Battle of Chippenham
King Alfred had been on the throne since his brother Ethelredís death in 871, and although only 23 was already a veteran campaigner in the seemingly endless wars with the Vikings .
Alfred had seen Mercia fall, and when he became king Wessex was already being attacked.
The battle of Chippenham was the nadir of Alfredís reign. He had lost land to the invaders, but the tide had seemed to be turning. Fighting had seemingly ceased for the winter of 877-8 and for the Christmas celebrations (the Viking feast of Yule being held at the same period). The soldiers of Alfredís army had largely gone home to enjoy the respite usual at this time of year. The king, his a few hundred troops forming his bodyguard were wintering in the important city of Chippenham in what is now Wiltshire. The Vikings had left Wessex, and the Danegeld had been paid to buy them off again.
The Vikings led by Guthrum mobilised in secret, however, and took Alfred completely by surprise with a raid on Chippenham on 6th January 878, probably timed deliberately just after twelfth night when the Saxon defences would be at their weakest. Alfred and his surviving men fled in a rout to the marshes, eventually making their base in Athelney in Somerset .
Guthrumís army now held Wessex. Many Saxons fled to France and Ireland. The rest of the land was subjugated. Only Alfred and what amounted to a guerrilla band held out against the Norsemen.
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