Charters and Leofwine, Ealdorman of the Hwicce from c.993-1023. Re-sharing an old blog post about Leofwine I first wrote in 2014. It’s a bit nerdy:)

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.

Christine Hancock, the author of The Byrhtnoth Chronicles and Death at the Mint

It is with deep sadness and regret that I’ve been informed of the death of Christine Hancock, author of the Byrhtnoth Chronicles, the spin-off Death at the Mint, and a fellow fan of all things tenth century England. I’d been aware that Christine had been unwell during 2021, but it is still devastating to know we won’t get to debate our differing interpretations of the period via email once more. So, I wanted to pay my respects and also highlight her books to those who haven’t yet discovered them, as well as offering my sincere condolences to her family.

Christine and I met in a very roundabout way, as she wrote a review on informing me that I’d uploaded the incorrect book contents for the title. This was a huge mistake on my part, and I was grateful for the heads-up. From there, we started to communicate via twitter and email and we met at the Historical Novel Society Convention in 2018, held in Glasgow. I believe she may have photographic evidence of me falling over during the ceilidh – and I wasn’t even suffering from excess alcohol intake:)

Christine became one of my beta-readers, and likewise, I beta-read a number of her books, including Death at the Mint, a 10th century mystery which involves one of my pet loves – the coinage of Early England. But it was her passion to tell the story of a younger Ealdorman Byrhtnoth, that set her eyes on the tenth century. I know that one of the last road trips she made, was to see Byrhtnoth’s statue, in Maldon. You can read her blog post here. It sounds as though she spent some quality time with her hero, asking him a few important questions, and there’s a great photo of her looking up at Byrhtnoth’s statue.

Ealdorman Byrhtnoth is famous for his death, and for it occurring because he was just too honourable to fight the Viking Raiders on rough ground. It was how Byrhtnoth became that man of honour, that Christine hoped to explore in her books. In the four books, we encounter Byrhtnoth as a young boy, trying to discover the identity of his father and forge his path, tangling with some of the mid-tenth century Saxon kings along the way, and making himself a few enemies. He even ends up in Orkney, my favourite place to visit.

For my most recent 20th century mystery – The Automobile Assassination – Christine informed me that her mother had been one of those people who had devised route plans for the unwary traveller. In the past, AA members could write to the AA and ask for directions (remember, this is before the Internet). And this so amused me, because someone else had told me of just such a hellish journey they’d made at the instigation of an AA route planner, travelling from Kent to North Wales, avoiding all the motorways, when they were a small boy (which is what they’d asked for). I did hope that Christine’s mother hadn’t been the person responsible for providing such a route.

Christine’s insights into my books were invaluable, and I’m so grateful for the time she put in to reading my stories and helping me improve them. I’ll miss learning more about ‘her’ Bryhtnoth, and wish that we had managed to work together on a story about the Staffordshire Hoard, as we once discussed.

If you would like to read more about Bryhtnoth, please do check out Christine’s books, and if you have stories to share, then please do so. In this ‘virtual’ world of historical fiction writers, we don’t always get to connect in person, but we still know one another very well. And, if you fancy reading about Byrhtnoth, book 1 is only 99p on

And, on a final note, to Christine, thank you for sharing your stories with me. They will live on in my memory, just as Ealdorman Bryhtnoth does.

(I have ‘borrowed’ Christine’s banner from her blog. It is her image.)

Book Review – The Outcasts of Time by Ian Mortimer (Historical Fiction) Recommended

Here’s the blurb;

“The year is 1348 and brothers John and William have been infected by the plague. Their fate is sealed. Until a voice from the skies offers them a choice: ‘You may stay here and spend your last six days with your wife and children. Or you may put yourself in my hands now. I will wipe the scars from your face and the swellings from your body. I will extinguish your fever. I will let you live your last six days in the distance of the future.’

John and William agree: they will live for six more days and in return they will do good deeds in order to try to save their souls. But there’s a twist: each of those six days will begin ninety-nine years after the last, delivering them each time to an increasingly alien existence. As they travel, the reader travels with them, seeing the world change with conflict, disease, progress and enlightenment. But all the while time is counting down to a moment of judgement.”

I received a free E-Arc from Netgalley.

