Archive | November 2015

Time Traveler’s guide to Christmas: Pre-Christian roots

Now that Thanksgiving is over, it’s time to think about the other winter holidays! Please enjoy my Time traveler’s guide to the holidays… from pre-Christian Roman roots to early medieval and Viking beliefs, this series of articles covers just about anything you might want or need to know about the winter holidays of the past. I posted this series last year, but all of the information still applies and nothing has changed so I will try to re-post the series throughout this month for your convenience and enjoyment!

Time Slips

Music to accompany your holiday time travel journey: https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2014/12/16/musical-inspiration-christmas-music/

 History of Christmas in early England

Previous post: https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2014/12/12/time-travelers-guide-to-christmas-part-one/

yule3

As I mentioned in the previous post, this next discussion will focus on earlier forms of celebrating Christmas. As we work through the history, you will find that many of the customs and traditions you follow now as Christmas celebrations are passed on from much earlier pre-Christian winter Solstice celebrations.  Some of them are remnants of Roman traditions but the majority of them that we are most familiar with stem from ancient Germanic and Nordic beliefs and customs. As we saw in the previous post, the earliest Norse migration into northern Scotland and the later Saxon and Viking migrations into the southern portions of the British Isles infused the cultures there with those Germanic and Norse traditions.  The earliest Romans also left their mark in some ways, but towards the end…

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The Last Kingdom episode 4: The Peace is over

At the end of episode 3, Leofrich and Uhtred watched the Danes leave and Leofrich had some serious words for Uhtred about his future… “This year, what you’re giving to Alfred, it’s not about a mail coat and helmet. It’s about you. The Bastard thinks, didn’t I say that? He wants more than a year’s service, he wants you. He wants you to help take back England, all of  England. Of course when the year is up, you could go back to the Danes… but what would you be, who would you be?”

You could go back to the Danes but who would you be

 

This question will haunt Uhtred throughout his life, it will tear at him as he tries to figure out the answer and it will ever be what causes him to fight both the physical battles and those battles within himself. As the land settles into some temporary peace before the storm Uhtred will find no peace within himself for a very long time. He has sold himself to Alfred for the vague rewards that Alfred promises and it eats at him continually. The anger, frustration, resentment and guilt are always there just beneath the surface for Uhtred. Of course, those underlying feelings are much of what makes him the warrior that he is and will ever be, but they also cloud his judgement and his reasoning.

Episode 4 deals with the peace being over in more ways than one. It is not so much about peace being over in the land with the Danes, but more about peace of mind, peaces of heart being torn and doubts creeping into cracks. It is about those underlying conflicts coming to surface as the larger storm of war approaches. It is about those differences of thought and opinion that can tear a land apart before it even begins to do battle with an enemy. Uhtred is now a part of Alfred’s army, but there is much resentment from some among Alfred’s inner circle about this decision.  Uhtred holds title of Ealdorman of Northumbria, but that is far to north and in Dane control.  His title is in name only and holds little value to those in the south. Uhtred needs land holding in the south to be considered of importance by the Ealdormen there. Alfred also needs to bind Uhtred to him by some deeper hold… so he “rewards” Uhtred with marriage and a landholding…  Uhtred accepts the bride and the land, sight unseen because he needs the land and it’s wealth in order to accomplish his one goal of reclaiming Bebbanburg someday in the future, and his goal to one day rejoin Ragnar and avenge their family’s deaths. He claims to Leofrich that his bride’s appearance is of no consequence, makes little difference because this is a marriage for title, land and wealth nothing more…

The wife chosen for Uhtred is God daughter of Odda the Elder and in the very beginning of episode, we see Odda the younger’s resentment of Uhtred and of this proposed marriage. We also see, by the way, a very clear view of Uhtred and some of his finer assets…

moon 01

I readily admit here that I enjoyed and appreciated the view even though it could be considered in some sense as gratuitous and pandering to the female viewers. There was a conversation between Uhtred and Odda that made attempt to connect our view and make it relevant… that conversation also served to irritate Odda even more so I will accept that this was the supposed purpose of our view! Uhtred’s response to Odda’s disparaging remarks were, “Have you been watching me, Odda the boy? Should I be marrying you?” Odda is disgusted and offers to pay Uhtred to not go through with the marriage. Uhtred’s final response to this nonsense is to ask Odda if his Father knows or approves of this offer… Odda the younger rides off in more disgust.

I will also admit here that I have never read of any sort of custom that requires a young woman of some noble standing to go to her marriage in such complete masking or coverage as Uhtred’s bride arrived.  One might assume that she was contagious or possibly an obsessed beekeeper. That is my rather minor complaint with this portion of the episode. I would have thought that heavy cloak and hood would suffice in keeping her under wraps… I think they went a bit overboard in this aspect!

mildrith in mask

None the less, we did discover that rather than being a carrier of some dread disease, the young Mildrith was instead a true prize… or as Alfred would mention, a consolation prize for Uhtred.

uhtred and mildrith meet mildrith

Uhtred is quite happy with his bride and wonders why she has not been already given to someone else… Mildrith is rather evasive about this and chooses to direct the conversation elsewhere. Uhtred is so happy that he fails to question what she might be avoiding.  He takes his bride and his new best friend, Leofrich and heads off to his new home, never once questioning why he has received such a prize…

Along their way, they find Guthrum’s warriors scouting deep within the boundaries of Wessex.  Meanwhile back in Wessex, Alfred and Odda the Elder are discussing Mildrith’s plight and Uhtred’s test. “He will not like being beholden to God and King, but if he is to become a true Ealdorman he must accept his burden. That is the test… Mildrith is his beautiful consolation.”

