The book, "Ironside - The English King who fought the Danes" was launched on Saturday 9th April 2016 at Clementines coffee shop in High Street, Bewdley. The paper copy costs £7.99 and is available at the Tourist Information Centre and at Bewdley Emporium in Lax Lane. Copies can be posted by the publisher for an extra £2.01 per copy. It is also an ebook, which can be ordered from Amazon using this reference: www.amazon.co.uk/Ironside-English-King-fought-Danes-ebook/dp/B01DE2E518. You can also find it by typing in the author's name - Fen Flack. This is the blurb:
In 1013 the Danes invade England. King Aethelred is old and ill-counselled. Can his son Edmund prove a better king and drive the Danes out? In the ensuing struggle, many good men will die and Edmund will earn the nickname Ironside.
Liz Munslow, Fiction Editor, comments: "Fen's gripping narrative brings this period of history to life and you find yourself rooting for Edmund."
Edmund Ironside was the son of Aethelred Ii, known as Aethelred the Unready. Edmund had an older brother Athelstan and also one called Egbert, but he disappears from the records and is thought to have died. There were younger sons too and also some daughters. These were all children by Aethelred's first marriage. Later he married Emma of Normandy and had Edward (who would eventually become Edward the Confessor), Alfred and Godgifu.
We’ve all heard of Aethelred the Unready and we’ve all heard of Cnut (whom we used to call Canute), but who knows there was a king of England in between these two big names? Edmund is the forgotten king of 1016 and a thousand years on, we need to celebrate his short reign.
The Witan didn’t necessarily choose the eldest son, but Athelstan probably would have succeeded his father if he hadn’t died two years before Aethelred.
So when Aethelred died on 23rd April 1016, the Witan’s obvious choice was Edmund, who was in his mid twenties, Aethelred’s other surviving sons being considered too young. However, a bad relationship between Aethelred and Edmund meant the young man was ill-prepared for the role of king. Aethelred had done nothing to prepare Edmund for kingship; rather he frustrated him – with dire consequences.
In the summer of 1015, news came that the Danes were back (they had succeeded in conquering the country in 1013 and had held it for about nine months) and England was again under threat of invasion. Edmund raised troops in the Midlands, but, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, “when the army was gathered, nothing would please them except that the King be here, and that they have the London-dwellers’ help”. Aethelred did not come and there was no support from London, so the army was disbanded. Edmund tried again after Christmas and this time, the King did come, but he believed there was a plot afoot to betray him and ordered his son to disband the force. Edmund’s hands were tied; he couldn’t command an army without the King’s consent and Aethelred wasn’t giving that. Why the bad relationship and lack of trust?
Recent events give us the answer. In the early summer of 1015, Aethelred had called a meeting of the Witan in Oxford, one of the main places held by his right-hand man Eadric. Thegns had come from all over England, including two of his leaders in the north, Morcar and his brother Siferth/Sigeferth. These two had been among men who had accepted the Danish leader Sweyn in the summer of 1013, but they had later returned to the King’s fold and appeared to have been forgiven. However, Aethelred had not forgotten, and their murder by Eadric’s men was almost certainly with Aethelred’s consent, if not at his request. These men had held the Five Boroughs, land in the area of Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire. The King now imprisoned a surviving widow, that of Sigeferth, and intended to confiscate all the land, but Edmund thwarted him. He rescued the widow from her prison, married her and took over the Five Boroughs for himself. This was outright rebellion. Luckily for Edmund, his father was probably too ill to challenge him, and Edmund kept the woman and the property.
This was not the only act of rebellion. In the late summer of 1015, after his marriage, Edmund issued two diplomas. The first diploma granted land at Peakirk and Walton, Northampton to the New Minster (Winchester) for “the redemption of my soul and that of my wife and for the soul of Sigeferth”. The second granted land at Lakenheath, Suffolk, to Thorney Abbey for “the redemption of my soul and that of my wife and for the security of this present life”. Issuing diplomas was a kingly action, and although we don’t know whether Aethelred knew about them, the action in itself shows Edmund was far from being a dutiful son.
Aethelred then faced the defection of Eadric, whose nickname was “Streona”, meaning the acquisitor, the greedy, as he had a reputation for getting his hands on property. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle paints him as a villain. He joined Cnut, together with forty English ships, in the autumn of 1015. Eadric was married to Edith the King’s daughter, so this was treachery at the heart of the court. It is hardly surprising that Aethelred became paranoid and afraid of anyone at the head of an army. So when Edmund raised the fyrd (a local force) early in 1016, although he probably had no intention of overthrowing his father, we can see how it looked from Aethelred’s point of view.
