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Spellings of Brunanburh Revisited

Cavill, Paul

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Paul Cavill


The article considers the question whether the spellings of the name Brunanburh and Brunnanburh in texts relating to King Athelstan’s battle of 937 indicate the existence of two different places with very similar names, as proposed by Michael Wood. It argues that the claims made for two places are based on mistaken assumptions about the manuscripts and their sources, and that the difference is best explained as orthographic variation. An alternative is offered that the first element of Brunnanburh may be a hypocorism. Theories that might have prompted the ‘two places’ hypothesis are examined and it is demonstrated that Alistair Campbell, editor of the Old English poem The Battle of Brunanburh, conflated grammatically different name types and omitted crucial lexical and manuscript evidence from his consideration of the question. The manuscript and name evidence is presented and clarified. Uncritical adoption of Campbell’s linguistic arguments to support Burghwallis as the site of the battle is analysed and shown to be mistaken. The assumption that the Scandinavian element brunnr is present in the name Brunnaburh and referred to Burghwallis and its spring is undermined. The overall conclusion is that the spellings of Brun(n)anburh are best regarded as variants.


Cavill, P. (2022). Spellings of Brunanburh Revisited. Northern History, 59(2), 162-176.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 6, 2022
Online Publication Date Jul 19, 2022
Publication Date Jul 19, 2022
Deposit Date Jul 26, 2022
Publicly Available Date Jul 26, 2022
Journal Northern History
Print ISSN 0078-172X
Electronic ISSN 1745-8706
Publisher Informa UK Limited
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 59
Issue 2
Pages 162-176
Keywords History
Public URL
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