Tag Archive | history of Wessex

BBC Last Kingdom: So far, So Excellent!

Hopefully by now, many people have already seen the first few episodes of BBC’s The Last Kingdom series. If you have not seen it yet, please go find it and watch!  I did an initial review after the first episode premiered a few weeks ago and promised to give added thoughts after more people had a chance to view it. We are now up to episode 3 here in the states so I am going to give my thoughts on it up through that episode. Please be advised and warned that I will be including spoilers in this review! There is also some comparison and reference to the book series by Bernard Cornwell.

First of all before we go any further, I want to address the continuing comparisons to Game of Thrones. This is not GOT, this is not fantasy and should not be compared as such. This show is historical fiction/drama but by no means should it be considered and some sort of fantasy genre. Nor is it all about graphic sex for ratings. This is a dirty, grim, and often harsh look at history and life during the time of Alfred’s reign and the Great Heathen armies conquest of England. I have read some reviews in which the viewers complained that it felt dated and low budget as compared to some other shows. I completely disagree in that regard. As I mentioned, what it is, is a more realistic presentation showing the conditions that many- most people lived in during that time.

Are there some historical inaccuracies, of course there are- nothing is perfect and I don’t expect 100% historical authenticity or accuracy… if I did, I would refrain from television or fiction at all and read only text books about the events- and even then, I would never get exact because even text books make mistakes. I am far more interested in the story that is being told here and that story is keeping me interested and waiting for each new episode. If you have read the books, yes there are deviations and changes so I suppose that if you are book purist, this may cause you some frustration, annoyance or irritation. I appreciate the changes that have been made to make this story work in the compacted visual version that the creators are limited to. As far as I can see, the story is still falling into place and following a similar path as the books did, just getting there in a slightly different manner.

In my previous initial review, I did go over the highlights of episode 1. I am not going to repeat that here, you can read my previous review here:

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/10/12/uhtred-of-bebbanburg-has-arrived/

 

For those who have read the books, the first episode followed closely along the lines of the book. It included many of the important events and highlights of the book. Please keep in mind that this initial season is only 8 episodes and is trying to compact the events of two books into these 8 episodes. I do say initial season because from what I have read, if this season is successful, there are already plans for additional seasons! Obviously there is no way they can include every event that each reader might deem important in the filming of the show. While I do wish that we could have seen more of Uhtred’s early years with Ragnar and his family, I understand completely why they chose to present it the way they did. As an introduction to Uhtred’s adult life, the initial episode worked the way it was supposed to. It gave us that introduction to him, his life and the events that would shape his future. We saw the child Uhtred, heir to Bebbenburg, watch the Danes arrive. We watched with Uhtred, the battle between the Danes and the Northumbrians that destroyed Northumbria as a Saxon Kingdom and killed Uhtred’s Father. We were provided with the details of Uhtred’s Uncle’s treachery and deception to take Bebbenburg from Uhtred. Then we also saw Uhtred’s capture by the Danes along with his remaining childhood spent living with them, becoming for the most part a Dane himself.  That first episode provided us with the conspiracies and treasons between the Danes. It included the treachery of a family against Uhtred and his Danish family that will last long into the future. Events such as the actions of young Sven against Thyra, Ragnar’s retaliation, then the later hall burning and kidnapping of Thyra by Kjartin and Sven as well as their blaming of Uhtred for the event; those events are by far the most important parts of the initial story that will continue to haunt Uhtred and shape his path throughout the future.

With episode 2, book readers will see a change in the storyline and of course some may be critical of these changes. I have to say that I am not one of those critical people. I was highly impressed with the episode and the additional history/background it provided. In episode 2, Uhtred and Brida fled Northumbria and headed for the supposedly safer kingdom of Wessex and the one person whom Uhtred thought might be able to help achieve his goal of reclaiming his birthright of Bebbenburg. Uhtred’s one goal in life right now is claiming his rightful title and his lands from his traitorous Uncle.  Uhtred is young, brash and rash in his actions and thoughts, but he does clearly understand one thing… even were the Danes not against him at the moment because of their belief that he turned on his Danish family, they would not allow him to be the clear owner and ruler of Bebbenburg. The Danes might eventually help him to gain it, but it would forever be for their own purpose. They made that quite clear with their installation of Echbert, “King of Nothing”. They might allow someone to rule or hold a title, but they would be the ones in control of that person. Uhtred pins his hopes on the leaders of Wessex being willing or able to help him.

Ecghbert the ridiculous puppet king for Danish masters

In episode 2, we see Uhtred and Brida coming into their own beliefs and ideas as young adults on their perilous adventure to what they hope is some safety. We see them enjoying life but we also see both of them beginning to question the world around them and take steps towards the beliefs that will shape all of their future life decisions. Uhtred insists that their safety lies with Wessex for the time being but Brida is not so sure. The one thing they are sure about is that they are not safe with the Danes until they can find some way of proving their innocence in the murder of Ragnar and their family. They have lost everything except the wealth of Ragnar’s hoard and Uhtred is realistic when he tells Brida that they have no other option but Wessex for the time being… whether Brida likes it or not, they can no longer be Dane- they must be Saxons.

brida we are no longer danes

brida we are no longer danes

During their journey to Wessex, Uhtred purchases what will become his lifelong companion, possibly more important to him than anything else even Bebbenburg. Uhtred’s sword, Serpent Breath is born and is hungry for blood. Uhtred quickly begins to feed his sword’s thirst for blood as he and Brida are besieged and attacked Danes and Saxons both who are hunting for him.

I've given her some beauty but she is a tool first

I’ve given her some beauty but she is a tool first

Introducing Uhtred's best friend Serpent Breath

Introducing Uhtred’s best friend Serpent Breath

 

What Uhtred discovers in Wessex is that Alfred, brother to King Athelred, already knows well of Uhtred and the events of Northumbria. As Alfred later tells Uhtred, “I have ears and eyes everywhere in every Kingdom.”  Uhtred also discovers his childhood tutor and protector, Father Beocca is in Wessex as Alfred’s close advisor and priest. Father Beocca will forever be Uhtred’s friend, advisor, and in many ways, a Father figure for Uhtred whether he wants to adimit it or not. Beocca will eventually often become Uhtred’s inner voice of conscience and reason much as he is for Alfred. We see the beginning of this long relationship between the three men as Beocca introduces Uhtred to Alfred, makes attempts to defend Uhtred and makes no bones about reprimanding Uhtred for his misguided thinking. Beocca possibly knows Uhtred better than Uhtred knows himself and he stands firm in his belief in Uhtred despite Alfred’s doubts, misgivings and rightful mistrust of this adult man who as he puts it, is no longer a child but a man- a man who is selfish “soul-less” and without principle or solid belief. In many ways, Alfred’s current initial assumptions about Uhtred are correct whether we want to admit this of our hero or not.

