Winter in Fulham, Summer in Ghent

28 April, 2014

This week On the Reading Rest I have a published article of which no parts may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher. Since I have not been able to obtain a permission, and since I transmit something I have just read as I have read it, rather than contemplated and weighed it against a multitude of new and old opinions over a period of time, I cannot reveal the name of the publication because given what I have just written it is obvious that I have actually been quarrying information from a physical publication, which I then cannot transmit by this or indeed ‘any means electronic’. All this is understandable because buying the publication costs the consumer 0.25 € per page.

Fulham fig.00However, if you are able to follow this link:

you may be able to read the article behind the my acronym BaBroo.

You could also google: Vikings in Fulham.

The phrase ‘winter in Fulham’ gives c. 8,500 hits on Google, ‘summer in Ghent’ or ‘summer in Gent’ gives c. 15,000 hits. The reverse: summer in Fulham, winter in Ghent, is even more in favour of Ghent. The problem is Fulham. Despite the fact that bordered by Chelsea to the north and with the River Thames to the south, Fulham is one of the capital’s most popular residential enclaves and the properties are some of London’s most expensive. Although during the 18th century, city merchants flocked here for drinking, gambling and prostitutes. Today, however it is established and thriving – busy with shops, bars, boutiques and restaurants. (cf.

Fulham fig.01 The blog entry OtRR 8 August 2011 Pirate Settlements in England, listed a situation in Fulham 878-79 CE, as one of the few occasions when Vikings are mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: Manuscript A 878:(2) 7 þy geare gegadrode on hlóþ wicenga, 7 gesæt æt Fullanhamme be Temese—and that year Vikings gathered in a band (a hloþ was defined as 7-35 men), and sat at Fulham by the Thames.

And there, starting as a gang, they sat the winter through until they had grown into an army, then they sailed to Ghent in Belgium. This at least is what we gather from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, 878 and 879 CE.

The OtRR entry about the Fulham Viking winter is part of the quixotic struggle carried out on the blog to kill Vikings in general and let the rest be Vikings – that is pirates. Supported by BaBroo’s discussion, the present entry continues this hopeless fight.

Because there has been a tendency even in recent years among historians to relate Guthrum’s Danish army – which overran parts of England in the 870s, came to terms with Alfred 878 and secured East Anglia for themselves in 879 – to the Vikings gathering at Fulham, BaBroo discusses the Fulham scene in a number of perspectives starting with the meaning of the Old English word hlóþ. This word, however, is an Old Saxon one, hlōtha, which means booty in modern English (1).

Compared to Old Englishhlóþ, Old Saxon hlōtha has been unproductive. Old English hþ on the other hand came to designate not only the booty, but also a band of robbers and their crimes. Armed men, therefore, could come with the intention of robbing, mid hlóþe, rather than fighting, and not surprisingly the need for a verb was felt –hlóþian, to rob or spoil, i.e. what gangs or robbers – or indeed pirates – habitually do. Probably, the dynamics of the private initiative demonstrated by the hlóþ triggered a need for legislation and a hlóþ was thus defined as a body of 7 to 35 robbers.

In addition a specific terminology developed: hlóþere, is a gang member; hlóþbót, is a compensation or fine to be paid by a member of a hlóþ for the wrong committed by any one of them; hlóþgecrod, is a ‘crowd’ or small body of armed med and hlóþsliht, is the slaying of a member of a hlóþ. It’s all in Bosworth and Toller’s dictionary and that is why it seems fair to conclude that word was productive, exactly because the hlóþ phenomenon was common in England in the 9th century and onwards. Inventing the expression gegadrode on hlóþ—‘gathered on gang’ in the 9th century, is in other words a conscious use of language. On hlóþ describes the actions of robbers: they gathered gangwise, shipload upon shipload of pirates, e.g. at Fulham.

