[The battle between the English and the Danes, described in the poem, was fought in 991 at Maldon, on the Blackwater (Panta), in Essex. The entry in the Chronicle says: 'This year Ipswich was ravaged and after that very shortly was Byrhtnoth the ealdorman slain at Maldon.' The invaders were between two branches of the river and were thus separated from the English host, composed of the Essex levy under Byrhtnoth. When the tide ebbed, Byrhtnoth, in proud confidence, allowed the Danes to cross, and the English were completely defeated. The poem was apparently written very soon after the battle. Though a fragment, it is a magnificent record of heroism. Its spirit is best expressed in the words of Byrhtwold, the old companion: 'Thought shall be the harder, heart the keener, courage the greater, as our might lessens.']
. . . It was broken. Then he commanded each of the warriors to leave his horse, to drive it away and to go forth, to think of his hands and of good courage. Then the kinsman of Offa first found out that the earl was not minded to suffer cowardice. Then he let the loved hawk fly from his hands to the wood, and went forward to the battle. Thereby one might know that the youth would not weaken in the fight when he grasped the weapons. Eadric also wished to attend his leader, his prince, to battle. Then he began to bear his spear to the fight. He had a good heart while with his hands he could hold shield and broad sword. He achieved his boast, that he should fight before his prince.
Then Byrhtnoth began there to exhort his warriors. He rode and instructed; he directed the warriors how they should stand and keep their station, and bade them hold their shields upright firmly with their hands and be not afraid. When he had fairly exhorted those people, then he alighted with his men where he best wished, where he knew his most trusty household troops were. Then the messenger of the Vikings stood on the shore, called out fiercely, spoke with words; he boastfully announced to the earl where he stood on the bank the message of the seafarers:
'Bold seamen have sent me to thee, bade me say to thee that thou mayest quickly send rings as a defence; and it is better for you that ye should avert with tribute this rush of spears than that we, so hardy, should deal out battle. We need not destroy