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To kill a queen… or not

The title of this Vikings episode is a bit misleading in that no Queen actually meets her death in this episode! Ohhh, so sorry for that spoiler. And, on that spoiler note- if you have not watched the current season yet and do not want spoilers, please exit the page immediately! This page as well as most of the other Vikings episode related pages here does contain spoilers. There, that is your warning!

This article is a look at the darker side of attempting to kill a queen and my personal thoughts on all of it. We’ve already looked at the lighter moments and now we must visit the usual harsher, darker facts with all of their possible underlying meanings or future consequences.  Before we get into my thoughts, I want to suggest another article regarding the history involved in this episode. Patricia Bracewell has shared her views here and it is well worth reading! 

http://www.patriciabracewell.com/2016/02/vikings-4-episode-2-kill-the-queen/

I mentioned that the title is misleading because no Queen actually dies. There is great attempt and thought of killing one Queen outright, and then there is underlying and possible wishful thinking of killing a Queen- or at least wishing she were dead… 

I am going to talk about that wishful thinking first because that is the one that bothered me the most and left me conflicted once again. This underlying thought or wish involves Ragnar and Aslaug. Please keep in mind that I am not really a fan of either one of these two and am generally critical of both their behaviors. While I am not a fan of Aslaug, towards the end of last season I did see some redeeming attributes to her character in her dealings with Porunn and in the way she dealt with the Christian priest. Aslaug may be sneaky, manipulative, loose moraled and power hungry but she is a firm believer in the old ways and beliefs. That being said, she stood her ground in defense of those beliefs and suffered for them. In the first episode, when Bjorn arrested Floki, you could see the doubt and concern on her face.  Bjorn is arresting Floki for the murder of Athelstan, a Christian that many of those villagers-Bjorn included had expressed the exact same feelings and fears about as Floki did. 

even aslaug is not too sure about bjorn's decision

even aslaug is not too sure about bjorn’s decision

There a great number of fans out there who feel that Aslaug is the evil incarnate equivalent of Rollo and that she got exactly what she deserved in this episode. What is conflicting for me is that these are generally the same people who take a moral high road, condemning Rollo and the Christians while praising Ragnar and all things Viking.  In this instance, Aslaug took a stand for the old beliefs, for the threat to those beliefs and she gets condemned for it.  Fans who are so outraged by Rollo’s behaviors such as “raping” a slave girl and treating Siggy so badly, applaud Ragnar’s treatment of Aslaug in this instance with their voices of “she deserved it”.  I guess she “deserved it because she had the nerve to question Ragnar’s authority, his rule and thus proved herself once more disloyal to him because she placed her loyalties to the Gods above that of her King. Realistically, there are so many other offenses that she could have been justifiably  punished for had they been public knowledge (and, I think that with Ragnar’s habit of keeping tabs on everyone, he does know of those offenses). To me this event just shows that Ragnar is losing control of his well maintained facade of calmness under pressure. 

Floki had a valid point when he made the statement that he was loyal to the Gods first and foremost and would continue to put his religion above his loyalty to Ragnar. I am not necessarily condoning Floki’s action either in killing Athelstan. He knew it was wrong, he knew what the consequences would be. If he felt so strongly that Athelstan and Ragnar’s involvement with the Christian were such a threat to his personal beliefs and his loyalties, then he should have chosen to walk away from Ragnar right then rather than resort to the secretive killing that he did.  

aslaug stands up to ragnar for floki because he's right what did he do so wrong he killed a christian.

aslaug stands up to ragnar for floki because he’s right what did he do so wrong he killed a christian.

Ragnar is correct when he makes the comment, “This is not about religion, this about loyalty and respect…” Ragnar has chosen personal power and control over the more moral and ethical reasoning of what is good for the people. He has brought this debate or issue over Floki down to the most personal of levels- a dispute between two one time friends who now differ in their most basic core belief systems. Neither of them will back down from their belief that they are right and because of that, everyone else will be dragged into the dispute and suffer for it.   The problem with Ragnar’s current thinking and method of leadership is that it as turned to one more of fear than anything else. These people have experienced his better side of ruling for the good of all of them and now thrust into a position of following him not so much because they trust his judgement but because they most likely fear they will suffer the same fate as Floki.  There are times when instilling fear is necessary, but that sort of thing generally happens in the beginning of one’s rule as a means of gaining some control over a situation or group of people. It usually does not play out so well to use the fear tactic against those who originally on your side and assumed that you were on theirs.  

As floki mentions, there comes a point in one’s life when one must make a decision on whether or not to follow a leader based on one’s personal ethics, morals and beliefs. In a way, Floki’s decision to follow his own conscience speaks of what others will have to decide in the future. Do they follow Ragnar blindly without question just because he is their leader no matter what he decides to do… or do they at some point begin to question his motives, his personal agenda and his methods? This is much the same position that Ragnar and his followers were in when they questioned King Harald’s rule and Horik’s rule… Ragnar is now putting himself close to that same category as those two leaders that he fought to bring down. 

ragnar is losing control this is not about christians this is about loyalty!

ragnar is losing control this is not about christians this is about loyalty!

Ragnar is outraged that Aslaug would even think of taking Floki’s side in this. He is determined that he is King and he is right no matter what and anyone who would question his actions is guilty of disloyalty or treason. His rage causes him to lose control and he strikes out at Aslaug, knocking her down… the look on his face is one of utter contempt and that underlying thought of wishing he could do more to her, wishing her dead. To be honest, I was waiting for him to add a final blow or kick to her while she was down on the floor. 

ragnar takes his anger out on aslaug

Ragnar takes his anger out on Aslaug

Realistically, the situation between Ragnar and Aslaug comes down to them both wishing the other was dead! The rather sad part about Aslaug’s story direction in the show is that in the Sagas, Aslaug remained loyal to Ragnar and went so far as to sew him a magic shirt to protect him against the Snakes she foresaw for him in England. Unfortunately, I do not see Aslaug sewing him anything in the future other than possibly a shroud!

I guess this pretty much rules out that majic shirt to protect from snakes

While Aslaug’s treatment did not sit well with me, the even more disturbing event was the fallout of this personal quarrel for others, mainly Helga and her daughter. Her situation apparently did not sit too well with Ragnar either because he did appear genuinely bothered by her situation.  It could be said that Helga brought about her situation on her own by helping Floki to escape in the first place. While that might be a fair assumption, it does nothing to detract from the true emotional torture that Helga was enduring by being caught in the middle of this argument. She has to stand by and watch her husband tortured for his refusal to give up on his personal beliefs, his denial of any wrongdoing, and his unwillingness to compromise those values even in the face of suffering to his family. In fact, he goes so far as to use Helga’s emotional tie in still loving him as a means of saving himself. He is as guilty and as stubborn as Ragnar in this situation and is only thinking of himself. 

helga tries to stop the children a difficult reunion to watch

I do have to mention here that as much as I feel for Helga’s pain and the suffering she endures, she does bear some responsibility and some blame for the events that brought her so much pain and grief.  First of all, my one frustrated thought with her actions began when she subjected little Agriboda to that visit with Floki tied to the stake? Was she perhaps hoping that the sight of his child seeing him like this might spark some balancing thought in Floki’s head? Some thought of “What am I doing to my family, should I not have some care about them above my own needs or thoughts?” If that was her intent, then of course it failed miserably and Floki used Helga’s feeling to manipulate her into doing something she knew was wrong.  When Ragnar asked her later why she did it, she made a comment about love… She allowed her love of Floki to take precedence over her love of her child. Perhaps this is why she must suffer a torture far greater than that of Floki. 

My other thought is one of Why is Helga living down here in the cold, in a way at the edge of nowhere… Has she been shunned by the others or has she set herself apart from everyone because she feels some guilt for the part she has played? Her present circumstances also bring us back to Aslaug. Aslaug who stood up and defended Floki’s actions yet apparently felt no concern for Helga’s situation. What ever the reason, Helga is living a destitute life and her child is suffering because of it. 

helga and abrigoda living in cold at the edge of nowhere

helga and abrigoda living in cold at the edge of nowhere

agriboda is sick and coughing helga tries to comfort her while ragnar says I don't blame you...

agriboda is sick and coughing helga tries to comfort her while ragnar says I don’t blame you…

Ragnar does show some concern for her welfare and leaves a bag of food for them.

ragnar does take pity on helga and leaves a bag of food for her

ragnar does take pity on helga and leaves a bag of food for her

Later we see how the actions of everyone, including Helga have played a part in the greatest torture and pain… the loss of an innocent child. While Floki may be suffering extreme physical torture at the hands of Ragnar, Helga is experiencing the far greater torture of having to bury her child and probably coming to the understanding or realization that she must share some guilt in this senseless death brought about mainly because two men were too self involved and egotistical to waiver on their mindset, and because she put her feelings for Floki above the needs of her child. It was a sad, painful event to watch and there was a moment when it seemed that even Ragnar might have some feelings of his own complicity in this death.

burying an innocent child

does this death have any affect on ragnar well he does step in and dig the grave...

does this death have any affect on ragnar well he does step in and dig the grave…

a few moments of compassion

a few moments of compassion

The one thing I did not understand was when Ragnar asked Helga if she had told Floki… How could she have told floki when Ragnar has him already enduring his own personal torture???

floki is enduring his own punishment so really how could helga have told him of agriboda's death

 

In contrast to Helga’s actions and the result of them, on the other side of the sea in Wessex we see a far different version of a Mother’s struggle to keep her child alive. And, it comes from the one woman you would probably least expect it of given her previous behaviors. From what we’ve seen of Princess Kweni in the past, I have to say that I did not expect her to have much Motherly instinct or concern for her child other than for how she might use said child to her own advantage. 

In our return to Wessex, we saw an outright attempt to kill Queen Kweni- and not an attempt from those in Wessex… though I have some doubts or suspicions on who might have actually instigated this overthrow and ousting of her. Ecbert’s response to the event was along the lines of “save the child, just be sure to keep the child alive no matter what” He had no concerns for Kweni’s survival.

There was the usual disagreement between Ecbert and Aethelwulf over how to put down this rebellion and rescue those being held hostage- Kweni and her son. There was also dispute and dissent from the local Noblemen over having to call their troops up for this event. Ecbert does take note of those balking at the deployment and actually gives them some foreshadowing sound advice…

Ecbert and Aethelwulf have some disagreement over how to proceed.

Ecbert and Aethelwulf have some disagreement over how to proceed.

I am quite certain that this Nobleman and the one next to him may eventually feel some pain of retribution for their dissenting remarks… As we’ve seen in the past, Ecbert does not forget who made what comment.

wessex noblemen balk at having to raise their armies

wessex noblemen balk at having to raise their armies

Ecbert must explain the necessity of keeping a standing army ready because Ragnar and those Northmen will most assuredly return to our shores!

ecbert must explain the necessity of keeping a standing army

ecbert must explain the necessity of keeping a standing army

Aethelwulf is in charge of leading an army into Mercia to rescue Kweni and child.

Ecbert and Aethelwulf present a united front despite their differences.

Ecbert and Aethelwulf present a united front despite their differences.

aethelwulf is in charge of training the army.

aethelwulf is in charge of training the army.

As Aethelwulf trains and prepares his forces, in Mercia a damsel in distress awaits rescue…

a damsel in distress in a tower...

a damsel in distress in a tower…

The battle was intense and brutal but despite some minor problems and setbacks, Aethelwulf held his own in this battle. He is not the only one that held their own. Locked in the tower with armed guards, Kweni proved her warrior spirit and her Motherly instinct!

and it's aethelwulf to the rescue... maybe?

and it’s aethelwulf to the rescue… maybe?

 Aethelwulf is having a few problems defeating his foe...

Aethelwulf is having a few problems defeating his foe…

aethelwulf I should have ate breakfast

why waste arrows when rocks work just as well

why waste arrows when rocks work just as well

While Aethelwulf was battling the tower, Kweni waged her own defensive attack against foes who meant to harm her and her child. She did it armed with nothing but a seriously scary needle, a blanket and a human shield. This woman was in a life and death battle for the life of her and her child and she was determined to win!

A seriousl scary looking needle!

A seriousl scary looking needle!

well that needle is good for something anyway

well that needle is good for something anyway

kweni's found her battle mode

Kweni shows her warrior battle mode

kweni must have heard about Einar's tactics of using a human shield

kweni must have heard about Einar’s tactics of using a human shield

Kweni fights back with the rage of a Mother

Kweni will fight to the death for her child

Kweni does have a motherly instinct after all nobody messes with her baby

Kweni does have a motherly instinct after all nobody messes with her baby Magnus!

Eventually Aethelwulf does come to her rescue and her response is perfect!

Aethelwulf finally makes it to the top of the tower to rescue damsel kweni

Aethelwulf finally makes it to the top of the tower to rescue damsel kweni

kweni's response... what took you so long!

kweni’s response… what took you so long!

In a way, Helga’s story and Kweni’s have that parallel contrast that Hirst loves so much. We have Helga as one who has basically lost her way, her will and seems in some way to have given up the fight. On the other hand, we have Kweni who against all odds, has lost none of her fighting instinct to survive and keep her child alive.

A mother's will and way

A woman’s worth is in her… hands and her mind

As we read and view history now, there is much emphasis, attention and focus on the battles, the conquests and wars. We watch the historical docudramas and fantasies play out in books, movies and the small screen, and we make much of those warriors and their great or not so great feats. We give great attention, admiration and acclaim to those women throughout history who were involved in the battles- real or imagined. We are generally presented with an image of women of great beauty, tremendous courage or spirit, or we get a portrayal that puts the woman as down trodden, abused and of worthless status.  Women are seldom depicted, portrayed or given attention/acclaim for the other  status or contributions which the majority of them back them actually held or made. 

Anglo Saxon women stitch their way into history

Aelle and judith

 

We typically assume that a woman’s worth or value was set in stone. We have this impression that it was tied to the status she was born into, to her physical attributes, and to her ability to breed. In some ways, yes it was tied to those things, but there were other ways that she could be deemed of great value or asset to her family, her household, her village or her kingdom. These abilities would not necessarily bring her great fame or recognition in future generations but they would ensure that she survived and more important for us in those future generations, her family survived to create a next generation that probably benefited from her untold, unknown contributions. 

I am not going to downplay the fact that a woman’s life was difficult in the past, no matter what rank or status she was. Then again, a man’s life was  no less difficult during those times. Nobody had a truly easy time of it back then.  What I want to talk about today though, is the thought or idea that there were ways for a woman to achieve some status, some value and some degree of upward mobility in those early medieval or dark ages. Ways that were not dependent upon her family status or wealth, her appearance, her fighting ability/ spirit or her breeding capacity… because realistically, looks faded quickly in those times and they would have faded in some direct proportion to her success at breeding! In order to make it through those times and create a next generation, every survivor whether man, woman or child had to have some fighting spirit to a certain extent so that asset that we deem so noble and great now would have been viewed  in a context of  the woman’s value being based not on her fighting spirit or ability but just on the fact that she was not weak of body or mind. Her breeding ability would not be apparent at first appraisal or trade negotiation but would be more based on her family history of breeding and on her health. 

rollo and gisla

Of course for the wealthy noble families, a woman’s worth was directly based on her family’s wealth, bloodlines and connections to power bases. Her appearance had little to do with her value and neither did her fighting spirit other than she should have enough spirit in her to fight to survive and to keep her household intact and alive in event of a siege when her spouse was off fighting elsewhere. Every woman should have that attribute.

What I am looking at are those other attributes, abilities, talents or  that a woman could use to her advantage whether she be high ranking nobility, a mid level family member of some noble household, low born serf, or even a slave child. No, I am not going to touch on that one “profession” or “skill” that women have used to their advantage probably since the beginning of time!  I will leave that for some other discussion. There were any number of other ways and skills that a female could use to her benefit and advantage throughout time. Most of those abilities were learned skills that also involved some innate or gifted by God talent. These skills, as I’ve already mentioned, would not give them great fame or recognition other than in their personal sphere of influence. They were however, most often extremely necessary skills that would ensure the survival of the entire community in which they lived. These women possessed skills in areas that we give little thought or credit to now. They were the midwives, the healers, the cooks, the dairy maids, the spinners and weavers of cloth, and the needle workers.  Every woman was expected to have some fundamental knowledge and ability of these skills, even those most noble and Royal women. These were skills essential to keeping a household or community alive and then of thriving and prospering.   A woman who was talented or gifted in any of these skills was deemed of some high status or value to her community and as such was rewarded well for her skills so that she would remain within that community. These women were often well known through out their local areas and regions. Their skills were prized and their families, their Lords or owners and those above them would usually make effort to ensure that the women were well compensated or cared for, well treated, healthy and loyal to their benefactors. Much as a man might be prized or valued for his fighting abilities, his horsemanship, his metal working, woodworking or seamanship, these women were looked at as valued commodities. Their value was tied to their skill or their ability in a certain area that had nothing to do with Noble lineage, appearance or breeding capacity.  Yet, while the men with certain skills could go on to make names and recognition for themselves, be rewarded with monetary wealth, land grants or positions that would eventually bring them to Noble status, the women were largely forgotten and became just a backdrop for the fabric and tapestry of history that they helped to create.  They might become wives of those men, they might gain entry to some Noble status by being a part of a much coveted inner circle of women but for the most part their names, their lives and their contributions are long forgotten and generally passed off as unimportant in the great events of history. We will never know who they were, but we can see remnants and reminders of those unknown women, those untold stories even today as we view some of what they created and left as their communal identity.

siggy tries to help Lagertha

The women that I want to give credit to and shed some light on are those women who so often receive little or no attention acclaim for their contributions. These are those women who, so early in history, picked up a needle and thread, and began to not just clothe the rest of us but to leave a piece of themselves and their story in everything they sewed. These are the women we give no thought to, that are relegated to the backdrop of history. These women and their creations in that hidden, protected and shrouded space of a women’s bower  solar, or even the confines of a nunnery  are considered or deemed of little interest or importance in a story. Their creations, their accomplishments and their life’s work are portrayed as insignificant, mundane, and of no real consequence or value… after all it was just women’s work? It was often just women’s work, skill and efforts that kept an injured bleeding man alive after an accident or a battle. Caring for the wounded was part of a woman’s work and quite often, a woman who had great skill with a needle would be called upon to stitch up wounds as well. 

medieval women sewing 3

I want to look a bit at those unknown women, the history of their skill or art and give you a perspective on how such a talent might have allowed even the lowest born or captured slave girl an opportunity to rise above her circumstances. I am not going to delve into the entire history of sewing or stitching here. I want to put into some perspective or relation to the early medieval history of the Viking era and forward from that.  The reason I put it in relation to the Viking era is that the type of stitching that the Anglo-Saxon women became so recognized and renowned for is their embroidery skills that may have had origins in early Danish needle work. I put it in relation to slave girls because many of the girls who were taken and sold into slavery by early Viking raiders were children of farmsteads and villages of many various places. They were not necessarily the poorest, untrained or unskilled lowest forms of humanity that we would imagine or picture them as. Girl children were generally taught the basics of stitchery from their earliest years and would have carried that knowledge or skill with them where ever they went in the future. Many children were sold as household slaves to families that could afford that luxury and not all of them were sorely abused but actually valued as some sort of asset by the household.  Slaves were a costly investment, a valuable asset, and it would make little sense to abuse them and completely destroy their value.  Even in the early Saxon times of England, slavery was a somewhat common circumstance. 

