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Vikings Saga: Kweni’s Destiny and legacy

I wrote much of this when Kweni met her end but did not publish it then because I wanted to see what direction Michael Hirst would go with the future of her son. For me personally, Kweni’s death in some ways served as a turning point, a sign of the changes to come and the ending fates that so many of this older generation will meet. As we come to the end of a chapter or era with the death of Ragnar, I feel it only fitting to first look at those last days of Kweni and how her death would ultimately affect the future of those left behind.  While we do not know where exactly Hirst will go with Kweni’s young son, his future is directly related to the events, the actions and the choices of Kweni in those last days of her life.

kwenis-destiny

 

Our loveable but undeniably somewhat unhinged Princess Kwentirith of Mercia met a tragic but necessary end. I say necessary because I wondered for some time what her fate would be in the creative mind of Mr. Hirst. While I am so saddened at the way Kweni met her end, I personally applaud Michael Hirst for the direction he took with this woman who’s life seemed set upon such a doomed course from the beginning. I have written previously about historical reference for Kweni’s existence and the role of that actual historical figure in the life of  the real Ecbert. 

You can read my thoughts on the historical basis for Kweni here:

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

For more information on the actual history of Ecbert and his actions regarding that princess of Mercia in this article:

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

the return of kwentrith

the return of kwentrith

kwentirith talk to me of love and death

kwentirith's thought you don't fool me or anyone else I know what you're up to

kwentirith’s thought you don’t fool me or anyone else I know what you’re up to

Kwentirith as future ruler

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

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

We have watched this tragic figure of Kweni from her early beginnings a more than slightly crazed young woman scrambling to achieve some semblance of power and control in a world dominated by men. There were times when we shook our heads at her insatiable cravings and her impulsive behaviors that we could obviously see were getting her only into more trouble.

kwentirith shows off her dancing skills

kwentirith shows off her dancing skills

a drunken kwentirith celebrating her uncle's death Kwentirith unleashing her savagery on Uncle britwulf's head

We were made aware of her seriously troubled childhood and that past allowed us to feel some compassion for this young woman’s desperate attempts to gain back some sort of control over her life and her future.  There were times when we even began to appreciate her attempts and hope for her success. Last season we saw her finally claw her way to that throne of Mercia and we wondered if there might indeed be some way for this woman, as deranged as she might be, to actually survive and win against the equally deranged and much more powerful Ecbert; Ecbert,  who was willing to go so far as sacrificing his son Aethelwulf in order to win against Kweni. 

my-father-this-my-father-that-really-aethelwulf-how-old-are-you-do-you-not-have-a-thought-in-your-head-of-your-own how-old-are-you-aethelwulf kweni-ohhhh-stop-yelling-you-fool i-think-you-may-know-him-ragnar-lothbrok let-me-present-my-son-prince-magnus

What we saw this season was difficult and sad to watch because Kweni finally seemed to have a grasp on the throne of Mercia and on her sanity as well. We saw Kweni at her strongest and at her most vulnerable. I admit that when we saw Kweni become a Mother last season, I had some serious doubts about her Motherly instincts and her ability to raise a child. This season we saw that Kweni’s greatest strength and also her greatest weakness came with Motherhood. She fought like a warrior to protect her son and she became desperate enough to risk everything for his survival and future. Kweni may have suffered from the dysfunction and the insanity that ravaged her family but her last actions were those of a Mother willing to give up everything including her life to protect her child. 

kwenis-found-her-battle-mode kwenis-guards-get-their-orders-to-kill-the-queen kweni-fights-back-with-the-rage-of-a-mother kweni-does-have-a-motherly-instinct-after-all-nobody-messes-with-her-baby aethelwulf-finally-makes-it-to-the-top-of-the-tower-to-rescue-damsel-kweni-copy

One of the most bittersweet parts of Kweni’s final story besides that of her fight for her son was that she finally found love and true affection as she put it, with Aethelwulf.  Aethelwulf was probably the one man who could understand her behaviors that stemmed from her childhood of being raised in such an environment of others seeking control and domination by any means necessary. It was that affection that even brought Kweni a friend- probably for the first time in her life.

kweni-feels-she-must-make-her-confession-to-judith judith-already-knows-that-the-child-kweni-is-carrying-is-athelwulfs-and-probably-doesnt-really-care

kweni-wants-judiths-help-to-escape-from-ecbert-now-that-is-another-matter-entirely-copy-2 kwenis-attempt-to-escape-has-failed judith-watches-as-kweni-is-dragged-away

And, in the end it was that unlikely friendship with Judith that led to Kweni’s end. For me, that ending was by far the most painful, heart wrenching scene to watch. 

kweni-is-desperate-and-desperate-times-call-for-desperate-measures-copy-2 kweni-has-reached-the-point-of-no-return-with-her-desperate-measures-copy-copy

 

I knew from the onset of Ecbert taking Kweni and her son in, and holding them as hostage that there was really not much hope for Kweni’s continued presence at this court… there were few options for her short of Ecbert himself marrying her. As in actual history, Ecbert refused to even entertain this option or idea. For Kweni that left an escape or banishment to Francia which Ecbert may have allowed eventually but that option would have been certain to not include her son. Little Magnus was far too important to Ecbert’s schemes to let him out of his grasp. The one other impediment to Kweni being allowed to leave was the fact that she was carrying Aethelwulf’s child… had she not been pregnant, Ecbert may chosen that option of banishing her. He could not afford to let her go with the possibility of her having another royal heir to use as some leverage against him. So, Kweni is held to await the birth of a child that she will never be allowed to raise…  Kweni’s final days and acts of desperation set in as she realizes that she is doomed.  My personal thought on her final act is that she knew she was doomed to certain death but she would take Ecbert with her as her last final revenge. 

 

kwenis-laugh-turns-to-tears-as-she-realizes-her-position-copy

kwenis laugh turns to tears as she realizes her position.

someone-else-has-taken-matters-into-hand-with-kweni-copy

Someone else has taken matters into hand with Kweni

judith-has-stepped-in-and-saved-ecberts-life-but-now-kwenis-death-is-on-her-hands-and-heart

Judith has stepped in to save Ecbert’s life but now Kweni’s death is on her hands and her heart.

kwenis-words-ohhhh-judith

Kweni’s last faint words, Ohhhh Judith

What no one expected was that Judith would  have to be the one responsible for Kweni’s end. The look on both of their faces as they silently said that last goodbye to each other was heart breaking. But, as heart breaking as it was, it also held some symbolism and odd appropriateness. Kweni’s death was a given, she was doomed if by nothing else, the very fact that she was attempting to kill the King. Had she succeeded in her attempt or even been caught by anyone else, she would have been publicly arrested and executed most likely in front of everyone including her son. Instead of that fate, Kweni was killed by the one person she counted as friend. Her end came via the one person who would look into her eyes at that very end and convey some feeling of grief, of loss and guilt. Kweni’s death at the hand of Judith may possibly be the one salvation or grace for her son… Will Judith’s guilt at this killing be enough for her to offer some compassion and kindness to the child that Ecbert holds hostage for the future?  I would like to believe that Judith will look after this child, Magnus and provide him with some measure of love and kindness that might not be in Ecbert’s heart or mentality. The last we hear of Magnus is that he is being raised at the court of Ecbert and that it is public knowledge that Ragnar is his Father.  My worry is that without some intervention by one such as Judith would be capable of, this childhood for Magnus could be every bit as painful, dysfunctional and damaging as Kweni’s childhood was for her. 

As I previously mentioned, I wrote this portion when Kweni died. Now years later, we finally see the events, the fate and the destiny begin to play out. The child, Magnus has been raised in Ecbert’s household and for all outward appearances, it seems he has been well treated by Ecbert, Aethelwulf and Judith. He has been told of his lineage as far as everyone there knows. This boy believes he is the son of Ragnar Lothbrok- he knows no different although Ecbert admits that he’s always had some doubts about this? Probably because this boy seems to lack the “Warrior” gene?  

The meeting between young Magnus and Ragnar is to say the least, difficult to watch. As I mentioned, this boy truly believes that Ragnar is his Father and he looks forward to finally meeting the man he has been told so much about, even if that man is being held chained in a cage. Despite that, Magnus is proud to be a son of Ragnar…

ecbert-and-magnus

magnus-speaks-his-heart-to-ragnar

Ragnar puts a first cut into the boy’s emotions when he adamantly denies that he is his Father. 

ragnar-denies-that-he-is-magnus-father

Ragnar denies that he is Magnus’ Father

puzzled-and-confused-magnus

Magnus is of course puzzled, confused and hurt at this statement from Ragnar.

Now, I do have to add my own thought here… this boy seems to be a bit naive and sheltered from the realities of the world that he is living in. Apparently Magnus does not appear to be aware that living in Wessex, being the son of Ragnar Lothbrok the great Viking is not necessarily a thing to be proud of or advertising? So, Ragnar may be telling the truth, or he may be lying in order to somehow protect the boy. What ever the case, it is just the first hard dose of reality the boy must suddenly face!

The next dose of reality is just as difficult to watch… Magnus seems to have some decent relationship with Aethelwulf until Aethelwulf deals him an ultimate blow of supposed betrayal? In this boy’s mind, what else can he think this action by Aethelwulf is? Granted, Aethelwulf may also be trying to save the boy’s life in the only way he thinks possible by sending him out into the world on his own now to become a man. I’m pretty certain though that at this point in his life, that is not how Magnus is viewing it. As I already mentioned, this boy seems quite naive and does not comprehend just how precarious his fate is right now. The one thing that bothered me about this action by Aethelwulf is the fact that he tells Magnus to tell people he is the son of Ragnar and that they will help him… Really, Aethelwulf, how far is this boy going to get in the middle of Wessex by admitting to anyone he meets that he is the son of Ragnar! This just seems to be setting the boy up for a certain death as he attempts to wander his way through Wessex. A far better piece of advice to the boy would have been, “Tell no one who you really are or where you come from!”  Unless of course, Aethelwulf has some other plan of escape or rescue for the boy set up, this advice made no sense what so ever! Also, looking at the situation from the perspective of this boy being extremely naive and not much of a warrior type, I can not envision this boy surviving very long on his own without some sort of back up plan on Aethelwulf’s part…

aethelwulf-sends-magnus-out-on-his-own-to-become-a-man-its-time-for-you-to-leave-you-have-no-choice

Aethelwulf sends Magnus away out into the world on his own. “It’s time for you to leave, to become a man, you have no choice.

but-where-wil-i-go-magnus-asks-aethelwulf

Magnus asks Aethelwulf, “But where will I go”

destiny-will-guide-you-where-ever-you-go-you-tell-people-you-are-magnus-the-son-of-ragnar-lothbrok-and-people-will-look-after-you

Destiny will guide you. Where ever you go, you tell people you are Magnus, the son of Ragnar Lothbrok and people will look after you.

magnus-scared-and-heartbroken

Magnus, scared and heartbroken tries to hold fast to Aethelwulf

aethelwulf-goes-so-far-as-to-threaten-the-boy-with-death-start-walking-you-start-walking-now-or-you-will-die

When Magnus tries to refuse, Aethelwulf goes so far to threaten him, “Start walking, you start walking now or you will die!”

a-fearful-magnus-there-are-animals-in-the-woods-aethelwulf-whispers-there-are-animals-inside

A fearful Magnus says, There are animals in the woods. Aethelwulf whispers to him, There are animals within this Villa!

 

Kweni  risked everything to protect and save her son only for him to be cast out into the cold on his own with no understanding of why… Hopefully his fate and his destiny will not follow a similar path as his Mother’s!

kwenis-son-magnus

 

 

 

Time travel dilemma: From Last Kingdom to Vikings Saga and back again…

****Warning**** Spoilers involved in this post for Last Kingdom series and Vikings Saga!

Ahhhh Okay, I wrote this post quite some time ago and never got it finished… Many of you are probably thinking to yourselves, “Why bother with it now since we’ve already seen what happens with the Vikings return?”  Well, yes we have seen what happened when the Vikings returned to Paris but we have also been given a glimpse further into a future that will coincide on some level with the events taking place in that parallel universe of The Last Kingdom. We have also been given an interesting clue that directly relates to the premise of this original post. While much of the anticipation and preview concerns the sons of Ragnar, there is one other very important young man that did not get included in the preview of the future. Just because you did not see him does not mean that he will not be important to that future when the next generation  heads  to England. Everyone is so entranced and fascinated with others such as Ivar or even Ubbe that they pay little attention to others who will play an important part and role in the events that take place in England.

 

adult sons of Ragnar

adult sons of Ragnar

Ivar

Ivar

Ubbe

Ubbe

 

I  admit that after my first visual immersion into the Last Kingdom world, I had difficulty transitioning back to the Vikings Saga world. When I wrote this piece back in October, I knew that I would have some trouble adjusting to the altering worlds and their differences. Now that I have experienced the first half of Vikings Season 4 and had some time to adjust to it, I find that some of my earlier thoughts actually have merit and possibility here in this fantasy world of revised history.

 Before I present this prequel type narrative, I want to take time to give some praise and credit to Mr. Hirst for his work on this season so far.  As most of you who read this blog know, I have at times been rather critical of Hirst’s creative license and adaptation of history. What I saw in the first half of this season was some redirection on his part back from the all out historical fantasy realm. True to his assurances, he has steered Rollo in a direction that more accurately portrays his history… yes he did have to put Rollo in that most difficult position of much hated betrayer of his own people but in my opinion, he has done so in a way that also shows Rollo’s inner struggle with that decision- one that I believe will come full circle in the second half of the season.

