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Harley MS 2278, folio 48v excerpt

Ubba's name as it appears in Harley MS 2278, a fifteenth-century Middle English manuscript.[1]

Ubba, also known as Hubba, Ubbe, and Ubbi, was a mid-ninth-century Viking chieftain and one of the commanders of the Great Army. Although contemporary English sources tended to describe the army's men as Danes and heathens, there is evidence to suggest that a proportion of the force originated in Frisia, and one source describes Ubba himself as dux of the Frisians. Ubba is recorded to have been one of the leaders who killed Edmund, King of the East Angles (later St Edmund the Martyr), and may be identical to an unnamed Viking chieftain who was slain in Devonshire in 878. Although later medieval sources re-imagined Ubba as one of many sons of the legendary Ragnarr loðbrók, there is little evidence for such association, let alone the latter's existence.

The Great ArmyEdit

Harley MS 2278, folio 47v excerpt

Excerpt from Harley MS 2278, a fifteenth-century manuscript of John Lydgate's fanciful account of saints Edmund and Fremund. The scene depicts Hyngwar and Ubba setting forth to avenge their father, Lothbrocus, murdered by Bern.[2]

In the mid-ninth-century, England was invaded by what the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle called in Old English mycel here or micel here—the Great Army.[3][note 1] The origins of this massive force are obscure. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle usually identifies its members as Danes or heathens.[5] Although the tenth-century churchman Asser stated in Latin that the invaders came from de Danubia, the fact that the Danube is located in what was known in Latin as Dacia suggests that Asser may have actually intended Dania, a Latin term for Denmark. The tenth-century chronicler Æthelweard (died 998?) stated that "the fleets of the tyrant Ívarr" came from the north, which may be evidence of a Scandinavian origin.[6] By 865, Ívarr appears to have been the foremost leader of the Great Army, and it is possible that he was identical to the contemporaneous Ímar of the Irish Sea region. There is reason to suspect that the army itself was composed of Vikings already active in England,[7] as well and men from directly from Scandinavia,[8] Ireland,[9] and the Continent.[10]

Life of St. Edmund, Barbarians Invading England, c 1130

Twelfth-century depiction of Danish Vikings from MS M.736.

There is evidence to suggest that a proportion of the army originated in Frisia.[11] For example, the ninth-century Annales Bertiniani records that Danish Vikings devastated Frisia in 851,[12] and the twelfth-century[13] Annales Lindisfarnenses et Dunelmenses states that a Viking force of Danes and Frisians, made landfall on the Isle of Sheppey in 855.[14] The same source,[15] and the tenth- or eleventh-century Historia de Sancto Cuthberto describe Ubba—who is associated with Ívarr in other sources—as dux of the Frisians.[16] Furthermore, whilst the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle calls the Viking army mycel here, the Historia de Sancto Cuthberto instead uses the Latin term Scaldingi, possibly meaning "people from the River Scheldt". This latter source, therefore, may be evidence that Ubba was from Walcheren, an island in the mouth of the Scheldt.[17] The island itself is known to have been occupied by Danish Vikings over two decades before, when the Frankish emperor, Lothair I (died 855), granted the island to a certain Danish royal dynast named Haraldr, in 841.[18] If Ubba's troops had indeed stemmed from the Frisian settlement begun by Haraldr more than two decades before, many of Ubba's men may well have been born in Frisia.[17] In fact, the considerable time that members of the Great Army appear to have spent in Ireland and the Continent suggests that these men were well accustomed to Christian society,[19] which in turn may partly explain their achievements in England.[17]

Harley MS 2278, folio 48r excerpt

Excerpt from Harley MS 2278 depicting Hyngwar and Ubba ravaging the countryside.[1]

