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King Alfred, Mercia and London, 874-86: A reassessment

King Alfred, Mercia and London, 874-86: A reassessment

By Jeremy Haslam

Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology and History, Vol. 17 (2011)

Introduction: The status of London in the later ninth century has for some time been the subject of enquiry by historians, numismatists and archaeologists. The annal for 886 in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, with its perceived unambiguity, has loomed large as the key to any interpretation of the political and military status of London in this period. A number of commentators have tried to make sense of the rather confused and incomplete entries in the Chronicle for the 880s.

Archaeologists and historians have investigated streets, properties and the evidence for trade in the ninth century, the middle Saxon wic along the Strand and its context, the strategic role of London Bridge, and the important transition between the extramural and intra-mural trading settlements. Numismatists and historians have re-examined the coinage of the period and the historical context of Alfred’s mints as well as other documentary sources. The evidence of two other documents – the Burghal Hidage and the Treaty between King Alfred and Guthrum – has also been brought into play in this wider discussion. Recent work in all these fields has resulted in what Derek Keene has described as ‘one of the most striking clusters of paradigm shifts to have taken place in English historical studies in recent years’.

In some apprehension therefore of treading where angels have been before, the present writer puts forward a somewhat different view of Alfred’s relationship to London as seen through spectacles which are focused on the strategic realities of the time, rather than being bound by the limitations of either the documentary, numismatic or archaeological record. What follows is essentially a development of a general historical model outlining Alfred’s strategies in the years in question which I have developed elsewhere.

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