Tag Archive | Last Kingdom on BBC

Uhtred of Bebbanburg has arrived!

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

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

http://www.bernardcornwell.net/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

historical fiction

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

ubbe of Vikings Saga

Ubbe of Vikings series

ubba of Last Kingdom

Ubba of Last Kingdom

Sons in Viking series vs Sons in Last Kingdom

Athelred and Alfred of vikings seriesAethered and Alfred in last kingdom

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

Ecghbert the ridiculous puppet king for Danish masters

ecbert sends aethelwult to mercia to deal with queen kwentirith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

why they came in the first place

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

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

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

Take her to Valhalla with you

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

baptizing Osbert to Uhtred

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

Eoferwic york Loidis Leeds

 

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

ailswith

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

temptation of the flesh

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travel planning and Last Kingdom!

Ahhhh I’ve been so busy with initial travel plans that I have not had time to focus or concentrate on much else lately. When you first think about it, 6 months seems like a long time in the future and one might have the thought of “That’s so far out there, why worry so much about it now?” In reality, we’ve come to realize that planning a trip such as this is somewhat similar to planning a wedding. When you break down all of the various details that need to be addressed in order for this to be successful, 6 months is not really all that long! I mentioned in my previous post that one of those important details needing attention so far ahead of time was the accommodations. Those have been set and so now they shape the rest of the travel plans because they set the route and the stopping points for the trip. We also quickly realized that while we would love to take that more care free, wing it attitude that we so often do with our road trips, we really need to plan ahead for this sort of adventure. We will remain somewhat flexible in our sight seeing options along the way but there are just some things that we feel we can not be quite so flexible on. 

As I mentioned in the previous article, there are a few specific places and sights that we have labeled as priorities and those sights must be included in our overall plan.  My daughter has added her own additional stipulations to the plans… she is determined expand her knowledge and appreciation of Beer and breweries. Neither of us are quite so fond of harder spirits such as Whisky but really, one can not visit Scotland without tasting the Whisky.  She was initially more set on the Beer and breweries so she set about a search for breweries in Scotland. She was immediately served with a list of distilleries rather than breweries in that area so has chosen to embrace, or at least experience the Whisky in Scotland. So, because of this, we must find a way to include some of that Whisky experience in our tour of Scotland. Her current thought is as long as the day ends at a pub with opportunity for appreciating the alcohol, she’s good with what ever else happens throughout the day. I am quite fine with that idea as well, and one thing we both agree on is that there will be absolutely no tasting, experiencing or appreciating Haggis!

We have spent the past week tweeking and adjusting our plan and schedule in regards to what we feel is most important and what is realistically workable for us. It has been a process of  thinking on what we truly want to see and experience the most, what we can do without and what we feel is actually doable given our tight timeline and budget. Part of this intense pre-planning is having an estimate far ahead of time on the budget aspect. We need to have a good idea of how much some of these must see sights and experiences will cost us as well when they are open and how much time they will take to experience.  Because of the time issues and the budget, we really do need to have a fairly detailed plan set well ahead of time. I wish it could be otherwise but as I said, in order for this marathon race to be successful, we need to be well prepared and have a good solid plan as to how to accomplish this adventure.

Our time in Scotland is pretty well mapped and set- I will give you more details about that in a separate post. In this post, I want to talk about the one portion or leg of the trip that we have spent the past few days working on. This is possibly the most important and exciting portion for me… and my daughter has begun to show some great enthusiasm for it as well. This one day trip from Edinburgh to Leeds will  be  full of history from ancient Romans, early Anglo-Saxons, Viking era, some Norman influences and some Scottish history. I can’t even think of which is more interesting or important and there is no way to try to eliminate one sight or place from the plan… believe me, we did try but when it came right down to it, neither of us could say “No, let’s toss this part out” so we opted for a way to include as much of it as possible. I will admit that being able to fit Bamburgh Castle into the plan and have my daughter get excited about it was a highpoint of the planning!

This portion of the trip will truly be a marathon day and because of that we have attempted to plan it out as much as possible. In order to hopefully include all of the sights we have listed as a priority on this portion, the pre-planning was and is essential. This will be an incredibly long day. Our ultimate goal is to visit each of the following sights/places and arrive in Leeds completely exhausted- probably late in the evening with no thought or plan to do anything there but sleep and be ready for the next day’s trip.

We will leave Edinburgh as early as possible on Saturday morning in order to accomplish our marathon history goal.  Our mapped out schedule is as follows:

Edinburgh to Prestonpans:

edinburgh to prestonpans

This is a relatively short trip, about 1/2 hour drive. Prestonpans is the site of the 1745 Battle of Prestonpans, and has a history dating back to the 11th century. The town boasts some impressive examples of historical architecture, such as the Preston Tower and the doocot and the local Mercat Cross, which is the only one of its kind in Scotland which remains in its original form and location.  The town is also credited for achieving the title of “Scotland’s Mural Town” with many wall murals reflecting the town’s colourful past.

According to certain stories Prestonpans was originally founded in the 11th century by a traveller named Althamer, who became shipwrecked on the local beach/coastal area. Finding it impossible to get home, the survivors of the wreck decided to remain where they were and founded a settlement named Althamer in honour of their leader. Whether this story is true or not is a matter of opinion, however when the monks of Newbattle and Holyrood arrived in the district in 1184 there was already a settlement named ‘Aldhammer’ on the site of what is now Prestonpans. The monks gave the settlement their own name, Prieststown or Prieston. Because of the salt manufacturing carried out by the monks using pans on the sea shore, the town’s name would later develop into Salt Prieststown and Salt Preston, and finally Prestonpans.

The Battle of Prestonpans (also known as the Battle of Gladsmuir) was the first significant conflict in the second Jacobite Rising. The battle took place on 21 September 1745. The Jacobite army loyal to James Francis Edward Stuart and led by his son Charles Edward Stuart defeated the army loyal to the Hanoverian George II led by Sir John Cope. The victory was a huge morale boost for the Jacobites, and a heavily mythologised version of the story entered art and legend. A memorial to the Battle of Prestonpans in the form of a modest stonemason-built cairn sits close to the battle site. An earlier (and tellingly, much larger and more impressive) monument to Colonel James Gardiner, a Hanoverian who was mortally wounded on the field of battle, was also erected in 1853 near Bankton House where the Colonel lived. It was sculpted by Alexander Handyside Ritchie. Each year on the anniversary of the battle, a Battlefield Walk is organised by local historians, and in September 2008 the Battle of Prestonpans 1745 Trust organised a symposium on local battlefields. A memorial in the parish church commemorates “John Stuart of Phisgul…barbarously murdered by four Highlanders near the end of the Battle.

Battle_of_Prestonpans_Cairn

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

I have stated previously that this trip is not any sort of Outlander theme type trip but more about all of the rich history of both Scotland and England. This site is important to all of that history and may interest some of the Outlander readers/fans because it the battle that the Jacobite forces won. The Battle of Prestonpans was the first significant conflict in the Jacobite Rising of 1745. The battle took place at 4 am on 21 September 1745. The Jacobite army loyal to James Francis Edward Stuart and led by his son Charles Edward Stuart defeated the government army loyal to the Hanoverian George II led by Sir John Cope. The inexperienced government troops were outflanked and broke in the face of a highland charge. The victory was a huge morale boost for the Jacobites, and a heavily mythologised version of the story entered art and legend. We will arrive at Prestonpans early in the morning and most likely won’t see too much, but we are hopeful that we can manage to fit in something of the history.

 

From Prestonpans it is  short trip on to Berwick upon Tweed. We will be following the coastal route down through this portion of England.

prestonpans to berwick

prestonpans to Berwick

The trip from Prestonpans to Berwick is about an hour.

