Runes are not French?

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Runes are not French… they say.

Above pictures belong hence they are copyrighted to a book called

Nos Ancetres les Barbares. Our ancestors: The Barbarians. Journey about the graves of three Frankish chieftains. Publisher Museum of Saint Dizier and Somogy Editions d’Art  – Cecile Vareon Editor.

Shall I add that Patrick Perin the former National Curator for France National Archaeology and Jean Soulat have participated to this book.

May God help Eada who ordered this chrismale to be made.

Is it the gift of a Northumbrian noble, an object brought back from Britain by a Viking who later converted along Rollo of Normandy or is it the swan-song of a Frankish literacy which became extinct during the reign of Chilperic grand-son: Dagobert.

In 633 after Hatfield, the Dowager Queen of Northumbria Aethelburgh fled to Frankia. She feared for her son. Her brother the King of Kent may have proven to be unreliable or himself unable to protect her from the wrath of Caedwallon of Gwynnedd and Penda of Mercia. Maybe her brother Eadbald felt it safer for her to be in Gaul: one can imagine how Dagobert king of the entire Frankish Realm would have received the envoys from the two men who had slain his cousin’s husband. Both kings Eadbald and Dagobert were Chlothar the First great grandsons. Did the widowed queen bring along the crysmale? Or was it made by Eligius : Dagobert chancellor, minister, bishop and goldsmith. All the above in one man.

Runes. A Germanic writing. Which did not survive the persistent onslaught of Latin and its Roman alphabet. We are told that upon – firstly converting to Christianity  Clovis followed quickly by accepting a Faustian deal : You will rule us and we shall pay taxes into your coffers without rebellion whilst you will worship our one and only God forsaking your paternal polytheist pantheon and you will speak our language.

Thus France was born. Esau got its riches and the Chosen One got the significant share of the inheritance. Franks lost their souls to a Gallo-Roman version of the Divine and more importantly lost their roots and culture as they swapped their tradition for the much vaunted Romanitas…

Thus Runes were not. Rues were either Anglo-Saxon with a bit more vowels and Scandinavian. France or rather Frankia as in the Frankish Realm was not to be Germanic.

Yet we have names given via Runes to jewellers and women they were. And on swords pommels similar to ones found in Kent. As time progresses and archaeological digs give a clearer picture, we come to realize some certainties are not so certain.

Cantwaras as in the People/the Men from Kent got their part of the bargain. Runes graved on swords and jewellery as in man bling may have been used as symbols of friendships between the two kingdoms. Both eager to trade and benefit from trade. It may even explain why the legitimate daughter of the late King of Paris was sent over to Canterbury to become the first known Queen of British History following the Roman departure.

And what if Runes were somehow French or Frank? Chilperic, one of her two guardian uncles wanted to have Germanic sounds/ vowels? consonants? to the Latin alphabet. Was he trying to add some runes to try and protect his native language from the ruthless Gallo-Roman tsunami?

In Mortain

http://www.ville-mortain.fr/specific/formats/format_patrimoine.jsp?id=52

near the Mont Saint-Michel there is a curious object from the 7th century: a chrysmale/crysmale/chrismale. A small gilded box to allow safely the transport of hosts. Some believe it was brought up by Anglo-Saxon missionaries travelling through Frankia toward Frisia and Germany. 

But isn’t the Augustinian mission to the Cantwaras Roman? Runes Augustine did not use. As for the Irish monks of Saint Aidan or the Romano-Briton native church, again Latin was their root. Runes do not grace the Book of Kells nor the Lindisfarne Gospels. Runes yet are gracing the box.

Runes in France… another REAL mystery.

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Dark Ages Movie Theatre take 1 : The Viking 1928

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As you know by now, I am All Things Saxonsidered a true Dark Ages aficionada, down to looking for the proverbial rough diamond of stupendous water and the mercifully soon to be forgotten plonk movies of yore.