Thus Edmund succeeded to the throne at a very difficult time as the Danes led by Cnut were still harrying England and appeared set on conquest. Aethelred had been a sick man and also ineffective as a military leader. The traitor, Eadric, was probably behind Southampton declaring Cnut its king and rejecting Edmund.
By early May 1016, the Danes were besieging London. Edmund escaped before their stranglehold was complete and moved west into Wessex to raise an army and also get the backing of this crucial area. The Chronicles do not give us details, but it seems likely that the local thegns submitted to him at Winchester and Edmund was able to move on towards Bath, but the Danes were in pursuit, having left some forces besieging London and others coming by boat to their base at Poole. Edmund turned to face them at Penselwood, where Dorset Somerset and Wiltshire meet, a place associated with King Alfred’s call to arms against Guthrum nearly 140 years earlier.
oThe battle at Penselwood was inconclusive, but it looks as though the Danes limped back to Poole to get re-inforcements. Thus Edmund had proved he could fight well. He probably continued to Bath and took the submission of that city, but as he then moved north east the Danes caught up with him and a second battle, allegedly lasting two days, took place at Sherston, not far from Malmesbury in Wiltshire. Again it was inconclusive, but Edmund was able to continue his progress east and the Danes returned by sea to continue their siege of London.
Edmund was now very far from being the under-dog. He raised the siege of London, routed the Danes at Brentford, pursued them through Kent, scattering them at Otford and driving them out of the Isle of Sheppey. He was proving to be a formidable warrior and it must have been at this time that he gained the nickname Ironside, even though this isn’t recorded until 1057.
The new king might have been able to enjoy his kingdom if the Danes had accepted defeat, but they didn’t. Instead they sailed north, made harbour in Essex and went overland to plunder Mercia. Edmund decided to confront them as they returned to their boats.
This was a bloody and terrible encounter at Assandun. Two places claim to be the battle site – Ashingdon in the south of Essex and Ashdon in the north. Wherever it was, the outcome was a disaster for the English – the “flower of its nobility” was killed.
Edmund escaped west and was raising another army in Gloucestershire when the offer of peace talks came. The leaders met on an island called Olney near Deerhurst; the land is still there but it is no longer an island. Here a deal was done: Edmund had Wessex and Cnut the rest of England, the deal being sealed with a large payment of money by the English and an exchange of hostages. Peace, amazingly, had come, and Edmund still had a crown.
So why do we not hear of him? Perhaps because he died within six weeks of this treaty being made. He never had the opportunity to prove he was another Alfred, capable of pushing the Danes out of England. But for a brief time, he gave the English an exceptionally brave and charismatic leader – and one who should not be forgotten.
The images below show some of the artefacts on display at Bishop's Wood Education Centre, near Stourport-on-Severn, Worcestershire. There is also a photo of Penselwood church and one of the Rattlebone Inn in Sherston, a village which has a strong tradition that a man called John Rattlebone fought for Edmund at the battle there. The image of Edmund Ironside is believed to come from an ancient family tree; Edmund issued no coins with his image, so we really don't know what he looked like. A photo (taken on 6th November 2016) of the treaty site at "Olney" has been added.
Events taking place in 2016:
Wednesday 27th April - a meeting of the history group at Pen Selwood near Wincanton to hear about Edmund and in particular the Battle of Penselwood. (The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle spells the name Penselwood, but the current village is called Pen Selwood.) This meeting was attended by 27 people and Fen's presentation prompted a lively discussion and also a vigorous debate about the site of the battle.
Monday 16th May: Brentford History Society had a talk from Howard Simmons (of the Battlefield Trust) on the Battle of Brentford. There were 57 people present and a good discussion with several questions followed the talk.
May 30th Bank Holiday Monday Fete at the Recreation Ground, High Street, Otford in Kent - this was visited by about 4,000 people, which is fewer than normal, but the weather wasn't good as there was a very cold north wind blowing over the site. Re-enactors told the story of the local battle a thousand years ago and the tallest member of the group (at about 6' 8") became Thorkell the Tall for the day.
9th to 10th June Conference in Edinburgh http://www.anglosaxons2016.net This conference was attended by nearly fifty delegates and there were about twenty speakers, many of whom were young academics who had come from far and wide including Australia. The range of subjects was very varied, so there was something for everyone. Alan Thacker gave a keynote address on the Thursday evening on kings and saints. Heather Flack spoke on "Edmund Ironside - The Forgotten King of 1016".