Berwick-upon-Tweed  is a town in the county of Northumberland and is the northernmost town in England,  on the east coast at the mouth of the River Tweed. It is 2 12 miles (4 km) south of the Scottish border. It is about 56 miles (90 km) east-south east of Edinburgh, 65 miles (105 km) north of Newcastle upon Tyne and 345 miles (555 km) north of London. Founded as an Anglo-Saxon settlement during the time of the kingdom of Northumbria, the area was for more than 400 years central to historic border war between the Kingdoms of England and Scotland, and several times possession of Berwick changed hands between the two kingdoms. The last time it changed hands was when England again took it in 1482. Berwick remains a traditional market town and also has some notable architectural features, in particular its medieval town walls, its Elizabethan ramparts and Britain’s earliest barracks buildings (1717–21 by Nicholas Hawksmoor for the Board of Ordnance).

In 1296 England went to war with France, with whom Scotland was in alliance. Balliol invaded England in response, sacking Cumberland.  Edward in turn invaded Scotland and captured Berwick, destroying much of the town. Edward I went again to Berwick in August 1296 to receive formal homage from some 2,000 Scottish nobles, after defeating the Scots at the Battle of Dunbar in April and forcing John Balliol to abdicate at Kincardine Castle the following July. It was at this time that work began on building the town walls (and rebuilding the earlier Castle); these fortifications were complete by 1318 and subsequently improved under Scottish rule. An arm of William Wallace was displayed at Berwick after his execution and quartering on 23 August 1305. In 1314 Edward II of England mustered 25,000 men at Berwick, who later fought in (and lost) the Battle of Bannockburn.

Between 1315 and 1318 Scottish armies, sometimes with the help of Flemish and German privateers, besieged and blockaded the town, finally invading and capturing it in April 1318.[21] England retook Berwick some time shortly after the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333.  In October 1357 a treaty was signed at Berwick by which the Scottish estates undertook to pay 100,000 marks as a ransom for David II of Scotland,  who had been taken prisoner at the Battle of Neville’s Cross on 17 October 1346.

Berwick Castle was the site where one of Robert the Bruce’s supporters, Isabella Macduff was imprisoned for 4 years of the war between Scotland and England. She was the daughter of Donnchadh III, Earl of Fife, and Johanna de Clare, daughter of Gilbert de Clare, 6th Earl of Hertford. She was married to John Comyn, Earl of Buchan and thus was the Countess of Buchan. After Robert the Bruce killed John III Comyn, Lord of Badenoch at Greyfriars Kirk in Dumfries, the Earl of Buchan joined the English side in the Scottish Wars of Independence. Isabella took the contrary view.

According to tradition, the ceremony of crowning the monarch was performed by a representative of Clan MacDuff, but Isabella arrived in Scone the day after the coronation of Robert the Bruce in March 1306. However, the Bruce agreed to be crowned for a second time the day after, as otherwise some would see the ceremony as irregular, not being performed by a Macduff.  Bruce was defeated at the Battle of Methven in June 1306, so he sent Isabella and his female relatives north, but they were betrayed to the English by Uilleam II, Earl of Ross. Edward I of England ordered her sent to Berwick-upon-Tweed with these instructions: “Let her be closely confined in an abode of stone and iron made in the shape of a cross, and let her be hung up out of doors in the open air at Berwick, that both in life and after her death, she may be a spectacle and eternal reproach to travellers.”[1]

She was imprisoned in this cage for four years,  then moved to the Carmelite friary at Berwick. This was not necessarily a humanitarian move; it is suggested that by this stage Bruce was gaining support, his female relatives were potentially valuable hostages, and the English did not want them to die of ill-treatment. The last clear mention of her is being transferred again in 1313, her eventual fate is uncertain. Most of Bruce’s female relatives returned to Scotland when they were exchanged for English nobleman captured after the Battle of Bannockburn, but there is no mention of her in the records, so she had probably died by then.   Little or nothing remains of the original Castle other than ruins but I am hoping to see them!

berwick castleberwick castle2berwick castle3

With our arrival in Berwick upon Tweed, we will officially be in Northumbria! We will drive down the coast from Berwick towards the best part of all… for me anyway- we will make our way to Bamburgh Castle! For fans of Bernard Cornwell’s Last Kingdom series, Bamburgh Castle is the basis for Uhtred’s ancestral home of Bebbanburg!

berwick to bamburgh castle

berwick to bamburgh castle

From Berwick to Bamburgh Castle is about  1/2 hour drive and will take us past Lindisfarne/Holy Island. Due to our limited time frame, we will not be making the trip to the Island. I have been advised that there is the very real possibility and likelihood that we could get stranded there for a number of hours because of the tides. We will view it from the mainland as I am not about to miss out on Bamburgh Castle because I am stuck on Holy Island for 4-5 hours!

 

As I mentioned, Bamburgh Castle is the basis for Bebbanburg Castle, Uhtred’s childhood home.

Young Uhtred of Last Kingdom

Young Uhtred of Last Kingdom

I am Uhtred rightful lord of Bebbanburg I am Uhtred and I wll claim what is mine

For those of you waiting and anticipating the premiere of Last Kingdom on BBC America which airs on Saturday, just a few days from now- here is just a quick biography of Uhtred:

Uhtred was born into status as son of Ealdorman Uhtred, Lord of Bebbanburg, and raised to have hatred towards the surrounding kingdoms of Mercia, East Anglia, Wessex, Scotland and the Danes. Uhtred was originally called Osbert and was the younger of Ealdorman Uhtred’s sons. The name Uhtred was given always to the oldest son, but after his older brother was killed in a failed attack on the Danes Osbert’s name was changed to Uhtred. Uhtred was never taught swordsmanship in his nine years at Bebbanburg as his stepmother wanted him to pursue a life dedicated to being a priest.

In 866, the first of the Danish army began to arrive in Northumbria. In their speed the Danes were able to capture Eoferwic. Ealdorman Uhtred was killed in the failed assault to reclaim Eoferwic, and Uhtred was captured by the Danes following his furious but feeble attack on a Danish warlord. That warlord, Ragnar the Fearless, son of Ravn, decided to nurture Uhtred’s fury into a suitable fighting spirit and so adopted him. Uhtred found that living with the Danes was a much freer existence than with the pious Christians and their dour priests at Bebbanburg and embraced the Danish gods of Thor, Odin, and Hoder. Uhtred came to love Ragnar as a father and became a brother to Ragnar’s sons, Ragnar and Rorik, and daughter, Thyra.

Living in Ragnar’s company was enjoyable, even after Rorik’s death of sickness, until everything changed. Ragnar had made an enemy in a man named Kjartan due to an incident between Thyra and Kjartan’s son, Sven. The enmity came to a head one night when Uhtred was in the forest making charcoal for weapons. Kjartan led a warband to where Ragnar and his family were sleeping and lit their hall on fire, killing them all. Kjartan initially believed Uhtred to have also died in the fire. Uhtred was crushed by Ragnar’s death and left Northumbria to find family amongst the Saxons in Mercia, to the south.

Uhtred ended up in Wessex and in the service of Alfred the Great. Wessex was the last unconquered Saxon kingdom in England and thus always under constant threat from the Danes. Despite Uhtred’s childhood he began to fight and revel in Danish defeats. However, Uhtred had a particular hatred towards Alfred whom he believed too pious, weak and trusting to fight off the Danish invasion, although he maintained a healthy respect for Alfred’s intelligence. Alfred managed to calm any wanton violence between the two and Uhtred served him faithfully, though grudgingly, and at times with a mind to return to the Danes. Yet, as Uhtred’s usefulness improved so did Alfred’s attention, and as Uhtred aged he began to understand Alfred’s wisdom although dislike was always present.