Uhtred does quickly discover that Alfred has set him up by marrying Mildrith to him and now he will owe the church a 2000 shilling debt that increases yearly.  Needless to say, Uhtred is not amused with the news! Damn Alfred, Damn his church, Damn everything he stands for! His added response to Mildrith… By all means, Call me Earsling for not seeing this sooner!  Ummm probably not the best way to start a marriage. This is one situation that I really can not quite settle with in regards to Alfred’s many actions to maintain control of Uhtred. Many of his other retributions and controls, I could always come to some understanding on but this one was one of the most underhanded and manipulative of his deeds. It set Uhtred up so that in some essence or way, he might never be free or clear of this overhanging debt. And, the debt is not to Alfred, but to the church- which Alfred knows Uhtred has no regard for. The church feels the same way about Uhtred and would love to see him fail on this debt- not only so as to be free of him, but to gain the land involved. I think too, this is one instance where Odda the Elder does not agree with Alfred’s actions concerning using Mildrith and her property in this plot to tie Uhtred even more tightly to him in both loyalty and debt. This action does not teach Uhtred any lesson really, other than to trust Alfred even less. It’s certainly not one which would encourage or inspire undying loyalty.

 

Uhtred arrives at his new landholding to discover that is not quite what he was expecting either. No large hall, not much of anything but a worn and ragged rather rundown farmstead with an overseer who seems too well fed and dressed to be altogether honest no matter what trusting and naïve Mildrith might think. His best bud Leofrich abandons him and reminds him that it’s his wedding night, then he finds out that not only has he been robbed, but his wife Mildrith has been as well- of half of her bride price. To top it all off, the ale is not even worth drinking… so much for this Wedding night! He does however, manage to contain his anger- which is a rather huge accomplishment for him.   He wakes up the next morning in a somewhat better frame of mind sets about making amends to Mildrith because as he tells her, none of this was her fault and she has a good heart.  Mildrith does have a good heart, she is pleasant natured (for now) and she’s good to look upon as well. God is Good, an admit from Uhtred himself! Well, perhaps there is some hope for this relationship after all… then again perhaps not? 

mildreth gif 02

They have a lovely honeymoon period with some peace and seem to be living happily ever after on the farm… there is even the prospect of a new addition to the family. God is Good, Life is Good… until the sisters of fate intervene!

 

uhtred and leofrich2 uhtred and mildrith make peace with each other

The Peace is over and the Danes are marching through Wessex… By the time word reaches Alfred, it will be too late!

ragnar and brida brida

 

The peace is over within Alfred’s sanctuary, his home, his church and his inner circle as well. Arguments and accusations begin as Wessex attempts to prepare for the Heathen invasion and a battle at Wareham. Odda the Elder is made aware of his son’s dubious honor and Eilswith shows her more vindictive, spiteful nature…along with her ability to reproduce.  Her less than Christian behavior includes welcoming Mildrith to pray with her and then wishing Uhtred a quick death upon the battlefield. Mildrith is still happy, optimistic and in love with her husband so she cares not what Eilswith thinks, she prays God will protect him even if he is a heathen!

Ealswith and mildrith ealswith is showing her spiteful side mildrith2

 

The conflicts between Alfred and Uhtred come to the surface as they debate the Hand of God and whether God is speaking to the Danes as well.  Alfred considers it God’s doing that Ivar has died across the sea in Ireland and Ubba will abandon this fight to go avenge his brother.  Uhtred confronts Alfred on the debt owed to the church and Alfred responds that Sacrifice and Penance are what separate us from the Heathens… I have my broth to suffer, you have your debt.  Alfred later admits to Father Beocca, “He can not be tamed” Father Beocca’s answer is that he can be trusted and Alfred assures Beocca that he will not abandon Uhtred because he may still be of some use.

Guthrum and his Danes, including Ragnar take Wareham and the Saxon army prepares for battle. Guthrum however, knows and understands that Alfred can easily win this siege by waiting them out. Guthrum spends time within the quietness of the Christian Church contemplating his situation and is confronted by Ragnar who wants to fight, “I did not march my men all the way across this country to sit here and starve!” Guthrum points out that Ubba has abandoned them and put all their lives at risk so now is not the time for war…. until Ubba returns, we must make peace. Doubts are setting in on the Dane side as well, doubts about each other and doubts about personal beliefs.  Guthrum feels them but manages to keep them at bay for the time being, mainly because when he calls out to the Christian God and asks for a sign, he gets nothing- “So, if you are there God of Rome, Strike me down… ahhh I thought naught!” It is becoming apparent though that Guthrum is having some thoughts about this God again and his peace of mind is shaken.

