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The Battle of Brunanburh
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Preface: The Shape of the Volume Introduction: The Roads to Brunanburh (Michael Livingston) Accounts of the Battle (This section is the "heart" of the book: editions of the medieval sources central to studying Brunanburh, with facing-page translations.) 1. Armes Prydein Vawr 2. Carta dirige gressus 3. Rex pius Athelstan 4. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle [Versions A and B], Battle of Brunanburh 5. Glaswawt Taliessin 6. Annales Cambriae 7. AEthelweard, Chronicon 8. Wulfstan of Winchester, Vita S. Ethelwoldi 9. Aelfric of Eynsham, Epilogue to Judges 10. Athelstan's Prayer 11. Eadmer of Canterbury, Vita Odonis 12. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle [Version F] 13. Symeon of Durham, Libellus de exordio 14. Eadmer of Canterbury, Vita Oswaldi 15. Anglo-Saxon Chronicle [Version E] 16. John of Worcester, Chronicon 17. William of Malmesbury, Gesta regum Anglorum 18. Henry of Huntingdon, Historia Anglorum 19. Geoffrey Gaimar, Estoire des Engleis 20. Symeon of Durham, Historia regum 21. Chronicle of Ramsey 22. Chronicle of Melrose 23. Gwynfardd Brycheiniog, Canu y Dewi 24. Roger of Howden, Chronicle 25. Egil's Saga 26. Roger Wendover, Flores historiarum 27. Matthew Paris, Chronica majora 28. Livere de Reis de Engleterre 29. Bartholomew of Cotton, Historia Anglicana 30. Annals of Winchester 31. John of Oxnead, Chronicle 32. Robert of Gloucester, Metrical Chronicle 33. Annals of Waverley 34. Brut y Tywysogion 35. Brenhinedd y Saesson 36. Peter of Langtoft, Chronicle 37. Stanzaic Guy of Warwick 38. Anonymous Short English Metrical Chronicle 39. Ranulf Higden, Polychronicon 40. Robert Mannyng of Brunne, Chronicle 41. Scottish Chronicle (alias Pictish Chronicle) 42. John of Fordun, Chronica gentis Scotorum 43. Eulogium historiarum 44. Brut y Saesson 45. Richard of Cirencester, Speculum historiale 46. Pseudo-Ingulf, Chronicle of Crowland 47. Prose Brut 48. Book of Hyde 49. Walter Bower, Scotichronicon 50. Annals of Ulster 51. Hector Boece, Historiae 52. Annals of Clonmacnoise 53. Annals of the Four Masters Notes on the Sources Essays on the Sources The Welsh Sources Pertaining to the Battle (John K. Bollard, with Marged Haycock) Preliorum maximum: The Latin Tradition (Scott Thompson Smith) The Battle of Brunanburhin Old English Studies (Thomas A. Bredehoft) The Battle of Brunanburhas a Poem (Robert P. Creed) Truth and a Good Story: Egil's Saga and Brunanburh (A. Keith Kelly) Romancing the Past: The Middle English Tradition (Robert Rouse) Essays on the Battle The Place-Name Debate (Paul Cavill) Wirral: Folkore and Locations (Stephen Harding) The Sociolinguistic Context of Brunanburh (Richard Coates) Brunanburh and the Victorian Imagination (Joanne Parker) Bibliography Index

Promotional Information

* Brunanburh is arguably more important than Hastings in its significance for the birth of the English nation * New evidence locates the Battle of Brunanburh in the Wirral

About the Author

Michael Livingston is an Associate Professor at The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina. He is the editor of `The Battle of Brunanburh: A Casebook' (2011), along with scholarly editions of `Siege of Jerusalem' (2004),' In Praise of Peace' (2005), and `The Middle English Metrical Paraphrase of the Old Testament' (2011).