Take for example, young Uhtred and his friend Brida… they were initially slave children but became part of the family…

Uhtred with his medallion

Brida, however, was not a girl who showed much interest or talent in stitchery!

brida's humor

Rather than seeing the often worst case scenario of a slave child (I am in no way advocating or promoting slavery in any way!) Try to see the possibility or scenario in which a child sold or captured into a slave situation is not quite so misused or abused but becomes in some way, a part of that household- granted a lowest member but still, a valuable working asset to it… Imagine a girl child who has some rudimentary knowledge or skill and displays some interest and talent in that said skill.  The art of stitchery was not one which everyone had skill, talent or patience for. It also took a great deal of time and many hands involved to create any finished product. A child who displayed any skill or talent for it would immediately rise in value to the person or family they were attached to. Any small girl slave who showed such talent would probably be looked on favorably, treated well and further trained in this art. In this way, depending on her skill and talent, she might eventually be rewarded for her services and her loyalty to the household. This young girl who started as slave in the household or community might feasibly be rewarded with her freedom and become a valued member of the larger community. She had a God given gift or talent that she used to her benefit and advantage, improving her circumstances. Perhaps she then married a skilled member of the community whose ability or skill was also valued. Her needle skills would have moved her to a status that allowed or enabled her to be worthy of such a man within that society and as such a valued couple, their children would be of better circumstance or status. They train their children in their skills and the children also inherit their talents, which makes them even more valuable in this system of society… and within a few generations, any slave status is for the most part forgotten other than in some dark family history or in some reference to lowly beginnings leading to good fortunes. Future generations might use these beginnings in order to make themselves look better to those might have some cause to rebel against them or resent their present status. It might be used also as a reminder to family members not to forget their own more humble beginnings when relating to the serfs, peasants or slaves now under them.

judith trying to remain calm

I mentioned earlier the connection between the Anglo-Saxon needle work and art and that of Scandinavia. The history of needle work goes back to the earliest beginnings of time and every culture or society had knowledge and skill of it. From those earliest beginnings of just sewing a seam together to create a functional piece of clothing became an art form that even those earliest of people used to decorate and embellish their clothing. The basics of those hand sewn stitches have remained unchanged to this day.  The art of embroidery has been found worldwide and several early examples have been found. Works in China have been dated to the Warring States period (5th-3rd century BC).  In a garment from Migration period Sweden, roughly 300–700 AD, the edges of bands of trimming are reinforced with running stitch, back stitch, stem stitch, tailor’s buttonhole stitch, and whipstitching, but it is uncertain whether this work simply reinforced the seams or should be interpreted as decorative embroidery.   It is during the mid 9th century with the intermixing of Scandinavian or Viking culture and the Anglo-Saxon culture that we see the beginnings of the needle work art that the Anglo-Saxons would become so recognized for.  The Anglo-Saxons may have had already begun this process and progress in the artwork but it after the arrival of the Scandinavians that we see tangible evidence of their work. It was probably during these times too that the variations in stitching from Scandinavia, Francia and other places all began to merge together in the sewing rooms of once more isolated English kingdoms. It was during this time period that the women of Anglo-Saxon England- the ones who did the majority of  any sewing back in this time- began to be more exposed to so many other variations of patterns, materials, textiles and threads of other far off places and cultures. The Vikings brought with them all of those other varied exposures to the world and when they began to settle in Anglo-Saxon, so did all of those cultural experiences. 

I am going to focus on the needle art of embroidery here, which is what the Anglo-Saxons became most renowned for.Normally we tend to think of embroidery as smaller stitched designs on clothing, pillows, towels. We don’t envision this work on a large wall hanging scale. When we think of large scale designs and stitching we think of tapestries.  There is a difference between the tapestry art and the hand sewn needle work known as embroidery. The term tapestry generally refers to weaving on a loom and is most often thought of in terms of heavier wall hangings or rugs. The tapestry did not reach a level of high point, widespread availability or use in Europe until about the 13th century. Prior to this, the wall hangings would have been the hand stitched embroidered creations that women would work together on as a group, often requiring years to complete. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Embroidery

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tapestry

During these dark  daunting early centuries that were filled with fear, bloodshed, battle, death and destruction all around them, women would take solace or possibly find some sort of peace in one activity that allowed them to escape for a time into a realm of another place… one where they could create their own world. In a world so controlled and dominated by men, this activity became one of the few things that they could have complete control over.  The women took a necessary, mundane chore of sewing and turned it into a creative art form that we remain in awe of to this day.  When we look at examples left of their work today, we seldom think of the process that went into their creations back then. We seldom give thought to the conditions they worked in to create these pieces of art that often they considered as just an adornment or embellishment to add some color or variety to their otherwise plain and similar garments. 

judith and her cross 2

judith's cross to bear

judith’s cross to bear

This type of hand stitching required a great deal of skill as well as keen eyesight, fine motor abilities, hand to eye coordination, extreme patience along with such abilities as being able to differentiate between colors and patterns. In addition to these skills, there must be one involved who was talented and skilled at drawing out a pattern with a piece of charcoal on to a piece of material because that is where the entire process began. Before a woman or group of them could begin the stitching process, the background material had to be prepared for them. In our current day, we can easily find almost any pattern and transfer it to a background. In their day, the transfer process was just as involved and detailed as the sewing process.  It required a finely skilled and talented artist to draw out the idea with the charcoal which was then sewn over and expanded upon by the sewers.

If the woman in charge of the project, or whose idea the project was could not draw, and most of them could not- just as most of can not now- she would have to find someone who could put her idea or concept on cloth for her. This would take some of the control out of her hands and put her at a slight disadvantage but she could generally regain artistic control once the initial pattern or design was set for her. If it was a small project such embellishing a personal gown or a tunic, she could and would most likely work on it alone. If were something larger, say a wall hanging, bed covering or draperies, it would probably be worked on by a group of women. Often these larger projects would be a group involvement from beginning to end. The women would decide together what image or design they wanted to create, they would all be included in overseeing the drawing of the design and they would stitch it as a group effort… much like in future generations women would work on a quilt together. These group projects might be designed for a wall of a great hall that they were all familiar with as visitors or residents. It could be a done as a special gift from the group of women in honor of a Wedding, or some other celebration or commemoration, or in many cases it might be created as a gift or donation to the Church.  Of the few remaining pieces of work, the majority are church finery or vestments. 

There was another crucial requirement and note of importance as well… the cost involved in the materials.  The materials, threads and needles were dearly expensive back then. Great caution and care were taken to ensure that none of these items would be wasted, misused or otherwise damaged by one who was not proven to be capable, experienced or talented in this skill.  Most any woman, be she lowly peasant serf woman, warrior shieldmaiden, or common farm wife could sew a basic seam together, manage to mend a rip or tear, or even place a few simple decorative stitches upon a garment but few women had the time,  the skill or creative talent to do much more than that.

vikings_gallery_1_3-P lagertha vikings_gallery_1_5-P lagertha and daughter gyda and lagertha

Imagine for a few moments, one of your favorite small screen shieldmaidens, Lagertha of Vikings Saga… Look at her and her family. When she was a young farm wife and Mother, she managed to adequately clothe them all but realistically she did not have time to  spend on decorating their garments lavishly, nor did she probably have the creative skill necessary or the keen interest in it. She accomplished the basics and that was about it.

katheryn-winnick-stars-as-shield-maiden-lagertha-in-history-channels-vikings

lagertha caught in middle of father and son

lagertha caught in middle of father and son

lagertha and her shieldmaidens

In more recent years, she has spent most of her time in warrior mode but she does show that she appreciates the finery of much more intricately and well detailed sewing. Somewhere in Hedeby, in England or in Francia, there have been women involved in the hand stitching of her dresses. Those women have most probably been well compensated in some way for their efforts. If they did not receive some benefit or reward for this time consuming work, they most likely would not continue to do it. You will never know anything about these women but when you see their work, you will appreciate it and remark upon it’s quality and fineness. What is important for you to keep in mind when you look around you in the various settings of the time is that every single piece of clothing, every wall hanging, table cover, blanket or drapery hanging was sewn by hand!

silence as judith tries to find courage to tell aethelwulf her condition

silence as judith tries to find courage to tell aethelwulf her condition

in wessex judith has given birth to a son

 Another example would be the Lady Judith and the ladies of her small court… Judith may have some skill, talent and inclination towards this activity but it is highly doubtful that she has time to devote towards this effort, what with other responsibilities she might have. What Judith would do is have this group of ladies in her service devote time to these endeavors.  In choosing her ladies, she would of course first have to choose women of high rank and noble status but should she come across a young girl or woman with exceptional skill but not status, she could always find ways to fit such a talented one into her circle- even if it is on the edge of it and all of the household members know that the woman is there only for her skills. For the woman to be included in any way would be a step up for her, one that if she has any common sense or reasoning at all, she will understand the benefits and advantages of.  This young woman may have begun her life in the village and found ways to display her innate talent in the decoration of her own clothes, those of her family. Seeing her talent, neighbors and others in the village might have bartered or traded with her to adorn their garments as well… her skills would eventually come to the notice of those of importance and thus she would gain the entry or footing within or around the nobility for herself and her family. Will she ever reach far enough up to attain some form of noble status? Probably not, but she will have raised her family to another level up,  achieved some added level of comfort and security for them so she has proven her worth and value just by that accomplishment. 

ragnar's christian conversion is marched through the streets of paris for all to see and celebrate

my lady judith you have been found guilty of adultery

During the 800s  the Church was becoming a much more powerful force to be reckoned within England,  people were becoming increasingly devout and the Church would take advantage of this religious devotion. Noblewomen would begin to concentrate much of their creative talents in the needle work art to show their religious devotion to the Church. The women would spend vast amounts of time and energy on creating master pieces of hand stitched artwork for the adornment of the Church, and it’s priests. These gifts were not just donations to show the family’s devotion.  It is during this time that the quality and skills of these devout Anglo-Saxon women began to be recognized throughout the Church’s broad sphere of influence. The Church and Priests praised these works, appreciated them and set a great deal of worth or value on them. The families- the women were well aware of the value and would use the gifts as bargaining tools to garner favor with the Priests. A donation of such a finely worked altar cloth, wall hanging or even clothing item to the Priest or Bishop could go a long way in being pardoned or forgiven for some transgression or in a favor/request being approved. 

A great many women during this time also sought solace and sanctuary within the Church’s cloistered walls. As the wars and battles took over their lands and their lives, many women found refuge in the cloistered and protected walls of the Nunneries and Convents. Some of course were sent there as punishments by husbands or families.

 i-am-a-bride-of-christ-i-can-not-show-my-face-to-any-man-i-am-not-any-man-i-am-king-ecbert


i-am-a-bride-of-christ-i-can-not-show-my-face-to-any-man-i-am-not-any-man-i-am-king-ecbert

Other young girls were given to the Church by their families as a show of the family’s devotion or patronage of the Church.  And, yet other young girls and women sought out the sanctuary willingly for varying reasons ranging from true devotion and commitment to having no where else to go.  If one had no where else to go, the Church was usually willing to take them in, provide for them and hopefully train them for a life devoted to God’s calling.  Many of these young women were taught the needle work skills and if they showed talent for it, they would continue their training in the art. The most talented of these women would go on to spend their lives devoted not so much to the Church but more in some devotion to their craft, their art.  These women benefited from the seclusion of the Church sanctuary that allowed and enabled them to completely focus on their creativity without having to concern themselves with outside distractions such as husbands or breeding a new generation. They were still faced with the battles that would often end up taking place within their confines, the destruction and decimation that took place all around them, but in many ways they were safer and better off within the holy walls than they would have been outside of them.  

You might ask or wonder how the women who resided within the cloistered walls of a nunnery, devoted their lives to God and to their art form would be considered of value or worth to their family’s future. Granted, these women would not have been responsible for creating a next generation but often times they were directly responsible for a next generation benefiting from their efforts or contributions. Within these holy walls, these women were often looked upon with great favor and praise from those in higher levels of power such as Bishops and Cardinals. Their talents were highly valued and they often rose in status or position of their own type of power within the constraints of the convent. As a result of their talents and  creations, their order or Nunnery would rise in acclaim and fame… the women may not have needed or desired any material wealth or gain, but they might find themselves in positions to ask for some boon or favor for family outside those walls. These women were not above or beyond bartering, bargaining and negotiating for rewards that might help their families… in fact they were often quite good at it. In some ways it was expected of them by their families- it was part of the reason for giving a child to God. This child was often given to the Church with some expectation that the child would rise in status there and become the family’s inside connection to the Church’s power base. During the early medieval times, the women of the Nunneries were a power base that was extremely important and influential. 

During the dangerous centuries, the consecrated life became identified more exclusively with monasticism. Nuns and monks clustered in large houses organized according to a variety of rules that emphasized discipline and routine. The day was divided into segments for sleeping, eating together, performing manual labor, and always, chanting the office in a perennial outpouring of praise to God. Women responded in great numbers to the attraction of this life. They planted new communities on the frontiers of the Christian world, contributing to the process of converting barbarian tribes.

Queens and noble women who inherited great wealth, and could, according to the laws of the Germanic peoples, deploy that wealth as they saw fit, established houses for as many as two hundred women. Managing land and legally presiding over the inhabitants, these great abbesses were intrinsic components of the new feudal ruling class. They sent troops to war, held court, and enjoyed all the rights of noble men. Each monastery stood autonomous (though increasingly these became standardized under the Benedictine Rule). From the sixth through the tenth centuries, abbesses generally came from local ruling families, and they educated young women and helped to preserve the intellectual heritage of the ancient world. The original literary work of some of these nuns survives, most notably the histories, poetry, and drama of Hroswitha, a tenth-century Saxon nun whose learning may even have extended to some knowledge of Greek.

http://www.ctlibrary.com/ch/1991/issue30/3019.html

 

Sewing for a household or a community was time consuming chore that required a number of women and hands to complete the task. Those who owned large landholdings were responsible for a great many people under them. Part of this responsibility including feeding and clothing all of those workers that were part of the extended household or holding. A responsible Lord would provide sets of basic clothing for his underlings at least once a year. The way one’s workers looked directly reflected on the Lord… a poorly clothed or fed worker showed a lacking on the part of the Lord. If you were to visit a holding where the workers were dirty, poorly dressed and fed, and thus unhappy, you would take notice of that and remember it… If you were of equal or higher standing, you might not be inclined to visit this holding again and you might also be somewhat less than favorable in your dealings with this land holder. If one of these poor workers were for some reason leave this holding (could you blame them?) and end up seeking service at your holding, you might take them in and use them to your advantage- in finding out more about what is going on at that place. 

 

Because the chore of sewing was such a major effort and undertaking, entire rooms or floor of a residence might be set aside for it’s purpose. This space may have been in close proximity to the Lady’s personal chambers or even connected to it. It did need to be a space of good lighting though and as much as possible would have been situated with windows to help with the lighting.

SONY DSC

SONY DSC

1400660855p23crypt-c-jigsawdesign-publishingandpetersmith medieval sewing room

A kind of hierarchy also developed within this domain of women. Less skilled or capable women would be assigned more menial tasks as cutting and sewing basic garments for the underlings- although at times, every woman would participate in this task in order to get it done in time to hand out the garments. Women with a bit more skill were allowed involvement in sewing for higher ranking family members and such… and finally the most  skilled and talented women would form the most highly prized and coveted inner group that did the fine stitching under the direct supervision of the Lady or Matron of the holding. Even if such a woman was not so talented in this area, she was still in charge and although she did not have talent, she would have a keen eye for the finished product and it’s quality. She might appoint one of her ladies that were more talented in the art to be her supervisor in this area.  We have already discussed how a young girl or woman might gain entry to this rather hidden space. Once she gained her entry based on her talent and hand skills, she must also be intelligent enough to maneuver her way through this hierarchy of women. She would not be well accepted, and she would find resentments against her from some of these women. This inner circle was a highly coveted place to be because it put them in close proximity and ear of the Lady. They could use this position to influence the Lady and possibly her husband. If they could gain much favor with the Lady, they could reap added benefits for their own families. No matter how talented a young woman was, she would not go far or succeed in this space if she did not have some wits about her!  This inner sewing sanctuary was far more than just women sewing- it was about women vying for their own power and it probably would have been just as dangerous in that secluded sanctuary as it was out on the battle field. At least on the battle field, the fighting was out in the open and you could determine your enemies… in this women’s battle field, the enemies could be well hidden and disguised as your friend- a friend who might be willing to stab you in the back if it meant favor or advantage for her over you. Make no mistake, a woman intent on power can be far more of a threat than a man with a sword!

We have looked at the history, the importance, the Church’s involvement in this art form and I hope that I have shown how a woman’s innate God gifted talent for this handiwork or craft of stitchery could be considered as her worth or value. I think that I have shown too, that besides her talent or skill, she must also have a keen intelligent and creative  mind in order to use this skill or talent to her advantage and benefit. Without the fortitude to think ahead, think on her feet, use the common sense and reasoning that God also gave her, this woman’s talent means little or nothing. It would take the talent and the keen mind working together for a woman to use this gift as her value, her worth and move her family upwards to some better position in life. 

I have also mentioned the fact that while these women will ever remain unknown and most of their accomplishment are long destroyed and forgotten about, there are still remnants and reminders of their creative talents with us today. These unknown women were the creators of such historically important works as this… 

This piece of embroidered stitching is one of the most important remnants left to us. It is the Bayeux Tapestry which details the events of William the Conqueror and the battle of Hasting. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bayeux_Tapestry

bayeux tapestry bayeux tapestry2 bayeux tapestry7

There is a great deal of mystery and controversy over it’s origins and creation but there is a general consensus that it was made in England and created in the Anglo-Saxon tradition. Some theories and trains of thought propose that is was commissioned by Bishop Odo.

