Emperors & Kings
Also Known As: christened Æthelstan
Born Country: Denmark
Famous as: King
children: Eohric of East Anglia
Died on: 890
place of death: East Of England, United Kingdom
Guthrum was a Viking king from Scandinavia, best known for his conflicts with Alfred the Great, the king of Wessex, England. The exact time of his birth is still debated, but it is believed to be sometime around 835 CE. There is also very limited information about his parents. The time of his accession to the throne is also debated. However, it is generally believed that by the early 870s, out of all the Danish chieftains, he was the one to become a king. In 874, he finally waged a war on the English lands to prove his might in England. However, being a smart man, he first attacked the kingdoms of Mercia and Northumbria, and in 876, he fought his first battle with King Alfred the Great. Several battles were fought between the two. Eventually, Guthrum emerged victorious and captured Alfred. Alfred, knowing well that he was losing, resorted to a peace treaty with Guthrum. However, Guthrum broke the treaty. In 878, at the battle of Edington, Guthrum lost to Alfred. The ‘Treaty of Wedmore’ thus came into existence. Guthrum was baptized as a Christian, with Alfred becoming his godfather. Following his baptism, he was known as Athelstan. The treaty had also allotted Guthrum lands toward the east, away from Wessex’s border, where he passed away in 890.
The King of the Vikings
King Guthrum ruled over the Danish chieftains of the Danelaw, the area in England which was earlier ruled by the Danish. He was a Viking king. The Vikings were known for their savage lifestyle and their habit of raiding lands that attracted them.
In the early 870s, Guthrum rose to power. In the next few years, he planned an attack on England, starting with various parts of the kingdoms of Mercia and Northumbria, and then turned his attention to Wessex, which was ruled by Alfred the Great.
The attack was executed in early 875, when Guthrum arrived on the Wessex border with a large army. His army was soon divided into two. Guthrum led one part of the army, which went to attack East Anglia, while Halfdan Ragnarsson led the other part of the army, attacking Northumbria.
On his way to the east, Guthrum decided to stay back in Cambridge. He stayed there for a year, after raiding and ransacking the place.
Soon enough, he was able to take over the kingdoms of Northumbria and Mercia, which led to a significant rise in his power. King Alfred the Great of Wessex was known as a great warrior and strategist. Thus, Guthrum made sure to launch an attack on the English King, will full preparation. It took him a year to be able to do that, and in 876, he launched an all-out attack on Wessex.
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Guthrum vs. Alfred the Great
In the years that followed, Guthrum and Alfred the Great had many conflicts with each other and became arch-enemies. The first battle between the two took place in 878, at the southern coast of the Kingdom of Wessex.
Guthrum, well aware of Alfred’s tactical skills, used his brains and, opposed to the Vikings’ true nature, planned it all out. He sailed his army to Poole Harbour, where he was joined by another Viking army that was awaiting the signal. After an intense battle, Guthrum emerged triumphant and he took control of the “castellum” and Wareham. In Wareham, there was a convent of nuns, which was eventually ransacked by the Vikings.
Alfred underestimated Guthrum. Hence, he suffered a humiliating defeat, which left him with no other option but to enter into a peace treaty with the Viking ruler.
Both the parties agreed to a peace settlement, the details and conditions of which still remain unknown. However, Guthrum did not uphold his side of the agreement, and in 877, he launched a surprise attack on Wessex. Alfred was terribly unprepared. Thus, he suffered a bad defeat at the hands of the Viking army led by Guthrum yet again.
Alfred managed to save his life after agreeing to another peace treaty with Guthrum. According to this treaty, Guthrum had to move away from Wessex to spend the winter in Gloucester.
However, Guthrum became uneasy and launched another surprise attack on Wessex, breaking the peace treaty yet again. Back then, Alfred was staying in his fortress in Wiltshire, where he usually spent his winters. He was unprepared yet again, and like before, Guthrum managed to win the battle.
Alfred managed to escape narrowly and somehow saved his life. He took asylum in a village called Athelney, in Somerset. For the next 4 months, Alfred stayed in hiding and, at the same time, continued making plans to defeat Guthrum and take Wessex back.
In mid-878, Alfred came out of hiding, gathered his most loyal followers, and formed an army. He planned well and launched an attack on Guthrum at Ethandun (present-day Edington). However, this time around, Alfred had the upper hand. Guthrum’s army was pushed back in a battle that went on all day.
Alfred’s forces chased them till Chippenham, where the Viking army was then trapped in a fortress.
Alfred’s army seized the fortress, and the Vikings stayed inside for 2 weeks. Eventually, Guthrum agreed to settle with a peace treaty. This treaty is famously known as the ‘Treaty of Wedmore.’
The Treaty of Wedmore
The ‘Treaty of Wedmore,’ which was signed between Alfred the Great and Guthrum is well-known in history. According to the treaty, Alfred decided to give some lands to the Vikings and established a border that separated the lands of Guthrum from those of Alfred’s. Alfred allowed the Danish colonization of a huge chunk of England and also allowed self-rule.
The treaty also had one more condition, according to which Guthrum had to convert to Christianity, from Paganism. This time around, Guthrum upheld the treaty and converted to Christianity and had a baptism ceremony, too. Alfred the Great agreed to be his godfather. Guthrum was renamed “Athelstan.”
Guthrum removed his armies from the borders that faced Wessex. However, the treaty had not mentioned any point that stated that the Vikings could not attack any other English kingdom. Guthrum moved eastward to claim the lands that the treaty had allotted him.
He eventually settled in a place in East Anglia, which was later known as the Kingdom of Guthrum. He lived there comfortably for the next few years, until his demise in 890.
Guthrum happens to be one of the most famous Viking kings in history. He was known for his bravery and presence of mind on the battlefield.
He has been a subject of curiosity of many writers and filmmakers. He was one of the key characters in G.K. Chesterton’s poem ‘The Ballad of the White Horse.’ He also appeared in the novels titled ‘The Namesake’ and ‘The Marsh King,’ written by C. Walter Hodges.
He has also appeared in the ‘BBC’ and ‘Netflix’ original series titled ‘The Last Kingdom,’ which had actor Thomas W. Gabrielsson playing his character.