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.

Charters and Leofwine, Ealdorman of the Hwicce

I always think that the characters of Anglo-Saxon England are a little too ethereal for people to really connect with. As I’ve said before, 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 Aethelred, who I refuse to call ‘Unready’ because I just don’t think he was. I think, as many might say about todays economic situation, that he was a victim of his times, treated harshly by historians. (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/344194)

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.

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 Anglo-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 drafting and attestation.

It’s an interesting dilemma and one I don’t plan on solving today. Would I use it? Yes, I would but I’d be standing on the shoulders of those giants of academic history who have studied far more charters than me and who have decided that the copies are ‘probably’ genuine as they stand. 

And how relevant are they to Leofwine? I think very, because they appear to show his standing at the Royal Court. In S933 (AD1015) he signs as the third ‘dux’ (ealdorman) and on S910 from AD1005 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 its 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 http://www.kemble.asnc.cam.ac.uk.

Enjoy.

The Liberties of Historical Fiction and What makes a perfect work of historical fiction

Non-fiction is a wonderful genre when the author has an engaging writing style; but historical fiction can really bring an historical event to life – so that we can visualise it and, if we’re really lucky, put ourselves in that time and place with the characters.

But with that said, historical fiction is responsible for reenforcing outdated ideas about the past, and when it becomes popular (or rather if) does it do more harm than good?

As a self-confessed history nerd, I know that if a work of fiction captures my imagination, I will nine times out of ten, research the time period myself and see how realistic the portrayal was. It doesn’t spoil my enjoyment of the fiction if I find huge errors, but it might make me a little wary when reading future books by the same author. 

Often the worse thing, in my opinion, that an historical fiction author can do is weave a fictional character into a sea of ‘real’ historical characters and present them as just as real. Not that I don’t appreciate that many ‘bit parts’ will be fictional, but surely, not the main character in a story of King’s and Princes. (I was once traumatised after reading a trilogy of books of over 500 pages each when this first happened to me – and I’m naming no names!)

But there are also far worse things – they can use glaringly modern terms, or misinterpret the events, or put a rosy ‘romantic’ glow over it all (as happens in much historical fiction about women!) or present their heroine as rising about the societal norms whilst inflicting those norms on other characters.

Don’t get me wrong here, I strongly believe that humankind has not suddenly undergone some strange enlightenment in the past century. I believe romantic love must have existed for far longer than some historians would have us believe. Today’s population can’t wholly be the result of non-consensual sex and rape, for if it us, what does that really say about men and women as two separate genders. I think some commons sense must be applied. Men and women have been in relationships since they first walked on Earth. And in Anglo-Saxon and Viking times (before the Christianisation took place) men relied on their wives or common law wives to run their homes in their absence. If not love, then at least trust must have existed.

But I digress, so far my pet hates are too much romance, too much ‘bad’ history, and too much ‘one rule for everyone else and a different one for the authors hero or heroine’. To that I must add historical fiction that’s exclusively ‘man’ orientated – battles, blood and gore (yawn!).

So what makes my perfect word of historical fiction;

1) a good storyline that’s more truth than fantasy

2) a firm grounding in the time period

3) characters who are people

4) to be taught something

5) a series of books – I don’t like stand alone novels as a reader, I’ve not yet decided as an author.

6) something different – not the same people told from a different point of view i.e. the Tudor women.

If I think of anything else, I’ll add it on. Let me know what you think.

 

I admit it, I’m a history nerd!

There seems little point in denying it any longer, and so, I confess to being a history nerd. Although, perhaps not in the way you might think.

I’m not a date person or a ‘fact’ person. My main issue is indeed with supposed ‘facts’ handed down to us by ‘history’ books. How do we know these are ‘facts’? What are the ‘facts’ based on? I find this especially true when historians or authors are trying to present a comprehensive account of the past.

My research for the Earls of Mercia series has highlighted the problem to me time and time again, and so whilst I do more research, I plan on blogging a bit about what I discover and sharing my thoughts on how historical events could be better portrayed. I have the first faint stirrings of an idea of how this could be accomplished, but I’ll hold fire on speaking about it now.

So, if any of you are still awake (this is why I’m saying I’m a nerd!) I plan on blogging about once a week about the Earls of Mercia, well about Leofwine for the time being, and how we ‘know’ what we ‘know’.

For Earls of Mercia fans, you can find some more details on my website.

http://www.earlofmercia/moonfruit.com