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Battle of Ashdown - Alfred defeats the Danes

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Battle of Ashdown - Alfred defeats the Danes

Reading, Berkshire The 8th of January 871 AD

Although the Battle of Ashdown was by no means decisive in the struggle against the Danes, it is important as demonstrating the ability of Alfred the Great , and as proof for the people of Wessex and beyond that the tide could be turned.

Alfred had been fighting the Danes with his brother King Ethelred since at least 868, when we would only have been 18 or 19. Mercia had fallen in spite of the West Saxon support, so by 871 the campaign had moved to Ethelredís own kingdom of Wessex.

The previous year the Danes had taken Reading, and used it for raiding the region at will. On January 4th 871 the Saxons attacked the invaders at Reading, but were repulsed and had to regroup in the Berkshire Downs.

Knowing the Danes would follow, Alfred took command of the situation, personally using the blowing stone on Blowingstone Hill to send a booming signal summoning men from all over the area to the defence of their lands.

The two armies met on January 8th 871. Where they met is open to debate: that the fighting went on around an ancient thorn tree is agreed. Whether Ashdown (which probably refers to the whole of the downland), was fought near Uffington , or on the Ridgeway near to the village of Compton , is less certain.

Both armies were organised in two divisions, the Saxons with Ethelred and Alfred as leaders, the Danes with two kings, Halfdan and Bagsecg commanding one and five earls the other.

When the Danes advanced at dawn Ethelred was at prayer in a nearby church. Alfred grasped the nettle and had his division charge the soldiers commanded by the Viking earls before the Danish battle plan could advance too far.

The battle was a huge mÍlťe, with the later arrival of Ethelredís men deciding things, the Saxons outnumbering their enemies significantly. In the subsequent rout many Danes were slaughtered, and during the dayís fighting king Bagsecg and all five Danish earls died.

In spite of the victory the Danes were able to shelter in Reading and prepare a counter-attack that came swiftly and tellingly, with Danish victories at Basing in Hampshire , and Martin in Dorset where Ethelred would be fatally wounded, leaving his brother Alfred as king to continue the seemingly endless struggle with the Norsemen.

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Comment

From Bill Sievwright on 28th December 2013
Is it not more likely that the battle of "Ashdown" was fought on the downs, close to the village of Aston (Tirold), where it got the name Ashdown from - probably on nearby "Kings Standing Hill" . This would be within a sensible march from Reading, and on route to the ecclesiastical centres of Dorchester, Abingdon and Oxford (all on the Thames).

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