5 – Fortification of the North
Its now time to really get stuck into Brunanburh. So far I’ve introduced the two chief texts which concern the battle, & openly stated that the Burnley area is the chief candidate for the battle’s location. All this actually coincides with moving back to Burnley for a wee while to spend a bit of quality time with my family. This morning was one of those unbelievably beautiful Lancashire winter’s morning; scintillating clear skies with an ethereal quality of light that shimmer’d through the valleys & bounced off the snow-skipped slopes of Pendle & the all-surrounding moors. For some reason, Burnley gets a bit of a bad press, but in reality it’s setting in one of the most gorgeous parts of the country, part of the long, ribbonning Pennine-straddling conurbation that I call Pendle City. Along with Padiham, Brierfield, Nelson & Colne, Burnley is the ‘capital’ of Pendle City. There’s about 120,000 citizens of the place, connected by our own stretches of motorway, canal & railway – sporting five theaters, a premiership football Club, a number of live music venues, several sports centres, loads of golf courses, buzzin bars full of bouncin birds & some fantastic eating down to the influx of Asia into the region, alongside an increasing number of Poles. There are also, ‘Between the towns of Burnley and Colne,’ according to James Stonehouse, ‘more objects of antiquarian interest scattered about than may be found in any other part of England.’ This morning I set off on a journey to find one of these ‘objects,’ & I am currently writing this section of today’s blog in the field at Brierfield library… the photos of which journey I here unveil.
The sons of Eadweard,
it was only befitting their noble descent
from their ancestors that they should often
defend their land in battle against each hostile people,
horde and home
That Athelstan was defending his own lands means the battle of Brunanburh must have been fought in English territory. This precludes one of the Brunanburh candidates, Burnswark, for that hillfort is to be found in Galloway, i.e the ancient kingdom of the Northern Welsh. For those confused with this idea, we must remember that back in Roman times, every native Briton south of Edinburgh was essentially ‘Welsh,’ but in the face of the Anglo-Saxon onslaught, they were pushed back into ever-dwindling pockets – the only real survivors being the Welsh of Wales. The Northern Welsh were eventually assimilated into the Scottish polyglot in just the same fashion as the Picts.
When The Carta Dirige Gressus states…
Whom he now rules with this
England made whole:
King Athelstan lives
glorious through his deeds!
…more than any man, Athelstan is the one whom the English should remember as the founder of their nation, for its is he who welded the seven kingdoms of the Anglo-Saxon heptarchy into a single political unit & it is he who drove the Viking leadership out of Northumbria & brought the region under English domination. Athelstanalso finally conquered Cornwall, & took control of a region known as Amounderness. The latter fact is known from a charter, dated about 930 AD, in which Athelstan granst the Archbishop of York Amounderness, a territory whose northern border was Lancaster.
I, Aethalstan, king of the English, eleveated by the hand of the almighty, which is Christ, to the throne of the whole kingdom of Britain, assign willingly in fear of god, to almighty god & the blessed apostle Peter, in his church at the city of York, at the time I constituted Wulfstan its archbishop, a certain portion of land of no small size, in the place which the inhabitants call Amounderness
This proves that by 937 AD, Burnley could be placed in England, only by a few miles, but definitely in England. In fact, it would have been something of a border zone, & the building of a new burh – Brunanburh – an important part of the regional defence system. Since 908, the English had been slowly expanding northwards, where under the leadership of King Edward & his sister, Æthelflæd (who had married into the Mercian royal family) to support their ever-moving northern frontier they had initiated a campaign of fortress building, similar to the one that Edward I undertook three hundred years later when he subdued the Welsh. The strategy was simple. Gone was the slaughter & rapine of their ancestors, as burh-by-burh & town-by-town the English encroached on the territory of the Danes, building new fortresses & repaired old ones as he went. Here are the names & dates of the northern forts that were recorded as being occupied by the English.
908 – Chester
913 – Eddisbury
918 – Derby
920 – Runcorn
922 – Nottingham
923 – Thelwall (Warrington)
923 – Manchester
Those thirteen years (910-923), from the rebuilding of Chester to the building of a fortress at Manchester, is something of an epoch in English affairs. No more would they have to defend their southern possessions form Viking attacks, for they now had fortified possessions all over the northern borders. This possession of Lancashire is vital to the theory that Brunanburh was fought in the North West, the new border zone, & that at some point after 923 AD, a new burh was built somewhere not so far to the north of Manchester, defending Amounderness, near a place called ‘Brun’…
Stonehouse, James – Roman Remains Near Burnley (a letter to The Preston Guardian -Saturday August 15 1863)