Aethered and Alfred in last kingdom

I have eyes and ears everywhere in every part of Engleland

I have eyes and ears everywhere in every part of Engleland

Beocca saves Uhtred's ass

Beocca saves Uhtred’s ass

Beocca vouches for Uhtred and leads him to Alfred instead of the king.

Beocca vouches for Uhtred and leads him to Alfred instead of the king.

I look at you I see a Dane Uhtred of nowhere who cares about nothing but himself

I look at you I see a Dane Uhtred of nowhere who cares about nothing but himself

Father Beocca:I know this boy I know his soul Alfreds reply: Father Beocca he has no soul

Father Beocca:I know this boy I know his soul Alfreds reply: Father Beocca he has no soul

 

Uhtred is young, stubborn and strong willed. His thoughts are basic and primary during this time. He is guided by his lust for life, his need for revenge and his desire for what he believes is his rightful title and land. Uhtred must often be reminded of the bigger picture, of the realities and common sense reasonings by Brida, Beocca and by Alfred.  We do see the beginnings of that inner character, that inner man that he will become- the one that Beocca sees.

It is our destiny to hump

finding a way to pass the time

finding a way to pass the time

Brida to Uhtred: I am thinking you have a turd for a brain

Brida to Uhtred: I am thinking you have a turd for a brain

Brida's sound advice Uhtred you need to forget about Bebbanburg

Brida’s sound advice Uhtred you need to forget about Bebbanburg

Father Beocca believes you are an advantage but I believe you are here soley for yourself

Father Beocca believes you are an advantage but I believe you are here soley for yourself

Only by saving Wessex can we have a Northumbria or even a Bebbanburg

Only by saving Wessex can we have a Northumbria or even a Bebbanburg. Alfreds explanation begins to sink in to Uhtred

I mentioned earlier that the show takes a slightly different historical path than the books beginning in episode 2. While it takes a slightly different path, it works well toward taking us to the same events and ideas of the books.

Uhtred's first sight of Roman building skills

Uhtred’s first sight of Roman building skills

One of the most interesting smaller details that people should pay close attention to is Uhtred’s initial reaction to the buildings of Alfred’s domain. It is in this short scene that we see a glimpse of what will be Uhtred’s life long fascination, appreciation and love of building- and all things of that ancient Roman past that is deteriorating around them. This is actually very important because it sets up Uhtred’s view that the world is falling into the darkness and chaos of the Dane belief in Ragnarok.  Throughout Uhtred’s life he will look at the Roman wonders and ruins around him, see the loss of that greatness and compare it to the desolation and chaos of his time. He will see it as that comparison to Ragnarok, the end of time. This deep seated belief in the Old Gods, in the coming of Ragnarok, and in fate or destiny will remain with Uhtred throughout his life even as he makes the decisions to fight for the Saxons, the Christian Nailed God.

Ragnarök  was the doom of the gods and men, and heralded the destruction of the Nine Worlds. Nothing will escape the coming destruction, whether you live in heaven and on earth. The war will be wage between the goods and the evils. The goods were the Aesir, led by Odin, ruler of the gods. The evils, were the giants and monsters, led by Loki.  Yet the strangest things about Ragnarök was that the gods already knew what was going to happen through the prophecy: who will be killed and by whom, who would survive, what happen to those in the other world and so forth. Despite, knowing their fates, the gods will still defiantly face their destiny, as brave as any hero in a saga. The Norse gods knew what was to come, and knew they could not do anything to prevent prophecy coming to pass.

 

Episode 2 introduces us to the leaders and followers of Wessex, to their personal conflicts and to their flaws. We see Athelred as a King trying to hold on to his kingdom and we see the problem he faces with a son that he deems as unqualified and unfit to inherit the rule of Wessex in this most dire time. In history, Athelred did have two sons who should have been next in line to rule but a decision was made to place his adult brother Alfred on the throne instead. It is generally assumed that the decision was made because the boys were too young to rule and as an adult already proven in battle, Alfred would be the better choice to rule in such difficult times. We are introduced to Althelred’s son who does not show much capability to rule… Athelred’s doubts about him are apparent when he makes the comment, “I can not believe he is my son… if his Mother were not dead already, I would have her killed for adultery”

a drunken Athelwold

a drunken Athelwold

I do not think he is mine if his mother were dead already I might have her killed for adultery

I do not think he is mine if his mother were dead already I might have her killed for adultery

I ask that you become a man and quickly

I ask that you become a man and quickly

 

 

We see that Alfred has doubts about his own ability to rule because of his personal failures and sins. Alfred is tempted by sins of the flesh and Father Beocca advises him that this temptation is a sign, a test from God and he must put temptation in his midst so that he can ever be reminded of it and resist it… as a result, his temptation of the flesh is made a part of his household servants and we will eventually see that Alfred does not fare well in resisting it. Alfred’s foretelling and prophetic comment regarding his brother and kingship is, “Pray God that my brother does not die soon, for what kind of King would I be, sinner that I am!” 

temptation of the flesh

We also see Aflred’s other weakness, his very real physical weakness- the ailment and illness that will follow him throughout his life.

Join us for breakfast, I dare you!

Join us for breakfast, I dare you!

it is broth not gruel you should be thanking god for it's goodness!

it is broth not gruel you should be thanking god for it’s goodness!

But, aside from his temptations and his physical weakness, we are introduced to Alfred’s mind, his thought process and his unwavering belief in an idea of One united Kingdom of England. Alfred is intelligent, well studied in strategies of war, cunning and ruthless if he needs to be in order to survive this onslaught from the Danes. Uhtred is advised again and again not to underestimate Alfred. Brida wisely tells Uhtred not to trust him and Beocca warns him against thinking he can outsmart or outthink Alfred. Uhtred is stubborn and refuses to listen to either of them…

 

What we also see in episode 2 is the Dane side of events. We are given a better feeling and understanding of Ubba and of Guthrum, the two major leaders of the Dane army at this time. The massacre of King Edmund of East Anglia was presented in a gruesome segment that tells the story of that massacre and gives some insight to the mindset and thoughts of Guthrum and of Ubba. It is also the defining moment where Uhtred and Brida realize how impossible is for them to try to prove their innocence to the Danes. Ubba is the leader of the Danes and his mind is set against them, to him they are traitors of the worst sort. 

 

Ubba's sorcerer, Storri

Ubba’s sorcerer, Storri

It is during this segment though that we see Ubba’s one weakness.. his complete and unquestioning devotion and belief in his sorcerer, Storrie. Ubba will base all of his decisions on what his sorcerer tells him. If you watch the segment closely, you will also see the beginnings of some inner questions or doubts in Guthrum’s mind. It seems that Guthrum is merely amusing himself and others with his questions to Edmund about religion and this so called true God, but could be looked at as some foretelling of a  distant future in which Guthrum did indeed accept Christianity, at least on the surface. What it does foretell is a different mindset and thinking between these two leaders- one which will become more apparent as you see their differences take shape in episode 3.