At the end of the battle Rollo is in pain emtionally as well as physically

At the end of the battle Rollo is in pain emtionally as well as physically

 

I also appreciated the historical aspects that Hirst touched on with Ecbert’s power play in Mercia as well as little Alfred’s pilgrimage to Rome. I will discuss all of this in future posts.  

Wigstan to ecbert you shelter for your own interests and purpose another of my mad descendents Kwentirith whose only claim to the throne is by way of killing her uncle and her own brothers.

Wigstan to ecbert you shelter for your own interests and purpose another of my mad descendents Kwentirith whose only claim to the throne is by way of killing her uncle and her own brothers.

For now, I want to stick to the subject that I originally wrote this post about so many months ago. As I spent time in the Last Kingdom, I became quite fond of one Viking in particular, Guthrum.  As my time there came to an end for an undetermined and unforeseeable future, I found myself torn between him and my other loyalty, Rollo.  People scoff at this loyalty and often accuse me of being a betrayer and traitor… I know that I must hold my head up and stand firm in spite of these words. There have of course been instances as well where my stand for Guthrum has been questioned but I stand firm in that too. In some ways, the two of them are quite similar- their early pasts are not much known about, they went their own ways and made compromises to their Viking beliefs in order to accomplish their personal goals of victory and success. Both Guthrum and Rollo accepted Christianity (at least on the surface) to reap the benefits that the Church backing would bring them…

The importance and the future of Guthrum

The importance and the future of Guthrum

As you read through my earlier thoughts and my dilemma at the time, you will find historical information- as much as there is- on Guthrum which may help you in figuring out his role and his his historical importance or relevance in both the Last Kingdom and in the future of the Vikings Saga.  I do need to say here that since so little is actually known about his early history, I have no qualms or issues with Hirst’s creative license with his back story! I am looking forward to seeing Hirst’s version of him, although I readily admit that I am most partial to the Guthrum I already now know in Last Kingdom. Hirst has his work cut out for him as far as presenting me with a version of Guthrum that comes close to the one I already know!

Guthrum God of rome strike me down

 

My earlier time travel dilemma (written back at the end of October)

In just a few months, I shall be packing my bags and heading back to France to join my friend Rollo as he follows his destiny in founding the Kingdom of Normandy. I am having a worrisome visit here in Wessex. Things are not going so well here even though this King Alfred will soon achieve some glory and begin his life long quest to unite England. This land is in the midst of upheaval and war between Saxons and Danes right now… much a different place than when I visited Ecbert’s home earlier. I think this Standing Stone method of time travel has some flaws in it? I truly believe now that they send us not only to different points in time, but to some sort of parallel version of history as well. I had my suspicions about it previously but now I am quite sure of it… When next I return to the future, I am going to have a serious discussion about this with that Mrs. Graham of Craig Na Dun Time Travels!  

craigh_na_dun_time tours

I will share more of what has happened in this Wessex with Alfred, the Dane Guthrum and the warrior Uhtred later. Right now I want to share some thoughts on what I may find when I return to Rollo and those other Vikings.  I hear much speculation, assumption and even accusations on what Rollo’s actions may bring in the future. I also hear many rumors and assurances from a certain other authority that Rollo’s destiny and story will play out as our history reflects it. In the midst of all these swirling rumors and predictions, I have also heard another King will make arrival… a Norse King by the name of Harald Finehair and his brother Halfdan the Black will be showing up, for reasons as yet unknown.  I make mention of these Norsemen because I do wonder what their story will entail, what reason will they have for their appearance and of what consequence if any, will this be for Rollo?  I do not presume to know the future… or the past in this case. I am not a seer, although there be some in these times who have suspicions about me because occasionally this altered state of history makes some match with what I know of our version of history.  

Right now, I am sitting here somewhat rather comfortable and safe for the time being in the sanctuary and seclusion of a Viking version of  Royal residence.  I can not say more but will only leave it at this… I shall never complain about Viking camps again after having spent some time with Alfred’s group in the swamps!

Eilswith in the swamp

I can not say which was worse, living in the swamp or having to endure that Eahlswith’s company for a length of time. The time spent with her was intolerable and being unable to take any more of it, I sought my refuge instead with Guthrum of East Anglia! I enjoy his company and he enjoys mine… we shall leave it at that. He has ensured my safety and has offered protection as I attempt to find a suitable place from which to make my next journey.   In the past I have used various standing stone sites and even some ancient boat burial grounds. My current dilemma is finding such a suitable site here in East Anglia during Guthrum’s time. Were I still in Wessex or any western portions of the Isle, I should have no difficulty finding sites, for they are plentiful in other regions of the land. But, here in Guthrum’s Kingdom of East Anglia, there are few such Stone circles or most ancient of sites. 

My other dilemma is of course the time line and trying to ensure that I arrive in the same altered place and time that my other Viking friends are in. That may be the most difficult problem to solve since I do firmly believe that other place and time is very seriously altered as far as it’s time, events and people. The history that I reside in right now is fairly stable and reasonably accurate as far as people and events. That does not make it any easier to live here but at least I have some idea of what will take place and I can also be reasonably certain of travel points which will fit my needs and send me where I need to go back and forth in time. It is that oddity of time lines that I am concerned about right now.

Here with Guthrum, I know well the time and area that I am residing in.  The year is 878 and Guthrum recently signed the Treaty of  Wedmore with Alfred. 

Guthrum gets baptized

Guthrum gets baptized

guthrum: I've heard mention of this heaven

guthrum: I’ve heard mention of this heaven

Under the Treaty of Wedmore the borders dividing the lands of Alfred and Guthrum were established, and perhaps more importantly, Guthrum converted to Christianity and took on the Christian name Æthelstan with Alfred as his godfather. Guthrum’s conversion to Christianity served as an oath or legal binding to the treaty, making its significance more political than religious.  Politically, of course, Guthrum’s conversion to Christianity did nothing to loosen the Danish hold on the lands that Guthrum had already acquired via conquest.  Instead it not only garnered Guthrum recognition among Christian communities he ruled, but also legitimized his own authority and claims. By adopting the Christian name of Æthelstan, which was also the name of Alfred’s eldest brother, Guthrum’s conversion “reassured” his newly acquired subjects that they would continue to be ruled by a Christian king rather than a heathen chieftain.

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

I also know that I could remain here fairly safe under Guthrum’s protection for some time if I were so inclined to do so. Guthrum will uphold his end of this treaty. Guthrum upheld his end of the treaty and left the boundary that separated the Danelaw from English England unmolested. Guthrum, although failing to conquer Wessex, turned towards the lands to the east that the treaty had allotted under his control free of interference by Alfred. Guthrum withdrew his army from the western borders facing Alfred’s territory and moved eastward before eventually settling in the Kingdom of Guthrum in East Anglia in 879. He lived out the remainder of his life there until his death in 890. According to the Annals of St Neots (ed. D. Dumville and M. Lapidge, Cambridge 1984), a Bury St Edmunds compilation, Guthrum was buried at Headleage, usually identified as Hadleigh, Suffolk.

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

kingdom of guthrum mapalfred1

I know that I can travel safely throughout this area of East Anglia that Guthrum controls, but to go elsewhere in the land right now would be unwise and unsafe as Guthrum reminds me. The battles and wars will continue on for some length of time throughout much of the land. Guthrum can only guarantee safety to a certain extent and does not want to provoke or incite any additional revolt or uprising just to ensure my protection in travel to a place because of my odd whimsy… He has stated that he would prefer that I just remain where I am but because of his regard for me, is willing to indulge this strange fascination of mine regarding ancient monuments and such . So, I must find a place within our realm that may or may not connect me to that other realm that Rollo is now residing in.

Along with finding such a site, I must also find some connection between the two realms such as some sort of factual information shared by both realms even though the timelines may be different.  I must look at the times, the people and the events which took place in that other realm and find some connection here in this history.  There is so much that is distorted in that other realm of Viking history, including of course the major issue of the timeline… how do I determine a connection to get me back to the correct place?  When I made the journey from there to here, I used those Stones in Wessex and thus landed into this more accurate history. I would have to assume then that those Stones predate all of these changes in timelines and history- they would thus take me back and forth between time and between realms in accordance with my thoughts. Tis extremely complicated and difficult, this time travel process- do not assume that it is as easy as just walking through the Stones!  As I mentioned, those Stones of Wessex are not available to me, nor are any people of Wessex who might provide some sort of connection to that other past or realm. 

It is almost impossible to ascertain some linking time, place or person to that other Viking realm. Out of all of the people there, I would guess though that my friend Rollo is most out of place and time and he is the one person that I want to get back to. As far as I know, in that other Viking realm, the great Heathen Wars have not yet occured… Ecbert is still alive, Alfred is still a baby… that would put their time period feasibly around the years of 840 to 850s. In accurate history, Ecbert died long before Alfred’s birth. Ecbert died in 839 and Alfred was not born until about 849. Ragnar’s sons are still very young-far too young to yet be involved in those wars that began in 866, so my assumption of a time frame around early 850s might be close approximation except for Rollo.  Rollo in our history as we know it, was not born until about 846… putting him close to the same age as Alfred.  For some reason, I believe that if I look at Rollo and his history, that may be my key to getting back to him in that other realm. My reason for this is that a certain authority on the Rollo of that other realm of Vikings history (aka Michael Hirst) has implied many times that Rollo’s destiny and path there will remain fairly close to that of the history we know of him in this realm.  I keep thinking that perhaps if I know more about Rollo’s truer history, it might take me back to him in that other realm. I know it is far fetched reasoning, grasping at proverbial straws  but tis all I have to go on at the moment! I try to remember all that I have read about other versions of Rollo’s history in hopes of making some connection between the Rollo of this realm and the Rollo of that other place.  I keep thinking of all of this and it is driving me to distraction, of which Guthrum comments upon- asking me of where my mind wanders to so much of late.  Of course I can not tell him of everything- he already thinks I am touched by some spirits. His reasoning and comment on that is these spirits do not seem dangerous and other than my often strange ideas and ways, I am of entertaining and sometimes useful value to him so he pays it not much mind. 

As I ponder on Rollo of this history and Rollo of that other realm, I suddenly begin to wonder what Guthrum might know of the Rollo in this world, or possibly any others who might serve as some connection. As I have mentioned, the year here is now 878 looking towards 879 and Guthrum has some peace in this East Anglia. But, before this peace occurred he fought with many of the other Viking armies throughout the land, knew many of these warriors and probably still keeps some form of contact with some of them.  Perhaps Guthrum is my key to unlocking this puzzle? Why did not I not think of this earlier and realize that my spirit guides, my sisters of fate had set me on path to him for more reason than just to escape the confines of Eahlswith’s court and company. Guthrum is the one person who could be my link to that other version of history.  I must use Guthrum’s knowledge and possible connections to my own gain and advantage.

I am not so concerned right now about Alfred or the English for now though if I were to ask, Guthrum probably knows much more than he lets on about all of them.  I am more curious and interested in the Danes and others here who might prove to be of some connection to that other realm. Guthrum is happy to talk of his acquaintances, his comrades and the various victories they have achieved but talks seldom of any early connection he might have with any of them.  Of course, Ubba the great warrior son of Ragnar Lothbrok is dead now, as is his brother Ivar and another brother Halfdan. Guthrum sighed and shook his head as if to clear his thoughts, “Fine warriors all of them, now gone on to Valhalla together”  I ask him about the other brothers I had heard of such as Bjorn Ironside and Sigurd Snake in the eye… Guthrum thought again and said that  Bjorn did never come here and was not a part of these wars. “Bjorn has been occupied with his own raiding in other parts of the world.”  As for Sigurd, yes Guthrum did mention of him being with his brothers in the battles against Aelle and Osbert at Northumbria. Guthrum laughed and said how Sigurd was probably the wisest of all of them even though none thought so at the time… Sigurd took a daughter of Aelle as wife and returned to their homeland with her.  All of these things I had read varying accounts of in the future where they would appear in different versions of the Norse Sagas.  Guthrum was speaking of the basic beginnings of these events before they were embellished on over the centuries so I could see the truth in these events. But, none of this really helped me so I asked him of one other of which I knew and was most curious about. Did he know of a man called Rollo or Hrolfr Rognvaldsson?

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

This question caused Guthrum some puzzlement and then suspicion. “Why should you ask of him? How would you know of him, he is not part of this war, has sworn no oath or allegiance to any here and if he has fought it is only for his own personal gain…not that there is any wrong in that mind you, every man must look out for himself first, especially if as with Rollo, there is little family backing or love between them.”  He paused and still eyed me with some doubt before going on with what little he knew of this man Rollo. He had heard some stories that the man was a relative of Rognvald Eysteinsson whose family rules an Isle in the far north, Orkney. That family is bound and connected to Harald Fairhair, a King of Norway. Guthrum added, “There is little love between the Danes and the Norse, the only reason we have fought together here is to achieve an equal goal of land and wealth. Now that is some accomplished, we will try to avoid each other and stay to our separate territories. They can have those lands in the north, no one else should want them anyway!”  He laughed at that, then grew serious again. “This Rollo that I know of, he is a loner and seeking his own gain, fortune and reputation. He is not much attached to that family in the north or where ever… so there may have been some bad blood or feud along the way? He fights now for who ever serves him best. He has fought in some battles here, some in the north, and even some in Ireland.  Now he raids in Francia with Danes, Siegfried and his partner Godfried.”  Guthrum laughed and voiced a final thought, “I have heard that this Rollo is a man of such appearance that women are much attracted to him even when they should be fearful of his kind.  I think you have heard stories of him from other women and now ask about him because even you are curious and desire to see him. You must remain curious because I will not send you on to Francia and I do not think he plans to return to this land!” Guthrum paused before adding, “Besides I have heard that he has found a Frankish woman  that suits him well…” 

Rollo victorious

rollo to gisla don't be afraid... Gisla I can't wait for the games to begin

I just smiled and nodded my agreement. I assured him that was my only intent, womanly curiosity had gotten the best of me and I would be content to remain curious… He was not so gullible, did not fall for my agreement quite so easily. Before departing my company that night, his words were a sterner reminder. “You will remain in this land and there will be no trips across the sea!”

