The Battle of Maldon
The battle of Maldon was fought on Monday, August 10th, a.d. 991 near Maldon, a small town in Essex, southeastern England. The men of Essex, defending their land, were led by Earl Birhtnoth (variously spelled). Their enemy was a Viking raiding-party that had landed nearby. Birhtnoth's force lost the battle. This was in the reign of Ethelred, the ninth King of England (counting Alfred as the first).
This poem was written in commemoration of the battle. The date of the poem's composition is a matter of scholarly dispute: the Wikipedia entry for the poem gives details.
Both the battle and the poem are described on numerous websites. The reading I have borrowed here is by Michael D. C. Drout, Prentice Professor of English at Wheaton College, Norton, MA. Prof. Drout has compiled an excellent collection of readings on his "Anglo-Saxon Aloud" website.
The poem has come down to us with the beginning and end missing. What survives is 325 lines or part-lines in Old English. I have broken these into 13 distinct narrative stanzas to make the poem easier on the eye. The translation is by E.T. Donaldson, from here.
The stanzas are as follows.
|1||Birhtnoth tells his men to leave their horses and advance on foot.||1-17|
|2||Birhtnoth deploys his men for battle.||18-25|
|3||The Vikings send forward a herald to demand tribute, offering peace in return.||25-42|
|4||Birhtnoth replies defiantly to the Viking herald.||43-62|
|5||The Saxons move forward; but it is high tide, the causeway is covered, and neither side can advance to meet the other.||63-72|
|6||The tide ebbs, the causeway appears. Saxon warriors defend it. The Vikings can't cross. They ask for passage.||73-88|
|7||The earl withdraws his men from the causeway so that the Vikings can pass over.||89-95|
|8||The Vikings cross over and battle is joined.||96-129|
|9||Birhtnoth in combat; he is wounded twice.||130-161|
|10||Birhtnoth and his two companions are slain.||162-184|
|11||Some cowards flee. The others make speeches to hearten each other, and fight on.||185-272|
|12||Eadweard, Æthelric, and Offa die bravely.||273-294|
|13||The men of Essex fight on to avenge their fallen lord.||295-325|
"Offa's kinsman" — Offa is mentioned later in the poem as one of Birhtnoth's principal retainers; his young kinsman is not otherwise identified.
"Eadric" — We don't know who Eadric was. He is not otherwise mentioned.
"heriot" — literally "military equipment": the horse and arms supplied by a tenant to his lord, returnable upon the tenant's death
"Eadweard … chamberlain" — they are the same person
"churl" — common soldier, by contrast with the noble Earl. A churl is a freeman of the lowest rank.
"southern-made spear" — made in England or France; the Vikings preferred such weapons, made in the nations to their south
"he thrust the spear with his shield" — this maneuver frees the spear from the wounded man's body and enables him to take retaliatory action
"Mercia" — One of the old Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, at this point just the West Midlands (Shropshire, Worcestershire, Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Oxfordshire), its northeastern parts having been swallowed up in the Danelaw 100 years earlier.
"Sturmer" — a village in northern Essex, 20 miles southeast of Cambridge; presumably the speaker's home village
"the hostage" — presumably taken in some previous fight with the Northumbians. Among Germanic peoples, hostages of high rank generally fought on the side of the warriors who held them in hostage.
"The shield's rim broke" — we seem to have lost an account of a Viking's attack on Offa here.
• Play the reading
Note: The reading lasts 20 minutes 54 seconds.
Text of the poem.
The Battle of Maldon
[Lines 1-17: Birhtnoth tells his men to leave their horses and advance on foot. Notes are here.]
| … … … brocen wurde.
Het þa hyssa hwæne hors forlætan,
feor afysan, and forð gangan,
hicgan to handum and to hige godum.
Þa þæt Offan mæg ærest onfunde,
þæt se eorl nolde yrhðo geþolian,
he let him þa of handon leofne fleogan
hafoc wið þæs holtes, and to þære hilde stop;
be þam man mihte oncnawan þæt se cniht nolde
wacian æt þam wige, þa he to wæpnum feng.
