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Ancient Ratae, City on the Soar

In the second century BC, in a Britain still filled with wild boar, beaver, lynx, bears and wolves, a group of people settled  near to the River Soar. The descendants of Bronze Age peoples and Neolithic farmers, they built a series of huts on the east bank of the river, their settlement extending across some twenty acres. They called themselves the Corieltauvi; the closest translation of their name would be the ‘army of the land of many rivers.’ The exact  name of their settlement is unknown but it contains a Celtic root word similar to ‘rath’, meaning (approximately)  ‘ramparts’, which can be found in many Irish place names today. This humble Iron Age settlement is the origin of modern day Leicester.

Roman  interest in this area of Britain began when they realised it was a place of strategic value; and so it became an intersection of the Fosse Way and Gartree Street. There might have been some opposition from the local Corieltauvi, but the tribesmen proved no match for the might of Rome; a fort or base was soon established on the banks of the Soar for the Legion XIV.  Quite simple in plan and  housing approx 500 men,  the fort was surrounded by a ditch and rampart; it retained the name of the ancient British settlement but in a new, Larinised form–Ratae.

The new fort brought  much  trade to the area and a small civilian settlement quickly sprang up. A few years later a second fort was constructed nearby—it is thought this defensive structure may have been built in response to Boudicca’s revolt. However, the brave British Queen’s chariots never rolled up to Ratae’s earthen ramparts.

About 30 years later, most of the Legions were recalled from Britain and the forts on the Soar handed over to civilians,  although they were remained part of the Roman Empire. Ratae became an important  tribal administrative capital.

Emperor Hadrian’s visit to the town in 122 AD seems to have  sparked a new rebuilding phase. Outmoded wooden structures were dismantled and local granite and millstone grit from Derbyshire brought to build a forum, basilica and colonnades. A few decades later, a public bath house was constructed—today its remains are known as the Jewry Wall, Britain’s largest free-standing piece of  Roman architecture. Water for the baths came to the site from Knighton Brook via an aqueduct. Some of the earthworks surrounding the water channel still survive and are known as Raw Dykes (the word ‘Raw’ has the same origin as Rath/Ratae.)

At this time in Ratae’s history, the local population grew quite wealthy. Townhouses appeared with opulent mosaics, painted walls, heating and bathing facilities. A stone wall was built around the perimeter of the settlement, for added security for the residents of the town.

Temples to the varying gods  were built too, one being found near St Nicholas’ Church, which today retains much brickwork pilfered from the ancient Roman building. This temple was dedicated to Mithras, the bull-slaying god who was born on December 25 and whose cult was seen as a rival to Christianity.  He was a Persian ‘import’ and his all-male accolytes often held their rites in a secret underground chamber known as a Mithraeum. Other evidence has been found of British bull-gods, spear carrying sons of Zeus, and sea-gods.  Of great interest is the curse tablet discovered, in which a native British God, Maglus (‘Prince/princely’) is invoked for help in bringing about the destruction of a thief : “To the god Maglus, I give the wrongdoer who stole the cloak of Servandus. Silvester, Roimandus … that he destroy him before the ninth day, the person who stole the cloak of Servandus …”

By the 5th century, however, Ratae was in serious decline as the legions pulled out from Britain and Angles and  Saxons began to migrate from their homelands to settle in what is now England . Soon, the town was in ruins, abandoned and decaying . The famous Anglo Saxon poem THE RUIN speaks of the abandoned Roman townsThis masonry is wondrous; Fate broke it.
Courtyard pavements lie smashed; the work of giants is decaying.
Roofs are fallen, ruinous towers,
the frosty gate is ravaged,
chipped roofs torn, fallen,
undermined by old age. The grasp of the earth possesses
the mighty builders, perished and fallen…

The Roman Era of Ratae was over with Rome’s withdrawal from Brittania; the early Middle Ages had begun. After the Romans departed the  native Britons called the place, in their own tongue,  Caer Lerion or Caerlyr; the Saxons called it Ligora-ceastre, which by Domesday became Ledecestre, and then Leicester. Geoffrey of Monmouth claimed the town’s founder was King Leir (Leir-caister), and the prefix of this name may take its origins from a Celtic water deity known as Llyr.

Today, the remains of Roman buildings and artefacts  still frequently are excavated in Leicester. Some recent finds near High Cross have been of considerable importance.

The prevalence of these remains in the city is shown by the fact that when Richard III’s remains were recovered from the ruins of Greyfriars, it was initially thought he had an arrowhead embedded in his spine. As it turned out, the ‘arrowhead’ was a stray Roman nail that happened to have ended up under his body when the monks dug a hasty grave to hold him.

