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Alfred versus the Danes 897

Longships
Longships

In 897 Danish settlers from the North Sea coast of modern England came through the Channel in six longships on a Viking raid on the south coast of Wessex, the last Anglo-Saxon kingdom. They raided and looted the Isle of Wight and the situation was so bad that King Alfred ordered nine of his new longships to intercept the raiders.

The Wessex Saxon fleet, possibly commanded by the King in person, found the Vikings at an unnamed estuary, and blocked the entrance. Three of the Viking ships had been beached so their crews could plunder but the three others were on guard.

The Saxons attacked the three Danish ships on guard capturing two of then and killing all but five of the Vikings on the third. Now, as the tide ebbed, the defects of the big Saxon ships became apparent as they ran aground, three on one side of the estuary and six on the other.

The Danes assaulted the smaller group from the shore but the big vessels proved effective defences and 120 Vikings were killed for the loss of 62 Saxons. The larger crews of the English ships might well explain the scale of losses. The battered Danes returned to their longships which they were able to float off before the larger English ships and escape. But the depleted and wounded Vikings were in no condition for the voyage home. Two ships came ashore in Sussex and their crews were captured. Only one ship of this ill-fated Viking raid got back to the Danish colony in East Anglia.

Further reading:

  • N.A.M. Rodger, The Safeguard of the Sea, A Naval History of Britain 660-1649 (London 1997).