Reviews

This will be the definitive text. The concept of bringing together all available written materials relating to a single significant event in early English history, together with commentary by a range of experts, is extremely worthwhile. ... a massive and admirable volume on the Battle of Brunanburh. It is designed as a casebook - a teaching tool and a scholarly examination in one. It is as definitive as it is possible to be about the battle and succeeds admirable as a case study of how to examine an obscure medieval battle. Bringing together all the medieval sources-in their original languages and with a modern English translation-that pertain to a single but very significant event is, as the back-cover endorsement of Donald Scragg states, "extremely worthwhile." The event in question is the famous battle between the army of the Anglo-Saxon king Athelstan and a coalition of Hiberno-Norse, Scots, and Strathclyde Britons led by Anlaf Guthfrithsson that took place in 937 "around Brunanburh." This volume presents in chronological order (as far as is possible) the medieval sources that make, or may make, significant mention of the battle, and gives title and notes, but no text, for those that reproduce earlier material without deviation. The work of editing and translating is shared, the bulk of it between scholars who have contributed essays to the volume. Some of the texts are edited and translated afresh, others are "adapted" from existing editions and translations, and a couple are simply reproduced. Welsh, Old and Middle English, Old Icelandic, Latin, and Anglo-Norman nestle side by side, testament to the far-reaching fame of the battle, and the perceived great power of Athelstan. Some mention the battle directly, others are there to throw light on the political contexts of early tenth-century Britain. The accounts of the battle range from the terse-the two-word entry for 937 in Annales Cambriae, "Bellum Brune," extremely so-through the eulogistic tenth-century Anglo-Saxon writings in English and Latin and the increasingly embroidered post-Conquest narratives of saintly intervention and dastardly barbarian tricks, to the utterly fantastic renderings that replace entirely Athelstan's victory with that of Guy of Warwick, who defeats a Danish giant, Colbrand, in single combat. Thus the volume serves not only those who seek to understand the details of the battle and its context but also those who wish to trace how and in what contexts its core narrative accretes other material. While it is of course possible to quibble with some of the individual word choices translators have made, I found nothing in the translations unacceptable-although I'm not equipped to judge the Welsh language material-and many of them a pleasure to read. Each text is accompanied by useful notes, although the focus of these depends to a certain extent not only upon the individual text but also upon the bent of each editor, and some of them would almost certainly lose the general reader or beginning student. The first text presented is the Welsh Armes Prydein Vawr, or Great Prophecy of Britain. Here we have a poem explicitly and intensely hostile to the Anglo-Saxons and their mechteyrn (great king) (ll. 18, 100), a likely candidate for whom is Athelstan, and which prophesies a coalition of Welsh, Irish, and "foreigners of Dublin" (l. 131) united against the English. Although the text's position in the book is the result of the chronological ordering (the editor allows it a date range of 927-50), it has the potential to influence thinking on the battle in stimulating ways. We don't normally begin our approach to the matter of Brunanburh from the perspective of the hostile Welsh, angry at the theft of their homeland and the taxes imposed by the Saxon kechmyn (shitheads) (ll. 27, 40, 184). One of the strengths of this volume is the kind of extension it offers to the range of approaches to a subject whose departure point is most often the accounts of the battle in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and the Latin histories of the twelfth century. The juxtaposition of familiar and unfamiliar texts encourages fresh thinking and provides a useful teaching tool to encourage a source-critical approach that could take in many aspects of production context. A word of warning, though: dates are given at the beginning of each text, with no explanation of whether they refer to composition or to manuscript preservation. Doubt is signalled, with a question mark, only for Carta dirige gressus (927?, p. 36). Glaswawt Taliessin (pp. 46-49), for example, is dated "late 10th c.," and it is only after reading Marged Haycock's cautious and scholarly comments in the essay on "The Welsh Sources" that it becomes clear that it is preserved in a fourteenth century manuscript, was tentatively dated 914x946 by Ifor Williams, but contains topoi "seen in twelfth- and thirteenth-century material" (pp. 263-64). There is no obvious justification given for the late tenth-century dating, and despite the comment from the volume's editor that many datings of medieval texts are "inevitably speculative" (p. xi), one might expect the material presented in different parts of the volume to correlate. (This is in fact the case for the dating of Armes Prydein to 927-50, which implicitly accepts the arguments outlined by John K. Bollard on pp. 248-56.) A few more question marks in the "heading" dates, and an idea of whether the date refers to composition or preservation, would be preferable. The texts and notes comprise more than half of the volume, and the second part starts with six essays whose remit is analysis of these texts. They vary in approach, ranging from short accounts of likely date, provenance, and manuscript contexts (as for the short extracts from vernacular Welsh sources, discussed on pp. 265-68) to relatively full surveys of a particular "tradition." The chapter on Welsh