Monday, October 31, 2016

All Hallows' Eve

October 31

Historian Nicholas Rogers on the origin of All Hallows' Eve: while some folklorists have detected its origins in the Roman feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds, or in the festival of the dead called Parentalia, it is more typically linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain, whose original spelling was Samuin. The name is derived from Old Irish and means roughly "summer's end".  A similar festival was held by the ancient Britons and is known as Calan Gaeaf.

The festival of Samhain celebrates the end of the "lighter half" of the year and beginning of the "darker half", and is sometimes regarded as the "Celtic New Year".

The ancient Celts believed that the border between this world and the Otherworld became thin on Samhain, allowing spirits (both harmless and harmful) to pass through. The family's ancestors were honored and invited home while harmful spirits were warded off. It is believed that the need to ward off harmful spirits led to the wearing of costumes and masks.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Book Launch - Before They Buried Thom Sloan by Lydia North

This is book six in The Spirits of Maine Series; ghost stories set in Maine. It is highly recommended that you begin with book one of the series to fully understand everything that happens in this story.

At 3:00 A.M. there is a knock at the door. A troubled young man is searching for a missing girl. He asks Eric Rivard to help. This search will be complicated by angry spirits that rival the ghost in ‘Waiting for Harvey’.
If you’re a fan of the Spirits of Maine Series you are in for a treat with this story!

About the Author

Lydia North is the pen name of Maine Author Kim Scott Kim Scott was born in Charleston, South Carolina and grew up in Scarborough, Maine. She presently resides in Southern Maine. She is the author of The Ruth Chernock Series (Regarding Ruth, In Ruth's Memory, On Grace's Shoulders and Pink Sky & Mourning) and The Manning Family Series (What Happened to Alex Manning? and Shuttering the Manning House). Under the pen name of Lydia North she wrote The Spirits of Maine Series.

Margaret Tudor: The forgotten Tudor

History Extra

Bernard van Orley’s portrait of Margaret Tudor, whose marriage to James IV of Scotland would result in her falling out spectacularly with her younger brother. © Bridgeman Art Library
The crowds of Scots who gathered to meet their new queen as she approached Edinburgh in the summer of 1503 were understandably excited. While some of this enthusiasm may have been the product of drink generously supplied for the occasion, there was also a sense of optimism. Scotland wanted a queen. Its king, James IV, already had seven illegitimate children and needed a legitimate heir.
Now around 30, James also appreciated the generous dowry and diplomatic advantage his wife would bring. An English princess was arriving to seal a treaty of ‘perpetual peace’ between the two kingdoms and to provide the dynamic, ambitious king with the partner who would help him enhance Scotland’s prestige.
The girl was Margaret Tudor, the eldest daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, and still only 13 years old. But she had been thoroughly trained for her new role and was determined to prove that she was equal to its demands.
Historians have tended to be dismissive of Margaret’s character and abilities. She is almost forgotten compared with other members of her famous family, yet we know a considerable amount about her, for Margaret was a prolific letter writer. Her extensive correspondence reveals her turbulent life in Scotland and the fraught relationship with her brother Henry VIII.

The homesick daughter

To Henry VII, August 1503
"God send me comfort that I and mine that be left here with me be well entreated… I wish I were with your Grace now and many times more… I pray God I may find it well for my welfare hereafter. Our Lord have you in his keeping. Written with the hand of your humble daughter, Margaret".

Henry VII, shown here in a c1505 painting, used his 13-year-old daughter as a pawn in a treaty of ‘perpetual peace’ between England and Scotland. © Bridgeman
Margaret’s letter to her father, Henry VII, betrays her homesickness and insecurities as she faced the reality of her new situation. Her response to her arrival in Scotland is hardly surprising: her beloved mother had died six months earlier and, in early July, she bid farewell to her father, knowing that she would probably never see him again. The journey north, lasting over three weeks, was exhausting.
Henry VII was determined to demonstrate, through his daughter’s progress into Scotland, the power and success of his dynasty. Margaret was constantly on show, meeting local dignitaries, attending banquets, changing dresses and jewels before she entered the towns along her way. Slim and red-headed, she cut a striking figure in her splendid gowns.
She crossed into Scotland on 1 August, and met her husband at Dalkeith Castle a few days later.
James IV’s visit was ostensibly a surprise, but had been carefully arranged. A charming womaniser, the king knew how to put his bride at her ease, though Margaret’s letter suggests that she did not fully appreciate this. Yet she rode pillion behind him into Edinburgh, to the great approbation of the populace, and James guided her through official functions with his arm around her waist.
The couple wore matching outfits of white damask for their glittering marriage at Holyrood Abbey. James spent extravagantly on preparing accommodation for his queen and on the wedding festivities: a quarter of his annual income went on wine alone. And he shaved his beard after the wedding, at his wife’s behest.
Margaret still felt, however, that he did not spend enough time with her, preferring to talk military matters with the Earl of Surrey, who had escorted her to Scotland and whose dictatorial manner she resented. She was clearly worried about the long-term treatment she and
her servants would receive.

The furious sister

To Henry VIII, May 1513
"We cannot believe that of your mind or by your command we are so unkindly dealt with in our father’s legacy… Our husband knows it is witholden for his sake and will recompense us… We are ashamed therewith and wish God word had never been thereof. It is not worth such estimation as in your divers letters of the same and we lack nothing; our husband is ever the longer the better to us, as God knows".

James IV’s death in battle in 1513 left Margaret – shown in a 17th-century painting – feeling vulnerable and alone. © Bridgeman
These words, penned by an angry Margaret to her brother Henry VIII a decade after her arrival in Scotland, show that her fears about her new life north of the border were to prove unfounded. She swiftly settled into her position as Scotland’s queen, helped by the attention lavished on her by James IV. Clothed in rich furs and gowns and showered with jewels, she did, indeed, lack nothing.
And if James was by no means faithful (Margaret would not have known that his favourite mistress, Janet Kennedy, was pregnant with their third child at the time of her wedding), he was a considerate husband, easing her into the roles of consort and mother. She did not conceive until she was 16 and then produced a prince. But the child, like several others before the birth of the future James V, in 1512, did not survive.
The queen presided with her husband over a cultured court. James IV’s reign saw a flowering of literature and the arts in Scotland and he and his wife shared a love of music, dancing and masques.
Margaret must soon have realised that she had married a capable, popular ruler. James was a polymath whose interests ranged from naval matters to dentistry, and he was committed to being seen as a key player in Europe.
But his policies were to bring him into conflict with his young brother-in-law in England and deepen a rift between Margaret and Henry which may have had its origins in a reported childish spat when she, as a queen, briefly took precedence over him. Henry refused to pay Margaret the money and possessions left to her by both her father and brother, Prince Arthur. She was furious at this insult. But there was worse to come.

