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Downloads Home » Stronghold Crusader: Invasions » The Historical Battle of Maldon (991 AD)

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The Historical Battle of Maldon (991 AD)

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Map Size: 300x300 (Medium)
Difficulty: Normal
I usually make fictional maps of fantastic places and scenarios. I admit my Dungeons & Dragons background influences. But, once in a while I will break down and do a historically accurate map just to have a change. I lived in this part of England for three years, and really enjoyed exploring all the (real) history in that country!

The Historical Battle of Maldon (991 AD)

Ealdorman Byrhtnoth, an Anglo-Saxon Earl, and his men take on the plundering Vikings, and their leader Olaf Tryggvason, when they land at Northey Island in Essex and try to collect a Danegeld.

On the southeastern shores of present day England, just north-east of London, is the town of Maldon (Old English: Maeldune). Today the town of Maldon is a safe place with: National Trust protection of the battlefield, the nearby Newham Green housing development, and modern bridges to span the swirling waters of nearby Blackwater Bay and it’s marshy inlets. One thousand years ago, this was not the situation.

In 991 AD, the Vikings were plundering East Anglia. Tough Norsemen raiders were pouring out of their shallow drafted longships and attacking Anglo-Saxon towns up and down the coast. If a Anglo-Saxon town's leadership didn’t pay the Vikings a "Danegeld" (large ransom for peace, paid in gold and silver), then their town was sacked and burned. The Vikings were also renowned for looting the dead bodies of fallen foes and other atrocities (decapitation being popular). During the period just before the Battle of Maldon, the Saxons suffered defeat after defeat at the hands of the marauding Vikings. The situation had become desperate. In August of 991, the Vikings raided the interior town of Ipswich and then moved back to the swampy coast to camp at Northey Island (just offshore of Maldon). The Vikings anchored their longships on the eastside of the island (lest they be needed to beat a hasty retreat to the North Sea and back home).

Enter Byrhtnoth.

In 991, there were few people interested in keeping written records of historical events. The monks at Ely Abbey (now Ely Cathedral) kept a record called the Liber Eliensis, the ‘Ely Book’. Records kept by the monks tell of Earl Byrhtnoth battling the Vikings on two occasions (once 4 years earlier on a bridge where he and his army wiped them out). After that first defeat, the Vikings, ashamed and wanting vengeance, sent a personal message to Byrhtnoth saying: "if he would not come and fight them, then they would consider him a coward."

The most complete accounting of the battle outside Maldon in 991, can be read in the famous poem, “The Battle of Maldon”, written by a Saxon poet a short time after the battle. This poem immortalized Byrhtnoth and his unsuccessful efforts to beat back the Vikings. Without the poem, Byrhtnoth’s eventual defeat at Maldon would have only amounted to a tiny footnote of a loss (in a series of losses) to the Vikings during this period of history. I am including the English translation of the poem in the zip file for this map. Enjoy.

Byrhtnoth learned of the Viking camp on Northey Island and swiftly raised a small army of militia (including his own nephew, Wulfmaer). They soon marched along the old Roman road from Colchester to Maldon. When they arrived, they could see the longships and Viking camp on the island and prepared for battle. Northey Island (still to this day) is accessible only at low tide, and only by the narrow causeway. Byrhtnoth’s army crowded on the mainland side of the causeway, while the Vikings sat on the island side (the distance was recorded at the time at 120 yards, it is now wider due to erosion). Because the swirling high tide covered the causeway and prevented access to the island, a battle did not immediately take place. Instead insults and threats were shouted from both sides, while both armies waited for the tide to go out and reveal the causeway. A Viking spokesman/translator screamed for the Saxons to pay the Danegeld in gold. Byrhtnoth replied that instead of gold and silver, the Saxons would be paying in spears.

