The Hunt for Ivar’s Treasure, early 875 A.D. (Earleywood, March 2015)

At the end of 874 King Burhred of Mercia was driven out of his kingdom, and the Viking king Ivar Ragnarsson died (see 2014’s Flaunden event). The Vikings crowned Ceolwulf as their puppet in Mercia, and he declared a peace. However, it was not universally respected, as some Mercians did not acknowledge Ceolwulf… Meanwhile the Vikings were leaderless, with Ivar’s brother Halfdan Ragnarsson and his rival Guthrum at each other’s throats, and all the warbands turning on each other.

Skirmish

King Ivar revealed on his deathbed where he buried the gold from Medhamstead Monastery (Peterborough) in 870. His notes and map were torn into three parts by squabbling Vikings, and the three parts found their way into the hands of the Holmbyggjar, Oestvikingae, and Westmen. They raced across Mercia toward the site to recover Ivar’s ill-gotten gains, clashing with each other in a series of brutal skirmishes on the way. Whilst passing through the lands of the Cilternsaete they encountered a problem: the Cilternsaete, possibly encouraged by the Beorcsciringas visiting from Wessex and letters from King Alfred, were being obstructive and demanding tolls from any Vikings crossing their land (and were secretly trying to gather the bits of the map for themselves, creating their own copy).

Englisc

The Westmen managed to collect the entire map, and rushed towards the final location, although on the way they did loose a piece to a final Englisc attack. Thus (after a break for a delicious lunch) the Westmen hared off first into the area where the treasure was buried. The Englisc were hot on their tail, followed by the Oestvikingae and Holmbyggjar (who had made their own map, by comparing their memories of fragments they had lost). After much backstabbing, frenzied searching through holly bushes, and quite a lot of reburial, it became clear that all the gold had been found. Then came the final desperate dash to sneak the treasure away from the site… The Englisc utilised the speedy and sneaky Wulfgar to smuggle theirs out first; the Oestvikingae put all their eggs in one Thorhelm whilst the rest of them tried to hold off the enemy (and Cuthwin took them down in quick succession); the Westmen sent Grimkell flanking the hall to successfully save their massive haul of treasure as Bulverk and Wulf caught Hauk with his pants down; Fritha sprinted in with one relic when everyone was distracted; and then came a final push from the Holmbyggjar, who had already feasted on most of the treasures that they recovered.

Duel

In the evening, in a hall on the borders of East Anglia, Ceolwulf’s peace held and Ingibjorg of the Holmbyggjar served a magnificent feast. The Englisc were visited by Father Godfrid of Earleywood Abbey, fresh from Ceolwulf’s court and newly promoted to the priesthood, with news of Englisc uprisings in Mercia, East Anglia, and Northumbria. He was returned one of the two lost Scrolls of St. Swithun by Ceolred Monger Thegn of the Beorcsciringas and the cursed sword Kingslayer by Herewulf Thegn of the Cilternsaete (delivered by Wulfgar of the Cilternsaete), and himself delivered letters to the Vikings from the three men who would be their king:

  • Guthrum said that there was no point fighting Wessex until the Englisc uprisings were subdued. He said that he was heading East, to crush the East Anglians, and offered land to all who would follow him.
  • Harald Fair-Hair, the King who had recently united all of Norway under his iron fist, announced that he was sailing towards these lands with Ragnvald Earl of More. He said that he intended to start by taking the Isles – the Shetlands, Orkneys, Hebrides, and Mann.
  • Halfdan Ragnarsson said that he would not let the Englisc, the Picts, or Harald Fair-Hair take the land that the Great Army had conquered, and that he was marching North to defend Northumbria and the Isles.

There was outrage at Harald’s words, with Styrkar Ovennisson of the Westmen wanting to defend his home on Orkney; Guðrún of the Oestvikingae casting bones and predicting ruin on any who followed Harald; and Hallgerd of the Westmen saying that Harald Fair-Hair reminded her of a bullying cousin from when she was young. The Westmen and Oestvikingae both declared their support for Halfdan, whilst Glora of the Holmbyggjar was more cautious, wishing to consult her comrades before deciding which king to follow.

Feast

An excerpt from Hauk Ragnarsson’s Saga
After the death of Ivar, the Oestvikingae were given part of a map that showed where he had hidden the treasure he had taken from Medhamstead Abbey 5 years before. They went east, through the lands of the Cilternsaete, to find it. On the way they clashed with other Vikings, wild raiders, who stole their fragment of Ivar’s map. However the Oestvikingae were wise, and had memorised their fragment of the map, chanting its words and drawing its shapes on the ground. When they met the Holmbyggjar, who had also once possessed some of Ivar’s map but then lost it, they shared the details which they remembered and together they rebuilt the map in their minds. With the help of some Englisc they later managed to defeat the wild Vikings, enforcing the peace which Ceolwulf had made.

The Oestvikingae then followed other treasure hunters to the place where Ivar’s gold lay. Using the map they had memorised, they hurried to one of the locations, and the keen eyes of Thorhelm quickly spotted the glint of monastic relics. Some of their treasure was stolen by the Holmbyggjar, once again reneging on earlier friendship, so Guðrún and Fritha buried the rest. Later they managed to rescue another piece of treasure from Englisc hands, and Fritha buried it so well that no man could find it, though several saw the area she had hidden in it and searched it long and hard. They then had to get the treasure out of the area, beyond the grasping hands of the Englisc. They dug up their first hoard, and entrusted it to Thorhelm’s swift legs whilst the rest of the warband held up the Englisc attempting to persue him. Then Fritha sneaked out to her buried stash, and managed to return it all on her own whilst the other searchers were distracted.

That evening they dined well, and received news that Harald Fairhair was seeking to rule these islands as well as Norway. The Oestvikingae agreed that they would not bend their knee to him, but would march north with Halfdan to repel his attack (staying somewhat near the back of Halfdan’s army, making sure that they Englisc did not rise up behind them).

Historical Notes – Buried Gold and Medhamstead Abbey

Medhamstead monastery was one of the greatest foundations in Anglo-Saxon England, jointly founded by two of the earliest Christian English kings, Oswi of Northumbria and Peada of Mercia. In 870 it contained around 80 monks, but the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that:

A.D. 870. This year the army rode over Mercia into East-Anglia, and there fixed their winter-quarters at Thetford. And in the winter King Edmund fought with them; but the Danes gained the victory, and slew the king; whereupon they overran all that land, and destroyed all the monasteries to which they came. The names of the leaders who slew the king were Hingwar and Hubba. At the same time came they to Medhamsted, burning and breaking, and slaying abbot and monks, and all that they there found. They made such havoc there, that a monastery, which was before full rich, was now reduced to nothing. The same year died Archbishop Ceolnoth; and Ethered, Bishop of Witshire, was chosen Archbishop of Canterbury.

Hingwar was probably Ivar, whilst Hubba was one of his brothers. He may well be the “brother of Ingwar and Healfden” who appears in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in 878.
Medhamstead was rebuilt in 963-6, 100 years after our period, and evolved into the present Peterborough Cathedral.

What happened to the gold of Medhamsted Abbey is not recorded. Probably it was split between the raiders. However some our most spectacular Dark Age finds are from hoards have been deliberately buried, like the Staffordshire Hoard, the Cuerdale Hoard, and the Vale of York Hoard.
It’s presumed that these hoards were buried by people wanting to look after their property, who then died or were otherwise unable to return and dig them up. This event was meant to explore that concept, as well as playing with the idea of Easter Egg Hunts and our love of Treasure Island other pirate stories of buried gold and maps marked with big Xs!

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