It is also interesting to realise that the last Plantagenet King now rests in a brick lined vault above the remains of one of Leicester’s Roman temples,  its scant  foundations discovered when restoration was made on  St Martin’s church in the late 1800’s.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leicestershire-39738436

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2318880/Is-left-park-Leicester-Roman-cemetery-archaeological-dig-ANOTHER-car-park-city.htmlhttp://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2318880/Is-left-park-Leicester-Roman-cemetery-archaeological-dig-ANOTHER-car-park-city.html

https://phys.org/news/2016-07-rare-discovery-late-roman-leicester.html

Roman Leicester artists impression

curse

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Another eleventh century struggle

This article reveals the little-known sequel to the battle of Hastings. It took place in North Devon, between Appledore and Northam near Bideford, on 26 June 1069 and was led by Brian of Br_88394404_battlefieldbbcittany and Alan the Black for the Normans against Godwine and Edmund, sons of Harold II, for the Anglo-Saxon “resistance”. The result was very similar.
It seems that Harold’s teenage sons had taken refuge in Leinster after their defeat at Hastings and sailed back with a Dublin fleet supplied by Diarmait, king of that province. During 1069, when the “Harrying of the North” was in progress”, Edgar the Atheling was in exile at the Scottish court where his sister, Margaret of Wessex, married the widowed Malcolm III that year or the next. For the location, you should seek “Bloody Corner“.

Gytha (sister to Godwine and Edmund) is among Richard III’s ancestors, as are Malcolm, Margaret and Domnall mac Murchada (Diarmait’s successor).

Another Car Park, Another Find

What is it about carparks? They seem to hide a wealth of archaeology.

My own local one may not have held a king, but it certainly contained burials–a handful of   Bronze Age people who had been cremated and buried in long-vanished barrows strung out  along what once was a prominent  ridge. Several thousand years later their graves were desecrated by Anglo-Saxons, who inserted their own inhumation burials into the earlier mounds–one of them taking  a stunning amethyst bead into the afterlife.

The latest famous carpark find is from Switzerland, however, rather than Britain, and it is probably the oldest by far. It is the five thousand year old door of a neolithic hut, rather fine in its craftmanship, with a prominent hinge still existing–not at all what most people imagine when they hear the word ‘neolithic.’ It was discovered  while making, rather than digging up, a NEW carpark in Zurich, in an area where there were a number of ancient lake villages. It wasn’t the only door found either–others had been located in the area in previous digs, but it was the best preserved and most ‘modern’ to look at.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/oct/20/swiss-unearth-neolithic-door-zurich

door

Empress Matilda-Should She Be Listed as an English Monarch?

One of the most fascinating (and bloody) periods of English history is The Anarchy, when Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry I (he who might well be found sometime soon in the ruins of Reading Abbey) fought her cousin Stephen of Blois (thought to be in Faversham Abbey) for the English throne. Battles raged across the land and barons, without permission, threw up adulterine castles everywhere and lived lawlessly. The times were so turbulent that it was said ‘Christ and His Saints slept.’

Matilda’s forces captured Stephen in 1141 and she came very close to being crowned, but violent crowds of Stephen’s supporters on the way to London stopped the Coronation from taking place. Then her biggest supporter, her half-brother Robert of Gloucester was captured at Winchester, and the only way to free him was to trade Stephen’s freedom for Robert’s.

In 1148, Matilda retreated from England for good and left the fighting to her son, Henry FitzEmpress, the son of Geoffrey Plantagenet–the future Henry II. In 1153 Henry and Stephen came to an agreement after the Siege of Wallingford, in which Henry was declared Stephen’s heir as the latter’s eldest son Eustace had died. The next year, Stephen died and Henry took the throne.

Matilda is generally not listed as one of the rulers of England but some believe that she should be. Although never crowned, she was Henry I’s heir and before the High Altar of All Saints, Northampton, Henry rallied his barons to swear loyalty to her and to support her claim to the throne. They swore at the time, but as often happened in the Middle Ages, the oaths were quickly broken once Henry died. The idea of a female ruler was not a popular one, although there was no legal impediment to it, as England, unlike France, did not have a Salic Law.

Many sources list Edward V, Jane and Edward VIII as monarchs of England, despite the fact that they were never crowned and their legitimacy to the position was disputed–so, if that is considered correct, why then is the Empress Matilda excluded from the list, as designated heir to Henry I?