 

Now, here is some information on the real Bamburgh Castle.

Built on a dolerite outcrop, the location was previously home to a fort of the native Britons known as Din Guarie and may have been the capital of the British kingdom of the region (see Gododdin, Bryneich and Hen Ogledd)  from the realm’s foundation in c.420 until 547, the year of the first written reference to the castle. In that year the citadel was captured by the Anglo-Saxon ruler Ida of Bernicia (Beornice) and became Ida’s seat. It was briefly retaken by the Britons from his son Hussa during the war of 590 before being relieved later the same year.  His grandson Æðelfriþ passed it on to his wife Bebba, from whom the early name Bebbanburgh was derived. The Vikings destroyed the original fortification in 993.

The Normans built a new castle on the site, which forms the core of the present one. William II unsuccessfully besieged it in 1095 during a revolt supported by its owner, Robert de Mowbray, Earl of Northumbria. After Robert was captured, his wife continued the defence until coerced to surrender by the king’s threat to blind her husband.

Bamburgh then became the property of the reigning English monarch. Henry II probably built the keep. As an important English outpost, the castle was the target of occasional raids from Scotland. In 1464 during the Wars of the Roses, it became the first castle in England to be defeated by artillery, at the end of a nine-month siege by Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick.

The Forster family of Northumberland provided the Crown with twelve successive governors of the castle for some 400 years until the Crown granted ownership to Sir John Forster. The family retained ownership until Sir William Forster (d. 1700) was posthumously declared bankrupt, and his estates, including the castle, were sold to Lord Crew, Bishop of Durham (husband of his sister Dorothy) under an Act of Parliament to settle the debts.  The castle deteriorated but was restored by various owners during the 18th and 19th centuries. It was finally bought by the Victorian industrialist William Armstrong, who completed the restoration. The castle still belongs to the Armstrong family, and is opened to the public. It also hosts weddings and corporate events. It has been used as a film location since the 1920s, featuring in films such as Ivanhoe (1982), El Cid (1961), Mary, Queen of Scots (1971), Elizabeth (1998) and both the 1971 and 2015 adaptions of Macbeth. This gives me all the more reason to see the current movie, Macbeth!

bamburgh castle1 bamburgh castle2 bamburgh castle3 bamburgh castle5 bamburgh castle6 bamburgh castle7 bamburgh castle8

http://www.bamburghcastle.com/castle.php

 

I may have extreme difficulty tearing myself away from Bamburgh… I have a feeling that my daughter may have to step in and forcibly drag me away! If we are able to manage departing this place in a reasonable amount of time, we will head on to Roman history at Housesteads Roman Fort which is a part of Hadrian’s Wall.

bamburgh to housesteads roman fort near hexham

It is about 1 1/2 hour drive from Bamburgh to Housesteads so we may end up in a sever time crunch to fit this or the next possible stop into our schedule. Set high on a dramatic escarpment on Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site, Housesteads Roman Fort takes you back to the Roman Empire. Wander the barrack blocks and the hospital. Peer into the oldest toilets you’ll ever see, and admire the stunning panoramic views from this ancient fortress. Our interactive museum showcases objects once belonging to Roman soldiers, and the mini-cinema will take you on a journey through time. 

Roman Fort and Tour

Imagine what life was like for the 800 soldiers living and working at Housesteads in Roman times.  The fort’s original name was ‘Vercovicium’ meaning ‘the place of the effective fighters’.

At the very edge of their empire, the soldiers were secure and self-sufficient within the fort. They had a barracks block, hospital, Commander’s House, granaries and communal toilets, all of which you can still see today.

 

http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/housesteads-roman-fort-hadrians-wall/

 

housesteads-hadrians-wall-view housesteads-museum housesteads-roman-fort

 

As I’ve mentioned already, this will be a marathon day and if we manage to accomplish all of it, I think we shall consider ourselves winners!  From Housesteads, we will head for Leeds.

housesteads to leeds

It’s another two hour drive from Housesteads to Leeds so I can safely assume that by the time we arrive in Leeds it will be fairly late. Our plan is just to find our hotel and crash into bed! No sights or plans other than that for the Leeds area!  I was originally hoping to fit in a trip through Durham on the way to Leeds but being realistic, we’ll be lucky to accomplish what is on this list as it is without adding anything else to the plan!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking forward to The Last Kingdom series!

full trailer44

 

If you follow this blog on any sort of regular basis, you are probably  aware of my interest in this upcoming series based on the books by Bernard Cornwell. I have already made numerous references to the books and to my anticipation of seeing it all play out on the small screen. Because of this, it should come as no shock or surprise to you that I will be including this series along with more of the books and their historical information in my future blog posts.  Was there ever a doubt in your mind that I would not make every effort to promote and document this piece of excellent historical fiction and add it to our look at this time period?

I have also mentioned previously that while I am, for the time being, still a loyal and devoted fan of Michael Hirst’s Vikings Saga, I do have my own issues with it’s historical accuracy and it’s border line veering more into the historical fantasy realm. I have addressed those issues and concerns in a previous post, which you can read here: https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/07/28/historical-fiction-vs-historical-fantasy/

I am not going to re-address those issues in this post.  What I do want to clarify and remind viewers of is that both of these shows are somewhat ground breaking in their nature and genre. I personally think that this new series would not stand much of a chance with a wider audience if not for the initial and ongoing success of  the Vikings Saga on History channel. Michael Hirst created an interest  and huge fan base in this time period and for that he deserves much credit. With his success of Vikings, he created opportunities and opened doors for other historical dramas and epic type sagas. I do want to say that he is the only one responsible for this new interest in historical period dramas because I think it has been coming for a while but he opened the doors to a wider audience than some other shows such as Downton Abbey or even Hirst’s early projects such as the Tudors did.  So, as I said, Hirst does deserve his share of credit, acclaim and respect for his work.

I believe that viewers of the Vikings series should take an interest in The Last Kingdom and not look at it as an either or situation. If you are a fan of the Vikings Saga, I think you will probably enjoy The Last Kingdom just as much. There are some who might incorrectly assume that this is series based on the English version of what took place during the Viking conquests of England and as such would be slanted toward the English side… not giving an honest or favorable picture of the Vikings. First of all, I should remind everyone that right now, Hirst is not giving such a favorable representation of the fans’ beloved Ragnar or even Floki, not to mention Rollo! Next I need to explain that in Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Tales, of which The Last Kingdom is the first book, neither the English or Vikings come out looking all that favorably much of the time. In his series about the life of Uhtred of Bebbanburg, even the “hero” Uhtred  takes his share of blame and mistakes along the way. And, as Uhtred tells his story, he admits those mistakes in retrospect. He does not make excuses and he generally accepts his share of responsibility for his errant actions that may have led to disasterous consequences. He does make much note though of fate and how it guided his life. Fate led him to his capture by the Danes, gave him a deep feeling of family and loyalty to that Danish Family, even as he grew into manhood and his obsession with his own Anglo-Saxon birthright continued to tear his life and his loyalties apart.

wyrd

I am uhtred I am far from perfect

This compelling and more historically accurate story of Uhtred’s life at times crosses paths with Hirst’s version of history in that Uhtred does encounter some of those same historical figures that Hirst has introduced to us. While there is little mention of the infamous Ragnar Lodbrok, his demise or his sons revenge, those sons do play an important part in Cornwell’s version of history. In Cornwell’s story, Ivar, Ubba and a brother named Halfdan play key roles in Uhtred’s life. Cornwell also gives an accounting of Aelle and his brother Osbert, their personal feud with each other and their fate at the hands of Ivar and Ubba.

last kingdom excerpt Aelle and Osburt

Last Kingdom excerpt chapter one Aella and Osburt’s fate

 

Ælla became king after Osberht was deposed. This is traditionally dated to 862 or 863, but evidence about Northumbrian royal chronology is not decisive about dates prior to 867, and it may have been as late as 866. Almost nothing is known of Ælla’s reign. Symeon of Durham states that Ælla had seized lands at Billingham, Ileclif, Wigeclif, and Crece, which belonged to the church. While Ælla is described in most sources as a tyrant, and not a rightful king, one source states that he was Osberht’s brother.