Eac him wolde Eadric his ealdre gelæstan,
frean to gefeohte, ongan þa forð beran
gar to guþe. He hæfde god geþanc
þa hwile þe he mid handum healdan mihte
bord and bradswurd; beot he gelæste
þa he ætforan his frean feohtan sceolde.
|… would be broken. Then he commanded each of his warriors to leave his horse, drive it far away, and walk forward, trusting in his hands and in his good courage. When Offa's kinsman understood that the earl would not put up with cowardice, he let his beloved hawk fly from his hand toward the woods and advanced to the battle: by this men might know that the youth would not weaken in the fight once he had taken up his weapons. Eadric wished also to serve his lord the earl in the battle; he carried his spear forward to the conflict. He was of good heart as long as he might hold shield and broadsword in his hands; he carried out the vow that he had made, now that he was to fight before his lord.|
[Lines 18-25: Birhtnoth deploys his men for battle.]
| Ða þær Byrhtnoð
ongan beornas trymian,
rad and rædde, rincum tæhte
hu hi sceoldon standan and þone stede healdan,
and bæd þæt hyra randas rihte heoldon
fæste mid folman, and ne forhtedon na.
Þa he hæfde þæt folc fægere getrymmed,
he lihte þa mid leodon þær him leofost wæs,
þær he his heorðwerod holdost wiste.
|Then Birhtnoth began to place his men at their stations; he rode about and advised them, taught the troops how they should stand and hold the place and bade them grasp their shields aright, firm in their hands, and have no fear. When he had arranged his folk properly, he alighted among them where it seemed best to him, where he knew his retainers to be most loyal.|
[Lines 26-42: The Vikings send forward a herald to demand tribute, offering peace in return.]
| Þa stod on
stæðe, stiðlice clypode
wicinga ar, wordum mælde,
se on beot abead brimliþendra
ærænde to þam eorle, þær he on ofre stod:
"Me sendon to þe sæmen snelle,
heton ðe secgan þæt þu most sendan raðe
beagas wið gebeorge; and eow betere is
þæt ge þisne garræs mid gafole forgyldon,
þon we swa hearde hilde dælon.
Ne þurfe we us spillan, gif ge spedaþ to þam;
we willað wið þam golde grið fæstnian.
Gyf þu þat gerædest, þe her ricost eart,
þæt þu þine leoda lysan wille,
syllan sæmannum on hyra sylfra dom
feoh wið freode, and niman frið æt us,
we willaþ mid þam sceattum us to scype gangan,
on flot feran, and eow friþes healdan."
|Then the Vikings' herald stood on the river bank, cried out loudly, spoke words, boastfully proclaimed the seafarers' message to the earl where he stood on the shore: "Bold seamen have sent me to you, have commanded me to say to you that you must quickly send treasure in order to protect yourself; and it is better for you to buy off this spear-assault with tribute than to have us give you harsh war. There is no need for us to destroy one another, if you are rich enough to pay. With the gold we will confirm truce. If you that are highest here decide upon this, that you will ransom your people, and in return for peace give the seamen money in the amount they request, and receive peace from us, we will go to ship with the tribute, set sail on the sea, and keep peace with you."|
| Byrhtnoð maþelode, bord
wand wacne æsc, wordum mælde,
yrre and anræd ageaf him andsware:
"Gehyrst þu, sælida, hwæt þis folc segeð?
Hi willað eow to gafole garas syllan,
ættrynne ord and ealde swurd,
þa heregeatu þe eow æt hilde ne deah.
Brimmanna boda, abeod eft ongean,
sege þinum leodum miccle laþre spell,
þæt her stynt unforcuð eorl mid his werode,
þe wile gealgean eþel þysne,
Æþelredes eard, ealdres mines,
folc and foldan. Feallan sceolon
hæþene æt hilde. To heanlic me þinceð
þæt ge mid urum sceattum to scype gangon
unbefohtene, nu ge þus feor hider
on urne eard in becomon.
