The Battle of Maldon 991 AD

The Battle of Maldon 991 AD

It is a gusty summer morning somewhere on the Essex coast. Answering the call of Byrhtnoth, local ealdorman, many simple farmers and peasants gathered to defend their shire against the Norse invaders, reported to be plundering the coast some miles to the south. Byrhtnoth, already in his sixties, but still of imposing physical presence, standing over six-feet tall was deeply concerned by the recent news telling of the size of the Viking fleet operating in the area. But his mood brightened a bit when his eyes fell upon the group of young, strong men being mustered nearby. Then the faint sound of a horn announced the arrival of another scouting party, pushing their mounts to their limits. This could only mean one thing. Byrhtnoth took a few steps forward, breathed in the fresh morning air. The Vikings were here. This video is sponsored by Vikings: War of Clans! Inspired by the famous strategy games of the 90s, Vikings: War of clans is a visually stunning game set in a world where Vikings rule. Build your kingdom and armies as a mighty Jarl waging war on other players around the world. A big plus is the variety play-styles: exploration, building and diplomacy are just a few ways you can approach the game. If you enjoy strategic games with beautiful graphics, then Vikings: War of Clans is worth checking out! Help Support our channel by downloading Vikings for free using the link in the description below and get the special bonus of 200 gold coins and a protective shield, a fitting edge to aid you on your road to glory. It’s spring of the year 975. Roughly twenty years has passed since Norse chieftain Eric Bloodaxe was driven out of York, and the lands of Northumbria. And with that, the last bit of Danelaw ruled by the Danish Vikings was made part of the English Kingdom. The sudden demise of King Eric brought a long awaited period of relative peace to the English commoner and nobility, as after decades of wars, Norse raids and general uncertainty the Viking activity in England significantly abated, making room for economic growth and a revival of monastic communities. At the time, the throne in Winchester was occupied by King Edgar, an efficient monarch, who was determined to at least match the deeds of his renowned forebears and continued their struggle to unify the country under a single ruler. But as it was often the case in the Middle Ages, the death of an incumbent monarch could cause any single European kingdom to rock on its foundations. Obviously, England was no different and when good King Edgar suddenly died in 975 at the young age of thirty one, the fate of his realm quickly became hazy. He left two underage sons Edward and Æthelred who initially served just as mere tools in the political game of Anglo-Saxon magnates. Since Edward was the older son and his claim was supported by many important figures, he was crowned as the new King of the English in July 975. His reign didn’t last for long though. Within the next three years Edward alienated many of his influential supporters, who subsequently turned their favor to his younger brother Æthelred. Edward was murdered in March 978, shortly before he reached majority. In such unworthy circumstances, Edward’s younger half-brother, the twelve-years-old Æthelred sat on the English throne in Winchester. Unsurprisingly, from the onset Æthelred was just a figurehead with very limited authority, while the true power was held by his mother, queen dowager Ælfthryth. We ought to mention, that it was rumoured that Ælfthryth was most likely the one behind the assassination of the previous king and thus Æthelred’s immediate political landscape was filled with distrust, disloyalty and courtly schemes, undermining the royal authority. What’s more, shortly before Æthelred’s coronation, the building where the members of Witenagemot were gathering collapsed, killing many senior advisors and seriously injuring many others. This event was such an important setback of Æthelred’s early reign, that he eventually gained a nickname Æthelred the Unready, meaning „poorly advised” in Old English. But unlike his predecessor, Æthelred lived long enough to reach majority and began to rule independently in 984. His reign however was marred with plenty of domestic issues, which the English King was often unable to address properly. Yet what is more important to our story, is that roughly at the time of Æthelred coming of age, England witnessed a resurgence of Norse raiding parties ravaging the English coast after many years of peace. At the beginning of these raids, carried out mostly by Danish Vikings and concentrating on the shores of Southern England, they were only moderately harmful. But as time passed, their frequency and reach increased, becoming a major problem for the poorly managed English kingdom. Æthelred made some attempts to aid the situation and when he found out that the Norse raiders sought winter quarters among their cousins in Normandy, he challenged its ruler Richard the Fearless by attacking the Cotentin peninsula. This brief conflict was eventually resolved thanks to papal intervention and proved that the English king wasn’t all that indecisive