 

After his leaving, I am left alone again in the peaceful quiet of this room. Guthrum has gone to spend the evening with his warriors… the hall will be much noisy and boisterous with ale flowing. He has made his supposed commitment to the Christian God as per Alfred’s request and I do think that he has some belief but only as far as to count this God among the many others as so many others do the same. He puts on good display of this religion when need be but he allows his men the freedom of their own beliefs and he is far from the pious zealot that Alfred is. Guthrum’s court is far more friendly and merry to the point of raucous and rowdy. The few wives and women of this place generally retire to their rooms and allow the men their enjoyment. Guthrum believes that this time serves his men well. They gather together like this in some solidarity, celebrate their survival, release their pent up energies and frustrations.  Guthrum says that they need this time together and it makes for better warriors. He also says that in this way, they are all together in one place and he can watch them easier to see what is going on… once they have drunk some ale, he often sees who may be likely to cause trouble, which men do not get on with each other, who might be plotting betrayal and which men are truest and loyal to himself and to the Danes in general. 

I spend the rest of the evening thinking over what little information he has provided. It certainly is not much and I can see little value in it. Most of it, I already knew of and I can not see how it will help me.  His description of Rollo is vague and he professes not to know much about him or his history but for some reason I feel as though he is keeping something from me. What he does know though seems quite similar to my Rollo… some sort of troubled childhood and early family problems which have caused him to seek his own destiny separate from his family and hold few if any close family ties. He has been in this land before, involved in some battles and possibly made some other connections or acquaintances along the way but as Guthrum says, he is unlikely to return here and has chosen to seek his fortunes in Francia.  I remember Guthrum’s mention of those other men that Rollo has joined… Siegfried? Could that be the same Siegfried who was with us in Paris? My mind goes back to that battle and I must calm my nerves as the visions of that horror wash over me and leave me much shaken. I suddenly recall reading of Siegfried and this partner of his, Godfried! I dig through my chest to find my worn leather bag filled with scraps of  parchment, and anything else capable of being scratched and scribbled upon over the years. These writings are quickly strewn across my room as I search for one that contains the story of Siegfried and Godfried… finally I find it within a document about the Frankish city of Trier.

 

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/08/31/from-treveri-to-trier-from-celts-to-vikings/

vikings in trier1

I stare at the words on this parchment… this was the siege of Paris in which Rollo and Sigfried were involved. The one that eventually led to Rollo’s destiny of Normandy, the one that we were all at together. This is the time and place that I must somehow get to. It is only 879 right now so I suppose that I have two options. I could remain here with Guthrum in East Anglia for a few more years and try then to sail to Francia in the spring of 886, but that would really not work because I would arrive there at the right time but this would be a different version of the event and a different Rollo who would not know me at all. No, I must still try to find a way to travel to this other parallel and altered world in order to find the correct Rollo. I must either find some spot here in East Anglia to attempt the trip from or convince Guthrum to allow me to sail to Francia and find a spot there to attempt the trip forward in time and place. I do suppose that much of this will depend on what events will be taking place here in that future- how safe would it be for me to travel forward to that year and land in this place as it will be altered according to what ever is taking place in that other world? Along those same lines, I must try to think of what will be happening in Francia during that time and where would I even find a site in that region that might suit my needs? These are the very serious dilemmas that time travelers must concern themselves with! To further complicate the time travel issues, I must also contend with this matter of alternate realities and worlds.

I think on this problem for some time as I attempt to enjoy what time I have here with Guthrum. I know not if or when I might see him again and I do like him. He speaks little of his past and there are times when he reminds me of Rollo or who Rollo may become in the future.  It seems to me that Guthrum has done much like Rollo in putting distance between his past and even other Danes here now to achieve his own goals and his own fame or reputation. I know that he was and is a well respected warrior leader of these Danes but with this Kingdom of East Anglia, he has carved out his own place, is working to have peace here and is working towards some longer lasting goal for this Kingdom. He does not speak of the earliest years of this war or how he became leader of the Danish war chieftans, nor does he speak of how they managed to gain such foothold in East Anglia to begin with… His words are that it was war, a war in which difficult decisions must be made in order to win. His reason seems to be, first you must win enough to have equal balance or hopefully upper hand, then you can make concessions and negotiate for that which you truly desire. What ever his reasons or theories, they seem to have worked for him. I would like to tell him or warn him of the future- one that will not bode well for East Anglia.

I should like to warn him that this trouble and demise will come not from his own doing, but that of his somewhat less than capable young heir. I know next to nothing about this young man named Eohric but sometimes called Guthrum. This young man’s existence is somewhat similar to that of Ecbert and his son Aethelwulf…  Guthrum never speaks of a wife but does call this young man son at times… at others, he curses the boy wildly and refers to him as a waste of seed. He has on occasion commented that this Eohric is about as capable and trustworthy as that English by-blow Aethelwold. I hate to be bearer of such news that in the future, Eohric will indeed team up with Aethelwold and that will be the downfall of everything Guthrum has worked for.

Guthrum and Aethewold

Guthrum and Aethewold

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

 As I said, I should dearly like to warn him but I do not want to be considered as a seer… Guthrum has little time for that sort of nonsense and Ubba’s reliance upon seers is still fresh in his memory.

Ubba's sorcerer, Storri

Ubba’s sorcerer, Storri

Storri has learned the hard way do not mess with brida

Storri has learned the hard way do not mess with brida

No, tis bad enough that he thinks me a bit addled, it would not do for him to view me as a sorceress or seer! I would like to remain on his good side, in his good graces. All I do for now is try to suggest that he keep a firm eye and hand upon Eohric and try to steer him the right way. I think Guthrum knows the youth is much of a lost cause and disappointment but can not bring himself to completely set him aside… besides, there is no other heir at this point and Guthrum does not seem keen on naming anyone else who might prove as useless as Eohric. It is Guthrum’s problem and I can not concern myself with it- my problems are many enough as it is without trying to sort out all of his as well! 

For the time being, I content myself with traveling throughout East Anglia with Guthrum, learning more about this Kingdom, it’s people and it’s history. I keep hoping to find a site which might call to me and be a means of travel to that other time and place.  

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

All of those months of searching and wondering about some connection. Imagine my surprise and my relief  to find that the connection is indeed  with Guthrum himself! He seldom spoke of his past, his connection to the sons of Ragnar… it seemed to be a rather touchy subject with him that would oft put him in a foul mood so I did try to make no further mention of them. One night however, he was in a somber mood.  I asked what bothered him and he mentioned only that he thought of his home, his youth and the Mother he so vaguely but fondly remembered. I did not want to pry or cause him to react in a bitter way as he had in past recollections of his earlier years so I chose simply to sit next to him and softly add  thoughts of missing my own family at times. He spoke so quietly as if to only himself, it was difficult to hear his words as he murmured a name from my distant past with those of Kattegatt.  I heard him say that familiar name of Torvi…

no tears from torvi she is resolute she is viking

never mind... torvi's mind is working over time

it is easy all you have to do is turn point and pull the trigger

Torvi has inherited Erlandeur's crossbow

 

Perhaps though, it was a much common name so I did not seek to question it.  He sat there for some length of time staring out our small window at the stars before he continued his wandering thoughts of a long gone childhood, “They are all gone now, all those who were a part of my life but I remember them. I remember all of it even when I try to forget.” He closed his eyes for a moment as if to see them, to hear them again. “I think of her often, as do I think of the other one, Lagertha who gave me wise counsel as a young child.”  I tried to hide my surprise at the mention of Lagertha but there was no need for he was lost in his own world of memories. “I took much heed of her words so long ago, she advised me to keep my friends close for some of them would die all too soon and the others would betray me. That counsel has kept me alive to this day.” 

Lagertha tells Guthrum she must leave

Lagertha tells Guthrum she must leave but that he must remember to keep his friends close for some of them will die and others will betray him.

Guthrum's destiny

Guthrum’s destiny

Lagertha assures Torvi that her son is well and she has no doubts the Gods have great plans for him

Lagertha assures Torvi that her son is well and she has no doubts the Gods have great plans for him

 

I had not words in response to his remark but rose to stand behind him, place my hands upon his shoulders and stare out at the night sky with him. I attempted to offer some small measure of solace and assurance to his thoughts as I whispered, “I will not betray you or your heart, Guthrum.”  There was an odd comfort in our silence together as we each watched the stars that night thinking of the past and of the future. 

My thoughts turned to my own memories and my reasons for this journey… It had begun so long ago as a gift with ulterior purpose. I had received my wish to travel back in time, to experience this time period on condition that I document the events, not interfere and discover the mysteries surrounding all of these people. I had been forewarned and cautioned not to form attachments to any one person or side but to be unbiased in my observations.  I felt now as though I may have failed in that objective. To live this long in this time and not form personal attachments or take a side in events was nearly impossible. I also felt that one portion of my objective was complete as far as I could tell in both of these worlds that seemed to be converging on each other. Rollo was now where he should be, on his path to shaping history as we know it. Perhaps there was no need for me to make that dangerous time travel journey once more? Perhaps I could just remain here now with Guthrum for what would remain of his life.  I knew that as far as history would record, Guthrum would remain here in East Anglia and continue his peace with Alfred. He would not return to his homeland and his life would be centered on this Kingdom that he had won. That thought brought me some measure of peace and I was content now to remain here with him in this history.  Perhaps over time, he would share those events of his youth and I would then learn of what happened to all of those others. 

My only nagging concern was that of these two different worlds coming together, merging together… there was little I could do about that but I did wonder if it had been destined to happen from the beginning or if it was the result of our time travel? All that I could really do now was try to decipher some of the events that would lead up to this convergence. I did not want to go back again to that earlier time again and I did not want to go home to the future yet. No, I would remain here where I was for now and make some effort to find out about those differences in history by the only means available to me now, listening to the stories that these people around me would tell of the past.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

Uhtred of Bebbanburg has arrived!

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

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

http://www.bernardcornwell.net/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

historical fiction

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

ubbe of Vikings Saga

Ubbe of Vikings series

ubba of Last Kingdom

Ubba of Last Kingdom

Sons in Viking series vs Sons in Last Kingdom

Athelred and Alfred of vikings seriesAethered and Alfred in last kingdom

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

Ecghbert the ridiculous puppet king for Danish masters

ecbert sends aethelwult to mercia to deal with queen kwentirith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

why they came in the first place

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

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

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

Take her to Valhalla with you

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

baptizing Osbert to Uhtred

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

Eoferwic york Loidis Leeds

 

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

ailswith

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

temptation of the flesh

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Ecbert’s dream to Alfred’s reality

From Egbert's fantasy to ruler of Wessex

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

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

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

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

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

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

aethelwulf vikings2

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

aethelwulf with baby Athelred

aethelwulf with baby Athelred

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

ecbert showers affection on alfred and wonders about athelstan

ecbert showers affection on alfred and wonders about Athelstan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Athelred and Alfred Judith's sons

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

King Aella of Northumbria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

alfred is crowned and england is born

alfred is crowned and england is born

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Charlemagne to Egbert and Wessex

The beginnings of Egbert's power plots

The beginnings of Egbert’s power plots

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

ecbert's response Indeed Thank God

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

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

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

I am King

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

horik and ragnar2

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

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

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

 

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

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

Stone_of_Ecgbert_-_Dore_19-07-05

 

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

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

cerdic is not happy

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

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

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

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

Am I corrupt Why yes I am kwentirith

Am I corrupt Why yes I am… kwentirith

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

anglo-saxon_kingdoms

Anglo-Saxon kingdoms circa 800

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kwenthrith1

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

kwentirith seems overly upset at seeing uncle killed

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

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

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

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

aethelwulf and ecbert

 

Map of Kingdoms during Egbert's reign

Map of Kingdoms during Egbert’s reign

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

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

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

they're at the top of that hill

they’re at the top of that hill

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

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

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

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

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

aethelwulf's christian zealotry over takes all other thoughts

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

aethelwulf and ecbert athelstan with aethelwulf and ecbert

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

his name is Alfred He shall be great

ecbert showers affection on alfred and wonders about athelstan

ecbert showers affection on alfred and wonders about athelstan

alfred is crowned and england is born

alfred is crowned and england is born

Alfred the Great

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where is Pomerania and why does it have a Viking connection?

This article is for my friend Patricia Mayhew who is a fellow history geek! She has been following my family history search in Germany and mentioned that her ancestors came from an area called Pommerania. Her ancestor situation there is similar to mine… we can’t trace our individual family line back because of limited information. We can however, find out more about the areas they came from which is interesting in itself.  When I was doing my research on Old Saxony, I kept running across mentions of Pommerania and I immediately thought of Patricia!  So, Patricia- Here is a detailed  history of Pommerania for you… It looks like some Saxon or Viking roots may be tugging at you as well!