The desperate widow

To Henry VIII, November 1514
"My party-adversary continues in their malice and proceeds in their parliament, usurping the king’s authority, as (if) I and my lords were of no reputation, reputing us as rebels, wherefore I beseech that you would make haste with your army by sea and land. Brother, all the welfare of me and my children rests in your hands".
Eighteen months later, Margaret’s life was completely changed. Relations between England and Scotland, increasingly volatile, collapsed as Henry VIII declared war on France and the French king, Louis XII, requested the aid of his Scottish allies.
The decision by James IV to invade England was not, however, taken lightly. Margaret’s opposition to the move has been overstated – her earlier letter suggests strong support for her husband and she was already in the early stages of another pregnancy. Yet tragedy awaited. James engaged the English at the battle of Flodden in September  1513, on a remote hillside in Northumberland. His army outnumbered the English, and boasted the latest military technology but James had no experience of commanding a large force. The wiliness of his opponent, combined with treacherous marshy terrain, resulted in terrible slaughter. Ten thousand Scots perished, among them the king himself. Margaret was left a widow at the age of 23.
The shock to the queen was immense but Margaret acted with resolution, removing the toddler James V to the safety of Stirling Castle where he was crowned on 21 September. She was named as regent in her husband’s will, with one important proviso: she must not remarry.
But Scotland was fiercely patriarchal and Margaret was an Englishwoman. Exercising power was always going to be difficult. She gave birth to another son in April 1514, but in August she made a serious misjudgment: she married again. Her new husband, the Earl of Angus (right), was a member of a powerful family with a history of dividing Scottish politics.
Margaret’s need for strong male support cost her the regency and heralded a prolonged period of faction-fighting during her son’s troubled minority. Desperate to hold on to power and to her children, Margaret appealed to her brother for help. None was forthcoming.

The aggrieved mother

An attack on the Duke of Albany, 1516
"The Duke of Albany, by reason of his might and power, did take from me the king and duke, my said tender children. He removed and put me from out of my said castle [Stirling] being by enfeoffment paid for by the king my father of most blessed memory … and by his crafty and subtle ways made me signify in writing to the Pope’s Holiness and to my dearest brother the King of England and the King of France that I of my own mooting and free will did renounce my said office of tutrix and governess".

A painting of Margaret Tudor with a figure thought to be the Duke of Albany. Margaret was enraged when Albany, ruling Scotland as regent, seized her sons. © SCRAN 
By the time the embittered Margaret wrote this official denunciation of the Duke of Albany, she had been forced to flee into England where she gave birth to a final child, her daughter by Angus, Lady Margaret Douglas. She wrote to Albany, the regent of Scotland who had replaced her, to announce the child’s arrival: “So it is that, by the grace of Almighty God, I am delivered, and have a Christian soul, being a young lady.” Her letter was sent in October 1515, from Harbottle Castle in Northumberland.
Margaret’s words reveal the depth of her anguish. John Stewart, Duke of Albany, was cousin to James IV and next in line to the Scottish throne after James V. He had been born and raised in France, and knew little of Scotland.
Initially, Margaret found Albany charming, but her position was further undermined when Henry VIII tried to have her sons kidnapped and brought to England. Determined to rule Scotland justly, Albany realised that he must gain control of the royal children. When Margaret refused, he besieged Stirling Castle and the queen was forced to submit. In a dramatic gesture intended to reinforce her son’s authority as king, she made little James V hand over the keys. Margaret had all the Tudor flair for a public occasion.
By September 1515, she decided that flight was the only option. Heavily pregnant, she rode for miles to the English border with Angus, leaving her jewels and wardrobe in Scotland. It was the last time her second husband would offer her any support.
The long recovery after a difficult labour was brightened by the arrival of new dresses sent from London but saddened by the death in December of her younger son. Margaret’s world had fallen apart.

The estranged wife

To Henry VIII, 14 July 1524
"Also, my dearest brother, I have seen your writing touching my lord of Angus, which, as your Grace writes, is in your realm, and that ye purpose to send him here shortly, and that ye find him right wise… and that he is well minded of me and beareth me great love and favour. As yet he hath not shown, since his departing out of Scotland, that he desireth my good will and favour, neither by writing nor word… I trust, my dearest brother, that your Grace will not desire me to do nothing that may be hurt to me your sister, nor that may be occasion to hold me from the king my son".

Henry VIII treated his sister well but wanted her to return to Scotland. © Bridgeman 
The queen stayed in England, in the company of her brother and sister, Mary, until 1517. The three had not been together for 13 years. But though Henry VIII treated Margaret well, he did not want her to stay, believing that her place was in Scotland.
It was typical of Henry’s muddled Scottish policy and his underlying misgivings about his sister that his preference for influencing Scottish politics was to work through the Anglophile Earl of Angus, Margaret’s husband. Unfortunately, the couple were now estranged and their relationship, despite a brief reconciliation in 1519, went from bad to worse. Angus took up with a former sweetheart and helped himself to the rents from Margaret’s lands, leaving the queen strapped for money and furious at his behaviour.
Taking his daughter Lady Margaret Douglas with him, the earl, who had fallen out with Albany, fled to France and then to England, where Lady Margaret was brought up at court. Feisty and attractive, she never really knew her mother, though her uncle proved an affectionate guardian.
In 1524, however, Queen Margaret’s time appeared to have come again. Albany returned to France and the queen and her supporters declared the 12-year-old James V of age to rule. Assuming the regency again, Margaret, who wanted a divorce, was not about to share power with Angus, and fired the guns of Edinburgh Castle on him when he appeared with armed men.
Her success was short-lived. At the end of 1525 Angus tricked fellow politicians and assumed full control of the king. For three years the boy chafed under the restrictions of his hated stepfather, while his mother outraged Henry VIII by pursuing her campaign for divorce.

The ageing matriarch

To Henry VIII, 12 May 1541
"Here has been great displeasure for the death of the prince and his brother, both with the king and the queen. I have done great diligence to put my dearest son and the queen his wife in comfort. I pray your grace to hold me excused that I write not at length… I can get no leisure".

James V and his wife Mary of Guise. © Bridgeman
Margaret’s marriage to Angus was annulled by the pope in 1527, the year Henry VIII began divorce proceedings against Catherine of Aragon. The following Easter, James V broke free from the domination of the Douglases and Angus fled again to England.
Margaret was elated, as she had fallen in love with a member of her household, Henry Stewart, and, at the age of 39, wanted to marry again. Her son gave permission but extracted a high price. He would not tolerate Margaret’s further meddling in Scottish politics. The queen felt sidelined and increasingly aggrieved, the more so as her third marriage was as unsuccessful as the union with Angus. Henry Stewart exploited her financially and was unfaithful.
Relief and a sense of fulfilment came from an unexpected source, Mary of Guise, James V’s second wife. This attractive and clever French noblewoman paid due attention to Margaret and the ‘old queen’ spent more time at court. In 1541 tragedy struck when Margaret’s two grandsons died within days of each other, leaving their parents devastated. Her support at this desperate time was greatly appreciated.
But Margaret’s own life was drawing to a close. In October, 1541, she suffered a stroke at Methven Castle, outside Perth, and died before her son could reach her. She was buried at St John’s Abbey in the city, alongside other Scottish rulers.
During the Reformation, Margaret’s tomb was desecrated and her skeleton burned – probably because she was English and Catholic. Like her first husband, James, she has no monument. But she would, no doubt, have been pleased that it was their great-grandson, James VI and I, who united the crowns of England and Scotland in 1603.
Linda Porter’s book about the rivalry between Tudors and Stuarts, Crown of Thistles: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary Queen of Scots, is out now in paperback (Macmillan)

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The real King Arthur and his Lancelot: Henry the Young King and William Marshal

History Extra

Lancelot fights for Guinevere in a medieval illumination. Was William Marshal also ensnared in a dangerous love triangle? © Topfoto
The legends of King Arthur, his leading warrior the mighty Lancelot and the tragic love triangle they formed with Queen Guinevere, retain their allure, though more than eight centuries have passed since they were first popularised. These tales remain touchstones of the Middle Ages, evoking romanticised images of a distant era, replete with knightly daring and courtly gallantry. Yet, for all our fascination with Arthurian myths, one probable inspiration for these stories has been all but forgotten.
In the late 12th century – just as medieval Europe was falling under the spell of early Arthurian ‘Romance’ literature – a real king was feted as the ultimate paragon of chivalry. He too was served by a faithful retainer, one renowned as the greatest knight of his generation. And, like Arthur and Lancelot, their story ended in tragedy amid accusations of adultery and betrayal.
Though history seldom remembers him now, Henry the Young King seemed assured of a glittering future when he was crowned king of England in Westminster Abbey on 14 June 1170. Just 15 years old, Henry was already tall and incredibly handsome – the golden child of his generation. As the eldest surviving son of Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine, he stood to inherit medieval Europe’s most powerful realm, the Angevin empire, with lands stretching from the borders of Scotland in the north to the foothills of the Pyrenees in the south.
But though Young Henry had undergone the sacred and transformative ritual of coronation – becoming a king in name – he was denied real power for the remainder of his career. Crowned during the lifetime of his virile and overbearing father (in the vain hope of securing a peaceful succession), the Young King was expected to wait patiently in the wings, serving as an associate monarch.