The Great Heathen Army marched on Northumbria in the late summer of 866, seizing York on 21 November 866. Symeon of Durham, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Asser, and Æthelweard all recount substantially the same version of events in varying detail. Symeon’s Historia Regum Anglorum gives this account of the battle on 21 March 867 where Osberht and Ælla met their deaths at the hands of the Vikings:

In those days, the nation of the Northumbrians had violently expelled from the kingdom the rightful king of their nation, Osbryht by name, and had placed at the head of the kingdom a certain tyrant, named Alla. When the pagans came upon the kingdom, the dissension was allayed by divine counsel and the aid of the nobles. King Osbryht and Alla, having united their forces and formed an army, came to the city of York; on their approach the multitude of the shipmen immediately took flight. The Christians, perceiving their flight and terror, found that they themselves were the stronger party. They fought upon each side with much ferocity, and both kings fell. The rest who escaped made peace with the Danes.

After this, the Vikings appointed one Ecgberht to rule Northumbria.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%86lla_of_Northumbria

Bernard Cornwell makes much attempt to remain truer to actual recorded events and people than Hirst has in his story.  Hirst has taken great leeway and license with events and timelines in his version, mixing them along the way until now at the point he is in the saga, we are not sure really what the date or the year is. It could be any time during the 9th century up to early 10th century. All we really have any basis of time reference on from him is that it started in 793 with the raid on Lindesfarne. Cornwell tries much harder to give us some time frame or reference to the people and events that are taking place. He does make mention of the early raid on Lindesfarne and the fact that it occurred near Uhtred’s childhood home, his birthright of Bebbanburg Castle. After that he often gives us dates or at least years in relation to what is going on!  With his Saxon Tales, Cornwell gives us a specific starting point to the story and the events. We know exactly when the story begins with Uhtred’s birth, and Cornwell tries to follow a more or less accurate timeline after that… though, at this point after 8 books into the series, I am curious as to just how old Uhtred is at the end. He seems to be living some sort of incredibly long life span for those years!

Last kingdom excerpt starting date

Last kingdom excerpt starting date

 

One other difference between Hirst’s epic saga and Cornwell’s is the locations. In Hirst’s version, other than a few specific references and representations of  actual places such as Lindesfarne,  Uppsala, the general area of Kattegat, Hedeby and of course Paris, we get more an overall general idea of place or location. We know they are in Wessex but that covers a fairly large area and we have no idea really where in Wessex, Mercia or Northumbria they might be. Of course, that could be reasoned by the assumptions that the Danes were not familiar with these areas in the first place so would not have accurate reference points. That is an understandable reasoning or assumption.  Cornwell’s version of the history deals with the locations as somewhat more familiar references due to the idea that Uhtred is from Northumbria and knows at least something of general locations. He also gives us a representation based on the idea that the Danes were already a force in the country and were familiar with the different places and areas of the Isle which they were intent on conquering. In addition, he is able to draw from the perspective and knowledge of Alfred of his kingdoms and the rest of the country. All of this allows for a better sense of where they are, where they go, and why- from both the Danes’ perspective and the English viewpoint.

What we experience with Cornwell’s books and hopefully the upcoming television series is  one man’s unique perspective of being able to tell the story from the viewpoint and understanding of both sides involved in the Great Heathen War. Cornwell very accurately points out the failures and successes of both sides and the reasons for those outcomes. He tells an epic story of one man’s life during that time from childhood ignorance to a young man’s youthful stubbornness, arrogance and in between it all, he inserts a much older man’s acceptance and wisdom in recalling the events of his life. It is a saga of  this man’s life filled with all of the expected battles, miseries, small rewards, great losses, ill fated romances, wild journies and adventures, accounts of legends and foreign lands. It is filled with rage, rebellion, revenge and  religion, lust and passion, love and heartbreak, and an underlying acceptance of  the fate and future of a country that must unite in order to survive. Through all of Uhtred’s experiences, he does have an inner knowledge and understanding that no matter what he might think of Alfred the King of Wessex, it is Alfred who somehow holds the key to the future of the English, and to his own hopes of ever reclaiming the one thing that keeps him fighting, the one thing that he continues to hold out hope for throughout his life… that thing, that place is Bebbanburg Castle, his birthright stolen from him not by the Danes but by his own Uncle. What he does understand is that even if he helps the Danes win, he would never truly regain his home.  The only thing he could hope for in such a case is the possibility of it being restored to him in name only, he would ever be a puppet Lord of the Danes. His only real hope of truly restoring his land and his title lies with the English, with Alfred defeating the Danes and the kingdoms uniting together. As much as he despises Alfred, he knows that Alfred is capable of such a success and Alfred holds the power to restore his beloved Bebbanburg to him.

bebbanburg castle awaits your return

I am Uhtred I am Uhtred rightful lord of Bebbanburg

Because Bebbanburg is such a crucial part of the books and should be throughout the show, I am going to touch briefly on it here. Bernard Cornwell has mentioned that Bebbanburg Castle is based on a castle in his ancestry.

Bernard cornwell historical notes for Last kingdom

Bernard cornwell historical notes for Last kingdom

Bebbanburg is based on Bamurgh Castle in Northumberland. In his story, Cornwell does reference some of the history of the Castle as to being at one time a part of the more ancient Bernicia.

Aerial_photo_of_Bamburgh_Castle_-_geograph_org_uk_-_654112 Bamburgh_Castle_-_geograph_org_uk_-_1030813

240px-Northumberland_UK_location_map_svg

Bamburgh Castle, then called Din Guardi, may have been the capital of the Brythonic kingdom of Bryneich between about AD 420 and 547. In 547 the castle was taken by the invading Angles led by Ida son of Eoppa and was renamed Bebbanburgh by one of his successors, Æthelfrith, after his wife Bebba, according to the Historia Brittonum. From then onwards the castle became the capital of the Anglian kingdom of Bernicia until it merged with its southern neighbour, Deira, in 634. After the two realms united as Northumbria the capital was moved to York.

Bamburgh was again the capital of local Bernician rulers after the Viking destruction of the old Northumbrian kingdom in 867. Initially puppets of the Vikings, they later had more autonomy under either the Vikings or Kings of united England. The rulers of Bernicia held the title of High Reeve of Bamburgh from at least 913 until 1041, when the last was killed by Harthacnut; sometimes – 954–963 and 975–1016 – they also served as Earls of York. The castle was destroyed in a renewed Viking attack in 993 and in 1018 the Lothian part of Bernicia was ceded to Scotland, significantly reducing the area controlled from Bamburgh.

The Normans built a new castle on the site, which forms the core of the present one. William II unsuccessfully besieged it in 1095 during a revolt supported by its owner, Robert de Mowbray, Earl of Northumbria. After Robert was captured, his wife continued the defence until coerced to surrender by the king’s threat to blind her husband.

