Treaties, Frontiers and Borderlands:The Making and Unmaking of Mercian Border Traditions

Morn Capper


This article explores the complexity and nuance of borderlands and border relations focusing on Mercia. Identifying a host of border maintenance strategies negotiating control over people, places and resources, mitigation of risk and maximisation of opportunity, but also strategic escalation and de-escalation of tensions, the study re-evaluates how Mercian border traditions supported expanded hegemony between the seventh and ninth centuries. The significant departures of the approach presented here are (i) rethinking the traditional focus on military, religious and ethnic identities to integrate these among other activities and experiences defining early medieval  frontiers and borderlands and (ii) considering the reimagining not only Mercia’s frontiers and borderlands during its emergence and heyday as a kingdom but also reflecting on how Mercian territory itself became a borderland under the rule of Aethelred and Aethelflaed during the Viking Age, and as such how it was formative in the creation of the Danelaw and of England. The Alfred/Guthrum Treaty and Ordinance of the Dunsaete are here contextualised against other strategies and scales of negotiation and activity framing Mercian/Anglo-Welsh and Anglo-Danish borderlands. Different ‘Mercian borderlands’ are compared in this study and analysed as complex zones of interaction, responsive to geographical factors, but also criss-crossed by multi-stranded pathways of daily life. Mercian borderlands were understood and maintained militarily, physically, spiritually, and ideologically. The article considers how these zones were shaped by convenience but also need and were reinforced or permeable at locality, community and kingdom levels.


Aethelflaed; Alfred/Guthrum Treaty; Anglo-Welsh borderland; charters; Danelaw frontier; Mercia; trade; Vikings

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