Tag Archive | fiction

Book review: A Year of Ravens

I need to break from our Viking adventures for a few moments to share some thoughts on an excellent book! Before the Normans conquered, before the Vikings invaded, before the legends of Arthur, before someone invited Saxons to settle, the island of Britannia was already home to numerous separate native Celtic tribes that together would be knows as the Britons. These tribes were the original kingdoms of the island and just as any other kingdoms would, they fought with each other for domination and control of the land… until one outside force arrived and began to take control. In AD 43 the Roman Empire began its conquest of the island, establishing a province they called Britannia, which came to encompass the parts of the island south of Caledonia (roughly Scotland).  This Roman invasion and domination would last until some time in the 5th century. 

The Celtic tribes were varied in their reactions and acceptances of the Roman conquest. The Roman conquest was a gradual one that actually could be seen as a somewhat peaceful and benefitial  alliance between the tribes and the Roman Empire. In common with other regions on the edge of the empire, Britain had enjoyed diplomatic and trading links with the Romans in the century since Julius Caesar‘s expeditions in 55 and 54 BC, and Roman economic and cultural influence was a significant part of the British late pre-Roman Iron Age, especially in the south.

Between 55 BC and the 40s AD, the status quo of tribute, hostages, and client states without direct military occupation, begun by Caesar’s invasions of Britain, largely remained intact. Augustus prepared invasions in 34 BC, 27 BC and 25 BC. The first and third were called off due to revolts elsewhere in the empire, the second because the Britons seemed ready to come to terms. According to Augustus’s Res Gestae, two British kings, Dubnovellaunus and Tincomarus, fled to Rome as suppliants during his reign, and Strabo‘s Geography, written during this period, says that Britain paid more in customs and duties than could be raised by taxation if the island were conquered. 

During this early time of Roman involvement, many of the tribes were fighting between themselves and in some cases they sought the assistance and intervention of Rome to strengthen their sides. By the 40s AD, the political situation within Britain was apparently in ferment. The Catuvellauni had displaced the Trinovantes as the most powerful kingdom in south-eastern Britain, taking over the former Trinovantian capital of Camulodunum (Colchester), and were pressing their neighbours the Atrebates, ruled by the descendants of Julius Caesar’s former ally Commius.  In fact, when Claudius eventually mounted his invasion and takeover, it’s intent was to force a reinstatement of client King Verica, who was an exiled king of the Atrebates.

England_Celtic_tribes_-_South

map showing locations of Celtic tribes in southern part of Britain during Roman occupation.

Map_of_the_Territory_of_the_Brigantes.svg

Map showing the Brigantes tribe region during Roman occupation

 

I am only sharing this very basic pre-history of the Roman involvement to point out that during the lengthy process of their conquest, there were tribes that willingly chose to ally themselves with Rome, either for economic benefit, political advantage or in some cases, perhaps they saw a larger picture and felt that resistance was not in their best interests.  Because the tribes looked at themselves as separate entities rather than a unified force against one opposing force, they were unable to come together in the beginning stages to prevent a take over that many of of them did not see coming in the first place.  In a way it directly relates to future invasions of their land by the Saxons and then by the Vikings. It could be said that Rome’s occupation of the island destroyed their unity and ability to fight as a that one united force… but, realistically it might better be said that their unity was not there in the first place and it allowed for a situation in which Rome could conquer them. Had they been able to come together from the beginnings of the rebellions, there are times when they could have defeated the Roman forces.  Boudicca’s rebellion was one of those times and events. 

Her rebellion was enough of a crisis to cause Emperor Nero at the time to seriously consider pulling all Roman troops and involvement out of Britain at this early time in their occupation. Unfortunately, despite earlier victories, her army made crucial mistakes that led to their final defeat. Her forces vastly outnumbered the Romans in the battle of Watling Street and had they chosen a different strategy that what they did, they should have been able to win that last battle. For what ever reasons, they chose to meet the Romans head on in a battle of open ground. Previous victories and successes by Briton forces and others against the Romans and each other were won not by head on battles but by more surprise attacks. It also did not help matters that the army brought with them their entire villages and placed them at the edges of the battle location thereby allowing for the slaughter of everyone, not just the army involved in the battle. 

 

With that bit of pre-history and thought in mind, we can move on to the main focus of this post! The book, A year of Ravens is an excellent historical fiction look at one event where the Britons could have managed that defeat and been successful at their attempt to drive the Romans out of their land. It looks at the event of Boudica’s rebellion from all perspectives- the Romans, the Client Kingdoms, the ones who were intent on rebellion against the massive strength of Rome, and from the standpoint of those who had little say in the event. 

The book is a unique collaborative project by seven authors with seven separate yet connected stories of the events leading up to the final battle and aftermath. It addresses the issues that I touched on in the pre-history discussion including reasons for a Client Ruler’s acceptance and alliance of Roman governance. It also gives us an understanding of various Roman perspectives. Not every Roman was stereotypical bad nor did they all agree with what was taking place. In that same line, not every Briton was good or a true believer in the rebellion. 

A year of Ravens

by Ruth Downie, Kate Quinn,Stephanie Dray, Vicky Alvear Shecter, S.J.A. Turney , Russell Whitfield, E. Knight

Britannia: land of mist and magic clinging to the western edge of the Roman Empire. A red-haired queen named Boudica led her people in a desperate rebellion against the might of Rome, an epic struggle destined to consume heroes and cowards, young and old, Roman and Celt . . . and these are their stories.

A calculating queen sees the sparks of revolt in a king’s death.

A neglected slave girl seizes her own courage as Boudica calls for war.

An idealistic tribune finds manhood in a brutal baptism of blood and slaughter.

A conflicted warrior hovers between loyalty to tribe and loyalty to Rome.

A death-haunted Druid challenges the gods themselves to ensure victory for his people.

An old champion struggles for everlasting glory in the final battle against the legions.

A fiery princess fights to salvage the pieces of her mother’s dream as the ravens circle.

A novel in seven parts, overlapping stories of warriors and peacemakers, queens and slaves, Romans and Celts who cross paths during Boudica’s epic rebellion. But who will survive to see the dawn of a new Britannia, and who will fall to feed the ravens?

These separate stories come together so well to tell a larger story of Briton and of Rome, of  mistakes on both sides that brought about the rebellion. In telling their separate stories of one particular point in time and one event that had such an impact on the history of Britain, these seven authors have created a vivid and realistic picture to show us all of the sides. It is grim, harsh and gritty, and fault is laid on all of those sides for the decisions and actions that led to the battles of Boudica. Yet, despite all of the fault and harsh reality, there is an underlying message of  understanding, forgiveness and hope amid such a dark future that lies ahead for so many. Boudicca’s rebellion has failed but her legend will live on to inspire others in the future. 

One of the most interesting and compelling stories for me was not that of Boudicca herself, but of another Queen for the most part forgotten in history. The story of Cartimandua, Queen of the Brigantes in northern Britain at the time. Cartimandua or Cartismandua (reigned c. ad 43 – c. 69) was a 1st-century queen of the Brigantes, a Celtic people living in what is now northern England. She came to power around the time of the Roman conquest of Britain, and formed a large tribal agglomeration that became loyal to Rome. Our only knowledge of her is through the Roman historian Tacitus, though she appears to have been widely influential in early Roman Britain.

Perhaps we know little about her because her story is one of loyalty to Rome. Author Stephanie Dray’s interpretation of this little known Queen provided such a detailed look at this woman who would have been considered a traitor to the Briton’s cause. It presented an understanding of some of those reasons why a ruler would choose alliance and loyalty to Rome to ensure the future of their people- even if the people did not appreciate it, resented the decision and would choose to spit on said ruler’s grave… As Cartimandua points out in this story, “At least my people will be left alive to spit upon my grave!”  She may have been hated by her people but she was able to look beyond that hatred and be at peace with the decisions she made in order to buy her people time and life in an uncertain future.

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

Another of the stories that caught me up was the story of Duro the Iceni warrior and Valeria the Roman wife turned slave. Both of these characters were fictional but came truly alive and believable through Kate Quinn’s story telling. This is the story of an aging battle hardened and weary warrior who is Boudicca’s most ardent supporter and leader of her army- second only to her and the council… Duro is the old warrior set in his ways and beliefs, struggling with changes that he can not accept. Valeria at first appears as the stereotypical Roman wife also set in her Roman ways and beliefs. On the surface their relationship is one of detest for each other and the other’s ways. They are on opposite sides in every way possible but underneath all of the opposition and hatred, there is a level of understanding between them. They both know that should the other side win, their own personal life and future will cease or change forever. Duro continues to look to the past he remembers before the Romans but Valeria reminds him that it is wishful thinking and that past will never be again. Valeria reaches within herself to find a person, a warrior that she never knew existed… she will fight for life and survival no matter what, and she can appreciate that Duro has taught her that. Valeria is young enough and strong enough to change her ways of thinking in some ways and to understand that her world has changed. She is on the verge of some new life while Duro is at the end of his and know it. He can not change as his world is changing but Valeria gives him the one thing that matters most to him in the end… a renewed relationship with a son that he spent years pushing away. This story leaves an open ending with Valeria embarking on a new journey, a renewed life forever changed by her experience and her relationship with Duro.  This is about as close to a romance as any of the stories get and it is one that left me wondering about the what ifs… and the future for Valeria on her return to husband. My personal what if was this… what if Boudicca’s army had listened to advice and won the battle? Where would that have left Duro and Valeria?  I could actually see some of that version that Duro dreamed of!

All of the stories were excellent. I have only chosen to highlight the two that touched me the most!