Today, me hearties: The Viking 1928, silent but in colour. Courtesy of YouTube and our Russian friends who love Oldies but Goldies … and Weirdies. In which this review will show that one can bite quite a few juicy bits out of … well, let’s start:

Our story starts by a castle (Bamburgh must have inspired our Californian director) and the young Christian Earl of Northumbria. So far, so good. California sun is also invited at the party as not only the Saxons are bare-armed but the Vikings are bare-chested looking no doubt to get some of the famous suntan one can achieve near the Cheviot Hills.

This is just when your lips start to quiver as our Norsemen are about all sporting lovely horned helmets but they also would break the heart of PETA members and all are dressed with fur skirts. Which gives the audience the sudden concern of an alternate reality. Wait a minute: I paid a ticket/DVD rental for Scandinavian pirates not Iron Age/Bronze Age sword-happy monk-killing-crazy wild persons.

Monks? OK, Vikings says the audience. Alwin loses the battle, his mom and his freedom as he becomes a thrall somewhere in Vikingland where Norse maids wear rather short skirts and cute winged metal helmets.

At this point the audience has started the game of Let’s count how many historical inaccuracies this movie is going to pull up with. The winner will get my everlasting thanks as the very stony castle looks ever so slightly gothic down to the doors. Which is not wrong in an ironic way as Gothic comes from Goth which is turn is originating from Geat (Beowulf, guys!) and Geats certainly were living in Scandinavia.

With the subtitles, we are told our spirited Valkyrie-dressed damsel-cum-equestrian is the ward of Leif Erickson. Who does not prevent the movie prop department to play with more helmets: this time Gaul ones. Sigurd, her BFF tried to mend a sprained wrist without any anaesthetics before they go shopping for slaves. Guess what: she buys the indignant Alwin!

Later we are introduced to Leif Erickson camp and his merry men who have taken singing classes at Munich Oktober Fest. (shhh! It is a Silent movie but this version includes music, songs and a minimalistic approach as to the sound one can expect of a battle scene) while we are given more helmets to ponder at. One supposes that ‘after many months at sea’ the horns must have dissolved while the one which has not, has grown barnacles looking like a lamp bulb. No, this writer is not making things up). Now why do I make such a fuss from helmets? Let’s not forget that the Sutton Hoo, the CopperGate of York helmets have not been discovered in 1928. The jowls protections of the Staffordshire hoard have yet to be metal detected. So let’s try and be fair. And ‘Carry on’ with a Monty Pythonesque spirit. Armoury wise, the movie offers a melting pot of different eras. Shields suffer the same fate than helmets down to a sword scene where the main characters use what look to my unforgiving eyes like bin covers. The famous shield wall is not impressive in this movie. One the plus side the freedom Viking women enjoyed is rather well underlined though some wooden halls look more like…. Californian summer sheds.

Count yourself lucky I shall spare you the cheesy love story classical triangle and move to some ‘quite interesting’ developments from a historical point of view. Because we are doing movie reviews in the sense of looking for the gold nugget of proper historically accurate and fairly reasonable reconstruction of turning points in our history.

The scene shifts to the Royal Hall of Olaf Tryggvason, Norway’s first Christian king and suddenly you could very well be witnessing Real not Hollywood Northumbrian King Edwin listening at Paulinus speech about a swallow and the destiny of a soul. Suddenly, this scene gets you right at the centre of Bede famous anecdote. Edwin is hesitating still to convert; around him his Deiran and Bernician thegns are even less sure about Christianity. And it becomes clear that the solid stern faith and stubbornness of the first missionaries must have impressed the seasoned warriors. It is a brief moment but it is worth it. Just like the following scene which takes us to another moment this time set in Heorot when Beowulf uncle was entertaining its guests before Grendel stroke fear in his Great Hall.

