Thetford, chapter 6: Of the city under the Danes

An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 2. Originally published by W Miller, London, 1805.

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Francis Blomefield, 'Thetford, chapter 6: Of the city under the Danes', in An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 2( London, 1805), British History Online [accessed 18 July 2024].

Francis Blomefield, 'Thetford, chapter 6: Of the city under the Danes', in An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 2( London, 1805), British History Online, accessed July 18, 2024,

Francis Blomefield. "Thetford, chapter 6: Of the city under the Danes". An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 2. (London, 1805), , British History Online. Web. 18 July 2024.



The city being thus ruined, and the whole province subdued, the body of their army departed in the spring, (fn. 1) but there staid a sufficient number in this camp to defend it, and their new conquests, though they met with no opposer in these parts, for Edwold, brother to King Edmund, albeit the right of the kingdom belonged to him, thought it would be to no purpose to endeavour for it, and so renouncing the pleasures of this world, he withdrew, and became an hermit at the abbey of Cerne in Dorsetshire. The army going to Surrey, took Reding, but the third day after their coming thither, Ingmar and Ubba, as they were taking preys in the adjacent country, were slain, at a place called Engelfeld, (that is, as I take it, the field where the English conquered,) so that they never returned hither again. (fn. 2) He linshed (fol. 211) tells us, "after that the Danes hadde thus slam that blissed man, they conquered the hole Countrey, and wasted it so, that through their Tyranie, it remained without any Governour by the Space of nine Yeares during all which time they kept here, so as the city was still waste, for stow (fol. 64) says, that after the death of Edmund, the East-Angles country was possessed by the Danes, and had no king till 878, (fn. 3) when Alured, Alfred, or Elfred, King of the West-Saxons, who had warred with the Danes continually, since his coming to the throne, forced Gutrum, Gothram, or Gurmund, then King of the Danes, to sue for peace, (fn. 4) which was granted him upon condition he should be baptized, and his dukes or principal leaders with him, and the great army of the Danes should peaceably quit the land, and return no more, (fn. 5) which covenants he performed, being baptized with above 30 of his nobles, (fn. 6) at Wetmor near Winchester, King Elfred being his godfather, named him Athelstone, and gave him in free gift the country of the East-Angles, upon which the army quitted the land, (fn. 7) and in the next year, viz.

879, Athelstane, or Gutrum, and his Danes, came hither, and settling here, divided the land among them, as the same Chronicle tells us, and then mixing with the old inhabitants that were left, whom they had used as slaves, they began to repair the destroyed cities and places, for their own profit and safety; then again began our city to revive, but in some measure changed her ancient site, her new masters fixing on the north side of the river, near their encampment, which they looked upon as their great defence, in case of future attacks; and this was the original of the Norfolk part of this town, which from that time hath continually increased, as the Suffolk part decreased, which is now reduced to one parish of about thirty houses only. And from this time the Danes becoming Christians all over Norfolk, and great part of Suffolk, began to divide the country among them, naming their shares, which now became so many new villages, either after their own names, or that of their situations, but calling the Saxon towns and villages after their old names; and after some time, when Christianity was settled among them, they began to found churches in many of their villages, as the many round towers in this county, which are now standing, plainly demonstrate. This Athelstane, (fn. 8) though he promised to hold his kingdom of Alfred, and dwell there as his liegeman, kept not his promise, for he not only governed in a tyrannical manner near twelve years, but during that time, viz. in the year 885, (fn. 9) he and his Danes broke the peace he had made with Alfred, by joining with those Danes that, contrary to the agreement, then returned into England, (fn. 10) soon after which, Alfred sent a navy out of Kent into East-England, and found the Danes, who were about landing there to join Athelstane, (fn. 11) and took sixteen of their ships, and drove them from that country, (fn. 12) and from this time Athelstane or Gutrum never enjoyed his kingdom in peace, but was harassed from place to place by King Alfred, to his death in 890, (fn. 13) though the Danes continued here all the time, (fn. 14) but under the jurisdiction of

Alured, or Alfred, who, after Gutrum's death in the year 894, obliged the East-Anglian Danes to swear fealty to him, and deliver six hostages; but yet they immediately rebelled, and joined their countrymen that were in Northumberland, and besieged Exeter, and being repulsed, retreated home; but soon made another excursion, (fn. 15) [when they had got their wives and children, ships and treasures, lodged in East-England as a place of safety] and went from place to place, doing what damage they could, till the next year, and then they came home with what they had gotten, but could not rest idle, being always making excursions during Alfred's reign; but that noble prince kept them continually under, to his death, which happened, according to the Saxon Chronicle, in 901. This great and virtuous prince was the first, as historians tell us, (fn. 16) that divided England into counties, or schires, and those into centuries, wapentakes, or hundreds, and tithings, (fn. 17) and this he did, because the natives often robbed, under colour of the Danes; for he obliged every man in the kingdom to be ranked under some one or other hundred or tithing, and if any man that was guilty fled before he had found surety, or after, all the inhabitants of that hundred or tithing where he dwelt were put to their fine for his offence; and by this means he settled such peace in the kingdom, that even in the cross ways in the most publick roads, golden bracelets were hung up, which, as Malmesbury the historian assures us, none durst venture to take away. At the division, this town was divided, the river Ouse that runs through it being the partition between the counties; that part on the south side of the river, belonging to Lackford hundred in Suffolk, and that on the north side, to Shropham hundred in Norfolk, as they now do. After this king's death, his son,