In 865, the Anglo Saxon Chronicle reports that the Great Army successfully invaded, and overwintered in the Kingdom of East Anglia.[20] That winter the Vikings evidently gained valuable intelligence, and the following spring the same source reveals that they burst forth from East Anglia on horses gained from the subordinated population, and struck into the Kingdom of the Northumbrians, a dominion suffering in the midst of a civil war between kings Ælla (died 867) and Osberht (died 867). According to the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, the invader Vikings seized York,[21] an urban centre that was not only the seat of one of the two Anglo-Saxon archdioceses, but one of the richest trading centres in Britain.[22] Although Ælla and Osberht responded by putting aside their differences and joining forces, their attack on York in March 867 was an utter disaster, and both men were slain.[21] In consolidation of their conquest, the Vikings installed Ecgberht (died 873) as a Northumbrian puppet king;[23] and the following summer Ívarr and Hálfdan struck deep into the Kingdom of the Mercians, seized Nottingham, where they overwintered.[24] Although the Anglo Saxon Chronicle reports that Burhred, King of the Mercians (died 874?) and Æthelred, King of the West Saxons (died 871) led a combined force of Anglo-Saxons that laid siege to the town, ultimately they were unable to storm it and dislodge the Vikings. The same source reveals that a truce was obtained, however, and the Vikings were therefore forced to withdrawal back to York.[25] There they licked their wounds, and renewed their strength for further operations.[22]

Ívarr and EdmundEdit

12th-century painters - Life of St Edmund - WGA15723

Depiction of the martyrdom of Edmund from MS M.736.

In 869, the Kingdom of East Anglia was conquered by the Great Army. In its account of the conflict, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reveals that the Vikings took up winter quarters at Thetford, where they fought and destroyed the East Anglian army and killed Edmund, King of the East Angles (died 869).[26] An insertion in the eleventh-century F-version of the chronicle specifically identifies the commanders of the king's killers as Ubba and Ívarr.[27] Although the chronicle's account of this conflict appears to indicate that Edmund was slain in battle,[28] and Asser certainly stated as much in his account of events,[29] later hagiographical works portray Edmund as an idealised Christian king, and depict his death in the context of a peace-loving martyr who refused to shed blood in defence of himself.[30] It is in this hagiographic context that the eleventh-century churchmen Abbo of Fleury,[31] and Ælfric of Eynsham claimed that Edmund had been cruelly killed by Ubba and Ívarr.[32][note 2] Such colourful hagiographic details aside, Edmund may well have been captured and executed.[34]

The slain brother of Ívarr and HálfdanEdit

Track up Wind Hill

Wind Hill, near Countisbury, possibly the site of a disastrous Viking defeat at the hands of local Devonmen in 878.[35] Some medieval sources claim that Ubba led of the vanquished army, and that he was amongst those slain.

Although Abbo and Ælfric associate Ubba and Ívarr together in their respective accounts of Edmund's demise, the churchmen do not record that Ubba and Ívarr were related in any way.[36] The first source to claim kinship between Ubba and Ívarr is the Annals of St Neots,[37] a twelfth-century source which states that they (Hubba and Hynguarus) were brothers of three daughters of a certain Lodebrochus. The particular passage in question concerns battle-spoils won by the English after a victory over a Viking force. One particular item mentioned in this account is a magical banner named "Reafan", woven by Lodebrochus' three daughters, which could foretell victory or defeat in battle.[38] In an entry concerning the year 878, the aforementioned English victory is recorded by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.[39] Although certain versions of this source also note the capture of the raven banner, they do not mention its magical attributes or note Lodebrochus and his progeny.[40][note 3] In fact, the source from which the author of the Annals of St Neots drew these fantastical details is unknown,[41] and the accounts of Asser and Æthelweard make no note of the banner whatsoever.[40]

Several versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle locate the battle to Devonshire, and all versions identify the Viking commander as a brother of Ívarr and Hálfdan, stating that this unnamed leader was slain in the encounter at the head of a fleet of twenty-three ships. In most versions of this source, the Vikings are stated to have suffered eight hundred and forty fatalities.[39][note 4] Whether or not the slain brother of Ívarr and Hálfdan is identical to Ubba is uncertain.[45] Although the twelfth-century chronicler Geoffrey Gaimar identified the slain leader as Ubba in his Anglo-Norman Estoire des Engleis,[46] it is unknown whether this was an inference on Gaimar's part or if he merely followed a now lost source before him.[47][note 5] In fact, it is possible that Gaimar was influenced by the association of Ívarr and Ubba in the legends surrounding Edmund's martyrdom.[49] Gaimar specified that Ubba was slain at "bois de Pene" in Devonshire, and that he was buried by his men in a mound called "Ubbelawe", meaning "Ubba's Barrow".[50]