History of Pomerania

I first heard of Pomerania when Patricia mentioned that her ancestors were from a place called Pomerania in Germany.  The first question that comes to mind about this place is, Where on earth is it in Germany? It’s not one of the more common place names or locations that trigger some idea of where it might be when you think of Germany.  It is also one of those areas like Saxony or Prussia that covers a wide general area and no longer exists as a territory.  As I mentioned, I only came across it when researching early histories of Saxony and the Saxon Wars.  I’ve went back and gathered a number of maps so that we can see where the general area is or was and how it’s borders may have changed through history. I’ve also discovered that it may have more history with areas of Poland rather than Germany.  It is located near the Baltic Sea and when you look at maps of the area you can easily see why there might be connections to some Viking past in Denmark and Sweden.

Bistum_Cammin_1400

A medieval map of Pomeranian area in 1400s

This shows Pommeranian area in relation to German area of Mecklanburg

This shows Pomeranian area in relation to German area of Mecklenburg

 

This  map is one from Charlamagne’s time and while it does not show Pomerania, it shows the coastal area and the early Danish connection with Haithabu or Hedeby.

carolmap

Early Carolingian map 804-814 showing Danish connection and Hedeby

 

 I’ve already mentioned that  we do not have a city or village name to narrow our search so we will just look at the overall history of the area. We do know that Patricia’s family left the area in the mid 1800s so we can look at a few maps of that time to define the borders of the area during that time frame. I also know that Patricia is a fellow Vikings Saga and early medieval history fan so for that reason I am going to focus on some of the earliest history of the area as well!

The map below gives us an excellent representation of where Pomerania was in relation to modern day countries. The yellow line is represents the original border of Pomerania. With this map it’s very easy to see the early Pomeranian connections and importance to the Northern lands.

Pomeraniamap early border superimposed in yellow on modern Germany and Poland

Alright,  we know where Pomerania is or was so we can look at the history of the area. The history of Pomerania, an area in modern-day Germany and Poland, dates back more than 10,000 years. The name Pomerania comes from Slavic po more, which means Land at the Sea.  Settlement in the area started by the end of the Vistula Glacial Stage, about 13,000 years ago.  Archeological traces have been found of various cultures during the Stone and Bronze Age, of Veneti and Germanic peoples during the Iron Age and, in the Middle Ages, Slavic tribes and Vikings.  Starting in the 10th century, Piast Poland on several occasions acquired parts of the region from the southeast, while the Holy Roman Empire and Denmark augmented their territory from the west and north.

Earliest Pomeranian cultural artifacts-faced urns

Earliest Pomeranian cultural artifacts-faced urns

One of more than 1,000 megalith sites in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern - the Lancken-Granitz dolmen

One of more than 1,000 megalith sites in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern – the Lancken-Granitz dolmen

In the High Middle Ages, the area became Christian and was ruled by local dukes of the House of Pomerania and the Samborides, at various times vassals of Denmark, the Holy Roman Empire and Poland.  From the late 12th century, the Griffin Duchy of Pomerania stayed with the Holy Roman Empire and the Principality of Rugia with Denmark, while Denmark, Brandenburg, Poland and the Teutonic Knights struggled for control in Samboride Pomerelia.  The Teutonic Knights succeeded in annexing Pomerelia to their monastic state in the early 14th century. Meanwhile, the Ostsiedlung started to turn Pomerania into a German-settled area; the remaining Wends, who became known as Slovincians and Kashubians, continued to settle within the rural East.  In 1325 the line of the princes of Rugia (Rügen) died out, and the principality was inherited by House of Pomerania,  themselves involved in the Brandenburg-Pomeranian conflict about superiority in their often internally divided duchy. In 1466, with the Teutonic Order‘s defeat, Pomerelia became subject to the Polish Crown as a part of Royal Prussia.  While the Duchy of Pomerania adopted the Protestant Reformation in 1534,  Kashubia remained with the Roman Catholic Church. The Thirty Years’ and subsequent wars severely ravaged and depopulated most of Pomerania. With the extinction of the Griffin house during the same period, the Duchy of Pomerania was divided between the Swedish Empire and Brandenburg-Prussia in 1648. Prussia gained the southern parts of Swedish Pomerania in 1720.   It gained the remainder of Swedish Pomerania in 1815, when French occupation during the Napoleonic Wars was lifted.   The former Brandenburg-Prussian Pomerania and the former Swedish parts were reorganized into the Prussian Province of Pomerania,  while Pomerelia in the partitions of Poland was made part of the Province of West Prussia. With Prussia, both provinces joined the newly constituted German Empire in 1871. 

What this brief history means basically is that Pomerania went through the same chaos and turmoil as the rest of the Germanic territories and ended up as a part of that extremely large space called Prussia during the mid 1800s.  What does this mean for Patricia in searching for her family ancestors? Well, Patricia’s family left sometime in the mid to late 1800s- possibly around 1870s and they listed themselves as from Pomerania. This would conceivably mean that they were from the German-Brandenburg portion or the Swedish portion because at the time those two areas retained the name Pomerania. The Polish areas were renamed as West Prussians.   I know that doesn’t help a whole lot but maybe it’s a small start!  I am going to add my personal thought that they were probably from the German/Brandenburg portion or at least the western portion of Pomerania since they considered themselves German and not Polish.

Early history of Pomerania

Now that we’ve looked at the very brief and basic history of Pomerania, let’s explore further to find out how it fits into the rest of the early history of the surrounding areas. It’s history dates back as far as 13,000 years ago but let’s not really attempt to go quite that far back in any depth! Let’s just state that there are traces of pre-history culture throughout the area that include a number of different groups. From the 2nd century to about the 6th century there was a massive migration that left the area largely depopulated by the early 7th century.   Between 650 and 850 AD, West Slavic tribes settled in Pomerania.  These tribes were collectively known as “Pomeranians” between the Oder and Vistula rivers, or as “Veleti” (later “Liuticians”) west of the Oder. A distinct tribe, the Rani, was based on the island of Rügen and the adjacent mainland.  In the 8th and 9th centuries, SlavicScandinavian emporia were set up along the coastline as powerful centers of craft and trade.

 

The Veleti moved into modern Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and adjacent southern areas from the south in the course of the 6th-7th centuries, assimilating the remaining Germanic population and West Slav tribes that had previously moved into that area from the east.

The Veleti did not remain a unified tribe for long. Local tribes developed, the most important being: the Kissini (Kessiner, Chizzinen, Kyzziner) along the lower Warnow and Rostock, named after their capital Kessin; the Circipani (Zirzipanen) along the Trebel and Peene Rivers, with their capitol believed to be Teterow and strongholds in Demmin and probably even Güstrow; the Tollenser east and south of the Peene along the Tollense River; and the Redarier south and east of the Tollensesee on the upper Havel. The Hevelli living in the Havel area and, though more unlikely, the Rujanes of Rugia might once have been part of the Veletians. Even the Leitha region of Lower Austria may been named for a tribe of Veneti, the Leithi.

 

One of the more important groups to settle parts of the area would have been the Rugii.

The Rugii, also Rugians, Rygir, Ulmerugi, or Holmrygir (Norwegian: Rugiere, German: Rugier) were an East Germanic tribe who also appeared in southwest Norway and who in 100 AD lived near the Vistula River south of the Baltic Sea in an area 900 years later known as Pomerania. A number of them went from the Baltic Sea to the Danube River valley, where they established their own kingdom in the 5th century AD.

Settlement areas of the Rugii Rogaland Pomerania since the 1st century Rugiland 5th century Rügen

The tribal name “Rugii” or “Rygir” is a derivate of the Old Norse term for rye, rugr, and is thus translated “rye eaters” or “rye farmers”. Holmrygir and Ulmerugi are both translated as “island Rugii”.   Uncertain and disputed is the association of the Rugii with the name of the isle of Rügen and the tribe of the Rugini. Though some scholars suggested that the Rugii passed their name to the isle of Rügen in modern Northeast Germany, other scholars presented alternative hypotheses of Rügen’s etymology associating the name to the mediaeval Rani (Rujani) tribe.  The Rugini were only mentioned once, in a list of tribes still to be Christianised drawn up by the English monk Bede (Beda venerabilis) in his Historia ecclesiastica of the early 8th century. Whether the Rugini were remnants of the Rugii is speculative.  The Rugini were also associated with the Rani.

The Rugii were first mentioned by Tacitus in the late 1st century.  Tacitus’ description of their contemporary settlement area, adjacent to the Goths at the “ocean”, is generally seen as the southern coast of the Baltic Sea, the later Pomerania.  Tacitus characterized the Rugii as well as the neighboring Goths and Lemovii saying they carried round shields and short swords, and obeyed their regular authority. Ptolemaeus in 150 AD mentions a place named Rhougion (also transliterated from Greek as Rougion, Rugion, Latinized Rugium or Rugia) and a tribe named Routikleioi in the same area, both names have been associated with the Rugii. Jordanes says the Goths upon their arrival in this area expelled the Ulmerugi.  and makes other, retrospect references to the Rugii in his Getica of the 6th century. The 9th-century Old English Widsith, a compilation of earlier oral traditions, mentions the tribe of the Holmrycum without localizing it. Holmrygir are mentioned in an Old Norse Skaldic poem, Hákonarmál, and probably also in the Haraldskvæði.

Around the mid 2nd century AD, there was a significant migration by Germanic tribes of Scandinavian origin (Rugii, Goths, Gepidae, Vandals, Burgundians, and others) towards the south-east, creating turmoil along the entire Roman frontier. These migrations culminated in the Marcomannic Wars, which resulted in widespread destruction and the first invasion of Italy in the Roman Empire period. Many Rugii had left the Baltic coast during the migration period. It is assumed that Burgundians, Goths and Gepids with parts of the Rugians left Pomerania during the late Roman Age, and that during the migration period, remnants of Rugians, Vistula Veneti, Vidivarii and other, Germanic tribes remained and formed units that were later Slavicized.  The Vidivarii themselves are described by Jordanes in his Getica as a melting pot of tribes who in the mid-6th century lived at the lower Vistula. Though differing from the earlier Willenberg culture, some traditions were continued.  One hypothesis, based on the sudden appearance of large amounts of Roman solidi and migrations of other groups after the breakdown of the Hun empire in 453, suggest a partial re-migration of earlier emigrants to their former northern homelands. By about the 6th century, the Rugii tribe ceased to exist as any separate identity. They were most likely assimilated into the various cultures that they became a part of.

Most historians agree on the idea that the area of Pomerania was essentially a melting pot of tribes and cultures that included Slavic tribes coming from the east, Germanic tribes venturing northwards, and Norse or pre-Danish tribes such as Angles, Saxons and later Danish coming southwards. It was such a large coastal area that many early tribes would have found their way to the area. Because of this large area and the large number of different tribes or cultures settling there, we are going to limit this discussion to a smaller portion. We’ve already discussed the fact that our friend Patricia’s family identified with the Germanic side so we will focus the rest of this discussion on that Germanic portion that includes the Mecklenburg and Brandenburg areas. We are also going to narrow the time frame a bit and concentrate on the history from about the late 8th century on.

Danish and Viking Connection

Some of the history mentions early Dane and pre-dane migrations to the area so let’s look at that since I know many of us are interested in that connection. If we look at early maps of the areas, we can easily see the connection for such migrations.

hedeby in connection to mecklenburg

hedeby in connection to Mecklenburg

hedeby2viking_trading_towns

These early maps show how those tribes of Jutes, Angles, Saxons and Ribes (possibly connected to the Rugii tribes) would have moved southwards as the early Dani or Danes took over their territories in the north. As these tribes settled the coastline of what would  later become Pomerania, they may have retained some connections or relationships with those Danes in the North. It has been often debated whether the take over of territories by the Danes was truly hostile or more a matter of them moving in and being able to take over because lands were limited and tribes were slowly migrating to other less populated areas anyway.  What ever the case, there is evidence from later times that the Saxons and other groups remained on friendly terms with the Danes and even sought their help when the Franks began invading in the late 700s.

This map shows Scandinavian settlements according to timelines and you can see that they moved into the Pomeranian coastline area during the 7th-8th centuries.

scandinavian settlement timeline

scandinavian settlement timeline

I mentioned Mecklenburg because it has a history with connections to the Danes as well as the Saxons. The name Mecklenburg derives from a castle named “Mikilenburg” (Old Saxon: “big castle”, hence the scientific translation used in New Latin Megalopolis), located between the cities of Schwerin and Wismar. In Slavic language it was known as Veligrad which also means “big castle”.  From the 7th through the 12th centuries, the area of Mecklenburg was taken over by Western Slavic peoples, most notably the Obotrites and other tribes that Frankish sources referred to as “Wends”.  

Evidence of Danish or Viking settlements in the area is found at Altes Lager a site 1.5 kilometres (0.93 mi)  near Anklam, Western Pomerania, Germany. The site, on the banks of the river Peene, was an important Viking trading-post during the Viking Age. At that time, Pomerania was inhabited by Slavic Wends, yet several Viking trading-posts were set up along the coast (the nearest were Ralswiek to the West and Jomsborg/Wollin to the east). The settlement covered an area of approximately 18 hectares in the 9th century. Remnants of a bridge and a cemetery have been excavated. Some artifacts found in the graves originated in Ireland and in the lands east of the Baltic. Following Scandinavian customs, the dead were buried either in stone ships, i.e. ship-like graves, or within stone circles. The graves excavated so far have been found to be the tombs of women. Most findings date back to the 9th and 10th centuries.

