Ethandune, that savage and sacred spot


In the last few weeks I have been considering the location of the iconic battle of Ethandune for a chapter submitted for inclusion in an edited volume of essays on the ‘Danes in Wessex’ (Lavelle and Roffey (eds.) forthcoming). Whilst poking about in the literature, I came across the following lines written by G.K.Chesterton and published in 1911 in his collection of essays ‘Alarms and Discursions’ (Dodd, Mead and Company). The location that Chesterton describes – the environs of Edington (Wilts.) and the prehistoric enclosure at Bratton Camp – has since been established fairly securely as the site of the battle (although, as Ryan Lavelle has shown, this was by no means an uncontentious view when Chesterton was writing; Lavelle 2010, 302, 308-14). His lines are a powerful evocation of the way in which weather, landscape and the memory of violence can combine to exert a powerful pull on the imagination – a power which must have been no less in Alfred’s day than it was in Chesterton’s or, indeed, our own:

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