Guthrum God of rome strike me down

Alfred and Guthrum meet on the field at Wareham but both realize the futility of battle right now… neither side would truly win such a battle attempt and the result would be a weakening of their forces. There is negotiation over Guthrum leaving, and when… it is in Guthrum’s best interest to remain as long as possible in hopes that Ubba will return while it is in Alfred’s best interest to be rid of them as quickly as possible. They’re at a stalemate but come to some agreement that results in more loss of that inner personal peace of mind for a few people. Alfred has a plan to create more doubt in Guthrum’s mind. He has heard rumors of Guthrum’s questions about the Christian God so he decides to send a Priest to sway Guthrum and work towards converting him- a challenge that obviously plays havoc with Father Selbix’s peace of mind! Alfred also uses Uhtred once again and once more puts him in the middle of the Danes, and his family. Alfred’s decision to use Uhtred as a hostage casts yet another shadow on Uhtred’s heart and tears again at his loyalties.

hostages

Father Selbix must try to make peace with Guthrum and show him the way to the Christian God…

father selbix selbix and guthrum selbix to guthrum you are a miracle

While we might assume that Father Selbix failed in his mission, did he really? Yes, he met his death much as he expected he might at the hands of Guthrum and the Danes, but he met it quickly and mercifully as Guthrum sent him on his way to meet his God. There was no lengthy dragged out torture here. In fact, the torture seemed to be more on Guthrum’s face and possibly in his mind or heart as he did what he felt he needed to do in the killing of the hostages that included Father Selbix.

Guthrum gives Selbix a merciful quick death and meeting with his God

Uhtred and Ragnar battled their own inner wars as they faced each other again and had to work through guilt, feelings of betrayal and the heart ache of being a family divided by this coming war. Brida’s thoughts were and always will be more black and white, cut and dried on the issues. You are either a Dane and with them, or you are not, in her mind it will ever come down to that feeling. Ragnar is filled with frustration and rage at Uhtred’s oath and loyalty to Alfred but he does understand Uhtred’s need now to return to his family, his wife and the son that he has been given news of. In Ragnar’s mind and heart, they will ever be brothers, family- and that will come before anything else.  Uhtred admitted to Ragnar that he must try to escape if Ubba returned and although Ragnar is outraged at Uhtred’s disloyalty to the Danes, in his heart he knows that Uhtred is now doing what he feels he must to protect his own family. Ragnar and Uhtred will always have that certain deeper bond that even Brida does not have with Uhtred.

Uhtred waits out the hostage situation.

Uhtred waits out the hostage situation.

Ragnar is outraged

Ragnar is outraged

In the end, Ragnar can not stand by and allow Uhtred to be killed. He stands against Guthrum to protect Uhtred. Guthrum makes some attempt to reason with Ragnar but then once more he shows some compassion, some mercy… some charity.

ragnar will defend his brother at any cost

guthrum once agains shows mercy and charity he releases Uhtred without a horse

The Peace is over.  War will tear hearts and loved ones apart but compassion, mercy and family will forever be a tie that binds people together.

go and see your child

uhtred the peace is over

Some additional history about people events during this time:

odda with mildrith

In the Last Kingdoms books and on the show, we see Odda the Elder and Odda the younger… Odda the Elder is a historical figure connected to Alfred and to the Great Heathen Wars. We will see more of both of them in episode 5 along with the events at the Battle of Cynwit.

Odda, also known as Oddune,  was a ninth-century ealdorman of Devon. He is known for his victory at the Battle of Cynwit in 878, where his West Saxon forces defeated a Viking army led by Ubba, brother of the Viking chiefs Ivar the Boneless and Halfdan Ragnarsson.  Throughout the 870s Odda’s liege, Alfred the Great, King of Wessex, was engaged in constant war with the Vikings. They had begun their invasion of England in 865, and by Alfred’s accession in 871 the Kingdom of Wessex was the only Anglo-Saxon realm opposing them.  By 878 the conflict was going poorly for Alfred. In January of that year, the Danes made a sudden attack on Chippenham, a royal stronghold in which Alfred had been staying over Christmas, “and most of the people they killed, except the King Alfred, and he with a little band made his way by wood and swamp, and after Easter he made a fort at Athelney in the marshes of Somerset, and from that fort kept fighting against the foe”.

Guthrum and his men were holding Wareham…

Archaeological evidence exists of a small Roman settlement, though the current town was founded by the Saxons.  The Roman name is unknown, but the town is referred to as Werham in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle entry of 784, from Old English wer (meaning ‘fish trap, a weir’) and hām (‘homestead’) or hamm (‘enclosure hemmed in by water’).

  Wareham

waiting at Wareham

waiting at Wareham

The town’s oldest features are the town walls, ancient earth ramparts surrounding the town, likely built by Alfred the Great in the 9th century to defend the town from the Danes as part of his system of burh towns. The Danes had invaded Wareham in 876, only leaving after the payment of a ransom. In 998 they attacked again, and in 1015 an invasion led by King Canute left the town in ruins.  The town was a Saxon royal burial place, notably that of King Beorhtric (800 CE). Also in the town at the ancient minster church of Lady St. Mary is the coffin said to be that of Edward the Martyr, dating from 978. His remains had been hastily buried there and were later taken from Wareham to Shaftesbury Abbey in north Dorset (and now lie in Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey).

ragnar tells Guthrum my men they will not follow you

In 876 under their new leader, Guthrum, the Danes slipped past the Saxon army and attacked and occupied Wareham in Dorset. Alfred blockaded them but was unable to take Wareham by assault.  Accordingly, he negotiated a peace which involved an exchange of hostages and oaths, which the Danes swore on a “holy ring” associated with the worship of Thor The Danes, however, broke their word and, after killing all the hostages, slipped away under cover of night to Exeter in Devon.

