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  Location of the battle

The location of the battle is disputed and a wide variety of sites have been suggested:

One is near Lockerbie in Scotland, not far from the hillfort at Burnswark. But it is unlikely the battle was fought this far north, especially as Anlaf’s objective had been to regain York. Another suggestion places the battle much further south, in the hills on the Huntingdonshire-Northamptonshire border. Some early accounts refer to Bruneswald rather than Brunanburh and there was indeed a forest of that name between the rivers Nene and Ouse in that area. Other potential locations include Axminster in the south-west, the Ribble valley and Burnley in the north-west, South Cave in the east, close to a possible Humber landing place for the Viking army, or Binchester or Lanchester in the north-east both of which are consistent with the geographical descriptions in Egil’s saga.

An argument has also been made for the battle being fought on the Wirral. In this interpretation John of Worcester’s account of the Vikings sailing up the Humber is rejected as a flawed later addition to the narrative and instead place name evidence from the contemporary poem is used to locate the battle. Brunanburh is judged to be the old name for the Wirral village of Bromborough and Dinges Mere to mean ‘marshland of the Thing’, the old Norse word for the assembly which met at Thingwallon the Wirral. Archaeological finds on the Wirral made since 2019 have yet to be confirmed as evidence of an early medieval battle

The Amounderness area around the Fylde Peninsula also makes a good match with the geographical descriptions that can be linked to the battle and an easy landing place, after a short Irish Sea crossing, for the Dublin Vikings. The Wyre estuary would have provided a strategically safe anchorage for the Viking fleet. Nearby Bourne Hill fits the final location of fighting, after the day long retreat recorded in the annals, allowing the Viking fleet to escape. Romano / Saxon tracks leading to and from the site would also have provided Constantine with a marshy escape route overland as the Brunanburh poem indicates.

Meanwhile Michael Wood has argued that there is no basis for rejecting the account of the Viking landing on the Humber and has pointed out that two sources, albeit late ones, one Irish and one English, say the invaders were helped by compatriots within England who could only have been from Northumbria or the East Midlands. However, these sources ignore the evidence of Scandinavian settlement on what is now the Wirral peninsular. Wood has separately analysed the place names associated with the battle and in particular spelling variants of the name Brunanburh. This leads him to propose that the battle was probably fought somewhere south of York most likely near Barnsdale Bar which was the main war zone between the 920s and 950s. He concludes by asking why, if the Vikings’ aim was to re-establish their kingdom in York, they were on the Wirral.

Sally England agrees that the Vikings’ goal was to seize York but has argued for a location north of the Humber, halfway between Beverley and York, at the western edge of the Yorkshire Wolds around Londesborough and Nunburnholme. She dismisses claims that John of Worcester’s account is the only source for the Humber entry and points to at least nine different medieval sources referring to the Humber or Beverley. Nevertheless, work by Clare Downham has demonstrated that such medieval references can be traced back to John of Worcester, who has been shown to elaborate on the sources he used. Athelstan also granted extraordinarily generous privileges to Beverley in recognition of his success, after praying for victory at the shrine of St John there before the battle. The place name Nunburnholme (“Brunne” in Anglo-Saxon times), half a dozen local field names relating to warfare, the iconography of the Nunburnholme Cross as a battlefield memorial, an antiquarian report of many human bones from an ancient battle in Londesborough, the former existence of a vast “mere” north of the Humber (Dingesmere) and the proximity of the famous pagan temple on a hill at Goodmanham (Weondune) also point to this as the location of the battle, she suggests.


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