This overall story is balanced with more than enough historical research to enrich the fiction that is woven around the often limited facts. I found myself completely swept up in the individual stories and not wanting them to end. I was left with an overwhelming appreciation of the writing and the history, an almost obsessive need to know more about all of the people whether real or fictional and the events that were taking place during this time. While it began as an effort by the various authors to tell Boudicca’s story, what it did was tell the story of so many others involved in the history taking place during her life time. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

To Kill a queen… the lighter moments!

Before we delve into all of those serious moments, questions and thoughts, let’s look at the somewhat lighter moments of trying to kill a queen or just thinking about killing one in Ragnar’s case. Part two will deal with the darker serious thoughts. 

First of all, I have to say that for me personally, some of the best moments were just watching Bjorn on his trek into the wilderness. Maybe it’s just because being from the northwoods winter wilderness of Minnesota, the scenery and his day out on the ice brought back some memories of home for me. I could relate a bit to his ice fishing and have experienced the activity in a similar fashion. When I was little, my Dad used to take us out on the lake without benefit of fancy ice houses or such for us… No, no comforts of a nice warm fish house for us- although, we did drive the car out on the lake and when our whining got too much for him, we were allowed to warm up in the car! So, let’s enjoy Bjorn’s trek into the wilderness and his day on the lake!

bjorn in the wilderness bjorn's out on the ice having a good day fishing bjorn ice fishing... bjorn gets in some ice fishing

When ice fishing, it’s a good day when you catch anything!

That's a good size fish Bjorn too bad fishing contests won't start for another few hundred years at least... but it's a keeper

And, realistically Bjorn’s got what looks to be a pretty well equipped cozy little cabin up there… honestly, I’ve probably stayed in worse places. Seriously, roughing it and learning to survive in the wilderness- how bout you forget the cabin and try winter camping for a few nights, Bjorn! 

bjorn fishing bjorn's cabin in the woods bjorn enjoys the fish and his cabin

Ok, enough of Bjorn’s survival vacation in the woods. Floki was off on his own survival excursion. While it was a far more serious and dangerous one than Bjorn’s there were some entertaining and questionable moments to it… such as this one

wonder boy super hero ubba

That’s right, Ubba has already begun his ascent to super hero! He seemingly leads the search for Floki and needs no wilderness tracking lessons because he already knows more than the men of his village.

Ubba the boy seems to be in charge of this search for floki

Ubba the boy seems to be in charge of this search for floki

Meanwhile in Wessex, there’s a battle going on to save damsel in distress. Kweni’s in the tower of Mercia and Aethelwulf’s doing his best to rescue her but he’s having a few small problems…

aethelwulf I should have ate breakfast

In Paris, Rollo’s problems seem minor compared to those of everyone else! He spends some time attempting to bond with Odo and Roland… and perhaps teach them a bit of battle strategy?

I know... let's play boats

Odo likes the idea…

odo is impressed with rollo's demonstration

Roland… not so much!

odo translates he's telling us to build more boats roland's still not impressed

let's play boats

Male bonding time over… Rollo gets a makeover, is not so impressed with it and makes a slight error in judgement.

rollo gets a makeover

rollo gets a makeover

rollo is not impressed with this new stylist

rollo is not impressed with this new stylist

rollo tries to impress gisela

Yes, I am sorry to say… the majority of us would have to agree with Gisela’s reaction to Rollo’s attempt at chivalry, courtly manners or whatever it was he thought he was doing!

rollo's attempt to impress hilarious

Advice to Rollo: Pay close attention to who you take your visual clues and lessons from… the fashionista and foppish tailor is probably not your best bet as one to learn your courtly manners from. Pay more attention to Roland in the future- he may end up being a traitor and a player but he is a safer bet for moderate and appropriate social etiquette than the tailor!

be careful who you take lessons from

Speaking of Roland… even in the middle of  a serious and slightly difficult moment, he pulls off the gentlemanly overtures.

roland still the gentleman

Now look how that subtly played apology worked out for him!

roland and therese continue their game

 

Back in Kattegat, there were some very dark and serious moments. To ease my mind, I suppose I tried to find the dark humor…

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

And, in Wessex, Judith did provide a startled moment of humor for me…

judith thinks she sees her athelstan...

 

A good treason- a closer look at betrayals

As promised- I have calmed down, watched a second time and am now ready to deal with all of the various levels of betrayal. Before we get into the more serious issues and intense drama of the week, I just want to hand out a few small awards.

I know you all assume that Rollo’s behavior was the most disgusting and lowest of all… but really that award would go to our other treasonous traitor, Einar. Einar gets the prize for not only being a conspiring traitor but displaying the ultimate in cowardly behavior!

award for ultimate cowardly behavior

The next award is a much more prestigious one… Our Frankish knight Roland showed himself to be a true gentleman, a fine example of calm in the middle of a storm and grace under fire. Obviously, this man has dealt with Gisela’s outburst before. Her antics and behaviors did not appear to phase him in the least. He took a spit in the face from the little shrew and was gracious enough to thank her for it! 

roland gives thanks for a spit in the face

 

Now, unfortunately we need to move on to the more serious issues going on, the betrayals- the many levels and versions of betrayal besides the one that everyone was so outraged by. On the surface level, Rollo’s betrayal appeared to be so over the top and outright extreme that it may have caused one to not pay attention or look closer at everything else that was taking place. I admit that on the initial viewing, I was so shocked by this blatant in your face act of treachery that I focused only on that one scene and the rest of it seemed to fade in relation to this act.  When I watched a second time, I was determined to watch closer, pay attention to all of the little details that so often add up and mean something later on. 

levels and layers of betrayals

I mentioned previously that something felt off, didn’t make sense and it felt like I was missing something about the whole situation or event of  Rollo’s action against his men. After much discussion with others who shared my feelings and a second viewing of the episode, I think it has begun to make more sense for me.

Since Rollo’s betrayal was by far the most controversial and talked about one, I am going to deal with it first and get it over with. First of all, I want everyone to understand that I am not looking at this event from the perspective of a glossy eyed fan girl as a few have accused me of being. I am not a fan of Rollo based on Clive Standen’s looks. I have done research into Rollo’s history and I do understand that Rollo in history was as cut throat, power hungry and violent as any other leader or warrior of that time was.  So, I am not sitting here gasping in shock and horror that “my” guy Rollo could or would have done such a vicious act if he felt need to. Rollo is a battle hardened warrior with sometime dubious morals and ethics… yes, we all know that. Many people want to assume that he is just a big dumb oaf with no thought, no brain in his head and that he can’t survive or win without Ragnar or some other leader guiding him or setting ideas in his head. I am also not sitting here defending him or denying that he’s a betrayer because he is, most of them are! I do have doubts about his outright slaughter of his own men without some underlying reason that we as viewers may not have been informed of in a tell everything way… 

When I first watched the episode, I was appalled and furious at the direction Hirst just took Rollo down as if proving everyone else right in their assumptions. I was also annoyed with Hirst’s action because of his assurances to stick closer to Rollo’s truer history. I know from my own research that Rollo did not become one of the Franks, and that he had a group of Vikings who remained loyal to him throughout life and into the future of Normandy. Now after this second viewing, I realize that there may be far more going on with this situation than what we first saw on the surface.

In order to understand this situation better, we need to look at the events in Paris closer. Perhaps once I’ve provided this closer look, you will see the underlying issues and events that help to make more sense of this “betrayal”. I am not going to address the wedding here other than in the terms that it corresponds to people and events leading up to the final act. One of those people involved is Sinric.

At the wedding we see Sinric still with Rollo, still helping him along with understanding the ways of the French. Things seem to be fine with them during this time. Sinric guides him through the intricacies of the wedding and the bedding ceremony… until Rollo gets fed up and kicks everyone out. So, as far as we could know or tell things are still good with Sinric and Rollo.

sinric is still around to provide assistance

when rollo looks over to sinric in some confusion sinric nods to the bench for him to kneel

rollo follows the cue and kneels not all that happily himself

sinric is still here giving cues to rollo

rollo needs no instruction on preparing for this part

Some time after the wedding, we witness a sudden change and tension in the air between Sinric and Rollo. 

sinric seems ill at ease about something back in paris an odd meeting takes place between rollo and sinric

Sinric suddenly announces, “I have to leave!” When a puzzled Rollo asks him why, he rambles on his speech about being a wanderer, “I am a wanderer, I do not belong here, I do not not belong in Paris… I am a wanderer, I belong to the wide wide world…”

Sinric suddenly stands up and announces I'm leaving

Sinric suddenly stands up and announces I’m leaving

sinric gives an answer of I don't belong here, I don't belong in paris

sinric gives an answer of I don’t belong here, I don’t belong in paris

sinric continues with I'm a wanderer I belong to the wide wide world

sinric continues with I’m a wanderer I belong to the wide wide world

 

rollo of course answers sinric with I don't want you to leave

rollo of course answers sinric with I don’t want you to leave

When Rollo says he wants him to stay, Sinric’s reply is a little over the top or extreme… “If you want me to stay, you’ll have to cut off my feet!” It’s obvious that something is bothering Sinric and he wants to get the hell out of Paris

sinric's response if you want me to stay you will have to cut off my feet. obviously sinric wants to get out ofhere

sinric’s response if you want me to stay you will have to cut off my feet. obviously sinric wants to get out of here.

sinric's advice We may meet again after all everything that goes around comes around

sinric’s advice We may meet again after all everything that goes around comes around

Sinric also leaves Rollo some rather odd parting words, “We may meet again, after all everything that goes around comes around.”  It was an odd meeting and conversation that didn’t quite make sense at first. 

