Friday, 21 December 2018

Anglo-Saxon Goings-On in 2018

As another year comes to a close, it seems a good time to look back on the last twelve months which, for me, have been spent researching deeply into the history of the Anglo-Saxons and more particularly the history of the Mercians.

I spend nearly all my time writing, be it novels, books, stories, or blog posts, but this year I emerged blinking and nervous into the outside world to talk - yes, out loud! - about my beloved Anglo-Saxons.

Many of my posts this year concerned trips to Anglo-Saxon locations. My first post of the year here on the blog detailed my visit to Repton, a research trip for the new book. There, I saw the Anglo-Saxon crypt and the remains of the archaeological dig which revealed so much about the Viking occupation of Repton in the 870s. (Read the post HERE)

and then I wrote about another trip, this time exploring the locations involved with the battle of Heavenfield, in Northumbria (Click HERE

Another location post, this time from the royal site of Yeavering (LINK) was followed by one showing one of the earliest surviving Anglo-Saxon churches, at Escomb (LINK).

I went to Gloucestershire, where I found out a little more about Odda of Deerhurst (LINK) when I visited his chapel and on that same trip, I finally found Æthelflæd (LINK) and it was an emotional moment when I stood by the remains of the priory where she was buried alongside her husband.

Blog Articles
Gearing up to send my new book to the publisher, I posted an article about the 'evil' women of Mercia. Were they really evil though? Find out HERE

Meanwhile I mused about how we can hear and get to know characters from the past, as we reach across the centuries during research. Here's the LINK

This was followed by a post about Anglo-Saxon food - what they ate, and what they called it. Read the post HERE

I then posted an article detailing what we know about Anglo-Saxon childhood, (see the article HERE) and I mused on the recorded deaths of leading Anglo-Saxons and how they rarely seemed to die of their wounds (LINK) After that came a post about captive nuns, and how women weren't always necessarily safe. Read about these women HERE

Out and About
One of the undoubted highlights of my year was the invitation to speak at the Tamworth Literary Festival about how I fictionalised the life of the Lady of the Mercians. Not only did I have a lovely time talking about one of my favourite people and chatting to the folk who attended the talk, I also met the lady herself! Here's the transcript of my TALK

In October, I was invited by the Garstang Historical Society to talk about Anglo-Saxon Attitudes, and you can read the transcript of my talk HERE

I was honoured to be asked by Staffordshire Live about my opinion of the portrayal of Æthelflæd in the Netflix Series The Last Kingdom. You can read the interview HERE

Book News
For the 1100th anniversary of the death of the Lady of the Mercians, and to coincide with the commemorations, the wonderful Cathy Helms of Avalon Graphics gave To Be A Queen a brand new cover:

I also now have a website dedicated to my books and stories, and you can find it here:

And of course, 2018 saw the publication by Amberley Books of my first full-length nonfiction book Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom  which I'm thrilled to say reached #1 in its category on Amazon and has remained in the top 20 and frequently in the top 10 ever since. It has also earned a Discovering Diamonds award and was short-listed for their Book of the Month. (Award review HERE)

The reviews have been very positive:
Tony Riches - The Writing Desk
History: The Interesting Bits 
Adventures in Historyland
Faith, Fiction, Friends
(which also recommended it as nonfiction book of the year! Here)
The book was also reviewed by History of War Magazine:

I'm also delighted to be able to say that I am currently hard at work on my new book for Pen & Sword Publications, focusing on the women of Anglo-Saxon England, which will be published in late 2019/early 2020.

Other Blog Appearances
Research Roadblocks: Historical Writers' Association
Research - Fiction Vs Nonfiction: Deborah Swift
King Cenwulf: History the Interesting Bits
Mercian Locations: Amberley Blog
Bringing Characters to Life: Women Writers

I'd like to thank everyone who reads my blog posts and wish you all a very Happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year.
Before I leave you, please do read an enjoy this short story. It's not historical, there's not an Anglo-Saxon in sight, but it was good fun to write! Song Behind the Story

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Interview with Staffordshire Live

I was delighted to be asked by Staffordshire Live what I thought of the portrayal of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, in the TV series, The Last Kingdom and, more to the point, what she would have thought!

