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Brunanburh, battle of

The Oxford Companion to British History
J. A. CannonJ. A. Cannon

Brunanburh, battle of, 937. 

Brunanburh was the crowning military achievement of Athelstan’s reign, which saw Wessex advances into Devon, south Wales, and the north. In 937 a formidable coalition attempted to hold him at bay. Constantine II of Scotland was joined by Owain of Strathclyde and Olaf Guthfrithsson from Dublin (whose father had been driven out of Northumbria by Athelstan). The site of the battle remains uncertain, though if the Dublin fleet did use the Humber, Brough or Aldborough are possibilities. In savage fighting, Athelstan and his brother Edmund prevailed: five young kings, including a son of Constantine, are said to have been killed. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle thought the victory the greatest ever won by the Saxons and broke into sombre verse:

  • Likewise the English king and the prince,
  • Brothers triumphant in war, together
  • Returned to their home, the land of Wessex.
  • To enjoy the carnage, they left behind
  • The horn-beaked raven with dusky plumage,
  • And the hungry hawk of battle, the dun-coated
  • Eagle, who with white-tipped tail shared
  • The feast with the wolf, grey beast of the forest.

J. A. Cannon