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

guthrum: tell me about this god are you not afraid

guthrum: tell me about this god are you not afraid

guthrum: I've heard mention of this heaven

guthrum: I’ve heard mention of this heaven

Guthrum I would say your God has left you hanging

In history, Edmund of East Anglia was was king of East Anglia from about 855 until his death in 869.  In 869, the Great Heathen Army advanced on East Anglia and killed Edmund. He may have been slain by the Danes in battle, but by tradition he met his death at an unidentified place known as Haegelisdun, after he refused the Danes’ demand that he renounce Christ: the Danes beat him, shot him with arrows and then beheaded him, on the orders of Ivar the Boneless and his brother Ubba. According to one legend, his head was then thrown into the forest, but was found safe by searchers after following the cries of a wolf that was calling, “Hic, Hic, Hic” – “Here, Here, Here”. Commentators have noted how Edmund’s death bears resemblance to the fate suffered by St Sebastian, St Denis and St Mary of Egypt.

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

Edmund is still alive to face his fate

Edmund is still alive to face his fate

Edmund I've changed my mind I will make no demands

Edmund I’ve changed my mind I will make no demands

Let us try let us see if this god is all powerful if he will save you

Let us try let us see if this god is all powerful if he will save you

 

Uhtred’s and Brida’s escape from Ubba and Gutrum is managed only by their taking of Ubba’s sorcerer, Storri as hostage. Ubba is so fearful of losing his sorcerer that he allows Uhtred to leave but with a last warning that, “One day I will kill you”. 

Now let us see if Our Odin will protect you from the arrows

While on the surface, Brida’s treatment of Storri the sorcerer is humorous and shows her own warrior side, it also shows her deeper future path as a seer in her own right. It gives us an insight to her own personal beliefs that are in some ways, far stronger than Uhtred’s. This side of Brida had not really been addressed until this event where she mentions that he cursed her and she was simply stopping the curse. She does not mention what the curse was so she is beginning to keep her own counsel, her own secrets from Uhtred- which will also come into importance in episode 3.

Storri has learned the hard way do not mess with brida

Storri has learned the hard way do not mess with brida

There's a branch up his ass... which is why he's naked

There’s a branch up his ass… which is why he’s naked

He cursed me it was necessary to block the curse

He cursed me it was necessary to block the curse

 

It is towards the end of episode 2 that we see how serious Alfred is about his convictions and about his mistrust or doubts of Uhtred. We also see Uhtred begin to understand the warnings of both Brida and Father Beocca. Uhtred mistakenly believes that he can easily gain Alfred’s trust by going against all of those warnings, by going behind Alfred’s back to gain his own information on the Danes. He assumes that Alfred and the others will accept him, his words and predictions and that he will be rewarded for his actions. Alfred is not swayed by this action which he very realistically points out to Uhtred could very easily be just another trap by the Danes. How do they know for certain that Uhtred is not working for the Danes and that this is a ploy to send them all to defeat and death? Alfred is determined to keep Uhtred and Brida contained until the outcome of this battle is certain. If the Saxons are being set up and will meet their demise at this battle, then so shall Uhtred meet his own end as will Brida. Alfred is nobody’s fool and Uhtred would be wise to keep this in mind should he survive!

The Pagans need to feel the power of God

The Pagans need to feel the power of God

Uhtred goes behind Alfred back to spy on the Danes and finds his own evidence

Uhtred goes behind Alfred back to spy on the Danes and finds his own evidence

Alfred doesn't trust Uhtred2 if the Saxons lose this battle so does Uhtred2

Alfred chose to teach Pagan Uhtred a lesson in humility and show him that he is not in charge or in control of dealings with Alfred. Alfred then headed into the battle with his own plan but probably the ideas and thoughts of Uhtred as well.

Alfred thinking on his own plan and possibly remembering uhtred's advice

Alfred thinking on his own plan and possibly remembering uhtred’s advice

The battle that Alfred and his brother were headed to was one at a place that Alfred referred to as Asec’s hill… this corresponds to ‘Æscesdūn’ or Ashdown which is generally thought to be an ancient name for the whole of the Berkshire Downs. It is not known exactly where the two armies met, though it was around a lone thorn tree. Thorn Down at Compton, near East Ilsley — meaning Place of Conflict — is therefore a popular contender. Modern investigation suggests a site on the Ridgeway between Aldworth and the Astons.

In late 870, King Ethelred led the army of Wessex against the Danes in their stronghold at Reading. The attack failed, and the Anglo-Saxons were forced to retreat while the Danes pursued. The Danish armies caught up with the Anglo-Saxons on the field of Ashdown, located somewhere near the border of Oxfordshire and Berkshire (the precise location is unknown). It was January 8, 871. The weather was cold and damp, and the Berkshire Downs were soaked and boggy. King Ethelred divided his army in two, positioning the halves on either side of a ridgeway. Ethelred commanded one side, Alfred the other. As the Danes approached, they also split their army.

Alfred watched as the Danes drew nearer, waiting for the order to charge. However, his brother Ethelred had decided that he must pray before the battle and refused to advance until his prayer service was complete. Seeing that the Danish movement would cost him the advantage of high ground, Alfred decided to attack without help from his brother. The Anglo-Saxons’ charged on the Danes on their side of the ridgeway. Although nothing specific is known about the fighting, it is likely that both sides employed shieldwalls from which to push and batter against each other. Eventually the Danes broke and fled across the downs.

Only later did Ethelred launch his own troops into the attack. After more heavy fighting, his side was also victorious.

The West Saxons had a slight advantage in numbers (around 800 to 1,000 men), but the Danes held the high ground. The battle, little more than a great clash of shield walls, resulted in a victory for Alfred. The battle, however, was not decisive. This was a pyrrhic victory, for a great many lives were lost on each side and the Danes were subsequently able to win several battles after receiving reinforcements. Nevertheless, the hard fighting may have made the Danes more cautious in their raids into Wessex, preferring easier targets.

Historically, Athelred would actually die sometime later after the battle of Marton.  The Battle of Marton or Meretum took place on 22 March 871 at a place recorded as Marton, perhaps in Wiltshire or Dorset, after Æthelred of Wessex, forced (along with his brother Alfred) into flight following their costly victory against an army of Danish invaders at the Battle of Ashdown, had retreated to Basing (in Hampshire), where he was again defeated by the forces of Ivar the Boneless.

It was the last of eight battles known to be fought by Æthelred against the Danes that year, and the defeated King is reported to have died on 15 April 871. Whether he died in battle, or as a result of wounds suffered in battle is unclear. The site of the battle is unknown. Suggestions include the borders of the London Borough of Merton, Merton in Oxfordshire, Marden in Wiltshire or Martin in Dorset. The more westerly locations tend to be favoured because King Ethelred was buried in Wimborne Minster in Dorset shortly afterwards.