As soon as Sinric left, one of the Viking men from the camp showed up. Rollo was  happy to see his friend Eirik, greeted him and welcomed him. 

as soon as sinric leaves Eric shows up rollo is happy to see Eirik but Eirik does not look same

Rollo was happy to see Eirik but  Eirik didn’t  seem quite as happy to be meeting with Rollo. Now, on the surface at first glance we could assume that would be because Eirik has difficult news to share with Rollo and is worried for his “friend”.  I mentioned previously that something just did not feel right about any of this and after watching a second time, I paid closer attention to both Eirik and Rollo during this meeting.

Eirik is uncomfortable throughout the meeting where he says he has come to warn his friend about dissent in the camp. 

Eirik looks uncomfortable even before any discussion takes place

Eirik looks uncomfortable even before any discussion takes place

Eiric will not sit and immediately states we've had a meeting at the camp I thought you should know about

Eiric will not sit and immediately states we’ve had a meeting at the camp I thought you should know about.

Eirik evades rollo's question of how many and continues they don't want to fight for the franks, they don't want to fight against king ragnar

Eirik evades rollo’s question of how many and continues they don’t want to fight for the franks, they don’t want to fight against king ragnar.

Rollo quickly realizes this is not a friendly meeting and begins to watch Eirik closely as he asks him again how many men…

rollo quickly realizes this is not a friendly meeting between friends

rollo quickly realizes this is not a friendly meeting between friends

He asks Eirik again how many men are involved and watches Eirik as he answers

when rollo insists on an answer of how many Eirik responds with maybe half

If you watch both of their facial expressions closely throughout the conversation, it seems like Eirik is hiding something and Rollo knows it. Rollo is probably putting this together with the earlier odd conversation he had with Sinric and is coming to the conclusion that something is not right about any of this? This is the point where you need to understand that Rollo is not stupid.  He has spent years watching, observing, making his own mistakes and learning from those mistakes. Perhaps the adage of “it takes one to know one” might apply here. If we go with the notion that Rollo is or has been disloyal and a betrayer, then he might certainly recognize one who is being disloyal or attempting to betray him?

rollo then asks what about you eirik

rollo then asks what about you eirik

rollo's question to eirik what about you... you are so unhappy

rollo’s question to eirik what about you… you are so unhappy too?

remember rollo is watching eirik's response closely as eirik shifts his eyes and says no that's why I came straight here to warn you

remember rollo is watching eirik’s response closely as eirik shifts his eyes and says no that’s why I came straight here to warn you

rollo has an underneath the breath laugh at Eirik's statement that they want him to come back to the camp so they can talk to him Rollo knows

rollo has an underneath the breath laugh at Eirik’s statement that they want him to come back to the camp so they can talk to him. Rollo knows a set up when he hears one…

Rollo has been part of more than enough underhanded betrayals on his own and in dealing with those of others including Ragnar. His under the breath laugh or sigh at Eirik’s responses are a clue that he knows full well there is more to this than just a friendly meeting. 

rollo can play this game as well as eirik or kalf or others... go back and tell them I will come in due course

rollo can play this game as well as eirik,  kalf or any number of  others… go back and tell them I will come in due course

rollo goes on to eirik I will put all their minds at ease

rollo goes on to eirik I will put all their minds at ease

If you put all of this together and then watch the scene at the camp play out as Rollo arrives, it makes more sense… What you also need to think about is how and why Rollo might choose to deal with the men in the way he did. Eirik tells him maybe half the men are involved. Looking at this information from a military or battle perspective as Rollo would, he would have to ask himself these questions. Is Eirik being honest about that number? If he’s lying about the rest, he could be lying about the number involved as well. Then there is the question of which half? How does he know which half are involved and which half might be on his side? Rollo does not have the option as Kalf did to have a public meeting and weed them out… So Rollo has a dilemma on his hands. He is not about to just show up at the camp on his own if he has some gut feeling or warrior’s instinct that something about this meeting feels wrong. No, he is going to take what ever back up is available, and that would be his new allies- the Frankish forces. And, as difficult as this may be to swallow or accept, you need to understand another factor or thought involved in his decision making. He does not know which ones are the enemy so he has to assume that they all are. It becomes a matter of kill first ask questions later if there are survivors… it’s a matter of kill or be killed and Rollo does not plan on being the killed one on this day. This is where you see the beginnings of what a force Rollo and his Normans will become in the future. Is it cold hearted and vicious… yes that is exactly what it is, and that is what will win their battles in the future. Those who survive will not be quite so willing to go against such a force in the future.

What was going on in the camp as Rollo showed up?  First of all, look at the camp… it’s very large and spread out but the eventuall attack seemed to focus on one well guarded portion of it where a number of the men were.

the viking camp in paris

Let’s look at Eirik’s reactions and behavior… He tells his son, see I told you he would come. Eirik is basically admitting that his intent at that meeting was to get Rollo to show up here.  Eirik seems quite confident that Rollo believed all of his story and would be trusting enough to come to the camp on his own.

eirik tells his son I told you he'd come

eirik tells his son I told you he’d come

eirik and his family

eirik and his family

Now look at some of the people as Rollo arrives. A few appear happy to see him, are smiling and friendly… but not Eirik

rollo arrives at the camp seemingly alone rollo watches all of them there are a few men smiling at rollo's appearance but not eirik

Does this look like a man who is happy to see that his friend has shown up to make amends and mend differences?

this is not the look of a man who is happy that his friend has shown up to make amends or talk of peace

This is what Rollo sees waiting at the gate for him… does this group with Eirik look like they’re wanting to greet Rollo and sit down to any peaceful discussion with him? If you were Rollo, would you get down off your horse and walk into this group on your own?

 

eirik tells them to open the gates these men seem to be prepared for something other than a peacable sit down discussion

Rollo has put all of the odd suspicious fragments together and brought his newfound allies along with him. They are waiting in the woods for his signal… he is watching this group closely and has made his decision, whether right or wrong, that this was not a peace meeting he was invited to. He gives a signal to the men and a massacre begins. It’s bloody, gruesome,  unrelenting and in the end, yes Rollo has betrayed Ragnar and massacred his own people. I am not defending that action but I am suggesting that all is not quite what it appears and there is a very good possibility that some in that camp, such as Eirik were not as innocent as they may have seemed to be. Had some of those people not set about their own agenda of possibly betraying Rollo, it might not have come down to this final act of horrific bloodshed…

Eirik’s last words to Rollo were “You betrayed your own people, Ragnar will come… he will seek revenge for us” 

yes, there is a gruesome bloody and horrific massacre

In some way, perhaps Eirik was just as much at fault in setting up Rollo for a possible ambush and assuming that he could get away with it? It was an act some betrayal on both parts and had Rollo not listened to his gut instinct, his inner warrior self, he would probably be the one dead that day. In putting all of it together, Sinric’s parting words make more sense, have more meaning…” Sinric knew what was going to happen and did not want to be involved on either side of it. Far better to get the hell out of the way and watch to see what happens from a distance!

sinric's advice We may meet again after all everything that goes around comes around

sinric’s advice We may meet again after all everything that goes around comes around.

 

Rollo’s betrayal may have been the most blatant, controversial and despised one of the episode but it was just one of many. Another betrayal had to do with Kalf and his people… one which also ended up in a surprise massacre of his own people. Kalf, however had the benefit and advantage of being able to do it in a more open and public manner while Rollo had to resort to more covert measures. Kalf was also in a more enviable position of setting up his massacre in defense of Lagertha and in killing of a much despised enemy of everyone. Does that make it somehow more ethical or moral? I suppose that is highly debatable as well but most would probably agree that the end result in this case was acceptable except for one possible exclusion in the massacre. We’ll get to that exclusion in a bit. First let us look at the initial betrayal- which many would say was not really a betrayal because it involved Lagertha getting her earldom back… But, realistically and truthfully as much as we hate to admit it- it was a betrayal and gag… Einar had a valid point. That admission is still gagging me! This situation involves a long list of betrayals. From disgusting Einar’s original betrayal of Lagertha, Kalf’s betrayals of Lagertha, and then Ragnar to Slimey Erlandeur’s betrayals and then back again to Kalf’s betrayal of Einar in favor of Lagertha… It’s difficult to keep up with all of the conspiracies in Hedeby! Let’s just look at the most recent one for now. Originally Kalf received Einar’s backing for the Earldom on condition that they would bring down the entire Lothbrok dynasty. The only problem with that was that Kalf really does care about Lagertha so he betrays Einar by deciding that Lagertha should rule equally with him over Hedeby. 

kalf invites lagertha to the front kalf Lagertha and I will rule as equals as your earl that is my determination

This news does not sit well with Einar, and one other person seems perturbed with the idea as well…

einar hears the news of Kalf and lagertha sharing the rule he is not impressed

einar hears the news of Kalf and lagertha sharing the rule he is not impressed

erlanduer listens to kalf's speech and it appears he is not impressed either

erlanduer listens to kalf’s speech and it appears he is not impressed either

Ahhhh yes, now we come to slimey Erlandeur the scum of so many betrayals and low life acts that it’s hard to keep track of all of them. Erlandeur is an example of the advice his own Father gave once and one which Ragnar failed to follow… always kill the heirs because they will grow up to seek revenge. Ragnar made the mistake of letting this child grow to adulthood and now he is the bane of our existence with everyone asking, pleading the same thing… Why is this disgusting piece of garbage still alive? Erlandeur who in his own slimey way, makes everyone else look a bit better when compared to him!  Erlandeur’s first betrayal might consist of just staying alive to spite Ragnar? Now, it seems he’s involved in some multiple betrayal scheme and it’s hard to say whose side he’s actually on other than his own. Einar assumed that Erlandeur was on his side- that didn’t work out so well in the end. 

