the breaking of Byrhtnoth

(at the battle of maldon)




he ordered the men to loose the horses

go forth and drive them far,

consider both hands and a goodstout heart.

when Offa’s kinfellow first found out

his lord wouldn’t take cowardice

he let his friend fly:

hawk from his hands to the forest,

and stepped up to battle.

so man might know about that boy,

wouldn’t weak-knee at the war; to weapons he went.

beside him, Eadric wished to last

for his leader, follow his lord to the fight,

and he went forth with spear to war.

he had a stoutmind

that while his hands might hold

shield-slab and broadsword

he vowed to last (his boast to stand)

with his lord when he should have to fight.

then Byrhtnoth began preparing the men.

ready and riding

taught the warriors

how to stand and hold position,

bade them hold their shields fast in fingers

and not to fear.

when he had the folk fittingly taught,

he dismounted ‘midst his most dear people

where he knew his most loyal hearth-host,

then stood on shore, crashly crying:

a vikings’ messenger, spouting words,

the seafarer’s boast, announced

a message to the earl where he stood on the other side

“keen sailors sent me to you

ordered to say     you must send soon

rings for peace!

better to forfeit spears for tribute

then share a bitter battle,

no need to annihilate if you are plenty prosperous

we want to fashion a truce from that gold

if the greatest here should want to see

his people redeemed

sell the sea-men (on your own judging)

fortune for friendship, and

seize your


from us.

we will go back to our ships with the treasure

set out on the sea, and you can keep your quiet.”

Byhtnoth speech-made, shield-board grasped

whirled his slender spear of ash, spouted words

all-one-angry-minded answered back:

“do you hear what this folk says?

they will give you spears for tribute

poisoned darts

and practiced swords;

this war gear won’t help you in battle

watermen’s errand-boy, announce back again

this mighty loathsome news:

the earl and his troop stand unfouled

they’ll defend this homeland

Aethelred’s earth, of my elders

the folk, the country

heathens should fall in battle.

you think me too shameful, that you

should go unfought to ships with our treasure?

now that you came

this far into our country

not so softly shall you overrun our riches--

first point and edge will smooth us over

fierce war-play

before we’ll give you tribute.

then the shield-bearer ordered the men to go so

they all stood on the riverbank,

but couldn’t for water, (flowing floodtide enlocking light streams)

one troop to the other.

it seemed too long ‘till bearing spears together

all tumultuous arrayed, straddling there

the Pantan streams,

Eastsaxon point

and an army from ships.

nor might any harm the other

except with airborne arrows arraying death.

the flood went out.

the shipmen stood ready

plenty of vikings, just waiting for war.

a hero then demanded

defense for the causeway,

a war-hardened warrior quick with his kin,

it was Wulfstan’s command.

Ceolon’s son

picked off with his lance

the first to step boldly onto the bridge.

There stood with Wulfstan two bold-souled warriors

unafraid, Aelfere and Maccus

who wouldn’t make flight from the ford

but steadfast stood against the enemy

while they might wield a weapon.

but when they understood, and eagerly saw

that they met  fierce bridge-guards,

the loathsome strangers started dissembling,

asked that they might

poses the path to the land

leading the foot-troop over the ford.

then the earl

in a pulsing blood-mood                                                                       

allowed all the loathsome

people to land.

Byhthelm’s son began

calling over cold water

(warriors listening):

“now you’re all opened up, come quick

to us

you men to war,

God only knows who

will wield the death-pile’s meeting.”

the death-pile-wolves waded

without care for water

viking troop west over Pantan

carrying shields over shining water

shipmen bearing lindenwood shields to land.

Byrhtnoth ‘midst men fierce and ready

stood against them.

he ordered that troop to work a shield-wall,

and to hold fast against the enemy.

the fight was near: glory by battle

the time had come the fated men

should fall.

rage heaved up

ravens whirled

eagles eager for meat; was on the earth a cry.

then let fly from fingers

file-hard spear-shafts


bows were busy, shield-board seized the point.

the battle-rush was bitter: warriors fell,

on either hand youths lay dead.

