppet King.
A son, Edward
, later known as the Elder, was born to Alfred and his wife Aelhswith.
The Great Heathen Army split. Halfdan took his section north while Guthrum
took the remainder south.
A daughter, Aethelgifu, was born to Alfred and Ealhswith.
Donyarth, King of Cornwall drowned in the River Fowey.
The Viking force led by Guthrum attacked Wessex and took Wareham in Dorset. Alfred lay siege to Wareham but a new Viking force of around 120 ships was seen off the coast meaning success was unlikely.
The Vikings led by Halfdan began dividing up Northumbria preparing to settle the land permanently.
Alfred was concerned that the Witan would lose faith in his ability to be King and tried to get Aethelred, Archbishop of Canterbury
on his side.
Alfred made a deal with Guthrum, leader of the Vikings and demanded hostages in return for peace. But Guthrum did not keep the deal, he killed his Saxon hostages and moved to Exeter, leaving the Viking ships at Wareham.
A freak storm destroyed a large number of Guthrum’s ships moored off Wareham and a large number of Vikings were drowned. This allowed Alfred to leave Wareham and march to Exeter where he forced Guthrum to surrender.
The Vikings led by Guthrum had moved to Gloucester and began dividing up Mercia preparing to settle the land permanently.
A daughter, Aelfthryth, was born to Alfred and Ealhswith.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Aethelred, was very critical of Alfred’s practice of buying off the Vikings and complained to the Pope that this was not a good use of church money. The Pope wrote to Alfred warning him not to misuse church funds.
The Vikings continued to attack Wessex taking more and more land.
Guthrum left Wessex.
878 (6th January)
Guthrum returned with a large force and marched on Chippenham where Alfred was resident. Most of the town’s inhabitants were killed but Alfred managed to escape. It is likely that this was the last straw for the Witan and that Alfred lost their support due to the fact that his attempts to pay off the Vikings had not worked. Alfred was forced to leave Wessex in fear for his life. He sought refuge in the Somerset marshes at Athelney.
The Alfred and the burnt cakes legend stems from this period. The legend states that Alfred was taken in and given shelter by a woman who did not recognise him. She asked him to watch some cakes for her but he was so taken up with his thoughts about how to defeat the Vikings that the cakes were burnt.
The story may have some truth and Alfred and his family may well have been taken in by a peasant family who had no idea who he was.
Equally likely is that the story is an allegory for Alfred’s situation. He had been so absorbed in trying to pay off the Vikings that he had not fully realised the extent to which he had lost the support of the Witan. He may even have been overthrown by a coup.
Whatever the truth of the story, Alfred did not give up or exile himself. Instead he bided his time and formulated a plan to regain his place as King and began rallying local militia. There is no surviving evidence as to who was ruler of Wessex during the time Alfred spent in Athelney.
Battle of Contisbury Hill
A large Viking force led by Ubba
marched on Contisbury Hill in Devon. Earldorman Odda was inside the fort on top of the hill. Odda decided to attack the Vikings and during the fighting Ubba was killed.
Alfred, who was still in hiding, used guerrilla tactics to stop Guthrum from making further progress in Wessex. He also sent out secret messages to the Saxons requesting that they muster at Egbert’s stone on 4th May.
878 (4th May)
Alfred rode to the muster point where the main Wessex fyrds had mustered giving Alfred a force of around 4,000 men. Odda and the Devon fyrd were absent probably due to losses incurred by the recent battle against Ubba.
878 (4th or 5th May)
Battle of Edington
Alfred defeated the Viking army and forced the leader, Guthrum, to accept baptism and peace terms.
878 (after 5th May)
Treaty of Wedmore
This was a peace treaty between Alfred and Guthrum. The Vikings agreed that they would retreat to the north where they would have their own independent kingdom. Guthrum agreed to be baptised and be King of the region which would be subject to his laws known as Danelaw.
As per the terms of the Treaty of Wedmore, the Viking leader Guthrum and around 30 chief Vikings were baptised.
Guthrum, who had been baptised Aethelstan, moved his people out of Wessex to Mercia.
Alfred was now firmly in control of Wessex. He began building a number of fortified towns (burghs) to make any future Viking attack more difficult. The burghs were placed at junctions of existing trading routes to attract traders and also to encourage local people to become market gardeners and traders thus attracting a populace that would in turn provide manpower for the fyrd.
Wessex was soon covered with a network of public strongholds, several of which have a regular grid of streets that can still be seen today. Examples are Winchester, Chichester and Wareham.
Alfred also organised a local defence system as well as spending time and money building ships to match those of the Vikings.
Another band of Vikings arrived in England. They sailed up the Thames and Alfred was concerned that they would join with Guthrum and mount a new attack. However, after a short while they left England and sailed to France.
Guthrum moved his people to East Anglia where he ruled as King Aethelstan.
First published 2016; Updated and re-published Jan 12 2021 @ 7:40 pm – Updated – [last-modified]