 

einar greets erlandeur

einar greets erlandeur

In a discussion with Kalf, Einar makes the comment that Erlandeur is with his group.

einar reminds kalf of the original agreement to overthow entire lothbrok dynasty. We believed you and so did Erlanduer who is with us.

einar reminds kalf of the original agreement to overthow entire lothbrok dynasty. We believed you and so did Erlanduer who is with us.

In Kalf’s final betrayal of Einar and group, we discover that for the moment at least Erlandeur seems to be on Kalf’s side even though his disgust of Lagertha is evident.  Kalf sets up a public meeting to vote on whether Lagertha should be co-ruler and invites everyone to cast their mark against her… what ensues is a surprise massacre of those people who step up to the pole to cast their no vote. Kalf has now killed his own people openly in public view of everyone. His comment is “and this is my answer… ” 

the group is attacked by those archers Kalf looks on as the group is slaughtered

And one of those archers enjoying the event… None other than Erlandeur

erlandeur is standing outside the group watching the event erlandeur hestitates when lagertha calls him to stop

At the end of the slaughter, the last man standing is Einer. He is only standing because he’s pinned to the pole by an arrow.

Einar meets an arrow

Erlandeur is quick to step in for one last shot to do away with Einar but is stopped from his fun by Lagertha

Erlandeur steps in to take one last shot at einar but lagertha stops him

erlandeur hestitates when lagertha calls him to stop

Lagertha gets her final and ultimate revenge on Einar

lagertha takes her last revenge on einar lagertha's blood revenge is complete

 

Now, let’s look at one last situation with layers of betrayal… No discussion of cunning, deception, and more subtle betrayal would be complete without mentioning Aslaug!

Her first act of possible treason or betrayal- to mention the death of a King out loud, especially when that King happens to be her husband!

aslaug asking who will succeed after Ragnar's death

aslaug asking who will succeed after Ragnar’s death

Her more subtle acts of betrayal… well, anything that casts a possible bad reflection of her spouse the King could be construed as betrayal for a Queen and she does seem to have a habit of that. Even her son Ubba notices.

ubba comments on aslaug's less than enthusiastic reaction to ragnar being awake Father's awake don't you care

ubba comments on aslaug’s less than enthusiastic reaction to ragnar being awake Father’s awake don’t you care?

She tries to cover her inner thoughts and fakes an overly sweet smile to her son with a reply of “Of course I care, run tell everyone the King is awake!”  For some reason I have to assume that Ubba is a pretty smart kid and she has not fooled him at all!

aslaug tries to fake it... her thought no I don't care I was hoping he wouldn't wake up...

aslaug tries to fake it… her thought no I don’t care I was hoping he wouldn’t wake up…

aslaug to ubba too sweetly Of course I do

aslaug to ubba too sweetly Of course I do

Next we move on to her underlying deceptions and schemes which would amount to betrayal… Let’s watch her visit to the slave market where she inspects the merchandise with a stereotypical Alibaba type slave trader.

an Alibaba like trader is in kattegat with his merchandise

aslaug and alibaba discuss the merchandise

After much browsing, she happens upon one item that catches her interest…

one item in particular catches aslaug's eye

Something about this particular slave causes her to pause, think and smile her sneaky smile

something about this slave causes aslaug to think and smile

Now, really what could be so intriguing or interesting about this specific slave girl? Could it be a thought that she knows how intriguing or interesting Ragnar might find this obviously foreign girl from some other culture or part of the world…

what could be so special about this particular slave to interest aslaug so much

Aslaug takes her new slave home, cleans her up and sets about putting her in Ragnar’s sight… Slave girl is now a house servant for Aslaug and family

aslaug's new purchase is now clean and presentable in her new role as servant

Yes, Ragnar quickly notices and Aslaug sits back with a smile…

all it takes is a glance at her and ragnar's interested... aslaug sits back with a smile

slave girl is not impressed

Obviously Aslaug has purchased this girl for some specific reason and placed her within sight and reach of Ragnar, knowing full well that he will be interested in her. Aslaug apparently has some plan of deception in mind and this girl is a part of that scheme. I really don’t think she’s set the girl out just so he will bed the slave girl and thereby leave Aslaug alone. Aslaug knows as well as the rest of us that there is little chance that he is going to be wanting to bed with herself anymore and she’s probably glad of that. No, she’s got some other plan in mind for this girl.

We’re all already well aware of the betrayals, treason and reasons for Floki’s current predicament so I am not going to go into those here. Now we just have to wait along with Floki and his family for whatever Ragnar decides is suitable punishment.

floki's reaction to ragnar's illness

I do have to say that this was one of the saddest and difficult reunions to watch.

floki's family reunion helga knows floki is going to beg her to do something ragnar must deal with floki

My personal thought on the circle Ragnar marked around Floki… Ragnar seems to be marking a distance between the people and Floki as if in a way to say, he’s not for your public abuse. I guess his thought might be of he’s mine to torture, not yours. 

ragnar marks a circle around floki

Updated added information!

 I recently had a very interesting discussion with someone connected to the show. Of course he could not give out any specifics- and I do not expect him to! But, he did provide some general information and insight on Hirst’s reasoning and rationale for this recent event with Rollo. Hirst has mentioned often that he is presenting Rollo’s story in a more historically accurate context so naturally for many of us this recent event was a little confusing. It is confusing unless you keep in mind and remember that Hirst is framing the story from a Viking perspective, and he has used various Norse Sagas and the Irish Annals as part of his reference. In most of those sagas it does refer to Rollo as a black sheep, one who was banished or exiled, or one who was not a legitimate ruler. This last reference comes from part of the Irish Annals on invasions and refers to some event where he tried to claim a crown or rule that he was not entitled to. Some of those sagas make mention that he was considered a traitor or betrayer to his people at some point in time. This is the frame of reference that Hirst is working from.
The sagas references to him as a betrayer of his people could also be looked at in the context that to them, his conversion to Christianity at that time would have been seen as a betrayal of his people and their beliefs. This is also the line of thinking that Floki is trying so hard to stand by with his justification for killing Athelstan. It also brings us to the issue of Ragnar’s relationship with Athelstan, his fake baptism and conversion to Christianity that his people witnessed and were aware of. Eirik brings up the fact that Rollo is now a “Christian” and that bothers the men… yet, it was okay with them for Ragnar to be a fake “Christian”.
In a last added thought, I am pretty sure this will probably be the last year for Rollo as part of the Vikings because Clive Standen has just been offered a leading role in another series! He has signed on to a role in a new series, Taken being produced for NBC!

Vikings Season 4 A Good Treason???

Vikings season has returned and I have watched the first episode… I will have a better in depth review in a few days, after I have had time for this initial mess to sink in. I just want to say for now that my first reaction to the events is not good. Mr. Hirst has mentioned in some interviews that this is a season for betrayals. Well, he certainly started the season off with a huge dose of it. Unfortunately, the betrayal I felt was from him!  I need to get this off my chest and vent for a few moments. First of all, any of you who visit this site on a regular basis should be well aware that Yes, I am a loyal follower and fan of Rollo. I took Hirst at his word when he assured us that he would deal with Rollo in a more authentic and historically accurate manner. My first thought and impression after watching this first episode is that Hirst completely threw that idea out the window and has chosen instead to once again paint Rollo as the villain, the traitor and now the truly lowest caliber of one who would turn on his own men and their families, putting him in a category even lower than Aethelwulf who at least felt he was doing his God’s work and slaying evil Pagans, not friends.

If you take time to read through much of the historical information that I’ve provided over the past months concerning Rollo and his beginnings of Normandy, you will understand my dismay, frustration and disappointment over how this is starting out. I can not even begin to understand Hirst’s reasoning for this slaughter. The first thing that comes to my mind is that he has taken the easy way out of the corner he painted himself into with his treatment of Rollo. When you can find no other way out, just resort to your past practice of making everyone but Ragnar an evil villain. I can only assume that Hirst intends to now portray Rollo as that ultimate betrayer who will become a devoted loyal ally to the Franks and no one else. I have to say here too that this whole scene/ event felt extremely disjointed and unreal, as much of the episode did. For me, the event and scene felt off, it felt contrived and lacking in anything other than in your face blood and gore for effect. There was not even some limited half baked discussion or reasoning behind it. And, if Rollo is still so inept at the Frankish language, how did he manage to communicate and convey this well planned treachery by a group of now loyal to him Fankish warriors? There is just something so not right about this event that I hope there is some explanation later on in say the next few episodes. This feels like just another attempt to show everyone else in a bad light except Ragnar and company.  Somehow it felt more like we were watching some sort of dream, or perhaps nightmare sequences or scenarios throughout much of the episode.

I was expecting the disagreements between Ragnar and Bjorn so that did not really surprise me. Bjorn attempted do what he felt was right and of course was then criticized by Ragnar. Ragnar may be ill but is still capable of his deceptions… his comments to son Ubba were a behind the back stab at Bjorn and in some ways it reminded me of his non-committed answers to Rollo in previous years. By all rights, Bjorn should be the next King, but we see Ragnar’s play on that when he promises it to Ubba instead… creating an eventual rivalry between the brothers.

As to the introduction of Yidu… My initial thought on this situation? Aslaug purchased Yidu, making Yidu Aslaug’s property and not Ragnar’s. Somehow I do not think that Aslaug is going to appreciate Ragnar taking over her property. Unless of course, this is her intent? She knows how Ragnar is drawn to different and exotic places and people… perhaps it’s Aslaug who sets up the eventual relationship with the intent of using Yidu against Ragnar in some way later down the line. 

