Guthrum or Guðrum (died c. 890), christened Æthelstan on his
conversion to Christianity in 878, was King of the Danish Vikings in
the Danelaw. He is mainly known for his conflict with Alfred the
1 Guthrum, founder of the Danelaw
2 Surprise attack
3 Defeat by Alfred
3.1 Conversion to Christianity and peace
4 Popular culture
6 External links
Guthrum, founder of the Danelaw
It is not known how
Guthrum consolidated his rule as king over the
other Danish chieftains of the
Danelaw (Danish-ruled territory of
England), but by 874 he was able to wage a war against
Wessex and its
In 875, the Danish forces, then under
Guthrum and Halfdan Ragnarsson,
divided, Halfdan's contingent returning north to Northumbria, while
Guthrum's forces went to East Anglia, quartering themselves at
Cambridge for the year.
Guthrum had acquired various parts of the kingdoms of Mercia
Northumbria and then turned his attention to acquiring Wessex,
where his first confrontation with Alfred took place on the south
Guthrum sailed his army around
Poole Harbour and linked up with
Viking army that was invading the area between the Frome and
Piddle rivers which was ruled by Alfred. According to the historian
Guthrum won his initial battle with Alfred, and he captured the
castellum as well as the ancient square earthworks known as the
Wareham, where there was a convent of nuns.
Alfred successfully brokered a peace settlement, but by 877 this peace
was broken as
Guthrum led his army raiding further into Wessex, thus
forcing Alfred to confront him in a series of skirmishes that Guthrum
continued to win. At Exeter, which
Guthrum had also captured, Alfred
made a peace treaty, with the result that
winter in Gloucester.
Silver penny of Æthelstan
On Epiphany, 6 January 878,
Guthrum made a surprise night-time attack
on Alfred and his court at Chippenham, Wiltshire. It being a Christian
feast day the Saxons were presumably taken by surprise—indeed it is
possible that Wulfhere, the
Ealdorman of Wiltshire, allowed the attack
either through negligence or intent, for on Alfred's return to power
later in 878 Wulfhere was stripped of his role as Ealdorman.
Alfred fled the attack with a few retainers and took shelter in the
marshes of Somerset, staying in the small village of Athelney. Over
the next few months he built up his force and waged a guerrilla war
Guthrum from his fastness in the fens. After a few months
Alfred called his loyal men to Egbert's Stone, and from there they
travelled to Edington to fight the invaders.
Defeat by Alfred
Guthrum's hopes of conquering all of
Wessex came to an end with his
defeat at the hands of Alfred at the
Battle of Edington
Battle of Edington in 878. At
Edington, Guthrum’s entire army was routed by Alfred's and fled to
their encampment where they were besieged by Alfred's fyrd for two
weeks. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Guthrum’s army was
able to negotiate a peace treaty known as the Treaty of Wedmore.
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recorded the event:
“Then the raiding army granted him (Alfred) hostages and great oaths
that they would leave his kingdom and also promised him that their
king (Guthrum) would receive baptism; and they fulfilled it. And three
weeks later the king
Guthrum came to him, one of thirty of the most
honourable men who were in the raiding army, at Aller - and that is
Athelney - and the king received him at baptism; and his chrism
loosing was at Wedmore.” 
Conversion to Christianity and peace
Treaty of Wedmore
Treaty of Wedmore the borders dividing the lands of Alfred
Guthrum were established, and perhaps more importantly, Guthrum
converted to Christianity and took on the Christian name Æthelstan
with Alfred as his godfather.
Guthrum upheld his end of the treaty and left the boundary that
Danelaw from English England unmolested. Guthrum,
although failing to conquer Wessex, turned towards the lands to the
east that the treaty had allotted under his control.
his army from the western borders facing Alfred's territory and moved
eastward before eventually settling in the Kingdom of
Guthrum in East
Anglia in 879. He lived out the remainder of his life there until his
death in 890. According to the Annals of St Neots, a chronicle
compiled in Bury St Edmunds,
Guthrum was buried at Headleage, which is
usually identified as Hadleigh, Suffolk.
Guthrum appears in several works of fiction, including:
G. K. Chesterton's poem The Ballad of the White Horse.
C. Walter Hodges' juvenile historical novels The Namesake and The
Bernard Cornwell's first three novels of
The Saxon Stories
The Saxon Stories series The
Last Kingdom, and The Pale Horseman, and The Lords of the North.
On screen, he was portrayed by
Brian Blessed in episode 4 ("King
Alfred") of Churchill's People, by Michael York in the 1969 film
Alfred the Great, and
Thomas W. Gabrielsson in The Last Kingdom.
^ Collingwood, M. A. and Powell, F. Y. Scandinavian Britain (New York:
Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1908), p. 94.
^ a b Anglo Saxon Chronicle Trans. by M. J. Swanton (New York,
^ Davis, R. H. C. From
Alfred the Great
Alfred the Great to Stephen (London, The
Hambledon Press: 1991) p. 48.
^ Dumville, David; Lapidge, Michael (1985). The Annals of St Neots
with Vita Prima Sancti Neoti, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: a
Collaborative Edition. Cambridge. ISBN 978-0-85991-117-7.
Guthrum 1 at Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England
King of East Anglia
Monarchs of East Anglia
Æthelred I [s]
Edmund the Martyr
Æthelred II [s]
Guthrum I [d]
Guthrum II [d]
[km] also king of Kent and king of Mercia
[m] also king of Mercia