Scholarly analysis in the 20th century concluded it was probably commissioned by William’s half-brother, Bishop Odo, who, after the Conquest, became Earl of Kent and, when William was absent in Normandy, regent of England.

The reasons for the Odo commission theory include: 1) three of the bishop’s followers mentioned in the Domesday Book appear on the tapestry; 2) it was found in Bayeux Cathedral, built by Odo; and 3) it may have been commissioned at the same time as the cathedral’s construction in the 1070s, possibly completed by 1077 in time for display on the cathedral’s dedication.

Assuming Odo commissioned the tapestry, it was probably designed and constructed in England by Anglo-Saxon artists (Odo’s main power base being by then in Kent); the Latin text contains hints of Anglo-Saxon; other embroideries originate from England at this time; and the vegetable dyes can be found in cloth traditionally woven there. Howard B. Clarke has proposed that the designer of the tapestry was Scolland, the abbot of St Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury, because of his previous position as head of the scriptorium at Mont Saint-Michel (famed for its illumination), his travels to Trajan’s Column, and his connections to Wadard and Vital, two individuals identified in the tapestry. The actual physical work of stitching was most likely undertaken by female seamsters. Anglo-Saxon needlework of the more detailed type known as Opus Anglicanum was famous across Europe. It was perhaps commissioned for display in the hall of his palace and then bequeathed to the cathedral he built, following the pattern of the documented but lost hanging of Byrhtnoth.

Another thought or speculation is that King Edward’s wife Edith of Wessex had some involvement in it’s creation. After the events at Hastings, Edith was the sole remaining senior member of the Godwin family to survive the Norman conquest on English soil, the sons of Harold having fled to Ireland. She remained alive until 1075 and lived in seclusion but was paid all due respect by William. She died at Winchester on 18 December 1075.  Matthew Parisrecords a tradition that her death brought an end to an illness from which she had been suffering at some length. She was buried together with her husband in Westminster Abbey and her funeral was arranged by William. The northern author of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Manuscript D, reports:

Edith the Lady died seven nights before Christmas in Winchester, she was King Edward’s wife, and the king had her brought to Westminster with great honour and laid her near King Edward, her lord.

Edith was brought up at Wilton Abbey. She was an educated woman who spoke several languages, skills she probably acquired at Wilton. She remained attached to it, and in later years rebuilt its church.  Her niece, Gunhild of Wessex, would also be educated at Wilton.

The Vita Edwardi emphasised her piety. She helped Giso, the Bishop of Wells, secure the endowments of his see, and gave lands to Abingdon Abbey, but the monks of Evesham alleged that she had the relics of many monasteries brought to Gloucester so that she could select the best for herself. When Gervin, abbot of Saint-Riquier, who was visiting the English court, rejected her kiss of greeting, she took offence. Edward reproved her, and she accepted the rebuff, even going on to urge English churchmen not to kiss women, although they did not object to the custom.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edith_of_Wessex

Some of the mysteries surrounding the tapestry would point to the idea or thought that Edith could have had some connection to it’s creation. First of all, Edith maintained close connections to the Church and it’s power base throughout her life. She was well known as a pious and devout woman loyal to the Church and it’s leaders. She probably did have some connection or knowing of Bishop Odo and perhaps this creation was a sort of co-sponsored project.  Harold is shown as brave and his soldiers are not belittled. Throughout, William is described as “dux” (duke) whereas Harold, also called dux up to his coronation, is subsequently called “rex” (king). The fact that the narrative extensively covers Harold’s activities in Normandy (in 1064) indicates that the intention was to show a strong relationship between that expedition and the Norman Conquest starting two years later. It is for this reason that the tapestry is generally seen by modern scholars as an apologia for the Norman Conquest. Certainly no one was going to come out and renounce William’s actions, not even the Church was willing to do that. But, this project or creation could have been seen or meant in an underlying way to make some appeasement for the events.

Edith would have maintained some strong connections and influences with the various convents and may have been responsible for setting up and arranging for the stitchery do be done at certain selected ones. This would have been looked at as a great favor and honor to a convent selected to do such work.  Only convents with the most skilled and talented sewers would have been selected for this honor. 

The artistic context of the work could also lead back to Edith. Edith was a child of some Danish heritage and would have most likely learned some Danish variations of stitchery during her youth. Many of the Convents made use of these variations as well, showing the Danish influences in Anglo-Saxon sewing.  Tapestry fragments have been found in Scandinavia dating from the ninth century and it is thought that Norman and Anglo-Saxon embroidery developed from this sort of work. Examples are to be found in the grave goods of the Oseberg ship and the Överhogdal tapestries.

A monastic text from Ely, the Liber Eliensis, mentions a woven narrative wall-hanging commemorating the deeds of Byrhtnoth, killed in 991. Wall-hangings were common by the tenth century with English and Norman texts particularly commending the skill of Anglo-Saxon seamstresses. Mural paintings imitating draperies still exist in France and Italy and there are twelfth century mentions of other wall-hangings in Normandy and France. A poem by Baldric of Dol might even be describing the Bayeux Tapestry itself.  Therefore, the Bayeux Tapestry was not unique at the time it was created—rather it is remarkable for being the sole surviving example of Middle Ages’ narrative needlework.

On a final note to this discussion, I just want to leave you with some examples of what these Anglo-Saxon women locked away in their bowers and their nunneries were responsible for eventually creating.  Opus Anglicanum or English work is fine needlework of Medieval England done for ecclesiastical or secular use on clothing, hangings or other textiles, often using gold and silver threads on rich velvet or linen grounds. Such English embroidery was in great demand across Europe, particularly from the late 12th to mid-14th centuries and was a luxury product often used for diplomatic gifts. Their beginning of the art form in the 800s culminated in the more famous stitched master pieces of later years.

Some earliest remains of Anglo-Saxon needle work during 8th and 9th centuries

Anglo -Saxon Embroidery - A Fragment of the Maaseik

Anglo -Saxon Embroidery – A Fragment of the Maaseik

cuthburt_maniple_c909

cuthburt_maniple_c909

An example of Viking era needle work in 10th century. The original clothing items were found in the Mammen graves.

The so called Mammen finds date from the late 10th Century. The main find was the grave of what appears to be a high ranking man. He was dressed in several layers of woollen fabric (2/1 twill), most of which was decorated in some way.

The fragments contained several motifs worked in stem stitch. It is impossible to tell the original colours of the fabrics and the threads used to embroider them, as they are all now a dark brown colour (altered by elements in the soil in which they were found). However, it is possible that they were once brightly coloured.

mammen_full_outfit Viking example of Viking stitchery in 10th century

mammen_full_outfit Viking example of Viking stitchery in 10th century

http://medieval.webcon.net.au/extant_mammen.html

 

opus anglicanum

opus anglicanum

anglo-saxon examples of needle work

anglo-saxon examples of needle work

This example shows the use of beadwork within the needle art 

medieval stitchery with beadwork

This is an example of the needle work art as it progressed into the later 13th and 14th centuries.

Butlerbowden_cope later example of opus anglicum about 1330

Butlerbowden_cope later example of opus anglicum about 1330

Finally, this is an example of the size of some of the creations and present day efforts to maintain and repair the works as much as possible without interfering with the original design.

Alice-Cole-Conserving-a-Cope

Alice-Cole-Conserving-a-Cope

After reading all of this, I only hope that you come to have a better appreciation and understanding of the idea that a Woman’s worth and value could indeed be in her hands and her mind!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uhtred of Bebbanburg has arrived!

Yes, Uhtred of Bebbanburg has arrived on our small screens! In case you missed it, the premiere of The Last Kingdom aired on Saturday via the BBC America channel. It will make it’s debut in the UK on Oct. 22 by way of BBC2. Because of that short delay for many viewers, I will try not to give out too many spoilers in this initial review. If you know me at all, you will understand what an extremely difficult challenge this will be for me!

Before we get into the review, we should refresh ourselves on some basic information related to the premise of the show. Everyone who follows this blog should be well aware that the show is based on the Saxon Stories by Bernard Cornwell.  I have made numerous references to the author and the books here and have the utmost praise and appreciation for his work! You can visit his official site for more information on all of the books!

http://www.bernardcornwell.net/

The Last Kingdom is a contemporary story of redemption, vengeance and self-discovery set against the birth of England.

This historical drama comes from BBC America, BBC Two and the Golden Globe and Emmy award-winning producers of Downton Abbey, Carnival Films.  The series is an adaptation of Bernard Cornwell’s best-selling series of books ‘The Warrior Chronicles/Saxon Stories’ by BAFTA nominated and RTSD award-winning writer Stephen Butchard.

For more information:  http://www.bbcamerica.com/the-last-kingdom/

And to read a review of the programme: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/10/arts/television/review-the-last-kingdom-offers-a-fight-with-swords-for-identity.html?_r=1

The creator of the show are using the books as their guideline but will use their own creative license in telling the story. What this means is that there will be changes made in order to transition the stories to a workable format for the small screen. Bernard Cornwell is fine with this idea so you should be as well. Mr. Cornwell is not involved in this production at all and was happy with this arrangement. He created the initial story and is as excited as the rest of us to see how the show goes about creating this version of it. I am mentioning this now because I know full well how some book purists will make much fuss about the slightest variations to the story. There have already been complaints about such minor details as Uhtred’s hair color… Please believe me when I assure you that once you start watching this series, you will be so engrossed in the story that you will care little about the color of Uhtred’s hair!

Another point I want to be clear on for some viewers who may be interested in the series because of their fandom of the Vikings series on History Channel. I have had comments from a few viewers that would suggest some slight misconceptions or misunderstandings regarding these two very separate shows that are dealing with the same time period. The Last Kingdom is not in any way related to, linked to or based on the Vikings series. Other than the fact that they do deal with the same time period and a few of the same historical figures, they are two completely separate individual entities. They tell two very different versions of the same basic history and any resemblance between characters is simply due to similarities in somewhat common names of the time for the most part. The Vikings Saga is more along the lines of historical fantasy while The Last Kingdom is most definitely in the category of historical fiction. I recently read a comment that sums this up perfectly… there is history and then there is Hirstory! Hirst’s version is fun and entertaining- while it does contain some level of historical reference it has veered well into the fantasy realm. You can read more about my thoughts on the differences between historical fiction and historical fantasy here:

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/07/28/historical-fiction-vs-historical-fantasy/

historical fiction

As I mentioned, there are a few key historical figures that show up in both shows. For the time being those characters are limited to Ubba (son of Ragnar Lodbrok) and the adult sons of Aethelwulf- Athelred and Alfred.  The Ragnar in the Last Kingdom is not connected or related in any way to Ragnar Lodbrok. Ivar the Boneless has not yet made any appearance in Last Kingdom and depending on how the events play out, he may not appear at all. The importance in Last Kingdom is set more on Ubba and another Danish leader, Guthrum. 

ubbe of Vikings Saga

Ubbe of Vikings series

ubba of Last Kingdom

Ubba of Last Kingdom

Sons in Viking series vs Sons in Last Kingdom

Athelred and Alfred of vikings seriesAethered and Alfred in last kingdom

The last and important figure to clear up any confusion on is this King… This is Ecghbert of Northumbria, the ridiculous puppet King of Nothing set in place and allowed to rule by the Danes after their battle at Eorfic/York in which they defeated the Kings of Northumbria- Aelle and Osberht. This King is not related to or connected to King Ecbert of Wessex in any way!

Ecghbert the ridiculous puppet king for Danish masters

ecbert sends aethelwult to mercia to deal with queen kwentirith

Ecgberht (died 873) was king of Northumbria in the middle of the 9th century. This period of Northumbrian history is poorly recorded, and very little is known of Ecgberht.

He first appears following the death of kings Ælla and Osberht in battle against the Vikings of the Great Heathen Army at York on 21 March 867. Symeon of Durham records:

Nearly all the Northumbrians were routed and destroyed, the two kings being slain; the survivors made peace with the pagans. After these events, the pagans appointed Egbert king under their own dominion; Egbert reigned for six years, over the Northumbrians beyond the Tyne.

Historians presume that Ecgberht ruled as the Great Army’s tax collector and that he belonged to one of the several competing royal families in Northumbria. The next report of Ecgberht is in 872: “The Northumbrians expelled their king Egbert, and their Archbishop Wulfhere“. Finally, Ecgberht’s death is reported in 873, and it is said that Ricsige succeeded him.

I wanted to address this matter of Ecbhbert now because there has been a bit of confusion for some about him from those who are not quite so familiar with the history surrounding this time period.  It is details such as these that put Last Kingdom more firmly in the historical fiction category. Many of the events in this series have some verifiable historical basis and many of the characters you will see are there because of their documented  involvement in such events.

Now, with some of that basic information covered, I can give you my thoughts on this show. My first and primary thought is this- If you have not seen it, go find it now and watch it! The first episode is available on the official website:

http://www.bbcamerica.com/the-last-kingdom/

If you have not read the books, I would also highly suggest you go find them as well! While it is not necessary to have read the books in order to enjoy and understand what is going on in the show, the books are excellent and well worth the read. It’s difficult for me to make a realistic appraisal and determination on the importance of having read the books because I have read the books so it does bias my thought on that.  I do think that the creators have done a great job so far in telling this story on it’s own merit as a stand alone piece that can be viewed and immensely enjoyed without benefit of having read the books. It immediately immerses you in the harsh and gritty reality of the time period.  Even without having read the books, I believe that I would have been just as swept up and sucked in quickly to the story of Uhtred as he lives through the battles taking place around him for survival, for power and control of lives and land.  I read an interview with the writers/creator of the show where they stated their vision, their goal in wanting to create a world that are as realistic as possible- not fake or cliché representations or stereotypical images of this past. One writer commented on his initial doubts and how all he could foresee were the unrealistic images of  medieval type feasts with goose legs being waved around. I admit too that when I read about this attempted production, I had my own doubts. I had some serious worries that this would turn out as a slaughtering of Bernard Cornwell’s series. I also had concerns that maybe my personal expectations were far too high regarding any attempt to re-create this work on screen. Even as the premier episode approached and I saw glimpse of what it would be, I still had some fearful doubts about whether they could pull this off, whether I would be cringing in disappointment at what had been done to a story that I am so devoted to.  Those doubts quickly vanished as soon as the show began!

From the very beginning you are placed so quickly and firmly in Uhtred’s world that you forget about any minor details that might have caused you moments of doubt.  As I mentioned earlier, I could care less what color Uhtred’s hair is or any number of other insignificant details. I have the highest praise for the creators of this series and their successful efforts to pull us into the story and the world of the Danes and the Saxons as they both try to shape their futures and their destinies. They have done an incredible job of immersing us in that world, presenting a picture of not just a larger scale war on the horizon but of the smaller battles and confrontations on a personal level. Are there inaccuracies as far as clothing or weapons or fighting strategies… yes of course I’m sure there are and I am sure that any number of critics will be quick to point them out. Do those small inconsistencies really make such a difference in the telling of the story- no they do not! I was so involved in the story that I did not have time to sit and debate on whether those shields were exactingly accurate or whether the Viking army would have really used such a shield wall as was portrayed. 

There has been a bit of debate already on the validity or accuracy of the initial battle scene between the Danish army and the Northumbrians. It may not necessarily have been a truly accurate depiction but it worked so well in doing what I think it was intended to represent. The Danes and their army were a force to be reckoned with. They were well trained and prepared for battle at this time while still being cautious in their strategies. The Northumbrians were not prepared for this onslaught and not ready to deal with this attack. They were already in a weakened state of chaos due to the fighting between their two Kings. The Danes were well aware of this inner strife and the thought of many is that this why they chose to invade Northumbria first.  The initial battle scene in the show did an excellent job of portraying this lack of cohesion on the part of the Northumbrians.

a less battle ready or prepared Saxon army a well trained and prepared shield wall army

We also see from the beginning that this invasion by the Danes is not just one of raiding and pillaging for wealth and then returning to their homeland. This is also a personal journey, a seeking of land to settle, of a place to call home and to put down roots in. Ragnar the elder makes that clear at the beginning- for him is not so much a battle for just for wealth, but for a place to raise his family.

why they came in the first place

The show has only 8 episodes this first season to tell the story of the first two books from Cornwell’s series of 9 books. They have done an amazing job so far of compressing the storylines and moving us quickly along on the path of Uhtred’s life from childhood to adult, from heir of Bebbanburg to Danish slave boy to loved and recognized son of the Danish warrior, Ragnar and then to a young man who has lost everything whose only hope or chance of reclaiming any of it lies with the last Kingdom, Wessex and it’s leaders- Alfred and his brother Athelred. The episodes are fast paced, riveting and full of details and clues to the future so it’s important to pay close attention to some of those scenes and discussions!

Uhtred with his medallion young Uhtred refused to listen and followed Father to war... his uncle let him go with hopes that he will fall uhtred captured by danes2 Uhtred looks on as Ragnar threatens Kjartin with fighting within the hazel branches You bought me for how much Too much uhtred the dane comes out of the water Uhtred the Dane immerges from the water uhtred as a young adult

Book readers can rest assured that while there may be changes to the storyline, the most important and relevant details are still presented although in some altered ways. Cornwell’s spirit and style is still maintained throughout those adaptions and you will feel that essence within the changes. Episode one sticks very close to the book but compresses it into the one hour time frame. There is horror, heartbreak and humor enough to balance those most painful moments. There are also so many heart touching moments within the horror and humor that you can not help but feel like you are a part of this tapestry, this story of life.

Take her to Valhalla with you

One scene that caused some confusion for a few viewers was where the priest, Father Beocca is baptizing young Uhtred and appears to be trying to drown the boy… never fear, Beocca is simply teaching Uhtred a lesson and repaying him for his earlier disrespect of reading, writing and religion! Beocca will forever be Uhtred’s faithful friend and supporter even when Uhtred would prefer him not to be… and when Beocca is so frustrated with him that he would rather not support him!

baptizing Osbert to Uhtred

One other thing that I need to mention in my profound appreciation of the series creators is the way that they have provided us with some time frames and locations, and given us a translation from the Old English spellings/pronounciations to more modern versions! My undying gratitude for now knowing how to pronounce some of those words!