Vexed king

As it was, Henry II (or the ‘Old King’, as he came to be known) lived for another 19 years, stubbornly refusing to apportion any region of the Angevin realm to his primary heir and, not surprisingly, Young Henry soon became vexed by this state of affairs.
The situation would have unsettled any ruling dynasty, but because Young Henry happened to belong to the most dysfunctional royal family in English history, it proved to be utterly ruinous. Thwarted by an imperious father on the one hand, yet encouraged to assert his rights by a scheming mother on the other, the Young King also had to contest with a viper’s brood of power-hungry siblings, including Richard the Lionheart and the future King John. In many respects Young Henry’s career proved to be a tragic waste. He led two failed rebellions against his father and ultimately suffered a squalid and agonising death in 1183, having contracted dysentery.
Historians have traditionally offered a withering assessment of his career, typically portraying him as a feckless dandy – the young, extravagant playboy who, once denied the chance to rule in his own right, frittered away his time in pursuit of vacuous chivalric glory. Dismissed as “shallow, vain, careless, empty-headed, incompetent, improvident and irresponsible”, the Young King remains a misunderstood and often overlooked figure.
A closer and more impartial study of Henry’s life reveals that this view is overly simplistic, at times even misrepresentative, and deeply shaded by hindsight. In fact, the best contemporary evidence indicates that the Young King was an able and politically engaged member of the Angevin dynasty, renowned in his own lifetime as a champion of the warrior class. This status brought Henry real political influence and marked him out as a model for contemporary authors of chivalric literature and Arthurian myth.
The course of Young Henry’s career and his connection to the cult of chivalry were heavily influenced by his close association with William Marshal – a man later described by the archbishop of Canterbury as “the greatest knight in all the world”. Born the younger son of a minor Anglo-Norman noble, William trained as a warrior and rose through the ranks, serving at the right hand of five English monarchs in the course of his long and eventful career.
Like Henry, Marshal was said to have been a fine figure of a man, but he was built first and foremost for war. Possessed with extraordinary physical endurance and vitality, and imbued with the raw strength to deliver shattering sword blows that resounded like a blacksmith’s hammer, he also became a peerless horseman, able to manoeuvre his mount with deft agility. These gifts, when married to an insatiable appetite for advancement, fuelled William’s meteoric rise. Later in life he would become Earl of Pembroke and regent of the realm. But in 1170 Marshal was still in his early 20s and a household knight serving in Eleanor of Aquitaine’s retinue.

A medieval woodcut shows men jousting, a highly perilous pastime at which William Marshal excelled. © Alamy
After Henry the Young King’s coronation, Marshal was appointed as the boy’s tutor-in-arms – a promotion that was probably engineered by Queen Eleanor so that she could maintain a degree of contact with, and influence over, her eldest son. William soon became Young Henry’s leading retainer and close confidant. The pair developed a warm friendship and together they set out in the 1170s to make their mark on the world.
By this time, western Europe was in the grip of a craze for knightly tournaments. These contests were light years away from the mannered jousts of the later Middle Ages, being riotous, chaotic affairs, tantamount to large-scale war games played out by teams of mounted knights across great swathes of territory, often more than 30 miles wide.
They were not without their risks. There is no evidence that warriors used blunted weaponry – relying instead upon their armour to protect them from severe injury – and the gravest danger came from being unhorsed and trampled under-hoof in the midst of a heated melee. Henry’s younger brother Geoffrey died from wounds sustained in this manner and one of William Marshal’s sons would suffer a similar fate. But the great value of these events was that they offered noblemen the perfect opportunity to demonstrate their knightly qualities to their peers, enabling them to earn renown within a society obsessed with chivalric culture. Tournaments came to feature heavily in Arthurian Romances, with Lancelot depicted as the leading champion.

Feckless youths?

The most persistent accusation levelled by historians against the Young King and his knight William Marshal is that they wastefully immersed themselves in the world of the chivalric tournament. However, while it is true that they became leading devotees of the tourney circuit, this was hardly the all-consuming focus of their careers – their participation being chiefly confined to an intense, four-year period, between 1176 and 1180. Nor is it the case that these years were squandered. In fact, the successes they enjoyed on the tournament field transformed the prospects of both men.
Serving as the captain of Young Henry’s tournament team, William Marshal shot to fame using a combination of martial skill, steely resolve and canny tactics to score a tide of victories. William was rightly revered for his prowess, but there were also important practical and financial gains to be made. Most tournaments revolved around attempts to capture opposing knights, either by battering them into submission or by seizing control of their horses (one of William’s favourite tricks). Prisoners would then have to pay a ransom and perhaps also forfeit their equipment in return for release. Marshal bested some 500 warriors in these years and thus accrued a significant personal fortune. By 1180 he was in position to support a small retinue of knights of his own and had achieved such celebrity that he was on familiar terms with counts, dukes and kings.

Henry the Young King is crowned in 1170. © Bridgeman

Exalted standing

Henry the Young King also stood to gain from his close involvement in the tournament circuit. As the patron of a leading team Henry participated in events but was generally shielded from the worst of the fracas by his retainers. For a man of his exalted social standing, there was less emphasis on individual prowess and more upon the chivalric quality of largesse – and in this regard, Henry was unmatched. At a time when leading nobles were judged on the size and splendour of their retinues, the Young King assembled one of the most impressive military households in all of Europe.
As a result, contemporaries compared Henry to Alexander the Great and Arthur, the great heroes of old, and hailed him as a ‘father of chivalry’ – a cult figure, worthy of reverence. Such ostentation came at a crippling cost but this display of status was not simply an exercise in idle frivolity, as most historians have assumed.
Tourneys were games of prowess, but they were played by many of the most powerful men in Europe – barons and magnates driven by a deepening fixation with knightly ideals. This lent Young Henry’s renown a potent edge because it inevitably brought with it a measure of influence beyond the confines of the tournament field. As a teenager, Henry had sought power through rebellion. In the late 1170s he made his name and affirmed his regal status in a different arena. These achievements could not be ignored by the Old King. Historians have often suggested that Henry II viewed his son’s lavish tournament career as merely wasteful and trivial. But by 1179 his attitude was unquestionably more positive.
On 1 November that year, the frail teenager Philip II was crowned and anointed as the next king of France in the royal city of Rheims. All of western Europe’s leading dynasties and noble houses attended this grand ceremony and to top it all a massive tournament was organised to celebrate Philip’s investiture. That autumn the close correlation between practical power and chivalric spectacle was laid bare.
With the creation of a new French king, the chess board of politics was about to be reordered and naturally all the key players were angling for influence and advantage. Leading figures such as Philip, Count of Flanders and Duke Hugh of Burgundy – both tournament enthusiasts – were present, eager to establish themselves as the young French monarch’s preferred mentor.
Henry II looked to his eldest son to represent the Angevin house, and so Young Henry went to Rheims alongside his illustrious champion, William Marshal.
Young Henry duly played a starring role in the coronation, carrying Philip’s crown in affirmation of his close connection to the new French monarch. After a round of feasting, Henry and William moved on to a large area of open terrain east of Paris, at Lagny-sur-Marne for the greatest tournament of the 12th century. There, as leading knights among some 3,000 participants, Young Henry and William revelled in a glorious festival of pageantry, awash with the colour of hundreds of unfurled banners. That day, according to one chronicler, “the entire field of combat was swarming with [warriors]”, so that “not an inch of ground could be seen”. It was a spectacle the likes of which had “never [been] seen before or since” – and Young Henry and William Marshal were its stars.
The contest at Lagny marked the apogee of William Marshal’s tournament career and the Young King’s dedication to the cult of chivalry. Having resuscitated his reputation, Young Henry sought to make a more direct re-entry into the world of power politics by snatching the duchy of Aquitaine from his brother Richard the Lionheart. But then, a shocking rumour reached his ears. One of his warriors was bedding Queen Marguerite, his wife. The man accused of this heinous crime was none other than William Marshal.