Alfred blockaded the Viking ships in Devon, and with a relief fleet having been scattered by a storm, the Danes were forced to submit. The Danes withdrew to Mercia.

800px-England_Great_Army_map_svg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Veterans Day

In honor of Veterans Day, a reblog of my previous post on Veterans Day!

Time Slips

In honor of Veteran’s Day, I just want to share this post made by Diana Gabaldon on her face book page. It is an excerpt from Written in my own heart’s blood that deals with Jamie going to war again and Claire’s feelings on it.

http://www.dianagabaldon.com/books/outlander-series/written_in_my_own_hearts_blood/

He’d come up to the loft and pulled the ladder up behind him, to prevent the children coming up. I was dressing quickly—or trying to—as he told me about Dan Morgan, about Washington and the other Continental generals. About the coming battle.

“Sassenach, I _had_ to,” he said again, softly. “I’m that sorry.”

“I know,” I said. “I know you did.” My lips were stiff. “I—you—I’m sorry, too.”

I was trying to fasten the dozen tiny buttons that closed the bodice of my gown, but my hands shook so badly that I couldn’t even grasp them. I stopped trying and dug my hairbrush out…

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More good news for Bernard Cornwell fans and fans of history!

Just wanted to share this recent news.  A recent Variety article revealed that Bad Wolf productions is developing an small screen adaptation of Bernard Cornwell’s series, The Warlord Chronicles!

Variety can also exclusively reveal that the company is developing an adaptation of Bernard Cornwell’s trilogy “The Warlord Chronicles,” which is a revisionist take on the King Arthur legend. “He is a great storyteller as we know from everything from ‘Sharpe’ to ‘The Last Kingdom,’” Gardner said. “He has a very innovative way into the Arthurian stories, which is to take an ordinary man who by work, chance and life is an observer and an intimate in the relationships of Arthur, Lancelot and the key characters that we know.”

This information was included in Variety’s announcement of  HBO partnering with Bad Wolf Productions. You can read the entire article here:

http://variety.com/2015/tv/global/hbo-partners-with-production-company-bad-wolf-1201632217/

If you follow this blog on any regular basis, you will probably be well aware and familiar with my interest in the early Saxon period in Britain as well as the Roman involvement there. I’ve read the Warlord Chronicles and discussed them previously.  If you have not read this series, you should!

Bernard Cornwell takes a more realistic approach and perspective in his telling of the legend of Arthur. For the most part, he avoids the myth, magic and fantasy realm and tries to create the more real world that Arthur might have lived in. The only exception is his inclusion of Merlin, but even with Merlin, Cornwell attempts to give us a more realistic presentation of Merlin as one of the few remaining Druid Preists in that time period. He does an excellent job for the most part, of debunking much of the magic, mystery and myth but does leave some mystery and question surrounding Merlin.  I say for the most part, because I will admit that I did struggle a bit with the character of Merlin, and at times I felt like Bernard struggled a bit with him as well. Aside from that minor issue, the books were an excellent interpretation of the legend and the more real history that surrounds that myth and legend.

I’ve already written reviews on the book series as well as a number of articles pertaining to early Saxon and Roman history in Britain. I have also previously discussed the legends of Arthur. I will provide links here to some of those previous articles!

Saxons, Romans and Arthur:

king-arthur-tapestry

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/06/30/saxons-romans-and-arthur/

From Odin and Woden to Anglo-Saxons in Britain:

wodin and his followers

wodin and his followers

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/06/23/from-odin-and-woden-to-anglo-saxons-in-britain/

 

Ancient history connects Norse with Romans and Arthur:

Roman era map of Britain

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2014/06/24/from-the-creator-ancient-history-connects-the-norse-with-romans-and-king-arthur/

The Last Kingdom episode 3

One King dies, another King rises… Armies march and Uhtred must choose

 In episode 3, we spent much of the time in Wessex seeing the fallout from the unseen battle that resulted in the death of one King and rise of another, Alfred. Althelred is mortally wounded in the battle and dies shortly afterwards.  Alfred is filled with doubts about his own abilities but is certain of one thing… he can surely hold the Kingdom together better than the incapable and drunken young man who insists that he is the true heir to the crown. Besides dealing with Athelred’s death, his impending kingship and the surly drunken Athelwold, he must also determine what to do with Uhtred and the rather surly outspoken Brida.

TLK_103_7 TLK_103_47

a drunken Athelwold

a drunken Athelwold

TLK_103_1

Uhtred and Brida await news of the battle’s outcome from a jail cell. Father Beocca brings them good news but Brida does not see it that way. In her mind, the best news would be of a loss and Alfred’s death.  Beocca assures Uhtred that they will be released soon, but Brida can not hold her frustration and anger in screaming, “We are Danes!”  probably not the wisest comment considering their current circumstances… 

brida can not and will not hold her tongue Brida thinks good news would be Alfred is dead Brida makes it clear we are Danes

Once they are finally released, Uhtred impatiently insists on a meeting with Alfred to discuss the battle win and his reward… Alfred calmly explains that he has a few other things on his mind right now like the death of his brother and his own impending kingship. Alfred is a little pre-occupied right now to have to deal with Uhtred. That will have to come later.