Viking graves at Altes Lager in western Pomerania

Viking graves at Altes Lager in western Pomerania

In looking at the map location of Anklam, it’s easy to see a possible early Viking connection.

karte_anklamAnklam_8

Another important Viking age settlement in the area was Jomsborg. a semi-legendary Viking stronghold at the southern coast of the Baltic Sea (medieval Wendland, modern Pomerania), that existed between the 960s and 1043. Its inhabitants were known as Jomsvikings. Jomsborg’s exact location, or its existence, has not yet been established, though it is often maintained that Jomsborg was somewhere on the islands of the Oder estuary. While the previous site at Anklam is on the western German side, the supposed location of Jomsborg would put it on the eastern now Polish side of Pomerania.

Harald blutooth monument at wollen germany

Modern memorial in Wolin, the most probable site of medieval Jomsborg. The Danish and Polish inscription, held in rune style, commemorates the death of Harald Bluetooth in Jomsborg, 986

Pommern_Kr_Usedom-WollinVinetakarte

Jomsborg is often thought to be identical with the present-day town of Wolin (also Wollin) on the southeastern tip of the isle of Wolin, probably located at Silberberg hill north of the town.  In the Early Middle Ages, modern Wolin was the site of a multi-ethnic emporium (then known as Jumne or Julin).  The Nordic sagas use “Jómsborg” exclusively, while medieval German histories use “Jumne” or “Julin”, with the alternate names, some of which may be spelling variants, “vimne”, “uimne”, “Jumneta”, “Juminem”, “Julinum”, “uineta”, “Vineta” and “Vinneta”.  In 1931/32, Pomeranian historian Adolf Hofmeister suggested, through comparison of the events reported by the different chronicles, that all these terms describe the same place, which is at or near the modern town of Wolin.  However, this is by no means universally accepted; Steven Fanning writes: “The Trelleborg-type fortresses of Denmark have been taken to be actual examples of Jómsborg-style camps of such warriors and Wolin in Poland was believed to be the actual Jómsborg. However, all such attempts to locate Jómsborg or encampments of the Jómvikings have failed, leading many to doubt that Jómvikings ever existed outside of literature.”  According to Władysław Filipowiak there are several dated sources which attest to the presence of a company of armed Vikings at the end of the 10th century in Wolin, who may have been installed there as mercenaries by the Polish king Bolesław Chrobry.   Other theories see Jomsborg in the northwest of nearby Usedom island, on lands now submerged.  The small islands in this area are remnants of a long stretch of land between Usedom and Rügen, which fell victim to storm floods in the early 14th century.  Suspected locations in this area are the Veritas grounds between the petty islands of Ruden and Greifswalder Oie, and the Peenemünde shoals. While Viking Age jewelry has been found at the site, archaeological evaluation of these theories has not yet been possible.

Archaeologists believe that in the Early Middle Ages Wolin was a great trade emporium, spreading along the shore for four kilometers and rivaling in importance Birka and Hedeby.  Around 972 the island became controlled by Poland, under prince Mieszko I. However, it has not been established if Wolin became part of Poland, or if it was a fief. Polish influences were not firm and they ended around 1007. In the following years Wolin became famous for its pirates, who would plunder ships cruising the Baltic. As a reprisal, in 1043 it was attacked by the Norwegian king Magnus the Good.  In the early 12th century the island, as part of the Pomeranian duchy, was captured by the Polish king Boleslaw III Wrymouth. Shortly after, the inhabitants of Wolin accepted Christianity, and in 1140 pope Innocent II created a diocese there, with its capital in the town of Wolin. In 1181 the dukes of Pomerania decided to accept the Holy Roman emperor as their liege lord instead of the Polish king.

According to the Knytlingasaga and Fagrskinna, Jomsborg was built by the Danish king Harold Bluetooth (910-985/86) in the 960s.  The Jomsvikinga Saga mentions Danish Viking Palnatoki as its founder.  In medieval records, Jomsborg is described as a fortress with a harbor.  The harbour was overseen by a stone tower mounted with catapults, built on an arch spanning over the harbour entrance which could be closed by an iron gate.   According to the oldest records, the harbour had space for three ships,  later records give a capacity of up to 360 ships.   Jomsborg was destroyed in 1043 by Norwegian king Magnus the Good .   The fortress was burned down, and many of the inhabitants were killed.

Most records name the jarl of Jomsborg Sigvald(i), son of petty king Strut-Harald of then Danish Scania.  Sigvald died some time before 1010.  The Jomsborg Vikings (Jomsvikings) were composed of selected warriors, adhered to a special codex, and were loyal only to their leader.   In 1009, many Jomsvikings left Jomsborg and followed Sigvald’s brothers Herring and Thorkell the Tall to England, where they became the nucleus of Cnut the Great‘s Thingmen or Huscarls.

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

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

Jomsborg is considered to be one of those almost mythical places of as yet unknown true location. There is another Viking city that was once deemed as that same sort but recent discoveries are proving this other city to have real origins. I need to make mention of this other city as well as long as we are delving into Danish settlements in northern Germany.

Sliasthorp, Fabled Viking Military Town, Possibly Unearthed In Germany :

Danish archeologists believe they have uncovered a once thriving center of Viking activity, Sliasthorp, the fabled military base occupied by the earliest Scandinavian kings. Since excavations began in 2010, roughly 200 buildings, along with weapons, precious jewelry, glass beads, and silver coins have been unearthed at Füsing, near the Danish border, National Geographic reports, findings that they say offer valuable insights into the military organization and town planning of what is thought to be the earliest Viking settlement in the historical record.    “Our studies have given us a completely new view on the anatomy of the very earliest cities. It differs greatly from what we see in the Middle Ages and today,” said Andres Dobat, a lecturer in prehistoric archaeology at Aarhus University, in an interview with Science Nordic.

Dobat, who is heading up the archeological dig, explained that the location of Sliasthorp was unknown until now. What was known is that it was used as a base by the Viking king Gøtrik, also known as Godfred or Gudfred.  From the town, Viking kings or their chieftains would have controlled trade and access to the region, the study team suggests.

“We have actually found the origins of what we today call Hamburg,” he said. “When the Vikings built this town and Hedeby, they were a precursor of Schleswig, which in the early Middle Ages was the great trading city in the region. Schleswig, in turn, was the precursor of Lübeck, which today has given way to Hamburg. We’re digging at the roots of world economy.”  Hedeby, a much larger city approximately 2.5 miles away, functioned as an international port and trading center during Viking times. “We have the international traders and craftsmen at one place, and the Scandinavian elite a few kilometers away,” Dobat told ScienceNordic.  Dobat first came across the site using a metal detector in 2003, according to Wired. And while the findings are promising, Mads Dengsø Jessen, of the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen cautions that a positive ID still needs to be made. It’s “the best candidate we have for now,” he told National Geographic.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/12/sliasthorp-fabled-viking-military-town-unearthed-germany_n_1669351.html

 

hedeby in connection to mecklenburg

Hedeby history

Hedeby is first mentioned in the Frankish chronicles of Einhard (804) who was in the service of Charlemagne, but was probably founded around 770. In 808 the Danish king Godfred (Lat. Godofredus) destroyed a competing Slav trade centre named Reric, and it is recorded in the Frankish chronicles that he moved the merchants from there to Hedeby. This may have provided the initial impetus for the town to develop. The same sources record that Godfred strengthened the Danevirke, an earthen wall that stretched across the south of the Jutland peninsula. The Danevirke joined the defensive walls of Hedeby to form an east-west barrier across the peninsula, from the marshes in the west to the Schlei inlet leading into the Baltic in the east.  The town itself was surrounded on its three landward sides (north, west, and south) by earthworks. At the end of the 9th century the northern and southern parts of the town were abandoned for the central section. Later a 9-metre (29-ft) high semi-circular wall was erected to guard the western approaches to the town. On the eastern side, the town was bordered by the innermost part of the Schlei inlet and the bay of Haddebyer Noor.

Hedeby  was an important trading settlement in the Danish-northern German borderland during the Viking Age. It flourished from the 8th to the 11th centuries.  The site is located towards the southern end of the Jutland Peninsula. It developed as a trading centre at the head of a narrow, navigable inlet known as the Schlei, which connects to the Baltic Sea. The location was favorable because there is a short portage of less than 15 km to the Treene River, which flows into the Eider with its North Sea estuary, making it a convenient place where goods and ships could be ported overland for an almost uninterrupted seaway between the Baltic and the North Sea and avoid a dangerous and time-consuming circumnavigation of Jutland, providing Hedeby with a role similar to later Lübeck.  Hedeby was the second largest Nordic city during the Viking Age, after Uppåkra in southern Sweden, and used to be the oldest city in Denmark until the site became part of Germany.  The city of Schleswig was later founded on the other side of the Schlei, and gave the duchy its name. Old records mention two bridges connecting the two towns. Hedeby was abandoned after its destruction in 1066.  The site of Hedeby is located in the Duchy of Schleswig, which was traditionally the personal territory of the kings of Denmark. But the Kingdom of Denmark lost the area to Austria and Prussia in 1864 in the Second Schleswig War, and it is now in Germany. Hedeby is now by far the most important archaeological site in Schleswig-Holstein. The Haithabu Museum was opened next to the site in 1985.

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

According to some history, Godfred built the Danevirke as defense against Charlamagne and the Frankish invasions that were coming too close to Denmark for his comfort- especially with the conquering of the Saxons and those areas of Pomerania!

 

 

Pomeranian areas in relation to Charlamagne’s conquests

In the late 700s, Charlamagne decided to conquer and unite all of Europe into one Empire. This conquest would include Saxony and areas of Pomerania. During the time of these conquests and wars some areas of Pomerania were probably part of Old Saxony and vice versa. We have to look at much of it together to see the possible and plausible connections. Charlamagne was tackling the ambitious feat of fighting and conquering on many fronts at once, so many of the conquests overlapped each other. And, as he would conquer one area, he would then use it in his conquest of his next phase… sometimes that paid off well, but often it would result in the once conquered areas banding together and rebelling against him.  The following map shows the Frankish territories and conquest by time frame. It also shows that northern area of Saxony with it’s bordering territories of the Obitrites and the Veliti. These two groups would play important parts in Charlamagne’s ability to conquer the Saxons.

Frankish_Empire_481_to_814-en_svg

In 772, Charlemagne, ruler of the Franks, started the Saxon Wars to conquer the lands of the North German Plain. According to the Royal Frankish Annals, the Westphalian noble Widukind refused to appear at the 777 Imperial Diet in Paderborn and fled across the Elbe to Nordalbingia (or possibly further to the court of the Danish king Sigfred). Even after Widukind’s submission and Christianization in 785, the Nordalbingian tribes remained reluctant until they were finally defeated at the 798 Battle of Bornhöved by the combined forces of the Franks and their Obotrite allies led by Prince Drożko. The Saxons lost 4000 people, 10,000 families of Saxons were deported to other areas of the Carolingian Empire.

The areas north of the Elbe were at first given to the Obotrites, while Land Hadeln was directly incorporated. However, Nordalbingia soon was invaded by the Danes and only the intervention of Charlemagne’s son Charles the Younger in 808 pushed them back across the Eider River. The next year the emperor had Esesfeld Castle erected near present-day Itzehoe and the entire region was incorporated into the Frankish Empire. In order to encounter the ongoing invasions led by King Sigfred’s successor Gudfred, the Franks probably established a Danish march stretching from the Eider River to the Danevirke fortifications in the north. After King Gudfred was killed, his successor Hemming concluded the Treaty of Heiligen with Charlemagne in 811, whereafter the Eider should mark the border between Denmark and Francia. However, quarrels between both sides would continue for more than a century until the East Frankish king Henry the Fowler finally defeated the Danish forces of King Gnupa at Hedeby in 934.

There is no mention of when the Obotrites became vassals or allies of Charlamagne, only that they were already under his control and allegiance when he began his campaigns against the Saxons. When he succeeded in his conquest of the Saxons, the Obotrites were rewarded with the most northern portions.

The Veleti moved into modern Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and adjacent southern areas from the south in the course of the 6th-7th centuries, assimilating the remaining Germanic population and West Slav tribes that had previously moved into that area from the east.  Because of their constant hatred and hostility toward the Franks, in the late 8th century, Frankish king Charlemagne organised campaigns against the Veleti, and fellow Slavic tribe of the Linonen. With the aid of Frisian, Obodrite1, Saxon and Sorbian1 reinforcements, Charlemagne managed to cross the Elbe River, advancing toward the Havel River into Veleti territory. Outnumbered, Dragovit, in 789, was forced to pledge loyalty to the Franks and surrender hostages.   Among others, Dragovit was also forced to pay a tribute and accept the influence of Christian missionaries among his people.

As I’ve already mentioned, the various campaigns were often inter-connected and overlapping. The were all connected to Charlamagne’s main goal of conquering the Saxons. It was a long drawn out war lasting well over 30 years. He began the campaigns in 772 and the fighting continued even after some sort of peace was achieved around 804.  After the last conquest involving the northern region of Nordalbingia, the Frankish frontier was brought into contact with Scandinavia. The pagan Danes, “a race almost unknown to his ancestors, but destined to be only too well known to his sons” as Charles Oman described them, inhabiting the Jutland peninsula, had heard many stories from Widukind and his allies who had taken refuge with them about the dangers of the Franks and the fury which their Christian king could direct against pagan neighbours.