Eoferwic york Loidis Leeds

 

I have already watched episode 2 but I know there are a great many people who have not been able to view it yet so for now I am going to keep my review of it limited to my overall impressions and general thoughts on it. For me personally, it was even better than the first episode if that’s possible. I do think that this episode may rile up some of the book purists though in that this episode takes a distinctly altered path from the books. It presents us with some detailed history that was included in the books but which is still extremely valuable in setting up the future storyline. It takes us on a slightly different path through the events but I do believe it will still bring us to the same place and events. There are some variations on how or why certain things come about but they work so well that I was quite happy with how it is playing out. Ubba and Guthrum will begin to take on their value and importance in the story and the history. We will see the beginnings of Uhtred’s rocky relationship with Alfred forming and we will see Alfred’s beginnings of a leadership role. We will also see the difficulties he faces within his personal life…  One thing I would highly suggest- if you should ever be invited to dine with Alfred, you should probably just politely make some excuse and decline the offering. Even Alfred has trouble managing to swallow it or tell the difference between the offerings of broth and gruel!

ailswith

And, just one last thought… Really, Alfred considering what we know of your wife, who could blame you for being tempted by some others?

temptation of the flesh

For more information on the history of Wessex and Alfred, you can read my previous article:

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/09/23/from-ecberts-dream-to-alfreds-reality/

I hope you’ve enjoyed this introduction to The Last Kingdom and that you will continue to join me on this epic journey with Uhtred of Bebbanburg! In upcoming posts I will try to provide some helpful historical information including some maps and some additional reference material as I come up with it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Ecbert’s dream to Alfred’s reality

From Egbert's fantasy to ruler of Wessex

In the previous article, From Charlemagne to Egbert and Wessex, we looked at the real Ecbert and some history of Wessex. I used  representations and comparisons from Michael Hirst’s Vikings Saga. In this article, I will continue with that and in addition, I will add some comparison to the upcoming BBCA Last Kingdom series based on Bernard Cornwell’s books about that time period. I hope this will gives fans a bit more real history on how Alfred actually came to inherit the crown of Wessex.

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/09/14/from-charlamagne-to-egbert-and-wessex/

Viewers and fans of the Vikings Saga by Michael Hirst are waiting to see what the fate of Ecbert, Aethelwulf, and little Alfred will be in Hirst’s version of history. Hopefully there will be some answers or resolution in the upcoming season. Right now, we are left with the puzzle of how Hirst will weave facts into his ongoing story of the Vikings. He has promised us and made assurances that baby Alfred is indeed based on the Alfred the Great of history and will eventually be King of Wessex. He has also made reference to a future in which the sons of Ragnar will grow up and become those well known warriors involved in the Great Heathen conquests of the Kingdoms of Britain, fighting against Alfred.

Fans and potential viewers of the upcoming Last Kingdom are aware of history from Uhtred’s personal point of view after Alfred has succeeded to the throne of Wessex and becomes embroiled in the fight to save Wessex from the Heathen Armies of Northmen. Cornwell does an excellent job of presenting the history from Uhtred’s perspective and of providing a look at the events taking place after Alfred inherited the Crown.

The unanswered question or puzzle remains… What happened in between those times? How did Wessex go from Egbert’s dream or fantasy of conquering it all and being that all powerful Bretwalda to being a last holdout against the Danes with a sickly young King stuck in a swamp having little hope of holding on to his own Kingdom let alone uniting all of them to defeat the Northmen, the Heathens.

We covered Egbert’s actual role in the events that led to his rise and his eventual fall in the previous article. Along with that, we also covered much of Aethelwulf’s role and history as it relates to Wessex.  We do need to look a bit closer at some of Aethelwulf’s history here because it does set up the path for his younger son Alfred to come into his own as King of Wessex.

aethelwulf vikings2

We know that Aethelwulf was the only child of Egbert and on Egbert’s death in 839,  Aethelwulf inherited the throne of Wessex.  his wife Osburh was the mother of all his children. She was the daughter of Oslac, described by Asser, as a man who was descended from Jutes who had ruled the Isle of Wight.  Æthelwulf had six known children. His eldest son, Æthelstan, was old enough to have been appointed King of Kent in 839, so he must have been born by the early 820s, and he died in the early 850s.  The second son, Æthelbald, is first recorded as a charter  witness in 841, and if, like other brothers, he began to attest or witness documents  when he was around six, he would have been born around 835; he was King of Wessex from 858 to 860. Æthelwulf’s third son, Æthelberht, was probably born around 839 and was king from 860 to 865. The only daughter, Æthelswith was probably born around 840 and married Burgred, King of Mercia in 853.  The other two sons were much younger: Æthelred was born around 848 and was king from 865 to 871, Alfred was born around 849 and was king from 871 to 899. 

aethelwulf with baby Athelred

aethelwulf with baby Athelred

In the interest of condensing the timeline and history, Hirst  conveniently eliminated some of these children in his version of the history. In Hirst’s story, we see depictions of only the youngest two sons and a change in the Mother from Osburh to Judith (Judith’s background has been completely changed presumably to allow for some added connection between Wessex and Northumbria).  Whether or not Judith will bear any more children is still unknown to viewers at this time… the only way this would play any importance in Hirst’s story depends partially on how he deals with the plaguing detail or issue of Mercia. We will see how the issue of Mercia was dealt with in the real history of Aethelwulf and his children. We  also see a slightly more accurate accounting of Mercia’s fate in Bernard Cornwell’s Last Kingdom series.

ecbert showers affection on alfred and wonders about athelstan

ecbert showers affection on alfred and wonders about Athelstan

I understand Hirst’s rationale for leaving the other children out of the story in his effort to tighten up the storyline and focus more on a future that directly involves those two youngest brothers in the wars against the Vikings.  Those other children however, are important to the history of Wessex, to how the real Alfred came to his power and how he maintained relationships and allies with such Kingdoms as Mercia.

In the previous article, we established that for the most part, Aethelwulf provided a well balanced and stable reign of Wessex from 839 until his death in 858.  He had limited encounters with Viking attacks or raids and other than a few defeats, he managed to contain any real threat from them. During his reign he took measures to improve his Kingdom’s relationship and alliance with Mercia by marrying his only daughter, Aelswith to King of Mercia, Burgred in 853. He then assisted Mercia in a successful attack on Wales to restore the traditional Mercian hegemony over the Welsh. These events helped to seal the formal  allegiance between Mercia and Wessex even after Mercia began to be taken over by the Danes. This alliance would become critical in later years when Alfred would be dealing with Mercia.  Personally, I would like to see Hirst address this ongoing alliance in his story because it is so important to later events.

Aethelwulf  provided a well balanced and stable reign for his Kingdom, and he attempted to maintain stability in his family life despite some rather difficult situations.  Aethelwulf had six children by his first wife Osburh.  It is not known what actually happened to Osburh… she probably died but then again, may have been set aside so Aethelwulf could make the advantageous marriage to Judith of Flanders. Which ever the case, to say that Aethelwulf’s older sons were unhappy with their Father’s second marriage is an understatement of the event! What caused much of the dissent  was the fact that as part of the marriage agreement, Judith would be given the status of anointed Queen, and therefore any offspring she might produce would immediately take precedence in the succession of rule. Fortunately, Judith never had any children by Aethelwulf so that issue did not come up.  By the time of his second marriage in 856, his older sons were adults and were already capable of ruling in some capacity. Oldest son, Athelstan was ruling as King of Kent up until the early 850s.  He would have been the first in line for succession after Aethelwulf but unfortunately died before any of this mess started. So, one son down- four to go… the two youngest, Athelred and Alfred were children during this time and would probably not have had any expectations of ever really ruling anyway. That leaves two remaining sons to be discontented with Father’s marriage and possibly take matters into their own hands.

Athelbald was the second son, and after his brother’s death in 851, he was next in line to rule Wessex.  In 855 he became regent of Wessex while his father, Æthelwulf, visited Rome. His younger brother Æthelberht became king of Kent.  When the sons learned of Aethelwulf’s marriage to Judith, there was a plot or threat of rebellion against Aethelwulf.  Æthelwulf returned to Wessex to face a revolt by Æthelbald, who attempted to prevent his father from recovering his throne. We need to give Aethelwulf some credit here as he went out of his way to appease Athelbald and avoid a civil war by allowing Aethelbad to continue to rule Wessex itself (or the western part of Wessex) while he took Kent and the other eastern parts of the kingdom.

In Aethelwulf’s will, he made provisions for the succession of rule. The kingdom was to be divided between the two oldest surviving sons, with Æthelbald getting Wessex and Æthelberht taking Kent and the south-east. The survivor of Æthelbald, Æthelred and Alfred was to inherit their father’s bookland – his personal property as opposed to the royal lands which went with the kingship – some historians argue that this probably means that the survivor was to inherit the throne of Wessex as well.  Other historians disagree. Nelson states that the provision regarding the personal property had nothing to do with the kingship,  and Kirby comments: “Such an arrangement would have led to fratricidal strife. With three older brothers, Alfred’s chances of reaching adulthood would have been minimal.”   This would have immediately discounted any children of the three older brothers for succession and set a dangerous precedent for any offspring in future lines. I do not believe that Aethelwulf would have willingly set up such a precedent and have to agree that he most likely assumed it to mean that Athelred and Alfred would receive shares of his personal holdings.  What is interesting to note here is that in this basic history of Aethelwulf, his reign, his trip to Rome, or his will , there was no mention of any writ or provision that may have been made for Alfred’s future accession of the crown.

Æthelwulf died on 13 January 858. He was succeeded by Æthelbald in Wessex and Æthelberht in Kent and the south-east. The prestige conferred by a Frankish marriage was so great that Æthelbald then wedded his step-mother Judith, to Asser’s retrospective horror; he described the marriage as a “great disgrace”, and “against God’s prohibition and Christian dignity”.  When Æthelbald died only two years later, Æthelberht became King of Wessex as well as Kent, and Æthelwulf’s intention of dividing his kingdoms between his sons was thus set aside. In the view of Yorke and Abels this was because Æthelred and Alfred were too young to rule, and Æthelberht agreed in return that his younger brothers would inherit the whole kingdom on his death, whereas Kirby and Nelson think that Æthelberht just became the trustee for his younger brothers’ share of the bookland.

It was shortly after Aethelwulf’s death that the Danes would begin to have their impact on all of the Kingdoms including Wessex. As Aethelbald’s reign was so short and marred by the scandal of his marriage to his Father’s wife, Judith, there little is known of his reign.  Only one charter survives, witnessed by king Æthelbald, king Æthelbert and Judith, suggesting that he was on good terms with his brother.  Æthelbald died at Sherborne in Dorset on 20 December 860. Asser, who was hostile to Æthelbald both because of his revolt against his father and because of his uncanonical marriage, described him as “iniquitous and grasping”, and his reign as “two and a half lawless years. Asser was of course, biased in his opinion and would have considered anything done by Aethelbald as lawless. He died childless so the rule of Wessex went to his brother Aethelberht.

With the death of Aethelbald, the separate rule of Wessex and Kent was set aside.  Unlike his predecessors, Æthelberht did not appoint another member of his family as under-king of Kent probably because his brothers were too young to take over that role and there were no other family members. A charter issued in the first year of Æthelberht’s reign reflects an extraordinary new kind of assembly: it was the first charter of a West Saxon king to include a full complement both of West Saxon and of Kentish witnesses.  Aethelberht ruled Kent from 858 and then ruled all of Wessex from 860 until 865.  The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle describes Æthelberht’s reign as one of good harmony and lasting peace. Though this was true of internal affairs, the Vikings were becoming a great threat, unsuccessfully storming Winchester and ravaging eastern Kent. He died in 865 leaving no children.

If you look at the rule, the early deaths and the lack of offspring by any of the older sons, it’s probably easy to see why Hirst chose to eliminate them from his storyline as being unimportant to the overall story. While they may indeed seem insignificant or unimportant, they do show how Wessex suffered from some instability and lack of true leadership or guidance after Aethelwulf’s death. There was a quick succession of rulers who had little time to get a firm grasp on the events that were taking place around them. This all led directly to the turmoil and disarray that would suddenly leave Alfred in charge. 

A number of other things contributed to Alfred’s unique and unexpected inheritance besides his brothers’ untimely deaths.  Aethelwuth for all practical purposes had planned well for the future of Wessex but as much as he had planned, some things just did not go according to those plans. Take for instance, the marriage of his daughter to the King of Mercia… this marriage should have well sealed that alliance and put a descendant of Aethelwulf on the throne of Mercia.  Unfortunately, the marriage did not result in any children. Her marriage did probably signal the subordination of Burgred to his father-in-law and the Saxon kingdom at a time when both Wessex and Mercia were suffering Danish (Viking) raids.  Repeated Danish incursions over the years gradually weakened Mercia militarily and in 868 Burgred was forced to call upon Æthelswith’s brother King Æthelred of Wessex to assist him in confronting an entrenched Danish army at Nottingham.  In 874, the Danes would achieve some victory in Mercia when they succeeded in driving Burgred out of the country. He fled to Rome along with wife Aethelswith.  Bergred died in Rome and Aethelswith died sometime later at Pavia, Italy. If the name of Pavia sounds a bit familiar, that is because it is the same place that the earlier Queen Eadburh ended up at!  

On the surface, the failure of Ealswith to produce an heir and the abandoning of his Kingdom by husband Bergred might look like part of the bad luck and worst case scenarios for Aethelwulf’s plans. In reality though, they went along with all of the other coincidental events that became part of Alfred’s miraculous fortune or seemingly blessed fate. These events left Mercia without a stable or strong King and extremely vulnerable to later Viking attacks and conquest. They also left Mercia easily open to later being taken over and controlled by Alfred.  The situation with Mercia could have, and almost did go so wrong, yet somehow it ended up working in Alfred’s favor just as other events did.

As I mentioned, Aethelwulf planned well for the future and could hardly be blamed for the events that changed those plans. Earlier I mentioned Aethelwulf’s trip to Rome and the mysterious writ or document that would come to play such an important part in Alfred’s claim to the crown later. Much is made of this document as some proof that Aethelwulf was paving a way for Alfred’s ascent to the crown.  In reality, why would he have done such a thing? He could not have foreseen the events that would take place in his Kingdom and had already paved the way for his older sons to inherit. Since this document did play such an important part in the future, we should look at what really happened on that trip to Rome and what that writ actually was.

In 853, Aethelwulf sent not just Alfred, but his older brother Athelred as well to Rome, probably in connection and preparation for his own forthcoming visit. So, first of all this was not some special visit set up just for young Alfred’s benefit. Later historians and biographers such as Alfred’s own monk, Asser would lessen the focus on Athelred and alter the facts to the promotion of  Alfred. The reality is that both sons were sent on this early trip as emissaries of goodwill in preparation for Aethelwulf’s future trip in 855. Some historians argue that the journey suggested Alfred was intended for the Church. Others argue that the trip and a declaration by the Pope were actually intended for just the opposite purpose by Aethelwulf. By gaining the Pope’s favor and affirmation of throne worthiness for them, he was protecting both of them against the possibility of being forcibly tonsured to the Church by the older brothers. 

 The document was simply a letter from Pope Leo IV in which he responded to Aethelwulf’s goodwill gesture of presenting his sons to the Pope. Pope Leo IV most likely invested both boys with a belt of consul and referred to them as his spiritual sons thus creating a spiritual link or alliance between the two Fathers.   Alfred, and possibly Æthelred as well, were invested with the “belt of consulship”. Æthelred’s part in the journey is only known from a contemporary record in the Liber Vitae of San Salvatore. What this term consul meant at that time was that the Pope was  simply recognizing them as official Diplomats. This investiture was by no means any bestowal of anointment to Kingship.  At some later point historians such as Asser would misconstrue or misrepresent the term (probably on purpose) and the letter from the Pope to mean that Alfred was being confirmed as anointed King.   There is absolutely no evidence, reason, or justification for such an action by the Pope at that time nor any reason that Aethelwulf would ever have had such intent or plan in mind for his youngest son. No one could have foreseen any future that would call for such an action that would spell disaster for any Kingdom and certain death for those two youngest sons should the Pope take such a controversial and extreme step.

No one, not even the Pope could foresee a future for Wessex that would involve three adult sons- three Kings dying in quick succession with no heirs and a grown daughter married to a King also producing no heir! No one could foresee a Kingdom so wealthy and so stable, falling so quickly into disarray that it was left basically to the two youngest sons who were never expected or  trained to rule the Kingdom. No one could foresee a future that included all of the other Kingdoms quickly falling to Viking conquests and leaving that last Kingdom of Wessex with it’s unprepared new rulers to fend off such a similar attack and fate. No one, certainly not Aethelwulf, the Pope or even young Alfred himself  could foresee or envision a future that would require a frail and sickly last son (who would probably have preferred a quieter, more churchly life) to step forward, become the leader of his Kingdom and all of the other Kingdoms against an invading army intent on conquering all of Britain.

The trips to Rome were not special treatment or favor shown to Alfred or his brother Athelred. The trips were part of Aethelwulf’s plan to improve his own alliances with Rome and with the Frankish Empire. The youngest sons were allowed to go on these trips because they were considered expendable… the succession to the throne was already firmly set in place and if something should happen to either Aethelwulf or the boys during their trip, the throne was safe in the hands of the older brothers. Aethelwulf took the boys on his trip and there was no ulterior motive to any of it other than what may have possibly been Aethelwulf’s own plan to secure himself a second wife and a closer alliance with Francia. The boys would most likely have looked at the entire trip as a grand adventure.  Athelred was born in 848 and Alfred in 849, so at the time of these trips they were very young children of no more than 6 or 7 years old. They were not destined to be rulers so would have been allowed some greater freedom from political and reigning indoctrinations… meaning they would have probably enjoyed the trip for what it was to them, not much more than a family vacation. They went on this extended vacation with their Father and returned home to Wessex with a new Step Mother who was not all that much older than them.  That event also would not have been such an odd occurrence and the boys would have just went on with their lives as usual.   Even their Father’s death in 858 would not have had all that great of impact on these youngest boys’ lives. Aethelwulf had made solid plans and arrangements for everyone’s futures and as the boys were so young and not considered really important to the matter of succession, once again they would probably have carried on as usual with their studies and little thought toward the future.

At the time of their trips to Rome with Aethelwulf, the boys would have been close in age to these two young boys who will portray Athelred and Alfred in season 4 of the Vikings.

Athelred and Alfred Judith's sons

The two boys who will portray Athelred and Alfred in season 4 of Vikings.