It is impossible, therefore, for anyone writing the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, to mistake a hlóþ for an army, i.e. a here, i.e. the word used to describe the men in Fulham 879. Rightly BaBroo concludes that a gang of pirates landed at Fulham in Dec 878. During winter and spring 879 they were probably joined by others and then they left for Ghent as an army. That is to say: the hlóþ of 878 had become the here of the year 879 at least in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

The 878 and 879 entries indicate a change in number, but more importantly a change of status: a hlóþ is engaged in robbing, an army in fighting. The gang member will be punished for the crimes committed by the gang or any member of it, but a soldier will not, by law, be punished for the crimes committed by the army or one of its soldiers. Gang members are guilty by association, soldiers are not. Contrary to robbers, soldiers are ordered to fight while pirates and thugs do it as a lifestyle – except of course if they turn out to be Russian soldiers posing as a hlóþ.

Because there has been a tendency even in recent years among historians to argue that the gang sitting in Fulham on the left bank of the Thames attracting other gangs, was actually a way of organizing an army in order to attack Wessex on the right bank, BaBroo:32ff looks into the topographical, geographical and strategic scene. Afterwards they address our limited insight into winter and spring activities in Fulham 878-9 (BaBroo:42f.). This allows them to conclude that the pirates, whom we hear of at Fulham, stayed put before they left. As it happened their stay became no more than an episode with no strategic or political consequences for England whatsoever. It is comparable to successful repatriation.

Thanks to BaBroo’s article, it meets the eye that when the Fulham Vikings had stopped being a team, since they had grown into an army, they sailed off to Ghent passing and leaving Essex and East Anglia behind them rather than joining Guthrum in his colonial endeavour to organize his new kingdom. This, and the fact that they actually preferred Ghent oven Kent, was their strategic decision when the stirred down the Thames. The leaders of the newly formed army may well have argued that if Guthrum had a Kingdom in Essex and East Anglia, while Alfred ruled Wessex, establishing a node in Ghent may be prolific. Fulham fig.02

Insisting that pirates form bands and soldiers armies makes sense of the Fulham 878-79 entries. Although winter in Fulham may well have been relatively dull, although pirates may have flocked here for drinking, gambling and prostitutes, it nevertheless created a possibility to gather an army and leave piracy behind you and become an army based in the Ghent area.

Fulham fig.03From an Anglo-Saxon point of view the Fulham episode would have stood out as a significant detail worth an entry in the annals. Although the episode didn’t become interesting until the result became obvious, i.e. when the newly formed army of Northmen left for Belgium, it is not inconceivable that the chronicler, wise in the event, summed up the episode in such a way that a seemingly insignificant event – a shipload of pirates seeking winter quarters in Fulham 878 – gathered momentum developing itself into an army that decided to leave England in 879.

Since the army, wedging itself between Guthumian Danes and Alfredian Saxons, didn’t try its luck in Wessex or the Danelaw, it  caught the attention of the chronicler and others that this kind of military body and political decision, developed in six of months. The episode was noteworthy and perhaps even astonishing.

When it comes to Vikings, what BaBroo critizises is a number of researchers who do not differentiate between an army of Danes and a band of pirates with an agenda of its own, because they believe Vikings and Danes to be synonymous. Formally they know the difference in practice they don’t. That is why some believe that the Vikings at Fulham were actually part of Guthrum’s army, split for strategical reasons. It so happens they weren’t related, because the term Viking is intended to differentiate pirates from Danes. All sensible researchers know that ‘Viking’ is just a conventional term for Danes or Northmen, Scandinavians more or less, but when writing the history of Anglo-Saxon England, some sensible researchers do not hesitate to equate pirate crews with armies, comparing apples and oranges, and making Danes and Vikings one and the same, irrespective of what the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tries to convey. Notwithstanding, they would seem to believe that what happened in 878 could not in the perfect world of annals be revised in the light of 879, which of course they don’t believe, except when they do.


(1) See Köbler, Gerhard, Altsächsisches Wörterbuch, (5. Auflage) 2014


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