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Lanchester – birthplace of a unified kingdom?
REWRITING HISTORY: The field close to the site of Lanchester Roman Fort where the Battle of Brunanburh is said to have taken place
A MEDIEVAL battlefield, lost for centuries but crucial to the formation of modern England, has been located in the North-East, a leading historian has claimed.
The Battle of Brunanburh of 937AD, took place on the site of Longovicium, the Roman Fort in Lanchester, County Durham, according to Dr Andrew Breeze.
During the battle King Athelstan of Wessex crushed an invading army of Scots, Strathclyders, and Vikings from Dublin and is seen as vital in the unification of England against foreign invaders.
For many years it has been generally thought the battle took place at Bromborough, in the Wirral Peninsula of Cheshire, but other locations around the country have been suggested.
But Dr Breeze, 59, claimed his new study will re-write the history books.
He said: “It is dynamite. It is going to change all of the text books on English history.
“They have been looking for this battle field since the time of Henry VIII, when an antiquary called John Leland thought it was in Devon and he got it completely wrong.
“There has been a mountain of discussion, speculation and argument on this and people have put it everywhere but I like to think I have got a clear and coherent answer to this question that has been vexing historians for 500 years.”
Bromborough, in Cheshire, has a heritage trail centre explaining the battle to visitors and Michael Wood, maker of BBC television history programmes has also argued for a site on the River Went near Doncaster.
But these and all other possible places have been ruled out by Dr Breeze, who has a doctorate from Cambridge University, teaches in a Spanish university and is due to give a lecture to the Scottish Place-Name Society at Stirling on the subject next month.
He said: “It was really very simple to solve this problem once I found a reference to the River Browney. I pulled out my Ordnance Survey map of Durham and followed the Roman road northwards.
“It crosses the Browney and, right slap bang on the hill north of the river, is the Roman Fort and so it all just fell into place.”
Dr Breeze said Brunanburh is the Old English for “stronghold of the Browney”, and the only River Browney which fits the evidence is the one near Lanchester.
He believes the stronghold is the Roman fort of Longovicium, on the Roman road regularly used by Scottish invaders of England.
Dr Breeze said: “Previously, people have not looked at maps and they are the key.
“The Romans were very good at building roads and no one bothered after that until the late 18th Century so medieval armies went along Roman roads and most of the battles are on a Roman road.
That was how you shifted your troops.”
Dr Breeze said more evidence comes from Simeon of Durham, a twelfth-century monk, who wrote that Brunanburh was fought on a ‘swelling hill’ and he goes on to point out that the Wirral is flat.
He said: “If you take an army of Scots and Strathclyders into the Wirral, what are they doing there?
That is not the way back home. Secondly, if you are fighting an Anglo-Saxon army they are putting their heads into a noose. It would be a death trap. It would have been like Dunkirk without the ships to rescue them.
They would have been like a rat in a trap.”
Dr Breeze said the victory was a vital part in uniting England against foreign invaders.
He believes amateur archaeologists will now find remains from the battle on the moors above Lanchester, because the Scots and their allies will have been weighed down with English plunder.
He said: “We know a lot about the battle from an English poem written at the time.
“The Anglo-Saxon poet gloated over the slaughter of the invaders, boasting how at the end of the day there were five kings lying dead on the field of battle, with seven earls and thousands of others.
“Visitors to the Roman fort by Lanchester can now think of how there, eleven centuries ago, thousands of Celts and Vikings lay dead after a battle for the freedom of England.”
THE revelation has been welcomed by people in Lanchester, who believe it adds to the already rich history of the village.
John Gall, president of Lanchester Local History Society and former deputy director of Beamish Museum, said the group will now explore Dr Breeze’s claim further.
He said: “It is absolutely fascinating and I have never heard that before. It is wonderful.
“The battle is one of the foundations of the country in terms of sorting things out and uniting various folk part of a fascinating period when England is just settling down from the Roman period and forming itself into the England that we know. It is well worth celebrating.
“We will have to start looking for heaps of bones and doing research into that period. If it is true we will have to do more research and landscape work to see if we can locate the exact site of the battle.” Mr Gall said the new theory makes more sense in terms of the history of the village and the geography of the rest of the country. He said: “It makes some degree of sense. There is a thought that Lanchester was at the centre of a great Anglo- Saxon estate and there are signs from the early charters that it was special, along with Chesterle- Street, Gainford and other places.
“So it could be but no-one has ever come across this particular reference or worked it out in that way before.
“You are looking into dark waters on a misty night without much light.”
Where Roman soldiers guarded ancient route
LANCHESTER Roman Fort, or Longovicium, was an auxiliary fort on Dere Street, between the forts of Vindomora at Ebchester and Vinovia at Binchester and linked York with Hadrian’s Wall. It was built in 140AD on high ground with clear views around the site and covered an area of six acres, providing accommodation for up to 1,000 troops.
Their job was to guard the important military route, which ran north to south. The land has been owned by the Greenwell family since 1630 and is currently run by farmer Nick Greenwell.Mick Gladstone, chairman of Lanchester Partnership and one of the Friends of Longovicium, said: “It is absolutely fantastic.
“It will be a great thing for the village if it is true. We already have a strong history, from the Roman times and the development of steam engines and from coal. To have this as well would be wonderful.”
Defining battle where thousands died for Englishness
THE Battle of Brunanburh is thought to have taken place in October of 937 and was a victory by Æthelstan, King of England, and his brother Edmund, over the combined armies of Olaf III Guthfrithson, the Norse-Gael King of Dublin; Constantine II, King of Scots; and Owen I, King of Strathclyde.
A Northern Alliance of Scots, Strathclyde British and Norsemen from Ireland lost the battle against a combined Anglo-Saxon army from Mercia and Wessex with heavy losses on both sides.
The Battle of Brunanburh is said to have been one of the most defining battles in the history of the British Isles as it determined whether Britain would become one imperial power or stay as separate identities.
Historian Michael Livingston claimed that Brunanburh marks ‘the moment when Englishness came of age.’ A contemporary record of the battle is found in the Old English poem Battle of Brunanburh, preserved in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
There are many other historical sources that refer to the battle and describe it as a massive and bloody conflict, even within the context of warfare in the Middle Ages, which left many thousands of men dead.
A famous poem about the battle in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records the deaths of five kings and seven earls among Athelstan’s enemies:
Five lay still on that battlefield – young kings
by swords put to sleep and seven also
of Anlaf’s earls, countless of the army,
of sailors and Scotsmen. There was put to flight
the Northmen’s chief, driven by need
to the ship’s prow with a little band.
He shoved the ship to sea. The king disappeared
on the dark flood. His own life he saved.
So there also the old one came in flight
to his home in the north; Constantine,
that hoary-haired warrior, had no cause to exult
at the meeting of swords: he was shorn of his kin,
deprived of his friends on the field,
bereft in the fray, and his son behind
on the place of slaughter, with wounds ground to
pieces, too young in battle.
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