Little is known about the childhood of either Athelred or Alfred other that their trip Rome and Francia with Aethelwulf. There is mention that Alfred was sickly from the time of his childhood and it is thought that he probably suffered from Crohn’s disease. There is also some mention that he spent time in Ireland seeking cures for his ailments. As such a sickly child, he probably spent much of his time doing things that did not require a great deal of physical ability- such as reading or studying with tutors and Priests.  He may not have been expected even to survive to adulthood and so less attention would have been paid to his overall training or expectations of him. He was probably left much in the care and raising of those tutors and Priests who would have assumed that should he survive to adulthood, he would naturally choose a life with the church. What other option or choice would there be for him realistically as a youngest son too frail and sickly to fight and make a name or wealth for himself on his own?  His older brother Athelred was given more recognition and attention. Athelred held the title of Aetheling at least as early as 854.  He first witnessed his father’s charters as an Ætheling in 854, and kept this title until he succeeded to the throne in 865. There is no evidence or mention of this title being attached to Alfred during his childhood, so one would have to assume that at that time, Alfred was deemed of far less importance than even his brother that was so close in age to him.

During the earliest years of the Anglo-Saxon rule in England, the word ætheling was probably used to denote any person of noble birth. Its use was soon restricted to members of a royal family. The prefix æþel- formed part of the name of several Anglo-Saxon kings, for instance Æthelberht of Kent, Æthelwulf of Wessex and Æthelred of Wessex, and was used to indicate their noble birth. According to a document which probably dates from the 10th century, the weregild of an ætheling was fixed at 15,000 thrymsas, or 11,250 shillings, which was equal to that of an archbishop and one-half of that of a king.

 

Everything began to change for Wessex and for the two youngest sons of Aethelwulf when those older brothers died in such quick succession leaving no heirs. In addition to those untimely deaths, the Danes decided to take their conquest of Northumbria further south into Mercia and were paying close attention to what was happening within Wessex. Wessex, after all was the true prize. Wessex was the wealthiest and the most stable of all the Kingdoms thanks to Egbert and to Aethelwulf.  In the early 860s, the Northmen which included Norse as well as Danes began to arrive on the isle of Britain in great numbers seemingly with the sole intent of conquering it for their own. Prior to this time, there had been Viking raids or attacks throughout the Isle in limited numbers and for the most part the Kingdoms of Britain had always been able to defend themselves and keep the attacks contained. Wessex was so successful in their prior defenses that when the Heathen Army decided to strike in full force in the 860s, they chose to avoid Wessex and begin their assaults further north instead. Some might assume or suggest that this initial assault was more of a personal revenge attack designed and orchestrated by the sons of Ragnar Lodbrok as a retaliation against Aelle of Northumbria for his killing of their Father.

What one needs to do though is look at the invading forces and the initial assaults for what they actually were and what they entailed or involved. This was not a simple onslaught or personal attack led by one particular family or country against one person or Kingdom. The Great Viking Army or Great Danish Army, known by the Anglo-Saxons as the Great Heathen Army was a coalition of Norse warriors, originating from Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, who came together under a unified command to invade the four Anglo-Saxon kingdoms that constituted England in AD 865. Since the late 8th century, the Vikings had settled for mainly “hit-and-run” raids on centres of wealth, such as monasteries. However, the intent of the Great Army was different, it was much larger than the usual raiding party and its purpose was to conquer and claim land more so than just spoils or riches. This was a well planned campaign to settle, not to seek revenge or wealth and leave.  These forces had no intent devour, destroy and depart, they were determined to conquer and remain.

During early campaigns, the Danes had made attempts to take Wessex and were always defeated, this would suggest that they chose instead to focus on the Northern areas first, build up their forces and conquests before again attempting to defeat the prize of Wessex.  The Vikings had been defeated by the West Saxon King Æthelwulf in 851, so rather than land in Wessex they decided to go further north to East Anglia.  Legend has it that the united army was led by the three sons of Ragnar Lodbrok: Halfdan Ragnarsson, Ivar the Boneless, and Ubba. Norse sagas consider the invasion by the three brothers as a response to the death of their father at the hands of Ælla of Northumbria in 865, but the historicity of this claim is uncertain.

King Aella of Northumbria

As I mentioned, this was a well planned campaign, probably years in the making and involving a great deal of intense preparation and forehand knowledge of what was going on in the Kingdoms of Britain. The Danes did not go into this war on a whim or a sudden and intense desire for personal revenge… if the possibility for such personal revenge happened to come up during such battles then so be it, that would just be an added bonus for those who were able to carry that revenge out in addition to their overall goal. Just as with any well planned, organized campaign, the Danes would have had their own spies deep within the kingdoms to keep them apprised of the situations in each area and allow them to determine which places would be most easily defeated first. They probably knew full well the weaknesses of the various kingdoms and made their initial decisions based on those weaknesses. This would have been their reasoning for starting further north and working down towards Wessex, all the while paying close attention to the critical events taking place in Wessex… namely the weakening and demise of capable rulers.  The Danes were in no hurry to grab and go this time, and as they quickly managed to conquer the other kingdoms, they could settle in and wait for Wessex to weaken because they had every assumption that these last two rulers of Wessex would be easily defeated and controlled just as the other kingdoms had been.

full trailer3 shield wall

If you look at a map of the Army conquest that includes a timeline, you can see that their initial focus was East Anglia and then to move on to Northumbria before attempting to gain control of Mercia and Wessex. Obviously, East Anglia was an important coastal territory for them and as we will see in a future discussion of Northumbria, that kingdom was already in serious disarray because of feuding between royal families, so would have been an easy target. If Ragnar’s sons chose to extract some type of personal revenge during that assault, well so much the better for them on a personal basis, but I do not think that Northumbria was singled out specifically for just that reason!

800px-England_Great_Army_map_svg

 

Right now, we are only focusing on the events of Wessex that led up to the frail and most unlikely candidate for King anyone might imagine, Alfred to end up as ruler of Wessex. We’ll look at the events of Northumbria, Mercia and East Anglia in separate discussions.

As I already mentioned, the third brother Aethelberht was King of Wessex from 860 to 865 when he died with no heirs. In 865, Athelred  became King. Keep in mind that with the demise of those three older brothers, Wessex was left with the two youngest sons who no one, not even they themselves had ever expected to become King. Athelred would have been about 17 at the time he took over the rule. He was young and most likely somewhat inexperienced, and at same the time he took the crown, the Heathen Army arrived. Within only a few short years, that army would take over East Anglia, Northumbria and move into Mercia. In 868, Athelred’s brother in law, Bergred of Mercia appealed to Wessex for help against the Danes. Æthelred and his brother, the future Alfred the Great, led a West Saxon army to Nottingham, but there was no decisive battle, and Burgred bought off the Vikings. In 874 the Vikings defeated Burgred and drove him into exile.

Despite Athelred’s youth, he did manage to accomplish something his older siblings failed at… he produced heirs! A charter of 868 refers to Wulfthryth regina and there were two known sons,  Æthelhelm and Æthelwold.  Æthelwold disputed the throne with Edward the Elder after Alfred’s death in 899. The accepted assumption on them not succeeding to the rule is that they were too young so the crown passed to Alfred instead.

From 868 on, Wessex was deeply involved in the war against the Heathen Armies, assisting in the fight to keep Ivar the Boneless out of neighboring Mercia. By 870, the Vikings turned their attention to Wessex, and on 4 January 871 at the Battle of Reading, Æthelred suffered a heavy defeat.  Although he was able to re-form his army in time to win a victory at the Battle of Ashdown, he suffered further defeats on 22 January at Basing, and 22 March at Meretun.

Surprisingly, despite the youth and inexperience of both Athelred and his younger brother Alfred, they were capable fighters and defenders. Alfred joined his older brother in the battles, fighting along side him and was credited with the success of their battle at Battle of Ashdown on the Berkshire Downs, possibly near Compton or Aldworth. Even though they seemed to be fighting a losing war, the two young brothers proved themselves to be worthy opponents.  They were not about to just give up and run like their brother in law Bergred would do.

alfred is crowned and england is born

alfred is crowned and england is born

 

In April 871, King Æthelred died, and Alfred succeeded to the throne of Wessex and the burden of its defence, despite the fact that Æthelred left two under-age sons, Æthelhelm and Æthelwold. This was in accordance with the agreement that Æthelred and Alfred had made earlier that year in an assembly at Swinbeorg. The brothers had agreed that whichever of them outlived the other would inherit the personal property that King Æthelwulf had left jointly to his sons in his will.  The deceased’s sons would receive only whatever property and riches their father had settled upon them and whatever additional lands their uncle had acquired. The unstated premise was that the surviving brother would be king. Given the ongoing Danish invasion and the youth of his nephews, Alfred’s succession probably went uncontested.

Last kingdom full trailer

While he was busy with the burial ceremonies for his brother, the Danes defeated the Saxon army in his absence at an unnamed spot, and then again in his presence at Wilton in May. The defeat at Wilton smashed any remaining hope that Alfred could drive the invaders from his kingdom. He was forced instead to make peace with them, according to sources that do not tell what the terms of the peace were. Bishop Asser claimed that the ‘pagans’ agreed to vacate the realm and made good their promise.   the Viking army did withdraw from Reading in the autumn of 871 to take up winter quarters in Mercian London. Although not mentioned by Asser or by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Alfred probably also paid the Vikings cash to leave, much as the Mercians were to do in the following year.  Hoards dating to the Viking occupation of London in 871/2 have been excavated at Croydon, Gravesend, and Waterloo Bridge. These finds hint at the cost involved in making peace with the Vikings. For the next five years, the Danes occupied other parts of England as well.

updated pics3

Because this discussion is meant only to give us some insight into how Alfred came to rule, I am not going to go into how he proceeded with his reign and his long battle to defeat the Heathen Army despite insurmountable odds. We’ll save that for a future discussion.  The only additional and important matter to remember right now is his alliance, however shaky at the time, with Mercia. In 868, when his brother in law Bergred asked Wessex for help against the Heathen Army, Alfred married a member of the Mercian Royal family. This move would back up the alliance already  put in place with his sister’s marriage to Bergred. While his sister’s marriage produced no offspring which would further firm the alliance and put a Wessex descendant on the throne of Mercia, Alfred’s marriage would prove fruitful and enable him to gain sufficient control of Mercia. When Alfred took over his rule and managed to regain enough power to take back Mercia, he took control of Mercia by marrying his daughter Aethelflaid to an Ealdorman of Mercia who was one of his supporters in the English part of Mercia.

Alfred’s battles against the Danes would continue for most of his life. He died in 899 and the Danes did not give up on the thought to conquer Wessex completely until around 896. At the end of this year and early in 895 (or 896), the Danes drew their ships up the River Thames and River Lea and fortified themselves twenty miles (32 km) north of London. A direct attack on the Danish lines failed but, later in the year, Alfred saw a means of obstructing the river so as to prevent the egress of the Danish ships. The Danes realised that they were outmanoeuvred. They struck off north-westwards and wintered at Cwatbridge near Bridgnorth. The next year, 896 (or 897), they gave up the struggle. Some retired to Northumbria, some to East Anglia. Those who had no connections in England withdrew back to the continent.

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Alfred, against all odds managed to basically be the last man or heir standing in line for the rule of Wessex. Fortunately for Wessex and the rest of England, he was by no means as weak or frail as everyone supposed him to be. He was a highly intelligent, well educated man who was keenly adept at the strategies of warfare. While he was devoutly religious, he was open minded and not so rigidly set in past “acceptable” doctrines or rules. This mindset enabled him to often think outside the box and do what ever he deemed necessary to find solutions to the situation with the Heathen Armies. From 879 on, Alfred carried out a dramatic reorganisation of the government and defences of Wessex, building warships, organising the army into two shifts which served alternately and establishing a system of fortified burhs across the kingdom. This system is recorded in a 10th-century document known as the Burghal Hidage, which details the location and garrisoning requirements of thirty-three forts, whose positioning ensured that no one in Wessex was more than a long day’s ride from a place of safety. In the 890s these reforms helped him to repulse the invasion of another huge Danish army – which was aided by the Danes settled in England – with minimal losses.

Alfred also reformed the administration of justice, issued a new law code and championed a revival of scholarship and education. He gathered scholars from around England and elsewhere in Europe to his court, and with their help translated a range of Latin texts into English, doing much of the work in person, and orchestrated the composition of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. As a result of these literary efforts and the political dominance of Wessex, the West Saxon dialect of this period became the standard written form of Old English for the rest of the Anglo-Saxon period and beyond.

The Danish conquests had destroyed the kingdoms of Northumbria and East Anglia and divided Mercia in half, with the Danes settling in the north-east while the south-west was left to the English king Ceolwulf, allegedly a Danish puppet. When Ceolwulf’s rule came to an end he was succeeded as ruler of “English Mercia” not by another king but by a mere ealdorman named Aethelred, who acknowledged Alfred’s overlordship and married his daughter Aethelfaid. The process by which this transformation of the status of Mercia took place is unknown, but it left Alfred as the only remaining English king.

 

To see more of Alfred’s battle for Wessex, you should plan to watch BBCA’s upcoming series, The Last Kingdom based on those novels of the Viking era by Bernard Cornwell! I would also suggest that you read the books! You knew I would get this plug in eventually- It starts on October 10 and I will be here with my thoughts on all of it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Charlemagne to Egbert and Wessex

The beginnings of Egbert's power plots

The beginnings of Egbert’s power plots

Since we’ve recently spent a great deal of time discussing Charlamagne, Roland along with matters of Saxons and Danes, I find this a perfect time to bring us back to Egbert and Wessex.  There is a definite connection or relationship between the real Egbert and Charlamagne that we will see as we learn more about Egbert… the real Egbert as opposed to the more fictional creation of Michael Hirst.  I give Hirst credit though, as he has captured much of what may have been part of Egbert’s character or personality.  Although Hirst has played much with the timeline and numerous other events, I believe that he and Linus Roache have done an excellent job of portraying this King with a rather dubious or sketchy past and a highly questionable set of ethics or morals.  To aid and illustrate some points of this discussion, I have taken the creative liberty and license of using some of the Vikings Saga characters as representatives of the actual history!

ecbert's response Indeed Thank God

This discussion will pertain to the real history of Egbert, his connections to Charlamagne and some history of Wessex.  Where ever possible I will attempt to relate it to Hirst’s version but that will be a bit difficult as very little of Egbert’s true history matches Hirst’s portrayal of him other than his possible personality flaws and the fact that he does have a son named Aethelwulf!  My intent with this article is twofold. First, it will give you a clearer picture of the real history surrounding this King that we all love to hate. Second, the factual information concerning Wessex may  be helpful  as many of us prepare for the premiere of Bernard Cornwell’s Last Kingdom series which will begin next month!  If the series stays somewhat close to the books, we should get a slightly more factual accounting of the events taking place in the four kingdoms during the Viking era.  Keeping that in mind, I am trying to transition us a bit from the historical fantasy of Hirst’s Vikings Saga to the more realistic historical fiction of Cornwell’s version.

For those of you anxiously waiting on the premiere of Last Kingdom series, here is the most recent preview!

Some time ago, I began a series of articles about Kingship- a look at some of our Characters and the historical facts related to their Kingship. You can read the previous articles here:

I am King

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/05/15/i-am-king-really-why-and-how/

horik and ragnar2

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/05/27/horik-and-ragnar-part-of-the-oldest-monarchy-in-europe/

In those previous articles we looked at some of the Danish history and rights to rule. This article is part of that series in that it will answer Egbert’s supposed right to rule in Wessex… I say supposed because there is some debate among various historians about his actual right to that Kingship.

ecbert gets carried away with his description of kwentirith's fate if she does not comply ecbert listens he can do nothing to stop this unless she admits in public who is the father

 

The most important thing to remember about Egbert’s true history compared to our Vikings Saga is the timeline factor. Egbert in reality had little or no documented involvement with those Northmen raiding or Viking in other areas such as Northumbria. Egbert had more than enough to contend with in keeping his own Kingdom under his control and he was far more focused on his goal of conquering all of the other Kingdoms. He would not have been concerned about the occasional expected Viking raids during his lifetime. That matter of Lindisfarne… that was a matter for Northumbria to deal with and besides, he was not even in the country at the time so why should it concern him!  Hirst has set his version of the events to encompass anywhere from the earliest raid in 793 to raids in the 900s. During Egbert’s lifetime the raids on the British Kingdoms were mainly limited to the more northern areas and would not really have affected Egbert and his southern concerns that much.  England had suffered Viking raids in the late eighth century, but there were no attacks between 794 and 835, when the Isle of Sheppey in Kent was ravaged.  

Egbert of Wessex was born some time in the 770s , was King of Wessex from 802 until his death in 839. His father was Ealhmund of Kent. In the 780s Egbert was forced into exile by Offa of Mercia and Beorhtric of Wessex, but on Beorhtric’s death in 802 Egbert returned and took the throne. In reality, Egbert would not have had any connection to Ragnar or for that matter Aelle of Northumbria- they both appeared on the scene after his death. During Egbert’s lifetime, the Kingdom of Northumbria was ruled by a King named Eanred who ruled for over 30 years. Given the instability and turbulence of Northumbria or any of the Kingdoms at the time, this would have been a significant accomplishment! There are records of Egbert’s involvement with Northumbria.  in 829 Egbert of Wessex “led an army against the Northumbrians as far as Dore, where they met him, and offered terms of obedience and subjection, on the acceptance of which they returned home” thereby  temporarily, extending Egbert’s hegemony to the entirety of Anglo-Saxon Britain.  Within a generation of Eanred’s death, Anglian monarchy in Northumbria had collapsed and would be under the control of the Danes.  Eanred and Egbert both had close connections with Charlemagne and thus would most likely have maintained some sort of peace or alliances with each other at least until after Charlemagne’s death in 814. For example, Egbert’s march against Northumbria did not take place until many years after Charlemagne’s death.

Stone_of_Ecgbert_-_Dore_19-07-05

 

Very little is actually known about Egbert’s early life. The first 20 or so years remain somewhat shrouded in mystery possibly due to the fact that he was sent into exile at a fairly young age. There is also some discrepancy over how long he spent in exile. Some put the amount of time at 3 years while others propose that may have actually 13 years. My personal thought is that it was probably somewhere in between. He is assumed to have been exiled in about 789 and little was mentioned of him until his return around the year of 802 when he finally managed to gain the crown of Wessex. The place of his exile is extremely important and we will get to that shortly.

