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Brunanburh Reconsidered

Kevin Halloran puts forward a new suggestion for the location of one of the most disputed questions of Anglo-Saxon history: the site of Athelstan’s great battle against Alba, Strathclyde and the Vikings.

In ad 937 one of the most decisive battles in British history was fought, between the army of the English king, Athelstan, and the combined forces of Causantin mac Aeda, king of Alba, Owain, king of Strathclyde and Anlaf Guthfrithson, Viking king of Dublin. The English victory confirmed Athelstan’s supremacy in Britain and his political and military achievement in creating an English monarchy. But where did the battle take place? In the absence of firm evidence, many suggestions have been made. In recent years the claims of the Wirral as the site of the long-lost battlefield of Brunanburh have received much attention but this identification may be misplaced.

The name Brunanburh is one of several given in early sources and until recently there was little agreement as to the modern identity of the site. The battlefield’s location appears to have been lost at a relatively early date but from the nineteenth century it became a topic of enthusiastic antiquarian debate. More than thirty possible sites were suggested, mostly on the basis of scant evidence, dubious methodology and local bias – with the result that the search became discredited and all but abandoned.

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