The battle of Ellendun was fought between king Beornwulf of Mercia and king Ecgberht of Wessex in the year 825.

The Background

During the eighth century Mercia had been the dominant power in Anglo-Saxon England under a succession of powerful kings such as Aethelbald and Offa whose influence had stretched across the south of England. In particular in the year 786 Offa had installed a placeman named Beorhtric on the throne of Wessex, driving the native West Saxon claimant Ecgberht into exile. But after the death of Beorhtric in 802, Egbert returned and regained power and ruled over an independent Wessex for the next twenty-three years without much incident.

The Battle

The battle of Ellendun, or 'Elder-Bush down', is believed to have been fought near Wroughton in Wiltshire. As this lay within the boundaries of the kingdom of Wessex it seems likely that Beornwulf was the agressor here, intent on re-establishing Mercian control over Wessex.

The details given in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle regarding the battle are sparse, as it simply records that "King Ecgberht and Beornwulf fought at Ellendun, and Ecgberht took the victory; and a great slaughter was made there"; although the chronicle of Aethelward adds the information that 'Hun, dux of Somerset' was killed at the battle and buried at Winchester. It is however known that Beornwulf himself survived the defeat, as the Chronicle records that he was killed later that same year by the East Anglians.

The significance of Ellendun

The significance of the battle is that it marked the end of the age of Mercian supremacy, and the beginning of the period when Wessex became the dominant power in England. Ecgberht soon took advantage of his victory by sending "his son Aethelwulf from the army, and Ealhstan his bishop, and Wulfheard his ealdorman, to Kent with a great troop" where "they drove Baldred the king north over the Thames" such that "the inhabitants of Kent turned to him - and the Surrey men and South Saxons and East Saxons". Baldred we must assume was some kind of Mercian stooge, and by his removal Ecgberht was able to exert West Saxon control over Kent and the rest of south-east England.

The south-east of England thereafter became an appanage of the kingdom of Wessex although Mercia itself, despite briefly falling under the sway of Wessex in the years 829 to 830, maintained its independence until fatally weakened by the coming of the Viking Great Army in 866.


Wroughton has chosen to commemorate its links to the ancient battle by naming its shopping centre as the Ellendune Centre.


SOURCES

  • The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles translated and edited by Michael Swanton (Phoenix Press, 2000)
  • Ann Williams Kingship and Government in Pre-conquest England (Macmillan, 1999)

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