Asser's account of the battle does not mention the slain brother by name, but states that his force had overwintered in Dyfed before launching its assault. The conflict itself is located by Asser to a certain fortress which he called Arx Cynuit,[51] a site which appears to equate to Countisbury in North Devon.[52] Æthelweard also noted the battle without naming the slain brother; but unlike Asser, he does not name the fortress. In his account, Æthelweard declared that the defenders were led by a certain Ealdorman of Devon named Odda. Unlike the aforementioned sources, however, Æthelweard stated that the Vikings were victorious in the encounter.[53]

Association with Ragnarr loðbrókEdit

Harley MS 2278, folio 39r excerpt

Excerpt from Harley MS 2278, folio 39r, depicting Lothbrocus and his sons, Hyngwar and Ubba.[54]

In later medieval literature, Ubba was incorporated into the tales of the legendary saga character Ragnarr loðbrók, a figure of dubious historicity, who may be an amalgam of several historical ninth-century figures.[55][note 6] Ubba is not listed amongst the many sons attributed to Ragnarr loðbrók in the late-thirteenth- or early-fourteenth-century Ragnarssona þáttr, nor the thirteenth-century Ragnars saga loðbrókar.[58] He is said to have been the son of Ragnarr loðbrók and a concubine in the twelfth-century Gesta Danorum, composed by Saxo Grammaticus.[59] Other than this association, however, no Scandinavian source accords Ragnarr loðbrók with such a son.[60] Other historical figures said in Ragnars saga loðbrókar to have been his sons include the ninth-century Björn and Sigurðr, the aforementioned Ívarr,[61] and the tenth-century Rögnvaldr.[62][note 7]


