Author: M J Porter, author
Brunanburh – A Novel of 937 – Sneak Peek Part Two
Chapter 1 – 927 – Eamont – Constantin
It’s a sobering thought to realize my advanced age compared to this young King, who styles himself of the English. He is courteous and treats me with respect, as he does all the other Kings he’s called before him, at this meeting place, high in the north of his lands, but too close to my own for comfort. And yet, for me, his respect just reminds me of how very old I am compared to him and the other Kings. I will list them all, just to mark myself amongst them. Hywel of the southern ancient Britons, Owain from my puppet kingdom of Strathclyde and Ealdred of Bamburgh, the northern most tip of the once mighty land of the Northumbrians so called for they lived to the North of the mighty river Humber.
So many of us all together in one place at the behest of the young Lord. It’s an uncomfortable thought and a remarkable achievement for how little blood has been shed to bring it about. I wonder if our people are tired of bloodshed and distrust or whether he really is emboldened by the knowledge that his God blesses his every move and brings about its success.
His respect annoys me. My advanced age should mark me as wise and wily. I’ve been able to hold my own against my enemies for more than twenty years, yet I can’t help but think this young man thinks me too old, too weak and too easy to subdue. He, who has gained so precipitously from the deaths of his own half-brother, and his own brother-in-law so that he now stands as King over the old lands of Wessex, Mercia, and the Kingdom of York, looks at me a little too closely. I want to assure him that I will not be the next to give up my earthly crown for a more heavenly one, but, he might just have a valid argument, for of all of us here, I am most likely to die next.
As I said, it annoys me. As does having to be here at all. Why should I bow to this King of the English? I am King of the Scots, and have been for nearly thirty years. I’ve governed well and kept my people safe so why should I now submit to an ‘overlord’? I’ve never feared to fight in the past and don’t now, and yet I’m here, as are the other Kings. We’ve decreed that we’ll all reach an accord with each other, but I can tell from the shifting feet and sideways looks of my fellow attendees that this might all be a ruse.
Athelstan is not untried in battle. In the past I know he’s encountered the men of the Welsh King’s and those of the Dublin King’s as well. Alongside his aunt, Aethelflaed of Mercia, he’s done great deeds and secured more land for his kingdom. But she’s been dead for many long years now and he stands alone against us all.
I too came to terms with her once, over ten years ago. She was a wise woman, devout and assured in her powers and she trained her young nephew well. But, the accord did not last. They never did. The shifting sands of allegiance and counter-allegiance run contrary to any agreement lasting too long. Perhaps the shifting feet have the right of it after all.
I met the young King’s father once as well, Edward, King of Wessex and Mercia, seven years ago when bloody Ragnall and his Norsemen were causing havoc amongst our borderlands. Edward, Donald of Strathclyde and myself reached an agreement to curtail his raiding activities amongst any of our lands. If he attacked one of us, we would all respond. Or so we said.
The worked, in a fashion, for later the same year Ragnall came to an independent agreement with Edward. Again, it didn’t last long for Ragnall had the audacity to die the following year. Since then Sihtric has ruled the York kingdom, the land that was once the ancient kingdom of Deira. Coerced into Athelstan’s kingdom via marriage to his sister, his death was not long in coming, and his kingdom not long in joining Athelstan’s lands for all that he had repudiated both his wife and his new found religious fervour for my Christian God.
And my point in recounting all this? Athelstan’s aunt and his father were more my age, and their respect was genuine, one contemporary to another, not as a son to a doddering father. I have sons enough of my own to know the difference.
Still he is a finely wrought man; long blond hair graces his head, and he is tall and well built, clearly still training each day so that he can wield his sword and spear as and when they’re needed. For all that he wears fine clothing, I hear chosen and embellished by his second stepmother, the raw energy of his muscles can be seen flexing and stretching the fabric of his deeply dyed royal tunic. He almost compels me to train as often as he does, instead of passing the duty to my sons, who are more of an age with him. I wish I could feel fatherly towards him, but I don’t. I can respect him, providing he respects me.