The tide slowly started to go out, and eventually some Vikings tried to make it across. Three Saxon warriors (Byrhtnoth’s nephew, Wulfmaer, was one of these three fighters) held the causeway with sheer ferocity, quickly cutting down any Viking who tried to climb up that side. These early deaths led to an impasse. Seeing no way to cross without huge losses, the Viking leader began pleading with Byrhtnoth to let the Vikings cross the causeway and to fight a “fair” battle against his forces on the mainland side. It is unknown why Byrhtnoth let the Vikings traverse the causeway. Some historians say it was because Byrhtnoth was supremely confident in his forces (since they won last time). Some say that Byrhtnoth had some retribution of his own to deliver (he was formally challenged and accepted, instead of being labeled a coward). The Vikings were allowed to wade across the causeway unimpeded. Once across they coldly arrayed themselves in battle formation on the bank the Saxons had just defended, and made ready to attack. The Saxon army moved to the wheat fields which surround the causeway, and awaited the inevitable.

Arrows, axes, and spears filled the air (Beadscur, or Battle Shower, is the old name for a incoming missile barrage) as the Vikings grimly charged the Saxons. As the first blood started to flow, the Vikings then unsheathed their swords and stormed headlong into the Saxon lines. The bulk of the Viking force went after Byrhtnoth himself and his household guards. Wulfmaer was also targeted singly and cut down early in the battle.

After suffering several wounds that would have killed a normal man, Byrhtnoth’s sword dropped from his hand, and the Saxon leader fell back into the arms of two accompanying warriors. Then a Viking landed a killing blow on Byrhtnoth, cutting off his head. After Byrhtnoth’s death, the remaining Saxons (including Byrhtnoth’s own men) chose dishonour and fled the battlefield, taking with them most of the evidence (helmets, swords, spears, buckles ect) of the battle. Byrhtnoth’s headless remains were left to rot on the field. Fortunately, the monks of Ely Abbey secreted away his body and buried it on the Abbey grounds (its still located at the present day cathedral). During construction in the 1700's, the burial crypt of Byrhtnoth was opened and body was estimated to be 6 foot 9 inches tall when he was alive. This measurement is questioned because the corpse has no head, only a large ball of wax placed by the monks in 991.

Despite the fact that the Saxons lost the Battle of Maldon, it is a significant event because the Saxons caused enough losses to slow the Viking force from rampaging across the countryside as they pleased. If the Saxons hadn’t put up a fight at Maldon, then the Vikings might have sacked many more major towns. The battle also clearly illustrates that the Anglo-Saxons (at least Byrhtnoth) were a proud (and maybe a little overconfident) people. They held on in some form until William the Conqueror took a shot at England in 1066, but that is another map and another story. Olaf Tryggvason (the Viking commander who won at Maldon) went on to London and was repelled in another great battle. He went home and sat on the throne as Olaf I of Norway, dying on Sept 9, 1000.

Im including links to great sites on Battle of Maldon in the zip file, along with the prementioned poem, some maps of the area, and some pictures.


-To rate or not to rate, that is the question.
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AuthorComments & Reviews   ( All | Comments Only | Reviews Only )
Sir Hugh
I didn't want to decommition the ship, but I won. I have 26 macemen as my best score. Don't mind the balance though. If the vikings attack, they will attack with a force they think they can win with. They won't go up almost impossible odds.
File Author
26 is good. If you use an end around tactic, coming in from behind the chapel, you can catch old Brythnoth by surprise and keep a few more macemen.

Map Design4.5
Playability: 4
A great attacking map with some quick action. After the battle you have to sell the booty of battle to complete the final objectives.

Balance: 3
The map was very easy and I ended up with 17 maceman and all my other troops left. I would have had more maceman but I did not notice the pot of pitch that was thrown.

Creativity: 4.5
A great Viking ship with a storyline that fits with the map.

Map Design: 4.5
A marshy area that is unique and a nicely done town. The map flows well with no promblems.

Story/Instructions: 5
A lot of research went into the storyline and it was a long write up. You are one of the few crusader map makers who takes time to write a complete story.

Additional Comments:
Another success and I hope you keep on designning winners like this one.
File Author
Thanks for your input about this old classic of mine. I will play and rate a map, stretch.
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