16 – Dingesmere
The trumpet sounds retreat; the day is ours
Come brother, let us to the highest of the field
To see what friends are living & who are dead
Shakespeare – I Henry IV
So that’s me firmly ensconced back in the National Library, Edinburgh – the office, I like to call it. Beside me are a few books on both Waterloo & Robin Hood, fodder for future workings, & ahead a few days of good old fashion’d rock n roll, broken up by a trip to the ballet with a bonnie blonde. Before all that carnage, I’d like to begin closing the Brunanburh case, beginning with the closing acts of the battle.
One can imagine the sun setting upon East Lancashire, its reddening rays blending with blood-stained earth & tunic. From Worsthorne to Nelson thousands of corpses covered the ground, at some places climbing on top of each other in grotesque piles of stycharine agony. The battle in the valleys, forests & moorland wastes ‘ymbe’ Brunanburh was the bloodiest single battle the island of Britain has ever seen, & the casualties were epic. Almost every chronicle reports this bloody side of the battle;
Never was there more slaughter
on this island, never yet as many
people killed before this
with sword’s edge: never according to those who tell us
from books, old wisemen,
since from the east Angles & Saxons came up
over the broad sea. ASC
In a battle lasting from morning til evening, they slew five kings & seven dukes, whom their adversaries had brought as auxillaries, & shed more blood as had been shed up to that time in any war in England Symeon of Durham
On this occasion there fell of the Pagans an unheard-of multitude Croyland Chronicle
There was a great slaughter of Normans & Danes, among which these ensueing captaines were slain. Viz. Sithfrey & Oisle the 2 sonnes of Sithfrick, Galey, Awley, ffroit, & Moylemorrey the sonne of Cossey Warce, Moyle Isa, Gebeachan king of the islands (isle of man), Ceallagh prince of Scotland with 30000 together with 800 captives about Awley Mcgodfrey, & abbot of Arrick Mcbrith, Iloa Deck, Imar the King of Denmark’s owen son with 4000 souldiers in his guard were all slain. Annals of Clonmacnoise
Just like the French at Waterloo, the Confederate army dissolved into a panicky rabble & fled for safety. Symeon of Durham tells us, ‘the enemy, suffering the greatest distress, on account of the loss of their army, returned to their own country with a few followers.’ The Anglo-Saxons were hard at their heels;
The West-Saxons pushed onward
all day; in troops they pursued the hostile people.
They hewed the fugitive grievously from behind ASC
While his men still pursued the fugitives, king Athelstan left the battle-field, and rode back to the town, nor stayed he for the night before he came thither. But Egil pursued the flying foe, and followed them far, slaying every man whom he overtook. Egil’s Saga
There the North-men’s chief was put
to flight, by need constrained
to the prow of a ship with little company:
he pressed the ship afloat, the king went out
on fealene flot, he saved his life. ASC
When the ASC tells us, ‘All the day the West Saxons pressed on the loathed bands,’ we can assume that the battle was fought within a day’s retreat of a sea or river estuary. Egil’s Saga gives extra information, saying the ships were ‘far’ from the field. It would be safe to say, then, that the field would be somewhere between 15 & perhaps as much as 40 miles away from a navigable site in which the Viking longships could wait (precluding Lanchester in the process). The actual translations (from Boswoth & Toller’s Anglo-Saxon Dictionary) are:
Feallan: dusky brown (like all ancient names of colours, indefinite); of shingle
Flot: n. Water deep enough for sustaining a ship
If one was to flee the Burnley battlefield, the first navigable, shingly place for ships to wait would have been at Walton-le-Dale, just south of Preston. This was the first ford of the Ribble, & Roman site from which a raod to London wound. I visited the site on my way to Scotland yesterday, buting a £6 day ticket which allowed me to hop on & off the bus. It was bitterly cold, but dry, & my first stop was a brief look at Hoghton Tower, a little private pilgrimage to a chief site in my first historical Winter blockbuster, composed earlier in the Winter – Shakespeare’s Grand Tour.
The ford/ big modern bridge is situated at a lovely bend of the Ribble, just after the confluence of the Darwen. I got off the bus there, & in the process of taking some photos found myself in the breeding ground of some Ribble Geese, who like a bunch of angry North End fans flew at me Luftwaffe style from the other side of the Ribble – it was only a couple of well-aimed stones & a quick dash upbank that procured me my safety.
Where Frank Coupe writes on the bank of the river, ‘stood a warehouse used expressly for the purpose of strong alum from the mines at Alum Scar near Salmesbury Mill, previous to it being transported down the river in barges during the high tides; this fact would immediately suggest the probability that, during the period when tha station at Walton-le-dale was occupied by the Romans, their necessary commodoties & military equipment would be conveyed by water along the Ribble, advantageous use being made of the tides,’ we gain confirmation of Walton’s use as a sea entry-point. Close by, at Cuerdale, a great hoard of Viking silver was found in the 19th century, dated to roundabout the time of the Battle of Brunanburh (937 AD). Intriguingly, a antique Lancashire custom said that anyone who stood on the south bank of the Ribble at Walton-le-Dale, and looked upriver to Ribchester, would be within sight of the richest treasure in England. Was the treasure hidden in the panic, & its location forgotten. Either way, reaching Walton-le-Dale brings us to the final bit of textual evidence, the ASC’s
Gewitan him þa Norþmen nægledcnearrum,
dreorig daraða laf, on Dingesmere
ofer deop wæter Difelin secan,
eft Ira land, æwiscmode.