Ian Mortimer is a fantastic historian – looking at the past with new eyes and in so doing shedding light on events that are often, erroneously, presented as a fait accompli. For this reason, I was very excited to be given the opportunity to read and review his first work of fiction.

The Outcasts of Time is a deeply intriguing novel, looking not at the past through our perception, but rather the future (which is now our past) through the eyes of a man who lived over 600 years ago. This means that instead of our own misconceptions being applied to the past, every new century is seen afresh, with old eyes that note the changes and the differences as well as the similarities. That said, the novel is not always successful in doing this in an entertaining way, there are the odd occasions where I pondered whether the novel was actually going to be able to successfully bring to a conclusion what appears, at points, as nothing more than a random collection of chance encounters in and around the area of Exeter with different people throughout the 600 year period. I must point out, however, that in the end, I was very pleased to have all the events brought together and to be given some understanding of John’s ‘chance’ encounters.

The initial portrayal of the Black Death is as bleak as we could expect, and edged with harshness. I can understand why the events drove John to seek the option of travelling into the future as opposed to his hideous and painful death. What then transpires is a painstakingly detailed tramp through both the historical and the physical landscape. The book covers a small geographical area – wherever John and his brother could walk in a day’s journey. This feels, on occasion, a little restrictive, and yet the research involved in the endeavour can not be underestimated. Ian Mortimer has either envisaged, or drawn from the historical record, painstaking detail about the way the landscape, people and places changed throughout the 600 years from the Black Death. While this detail may occasionally slow the narrative it can not be ignored. What else would you notice if you did travel through time? It would be people’s clothes, haircuts, the decorations in their houses, the style of buildings and the food available to eat – not to mention the changes in bathrooms.

The grander events of history – the well known wars and kings and queens – are touched upon but they don’t constitute what John is hoping to achieve. He is looking for redemption – to save a soul in order to save his own – and his comments and feelings remain those of a man born and raised in the fourteenth century, confused and beguiled by events almost beyond his comprehension, which only increases with distance from his own time.

The author works hard to bring out every naunce of change through time – right down to evolving speech and the changing of names – by the end John is no longer John of Wrayment but John Everyman – time and language mangling his name, and depriving him of almost everything apart from his brother’s ring and his memories. By making John a stone carver, the author even manages to show that even something as ‘permanent’ as stone can be mangled and broken through time – the carvings John has made, based on his family and friends, gradually fall away and lose their shape. Nothing, it seems, is ever permanent, no matter the initial intent.

The people John meets are perhaps a little too easily convinced of his journey through time, and I do feel that the last two centuries – the 1800’s and 1900’s perhaps work better – but that is probably because they are more ‘real’ to me – they are more comprehensible to me just as those centuries closer to John seem to make more sense to him. This, I think, is to be expected.

I would also add that quite a bit of the novel is concerned with religion and religious change. This is fascinating, but also, on occasion, a little overpowering, and yet reflects the concerns of John very eloquently. It shows how recently religion has ceased to be such a major presence in the lives of many.

When John offers the opinion that “The man who has no knowledge of the past has no wisdom” he is speaking for the rationale behind this novel and doing so very eloquently.

Recommended to all who enjoy history and historical fiction.

The Outcasts of Time is released on 15th June 2017 and you can buy it here.

Book Review – Kin of Cain by Matthew Harffy

Here’s the blurb;

“630 AD. Anglo-Saxon Britain. A gripping, action-packed historical novella set in the world of The Bernicia Chronicles. Perfect for fans of Bernard Cornwell. 

Winter grips the land in its icy fist. Terror stalks the hills, moors and marshes of Bernicia. Livestock and men have been found ripped asunder, their bones gnawed, flesh gorged upon. People cower in their halls in fear of the monster that prowls the night.

King Edwin sends his champion, Bassus, with a band of trusted thegns, to hunt down the beast and to rid his people of this evil.

Bassus leads the warriors into the chill wastes of the northern winter, and they soon question whether they are the hunters or the prey. Death follows them as they head deeper into the ice-rimed marshes, and there is ever only one ending for the mission: a welter of blood that will sow the seeds of a tale that will echo down through the ages.”

I received a free E-Arc from Netgalley.

