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"King Alfred's Fortification System: Outwitting the Danes with Burghs and Frisian Mariners"


Introduction

King Alfred defended Wessex against Viking invasions by building and fortifying burghs (forts) and using naval forces. The burh system and naval forces, which were strengthened by Frisian mariners, posed a formidable challenge to Viking attacks. Alfred's ships were larger and more stable than Danish or Frisian ships but were difficult to maneuver in estuaries and rivers. Despite this, Alfred's naval forces, including the Frisian mariners, helped defend his realm and secure his kingdom against Viking raids.


This article discusses King Alfred's defensive strategy against Viking invasions, including his use of fortifications and naval forces. The role of Frisian mariners in strengthening Alfred's navy is also explored. An annotated bibliography is included at the end of the document for further reading.


King Alfred's Fortification System and Defensive Strategy

There is evidence that King Alfred's fortification system helped to outwit the Danes. Alfred's defensive strategy involved a network of burghs (forts) that he had erected and fortified as a defense against Danish attacks. The number of men that would defend the wall of a burgh was judged based on the number of hides, which were a form of land measurement used in Old English times. These careful calculations helped to keep Alfred’s kingdom secure. Alfred's burh system posed such a formidable challenge against Viking attack that when the Vikings returned in 892 and stormed a half-built, poorly garrisoned fortress up the River Thames, they were unable to take it. Even though Alfred's army could not defend the fortified Chippenham, the fact that the Danes could not penetrate the kingdom was largely due to Alfred's excellent defensive strategy.


However, it is mentioned that the Danes were repeatedly blocked, beaten back, and besieged, and their advances ceased in 896. The failure of the Danes to penetrate the kingdom was largely due to Alfred’s excellent defensive strategy, which involved a network of burghs (forts) that stretched across Wessex. The burghs were carefully calculated based on the number of hides, a form of land measurement used in Old English times, and the number of men that would defend the wall of a burgh was judged based on the number of hides. Alfred's system of strongholds, a longer-serving army, and new naval forces meant that the Vikings would never win again. It is also mentioned that the Danes tried to break through the blockade, but a violent storm swept in and destroyed most of the Viking fleet.


Alfred's Use of Naval Forces in Defense

Alfred's naval forces played a crucial role in his defensive strategy. Alfred used his ships as a reactionary defensive tool in the face of Viking raids and had done so to varying success, having lost one. Later, he had larger ships built to his own design for use against the coastal raids that continued even after 896. When the Viking raids resumed in 892, Alfred was better prepared to confront them with a standing, mobile field army, a network of garrisons, and a small fleet of ships navigating the rivers and estuaries. Alfred's naval forces helped to prevent the Danes from landing on the coast and attacking from the rear. The ships were also used to transport troops and supplies, which allowed Alfred to move his forces quickly and effectively to counter Danish attacks. In creating a system of strongholds, a longer-serving army, and new naval forces, Alfred put in place systems that meant that the Vikings would never win again. Alfred's naval forces, along with his other defensive measures, helped to secure his kingdom and protect it from further Viking invasions.


Alfred's use of ships was an important part of his defensive strategy. He used his ships as a reactionary defensive tool in the face of Viking raids and had done so to varying success, having lost one. Later, he had larger ships built to his own design for use against the coastal raids that continued even after 896. Alfred's ships were larger, swifter, steadier, and rode higher in the water than either Danish or Frisian ships. Alfred's naval forces helped to prevent the Danes from landing on the coast and attacking from the rear. The ships were also used to transport troops and supplies, which allowed Alfred to move his forces quickly and effectively to counter Danish attacks. In creating a system of strongholds, a longer-serving army, and new naval forces, Alfred put in place systems that meant that the Vikings would never win again. Although Alfred's ships may have been superior in conception, in practice, they proved to be too large to maneuver well in the close waters of estuaries and rivers, the only places in which a naval battle could be fought. Alfred's naval forces, along with his other defensive measures, helped to secure his kingdom and protect it from further Viking invasions.


The King's use of ships changed over the course of the war. At the beginning of the war, Alfred had used his ships as a reactionary defensive tool in the face of Viking raids and had done so to varying success, having lost one. Later, he had larger ships built to his own design for use against the coastal raids that continued even after 896. The year 897 marked an important development in the naval power of Wessex. The author of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle related that Alfred's ships were larger, swifter, steadier, and rode higher in the water than either Danish or Frisian ships. It is probable that, under the classical tutelage of Asser, Alfred used the design of Greek and Roman warships, with high sides, designed for fighting rather than for navigation. Alfred had seapower in mind; if he could intercept raiding fleets before they landed, he could spare his kingdom from being ravaged. Although Alfred's ships may have been superior in conception, in practice, they proved to be too large to maneuver well in the close waters of estuaries and rivers, the only places in which a naval battle could be fought. The warships of the time were not designed to be ship killers but rather troop carriers. Alfred's ships were also used to transport troops and supplies, which allowed Alfred to move his forces quickly and effectively to counter Danish attacks. In summary, Alfred's use of ships changed from being a reactionary defensive tool to a proactive tool for intercepting raiding fleets. Alfred's ships were larger, swifter, steadier, and rode higher in the water than either Danish or Frisian ships, but they proved to be too large to maneuver well in the close waters of estuaries and rivers.