Wulmaer was wounded

the chopper cut down his sister’s son:

slaughter-pile sleep chose Byrhtnoth’s kin,

but there was reward for the vikings:

Eadward (i heard) alone, slew

cruel with his sword swing not withholding,

so the fated champion

fell at his feet,

so to him his lord gave thanks to

the servant at his side.

So stood firm the fierce-minded

youth in battle,

eagerly thinking, how they with point

might first claim life from fated men,

warriors with weapons.

death-pile fell to earth.

standing steadfast, Byhrtnoth directed,

bade each youth give thought to war

that would win glory from the Danes.

the war-hardened one waded, weapon aloft

shield-board for defense,

and stepped against the warrior,

earl to churl resolute

each of them evil-minded

for the other.

the sea-warrior sent a southern shaft

that wounded the warrior’s lord,

he shoved with his shield that the

shaft shattered

and the spear split-sprang back.

mad-minded was the war-hero

he stung the viking with his spear

so that he gave back the wound.

sage was the soldier, he let his javelin loose

through that youth’s neck

hand guiding so it reached

the fast-fighter’s life.

then he speedily shot another

who’s mail burst, wounded on the breast

through the ringshirt

from his heart stood

a poisoned point.

the earl was joyous,

laughed triumphant

said thanks

to the Creator, (the Lord gave a day’s work).

so some danish dandy flung

the dart from his hands

that it went too deeply

through the nobleman Aethelred’s thane,

at his side stood a soldier ungrown

a battleboy so boldly

pulled the bloody spear from the man

(Wulfstan’s son, Wulfmaer the young)

let go so hard, sent back again

that piercing point,

so that he on the earth lay

who before

his king had

violently torn.

went then armed, one to the earl

so he could fetch the warrior’s

rings raiment and ring-mail,

ornamented sword,

then Byhtnoth drew

chopper from sheath

broad and bright edged sword,

but too soon some waterman

hindered him, he

wasted the earl’s arm

fell then to the ground

the yellow-dust-hilted sword

he not able to hold a hard blade,

or wield a weapon.

but still the battle-man had

a word to quote to embolden the war-youth,

the grey battle-man bade “go forth to meet with glory”

could not on feet stand-up-firm for long,

he looked to the heavens:

“thank you Ruler of people

for all the benefit i on the world enjoyed,

now i have, kind Creator

the greatest need

that you allow my ghost my soul

to travel to you by your

wielding, king of angels, to go in quiet

so the hell-thief can’t crush. . .

then heathen soldiers hacked him down

and both men that stood about,

Aelfnoth and Wulmaer both lay,

gave up their life alongside their lord.

they bent themselves from battle then,

Oddan’s son

was first to flee, Godric from the fighting

forsook the good man who often gave him

many a mare,

leapt up on the horse his lord

had owned, on the harness

as it wasn’t right,

and his brother with him both in gallop,

Godwine and Godwig didn’t care about war

but turned from the battle

wandered to woods, fleeing for a fortress,

their lives to preserve,

and many more than was right

if they should at all remember the gifts

he gave to move them to glory,

so Offa had said to him

in the day, on the meeting place

where they called a council,

men spiritedly spoke who later wouldn’t

endure the danger.

then the folk’s lord fell

Aethelred’s earl; all the hearthfolk

saw their lord, lying there.

then the splendid thanes went forth

undaunted men eagerly advanced,

all wanted to forget their life

for a dear revenge.

so Aelfric’s son emboldened them on,

the unwintered youth made words.