The effigy of William Marshal at London’s Temple Church. © Bridgeman

Passionate affair

It is impossible to know whether there was any substance to this allegation. It appears to have been levelled by a disaffected faction in the Young King’s entourage and possibly prompted by jealously of Marshal’s glittering career. It is perhaps no coincidence that it was precisely in this period that the famed author of Arthurian literature, Chrétien de Troyes, composed his first story about Lancelot and his passionate affair with Queen Guinevere.
In all probability Young Henry did not believe William to be guilty or else he would have enacted a more severe punishment than mere exile. As it was, the shame surrounding Marshal was sufficient to require his banishment from court in late 1182. When the Young King began his second rebellion against his father in 1183 he did so without his leading knight and advisor by his side and the subsequent civil war did not go in his favour. Facing the combined might of the Old King and the Lionheart, Young Henry eventually relented and recalled William to his side.
Tragically, William Marshal only arrived in time to witness his lord’s descent into ill health, for the Young King contracted dysentery and died in agony at Martel, near Limoges in France, on 11 June 1183. On his deathbed Henry reportedly turned to “his most intimate friend” and bid William to carry his regal cloak to the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem in payment of his “debts to God”. It was a charge that William duly fulfilled.
Young King Henry received scourging press from most late 12th-century chroniclers. For these historians, writing during the reigns of the Old King and his successors, Henry was easy game – a wayward princeling who died young and left no great court historians to sing his praises. In their accounts he became little more than a mutinous traitor who “befouled the whole world with his treasons”.
Only a few of Young Henry’s closest contemporaries offered a more immediate impression of his achievements and character. The most heartfelt memorial was offered by the Young King’s own chaplain, who wrote that “it was a blow to all chivalry when he passed away in the very glow of youth” and concluded that “when Henry died heaven was hungry, so all the world went begging”.

The lives of the “great knight” and England’s heir

William Marshal
1147: Born as the younger son of a minor Anglo-Norman noble, John Marshal, and grows up in England’s West Country.
1170: William is appointed as Henry the Young King’s tutor-in-arms.
1179: He is permitted to raise his own banner and attends the great tournament at Lagny-sur-Marne.
1182: Accused of betraying Henry and bedding his wife, William is forced into exile.
1183: Returns to Young Henry’s side shortly before his death. William later sets out for the Holy Land to redeem Henry’s crusading vow.
1186: Comes back to Europe, enters King Henry II’s household and starts to accrue lands and wealth.
1189: Marriage to the heiress Isabel of Clare (arranged by Richard the Lionheart) brings William the lordship of Striguil (Chepstow). The couple have no less than 10 children.
1190–94: Serves as co-justiciar of England during King Richard I’s absence on crusade and period in captivity.
1215: William helps to negotiate the terms of Magna Carta and he appears as the first named nobleman in the document.
1216: After King John’s death, William supports the child Henry III’s claim to the crown and is appointed as ‘guardian of the realm’, thus becoming regent of England.
1217: Despite being 70 years old, William fights in the frontline at the battle of Lincoln and defeats the combined forces of the baronial rebels and the French.
1219: William resigns as regent, dies in peace shortly thereafter and is buried in London’s Temple Church.

Henry the Young King
1155: Born to King Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine. As eldest surviving son he is heir-apparent to the Angevin empire. His younger brother is Richard the Lionheart.
1160: Though barely five, Henry is married to the French king’s two-year-old daughter, Marguerite; both were rumoured to have bawled throughout the ceremony.
1170: Crowned king of England in Westminster Abbey during his father’s lifetime, but expected to serve as an associate monarch.
1173–74: Leads first rebellion against Henry II, in alliance with Louis VII of France and Philip of Flanders, but is thwarted by his father.
1176: Starts to frequent the northern French tournament circuit alongside William Marshal, quickly earning a reputation for lavish largesse.
1179: Attends Philip II of France’s coronation and the grand tournament at Lagny-sur-Marne.
1183: Second rebellion against Henry II’s regime leads to war in Aquitaine. Henry the Young King contracts dysentery and dies in agony at Martel, west central France.

Dr Thomas Asbridge is reader in medieval history at Queen Mary, University of London. In 2014, he presented the BBC Two documentary The Greatest Knight: William the Marshal.

Friday, October 28, 2016

The real reason Jane Austen never married

History Extra

Jane Austen c1754. Unlike her literary heroines, Jane never took her own trip down the aisle. (Photo by Universal History Archive/Getty Images)
Jane Austen’s present-day popularity derives chiefly from the fact her heroines, although two centuries old, act as romantic beacons for the modern age. With a universal message of marrying for love rather than money, they provide examples, albeit fictional, of women choosing husbands due to strings of the heart and not of the purse.  
If the old adage ‘write what you know’ is applied to Austen’s writing, then she should have had one of the happiest marriages in the history of matrimony. But here lies the paradox. One of the supreme purveyors of romantic love in English literature, and the creator of numerous blissful couplings in print, never took her own trip down the aisle.
The whitewashing of her public persona began almost immediately after her death in 1817 with the autobiographical note her brother, Henry, wrote to preface the publication of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. This meant that the question as to why this was so never really entered the equation. The mere fact that Jane did not find a Mr Darcy in real life and so lived – it seemed – as a virtuous Christian ‘spinster’ was enough to satisfy Victorian curiosity.
By the middle of the 20th century, however, this somewhat distorted view of the now much admired and studied author began to be challenged. Literary critic QD Leavis protested in 1942, for example, against the “conventional account of Miss Austen as prim, demure, sedate, prudish and so on, the typical Victorian maiden lady”. Her essay was just one of many that would bring into question and then rewrite the received biography. And with this rewriting came the desire to know exactly why Jane Austen had remained single.

Lesbian love?

The most contentious hypothesis puts forward the assumption Jane Austen did not marry for the simple reason her sexuality was orientated towards other women. In other words, she was a lesbian. The evidence, however, is simply not there to support this.
We know of the early romance with Tom Lefroy, who would later become Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, which was called off not by Jane due to any burgeoning doubt about her own sexuality, but by his family due to the penniless status of the would-be lovers. And this was the age, lest we forget, at least for the middling classes and above, when marrying for money was a fact of life and the yardstick by which all potential partners – male and female – were measured.

