Hamble River, close to where the ship belonging to the sons of Ragnar was captured by King Alfred
Ragnar Lodbrok, or Lodbroc, or Lothbrock, was a Viking, a prince, a warrior, a huntsman, a legend. He left his mark across Europe, his adventures taking him from Denmark to Ireland, to Britain, to France, across the continent to Russia. This tale tells of the events leading from ninth century Denmark to... Manor Farm Country Park, Bursledon, Hampshire.
2 Ragnar Lodbroc - the early days
From the first his fate was to be the stuff of romance, tragedy, magic and bravery. His father was Sigurd Ring and his mother Alfild. Following the death of Alfild, when Ragnar was just a boy, Sigurd sought a new wife - the beautiful Alfsol, a princess of Jutland. Her family were against the union and so a great battle was fought at which Sigurd was victorious. However, Alfsol’s father would rather lose his daughter to Valhalla than to Sigurd Ring and gave to her a cup of poison. Sigurd declared that he could not live without Alfsol and arranged for her lifeless body to be placed on a funeral pyre on board his finest ship, “then when the fire had been kindled and the ship cut adrift from its moorings Sigurd sprang aboard and, stabbing himself, was consumed by the side of the fair maiden he loved”.
So, at the tender age of fifteen, Ragnar became King of Denmark.
3 How Ragnar became Lodbroc
Ragnar was a serial husband and father to a large number of children. His first wife was Logerda whom he left for Thora
... According to legend, a small snake was found in a vulture’s egg which King Herraud had fetched from Permia. It was golden in colour, and King Herraud gave it to his daughter, Thora Town-Hart, as a teething gift. She put a piece of gold under the snake and after that it grew and grew until it circled her bower. The snake was so savage no one dared come near it except the King and the man who fed it. (Maybe, stop feeding it?) The snake ate an old ox at every meal, and everyone thought it a thoroughly nasty creature. King Herraud made a solemn vow that he would only allow Thora to marry the man brave enough to go into the bower to destroy the snake, but no one had enough courage for this until Ragnar appeared on the scene.
When Ragnar heard the tale of Thora and the snake (whose powerful jaws were said to emit fire, venom and noxious vapours) he vowed to rescue the maiden. He clothed himself in a garment of leather and wool, smeared with pitch, and the slaying was no sooner said than done.
From then on Ragnar was known as Ragnar Lodbroc, meaning Leather-Hose, or Hairy-breeches.
Ragnar and Thora were blessed with two sons, as brave as they were handsome, named Agnar and Erik. Sadly their happiness was shortlived - Thora soon fell ill and died.
Years later, when Ragnar was under attack by the Swedish king Eystein, Agnar and Erik persuaded their father to let them fight, which they did bravely, but, unfortunately, due to Eystein’s use of an enchanted cow, both were slain.
Ragnar married again, Krake, the daughter of a king who wowed him with her womanly whiles. She also had a neat line in bird impressions. They had a number of sons who were as brave as they were stupid, as skilled as they were Danish and very probably the roll models for the Ferengi. When these sons went into battle they flew a a giant pennant depicting a crow.
4 Ragnar Lodbroc - retired
Having lived a full and busy life as a Viking warrior - no room here to speak of Ragnar’s sallies into Europe, the taking of Paris, etc - Ragnar decided to live out his remaining years in a form of retirement. He had always been a keen huntsman and one foul day was teaching his falcon, Finist, to fish. A storm blew up and his small boat lost first its sail, closely followed by the wooden mast, then the rudder was torn away and finally t’oars splintered into matchwood. For three days Ragnar, Finist and their boat were thrown mercilessly by the waves, blown helplessly across the North Sea before beaching on the Norfolk coastline. Thought to be a spy or part of a Viking raiding party he was taken to King Edmund. Edmund recognising a warrior of royal birth (and “being struck by the manliness of his form”) gave him a position as the Royal Falconer.
5 Death of Ragnar
The existing Royal Falconer, a man named Berne, was put out and tricked Ragnar into accompanying him on a hunting trip. To cut a long story short, Berne forced Ragnar into a snakepit where he received a fatal snakebite. Berne buried the body and returned to the king, telling him that Ragnar was lost.
