"And now we leave the camp, and descend towards the west, and are on the Ashdown. We are treading on heroes. It is sacred ground for Englishmen—more sacred than all but one or two fields where their bones lie whitening. For this is the actual place where our Alfred won his great battle, the battle of Ashdown ('Aescendum' in the chroniclers), which broke the Danish power, and made England a Christian land." (Thomas Hughes, "Tom Brown's School Days")
|A cigarette card from the series "Battlefields of Great Britain", included in a pack of Players (around 1900)|
Where the Danes and the men of Wessex met today, more than 1,100 years ago on 8 January 871, is actually unclear - the Ashdown might be somewhere in Berkshire or Oxfordshire, near Uffington, or on the Ridgeway near to the village of Compton, undoubtedly close to the Vale of the White Horse in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
With roughly 1,000 men on both sides, the conflict seems small by modern standards, the Danes, led by one Halfdan and Bagsecg, had already beaten Wessex at Reading, where they lodged themselves in the previous year - according to legend, Prince Alfred had rallied the able bodied men of the Berkshire Downs by blowing a signal from a perforated sarsen stone on Blowingstone Hill and while his brother Ethelred dawdled in his tent praying, Alfred gave the Danes battle who had located themselves on the high ground of said high ground of the ashdown.
A great melee ensued probably when the opposing shield walls met, Ethelred's belated arrival bringing the decision and the Danes broke, the survivors were killed mostly during the next day, including Halfdan, Bagsecg and five earls.
|The British illustrator Morris Meredith Williams' (1881–1973) certainly somewhat |
exaggerated imagination of scholarly King Alfred the Great
letting it all hang out for once at Ashdown
The victory was by no means decisive, the men of Wessex having suffered heavy casualties as well and the Battle of Asdown was far from breaking the Danish power in the southwest, Ethelred himself lost two more battles in the following spring and died from his wounds in April, leaving the Kingdom of Wessex to his brother Alfred who had his hands full to really do something about the Danes and establishing something that was later known as "England" over the next decades.