Hero or villain? Richard III, played by Nick Trott, is the latest subject of the York Dungeon’s Yorkshire Rogues & Legends series
Well, reading this, I thought by now that everyone in York knows Richard was a hero, but maybe not….
The scanty arches of St Oswald’s Priory lie tucked in a Gloucester suburb a few minutes walk from the cathedral. Once a place of great importance, it was the burial spot of Queen Aethelflaed, daughter of Alfred the Great. She was a warrior-queen who fought the Vikings. Henry of Huntingdon wrote this about her–
Heroic Elflede! great in martial fame,A man in valour, woman though in name:Thee warlike hosts, thee, nature too obey’d,Conqu’ror o’er both, though born by sex a maid.Chang’d be thy name, such honour triumphs bring.A queen by title, but in deeds a king.Heroes before the Mercian heroine quail’d:Caesar himself to win such glory fail’d
Her husband Aethelred was also buried at St Oswald’s and it is though they were attempting to found a new royal Mercian vault after the destruction of the one at Repton by the Norse invaders.
Recently, on the anniversary of the Queen’s death, a re-enactment was held in Gloucester with a funeral cortege bearing a ‘body’ arriving by water then passing through the town, past the cathedral and out to the priory.
As past of the commemorations, the local children were also asked to get involved with the local archaeologists, and a hitherto unknown tower belonging to St Oswald’s appears to have been found.
Maybe futher excavation might also find the bones of this ancient Queen, although it seems most likely her remains and that of her husband and St Oswald himself were moved around in the 11/12c rebuildingof the priory, and then everything was destroyed in the Reformation, leaving little above ground
A wall painting at St Mary the Virgin church in Lakenheath which depicts King Edmund
“November 20 is St Edmund’s Day, the feast day of the ‘last king of East Anglia’ and – some would say – England’s proper patron saint. But where do his bones lie? Trevor Heaton explores the twists and turns of a centuries-old mystery…” Is he under a tennis court? Read on for another take on Edmund the Martyr, who was almost certainly not a Wuffing.
There is an issue with Edmund the Martyr, King of East Anglia, who was shot and beheaded by Vikings, today in 869. He isn’t England’s patron saint, although he is far more English than St. George, who is thought to have originated in modern-day Turkey or Syria. However, unlike St. Edward the Confessor, whose brother-in-law Harold II and great-niece Margaret of Wessex are ancestors of centuries of English and British monarchs, St. Edmund does not seem to be connected to our Royal family at all, even though he reigned during the late Heptarchy and counted Raedwald and the other Wuffings among his predecessors. In short, he is a genealogical island.
Now it seems that St. Edmund, as were Richard III, Henry I and other kings, is on the verge of being rediscovered in plain sight, under a tennis court in his case.
The precise location of the 937 battle of Burnaburh, at which Athelstan reasserted the authority of the House of Wessex over Viking, Scottish and Welsh forces has not been conclusively determined yet and nor has the anniversary, although it could not have been before Vikings crossed the Irish Sea in August. What we do know is that Athelstan succeeded his father, Edward the Elder, in 924 and died two years after the battle, unmarried, to be succeded by two half-brothers in turn. Vikings in the north of England, and occasionally the midlands, were a feature of the tenth century after the consolidation of the Heptarchy and the re-urbanisation policy that followed.
We can also be certain that Brunaburh is somewhere in northern England or southern Scotland and that the battle was fierce with large numbers of casualties on both sides, although seemingly none among the commanders. Against Athelstan and the future Edmund I, Olaf III of Dublin, three kings: Constantine II of Alba (Scotland down to the Forth-Clyde line) and Owain I of Strathclyde (including Cumbria) had lined up their troops. Knowing the site of the battle would enable us to interpret its implications better. In this, we do have access to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as well as songs and poems in several languages. There are several modern settlements with similar names, from villages in Yorkshire – as favoured by Michael Wood – or on the Wirral to towns such as Lanchester and Burnley.
Viking influence in northern and central England was to resurface several times over the next century, leading to the double deposition of one Wessex king and the death of another. If one of the more northerly suggestions is the true site of Brunaburh, it would be particularly significant that the battle of Carham, in about 1018, was to settle the eastern Anglo-Scottish border, adding the Lothians to the Scottish kingdom – until Richard III’s time.
Bearing in mind that I am NOT a historian, here is a little teaser to pass the time. We all know the texts from the Bible about bastard slips not taking root, and the sins of the fathers being visited on subsequent generations. Right, so what happens if we apply that literally to the throne of England? Just how far back do we have to go to find the first illegitimate person to sit on the throne of all England?
In 786, Pope Adrian I announced that a king could not be begotten in adultery or incest, and if he wasn’t either of those but illegitimate anyway, he still couldn’t have the throne of any kingdom. Should this decree be my quest’s starting point? There were different kingdoms within England, but they were Christian, and if the Pope decreed, then he ought to have been abided by. Right?
The first king to be known as the Ruler of England was Egbert III of Wessex, 827-839, but the one to be truly the King of all England was, apparently, Aethelstan, August 924 – 27th October 939.
There is an interesting timeline of our early kings at http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/KingsQueensofBritain/ and if I follow it, the first mention of an illegitimate king (after the all-important 786 date) is Harold I, 1035–1040, known as Harefoot. The English line of kings had been ousted by the Danes, led by Sweyn Forkbeard. Sweyn’s son Canute had succeeded him, and Harold Harefoot was Canute’s baseborn offspring.
