Essex who died 11 August 991 at the Battle
of Maldon. His name is composed of the Old English beorht (bright) and
noth (courage). He is the subject of an ancient poem, and more
recently a statue.
1 Death in battle
2 Patronage and burial
8 External links
Death in battle
His death, while leading the
Anglo-Saxon forces against the Vikings in
991, is the subject of the famous Old English poem The Battle of
Maldon. As presented there, his decision to allow the Vikings to move
to a better position was heroic but fatal. He was said to stand well
over six feet in height, and was around the age of sixty years at the
Battle of Maldon, with "swan-white hair". Although it is believed that
he fell early in the battle, some say that it took three men to kill
him, one of them almost severing Byrhtnoth's arm in the process. He
had previously had several military successes, presumably also against
Patronage and burial
Byrhtnoth was a patron of Ely Abbey, giving it many villages
(including Spaldwick, Trumpington, Rettendon, Soham, Fulbourn,
Pampisford and Teversham). He was buried there alongside
Archbishop Wulfstan the homilist. The
Liber Eliensis records that his
widow gave the Abbey a tapestry or hanging celebrating his deeds,
presumably in the style of the Bayeux Tapestry, the only surviving
example of such a work. This was given immediately after his death, so
had probably been hanging in his home previously.
After his burial, his remains, along with six other Saxon 'benefactors
of Ely Church' (also known as the seven 'Confessors of Christ') have
been moved and reburied three times. Archbishop Wulfstan (died
1023), with six Bishops (Osmund of Sweden, Athelstan of Elmham,
Ælfwine of Elmham, Ælfgar of Elmham, Eadnoth of Dorchester) and
Byrhtnoth were all exhumed from their burial places in the old Saxon
Abbey Church, and in the mid-1150s the remains were reinterred in the
'Northern Part' of the new Norman Church, which by then had been made
Following the collapse of the central tower, in 1322, a new octagonal
space was created, and a wall was built on its north side to separate
the monastic area of the choir from the pilgrim entrance and route to
the shrine of
Æthelthryth (St Etheldreda). Within this wall the seven
benefactors were buried, with wall paintings of each in an elaborate
arcade, facing the pilgrim entrance, perhaps to remind visitors of the
enduring respect that can accrue from such generosity.
The shrines were destroyed and pilgrimages ceased at the Reformation,
but in 1769, when the choir stalls were moved out of the Octagon, the
wall was demolished and
James Bentham found that the remains of the
seven benefactors were still there, each in a separate compartment,
although Byrhtnoth's was headless. All the clerics were estimated to
be over 6 feet (1.8 m) tall, and Byrhtnoth's bones suggested that
he stood at 6 feet 9 inches (2.06 m). On 31 July
1781 they were again re-interred, with considerable ceremony, at the
far east end of the Cathedral, in niches constructed within the gothic
splendour of Bishop Nicholas West's Chantry chapel.
Byrhtnoth was married to Ælfflæd, sister of the dowager Queen
Æthelflæd of Damerham, making
Byrhtnoth a kinsman of King Edgar by
Byrhtnoth may have had a daughter called Leofflæd, however
she is not mentioned in any pre-Conquest source.
Recently, a statue created by
John Doubleday has been placed at the
end of the Maldon Promenade Walk, facing the battle site of Northey
Island and the Causeway. The battle site itself has a National Trust
plaque recording his 'heroic defeat and death'.
As well as the
Anglo-Saxon poem, The Battle of Maldon, J.R.R.
Tolkien's short play in verse, The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth,
Beorhthelm's Son takes place on the battlefield of Maldon and deals
with Byrhtnoth's death.
^ Dodwell, C.R.;
Anglo-Saxon Art, A New Perspective, pp. 134-136,
1982, Manchester UP, ISBN 0-7190-0926-X
^ Keynes, Simon (2003). "Ely Abbey, 672-1109". In Meadows, Peter;
Ramsay, Nigel. A History of Ely Cathedral. Woodbridge: The Boydell
Press. pp. 3–58. ISBN 0 85115 945 1. See page 9.
^ a b Keynes 2003, p. 9.
^ Lindley, Phillip (1995). "The Imagery of the Octagon at Ely". Gothic
to Renaissance: Essays on Sculpture in England. Stamford: Paul Watson.
p. 142. ISBN 1871615763.
^ Keynes 2003, p. 58.
^ The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth, Beorhthelm's Son: play and essay notes
by JRR Tolkien
Maldon Battle and Campaign, Report compiled by Glenn Foard, 2003, for
The UK Battlefields Resource Centre, Provided by The Battlefields
Byrhtnoth 1 at Prosopography of Anglo-S