Northumberland had been a proposed location for along time, but has recently fallen out of favour. Here I shall attempt to examine the Northumberland argument, and I do so because of my love for the NE and because I thought it would be fun to investigate as the other main sites have already had detailed academic research conducted on them.
What was Anlaf’s objective? It could be argued that his intent in 937 was to take back York? His family was expelled fromYork in 927 by Aethelstan, and took exile in Ireland. The argument that his objective in 937 was York is supported by his return upon Aethelstan’s death, although he did then embark on further campaigning. The argument could be further supported by Florence of Worcester’s assertion that Anlaf entered the Humber, as this leads into the Ouse, which flows to York. Campbell states that ‘it seems most improbable that he sailed around either Scotland or though the English channel’, but if York was his objective then this actually seems quite a probable approach. If fact this is what he arguably does in 939. If York was indeed his objective in 937 then Northumbria still holds credibility as a possible location. But where exactly?
Camden, writing nearly 700 years after the Battle points to the area of Ford, next to the river Till which feeds into the Tweed, which is probably based on Ingulf’s ‘Brunford’ location. There is, however, no evidence that I have found that Ford was ever called Bruneford, indeed in 1225 (Before Camden’s work) it appears as ‘Forda’, however the prefix ‘Brun’ features heavily in the area, and this is discussed below. The area immediately to the south of Ford contains Kimmerston (Kynemereston in 1244) and the now lost settlement of Broomridge, which Camden, I assume, associates with the ‘Brunanbyrig’ of ASC E. The hill immediately to south of the Broomridge is called ‘White Hill’ (a location name which also features in the Brinsworth argument). Digressing slightly I note that Northumberland retained some elements of the ‘Welsh’ language during it’s AS occupation, such as Yeavering was called ‘Gefrin’ from the Welsh ‘gafre’ for goat. ‘Waren Burn’ is another example, using the ‘Welsh’ ‘verno’ (alders) as its root. I know that ‘white’, in Welsh is ‘Wen’, and it is still used in Welsh place names to this day. Could it be that Simon of Durham’s ‘We(o)ndun’ is a ‘Whitehill?’ This would also support the argument for Brinsworth!
It could further be argued that the first element of Broomridge was indeed Brun as a similar example is presented by Broomhaugh, known as Brunhalwe in 1242. In Ford’s map of 1610 Broomridge was known as Bromeridge, brome being a meadow grass prevalent in theUK, its most common form being ‘Barren Brome’. It is this grass which, when allowed a large coverage, appears white at certain times of years. Many fields in Northumberland still retain the name of ‘White Fields’. Could this be the source of ‘White Hill’, and dare I suggest, Vinheither? A speculative suggestion for consideration is that ‘Brun’, ‘Wen’ and ‘Vin’ all refer to the natural habitat of the area for ease of reference. A modern comparison is Afghanistan’s ‘Green Zone’. This would go a little way to explain some of the variations of names for the location of the battle. I have, as yet, not found any real evidence to support Broomridge as being derived from Brunanbyrig, apart from the similarity in names. ‘Byrig’ is related to ‘Burh’ in meaning, whereas ‘Ridge’ was ‘Rigg’ in old English (Broomrigg / Bromerig). Could the name have been confused with Brunanbyrig as the original form, surviving to us at Broomridge? Was Brunanbyrig later modified to Brunanburh to suit a wider audience who would more easily understand the ‘Burh’ term? I have yet to discover evidence of other ‘Byrig’ locations surviving as ‘Ridge’, but I would argue it is not completely impossible? A further spin could be the outside possibility that the location was something like Brunanrigg, with the fort (possibly Fordwood or the Cannon Burn enclosure?) being referred to as Brunanburh by the returning soldiers. The (northern?) scribe who created the Chronicle that MS E&F are descended from hears both terms and alters the form Brunanrigg into the form Brunanbyrig to get a place name that is similar in meaning to Brunanburh. We will probably never know.
The case for Broomridge relies on the assumption that either Brunanburh was, firstly, the final battle of a now failed campaign, with the invasion force maybe making a last stand once reinforced from Scotland as they retreat (retreat could be suggested by the ‘Lost Life of Aethelstan’ poem – ‘And drives them bootless tow’rds their native land, the vulgar mass a dreadful carnage share), secondly the invasion consisting of a failed pincer movement with Anlaf sailing up the Humber to be reinforced by Scottish foot soldiers, or, thirdly and less likely, that Tillside was as far as the army got (Northumbria at this time included Lothian so comments like ‘far into England’ must viewed in the light of old, not modern borders).
In support the geography of the area mirrors the description given in Egil’s Saga, and the area, which is in the shadow of Yeavering, has a large number of enclosures, defended settlements and palisades, mostly of Iron Age origin (identified by crop marks). Of interest is a double palisade on Dovehole Crag, which may be the entrenchments seen by Robert Home in 1849 which he describes, by local legend, as protecting the ‘Danish Forts’. RobertHome also reports the ‘slight tradition’ of a great battle in the area, with the ‘rude implements of war, some made of stone’ having been ploughed up in the area. You have to counter this with the fact that this is area not adverse to violence, indeed Flodden Field is only a mile or two to the NW.
In terms of the other names associated with the battle I struggle. For the ‘Plains of Othlynn’ I can only offer ‘Routin Linn’ (alternative spellings are ‘Roughting Linn’ & ‘Routin Lynn’) described in 1920 as a ‘picturesque glade on the borders of Ford Moss, through which runs the Broomridge Burn’. Dingesmere, as a location, is another problem, and I have nothing to offer yet aside from the slight similarity between Dingesmere and Kynemere, which although probably a given name (Cynemaer) could be argued as ‘Royal Marsh’.
The location of Broomridge as Brunanburh clearly has some merit. It currently lacks the strength of some of the other locations but only because it needs a change of mindset to place the battle so north on the east coast. If further information about the campaigns of this era come to light we may stand closer to understanding troop movements and developments, but until then I will simply say that I have enjoyed looking at this beautiful and historic location as a possible contender!