In 808, the king of the Danes, Godfred, built the vast Danevirke across the isthmus of Schleswig. This defence, last employed in the Danish-Prussian War of 1864, was at its beginning a 30 km (19 mi) long earthenwork rampart. The Danevirke protected Danish land and gave Godfred the opportunity to harass Frisia and Flanders with pirate raids. He also subdued the Frank-allied Wiltzes and fought the Abotrites.

This Danish involvement would bring those Danish settlers to shores of the Baltic Sea once more in the form of the Danish Viking settlers that we have already discussed earlier. The Danish would continue to have a role in the area as would the Swedish.

Pomerania from 9th century on

From the 9th to the 11th century, at least ten Pomeranian tribes dwelled between the Oder and Vistula river.  They are not known by name except for the Volinians and Pyritzans. It is not known if these tribes ever formed any kind of a tribal union. It is also possible that on the two sides of the river, the tribes were split from the beginning into eastern and western Pomeranian groups, with the latter possibly related to the Veleti.  The settlements of the distinct tribes were separated from each other and from their neighbors by vast woodlands. In 1124, it took Otto of Bamberg three days to cross the woods separating the Pomeranians from the neighboring Poles.

Among the various Pomeranian tribes, the territory of the Volinians was the smallest, but also the most densely settled, with about one settlement for every four square kilometers, around 1000 AD. In contrast, the other tribe explicitly mentioned in contemporary chronicles, was that of the Pyritzans, who inhabited the area around Pyritz and Stargard but whose settlements numbered roughly only one for every twenty kilometers. The center of the Volinian territory was a town located at the site of the modern town of Wolin (Wollin) on Wolin (Wollin) island. Russian, Saxon, and Scandinavian merchants lived in the town.

During the 12th century, Obodrite, Polish, Saxon, and Danish conquests resulted in vassalage and Christianization of the formerly pagan and independent Pomeranian tribes.  Local dynasties ruled the Principality of Rügen (House of Wizlaw), the Duchy of Pomerania (House of Pomerania, “Griffins”), the Lands of Schlawe and Stolp (Ratiboride branch of the Griffins), and the duchies in Pomerelia (Samborides).

Starting in the High Middle Ages, a large influx of German settlers and the introduction of German law, custom, and Low German language began the process of Germanisation (Ostsiedlung). Many of the people groups that had dominated the area during the Early Middle Ages, such as the Slavic Rani, Lutician and Pomeranian tribes, were assimilated into the new German Pomeranian culture. The Germanisation was not complete, as the Kashubians, descendants of Slavic Pomeranians, dominated many rural areas in Pomerelia. The arrival of German colonists and Germanization mostly affected both the central and local administration.

In 1147, the western half of Pomerania had joined Henry the Lion‘s Duchy of Saxony. Following internal struggles, Henry fell against Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa in 1181. Bogislaw I took his duchy as a fief directly from Barbarossa in the same year. At that time, the duchy was also referred to as Slavinia (German: Slawien) (yet this was a term applied to several Wendish areas such as Mecklenburg and the Principality of Rügen). The duchy remained in the Empire, although Denmark managed to take control of the southern Baltic including the Duchy of Pomerania from the 1180s until the 1227 Battle of Bornhöved.

Beginning in the 12th century, on the initiative of monasteries,  as well as the local nobility, German settlers began migrating to Pomerania in a process later termed the Ostsiedlung. The local nobles and rulers encouraged the settlement in order to strengthen and consolidate their position and to develop and intensify land use, while the settlers were attracted by the privileges that were granted to them.  Through a process that spanned three hundred years, in western Pomerania the local Slavic population was mostly assimilated, while in the eastern part, Slavic Kashubians and Slovincians held on to their ethnic culture and identity.

Eldena Abbey, a favourite motif of Caspar David Friedrich. Medieval Pomeranian monasteries, owners of vast areas, ensured the conversion of Pomerania and contributed to Ostsiedlung.

Eldena Abbey, a favourite motif of Caspar David Friedrich. Medieval Pomeranian monasteries, owners of vast areas, ensured the conversion of Pomerania and contributed to Ostsiedlung.

Ruins of Eldena Abbey

Ruins of Eldena Abbey

In the 12th century the Baltic coast south of the island of Rügen belonged to the Rani principality of Rügen, which in its turn was subject to the Danes. The Danish Cistercian monastery, Esrum Abbey, was thus able to found a daughter house in the area, Dargun Abbey, at Dargun, west of Demmin, in 1172. When in 1198 this monastery was destroyed in fighting between Denmark and Brandenburg, Jaromar I, Prince of the Rani, whose wife was of the Danish royal house, offered to re-settle the monks at a new site at the mouth of the River Ryck, close to the boundary between the territory of the Princes of Rügen, and the County of Gützkow, since the early 1120s subordinate to the Duchy of Pomerania.

The offer of the site, which included profitable salt-pans, was accepted, and in 1199 Hilda Abbey, now Eldena Abbey,  was founded,  and confirmed by Pope Innocent III in 1204. The princes of Rügen further endowed the new monastery with extensive lands in the border country between the Rügen-owned territories of Gristow and Wostrose (Wusterhusen), the area of Lositz (Loitz) which was debated between Rügen and Mecklenburg, and the County of Gützkow.

The monastery became wealthy from the salt trade and was very influential in the Christianisation of Western Pomerania. It also brought about the foundation at the beginning of the 13th century of the town of Greifswald, which started out as the monastery’s trading settlement opposite the salt-pans, near the point where the via regia, an important trade route, crossed the river. After the Battle of Bornhöved in 1227 the Danes withdrew from this part of their former territories, and despite some competition from the princes of Rügen, the Duke of Pomerania, Wartislaw III, was able in 1248/49 to pressurise the abbey into subinfeudating Greifswald to him. Wartislaw was later buried in Eldena Abbey, as were later members of the ducal family, the House of Pomerania.

Memorial plaque recording the burials at Eldena Abbey of Wartislaw III and later members of the ducal family.  Throughout the 13th century, Eldena Abbey organized the cultivation and settlement of its growing estates in the Ostsiedlung process, allocating and founding Wendish, Danish and German villages.  In the growing town of Greifswald however, the Cistercians of Eldena lost much of their influence the foundation in the town in the mid-13th century of friaries of the Franciscans (Greyfriars) and the Dominicans (Blackfriars).  The east end of the abbey church was built in about 1200, while the conventual buildings date from the mid-13th and 14th centuries, all in Brick Gothic. The final stages of construction were the west front and the nave of the church, which were completed in the 15th century.

After the 12th century, 12th  Pomerania became Christian under saint Otto of Bamberg (the Apostle of the Pomeranians); at the same time Pomerelia became a part of diocese of Włocławek. Since then, the Griffin Duchy of Pomerania stayed with the Holy Roman Empire and the Principality of Rugia with Denmark, while Pomerelia, under the ruling of Samborides, was a part of Poland.  The Teutonic Knights succeeded in integrating Pomerelia into their monastic state in the early 14th century. Meanwhile, the Ostsiedlung started to turn Slavic narrow Pomerania into an increasingly German-settled area; the remaining Wends and Polish people, often known as Kashubians, continued to settle within the Pomerelia.  In 1325 the line of the princes of Rügen died out, and the principality was inherited by the Griffins.  In 1466, with the Teutonic Order‘s defeat, Pomerelia became again subject to the Polish Crown as a part of Royal Prussia.   While the German population in the Duchy of Pomerania adopted the Protestant reformation in 1534, the Polish (along with Kashubian) population remained with the Roman Catholic Church. The Thirty Years’ War severely ravaged and depopulated narrow Pomerania; few years later this same happened to Pomerelia (the Deluge) .  With the extinction of the Griffin house during the same period, the Duchy of Pomerania was divided between the Swedish Empire and Brandenburg-Prussia in 1648, while Pomerelia remained in with the Polish Crown.

During the early 1600s, even Sweden held control of a portion of Pomerania!  Sweden, present in Pomerania with a garrison at Stralsund since 1628, had gained effective control of the Duchy of Pomerania with the Treaty of Stettin in 1630. At the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 and the Treaty of Stettin in 1653, Sweden received Western Pomerania (German Vorpommern), with the islands of Rügen, Usedom, and Wolin, and a strip of Farther Pomerania (Hinterpommern). The peace treaties were negotiated while the Swedish queen Christina was a minor, and the Swedish Empire was governed by members of the high aristocracy. As a consequence, Pomerania was not annexed to Sweden like the French war gains, which would have meant abolition of serfdom which since the Pomeranian peasant laws of 1616 was practised there in its most severe form. Instead, it remained part of the Holy Roman Empire, making the Swedish rulers Reichsfürsten (imperial princes) and leaving the nobility in full charge of the rural areas and its inhabitants. While the Swedish Pomeranian nobles were subjected to reduction when the late 17th century kings regained political power, the provisions of the peace of Westphalia continued to prevent the pursuit of the uniformity policy in Pomerania until the Holy Roman empire was dissolved in 1806.

800px-Gustav_II_of_Sweden

Gustav II of Sweden during 1630s

Gustavus_Adolphus_at_the_Battle_at_Breitenfeld

Gustavus Adolphus at battle of Breitenfeld

In 1679, Sweden lost most of her Pomeranian possessions east of the Oder river in the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, and in 1720, Sweden lost her possessions south of the Peene and east of the Peenestrom rivers in the Treaty of Stockholm. These areas were ceded to Brandenburg-Prussia and were integrated into Brandenburgian Pomerania. Also in 1720, Sweden regained the remainder of her dominion in the Treaty of Frederiksborg, which had been lost to Denmark in 1715. In 1814, as a result of the Napoleonic Wars, Swedish Pomerania was ceded to Denmark in exchange for Norway in the Treaty of Kiel, and in 1815, as a result of the Congress of Vienna, transferred to Prussia.

Prussia gained the southern parts of Swedish Pomerania in 1720,  it invaded and annexed Pomerelia in 1772 in Partitions of Poland, and the remainder of Swedish Pomerania in 1815, after the Napoleonic Wars was lifted.  The former Brandenburg-Prussian Pomerania and the former Swedish parts were reorganized into the Prussian Province of Pomerania, while Pomerelia was made part of the Province of West Prussia. With Prussia, both provinces joined the newly constituted German Empire in 1871. Under the German rule the Polish minority suffered discrimination and oppressive measures aimed at eradicating its culture. Following the empire’s defeat in World War I, however, Pomorze Gdańskie Pomerelia was returned to the rebuilt Polish state (the region once called by the Germans the Polish Corridor), while German-majority Gdansk/Danzig was transformed into the independent Free City of Danzig. Germany’s Province of Pomerania was expanded in 1938 to include northern parts of the former Province of Posen–West Prussia, and in late 1939 the annexed Pomorze Gdańskie/Polish Corridor became part of the wartime Reichsgau Danzig-West Prussia. The Nazis deported the Pomeranian Jews to a reservation near Lublin  and, in Pomerelia, mass-murdered Jews, as well as some Poles, since Nazi ideology considered them to be untermenschen (sub-human) races. The Polish population suffered heavily during the Nazi oppression; more than 40,000 died in executions, death camps, prisons and forced labour, primarily those who were teachers, businessmen, priests, politicians, former army officers, and civil servants.  Thousands of Poles and Kashubians suffered deportation, their homes taken over by the German military and civil servants, as well as some Baltic Germans resettled there between 1940-1943.

After looking at all of the varied history surrounding Pomerania, I think that my friend Patricia could very well have some Danish or Swedish roots along with any Germanic ones from her ancestors that resided in Pomerania at one time.  My suggestion to you, Patricia… Go ahead and claim some Viking roots- they’re probably in there somewhere!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saxony and Roland: Part 2 of Ancestor search

This is part two of my search for ancestors in Pre-Germany Prussia. If you read part one, you will know that my search led me to the city of Trier where one family line resided before making the trip to America in 1845. You can read that story here:

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/08/26/search-for-ancestors-led-to-prussia-saxony-and-to-roland-part-1/

Because this has turned into another very lengthy and involved journey, I have once again broke it into sections with subheadings for your ease and convenience. Should you be pressed for time and not have a few hours to devote to this book, you can scroll down through the centered headings for the topics that most interest you!

Pfeiffer Family history and connection to Saxony Anhalt

Saxony Anhalt history and the appearance of Roland throughout that area

History and Legends of Roland

Roland in Saxony Anhalt area

History of Saxony Anhalt in relation to Old Saxony

Charlamagne and the Saxon Wars

 

 

I mentioned in the previous discussion that we would have to visit another area of the country to find the other half of the story of my roots in Germany.  This is the story of that other half and their roots in Saxony Anhalt, Germany.  First, I will give what we know of the family and their migration from Germany to St. Louis Missouri and eventually St. Mathias township, Minnesota. In the second half of this article, we will look at the history of Saxony Anhalt and the mystery of legendary Roland’s connection to the area.

Pfeiffer Family history and connection to Saxony Anhalt

On September 11, 1868, Catherine Mayer Mueller gave birth to daughter Susanna Mueller in Owatonna, Minnesota. She was the oldest daughter of Catherine and John Henry. On November 19,  1891 she married Wilhelm Frederick Pfeiffer in St. Mathias township.

