The War for Mercia, 942-943

The War for Mercia, 942-943

By Kevin Halloran

Midland History, Volume 41, Number 1, 2016

Abstract: This article examines political and military developments in the midlands during the reign of Edmund I, including the West Saxon king’s campaign in the Five Boroughs, the subsequent attacks on Northampton and Tamworth by the Viking king of Northumbria, Anlaf Cuaran, and the treaty between the two at Leicester in 943.

It also reconsiders the Old English poem, The Capture of the Five Boroughs, and its relationship to events in the midlands during the conflict, and suggests that this has often been misinterpreted, with important implications for our understanding of the position of the Danes of Mercia at a crucial stage in the process of English unification.

Introduction: The most significant political development in Britain during the century or so following Alfred the Great’s accession to the throne of Wessex in 871 was the emergence of what may reasonably be described as an English kingdom. Although facilitated by such cultural factors as language and religion, unification was essentially achieved through conquest.

Edward the Elder, aided by his sister, Æthelflæd, ‘Lady of the Mercians’, had secured most of England south of the Humber by the time of his death in 924 and, in geographical terms, the task was more or less completed in 927, with the annexation of Northumbria by his son, Athelstan. Throughout this period of expansion and thereafter a range of political, diplomatic, and military measures were required to secure both the kingdom’s territorial integrity and its pre-eminence in Britain against possible challenges from its Celtic neighbours and enemies such as the Dublin Vikings.

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Top Image: Mercia – from An English History with illustrations and maps, by E.S. Symes 1905

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