 

Episode 3 dealt with the fallout from the battle that took Athelred’s life and left Alfred and his nephew, Athelwold at some odds over who should rule the Kingdom. There is never really any question about that debate, other than what might be in Athelwold’s rather foggy and often inebriated mind. Athelwold does have one half hearted supporter, however and that young man’s actions should not be discounted or blown off… he will show his deviousness and untrustworthiness in the future. That young man is Odda the Younger and he is not quite so fuddled or incompetent as Athewold.  I only mention him here and now because in the beginning of episode we see a conversation between him and Athelwold that gives a huge clue as to how Odda the Younger’s mind works… when he encourages Athelwold in his ploy and suggests how  Athelwold should claim his Father’s backing of him no matter what Alfred or the Witan might say differently.

TLK_103_35

Some people have made comments and voiced some concerns about the lack of battle scenes thus far. Episodes 3 and 4 do not include major battles, blood or gore. These two episodes deal more with setting up the future plot lines and twists that will become important in the future. They serve to give us a better look and understanding of the characters and of the underlying conspiracies that will run through the story. I think this is just as important to the story as attempting to include some major battle scene in every episode. First of all, the show is running on an extremely tight time and money budget for this first season- those massive battle scenes are expensive and time consuming to pull off in a believable, authentic manner or representation. I personally would prefer that rather than include battle, blood and gore in every episode just for effect, they save the battle scenes and provide them in a way that will truly be epic, standout and memorable to viewers. Yes, they could have shown the battle that killed Athelred in episode 3 but then they would have had to eliminate some of the other just as important but not so in your face violent scenes and segments. The results of the battle are important for everyone concerned there.  That aftermath needed to be addressed in the way it was because it sets up the future for all of them, Saxons and Danes alike.

Thanks in part to Uhtred’s advice, the Saxons did win the battle. Uhtred assumed that Alfred would be so grateful for that help that he would just automatically reward him and not question his reasons or motives at all. Alfred was not so gullible as to believe anything or anyone at face value… well, other than his priests. What you should be realizing even this early in the story is that Uhtred is not necessarily the stereotypical hero type. Uhtred messes up, a lot. He may be the main and central character that the story revolves around, he may be the “good guy” warrior of the battle but that does not mean that he always wins or that he conquers all. Right now, Uhtred has many lessons to learn in life. He will learn most of those lessons the hard way- as in “if at first you fail, then try again”  The person who ends up teaching Uhtred many of those difficult life lessons is Alfred the King. 

Are you offering your sword or selling your sword

On the subject of Alfred the King, we need to understand something very important about his role in the story and in general, I think. Alfred does express his own failings, his own doubts on being a successful King but he does not express these feelings to the public. Alfred is very clear about his goal, his dream for a united England. He also understands his role as leader of his people and knows full well that the worst thing he could do in his situation is show any sign of weakness or vulnerability to his subjects or to the Danes. It’s obvious to anyone who sees him that he is not a strong warrior who can go out and conquer battles/enemies physically. That leaves him with one other option… he must win with mind games, with words and out thinking his opponents. Alfred knows that his kingdom is in a precarious situation and that he will have to make difficult decisions which many of his subjects will not approve of or agree on.  As King, it is Alfred’s responsibility to lead his people and win this war that is beginning around them.  Alfred will inevitably often do things which may not endear him to everyone… he definitely is not the most likeable or jovial, fun loving kind of King. His court is certainly not one high on the A-list of parties or events. It will never be that kind of place even when there is peace in the land! Whether you like him or not is not really his ultimate concern or worry. He has far more important matters to be concerned with than whether he is well liked by all. Of course, he would like to be known as a fair and just ruler to his subjects but he needs his subjects, all of them- and that includes stubborn Uhtred- to trust him, to know that he is strong in mind and convictions, that he can not be taken advantage of or manipulated by factions who would seek to use him for their own benefits. Ohhh and yes of course, he does want to be liked by that one temptation of the flesh that he keeps near to him because of Father Beocca’s suggestion.   One might assume that Alfred’s likeability issues are due to the religious influences engrained in him and while that does play a huge part in his actions, I think it comes down more to the fact that he needs to win a war and make those often unpopular decisions that come along with any crisis. I think even without the religious influence, Alfred would have still been a serious minded individual who needed to be seen as a strong and firm leader.  Alfred’s idea of a good time is more along the lines of a philosophical discussion, a rousing taefl game of strategy or an evening of riddling… and then possibly a game of temptation involving earlier mentioned temptation of the flesh.

taefl game board

The term tafl  is the original name of the game. However, Hnefatafl became the preferred term for the game in Scandinavia by the end of the Viking Age, to distinguish it from other board games, such as Skáktafl (chess), Kvatrutafl (Tables) and Halatafl (Fox games), as these became known. The specific name Hnefatafl possibly arose as meaning “board game of the fist”, from hnefi (“fist”) + tafl, where “fist” referred to the central king-piece. The precise etymology is disputed, but hnefi certainly referred to the king-piece, and several sources refer to Hnefatafl as “King’s table”. In Anglo-Saxon England, the term tæfl also referred to many board games. It is not known if the Anglo-Saxons had a specific name for the game or if they generically referred to it as “tæfl” in the way that modern people might refer to “cards”.  Having spent time in Francia, Alfred may also have had some experience with early games of chess.