Kin of Cain is a short story written in the same ‘universe’ as the Bernicia Tales. However, it is set some time previous to the first novel (I think 2 or 3 years) and this, for me is a very good thing because (spoiler ahead) it means that grumpy Beobrand has not yet made an appearance and instead the story focuses on his brother and a few of the other main characters, most notably Bassus. As such, it is much lighter in tone than the Bernician Chronicles and a far easier read. The story flows very well and if I’m slightly perplexed about where the ‘marsh’ and the ‘cliff face’ is in North Northumberland, I’m sure that someone will let me know soon enough. I do have a thing about only visiting sandy beaches for my walks and this might be my own oversight. (I’ve now been told it’s Dunstanburgh not Bamburgh area and this makes a whole lot more sense as there are massive cliffs at Dunstanburgh populated by a whole flock of seabirds).

The ‘monster’ is well portrayed as is the solving of the mystery of where it is and what it is.

I hadn’t realised that the author was offering a possible retelling of a very famous Anglo-Saxon story until the very end when it was made abundantly clear, as I think the story works very well on its own.

I’m sure fans of the Bernicia Chronicles will enjoy the story. I certainly did, and I do hope that the author considers more side-stories that focus on the other characters of his ”universe’ as opposed to Beobrand (hint hint, pretty please).

Book Review -The Riviera Express by T.P. Fielden

Here’s the blurb;

“Murder on the Riviera Express

Gerald Hennessey – silver screen star and much-loved heart-throb – never quite makes it to Temple Regis, the quaint Devonshire seaside town on the English Riviera. Murdered on the 4.30 from Paddington, the loss of this great man throws Temple Regis’ community into disarray.

Not least Miss Judy Dimont –corkscrewed hair reporter for the local rag, The Riviera Express. Investigating Gerald’s death, she’s quickly called to the scene of a second murder – setting off on her trusty moped, Herbert, she finds Arthur Shrimsley in an apparent suicide on the clifftops above the town beach.

Miss Dimont must prevail – for why was a man like Gerald coming to Temple Regis anyway? And what is the connection between him and Arthur? And just how will she get the answers she wants whilst under the watchful and mocking eyes of her infamously cantankerous Editor, Rudyard Rhys?”

I received a free E-Arc from Netgalley.

The Riviera Express is, quite simply, a very good read. The author does have a particular writing style which initially threw me and I worried that the novel would be a hard read, however, after only a few pages, I was used to the writing style, and while many might not appreciate the ‘wordiness’ the author choices to use, I found it fit very well with the novel.

The characters are nuanced and a little stereotypical, but then, that really is the point. It is Miss Dimont who is the star of the show and she receives the most back-story and is the least stereotyped, shortly followed by her fellow newspaper colleagues – the photographer, Terry, and her main rival/friend at the newspaper, Betty. The author also captures the essence of a 1950’s seaside town – the busy-bodies, the small mindedness, the general nosyness of everyone knowing everyone else’s business and the stresses and strains of keeping everyone happy within the small community that wants a localnewspaper but only if everyone is presented in their best light.

And yet into all this comes a little bit of glamour provided by one of the murder victims and his entourage. The author does a very good job of presenting the actors as actors – ensuring that their dramatic moments are always referenced to the film/play that they’ve stolen their lines from and juxtaposing the strange and magical world of actors to the more mundane events of life in a seaside town where the summer season has just ended.

The mystery that Miss Dimont finds herself unravelling, earns as much ‘spread’ as the development of the characters and the venue, which I’m sure will feature in more books in the future, and ends rather well with not so much a twist, as an unlooked for answer to all the questions.

Overall I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys a historical novel with the added bonus of intrigue.

(I am a fan of historical who-dun-its be it Sherlock Holmes, Marple, Poirot, or my latest find – The Phryne Fisher books).

And you can buy the book from 23rd February from here:

Announcing the Winners of the Red Sister Art Contest

that thorn guy

First of all I’d like to say a big thank you to everyone who took the time and submitted an entry (or more) to this competition, as well as to Mark Lawrence and Pen Astridge for their help in considering the submissions.

The three winning entries of this competition are:

Jorg on the Lichway’ (Chalk on wall) by Josiah Bancroft


‘Marshal Jalan’ by Lily Yearwood


‘Mother’s Music’ by Krystal Wolfe



The fourth prize, randomly selected, and offered by Mark, goes to entry 4:


‘Snorri vs Bear… minus Snorri. Didn’t go according to plan.’ by J.P. Ashman & Freya



Honourable mentions go to:


Katherine by Sarah Trac



‘Red Kent by Juan Pablo Cartasso


‘Bear’ by Vivianne Holmén



Thank you very much for all the entries once again and special thanks to Pen Astridge for the great image used in the header.