Alfred's Use of Ships in Defense

Alfred's use of ships in the early stages of the war was primarily a reactionary defensive tool in the face of Viking raids. He had brought Frisian mariners to England because of the dearth of Anglo-Saxon sailors. Alfred's ships were not designed to be ship killers but rather troop carriers. Later, Alfred had larger ships built to his own design for use against the coastal raids that continued even after 896. The year 897 marked an important development in the naval power of Wessex. The author of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle related that Alfred's ships were larger, swifter, steadier, and rode higher in the water than either Danish or Frisian ships. Alfred had seapower in mind; if he could intercept raiding fleets before they landed, he could spare his kingdom from being ravaged.


However, in practice, Alfred's ships proved to be too large to maneuver well in the close waters of estuaries and rivers, the only places in which a naval battle could be fought. Despite this, Alfred's ships were used to transport troops and supplies, which allowed Alfred to move his forces quickly and effectively to counter Danish attacks. Alfred's ships were also used to block the escape of the Danes who had beached half their ships and gone inland. One ship escaped because Alfred's ships were unable to maneuver well in the close waters of estuaries and rivers.


The Role of Frisian Mariners in Alfred's Naval Forces

The Frisian mariners played a significant role in contributing to Alfred's naval forces. Due to the dearth of Anglo-Saxon sailors, Alfred brought Frisian mariners to England to bolster his navy. The Frisians possessed valuable knowledge and expertise in building war boats and maritime warfare. Alfred relied heavily on their know-how to strengthen his naval capabilities. Their contribution was crucial in enhancing the effectiveness of Alfred's naval forces. Alfred's ships, with the assistance of the Frisian mariners, were larger, swifter, steadier, and rode higher in the water compared to both Danish and Frisian ships. This superior design, potentially influenced by classical Greek and Roman warships, was intended to give Alfred an advantage in intercepting raiding fleets before they could land and ravage his kingdom. However, in practice, the larger ships proved challenging to maneuver in the close waters of estuaries and rivers, where naval battles were fought. Despite this limitation, Alfred's ships, including those crewed by Frisian mariners, were instrumental in blocking the escape of the Danes who had beached half their ships and gone inland. In summary, the Frisian mariners brought by Alfred played a vital role in strengthening his naval forces. Their expertise in shipbuilding and maritime warfare contributed to the design and effectiveness of Alfred's ships, although the larger size of the ships posed challenges in maneuverability. Nonetheless, the combined efforts of Alfred's naval forces, including the Frisian mariners, helped in defending his realm against Viking raids and securing his kingdom.


The Frisian mariners were highly regarded as sailors and fighters. Alfred brought them to England due to the dearth of Anglo-Saxon sailors. The Frisians possessed valuable knowledge and expertise in building war boats and maritime warfare. Alfred relied heavily on their know-how to strengthen his naval capabilities. The Frisian mariners were instrumental in contributing to the design and effectiveness of Alfred's ships, which were larger, swifter, steadier, and rode higher in the water compared to both Danish and Frisian ships. This superior design, potentially influenced by classical Greek and Roman warships, was intended to give Alfred an advantage in intercepting raiding fleets before they could land and ravage his kingdom. The Frisian mariners were also known for their fighting skills. They were described as "sea people" of Frisia who had expertise in maritime warfare. The Frisians were impeded from developing their Frisian jurisdictions into real dominions in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, suggesting that they were a formidable force. Alfred's ships, including those crewed by Frisian mariners, were instrumental in blocking the escape of the Danes who had beached half their ships and gone inland. Although the larger size of Alfred's ships posed challenges in maneuverability, the combined efforts of Alfred's naval forces, including the Frisian mariners, helped in defending his realm against Viking raids and securing his kingdom. In summary, the Frisian mariners were highly skilled sailors who contributed significantly to Alfred's naval forces, and their expertise in shipbuilding and maritime warfare was crucial in enhancing the effectiveness of Alfred's ships.

 

Annotated Bibliography

  • Abels, Richard. Alfred the Great: War, Kingship, and Culture in Anglo-Saxon England. New York: Routledge, 1998.

This book provides a comprehensive analysis of Alfred's military campaigns and his role in shaping the Anglo-Saxon culture. The author examines Alfred's fortification system and defensive strategy in detail, highlighting their importance in outwitting the Danes.

  • Keynes, Simon. Alfred the Great: Asser's Life of King Alfred and Other Contemporary Sources. New York: Penguin Classics, 1988.

This book is a collection of contemporary sources, including Asser's Life of King Alfred, that provide insight into Alfred's life and reign. The author discusses Alfred's use of naval forces and the role of Frisian mariners in his defense.

  • Stenton, Frank. Anglo-Saxon England. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971.

This book provides a comprehensive overview of Anglo-Saxon England, including the reign of Alfred the Great. The author discusses Alfred's fortification system and defensive strategy, as well as his use of naval forces and the role of Frisian mariners in his defense.

  • Wormald, Patrick. The Making of English Law: King Alfred to the Twelfth Century, Volume 1: Legislation and Its Limits. Oxford: Blackwell, 2001.

This book provides insight into Alfred's role in shaping English law and his approach to governance. The author discusses Alfred's fortification system and defensive strategy, highlighting their importance in protecting his kingdom.

  • Yorke, Barbara. Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England. London: Routledge, 2002.

This book provides an overview of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and their rulers, including Alfred the Great. The author discusses Alfred's military campaigns and his use of naval forces in defense against the Danes.

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