nor incompetent when taking action was necessary. Curiously, this strife between these rulers was probably the first diplomatic contact between England and Normandy. Yet this minor triumph didn’t end Æthelred’s problems with the Scandinavian invaders. Up until 991 the attacking parties consisted of small fleets, and were sometimes successfully repelled by Anglo-Saxon thegns. But in the summer of said year, dreadful news reached Winchester: a strong fleet of almost 100 longboats stormed and plundered Folkestone in Kent. Though sources only briefly mention that this assault was orchestrated by a Norse chieftain named Olaf, it’s fairly plausible to assume, that it was none other than Olaf Tryggvason, great-grandson of famous Harald Fairhair and future King of Norway. For Æthelred’s inadequate administration it posed as a serious issue that needed to be acted on swiftly. Shortly after the news of the Norse attack came in, Olaf’s fleet was already well underway, sailing north to plunder another prosperous Anglo-Saxon town. From Folkestone, Olaf’s fleet sailed north and entered the Blackwater estuary, planning to attack the busy port town of Maldon. They pitched a temporary camp on the Northey Island, which was only connected to the mainland by a narrow causeway, accessible only during low tide. It was a decent place to make a provisional base as it offered good defence opportunities if needed, but before Olaf could think about his next steps, a large East Saxon host was spotted arriving from the vicinity of Maldon. The forthcoming contingent was led by Byrhtnoth, Ealdorman of Essex, who happened to be camping near Maldon with his retinue at the time of Norse raid. Upon hearing reports of Olaf’s exploits in the area, he hastily mustered his men and gathered local fyrd, managing to amass an army of roughly 3,000 men in no time. Olaf was definitely surprised by this development, but being aware of the potential of his force, which was probably a bit more numerous, counting around 4,000 men, he shouted a demand for tribute across the flooded causeway. At the time, there was no single way of dealing with the Norse, and Anglo-Saxon lords either paid the invaders to leave or simply resorted to warfare to repel the enemy. As you might imagine, Byrhtnoth chose the latter solution, being confident of his favourable position on the mainland. Soon, the ebbing tide revealed the narrow passage, across which the Norsemen rushed trying to force their way into the mainland. In an attempt to prevent this, Byrhtnoth send a small unit of his own men to block the enemy. Fierce melee ensued and much to Olaf’s dismay, the East Saxon shieldwall stood firm, denying the Norsemen a foothold on the mainland. Seeing that the attack was going nowhere, Olaf eventually called his men back, in an attempt to avoid unnecessary losses. This was not the end of the battle though. Predicting that the initial victory had bolstered the morale of the Anglo-Saxon host, Olaf made an audacious request: he demanded a safe passage of his troops in order to resolve the conflict by fighting a pitched battle on equal terms. Unexpectedly, Byrhtnoth agreed and gave the Norse safe conduct through the land bridge. While the rationale of the East Saxon ealdorman remains unclear, he possibly could have been determined to take advantage of having the entire Viking army in one place and possibly annihilate the threat in one decisive blow. Whatever the true reason was, as soon as the last Norsemen arrived on the mainland and the battle lines were shaped, the two shieldwalls clashed in a bloody hand to hand combat. As it was common for the battles of this era, tactical sophistication was replaced by sheer power and brutality. Surprisingly for the Vikings, the Saxon line, consisting chiefly of local militia fought valiantly, yielding no ground and dealing fatal blows to many of the attacking Norsemen. This however came at a high cost, as many of Byrhtnoth’s men also perished in battle, which slowly turned into a mass-carnage. As neither side could be forced to flee, it was not until a fatal wound was received by Byrhtnoth, when the odds started to turn to Olaf’s favor. Eventually, with their commander fallen, line breaking and morale plummeting, the Anglo-Saxon troops fled the battlefield in disarray. The Norse army remained victorious on the battlefield, though the price of victory was considerable. It’s a hard task to estimate the casualties on either side, but Olaf had lost so many men that he had to forego his plans to attack the nearby town of Maldon. Byrhtnoth’s heroic but ultimately unsuccessful defence only temporarily halted the Viking invaders, who continued to ravage the English coast in subsequent months. Eventually, the ineffective administration of King Æthelred was forced to pay a hefty tribute of 10,000 pounds to be rid of the Norse raiders. Unfortunately for him, this was just the first instance of such a payment, which later became known as Danegeld. The viking attacks, both of Danish and Norwegian origin only increased in frequency, which resulted in a heavy burden of Æthelred’s kingdom and, eventually a grievous threat to Anglo-Saxon rule in England in the early 11th century.