Bamburgh then became the property of the reigning English monarch. Henry II probably built the keep. As an important English outpost, the castle was the target of occasional raids from Scotland. In 1464 during the Wars of the Roses, it became the first castle in England to be defeated by artillery, at the end of a nine-month siege by Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick.

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

 

In my previous update post for Last Kingdom, I provided their first full trailer. I am not going to repeat it again here but I have sorted through the video and pulled out some still photos that might encourage you to look forward to the airing of this story. As another encouragement, I would strongly suggest you read the books! There are a number of books in the series but as I mentioned in the previous post, there has been some mention of dealing with about two books per season. So, going with that information, you should seriously consider reading at least the first two books of the series! I did also provide information on those two books in the previous post so you can easily find them and begin your journey with Uhtred! The books are not long drawn out epic reading, they are each fairly short compared to some other works… about 400 pages each. They move along at a quick pace and it really does not take a long time to get through them!

Now, on to some of the highlight pics from the trailer!

Alfred an unlikely looking warrior king

Alfred an unlikely looking warrior king

full trailer5 This is our land and we shall murder everyone who tries to take it

This is our land and we shall murder everyone who tries to take it

have you met my friend

I am Uhtred, have you met my friend Serpent Breath

Uhtred and Serpent Breath

Uhtred and Serpent Breath

We are the Heathens

We are the Heathens and we come soon for Wessex

uhtred and Brida are busy

uhtred and Brida are busy

warrior women shed tears

warrior women shed tears

Uhtred is coming who's side is he on

Uhtred is coming who’s side is he on

I am Uhtred of Bebbanburg I am coming

I am Uhtred of Bebbanburg I am coming

 

I hope all of this spurs you on to read the books by Bernard Cornwell and mark the air date for Last Kingdom on your Calendar! In case you’ve somehow managed to miss that, it is October 10 on BBC America! In case you might also be wondering and waiting impatiently for the next installment of Uhtred’s story… it is due out on October 8!

Warriors of the Storm

WarriorsStormWarriors of the Storm is the ninth book of the Warrior Chronicles/Saxon Stories.  Uhtred’s  struggle between family and loyalty, between oaths given and political demands, has no easy solution. And the clash between the Vikings and the Saxons will resound across the land.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last Kingdom update!

Wooooooooooooooooo!  We’re getting closer to Uhtred’s arrival on our small screens and BBC America has released the first full trailer for Last Kingdom!  BBC America has dropped the first trailer for original series The Last Kingdomfrom Downton Abbey executive producers Gareth Neame and Nigel Marchant. The eight-part drama series, set against the birth of England, follows young warrior and outsider Uhtred (Alexander Dreymon), on a fierce mission to reclaim his birthright.  This  is a slightly more historically accurate version of events during the Viking conquest of England and tells the story from the perspective of Uhtred of Bebbanburg, a man caught in the middle with often divided loyalties between English and Danes.  Here is the new trailer for it! For UK viewers, the series is being produced in conjunction with BBC and I believe it will air on BBC2!

 

http://deadline.com/2015/08/the-last-kingdom-trailer-downton-abbey-producers-bbc-america-alexander-dreymon-1201500202/

Most of you who follow this blog will know that I am a huge fan of  Bernard Cornwell and his Saxon series! You can view previous posts regarding the series here:

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/08/01/last-kingdom-time-travel-in-scotland-plus-hail-to-arthur-pendragon-and-helen-hollick/

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/07/21/last-kingdom-update/

You can also visit the official site for Last Kingdom here:

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

Just a quick added note- there are plans in the works to continue the series if it is well received! I did read an earlier article where they’ve mentioned that it has long range plan of possibly four to five season following a guideline of two books per season? That would mean that during this first season we would see a combination of the first book, The Last Kingdom and the second one, The Pale Horseman.

The first book deals with Uhtred’s childhood and introduction to Alfred…

The Last Kingdom:

The Last Kingdom

Last_Kingdom_ukI had been given a perfect childhood, perfect, at least, to the ideas of a boy. I was raised among men, I was free, I ran wild, was encumbered by no laws, was troubled by no priests and was encouraged to violence.’ Uhtred is an English boy, born into the aristocracy of 9th Century Northumbria, but orphaned at ten, adopted by a Dane and taught the Viking ways. Yet Uhtred’s fate is indissolubly bound up with Alfred, King of Wessex, who rules over the last English kingdom when the Danes have overrun Northumbria, Mercia and East Anglia.

That war, with its massacres, defeats and betrayals, is the background to Uhtred’s childhood, a childhood which leaves him uncertain of his loyalties, but a slaughter in a winter dawn propels him to the English side and he will become a man just as the Danes launch their fiercest attack yet on Alfred’s kingdom. Marriage ties him further to the West Saxon cause, but when his wife and child vanish in the chaos of a Danish invasion, Uhtred is driven to face the greatest of the Viking chieftains in a battle beside the sea, and there, in the horror of a shield-wall, he discovers his true allegiance.

The second book, The Pale Horseman:

The Pale Horseman

pale_horseman_ukThe Pale Horseman (the title is a reference to Revelation 6. 8) is the second book in the tale of Uhtred, Lord of Bebbanburg, and his tangled relationship with Alfred the Great, King of Wessex in the 9th Century. The story begins on the day after the events described in The Last Kingdom end, and goes on to describe the fateful year in which the Danes capture Alfred’s kingdom and drive him as a fugitive into the marshes of Athelney. It seems that Wessex, and England, are destroyed, but Alfred is determined to make one desperate gamble that might save his kingdom . . . .

I have just finished an afternoon of sorting through the video and will be back later this evening with an additional update including the still photos and what ever other bits of information I can find!

Uhtred and Brida are coming

 

 

Last Kingdom, Time travel in Scotland, plus Hail to Arthur Pendragon and Helen Hollick!

A quick update this morning to share some of the most recent preview pics released for The Last Kingdom! I know that many of us are anxiously awaiting the arrival of Uthred to our small screens. Thankfully BBC is finally letting us see some of the previews of it! The Last Kingdom premieres Saturday, October 10 at 10/9c. The Last Kingdom is a contemporary story of redemption, vengeance and self-discovery set against the birth of England.

Last Kingdom previews

Last Kingdom previews

Last Kingdom preview probably Ravyn, father of Ragnar.

Last Kingdom preview probably Ravyn, father of Ragnar.

Last Kingdom preview

Last Kingdom preview young Uhtred and Brida?

 

Last Kingdom preview- OMG It's Ubba!!!

Last Kingdom preview- Ubba

from vikings to last kingdom

Last Kingdom preview possibly Brida

Last Kingdom preview possibly Brida

For more info on the series and the cast list so far, you can read my previous article:

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/05/25/temporary-cure-for-viking-withdrawals-last-kingdom-update/

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/07/21/last-kingdom-update/

The official website has been updated, You need to go check it out now!

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

 

For fans of Outlander and other assorted time travel stories, I  want to share and suggest another series. I’ve mentioned it before and reviewed it on my books and reviews page but just wanted to give it a quick blurb here as a reminder or refresher for those looking for books to fill the time travel and Scotland craving. Laura Vosika has a great time travel series that combines her musical background with time travel and early Scottish history. I’ve enjoyed the Bluebells trilogy so far and I think a lot of others will enjoy it as well! Her series is a mix of past and present, some alternative “what if” theories, some great history along with mysteries and suspense! It deals with the history of Scotland during the 1300s.

Blue Bells of Scotland

The Minstrel Boy is now available on Kindle!

The Trilogy Begins….