Before we get to his exile, we should look at what little we do know about his early life and his possible qualifications for said crown of Wessex as well as a possible reason for his feelings of resentment against  Mercia.  I did mention that his supposed qualifications for the crown seem to be a bit vague or sketchy and historians debate whether he had actual claim or if some of his lineage was padded, even completely fabricated to give him legitimate right to the crown. He did not hold a direct line inheritance because there was at one point some break in the line and he was a descendant of a brother to a previous King,  Ine of Wessex, who abdicated the throne in 726. Some debate that he was actually of Kentish descent while others insist that he truly was of West Saxon Royal blood going back to the originator of the Kingdom, Cerdic. That link to Cerdic was vital to his claim because it was a requirement set by the Papal authorities centuries before when they gave their stamp of approval to Kingship and divine right in those early Kingdoms being set up by the newly Christianized Saxons.

cerdic is not happy

In 784, Egbert’s Father appeared in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as a King of Kent.  According to a note in the margin, “this king Ealhmund was Egbert’s father [i.e. Egbert of Wessex], Egbert was Æthelwulf’s father.” This is supported by the genealogical preface from the A text of the Chronicle, which gives Egbert’s father’s name as Ealhmund without further details. The preface probably dates from the late ninth century; the marginal note is on the F manuscript of the Chronicle, which is a Kentish version dating from about 1100. This would suggest or attest to Egbert’s Kentish ties rather than any to Wessex.  It was not until the crown of Wessex came into dispute and up for grabs that Egbert conveniently had those earlier ties to Wessex.

To better understand what was going on during Egbert’s early years before he would have been capable of making any bid or move for himself, we need to look at the most important other power players of the time… Offa of Mercia and Cynewulf of Wessex.   Offa of Mercia, who reigned from 757 to 796, was the dominant force in Anglo-Saxon England in the second half of the eighth century. The relationship between Offa and Cynewulf, who was king of Wessex from 757 to 786, is not well documented, but it seems likely that Cynewulf maintained some independence from Mercian overlordship.  Cynewulf appears as “King of the West Saxons” on a charter of Offa’s in 772;  and he was defeated by Offa in battle in 779 at Bensington, but there is nothing else to suggest Cynewulf was not his own master, and he is not known to have acknowledged Offa as overlord.  Offa did have influence in the southeast of the country: a charter of 764 shows him in the company of Heahberht of Kent, suggesting that Offa’s influence helped place Heahberht on the throne. The extent of Offa’s control of Kent between 765 and 776 is a matter of debate amongst historians, but from 776 until about 784 it appears that the Kentish kings had substantial independence from Mercia.

Egbert’s Father, Ealhmund became King of Kent in 784 but seems to have suffered one of those all too common “convenient”  accidents  or illness causing his demise or disappearance shortly afterward. This would have left the rule of Kent vulnerable as Egbert was most likely a child at the time.  There is evidence that Offa then conveniently stepped in to dominate Kent during the 780s with the goal apparently going beyond overlordship to outright annexation of the kingdom. He has been described as “the rival, not the overlord, of the Kentish kings”. It is possible that the young Egbert fled to Wessex in 785 or so; it is suggestive that the Chronicle mentions in a later entry that Beorhtric, Cynewulf’s successor, helped Offa to exile Egbert.

Cynewulf was murdered in 786. His succession was contested by Egbert, but he was defeated by Beorhtric, most likely with Offa’s assistance. Egbert was probably exiled in 789, when Beorhtric, his rival, very conveniently  married the daughter of Offa of Mercia. In reading about Offa’s daughter, Eadburh, those who are familiar with Kwentirith of Hirst’s saga may see some similarities between Eadburh and our lovely Kweni…

Am I corrupt Why yes I am kwentirith

Am I corrupt Why yes I am… kwentirith

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eadburh

For a more in depth look at Eadburh and Kweni, you can also read my previous article here:

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/01/05/vikings-trivia-who-is-princess-kwenthrith/

 Offa essentially managed to take control of both Kent and Wessex with Egbert’s exile and his daughter’s marriage to Beorhtric.  From 789 until after his death, he and his successor, Cenwulf maintained control of the three Kingdoms- Mercia, Kent and Wessex.  During most of that time, we would have to assume that Egbert remained in exile in a very important place developing very important allies to assist in his claim to hopefully eventually regain control of Wessex.

In 789, Egbert was exiled and went to Francia which of course was ruled by the all powerful Charlemagne. Charlemagne maintained Frankish influence in Northumbria and is known to have supported Offa’s enemies in the south. Another exile in Gaul at this time was Odberht, a priest, who is almost certainly the same person as Eadberht, who later became king of Kent. According to a later chronicler, William of Malmesbury, Egbert learned the arts of government during his time in Gaul. My reason for believing that Egbert was there for closer to 13 years than just 3 is that the time frame fits with the 13 years. He left in 789 and did not make a reappearance until 802. Also, it would have taken him longer than just 3 years to learn as much as he did and for Charlemagne to have such influence on him and his future actions. One other piece that adds to this theory is the thought by some historians that his wife was a woman named Redburga and she was a relative of Charlemagne’s. Virtually nothing is known about her other than this name so we can only assume that possibly she died in childbirth in Francia.  If this were the case, her being a relative of Charlemagne’s it would make sense or explain better the connection and alliance between Charlemagne and Egbert- especially if you take into account that Egbert’s only child was presumably Redburga’s and would inherit any crown that Egbert managed to claim. Charlemagne would surely have seen this as a benefit to his own empire and would have been even more induced to help Egbert claim a crown.   My last reasoning for the 13 year period is that for much of that time of the late 80s to 90s Charlemagne would not have been at his court to develop any sort of connection with the young exiled Egburt, or the other exiled Priest Eadberht who he would later back as successor to the crown of Kent. The time period of just three years is just too short for all of these things to have happened and for Egbert to return to Wessex with the backing of Charlemagne.

 

During Egbert’s time in exile, Offa died in 796 and passed the rule  of Mercia on to Cenwulf. Cenwulf was King of Mercia from December 796 until his death in 821. He was a descendant of a brother of King Penda, who had ruled Mercia in the middle of the 7th century. He succeeded Ecgfrith, the son of Offa; Ecgfrith only reigned for five months, and Cenwulf ascended to the throne in the same year that Offa died.  Immediately after his succession, Cenwulth had to deal with  rebellion from Kent. In 796 when Offa died, Eadberht III Praen, the exiled priest returned to claim his rule of Kent. During the years of 785 to his death, Offa completely ruled Kent.  The confusing point here for me is why Egbert did not claim Kent? It was his Father that was King of Kent when he died in 784 so really by all rights, Egbert should have been next in line for Kent not Wessex.  What ever the reason or case, it was Eadberht who took Kent in 796 with the support and protection of Charlemagne. Charlemagne supported Northumbria and thus opposed any actions of Offa and the southern Kingdoms. It is thought that he saw Eadberht’s rule of Kent as being good for Frankish interests.  There was a serious difference of opinion or agreement though between Charlemagne and Pope Leo on this matter. Pope Leo sided with Offa, accepted a Mercian reconquest of Kent and excommunicated Eadbert, on the grounds that he was a former priest. Cenwulf  captured Eadberht in 798. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Cœnwulf “ravaged over Kent and captured Eadberht Præn, their king, and led him bound into Mercia.” A later addition to the Chronicle says that Eadberht was blinded and had his hands cut off,  but Roger of Wendover states that he was set free by Coenwulf at some point as an act of clemency.  Eadberht Praen’s death marked the end of Kentish independence or separate rule. The question still remains for me as to why Charlemagne backed Eadberht in the first place to rule Kent rather than Egbert… unless the plan all along was to put Eadberht on the throne of Kent and Egbert on the throne of Wessex when an opportunity arose. The process of proving one’s legitimate rights and lineage to the Papal authorities would have been lengthy and involved. It was not a process that could have been accomplished quickly- nothing involving the Papal authorities was quick, easy or cheap.  Gaining this stamp or seal of approval from the Pope for Egbert’s right to rule Wessex could very well have been a slow one that started far earlier than 802 when Beorhtric died. In order for Egbert to step in so quickly after his death and assert his rights would suggest that the process had already been going on for some matter of time and Egbert was merely waiting for the right time to make his claim.

 

In 802, Beorhtric of Wessex died. Beorhtric’s dependency on Mercia had  continued into the reign of Cenwulf. At Beorhtric’s death, Egbert returned and took the crown of Wessex. Egbert came to his rule probably with the support and backing of both Charlemagne and the Pope because there was never any dissent or argument from them over his rule. I’ve already mentioned Charlemagne’s support and interest in Northumbria. It could be feasibly assumed that Charlemagne was looking at ways to gain a power base and dominating interest in those southern Kingdoms as well to upset Offa’s control of those areas. He first backed the priest, Eadberht in the take over of Kent. When that take over turned out to be a disaster, Charlemagne would probably have put more thought and planning into any next move. He did still have one exile left with a somewhat weak claim to Kingdoms in Britain. He could feasibly support Egbert in some attempt to regain that small Kingdom of Kent, but Beorhtric’s death brought a much bigger treasure or Kingdom into the picture. If Egbert’s lineage or link to that Royal line of Wessex could be strengthened and approved by the Papal officials, Charlemagne would end up with a strong, formidable ally in Wessex which would benefit both the Church and the Frankish Empire.  Egbert would have easily seen the advantages and benefits of Wessex over Kent and readily agreed with any plan presented to him that might assure him the Crown of Wessex.  Perhaps he was thinking from the very beginning that Wessex would prove a much better deal than the smaller Kingdom of Kent if he could manage to pull it off. All one has to do is look at the map of kingdoms in 800 to see it’s obvious which Kingdom Egbert would take the chance to fight for, given chance or opportunity! The key to any success in a venture such as this would have been proving and promoting his legitimate lineage and claims to the Papal authorities so he would have their stamp of approval on such an acquisition.

anglo-saxon_kingdoms

Anglo-Saxon kingdoms circa 800

 It was most likely during this time that Egbert’s supposed lineage back to the first King of Wessex was brought up, promoted and presented to the Papal authorities as his proof that he had a legitimate claim to the Kingship of Wessex. This was crucial because the Kingship of Wessex was based on that lineage. In the earlier centuries when Saxons were settling and building Kingdoms in Britain, even they understood the benefits of having some Christian backing or approval to seal their claims and thereby avoid more wars.

just a representation of the early Saxon ruler Cerdic and his son Cynric... courtesy of King Arthur movie!

just a representation of the early Saxon ruler Cerdic and his son Cynric… courtesy of King Arthur movie!

This is where we need to look at the history of Wessex and it’s Saxon origins to better understand or comprehend the importance of Egbert’s claim that his lineage could be traced back that far. Wessex was originally founded by the Saxon Cerdic and his son Cynric. Cerdic and Cynric took rule over the area known as Wessex in 519. At that time, they were of course Pagans and not necessarily all that concerned with the Christian approval. The Christian Church however quickly proved it’s strength, power and dominance in Britain and many rulers would eventually be converted to Christianity or profess that they were in order to avoid more conflicts and to reap the obvious benefits of being connected to and protected by the Church. The church, in effort to convert and gain influence or control in Pagan Kingdoms would eventually come up with a way to Christianize or legitimize those Pagan rulers claims of  right or reason to rule by some divine right God given right. In Wessex, this  process of legitimizing  the Royal line probably came with the conversion and baptism of a King Cynegils in about 630. Cynegils was a descendent of Cerdic and Cerdic’s line was then  eventuall given legitimacy and approval by a move that would cause disagreements within the church from then on. As part of their conversion process in Britain and later some areas of Scandinavia, the Church set up the process of accepting a supposed lineage back to Wodin or Odin as a form of that Divine right to rule. In Cerdic’s case the supposed lineage was given even more approval by creating a lineage that went so far back as Biblical Patriarchs. This lineage of his is also connected to one found in the history of Kings of Northumbria so it seems that it was a useful tool in creating a Divine lineage for many of those once Pagan Angle and Saxon Kings in Britain. That presumed and supposed lineage might also have set up the ongoing relationship or dynamics between Wessex and Northumbria.   Cynegils’ successor (and probably his son), Cenwealh, who came to the throne in about 642, was a pagan at his accession. However, he too was baptised only a few years later and Wessex became firmly established as a Christian kingdom. Cynegils’s godfather was King Oswald of Northumbria and his conversion may have been connected with an alliance against King Penda of Mercia, who had previously attacked Wessex.  Northumbria and Wessex seemed to have an ongoing close working relationship.

In those early years of Wessex, the successors followed the lineage of Cerdic but at some point there were breaks in the line. That lineage however, was used over the centuries of rule as a general precedent in determining rulers for Wessex. One of those successor was Ine of Wessex, whom Egbert would later claim his lineage link to. Early sources agree that Ine was the son of Cenred, and that Cenred was the son of Ceolwald; further back there is less agreement.  Ine’s siblings included a brother, Ingild, and two sisters, Cuthburh and Cwenburg. Cuthburh was married to King Aldfrith of Northumbria,  and Ine himself was married to Æthelburg.  Bede tells that Ine was “of the blood royal”, by which he means the royal line of the Gewisse, the early West Saxon tribal name. Gewisse was the name of the early tribe that Cynegils descendent of Cynric and Cerdic ruled.  Ine ruled Wessex for almost 40 years and laid a foundation for the future success of Wessex.  Ine was the most durable of the West Saxon kings, reigning for 38 years. He issued the oldest surviving English code of laws apart from those of the kingdom of Kent, and established a second West Saxon bishopric at Sherborne, covering the territories west of Selwood Forest. Near the end of his life he followed in Caedwalla’s footsteps by abdicating and making a pilgrimage to Rome. The throne then passed to a series of other kings who claimed descent from Cerdic but whose supposed genealogies and relationship to one another are unknown.

During the 8th century Wessex was overshadowed by Mercia, whose power was then at its height, and the West Saxon kings may at times have acknowledged Mercian overlordship. They were, however, able to avoid the more substantial control which Mercia exerted over smaller kingdoms. During this period Wessex continued its gradual advance to the west, overwhelming the British kingdom of Dumnonia. At this time Wessex took de facto control over much of Devon, although Britons retained a degree of independence in Devon until at least the tenth century.   As a result of the Mercian conquest of the northern portion of its early territories in Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire, the Thames and the Avon now probably formed the northern boundary of Wessex, while its heartland lay in Hampshire, Wiltshire, Berkshire, Dorset and Somerset. The system of shires which was later to form the basis of local administration throughout England (and eventually, Ireland, Wales and Scotland as well) originated in Wessex, and had been established by the mid-eighth century.

The biggest blow of course for Wessex was when Cynewulf of Wessex was murdered in 786 allowing Offa to step in and take control of the Kingdom. The interesting thing about Cynewulf is that he may have come to his reign in the first place under the influence or support of  Mercia.  Cynewulf became king after his predecessor, Sigeberht, was deposed. He may have come to power under the influence of Æthelbald of Mercia, since he was recorded as a witness to a charter of Æthelbald shortly thereafter. It was not long before Æthelbald was assassinated, however, and Mercia fell into a brief period of disorder as rival claimants to its throne fought. Cynewulf took the opportunity to assert the independence of Wessex: about 758, he took Berkshire from the Mercians. Cynewulf was also often at war with the Welsh.

Sigeberht succeeded his distant relative Cuthred, but was then accused of acting unjustly. He was removed from power by a council of nobles, but given control of             Hampshire. There, he was accused of murder, driven out and ultimately killed. It is possible that this happened under the influence of Æthelbald of Mercia. His brother Cyneheard was also driven out, but returned in 786 to kill Sigeberht’s successor Cynewulf.

The Story of Cynewulf and Cyneheard in The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

Entry for the year 755 AD in The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

A.D. 755. This year Cynewulf, with the consent of the West-Saxon council, deprived Sebright, his relative, for unrighteous deeds, of his kingdom, except Hampshire; which he retained, until he slew the alderman who remained the longest with him. Then Cynewulf drove him to the forest of Andred, where he remained, until a swain stabbed him at Privett river, and revenged the alderman, Cumbra. The same Cynewulf fought many hard battles with the Britons; and, about one and thirty winters after he had the kingdom, he was desirous of expelling a prince called Cyneard, he who was the brother of Sebright. But he having understood that the king was gone, thinly attended, on a visit to a lady at Merton, rode after him, and beset him therein; surrounding the stronghold without, ere the attendants of the king were aware of him. When the king found this, he went out of doors, and defended himself with courage; till, having looked on the etheling (prince), he rushed out upon him, and wounded him severely. Then were they all fighting against the king, until they had slain him. The king’s warriors were alerted by the woman’s cries to the tumult and, whosoever became ready fastest, ran to where the king lay slain. The etheling (prince) immediately offered them life and riches; which none of them would accept, but continued fighting together against him, till they all lay dead, except one British hostage, and he was severely wounded. When the king’s thanes that were behind heard in the morning that the king was slain, they rode to the spot, Osric his alderman, and Wiverth his thane, and the men that he had left behind previously; and they met the etheling at the town, where the king lay slain. The gates, however, were locked against them, which they attempted to force; but he promised them their own choice of money and land, if they would grant him the kingdom; reminding them, that their relatives were already with him, who would never desert him. To which they answered, that no relative could be dearer to them than their lord, and that they would never follow his murderer. Then they offered that their relatives may have safe passage. They replied, that the same request was made to their comrades that were formerly with the king; “And we are as regardless of the result,” they rejoined, “as our comrades who with the king were slain.” Then they continued fighting at the gates, till they penetrated it, and slew the etheling and all the men that were with him; except one, who was the godson of the alderman, and whose life was spared, though he was often wounded. This same Cynewulf reigned one and thirty winters. His body lies at Winchester, and that of the etheling at Axminster. Their proper paternal ancestry goes in a direct line to Cerdic.

In 779, Cynewulf was defeated by Offa of Mercia at the Battle of Bensington, and Offa then retook Berkshire, and perhaps also London. Despite this defeat, there is no evidence to suggest Cynewulf subsequently became subject to Offa (as his successor, Beorhtric, did).

In 786 Cynewulf was surprised and killed, with all his Thegns present, at Merantune (now called Marten, a hamlet in the county of Wiltshire), by Cyneheard the Atheling, brother of the deposed Sigeberht. Some historians have speculated that the relation of this in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle may be an application of a traditional story and not accurate in its details.  The murder of Cynewulf was also considered to have taken place at Merton in Surrey, but modern historians, including the Rev G. H. Godwin now ascribe it to some place of the same name near Winchester.

So, Mercia most probably had a hand in putting Cynewulf on the throne of Wessex,  then possibly when Offa took over the rule of Mercia he decided that Cynewulf may not be so much of a puppet ruler as previously thought. It’s highly probable that Offa had a hand in the later murder of Cynewulf which enabled him to place a more easily controlled Beorhtric on the throne of Wessex.  From all accounts, Beorhtric seems to have been an obedient and loyal “Puppet” King of Wessex. Beorhtric died in 802 from unknown cause. The only details of his death were written much later by Asser the Scholar/Monk advisor to Egbert’s grandson, Alfred the Great. Asser recorded the story that Beorhtric had died from being accidentally poisoned by his wife, Eadburh. She fled to a nunnery in Francia, from which she was later ejected after being found with a man. The provenance of this story is dubious. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that Beorhtric was buried at Wareham in 802, possibly at the church of Lady St. Mary. Asser’s story is of questionable accuracy since his chief motive was to slant or bias all history in favor of Alfred and his family.