Ok, those are just my first thoughts on all of this. When I have calmed down from my personal feelings of betrayal by Mr. Hirst, I will be able to deal with this better… or not!

Ohhh By the way, Thanks so much Mr. Hirst for redeeming Rollo on one hand with his feelings and treatment of Gisela while stabbing him and the rest of his fans in the back with your other hand! 

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Rollo and Poppa to the De Senlis family

This is somewhat of an update to my previous post on Rollo as my ancestor.

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2016/01/06/tracing-my-past-back-to-rollo/

This particular investigation and discussion pertains mainly to genealogy/ancestry and  history of the real Rollo and his family. It has little or anything to do with Rollo’s character in the Vikings Saga other than to point out that Rollo did have loyal Viking followers and supporters as well as probably some Frankish ones as well. He may have cut his ties with family and could be considered a traitor in some ways but he did have men who backed him and would continue to back his family. This group of men and their families would remain loyal supporters all the way through to Rollo’s descendant, William the Conqueror. The descendants of these men would follow William to England. In return for their loyalty they would receive great wealth and land, and become leading English Nobility in those early days of  William and his sons.  Among these men were Osmond de Centville, Bernard de Senlis (who had been a companion of Rollo of Normandy), Ivo de Bellèsme, and Bernard the Dane  (ancestor to the families of Harcourt and Beaumont).  I mentioned these men in my previous post and am returning to them now as I feel that one of them plays an important part in a mystery from another branch of my ancestors and also provides a clue or key to the mystery surrounding Rollo’s wife, Poppa of Bayeux. (For my personal thoughts on how the history might relate to Michael Hirst’s creative and imaginative version of events in the Vikings Saga, you can scroll all the way to the end to read more on that.)

 

That man would be Bernard DeSenlis, the one specifically mentioned as a companion of Rollo’s.  After  researching some of the DeSenlis ancestry and  further investigation of Poppa’s possible genealogy, I personally believe that the Bernard DeSenlis mentioned as Rollo’s companion provides a link between those mentioned in Poppa’s genealogy and the DeSenlis family that shows up in my family ancestry.  While there is no definitive proof or documentation, and the link seems to get broken or at least very twisted somewhere along the line, my personal thought is that the DeSenlis line probably goes back to Poppa’s connection.  There often comes a point where you have to do your own research, weigh all of the evidence you have collected and make a choice as to what information you trust the most, what to you makes the most sense and then go with that line of reasoning. When you get to this point, you should also make it very clear to anyone else you are sharing the information with, that from this point on back you are basing your reasoning on suppositions and limited research. From this point on, you are making a hypothesis based on the limited evidence and resources available to you. Make it extremely clear that these are only your personal beliefs and thoughts. This is the case for me from this point back with the DeSenlis family and with family connections for Poppa.  My purpose here is not to provide concrete verifiable evidence because as far as I know, there is none at this time. What we have are a lot of pieces of circumstantial evidence that when pieced together may provide a possible or plausible theory.

First, we need to look at the varying versions of Poppa’s existence and genealogy.  The first version, the more widely accepted one is that she was the daughter of  “Count Berengar”, the dominant prince of that region, who was captured at Bayeux by Rollo in 885 or 889. This has led to speculation that she was the daughter of Berengar II of Neustria.  

It is speculated that her Father was Berengar II of Neustria. Berengar II (died 896) was the Count of Bayeux,  Rennes and Margrave of the Breton March from 886 until his death a decade later.  In 874, Brittany’s internal politics were thrown into turmoil when King Salomon was murdered by a rival. The resulting surge of Viking attacks made possible by the power vacuum was narrowly held at bay by a hasty Breton-Frankish alliance between Alan the Great of Vannes and Berengar of Rennes. Between 889-90, the Seine Vikings moved into Brittany, hard on the heels of the Loire fleet that Alan and Berengar had successfully driven out (this latter force had broken up into several small flotillas and sailed west). Alain again joined forces with Berengar of Rennes and led two Breton armies into the field. Finding their retreat down the Marne blocked, the Vikings hauled their ships overland to the Vire and besieged Saint-Lo, where the Bretons virtually annihilated the fleet.  Berengar is speculated to have married the daughter of Gurvand, Duke of Brittany, by which relationship he attained the countship of Rennes. This would make him brother-in-law of Judicael, Duke of Brittany. He is thought to be the Berengar of Bayeux whose daughter Poppa was captured in a raid and married to Rollo of Normandy. Various reconstructions make him father, grandfather, or great-grandfather of Judicael Berengar, later Count of Rennes.  As I’ve pointed out, this is the generally accepted version even though there is no definitive or verifiable proof. Because of that lack of proof, it may very well be possible that some alternate version holds just as much validity as this one. 

Poppa of Bayeux

Poppa of Bayeux

The alternate version of her existence and genealogy is provided by Robert Sewell as follows in excerpts from his document provided at  http://www.robertsewell.ca/poppa.html

The ancestry of Poppa, wife of Rolf the Ganger, 1st Duke of Normandy, seems to have two versions. It now appears that Poppa was a daughter of Gui, Count of Senlis and not a daughter of Count Berenger of Bayeux.  This makes Poppa, through her mother, a great granddaughter of King Bernard of Italy (b. 797, d. 818; King of Italy 813 – 817) King Bernard was a grandson of Charlemagne.

For the entire document please use the above link. For our purposes, I am providing the portion of the document that links Poppa to the DeSenlis name or family. 

Poppa, Wife of Ganger Rolf     According to Dudon, William Longue Épeé of Normandy had as his ‘avunculus’ (maternal uncle) Count Bernard of Senlis, the friend and consellor of Hugh the Great. The Chronicon Rothomagense (Labbe Bibliotheca Manuscriptorum Nova, I, p. 365) ano 912 confirms this and stated that Rolf married the daughter of Count Gui de Senlis, so if Bernard were the son of Gui, he would be the ‘avunculus” of William. Dudon, however calls Poppa the daughter of Count Berenger, but Dudon is not highly trustworthy. The name Bernard belongs in the family of the Counts of Vermandois, descended from Bernard, King of Italy. A Count Bernard, probably Bernard de Senlis is called be Flodoard (Annales ano 923, p. 15) the ‘consobrinus’ (cousin germain by the female side) of Herbert II Count of Vermandois.

     The Belgian érudit, J. Dhondt, in his “Études sur la Naissance de Principautés Territoriales au France pp. 119/120 n.) (Bruges 1948), suggests that Gui Count of Senlis married a sister of Herbert I Count of Vermandois (see p. 6 anti) and had issue Bernard Count of Senlis and probably Poppa, wife of Rolf.

 Pepin de Peronne, son of Bernard, King of Italy
Died after 846
His children included:

  • Herbert I Count of Vermandois, died between 900 and 904. His son:
    • Herbert II Count of Vermandois, died in 943
  • a daughter who married Gui, Count of Senlis. Their children:
    • Bernard Count of Senlis, adherent of Hugh the Great
    • Poppa who married Rolf, Count of Rouen

What this alternative version does is directly tie the previously mentioned Bernard DeSenlis to Poppa as her brother. It would make sense then that as Poppa’s brother, he would possibly become an ally of Rollo or at least a supporter of Rollo’s children. It would also make sense that he would continue to be allied with Rollo’s family such as in protecting Rollo’s grandson Richard I at the later time. In addition, this would provide some reason for ongoing connections, alliances or links between Rollo’s descendants and the DeSenlis families.  From my personal stand point or view, this version of Poppa’s lineage seems just as plausible or feasible as the other version mentioned. This alternate version makes the connection to the DeSenlis family and in doing so also connects the offspring of Poppa and Rollo to Hugh the Great and the future Capetian dynasty which Rollo’s grand daughter, Adelaide of Aquitaine married into.  Bernard DeSenlis was an adherent of Hugh the Great, who would have been a relative to him. During the battles to rescue and restore Rollo’s grandson Richard to his rightful control of Normandy, Hugh the Great eventually became involved in the fight and sided with the Normans.  One other thing this alternate version does is place Poppa as a descendant of Charlemagne and by doing so, place her as a distant relative of Charles the Simple.  Just because they were distant relatives did not necessarily mean they would have been on the same side or allied to each other in any way. In fact, it may have been the opposite case and might have posed some problem when Rollo made his treaty with Charles. Rollo and Charles signed the treaty of  St. Claire in 911.  At that time he would have already been with Poppa for some time and had both of his children by her.  This would mean that he already had a somewhat firm  alliance with the Count of Senlis and most likely with Herbert I Count of Vermandois along with his son Herbert II.  I mention this because at a later point in time, Herbert II would be an opposing force against Charles. He was just as adamant and vocal about his heritage from Charlemagne and Charles most likely was. Eventually, he was responsible for capturing Charles and holding him prisoner for three years. Later Herbert allied with Hugh the Great and William Longsword, duke of Normandy against King Louis IV, who allocated the County of Laon to Roger II, the son of Roger I, in 941. If you look at the descendants of Charlemagne, you will begin to understand that they were all descendants and proud of their ancestry but they were all competing and vying against each other for control and domination of the various parts of Francia.  As one of those descendants, Herbert I of Vermandois and his family were at odds with the current ruling factions of the time as well as with Baldwin of Flanders. Herbert controlled both St. Quentin and Péronne and his activities in the upper Somme river valley, such as the capture and murder (rather than ransom) of his brother Raoul in 896, may have caused Baldwin II to have him assassinated in 907. These were people who would probably have no qualms about developing some kind of alliances or under the table agreements with a Viking raider such as Rollo who may have been willing to assist a cause in return for some type of reward- monetary or otherwise… for example a spare daughter to use as security, seal a bargain and set up some ongoing continued alliance that might prove benefitial to both parties.

