The Five Boroughs or
The Five Boroughs of the Danelaw
were the five main towns of Danish Mercia (what is now
the East Midlands).
Derby, Leicester, Lincoln, Nottingham and Stamford.
The first four would later become county towns
Establishment and rule
harrying much of England, the Viking army under Ivarr the Boneless wintered at Repton in 874,
where King Burgred of Mercia was
unable to dislodge them and was then expelled. Ceolwulf II
was installed as the
Mercian king by the Vikings, who returned in 877 to partition
Mercia. The west of the kingdom went to Coelwulf II,
whilst in the east the Five Boroughs began as the fortified
burhs of five Danish armies who settled the
area and introduced their native law and customs (see Danelaw for more
Each of the Five Boroughs was ruled as a Danish Jarldom
, controlling lands around a fortified burh,
which served as the centre of political power. These rulers were
probably initially subject to their overlords in the Viking Kingdom
of Jorvik (or York) and
operated their armies sometimes independently but often in alliance
with rulers of their neighbours. In addition to the
Five Boroughs there were also a number of very large Danish
settlements to the south, including Northampton and Bedford which
existed in a similar fashion.
The Five Boroughs and the English
Midlands in the early 10th century
Old Norse: Djúra-bý
. Although the area was settled by Danes from
877, it was not under English threat until 913 when Lady Aethelflaed of Mercia campaigned deep into
Danish territory and established a burh at nearby Tamworth.
In 917 Aethelflaed launched her first
offensive foray and selected the fortress
at Derby as her target. At that time the local ruler had probably
joined with the armies from Northampton and Leicester in a number
of raids to attack Mercia. Aethelfled took advantage of the
weakened burh, and successfully assaulted the town in July 917; the
whole region subsequently being annexed into English Mercia.
may well have established their military headquarters on former
Roman fort of Derventio .
This rectangular fort would have given the
burh the equivalent of c.
500 hides. The Vikings had camped
at nearby Repton in 874, and
had abandoned it a year later after suffering significantly from
disease during their stay (leading to the discovery of a grave
containing 245 bodies).
the more formidable Danish burhs, the local ruler combined his army
with that of Northampton and raided the West Saxon territories of
Bedfordshire and Oxfordshire in 913, and defied King Edward the Elder to siege the West Saxon burh of Hertford. This provoked Aethelflaed to move her armies up to the fringes
of Danish occupied territory around Leicester in 914 and to
construct a burh at Warwick. In July 917, as part of a three-pronged
assault, the combined forces of Leicester and Northampton, and
possibly Derby, laid siege to the Mercian burh at Towcester.
Isolated by the loss of Derby and
Northampton later that year, the Mercian army returned in early 918
to ravage the local countryside, and as a result the fortress
surrendered peacefully to Aethelflaed's troops.
Relieved of English rule by King
Olaf of York
in 941, King Edmund I
besieged the Viking army at Leicester the same year. Olaf and his
advisor Wulfstan I,
Archbishop of York
, both escaped and the siege was lifted after
a peace negotiation ceded the Five Boroughs to the Kingdom of York.
Jarl Orm, the likely ruler of Leicester at the time (and attested
charters between 930 and 958) married his daughter to King Olaf
later that year to cement the alliance. The burh may have
made use of the walls of the Roman Leicester (Ratae
Corieltauvorum), of approx (c.
at Lincoln guarded the route between Wessex and York, and was
protected from much of the Anglo-Danish fighting due to its
isolated location. The Lincoln Danes settled the area formerly
occupied by the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom
of Lindsey, where the Vikings had previously wintered in the
nearby fortress of Torksey in Lindsey from 873 to 874.
surrendered in 918 following the capitulation of all the Danish
territories on the border of Mercia and Wessex. As a former
town, the burh may
have based its walls on the old fortress of 41 acres
The Viking army under Ivar the Boneless and Halfdan Ragnarsson
Nottingham in 868 and subsequently set up winter quarters there.
Burgred and his West Saxon allies laid siege, but made peace and
allowed the Vikings to retreat after little serious fighting in
869. Danish reoccupation and settlement began in 877, and lasted
until the assault by Edward of Wessex in the summer of 918. Edward
constructed a second burh on the opposite side of the Trent
in 920 to further fortify the area from Danish
attack. Saxon Nottingham was known to have covered about 39 acres,
which may have put the burh at c.
The area around Stamford was invaded by West Saxon Ealdorman
Aethelnoth in the summer 894, but the
town was not besieged and Danish rule was unaffected. The end came
when King Edward assaulted Stamford in late May 918 which soon fell
to the army of Wessex. Later that year Edward built a second burh
on the south side of the River Welland.
