MORE to BROWSE - Pages that might be of Interest

Thursday 2 December 2010

Queen Emma article

 by Helen Hollick

I've put the thesis I wrote for my History Degree (a partially completed course!)  on the menu bar - if you enjoyed Forever Queen / Hollow Crown you might find it interesting.

Thursday 25 November 2010

Earl Godwin

UK Actor Lewis Collins - famous for playing "Bodie" in the 1970's UK TV drama "The Professionals"  is to take the part of  Earl Godwin in the movie 1066. 
Some of his fans have asked "Why Godwin? Who was Godwin?"

James Hanna has kindly taken the trouble to answer the questions.
Go to Earl Godwin on the menu bar above for his excellent article.

Thank you James.

Thursday 18 November 2010

Anglo-Saxon Freedom by Carolyn Schriber

INTRODUCTION: Carolyn Schriber is a historian by training and profession.  Here she raises an interesting question about freedom in Anglo-Saxon society.

Anglo-Saxon Freedom

Here's a semantics problem for your debate blog, Helen.  Did the Anglo-Saxons have any concept of freedom?  Before you answer, let me give you some background.

I'm currently working on the history of a group of Northern Abolitionists who traveled to South Carolina during America's Civil War, ostensibly to  help the newly-freed slaves.  They all agreed that the institution of slavery was wrong, and that the slaves had to be given their freedom.  They were less clear about what they meant by "freedom." A few believed that the slaves only needed to be set free; what they did after that was up to them.  Others understood that people who had been slaves their entire lives would need to be taught how to be free. Some meant economic freedom; some meant religious freedom; others meant political freedom.

And if the Abolitionists were confused, imagine the poor slaves.  In November, 1861, a combined Union  Army and Navy Expedition had sailed into a vast South Carolina anchorage, so terrifying the plantation owners who lived along the South Carolina coast that they simply grabbed what they could carry and fled to the interior of the state. Almost to a man, they abandoned their slaves to their own resources.  The slave reactions were varied, but predictable.

When slave women were told they were "free," the idea frequently sent them into fits of weeping and wailing.  To the women, it meant they were being turned out of the only homes they had ever known.  Where should they go?  What would they do?  Who would take care of them?

To the men, particularly the field hands, being free meant no one was going to make them work ever again. They freed themselves from their hoes and their plows and sat down, waiting to see what would happen next -- unable to make the leap of understanding that they were still going to have to work if they wanted to eat. 

And the youngsters? They took the word free to mean something even more literal.  Many of the young men went on a rampage, breaking into the plantation houses to liberate the goods therein.  They tore up carpets to make suits, donned clothing left behind by fleeing masters, ate and drank whatever they could find, and smashed the items for which they had no use. For them, freedom meant complete release from all the rules.

Thus is freedom a particularly difficult concept.  To ancient cultures, particularly the Greeks and Romans, libertas or eleftheria implied a condition of citizenship.  A free Roman held the liberty of the city, which entitled him to all the privileges and obligations of citizenship.  In medieval France, liberté had more to do with the possession of land, while in Germany, Freiheit had slightly different economic implications. 

Where I get stuck is with the Anglo-Saxons.  Old English has the word Liesing which seems to describe a freed man -- someone who has been freed FROM something.  But there doesn't seem to be a word for what we think of as "freedom."

Why is that?  Did the Anglo-Saxons even recognize  the concept of freedom?  And if they did so, did they see it as a good thing or something to be feared?

CLOSING NOTE: Carolyn Schriber now writes Civil War novels.  Her latest release, Beyond All Price, is available or from  Katzenhaus Books You can also find her on Facebook   Twitter   and  LinkedIn or Email Carolyn  

Monday 8 November 2010

Why did Harold Godwineson go to Normandy?

by Helen Hollick

In 1063/4 Earl Harold of Wessex took ship and ended up in Normandy.
On board he had hounds, hawks - gifts obviously.

For some reason he ended up as a prisoner to Guy de Ponthieu- who was then forced to submit to Duke William who apologised profusely to Harold and his men.

Harold then spent several months in Normandy - even going on campaign with William.
But then, he was forced to swear an oath - stating he would support William's claim to the English throne.

We know these events happened because they are in the Bayeux Tapestry.

But we do not know why Harold went to Normandy.

Was he heading elsewhere?
Was his ship blown off course by a storm?
Had he merely set out on a fishing trip?


and this I firmly believe - was he intending to go to Normandy to plead for the release of his brother Wulfnoth and cousin Hakon who had been held hostage since 1052?

One other fact that we do know. Harold returned to England with Hakon.

Over to you.
What do you think?

Friday 1 October 2010

The Weymouth dig - Viking Warriors or Mercenaries?

Robert Cronin, who is studying at Birkbeck University London UK (I did my half-degree there!) has offered these thoughts about the recent mass grave of Viking skeletons found in Dorset.