Anne Hathaway and James McAvoy as Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy in the 2007 film 'Becoming Jane'. (AF archive/Alamy Stock Photo)
There was also the mystery seaside rendezvous, where it is said Jane fell in love with a young clergyman and he with her. Their infatuation blossomed over several weeks during one of the Austen family’s regular summer breaks while they lived in Bath, and the lovers made arrangements to meet the following year. Sadly, when the time came for their reunion, news arrived saying that the clergyman had died during the intervening period. In 2009 Dr Andrew Norman named this clergyman as Samuel Blackall, but claims Blackall did not die but rather went on to marry someone else.
And then, of course, there was an actual proposal of marriage and acceptance of it. While Jane and her sister, Cassandra, were staying with friends, the Bigg sisters, at their residence, Manydown, Hants, in December 1802, their younger brother, Harris Bigg-Wither (the additional surname having been adopted for males of the family during the late 18th century) took it upon himself to integrate the families further by one evening proposing to Jane. Although he was six years younger than her she accepted, but after what can only have been a dark night of the soul rescinded it the following morning and hastily bid a retreat by carriage back to Steventon and then to Bath.
It could be argued that if there were any hint of lesbianism in Jane’s make-up then surely she would simply have not accepted the offer in the first place, or else would not have changed her mind (enjoying the financial security the marriage brought, while at the same time free to pursue those other erstwhile activities). The reality is that any relations Jane did have with the same sex were either genuine friendships, or else those normally shared with relatives.
Another theory was later put forward; that of an incestuous relationship. This ‘sisterly love’ theory, which suggested a sexual bond between Jane and her sister, Cassandra, came into public consciousness in 1995, the same year as Colin Firth’s shirt-drenched Darcy became lodged there; the former through a review essay by Terry Castle.
Castle’s piece, which appeared in the London Review of Books, was a critique of the latest edition of Jane Austen’s collected letters. In the essay Castle pondered on the closeness of the sisters to the point where she mused about the true nature of their relationship and what had transpired between the sheets of the double bed she believed the sisters shared throughout their lives.
It was of course Cassandra, in one of the greatest acts of literary vandalism in history, who burnt the majority of her sister’s enormous correspondence to her, thus depriving posterity of an insight into a more authentic character study of Jane, other than the whitewashed, virginal one that prevailed. The burning of Jane’s letters also gave rise to endless speculation as to what exactly they contained.

Handwritten letter from Jane Austen to her sister, Cassandra. (Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images)
Whether it was ever Castle’s intention to call into question the sisters’ sexual orientation – she later stated it was not – there was seemingly enough in the review to warrant a sub-editor on the periodical (with one-eye on circulation, no doubt) to title the review “Was Jane Austen Gay?” and then emblazon the headline on the front cover.
The ensuing fallout from the article – which included a media maelstrom – made at least one thing certain: not the bedtime habits of the Austen sisters, but the reverence held for Jane by various devotees (or ‘Janeites’, as they are called) around the globe. Indeed, many fans were outraged at the mere suggestion that Austen could have been anything other than a heterosexual, virginal singleton.
The final nail in the coffin of this theory seemed to come with the disclosure of an invoice. The whole episode had revolved around Castle’s assumption that the two women slept together in one double bed, but this assumption was completely shattered by a piece of paper that showed that Mr Austen, on his daughters reaching adolescence, had ordered a single bed for each of them.
And let us not forget, either, that Cassandra herself was engaged to be married, before her fiancé died in 1797, leaving her bereft but determined to embrace spinsterhood out of respect for him and not through any sexual orientation towards other women.


Another relationship

With that contentious theory hopefully put to bed (no pun intended), we can come to the real reason, I believe, Jane Austen did not marry. It was because she already had developed a deep, lifelong relationship with her art – writing – and believed there was a good chance any gentleman she uttered the words ‘I do’ to would insist on that artistic expression ceasing forthwith. 
Jane Austen began writing at the age of 12 and did not stop until ill health forced it upon her, shortly before her death, at the age of 41. In between there were seemingly fallow years – in Bath – and even barren ones – in Southampton – but this did not mean she ceased in the development of her craft. There were voluminous letters to be written, so as to keep her wit and observations sharp, and large amounts of books devoured from circulating libraries or those of friends and relatives to stimulate her mind in readiness for an incredible six-year outpouring of literary creativity once ensconced at the cottage in Chawton.

Jane Austen's house, Chawton, Hampshire. (Photo by Peter Thompson/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
This ‘revelation’ and the whole mass of evidence that is slowly being recognised as supporting this theory is, in its own way, possibly even more contentious than any questions about Jane’s sexuality. Why? Because this suggests that she was not only a literary genius but a forward-thinking woman, an independent mind, an astute business person and a feminist pioneer – one who can easily take her place alongside such luminaries as Mary Astell and Mary Wollstonecraft – rolled into one.
And this at a time when women were supposed to love, honour and obey their husbands, and the only way for the majority of women – including Austen – to obtain financial security was to marry into it. Because God help them if they tried to make a living independently, say through the pen, as she chose to do! In hindsight, then, it is perhaps no wonder Jane’s brother, Henry, sought to soften the image of his sister, knowing a true portrait would most likely cause outrage in certain sections of the Regency, and then later Victorian, public. 
Possibly Tom Lefroy would have encouraged Jane’s writing aspirations, as might the mysterious seaside suitor, but she was certain that Harris Bigg-Wither would not and ultimately, in my mind, at least, that is why she declined his proposal. But let us consider for a moment the pressure that would have been on Jane throughout that December night in 1802 at Manydown. Her family, although not poor, were not well off, and the marriage would have brought security for all of them, or at least the females within it: Jane, Cassandra and their mother.
I believe it was with a pragmatic mind that Jane accepted Bigg-Wither’s proposal. And then throughout the night, either within her solitary thoughts or in discussion with her sister, she pondered on what she might be losing herself, and changed her mind. It might have been the dutiful daughter who accepted the proposal, but it was the aspiring writer (and true artist) who descended the stairs the following morning, took Harris to one side, and declared she had made a mistake and the marriage was off.
With this knowledge of Jane’s literary aspirations, it is perhaps no surprise that on her return to Bath she subsequently revised Northanger Abbey (or rather Susan, as it was originally titled) and successfully sought a publishing deal for it, which saw her achieve the goal of finally being paid for her writing.  The fact that, for whatever reason, the publishing firm chose not to publish the work merely taught Jane a lesson about the industry and made her more determined to see her work in print, if not bearing her own name, certainly on her own terms.

A print from an edition of Jane Austen's 'Northanger Abbey'. George Routledge and Sons, London. (Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images)
To this end, after revising Sense & Sensibility and once settled at Chawton, Jane used her own money to publish the book and saw a handsome return on her investment. And although she sold the rights to her next published novel, Pride & Prejudice, she quickly realised a mistake had been made and so subsequent books reverted back to this initial ‘business model’.
The fact that Jane Austen remained single all her life, while her literary heroines enjoyed both romantic wedded bliss and financial security, is one of English literature’s greatest ironies. The simple fact is, though, that even if Jane had herself experienced a happy marriage with a husband only too obliging for her to continue writing, with the prospect of possibly a large family to bring up Jane may not have had the time to write to the extent she did and so develop her incredible talent that is so revered today.
So, to reiterate, by not marrying, Jane allowed herself the time and space to develop her talent unhindered by domestic duties or conjugal obligations. She sacrificed financial security and matrimonial happiness in order to retain the freedom to write and develop as a true artist. It is perhaps because of that choice Jane Austen is considered one of the greatest literary talents of all time.
David Lassman is a former director of the International Jane Austen Festival. He has recently written an Austen-related feature film entitled Encounter, due for release in 2017, and is currently working on an autobiographical book entitled How I Became Jane Austen’s Press Agent, charting his time as PR & media consultant for the Jane Austen Centre in Bath. Lassman’s views on Austen have been sought by media organisations such as CNN, BBC and the New York Times, and he has made many radio and television appearances, including the 2008 documentary Crazy About Jane; BBC’s The One Show and Good Morning America.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Adidas of Ancient Rome: Ancient Fashion Unveiled with Discovery of Roman Shoe Hoard

Ancient Origins

A team of archeologists has discovered more than 400 ancient Roman shoes in the Vindolanda fort in Northumberland, England, including some that resemble modern-day shoe styles. The site, located just south of Hadrian's Wall, was an ancient settlement for Roman soldiers and their families.