 

There are just a few last relationships to the book that I want to bring up right now. The first is Leofic because the character is introduced in episode 2 and will play an important part in Uhtred’s life in the future.  In episode 2, we meet Leofric who, though he is introduced in a different way than the book format, still will become a friend to Uhtred. In episode 2, we see him as one of the warriors/guards of Wessex and he does not hold Uhtred in much high regard. We will see the friendship develop more in episode 3.

meeting of Leofric and Uhtred

meeting of Leofric and Uhtred

Leofric still wants a piece of Uhtred

We also meet Odda the elder and his son, Odda the younger, who both will be important to events in future episodes. Odda the elder is  a well trusted and honorable landholder in Wessex, much as in the books.

I do not think he is mine if his mother were dead already I might have her killed for adultery

I do not think he is mine if his mother were dead already I might have her killed for adultery

Odda the younger… not so much, just as in the books as well! Their interactions and relationships with Uhtred will most likely play out in a similar fashion as the books. You should pay attention to them because I believe they will both important in the storyline being mapped and planned as the show continues.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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!

800px-England_Great_Army_map_svg

 

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

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

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

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

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

alfred is crowned and england is born

alfred is crowned and england is born

 

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

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vikings: Wanderer, part one Let us speak of Ecbert

 

 

they're at the top of that hill

they’re at the top of that hill

Before we talk of battle, blood and fears, let us talk of King Ecbert. If you recall, I previously mentioned my concerns about the land he has given us and I also voice thoughts on what his plans or motives might be?

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/02/26/vikings-our-arrival-in-wessex-causes-much-gossip/

Because as we all know, everyone has secrets, everyone has some ulterior motive in their actions… well, everyone but Athelstan, but his is another story that we will talk of later! For now we will just focus on Ecbert, his possible motives and of course his involvement with us.

Upon our arrival at our farms, Lagertha did indeed question King Ecbert about the same concerns that I thought of earlier. He admitted that the previous landholders had been removed to allow for our settlement. He did make much assurance though that there would be no problem and we would be well safe and under his protection.

settling into the new home ecbert makes assurance that he will protect them and there will be no repercussions

It was always Ragnar's dream to find land to farm and live peacably now that is my dream as well

It was always Ragnar’s dream to find land to farm and live peacably now that is my dream as well

I give my oath that you will be safe here

I give my oath that you will be safe here

King Ecbert did little to hide his affections for Lagertha and made much attempt to win her heart? I am not saying whether this is good or bad… time will tell of that. I trust that my Lady Lagertha is wise enough to know of what games he might play, know the consequences and even take advantage of his affections for her if the need should arise. As I have said, I am sure that he has his own agenda and motives for his actions. But, as I see it for now, he truly does care for Lagertha so, really is that such a bad thing? She enjoys his company as well and as long as she is happy, that is all matters for the time being. Who are we to judge what is in the heart of others? To some, Ecbert’s  first gift to Lagertha may have seemed lacking… but it spoke volumes to Lagertha’s heart!

the way to a farm girl's heart  a gift of dirt Ahhhh dirt my favorite scent ecbert does seem sincere in his gift though I thank you with all my heart

The farming is a hard task and everyone must help to see it’s success. Lagertha  does never put herself above us and is always willing to do far more than she needs to.

the farmstead in Wessex

In her efforts, we are reminded of the Seer’s words to her… “The Sword and the Plow will sustain you until you become like a virgin once more.”

the marriage of plow and sword will sustain you until you become a virgin once more

the marriage of plow and sword will sustain you until you become a virgin once more

King Ecbert sees her efforts and her diligence, and I think he became even more impressed with her worth? He did offer some respite to her in an invitation to visit his Villa.

Farmer Lagertha agrees to visit Ecbert's home because  I need a bath

And, so Lagertha and Athelstan went back to Egbert’s home for a visit. He did his best to ensure her comfort. When  a  dinner time discussion of religion became a bit too uncomfortable for everyone, he gracefully managed to change the subject by presenting her with an additional gift! The topic had turned to differences in beliefs, always a touchy subject for casual dinner conversation.

ecbert waits anxiously for Athelstan's answer Athelstan tries to explain the differences athelstan's answer I love Odin and I love jesus christ ecbert decides a change of subject is needed Stones are much easier to wear than earth Now really what woman could resist such a gift

Later as Lagertha and Athelstan prepared to leave, there was a discussion in which Lagertha showed that she was wiser than thought and knew more of this English language than Ecbert had assumed?  Lagertha made thanks for the beautiful necklace and mentioned that it was such fine work, it must have been created by the dwarves. Ecbert laughed and said, “We do not have dwarves in this country.” Lagertha’s reply, “Oh, yes you do, you just don’t see them!”

we don't have dwarves in England  Yes you do  you just don't see them

we don’t have dwarves in England Yes you do you just don’t see them

There was much more that happened during this visit but it regards Athelstan and the Lady Judith and not Ecbert or his involvements so much with us. We will speak more of it when we speak of Athelstan’s troubles.

 

Now, let us speak more Ecbert and his other possible motives and reasons… His motives and other plans do include that Princess Kwentirith, and of course his son Aethelwulf, so we will speak of both of them during this discussion.  First it might help to know some true  history regarding King Ecbert and his reign over Wessex. because then it might make more sense to see how Kwentirith would tie in to his possible plans.

Although Kwentirith is a fictional person, I have made mention that she bears close resemblance to a real person in the history of Wessex. For that information you can refresh your memory by reading more about that here:  https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/01/05/vikings-trivia-who-is-princess-kwenthrith/

Offa of Mercia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Offa_of_Mercia

Kwentirith at one time mentioned that her Father was Offa, King of Mercia. There was actually a battle over the control of Mercia after Offa’s death, though Ecbert was not directly involved in that other than for the fact that many of the Mercians continuously opposed him and his rule of Wessex.  It was not until later years that he became involved in wanting control of Mercia.  For our purposes, Kwentirith would play into his plans for achieving this control?  She is fighting for control of Mercia herself, or so we would assume… But, in reality, it is quite obvious that the woman is not stable and very doubtful whether the residents of Mercia would allow her to rule even if she were stable minded. If Ecbert were to back her in her plan, though, he could then take control of Mercia from her. Once the battle was won, it would not be difficult to prove her unfitness to rule and if the Papacy were on his side he could very easily gain the rule of Mercia. The Papacy was on his side as it is thought that it was their backing that helped gain him the crown of Wessex in the first place.

The battle of Ellendun

A map of England during Egbert’s reign

 In 825 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.