  1. The Old English term mycel hæðen here, meaning "great heathen raiding-army", is accorded to the army in later versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.[4]
  2. Abbo's account of the Edmund's demise likens the king to Jesus Christ and St Sebastian. Specifically, Edmund is mocked and scourged like Christ, and later tied to a tree and shot at like St Sebastian.[33] Ælfric's account was based off that of Abbo. Later accounts do not offer any further information regarding the historical demise of Edmund.[34]
  3. The raven banner is noted in the B, C, D, and E versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, but not in A and F versions.[40]
  4. The B and C versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle do not locate the conflict to any specific place.[40] These versions also give differing casualty numbers, stating that the Vikings suffered eight hundred and sixty dead.[42] All versions of this source number the Viking casualties in a peculiar manner, stating that eight hundred "men with him" and forty (or sixty) "men of his army" fell.[43] In fact, the Old English heres, generally taken to mean "army" in this passage, may actually be an error for hīredes, and thus refer to a personal retinue particularly attached to their leader.[44] Asser numbered the Viking dead at one thousand, two hundred. Æthelweard, on the other-hand, gave eight hundred.[43]
  5. Gaimar based much of his Estoire des Engleis off the Anglo-Saxon Chroncle.[48]
  6. One such figure is Reginheri, a Viking leader who attacked Paris in 845.[56] In fact, there is reason to suspect that Ragnarr loðbrók's epithet loðbrók ("hairy breeches") may actually mask the feminine personal name Loðbróka, and thus a feminine historical personage.[57]
  7. Björn (as Berno) is recorded in the ninth-century[63] Chronicon Fontanellense in 855,[64] and Annales Bertiniani in 858.[65] Sigurðr (as Sigifridus) is recorded in Annales Fuldenses in 873.[66] Rögnvaldr (as Ragnall) is well attested, appearing in the Annals of the Four Masters in 917 and the Annals of Ulster in 917, 918, and 921. The latter figure was a member of the Uí Ímair,[67] a Norse-Gaelic kindred descended from the aforementioned Ímar.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Harley MS 2278.
  2. Hervey 1907 pp. 453–457; Harley MS 2278.
  3. McLeod 2013 p. 64; Downham 2007 p. 64; Woolf 2007 p. 71.
  4. McLeod 2013 p. 64.
  5. McLeod 2013 p. 64; Woolf 2007 p. 71.
  6. Downham 2007 p. 64.
  7. Downham 2007 pp. 64–65.
  8. McLeod 2013 p. 76; Keynes 2001 p. 54.
  9. McLeod 2013 p. 76, 76 n. 67; Downham 2007 pp. 64–65; Woolf 2007 p. 71; Keynes 2001 p. 54.
  10. McLeod 2013 p. 76, 76 n. 67; Downham 2007 pp. 64–65; Keynes 2001 p. 54.
  11. McLeod 2013 p. 84; Woolf 2007 pp. 71–72; Bremmer 1981.
  12. Woolf 2007 pp. 71–72; Nelson 1991 p. 73; Waitz 1883 p. 41.
  13. Stancliffe 2002 pp. 28–29.
  14. Bremmer 1981 pp. 75–76; Whitelock 1969 pp. 223 n. 25, 227; Pertz 1866 p. 506.
  15. Bremmer 1981 p. 76; Whitelock 1969 pp. 223 n. 25, 227; Pertz 1866 p. 506.
  16. Woolf 2007 pp. 71–72; South 2002 pp. 50–51 (§ 10), 52–53 (§ 14); Whitelock 1969 p. 227; Arnold 1882 pp. 201–202 (§ 10), 204 (§ 14); Hodgson Hinde 1868 pp. 142, 144.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 Woolf 2007 p. 72.
  18. Woolf 2007 p. 72; Nelson 2001 pp. 25, 41; Nelson 1991 p. 73; Lund 1989 pp. 47, 49 n. 16.
  19. McLeod 2013 pp. 83–84; Woolf 2007 p. 72.
  20. Forte; Oram; Pedersen 2005 p. 69; Swanton 1998 pp. 68–69.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Downham 2007 p. 65; Forte; Oram; Pedersen 2005 pp. 69–70; Keynes 2001 p. 54; Swanton 1998 pp. 68–69.