Departed then the Northmen in nailed ships.
The dejected survivors of the battle,
On Dingesmere, sought Dublin over the deep water,
to return to Ireland, ashamed in spirit.
At first, the Irish Sea was associated to Dingesmere through suggestions the word meant ‘noisy sea.’ The Otho MS of the ASC gives us Dinnesmere, with Din meaning noise, while the related Dynge means; A noise, dashing, storm. Thus Dingesmere may mean ‘noisy/stormy sea,’ a plausible description of the Irish Sea. Paul Cavill says of the ‘mere’ element; ‘in verse, both as a simplex and as the first element of many compounds, it means ‘the sea, the ocean.‘ Alternatively, a 2004 paper entitiled ‘Revisiting Dingesmere’ put the case forward for Dingesmere being named after a Viking Ting – assembley place the þing-volr, – at Thingwall on the Wirral. Throughout my dig I have shown how Egil Skallagrimsson was the poet behind the Brunanburh poem in the ASC. He was an Icelandic Viking, which suggest that the otherwise unrecorded name, Dingesmere, was coined by himself. The Things were Viking meeting places, like the Anglo-Saxon ‘moot,’ where citizens could come together, air their grievances & network for trade. Cue near-hysterical claims by the ‘Wirral Set’ that they’d found Brunanburh, Still, it is an intersting & valid suggestion, for the name Dingwall in Scotland is also based on a Viking Ting. Yet as I have shown, Bromborough could never have been Brunanburh, & since its inception in 2005, the Bromborough theory has gradually faded from academic inquiry, with less biased scholars declaring
The thing about the ‘Thing,’ is that topographically it just does not fit the idea of a battle being fought on the Wirral. There are no rivers, tumuli, eminent hills or anything that even suggest a battle. Kevin Halloran
If the 60,000 invaders had been hemmed into the peninsular of Wirral, with a neck only 7 miles across, they would have had no chance against Athelstan who held the fortresses of Chester, Runcorn & Edisbury. Bromborough is only 10 minutes walk to the Mersey. That is not a ‘long pursuit. John Henry Cockburn
Apparently the aged Stephen Harding and some friends went from Bromborough to Thingwall and the journey took them from 11 am until 4:30 pm. Therefore proving that a “day long pursuit” was possible. This was utterly unbelievable as the distance is approximately 5-7 miles and there is no way that the journey could have taken so long. They must have been crawling along and obviously forgot that Anlaf’s forces wererunning for their lives with the west Saxons in pursuit. Here’s the link, it should give you a giggle : ) Matthew Wall
With the Battle of Brunanburh now firmly sited at Burnley, I mused upon the possibility that the Ting of Dingesemere could be be derived from a different place.
The IMP (Inherent Military Probability)of a battle being fought in the Wirral cul-de-sac, coupled with a complete lack of anything in the locality matching the evidence given by the sources, suggests that the Wirral ‘Thing’ was not intended when Egil wrote ‘Dingesmere.’ Then it suddenly struck me that there was also a Viking Ting on the Isle of Man, which still meets today as the Tynvald, founded in the early 10th century, & is one of the longest running parliaments in the world. Its position at the centre of the Irish Sea – the capital if you will – makes it a far likelier candidate of Dingesmere’s ‘Thing,’ & was an important Viking location, being both the capital of the Kingdom of Man & The Isles, & sitting neatly between the Viking kingdoms of Jorvik (York) & Ireland (Dublin). Analyzing the poetic techniques of the Anglo-Saxons, we should compare the line, ‘On Dingesmere, sought Dublin over the deep water,‘ With…
On the sea-flood over the cold water (Christ)
On the path of the whale, over the expanse of the seas (The Seafarer)
In this case, in the first half of the line the sea is represented in a poetic fashion, followed by a simpler, more direct definition of that same sea.
To conclude, the ASC’s ‘Dingesmere,’ would be the circular portion of the Irish Sea epicentred by the Isle of Man. This piece of evidence almost brings us to the end of the dig, but not quite. During my investigations I began to notice a few interesting seedlings surrounding the last name of the battle – one which we haven’t looked at yet – Symeon of Durham’s Wendune, the resulting work upon which has thrown up something absolutely fascinating…
Coupe, Frank – Walton-le-dale (1954)
Revisiting Dingesmere – by Paul Cavil, Judith Jesch & Stephen Harding (2004)
Cockburn, John Henry – The Battle of Brunanburh & its period – (1931)
Halloran, Kevin – The Identity of Etbrunnanwerc – Scottish Historical Review Oct (2010)
Wall, Matthew – private correspondanc