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'Cornwall War'

The Old Boar Suffered

Date 881 - 882
Location Cornwall
Result Decisive Norse Victory
  • Norse conquest of Cornwall
  • Establishment of Ragnarr Halfdansson as King of Cornwall under Jórvík
Jórvík Cornwall
Commanders and leaders
Guðfrið Halfdansson

Ragnarr Halfdansson

Supported by: Halfdan Ragnarsson Sigfríð Halfdansson

Ricat of Cornwall

Alan of Devon

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Axminster   Lydford   River Tamar   Tintagel


The Cornwall War also known as the Cornish Warand the Norse Invasion of Cornwall was a conflict fought between the nation of Cornwall and Viking invaders, primarily under the command of Guðfrið Halfdansson of Jórvík. The war was primarily fought in 881 in the counties of Devon and Cornwall, ending in the Norse victory at the Siege of Tintagel in 881. By 882 the nation would be definitively under Norse control, with Guðfrið granting Cornwall to his brother Ragnarr Halfdansson, who would rule as king under the King of Jórvík.

Guðfrið had invaded Cornwall in 881, seeking to take advantage of Cornwall's instability following the War of the Great Heathen Army, when the country experienced a number of government shifts and internal conflicts after establishing itself separate from all ties with the West Saxons. The death of Donyarth in 875, the last centralized king of all Cornwall, had placed the nation in a state of disunity, and allowed the Norse to take advantage of the nation's slow mobilization time and ability to respond to invasion.


Guðfrið's army first encountered resistance in the city of Axminster, where a small army had been raised from several towns across Devon. At the time of the invasion the County of Devon was ruled by Alan, the late Donyarth's nephew, who was only a teenager. As a result much of the county's levies were led by local lords, while Alan did his best to retain order. At Axminster the majority of the county's forces had been assembled, while word was sent west to Tintagel, where Alan's cousin Ricat ruled as king, although mostly in name only. No more than a year older than Alan, Ricat also had very low authority in Cornwall, but was able to muster a small force to aid his cousin in the east. After some brief pillaging in the north of Devon, Guðfrið's forces marched south, surrounding the Bretons at Axminster, forcing them to defend the city until Ricat's army arrived.

At the Battle of Axminster the Bretons put up a valiant defense, but outnumbered and surrounded, Guðfrið would be victorious. With Devon's army shattered, those that remained loyal fled west to defend Lydford, the county's capital and home to one of the region's strongest defenses. Guðfrið pursued the Bretons to the city, while his younger brother Ragnarr, Halfdan's third son, led a small army south, pillaging and defeating small Breton bands. The group met up at Lydford on 20 April 881, around the time that word had arrived of Ricat's army preparing to relieve the city. Ragnarr was left in command of the siege, while Guðfrið marched a detachment south to intercept Ricat. Guðfrið's army met the Bretons at the Battle of the River Tamar, where they managed to rout the Bretons after a long battle. Despite victory on the battlefield, Guðfrið failed to destroy the remaining forces, who managed to flee. Guðfrið marched back north and aided in the assault on Lydford, which fell on 1 May 881. The Norse raided the city, killing many of its inhabitants. Among the carnage in the city was the young count Alan, whose circumstances of death remained unclear. Those that fled the city fell back to Tintagel, Ricat's stronghold, where they prepared to make a last stand against the Norse invaders.

By the end of that year, much of Devon was subjugated, and the Norse army marched west into Cornwall proper. With the main Breton army residing in Tintagel, the rest of the nation was easily raided. That year the Norse invaders raided St. German, capturing the Bishop of Cornwall, before moving on to the city of Bodwin, where they acquired supplies for their remaining conquest. News of the unhindered raids caused resentment to build across the nation, as many became angry against King Ricat for his inability to retain order and protect his people. Morale was low among the Breton soldiers, who became less loyal to the king after his leadership proved ineffective.

That autumn Guðfrið besieged the Tintagel, surrounding the city to cut it off from supplies. The surrounding countryside was also plundered, allowing the Norse invaders to continue the siege for an extended period of time. Attempts to break the siege in a direct assault failed, causing heavy casualties to Tintagel's remaining defensing force. After a few weeks, when the Norse called for an assault on the city, the Bretons were unable to put up an effective defense, and the city fell to Guðfrið and his army. Ricat was captured, as were most of the remaining nobles within the city, and Cornwall was officially conquered by Jórvík. Guðfrið established his brother Ragnarr as ruler of Cornwall under his ownership, while Guðfrið's men were given a portion of the loot acquired during the conquest. Guðfrið returned east to his kingdom, placing a small army under Ragnarr to aid him in his establishment as king. Ragnarr wintered in Tintagel, and in 882 set out crushing resistance across the nation.