  22. 22.0 22.1 Forte; Oram; Pedersen 2005 p. 70.
  23. Keynes 2014 p. 526; Forte; Oram; Pedersen 2005 p. 70; Sawyer 2001 p. 275.
  24. Downham 2007 p. 65; Forte; Oram; Pedersen 2005 p. 70; Keynes 2001 p. 54; Swanton 1998 pp. 68–69.
  25. Downham 2007 p. 65; Forte; Oram; Pedersen 2005 p. 70; Swanton 1998 pp. 68–71.
  26. Mostert 2014 pp. 165–166; Downham 2007 p. 64; Irvine 2004 p. 49; Keeffe 2000 p. 58; Swanton 1998 p. 70; Whitelock 1996 p. 197, 197 n. 6.
  27. Swanton 1998 p. 70 n. 2; Whitelock 1996 p. 197 n. 6; Bremmer 1981 p. 77; McTurk 1976 p. 119.
  28. Mostert 2014 pp. 165–166; Gransden 2004.
  29. Gransden 2004; Giles 1906 p. 26.
  30. Mostert 2014 pp. 165–166; Frantzen 2004 pp. 61–66; Gransden 2004.
  31. Mostert 2014 pp. 165–166; Mills 2013 p. 37; Downham 2007 pp. 64–65; Gransden 2004; Waggoner 2009 p. 111 n. 14; Medieval Sourcebook... 1998; Bremmer 1981 p. 77; Sweet 1886 pp. 82–89.
  32. Bale 2009 p. 48; Frantzen 2004 pp. 61–66; Skeat 1881 pp. 315–335 (§ 32).
  33. Gransden 2004.
  34. 34.0 34.1 Mostert 2014 pp. 165–166.
  35. MDE1236 - Countisbury Castle...; Countisbury circular walk....
  36. Bale 2009 p. 48; Whitelock 1969 p. 227.
  37. Bale 2009 p. 48.
  38. Bale 2009 p. 48; Dumville; Lapidge 1996 p. 78; van Houts 1984 p. 115, 115 n. 46; Davidson 1976 p. 156 n. 38; McTurk 1976 p. 108, 108 n. 113; Whitelock 1969 pp. 227–228; Stevenson 1904 p. 138; Gale 1691 p. 167.
  39. 39.0 39.1 Smith 2009 pp. 129–130; Downham 2007 pp. 68 n. 25, 71; Woolf 2007 p. 73; Irvine 2004 p. 50; Nelson 2001 p. 39; Keeffe 2000 pp. 61–62; Swanton 1998 pp. 74–77; Whitelock 1996 pp. 200–201, 201 n. 19; McTurk 1976 p. 119.
  40. 40.0 40.1 40.2 40.3 Whitelock 1996 pp. 200–201, 200 n. 15, 201 n. 19.
  41. Dumville; Lapidge 1996 p. 78 n. 26.
  42. Whitelock 1996 p. 200 n. 17.
  43. 43.0 43.1 Whitelock 1996 p. 200 n. 18.
  44. Smith 2009 pp. 129–130 n. 1, 162–163; Swanton 1998 p. 76 n. 2; Whitelock 1996 p. 200 n. 18.
  45. McTurk 1976 pp. 119–120.
  46. Downham 2007 p. 68 n. 25; Woolf 2007 p. 73 n. 11; Swanton 1998 p. 75 n. 12; Whitelock 1996 p. 200 n. 16; Whitelock 1969 p. 227; Stevenson 1904 p. 265 n. 1; Hardy; Martin 1889 p. 101.
  47. Woolf 2007 pp. 72 n. 8, 73 n. 11.
  48. Spence 2013 p. 9.
  49. Downham 2007 p. 68 n. 25; Whitelock 1996 p. 200 n. 16.
  50. Hart 2003 p. 160 n. 3; Swanton 1998 p. 75 n. 12; Whitelock 1969 p. 227; Stevenson 1904 p. 265 n. 1; Hardy; Martin 1889 p. 101.
  51. Haslam 2005 p. 138; Mills 2003; Kirby 2002 p. 175; Whitelock 1996 p. 200 n. 16; Giles 1906 p. 61.
  52. Downham 2007 p. 71; Haslam 2005 p. 138.
  53. Hart 2003 p. 160 n. 3; Whitelock 1996 p. 200 n. 16; Giles 1906 p. 31.
  54. Hervey 1907 p. 447; Harley MS 2278.
  55. Rowe 2009 p. 347.
  56. McTurk 1993 pp. 519–520; McTurk 1976 pp. 93–94, 95–97.
  57. McTurk 2003 p. 111; McTurk 1993 pp. 519–520.
  58. Waggoner 2009 p. xxii.
  59. Waggoner 2009 pp. xxii, 111 n. 14; Davidson 1976 pp. 285–286; McTurk 1976 p. 95 n. 21; Elton p. 552.
  60. Whitelock 1969 p. 227.
  61. McTurk 2003 p. 111; McTurk 1993 pp. 519–520; McTurk 1976 p. 95 n. 21.
  62. McTurk 2003 p. 111.
  63. Nelson 1991 p. 227.
  64. McTurk 1991 p. 43; McTurk 1976 p. 108; Pertz 1829 p. 304.
  65. McTurk 1991 p. 43; Nelson 1991 p. 73; McTurk 1976 p. 108; Waitz 1883 p. 48.
  66. Waggoner 2009 p. xxii; Reuter 1992 pp. 70–71; McTurk 1976 pp. 95, 118, 115, 116, 118, 120, 121; Pertzii; Kurze 1891 p. 78.
  67. Downham 2007 pp. 93–95, 267–268.


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