Ne sceole ge swa softe sinc gegangan;
us sceal ord and ecg ær geseman,
grim guðplega, ær we gofol syllon."
|Birhtnoth spoke, raised his shield, his slender ash-spear, uttered words, angry and resolute gave him answer: "Do you hear, seafarer, what this folk says? They will give you spears for tribute, poisoned point and old sword, heriot that avails you not in battle. Sea-wanderers' herald, take back our answer, speak to your people a message far more hateful, that here stands with his host an undisgraced earl who will defend this country, my lord Ethelred's homeland, folk and land. Heathen shall fall in the battle. It seems to me too shameful that you should go unfought to ship with our tribute, now that you have come thus far into our land. Not so easily shall you get treasure: point and edge shall first reconcile us, grim battle-play, before we give tribute."|
[Lines 63-72: The Saxons move forward; but it is high tide, the causeway is covered, and neither side can advance to meet the other.]
| Het þa bord beran, beornas
þæt hi on þam easteðe ealle stodon.
Ne mihte þær for wætere werod to þam oðrum;
þær com flowende flod æfter ebban,
lucon lagustreamas. To lang hit him þuhte,
hwænne hi togædere garas beron.
Hi þær Pantan stream mid prasse bestodon,
Eastseaxena ord and se æschere.
Ne mihte hyra ænig oþrum derian,
buton hwa þurh flanes flyht fyl gename.
|Then he ordered the men to bear their shields, go forward so that they all stood on the river bank. Because of the water neither band could come to the other: after the ebb, the floodtide came flowing in; currents met and crossed. It seemed to them too long a time before they might bear their spears together. On the river Pant they stood in proud array, the battle-line of the East Saxons and the men from the ash-ships. Nor might any of them injure another, unless one should receive death from the flight of an arrow.|
[Lines 73-88: The tide ebbs, the causeway appears. Saxon warriors defend it. The Vikings can't cross. They ask for passage.]
| Se flod ut gewat; þa flotan
wicinga fela, wiges georne.
Het þa hæleða hleo healdan þa bricge
wigan wigheardne, se wæs haten Wulfstan,
cafne mid his cynne, þæt wæs Ceolan sunu,
þe ðone forman man mid his francan ofsceat
þe þær baldlicost on þa bricge stop.
Þær stodon mid Wulfstane wigan unforhte,
ælfere and Maccus, modige twegen,
þa noldon æt þam forda fleam gewyrcan,
ac hi fæstlice wið ða fynd weredon,
þa hwile þe hi wæpna wealdan moston.
Þa hi þæt ongeaton and georne gesawon
þæt hi þær bricgweardas bitere fundon,
ongunnon lytegian þa laðe gystas,
bædon þæt hi upgang agan moston,
ofer þone ford faran, feþan lædan.
|The tide went out. The seamen stood ready, many Vikings eager for war. The earl, protector of men, bade a war-hard warrior — he was named Wulfstan, of bold lineage — to hold the bridge: he was Ceola's son, who with his spear pierced the first man bold enough to step upon the bridge. There stood with Wulfstan fearless fighters, Ælfhere and Maccus, bold men both who would not take flight from the ford, but defended themselves stoutly against the enemy as long as they might wield weapons. When the loathed strangers saw that, and understood clearly that they would face bitter bridge-defenders there, they began to prefer words to deeds, prayed that they might have access to the bank, pass over the ford and lead their forces across.|
[Lines 89-95: The earl withdraws his men from the causeway so that the Vikings can pass over.]
| Ða se eorl ongan for his
alyfan landes to fela laþere ðeode.
Ongan ceallian þa ofer cald wæter
Byrhtelmes bearn (beornas gehlyston):
"Nu eow is gerymed, gað ricene to us,
guman to guþe; god ana wat
hwa þære wælstowe wealdan mote."
|Then in his overconfidence the earl began to yield ground — too much ground — to the hateful people: Birhthelm's son began to call over the cold water while warriors listened: "Now the way is laid open for you. Come straightway to us, as men to battle. God alone knows which of us may be master of the field."|
| Wodon þa wælwulfas (for
wætere ne murnon),
wicinga werod, west ofer Pantan,
ofer scir wæter scyldas wegon,
lidmen to lande linde bæron.