During the excavation work, which lasted the whole summer, the researchers were uncovering one shoe after another. It was a huge challenge, but every single piece is priceless. According to the researchers, every single shoe is like a time machine, and a window into the everyday life of the person who once wore it.
The ancient site of Vindolanda is located just south of Hadrian’s Wall (pictured), which it predates.
The ancient site of Vindolanda is located just south of Hadrian’s Wall (pictured), which it predates. Source: BigStockPhoto
Some of the shoes even resemble today’s fashions. For example, Chronicle Live reports that one shoe that was unearthed is strikingly similar to the Adidas Predator football boot. Although Romans didn't play football, the shoes offered them similar comfort and flexibility to the famous Predator model.
The shoes belonged to the different generations, ranging from tiny baby boots to small children's shoes, adult female and men boots and bath clogs. The owners of the shoes lived inside the fort at Vindolanda. It was built c. 1,800 years ago by the Roman army. It was small but one of the most heavily defended forts in Britain.
The ancient site of Vindolanda, Northumberland
The ancient site of Vindolanda, Northumberland (public domain)
As Dr Andrew Briley, Director of excavations, Vindolanda Trust said:
"This offers an unbelievable and unparalleled demographic census of a community in conflict from two millennia away from today. The volume of footwear is fantastic as is its sheer diversity even for a site like Vindolanda which has produced more Roman shoes than any other place from the Roman Empire.” [via].
Vindolanda was a small garrison, where only a few hundred soldiers were stationed with their families. They took shelter inside the fort behind a series of a large ditches and ramparts. The war between the Roman forces and British tribes was long and cruel. Romans arrived in Britain for the first time around 55 or 54 BC, when Julius Caesar launched an invasion. The war between the invaders and British tribes ceased around 212 AD, and the fort went out of use. Vindolanda was abandoned and anything that people didn't want or couldn't take with them to the new settlements was left behind and remained there for nearly two millennia.  New constructions built on top of the old created an oxygen free environment that preserved many of the precious artifacts.
Roman shoes found at Vindolanda.
Roman shoes found at Vindolanda. Credit: Vindolanda Trust
The research is led by the Vindolanda Trust, which is committed to the preservation and public display of its finds. According to the Trust, each shoe costs between £80 and £100 to conserve, so the researchers have launched a fundraising campaign asking for support from the public to ‘conserve a shoe’.
Top image: Top: An ancient shoe recently discovered in a Roman fort. Credit: North News & Pictures LTD. Below: Adidas Predator.
By Natalia Klimzcak

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Occupation, resistance, subjugation: the bloody aftermath of 1066

History Extra

The Harrying of the North. Gouache on paper, by Patrick Nicolle (1907–95). Private collection. (© Look and Learn/Bridgeman Images)

For several years after the battle of Hastings, England was riven by conflict as the invaders fought to extend and consolidate their rule in the face of native resistance and incursions from outside the kingdom.
In the weeks immediately following the battle, William ravaged the southern shires before marching on London. Having secured the city’s submission that December, he was crowned king of the English on Christmas Day, ushering in a new French-speaking ruling dynasty.
Over the winter of 1069–70, the conflict reached its climax with brutal attacks on the civilian population of England – among the worst atrocities ever to take place on British soil. In a campaign that became known as the Harrying of the North, William’s knights comprehensively laid waste to Yorkshire and the neighbouring shires, razing entire villages and putting their inhabitants to the sword, slaughtering livestock and destroying stores of food.
This ‘scorched-earth’ operation was one of the defining episodes of the Conquest, not just from a military-political perspective but also because it shaped modern perceptions of the Normans as a tyrannical and merciless warrior class. But how had it reached the point that such brutal measures were considered necessary, and why was the north targeted?

Early difficulties

When William set sail from Normandy in 1066, he could not have dreamed of a more complete and decisive victory than that he won at Hastings. Harold lay dead, along with his brothers, Gyrth and Leofwine, and many other influential noblemen who might otherwise have helped continue the resistance struggle against William.
Yet in those early months of the Conquest, the invaders’ position was precarious. There may have been only 20,000 Normans in England – possibly fewer – attempting to control a country with a population of about two million. Outnumbered in a foreign land, it was perhaps to be anticipated that the conquerors’ paranoia should soon spill over into violence.
Some of this stemmed from misunderstanding. At William’s coronation, Norman guards stationed outside Westminster Abbey misconstrued the shouts of acclamation by Englishmen inside as hostile yells. Panicking, the guards set fire to neighbouring houses and called to those inside the church to flee to fight the flames. Only the clergy and William himself – trembling violently, we’re told – remained within to continue the ceremony.
The coronation of William the Conqueror in Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066. Produced by a Flemish artist in the 15th century. From ‘The Island Race’, a 20th-century book that covers the history of the British Isles from the pre-Roman times to the Victorian era. Written by Sir Winston Churchill and abridged by Timothy Baker. (Photo by Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
It wasn’t long, however, before the first sparks of genuine insurrection flared. In the summer of 1067, while William was absent from England, a thegn named Eadric (known as se wilda – ‘the Wild’) joined forces with King Bleddyn of Gwynedd and King Rhiwallon of Powys to launch raids on the Normans in Herefordshire. Also that year the men of Kent, who had taken up arms against the invaders, joined forces with Eustace, count of Boulogne, who sailed across the Channel and attacked Dover but was swiftly repelled.
The unrest continued into the following year. In the early weeks of 1068 the citizens of Exeter – including Harold’s mother, Gytha – rose up, and sent letters to other towns in the south-west exhorting them to do the same. In response William laid siege to the city, which held out for just 18 days before surrendering. A few months later, Harold’s sons launched raids on Somerset, Devon and Cornwall with a fleet of 52 ships. They pillaged widely but failed to establish a foothold – if, indeed, that was ever their intention – and withdrew to Ireland with their plunder.


Co-ordinated resistance

Up to that point, the risings had been local in nature and were swiftly suppressed before any significant damage could be done. Concerted and widespread rebellion against Norman rule was slow to develop, perhaps due to a lack of clear leadership in the aftermath of Hastings. However, in the summer of 1068 at last a more cohesive resistance began to take shape.
The principal instigators were Edwin and Morcar, the titular earls of Mercia and Northumbria respectively, whose authority had been severely curbed since 1066. Under the new regime they exercised little real power, and William had handed over parts of their earldoms to his supporters.
Several Northumbrian nobles rallied to Edwin and Morcar’s cause, as did Bishop Æthelwine of Durham and King Bleddyn of Gwynedd. One of our principal sources for this period, Orderic Vitalis, wrote that the leading men of both England and Wales came together and sent out messengers across Britain to foment insurgency. “A general outcry arose against the injustice and tyranny which the Normans and their comrades-in-arms had inflicted on the English,” he wrote. “All were ready to conspire together to recover their former liberty.”
Despite such efforts, the rebellion proved to be short-lived; resistance quickly crumbled as William swept through the English Midlands. In an effort to impose control, the Conqueror established castles in major English towns: Warwick, Nottingham, York, Lincoln, Huntingdon and Cambridge.
Nevertheless, it was the first large-scale coordinated resistance the Normans had faced, and a sign of things to come. Even by early 1069, William’s hold on England was not assured; indeed, he was still not master of the entire kingdom – his authority extended no farther north than York. Beyond lay the vast and troublesome region of Northumbria, which had thus far resisted his attempts to bring it under his control – and it was from there that the greatest threat to his rule would emerge.
Warwick Castle. The first castle to appear on the site was a wooden motte and bailey constructed in 1068 at the command of William the Conqueror. (© David Steele/


