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The Battle of Brunanburh

Brunanburh has been thought by some writers of history to be the village of Bromborough in Wirral. We cannot be sure of this, but some day perhaps the land will give up its secret, when some labourer's spade shall dig up the javelins and the war-knives of the defeated Northmen.

The Battle of Brunanburh was an English victory in 937 by the army of Æthelstan, King of England, and his half-brother Edmund over the combined armies of Olaf III Guthfrithson, the Norse–Gael King of Dublin; Constantine II, King of Alba; and Owen I, King of Strathclyde. Though relatively little known today, it was called "the greatest single battle in Anglo-Saxon history before the Battle of Hastings."


Mention of the battle is made in dozens of sources, in Old English, Latin, Irish, Welsh, Icelandic, and Middle English, and there are many later accounts or responses to the battle, including those by Alfred, Lord Tennyson and Jorge Luis Borges. A contemporary record of the battle is found in the Old English poem Battle of Brunanburh, preserved in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.


Michael Livingston, editor of The Battle of Brunanburh: A Casebook (2011), claims that Brunanburh marks "the moment when Englishness came of age." The site of the battle is not known, though modern scholarship, including Livingston's book, suggests that somewhere in the Wirral Peninsula is likely.

The Battle of Brunanburh, AD 937 (illustration by Alfred Pearse)

The Battle of Brunanburh, AD 937 (illustration by Alfred Pearse)