sources focuses upon Armes Prydein, and in it Bollard seeks to show how it "can best be understood in the context of [Brunanburh] and that the poem in turn furthers our understanding of the conditions leading up to it" (p. 246). There is something circular here, of course, and indeed in the arguments for a dating of 927-50, but the case is laid out clearly and, given the complexities of the various contributing elements, fully. Scott Thompson Smith, who is responsible for almost all of the translations from Latin in the volume, provides the excellent "Preliorum maximum: the Latin Tradition" (pp. 269-83), which "surveys a number of Latin texts written throughout the medieval period in order to consider how such works might contribute to our understanding of the [Old English] vernacular poem's creation and reception" (p. 269). The essay gives a good sense of how the later works report the battle, where and when new "content" appears and what these treatments might say about the texts' contexts of production, and the interplay of varying traditions in sources of similar date. It is clearly written and abundantly referenced, and is a very useful companion piece to the editions and translations of the first part of the volume. Much the same can be said of Robert Rouse's engaging essay on the Middle English texts, which traces the gradual disappearance of the Brunanburh story from the vernacular texts, as the stories of Guy of Warwick first accrete to the account of the battle, then replace it. The book lacks an essay on the range of Old English sources that mention the battle, and instead presents two essays on the Old English poem known as The Battle of Brunanburh. This is probably justified-there's not so much surviving in Old English that mentions the battle-but some sort of general discussion would have been useful. Thomas Bredehoft's contribution articulates questions about the poem's "place within the tradition of Old English verse" (p. 285) and places it within "its chief contexts": the manuscripts of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle; the Old English poetic tradition; and the minds of modern critics. Bredehoft encourages us to read the poem as retrospective, a product of the 950s written specifically for inclusion in the Chronicle. His essay seeks to qualify the view that the poem is uniformly "in their original languages and with a modern English translation-that pertain to a single but very significant event is, as the back-cover endorsement of Donald Scragg states, "extremely worthwhile." The event in question is the famous battle between the army of the Anglo-Saxon king Athelstan and a coalition of Hiberno-Norse, Scots, and Strathclyde Britons led by Anlaf Guthfrithsson that took place in 937 "around Brunanburh." This volume presents in chronological order (as far as is possible) the medieval sources that make, or may make, significant mention of the battle, and gives title and notes, but no text, for those that reproduce earlier material without deviation. The work of editing and translating is shared, the bulk of it between scholars who have contributed essays to the volume. Some of the texts are edited and translated afresh, others are "adapted" from existing editions and translations, and a couple are simply reproduced. Welsh, Old and Middle English, Old Icelandic, Latin, and Anglo-Norman nestle side by side, testament to the far-reaching fame of the battle, and the perceived great power of Athelstan. Some mention the battle directly, others are there to throw light on the political contexts of early tenth-century Britain. The accounts of the battle range from the terse-the two-word entry for 937 in Annales Cambriae, "Bellum Brune," extremely so-through the eulogistic tenth-century Anglo-Saxon writings in English and Latin and the increasingly embroidered post-Conquest narratives of saintly intervention and dastardly barbarian tricks, to the utterly fantastic renderings that replace entirely Athelstan's victory with that of Guy of Warwick, who defeats a Danish giant, Colbrand, in single combat. Thus the volume serves not only those who seek to understand the details of the battle and its context but also those who wish to trace how and in what contexts its core narrative accretes other material. While it is of course possible to quibble with some of the individual word choices translators have made, I found nothing in the translations unacceptable-although I'm not equipped to judge the Welsh language material-and many of them a pleasure to read. Each text is accompanied by useful notes, although the focus of these depends to a certain extent not only upon the individual text but also upon the bent of each editor, and some of them would almost certainly lose the general reader or beginning student. The first text presented is the Welsh Armes Prydein Vawr, or Great Prophecy of Britain. Here we have a poem explicitly and intensely hostile to the Anglo-Saxons and their mechteyrn (great king) (ll. 18, 100), a likely candidate for whom is Athelstan, and which prophesies a coalition of Welsh, Irish, and "foreigners of Dublin" (l. 131) united against the English. Although the text's position in the book is the result of the chronological ordering (the editor allows it a date range of 927-50), it has the potential to influence thinking on the battle in stimulating ways. We don't normally begin our approach to the matter of Brunanburh from the perspective of the hostile Welsh, angry at the theft of their homeland and the taxes imposed by the Saxon kechmyn (shitheads) (ll. 27, 40, 184). One of the strengths of this volume is the kind of extension it offers to the range of approaches to a subject whose departure point is most often the accounts of the battle in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and the Latin histories of the twelfth century. The juxtaposition of familiar and unfamiliar texts encourages