Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Lanchester: Site of the Battle of Brunanburh? (NZ160469)

A few hundred yards to the SW of Lanchester in Co.Durham lie the remains of the Roman fort of Longovicium. And it was here that, possibly, was fought one of the most important encounters in English history: the Battle of Brunanburh.

I say ‘possibly’ as no one really knows where this history-shaping clash took place, only that it happened in the autumn of 937AD. But, my goodness, it was an important one, as King Aethelstan of the recently formed England led his forces to a crucial victory over the combined armies of Scotland, Strathclyde and the Irish Vikings. The battle put the English nation firmly on the map for good.

What is not on the map, though, is the venue. Several sites across the north of England have been put forward, with current thinking favouring a spot on the Wirral peninsula. However, as has already been suggested (here), the North-East of England also lays claim to the battle; but recently it has been proposed that the aforementioned site near Lanchester could well be the spot we’ve all been looking for these past few hundred years.

By studying the word itself, historian Andrew Breeze suggests that ‘Brunanburh’ means ‘the burgh by the Browney’ – that is, ‘the stronghold near the River Browney.’ The stronghold being, of course, the old Roman fort, with the River Browney running around the foot of the hill below. To help seal the deal, the Roman road of Dere Street runs north-south through the site, which, it is suggested, would have facilitated the movement of the respective armies to and from the site. This, frankly, makes a lot more sense than the awkward situate of the Wirral … and may well give the region another important historical claim to fame.

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