Previously unknown aspects of English history have been re-written arising from the investigation into the attempted sale of rare Anglo-Saxon coins.

The 44 coins, believed to be from an important Viking hoard, unearthed in 2015, in Leominster, Herefordshire, were recovered during an extensive Durham Police-led inquiry, code-named Operation Fantail.

Experts, who value the Anglo-Saxon-minted coins at approximately £766,000, believe they are of major historical significance, shedding new light on the reign of Alfred The Great.

He was the English king who led the Anglo-Saxons against Viking invaders in the 9th Century.

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Following the police operation, the recovered coins are now in the safe-keeping of the British Museum, enabling their significance to be studied by historians.

The Northern Echo: Detective Constable Andrew Luck, who was part of the Operation Fantail investigation team

King Alfred inflicted a major defeat on the Vikings in AD 878 and experts from the British Museum believe the coins belong to an undeclared hoard consistent with the location of the Viking army at that time.

It is said their significance lies in the relationship between Alfred, King of Wessex, and his lesser-known contemporary Ceolwulf II, of neighbouring Mercia.

Previous accounts suggested Ceolwulf was considered little more than a puppet of the Vikings, a minor nobleman rather than a proper king.

Dr Gareth Williams, curator of Early Medieval Coins and Viking Collections of the British Museum, gave evidence during the trial of the two alleged would-be sellers at Durham Crown Court.

The Northern Echo: Extremely rare 'Two Emperor' coin, recovered in Operation Fantail, which was said to have

He said the coins recovered by police tell a different story and show two rulers standing side-by-side as allies.

The recovered coin haul included two extremely rare examples of two-headed coins, known as “Two Emperors”, bearing images of both Alfred of Wessex and Ceolwulf.

The coins, believed to have been discovered in Leominster in a multi-million-pound hoard found by two metal detectorists in 2015.

They failed to declare the find as “treasure”, as they should have done, and instead sold items to dealers.

In November 2019, they were convicted and sentenced to a total of more than 18-years imprisonment, following an investigation carried out by West Mercia Police.

The two sellers of the coins were also convicted for concealing their find.

Jurors in the trial at Durham were told that under the terms of the Treasure Act 1996, it states which coins can be considered as “treasure” and which must be reported to the authorities.

The Northern Echo: A rare Anglo-Saxon coin found in a search at Roger Pilling's home

That is one of at least two coins in the same find which are at least 300 years old at the time and contain 10-per cent precious metal.

Officers from Durham Police, backed by the North East Regional Organised Crime Unit (NEROCU), recovered the coins in Durham and Lancashire during the investigation in 2019.

Detective Superintendent Lee Gosling, Senior Investigating Officer (SIO) for Operation Fantail, said: “This is an extremely unusual case, as it is not very often we get the chance to shape British history.

“It is astonishing that the history books need re-writing because of this find.

“These coins come from a hoard of an immense historical significance relating to the Vikings and we are delighted that they are now with the British Museum.

“This has been a lengthy and complex investigation and I would like to thank our specialist officers and the historical experts for all their help.”

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Dr Williams said: “The coins in this case have already begun to transform our knowledge and understanding of the political situation of the late ninth century.

“The coins show beyond any possible doubt that there was a political and economic alliance between Alfred and Ceolwulf II.

“Together the two kings carried out a major reform of the coinage, introducing high-quality silver coins, with the Two Emperors design symbolising this alliance, followed by a second joint coinage.

“As more coins emerge, it is clear that this monetary alliance lasted for some years, while an individual coin from the Durham hoard proves that the more symbolic Two Emperors-type was the earlier of the two.”

According to historical experts, the coins add significantly to the understanding of the political history of England in the AD 870s.

This is the period in which Alfred the Great (AD 871-99) was fighting the Vikings, but which also led to the creation of a unified kingdom of England under Alfred and his successors.

The hoard contains coins both of Alfred and of his contemporary Ceolwulf II, King of Mercia (AD 874-99).

Ceolwulf is described in unflattering terms in surviving sources written at Alfred's court some years later, but around the time the hoard was buried, probably in AD 879, Ceolwulf mysteriously disappeared, and Alfred then took over Ceolwulf's kingdom as well as his own.

The coins point to an alliance between the two which the later sources from Alfred's court 'forgot' to mention, while at the same time stressing Alfred's new alliance with his former enemy, the Viking leader Guthrum.

The established historical narrative, written at Alfred’s court a few years later, portrays Ceolwulf II as ‘a foolish king’s thegn’ (a minor royal official), appointed as king as a puppet of the Vikings, with no hint that the kings had ever had an alliance.

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Dr Williams said Ceolwulf disappears, almost "airbrushed" from history in 879, with no hint of what became of him.

A few years later, Alfred is recorded as ruling a large part of Ceolwulf’s former kingdom, with no indication of how he obtained it.

Dr Williams said the coins recovered from these hoards tell us that the established picture of Alfred the Great as the hero, saving England almost “single-handed” from the Vikings, is only part of the story, and perhaps that the truth is less creditable than the narrative created by his historians.