And so this treaty. Why am I here? Is it because he swept into the old Danish kingdom of York after his brother-in-laws death and effectively annexed the land back to his kingdom, and I fear what he will gain if he pushes further north, or is it because he vows himself a Christian King, and I too am a Christian King, of the old Ionan school no less, and it would be a good and Christian thing to live in peace with my neighbours? I don’t yet know, but what I do know is that few have died an untimely death to bring about this understanding, and so, in the spirit in which it’s offered, and provided it does not become too onerous, I am prepared to accept the hand of friendship extended by Athelstan. It will be easily done, and can be just as easily un-done. I risk nothing by being here, and I may even grow in acclaim if this union is a success.
I will wait with baited breath.
Only three more weeks to go until the whole book is released! If you’re worried you might forget to get the book on 31st October, then hop off to your ebook retailer of choice, and pre-order it now!
Oh, and in the meantime, you can always reconcile yourself with the new Bernard Cornwell book set just a few years before Brunanburh. It’s due out the week before Brunanburh (23/10/14) so it might keep you going until then.
Bradford Kaims in Current Archaeology
Bamburgh Research Project's Blog
This month’s Current Archaeology magazine features a multi-page article on our recent work at Bradford Kaims. They have done a tremendous job, so do have a look if you get the chance.
Also, if you have not yet discovered it, Edoardo Albert has a new book out about Alfred the Great, which he describes in his own words below:
The summer is over, the children are back at school and I’ve got a new book in stores. In Search of Alfred the Great: the King, the Grave, the Legend, from Amberley Publishing, is a biography of – you’ve guessed it – Alfred, first king of the Anglo-Saxons, and the man who saved England. Indeed, if all you know of Alfred is the cakes, then this book will tell you why, of all England’s monarchs, he was the only one to be called ‘Great’.
My co-writer is human osteologist…
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Time to do some … studying!
Well, I really can’t put it off for much longer so I’ve started on my dissertation – as in, I’m putting some concerted effort into it with the intention to produce some informative excel tables on which to base my arguments. I’m just hoping now that my ‘wishy washy’ hunches and ideas of the last four years now actually amount to something (no pressure there then!).
My dissertation needs to be 20000 words long, so, if I calculate based on my writing speed, I could write it next week – if I get my tables sorted today and tomorrow (again, no pressure then).
So, I might be a little quiet next week, and if I’m not that means only one thing – I’m not writing my dissertation and need a good telling off!
Fingers crossed for successful writing!
Northman Chapter 2 – Northman now released and available as an ebook and paperback
Chapter 2 – Early 1007 – Northman
They’d only just made it home in time. As they’d settled the horses and people within the suddenly, a little too crowded, house near Deerhurst, the faint whispers of snow had begun to fall and by the time the short day was over, the land was coated in snow that reached high up the legs of the hounds.
And it didn’t stop there either. A full week of snow followed, sometimes soft and gentle, sometimes tumultuous in its ferocity and always settling to the ground, the layers increasing daily. Those who were forced to venture outside grumbled at the severe cold and the wet, whilst those indoors grumbled at the opening of the door that presaged a sharp blast of shrill wind. Tempers did not flare because the mood within the house was sombre anyway. The realisation of what had happened to Leofwine slowly being accepted by all.
Amongst the sea of sullen faces, Northman found himself seeking the comfort of Wulfstan’s steady presence. Remarkably, of them all, he appeared the one most able to shrug the dishonour accorded to Leofwine aside. He was angry and shared his Lord’s outrage, and yet, he did not raise his voice or, when the mead flowed too freely, stand and shout curses at the King or at Eadric.
And Northman was not alone in his preference for the older man’s company. His own father was often sat with him, polishing his sword or sanding his own shield. He too calmed when Wulfstan was near and in those few days of fire and cold, heat and chill, Northman gained an insight into the power that Wulfstan held over men.
His words were never hurried, his tone rarely angry and yet, all listened when he spoke. Initially, Horic had roared and screeched with his rage, earning himself some sideways glances from Aethelflaed and his own wife that he’d ignored at his peril. Only when he’d been struck down by a monumental headache brought on by the vast quantities he’d drunk had he subsided to calmness. He too had gravitated towards Wulfstan, where Oscetel and the men of the war band had been slowly gathering.
None plotted treason or revenge. Their stoicism in the face of such treatment after they’d faced Swein of Denmark for their King and beaten him into retreat amazed Northman.
One night, as the fire in the centre of the hall had crackled and roared with the huge amount of wood heaped upon it, Wulfstan had leant towards Northman.
“What do you think lad?”
