The Vikings in Weymouth
Weymouth has a long history with the Vikings. In fact, the first recorded Viking attack on the British Isles took place in Weymouth in 787. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle recorded the events that took place that day:
Text: “787 Her nam Breohtric cining Offan dohter Eadburge and on his dagum comon aerest iii scipu NorSmanna of HereSalande and pa se gerefa paer to rad and he wolde drifan to Ses cininges tune py he nyste hwaet hi waeron and hine man of sloh pa Baet waeron pa erestan scipu Deniscra manna pe Angel cynnes land gesohton”
Standard English: “Here took Breohtric King Offa’s daughter Eadburh. & in his days came first 3 ships of northmen from Horthaland. & then the reeve there to rode & he wished drive to the king’s manor because he knew not what they were. & him one slew there. that were the first ships danish men’s that Angle-people’s land sought.”
Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, AEthelweard version: “…a small fleet of Danes numbering three fast ships came unexpectedly to the coast; and this was their first coming. Hearing of this the king’s official [exactor], then staying at the town of Dorchester, leapt on his horse with a small retinue and galloped to the port, thinking they were merchants rather than enemies; and commanding them imperiously he ordered them to be taken to the royal residence. But he and his men were promptly killed by them. The name of the official was Beaduheard.”
The laws of Wessex required that all merchants register with the Reeve. On hearing of the arrival of three ships in Weymouth and Portland, the Reeve gathered some men and rode from Dorchester to the port. Perhaps he expected that they were merchants, and had no idea that they could be so hostile; the Chronicles record that he commanded them ‘imperiously’, a tone to which the Vikings took exception. Beaduheard the Reeve and his men were all killed. This was a foreshadowing of what was to come: “the first ships danish men’s that Angle-people’s land sought”, and they would not be the last.
Whether the Vikings really were merchants, albeit well armed merchants and not unskilled in combat, or were Viking raiders and this really was the first Viking raid, is not known.
What is known is that just five years later, in 793, the first Norwegian Viking attack on the monasteries in Lindisfarne and Jarrow took place. The Viking assaults on the British Isles were well underway, and the first blow had been struck in Weymouth.
Not all was to go in favour of the Vikings, however.
Recent archaeological discoveries on The Ridgeway, the line of hills that were crossed by the Reeve on his ill fated ride in 793 on his way from Dorchester to Weymouth, have revealed something extraordinary.
During excavations for a relief road, the decapitated bodies of fifty one Scandinavian Vikings were found in a mass grave. Analysis of ten of the individuals placed the date of execution between AD 910 and AD 1030, at least 120 years after the first raid in Weymouth. Archaeologists from Oxford believe the men, most likely a Scandinavian raiding party, had been captured, stripped naked and executed before an audience of Anglo Saxons.
Generations after the raid of 787, the events of that day having long since passed from living memory, the deaths of Beaduheard the Reeve and his men had been avenged.