145, 10 f. — brynegield onhrēad etc. This disputed passage may be translated, ‘He adorned (reddened) the sacrifice, the reeking altar, with the ram's blood.’
XXI. THE BATTLE OF BRUNANBURH.
Æthelstan, grandson of Alfred the Great, reigned from 925 to 940. He was king not only of the West-Saxons and of Mercia, but by a brilliant execution of the policy of his father, Eadweard, he added Northumbria to his realm, and “thus became immediate king of all the Teutonic races in Britain, and superior lord of all the Celtic principalities” (Freeman). The poem on the Battle of Brunanburh commemorates the most famous battle of his reign. In the year 937, Anlaf (or Olaf), a son of the former Northumbrian Danish king Sihtric, came again from Ireland and stirred up the Northumbrian Danes to another rebellion against their West-Saxon king. “The men of the northern Danelaw found themselves backed not only by their brethren from Ireland, but by the mass of states around them, by the English of Bernicia, by the Scots under Constantine, by the Welshmen of Cumbria or Strath-Clyde” (Green). Æthelstan and his brother Eadmund marched with their forces to the north, and in a victorious battle ended the rebellion. The site of Brunanburh has not been certainly determined ; Bosworth locates it “about five miles southwest of Durham, or on the plain between the river Tyne and the Browney” (Bosworth-Toller, Dictionary ; for other opinions, see Green, The Conquest of England, p. 254, note 1).
“The poem does not seem to have been written by one who saw the battle. At least we learn from it no more in substance than might have been put down in a short entry of the Chronicle. The poem lacks the epic perception and direct power of the folk-song, as well as invention. The patriotic enthusiasm, however, upon which it is borne, the lyrical strain which pervades it, yield their true effect. The rich resources derived from the national epos are here happily utilised, and the pure versification and brilliant style of the whole stir our admiration” (ten Brink).
This battle-piece is the most important of the poetic insertions in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles. The manuscripts furnish many variant readings ; the text here given represents the poem in its generally accepted form.