That evening Finist the falcon flew into the King’s chamber - and flew off again. The following evening it happened again, although this time the falcon landed alongside the King before flying off. The third time this happened the King decided to follow Finist, so follow he did, ending up deep in the forest where in a shallow grave he found the slain Ragnar.
Putting two and two together Edmund realised Berne was responsible and ordered his execution. It was the tradition amongst the norsemen at this time that a condemned man could choose the manner of his death. Berne asked that he put in a small boat without food or water and left to the mercies of God and the seas. Edmund agreed and with one good push the slayer of Ragnar was gone.
He drifted for some time and then a storm arose which pitched and tossed his boat like a child’s plaything but Berne held fast and eventually ended up in Denmark where he was brought before the sons of Ragnar.
Berne lied to the sons of Ragnar as he had lied to his King before. He told them that Edmund had put their father to death and that he - brave Berne - had escaped to tell them of Edmund’s foul deed! They were taken in by Berne’s lies and they vowed to avenge their father’s death. So they put together a fleet and set sail for England. There is not room to tell of all their adventures, the ritual murder of King Edmund, the burning down of London Bridge, the taking of London with a cow-hide. Suffice to say the sons of Ragnar left their mark on history as indelibly as the eagle they carved on Edmund’s back.They worked their way down thecoastline and by 897 were off the coast of Hampshire. Here the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle can be called upon to give an eye witness account of what happened next.
7 The Anglo Saxon Chronicle - 897 and all that ...
1 In 897 - The same year the Danes in East Anglia and Northumbria greatly harassed Wessex along the south coast with predatory bands, most of all with the warships they had built many years before.
2 Then king Alfred ordered warships to be built to meet the Danish ships: they were almost twice as long as the enemy, some had sixty oars, some more: they were swifter, steadier, and with more freeboard than the Danes’; they were built neither after the Frisian design nor after the Danish, but as it seemed to him that they might be most serviceable.
3 Then on one occasion the same year came six ships to the Isle of Wight, and did much harm there, both in Devon and almost everywhere along the coast. Then the king ordered nine of his new ships to be put out, and they blockaded the entrance from the open sea against their escape.
4 Then the Danes sailed out with three ships against them, and three of them were beached on dry land at the upper end of the harbour, and the crews had gone off inland.
5 Then the English seized two of the three ships at the entrance to the estuary, and slew the men, but the other escaped; in her all but five were slain; and they escaped because the ships of the English were aground, very awkwardly aground.
1 the ‘entrance from the open sea’ that was blockaded were the entrances to the Solent,
2 the ships ‘beached on dry land’ were beached on Hamble Spit
3 the one that got away at ‘the entrance to the estuary’ sailed up the Hamble River where it was caught and set alight opposite what is now the Manor Farm Country Park and
4 rather than ‘all but five’ being slain the only survivors were a boy and a cat, who swam ashore landing at what is now called Catland Copse (there was even a dreadful poem written about this by eminent Victorian Charlotte Yonge)
5 Krake, waiting at home for her sons to return, changed her daughters into magpies and sent them to find her three sons - and not to return unless they had good news. But the news was not good so they stayed - even now the magpies remain in the woods near where their brothers were slain - in fact, these magpies have given their name to Pilands Wood, Pylands Copse and Pylands Lane.
Proof - if proof were needed! - of the accuracy of this interpretation includes not only the crystal clear narrative of the Anglo Saxon Chronicle detailed above but also . . .
. . . in 1888, when the foundations for the new vestry at St Leonards church, Bursledon were dug, what was obviously a common grave was discovered, containing the skeletons of large men who had apparently died in battle. Mr CF Fox (of the Hampshire Field Society) after many conversations with Barney Sutton, who helped dig the foundations and remembered the skeletons vividly, was convinced they were Vikings defeated by Alfred in 897, and not victims of the plague. (Susannah Ritchie, The Hamble River, 1984)
. . . and, of course, the wreck of the Viking Ship. The wreck - 125 feet long, 48 feet across the beam - lies opposite Catland Copse, and was known for many years as the wreck of a Viking ship. Indeed, Southampton’s Maritime Museum has possession of an inkwell stand, carved into the shape of a Danish longboat, with a plaque reading “Carved from the timbers of the Viking Ship on the Bursledon River”. (The wreck turned out to be something else altogether - the wreck of the Grace Dieu - but that is another story)