The Northern Way

Ingimund's Invasion

Transcribed by and Commentary by Gavin Chappell

Through the fasting and prayers of the holy man Celé Dubhgaill, Ingimund and his Norsemen were forced from Dublin and fled overseas to Britain. Here the men of Anarawd ap Rhodri marched against them, and they fought a hard battle on Anglesey. In the end, Anarawd drove Ingimund's men from the British lands. Sailing up the coast, they beached in northern Mercia, and contacted Aethelflaed, Lady of the Mercians, whose husband Ethelred was in a disease. Ingimund asked lands of the Lady in which he could settle, for at that time he was weary of war, and Aethelflaed gave him lands near Chester. Ingimund stayed peacefully there for four winters, but when he saw the city of Chester full of wealth, and the choice land around it, he wanted to possess them. Afterward Ingimund came to the Norsemen, making a great complaint in their presence. He said that they were not well off without good lands, and that it was right for them all to seize Chester and to possess it with its wealth and its lands. Many great battles and wars arose on account of that. This is what he said. 'Let us beseech them and implore them first, and if we do not get them willingly in this way, let us contest them by force.' All the leaders of the Norsemen agreed to this. Ingimund then came to his house with an assembly following him. Though they made this a secret, the Lady of the Mercians came to know of it. Therefore the Lady collected large forces around her in every direction, and the city of Chester was filled with her hosts. The armies of the Norsemen assembled towards Chester and, since they did not get what they wanted by beseeching or supplication, they proclaimed battle on a certain day. On that day they came to attack the city; there was a large force with many freemen in the city awaiting them. When the forces who were in the city saw, from the wall, the great armies of the Norse approaching them, they sent messengers to the ailing earl of Mercia, to ask his advice and that of Aethelflaed. This was the advice they gave: to make battle near the burg outside, and the gate of the city should be wide open, and to choose a body of horsemen, concealed on the inside, and those of the people of the city who would be strongest in the battle should flee back into the city as if in defeat, and when the greater number of the forces of the Norse came inside the gate of the city the force hidden yonder should close the gate after this band and not admit any more: capture those whom came into the city and kill them all. This was all done accordingly, and they thus made complete slaughter of the Danes and the Norse. Great, however, as was that slaughter, the Norsemen did not abandon the city, for they were stubborn and vicious, but they all said that they would make many hurdles, and put posts under them, and pierce the wall under them. They did not delay this; they made the hurdles, and the forces were under them to pierce the wall, for they were eager to take the city to avenge their people.

Then Ethelred and Lady Aethelflaed sent messengers to the Irishmen who were among the host [a reference to the Gall-Gaedhil, or Gaddgedlar; Irish who were fostered with Norse families, and normally had a reputation for being even worse enemies of the Church than the rest of the Vikings - they seem to have had an attack of Catholic guilt at this point] to say to them, 'Life and health to you from Ethelred and Aethelflaed, who have all authority over the Mercians, and are certain that you are true and trusty friends to them. Therefore, you should take their side; for they did not bestow greater honour on any Mercian warrior or cleric than they gave to each warrior and cleric who came to them from Ireland, because this inimical race of pagans is equally hostile to you also. It is right then, that as you are trusty friends, for you to help them on this occasion.'

This was the same as if it were said to them; We have come from faithful friends of yours to address you so that you asked the Norsemen what tokens of lands and treasures they would give to those who would betray the city to them. if they accept this, to bring them to swear to a place where killing them will be easy; and when they will be swearing by their swords and by their shields, as is their custom, they will lay aside all their missile weapons. They all did accordingly, and they put away their arms. And the reason the Irishmen did this to the Danes was because they were less friends to them than to the Norsemen. They killed many of them in this manner for they threw rocks and large beams down upon them; great numbers also were killed by darts and spears and by every other means for killing man.

