Page:VCH Surrey 1.djvu/398

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.


A HISTORY OF SURREY the place well known, and this battle has been placed there. So far, however, as we can follow the probable course of the campaign, it would seem likely that the battle was fought further west. The sole undoubted victory of the West Saxons had been at Ashdown in Berk- shire. This was not decisive, and was followed by a defeat at Basing in Hampshire. Then came this battle of ' Meretun,' then the death of Ethelred, then a defeat, though not a decisive defeat, of Alfred at Wilton near Salisbury. The Danes may have fallen back towards London after Basing ; but Marton in South Damerham in Wiltshire, in Domesday Mertone, seems a more likely place in which to find them after their success at Basing than anywhere in Surrey. But there is no certainty. Soon after the battle at ' Meretun ' Ethelred died. Later stories say that he died of wounds received in the battle, and the brass to his memory in Wimborne Minster, of many centuries later date, says that he was killed by the Danes. The silence of the chronicle which records the death of the bishop of Sherborne at ' Meretun ' makes it improbable that the king fell there. But the Danes, after all, found the better organized West Saxon kingdom a less easy prey than the chaotic north and Mercia, and retired to London in 872, probably through the confines of Surrey. In the earlier part of Alfred's reign, when the Danes again came over the Thames from Mercia and overran the West Saxon lands westward, cooping up the king himself amongst the Somersetshire marshes, the whole of south-east England, Surrey included, must have been at their mercy. The county must have suffered terribly in these wars, and Chertsey Abbey was sacked by the Danes. 1 Surrey took no share in the national recovery and victory of the year 878. The peace of Wedmore in that year restored it to the West Saxon kingdom. In 886 Alfred was sufficiently master in the south-east to restore the fortifications of the probably ruined city of London, making it an important barrier upon the movements of his lately baptized godson Guthrum and his people in Essex, and a protection to the passages up and down and across the Thames. In 893 two Scandinavian bands established themselves in fortified camps, at Milton near Gravesend, and at Appledore on the Rother, behind Romney Marsh. The king lay between them, ready to move against either should they endeavour to penetrate westward north or south of the Andred's Weald respectively. His headquarters may possibly have been at Tonbridge, 2 on a road reaching towards Hastings on the one side and London on the other. Certainly he was guarding the eastern side of Surrey. In three years the enemy were continually checked by his vigilance, till in 896 the Appledore force penetrated by forest roads 3 through the Weald and plundered in Hampshire and 1 Before Edgar's reign ; therefore probably at this time. See William of Malmesbury, De Gestii Pont. lib. ii.

  • Where the mound of the de Clares' castle may possibly represent an early English fortification.

3 Ethelwerd's chronicle. 334