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The Battle of Brunanburh : Athelstan confirmed himself as King of the English, and also reawakened a feeling that all Britain should be a united people.
The Battle of Brunanburh

The Battle of Brunanburh in 937 - location unknown — confirmed Athelstan, a grandson of Alfred the Great, as the first King of a united England. It also saw him accorded (albeit rather grudgingly) an almost imperial authority across Great Britain, and for the first time since the Romans left in 410 people began to think of Britain as a single political entity again.

AFTER overcoming the Viking kingdom of Yorvik in 927, Athelstan found himself in control not just of Wessex but of the great kingdoms of the past, including Northumbria, Mercia and East Anglia – in other words, most of modern-day England.

But Olaf Guthfrithson, expelled from York by Athelstan but now King of Dublin following the death of his father, was not one to give in easily.* Nor were Constantine II, King of Scots, and Owen, King of Strathclyde, who been forced to accept Athelstan as their overlord during his triumphant Scottish campaign of 934.

In 937, Olaf joined with Constantine and Owen to exact revenge on the upstart Englishman, but they were comprehesively defeated at Brunanburh.* Both sides sustained heavy losses, and the English were knocked out of their stride; briefly, Olaf even regained control of York.

But Athelstan’s brothers and successors Edmund and Eadred restored order, and as Ethelward put it, ‘the lands of Britain are consolidated together; on all sides is peace, and plenty’.

* Guthfrith was King of York until 927, and then took up the throne of Dublin in 933. He died a year later, leaving his crown and the responsibility of recovering York to his son Olaf.

* The precise date of the battle is not known, nor is the location of Brunanburh. Suggestions include Bromborough on the Wirral, Barnsdale or Brinsworth on South Yorkshire, and Lanchester near the River Browney in County Durham.

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Picture: © Robert Graham, Geograph. Licence: CC BY-SA 2.0. View original
Lanchester in County Durham is one of some thirty suggested locations for Brunanburh. It lies near the River Browney, which could explain the ‘Brun’ of Brunanburh. Hard by is the old Roman fort of Longovicium, a ‘burgh’ or fortified place. Lanchester was also on a ready-made marching route from York to Scotland, lying between Vindomora (Ebchester) and Vinovia (Binchester) on Dere Street.
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