fresh thinking and provides a useful teaching tool to encourage a source-critical approach that could take in many aspects of production context. A word of warning, though: dates are given at the beginning of each text, with no explanation of whether they refer to composition or to manuscript preservation. Doubt is signalled, with a question mark, only for Carta dirige gressus (927?, p. 36). Glaswawt Taliessin (pp. 46-49), for example, is dated "late 10th c.," and it is only after reading Marged Haycock's cautious and scholarly comments in the essay on "The Welsh Sources" that it becomes clear that it is preserved in a fourteenth century manuscript, was tentatively dated 914x946 by Ifor Williams, but contains topoi "seen in twelfth- and thirteenth-century material" (pp. 263-64). There is no obvious justification given for the late tenth-century dating, and despite the comment from the volume's editor that many datings of medieval texts are "inevitably speculative" (p. xi), one might expect the material presented in different parts of the volume to correlate. (This is in fact the case for the dating of Armes Prydein to 927-50, which implicitly accepts the arguments outlined by John K. Bollard on pp. 248-56.) A few more question marks in the "heading" dates, and an idea of whether the date refers to composition or preservation, would be preferable. The texts and notes comprise more than half of the volume, and the second part starts with six essays whose remit is analysis of these texts. They vary in approach, ranging from short accounts of likely date, provenance, and manuscript contexts (as for the short extracts from vernacular Welsh sources, discussed on pp. 265-68) to relatively full surveys of a particular "tradition." The chapter on Welsh sources focuses upon Armes Prydein, and in it Bollard seeks to show how it "can best be understood in the context of [Brunanburh] and that the poem in turn furthers our understanding of the conditions leading up to it" (p. 246). There is something circular here, of course, and indeed in the arguments for a dating of 927-50, but the case is laid out clearly and, given the complexities of the various contributing elements, fully. Scott Thompson Smith, who is responsible for almost all of the translations from Latin in the volume, provides the excellent "Preliorum maximum: the Latin Tradition" (pp. 269-83), which "surveys a number of Latin texts written throughout the medieval period in order to consider how such works might contribute to our understanding of the [Old English] vernacular poem's creation and reception" (p. 269). The essay gives a good sense of how the later works report the battle, where and when new "content" appears and what these treatments might say about the texts' contexts of production, and the interplay of varying traditions in sources of similar date. It is clearly written and abundantly referenced, and is a very useful companion piece to the editions and translations of the first part of the volume. Much the same can be said of Robert Rouse's engaging essay on the Middle English texts, which traces the gradual disappearance of the Brunanburh story from the vernacular texts, as the stories of Guy of Warwick first accrete to the account of the battle, then replace it. The book lacks an essay on the range of Old English sources that mention the battle, and instead presents two essays on the Old English poem known as The Battle of Brunanburh. This is probably justified-there's not so much surviving in Old English that mentions the battle-but some sort of general discussion would have been useful. Thomas Bredehoft's contribution articulates questions about the poem's "place within the tradition of Old English verse" (p. 285) and places it within "its chief contexts": the manuscripts of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle; the Old English poetic tradition; and the minds of modern critics. Bredehoft encourages us to read the poem as retrospective, a product of the 950s written specifically for inclusion in the Chronicle. His essay seeks to qualify the view that the poem is uniformly "classical" in its meter, and that instead it should be seen as sitting "alongside the flourishing of a more innovative, more prolific, and less conservative tradition" (p. 292), which includes (comprises?) the other tenth-century Chronicle poems and The Menologium. This is stimulating stuff-although lumping Brunanburh with the other Chronicle poems risks overlooking some significant differences-that assumes a greater familiarity with the text than do the essays on the Welsh and Latin material. The second essay on Brunanburh, on the other hand, by Robert P. Creed, makes no assumptions about the reader, even providing a simple circumlocution in place of "alliterate" (p. 301). Creed explains his rationale for choosing the B-text of the poem as the basis for his edition, outlines in simple terms the ways in which scribes used pointing in relation to the structure of poetry, and offers a "brief tutorial" on understanding Old English poetic meter (pp. 301-4). A. Keith Kelly provides a brief general introduction to the problems of historicity in relation to Icelandic saga-texts, and then focuses upon Egils saga and its account of the battle at Vinhei.r (Brunanburh). Much of the essay leads us away from believing that anything much can be gained from interrogating the saga for historical "truth," but Kelly holds back from stating that explicitly, instead concluding that the saga "is not to be taken as an authentic record of history... [but] is certainly more than simply a creative invention" (p. 313). Such fence-sitting is probably very wise, but the chapter would gain from giving a clearer idea of the detailed arguments that have been made that pertain specifically to the historicity of this text in relation to Brunanburh/Vinhei.r. The six chapters concerned with the various sources are followed