Sometime later when Dudo of Saint Quentin was rewriting the history of Normandy for Richard I, he may have chosen to downplay or omit completely some aspects of the history. 

Dudo does not appear to have consulted any existing documents for his history, but to have obtained his information from oral tradition, much of it being supplied by Raoul, count of Ivry, a half-brother of Duke Richard. Consequently, the Historia partakes of the nature of a romance, and on this ground has been regarded as untrustworthy by such competent critics as Ernst Dümmler and Georg Waitz. Other authorities, however, e.g.,J. Lair and J. Steenstrup, while admitting the existence of a legendary element, regard the book as of considerable value for the history of the Normans.

Although Dudo was acquainted with Virgil (Aeneid) and other Latin writers, his Latin is affected and obscure. The Historia, which is written alternately in prose and in verse of several metres, is divided into four parts, and deals with the history of the Normans from 852 to the death of Duke Richard in 996. It glorifies the Normans, and was largely used by William of Jumièges, Wace, Robert of Torigni,William of Poitiers and Hugh of Fleury in compiling their chronicles.

My last thoughts on Poppa’s genealogy and her relationship with Rollo are that it is probably closer to the second version than the first if you compare the other connecting threads and limited evidence.  If you look at the length of her relationship with Rollo prior to his receiving Normandy, you also begin to get a slightly different picture of Rollo and his ability to take this land offer and forge it into a Kingdom. He was involved with Poppa and her family from about 885 on and did not sign the agreement with Charles until after 911. What this gives us is not a Lone wolf, or man who is unfamiliar with Frankish customs and culture but rather a well seasoned warrior with close to 20 years of experience in with other Frankish territories and rulers.  Over that 20 years, he had most likely become well versed in Frankish affair and politics.  For what ever reason, Dudo chose to play down and omit that portion as well as play down the relationship or existence of Poppa’s connection in all of it. Then Dudo also chose to add in the somewhat doubtful relationship of Gisela, daughter of Charles without giving her much more credibility or history than he did for Poppa. Of course part of this could be due to the fact that Dudo was recounting the history to a male audience and was not so much concerned about the role of any women involved in the history. He most likely played down Poppa’s relationship because she was a wife more danico and it was not thought to be a valid Christian marriage even though the children were recognized as legitimate offspring of the Father.

As for the relationship or existence of Gisela of France, there is always the possibility that Rollo did marry her in the Christian way to seal the treaty.  It was not an uncommon practice back then to have both the more danico wife and the Christian one.  If as  mentioned, she died childless then her relationship and marriage to Rollo would have ended up being of little consequence as far as Dudo’s representation of history went.  I suppose if we look at it realistically, none of Charles’ other daughters receive much recognition either other than just being listed as his daughters. In fact none of his other children seem to be of much consequence other than his son, Louis IV of France. On a side note of interest, Louis’ Mother was Eadgifu of Wessix, grand daughter of Alfred the Great.  My thought on Gisela is that Dudo perhaps included her to tie in the connections to France and used her as a way to offset the presence of Poppa. By including Gisela, Dudo is in a way promoting the idea of Rollo having a Christian Royal wife and thereby putting down or negating Poppa’s ties or importance.  He was after all attempting to make the Normans look better in the eyes of other countries such as France at that time. The last thing he would have wanted to do during this time is bring up any reference or mention of Poppa’s possible connections to the earlier events and disputes that took place between territories vying for control of Frankish regions and previous rebellions against Kings of Francia. 

 

The De Senlis connection

 

Now that we have explored Poppa’s existence and her possible connections to the DeSenlis family, we can go on to the other mystery and broken link in the DeSenlis family.  That broken link shows up with Simon DeSenlis I of my family history. 

Simon de Senlis

Simon I de Senlis (or Senliz), 1st Earl of Northampton and 2nd Earl of Huntingdon jure uxoris born 1068 died between 1111  and 1113 was a Norman nobleman.

Simon DeSenlis

In 1098 he was captured during the Vexin campaign of King William Rufus and was subsequently ransomed. He witnessed King Henry I’s Charter of Liberties issued at his coronation in 1100. He attested royal charters in England from 1100–03, 1106–07, and 1109–011. Sometime in the period, 1093–1100, he and his wife, Maud, founded the Priory of St. Andrew’s, Northampton. He witnessed a grant of King Henry I to Bath Abbey on 8 August 1111 at Bishop’s Waltham, as the king was crossing to Normandy. Simon de Senlis subsequently went abroad and died at La Charité-sur-Loire, where he was buried in the new priory church. The date of his death is uncertain.

He reportedly built Northampton Castle and the town walls.  He also built one of the three remaining round churches in England, The Holy Sepulchre, Sheep Street, Northampton).

Simon 1st De Liz Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Holy Sepulchre 1 Holy_Sepulchre_Cambridge 2 Northampton-Holy Sepulchre

Simon was the third son of Laudri de Senlis, sire of Chantilly and Ermenonville (in Picardy), and his spouse, Ermengarde.

He married in or before 1090 Maud of Huntingdon, daughter of Waltheof, Earl of Northumbria, Northampton, and Huntingdon, by Judith, daughter of Lambert, Count of Lens. They had two sons, Simon II de Senlis, Earl of Huntingdon-Northampton, and Waltheof of Melrose, and one daughter, Maud de Senlis, who married (1st) Robert Fitz Richard (of the De Clare family), of Little Dunmow, Essex.

Following Simon’s death, his widow, Maud, married (2nd) around Christmas 1113, David I nicknamed the Saint, who became King of Scots in 1124. David was recognized as Earl of Huntingdon to the exclusion of his step-son, Simon; the earldom of Northampton reverted to the crown. Maud, 2nd Countess of Huntingdon, the Queen of Scots, died in 1130/31.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_I_de_Senlis,_Earl_of_Huntingdon-Northampton

There is little information given about his ancestry other than that his Father was Laudri De Senlis, born at 

BIRTH 1018 Senlis, Oise, Picardy, France

DEATH 1080 Senlis, Normandy, France

Laudri’s wife is named Ermengarde and no other information is documented for her.  There is some documentation of Laudri’s Father being a Foulques De Senlis, born 988, died 1050.

Simon was born in 1068, after William’s take over of England but his family must have been of some importance and there must have been some connection between his family and William’s otherwise William would not have offered his niece, Judith in marriage to Simon. During William’s take over of England and prior to that, he was no different from  other leaders or rulers of the time in that he used marriage alliances to his advantage as reward to those loyal to him, and at times to ensure loyalty among those he might have doubts about.  He first arranged marriages for his sister Adelaide of Normandy, then went on to arrange marriages for her daughter, Judith of Lens. William initially arranged the marriage of Judith to Waltheof of Northumbria- that may have been a case of ensuring the loyalty of Waltheof and gaining some control over Waltheof’s lands in Northumbria… unfortunately, that arrangement did not prove quite as successful as he may have planned. Waltheof eventually proved to be disloyal and William had him executed in 1076. This left Judith a widow with young children and some extremely valuable landholdings and titles in doubt or up for grabs. William rather quickly set about arranging another marriage for her to Simon De Senlis. Judith refused to marry Simon and she fled the country to avoid William’s anger. William  temporarily confiscated all of Judith’s English estates. Simon later married Judith’s daughter Maud and took over the Earldom of Huntington.  At the time of his marriage to Maud, he had already received land and title in the creation of Earl of Northampton. This would certainly suggest that he was not just some knight standing in line waiting for William to hopefully notice him and reward him with something, anything as recognition. There had to have been some reason or connection for William to bestow the first title and lands on him and then turn around and again reward him with either his niece or great-niece and Huntington.  As I mentioned, Simon was too young to have been among those who arrived with William to do first battle and conquer England so there must have been some other important connection between Simon’s family to William which William deemed of enough importance or value to reward Simon in such way.

Simon De Senlis  was not just some lowly unknown knight or nobleman of little wealth or station that William happened to run into and hand over a landholding and title to even before his marriage into William’s family. As early as 1080- 1084 he was already Earl of Northampton and was responsible for building Northampton Castle. Northampton Castle was one of the most famous Norman castles in England. It was built under the stewardship of Simon e Senlis, the first Earl of Northampton, in 1084. It took several years to complete, as there is no mention of it in the Domesday Book, a great survey of England completed in 1086. The castle site was outside the western city gate, and defended on three sides by deep trenches. A branch of the River Nene provided a natural barrier on the western side. The castle had extensive grounds and a large keep. The gates were surrounded by bulwarks made of earth, used to mount artillery. The castle was ‘obliterated’ by the arrival of a railway branch of what is now the West Coast Main Line in the 19th century, the station of which was built on the castle site and the construction of the original Northampton Castle railway station.

 800px-Northampton_Castle_Bastion 800px-Postern_Gate_of_Northampton_Castle_2013 Northampton_Castle_Postern

All of this information regarding Simon’s early adult years leads me to believe that Simon and his family were already held in some high esteem or regard by William. Simon was not born until mid 1060s  but by the time he was in his late teens or very early twenties he was already made Earl of Northampton and put in charge of constructing this Castle and defenses for this Earldom holding of William. This does not speak of some lowly or relatively unknown prize winner in William’s raffling off of rewards…

In order to find some connection to further back, we can look at the city of Senlis, France  and its history.  The monarchs of the early French dynasties lived here, attracted by the proximity of the Chantilly Forest and its venison, and built a castle on the foundations of the Roman settlement. In 987 the archbishop of Reims, Albéron called together an assembly, and asked them to choose Hugh Capet as king of France. However, the monarchs of France soon abandoned the city, preferring Compiègne and Fontainebleau. New life was given to the city in the 12th century, and ramparts were built. The popularity of the city later fell, and it slipped into decline. Today it remains an attraction for tourists for its long history and its links to the French monarchy.

