Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Guthrum

GUTHRUM or GUTHORM (d. 890) was one of the leaders of a Danish host which, encamping near Reading in 871, waged a stubborn warfare with King Æthelred and his successor Ælfred throughout that year and the next; attacked Northumbria in 873; conquered Mercia in 874 ; and in the spring of 875 split into two divisions, one of which returned with Halfdene to Northumbria, while the other, led by 'the three kings Guthorm, Oskytel, and Amund,' marched from Repton to Cambridge, and thence in 876 sailed round the coast to Wareham. Ælfred bought their assent to a treaty whereby they swore to quit his realm; but as many of them as could find horses stole away by night to Exeter, and it was not until he had starved them into surrender that the whole Danish host again 'gave him hostages and sware mickle oaths and held good peace' (877). After spending the summer in Mercia, Guthrum withdrew to winter at Gloucester; here he was joined by reinforcements, and early in 878 he appeared at the head of all his forces at Chippenham. His march took Wessex completely by surprise, and the Danes overran the whole country east of Selwood, while Ælfred retired into Somerset. But in May 878 he defeated them in a pitched battle at Ethandun (Edington, Wiltshire), and a fortnight's siege of their camp starved them into surrender. By a treaty made at Wedmore, Guthrum pledged himself to become a Christian and to withdraw from Ælfred's kingdom; and that kingdom, as we know from after events, was now defined so as to exclude the Danes from all England south of Thames and west of Watling Street, as far north as the Ribble and as far east as the sources of the Don, the Derwent, and the Soar'. Of the territory thus left to the Danes, the portion which fell to Guthrum was East Anglia, i.e. the old kingdom so called, with the addition of Essex, London, and the district on the northern bank of the Thames as far as (but not including) Oxford, and apparently 'the old East-Anglian supremacy over the southern districts of the Fen.' About three weeks after the treaty was made, Guthrum came to Ælfred at Aller, near Athelney, 'and the king was his godfather in baptism, and his chrism-loosing was at Wedmore; and he was twelve days with the king, and he greatly honoured him and his companions with gifts.' When, therefore, Guthrum's host, after a year spent in peace at Cirencester, went into East Anglia 'and settled the land and parted it among them' (880), they went to set up a professedly Christian realm. Guthrum himself, if later chroniclers may be trusted, speedily sought a new field for action across the Channel, and took a leading part in the great fight at Saucourt, 881 (Alberic of Trois-Fontaines, in Rer. Gall. Scriptt. ix. 58 B; cf. Chron. Centul., ib. viii. 273 E). In 885 he broke the treaty of Wedmore by allowing his followers to join their brethren from over sea in a fresh attack upon Wessex; they were, however, worsted in the struggle, and next year Guthrum submitted to a new 'frith' whereby the western half of Essex, with London, was given up to Ælfred (Thorpe, Anc. Laws, i. 66, 67, fol. ed.) Guthrum's baptismal name was Æthelstan; he was probably the 'king called Æthelstan,' who, according to the saga of Harald Haarfager, had 'at this time taken the kingdom of England,' i.e. about 883-93, and who is said to have sent an embassy to the Norwegian king and received envoys from him 'in London' (Snorro Sturleson, Heimskringla, transl. Laing, i. 308-10). In a Norman tradition he appears under the disguise of 'the most Christian king of the English, Alstemus by name,' as sending envoys and presents to Hrolf, who leaves the siege of Paris (885) to go to his aid against his rebellious subjects, the English people (Dudo in Duchesne, Hist. Norm. Scriptt. pp. 72, 73, 78). Guthrum died in 890 (Engl. Chron. ad ann.) Some laws are extant which purport to have been drawn up between 'Guthrum' and Eadward the Elder, who became king in 901, whence it appears that there was a second bearer of the name who may have been a son of the first, and may have ruled in East-Anglia between 906, when Eadward made a treaty with the East Anglian Danes after the death of their king Eohric (905), and 921, when their territory was annexed to the dominions of the West-Saxon king.

[English Chronicle, ed. Thorpe (Rolls Ser.); Asser, ed. Wise; Æthelweard, ed. Savile (Angl. Rer. Scriptt. post Bedam); Green's Conquest of England.]

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