Edward, sirnamed the Elder, began his reign, being then about thirty years old, a prince whose valour had been often proved against the raging Danes, and so fortunate in all his martial exploits, that under his hands the Danes every where fell, and under his monarchy all the English stooped, except the Northumbrians; in 901 he was crowned and anointed at Kingston upon Thames, and immediately after was obliged to follow the East-Anglian Danes, who sided with Ethelwald, son of Ethelbert, uncle to this King Edward, whom they had crowned King, and had carried with them through the countries of the East-Saxons and Mercians, whence they returned hither, laden with spoil and booty; but in their way, King Edward engaged with them near St. Edmund's-Ditch, (fn. 18) where, though he lost the victory, he gained great advantage, Ethelward aforesaid, and Cochric, (fn. 19) their kings, being both slain in that battle, after which he followed his enemies, (who retreated for want of a leader, to this city and camp, as their great defence,) and spoiled all their lands, which they held by composition and agreement under King Edward, from the river Ouse to the border of St. Edmund's Land, (viz. all Suffolk, from Devil's-Ditch to Thetford,) during which time he commanded all his army, that none should tarry behind his host, for fear of the Danes issuing out of their camp, and destroying them; (fn. 20) notwithstanding which, the Kentishmen trusting to their own strength, disobeyed his order, and the Danes waiting for their prey, issued out and slew most of them; but in this conflict Athelwold, or Ethelwold, King Edward's brother, who had joined the enemy, was happily slain. The next year, the Danes made another inroad into Mercia, but King Edward meeting their host, after a sharp battle conquered them, and forced them to sue for peace, which he granted them, on condition they should pay him a yearly tribute in money, and keep themselves within the bounds of their East-Anglian jurisdiction; after which they returned hither, and continued some time under the government of Ericke, a Dane, whom they had made king of this city, and the provinces of the East-Angles, all which were now, and for some time had been, inhabited chiefly by Danes. This Ericke paying the tribute, held his kingdom peaceably, according to the agreement made between him and the Danes, till the 12th year of King Edward's reign, and then he went about to procure new war, and to allure other Danes to join with him against the English, that by common agreement they might utterly subdue them: but Edward having all along had the advantage over them, and being well informed of Erick's design, prevented his purpose, by assembling a great army, and entering the country immediately, wasting and spoiling it as much as he could; Ericke having his army ready, and being much provoked at the spoil of his people, hastened with too much rashness to encounter his enemies, and meeting them in the field, fiercely assailed them, to the utter loss of his army, and damage of his life, for after his coming home, displeased with his great overthrow and sad discomfiture, he began to govern his people with more sharpness and severity than he did before, by which he raised the malice of the East-Angles so much against him, that becoming odious to his own subjects, they violently murdered him, but did not gain so much by it as they expected, for being brought low and weakened by civil dissension, they became unable to defend their country, and so were compelled to submit themselves to the English King Edward. And this kingdom, with that of Mercia, was joined to his West-Saxon dominions, and this city got rid of its tyrannizing kings, and its Danish inhabitants mixing with the remains of its ancient owners, made one people, which submitted to the English government.


  • 1. Fabian, fol. 190, 191.
  • 2. Policronicon and Fahian, fol. 191.
  • 3. Chron. Sax. p. 85.
  • 4. Fabian, fcl. 195.
  • 5. Speed 375.
  • 6. Chron. Sax. p. 35, 85. Policron. fol. 229.
  • 7. Fabian, fol. 195. Holinsh. fol. 214, vol i.
  • 8. Fabian, fol. 195.
  • 9. Chron. Sax. p. 83.
  • 10. Holinsh. vol. i. fol. 215.
  • 11. Policron. fol. 230.
  • 12. Fabian, fol. 196.
  • 13. Speed, 375, says he was buried at Hadley in Suffolk.
  • 14. Sax. Chron. p. 90.
  • 15. Ibidem, p. 97. Holinsh. 216.
  • 16. Speed, fol. 375. Holinsh. 217. Gib. Cambden, fol. 169, &c.
  • 17. The original and signification of these names may be seen in Gibson's Cambden.
  • 18. The Devil's-Ditch on Newmarket heath.
  • 19. He was a Dane.
  • 20. Fabian, fol. 205. Hol. 220, 221.