“About what?” Northman had uttered, stunned to realise these was the first words he’d spoken all day.
“Of your father’s men? Do you understand their acceptance of what’s happened, or like your brother, are you angry that the men do not shout for justice?”
Northman took a moment to consider his reply. Wulfstan was right in what he said. Leofric was angry and unmanageable. His high-pitched voice could often be heard angrily berating his younger brother and sister, and more than once, their father had been forced to intervene, carrying a sobbing Leofric to his private quarters so that they could talk about his behaviour. Northman understood the rage that cursed through his brother’s blood but couldn’t bring himself to mirror that rage.
“I think they wouldn’t be so high in my father’s esteem if they didn’t think as he did.”
Wulfstan chuckled at the reply.
“As I said boy, you’re growing wise with your years. Remember that.”
Northman nodded to show he understood the lesson.
“Do you think the King will act further against my father?” the words were forced past the lump in his throat that formed whenever he considered that possibility. They felt more harshly rung than any sentence he’d ever yet had to speak.
“No lad, I don’t. The King has no cause to drive your father further from his counsels. He needs men who are compliant and do as their told. And we all know that they’re in short supply around this King. But no, the King will let matters settle now. Eadric has what he wants, and mayhap, he too will let the dust settle before he asks for anything further from the King.”
Again, Northman nodded to show he understood.
Before him, Finn was leading the huge array of children in a fair imitation of a learning rhyme, and for the first time in years, Northman was almost tempted to add his own voice to the song of his early years. Leofric was sat with his sister, his face, for once, free from the scowl that had graced it for the last week. Near the fire, his mother sat quietly nursing the baby, a smile of contentment on her own face, free from lines of worry for the time being, and his father was embroiled in a lively debate with Horic about the virtues, or not, of the axe as both a fighting weapon and a weapon of the farm.
It all felt very normal, and Northman relaxed, his small shoulders un-tensing, his eyes half closing as he leant against Wulfstan. Normal felt good.
The songs of the children swirled around his head, like the stray smoke from the fire, and he slept where he sat, not even stirring when he felt the strong arms of his father carrying him to his bed, warmed by his already sleeping hound.
Windy day in the 9th century
Bamburgh Research Project's Blog
Sometimes the most fascinating aspects of archaeology are those rare moments when you get to connect to a past event through a discrete little discovery. Whether it is the finger prints of a potter on an ancient pot or a personal object lost by an individual, it is all part of a rich tapestry of reconstructing the past.
A thin wind-blown sand lens lies just beneath the dark deposit that the leaf blade is lying on
We have been cleaning the south west corner of Trench 3 in order to record it a final time before we cover it to prevent its slow erosion. We made one of those small discoveries in the process. Bamburgh lies close to the beach and can be pretty windy. Its particularly annoying when the wind blows sand over our cleaned surfaces, adding a thin layer that has to be removed. It was amusing then…
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King Aethelred II of England
Aethelred II, to put it mildly, gets a bad press, the writer’s of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle have nothing good to say about him, blaming him for the ills that befall the country at the hands of the Scandinavian raiders, and there is an inevitability about the events that unfold from 1009 onwards that culminate in Swein of Denmark claiming the English throne, and following his untimely death, the actions of his younger son, Cnut, to achieve the same honour a few years later.
And, don’t get me wrong, the list of places attacked by the Vikings is long, their demands for payment appear huge and their willingness to kill even those who should have been protected, for instance the Archbishop of Canterbury, callously presented.
Yet, his by-name, Unready is a misinterpretation and also a play on words, his name meaning wise-counsel, and Unraed meaning no-counsel and being changed to ‘the Unready’ a word nothing like no-counsel.
So if we accept that his by-name should be no-counsel and not ‘the unready’ does that make it any more appropriate?
Most assuredly not. Aethelred had his fair share of ealdormen (later the title was changed to earls from jarls under the Scandinavian kings) and the detailed work done by historians has attempted to uncover who they were and what they did. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle appears to have hidden much from today’s reader, so intent in its desire to paint Aethelred in as unflattering colours as possible, and mentions only some of the Ealdormen. My particular favourite, Ealdorman Leofwine of the Hwicce is not mentioned once and yet charter evidence shows that he held his post for many years from 994-c1023, quite a long time to be ignored by the main source for the period.