Senlis ruins

Senlis ruins

Senlis Cathedral

Senlis Cathedral

Senlis2

stock-photo-ruins-of-royal-castle-in-senlis-castle-was-place-of-election-of-hugh-capet-in-completely

stock-photo-ruins-of-royal-castle-in-senlis-castle-was-place-of-election-of-hugh-capet-in-completely

Senlis fell under the ownership of Hugh Capet in 981. He was elected king by his barons in 987 before being crowned at Noyon. Under the Capetian rule, Senlis became a royal city and remained so until the reign of Charles X. A castle was built during this period whose remains still lie today. The city reached its apogee in the 12th and 13th centuries as trade of wool and leather increased, while vineyards began to grow. With an increasing population, the city expanded and required the construction of new ramparts: a second chamber was erected under Phillip II that was larger and higher than the ramparts of the Gallo-Romans. A municipal charter was granted to the town in 1173 by the King Louis VII. The bishop of Senlis and the Chancellor Guérin became close advisors to the King, strengthening Senlis’ ties to the French royalty. In 1265, the Bailiwick of Senlis was created with its vast territory covering theBeauvais and the French Vexin. In 1319, the town crippled by debt, was passed to the control of the royalty. Senlis became devastated by the Hundred Years’ War, but managed to escape destruction despite being besieged by the Armagnacs.

Hugh Capet was married to Rollo’s grand-daughter, Adelaide of Aquitaine and as a result of this connection, DeSenlis families of Senlis probably had some continuing loyalties and alliances or connections to Normandy through her. There is no verifiable proof however to link Simon any further back to the original De Senlis family connected to Rollo and Poppa.  All we can do is form our own theories and conjectures based on the amounts of circumstantial evidence.

Another version gives Simon a somewhat different  parentage and ancestry.

SENLIS or ST. LIZ, SIMON de, Earl of Northampton and Huntingdon (d. 1109), was son of a Norman noble called Randel le Ryche. According to the register of the priory of St. Andrew at Northampton (Monast. Angl. v. 190), he fought with his brother Garner for William the Conqueror at Hastings. But there is no mention of him in Domesday book, and it seems more probable that he did not come to England till about the end of the reign of William I (Freeman, Norman Conquest, iv. 604). According to the legends preserved in the pseudo-Ingulph and the ‘Vita Waldevi,’ Simon was given by the Conqueror the hand of Judith, the widow of Earl Waltheof of Huntingdon; but Judith refused to marry him on account of his lameness. Simon then received the earldom of Northampton and Huntingdon from the king, and eventually married Matilda or Maud, the daughter of Waltheof and Judith. The marriage is an undoubted fact, but probably must be placed, together with the grant of the earldoms, not earlier than 1089. According to the ‘Vita Waldevi,’ Simon went on the crusade in 1095, but he appears to have been fighting on the side of William Rufus in Normandy in 1098, when he was taken prisoner by Louis, son of the king of France (Freeman, William Rufus, ii. 190). He was also one of the witnesses to the coronation charter of Henry I in 1100 (Stubbs, Select Charters, p. 102). Afterwards he went on the crusade. He died in 1109, and was buried at the priory of La Charité-sur-Loire. Earl Simon built Northampton Castle, and founded the priory of St. Andrew, Northampton, according to tradition, about 1084, but more probably in 1108 (Monast. Angl. v. 190–1). By his wife, Matilda, Simon had two sons—Simon, who is noticed below, and Waltheof (d 1159) [q. v.], who was abbot of Melrose. A daughter Maud married Robert FitzRichard of Tonbridge.

There are some  ancestry and genealogy sources that list Simon as son of Ranulf “The Rich” De St. Liz. According to these sources, Ranulf was born about 1030, died 1080. His wife Ermengarde  was born circa 1033. They had one son, Simon De Senlis/De St. Liz. These other sources list Ranulf’s father as Foulques Senlis who was born circa 955.  These accountings would match somewhat closely the information listed for Simon’s Grandfather being one Foulques De Senlis. The discrepancy comes in Simon’s Father either being Laudrie or Ranulf. Both versions give his Mother’s name as Ermangarde. It’s possible that Laudrie and Ranulf are the same person and there is just a discrepancy or some confusion over Laudri’s name being either Laudri or Ranulf. This confusion could stem from mixing up the two differing versions of Simon’s ancestry.

Some researchers have attempted to link Simon to a different Ranulf the Rich. These researchers have used Ranulf (Ranulph) “The Rich” DeMeschines (Viscount De Bayeux) (1021-1089) as the Father of Simon De Senlis. The problem with this connection is that these are two different Ranulph the Riches. Ranulph “The Rich” DeMeschines, Viscount De Bayeux is documented as having married Alice/Alix of Normandy who was an illegitimate daughter of Richard III of Normandy. If you look into the documented history for Ranulf, Viscount of Bayeux there is no connection to Simon DeSenlis or the DeSenlis family.

Ranulf, Viscount of Bayeux was known better as Ranulf de Briquessart (or Ranulf the Viscount) (died c. 1089 or soon after) was an 11th-century Norman magnate and viscount. Ranulf’s family were connected to the House of Normandy by marriage, and, besides Odo, bishop of Bayeux, was the most powerful magnate in the Bessin region.  He married Margaret, daughter of Richard Goz, viscount of the Avranchin, whose son and successor Hugh d’Avranches became Earl of Chester in England c. 1070.  This Ranulf died in 1089 and his son was His son Ranulf le Meschin became ruler of Cumberland and later Earl of Chester. The Durham Liber Vitae, c. 1098 x 1120, shows that his eldest son was one Richard, who died in youth, and that he had another son named William.  He also had a daughter called Agnes, who later married Robert (III) de Grandmesnil (died 1136). 

Another source of evidence to support Simon De Senlis’ Father as Laudri or Landri De Senlis comes from the  Dictionary of the nobility, containing the genealogies, the history …, Vol. 3, p. 65; Lords and Viscount de Senlis, Senlis Bouteiller, by Stephen Pattou, 2003, p. 2

Spouses / Children:
Ermengarde

  • Guy I of Senlis, called “The Tower”, lord of Chantilly .. +
  • Hubert de Senlis, canon of Notre-Dame de Paris
  • Simon I SENLIS (ST. LIZ), Earl of Huntingdon and Northampton +

 Landri of Senlis, knight, lord of Chantilly Ermenonville

  • Married:
  • Died: Between 1070 and 1080

   Landry Senlis, I. name, Knight, Lord & Ermenonville Chantilly, married, in the reign of King Philip I, a lady named Ermengarde, where he had three sons who inherited his property after his death in the year 1080: – -1. Gui, which follows – 2. Hubert, Canon of Notre-Dame de Paris, named in the title of 1119 – 3.Simon, who went to England, where he was the branch of the Counts Hu [n] Huntingdon & Northampton, reported below.

   Marriage Information:

Landry married Ermengarde.

 

I know this is probably getting confusing for many of you who may not be as interested or familiar with genealogy. I will try to simplify and clarify the confusing matters a little as well as get into why this is important in tracing Simon DeSenlis back further to the DeSenlis families connected to Rollo and Poppa.  In researching family histories this far back where this is little documented evidence or proof, it becomes somewhat more like a crime scene investigation or suspect profiling! You need to pay close attention to all of  various clues that show up in different versions or documents pertaining to the person, the family, events of the time and even to those others they might be associated with. You need to be more detective/ researcher and less record keeper/copier, scribe or sheep. 

The basic facts we are certain of are that one Simon DeSenlis was born about 1065-68 and died between 1109-1113. His life after 1080 was well documented and accounted for. More than one source or account lists his parents as Laudri/Landry DeSenlis and wife Ermangarde so it is reasonable to make a connection and assumption for this being Simon’s family line. 

 I am not so much interested in the concrete absolute facts because I know there are few if any of those. What I am looking for is more of a plausibility or feasibility factor or link that would show  a possible connection between Simon DeSenlis’ family and William’s family back to Rollo and Poppa’s generation. I believe that I have already provided evidence that ties Simon and his immediate family to some closer connection with William. 

There are some sources that mention Simon’s Father and possibly a brother arriving in England with William on his initial invasion in 1066. The brothers are not listed in the Domesday book so it could be assumed that they both returned to Normandy after the initial battles. Laudri’s information lists him as being Knight, Lord & Ermenonville Chantilly with his eldest son, Gui presumably inheriting that title. The second son, Hubert went to the Church as Canon of  Notre-Dame de Paris. As a third son, Simon would most likely have had to look elsewhere for title, wealth or lands. If the family had connections to William, this would have been an opportune time for William to assist the family in carving out a destiny for young Simon. Laudri may have aided William and participated in the invasion of England with him but as he already had lands and title, he might have been happy to return home after that first invasion. He may have seen no reason to stay on in England during those early years. Simon was born during these early years of the conquest so it is possible that rather than seek reward or title for himself in England that he did not need or want, Laudri chose instead to have William bestow any reward or favor on this third son who would be in need of title and wealth.  Laudri’s place of birth and death are listed as Senlis, Oise, Picardie, France. As I have mentioned previously, there is some confusion as to Laudri’s name being Laudri or possibly as in some other sources, Ranulf… all of the other information for the two different names is the same (except for the faction that tries to connect Ranulf to Ranulf of Bayeux and we have already discussed that confusion!)