Blue Bells of ScotlandShawn Kleiner has it all: money, fame, a skyrocketing career as an international musical phenomenon, his beautiful girlfriend Amy, and all the women he wants– until the night Amy has enough and leaves him  stranded in a Scottish castle tower.He wakes up to find himself mistaken for Niall Campbell, medieval Highland warrior.  Soon after, he is sent shimmying down a wind-torn castle wall into a dangerous cross country trek with Niall’s tempting, but knife-wielding fiancee.  They are pursued by English soldiers and a Scottish traitor who want Niall dead.Thrown forward in time, Niall learns history’s horrifying account of his own death, and of the Scots’ slaughter at Bannockburn.  Undaunted, he navigates the roiled waters of Shawn’s life– pregnant girlfriend, amorous fans, enemies, and gambling debts— seeking a way to leap back across time to save his people, especially his beloved Allene.  His growing fondness for Shawn’s life brings him face to face with his own weakness and teaches him the true meaning of faith.Blue Bells of Scotland is both a historical adventure and a tale of redemption that will be remembered long after the last page has been turned.

http://www.bluebellstrilogy.com/

You can find my reviews for the series on my books and reviews page. Laura Vosika is currently working on the next book in the series, called Westering Home. She is in Scotland right now doing some additional research and if you check out her facebook page, she is posting some fantastic photos of her trip and her research!

https://www.facebook.com/laura.vosika.author/timeline

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/books-and-reviews/

 

One last update! While we’re on the subject of books… In a previous article, https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/06/30/saxons-romans-and-arthur/  I mentioned a series on Arthur by Helen Hollick. At the time, I had just started reading it, was only through book one and didn’t give a complete review of it. The series is called the Pendragon’s  Banner and in it, Helen gives a more realistic presentation of the legend of Arthur.  There are three books in the series that takes us from Arthur’s early childhood to his death. I have now finished reading all three books and can honestly say that I am just as impressed with the ending as I was with the beginning of it! In the series, Helen presents her  version of  many of the different stories connected with the legend. The only parts she omitted in her version were Lancelot and Merlin. She omitted these characters for a good reason! Helen chose to focus on the fragments of history and legend that made a more historical connection to events during that time period. Rather than present the mythology and symbolism of Merlin and magic or Lancelot and knights on white horses, she instead had us follow Arthur on a  journey to Gaul, to parts of ancient France where the Romans were fighting a losing battle against the Franks at the time.

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

There in a place called Avignon, he face betrayal and failure, along with inner demons to haunt him and cause him to not want to return to his home in Britain.  While Helen insists that she is no historian, I was thoroughly impressed with  her attention to historical details and those tiny fragments of documented evidence. As the series went on, I found myself immersed in those small details and spent considerable time switching from the story google those little references. Now, for some that might not be considered a plus to the story telling, but for me, it was an awesome adventure into both the story and the actual historical theories about that time period!

When I chose her series, it was for the references to actual history and she did not let me down. Her way of weaving much of that history together made a great deal of sense to me. I especially like the turn she took in weaving Cerdic the Saxon into the story. That was the part I was most interested in from the beginning anyway! Historically, Cerdic’s genealogy and lineage were sketchy and there are theories that he may have been connected to the Romano Britons in some way… Helen went with that theory and it worked!

I highly suggest you read the series, and coincidentally, if you go to Helen’s web page, you will find the trilogy as this month’s feature!

Quote of the Month 

‘Arthur said, “Happy endings are only for lovers in Harpers’ tales.” ‘
from The Kingmaking

The kingmaking Helen hollick The Pendragon Banner 2 by helen hollickShadow of the king by helen hollick

http://www.helenhollick.net/index.html

In Helen’s journal, she has proclaimed August as Arthurian month and is offering a give away prize! So, all hail Arthur and Helen!!!

http://www.helenhollick.net/journal.html

 

 

 

 

Historical fiction vs Historical fantasy

historical fiction

As we wait through the long off time for another raiding season of Vikings, we are offered various glimpses, previews and rumors of what’s to come in the future. We also must find other ways to entertain, amuse, and enlighten ourselves.  For some that consists of re-watching past seasons and catching up on what me might have missed or re-watching in some attempt to understand portions that have left us confused about the ongoing story.  For others, the off season provides time to learn more about the actual history or legends behind the creation of this story. And for many other fans it provides time to indulge in other shows or books.  I try to provide some of that more factual history and or legend here and hopefully, I inspire you to do more of your own research on what ever parts of the story intrigue or interest you the most.

bjorn and aslaug

I am a loyal, devoted fan of the Vikings series and what Michael Hirst has created so far but that does not mean that I do not have some concerns, reservation or criticisms of the story and where he might be headed with it.  These thoughts do not mean that I will not watch it in the future or that I do not enjoy it for it’s story telling purpose. I am going to share my thoughts today because I know that there are any number of other viewers, or non-viewers any longer, who share my feelings on this subject. I also think it is an important subject to consider in light of the upcoming alternative version of the Vikings vs English story, The Last Kingdom based on the series by Bernard Cornwell.  If this new series closely follows the books, it will present a slightly different version of  the events that took place around the same general time period.  Both of these stories are considered historical fiction and both Cornwell and Hirst take some creative license and liberty in playing with the events and the timelines. This creative license is to be expected when telling any story of the past since none of us were there to actually give our own personal accounting of what did or did not happen. This is why it is called historical fiction, I think we all understand and accept that!

My personal theory or thought on the difference between historical fiction and historical fantasy is this… When I read or view something as historical fiction, the actual factual event or historical figures included within the story remain intact and recognizable as who and what they were as much as possible. The creator does not change the actual outcome of the event or the factual outcome of the historical figure involved. The timeline might be adjusted to fit into a writer’s storyline and various personal perceptions of the historical figure might come into play but the real event along with those real figures involved in such an event  remains relatively unaltered. In historical fantasy, the timeline may be completely manipulated, historical figures may also be so played with and manipulated that they may no longer be recognizable as the figure they are representing. Historical fantasy would also include the mixing of myths, legends, folk tales into the story that you are creating. In historical fantasy, you may start with a basis or premise of some  historical event or person but what you choose to do with the event or person is completely up to your imagination for the purpose of telling a story.

King-Arthur-2004-king-arthur-875455_1254_940

King-Arthur-tournage-Charlie-Hunman

King-Arthur-tournage-Charlie-Hunman

My current thought and question for debate is as follows.  When does something no longer fit as just historical fiction, but cross over into historical fantasy, or is every piece of historical fiction just a form of historical fantasy? Is there a point when one has bent or twisted the events and the timeline so much that there is little or no relevance or foundation left for the actual historical even being presented? Is Michael Hirst going toward this route, has he already crossed this invisible line, and if so does it really even make any difference as long as he is telling us a good story?  In some respects, I have to say, No it makes no difference at all as long as he continues to tell us the excellent story and we all understand that it is just that- a good story with no need for historical accuracy. The result though, with that reasoning for me personally, is that the story then moves out of the realm of historical fiction into that of historical fantasy. Now, that is not such a bad thing either as long as everyone clearly understands that difference, including the creator!  Take for example the various books and legends about King Arthur… most of which would be considered the stuff of historical fantasy rather than just historical fiction. We all know for the most part before we even read such a book or watch such a movie that it is going to be more fantasy than reality so we don’t really expect much as far as historical accuracy in such works.