Riddling

One of the most popular games was riddling. A warrior was not considered to be up to much unless his word skill was as good as his weapon skills. Riddling was a good way of demonstrating this skill and many of the riddles of the time are full of double meanings which suggest two answers, one innocent, the other more ‘raunchy’. These riddles could be anything from a one to a hundred lines long and sought to describe everyday objects in an unusual way. Part of the skill of riddling was to be able to construct the riddle using the correct ‘poetic’ conventions. Obviously, as well as the correct construction, it was important to make sure that the description given was not too obscure. Here are some actual Saxon riddles. Alfred of course would have preferred the more innocent and correct poetic contexts and conventions!

  1. I’m by nature solitary,
    scarred by spear
    and wounded by sword, weary of battle.
    I frequently see the face of war, and fight
    hateful enemies; yet I hold no hope
    of help being brought to me in the battle,
    before I’m eventually done to death.
    In the stronghold of the city sharp-edged swords,
    skillfully forged in the flame by smiths
    bite deeply into me. I can but await
    a more fearsome encounter; it is not for me
    to discover in the city any of those doctors
    who heal grievous wounds with roots and herbs.
    The scars from sword wounds gape wider and wider
    death blows are dealt me by day and by night.
  2. I’m told a certain object grows
    in the corner, rises and expands, throws up
    a crust. A proud wife carried off
    that boneless wonder, the daughter of a king
    covered that swollen thing with a cloth.
  3. Wob’s my name if you work it out;
    I’m a fair creature fashioned for battle
    When I bend and shoot my deadly shaft
    from my stomach, I desire only to send
    that poison as far away as possible.
    When my lord, who devised this torment for me,
    releases my limbs, I become longer
    and, bent upon slaughter, spit out
    that deadly poison I swallowed before.
    No man’s parted easily from the object
    I describe; if he’s struck by what flies
    from my stomach, he pays for its poison
    with his strength – speedy atonement for his life
    I’ll serve no master when unstrung, only when
    I’m cunningly nocked. Now guess my name.
  4. On the way a miracle: water become bone.
  5. Favoured by men, I am found far and wide,
    taken from woods and the heights of the town,
    From high and from low. during each day
    bees brought me through the bright sky
    skillfully home to a shelter. Soon after that
    I was taken by men and bathed in a tub.
    Now I blind them and chasten them, and cast
    a young man at once to the ground,
    and sometimes an old one too.
    He who struggles against my strength,
    he who dares grapple with me, discovers immediately
    that he will hit the hard floor with his back
    if he persists with such stupidity.
    Deprived of his strength and strangely loquacious,
    he’s a fool, who rules neither his mind
    nor his hands nor his feet.
    Now ask me, my friends,
    who knocks young men stupid,
    and as his slave binds them
    in broad waking daylight?
    Yes ask me my name.
  6. On earth there’s a warrior of curious origin.
    He’s created, gleaming, by two dumb creatures
    for the benefit of men. Foe bears him against foe
    to inflict harm. Women often fetter him,
    strong as he is. If maidens and men
    care for him with due consideration
    and feed him frequently, he’ll faithfully obey them
    and serve them well. Men succour him for the warmth
    he offers in return; but this warrior will savage
    anyone who permits him to become too proud.
  7. The dank earth, wondrously cold,
    first delivered me from her womb.
    I know in my mind I wasn’t made
    from wool, skillfully fashioned with skeins.
    Neither warp nor weft wind about me,
    no thread thrums for me in the thrashing loom,
    nor does a shuttle rattle for me,
    nor does the weaver’s rod bang and beat me.
    Silkworms didn’t spin with their strange craft for me,
    those strange creatures that embroider cloth of gold.
    Yet men will affirm all over this earth
    that I am an excellent garment.
    O wise man, weigh your words
    well, and say what this object is.
  8. A woman, young and lovely, often locked me
    in a chest; she took me out at times,
    lifted me with fair hands and gave me
    to her loyal lord, fulfilling his desire.
    Then he stuck his head well inside me,
    pushed it upwards into the smallest part.
    It was my fate, adorned as I was, to be filled
    with something rough if that person who possessed me
    was virile enough. Now guess what I mean.
  9. A strange thing hangs by man’s hip,
    hidden by a garment. It has a hole
    in its head. It is stiff and strong
    and its firm bearing reaps a reward.
    When the retainer hitches his clothing
    high above his knee, he wants the head
    of that hanging thing to find the old hole
    that it, outstretched, has often filled before.
  10. I saw a creature: his stomach stuck out behind him,
    enormously swollen. A stalwart servant
    waited upon him. What filled his stomach
    had travelled from afar, and flew through his eye.
    He does not always die in giving life
    to others, but new strength revives
    in the pit of his stomach: he breathes again.
    He fathers a son; he’s his own father also.