Just a hint here Kwentirith when everyone throws empty cups at you you may have a few friend problems!

A comparison of Kweni’s poisoning her brother to that of Eadburh’s poisoning of her husband… it always leaves a lasting impression on one’s subjects!

The story does pose an interesting line of thought or theory however.  Please keep in mind that the following thoughts are  my own personal view and speculation on the situation and the events. Little is actually known about Beorhtric, his wife Eadburh or the events surrounding his death. We do know that Eadburh was the daughter of  King Offa and she married Beorhtric in 789 around the same time that Egbert was sent or fled on his own to exile in Francia. Two possibly authentic charters of 801 show Eadburh as regina (queen), a title which was rarely used for king’s wives in Wessex in the ninth century. So, Eadburh was given the high status of being a recognized and anointed Queen of Wessex- probably thanks to much behind the scenes scheming by Offa. As a recognized Queen, she would have held a great deal of power along side her husband, and she most likely would have used that power to benefit Offa and promote his causes. Or perhaps she harbored ambitions of her own once she was given such a position. As the anointed Queen, she would still hold her place as Queen of Wessex if her husband should happen to die. Any offspring that she might have would of course be heirs to the throne. As far as anyone knows, she did not have any children so there was no continuing line to pass the rule on to.

 According to Asser, Eadburh became all powerful, and often demanded the executions or exile of her enemies. She was also alleged to have assassinated those men whom she couldn’t compel Beorhtric to kill through poisoning their food or drink. In 802, according to Asser, Eadburh attempted to poison a young favourite of the king but instead killed both of them. The young man may have been called Worr, as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records the death of both men shortly before the succession of Egbert.  So, in 802 Beorhtric died of some unknown circumstance and that would have left Eadburh in sole power of Wessex. By this time, Eadburh’s Father, Offa was dead so there was no family loyalty or agenda between Eadburh and the new King of Mercia, Coenwulf . Coenwulf was only distantly related to Offa’s line and it would seem that he may have had less loyalty to that old lineage.  He had a stable working relationship with Beorhtric and numerous surviving documents suggest that he was making attempts to repair relations with the Papal authorities after the various events and actions that Offa was involved. In the earlier case of  Eadberht Præn and Kent, Coenwulf made no move to intervene or retake Kent until he had specific approval from Pope Leo. In light of these facts, Coenwulf probably would have made no move to side with Eadburh, promote any claim of hers to rule of Wessex or even offer her protection unless he had approval from those Papal authorities.

If we view Asser’s recounting of  Eadburh in the context of it possibly starting out with some shreds or grains of truth to it, we get a basic picture that the Queen Eadburh did have some high regard for her status and she eventually began to rule in a similar fashion as her Father, Offa. She was probably not all that well liked by the citizens of Wessex who would have most likely viewed both her and Beorhtric as Offa’s puppets. She had the misfortune to not have any offspring that would guarantee her a continued spot on the throne either as Queen in her own right or as Regent for a young heir. And the third strike against her was of course that she was a woman… granted there were a few female Queens during this period but it was extremely rare, and those that were allowed to hold that status were usually some direct blood descendent of the original ruling line- Eadburh was not a blood descendent and she had to have known that should Beorhtric die, her chances at holding on to the crown were slim to none.  Perhaps her poisoning of Beorhtric was accidental and she was just unlucky? Or, perhaps she did have some loftier ambitions and knowing that her rule of Wessex was not going to ever be a truly achievable goal, so she chose another route or goal instead…

During the time of Beorhtric’s rule, Egbert was residing in Francia presumably under the guidance and tutoring of Charlemagne and other powerful leaders of the Frankish Empire. He was not a prisoner there, he was free to come and go as he pleased, free to seek out whatever guidance or support he could gather from any number of sources such as those all important Papal authorities. He also probably maintained some clandestine contacts with people of Wessex and Kent throughout this time. He did have a half sister named Alburga who was married to Wulfstan, and ealdorman of Wessex. When Egbert returned to Wessex after Beorhtric’s death, Wulfstan fought a battle against a group of Mercians who were rebelling against Egbert’s reign. Wulfstan probably had some prior knowledge of Egbert’s plan and was a supporter of him.  What we have is a situation or case of Egbert waiting patiently in Francia for his chance to return and claim a crown… He obviously made good use of his waiting period and was able to devise a well laid plan that included the backing of  such people as Charlemagne and the Pope. He merely had to sit back and wait for the right moment to implement his plan. It’s rather clear that he had no interest in claiming Kent, but was after the bigger prize of Wessex, which would be more benefit to his supporters in the long run. 

His problem was how to conveniently get rid of those already sitting on the throne of Wessex without resorting to all out war? War would be a messy and expensive situation . There was always the chance that he might not win, and besides that he wanted to make a good impression on the residents of Wessex. He wanted the subjects of Wessex to be on his side and for there to be no question as to his legitimate right to the throne.  He probably wanted to be seen as the rightful ruler, the heir apparent, the mistreated true King who would save Wessex from the control of Mercia. How could he go about such a scheme and ensure his success in this venture?

My personal speculation on this scenario is that he would have used his covert connections in Wessex,  and thus would have had some knowledge or inkling of Eadburh’s actions, behaviors and possible ambitions. It’s entirely possible or plausible that Egbert may even have some contact with Eadburh herself. Perhaps Egbert in some way influenced or insinuated to Eadburh that it might be to her benefit to involve herself in his plan for Wessex.  Possibly Egbert offered her some loftier reward in return for her assistance, some higher status or ranking than she could hope to achieve remaining in Wessex…

The first key to his overall plan would have been to get rid of Beorhtric in some way that did not lead back to him or place any hint of  suspicion on him. The convenient “accidental” death of  Beorhtric placed all of the blame or suspicion on Eadburh… she was held responsible for the death and would never be able to rid herself of that suspicion in the eyes of her subjects. Maybe she made a serious blunder in her plan or in Egbert’s supposed plan. Had she been more careful about this death, perhaps there would have been some other option for her than the eventual exile.

There is never any mention of when Egbert’s first wife died, but we would assume that she died prior to his return to Wessex. The most reasonable option for Egbert and Eadburh both would have been for him to just marry her after Beorhtric’s death, but her role in his death pretty much ended that option. Egbert wanted Wessex to like him and trust him. That was certainly not going to happen if he then married Eadburh with her stain of blame on her.  So, what was he to do with this inconvenient Queen now? He couldn’t send her back to Mercia, they probably did not condone her actions either and would most likely have been insulted and even more ready to wage war.  By all rights, he could have had her executed for her part in Beorhtric’s death, or at the very least had her permanently confined to some nearby Nunnery where he could keep an eye on her.

Kwenthrith1

Strangely enough, he chose another option that almost seemed more of a reward than any punishment! What Egbert did was send her immediately into exile to the Court of Charlemagne where he had just returned from. For me, that suggests that in some way, she was actually being rewarded for any possible involvement. By sending her to Charlemagne’s personal Court, he was getting her out of Wessex away from any continued questions or suspicions, and he was giving her ample opportunity to create a better situation for herself. What she did with that opportunity was up to her… if she made a mess of it such as she did with Beorhtric’s death, that was on her shoulders not Egbert’s! In his mind, he probably justified his actions as being the best option left in repaying her assistance or involvement in this messy secret operation. He now had Wessex, and had she behaved herself and not botched things up, she most likely could have been either continued Queen of Wessex or one of Charlemagne’s wives instead of dying in the streets of Pavia, Italy.

kwentirith seems overly upset at seeing uncle killed

An unfortunate side note and result of Eadburh’s supposed wicked and despicable behavior… after her exile, very few women in the 9th century would ever be allowed or granted the title of regina (queen). According to Asser this was because of the shame Eadburh had brought on the position. However, Offa and Beorhtric had driven Egbert into exile in the 780s, and the blackening of her name may also have been partly due to a desire to discredit Beorhtric.  Asser also writes  that as a result of the aristocracy’s resentment for Eadburh, the status and influence of the subsequent queens was diminished and they were titled not ‘queen’ but ‘king’s wife’; the queen was also prohibited from sitting beside the king on the throne. This changed again when Charles the Bald insisted that his daughter Judith, who married King Athelwulf, be properly crowned queen.  This presents an interesting idea in connection to Hirst’s storyline surrounding Judith. We all know that he has presented a scenario where his version of Judith has the potential to possibly be endowed with such  status by bearing such a blessed, special and Saintly child, Alfred.  The way he has written the story so far does seem to leave this window open for Judith as option that would give her that very loose thread of historical connection.

judith holds her own in this game of power panic and fear on judith's face

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/viking-saga-judiths-story/

Now, back to the reality of Egbert and Wessex! In 802 the fortunes of Wessex were transformed by the accession of Egbert. With his accession the throne became firmly established in the hands of a single lineage.  Egbert quickly established a firm hold of the Kingdom and proved his dominance and far reaching power. Early in his reign he conquered the remaining western Britons still in Devon and reduced those beyond the River Tamar, now Cornwall, to the status of a vassal. In 825 or 826 he overturned the political order of England by decisively defeating King Beornwulf of Mercia at Ellendun and seizing control of Surrey, Sussex, Kent and Essex from the Mercians, while with his help East Anglia broke away from Mercian control. In 829 he conquered Mercia, driving its King Wiglaf into exile, and secured acknowledgement of his overlordship from the king of Northumbria. He thereby became the Bretwalda, or high king of Britain. This position of dominance was short-lived, as Wiglaf returned and restored Mercian independence in 830, but the expansion of Wessex across south-eastern England proved permanent.

aethelwulf and ecbert

 

Map of Kingdoms during Egbert's reign

Map of Kingdoms during Egbert’s reign

 in 825 that one of the most important battles in Anglo-Saxon history took place, when Egbert defeated Beornwulf of Mercia at Ellendun—now Wroughton, near Swindon. This battle marked the end of the Mercian domination of southern England.  The Chronicle tells how Egbert followed up his victory: “Then he sent his son Æthelwulf from the army, and Ealhstan, his bishop, and Wulfheard, his ealdorman, to Kent with a great troop.” Æthelwulf drove Baldred, the king of Kent, north over the Thames, and according to the Chronicle, the men of Kent, Essex, Surrey and Sussex then all submitted to Æthelwulf “because earlier they were wrongly forced away from his relatives”This may refer to Offa’s interventions in Kent at the time Egbert’s father Ealhmund became king; if so, the chronicler’s remark may also indicate Ealhmund had connections elsewhere in southeast England.  This would also  suggest that Egbert had certainly not forgotten or forgiven Mercia and Offa’s earlier actions against Kent and Wessex.

The consequences of Ellendun went beyond the immediate loss of Mercian power in the southeast. According to the Chronicle, the East Anglians asked for Egbert’s protection against the Mercians in the same year, 825, though it may actually have been in the following year that the request was made. In 826 Beornwulf invaded East Anglia, presumably to recover his overlordship. He was slain, however, as was his successor, Ludeca, who invaded East Anglia in 827, evidently for the same reason. It may be that the Mercians were hoping for support from Kent: there was some reason to suppose that Wulfred, the Archbishop of Canterbury, might be discontented with West Saxon rule, as Egbert had terminated Wulfred’s currency and had begun to mint his own, at Rochester and Canterbury, and it is known that Egbert seized property belonging to Canterbury.  The outcome in East Anglia was a disaster for the Mercians which confirmed West Saxon power in the southeast.

Michael Hirst actually provides  a very good portrayal or representation of this important battle with his episode “Wanderer”.  If you discount the use of our Vikings as mercenaries in the battle, it does seem to be a good depiction of the overall event and the resulting defeat of Mercia. I have a previous article that details the episode along with the actual events and location of that battle of Ellendun.

they're at the top of that hill

they’re at the top of that hill

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/02/28/vikings-wanderer-part-one-let-us-speak-of-ecbert/

By 829, Egbert had reached the high point of his power and gained the much sought after control and domination that he seemed so intent on. His victory over Mercia enabled him to once and for all claim the title of  bretwalda, meaning “wide-ruler” or “Britain-ruler”, in a famous passage in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

And the same year King Egbert conquered the kingdom of Mercia, and all that was south of the Humber, and he was the eighth king who was ‘Wide Ruler’.

His domination  was short lived.  The very next year in 830, Mercia rebelled and regained it’s independence.  Both Wessex’s sudden rise to power in the late 820s, and the subsequent failure to retain this dominant position, have been examined by historians looking for underlying causes. One plausible explanation for the events of these years is that Wessex’s fortunes were to some degree dependent on Carolingian support. The Franks supported Eardwulf when he recovered the throne of Northumbria in 808, so it is plausible that they also supported Egbert’s accession in 802. At Easter 839, not long before Egbert’s death, he was in touch with Louis the Pious, king of the Franks, to arrange safe passage to Rome.  So, throughout most of his rule, it would seem that Egbert reaped the benefits of support and backing from the Franks. Beginning in  the late 820s though, the Franks started to experience their own problems.  the Rhenish and Frankish commercial networks collapsed at some time in the 820s or 830s, and in addition, a rebellion broke out in February 830 against Louis the Pious—the first of a series of internal conflicts that lasted through the 830s and beyond. These distractions may have prevented Louis from supporting Egbert. This would have leveled the power play field between Wessex, Mercia and East Anglia and meant that Egbert no longer had the upper hand or deeper resources as his winning edge.

Despite the leveled playing field,  Wessex retained control of the south-eastern kingdoms, with the possible exception of Essex, and Mercia did not regain control of East Anglia. Egbert’s victories marked the end of the independent existence of the kingdoms of Kent and Sussex. The conquered territories were administered as a subkingdom for a while, including Surrey and possibly Essex.  Kent lost it’s independence early on but in 825, after the defeat of Mercia, Egbert sent Æthelwulf with an army to Kent, where he expelled the Mercian sub-king and was appointed sub-king. After 830 he maintained good relations with Mercia, and this was continued by Æthelwulf when he became king in 839, the first son to succeed his father as West Saxon king since 641.

aethelwulf's christian zealotry over takes all other thoughts

Although Æthelwulf was a subking under Egbert, it is clear that he maintained his own royal household, with which he travelled around his kingdom. Charters issued in Kent described Egbert and Æthelwulf as “kings of the West Saxons and also of the people of Kent.” When Æthelwulf died in 858 his will, in which Wessex is left to one son and the southeastern kingdom to another, makes it clear that it was not until after 858 that the kingdoms were fully integrated.  Mercia remained a threat, however; Egbert’s son Æthelwulf, established as king of Kent, gave estates to Christ Church, Canterbury, probably to counter any influence the Mercians might still have there.

aethelwulf and ecbert athelstan with aethelwulf and ecbert

In 838, Egbert and Æthelwulf granted land to the sees of Winchester and Canterbury in return for the promise of support for Æthelwulf’s claim.  These agreements, along with a later charter in which Æthelwulf confirmed church privileges, suggest that the church had recognised that Wessex was a new political power that must be dealt with.  Churchmen consecrated the king at coronation ceremonies, and helped to write the wills which specified the king’s heir; their support had real value in establishing West Saxon control and a smooth succession for Egbert’s line.  Both the record of the Council of Kingston, and another charter of that year, include the identical phrasing: that a condition of the grant is that “we ourselves and our heirs shall always hereafter have firm and unshakable friendships from Archbishop Ceolnoth and his congregation at Christ Church.    Egbert died in 839, and his will, according to the account of it found in the will of his grandson, Alfred the Great, left land only to male members of his family, so that the estates should not be lost to the royal house through marriage. Egbert’s wealth, acquired through conquest, was no doubt one reason for his ability to purchase the support of the southeastern church establishment; the thriftiness of his will indicates he understood the importance of personal wealth to a king.  The kingship of Wessex had been frequently contested among different branches of the royal line, and it is a noteworthy achievement of Egbert’s that he was able to ensure Æthelwulf’s untroubled succession.

 

In 853 Aethelwulf improved his alliance with Mercia by marrying his daughter Æthelswith to King Burgred of Mercia, and in the same year he joined a Mercian expedition to Wales to restore the traditional Mercian hegemony. In 855 Æthelwulf went on pilgrimage to Rome. In preparation he gave a “decimation”, donating a tenth of his personal property to his subjects; he appointed his eldest surviving son Æthelbald to act as King of Wessex in his absence, and next son Æthelberht to rule Kent and the south-east. He spent a year in Rome, and on his way back he married Judith, the twelve- or thirteen-year-old daughter of the West Frankish King Charles the Bald. When Æthelwulf returned to England, Æthelbald refused to surrender the West Saxon throne, and Æthelwulf agreed to divide the kingdom, taking the east and leaving the west in his son’s hands. On Æthelwulf’s death in 858 he left Wessex to Æthelbald and Kent to Æthelberht, but Æthelbald’s death only two years later led to the re-unification of the kingdom. In the twentieth century Æthelwulf’s reputation among historians was low, and he was seen as pious and impractical, but historians in the twenty-first century regard him as one of the most successful West Saxon kings, who laid the foundations for the success of his son, Alfred the Great.

family dinner in wessex Ecbert's somewhat rude and condescending comments A toast to my son.

family dinner in wessex Ecbert’s somewhat rude and condescending comments A toast to my son.

Egbert’s conquests brought him wealth far greater than his predecessors had enjoyed, and enabled him to purchase the support which secured the West Saxon throne for his descendants.  The stability brought by the dynastic succession of Egbert and Æthelwulf led to an expansion of commercial and agrarian resources, and to an expansion of royal income.  The wealth of the West Saxon kings was also greatly increased by the conquest of south-east England, and by the agreement in 838–39 with Archbishop Ceolnoth for the previously independent West Saxon minsters to accept the king as their secular lord in return for his protection.  Aethelwulf  continued to maintain the close relationship with the Franks that Egbert had formed and based his ruling system on their traditions. There were strong contacts between the West Saxon and Carolingian courts. The Annals of St. Bertin took particular interest in Viking attacks on Britain, and in 852 Lupus, the Abbot of Ferrières and a protégé of Charles the Bald, wrote to Æthelwulf congratulating him on his victory over the Vikings and requesting a gift of lead to cover his church roof.

aethelwulf threatens kwentirith's men and demands they take him to kwentirith

Despite earlier historians’ accounts and views of him being a religious fanatic or zealot, for all practical purposes Aethelwulf  maintained a stable and balanced reign. He managed to successfully set up long lasting alliances that would lay the foundations of Alfred’s future success. He seemed to understand the importance of  building working relationships in order achieve stability and success in the long run rather short term accomplishments.

