Ok, Ok, I know most of you are thinking, “Enough already, Why haven’t you left yet? You should be well on your way to Kattegat by now!” Well, I am almost ready to leave- in fact I am headed to Lindholm Hoje near Aalborg Denmark and you will get that update on Friday! For now, I just wanted to share this one bit of historical data with you. I am currently trying to finish up some reading and thought you might enjoy the comparisons. This latest book gives us a look at that most interesting of characters in Saxon England. She recently showed up on King Ecbert’s doorstep, and I thought she sounded familiar so of course I had to do a bit more research of my own on who she might be? I am always interested in the back stories of who various characters might be based on…
I’m quite sure many of you who are following the Vikings Saga are just as curious about this woman as I am!
Yes, it’s Princess Kwenthrith in the flesh and wanting more flesh, manly flesh, womanly flesh… but not animal flesh!
Princess Kwenthrith is the young daughter of the late King Offa of Mercia and sister of the late Prince Kenelm, who’s since been sainted by the pope, something the outspoken Kwenthrith finds laughable since her brother, she claims, raped her when she was twelve.
Rumors abound that the princess killed her brother, the heir-apparent to Offa’s throne, setting off a nasty civil war, herself being one of the leading claimants to the Mercian crown. Realizing the advantage of influencing the Mercia’s future, King Ecbert seeks to ally himself with the princess, at least for the time being. He welcomes her to Wessex with a grand feast, where she engages Athelstan in conversation about his experiences among the Northmen. Kwenthrith proceeds to ask the flustered monk about the liberal sex life of the Northmen, and how much more “natural” it seems.
She later shares King Ecbert’s bed, though he is unfortunately finished (and quite exhausted) before the princess has had enough. The king sends in three of his guards in an attempt to satisfy her seemingly insatiable sexual appetite.
When King Ecbert hires a company of Vikings as mercenaries, after a stunning victory against them in battle, the princess strolls through the ranks, remarking that she would like to breed with them, that she would certainly produce “giants” with such men.
Now, as I mentioned, her story sounded vaguely familiar to me so I had to dig up the rest of her story. Of course, names have been altered in the saga… probably to protect what ever innocent victims there may have been, or to not libel the woman’s name just in case she perhaps was not quite as wretched and rather depraved as she appears in history? What ever the reason, there was indeed actually a daughter of King Offa of Mercia and she did have what might be considered a not so savory reputation- that is putting it nicely!
Eadburh (Old English: Ēadburh), also spelled Eadburg, (fl. 789-802) was the daughter of King Offa of Mercia and Queen Cynethryth. She was the wife of King Beorhtric of Wessex, and according to Asser‘s Life of Alfred the Great she accidentally killed her husband by poison. She fled to Francia, where she is said to have been offered the chance of marrying Charlemagne, but ruined the opportunity. Instead she was appointed as the abbess of a convent. Here she is said to have fornicated with an English exile. As a result she was eventually expelled from the monastery and ended her days begging in the streets of Pavia.
Personally, after reading her story, I think they should include more of it into the saga? There are times when actual history is just as interesting, possibly even more so than any fiction you might create around it! For example, according to history, she most probably knew Egbert- maybe even very well before her arrival on his door step. Her Father, Offa of Mercia and Beorhtric of Wessex, sent Egbert into exile but on Beorhtric’s death in 802 Egbert returned and took the throne.
I recently came across an interesting book on her told from her point of view!
Women have always had a tough time in politics. Over twelve hundred years ago, Eadburg made a name for herself as one of the most powerful queens of the early middle ages, and her reputation for malevolence is documented in a contemporaneous biography of King Alfred the Great. Was she truly evil, a tyrant and a murderer, or could her reputation have been part of a double-standard smear campaign by later generations of male chroniclers? Read her story, and you decide.
She is one of those people in history that little is known about, and most of what is recorded about her is from the opposing/winning side and the men in power at the time as is so often the case. This story looks at her life and some of the recorded events from how she might have experienced and perceived it as a woman. She willing admits to some of her supposed misdeeds and character flaws but gives her own reasonings for them and explanations as to why she acted in the way she did. I recommend it for that reason and besides that it’s a rather fun read and contains some excellent words of wisdom from women throughout history as chapter headings!
Added update: I’m almost finished with the story of Eadburh, only have a few pages left but can’t quite bring myself to come to the end of it yet. After all of her various tragedies- yes, some or most of which she probably brought on herself… but still I will be sad to see her pass on even though she has been ready to go for quite some time. I still stand by my initial thought that Michael Hirst should have just presented the character known as Princess Kwenthrith as this real historical person. He has used much of her story in Kwenthrith’s background so really, what need was there to change her name/identity for the show? I am really looking forward to seeing what direction he takes her in but now after reading about her history and reading this version of her story, I will be stuck on comparing Kwenthrith to the Eadburh that I have come to know? I do have to say Thank You to Jayne Stone for this provocative and thoughtful rendition of the woman behind the rumors… Ohhh, and thank you too, Jayne for not leaving her die in the Church yard alone. I really thought that was going to be the sad and most pathetic end to her life right there! I do also have to amend my previous comment on this being a fun read? It was not a fun read as in light and amusing by any stretch of imagination. It was a fun read in the sense of how she approached Eadburh’s depressing, often tragic circumstances and balanced it with enough lighter moments of her life so that we still always hold out some hope for her even in the end. Jayne Stone took this much unknown woman with an at best sketchy reputation- at worst, an outright murderer- she made her come alive and made me care about her. Jeeeesh, she even made me care about the little dog, Poot! I think I felt as bad for him as I did for some others who met a horrible end!