Þær ongean gramum gearowe stodon
Byrhtnoð mid beornum; he mid bordum het
wyrcan þone wihagan, and þæt werod healdan
fæste wið feondum. þa wæs feohte neh,
tir æt getohte. Wæs seo tid cumen
þæt þær fæge men feallan sceoldon.
Þær wearð hream ahafen, hremmas wundon,
earn æses georn; wæs on eorþan cyrm.
Hi leton þa of folman feolhearde speru,
gegrundene garas fleogan;
bogan wæron bysige, bord ord onfeng.
Biter wæs se beaduræs, beornas feollon
on gehwæðere hand, hyssas lagon.
Wund wearð Wulfmær, wælræste geceas,
Byrhtnoðes mæg; he mid billum wearð,
his swuster sunu, swiðe forheawen.
Þær wearð wicingum wiþerlean agyfen.
Gehyrde ic þæt Eadweard anne sloge
swiðe mid his swurde, swenges ne wyrnde,
þæt him æt fotum feoll fæge cempa;
þæs him his ðeoden þanc gesæde,
þam burþene, þa he byre hæfde.
Swa stemnetton stiðhicgende
hysas æt hilde, hogodon georne
hwa þær mid orde ærost mihte
on fægean men feorh gewinnan,
wigan mid wæpnum; wæl feol on eorðan.
Stodon stædefæste; stihte hi Byrhtnoð,
bæd þæt hyssa gehwylc hogode to wige
þe on Denon wolde dom gefeohtan.
|The slaughter-wolves advanced, minded not the water, a host of Vikings westward over the Pant, over the bright water bore their shields: sailors to land brought shields of linden. Opposite stood Birhtnoth with his warriors, ready for the fierce invaders. He ordered his men to form a war-hedge with their shields and to hold the formation fast against the enemy. Now was combat near, glory in battle. The time had come when doomed men should fall. Shouts were raised; ravens circled, the eagle eager for food. On earth there was uproar. They let the file-hard spears fly from their hands, grim-ground javelins. Bows were busy, shield felt point. Bitter was the battle-rush. On either side warriors fell, young men lay dead. Wulfmær was wounded, chose the slaughter-bed: kinsman of Birhtnoth — his sister's son — he was cruelly hewn down with swords. Then requital was made to the Vikings: I have heard that Eadweard struck one fiercely with his sword, withheld not the stroke, so that the warrior fell doomed at his feet; for this his lord gave the chamberlain thanks when he had opportunity. Thus men stood firm in the battle, stern of purpose. Eagerly all these armed fighters contended with one another to see who could be the first with his weapon's point to take life from doomed man. The slain fell, carrion, to the earth. The defenders stood fast; Birhtnoth urged them on, bade each man who would win glory from the Danes to give his whole heart to the battle.|
| Wod þa wiges heard, wæpen up
bord to gebeorge, and wið þæs beornes stop.
Eode swa anræd eorl to þam ceorle,
ægþer hyra oðrum yfeles hogode.
Sende ða se særinc suþerne gar,
þæt gewundod wearð wigena hlaford;
he sceaf þa mid ðam scylde, þæt se sceaft tobærst,
and þæt spere sprengde, þæt hit sprang ongean.
Gegremod wearð se guðrinc; he mid gare stang
wlancne wicing, þe him þa wunde forgeaf.
Frod wæs se fyrdrinc; he let his francan wadan
þurh ðæs hysses hals, hand wisode
þæt he on þam færsceaðan feorh geræhte.
Ða he oþerne ofstlice sceat,
þæt seo byrne tobærst; he wæs on breostum wund
þurh ða hringlocan, him æt heortan stod
ætterne ord. Se eorl wæs þe bliþra,
hloh þa, modi man, sæde metode þanc
ðæs dægweorces þe him drihten forgeaf.