From Roffe, the ramparts of the northern
burh may have been of approx 3100 ft (c.
750 hides), and
the Edwardian burh of around 2700 ft (c.
The Danish Burhs to the south
The following burhs were not part of the Five Boroughs, but were
Danish settled towns with large armies and ruled in a similar
manner. These Danes often acted in allegiance with those of the
Five Boroughs and the Danish King of East Anglia.
First recorded invading newly ceded Mercian territories with their
allies in 913, the Northampton Danes were initially very
successful. However, on their return they were defeated
by local Mercian forces near Luton, losing many
horses and weapons.
In December 914, their strength was
further depleted when a number of Northampton Danes submitted to
Edward at Bedford. With the loss of Derby and East Anglia and the
advance of King Edward, their ruler, Jarl Thurferth, and the men of
Northampton and Cambridge submitted to the West Saxons in 917.
Thurferth remain the client ruler, and attested four charters of
dated between 930 and
Northampton was later incorporated in the enlarged Earldom of East Anglia
under Æthelstan Half-King
in the 930s. In
941, then in the hands of the Mercians, Northampton faced an
unsuccessful siege by King Olaf of York. The 'army' of Northampton
was still in existence in 984 when they were recorded witnessing
the sale of land. The size of the Anglo-Danish burh at Northampton
has been estimated have ramparts in length (equivalent to
700 hides), making it one of the smaller Danish
The Danish burh was first under threat from the advance of the West
Saxon army in 914. In November that year Bedford was surrounded by
in a pincer movement by Edward, and the ruling Jarl Thurketel
submitted with all of his followers. Edward returned in November
915 to the Danish-held fortress, this time taking direct control of
it and building a second burh on the south bank of the River
. Thurketel then became Edward's client,
until he permitted the Danish ruler to leave with his followers for
France in the summer of 916. In July 917 the Danish East Anglian army advanced to Tempsford and launched an attack to recover Beford.
The Danish army was defeated and put to flight. It was later
incorporated into the enlarged Earldom of East Anglia in the early
of Huntingdon were allies with the East Anglian Danes when they
advanced to Tempsford and built a new fortress in July 917.
here, the joint army attempted to recover the recently fallen burh
at Bedford, but were severely defeated and put to flight by the
English garrison. The burh was occupied by the Edward's West Saxon
army shortly afterwards.
Cambridge was first occupied by the Danes under kings Guthrum
, Osketel and Anwend in 875,
whose armies took up quarters there over the winter. In 911 it was first
threatened by Edward, who built an opposing burh at Hertford.
With the fall of Huntingdon, it left
Cambridge the last independent host which Danish East Anglia could
rely on, however the tide had turned and the Danes of Cambridge
submitted to Edward in late 917.
Anglo-Saxon and Danish reconquest
Danish rule of the Five Boroughs was lost following the English
reconquests under Aethelflaed of Mercia and Edward the Elder of
Wessex during 916 and 917. The area was subsequently ruled by the
Earls of Mercia
until King Olaf of
York reoccupied the five former Danish burhs following a major
offensive in 941, perhaps assisted by local Danish leaders. Danish
rule was not restored for long before King Edmund recovered the
Five Boroughs in 942.
It is at this time the Five Boroughs are first recorded in an
English poem known as the Redemption of the Five Boroughs
For many years afterwards the Five Boroughs were a separate and
well defined area of the country where rulers sought support from
its leaders, including Swein
who gained the submission of the Five Boroughs in
1013, before going on to be king of England.
In 1015 there is a unique reference to the 'Seven Boroughs', which
may have been the additional of Torksey and York.
Earldom of the Five Boroughs
Following Danish conquest in 1016, Earl Sired succeeded to the
newly created Earldom of the Five Boroughs under King Canute
in 1019. By 1035 the Earldom had been subsumed
into that of Leofric, Earl of
, and it was to longer form a formal administrative unit
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Sutton ISBN 0-7509-2131-5
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Retrieved on 2008-01-15.
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- Romain-Britain.org: Romano-British Walled Towns.
Retrieved on 2008-01-15.
- Roman-Britain.org: Lindum. Retrieved on
- Notingham Churches: City History. Retrieved on
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- Blanchard, Ian (2007). The Twelfth-Century: A Neglected
Epoch in British Economic and Social History, Chapter 8 Burhs and
Borough Newlees p165
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M. (1971). Anglo-Saxon England Third Edition Oxford:
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