In his introduction to ‘Gregory’s Pastoral Care’ King Alfred  identified that a king who ‘obeyed God and his messengers … not only maintained their peace, morality and authority at home but also extended their territory outside; and they succeeded both in warfare and in wisdom’. It is in this inclusive sense that I use the term defence , to mean not only warfare conducted against an aggressor, but also offensive warfare explicitly for the purpose of territorial expansion.
The term Anglo-Saxon has recently been preferred for the 5th – 8th centuries, while Late Saxon / Viking was identified as being preferred for the 9th – mid 11th centuries . I am however using Anglo-Saxon to include the period 878 AD to 1066 AD . I am using the term State  to encompass ‘the form of government and constitution in a country’  and ‘the rulers, nobles or great men of a realm; the government, ruling body, grand council or court’ .
I shall be examining the defence of the Anglo-Saxon State thematically, from the conclusion of the peace agreement between King Alfred and King Guthram at Wedmore, to the loss of the ruler and many of the nobles and great men of the realm at the battle of Hastings. The themes that I shall be examining are:
· The norms of war;
· Frið  and Unfrið ;
· Weallstilling ;
· Brycggeweorc ;
· Fyrdstemn ;
· Scipfyrd  and Sciphere .
In seeking to define the Anglo-Saxon norms of war, it is first necessary to review the pattern of warfare prior to the Viking  invasions, and then to examine the extent to which these patterns changed in response to a changing situation. In examining the pattern of Anglo-Saxon Warfare from 600 – 850 Guy Halsall (1989) identified that each kingdom fought a major war once per generation , lesser battles once every six years , and were involved in ritualised expressions of violence  including raiding activity every year except in times of strictly enforced peace . Harrying was used to establish dominance  and payment of geld and the exchange of hostages were recognised means of getting out of a tight spot . A force engaged in defensive actions was referred to as a fyrd an offensive or raiding force as a here .
The following may, in Anglo-Saxon terms, be identified as different or unfamiliar about the way that the Vikings practised war:
· The use of ships to unexpectedly arrive and leave ;
· Attacks upon monasteries  for wealth  and horses ;
· The intensity of harrying ;
· The intensity of battle ;
· The resultant rapidity of change to the political scene .
Once the Vikings settled, warfare rapidly assumed a more ritualistic form, with greatly reduced intensity and more tightly regulated peace. During the 10th century this was paralleled across Western Europe by a ‘peace movement’ championed by the church, although nowhere was it as successful as it was in England .
The unparalleled violence and spectacular success of the micel hæðen here  came to an end with military defeat at the battle of Edington (878) followed by pursuit to Chippenham , and the spectre of starvation in defeat . Asser notes that ‘when they had been there fourteen days the Vikings, thoroughly terrified by hunger, cold and fear, and in the end by despair , sought peace. <![if !supportFootnotes]>’ King Alfred ‘was moved to compassion’ and after taking hostages and oaths received Guthram their king to baptism and received him as his adoptive son at Wedmore , so was concluded the Frið .
Subsequent to the peace at Wedmore a treaty was agreed between Alfred and Guthram, defining the accepted border of Guthram’s East Anglian kingdom . The treaty sought to equably adjudicate against cross border violence and theft . The only other example that we have of Frið relates to 991 or 994 , and indicates similar concerns 42]. These are best understood from the perspective of a young warrior’s training in which by tradition crime in another kingdom had not been regarded as punishable in one’s own . Young warriors had traditionally learnt the warrior’s skill through slaying and raiding away from home , in the interests of peace this was no longer to be so . While some of the necessary skills could be learnt at the hunt , this was a long way from the thorough curriculum in individual courage and small unit tactics that low level violence between the kingdoms had previously ensured.
Having gained peace at Wedmore, Alfred and his advisors prepared for war. Keen interest was shown in the movement of Viking here abroad , meanwhile measures were taken to counter the Vikings on their expected return. Key amongst these measures was the repair and construction of burh . Alfred’s burh had three main functions:
· To deprive the Vikings of their operational mobility ;
· To act as a focus for local defence ;
· And to provide an emergency reserve of operationally deployable troops .
The burh enabled Wessex to be defended, and as Mercia fell under the sway of Wessex so the system of burh was extended. Under Edward the Elder burh were also used in the offence:
· To indicate an interest in territory;
· And serving in a role analogous to that of a Medieval siege castle.
There is some evidence that the larger burh, which along with their smaller neighbours had originally been constructed with rapid techniques , were subsequently faced with stone . As a result of the long peace in the mid C10th the defences of many of the burh had been encroached upon , or were otherwise in disrepair. The early C11th saw the construction of a number of smaller, private burh . Only in 1055 does ASC again mention repair of a larger burh, at Hereford .