Forlet þa drenga sum daroð of handa,
fleogan of folman, þæt se to forð gewat
þurh ðone æþelan Æþelredes þegen.
Him be healfe stod hyse unweaxen,
cniht on gecampe, se full caflice
bræd of þam beorne blodigne gar,
Wulfstanes bearn, Wulfmær se geonga,
forlet forheardne faran eft ongean;
ord in gewod, þæt se on eorþan læg
þe his þeoden ær þearle geræhte.
Eode þa gesyrwed secg to þam eorle;
he wolde þæs beornes beagas gefecgan,
reaf and hringas and gerenod swurd.
|A war-hard Viking advanced, raised up his weapon, his shield to defend himself, moved against Birhtnoth. As resolute as the churl, the earl advanced toward him. Each of them meant harm to the other. Then the seaman threw his southern-made spear so that the fighters' chief was wounded. But he thrust the spear with his shield so that the shaft split and the spearhead broke off and sprang away. The war-chief was maddened; with his spear he stabbed the proud Viking that had given him the wound. Wise in war was the host's leader: he let his spear go through the man's neck, guided his hand so that he mortally wounded the raider. Then he quickly stabbed another, breaking through the mail-shirt: in the breast, quite through the corselet, was this one wounded; at his heart stood the deadly point. The earl was the blither; the bold man laughed, gave thanks to God that the Lord had given him this day's work. One of the Vikings loosed a javelin from his hand, let it fly from his fist, and it sped its way through Æthelred's noble thane. By the earl's side stood a lad not yet grown, a boy in the battle, son of Wulfstan, Wulfmær the young, who plucked full boldly the bloody spear from the warrior. He sent the hard spear flying back again: its point went in, and on the earth lay the man who had sorely wounded his lord. Then an armed Viking stepped toward the earl. He wished to seize the earl's war-gear, make booty of rings and ornamented sword.|
[Lines 162-184: Birhtnoth and his two companions are slain.]
| þa Byrhtnoð bræd bill of
brad and bruneccg, and on þa byrnan sloh.
To raþe hine gelette lidmanna sum,
þa he þæs eorles earm amyrde.
Feoll þa to foldan fealohilte swurd;
ne mihte he gehealdan heardne mece,
wæpnes wealdan. Þa gyt þæt word gecwæð
har hilderinc, hyssas bylde,
bæd gangan forð gode geferan;
ne mihte þa on fotum leng fæste gestandan.
He to heofenum wlat: "Geþancie þe, ðeoda waldend,
ealra þæra wynna þe ic on worulde gebad.
Nu ic ah, milde metod, mæste þearfe
þæt þu minum gaste godes geunne,
þæt min sawul to ðe siðian mote
on þin geweald, þeoden engla,
mid friþe ferian. Ic eom frymdi to þe
þæt hi helsceaðan hynan ne moton."
ða hine heowon hæðene scealcas
and begen þa beornas þe him big stodon,
Ælfnoð and Wulmær begen lagon,
ða onemn hyra frean feorh gesealdon.
|Then Birhtnoth took his sword from its sheath, broad and bright-edged, and struck at his assailant's coat of mail. Too soon one of the seafarers hindered him, wounded the earl in his arm. Then the gold-hilted sword fell to the earth: he might not hold the hard blade, wield his weapon. Yet he spoke words, the hoar battle-leader, encouraged his men, bade them go forward stoutly together. He might no longer stand firm on his feet. He looked toward Heaven and spoke: "I thank thee, Ruler of Nations, for all the joys that I have had in the world. Now, gentle Lord, I have most need that thou grant my spirit grace, that my soul may travel to thee — under thy protection, Prince of Angels, depart in peace. I beseech thee that fiends of hell harm it not." Then the heathen warriors slew him and both the men who stood by him; Ælfnoth and Wulfmær both were laid low; close by their lord they gave up their lives.|
[Lines 185-272: Some cowards flee. The others make speeches to hearten each other, and fight on. Notes are here.]
| Hi bugon þa fram beaduwe þe
þær beon noldon.