But the other forces, the Norsemen, were under hurdles piercing the walls. What the Mercians and the Irish who were among them did was to throw large rocks so that they destroyed the hurdles over them. What they did in the face of this was to place large posts under the hurdles. What the Mercians did was to put all the ale and water of the town in the cauldrons of the town, to boil them and pour them over those who were under the hurdles so that the skins were stripped from them. The answer that the Norsemen gave to this was to spread hides on the hurdles. What the Mercians did was to let loose on the attacking force all the beehives in the town, so that they could not move their legs of hands from the great number of bees stinging them. Afterwards they left the city and abandoned it. It was not long before they returned.

A few words from the transcriber....

Based on the translation of the Four Fragments, in FT Wainwright's
Scandinavian England.

It breaks off there - most dramatically, I think. Quite what happened to Ingimund afterwards is a mystery. There's an entry in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 907 that says in this year Chester was refortified, which is generally held to be connected with the siege. A few years later, in 910 or 911, there was a Viking attack on Mercia which resulted in a battle in which fell King Eowils, and King Healfden; Earls Ohter and Scurf; Governors Agmund, Othulf, and Benesing; Anlaf the Swarthy, and Governor Thunferth; Osferth the collector, and Governor Guthferth.

'Governor' Agmund has sometimes been assumed to be Ingimund himself. The later fortunes of his people are not entirely certain, although there was a fairly sizeable Scandinavian ghetto in the southern quarter of Chester later on, centred on the church of St Olaf, and it would appear a lot of them settled down in the city as merchants. But their turbulent spirit was not wholly quietened, and after the Norman Conquest they resisted the invaders to such an extent that, as a punishment, Wirral was made a royal forest which became a haunt of outlaws and ne'er-do-wells; The wilderness of Wirral where dwelled few To whom God or good-hearted man gave their love.

To quote Sir Gawayne and the Green Knight. Perhaps they remained heathen - who knows! I'd like to think so. There are a few relics of their presence, including a carving of Sol on a hill to the north of the peninsula (which I think must be one of the only images of the sun-goddess in existence), and a few Hiberno-Norse wheelhead crosses. There's also Thor's Stone, or Thor's Rock, a large sandstone outcrop near the village of Thurstaston ( which means either Thurstan's farm, or Thor's Stone farm) which is the subject of much controversy. Respectable historians think it has about as much to do with the Vikings as the Kensington Rune Stone, but local folklore tells a different story - this, 'tis whispered, is where the heathen Norse held their rites of sacrifice, staining the red sandstone with the blood of beasts, and even Christian priests...

- Gavin Chappell

Recent Publications about Ingimund's Saga

New book "Ingimund's Saga: Norwegian Wirral" by Stephen Harding with
foreword by Magnus Magnusson KBE.

Publisher: Countyvise Ltd., 14 Appin Road, Birkenhead, CH41 9HH, UK cv@birkenheadpress.co.uk. 230 pages, colour illustrations
ISBN: 1 871201 09 8
Cost: 9 GBP (UK), 14 USD (USA), 120 NOK (Norge), 1200 (Island)
website: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/ncmh/unit/sehbook1.htm#top

Some details from the flier:

1100 years ago a group of Viking Settlers from Norway arrived somewhere between Vestri-Kirkubyr (West Kirby) and Melr (Meols) on the shores of north Wirral - a small peninsula lying between the Rivers Dee and Mersey - having been driven out of Ireland. This initiated a mass migration of their fellow countrymen into the area and soon they had established a community with a clearly defined border, its own leader, its own language (Norse), a trading port, and at its centre a place of assembly or government - the Thing at Thingwall. This community was answerable to nobody else: the English, the Welsh, the Dublin Norse, the Isle of Man, Iceland, and not even Norway. The Wirral Norse settlement therefore satisfied all the criteria of an independent, self-governing Viking state - albeit a mini-one! This book, written by Wirral-exile and scientist Steve Harding, is about these people, why they left Norway, where they settled, their religion, their pastimes - such as horse-racing at Irby and rock-climbing at Wallasey - and the legends that have been attributed to them - including the awesome Thor's Stone (Mjollnir) at "Thorsteinn's farmstead". Wirral was also witness to one of the greatest battles in the history of the British Isles - Brunanburh

Related Title: Wirral and its Viking Heritage, by Paul Cavill, Stephen E.
Harding and Judith Jesch ISBN 0 904889 59 9