The Battle of Hatfield, 632

“The sea rushes in.  It cast forth a host arrayed for battle –

The host of Cadwallon in the triumph of his objective,

An opponent like a furious fiery stag…

The man wearing the brooch as he rides in the front rank,

Encased in gleaming iron…

The image of a lord returning in victory.”

      -Moliant Cadwallon (In Praise of Cadwallon)

This was a demo game that the Newark Irregulars and I took to the Salute and Partizan shows in 2008. A somewhat large undertaking, we combined our various Saxon and Welsh armies to create something of a spectacle, backed up by the village of Hatfield. We’d decided to create the village under attack by the Welsh and Mercians so the team pooled their collection of suitable buildings and painted some new ones (I bought a couple of spare roofs from Grand Manner and added flames and smoke for the obligatory movie feel). It ended up slightly bigger than I was expecting…Prof Guy H from the University of York dropped by and remarked that it was probably four times larger than any village in England at the time!

We played the game using Warhammer Ancient Battles; I recall it was rather cumbersome at that scale, but fun nonetheless. I would like to go back and revisit this at some point with a different set of rules and a bit more research. Anyway, on with the tale…

The Battle of Hatfield (Haethfeld) was perhaps the greatest Welsh victory of the Dark Ages.  The ruler of Northumbria at the time was “Good King Edwin”, Edwin son of Aelle, who had brought peace to his land through a series of successful military campaigns, and then converted himself (and many of his subjects) to the Christian faith.

Against him were arrayed the Welsh forces of Gwynedd and the Saxon kingdom of Mercia.   The King of Gwynedd, Cadwallon ap Cadfan, had already been exiled from his homeland by the campaigns of Edwin, and thus had no love for the Northumbrian monarch. Returning and raising an army, he allied himself with Northumbria’s perpetual enemies, the Mercians.  Under the fearsome King Penda, these pagan warriors marched into Northumbria in Autumn 632 CE.  On the 12th October the armies met ‘on the plain called Haethfeld’, and the Northumbrians were decisively defeated.  King Edwin was killed, ‘and his entire army slain or scattered.’

The Mercians soon returned to their homeland, but Cadwallon and his warbands remained in Northumbria and embarked on a year-long campaign of destruction.  The great Welsh warlord was eventually brought to battle, defeated and killed at Heavenfield, near Hexham on Hadrian’s Wall, in 633. 

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