 

It was not until the end of Egbert’s rule that the Danes began to make their presence felt in Wessex. In the southwest, Egbert was defeated in 836 at Carhampton by the Danes, but in 838 he won a battle against them and their allies the West Welsh at the Battle of Hingston Down in Cornwall. In 843 Æthelwulf was defeated by the companies of thirty-five Danish ships at Carhampton in Somerset. In 850 sub-king Æthelstan and Ealdorman Alhhere won a naval victory over a large Viking fleet off Sandwich in Kent, capturing nine ships and driving off the rest. Æthelwulf granted Alhhere a large estate in Kent, but Æthelstan is not heard of again, and probably died soon afterwards. The following year the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records five different attacks on southern England. A Danish fleet of 350 Viking ships took London and Canterbury, and when King Berhtwulf of Mercia went to their relief he was defeated. The Vikings then moved on to Surrey, where they were defeated by Æthelwulf and Æthelbald at the Battle of Aclea. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle the West Saxon levies “there made the greatest slaughter of a heathen that we have heard tell of up to the present day”. The Chronicle frequently reported victories during Æthelwulf’s reign won by levies led by ealdormen, unlike the 870s when royal command was emphasised, reflecting a more consensual style of leadership in the earlier period. In 853 a Viking army defeated and killed ealdermen Ealhhere of Kent and Huda of Surrey at Thanet, and in 855 Danish Vikings for the first time stayed over the winter on Sheppey, before carrying on their pillaging of eastern England. However, during Æthelwulf’s reign Viking attacks were contained and did not present a major threat.

 

Æthelwulf died on 13 January 858. According to the Annals of St Neots, he was buried at Steyning in Sussex, but his body was later transferred to Winchester, probably by Alfred the Great.  He was succeeded by Æthelbald in Wessex and Æthelberht in Kent and the south-east. The prestige conferred by a Frankish marriage was so great that Æthelbald then wedded his step-mother Judith, to Asser’s retrospective horror; he described the marriage as a “great disgrace”, and “against God’s prohibition and Christian dignity”.  When Æthelbald died only two years later, Æthelberht became King of Wessex as well as Kent, and Æthelwulf’s intention of dividing his kingdoms between his sons was thus set aside. In the view of Yorke and Abels this was because Æthelred and Alfred were too young to rule, and Æthelberht agreed in return that his younger brothers would inherit the whole kingdom on his death, whereas Kirby and Nelson think that Æthelberht just became the trustee for his younger brothers’ share of the bookland.   After Æthelbald’s death Judith sold her possessions and returned to her father, but two years later she eloped with Baldwin, Count of Flanders. In the 890s their son, also called Baldwin, married Æthelwulf’s granddaughter Ælfthryth.

Unfortunately for Wessex and the sons of Aethelwulf, the Danes would soon arrive on the scene in full force and everything would quickly change.  We will save that for the chapter in our real and imagined history of Wessex and the Viking invasion where we will look at how that blessed infant Alfred ended up with the crown of Wessex and what he had to do to keep that crown on his head. We will go from Hirst’s version to Cornwell’s and piece  it all together with the more real history.

his name is Alfred He shall be great

ecbert showers affection on alfred and wonders about athelstan

ecbert showers affection on alfred and wonders about athelstan

alfred is crowned and england is born

alfred is crowned and england is born

Alfred the Great

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Message to young Ubbe…

This quick message is for all of you Vikings fans who have also read the Saxon stories/Warrior Chronicles by Bernard Cornwell. You will all understand the reference!

uhtred and Ubbe

All of us who have read Uhtred’s story are familiar with one of those events that shaped the remainder of his life… “I am Uhtred of Bebbanburg and I killed Ubbe!”

There, Ubbe we have given you fair warning of a possible future in store for you.  Now grow up fast and always watch your back… and your front! Enjoy your childhood and prepare for war!

Vikings set sail for San Diego!

Ahhh it’s that time of year… the Vikings are restless and not content to sit at home waiting for the next raiding season. They need to get out and about, to make good use of their off season, to gather with others, celebrate, strategize, plan future raids and share news of their victories… or defeats as is sometimes the unfortunate case. One of those places that they gather at is surprising and a bit unusual given the fact that it so far from their home bases and usual raiding lands. But, we know that they have ever been the adventurous types, curious about the world, intent on exploring and conquering all of it in one way or another. If we look at their history, we should not really be surprised either that they show up now on the shores of our America… though, in the past as far as we know- they only made excursions to the north eastern parts and the middle areas of our vast region. Now, they seem quite familiar with all of our coasts and apparently enjoy a warm, sunny vacation destination as much as the rest of us do! They have made it a tradition to gather on the western coast in San Diego each summer for a festival commonly known to us as San Diego Comi-Con!

comicon logo

San Diego Comic-Con International is a multigenre entertainment and comic convention held annually in San Diego, California. It was founded as the Golden State Comic Book Convention in 1970 by a group of San Diegans, which included Shel Dorf, Richard Alf, Ken Krueger, and Mike Towry; later, it was called the “San Diego Comic Book Convention.” The name, as given on its website, is Comic-Con International: San Diego; but it is commonly known simply as Comic-Con or the San Diego Comic-Con or “SDCC.” It is a four-day event (Thursday-Sunday) held during the summer at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, California. On the Wednesday evening prior to the official opening of the event, there is a preview for professionals, exhibitors, and select guests pre-registered for all four days.

Comic-Con International also produces two other conventions, WonderCon, held in Anaheim, California, and the Alternative Press Expo (APE), held in San Francisco. Since 1974, Comic-Con has bestowed its annual Inkpot Award on guests and persons of interest in the Popular Arts industries, as well as on members of Comic-Con’s Board of Directors and the Convention Committee. It is also the home of the Will Eisner Awards.

Originally showcasing primarily comic books and science fiction/fantasy related film, television, and similar popular arts, the convention now includes a larger range of pop culture and entertainment elements across virtually all genres, including horror, animation, anime, manga, toys, collectible card games, video games, webcomics, and fantasy novels. According to Forbes, the convention is the “largest convention of its kind in the world;”  Publishers Weekly wrote “Comic-Con International: San Diego is the largest show in North America;”  it is also the largest convention held in San Diego. In 2010, it filled the San Diego Convention Center to capacity with more than 130,000 attendees.

Along with panels, seminars, and workshops with comic book professionals, there are previews of upcoming feature films, and portfolio review sessions with top comic book and video game companies. The evenings include events such as awards ceremonies, the annual Masquerade costume contest, and the Comic-Con International Independent Film Festival, which showcases shorts and feature-length movies that do not have distribution or distribution deals.

Traditional events include an eclectic film program, screening rooms devoted to Japanese animation, gaming, programs such as cartoonist Scott Shaw!‘s “Oddball Comics” slide show and animation expert Jerry Beck‘s program featuring TV’s “worst cartoons ever”, as well as over 350 hours of other programming on all aspects of comic books and pop culture.

Like most comic-book conventions, Comic-Con features a large floorspace for exhibitors. These include media companies such as movie studios and TV networks, as well as comic-book dealers and collectibles merchants. And like most comics conventions, Comic-Con includes an autograph area, as well as the Artists’ Alley where comics artists can sign autographs and sell or do free sketches. Despite the name, artists’ alleys can include writers and even models.

 

Vikings at San Diego Comicon 2014

Vikings at San Diego Comicon 2014

This year, as in the past few years since the Vikings discovered this festival, they will arriving in full force to join in the celebrations, the sharing, and the conquering of the city… at least for a few days! They have prepared well for this event, bringing with them some high status representatives, long boats equipped to ride the streets, weaponry to impress even the most feared enemies, and from what I have heard- a plentiful supply of mead and spirits along with appropriate containers from which to drink said spirits!

The high status representatives will include King Ragnar himself (Travis Fimmel) I can only assume that he has indeed survived his grevious injuries and is on his way to recovering… he will be sharing his experiences and his thoughts on the future at a much anticipated panel discussion on Friday, July 10th from 3:30pm to 4:30pm in Room 6A! Others joining him at this event will include Rollo (Clive Standen), Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), Bjorn (Alexander Ludwig), and the much esteemed creator/story teller Michael Hirst. During this event, the groups will give us some insights on the recent past as well as share some previews and glimpses of what’s to come in the future!

SAN DIEGO, CA., JULY 18,  2013:   The History Channels VIKINGS tells the tale of lives and adventures of the warriors,  brought Vikings Interactive Experience with a mini Viking boat races.    (Kirk McKoy/ Los Angeles Times)

SAN DIEGO, CA., JULY 18, 2013: The History Channels VIKINGS tells the tale of lives and adventures of the warriors, brought Vikings Interactive Experience with a mini Viking boat races. (Kirk McKoy/ Los Angeles Times)

vikings_comicon_2014

vikings_comicon_2014

vikings comicon 2014

vikings comicon 2014

Other planned events will include the following:

VIKINGS BLUDGEON BOOTH – CONVENTION CENTER

Vikings will be in booth #437 with a cinematic Instagram booth, allowing fans to create their own special effects Viking battle.

  • The Bludgeon Booth is a walk-in glass and wooden structure, equipped with multiple ultra-slow motion cameras
  • Fans dress in authentic costume, choose their opponent and then swing their Viking weapon to unleash special-effect blood splatter; cameras capture cinema-quality footage, which is compiled by on-site editors and integrated into a battle scene from the show
  • 15s clips depicting a Viking battle are sharable via Instagram and other social platforms

VikingsSwag

 The drinking horns come with a stand and are black and red as opposed to last year’s white and black ones. Being one of the craft beer hotspots in the country, this is a natural pairing and one of the best ideas for Comic-Con swag.

VIKINGS HORNS – GASLAMP DISTRICT

Last year’s Vikings drinking horn program returns, giving thousands of horn-shaped beer vessels to eager and thirsty fans.

  • Select local bars will offer special drink discounts for horn-holders. Some locations include: Analog Bar, Florent Restaurant & Lounge, East Village Tavern + Bowl and The New Yorker. Visit the Bludgeon Booth in the convention center for a full list.
  • Vikings Brand Ambassadors and Shield Maidens will distribute the horns throughout the Gaslamp District

VIKINGS LONGSHIP – DOWNTOWN / GASLAMP DISTRICT

Fans can ride through San Diego aboard a Vikings Longship, driving through Downtown, Gaslamp Quarter and sailing the harbor on Friday, July 10th and Saturday, July 11th.

  • Custom fabrication and boat wrap will transform a popular San Diego “Seal Boat” into a Vikings Longship
  • The boat will offer fans free stops to select Gaslamp locations, with fans receiving a Vikings Drinking Horn at the conclusion of the ride. Exact stops TBA.
  • Select fans will also have a chance to win a sunset cruise aboard the Longship with the cast of Vikings.
  • Follow @HistoryVikings for details on how to get a Longship ride and win a chance to board the sunset cruise with the cast.

 

Ahhhh sadly and unfortunately, I can not personally attend this great gathering but I have found a couple of very willing but only slightly trustworthy emissaries who have graciously volunteered to go in my place and return with information, pictures and hopefully some sort of booty or treasure. I do say only slightly trustworthy because they are both easily distracted and swayed by any other competing forces that might vie for their attention! I am quite certain that the young woman’s attention will be focused more fully on those Outlanders reputed to be arriving there in full force as well. She has already made that abundantly clear… should it come down to some choosing between the factions, she will be siding with Outlander- ungrateful little chit she is, that one! Here I am staying at the home place to attend to the livestock for her and she makes little of my need to know of our Vikings! None the less, she will provide us with some glimpse of that Outlander future. Now, as to the young man who will go as my eyes and ears… he has little patience or tolerance for tightly packed, crowded forums where he must listen attentively to news being shared. He has shown interest however, in the other activities such as the displays of battle and weaponry. He has also shown some interest in my challenge put forth to him, to track down those warriors and shield maidens passing out free drinking horns, to score the prize of one such horn,  use it to receive discounted drinks at various establishments and then return it to me along with a respectable amount of photos and such for me to share here with all of you!  I should also mention that this young man has been bribed rather well and I should be loathe to find out that he is neglectful of that fact!  Let us all pray to the Gods for these voyagers to be successful in their quest and return safely to their Mother with arms full of plunder and stories to share!

The Vikings will be bringing with them an added story to share with fans in the form of a comic…the official Vikings SDCC comic book  will be handed out to fans who attend the “Bludgeon Booth” on the convention floor or ride the Longship in the Gaslamp district.

vikings comic for comi-con

details regarding the comic: Vikings creator/writer Michael Hirst wrote the story, with Ralph Tedesco and Joe Brusha acting as script writers. The inside artwork is by Dennis Calero and the cover art – featuring a scheming Floki, an outraged Ragnar, and an injured Lagertha – was done by Anthony Spay.

 

There as many speculations and thoughts on what will come for the Vikings next season as there are fans. Everyone has their own view or wish of what they would like to see happen to this group of characters and the story as it continues on to an unknown future/history! I try not to speculate too much because I really hate being wrong and having my face rubbed in it at a later date! There are a few things we do know so far because Mr. Hirst and the history channel have shared a few small details with us.  One of those details is still quite amazing to me… They have leaked information via some social media that there will be a total of 20 episodes for next season!

In a recent interview, Clive Standen shared the news of this extended season:

Actor Clive Standen attended the Monte-Carlo Television Festival earlier this week, eschewing Rollo’s former chest-length locks in favor of a close-cropped look.

“The reason I haven’t got long hair now is a big, big plot spoiler for season 4,” Standen told French news outlet TFI. “We’re in the middle of season 4 filming, we’re on episode 5 and we’re doing 20 episodes this year. So we’re in it for the long haul for season 4.”

It’s safe to say that Rollo’s new ‘do is closely tied to his impending nuptials. Although the Viking is clearly working to emulate the Parisian style, it sounds like it will take a lot more than a haircut to placate his bride-to-be.

“That’s going to be part of the uphill struggle that Rollo has essentially because the French Princess Gisla (Morgane Polanski) is not actually a big fan of the Vikings, let alone Rollo. So he has a mountain to climb and he’s going to have to win her to his side,” Standen teased, adding that “there’s going to be some fireworks ahead” for the disparate characters.

 

vikings Alyssa sutherland and clive standen

vikings Alyssa sutherland and clive standen

Michael Hirst has shared too that Aslaug will not wanting to easily give up the power that she has had during Ragnar’s long absence. Ragnar (Travis Fimmel) has wanderlust in the worst way. The King of Denmark would rather be in Paris or Wessex than home in Kattegat, and his absence has made his wife quite fond of power. Unfortunately for the ailing Ragnar, it appears season 4 will give the couple more to argue about than his religious leanings or his problematic infidelity. “She’s had a taste for power while he’s been away and when we return in season four, we’ll see that she’s enjoying that taste,” he told The Hollywood Reporter.

 

Clive Standen has shared another glimpse of the future with us in his posting of this photo:

vikings season 4 muddy hell according to clive standen

vikings season 4 muddy hell according to clive standen

It’s difficult to know from the photo exactly who these fallen warriors are. All we can be sure of is that the bloody battles are far from over!

 

We also know for certain that there will be at least one time jump during the next season. Hirst has already confirmed that the voyage home for the Viking group will take at least a few years so that leaves Aslaug in control of Kattegat by herself for quite some time. During that time their small children will grow up a bit, as will the little ones in Wessex. These two smiling boys play Judith’s sons, Athelred and Alfred in season 4.

Athelred and Alfred Judith's son in season 4 vikings

Athelred and Alfred Judith’s son in season 4 vikings

 

As to what will happen in Wessex,  the Norsemen’s impact on Wessex is far form over, it appears. Aethelwulf (Moe Dunford), son of King Ecbert (Linus Roache) and husband to the adulterous Judith (Jennie Jacques), will renter the storyline at least once when Vikings returns to the History Channel in 2016. Moe Dunford recently shared a preview of Wessex Archers preparing for battle, and Michael Hirst shared his comments on Wessex. 

Ragnar’s (Travis Fimmel) relationship with Wessex is currently quite complicated. The King of Denmark has yet to retaliate following the destruction of his hard won farming settlement, and viewers can expect the ailing ruler to release his fury at some point in the near future.

“I have no intention of letting that world go,” series creator Michael Hirst told Entertainment Weekly. “There is unfinished business. It’s always on Ragnar’s mind. One day he’s going to go back and try and settle it. Someone has to pay for the destruction of the settlement.”

moe dunford shares wessex archers

We know from previous news releases that three new characters will join the adventure and you can read about them here:

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/05/06/vikings-season-4-coming-soon-to-a-village-near-you/

 

Michael Hirst has confirmed and assured us that Rollo’s path will now continue on with him becoming the founder and leader of Normandy. He has stated that Rollo’s story will not stray too far from that history and that you should perhaps take some time to read more about the history of the real Rollo! He has also stated that Judith’s son Alfred is indeed the future ruler, Alfred the Great. Alfred will do battle against the sons of Ragnar for control of the kingdoms.

baby alfredhis name is Alfred He shall be great

 

As to the future of Ragnar, Hirst has made comments that the series was never intended to be just the story of Ragnar Lodbrok, but an epic saga of the whole Viking era. He has alluded to the grim fact that yes, Ragnar will eventually die and leave his sons to carry on the saga. How or when he will meet his actual demise is still uncertain but I personally think that Hirst has given us a number of clues regarding that fate. Early on in the first season, we saw King Aelle building his infamous snake pit…

the snake pit the first victim of the snake pit

Much more recently we saw images of Ragnar with a snake…

ragnar plays a game of cat and mouse with Floki

Michael Hirst puts a great deal of symbolism and precursor clues into his work and if you pay close attention to those details you often find clues to a future event within scenes. It was odd that we saw no further mention or reference to Aelle’s snake pit after that initial scene in season one. Given Hirst’s penchant for symbolism and significant details, I can not imagine that it was put in for no reason. It did have some reason and I think that we will see it again in Ragnar’s future… whether he actually meets his final end there or somewhere else remains to be seen. Only Mr. Hirst knows the answer to that. He has given us plenty of advance and fair warning though that at some point in the foreseeable future, Ragnar will meet his end.

 

Realistically, anything else is just speculation or wishful thinking as to what might or might happen to all of these people that we have come to care so much about!