The Chronicle’s version of events makes it appear that Baldred was driven out shortly after the battle, but this was probably not the case. A document from Kent survives which gives the date, March 826, as being in the third year of the reign of Beornwulf. This makes it likely that Beornwulf still had authority in Kent at this date, as Baldred’s overlord; hence Baldred was apparently still in power.  In Essex, Egbert expelled King Sigered, though the date is unknown. It may have been delayed until 829, since a later chronicler associates the expulsion with a campaign of Egbert’s in that year against the Mercians.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle does not say who was the aggressor at Ellendun, but one recent history asserts that Beornwulf was almost certainly the one who attacked. According to this view, Beornwulf may have taken advantage of the Wessex campaign in Dumnonia in the summer of 825. Beornwulf’s motivation to launch an attack would have been the threat of unrest or instability in the southeast: the dynastic connections with Kent made Wessex a threat to Mercian dominance.

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.

 

 More information of Egbert of Wessex and the battle Ellendun http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egbert_of_Wessex

More information on Aethelwulf:   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%86thelwulf_of_Wessex

You might wonder how this relates in any way possible to our Vikings Saga?  Well, as it’s mentioned, this battle is the key to Ecbert taking control of Mercia. Let us look at how our story might make use of such battle?

We already know that Kwentirith is involved in a fight with her remaining brother for the land and that Ecbert has offered his help to her in this battle. Why would he offer assistance if there were not some potential of great gain for him.  He needs assistance to win the fight is not above using the force of well trained Danish mercenaries such as Ragnar and his men. This would also be a benefit because many of his own men probably are not keen on fighting with neighbors and family in Mercia? Ragnar and his men know little of the bigger picture… though Ragnar did mention earlier, “There is some bigger problem here that is not ours, but his.” He was referring to Ecbert at the time.

Ecbert’s son Aethelwulf quickly volunteered to join in the battle, which would put him in place to receive great credit for a success. A defeat of Mercia would bode well for him and it would go along with history’s reference to him being involved in the battle.

Initially there was no battle on the river bank because Kwentirith’s brother chose wisely to listen to his advisor who told him in no uncertain terms, “Leave, leave now in order to survive!”

well ok maybe the shrooms haven't quite worn off yet time to meet the brother

Bergrid I love you don't leave

Bergrid I love you don’t leave

Maybe now is a good time to pray

There was much that led up to this meeting but I will address them in another discussion. This discussion only pertains to those events important to understanding these Saxons involved in the fight.

WTH It's that crazy sister of mine!

WTH It’s that crazy sister of mine!

you must not trust her she killed your brother and she will kill you

you must not trust her she killed your brother and she will kill you

but I love her

but I love her

survive first then talk of love

survive first then talk of love

Realistically, if you were a Mercian, would you want this woman as your ruler? If  she succeeds in defeating her brother, the Mercians will probably beg King Ecbert to step in and remove her!

Kwentirith as future ruler

Bergrid made a choice to flee rather than face this army… probably a wise choice at the time. Ragnar knew he must continue the fight and sent Aethelwulf to find out where they would flee to. Aethelwul is not just a meek Christian but a warrior in his own right, and he begins to show his worth in this situation.

aethelwulf shows his own warrior leader side

aethelwulf shows his own warrior leader side

Aethelwulf also shows that he is not above his own methods of torture to gain needed information!

aethelwulf shows his own warrior leader side

aethelwulf shows his own warrior leader side

brother birghred's man is captured

brother birghred’s man is captured

I could remove an eye or some teeth which would you prefer

I could remove an eye or some teeth which would you prefer

I don't believe you I don't know anything it's your choice

It's strange how I always know if someone is telling the truth

It’s strange how I always know if someone is telling the truth

After the threat of such torture, the captured man gives up his information and Aethelwulf offers some forgiveness as he is not like those Northmen?

I have no argument with you let's sup together  we're not all like the northmen

One added thought on Aethelwulf’s comments… perhaps Lady Judith would be wise to take heed of his warnings?

I always know when someone is telling me the truth

I always know when someone is telling me the truth

Aethelwulf returns to the group with his information that holds the key to the possible future battle?

they're at the top of that hill

they’re at the top of that hill

Berghrid and his men wait at the top of the hill for help to defeat Ragnar and Ecbert’s forces.  Why is this important, why is this the key? That most important battle for Ecbert, the battle of Ellendun was fought at or near a place called Wroughton.  Occupation of the area continued into the early Middle Ages (AD 410–1066) when two battles are understood to have taken place in the area: Breahburh (AD 567), thought to have been fought by Ceawlin of Wessex on the slopes of Barbury Hill, and Ellandun (AD 825) at Elcombe Hall by Egbert of Wessex. However there is no agreement that the latter was here (it is known to have been south of Swindon). Burial sites in the vicinity are believed to be associated with these battles.

Wroughton: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wroughton

battle of Ellendun

battle of Ellendun

Barbury Castle:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbury_Castle

aerial photograph  by webbaviation.co.uk

Barbury Castle is an Iron Age hill fort situated in Wiltshire, England. It is one of several such forts found along the ancient Ridgeway route. The site, which lies within the Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, has been managed as a country park by Swindon Borough Council since 1971. It is situated on Barbury Hill, a local vantage point, which, under ideal weather conditions, commands a view across to the Cotswolds and the River Severn. It has two deep defensive ditches and ramparts. The Old Ridgeway runs close by and the modern Ridgeway crosses through the castle. In the surrounding area are to be found round barrows, Celtic field systems and 18th-19th Century flint workings.

On a side note, this area is also the site of another historical landmark.  The Uffington White Horse is located close by.

The Uffington White Horse is a highly stylised prehistoric hill figure, 110 m long (374 feet), formed from deep trenches filled with crushed white chalk. The figure is situated on the upper slopes of White Horse Hill in the English civil parish of Uffington (in the county of Oxfordshire, historically Berkshire), some 8 km (5 mi) south of the town of Faringdon and a similar distance west of the town of Wantage; or 2.5 km south of Uffington. The hill forms a part of the scarp of the Berkshire Downs and overlooks the Vale of White Horse to the north. Best views of the figure are obtained from the air, or from directly across the Vale, particularly around the villages of Great Coxwell, Longcot and Fernham. The site is owned and managed by the National Trust and is a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

History

Uffington White Horse, sketched by William Plenderleath in The White Horses of the West of England (1892)

The figure presumably dates to “the later prehistory“, i.e. the Iron Age (800 BC–AD 100) or the late Bronze Age (1000–700 BC). This view was generally held by scholars even before the 1990s, based on the similarity of the horse’s design to comparable figures in Celtic art, and it was confirmed following a 1990 excavation led by Simon Palmer and David Miles of the Oxford Archaeological Unit, following which deposits of fine silt removed from the horse’s ‘beak’ were scientifically dated to the late Bronze Age.

