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Battle of Cynwit

Battle of Cynwit
Part of the Viking invasions of England
Date 878
Location Uncertain
Result Decisive West Saxon victory
West Saxons Vikings
Commanders and leaders
Odda, Ealdorman of Devon Ubba
Unknown 1200
Casualties and losses
Unknown Unknown

The Battle of Cynwit, also spelt Cynuit, took place in 878 at a fort which Asser calls Cynwit. The location of the battle is uncertain. Possible sites include Cannington Hill, near Cannington, Somerset;[1] and Countisbury Hill (also known as Wind Hill), near Countisbury, Devon.[2][3]


  • Prelude 1
  • Siege and battle 2
  • Aftermath 3
  • The battle in fiction 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7


A party of Vikings led by Ubba, brother of Ivar the Boneless and Halfdan Ragnarsson, landed on the coast at Combwich with 23 ships and twelve hundred men.[4] There they observed that a number of English Thanes and all of their men had taken refuge in the fort of "Cynwit" for safety.

Siege and battle

Ubba and the Vikings proceeded to besiege the fort, expecting the English to surrender eventually from lack of water (as there was no available source near the fort).[4]


Cannington hill fort, a possible site of the battle

While the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle glosses over the battle of Cynwit, it is important for two reasons.

Firstly, it was an important victory for the English won by someone other than Alfred the Great, the king of Wessex at the time who was spearheading the English resistance to the Viking invasions. The Chronicle, in addressing the year 878, makes the claim that "all but Alfred the King" had been subdued by the Vikings.[5]

Secondly, at the battle of Cynwit, Odda and the English forces not only succeeded in killing Ubba,[6] but they also captured the Raven banner called Hrefn or the Raven. While the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle only briefly mentions the battle, it does draw attention to the capture of the banner, which is interesting considering that it does not single out any other trophy captured by the English in the many other victories they had against the Danes.

The battle in fiction

The battle appears in The Marsh King, a children's historical novel by C. Walter Hodges, where its location is called "Kynwit". Although this novel is about King Alfred, it gives due credit to Ealdorman Odda for this victory, although the description of the battle may not be very accurate, showing the Vikings as making a landing at night and being defeated immediately on the landing ground.

The battle also features in Bernard Cornwell's novel The Last Kingdom. Cornwell ascribes the victory, as well as the killing of Ubba, to his fictional hero Uhtred.[7]


  1. ^ Baggs & Siraut 1992, pp. 73-76.
  2. ^ "Countisbury circular walk via Winston's Path".  
  3. ^ "MDE1236 - Countisbury Castle or Wind Hill Promontory Fort". Exmoor's Past.  
  4. ^ a b James 2013.
  5. ^ Ingram 1912, Years 871-78.
  6. ^ Kendrick 2004, p. 238.
  7. ^ Cornwell 2005.


  • Baggs, A P; Siraut, M C. (1992). "Cannington". In Dunning, R W; Elrington, C R. A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 6: Andersfield, Cannington, and North Petherton Hundreds (Bridgwater and neighbouring parishes). pp. 73–76. 
  • Ingram, James, ed. (1912) [1823]. "Years 871-78". The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. London: Everyman Press. 
  • James, Jeffrey (2013). An Onslaught of Spears: The Danish Conquest of England. The History Press.  
  • Kendrick, T.D. (2004). A History of the Vikings. Courier Corporation.  

Further reading

  • Keary, C. F (1891). The Vikings in Western Christendom. London: T. Fisher Unwin. 
  • Smyth, Alfred P (1995). King Alfred the Great. Oxford University Press. 
Early sources

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