From the middle of the C8th Brycggeweorc had been one of the three common burdens reserved by the king in his charters , along with Weallstilling and Fyrdstemn . In the Laws of Cnut, a fine was introduced for those failing to honour their responsibility in this regard . Bridges enabled the rapid movement of people and goods in all weathers . Fords may also have been maintained as an aspect of Brycggeweorc . It appears that the maintenance of bridges and fords may have been closely associated with Burh .
Bridges and fords both enabled movement and canalised it. Each had their dangers in poor weather, while fords could be impassable at certain times of day or at certain times of the year. If the structure of the old Rochester Bridge, based upon Roman piers may be regarded as typical, then it is interesting to note the removable section of bridge at the city end . Other bridges are known from Late Saxon times .
Bridges not only enabled movement by land but could be used to block movement by water. A Kentish charter of 811 first records the use of a bridge in this role . The earliest usage of a bridge on the continent to block riverine movement is recorded in the reign of Charles the Bold across the Seine at Pont de l’Arche in 862 . King Alfred used this method in 895 to block the river Lea . In 1016 Cnut was forced to dig a passage to the south of London Bridge so that London could be besieged .
Abels identified two forms of fyrd raised under King Alfred, mobile standing armies raised in two separate parts, and provincial forces which under Alfred appear to have been based on the burgware . While mobile forces continued to be raised under Edward the Elder and Æthelstan, there is no evidence for English troops being raised during the peace that lasted until 980.
Leadership was assumed by the King (with the exception of Æthelred and Edward the Confessor who often delegated their authority), Ealdorman and later Earl , and also the King’s ðegn . In time of war, selection for office was at least in part based upon martial skill. In the emergent peace following Alfred’s reign selection was more as courtier than as military men .
With the decline of the military role of the burh, the provincial force had to be separately raised <![endif]>, and were no longer immediately available when required . The standing forces were not practised, and the leadership were in general not military men . The requirement for one mailcoat and one helmet to be produced from every 8 hide in 1008  also suggests a lack of arms. Without skilled leadership, adequate equipment or trained men there was little choice but to buy peace until skill at war could gradually be re-learnt  .
Under Cnut huscarl were added to the Anglo-Saxon military scene and Danish lið were maintained until Edward the Confessor’s reign . The capacity to raise mobile standing forces re-emerged  and a low level of war  acquainted troops and leaders with skill at arms.
In 850, a Kentish Scipfyrd had struck a great raiding army at Sandwich, captured 9 ships, and put the others to flight . Alfred and subsequent kings attempted to emulate this success, but as Rodger explains true naval warfare did not exist, and no absolute command of the sea was possible, the inability to effectively scout being one of the main limitations in the defensive application of naval power  . While some focus on the ships that Alfred  and later Æthelred ordered to be built , the strictly limited success of their defensive endeavours at sea is the more striking fact .
What did in general work were combined operations , with mutual support between land and sea, such as that used by Æthelstan against the Scots in 934  and Earl Siward against the Scots in 1054 . What also worked was the use of the tactical and strategic surprise that attack from the sea gave, such as that argued to have been used by Edgar’s Viking mercenaries in the Irish Sea , termed a Sciphere . The two methods were successfully combined in 1062-3 when Earl Harold and Earl Tostig launched separate but co-ordinated strikes against King Gruffydd of the Welsh, resulting in Gruffydd’s death . The poor weather in 1066, which almost prevented William of Normandy’s expedition, prevented combined operations being used in the defence when having waited so long for William the ships and fyrd had to be dismissed for lack of supplies .
On October 14th 1066 Harold II and those who wanted to support him, the embodiment of the Anglo-Saxon State, died on Hastings Field . In the 870’s Alfred had come close to a similar fate, as Asser says it was the loss of so many good men that had been hardest to bare . Nor had William easily rested the crown, on three separate occasions William had been unhorsed  , Harold fell only once , but he fell dead .
Alfred placed his faith in God  and preparation for war . With the rise of the peace movement , and the resulting loss of skill at arms faith was in effect being put in God alone . Under Æthelred skill at arms was slowly re-learned, and Edmund achieved an honourable peace . Thereafter low-level war was maintained, the State thus being in readiness in case of serious threat .
Prior to the Frið at Wedmore the Anglo-Saxon State had been bought to very low ebb . Alfred’s greatness may be measured by his magnanimity in victory . The military measures he took were in general not new  but were in most cases appropriately applied to the circumstances at the time. Only in the way that he attempted to use naval power did Alfred appear mistaken . All kings used payment of geld when they needed to , but Æthelred was rebuilding the military from a very low base . In subsequent years the military regained its former efficiency, as evidenced by successful expeditions to Scotland and to Wales . In 1066 the Anglo-Saxon State fell in a very close run fight .
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