The crisis of 1069

William’s early attempts to assert control over the Northumbrians had seen him appoint native English earls – first Copsig, then Gospatric – to govern them. Both appointments had been dismal failures: Copsic was assassinated by a rival in 1067, while Gospatric defected in 1068 to support Edwin and Morcar. Finally, in January 1069, William sent one of his own men, Robert Cumin, at the head of an army to take the region by force – only for the Norman troops to be ambushed and slaughtered at Durham.
Worse was to come. In the summer of 1069 the Normans found themselves at the centre of a perfect storm as their many enemies all began marching at once. Foremost among those foes was a coalition of Northumbrian noblemen, including Gospatric but headed by Edgar Ætheling, grandson of the short-reigning King Edmund Ironside (r1016). Edgar, still only around 17 years old in 1069, Edgar had bid for the crown before: in 1066, after Harold’s death, he had been briefly acclaimed king by Archbishop Ealdred of York, backed by Edwin, Morcar and the men of London.
The Northumbrian threat was compounded in August when a Danish invasion fleet numbering some 240 or 300 ships (depending on which source we believe) arrived in the Humber, from where Vikings had previously launched several invasion attempts. The Northumbrians and Danes swiftly formed an alliance, and together attacked York.
Meanwhile there was further trouble on the Welsh border, where Eadric the Wild had once more allied himself with the Welsh kings, and also this time with the men of Chester. The men of Devon and Cornwall were in revolt at the same time, though it’s unlikely that these risings were all co-ordinated; rather, the impression given by the sources is that their timing was coincidental. Nonetheless, the crisis tested the Normans to the limit and marked a crucial turning point in the Conquest.
Leaving his deputies to tackle the insurrection in the south-west, William first confronted Eadric and his allies, crushing them at Stafford, before marching north. He reached York a little before Christmas only to find that, on hearing of his approach, the Northumbrians and their Danish allies had strategically withdrawn, the former to hiding places in the hills and woods, the latter to their ships on the Humber.
Frustrated by his failure to meet his principal enemies in battle, William was forced to adopt a new strategy. First, he secretly approached the Danes, promising them a vast amount of silver and gold if they would leave England in the spring, to which they readily agreed. William then turned his attention to the recalcitrant Northumbrians. Shortly after Christmas 1069 he divided his army into raiding parties, which he dispatched to carry out the now infamous Harrying of the North.

William the Conqueror. (Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images)

Shock and awe

The objective of the campaign was twofold. First, William sought to flush out and eliminate the Northumbrian rebels. More importantly, by comprehensively destroying the region’s resources, he sought to put an end to the cycle of rebellions in the north by ensuring that any future insurgents – or invading Viking armies – would lack the means to support themselves.
In a way, it was an admission that his previous policies regarding the northerners had failed. On two occasions he had installed one of their own to govern them – both times without success – and his single attempt to take the region by force had proved a costly disaster. In the end, William seems to have decided on a destructive strategy: if Northumbria could not be his, he would leave nothing there for his enemies.
The Harrying was as efficient as it was effective. William’s armies, we’re told, spread out over a territory that spanned 100 miles, reaching as far north even as the River Tyne. The 12th-century chronicler John of Worcester wrote that food was so scarce in the aftermath that people were reduced to eating not just horses, dogs and cats but also human flesh.
Orderic Vitalis, a contemporary of John, claims that as many as 100,000 people perished as a result of famine in the following months – a significant proportion of the total population of England. Though we might be rightly suspicious of Orderic’s round total, a figure somewhere in the tens of thousands is not hard to believe – which would make the death toll of the Harrying comparable in magnitude to that of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945.
While Yorkshire and the north-east bore the brunt of William’s wrath, parts of Lincolnshire, Cheshire, Staffordshire and Shropshire also suffered. The resulting refugee crisis saw survivors fleeing as far south as Evesham Abbey in Worcestershire, where a camp was established by Abbot Æthelwig, who ensured that food was distributed to the survivors. The abbey’s chronicle relates, though, that many of those starving folk died not long after their arrival “through eating the food too ravenously”, and that the monks had to bury five or six people every day.
The affected region took a long time to recover. Symeon of Durham, another 12th-century author, wrote that for nine years after the Harrying no village between York and Durham was inhabited, and that the countryside remained empty and uncultivated. Even 16 years after the event, in 1086, when the great systematic survey of England known as Domesday Book was compiled, one-third of the available land in Yorkshire was still listed as vasta (waste).
Over the course of just a few weeks, then, William not only clearly demonstrated the punishment awaiting those who rose against him, but also snuffed out any remaining hopes the rebels might still have of someday driving out the invaders. It’s true that there were further risings in the years to come, but William never again faced a crisis of the same magnitude as he did in 1069.
What Hastings had heralded, the Harrying confirmed. The Normans were here to stay.
James Aitcheson studied history at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. He is the author of four novels set during the Norman conquest; the latest, The Harrowing (Heron, 2016), follows five English refugees fleeing the Normans during the Harrying of the North.
To listen to our podcast on the story and legacy of the Norman Conquest, click here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The 1016 Danish Conquest that led to the battle of Hastings

History Extra

Following the battle of Maldon in AD 991, Æthelred’s court paid the Vikings to leave in the form of Danegeld. (Chronicle/Alamy Stock Photo)

Everyone’s heard of 1066: Harold of England (allegedly) got an arrow in the eye and William the Conqueror became king of England. England was dragged out of the northern, Germanic world, into the orbit of France and a different culture of arts and architecture and social organisation. It was the last time, so folklore goes, that England was invaded. But what most people haven’t heard about is the other time England was conquered and had a foreign king sit on the throne. It is that conquest, the Danish Conquest of 1016, that brought about the end of Anglo-Saxon England and, more importantly, put into motion the events of 1066.

Setting the scene

Let us go back to the world that brought about the Danish Conquest – the end of the reign of that other well-remembered figure, Æthelred the Unready. Æthelred’s name was the compound of ‘Æthel’ and ‘raed’, which meant ‘noble-counsel’. His nickname was ‘Un-read’, meaning ‘bad council’ and was a polite way of describing how inept he was.
Æthelred was the son of Edgar the Peaceable and his second wife, a Game of Thrones’ Cersei Lannister of the Anglo-Saxon period: beautiful, ruthless and prepared to risk all for her child. Ælfthryth was the result of a marriage between the ealdorman of Devon and her mother, a member of the Wessex royal family. The Wessex kings had long built up both patronage and familial links throughout their old heartland of Wessex through long friendships and marriages like this.
A story, written by William of Malmesbury, said that when King Edgar was looking for a wife he sent someone from his court, a man named Æthelwald, to see if Ælfthryth was as beautiful as she was rumoured to be. But Æthelwald was so struck by the beauty of this young girl that he lied to the king and ended up marrying her himself. But rumours could not be silenced, and when King Edgar decided to see the girl for himself, Æthelwald, in panic, insisted that his wife try to appear as unattractive as possible. But Ælfthryth did the opposite and turned herself out in all her finery. King Edgar was smitten; Æthelwald was killed hunting, and with his death Ælfthryth’s route to the queen was open. Æthelred was the product of that union.