Iron Age coins that bear a representation comparable to the Uffington White Horse have been found, supporting the early dating of this artefact; it has also been suggested that the horse had been fashioned in the Anglo-Saxon period, more particularly during Alfred’s reign, but there is no positive evidence to support this and the view is classified as “folklore” by Darvill (1996).

Numerous other prominent prehistoric sites are located nearby, notably Wayland’s Smithy, a long barrow less than 2 kilometres (1 mi) to the west. The Uffington is by far the oldest of the white horse figures in Britain, and is of an entirely different design from the others.  It has long been debated whether the chalk figure was intended to represent a horse or some other animal. However, it has been called a horse since the 11th century at least. A cartulary of Abingdon Abbey, compiled between 1072 and 1084, refers to “mons albi equi” at Uffington (“the White Horse Hill”).

The medieval Welsh book, Llyfr Coch Hergest [The Red Book of Hergest] (1375-1425), states: “Gerllaw tref Abinton y mae mynydd ac eilun march arno a gwyn ydiw. Ni thyf dim arno.” which translates as “Near to the town of Abinton there is a mountain with a figure of a stallion upon it and it is white. Nothing grows upon it.”

The head of the horse, with sheep grazing around it.

The horse is thought to represent a tribal symbol perhaps connected with the builders of Uffington Castle.

White Horse Hill and Dragon Hill

Also important to note here is Ecbert’s later move on to Northumbria?  According to history, shortly after his victory of  Mercia, he took control of Northumbria as well.Later in 829, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Egbert received the submission of the Northumbrians at Dore (now a suburb of Sheffield); the Northumbrian king was probably Eanred.  According to a later chronicler, Roger of Wendover, Egbert invaded Northumbria and plundered it before Eanred submitted: “When Egbert had obtained all the southern kingdoms, he led a large army into Northumbria, and laid waste that province with severe pillaging, and made King Eanred pay tribute.” Roger of Wendover is known to have incorporated Northumbrian annals into his version; the Chronicle does not mention these events.   However, the nature of Eanred’s submission has been questioned: one historian has suggested that it is more likely that the meeting at Dore represented a mutual recognition of sovereignty. In 830 Egbert led a successful expedition against the Welsh, almost certainly with the intent of extending West Saxon influence into the Welsh lands previously within the Mercian orbit. This marked the high point of Egbert’s influence.
Our Vikings saga differs from history in that our Aelle is currently leader of Northumbria… and conveniently, his daughter, Lady Judith has been married off to Aethelwulf to seal alliances between the kingdoms.  At this time, I am unaware of what precise agreements were made between Aelle and Ecbert so I can not delve into that right now.
Ecbert did gain control over Mercia and Northumbria in the 820s but was unable to maintain that control. 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. Hence a continuing relationship with the Franks seems to be part of southern English politics during the first half of the ninth century.Carolingian support may have been one of the factors that helped Egbert achieve the military successes of the late 820s. However, 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. In this view, the withdrawal of Frankish influence would have left East Anglia, Mercia and Wessex to find a balance of power not dependent on outside aid.

Despite the loss of dominance, Egbert’s military successes fundamentally changed the political landscape of Anglo-Saxon England. 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.   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.

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. The Dumnonian royal line continued after this time, but it is at this date that the independence of one of the last British kingdoms may be considered to have ended.  The details of Anglo-Saxon expansion into Cornwall are quite poorly recorded, but some evidence comes from place names.  The river Ottery, which flows east into the Tamar near Launceston, appears to be a boundary: south of the Ottery the placenames are overwhelmingly Cornish, whereas to the north they are more heavily influenced by the English newcomers.

I know that I have probably provided more information on Ecbert than most would be interested in knowing, but as I have stated before, I think it is important to understand some of his historical background when trying to figure out his character in our version of history.  I also think that it is important to present some of this history as a counter part to the fiction that is being presented in our story.

In regards to the changes that Michael Hirst makes in order to adapt history to the storyline, I feel he makes great attempts to weave historical events and people into the story. I remind everyone that it is after all, historical fiction! My personal feeling is that this battle of Ellendun is  crucial to the expansion of Ecbert’s rule and later, Aethelwulf’s rule as well. I would think that might well get presented somehow within the story to show that other side of Ecbert, that side that we have seen little of as yet?  So, my current thought is that Berghrid’s men at the top of that hill in the distance could be some reference to this important battle.

they're at the top of that hill

they’re at the top of that hill

 

 

 

Vikings: On to Wessex, season premiere review part 2 of 3

Ok… I had originally planned to do this in two parts, but it has turned into three? So, here is part two- our arrival in Wessex and the feast that changed our entire plan for this voyage!

Part one: https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/02/22/vikings-a-long-awaited-voyage-part-one-of-season-3-premiere-review/

 

Our ships set sail and we were bound for Wessex.  Some might wonder, “Just where exactly is Wessex?”  Many of our voyagers were confused about that as well.  I would oft hear asked questions asked regarding this. Were we going to Angle Land or were we going to Wessex? People would scratch their heads over this puzzle so often that I sat down with Athelstan and we tried to explain as best we could how Wessex was a part of Angle land but still it’s own kingdom with Ecbert as it’s ruler. We would be settling on land that was given by Ecbert within his kingdom so that should mean that once settled there, we would fall under Ecbert’s rule.

640px-England_Great_Army_map_svg NewMap871

Wessex was one of four main kingdoms of that Angle land. There was Wessex, Mercia, East Anglia, and North Umbria. North Umbria was where our men went that first time they came to Angle land and landed at Lindesfarne.  That kingdom was far to the north of  Wessex. Now we would be going to the southern part of Angle land.

History of Wessex

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wessex

Kings and Queens of Wessex, Timeline of Wessex  http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofEngland/Kings-Queens-of-Wessex/

 

As we made our voyage, I had my own questions for Athelstan about Wessex and some places that I was sure would be near to us.  As many grew suspicious and wondered why I would know about this land, I made explanation of having traveled for a time with my brother on his trading missions. Most people were so  excited about their own journey that they took me at my word and did not concern themselves further with my history.  I had with me some other small maps which I shared with Athelstan and asked him of the locations which I was interested in.

StonehengeMap wessexmap1_21

Athelstan had traveled during his time as a monk, so I was sure he might have knowledge of Stonehenge? It would be within our kingdom and I might be able to travel there if need be… I wanted to assure myself that should I need to return to the present day, I would know of locations near to me.  Tis always best to keep these facts in mind when traveling!

The other place that I was interested in and much curious about, for historical purposes only, was one Wilton Abbey located at Wiltshire or Wilton. My excitement in coming to this land was the fact that we were traveling to which was the beginnings of such important history for England. This place, Wessex, and Ecbert’s descendants would be key to the future of the country. I could hardly contain myself, I wanted to see all of it and pondered on how I might accomplish such a thing? But, that was thought for some other time, right now I must stick to the most important things, like getting through this journey!