Tut, tut, Harold Harefoot. You broke the Bible’s rules, because on Canute’s death you sneaked the throne from behind the back of your legitimate half-brother, Harthacanute, who was abroad at the time. BUT—big but—Harthacanute took the throne back, had the by-then-dead Harold dug up, beheaded, and chopped into bits to be thrown in the Thames. There’s nothing like making absolutely sure someone ain’t gonna come back!
So, illegitimate Harold Harefoot was a mere blip. But he had been crowned king, which was one in the eye for Pope Adrian. We have to ignore the fact that coronation vows and anointing make a man a king regardless. We’re talking the Bible’s texts mentioned at the beginning of this article. And because we’re talking the Bible, if Harold I had sons, legitimately born or not, they could not have succeeded. So any line that might have descended from him would be illegitimate, to the whatever generation.
Next the throne zipped back to the English line. Harthacanute had been the Danish-line son of Canute by Emma of Normandy. Emma had been married before, to English-line Aethelred the Unready, by whom her eldest son was Edward. The Danes had pushed Edward aside, but now his half-brother Harthacanute declared him to be his heir.
Edward, who became known to posterity as St Edward the Confessor, became king and was married, but died childless. Dang! Another crisis.
After the Confessor, the throne went to someone who was elected by the Witan, Harold Godwinson, who was, of course, the King Harold who was defeated at Hastings in 1066.
And who conquered him? Why, someone known as William the Conqueror, and also as William the Bastard! Oops! We have to stop right there, because the Bible says that anyone, anyone, who descended from William would be forbidden to ascend the throne.
Which brings me to the next question. Let’s imagine Hastings went the other way, and William escaped back to Normandy, or died in battle or was captured and executed. Who should have been king after Harold Godwinson? Well, he was famously connected with Edith Swan Neck, who was judged by the Church to be merely his mistress because they only married according to Danish law. So their six children were all barred. It was Edith Swan Neck who was said to have identified Harold’s mutilated body after Hastings, recognising it by a mark only she knew.
But in January 1066 (presumably because he needed an undeniably legitimate heir) Harold had married another Edith, the widow of the Welsh prince Gruffydd ap Llewelyn. In church this time. One wonders if Edith Swan Neck really was the only one who knew his body that intimately. Perhaps this second Edith had spotted the mark too! Anyway, by Edith II he had two sons, another Harold and Ulf, who might have been twins, given that their father died at Hastings in the September.
Both boys survived into adulthood, and in all likelihood sired offspring of their own. Mind you, the legitimacy of said offspring remains unknown. They too could have hooked up with unacceptable partners like Edith Swan Neck! Or become monks, been gay, or not interested in anything. It’s all annoyingly shrouded in mystery.
So, is it at this point that the true line of the Kings of England disappears into the mist?
You’ll no doubt be pleased to know I don’t intend to investigate further, but it does make me wonder just who might be on the throne now if those texts from the Bible had been followed to the letter. The history of England would have been so different as to be unrecognisable. No Plantagenets. No House of York! No House of Lancaster. And forget the Tudors. The who? Never ‘eard of ‘em. Also no Stuarts, Commonwealth, Hanoverians or Windsors…
Of course, my reasoning above is almost certainly dodgy, as I do not doubt someone out there knows and will say. But in the meantime, might there be a busy, diligent soul somewhere (someone who only dreams in Latin!) delving into ancient records and manuscripts, trying to trace the heirs of Harold and Ulf…? How interesting if that diligent person were to discover the real present-day King (or Queen) of England.
Hmm. Would anyone dare announce such a thing? After all, William the Bastard’s White Tower still stands, and those Tudor-garbed Beefeaters still rattle lots of ominously big keys. All I know is that I’m certainly not the rightful Queen of England – so don’t come knocking on my door in the middle of the night to haul me off to Tower Green.
Hephaestus from an Attic red Kylix vase decoration.
Who Were the Legendary Smiths?:
The figure of the often deformed or maimed blacksmith who forges remarkable weaponry and armour for gods or heroes is a re-occurring archetype in myth across many cultures.
We have Hephaestus in Greek myth who becomes Vulcan in Latin literature and may have travelled with trade routes and language to other cultures or, indeed have been absorbed from other cultures into the Classical pantheon. Both are regularly depicted in art carrying the tools of their trade – the blacksmith’s hammer and tongs.
Vulcan – God of fire and volcanoes as well as smith of the gods
Comparative parallels exist in the Ugarit craftsman and magician -god Kothar-wa-Khasis, who is identified from afar by his distinctive walk—possibly suggesting that he limped, and the Egyptian God, Ptah, described as a naked and deformed dwarf by Herodotus. He is…
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No, NOT this Stamford Bridge, but two hundred miles further north, somewhere by the River Derwent in the East Riding. So please try to avoid any more football references, except for the violent Norwegian game plan, the travel plans of the teams (sorry, armies) and the fixture congestion being contributory factors to the Anglo-Saxon defeat some three weeks later.
So here is a well-sourced, serious, specialist post …
The Viking settlement at Jorvik, modern day York, is the largest excavated Viking site in England. Jorvik was an important trading centre due to its river links along the Ouse to the Humber estuary and North Sea and also an important political centre, the largest of the of the six fortified Viking boroughs along with Leicester, Nottingham, Lincoln, Derby and Stamford under the Danelaw.
Jorvik made use of the old Roman city walls and defensive structures left behind when the legions withdrew from Eboracum to defend Rome. It is thought that in this post-Roman, Anglian period the settlement was abandoned but Anglo-Saxon migrants resettled the area in the mid C6th AD. In 627 AD an Anglo-Saxon king, Edwin of Northumbrian, and his ‘people’ were baptised in the first Minster. It became the capital of the Deira kingdom and then of Northumbria and an important religious and commercial centre during the Anglo-Saxon period…
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