Other details show just how powerful the King was; he recalled his coinage about every seven years and reissued it with new images, he collected the gelds used to pay the raiders, he built and provisioned a vast ship army and he had laws proclaimed in his name. And all of this he must have done with the consent of the Witan, for England although ruled by a King was also ruled through the consensus of the greatest men in the land. England, not long united, was just too big for one man to rule alone, and it was broken down almost into its constituent pre-united kingdoms, Mercia, Northumbria, the East Angles, Kent, Wessex and the Western provinces, sometimes each area having an ealdorman and at other times, ruled by the King’s High Reeve. He was surely King over a well organised and rich country, and no matter what the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle implies, the men of the land were prepared to fight for their King, and they didn’t attempt to dislodge him from his kingship although by about 1000 onwards he had a host of sons old enough and probably strong enough, to govern in his stead.
I think even his usual by-name of Unraed is unwarranted, and certainly his unreadiness is unwarranted. History plays tricks on how our past King’s are viewed, and more often than not, they’re too harsh, too conciliatory, or in the case of many, they’re totally forgotten about. Perhaps being a King was not all it was cracked up to be!
Anglo-Saxon Royal Charters from 1006-1013
There are only 8 charters for this period in history as witnessed by the King’s ealdormen. And they only appear in 1007, 1009, 1012 and 1013. It’s said that the missing years are due to interruptions caused by invasions of ‘Viking raiders’. This certainly applies to 1010-11, and 1006 when the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle recounts tales of Viking incursions.
As is so often the case, this lack is frustrating because something monumental seems to happen at the King’s court between 1009-1012. For a start the number of ealdormen begins to increase and second of all, the, until then, rigidly enforced precedence of the ealdormen crumbles away, and one ealdorman, Eadric of Mercia, seems to come out on top and Aelfric of Hampshire (who I imagine as a little doddery by now – but I may be doing him a disservice) seems to fall down the rankings, as does Leofwine of Mercia.
By this stage it’s assumed that both Eadric and Uhtred of Northumbria (the other ealdorman who rises in precedence during this period) are related to Aethelred as they’ve both married one of his daughters.
But there seems an inherent contradiction in this because whilst the King may be seen to be rewarding his ealdormen with marriage into his family, his own sons, from his first marriage, don’t seem to be getting any additional authority. This is slightly speculation on my part, but it seems clear to me that Aethelred preferred his sons-in-law to his own sons. Obviously he now had two sons by his new wife, Emma of Normandy, and although they were only very young, he may have been trying to ensure their inheritance of the throne over and above their older half-brothers.
I appreciate that this is all speculation from only a handful of charters, but it provides a fascinating insight into the character of Aethelred if he really was so unprepared to give his sons any formal authority. Surely in his times of troubles, when the Vikings attacked relentlessly, and he was growing steadily older, it would have been an acceptable use of his older sons to use them as battle commanders? Certainly, later in the 1010’s the sons seem to come into their own, and must have had command and fighting experience somewhere. The King proved to be very resistant to leading his own men into battle (apart from the Battle of Chester in 1000) so I wonder why he wouldn’t chose his elder sons who he hoped would never inherit?
But that’s just my ponderings, and something I’m going to explore in my work of historical fiction, Northman Part 1 (The Earls of Mercia Book 3) and goodness me, it’s only going to get more confusing as I work my way past 1013!
The Vikings anyone?
Is anyone else out there watching the Vikings? Silly question, cause I know it’s really popular. And wow, isn’t it just fantastic. I think I love almost everything about it, well, apart from one or two niggles, and I’m going to attempt to discuss without giving anything away. So hopefully, I don’t need to give a spoiler alert!
I’m up to episode three in Season 2 and well, the thing that’s bothering me most, is the portrayal of ye old Anglo-Saxon Kings. The Vikings are essentially all quite, and apologies here for not being the next word, ‘cool’. They’re simple men, with simple needs and wishes and their women are strong and loyal. What I love most is the characters – even though they’re supposed to be characters from over 1000 years ago, I think that they’re very easy to relate to. They’re not all bloody thirsty (insert your own expletive here).
The scenery is stunning, the dialogue is simple and effective, the storyline is ambling along at a lovely pace, just enough to keep you intrigued but not in a huge rush. The battle scenes are far more realistic than anything in Game of Thrones, and reveal just how lethal and brutal and strong they were, but until last night, they didn’t come across as too obsessed with a bit of torture.