Outlander 2014 Outlander 2014

Another example of historical fantasy would be any book or movie that deals with time travel. These books and shows usually fall into the category of sci-fy or paranormal no matter how they attempt to deal with the subject matter. When we decide to read or watch one of these, we’re generally not focused on any sort of historical accuracy, though I am probably an exception in that department because I feel that if an author is going to sweep me into the past in any such way, I still expect them to maintain some level of historical accuracy or authenticity regarding the time period or event that they have place me in the middle of!  The idea of time travel may be far fetched and full of fantasy but beneath all of that, I want some level of believability about the events taking place, and our reason for being there. These books and shows are difficult to pin down to any one particular category and often suffer some because of that. There are of course a few exceptions to that, one of them being Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series that has achieved a great deal of success despite not being able to put it into one specific genre. Much of that success is due to Diana Gabaldon’s ability to tell the story so well and pay such close attention to those historically accurate details that are so much a part of the story! She does such an excellent job of weaving the events, the people and the history into the story that you are never really sure which parts are factual and which are her story telling. What she does not do however, is stray too far away from the actual facts of any well known or well documented event within the history. She maintains the integrity and accuracy of each historical person and event as much as possible.  This is what, on some levels, makes her saga more believable even though she is dealing with a fantasy type genre. As you read the saga, you become immersed in that history that she is presenting and the time travel becomes less of a focus factor. She also uses enough historical legends and such to create more of an interest in the fantasy of the time travel itself.  That all being said, it is still of the fantasy realm and we know full well that is what it is, so it is falls into that historical fantasy realm. Even Ron Moore’s great re-creation of this epic time travel/history saga has some difficulties in being taken seriously and in my estimation, suffers some because promoters, critics, and potential viewers are still not quite sure which category this show fits into. To be fair, the book series also has had this ongoing problem as well.  Diana herself has made comments in the past about not wanting it labeled as any one particular genre and does not see it as a romance novel- which it often ends up being categorized as.  The problem for this series is that those who want to see it as just a grand romance are often disappointed further into the series when it becomes much more than that one specific romantic tale. Those who might appreciate the historical content often get tired of wading through the romance and vice versa… Then comes the time travel, the paranormal side to it, and that  causes the entire series not to be looked at seriously by some critics. All of this comes into play when attempting to gain a bigger audience, and receive critical credit that is necessary for a show to reach that higher level, be taken more seriously and thus warrant a larger budget and reason for being continued.  My personal belief  for this show in particular, they need to find a way to break through the genres to reach a larger audience. They need to work seriously on promoting it as more than a timeless fantasy romance and focus on that history that it so richly encompasses.  Does that mean that fans of the Jamie and Claire erotic romance will be disappointed, yes some of them probably will be. Many of the book readers stopped reading the books after about book 3 when the series shifts the focus from their romance to the realities of the history they were involved. But, by shifting that promotion and focus towards the incredible detailed history, I think they will gain more fans who want to see the historical accuracy of the events taking place during that time. In order to reach that wider audience, it needs to be seen and promoted as more than just the Jamie and Claire show.  I think it is definitely a series that combine those differing genres and hold a wide viewing audience if it is promoted for those other aspects rather than just the romantic fantasy.

 

As I’ve have mentioned many times, I have no problem with an author taking some creative license with events and timelines of actual historical people and events… especially when the facts are limited and timelines are not quite so clear surrounding given events or people. I understand that, accept it and relish the differing perspectives of each author who attempts to tell the story.  My problem or concern comes when well documented events, people and timelines become so altered  that they may as well not be included in the story. I also have the personal view that in many instances, the true history is just as interesting or more so than anything an author could make up, so why not include that truer accounting rather than create some other version of it? A few examples of this in the case of the Vikings Saga are the characters of Judith and Kweni. The truer version of Judith’s history involves her being the second wife of Athelwulf, then marrying her stepson when Athelwulf dies. After the son dies, she then returns home to Flanders and marries again rather than retreat to a nunnery- she would become the ancestor of William the Conqueror’s wife, Matilda. Not that I don’t appreciate Hirst’s version of Judith, because I do- she has become one of my favorite characters! As for Kweni, there are a few real life women of that time frame who could have been Kweni- all of whom had just as interesting back stories as our Kweni. One of those women was tied closely to Ecbert’s bid for power… you can read their  stories here.

Judith the daughter Judith the wife Judith the pawn

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

Kweni is back but looking a bit rattled

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

I don’t mind that an author alters a timeline to fit into their particular story but I do mind when an entire event is altered and the historically documented actions of people are altered so much that the outcome of said event is changed. That is the point for me when it truly becomes fantasy rather than any sort of historical tale. In my opinion, if one is going to go that route then that’s fine but if you choose to go that path in your story, really why bother to use real events or historical figures at all in your story? I guess that is the biggest issue for me, the biggest difference between historical fiction and historical fantasy.  If I am going to read or view something that references real people and real events then I expect those specific events and people to reflect or portray the actual event or person being referred to, at least in some basic recognizable way. If not, then leave them out of the story and give me pure fantasy, I am fine with that as well!

Michael Hirst has chosen to tell us a Viking story based on both mythical legendary characters and real history. I understand his intent and his concept to somehow integrate the myths and legends with the real history. I appreciate his attempt to draw us into that time period and present both the legends and the history together but I am at the point where I feel like he has gone too far over that vague line between plausible, acceptable historical fiction and outright historical fantasy. He has blurred the lines of historical accuracy, played with historical figures and timelines so much that it becomes difficult for those wanting some historical basis and foundation to a story to watch it as it continues to unfold. I find myself often trying to figure out what is true history, what is legend and what is purely his imagination. To his credit, he has woven the story so well that it becomes difficult to tell the differences, but in some ways it becomes frustrating and confusing as well!  I believe he has stretched the boundaries of the fantasy/imagined portions almost to their limits and needs to return in this next season to some of the more factual history basis of what happened.  While the show is enjoying an upswing in ratings and fans, it does still draw much criticism for it’s representation and portrayal of history. It gets much promotion for it’s depiction of the events and people of the Viking era and there is such a great emphasis on it’s being close to historically accurate. This has a tendency to disappoint  a lot of potential viewers interested in the historical content and value who watch for a while but then drift away as the story takes so many off twists and turns, and does so much playing with those events and characters in history. Many viewers give up when they have too much difficulty following such a varied and altered timeline of events. To the show’s and Michael Hirst’s credit, this show is a first, a ground breaker in it’s attempt at such an epic depiction of overall history. That attempt has been a major success and brought much more attention and interest in this early medieval time period so I applaud them for that. With that success and added interest though comes the fact that those fans become interested enough to go off to do some of their own research, and return to their viewing with a desire for more accuracy in the details of that history.

 

Hirst continuously reminds us, assures us that many of the events he presents are rooted in and based on historical accounts, and accounts taken from the Norse Sagas. The problem with Hirst’s depiction or representation of those accounts is that he often buries them so deeply within the  many storylines that they are not easily picked up on or apparent to the general viewer. Finding those factual events or accounts becomes a search for buried treasure… one which most people are not inclined to search for. Another result of his assurances is than many viewers will then take his word, his version of the story or event as the factual one. With historical fiction books, the authors will most often give some notes on the factual history, some evidence or reasoning for why they chose to go a certain direction with an event or historical figure. Unfortunately, with movies or television stories, this option or explanation is never readily available to the viewers. I do give Hirst credit for pointing out some of his reasons or his historical evidences in various interviews but it does still feel like he is stretching some of those historical boundaries.

