The Battle of Reading

It’s January 4th today, not a day of much significance, as far as I know. None of my friends or family was born on this day, although plenty celebrate birthdays on either side of it. Feeling somewhat at a writing loose end, I have just had a look to see if in fact January 4th  does have any significance historically, and apparently it’s the anniversary of the Battle of Reading in 871. I’m not sure it should be celebrated here – maybe in Denmark they raise a glass to the memory of Bagsecg and Halfdan Ragnarsson and their victory over the West Saxons.

The Danish Vikings had already conquered Northumbria and East Anglia the previous year and were preparing to attack and conquer Wessex (not that there was ever such a place as Wessex, it was so called much later and is disputed by many who know much more about those times than I do. However, it’s a handy name for an area of south and western England)) In late December 870AD,  the Danes had arrived at Reading, situated between the Kennet and the Thames and which had been a settlement for over a hundred years and at that time may have been called Readingas.

The Vikings built defensive structures between the two rivers, but they didn’t have immediate success as they bumped into the Wessex contingent lead by Æthelwulf and were defeated in the ensuing Battle of Englefield on the very last day of the year.  The Battle of Engle field was just the beginning of a series of battles between the two forces, and it was 1,152 years ago today, that the second conflict took place – The Battle of Reading! The Saxons were led by Æthelwulf, Æthelred and Alfred, and it was a difficult and bloody battle, but on this occasion, the invaders were successful. Æthelwulf was killed. The Saxons retreated, but beat their enemy at the Battle of Ashdown four days later. They headed back to the south-west, a fighting retreat, winning some battles, defeated in others. Æthelred died not long after Easter on April 15th – he was only twenty-two years old! However, it was then Alfred becoming king.

Seven years almost to the day after the Battle of Reading, on January 6th 878, the Vikings continued their campaign and Alfred was forced to flee from his camp in Chippenham, and fled into the Somerset Levels… and it is there he famously burnt the cakes!


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