The Danish raids (1): Carhampton

Looking at all the various N. Somerset raids reported in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle may take a bit longer than I’d thought, but first of all: Carhampton, not because it’s a probable site of our battle in 878 but because there are interesting things to look at.

The town/village of Carhampton is set slightly back from the coast, roughly equidistant between Minehead and Watchet. Coastal access would be at the village of Blue Anchor (the name of a public house, m’lud). There was a Hundred of Carhampton, so this was the presumed hundredal meeting place, and mustering point for the Hundred’s fyrd. It is thought that it was also the site of a royal estate (though who thought it and why I’m not very sure: note, investigate).

A different scene altogether from the cliffs at Countisbury: Carhampton was much more vulnerable to raids

A different scene altogether from the cliffs at Countisbury: Carhampton was much more vulnerable to the Danish raids

All in all, it was a place where there would have been likely to be thegns and royal officers around looking after the king’s affairs in his absence. Unlike by Countisbury, where the cliffs are steep and high, the coast at this point is more accessible from the sea.

In the Domesday Book Carhampton is listed as Carentone, and scholarly orthodoxy is that the name derives from OE carr, rock; with the dative plural carren + tun meaning the farm by the rocks (and not from the name of St Carantoc). My impression is that people have had to look quite hard to find these rocks; however, this is important because our first raid was reported as 833 (probably 836):  This precedes Asser’s Life of Alfred, so the Chronicle is the main source: Mss A, B, C, D, E have approximately the identical entry:

Ms A (Parker): Her gefeaht Ecgbryht cyning wiþ .xxxv. sciphlæsta æt Carrum 7 þær wearþ micel węl geslægen, 7 þa Denescan ahton węlstowe gewald

‘In this year King Egbert fought with 35 ‘shiploads’ æt Carrum and there was great slaughter, and the Danes had the place of slaughter‘ (meaning of phrase somewhat disputed as to whether it indicates defeat or victory, but I think here it means the Danes won).

There are still some sources identifying æt Carrum with Charminster on the Dorset coast (philologically unlikely, since the Domesday name for Charminster is Cernemude, where the first two syllables certainly refer to a river name). There was also an earlier guess that it was somewhere in Kent.

KIng Alfred's son Edward the Elder who inherited the estate of Carhampton

KIng Alfred’s son Edward the Elder who inherited the estate of Carhampton

It’s mentioned in King Alfred’s Will as Carumtune, one of the first places named and one of those bequeathed to his son Edward the Elder (which does look as if it was a royal estate then), who reigned from 899-924.

Second raid, 840 (probably 843): Oh, dear. The five manuscripts have an entry almost identical with the previous one. The only change is that, Egbert having died in 839, the king’s name this time is Æthelwulf (his son, and Alfred’s father). And he was defeated too (if he was):

Ms A (Parker): Her Ęþelwulf cyning gefeaht æt Carrum wiþ .xxxv. schiplæsta, 7 þa Deniscan ahton węstowe gewald.

‘In this year King Æthelwulf fought against 35 shiploads æt Carrum, and the Danes had the place of slaughter.’

Summing up then: we seem to have at least one (maybe two) Saxon defeats (or victories) at the hands of the Danes æt Carrum in roughly 833-843, which may, in fact probably was, at Carhampton. And the king was Egbert and/or Æthelwulf.

Further accounts may strengthen the claim of Carhampton as the location of the raid(s), so onward we shall go next time,


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