ANSWERS:

  • Shield
  • Dough/Bread
  • Bow
  • Ice
  • Mead
  • Fire
  • Mail shirt
  • Helmet
  • Key
  • Bellows

Temptation of the flesh…

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So, we can rather safely assume that the majority of Alfred’s warriors would prefer to find their own entertainment and amusements elsewhere,  anywhere else but in Alfred or his wife Eilswith’s company for any evening. Let’s face it, as for Eilswith, even Alfred may have preferred to be anywhere else but in her company.  But, Alfred was a dutiful husband and really, he was not one to be outwardly cruel to his lawfully wedded wife who was devoted and loyal to him. He needs her on his side and in his bed at least occasionally… he does need heirs after all!  Even though Eilswith is about appealing as a mud fence and if possible, even more pious than Alfred, and has a sharp vicious tongue, she can do one thing well as it should become apparent… she can produce fine healthy babies! Historically, Eilswith’s alliance is of importance because she is from a Noble line of Mercia and the long range goal of Wessex rulers is to keep Mercia under their control. Her ability to provide heirs is also of importance. If you are familiar with the history of Alfred’s family- as in his siblings- he was one of six children and out of those six children, the only ones to produce any heirs were him and his brother Athelred. This is part of the reason there was little argument over who would rule. There was no one else left to lay claim to the crown but Alfred and two young nephews, who historically were assumed too young to rule. In episode 3, we begin to see just how unsuitable nephew Athelwold is for any leadership role let alone King. We also begin to see though that he is not going to go away quietly or give up on his claim, especially when he is encouraged by ones such as Odda the younger.  At times his speaking without thinking comes very close to treason. Leofrich bluntly reminds him of that. Uhtred is of the ongoing opinion that Alfred should have had him killed immediately and been done with any possibility of rebellion or attempt for the crown by Athelwold. Alfred reasons that, “If I killed him then it would make it appear as though he did have some legitimate claim.”    Ironically, of course, there are probably a number of Alfred’s supporters who have the same continuing thoughts about Uhtred. He is a vile, hated and untrustworthy Pagan that Alfred should have just killed and been done with him.

TLK_103_1 odda the older and Odda the elder from farfarawayTLK_103_20

 

So, as you can see, no matter how distasteful the thought of Eilswith is, Alfred must make attempt to keep her belly full of babies and her Mercian supporters on his side.

ailswyth Aelswith Father forgive me... go away I might not get another chance at this for a while I am your loving loyal wife

As I mentioned, episode 3 provides us with a better understanding of what is going on within the Kingdom of Wessex, from Alfred’s doubts and temptations, his inner circle of supporters and possible traitors, to his personal relationships, all of which will play their part in the decisions he makes in the future. This is a vulnerable and fragile kingdom verging on chaos and that is exactly what the Danes are hoping for and expecting in their plans for dealing with Alfred. Alfred must use what ever advantages he can come up with and that includes Uhtred, even though Alfred doesn’t trust him any further than he could throw him… which is obviously not very far.  Alfred needs Uhtred but he needs Uhtred loyal to him and he knows that Uhtred is loyal to no one but himself right now. Alfred must find a way, any way to keep Uhtred under control and he needs to do something else important… He needs to show Uhtred that he is the one in control, not Uhtred. This is extremely important in the context of Alfred’s overall rule because if Uhtred is able to best him, to outwit and out maneuver him then he will have lost control of not just Uhtred but others as well who are most likely watching the situation closely. In some ways, this battle of wills between Alfred and Uhtred is a battle that Alfred can not afford to lose. He has to prove himself to his warriors, his subjects, the Witan that put him on the throne, and most importantly, the Danes who are at the doorstep of his Kingdom waiting for him to fail.

The Witenaġemot (“meeting of wise men”), also known as the Witan (more properly the title of its members) was a political institution in Anglo-Saxon England which operated from before the 7th century until the 11th century. The witenagemots did not represent the political will of all England: before the unification of England in the 10th century, separate witenagemots were convened by the Kings of Essex, Kent, Mercia, Northumbria, Sussex and Wessex. The Witenagemot was an assembly of the ruling class whose primary function was to advise the king and whose membership was composed of the most important noblemen in England, both ecclesiastic and secular. The institution is thought to represent an aristocratic development of the ancient Germanic general assemblies, or folkmoots. In England, by the 7th century, these ancient folkmoots had developed into convocations of the land’s most powerful and important people, including ealdormen, thegns, and senior clergy, to discuss matters of both national and local importance.  The influence of the king, or at least of kingship, on the constitution of the assembly seems to have been immense. But on the other hand he (the king) was elected by the witan .. He could not depose the prelates or ealdormen, who held their office for life, nor indeed the hereditary thanes. .. At any rate, the king had to get on with the highest statesmen appointed by his predecessor, though possibly disliked by him, until death made a post vacant that he could fill with a relation or a favourite, not, however, without having a certain regard to the wishes of the aristocracy. In addition to having a role in the ‘election’ of English Kings, it is often held that the witenagemots had the power to depose an unpopular king. However, there are only two occasions when this probably happened, in 757 and 774 with the depositions of kings Sigeberht of Wessex and Alhred of Northumbria.

