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"Never greater slaughter" - the battle of Brunanburh and the birth of England

Courtesy of Michael Livingston
A scan of John Speed's 1611 map of the Wirral Peninsula, showing 'Brunburgh' on the eastern shore.

In his book, Never Greater Slaughter: Brunanburh and the Birth of England (Osprey, 2021), Dr. Michael Livingston of The Citadel tells the story of the battle of Brunanburh and of an extraordinary effort, uniting enthusiasts, historians, archaeologists, linguists, and other researchers – amateurs and professionals, experienced and inexperienced alike – which may well have found the site of the long-lost battle of Brunanburh, over a thousand years after its bloodied fields witnessed history. This week on Walter Edgar's Journal, he talks about the battle, the efforts to find its true location, and why it was as existential a conflict for England as the Battle of Britain, some 1000 years later.

The story: Late in AD 937, four armies met in a place called Brunanburh. On one side stood the shield-wall of the expanding kingdom of the Anglo-Saxons. On the other side stood a remarkable alliance of rival kings - at least two from across the sea - who'd come together to destroy them once and for all. The stakes were no less than the survival of the dream that would become England. The armies were massive. The violence, when it began, was enough to shock a violent age. Brunanburh may not today have the fame of Hastings, Crécy or Agincourt, but those later battles, were fought for an England that would not exist were it not for the blood spilled this day.

Michael Livingston, holds degrees in History, Medieval Studies, and English, and teaches the military and cultural history of the Middle Ages at The Citadel.

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Dr. Walter Edgar has two programs on South Carolina Public Radio: Walter Edgar's Journal, and South Carolina from A to Z. Dr. Edgar received his B.A. degree from Davidson College in 1965 and his Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina in 1969. After two years in the army (including a tour of duty in Vietnam), he returned to USC as a post-doctoral fellow of the National Archives, assigned to the Papers of Henry Laurens.