100 thoughts on “The Battle of Maldon 991 AD

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  • Should have attacked them while crossing, after all, it was Olaf who was playing a trick and would have been the fool if he got ambushed at that moment

  • Love the video. But man the way you say Maldon is painful because its where i come from. Its pronounced Mul-don. Just for future reference

  • My thought when I saw that narrow land bridge: well, this diminishes the numerical advantage so this should be a good fight
    After watching the video: Jesus, Byrthnoth my guy, why'd you do that?

  • Lots of people calling a Byrhtnoth an idiot, and they’re sort of right but need to look at Maldon in its wider context. Most importantly you have to understand the Anglo-Saxon mindset in this situation. There is the term ‘ofermod’ (literally ‘over-mood’ in modern English), it’s an Anglo-Saxon term similar to arrogance but kind of positive in meaning. It’s essentially when a warrior is so sure in his abilities that he puts himself in dangerous situations to prove his prowess. Byrhtnoth’s choice to let the Vikings cross the landbridge is the clearest example of ofermod your going to find in all of recorded Germanic history. Look at it through his eyes, he’s old, very old for a warrior, he’s probably proved himself many a time already against rebels and the campaigns in the north uniting England when he was younger. Now, the Vikings have returned and are at his doorstep; he’s beat them off once and all his men know this, he has to show and prove that he’s still not scared of them now that he is an elderly man. Now he at first, does use the landbridge to his advantage, allowing the Viking host to bleed men trying to force their way across much faster than his force will defending it. He would likely have his men hold the landbridge for a while until the Vikings leave or, once they’re sufficiently battered, let them across and finish them off on the mainland with his best men as fresh reserves (including himself and his followers). However, the Vikings aren’t dumb and see this, so they directly challenge Byrhtnoth’s pride and surety in his skills as a warrior, not as a strategist, by asking for a fair fight. Suddenly, the Vikings aren’t attacking England but Byrhtnoth’s skill in a fight. Byrhtnoth could ignore the Viking’s demand and win, but his men will forever assume that he was scared by the Vikings, thus damaging his reputation as a warrior. So, he has to accept their demands if he wants to maintain his reputation as a warrior and a brave leader, therefore what happens happens. The epic poem written slightly later celebrates Byrhtnoth’s actions, as well as the fact that many of his men fought to the death even after Byrhtnoth had fallen and the battle lost. Byrhtnoth achieved glory, but at the price of a loss; to us that doesn’t seem worth it however, ask an Anglo-Saxon and he would have told you that any other way would be a dishonour to your name. If your interested in the idea of ofermod, Tolkien wrote an essay on it, as well as a response to the poem which is definitely worth looking up

  • Couldn't the king use all that money he paid the vikings to just create a professional state army? I don't think he had a very good financial advisor

  • What sources is used based upon the estimated 4000 Vikings? Why is it asumed the Vikings had more men?Byrthnoth would be a fool if he had inferior numbers. I find 4000 to be unlikely large number for raiding…

  • I already saw the notification for this video last night, but it was too late in the night to watch it.
    You trusted me and I failed you ;_;

  • Vikings: "Let us pass."
    English: "No."
    Vikings: "Please?"
    English: "No. We have the superior position."
    Viking: "Pussies…"
    English: "WHAT!? That's it, GET OVER HERE!"

  • There's lots of different opinions here on Byrhtnoth's decision here.. I think letting the Vikings go on land was a good idea, but he should've charged them before they could form up, with about a fifth of their army still crossing. Honor was important, but it mattered a lot less when you're dealing with foreign invaders who spread "news" about you being a coward no matter what you do. Also, noone else would be there to tell about it all over England, and even if it got through, I don't think the nobles would care because he just saved their ass.

  • It's important to realise Byrhtnoth chose to fight them as if he had simply refused to give up the causeway or bought the Danes off, they would simply have sailed up the coast and raided more villages. By fighting Byrhtnoth hoped to prevent them from raiding at all, and he succeeded in doing so.

  • "All warfare is based on deception" – Sun Tzu
    "War is deceit" – Muhammad [Sahih Bukhari 4-52-268]

    There is no such thing as honorable defeat. A defeat is a defeat. Byrthnoth deserved to lose. Just put yourself in his place: you are Byrthnoth and was tasked to defend a place against Vikings.

    * Your opponents are raiders and pirates; they do it as a job, so they are much more experienced in combat and probably better armed and armoured from all the loot they take.
    * Your soldiers are ragtag collected milita whose jobs are: farmer, artisan, smith, crafter and watchman… Most of them are inexperienced in combat and they are probably less well equipped compared to your opponents.

    You have the upper hand of defending a bottleneck. Your opponents are not enemies with honorable intents. It's not a feud, civil war or a political intrigue; they came to pillage, rape, loot and burn. Why would you grant them honor to fight on equal land when the scale is tipped for their favor? After your defeat, blood of every civilian murdered by Vikings, will be on your hands. Where is the honor in that?

  • Smh haven't these people ever heard of the old saying "never be the one who does the bridge/ford crossing in a total war battle"?

  • I usually always support the underdog which is why I love the Anglo-Saxons. Despite all odds they were able to defeat the huge heathen armies that were sent against them, with largely militia men led by great warrior kings and their loyal housecarls. After pushing the Dane invaders out they were attacked while under the reign of their weakest king and still managed to put up a decent fight under Edmund Ironside, despite a certain traitor joining the Norse. They were finally defeated for good by two armies, one all the way in the north in York which they defeated, and landing in the south a coalition of Norman, Breton and Flems under William that finally defeated the Anglo-Saxons. Their king died on the battlefield and the housecarls fought to the death in a circle around his corpse. After this battle the Norman king faced rebellions in the south west and in the north, the latter of which he brutally put down in the Harrowing of the north. The Anglo-Saxons really did everything thing they could to not not be conquered, but it seemed that everyone they bordered and shared a sea with wanted them dead. You can see why the Victorians had a Anglo-Saxon cultural revival as they lamented a lost past.




