A Unified England – The battle of Assandun

The battle of Assandun is considered to be the final and concluding battle in the Danish conquest of England and was fought on 18th October 1016. The Danes were led by Canute, the English led by Edmund Ironside, King of the English. The numbers of each army are not known but were most likely in their thousands and the outcome could quite easily have gone either way.  We know it was fought in Essex and believed to either be near Ashingdon, just north of Rochford or Ashdon, north of Saffron Walden. There are arguments to support both locations. 

Ashington, or to use its original name Nesenduna, is thought to mean either Tree (ash) or donkey (ass) hill. It has a church, St Andrews, which has surviving parts dating back to the 14th century but is on the site of an older church. The church is of ragstone and flint rubble and includes Roman brickwork. Various additions and alterations have been made over the centuries with the most recent being in the 20th century. In 1951 the church was visited by prince Georg of Denmark, cousin to King Frederick IX to mark the anniversary of the battle. A service was held in the church where the prince was joined by the Danish ambassador.

 

St Andrews Church, Ashingdon. Laura Adkins (c)

Records describe that  Canute ordered “a church to be built on the site of the battle for the souls of those slain in the Battle”. When consecrated in 102 King Canute attended the ceremony, along with others who had played vital roles in the battle. 

The first priest at this church was a man named Stigand. Initially chaplain to Canute as time went byStigand rose in prominence And by 1066 was archbishop of Canterbury, crowned Harold king of England and quite possibly William the Conqueror on Christmas day.  

HOWEVER the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, where we get this information, does not explicitly state what the location of this church was. For the argument for the battle to have taken place at Ashington head to https://aclerkofoxford.blogspot.com/2014/10/a-visit-to-assandun-maybe.html

Back to the origins of the battle, on the death of Canute’s father, Canute decided to take England and his brother Denmark, splitting their father’s kingdoms up. This was an issue with the anglo Saxon king Edmund (who currently ruled over Kent, Sussex, Wessex and West Mercia). If one believes it was at Ashington, it is said that Canute’s camp was at Canewdon,  with Edmunds at Ashington. 

The view from the church. Laura adkins (c)

Canute had made some attacks into Anglo Saxon land and Edmund had had enough. He raised an army from men in Wessex and marched towards Canute. The battle was fierce, with both sides entering shield wall formation. Both armies leaders would be on the ground and the chronicles even suggest that ‘Edmund led the charge into battle cutting down the Danes on all sides. Edmund charged towards the danish army who, it seems had fallen back, but this was just a trick. The Danes turned and attacked. What made matters worse for Edmund was Eadric of Mercia, an English general who became a turncoat and instead of attacking the Danes, remained in his position on the hill. Towards the end of the battle he joined the Danes, helping to bring about an end to the fight. 

“Then Eadric the Ealdorman did as he had so often done before, and first began the flight with the Maisevethians, and so betrayed his king and lord and all the English nation. There Cnut had the victory, though all England fought against him.”

the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

By the end of the battle, which was most likely at dusk it was said that many of the nobility of the English nation was there undone!

After his defeat, Edmund fled to the forest of Dean, followed by Canute. Here the two came to a compromise (quite possible after an additional skirmish, and although the victor of the battle Cnutes numbers were depleted), Edmund would keep Wessex and Canute Mercia and Northumbria. Whoever lives longer would become king of all, thus leading to England being united. This came about quicker than thought as Edmund died a month later. Maybe he was injured in battle and that’s why they came to the agreement knowing he was not long for this world. There is no evidence of him being injured but that is not to say it didn’t happen. 

Canute had respect for Edmund, this shows when he did not kill him like others who were a threat to him. He would visit Edmunds grave. It would be Canute who went on to murder Eadric, the traitor to Edmund at the battle, some say because he found out the man was responsible for Edmunds death, or as an example to those who do not stay loyal. These actions are not of a man bloodthirsty But of one who thought about his actions, who respected his enemies. He even would go on to be respected by the English people. 

The battle of Assendun was such a significant event in the history of the Vikings and England and should be remembered more. 

Sources:

Main image Edmund battles Cnut at Assandun. 14th c, Cambridge, Corpus Christi College (Wikimedia Commons)

James, J (2013) An onslaught of Spears. The History Press;  Gloucestershire

Hill, P (2005) The Road to Hastings. Tempus: Gloucestershire

Trow, M. J. (2005) Cnut. Sutton Publishing; Gloucestershire

A Clerk of Oxford (2014)A visit to Assandun (maybe). Available from:  https://aclerkofoxford.blogspot.com/2014/10/a-visit-to-assandun-maybe.html [Accessed 10/1/2022]

Ashingdon Parish Council. (nd) History. Available from: https://ashingdonparishcouncil.gov.uk/history/ [Accessed 10/1/2022]

Brooke, J and Sorenson, M (1923) ‘Ashingdon’, in An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Essex, Volume 4, South east (London, 1923), pp. 3-4. British History Online. Available from:  http://www.british-history.ac.uk/rchme/essex/vol4/pp3-4 [Accessed 16/1/2022]

Croxton-Smith, P (2002) Battle of Assandun. Available from: https://saffronwaldenhistoricalsociety.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/battle-of-assandun.pdf [Accessed 10/1/2022]

Duke, G and Hood, A (2016) 1016 And All That: The Battle of Assandun and the Road to Hastings. Available from: https://rexfactor.wordpress.com/2016/10/18/1016-and-all-that-the-battle-of-assandun-and-the-road-to-hastings/ 

Historic England (nd) BAttle of ashingdon. Available from: https://www.heritagegateway.org.uk/Gateway/Results_Single.aspx?uid=f63f5d7a-bb37-476c-8f77-bbc646adce9f&resourceID=19191 [Accessed 10/1/2022]

Rochford district council (2012) Heritage guide. Available from: https://www.rochford.gov.uk/sites/default/files/heritage_guide.pdf Rochford district council 2012 heritage guide [Accessed 10/1/2022]

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