Here's the link to the piece:

My thanks to Josh Layton who patiently listened while I rabbited on about my favourite subject and then turned my ramblings into such a wonderful article!

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Lordship in the Tenth Century

“No man can make himself king, but the people have the choice to select as king whom they please, but after he is consecrated as king, he then has dominion over the people and they cannot shake his yoke from their neck.”

So said Ælfric of Eynsham, (c.955-c.1010), and he tells us here of the absolute nature of kingship. The king is the lord of all the English, so if we are to discover the function of lordship, we should begin by examining the role of the king.

By the tenth century ideas about the spiritual role of kingship had developed along Carolingian lines. A well-documented example of this is Edgar’s coronation at Bath in 973. One school of thought is that Edgar delayed his coronation until he had reached the canonical age of thirty, but it is unlikely that he could have reigned successfully for so long (he succeeded his brother Eadwig in 959) without having been consecrated earlier in his reign, particularly in view of what Ælfric has to say about consecration. [1]

It is more probable that this coronation was based on the Frankish notion of ‘imperium’, stressing the king’s duty before God. Wulfstan, archbishop of York, expanded this idea in his Institutes of Polity. His view was that a Christian king should be a just shepherd to his Christian flock; he was to help the righteous and to afflict the evil-doers, especially thieves and robbers. His true function was to purify his people before God and the world. [2]

The mutual obligation between the king and his subjects is illustrated by an incident in Æthelred the Unready’s reign. With the death of Swein Forkbeard, Æthelred was asked to return from exile in Normandy by the Witan (council), who declared that “no lord was dearer to them than their rightful lord, if only he would govern his kingdom more justly than he had done in the past."[3] The king was king, but his subjects would not allow him to neglect his duty to them.

Yet neither would they neglect to exalt a praise-worthy monarch. Florence of Worcester* summed up the virtues of King Edgar thus:-
“In the winter and spring, he used to make progress through all the provinces of England and enquire diligently whether the laws of the land and his own ordinances were obeyed, so that the poor might not suffer wrong and be oppressed by the powerful…Thus his enemies on every side were filled with awe, and the love of those who owed him allegiance was secured.”
There were, of course, more personal relationships, not only between the king and his subjects, but between the lord and his man. The argument continues among historians as to whether pre-Conquest England was feudal; suffice to say that there was an English equivalent to the Frankish oath of vassalage, this being the Hold-Oath. The oath was essentially negative, a promise to do nothing to harm the lord. It included a gesture of bowing to the lord. The lord in his turn had certain obligations to his man.
“By the Lord, before whom this hallowed thing is holy, I will be steadfast and true to X, to love all he loves and shun all that he shuns, and never, by will or by thought or by deed do aught of what is loathsome to him, as long as he upholds me as I am willing to earn and fulfil all that our understanding was, when I bowed to him and took his will.” 

Naturally, the king could not rule without counsel. The witenagemot, or witan, was the royal council, and had the right, rather than the privilege, to advise the king. The king’s thegns owed their status and position to the king and were rewarded for their service (the word thegn originally meant servant.) It was usually the king’s thegns who were appointed as reeves, responsible for administration in the localities as a check on the powerful ealdormen.

The king with his Witan

The most usual form of reward was that of a land grant. Many charters confirming these land grants still exist, such as King Edgar’s grant of land at Kineton to his thegn Ælfwold in 969. These grants, known as bookland, were not the same as the fief of feudal Frankia. They were granted by the king in the form of a book (charter) for services rendered. Ælfwold was granted the land at Kineton for all his life and could leave it to whomever he chose. The estate was free from all service except “fixed military service and the restoration of bridges and fortresses.”

Many grants were made to the Church, who in turn leased out land in return for service. A good example of this comes from Oswald of Worcester, who lists the service required of the beneficiaries of the land. They should fulfil the law of riding as riding men should, they should pay dues to the Church, swear to be humbly subject to the bishop and lend horses, build bridges, and send hunting spears.

Initially these endowments were made to the Church from the king, and only he could turn folkland into bookland. It soon became, however, the most common way for a lord to reward his man.