For the present time, I would content myself with the few bits of information that I could easily glean from conversation with Athelstan. I asked him about Wilton Abbey, and yes of course he knew of it. He did give me a puzzled look when I spoke of it and asked me how I would know of it? I had to tell him quietly that he was not the only one torn by the differences in beliefs. I shared with him that once upon a time in my earliest life I had been taught of his religion and his beliefs. Those beliefs were and are still a guide post for me in my spiritual life but I have come to accept that there are many ways and paths to God. We let it go at that and he continued his knowledge of Wilton.  Wilton Abbey was a Benedictine convent in Wiltshire, England, three miles from Salisbury on the site now occupied by Wilton House. A first foundation was made as a college of secular priests by Wulfstan, Ealdorman of Wiltshire, about 773, but after his death (802) was changed into a convent for twelve nuns by his widow, Saint Alburga, sister of Egbert of Wessex.  He stated that as far as he knew, it was a small convent of not much significance. He wondered why I should be so interested in it? Well, I could hardly tell him the truth, which was that it would become very important and significant in the future. And, that future would begin with Ecbert’s son, Aethelwulf.  So, I made mention that I had heard of it from a merhant’s daughter on a trip to Angle land with my brother Gunnar when I was young. I told him that I had a small amount of silver set aside that I should like to contribute to them. That portion was the truth. Though I am not Catholic, nor much of any religion for that matter, I do hold to some remnants of belief and faith. For some reason, I felt a need to see Wilton and make my own small offering to their future. Truth be told, I was also thinking ahead as well to other options I might need to make use of in the future should anything go wrong. 

Rollo and I had once made jest of the idea of me retiring to a convent… Well, the fact was that it was an option that I must consider and plan ahead for if  I should ever need a place of safety or sanctuary? Many Christian women used the convent as their option for escape or safety and not just as a place of holy worship to God. It was in general, one place you could seek sanctuary in and could not be removed from. As a safe haven, Wilton was my best option. It was within Wessex, and it was protected by King Ecbert himself. As far as my goodwill donation to them, that would open their doors to me… I had another amount of silver safely set aside to pay for my admittance to their cloistered life. You see, it was not free to become a nun or have their protection. No, it was in all reality, quite expensive- that is how they made their profits, by charging a high price to become one of them.  One must pay a goodly amount, the amount equal to a Bride’s dowery to be accepted into their convents. It would also help to have a skill that they regarded in high esteem… of those skills I had a few important ones. I could read, write and I could sew! Ohhh, it was not just plain sewing which they looked for, anyone could do that reasonably. They looked for ones who could do fine needle work with intricate detail. That talent I did have. I learned it from Grandmother when I was very young and somehow, I knew it would be valuable to me one day? 

Women in these times had little control over their lives. Some women truly did have a calling and a devotion to serving their God, some were sent to convents as punishment or as a way for their families to rid themselves of an unwanted wife or unmarriageable daughter. There were some women who were offered to the church much as a son would be offered to the priesthood- this had little to do with whether they had a true calling to God. And, yet other women chose it for themselves as that retreat, retirement or sanctuary which I spoke of earlier. It often did not have as much to do with God’s calling as with the fact that they might fare better here than on the outside in times of great strife or trouble.

wilton_6_full

Wilton Abbey as it looks today

In it’s future, Kings would be educated there, Queens would protect and preside there and it would be in the middle of battles between Saxons and Danes, then Saxons and Normans.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilton_Abbey

Life of a medieval nun

http://www.lordsandladies.org/daily-life-nun-middle-ages.htm

Medieval Convent

http://www.medieval-life-and-times.info/medieval-religion/medieval-convent.htm

You may wonder why I am spending so much time on this subject of God’s houses and God’s callings? Well, I want you to understand more fully how important the church and the religion was to people of this time. People like Athelstan, and Aethelwulf, and his wife Judith.  The Christian church was not just about a belief system, it was far more than that. It was the political power structure of the time. Your King or ruler in most instances controlled your life but the church controlled his life! The real king or ruler of all at this time in Christian held strongholds was the church and it’s leader, the Pope. If you wanted real power and control, you would find it difficult to achieve without the backing of these religious powerbrokers. And, for the lower common people, the church was often their survival, their salvation? In times of strife, a good church, good priests, would look after the hungry and the needy thereby endearing the people to them and creating such a devout devotion to the church.  Times were difficult for those common people and for nobles as well. They needed something to believe in, to hold faith in and the Catholic Church provided this in spades! In return, the church was rewarded with enormous wealth and even more power over their followers. Everything in the church system had a price attached to it and you would willingly pay such price for the promise of  great reward in the after life or to avoid the wrath of an angry God or earthly church!

Alright enough of my thoughts on religion… one other thing concerns me about this land we are being promised? Yes, King Ecbert has offered and promised us land to settle within his kingdom, that is all well and fine. I think I have touched upon this dilemma previously but I feel need to make mention of it again because it does concern me. No one has asked my opinion in this matter, why should they? But, I will speak of it here. This agreement puts us in somewhat of a Catch22 situation, or between a rock and a hard place. We shall accept King Ecbert’s offer of land to farm in peace, and that shall put us as subjects of King Ecbert rather than Ragnar. For, I am quite certain that in order to receive this land we shall have to swear oath, fealty and allegiances to King Ecbert? That should be only right as we will live in his kingdom under his protection. If we should not agree to this, he would be well within his rights to deny us the land, evict us from it… and then where would that leave us all? You see my worries and concerns, my reasons for looking into my own personal options for survival? In these coming battles between the Norse, the Danes and the Saxons, most of the kingdoms will eventually fall to the Norse and the Danes. Wessex will be the last kingdom, last stronghold and eventually, the victors for Wessex… that will put their feelings and attitudes about Danes living in their midst into a very negative light.  I came willingly on this voyage but that does not mean that I am without doubts, worries or great fears for our future, because I know how much of it ends and it does not favor us well!

 

I will say no more about the situation for now. I will just tell of our arrival in this land of Wessex.

arriving in wessex

Ohhh before I tell of our arrival and our first days there, there is one other situation that I would share with you? I spoke of everyone else’s reasons for coming on this voyage but did not mention of Bjorn and his new wife, Porrun? Of course Bjorn would join his family on this adventure and thus bring along his wife. He was not exactly happy with all of it though. Porrun was determined to prove herself free and able to choose in all ways now that she was no longer a slave. That is understandable. The choices she insisted upon making though caused much aggrevation and frustration for everyone in the family. She was insistant on making this voyage not just as Bjorn’s wife, but as a shield maiden and warrior.  Now, we all would not have taken exception to this choice had something else not been rather apparent and had she not been quite so forceful and down right moody in her decisions and her attitude at the time?