Aelfwin talked then, with zeal spoke:

“remember the meals

when we’d speak over mead

raising boasts over benches?

heroes of the hall now

in a bitter battle, now

find out how brave you are!

i’ll make my lineage known to all

that i’m of mighty kin in Mercia,

my old father was Ealhelm,

wise elder-man world-well-blessed.

king’s thanes shan’t taunt me,

that i will go from this band to seek my home,

now my lord lies

hacked down in battle. hardest for me:

he was both friend and lord.”

then he went forth, considering the feud

pierced with his point some sea-floater

so he lay on the ground with his weapon.

then he began to call his comrades

friends and fellows, so they came forth

Offa speech-made, shook his ash-pole:

“Aelfwin you have urged us all

thanes to the need, now our king lies dead,

earl on earth,

we all need each other to embolden

warriors to war, that while we can

our weapons grasp and hold,

hard blade

spear and

good sword.

Godric, Oddan’s son deceived us all

turned many men when he rode that

majestic mare, as if he were their lord.

and on the field folks split up

shield-wall shattered damn his act!

that put so many

men to flight.”

Leofsunu speech-made, linden shield aloft,

shield-board to defense, the man to say:

“i then vow

i hence won’t flee a footstep,

but further go awaken war,

my much-loved-lord.

Sturnmer steadfast and hero-hard

will not have a word of taunt about me

now my loved lord is fallen,

if i should lordless return home

turn from war


i’ll take to weapons, point and iron,”

full of anger

he fought fiercely forgetting flight.

Dunnere then spoke, daring with dart,

simple peasant cried over all

asked the warriors each to avenge Byrhtnoth:

“must not flinch, intend to avenge

lord of this people, not mourning for life.

then they went forth not caring for lives

the hall-men began to fight hard

fierce spear-bearers

(and God grant that they might avenge the loved lord

and summon slaughter for their enemy)

the hostage began eagerly helping

he from hard Northumbrian kin

Ecglaf’s son Aeshferth his name,

he wouldn’t pull back from war-play

but often shot forth arrows:


shot shield-boards


tore men apart.

every time he could, if he could wound, he would

as long as he could wield a weapon.

still on the point stood Eadward the tall

spoke boasting-words eager

and zealous,

that he wouldn’t flee a foot-space of land

move back any bit since his better lay dead.

he shattered the shield-wall

and fought against the warriors:

his gift-giving

to the sea-people

(splendid vengence)

until he lay on a death-pile.

so did Aetheric, noble comrade

striving, eager advanced and firmly fought,
Sibyrhtes brother, very many others
split celloid shields, keenly defended
burst board-rims
the mail-coat sang!
(some sorrow song)

look! Offa slew that sailor in the fight!

so he fell to ground,

then Gad’s kinsman too

met ground,

soon hacked down in battle

and he had still to advance enough

to avenge his lord,

see he had a boast

with his ring-giver,

that they should both to stronghold ride

whole to home, but

on the slaughter-place he died of wounds

and loyally lay beside the king.

shield-boards broke, watermen

trudged completely enraged to the fight,

often a spear passed through a life-house

Wistan advanced, Thurstan’s son against the soldiers,

in the throng was the bane of three

before he, Wigeline’s son, lay

on the deathpile.

it was a hard meeting

warriors standing fast in war,

wound-weary war-men falling.

sorrow fell on earth.

Oswald and Eadwold all the while

both the brothers toughened the men

giving their war-kin words

that they in danger should endure

not knock-kneed,

putting weapons to use.

Byrhtwold speech-made

hoisted his shield-board

(the comrade was old) shook his ash-pole,

very boldly taught the men:

“mind must be harder heart braver spirit more

as our strength diminishes,

here your leader lies all

hacked down, good and great.

might always murmur he who from this war-place

thought to turn,

I, an old-life, i won’t from here.


by the side of my lord

by so dear to men

think to lie.

so Aethelgar’s son emboldened them all,

Godric to battle,

he often let loose spears

whaling slaughter-spears at the vikings

so he in that folk first went

hacking and humbling till he

fell in battle.

he was not that Godric who

fled the fight