Uhtred is young, cocky, and rebellious. In Alfred’s thoughts he is like an unruly, untamed hound who must be kept on a very tight leash and taught to obey his master… or at least listen and recognize that he has a master otherwise he will be the most dangerous of all animals, a lone wolf. I don’t believe it is ever Alfred’s intent to completely tame Uhtred or break him… what good would that prove. I believe that Alfred knows the power and force that Uhtred will become and he wants to make sure that power is on his side, not the side of the Danes. He needs to teach Uhtred a lesson or two, or three or more as the case will be but I do not believe it is now or ever will be his intent to completely destroy Uhtred. What he needs to do is use any means possible maintain some semblance of control over this volatile weapon he has in Uhtred. Uhtred needs to learn that he does not have that upper hand with Alfred.  Alfred knows exactly how Uhtred thinks right now and calls him on it with his comment on Uhtred’s service to him. He asks Uhtred, “Are your offering me your sword, or are you selling me your sword?”

Are you offering your sword or selling your sword

In Uhtred’s mind right now, what matter should it make to Alfred as long as Alfred gets his service and he gets rewarded… He needs to recognize the difference and fully understand that difference between the loyalty of offering one’s sword and the selling and or trading of one’s sword to the highest bidder.  Uhtred does begin to understand this as we see him grow up emotionally in episode 3.

Uhtred and Brida both begin to grow more into their adult beliefs during episode 3 and as a result, they also begin to grow apart. Uhtred is learning to find a place, a purpose or at least a comfort level with the Saxons- well some of them anyway. He finds friendship and acceptance among the warriors that Alfred sets him to training in the fighting ways of the Danes. Uhtred, in his friendship with Leofric, quickly learns that liking Alfred is not a requirement of his service because many of the fighting men feel the same way about Alfred as he does.  Brida, on the other hand is learning that she will never fit in with these Saxon women, nor does she want to. They both attempt to hold on to their relationship but it seems as though they both have some realization that they are changing in some very fundamental ways. While Uhtred learns to adapt and more fully understand what Alfred’s vision of the future means to him and to his chances of reclaiming his birthright, Brida becomes more determined and set against the Saxons.  The turning point in their paths comes with Brida’s vision seeking and the loss of their child. With that loss, it seems as though they very quickly and harshly must grow up and accept their individual paths. 

Uhtred finds a friend, Leofrich

Uhtred finds a friend, Leofrich

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Brida knows one thing, she does not want to be a Saxon woman

Brida knows one thing, she does not want to be a Saxon woman

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Ragnar the younger has arrived to help the Danes in their fight and it is at their meeting with him that we see Uhtred’s better understanding and belief in the loyalty and honor of offering one’s oath or sword. We see the difference between Uhtred’s and Brida’s beliefs come to light as Brida tells him to break his word to Alfred, it means nothing. When Uhtred explains though to Ragnar that he gave his word, his oath, Ragnar understands and accepts it. Brida will join Ragnar and return to the Danes where her vision showed her she would go without Uhtred. Uhtred will remain with the Saxons for the time being because he has learned that oaths are honor. It will be his belief throughout his life, good or bad, he will feel honor bound by oaths he will make.

ragnar and brida

While Wessex was dealing with the fallout from that battle, so were the Danes as well. We saw argument and discord among them as their two leaders began to have differences of opinion.  Ubba questioned Guthrum on his action of going into battle without him and he questioned Guthrum’s ability to lead or win battles.

TLK_103_29 TLK_103_28

They headed towards a negotiation with Alfred that they assumed would be easy to win. They assumed Alfred to be weak, spineless and willing to turn over his Kingdom to them. Alfred stood his ground and maintained control of the negotiations. He offered peace with the Danes and explained the importance of the written word that would be a part of history. Those written words would show that Alfred acted in good faith, that Alfred offered peace. Alfred would offer gold, silver and grain but not land, and not the head of Uhtred- which Ubba wanted. Alfred then began to play his mind games with Ubba telling him, “If you wish to occupy Wessex then go ahead, do it. How many Fortresses have you taken to date?”  This infuriated Ubba and he lost control of his emotions while Guthrum for the most part remained more restrained and calm during the meeting. If you pay close attention, you will see Guthrum thinking about what Alfred is saying rather than reacting violently to the words. Alfred ends the meeting reminding them that what will be written and remembered was that Alfred offered terms, Alfred offered payments and Alfred sought peace above all else.

TLK_103_33 uhtred and alfred

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The meeting ends and the Danes leave but everyone knows full well that this but a temporary and extremely fragile peace. Brida has chosen her path with Ragnar and the Danes. Uhtred will follow his own destiny or path that is with the Saxons for now because of his oath of service to Alfred, and also now too because Alfred has saved his life… When the Danes demanded Uhtred’s head as part of the agreement, Alfred refused. He could have easily turned Uhtred over to the Danes at that point, but Uhtred is far more valuable to Alfred alive than he is as a dead trade of peace. It was after that meeting that Alfred made it clear that he never had intent or thought of trading Uhtred’s life. It was also then that he made the offer to Uhtred of one year of service to him. “One year of service, oath and loyalty to me… And, in return you shall have your own reward Uhtred of Bebbanburg”

uhtred via farfar away

Uhtred believes Alfred, puts his trust in him and his vision for the future, and gives him that oath. One year does not seem such a long time. In the beginning, Uhtred was as optimistic as the rest of Wessex that they could fight the Danes and win… In reality, a year can be a very long time and fate will change all. This is merely a lull before the storm that would be known as the Great Heathen invasion and would last for generations beyond Alfred’s reign.