  • Yeah. We got a big ole statue of brythnoth commererating the whole thing as well…

    Oh btw. Most people pronounce it as mole-don

  • 2:03 STOP!CALLING THEM!VIKINGS!!! The ones that raided villages and went home were the vikings. Those invaded and stayed weren't!
    Viking just mean (sea)raiders, stop misusing the word!
    10:38 And that is rather bullshit just in general.

  • In essence, this battle came down to Asshole One saying to Asshole Two, "I'm gonna come over there and kick your ass if you don't give me money," Asshole Two responding "No way buddy, piss off now," Asshole One saying "Nah-uh, I'm gonna pound you," Asshole Two saying "Bring it!" Asshole One saying "I will!" And then the two Assholes met, bro-ed it out, one died, all because a bunch of assholes got into some boats and instead of say, I don't know, making some trade agreements, maybe working out some sort of a deal, you know, what normal people do, decided that the best form of getting goods was to rape and pillage, all because of some asshole that they thought was weak became king because his brother was such an asshole that his ass got killed and then the younger brother, now king, lost a whole bunch of assholes because nobody believes in building inspections and maintenance, and I don't know, making sure the roof doesn't collapse!

    Do I have this correct?

  • Thanks for nothing, Pope. Thanks to you we never got a fight between someone called Aethelred the unready and someone called Richard the fearless. What a holy killjoy.

  • Maybe he was too confident in his forces. If he keeps blocking the passage the vikings would've just left and raided somewhere else with more success and more bribes. Here he sought to destroy them, but failed.

  • "Danegeld"… An odd term, considering it takes the english term to the danes; "Dane" and combines it with the german world for money: "geld"… Basically meaning Danish money.

    I guess it describes the money accurately to some degree.

  • It is a heroic poem, he has to act heroically. Use source criticism. It is more likely that they just fought their way across.

  • Fun facts:

    1) To this day, a statue of Brythnoth stands in the centre of Maldon.
    2) The Blackwater estuary was also the site of the fictional battle between HMS Thunderchild and the Martian war machines in H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds (and the later musical adaptation by Jeff Wayne).

    Both heroic but ultimately doomed stands against raiding invaders.

  • As somebody from Folkestone (The place sacked before the main battle) I found the mention of the place amazing as it’s such a small place and in most histories I learn about the town it never predates the 1700’s
    So thank you for the Knowledge never would’ve expected to hear it

  • Erik Njorl, son of Frothgar, leaves his home to seek Hangar the Elder at the home of Thorvald Nlodvisson, the son of Gudleif, half brother of Thorgier, the priest of Ljosa water, who took to wife Thurunn, the mother of Thorkel Braggart, the slayer of Cudround the powerful, who knew Howal, son of Geernon, son of Erik from Valdalesc, son of Arval Gristlebeard, son of Harken, who killed Bjortguaard in Sochnadale in Norway over Cudreed, daughter of Thorkel Long, the son of Kettle-Trout, the half son of Harviyoun Half-troll, father of Ingbare the Brave, who with Isenbert of Gottenberg the daughter of Hangbard the Fierce…

  • Who said dumb people don't die, "Oh yeah come on over, ahhhhh."

    👻 "You know what been better me pretending to let them Viking guys cross over just enough to divide a portion of their army than attack but I will never know."

  • more than 1 millenium after Hannibal and all his sophisticated moves (to name 1 guy), here we have a zergling mirror match. sigh… also: say yes to his stupid question. then let them partially cross and slaughter them all

  • you dont say MALdon you say it like MAULdon
    from a welsh celtic pagan from essex props dudealso that land bridge still floods to this day maldon is actually cut off to the land still to this day alot of the week

  • Couple of silly facts…

    The Saxon spelling of Maldon is 'Maeldune', Mael = "Cross / Monument" and Dun = "Hill" … and roughly translates to 'Cross on the Hill.'

    Also, the area to the south is still known as 'the Dengie' peninsula after the Dæningasthe tribe of Saxons.

  • The Pope asked for peace. This was before the Papal big move for power in the Great Schism of 1054. So…. did the English and French bishops ask peace be made? I am not so sure "The Pope" was even seen as that then, or that he was seen by European bishops as having any supremacy. Are you sure your presentation of this is not over simplistic and full of a long haul Catholic spin by retrospective Catholic distortion of history?

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