Þær wearð Oddan bearn ærest on fleame,
Godric fram guþe, and þone godan forlet
þe him mænigne oft mear gesealde;
he gehleop þone eoh þe ahte his hlaford,
on þam gerædum þe hit riht ne wæs,
and his broðru mid him begen ærndon,
Godwine and Godwig, guþe ne gymdon,
ac wendon fram þam wige and þone wudu sohton,
flugon on þæt fæsten and hyra feore burgon,
and manna ma þonne hit ænig mæð wære,
gyf hi þa geearnunga ealle gemundon
þe he him to duguþe gedon hæfde.
Swa him Offa on dæg ær asæde
on þam meþelstede, þa he gemot hæfde,
þæt þær modiglice manega spræcon
þe eft æt þearfe þolian noldon.
Þa wearð afeallen þæs folces ealdor,
Æþelredes eorl; ealle gesawon
heorðgeneatas þæt hyra heorra læg.
Þa ðær wendon forð wlance þegenas,
unearge men efston georne;
hi woldon þa ealle oðer twega,
lif forlætan oððe leofne gewrecan.
Swa hi bylde forð bearn Ælfrices,
wiga wintrum geong, wordum mælde,
Ælfwine þa cwæð, he on ellen spræc:
"Gemunan þa mæla þe we oft æt meodo spræcon,
þonne we on bence beot ahofon,
hæleð on healle, ymbe heard gewinn;
nu mæg cunnian hwa cene sy.
Ic wylle mine æþelo eallum gecyþan,
þæt ic wæs on Myrcon miccles cynnes;
wæs min ealda fæder Ealhelm haten,
wis ealdorman, woruldgesælig.
Ne sceolon me on þære þeode þegenas ætwitan
þæt ic of ðisse fyrde feran wille,
eard gesecan, nu min ealdor ligeð
forheawen æt hilde. Me is þæt hearma mæst;
he wæs ægðer min mæg and min hlaford."
Þa he forð eode, fæhðe gemunde,
þæt he mid orde anne geræhte
flotan on þam folce, þæt se on foldan læg
forwegen mid his wæpne. Ongan þa winas manian,
frynd and geferan, þæt hi forð eodon.
Offa gemælde, æscholt asceoc:
"Hwæt þu, ælfwine, hafast ealle gemanode
þegenas to þearfe, nu ure þeoden lið,
eorl on eorðan. Us is eallum þearf
þæt ure æghwylc oþerne bylde
wigan to wige, þa hwile þe he wæpen mæge
habban and healdan, heardne mece,
gar and godswurd. Us Godric hæfð,
earh Oddan bearn, ealle beswicene.
Wende þæs formoni man, þa he on meare rad,
on wlancan þam wicge, þæt wære hit ure hlaford;
forþan wearð her on felda folc totwæmed,
scyldburh tobrocen. Abreoðe his angin,
þæt he her swa manigne man aflymde!"
Leofsunu gemælde and his linde ahof,
bord to gebeorge; he þam beorne oncwæð:
"Ic þæt gehate, þæt ic heonon nelle
fleon fotes trym, ac wille furðor gan,
wrecan on gewinne minne winedrihten.
Ne þurfon me embe Sturmere stedefæste hælæð
wordum ætwitan, nu min wine gecranc,
þæt ic hlafordleas ham siðie,
wende fram wige, ac me sceal wæpen niman,
ord and iren." He ful yrre wod,
feaht fæstlice, fleam he forhogode.
Dunnere þa cwæð, daroð acwehte,
unorne ceorl, ofer eall clypode,
bæd þæt beorna gehwylc Byrhtnoð wræce:
"Ne mæg na wandian se þe wrecan þenceð
frean on folce, ne for feore murnan."
Þa hi forð eodon, feores hi ne rohton;
ongunnon þa hiredmen heardlice feohtan,
grame garberend, and god bædon
þæt hi moston gewrecan hyra winedrihten
and on hyra feondum fyl gewyrcan.
Him se gysel ongan geornlice fylstan;
he wæs on Norðhymbron heardes cynnes,
Ecglafes bearn, him wæs Æscferð nama.