by four under the heading "Essays on the Battle." This is rather misleading. Three of the four treat variously the much-debated location of the battle, all arguing for, or accepting, the idea that Bromborough on the Wirral is the likeliest site. The final essay is concerned with the reception of Brunanburh from the eighteenth to the early wentieth centuries. It is to Livingston's introduction, "The Roads to Brunanburh," that we must look for an account of the events that led to the battle, and an assessment of its historical significance. This is lively and engaging, and draws upon both recent and older scholarship. Livingston has a tendency to skate over matters of longstanding controversy (the micel here of 865 is "massive" [p. 4], for example), and when he cites sources he doesn't always discriminate-at least not explicitly-between those generally held to be reliable and those of dubious historical value, but his overview is rangy despite him describing it as "largely in terms of the Anglo-Saxons" (p. 12). B romborough looms large in the chapters by Paul Cavill, Stephen Harding, and Richard Coates. Cavill gives a scholarly and detailed-exhaustive even-account of the evidence offered by the place-names given in the medieval texts, and deftly demonstrates that "Bromborough on the Wirral and its area fits the philological, topographical, and sociological descriptors given in the names; and it fits these descriptors in a way that none of the other proposed sites do" (p. 348). Harding's essay, "Wirral: Folklore and Locations," rehearses these conclusions, assesses Wirral folklore on the site of the battle and, despite Cavill's cautionary comment that "it is not possible to map in precise detail the progress of the battle and its aftermath" (p. 348), proceeds to do just that: "[W]e can make informed suggestions as to possible sites for the battle and the place of escape for the marauding forces," respectively, Wargraves or Bebington Heath, and Heswal Point or Meols (p. 363). Richard Coates also takes Cavill's conclusions as read, and offers a linguistic history of Wirral through its place-names. His reassessment of the names reads their considerable evidence for a population for whom "Scandinavian was a language of everyday activity" (p. 369), and for one who spoke Irish, against an account in Three Fragments of Irish Annals, which relates the Wirral-based activities, at the very beginning of the tenth century, of a group comprising Norwegians, Danes, and Irish. Coates argues that the evidence points to Irish having "had some legitimacy in the wider community, which does not suggest a classic modern relation of dominance and inferiority between the two languages" (p. 379). The onomastic evidence that equates Bromborough with Athelstan's Brunanburh is very good, and Cavill effectively demolishes recent(ish) arguments that Burnswark, Brinsworth, Bromswald, and Bourne might conceivably represent developments of Brunanburh or one of the other medieval name-forms given in the sources. Nevertheless, the book would have benefitted from a chapter assessing the non-onomastic evidence, such as there is, for the location of the battle in terms of military strategy, historical precedence, and so on. Livingston's introductory overview also accepts Bromborough as the site of the battle and describes the campaigns of the various forces accordingly. This is the only sound assumption if the onomastic evidence is given precedence, and by no means should Burnswark etc. be returned to as possible developments of Brunanburh-they are not. However, there are considerations other than the onomastic evidence that are worth assessing to see what they might suggest about the site of the battle. As it stands, it will be tempting for those for whom Bromborough is not an obvious or attractive choice to dismiss this volume, and that would be a great pity. Given the emphasis placed upon onomastic evidence in the preceding three chapters, it was light relief to read in the book's final essay, "Brunanburh and the Victorian Imagination," that while John Herman Merivale, in his poem Devon's Poly-Olbion (1844), located the battle in Devon, " [h]e did not ... either in the poem itself or in any notes to it, attempt in any way to justify his claim, or provide evidence to support it" (p. 400). Although Joanne Parker, the chapter's author, goes on to sketch the shift from Merivale's "debonair approach" to the more evidence-based approaches of various antiquarians in seeking to locate the battle, her focus is on the imaginative retellings of the period. In a well-written and absorbing contribution, Parker positions these texts within the more general medievalism of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which saw the publication and translation of medieval sources and the production of the monumental histories of Sharon Turner and Francis Palgrave. Tennyson's well-known translation of the Old English poem is treated very briefly, and more space is given over to the lesser-known plays of George Darley (1841) and Edmund H. White (1847), to the anonymous 1862 poem on Athelstan, part character assassination, part "object lesson in morality" (p. 398), and to the histories and novels that were produced for Victorian children. Parker offers a range of political and personal motivations for Victorian writers' fascination with, and treatment of, Athelstan. In short, the book is extremely useful, despite a few limitations, valuable for beginning undergraduate students and established scholars alike, and the editor deserves recognition for bringing to fruition an ambitious and largely successful project. In short, the book is extremely useful ... valuable for beginning undergraduate students and established scholars alike, and the editor deserves recognition for bringing to fruition an ambitious and largely successful project.

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