But the Anglo-Saxon Kings, they’re being portrayed as arrogant and dumb, all at the same time. Now, before everyone jumps up and down, I appreciate that they’re the ‘enemies’ of the Vikings. I get that, but, having them strut their stuff in an ancient Roman bath house and make it all into a bit of a c*** fight is doing them a little bit of a disservice. (It also makes me want to know where they are? Where is this bath house? I know that much of the structure of Roman Britain remained in place when they hoped off back to Rome, but, after four hundred years I’m not sure it would have been in quite such good condition!)
I admit that I didn’t pay too much attention to the Northumbrian King’s portrayal (although I might have to go back and watch it again) and maybe his character was the same (only without the Roman bath). And I also know it’s really easy to see the whole Christianity thing as a bit of a joke and show the priests as zealots but to do the time period any justice I feel that both the Vikings and the Anglo-Saxons need to be treated with the same respect. Everyone (I hope) likes the Vikings so why can’t we like the Anglo-Saxons as well. It bugs me a little.
The joy of other shows that I’ve enjoyed in (almost) recent years is that the writers make you engage with the characters even when they’re nasty pieces of work (Prison Break is the best example I can think of, although Game of Thrones has its far share of nasties who the audience end up finding appealing), and I want The Vikings to do the same. Please!!!
Is my rant over? Not too sure really (cause the scene with the lovely Agatha annoyed me as well but I don’t, as I said, want to spoil anything). So maybe for now, I’ll go back to my hermits shell, and my copy of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and get on with some writing. But hey, writers of the Vikings, give us a few Anglo-Saxon characters to engage with (other than the monk – is he called Athelstan, I can’t remember?).
And now, I really must do some writing. Brunanburh continues over on Wattpad, and I’d love some feedback on how you think it’s developing.
Charters and Leofwine, Ealdorman of the Hwicce
I always think that the characters of Saxon England are a little too ethereal for people to really connect with. I think it’s difficult to visualise life before the Norman Conquest, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
My current obsession, and victim of my historical fiction endeavours is Leofwine, Ealdorman of the Hwicce during the reign of Æthelred II, who I refuse to call ‘Unready’ because I just don’t think he was. I think, he was a victim of his times, treated harshly by later historians.
My research is going deeper, examining the evidence of the charter attestations that Leofwine made (where he signs, and therefore, it must be assumes, agrees to whatever the charter is concerned with). Charters from before the Norman Conquest are rare, and have only survived in copies because they benefitted someone in some way, normally the monastery or Church that the copy of the original charter has survived in, or a later lay landowner keen to keep hold of the land.
This effectively means that in determining the validity of the charter, historians need to know about what was happening in the world at large, when the COPY of the charter was made. Effectively, to study Saxon history, you have to also study early Anglo-Norman history to work out just what’s going on and why the charter is so important.
In the records of Sherborne, Leofwine’s name can be found attesting two charters. No original copies of the charters survive, and the record as we have it, is in a twelfth century hand. So, should it be trusted? Should it be used as an historical source? Or as with so much history, can it really only be used as a historical record of the time period that produced it? After all, at least a hundred years and probably more like 150 years, separate the copy of the charter and the date of its alleged drafting and attestation.
It’s an interesting dilemma and one I don’t plan on solving today. Would I use it? Yes, I’d but I’d be standing on the shoulders of those giants of academic history who have studied far more charters than me and who’ve decided that the copies are ‘probably’ genuine as they stand. I’d also be wary of this, and all it might mean.
And how relevant are they to Ealdorman Leofwine? I think very, because they appear to show his standing at the royal court. In charter S933 (1015) he signs as the third ‘dux’ (ealdorman) and in S910 from 1005 he also signs as the third ‘dux’. So what does it all mean? Well, as with everything the picture is wider than just Sherborne. In total Leofwine attests 41 charters whilst an ealdorman. So although I think it’s important to examine the validity of the cartularies that the charters survive in, it’s a bit of a painstaking and picky business. But one I’m enjoying. For anyone really keen to look at Leofwine’s charters in more detail, you can start by having a look at the Electronic Sawyer. And you can see an image of S910 it on The British Library Digitised Manuscripts Website ff. 27v-29r and S933 also on The British Library Digitised Manuscripts Website at ff. 4v-6r. The handwriting is amazing.