Fifty one beheaded bodies and skulls were found at Weymouth, Dorset, England in July 2009. They were carbon dated to c.910-c.1030 and water tests on ten sets of teeth revealed they came from a wide range of area in Scandinavia. One set of teeth came from north of the Arctic Circle, which means this person was not a Norseman, but probably one of the Saami or Finn Reindeer nomads and herders. These people were fantastic archers, which is perhaps why he was a member of the Viking crew.
Saami's and Finns do appear in some Viking sagas (and sea-battles, like at Svold in the Baltic c.1000 between Norse v Rebel Nose, Danes & Swedes *) and were used by Norse kings as their body-guards.

It is thought that this Viking crew went too far inland but got caught out. However I do not agree with this official explanation.

Vikings would usually fight to the death if cornered. There is also a problem with the archaeological explanation since some of the bodies have sword cuts to the arms. For me that sent alarm bells ringing, and I have come up with the following explanation.

I think these Vikings were mercenaries in the pay of the Anglo-Saxons, and killed by the Anglo-Saxons in an ambush or surprise attack in the night or just before dawn of Friday 13th November 1002 - otherwise known as the 'St. Brice's Day Massacre'.

The reason being that Pallig (married to Swegn of Denmark's sister) the commander of the mercenaries, was plotting to take the English throne, but were pre-emptied by the English. (See the Anglo Saxon Chronicles and William of Malmsbury for more details.) There were other massacres in Oxford and probably two Viking armies in winter quarters, under a peace treaty were wiped out in the same ordered massacre in London and another place in Essex or East Anglia.

[N.B. from Helen: Æthelred ordered all the Danish settled in England to be slaughtered. We do not know why, obviously some political or treacherous reason was behind it. In most places the order was ignored: Oxford, in particular did obey the command, however, under the leadership of Eadric Streona one of Æthelred’s “trusted” advisors. I do not agree with Robert’s theory about Pallig. He was incited as being behind a Norse attack on Exeter, Queen Emma’s holding, but it is recorded that he vehemently denied this. There is no record to say that Pallig was involved in the massacre – given that he was accused of Exeter, I would have thought there would have been a reference of some sort. In my novel The Forever Queen / A Hollow Crown I have assumed that Pallig was already dead by St Brice’s Day.]

According to my reckoning perhaps as many as 8,000 Viking mercenaries and warriors were killed. Most of these would have been killed by the population of the Danelaw. Even though they were in origin of 9th century Danish decent, they hated the Viking mercenaries and raiders because they also suffered in raids, and had to pay the lion's share of the tribute (or salary) that had to be paid to Viking raiders and mercenaries.
[Helen: the ‘heregeld’, it was not called the more common ‘Danegeld’ until much later than 1002. ]

Still 910 to 1030 is a wide range of date, and trying to tie it into a particular event is hard to prove. Most of the bodies are in their early 20's and a few are late 30's. For me that would suggest the younger men are the crew and the older men are the ship's officers.

Weymouth lies on the edge of a zone with double tides and I think this Viking crew were perhaps employed as a guard ship by the Bishop of Sherborne to keep watch and guard the coasts from other Viking raiders.

Just because 10 sets of teeth are Scandinavian, does not guarantee this is a Scandinavian ship. Since, if costs allow, the 41 other sets of teeth, might reveal a different origin. If tests prove some skulls have a southern or eastern Baltic origin this may send shock-waves through the (Dark-Age) history and archaeology academic community, as this means Slavs, Balts, Finno-Ugrians (Estonians and Finns, Saami) will have to be included in late Anglo-Saxon and Viking history, rather than excluded from it by means of a 'Berlin Wall' or 'Iron Curtain'?
A crew of 50 is closer to a Western Slav Ship than an 80 strong Danish ship.

Thank you for the contribution to this blog Robert.

comments, feedback, thoughts and ideas are welcome

This is a very good related article
A Viking Mystery

BBC History Website

Wednesday 18 August 2010

The Making of King Arthur. Norman v Romano British?

Did anyone see the Making of Arthur programme on BBC? I gave up with it. I can't stand the Medieval version of
Arthur. The cuckolded King; goody-two-shoes Lancelot, who turns out to be disloyal, a traitor and an adulterer?
I never have seen Arthur as a Norman-based "knight in armour". (I do wonder if my dislike of these stories is anything to do with my not very impressed opinion of the Normans?)

I "awoke" to Arthur when reading Mary Stewart's Merlin books. She had an author's note that place Arthur firmly in the post-Roman/pre Saxon era. I did some research - was hooked. YES this was MY Arthur! Which is why I set my Pendragon's Banner Trilogy firmly in the 450-500 bracket. No Norman influence in my story, just the earlier Welsh legends which portray Arthur in a very different light to the Norman version.

I know the Knights of the Round Table are only stories, but I can't relate to them. (and before you all slam me for being a biased old crab - I'm not keen on several things - not keen on Dickens, nor the Ali Baba et al 1001 Nights. (Or is that 1001 knights? :-)

To me Arthur is a Romano British warlord. Was. Is. Always will be.
How do you see him?