Silver penny of Æthelred the Unready. (Photo by Werner Forman/Universal Images Group/Getty Images)
Edgar died in 975 leaving two sons: Edward (born from a previous marriage) and the minor Æthelred. Edward was clearly the best choice and ruled for nearly three years, until a fateful day at Corfe Castle when, while visiting his young brother, he was dragged from his horse and murdered by retainers of the queen. Æthelred would reign for the next 38 years, and so started one of the longest – and most disastrous – reigns of medieval England.
The poem ‘The Battle of Maldon’ talks of the battle in 991, when Ealdorman Bryhtnoth, a leading figure in the Æthelred court, was killed in battle against a Viking army. The poem speaks eloquently of the military ethos that Bryhtnoth’s retainer Brythwold felt, declaring that he would die at his lord’s side rather than run from the battle. But many other men, who would be faced with the same choice, would find their resolution less ironclad.

Money matters

Following the battle of Maldon in AD 991 [in which Earl Byrhtnoth and his thegns led the English against a Viking invasion, ending in an Anglo-Saxon defeat], Æthelred’s court turned to a policy that had worked before, paying the Vikings to leave in the form of Danegeld, which was paid in silver coin and bullion. That first Danegeld was 10,000 pounds of silver. By 1002 the sum was 24,000 pounds, but while Viking sea-kinds swore oaths not to return to England, many of their followers did not feel similarly bound, and instead clustered around the country like wolves around a wounded beast.
The attacks on England came almost yearly, with Viking armies living parasitically in England for most of the next 10 years, and the sums of silver paid to them began to spiral out of control. By 1009, 48,000 pounds of silver was paid to Thorkell the Tall to leave England.
Normandy had been a haven for the Viking fleets, which would take their slaves and silver across the Channel to sell it off. In an effort to close off the seaports, Æthelred married Emma, daughter of Richard I, Duke of Normandy, as his second wife. It was the son of this union, Edward the Confessor, who would end up as king of England in 1042.
Statue to Byrhtnoth, leader at the battle of Maldon in AD 991. (Les polders/Alamy Stock Photo)
The thousands of pounds of silver paid to the Vikings were also having a profound effect on the places where the Vikings were coming from; giving young Viking aspirants so much wealth that they could return home and, through gift-giving and patronage, make themselves kings. Both Olaf Tryggvason and Saint Olaf were young sea kings who benefited from the events of this period.
But the wealth and power that such amounts of silver gave chieftains threatened established kings. At the same time the kings of Denmark were building an aggressive, powerful and Christian new state, and the ambitious Swein Forkbeard, who like Philip II of Macedon had fashioned his fledgling country into an aggressive and powerful military power, seems to have decided that if others could shear the fat English sheep, then he could do one better, and take over the whole flock. So, in 1013 Swein Forkbeard sailed into the Humber, the old heart of the Danelaw, and declared himself king. Æthelred was unable to respond, and the country, it seemed, was finished with the House of Wessex.
Archbishop Wulfstan’s 11th-century work ‘Sermon of the Wolf’ lists the social ills that he saw throughout Anglo-Saxon England: theft, slavery, perjury, fornication, murder, worshipping false gods and other misdeeds. The fabric of English society had been stretched to the point of tearing and now the country seemed barely able to resist.
While the fighting had taken a toll on the traditional aristocracy, continual taxes had a much more profound affect. Anglo-Saxon taxes were levied on manorial estates. If you were unable to pay the taxes for your land then your land was forfeit: if someone else paid the tax for you then the land became theirs. The repeated imposition of these taxes and new ones (such as the 1008 taxes used to build a fleet of ships), combined with Viking raiding and pillaging across large swathes of the country, saw the heartlands of Wessex power reduced to penury. The social breakdown of this period cannot be exaggerated. It went on for so long that faith in the House of Wessex began to erode. Nothing, it seemed, would solve the problem.

Changing tides

But chance gave Æthelred a second shot. On the day after Candlemas, 3 February 1014, Swein Forkbeard died and his second son, Cnut, returned to Denmark rather than fight. Æthelred had fled to the Duchy of Normandy, where his wife, Emma, was from, and he was brought back to England “saying that he would be their faithful lord – would better each of those things that they disliked – and that each of the things should be forgiven which had been either done or said against him; provided they all unanimously, without treachery, turned to him”.
But just as Philip II of Macedon had been followed by a keener and more ambitious son, so it was with Swein, whose son, Cnut, returned two years later determined to finish the war his father had started. The Wessex heartlands gave up on Æthelred in 1015. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle notes, laconically, “The West-Saxons also submitted, and gave hostages, and horsed the army”.
Æthelred died on St George’s Day 1016, too late, it seemed, to do anything but allow Cnut to take all of England. But Æthelred’s eldest living son, Edmund Ironside, had not got the memo, and set about raising forces to throw the Danes out. He fought six battles that summer and seemed set to stage a great revival, until he was betrayed in battle by Eadric, the Ealdorman of Mercia. Edmund and Cnut agreed to split the country into two, but Edmund died shortly after, either from wounds from battle or assassination. It is Edmund Ironside who is really the last Anglo-Saxon king because what followed after was an Anglo-Danish state in which Earl Godwin, father of Harold Godwinson, rose to power.

Stained glass image of King Cnut from Canterbury Cathedral. (Photo by CM Dixon/Print Collector/Getty Images)
Godwin was probably the son of a minor but successful thane in Sussex named Wulfnoth Cild. Sussex was outside the traditional Wessex heartland, and his rise to power seems to have put out of joint the noses of older and more prestigious houses – scandalous stories arose of his humble background.
Godwin was a skilled politician with a keen nose for the direction of the wind. You can trace this in the names of his children: his first sons were all named after Danish kings – Swein, Harold, Tostig, Gyrth; but after Cnut’s death he switched to Anglo-Saxon names, Leofwine and Wulfnoth. But despite the names the facts remained: Godwin had married a member of the Danish royal circle and his children were half Danish. Like their cousin, Beorn Estridson, they were part of an international aristocracy that looked across the North Sea and saw it as part of their own world.


The fracture of 1016 ran through the next 50 years of English history. When Edward the Confessor was king he seemed an unhappy prisoner of his earls, unable to impose his royal will without their support. When the showdown came between him and Earl Godwin, the only remaining heir of the House of Wessex had to rely not on his family’s heartland, but on the earls of Mercia and Northumbria. The deep connections between king and country that allowed Æthelred to stagger on for so long had gone. The political climate of England had changed. Power was now vested more in the earls than the throne.
So while the struggles with the Danes brought Queen Emma to the court and a Norman bloodline that would be used as a screen of legitimacy by William the Conqueror, it was really 1016 that set the stage for 1066. Wessex, which had been old when Alfred took the throne, had over the centuries shown itself to be the most resilient of fighters. It had an uncanny ability to be knocked down and to stand back up again, and with Edmund Ironside’s brilliant campaign of 1016 it showed a last, final, brilliant display of resilience.
But with Edmund’s death, pugnacious Wessex was gone. What rose from the ashes was an Anglo-Danish state with new men in charge who did not have long lines of lineage and links with the Wessex royal family. Despite the wealth and the power, there was a fragility to the England of 1066, which was apparent in the months after Hastings, when England was riven by conflict.
Harold Godwinson might have been a member of the Danish royal family, but he was not of royal English blood, and even though he left grown sons, it seems that they could not command the same bloody-minded resolve from the men of England that Edmund Ironside had. Rather than dubbing him the last Anglo-Saxon King, Harold Godwinson should be thought of as the last Anglo-Danish king.
Justin Hill is the author of Viking Fire (Little, Brown 2016), which tells the true story of Harald Hardrada, the last Viking. Hill is also the author of Shieldwall (2011) about the Danish Conquest in 1016, a Sunday Times Book of the Year.
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