June 18th Saturday a Living History event at Ashdon in N.W Essex - one of the sites claimed to be Assandun. The organisers have a very good programme of events, which can be viewed on their website www.battleofassandun.org. On the Saturday, at Hadstock, there were folk dressed as Anglo-Saxons fighting, cooking and even getting married. On the Sunday, there was Choral Evensong in St. Botolph's Hadstock with the preacher the Bishop of Colchester; he used the church's very old and unusual door as an illustration for his sermon. St. Botolph's may be the minster Cnut built in 1020.
June 25th Saturday an event at Ashingdon in S.E Essex - the other site which claims to be Assandun. This was a day packed full of fun and learning, which took place at the school in Fambridge Road. Included were a re-enactment of the battle, a Viking village to explore, a falconry display, archery and tomahawk throwing. Crowds of folk created a good community feel, despite the thunderstorm in the afternoon.
June 25th Saturday a re-enactment of the Battle of Sherston, near Malmesbury in Wiltshire; this took place on the recreation ground. No one lost their head, but they did re-enact the death of an Edmund lookalike, as well as including a local character called John Rattlebone. it was a great day, except for the rain setting in part way through the battle. Maybe it rained a thousand years ago!
Evening lecture was given by Dr Tim Bolton on Cnut: 7.30 in Sherston Church of the Holy Cross - he included some theories about "John Rattlebone" based on the Domesday Book.
Party at the pub (all night), fireworks were set off at 10.16.
Sunday 26 June: Service in the church at which the Dean of Bristol (noted Saxon scholar) preached
27th June to 2nd July Conference at the University of Nottingham on “The Viking World - Diversity and Change” run by the Centre for the Study of the Viking Age. This was attended by nearly a hundred delegates with more than sixty papers being presented on a huge variety of subjects. Heather Flack again spoke on Edmund. The conference included a panel of four historical novelists with opportunities to purchase their books.
Wednesday July 6 to Saturday 9th July - "The Siege of London 1016", a Millennium Conference at University College London. This was attended by about 90 delegates, with keynote speakers such as Simon Keynes and Roberta Frank, and a wide variety of papers. There was an opportunity to visit the British Library and view some of its treasures relevant to the conference. The fourth day was spent in Winchester, considering Cnut.
21st to 24th July - a conference at Ioannou Centre, Oxford, called "Conquest: 1016 and 1066", which considered both the conquest by Cnut and the one by William I.
Saturday September 10th - an event at Waltons Park, Ashdon in N.W. Essex. Included was a re-enactment of the Battle of Assandun by Regia Anglorum. Despite the rain, there was a great atmosphere and lots of people came to see the battle and visit the many stalls. Staff and volunteers were there from Saffron Walden Museum and helped children to make shields and helmets.
Sunday September 18th - an event at Bishop's Wood, near Stourport-on-Severn, Worcestershire, including a visit from the Thegns of Mercia and a look at Anglo-Saxon archaeology, in particular the burned out hall. The evening before there was story telling in the new Saxon Hall.
Saturday September 24 The Deerhurst lecture was given by Dr. Matthew Townend in St. Mary’s Church. He compared the English accounts of the struggle between Edmund and Cnut as told by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle with those written by Cnut's Norse poets. Not surprisingly, there were differences! He speculated that the D version of the Chronicle may reproduce the terms of the Deerhurst treaty.
Sunday 6th November - an opportunity to stand on the Island of Olney where Edmund and Cnut met in 1016. The Battlefields Trust organised this event to remember the peace treaty which they made. About 25 people gathered at 10 a.m. in Odda’s Chapel at Deerhurst. After looking at some old maps showing where the island used to be, the group set off across the fields. Tony Spicer from the Trust gave a detailed account of events leading up to the making of the treaty between Edmund and Cnut. The eastern channel, which made the piece of land an island in the past, has now silted up and the landscape has been artificially altered, thus making the land appear to be a normal field. The site is accessible by public footpath and lies opposite the sailing club.
30th November marks a thousand years since Edmund died. He was buried at Glastonbury Abbey, but the church which stood there at the time has been replaced and it is thought his bones now lie in the remains of "Edgar's Chapel".
In 2017, the author will continue to visit schools and history groups to share the story of Edmund Ironside.