 

william_and_susanna_pfeiffer

William and Susanna Pfeiffer wedding photo

William and Susana Pfeiffer older years

William and Susanna Pfeiffer in later years

When I started the search, I knew only slightly more about the Pfeiffer family than I did about the Mayers! My luck with the Pfeiffer side came in that they were a much smaller family and seemed to keep a closer connection to each other at least in the beginning. Sadly as time went on, their ties to the past faded and disappeared too. This could be due to the fact they were a small family and didn’t have as many relatives to pass the heritage on to. It could also be due to some serious family problems that came along later and in some ways split the family apart. Those problems are not really a part of this discussion so I will save them for some other time.  For this discussion, I will do as I did with the Mayer family and just share their basic history while trying to trace them back to their homeland in Germany.

Wilhelm Frederick Pfeiffer was one of three children born to Ernst and Henrietta (Borchert) Pfeiffer. When I first started my research on the family, I found the same general birth place of Prussia listed. Luckily for me, I also had a few documents and hand written accounts that would help me once I finally managed to get some of them translated! Because this was a small family, there weren’t quite so many relatives to pass things down to and after many years of distance between families, we have come together and shared what little we have. So, before anything else, I just want to say Thank you to all of the Pfeiffer relatives who have worked so hard to piece together our history!

After the translations of documents and some further searching, I have a somewhat better picture of the Pfeiffer family and where they came from.

Ernst Pfeiffer was born in March of 1831, most likely in or near Calbe, Saxony Anhalt Germany. His wife Henrietta was born in 1830, probably in that same area. They were married in 1862 in the area of Baden.  As far was we know, they had three children: Wilhelm, Anna and Harry. We know much about Wilhelm or William as he later went by, and Anna but we know next to nothing about brother Harry. Harry is our missing link right now and I would love to find him! But, for now Let us look at what we do know about the others and their immigration from that place called Saxony Anhalt.

The Pfeiffer family made their move much later than the Mayers who left during the revolts of the 1840s. We will look at their possible reasons a bit later when we look closer at that area of Saxony Anhalt.  Ernst, Henrietta and two of the children left Germany in October of 1881 on a ship named Ohio, bound for Baltimore with a plan to go on to St. Louis Missouri.

ernst pfieffer

Ernst Pfeiffer

henrietta borchart Pfeiffer

henrietta borchart Pfeiffer

We are extremely fortunate to have a copy of a letter that Ernst wrote to his sister about the trip! It is one of the documents that we had for years but had to have translated for us as it was originally in German. It is only a portion of the letter and leaves us with the question of what happened to the rest of it. It also leaves the thought of it being written to his sister… Who was his sister, was she also in America, and how did his family once again have possession of it? Was it a letter he wrote but never got a chance to finish or send?

Saying Goodbye and wishing Bon Voyage, for the 23rd at 6 am we went to the railroad station. At 7:30 our train left for Bremerhafen. On our arrival, everything was overcrowded because everyone wanted to be first. Not even the police was able to help the ones that were trying to board. first came the passengers already booked, then the relatives and friends of the departing passengers.

Leaving Bremerhafen was exciting and also frightening hours started. Dear sister, there we saw the mighty ships lined up next to each other, also our ship, the Ohio, the one that we started our horrible voyage across the ocean, nobody had expected.  A large gangway was attatched to the ship. You should have seen the excitement going on, when we had to pass through the police line. The crying of the relatives who had accompanied the departing passenters up to that point was heartbreaking. Dear sister, it was not quite as hard on us, since we already done our crying saying good byes earlier.

But seeing the rough water and the turbulence in the sky, I got a scary feeling that tried to tell me, a horrible journey lay ahead. But kept my cool, not frighten my wife, yet it proofed to be right. Getting aboard our sleeping area were assigned to us. Each family got their own. Since our friend Mueller traveled with us, he was able to stay with us dear sister. We were stacked up like sardines 2 feet wide by 3 feet high and 6 feet long one place right next to each other.

At 2 o clock our ship left the harbor going into the river Weser. We kept moving till dark. Arriving at the dangerous point where the river Weser flows into the North Sea, we dropped anchor. We were all ordered to the upper deck. The captain knew that the sea sickness was going to start now.I remained always on the upper deck and watched the ship bounce around. My wife and Anna stayed with me and I held on to them. You should have seen how everybody started throwing up! My wife, Anna, and everyone else on board got sea sick. Myself, Wilhelm and our travel companion, Mueller were not affected, because we had brought a bottle along and just kept drinking. If someone had known, or the ship would have turned back, they gladly would have said goodbye to their money, but it was too late.  Travelling through the North Sea, the suffering began dear sister. You would not believe when I say waves as high as houses. Our ship had a 700 hp engine.

All the time we had to hold on in order not to get thrown over board.Dear sister you have probably seen pictures of a ship bouncing from side to side. We were thrown up as high as 40 or 50 feet. By storm and rain we continued our journey until December 5th. The following day we will never forget in all our lives. Despite the rain, the next morning all sails swere set and our joy was great because we were on the move again. But, during the day the winds changed and the sails had to be taken down. It got pitch dark, and the officer on the Captain’s announced a dangerous storm and ordered everyone below deck. All of the Mothers and Anna went below but the two of us could not make it since we were standing too far from the entrance leading down. Dear sister, suddenly the water was above my head, and I lost my breath. Being so close to death, I wished I was with my wife and children to die at their side but could not get there. With two other guys we had to hold on for a long time before we were able to see our ship again, because it had gone down. finely the storm seized and our ship was brough up. We were still hanging on but did not know our whereabouts.

Then the ship’s carpenter came up on deck to lock everything up. He found us and took us below, we were totally exhausted. There the “Oh Heavens” the screaming of the women and the water had reached the room where we were staying. 
This is all that we have of the letter so we do not know what happened later, or who the letter was written to or sent to originally? 

We do have records of the family’s voyage from Bremerhaven to Baltimore on the ship, SS OHIO. Ernst, Henrietta, Wilhelm and Anna Pfeiffer show up in the ships arrival documents. Ernst lists on that record the city of St. Louis in the portion asking for country claiming allegiance. If you look at that category closely, you will see that many people listed what seemed to be their destination cities there so there was probably some language confusion for them as to what that category was referring to. We do know that the family traveled directly from Baltimore to St. Louis Missouri so St. Louis was their planned destination from the beginning of the trip.

ss ohio2

SS Ohio

You can find much more information about the ship, SS Ohio here:

http://markprokosch.com/ss-ohio/

All of our family stories and photos state that Ernst and Henrietta had three children; Wilhelm, Harry and Anna. We have so far found no documentation or records for Harry though. He did not travel with them so perhaps he was already in St. Louis and they were going to join him there. We also need to consider the idea that Harry may have been his nickname and this is why we have not been able to find him yet. Poor Harry is a missing link in this family history even though they seem to have been close to him and visited him over the years. He is shown in family photos that label him as brother Harry. The following photo is one that lists the siblings on the back of it.

pfeiffers Harry William and anna

Anna, William and Harry Pfeiffer in later years

We do have one other mystery photo in our collection that could possibly be a clue to brother Harry or his family. This photo is one from our box of treasures that we have never have been able to accurately identify.  The year was 1911 and obviously, the family was visiting Spokane Washington at the time. The interesting connection to Spokane is that a later point, Anna Pfeiffer’s son Claude would relocate to Spokane so possibly there was some family connection there. That is all still an ongoing part of the search for this family.

Spokane, Washington Names on back of card Gustav William Pfeiffer, Marie and Ellen Pfeiffer, Harry William and Robert Pfeiffer.

Spokane, Washington
Names on back of card Gustav William Pfeiffer, Marie and Ellen Pfeiffer, Harry William and Robert Pfeiffer.

Our current discussion is about their past regarding Germany so I am just going to leave this mystery where it is for now… If anyone reading this thinks this family looks or sounds at all familiar, by all means please let me know!  Now, back to our topic of the family’s links to Germany!

We have some family biographies that gives us rather vague clues to their life in Prussia. Thanks to an excellent program from during the depression era many families gave histories to biographers who would visit homes and record those stories as part of a WPA sponsored project.

The WPA was The Works Progress Administration (renamed in 1939 as the Work Projects Administration; WPA) was the largest and most ambitious American New Deal agency, employing millions of unemployed people (mostly unskilled men) to carry out public works projects,including the construction of public buildings and roads. In a much smaller but more famous project, the Federal Project Number One, the WPA employed musicians, artists, writers, actors and directors in large arts, drama, media, and literacy projects.

 At its peak in 1938, it provided paid jobs for three million unemployed men and women, as well as youth in a separate division, the National Youth Administration. Headed by Harry Hopkins, the WPA provided jobs and income to the unemployed during the Great Depression in the United States. Between 1935 and 1943, the WPA provided almost eight million jobs. Full employment, which was reached in 1942 and emerged as a long-term national goal around 1944, was not the WPA’s goal. It tried to provide one paid job for all families in which the breadwinner suffered long-term unemployment.  Robert D. Leighninger asserts that “The stated goal of public building programs was to end the depression or, at least, alleviate its worst effects. Millions of people needed subsistence incomes. Work relief was preferred over public assistance (the dole) because it maintained self-respect, reinforced the work ethic, and kept skills sharp.

The WPA was a national program that operated its own projects in cooperation with state and local governments, which provided 10–30% of the costs. Usually the local sponsor provided land and often trucks and supplies, with the WPA responsible for wages (and for the salaries of supervisors, who were not on relief). WPA sometimes took over state and local relief programs that had originated in the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) or Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) programs.

The family histories were part of the Federal Writer’s project directed by Henry Alsberg and employed 6,686 writers at its peak in 1936.  By January 1939, more than 275 major books and booklets had been published by the FWP.   Most famously, the FWP created the American Guide Series, which produced thorough guidebooks for every state that include descriptions of towns, waterways, historic sites, oral histories, photographs, and artwork.  An association or group that put up the cost of publication sponsored each book, the cost was anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000. In almost all cases, the book sales were able to reimburse their sponsors. Additionally, another important part of this project was to record oral histories to create archives such as the Slave Narratives and collections of folklore. These writers also participated in research and editorial services to other government agencies.

These histories are an invaluable source of information for anyone researching their family history as they often give a first or second hand account of your family’s rich history. Many people have no idea that these accounts are even available. If you go to almost any historical society, they will be able to help you locate these lost stories within their archives.  When I began my search, I had no clue that such stories existed and remained stored away within the dusty files of the historical societies. If you know where your family was living during those depression year, I would highly suggest you visit one of the nearby historical societies and do a search of your family names there! You may be happily surprised at the stories your relatives told to those traveling biographers! Consider this information as my Family History tip. One additional note on these stories- you will probably not see them widely available on genealogy sites any time soon as they are not records which would be at all easy to transfer to digital format. These are handwritten/typed transcriptions of sometimes lengthy stories generally contained in individual files for each person of family interviewed.

I was fortunate in that many of my relatives were happy to share their stories. Anna Pfeiffer Shannon and Susanna Pfeiffer Driver both shared stories of the Pfeiffer family in Germany along with their own stories.  One word of warning in regards to these transcribed stories- they often contain misspellings of names or locations because just as with census records, the interviewer just wrote what they thought they heard. An example of this is the fact that Anna Pfeiffer stated in her story that they came from “Table”  Prussia. I can not tell you how long I searched for the village of Table in vain, only to realize much later that the village was Calbe!

Besides the handwritten letter from Ernst Pfeiffer written in German, we had one other very important document that held the key to the family’s origins. We had an official certificate for Wilhelm Pfeiffer but it was also all in German so of course we had no idea what it was for many years. A few years ago, we were able to have it translated and discovered that it was a certificate of vaccination which included Wilhelm’s place of birth!

William Pfeiffer vaccination document

vaccination certificate for Wilhelm Pfeifer, born in Calbe, district Magdeburg June 30, 1863, son of Ernst Pfeifer, “Ziegler” (“Ziegelmeister”) in Calbe.

This document was translated to the following information: vaccination certificate for Wilhelm Pfeifer, born in Calbe, district Magdeburg June 30, 1863, son of Ernst Pfeifer, “Ziegler” (“Ziegelmeister”) in Calbe.   My search for Calbe in the Magdeburg district has led to Saxony Anhalt province and it’s history. Much as in the case of my Meyer ancestors, I can currently find out little about the specific family history but I can provide a history of the area the family lived in!

 

Saxony Anhalt history and the appearance of Roland throughout that area

I decided to find out more about this village of Calbe and the Magdeburg district in hopes that it might at least give me a better picture of the place Ernst Pfeiffer and his family came from and perhaps some general idea why they too may have chose to immigrate at the time they did. As with the Meyer family, I do not know a great deal about their family or financial circumstances during that time. Ernst was a bricklayer or tiler according to his occupation status. His daughter in law, Susanna mentioned that in Germany he had worked on fruit farms. Daughter Anna mentioned that she and her family had been or were German Lutherans.  That is about all we know of the family life in Prussia or Germany.

As I said, I began my search in the village of Calbe and quickly found a fascinating history of the area that includes the legendary Roland! My initial search for Calbe Germany immediately rewarded me with the interesting and rather odd mention that one of their village’s historical monuments is a statue of Roland.   Calbe is a town in the district of Salzlandkreis, in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany.

It is situated on the Saale River, approx. 12 kilometers (7.5 mi) north of Bernburg, and 25 kilometers (16 mi) southeast of Magdeburg. It is known as Calbe an der Saale, to distinguish it from the smaller town of Kalbe on the Milde in the same state. Pop. (1905) 12,281.  It is a railway junction, and among its industries are wool-weaving and the manufacture of cloth, paper, stoves, sugar and bricks. Cucumbers and onions are cultivated, and soft coal is mined in the neighborhood.