Laudri’s Father is listed as Foulques De Senlis in more than one source and there is some documentation of a Foulques DeSenlis born 988 died 1050 with a son listed as Landry DeSenlis.  This foulques was also listed as living in Senlis, Oise, Picardie.  Foulque’s Father is listed as Rothold DeSenlis born abt 958 and died before 1045 at Senlis. Bear with me please… we are almost at our point of interest or possible connection to Rollo and Poppa!

Rothold’s Father is listed as Bernard II DeSenlis, born about 919 died abt 1000 at Senlis. Now, it does stand to reason that if there was a Bernard II, then there must have been a Bernard I of Senlis? This brings us back to the Bernard of Senlis mentioned in the beginning of this discussion… You know, the one Bernard DeSenlis that I mentioned early on in connection to Rollo and Poppa. Let’s refresh some of our dates here for this to begin to make some sense. Rollo was born about 850, died abt 827-830. Poppa was born around 870 and died abt 930. Let’s also go back to that alternate version of Poppa’s genealogy- you know the one where it lists her as being a daughter of  one Gui, Count of Senlis and sister of a Bernard of Senlis… Hopefully you are beginning to see some connection?  This name of Gui shows up again in the later generation of Simon’s family where Simon’s older brother is named Gui or Guy so it may be an indication of a generational name being passed down.

Bernard II DeSenlis has listed as his Father, a Bernard I born 875 and died sometime after 928 in France. All of the various genealogies listed become quite sketchy and extremely muddy at this point and it’s difficult to sift through all of the irregularities and possibilities for confusing supposed family members. Most of the versions do however, seem to connect Bernard II and his Father, Bernard I back eventually to the same families and lineages mentioned in the alternate version of Poppa’s genealogy. If we sort through all of the possible inaccuracies and look for common threads, those common threads of similar names, locations and titles give us a fairly good idea of Poppa’s general family connections to the houses, dynasties or territories of early Francia such as Senlis, Vermandois, Chantilly, Soissons, Champagne but not Bayeux.   Some history alludes to the idea that Poppa was “captured” during a battle at Bayeux so perhaps that is how she got connected to Bayeux. It may have been a case where Poppa was with Rollo during this campaign that took place some time between 887 and 889. She may have already been his wife or concubine and some might have assumed that if she was not a Dane, she must be a captive or slave of his. And, realistically she may have initially been in a position of hostage/captive or security of some sort to ensure payment or alliance from her family. The problem or question that ever remains is just which family… 

To put the history, the possible family connections and how they might have come about into some perspective, it might help to look at Rollo’s earliest known history in Francia and some maps of the areas involved. During 885/86 Rollo was involved in a siege of Paris. The siege was not successful but rather than fight the Viking group, King Charles the fat instead encouraged and allowed the group to travel down the Seine to ravage Burgandy which was in revolt at the time. When the Vikings withdrew from France the next spring, he gave them 700 livres (pounds) of silver as promised. In some context, this shows that the Frankish rulers were not above using Viking raiders to their own benefit and advantage in setting them up to attack territories that might be some threat to them. They were more than willing to enter into agreements or alliances with these groups and use them as a sort of paid mercenary group to thwart their own personal enemies or oppositions.  If King Charles was not above this type of action, it would stand to reason that other local leaders would be willing to do the same.  The Viking raiders were not unfamiliar with the leaders of Francia. They were an ongoing, fairly constant presence in the area as far back as prior to 845. By 885 when Rollo’s group began their siege of Paris, bribery and payoffs to the raiding groups was a common practice and one might even assume that by this time each groups’ rulers, leaders and politics were well-known to each other. 

The siege of 885 lasted through 885 and well into 886. During that time, various Viking groups would venture out to other areas including  Le Mans, Chartres,  Evreux and into the Loire. This would have put them in the areas of  Senlis, Champagne, Picardie, Soissons and other places associated with Poppa’s family connections. Their time spent on the river Seine would have taken them through areas around Brittany and Bayeux, thus putting them in the middle of the unrest going on there as a result of King Saloman’s murder in the late 870s.  Some time in late 886 or 887, Rollo’s group did leave Paris but that does not mean he left Francia. From most accounts, he remained in Francia throughout this time raiding in different parts. If he spent this amount of time in the area, he most likely began to settle himself there, develop a name and reputation for himself and build some alliances even though those alliances may have been shaky at first and been a result of his “working” relationship or associations based on the business of mercenaries or being paid not to raid…

If you look at the locations on maps, you will see the close proximity of all the places and how the leading families may have formed uneasy alliances or waged wars against each other in land disputes.

This ancient map shows the areas of Vermandois in relation to areas of what would eventually become Rollo’s land of Normandy. Bayeux is situated on the coast within that area. It also shows the close vicinity of Bayeux to Neustria and Brittany or Bretagne.

map of ancient france

This map shows the region of Picardy in relation to Paris and to Normandy, as well as the Champagne area.

france

This is a detailed map showing the separate lands or holdings within Picardy with Senlis being the closest to the borders of what would become Normandy. 

Picardie_adm

Finally, this map shows a better representation of  Senlis in relation to Rouen and Paris.

Senlis on map with Rouen and Paris

I have stated numerous times through out this discussion that there is no absolute conclusive evidence or proof for either Poppa’s family connections or in later generations, Simon DeSenlis’ family connections. My main intent  in this article is merely to suggest that  possibility or plausibility for Poppa’s alternative family connections and that those connections lead to the possible and plausible connection to the DeSenlis family.  Perhaps one day there will be some concrete definitive answer to the puzzles of this history and ancestry, most likely though it will remain an ongoing mystery that people with connections to these lineages will continue to debate. The progresses made in the field of genealogical DNA testing may eventually provide some answers to possible  blood line connections or matches. I have submitted my DNA sample for testing and waiting for results but I really do not expect those results to give any conclusive evidence or answer to this particular puzzle. I think that for the most part, this history and ancestry will remain subjective and dependent on each individual’s personal perspective on the history and people involved. 

My last thoughts on all of this more factual accounting of history have to do with the fiction and fantasy aspect of it. These thoughts are for the Vikings Saga fans of Rollo’s character… We have seen the beginning of Rollo’s arrival in the Frankish world according to Michael Hirst’s version and creative take on the events. Hirst has given us what I believe so far, is a combined version of Poppa and Gisla where Gisla takes prominence and gains some identity or credit rather than Poppa. How that relationship plays out is yet to be seen. We will see this in season 4. What we will also hopefully see is the development of Rollo’s alliances and friendships with those Viking men who remain with him, and with those men of Francia that he must eventually make friends or alliances with in order to succeed in creating and building Normandy. I am reasonably certain that we will most probably not see any actual characterization of one such as Bernard DeSenlis- that in my humble little mind would just be too much to hope for or expect. What I do hope to see is some unfolding is some combination of people in a character that might represent varied facets or bits of actual history.

Roland's role in the story

During the last episodes of season 3, we were vaguely introduced to a character named Roland who we know little about as yet.  Huw Parmenter will be returning as Roland in season 4 and I am anxious to see how his character of Roland fits into the story as Rollo’s life begins in Francia.  From what little we were able to discern or conclude of him in season 3, he is one of Odo’s soldiers and there seems to be some connection between him and Gisela. What that connection might be is a mystery right now. At this point we have no idea what Roland’s story really is? Is he a future villain or foe of Rollo, is he a future friend? What is his connection to Gisela, Charles and Odo… is he some family or relative, or is he some lovesick champion or supporter of Gisela?  What we have seen briefly is him carrying out Odo’s orders, a few subtly foreshadowing scenes of him with Gisela, Charles and Odo but no real definitive clues as to his future role. 

gisla has trouble tearing herself away from the scene even as this man Roland urges her to leave

gisla has trouble tearing herself away from the scene even as this man Roland urges her to leave

and here again we have a long pause on Roland

and here again we have a long pause on Roland

do and roland visit the camp to find out why they have not left yet

Odo and roland visit the camp to find out why they have not left yet

roland, a man to keep an eye on in the future

roland, a man to keep an eye on in the future

Roland's story

Roland’s story is yet to come so we can only make guesses as to what his part in the story will be. These are just my personal thoughts on how his story might play out. I could be completely wrong on this, so please do not hold me to this guess! Roland’s name and his current position within the Royal court suggest some nod, tribute or imaginative illusive reference to a historical legendary figure of Roland who was a military leader under Charlemagne who became one of the principal figures in the literary cycle known as the Matter of France. You can read more about the history and legend of Roland in a previous post:

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/09/05/prussia-saxony-and-roland-part-2/

Perhaps our character of Roland will become a future friend or ally for Rollo… It stands to some reason that Rollo is going to need some Frankish alliances or friends. He has already made comments in far previous episodes that he understands the importance of alliances… he made such comment in a discussion with Floki about Aethelwulf. If Hirst is setting Roland up as this type of relationship with Rollo then Roland could be a representation of some of those early Frankish men such as Bernard DeSenlis. The DeSenlis line had ties to Charlemagne so would fit into some representation that Roland might possibly portray depending on how Hirst decides to tell the story! He has already set up sort of connection in his combining of Poppa and Gisela. If he presents Roland as some family connection to Gisela rather than some thwarted loved interest, then by making Roland an ally we would see the representation or connection mentioned in history about Bernard DeSenlis being a relative of Poppa’s and of him being one of Rollo’s comrades or companions from the earliest year. If he then carried the story forward, this would feasibly set Roland up as having some role as events of the future might play out in Normandy. As I’ve said, these are just my personal thoughts and wishful thinking about Roland’s character- I would love to see it play out in this way as some underlying tribute or nod to my family connection and version of the history!