Sunday, 14 August 2016
Around the 10th or 11th of August 991 the Vikings landed on Northey Island, a small isle attached to the mainland by a causeway, one that the tides cover twice a day. The local Saxons under Earl Byrhtnoth assembled on foot, they were told to 'send steeds away,' to face the foe. The local Thegns such as Aetheric from Braintree collected their men and rode or walked to join the battle. Their thoughts at that time, of fear, wondering and adventure, would differ in no way from men who in more recent times went off to fight the foe in the defence of their land.
The Saxon King at this time was Aethelred the Unready, a rather unfortunate name for a man threatened by invaders. However the word 'Unready' is a mistranslation of a word implying rather 'ill advised,' this is even more unfortunate as his name meant 'noble counseled!'
The counsel of the time regarding Vikings, or as they had now become known 'Danes' was divided between those like Byrhtnoth who believed in fighting them off or those who preferred to buy them off with Gold. Olaf the Viking leader did not ask which way the wind was blowing he just demanded vast sums of cash to leave the island and Byrhtnoth also hesitated not in offering instead sword and spear tips.
Having come prepared for battle and with a belief that each man would die at a predestined time the Danes attempted to leave the island by the causeway. Three men Wulfstan, Aelfhere and Maccus opposed any attempt to cross the narrow bridge. After a while Olaf asked Byrhtnoth to allow his men to cross to the land for a formal battle and Byrhtnoth agreed. There is some dispute as to whether this was arrogance on the Saxon leaders part or whether he realised that if he did not do so the Danes would sale elsewhere and cause terror among undefended people. It must also be remembered that a similar attack in 912 had been beaten off and Byrhtnoth, now in his 68th year, may well have had that battle drummed into his head from childhood.
Whatever the reason the outnumbered Saxons confronted around 2000 - 4000 Vikings and battle was joined. While there was some degree of 'honour' in battle it remained a time when aggressive thuggery ruled and swords, spears and battle axes would rain down on various heads and the 'Earl of Queensbury rules' would not be accepted.
In the end the battle was lost, Byrhtnoth lay dead, his head missing but his gold hilted sword still with his body and no doubt many others lay there also. The result of this battle led later that year to the Saxons paying the vikings in silver, some 3300 kilos of the stuff, the first 'Danegeld' to be paid. This payment was to continue for many years after this.
There is every chance that our man Aetheric was hurt and hurt badly during this conflict. That year he willed his lands to two separate Bishops. He gave most of Braintree to the Bishop of London and Bocking to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Wisely he ensured they would not receive these lands, which were mostly rural at the time, until his wife had passed away thus ensuring her future. He died that year, we guess from his wounds. The Bishops in those days were powerful men, occasionally some of them were actually believers but not usually, and in 1199 the then Bishop obtained a charter for a market in the town thus making the towns fortune. He also obtained one for Chelmsford which he also ruled, and that to flourished this way. Obtaining a charter must have been a simple job. King John was known to be desperate for money after his military failings so the tax he would gain made him eager to allow such developments. What Aetheric would have said I know not.