The town has a statue of Roland outside its city hall. Roland is a symbol who represents many small and medium sized towns in Saxony-Anhalt, symbolising free trade and prosperity. The town also has a very old church, and a tower known as the “Hexenturm” (“Witchtower”), in which the townspeople imprisoned accused witches and tortured them in the Middle Ages.

calbe and magdeburg Germany Calbe_(Saale)_in_SLK calbe statue of roland3 calbe germany calbe2

This very brief description of the village and it’s history caused me to be even more curious about this area. First of all of course, it is in the province of Saxony Anhalt… and I am always interested in knowing more about the history of anyplace related to the history of Saxony. Second, naturally I was sucked in by this area’s connection and loyalty to that legend of Roland. The Witch Tower held no added curiosity for me- they are in any number of medieval villages throughout Europe! My most nagging question was, “What is Roland doing in these villages, when and why did he show up there as such a revered and important symbol for them?” For that, I needed to do more research on the entire area and on the legend of Roland to see where the connection might come in.

 

History and Legends of Roland

For the many fans and followers of  Michael Hirst’s Vikings Saga as well as anyone interested in medieval history or history of Charlamagne, the character of Roland is  somewhat familiar. In the Vikings Saga, we have a rather mysterious Roland as a Frankish soldier of high standing- Count Odo’s first in command. As yet, we know very little about him other than that he maintains an important status within the court and household of Charles. He is a well trusted member of their regime and that is about all I can tell you so far. His character is played by Huw Parmenter and he will be returning in season 4 so hopefully his story and history will be better explained.  At this point is mere speculation on what route Hirst has taken with this character- whether he has created him based on some type of historical reference or symbolism, or whether he just liked the name and this is a totally fictional creation. Many who are familiar with the legends of Roland and his connections to Charlamagne and the Frankish Empire are of the thought that this character would be some symbolic representation or nod to the more famous Roland.  To the best of my knowledge, Hirst has not commented on this character interpretation yet.  The introduction of his character with his high standing in the Frankish court leads me to personally think, or at least hope- that there is some odd connection. Hirst has made so many references to Charlamagne and his dynasty that it seems reasonable to me that he would include some reference to Roland. He has already played so much with timelines that it is not unreasonable or implausible that he would consider bringing Roland into the picture even though his original history involved that timeline of Charlamagne. One might compare it to King Ecbert, who’s true history also falls into the timeline of Charlamagne.  If Hirst easily maneuvered Egbert up the timeline, why would he have any reservations about doing the same for Roland.  What ever the case, we now have a rather mysterious and illusive Roland as second in command of the Frankish army and most of us want to know more about him, and or his possible real history.

Roland's story yes here comes roland yet again

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

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

odo and roland visit the camp to find out why they have not left yet and.... here comes roland once again

In history, Roland was ) was a Frankish military leader under Charlemagne who became one of the principal figures in the literary cycle known as the Matter of France. The historical Roland was military governor of the Breton March, responsible for defending Francia‘s frontier against the Bretons. His only historical attestation is in Einhard‘s Vita Karoli Magni, which notes he was part of the Frankish rearguard killed by rebellious Basques in Iberia at the Battle of Roncevaux Pass.

The only historical mention of the actual Roland is in the Vita Karoli Magni by Charlemagne‘s courtier and biographer Einhard. Einhard refers to him as Hruodlandus Brittannici limitis praefectus (“Roland, prefect of the borders of Brittany”), indicating he presided over the Breton March, Francia‘s border territory against the Bretons.  The passage, which appears in Chapter 9, mentions that Hroudlandus (a Latinization of the Frankish Hruodland) was among those killed in the battle:

While he was vigorously pursuing the Saxon war, almost without a break, and after he had placed garrisons at selected points along the border, [Charles] marched into Spain [in 778] with as large a force as he could mount. His army passed through the Pyrenees and [Charles] received the surrender of all the towns and fortified places he encountered. He was returning [to Francia] with his army safe and intact, but high in the Pyrenees on that return trip he briefly experienced the Basques. That place is so thoroughly covered with thick forest that it is the perfect spot for an ambush. [Charles’s] army was forced by the narrow terrain to proceed in a long line and [it was at that spot], high on the mountain, that the Basques set their ambush. […] The Basques had the advantage in this skirmish because of the lightness of their weapons and the nature of the terrain, whereas the Franks were disadvantaged by the heaviness of their arms and the unevenness of the land. Eggihard, the overseer of the king’s table, Anselm, the count of the palace, and Roland, the lord of the Breton March, along with many others died in that skirmish. But this deed could not be avenged at that time, because the enemy had so dispersed after the attack that there was no indication as to where they could be found.

Roland was evidently the first official appointed to direct Frankish policy in Breton affairs, as local Franks under the Merovingian dynasty had not previously pursued any specific relationship with the Bretons. Their frontier castle districts such as Vitré, Ille-et-Vilaine, south of Mont Saint-Michel, are now divided between Normandy and Brittany. The distinctive culture of this region preserves the present-day Gallo language and legends of local heroes such as Roland. Roland’s successor in Brittania Nova was Guy of Nantes, who like Roland, was unable to exert Frankish expansion over Brittany and merely sustained a Breton presence in the Carolingian Empire.

According to legend, Roland was laid to rest in the basilica at Blaye, near Bordeaux, on the site of the citadel.

If you look at Roland in this very limited extent of his actual historical contributions to Charlamagne and the Frankish Empire, it’s rather difficult to explain or reason how he came to be such a legendary figure of such acclaim. He would  be so romanticized and revered that tales of his supposed feats would be told and sung about in the eventually conquered land of Saxony and even in Norse legends.  Put in terms of actual historical accounts, Roland was not necessarily all that important- he was most likely one of many Frankish military leader involved in the various battles and conquests of  Charlamagne’s empire. He was a part of the wars against Saxony but died before victory over Saxony was ever achieved so he really had no significant contribution in that area. As far as his role in controlling the Bretons, he was not successful there either. And, quite obviously, his march into Spain against the Basques ended badly as well.   One would have to reasonably question how this soldier went from such seemingly mediocracy to the level of praised and esteemed Folk hero?  The answer to that could be blamed on one very creative Poet/Story teller in the 11th century!

The Song of Roland  is an epic poem based on the Battle of Roncevaux in 778, during the reign of Charlemagne. It is the oldest surviving major work of French literature and exists in various manuscript versions, which testify to its enormous and enduring popularity in the 12th to 14th centuries.  The date of composition is put in the period between 1040 and 1115: an early version beginning around 1040 with additions and alterations made up until about 1115. The final text has about 4,000 lines of poetry. The epic poem is the first  and with The Poem of the Cid one of the most outstanding examples of the chanson de geste, a literary form that flourished between the 11th and 15th centuries and celebrated legendary deeds. 

The earliest known source for Roland’s rise to fame and glory are attributed to a poet named Turold, between approximately 1040 and 1115, and most of the alterations were performed by about 1098. Some favor an earlier dating, because it allows one to say that the poem was inspired by the Castilian campaigns of the 1030s, and that the poem went on to be a major influence in the First Crusade. Those who prefer a later dating do so on grounds of what they interpret as brief references made in the poem to events of the First Crusade. One of the main reasons for the poem’s initial popularity was most probably it’s references to Charlamagne fighting off the Muslims in Spain. Possibly Turold’s intention or premise for telling the story was based on that from the beginning. His work would have been looked on by those who paid him as an excellent motivator in the upcoming Crusades that began around the same time. What better story to encourage people to join in the march of Christians to defeat the Infidels and Heathens of the most holy of lands. They had already for the most part done away with the Heathen influence in Europe. And, by this time even the Heathens of the Northern areas- those Saxons, Danes and Norse had all been converted so the next step was to conquer those Eastern lands. While the laypeople saw it as their sworn duty and purpose to defend Christianity and spread God’s word to the world, in reality the Church saw it as good business that brought more wealth, power and control to the Church leaders. In a sense, war and crusades were good business for the church and they made the most of the opportunities such events presented. So, Turold was most likely well rewarded for his story of Charlamagne and Roland fighting to bring Christianity to those infidel Muslims in Spain.

The tale of Roland’s death is retold in the eleventh-century poem The Song of Roland, where he is equipped with the olifant (a signalling horn) and an unbreakable sword, enchanted by various Christian relics, named Durendal. The Song contains a highly romanticized and embellished account of the Battle of Roncevaux Pass and Roland’s death, setting the tone for later fantastical depiction of Charlemagne’s court.

chroniques of Roland

chroniques of Roland

The plot of this earliest known tale of  Roland and his epic march into Spain is as follows:

Charlemagne‘s army is fighting the Muslims in Spain. They have been there for seven years, and the last city standing is Saragossa, held by the Muslim king Marsilla. Threatened by the might of Charlemagne’s army of Franks, Marsilla seeks advice and his wise man, Blancandrin, councils him to conciliate the Emperor, offering to surrender and giving hostages. Accordingly, Marsilla sends out messengers to Charlemagne, promising treasure and Marsilla’s conversion to Christianity if the Franks will go back to France.

Charlemagne and his men, tired of fighting, accept his peace offer and select a messenger to Marsilla’s court. Protagonist Roland nominates his stepfather Ganelon as messenger. Ganelon, who fears to be murdered by the enemy and accuses Roland of intending this, takes revenge by informing the Saracens of a way to ambush the rear guard of Charlemagne’s army, led by Roland, as the Franks re-enter Spain through the mountain passes.

As Ganelon predicted, Roland leads the rear guard, with the wise and moderate Oliver and the fierce Archbishop Turpin. The Muslims ambush them at Roncesvalles, and the Christians are overwhelmed. Oliver asks Roland to blow his olifant to call for help from the Frankish army; but Roland proudly refuses to do so.

The Franks fight well, but are outnumbered, until almost all Roland’s men are dead and he knows that Charlemagne’s army can no longer save them. Despite this, he blows his olifant to summon revenge, until his temples burst and he dies a martyr’s death. Angels take his soul to Paradise.

When Charlemagne and his men reach the battlefield, they find the dead bodies of Roland’s men, who have been utterly annihilated, and pursue the Muslims into the river Ebro, where they drown. Meanwhile, Baligant, the powerful emir of Babylon, has arrived in Spain to help Marsilla, and his army encounters that of Charlemagne at Roncesvalles, where the Christians are burying and mourning their dead. Both sides fight valiantly – when Charlemagne kills Baligant, the Muslim army scatters and flees, and the Franks conquer Saragossa. With Marsilla’s wife Bramimonde, Charlemagne and his men ride back to Aix, their capital in France.

The Franks discover Ganelon’s betrayal and keep him in chains until his trial, where Ganelon argues that his action was legitimate revenge, not treason. While the council of barons assembled to decide the traitor’s fate is initially swayed by this claim, one man, Thierry, argues that, because Roland was serving Charlemagne when Ganelon delivered his revenge on him, Ganelon’s action constitutes a betrayal.  Ganelon’s friend Pinabel challenges Thierry to trial by combat, in which, by divine intervention, Thierry kills Pinabel. The Franks are convinced by this of Ganelon’s villainy; thus, he is torn apart by having four galloping horses tied one to each limb, and thirty of his relatives are hanged.

As a result of Turold’s highly imaginative telling of  Charlamagne’s battles in Spain, Roland became a grand hero of epic and monumental proportions. The story was so well liked that it was constantly repeated and added to over the centuries. By the 14th century Roland had battled a Saracen giant named Ferracutus who is only vulnerable at his navel (the story was later adapted in the anonymous Franco-Venetian epic L’Entrée d’Espagne (c.1320) and in the 14th-century Italian epic La Spagna (attributed to the Florentine Sostegno di Zanobi and likely composed between 1350–1360).  Other accounts expanded on Roland’s life-  His friendship with Olivier and his engagement with Olivier’s sister Aude are told in Girart de Vienne by Bertrand de Bar-sur-Aube. Roland’s youth and the acquisition of his horse Veillantif and sword are described in Aspremont. Roland also appears in Quatre Fils Aymon where he is contrasted with Renaud de Montauban against whom he occasionally fights.

In various legends of Roland, he takes on a persona similar to Arthur and his knights of the roundtable. In Roland’s version, the Knights are rather represented by or referred to as his Paladins.  All Carolingian paladin stories feature paladins named Roland and Oliver; other recurring characters are Archbishop Turpin, Ogier the Dane, Huon of Bordeaux, Fierabras, Renaud de Montauban and Ganelon. Tales of the paladins once rivaled the stories of King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table in popularity.

Roland and his Palidans

Roland and his Paladins

Roland and his Paladins appear in the The Karlamagnús saga (“saga of Charlemagne“),  a late 13th century Norse prose compilation and adaptation, made for Haakon V of Norway, of the Old French chansons de geste of the Matter of France dealing with Charlemagne and his paladins. In some cases, the Karlamagnús saga remains the only source for otherwise-lost Old French epic.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karlamagn%C3%BAs_saga

The following is a beautiful rendition of the Norwegian ballad of Roland with lyrics included.

So, now we know that Roland achieved his epic fame and glory not because of any actual accomplished feats in his lifetime, but more because a gifted story teller turned him into that legendary hero a few centuries later. During the years in which he lived and those even some years after his death, Roland was just another Frankish soldier involved in wars against the Saxons and any number of other groups or territories that Charlamagne felt were in need of Christianizing and conquering, probably including such Heathens as the Vikings!

As the various lands were conquered over the next centuries, the legends of Roland also ma