Not a happy family trip

The sea voyage was not such a pleasant one for those of us who had to share the confines of the boat that carried Bjorn and Porrun!

some of us have to bring our troubles with us

ragnar is none too happy about porunn joining them

ragnar is none too happy about porunn joining them

 

There was much speculation over her moods and of other issues, which we will not mention so as not to put a shield maiden in any bad light… All I will add is that she did not sail well during this trip and we quickly surmised why?

what if you are with child already  I would not just lose you but my child as well

what if you are with child already I would not just lose you but my child as well

I would also lose my child

I would also lose my child

I am not sure you should come with us

I am not sure you should come with us

Porunn was with child and yet she insisted upon choosing to be a warrior and shield maiden, would go so far as to put their unborn child’s life at risk by going into a battle that it was not necessary for her participate in. Bjorn was torn but could not dissuade her from this decision. He made comment to Lagertha that Porrun was stubborn just like someone else he knew? The difference in these two situations was that Lagertha set aside her warrior ways for Motherhood and Porrun does not seem to understand this yet. This stubbornness would put both her and Bjorn in a difficult position later.

For now, let us go back to our arrival and meeting of King Ecbert? There was some uneasiness when Ragnar had to answer Ecbert’s question of where King Horik was?

What happened to King horik  He uhhh met with an unfortunate accident

What happened to King horik He uhhh met with an unfortunate accident

The look on Ecbert’s face showed that he did not believe Ragnar’s explanation of some unfortunate accident, but he did not pursue the matter and let it slide for the time being…

now really do you expect me to believe that  well we'll just pretend I do

Then we are truly equals now.

Then we are truly equals now.

He welcomed us graciously though his son Aethelwulf chose instead to sit in the background with his infant son, holding on to him as if to protect the child from all of us heathens!

aethelwulf watching the arrival

There was a great feast and celebration in our honor? At least that is what we first assumed it to be… it turned into a discussion of our land grant and a change in the agreement. The meeting seemed to go from bad to worse and Ragnar just chalked it up to the way his luck was running at this time. He was much irritated by all of it but there was not much he could do. It all started when he casually asked what had become of the men who had stayed to help Princess Kwentirith in her fight to win Mercia. The looks on Ecbert’s and Kwentirith’s faces told us that this was not going to bode well for us?

ecbert's great hall

ecbert’s great hall

ohhh I can tell I am not going like this story

ohhh I can tell I am not going like this story

Ragnar’s simple question was answered evasively by Kwentirith who made excuse the battle does not go well in Mercia, but surely with our help now, it can finally be won?

what-has-happened-to-our-people-fighting-for-mercia-unfortunately-the-fight-does-not-go-well.

what has happened to our people fighting for mercia? unfortunately the fight does not go well.

Yes, the evening just went downhill from there when we realized that we had been in some ways set up? King Ecbert held the land grant over Ragnar’s head and insisted that in order to receive it now, some of our men must help fight this battle…

At first Ragnar argued that this was not the original agreement, nor was it our fight… it got him nowhere and he realized that to continue arguing the point was futile. He did at first tell Ecbert that this was not the agreement…

that was not part of our agreement

that was not part of our agreement

Ecbert’s response to that was to explain that his people were not all happy with this arrangement?

 

I've given you land but here is the truth as God as my witness  my people are not happy with my decision.

I’ve given you land but here is the truth as God as my witness my people are not happy with my decision.

Ragnar knew what was coming… He just groaned, covered his face and swore to himself!

Awwww Jeees here it comes  I will honor our treaty but in return some of you must fight for princess kwentirith

Awwww Jeees here it comes I will honor our treaty but in return some of you must fight for princess kwentirith

There was no point in arguing, so Ragnar made his own agreement to the terms but warned that he could not speak for the others?

in good faith and in hope to settle this I will do it but the others must decide for themselves

in good faith and in hope to settle this I will do it but the others must decide for themselves

He explained the situation to the others and they each made their choice to join Ragnar in the fight…

of course why am I not surprised there will be a fight and you will volunteer us

of course why am I not surprised there will be a fight and you will volunteer us

I want nothing more than to fight and raid

I want nothing more than to fight and raid

There would be some argument over Porunn’s decision but wisely it was not brought up at this time!

porrun will not be left out  I will fight too

porrun will not be left out I will fight too

Floki added his agreement somewhat grudgingly and none too optimistically? His answer was, “I will be like a fly and follow the dead meat.”

Yes I will fight  the fly always follows the dead meat

Before Lagertha could voice her thoughts on the matter, there was a surprising addition to the volunteers? It came from Aethelwulf. Aethelwulf and Judith had been quiet throughout all of this, though Judith did seem to be watching our priest, Athelstan quite closely…

aethelwulf volunteers to fight along side these pagans

aethelwulf volunteers to fight along side these pagans

aethelwulf and judith listen and watch the meeting

Finally, Lagertha voiced her thoughts on the matter

we came here to farm not fight a quarrel that is not ours

we came here to farm not fight a quarrel that is not ours

She does finally add her agreement….

Lagertha adds her agreement

Lagertha adds her agreement

But, Ecbert had a few other ideas as well…

ecbert makes his move   In order to establish your farms someone should lead your people here

ecbert makes his move In order to establish your farms someone should lead your people here

ragnar is suspicious now   ahhhh yes, here it comes

Ecbert goes on with his suggestion of someone to lead the settlers, one who knows of farming and is respected by the people… all the while eying Lagertha? Athelstan steps in and explains that Ecbert thinks she should remain as this leader? Ragnar is highly suspicious now. But, Lagertha eventually agrees to this new arrangement.

Ragnar looks at athelstan and thinks  And you're going along with this?

Ragnar looks at athelstan and thinks And you’re going along with this?

 

Yep, this is just gonna get worse, I can tell already

Yep, this is just gonna get worse, I can tell already

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

Having played his game so well, Ecbert had one final move…

and you also must stay athelstan we need you  I need you

and you also must stay athelstan we need you I need you

There was a short discussion between Ragnar and Athelstan over this but Ragnar stated that he trusted Athelstan and that he should stay? I can only think that Ragnar chose for Athelstan to remain and keep some sort of protective watch over Lagertha who would now be in close contact with this King who was none too discreet in his interest of her!

well that was easy enough let's drink now then we can all have sex before I kill them all!

well that was easy enough let’s drink now then we can all have sex before I kill them all!

The evening turned out as none of us expected or wished for, save maybe Torstein and Bjorn who really did want to fight! The rest of us finally retired for the night but Ecbert called Athelstan for a last meeting… It was a quiet meeting between two friends. Ecbert was truly glad to have his friend Athelstan close to him again and could not help but remind Athelstan of his God’s calling?

Athelstan is torn between two gods and two friends is there a middle ground

Athelstan is torn between two gods and two friends is there a middle ground

you left this behind  Go on take it

you left this behind Go on take it

he hears the call Athelstan's true god is calling whether he wants to listen or not

Athelstan must leave because

To be continued!