He ne wandode na æt þam wigplegan,
ac he fysde forð flan genehe;
hwilon he on bord sceat, hwilon beorn tæsde,
æfre embe stunde he sealde sume wunde,
þa hwile ðe he wæpna wealdan moste.
|Then there retired from the battle those who did not wish to be there. The son of Odda was the first to flee: Godric went from the fight and left the good man that had given him many a steed. He leaped upon the horse that his lord had owned, upon trappings that he had no right to, and both his brothers galloped with him, Godwine and Godwig cared not for battle, but went from the war and sought the wood, fled to its fastness and saved their lives — and more men than was in any way right, if they remembered all the favors he had done for their benefit. So Offa had said to him that day at the meeting he had held in the place, that many there spoke boldly who would not remain firm at need. The folk's leader had fallen, Æthelred's earl: all his hearth-companions saw that their lord lay dead. Then the proud thanes advanced; men without fear pressed eagerly on. They all desired either of two things, to leave life or avenge the man they loved. Thus Ælfric's son urged them on; the warrior young of winters spoke words; Ælfwine it was who spoke, and spoke boldly: "Remember the speeches we have spoken so often over our mead, when we raised boast on the bench, heroes in the hall, about hard fighting. Now may the man who is bold prove that he is. I will make my noble birth known to all, that I was of great kin in Mercia. My grandfather was named Ealhelm, a wise earl, worldlyprosperous. Thanes among that people shall not have reason to reproach me that I would go from this band of defenders, seek my home, now that my lord lies hewn down in battle. To me that is greatest of griefs: he was both my kinsman and my lord." Then he went forward, bent on revenge, and with the point of his spear pierced one of the pirate band, so that he lay on the earth, destroyed by the weapon. Then Ælfwine began to encourage his comrades, friends and companions, to go forward. Offa spoke, shook his ash-spear: "Lo, you, Ælfwine, have encouraged us all, thanes in need. Now that our lord the earl lies on the earth, there is need for us all that each one of us encourage the other, warriors to battle, as long as he may have and hold weapon, hard sword, spear and good blade. The coward son of Odda, Godric, has betrayed us all; when he rode off on that horse, on that proud steed, many a man thought that he was our lord. Therefore here on the field folk were dispersed, the shield-wall broken. Curses on his action, by which he caused so many men here to flee." Leofsunu spoke, raised the linden buckler, his shield to defend himself; he answered the warrior: "I promise that I will not flee a footstep hence, but I will go forward, avenge my dear lord in the fight. Steadfast warriors about Sturmer need not reproach me with their words that now that my patron is dead I would go lordless home, abandon the battle. But weapon, point and iron, shall take me." Full wrathful he went forward, fought fiercely; flight he despised. Then Dunnere spoke, shook his spear; humble churl, he cried over all, bade each warrior avenge Birhtnoth: "He who intends to avenge his lord on the folk may not hesitate nor care for life." Then they advanced: they cared not for life. The retainers began to fight hardily, fierce spear-bearers, and prayed God that they might avenge their patron and bring destruction to their enemies. The hostage began to help them eagerly. He was of bold kin among the Northumbrians, the son of Ecglaf: his name was Æscferth. He did not flinch at the war-play, but threw spears without pause. Now he hit shield, now he pierced man: each moment he caused some wound, as long as he might wield weapons.|
| þa gyt on orde stod Eadweard se
gearo and geornful, gylpwordum spræc
þæt he nolde fleogan fotmæl landes,
ofer bæc bugan, þa his betera leg.
He bræc þone bordweall and wið þa beornas feaht,
oðþæt he his sincgyfan on þam sæmannum
wurðlice wrec, ær he on wæle læge.
Swa dyde Æþeric, æþele gefera,
fus and forðgeorn, feaht eornoste.
Sibyrhtes broðor and swiðe mænig oþer
clufon cellod bord, cene hi weredon;
bærst bordes lærig, and seo byrne sang
gryreleoða sum. Þa æt guðe sloh
Offa þone sælidan, þæt he on eorðan feoll,
and ðær Gaddes mæg grund gesohte.
