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Literature / The Battle of Maldon

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"Thought must be the harder, heart the keener
Spirit shall be more - as our might lessens.
There lies our chief all cut down,
Good man on the ground; for ever may he grieve
Who now from this war-play thinketh to go.
I am old in years - hence I will not,
But by the side of mine own lord,
By my chief so loved, I think to lie."

The Battle of Maldon is a poem about a battle between Anglo-Saxons and an army of vikings that took place in Essex, England, in 991 AD. The English were outnumbered, but held a narrow causeway through which the Vikings had to pass. The Vikings asked that the English withdraw so they could fight on open ground, and the English obliged. There is some debate over whether Byrhtnoth did this solely out of pride and a desire for glory, or if he knew that the Vikings would just sail away and pillage somewhere else if he didn't let them fight on more favorable terms. Either way, the end result is that Byrhtnoth (and most of the rest of his men) died.


Contains Examples Of:

  • Badass Boast: Byrhtnoth gets a rather nice one in response to the Viking demand for tribute. Also, Leofsunu's speech: "I vow it, that hence I will not flee a foot's length, but will advance, avenge in strife my lord-friend."
  • Blood Knight: After yielding the causeway, Byrhtnoth tells the Vikings to hurry up and get the battle started.
  • Catch and Return: Wulfmaer, one of Byrhtnoth's men, rips a spear from Byrhtnoth's body and throws it back, killing the man who first threw it.
  • Dirty Coward: Godric and his brothers, Godwine and Godwig. Upon seeing their lord has died, Godric steals the dead man's horse and flees the battlefield. Even worse, Godric is mistaken for Byrhtnoth by many of the troops, and so many of the soldiers believe Byrhtnoth had signalled a retreat, and fled in turn.
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  • "Facing the Bullets" One-Liner: The end of the poem is almost nothing but this, as the remaining Thanes rally each other's spirits.
  • Final Speech: Byrhtnoth gets eight lines worth, thanking God for everything he got to do in life, and praying for forgiveness and protectionfor his soul.
  • Honor Before Reason: The yielding of the causeway to the Vikings, although it may be more of a Senseless Sacrifice.
  • Last Stand
  • Mistaken Identity: The English shield-wall collapses because Godric, who has stolen Byrhtnoth's horse, is mistaken for Byrhtnoth, and so when he runs away many of the soldiers believe they are being signalled to retreat.
  • Pride: One of Byrhtnoth's actions is described with the Old English word ofermode, meaning an excess of spirit. Outside of this poem, it's almost solely used to describe Lucifer. The word is infamous in the academic community for the number of essays that have been written about it arguing to what extent the poet is blaming Byrhtnoth for the defeat.
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  • Rousing Speech: If you've got a name in the poem, it's probably because you're giving one of these. Probably as part of your "Facing the Bullets" One-Liner.
  • Sand Bridge at Low Tide: The advantage is given up when the Vikings ask politely.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: They had a chance to stop the Vikings from raiding the rest of the coast of England, and so they took it. And lost.
  • Undying Loyalty: Coupled with Rousing Speeches after Byrhtnoth's death.


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