 The show is promoted as having that historical value and I would hope that this next season reflects more of the historical accuracies that become more documented as they move into the next generation.  He has made assurances that stories such that of Rollo will reflect more of an accurate history… I really want to believe him and trust him on this but I am not sure how that will play out or how it will be based on well documented events of the time.  Along those lines of history are how he will deal with the events in England which are fairly well documented even though greatly biased on the side of the English. The question arises for me in that aspect is how much he will play with those events to suit his version of the story more than he already has? Will his version of events have that basis or root of accuracy once he moves on to the next generation of Ragnar’s sons and the Great Heathen Armies fighting against Alfred the Great for control of England? How much more will he have to alter the time line and the events to tell us the story of the Viking era?  Now, he is also bringing in the stories of Norway and King Harald Fairhair or Finehair as Hirst has labeled him… how will his story be altered to fit into Hirst’s story?  One mistake that I feel Hirst had made with this story is one that he as commented on as well. He has emphasized a number of times that this not the Ragnar Lothbrok story but a story of the entire Viking era. He has admitted that initially, his intent was to be finished with Ragnar’s portion after season one and then move on to the other stories. Instead, given the increased popularity of Travis Fimmel and the character of Ragnar, he has chosen to keep Ragnar’s personal story alive for what will be four seasons. He has invested so much time in telling Ragnar’s story that yes in some sense, it has become the adventures of Ragnar rather than the story of the Vikings. Fans are now so invested in that particular story that it will be extremely difficult for Hirst to make the transition needed to tell the rest of the stories.

Last Kingdom official artwork

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/07/21/last-kingdom-update/

I know that Hirst is trying to present us with an overall story of the Viking era and so far he has done well with it. I just feel like he may be stretching the limits and the story too far beyond the realms of plausibility, thereby removing the historical accuracy context and putting it into the realm of fantasy.  This move could result in many of those who watch it for it’s historical value to give up on it. Those who want something with a bit more of historical context or accuracy may find themselves drawn into the BBC America production of Last Kingdom. As I already suggested, if the production sticks close to Cornwell’s story, they will see what might be a more historically accurate portrayal of the events taking place in England during the battle between the Great Heathen armies and Alfred. They will also see a more condensed story of just one area, England, during that time frame rather than Hirst’s epic attempt to cover the entire scope of what was happening. For many viewers this may be preferable to  keep track of than the many stories that Hirst is trying to tell with the Vikings saga.

Cornwell’s version of the events of that time frame also have an advantage for those who want more historical accuracy in that he presents us with a fictional character from the start and weaves this character Uhtred of Bebbanberg into the events unfolding during that time. He does alter some timelines as necessary to fit Uhtred into the events but overall he makes every attempt to present the events and historical figures in ways that do not change or alter the actual history so much. He remains for the most part, well within the boundaries of historical fiction and does not veer off nearly so much into the alternate version of history that becomes more fantasy than history. And, to Cornwell’s credit, he gives excellent historical references in the author’s notes that are included in his books. Granted, you will not get those notes when watching the show but my suggestion would be… Read his books! Once the show begins in October, I will also attempt to sort it all out for you.  I am a huge fan of Cornwell’s version of this history so I am already drawn to it, looking forward to seeing it and praying that will not disappoint me!

As for our Vikings, as I’ve stated, I am a loyal fan with some concerns about the future. I will be waiting along with everyone else to see how this next season plays out as to it’s historical content and accuracy. Here is a list of things that I am hoping to see in this next season as far as it pertains to that history.

Rollo's destiny

Yes, Rollo will have to betray his Viking roots in some way in order to succeed at his goal of a great destiny in Normandy. Hirst and others have mentioned numerous times a final confrontation between him and Ragnar, along with another possible conquest of Paris where Bjorn may be put in a position of having to negotiate terms with Rollo despite his feelings that Rollo has betrayed them. My hope is that this negotiation includes some reflection or representation of  how Normandy eventually came to be on the side of the Vikings allowing them access to the Seine waterway to England, thereby eliminating their need to continuously raid Frankish settlements. Normandy and the Vikings benefited from this arrangement as Normandy received a share of the profits that those Vikings carried out of England. I want to see Rollo’s story of success and his legacy passed on to his two children.

you betrayed my love of you

you betrayed my love of you

Ragnar needs to return to England yes, he eventually needs to die there one way or another whether it be by the more traditional well known version of a snake pit and King Aelle, or by some other means. Most accounts would suggest it is by Aelle’s hand and as he already has his snake pit prepared, I can not see any other reason to include that snake pit other than as a pre-cursor to Ragnar’s death.  I think too that in order to get to the next generation some time soon, there will need to be another time jump somewhere in the next season… possibly toward the end as the finale? I can see that finale including Ragnar’s death and leading into the next season as being that of the next generation. With that in mind, Hirst needs to focus on tying up many of these current storylines in order to move on to that next generation!

Bjorn:  I order the arrest of Floki

Bjorn: I order the arrest of Floki

Bjorn needs to come fully into his own identity and his own story during this next season… One that does not necessarily involve him remaining connected to Ragnar or Kattegat. Historically, Bjorn Ironside seemed to have followed a separate path to his destiny as a King that was not tied to Ragnar.

kalf and lagertha

I want to know more about Kalf, what his back story is, what his future is… it feels to me like he is bound for some greatness of his own. Whether that greatness includes Lagertha remains to be seen. Since these both are more or less fictional/ legendary characters, Hirst should feel free to tell their story as he sees fit- I don’t have a problem with doing what you choose to or for fictional creations! It would be interesting to see if he in any way represents or has a character foundation based on some real historical figure…

no tears from torvi she is resolute she is viking

I want to know more about Torvi’s past, her back story. For some reason, I think it will become an important factor somewhere in the future? She may be a fictional character but I feel like she represents or may be based on someone of importance in Viking history. I want to know more of her story and that of the deceased Jarl Borg.  I think their son is more important than we realize yet.  As for her current husband, Erlandeur, my only thought is as always…why the Hell is he even still alive? Why has someone not killed him in secret already???

athelstan's punishment begins

Floki, ahhh Floki needs to escape, find his own safety and what ever destiny awaits him far far away from Ragnar… I’ll just leave it at that.

judith holds her own in this game of power

That pretty much leaves us with the events in England. Hirst needs to tie up all of the loose ends here and prepare the kingdoms and their residents for the future onslaught that will come from the Viking armies. Loose ends such as Kweni in Mercia with her son, Magnus who Hirst hints will be so important to the future storyline, loose ends such as Ecbert and his desire to take control of Mercia and then Northumbria allowing him to be supreme ruler of all the kingdoms, loose ends such as his son Athelwulf who is beginning to have plans of his own that may not include listening to Daddy Dearest, loose ends such as Judith who is caught in the middle right now between Father and son.  Hirst needs to put this all together, and wrap it up with some slight nod to actual history if that’s possible so that we can move on to next chapters of this Saga and begin to see more history without having to dig quite so hard for it.  I do not mind the treasure hunt for those factual bits, but at some point I would like to see it much closer to the surface rather than buried beneath so many layers of the story.

So, after all of these thoughts and commentary, the question remains… Is the Vikings Saga historical fiction or historical fantasy and does it really make a difference as long as it’s a good story? My personal thought is that at this point in it’s evolution, it falls more into the historical fantasy realm than into historical fiction. Despite all of Hirst’s assurances to the contrary and his insistence on it’s historical accuracies, I feel that he has taken too many liberties with the timeline and the historical characters involved for it to be taken too seriously in the historical context. He may have used historical documents and accounts as a starting point or basis but he has taken so much creative license with them that they are no longer clearly recognizable which takes away from the historical validity of the events. The only difference this makes is in the way we as viewers should watch it. It is an excellent story and for that reason, you should watch it for the story it tells- you should not take it at face value for any of it’s historical value but perhaps rather watch it as enjoyable historical fantasy… then please take some time to do your own research on the history of that time period! I will as always make my own attempt to help in that regard by sharing the results of my historical treasure hunting for well hidden or buried details!