A grant by Æthelred the Unready shows how far he was prepared to support his men. His thegn, Æthelwig, gave Christian burial to men killed fighting in defence of a thief. Rather than censure Æthelwig, as Ealdorman Leofsige advised, Æthelred granted his thegn the forfeited land of the brothers who had been killed. [3]

Not all thegns were king’s thegns; many of them had another lord to whom they owed their allegiance. When these thegns died, the heriot (war gear) was surrendered to their lord and not to the king.

Æthelred the 'Unready'

There was another aspect to lordship, an extension of the personal bond into the field of law. In the reign of Edward the Elder (899-924) a letter was written to the king explaining the history of an estate at Fonthill, Wiltshire. It describes how a thief, Helmstan, was required to give an oath to clear himself of the charges brought against him. He asked his lord Ordlaf to intercede for him, which Ordlaf did, even though his man was guilty. [4] This illustrates how a lord was bound to protect his man, whether innocent or guilty. Though the law codes might have forbidden the lord from doing this, often it was more beneficial for a man to appeal to his lord in this way than to appeal in the hundred courts.

By the middle of the tenth century it was becoming customary for lords, ecclesiastical or lay, to receive grants of jurisdiction from the king. Usually these grants were laid down in the charters as ‘sake and soke’. The term implied jurisdiction and control of a court. It was not granted lightly, and these delegated rights were intended to emphasise rather than undermine royal authority. While the landowner enjoyed immunity from public courts, the court over which he presided was not held for his men, but was attended by men drawn from the neighbourhood.

There was also a much more specific form of private jurisdiction. All lords, be they bishops, earls, thegns or abbots, were held responsible for the behaviour of their men. “Such a responsibility involved an exercise in judgement, which would easily be formalised into the giving of judgement.” (HR Loyn) Fortunately, the monarchy was strong enough to ensure that the worst abuses were avoided.

Along with sake and soke, other judicial rights were specified. ‘Toll’ gave the lord the right to take toll on goods sold within the estate, and ‘team’ gave the right to supervise the presentation of convincing evidence that goods for sale actually belonged to the person selling them. ‘Infangenetheof’ gave the lord the right to hang a thief if he had been caught on the estate with the stolen goods still in his possession. By the end of the period, large numbers of hundred courts were in private hands.

A charter of King Æthelred's to his 'faithful man'

Lords, of course, had always been involved with the public courts. Earls and bishops presided over the shire courts. It was here that arrangements were made for the collection of taxes. It was in the interests of landowners to be represented, as the king always was by his servant the shire-reeve. It was also important for lords to establish a presence at the hundred court, where much money could be lost and won. They were also commanded to give full support to the hundredsmen, whose job it was to supervise legal trading and to discourage cattle theft. King Edgar specifically ordered ealdormen Oslac, Ælfhere, and Æthelwine to give such support. “And they are to send them in all directions, that this measure may be known to both the poor and the rich.” [5]

Military duties were linked with the social function of lordship. From the time of King Ine (688-725) forfeiture of land and a heavy fine of 120 schillings was the penalty for a lord neglecting military service. After 899, as well as national obligations to fyrd service, and building bridges and fortifications, men were now to group themselves into tithings and hundreds to protect themselves. Ealdormen and thegns not only formed the select body of the king’s household retainers, but were, as landlords, responsible for the organisation, the summons and the assembling of the fighting forces. They were also involved in the financial and personal organisation which was essential to ensure that competent levies turned out to perform military duties on behalf of their estate. Lords, then, led their men and were responsible for them in times of peace and war and were at both times high up on the social scale, just beneath the king.

Although it was not necessarily a feudal society, a constant theme runs throughout tenth-century English society, that of mutual obligation. At the highest level, the king could demand loyalty and service from his subjects, but in return must rule them justly and protect them. The thegns, earls, and other landowners owed service to the king in judicial, military and personal capacities, for which they were rewarded. They in turn could expect loyalty and service from their men, but they were responsible for them and must protect them. Running though society in this way, the organised system which developed from the simple notion of personal loyalty was an integral part of all areas of central and local administration.

[1] DJV Fisher – The Anglo-Saxon Age Ch 12
[2] HR Loyn – The Governance of Anglo-Saxon England Ch4
[3] EHD – i 117
[4] EHD- i 102
[5] IV Edgar ‘Wihtbordesstan’ Code EHD i 41

* The authorship of the work of Florence is considered to owe more to a fellow monk, John of Worcester