Matilda is, of course ancestor to the line of Plantagenet kings that followed on from her son, and through her maternal side, they also have a line of descent from both King Malcolm of Scotland and the royal House of Wessex via St Margaret. Both claimants were, therefore, among Richard III’s ancestors.parents_of_henry_ii

 

An interesting post on the subject of Matilda from the FB page ‘House of Plantagenet History & Geneology’ :https://www.facebook.com/groups/41546823396/permalink/10154937093853397/

Well, well – who was the real St Alkelda of Middleham….?

St Alkelda - Middleham

28th March is the Feast of St Alkelda, a lady who has two churches named after her, one in Middleham, the other in Giggleswick. That seems clear enough. BUT there does not appear to be a St Alkelda. “She” may even be a well, there being a theory that the name Alkelda derives from an old word for holy well or spring.

To read much more on this interesting matter, go to the Darlington & Stockton Times’ article, from the 27th March 2015.

What is a Wapentake?

English counties were divided into smaller administrative units. Normally, these are called ‘Hundreds’ but in the former Danelaw, they are called ‘Wapentakes’.

It is thought the name comes from the ancient practice of brandishing weapons to signal assent.

If a wapentake was in crown hands the sheriff would hold his ‘tourn’ there at intervals, usually twice a year, to receive indictments against all those who needed to be tried by royal judges and ensure those indicted were in custody.

If the wapentake was in private hands (as many were) the lord (or lady) could either allow the sheriff to hold a tourn, or alternatively organise a similar process under his own authority. Writs from the King would go to the lord of such a wapentake, instead of, as normal, to the sheriff.

In  some cases (not all) the lord could appoint the coroner and even hang felons.

It was a very complex system, and much depended on what rights had been ceded to the lord, often in the distant past.

A year of anniversaries

shakespeare

2016 has been the 1000th anniversary of Edund Ironside’s accession and death, also of the death of his father Ethelred Unraed and the double accession of Cnut of Denmark. It has also been the 950th anniverary of the battles of Stamford Bridge and Hastings, being the end of the House of Wessex after its interruption.
Four centuries ago, St. George’s Day to be exact, marks the death of Shakespeare and possibly his 1564 birth. Opinion is still divided as to whether, in Richard III’s case among others, he merely embroidered what passed for history during his lifetime or invented many of the significant events he wrote about. At least we can precisely date his death better than we can his birth and we can, ironically, rely on the flow of his plays relating accurately to the culture of his own time, such as Cordelia’s execution, which could not have happened in Richard’s own century.

In March, Helen Castor marked the anniversary on Channel Four by investigating the fate of the Bard’s own remains in this documentary. It transpires that, having been buried in Stratford’s Holy Trinity Church with his family and a forbidding epitaph(1), GPR investigations show that his skull is probably missing, just like Morton’s at Canterbury Cathedral. Richard, of course, was intact except for his feet. It seems that not everyone over the years heeded the curse:

(1) Good frend for Iesvs sake forbeare,
To digg the dvst encloased heare.
Bleste be Middle English the.svg man Middle English that.svg spares thes stones,
And cvrst be he Middle English that.svg moves my bones

More reburials based around Richard’s service at Leicester….

anglo-saxon-reburials

Richard III’s reburial service is to be adapted for more reburials, this time of Anglo-Saxon Christians-men, women and children-found at Kirkleatham, have been laid to rest at St Cuthbert’s, Redcar.

http://www.gazettelive.co.uk/news/teesside-news/anglo-saxon-christians-reburied-redcar-12218102

 

Another Anglo-Saxon find?

This Cambridge article reveals s0003598x16001861_figaba little about the possible early Christian burial site near Sutton Hoo, first discovered nearly eighty years ago and which probably contains Richard’s collateral ancestor Raedwald.

Hastings 950: Remembering the End of an Age

Giaconda's Blog

Over the summer holidays I visited Battle Abbey with my family. We also found our way to Pevensey Bay and Hastings during our trip to re-trace the footsteps of King Harold’s last stand against Norman invaders almost 950 years ago.

Pevensey was atmospheric and eery on an overcast morning with a steely glint on the waves and the slipping pebbles underfoot. We sat on the breakwater and imagined what it would have been like to sight ships on the horizon and dread what they would bring and where they might make landfall. We thought about the effort of unloading supplies and weapons and war horses on a beach like Pevensey and how difficult to would have been to get these up the shifting track ways of pebbles with the threat of an armed response from local defenders and of how treacherous the English channel has proven to be to would-be invaders…

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