Raðe wearð æt hilde Offa forheawen;
he hæfde ðeah geforþod þæt he his frean gehet,
swa he beotode ær wið his beahgifan
þæt hi sceoldon begen on burh ridan,
hale to hame, oððe on here crincgan,
on wælstowe wundum sweltan;
he læg ðegenlice ðeodne gehende.
|Eadweard the Long still stood in the line, ready and eager, spoke boasting words, how he would not flee a footstep nor turn back, now that his chief lay dead. He broke the shield-wall and fought against the foe until he had worthily avenged his treasure-giver on the seamen — before he himself lay on the slaughter-bed. So also did Æthelric, noble companion, eager and impetuous; he fought most resolutely, this brother of Sibirht, as did many another: they split the hollow shield and defended themselves boldly. The shield's rim broke and … the mail-shirt sang one of horror's songs. Then in the battle Offa struck the seafarer so that he fell on the earth, and there Gadd's kinsman himself sought the ground: Offa was quickly hewn down in the fight. He had, however, performed what he had promised his lord, what he had vowed before to his ringgiver, that they should either both ride to the town, hale to their home, or fall among the host, die of wounds in the slaughter-place. He lay as a thane should, near his lord.|
[Lines 295-325: The men of Essex fight on to avenge their fallen lord.]
| ða wearð borda
gebræc. Brimmen wodon,
guðe gegremode; gar oft þurhwod
fæges feorhhus. Forð þa eode Wistan,
þurstanes sunu, wið þas secgas feaht;
he wæs on geþrange hyra þreora bana,
ær him Wigelines bearn on þam wæle læge.
Þær wæs stið gemot; stodon fæste
wigan on gewinne, wigend cruncon,
wundum werige. Wæl feol on eorþan.
Oswold and Eadwold ealle hwile,
begen þa gebroþru, beornas trymedon,
hyra winemagas wordon bædon
þæt hi þær æt ðearfe þolian sceoldon,
unwaclice wæpna neotan.
Byrhtwold maþelode bord hafenode
(se wæs eald geneat), æsc acwehte;
he ful baldlice beornas lærde:
"Hige sceal þe heardra, heorte þe cenre,
mod sceal þe mare, þe ure mægen lytlað.
Her lið ure ealdor eall forheawen,
god on greote. A mæg gnornian
se ðe nu fram þis wigplegan wendan þenceð.
Ic eom frod feores; fram ic ne wille,
ac ic me be healfe minum hlaforde,
be swa leofan men, licgan þence."
Swa hi Æþelgares bearn ealle bylde,
Godric to guþe. Oft he gar forlet,
wælspere windan on þa wicingas,
swa he on þam folce fyrmest eode,
heow and hynde, oðþæt he on hilde gecranc.
Næs þæt na se Godric þe ða guðe forbeah …
|Then there was a crash of shields. The seamen advanced, enraged by the fight. Spear oft pierced life-house of doomed man. Then Wistan advanced: Thurstan's son fought against the men. He was the slayer of three of them in the throng before the son of Wighelm lay dead in the carnage. There was stubborn conflict. Warriors stood fast in the fight. Fighting men fell, worn out with wounds: slain fell among slain. All the while Oswold and Eadwold, brothers both, encouraged the men, with their words bade their dear kinsmen that they should stand firm at need, wield their weapons without weakness. Birhtwold spoke, raised his shield — he was an old retainer — shook his ash spear; full boldly he exhorted the men: "Purpose shall be the firmer, heart the keener, courage shall be the more, as our might lessens. Here lies our lord all hewn down, good man on ground. Ever may he lament who now thinks to turn from war-play. I am old of life; from here I will not turn, but by my lord's side, by the man I loved, I intend to lie." So also the son of Æthelgar encouraged them all to the battle: this Godric oft let spear go, slaughter-shaft fly on the Vikings; thus he advanced foremost among the folk, hewed and laid low until he died in the fighting: he was not that Godric who fled the battle …|