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What would we write in a modern day Anglo-Saxon Chronicle?

Nerdy thought time. I spend a lot of my time (too much really) consulting my slightly dusty copy of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and if I’m not at home and I need to know something, I google it and find one of the older editions that’s out of copyright and freely available on the internet.

I love it and hate it in equal measure. Sometimes I’m tricked into thinking that the long entries contain a wealth of information, only then, when I start to dissect it do I realise that it’s very lacking in some information. It’s focus to me (in the tenth and eleventh century at the moment) is mainly with deaths, religious appointments and sometimes, the whereabouts of the King, but not actually ever enough to work out anyone’s itinerary. Yet I love it as well because it can be so terse with information. We do live in an age of information overload, but it’s no new thing. When I studied the Tudors I found the amount of information difficult to digest, and I’ve often thought that’s why I enjoy earlier history so much more. There is less to take in, so I stand more chance of remembering it all, and there’s also a huge scope for interpreting the information differently.

So, with that in mind, I wondered what, if anything, I’d chose to write about today’s society, if I were asked to construct some sort of Chronicle on events in the UK, and it’s not an easy one to answer.

First things first, the population of Anglo-Saxon England was tiny compared to today – I think it’s estimated at about 2 million for England. That means there’s a lot less people to write about for a start in the past than there are today. Another important consideration is that so few people wrote in Anglo-Saxon England, unlike today, and those that did often tended to do so with the weight of God on their side. Somehow it seems to have made the things they wrote down seem more empowered than if Joe Bloggs had been writing a blog.

I have this impression that somewhere in Anglo-Saxon England, a little raft of men sat around a smokey fire at the end of each year and decided what they thought was important (of course this wasn’t the case – the ASC was a retrospective construction that may have contained kernels of knowledge from earlier sources now lost to us, and which, it has been argued, was added to at certain points – maybe twenty years by one scribe, maybe only a few by another). For the men who wrote it, their world was concerned with who was King, who was their Abbot or Bishop, and for about a hundred and fifty years, what the blinking Vikings were up to!

What would we, today, think of as our priorities? Who would get to chose, to decide, who would get a veto if they didn’t like what was put in? Would we care anymore about who was King or Queen, who was born, who died, who travelled where? Would it even be a written record or a selection of images? Where would it be stored? Who would have access to it?

Organisations keep records on people now, on themselves. Newspapers and TV news outlets have a huge amount of information stored away on huge servers, so do big companies, so does everyone really. What would be important? What would people a thousand years from now need to know?

If the world is truly on the brink of a monumental climatic change, then really, a thousand years from now society could be completely different from today’s, that means that historians of the future would need to know everything, down to the price of a pink of milk. But is that what we, as a society, want to be remembered for? Would the wars we’ve fought in the last few centuries be allowed to define us, just as the Viking wars have had such a huge impact on the way Anglo-Saxon England is portrayed now? Either way, what future generations think about UK society in the twenty-first century, it certainly won’t be what we want to be remembered for, no matter how much information is manipulated by government and groups with self-interests. So what would I write down? I don’t know. i might just stick to Kings and Queens, Archbishop and Bishops, Abbots, laws and wars, those who are outlawed, famines, plagues and bad harvests. If the future is as strangely different to today as the Anglo Saxon period is to most people, then really, that might be the only things future generations care about because they’re not going to have our worries and concerns. Society will have moved on (hopefully for the better).

Wolf’s Head is FREE on Kindle!

STEVEN A. McKAY - Historical Fiction Author

Yes, FREE! As part of the promotion for Rise of the Wolf coming out this Friday I decided to let as many people as possible start the series so…if you haven’t read any of my stuff yet, what are you waiting for?  Just click the cover image below and it should take you directly to your own country’s Amazon page.

Tell your friends!

And keep and eye out because The Wolf and the Raven will be on sale during this week at a much reduced price so you can get the first two Forest Lord books for next to nothing.

Fill your boots, and your pals boots, and your families boots and any other boots you can find!


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