On this day in 1016 the Battle of Assandun was fought between the Danish army of Cnut the Great and an English force led by Edmund Ironside. The result was a decisive win for the Danes and bought about the conclusion of the Danish reconquest of England.
Following the death of his father in 1014 Cnut had been declared King of England by the people of the Danlaw. The English nobility however recalled exiled Æthelred the Unready from Normandy and the restored king swiftly led an army against Cnut, who was forced to flee to the safety of Denmark where his brother Harald was king. There, supported Harald, Cnut succeeded in assembling an army of around 10,000 men and a fleet of some 200 longships with which to launch an invasion in 1015.
Cnut forced Wessex to submit in late 1015 and in early 1016 his army was able to cross the Thames, moving northwards across eastern Mercia. Æthelred died in April 1016 and so his son Edmund Ironside was elevated to king.Cnut and the Danes undertook an unsuccessful siege of London where Edmund was located. Edmund was however able to escape and raise an army. Battles were fought at Penselwood in Somerset and Sherston in Wiltshire and Edmund was able to make some gains against the Danes but at terrible cost to his own army.
The next time the Danes and English would meet was the Battle of Assandun. Its location is unknown, however likely candidates include Ashdon near Saffron Walden in north Essex and Ashingdon near Rochford in southeast Essex. Little is known of the battle itself, for example how many men were involved or an estimate of how many died, however it appears that Edmund had sought battle having pursued Cnut’s men as they retreated back to their ships laden with Mercian plunder.
According the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle the key moment in the battle was the betrayal of Edmund by, Eadric Streona, the Ealderman of Mercia, who left the battle allowing the Scandinavians to break through the English lines and win a decisive victory. Apparently Eadric had form for this sort of thing, having previously defected to Cnut when he landed in England but reverting back the English following Canute's defeat at the Battle of Otford.
From this point the English suffered terribly and lost many of their leaders. Edmund was himself badly wounded while Eadnoth the Younger, Bishop of Dorchester, was killed while in the act of saying mass on behalf of Edmund Ironside's men.
It was a crushing defeat and so on an island near Deerhurst in Gloucestershire, Cnut and Edmund met to negotiate terms of peace. It was agreed that all of England north of the Thames was to be the domain of the Danish prince, while all to the south was kept by the English king, along with London. Accession to the reign of the entire realm was set to pass to Cnut upon Edmund's death, who then conveniently died a few weeks later, perhaps of the wounds sustained at Assandun, on November 30th. Consequently, Cnut was left as king of all of England.
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