Colin Crosby Heritage Tours

Battle of Maldon Site (Maldon)

The Battle of Maldon Site is a short distance from the old maritime town of Maldon in Essex.

The battle, in 991, was one of the most significant in English history, and is the subject of the earliest known narrative poem in the English language.

The site is around a mile down the Blackwater Estuary, and can be reached on foot along the sea wall from Promenade Park, or down a lane from the road to Mundon.

In 991, a Danish raiding party, under the leadership of Olaf Trygvasson and probably including Sweyn Forkbeard, was terrorising the East coast, and camped on Northey Island.

Britnoth, the giant but ageing Ealdorman of Essex, brought his army to a point opposite Northey, where they prepared for battle.

The Danes called across to ask for safe passage across the causeway, as they pointed out that while crossing they would be vulnerable.

Britnoth agreed to the safe passage, and in the ensuing battle his forces were heavily defeated. Britnoth himself was decapitated, and was later buried at Ely, with a ball of wax where his head should have been.

In the aftermath of the Battle of Maldon, Ethelred the Unready paid vast sums of money in Danegeld. Today, this would be termed protection money.

Over the centuries, Britnoth has been much vilified for his stupidity in allowing Olaf's men to cross safely.

But the situation was not as simple as that.

In this dark period of England's history, Britnoth was the only credible English general. If he had not allowed safe passage, the Danes would simply have sailed away. They would have landed somwhere else, where they would certainly have won any battle. Britnoth's men were the only ones who stood a chance.

Britnoth was not only defending Essex. He was defending England.

The causeway leading across to Northey Island can still be seen at low tide.

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