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Tolkien's Middle-earth:

Lesson Plans for Secondary School Educators

Unit Eight: War and Peace in Middle-earth


"The Greatest Evil That Any Army Could Do"

Excerpts from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

For many generations, from about A.D. 892 to 1154, the English peoples kept a terse but useful record of their own history. These various overlapping narratives are known today as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The selections offered here come from the reign of Ethelred the Unready, a period of catastrophic raids by Vikings. In 1953, one year before the appearance of The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien wrote a short verse play about one of these battles, the rout of the English forces at Maldon.

A.D. 982. In this year came up in Dorsetshire three ships of the pirates, and plundered in Portland. The same year London was burned.

A.D. 987. This year was the port of Watchet plundered.

A.D. 988. This year was Goda, the thane of Devonshire, slain; and a great number with him: and Dunstan, the holy archbishop, departed this life, and sought a heavenly one.

A.D. 991. This year came Anlaf with three and ninety ships to Staines, which he plundered without, and went thence to Sandwich. Thence to Ipswich, which he laid waste; and so to Maldon, where Ealdorman Britnoth came against him with his force, and fought with him; and there they slew the ealdorman, and gained the field of battle; whereupon peace was made with Anlaf, and the king received Anlaf afterwards . . . by the advice of Siric, Bishop of Canterbury, and Elfeah of Winchester. This year was Bamborough destroyed, and much spoil was there taken. Afterwards came the army to the mouth of the Humber; and there did much evil both in Lindsey and in Northumbria.

A.D. 994. This year came Anlaf and Sweyne to London, on the Nativity of St. Mary, with four and ninety ships. And they closely besieged the city, and would fain have set it on fire; but they sustained more harm and evil than they ever supposed that any citizens could inflict on them. The Holy Mother of God on that day in her mercy considered the citizens, and ridded them of their enemies.

Thence the Danes advanced, and wrought the greatest evil that ever any army could do, in burning and plundering and manslaughter, not only on the sea-coast in Essex, but in Kent and in Sussex and in Hampshire. Next they took horse, and rode as wide as they would, and committed unspeakable evil. Then resolved the king and his council to send to them, and offer them tribute and provision, on condition that they desisted from plunder.

These terms they accepted; and the whole army of the Danes came to Southampton, and there fixed their winter-quarters; where they were fed by all the subjects of the West-Saxon Kingdom. And they gave the Danes 16,000 pounds in money . . .

A.D. 995 This year appeared the comet-star.

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thane = Anglo-Saxon military rank, between chieftain and freeman

ealdorman = the principal magistrate and commander of the military forces of a shire in Anglo-Saxon England

fain = gladly

the king = Ethelred II, the Anglo-Saxon ruler

Anlaf = a Viking chieftain

Sweyne = a Viking chieftain

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(adapted from the translation by James Ingram; original text in the public domain)

Unit Eight Content

Comments for Teachers
Preliminary Quiz
Key Terms
Discussion Topics
Suggested Activities

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