Broken Oaths (877 begins)

Over the past few years we’ve been following the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, seeing how our units would react to the events of the 870s.

In 2014 we lived through King Burhred’s expulsion from Mercia in 874, as the Viking Great Army installed the puppet king Ceolwulf to rule Mercia but lost their unifying leader Ivar ‘The Boneless’ Ragnarsson. In 2015 we saw the Great Army disunited (as in 875), with Halfdan Ragnarrsson marching to Northumbria with the Westmen and Oestvikingae to fight off the Norwegian King Harald Finehair, whilst Guthrum and others went to East Anglia with the Holmbyjjar.

Last year, roughly following 876, Harald Finehair was driven off and left Jarl Sigurd to hold the islands off the northern coast: after repelling them Halfdan granted Northumbrian land to his followers. Further north, the Picts, Scots, Britons and some of the Vikings who didn’t like Finehair (the Westmen and the mercenary Oestvikingae) gathered to make sure Jarl Sigurd was restricted to just the isles not the mainland. They managed to leave fairly united, despite being threatened by treachery between these Scot-ish clans, with ancient secrets and uprisings and assassinations galore! By the end of it, Causantín mac Cináeda of Dál Riata (the combined Scottish/Pictish throne) was dead, killed by rebellious Picts. His son Domnall had been sent to be fostered by Styrkar and his brother Aed was on the throne, but Eochaid of Alt Clud (the British/Welsh kingdom around Strathclyde) and Giric of the Picts both felt that they’d be better rulers…

Meanwhile, in Wessex, the Cilternsaete left Danish-occupied Mercia, and the puppet-king Ceolwulf put a price on their heads. Part of the Great Army penetrated Wessex, and took the fort of Wareham. When they found themselves surrounded by a larger fyrd raised by King Alfred and led by the Cilternsaete and the Sumorsaete, they swore peace and exchanged hostages, agreeing to leave Wessex – but will they keep their word? Will the peace last?

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle has this to say about 876 and 877:

A.D. 876. This year the army stole into Wareham, a fort of the West-Saxons. The king afterwards made peace with them; and they gave him as hostages those who were worthiest in the army; and swore with oaths on the holy bracelet, which they would not before to any nation, that they would readily go out of his kingdom. Then, under colour of this, their cavalry stole by night into Exeter.

A.D. 877. This year came the Danish army into Exeter from Wareham; whilst the navy sailed west about, until they met with a great mist at sea, and there perished one hundred and twenty ships at Swanwich. Meanwhile King Alfred with his army rode after the cavalry as far as Exeter; but he could not overtake them before their arrival in the fortress, where they could not be come at. There they gave him as many hostages as he required, swearing with solemn oaths to observe the strictest amity. In the harvest the army entered Mercia; some of which they divided among them, and some they gave to Ceolwulf.

This gives us lots of plot strands to follow!

Near the start of the year there are 3 main plots that could be looked at, as the Vikings break their oaths and race across Wessex to try to take Exeter:
What will happen to the hostages exchanged at Wareham in late 876? Historically, they were probably executed when the rest of the army broke their word – that is the whole point of taking hostages – but they might have been ransomed. How do our Vikings feel about this potential loss of friends and kinsfolk? Maybe they will seek to pay ransom to get them back, or try to stage a rescue attempt? Perhaps some sort of ambush, whilst the English are moving their prisoners? Or attacking an English stronghold to rescue them?
What of the crews of the ships wrecked at Swanwich? Did the survivors try to make their way across country to Exeter, seeking to avoid the pursuing West Saxon fyrd?

And then there’s the race from Wareham to Exeter. Leading up to this there could be a battle focussing on stealth or speed, with the Vikings trying to cover the ground, fighting any English they come across. Or the fight could focus on the English chasing the Vikings: were there skirmishes between the leading elements of the pursuing fyrd and Viking stragglers? Did a Viking volunteer rearguard try to delay the fyrd to give the main army a chance to escape?

Then later in the year once again (possibly following a siege) peace is made, the Vikings swear oaths to keep the peace (again), and give hostages (again). This time, they actually keep their word! At harvest time the Vikings leave Wessex and go to claim land in Mercia. There’s definitely plots to be explored here:
Did the West Saxons try to assault the fortress at Exeter, before peace was made?

After peace was made again, the West Saxons were no doubt wary that oaths would be broken (again). Did they have troops dogging the Vikings as they made their way from Exeter to Mercia, ready to punish any breach of the peace? Would Vikings who again had friends and kin given as hostages suspect their leaders would once again abandon them to death? Will their humiliation at having to give hostages not once, but twice, fester into resentment against the West Saxons – and perhaps their own leaders?

Was the Viking division of Mercia peaceful, or was there local unrest? Did English tensions turn against Ceolwulf? How will the Cilternsaete react if Vikings try to claim their land?

Looking forward, 878 is A Big Year: the Great Army returning to Wessex and conquering it; Alfred living in the swamps before gloriously riding out to retake his land in a series of battles and skirmishes.

878 is also the year according to most sources that the next king gets assassinated up in the Scot-ish areas: Aed of the Scots, brother of the king who died last year, is killed (sources disagree as to whether this was “by his own associates” or “in battle with Giric”). Then there is obviously much fallout as Eochaid of the Britons, Domnall of the Scots, and Giric of the Picts jockey for position… So it might make sense to do that bit of Scot-plot this year instead of next, to free up space to focus on Alfred and Wessex in 2018. Last year ended with the gathered forces agreeing to march off to face Sigurd in battle, and to help the Westmen retake Canna: an event could be based on Canna, with fighting against Sigurd’s Norwegians before things get complicated around Aed’s death?

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