Grendel belongs to the non-Christian geographical realm of the Dark Ages. Olaf maybe Christian, Iceland is not. Erik the Red was not; as we meet the redoubtable father of Leif, we meet – what I suppose is- a statue of Thor whilst the bard/skald is busy writing down a judgement (in runes?). If I can see Aethelfrith of Bernicia with Penda of Mercia raising their horns to an Anglo-Saxon Woden, one can be safe in suspecting this Hollywood styled Thunor would have surprised them.

In any movie, one can follow the apparent plot. Here, a noble youth unjustly sold into servitude gets back his freedom and the girl. And they will discover America while probably every Viking will become Christian by switching sword blade to whittling as the world’s proto folding cabinet maker. A four letter household name springs to mind.

Then comes the subplot. Conversion.

Why, how, Why forsake Gods who were good to your folk and ancestors. Why leave a boisterous pantheon akin to one’s tolerant if noisy family for one and one only intolerant jealous God? Did the world end and water fell down from the Sea as dragons would eat you alive? We smile because we live in a world which did not end when Neil Armstrong walked his momentous step. We send a Viking probe to the silent void which bathes new born suns and never yet seen galaxies. Just like Vikings we look for a final frontier; unlike them we know Space has no end for us to meet.

This is where this silent movie of 1928 is still relevant. For its corny helmet and scantily clad damsels in distress with matching horns or wings, it asks the right question humanity has been asking from the beginning. In the times of uncertainty of the Dark Ages and certainly in the days following the failed Crusades: what’s next? What shall we do if the East is closed to us? Go West?

Mercifully, our synopsis takes us to Greenland where numerous cows must wander hornless if we are to believe our helmet-watch. A few cheesy scenes later while a Zeus like thunderbolts wielding Thor statue weeps silently in the distance watching the undignified brawl between a Heathen and his converted son. I hope for the sake of my readers that our own ancestors whose fathers had worshipped Odin, Teutates, Jove or Amon-Ra suffered less abuse from their families. Yes another question this little 1928 gem is raising. Beside the appalling clumsy sword fights as these sword scenes should get their director to be pilloried!

By now, we are now sailing to the edges of Earth or Vinland Anse aux Meadows depending on your beliefs/facts. Our Norse miss who has more horned hats than what the average salary/monastery plunder can bring to an honest hard-pillaging Northman is on board with her three swains: Leif Erickson the historical character (the movie Real hero/America discoverer & Christian), Aldwin of Northumbria Earl/slave/Leif best mate(we are on a ship, guys. What were you thinking?) and Christian and a guy known as Egil the Black : the light bulb/Prussian Army/early Hell’s Angel helmet warrior. The betting book on which character dies at the end is now open. Just like the book on how many eye injuries these darn helmets will have caused!

Helga dreams of Aldwin, has sisterly affection for Leif and is ‘just friend’ with Egil proving that indeed Scandinavian ladies were ahead in the Women’s lib front. As nowadays, our boys realize while two is company, three is a crowd and four is certainly Tokyo metro at rush hour.

Our director lost in his philosophical lecture on the phenomenon of conversion has missed what Helga left at her own endeavours has come up to. At this stage, his movie is a Viking harem! An unruly harem as our guys naturally vie for the consort slot.

I hear you, me maties. Aren’t we supposed to be reviewing from an historical medieval point of view this movie? Aren’t the characters supposed to be suffering the inner turmoil of souls adrift contemplating monotheism and discovering America and popcorn for future cinema theatres on the plus side?

Maid Helga is getting married in a wedding dress looking more like a Roman Vestal than a Valkyrie. Who cares? We are sailing a ship since weeks but our hero does not grow a beard or needs to shave. The very fine combs used to remove nits are not needed in our Viking world. The captain/chieftain room is large enough to fit a library or about; we are not going to be beholden to the laws of Historical facts and their ilk. Enters the Wedding scene… Blessed be the Gods as we were running out of adjectives to describe the characters angst as regarding their ‘feels’.

The director saves the day by introducing during the ceremony an attempt on the groom life. Now, imagine how weddings would be entertaining if suddenly the best man instead of handing the ring to the groom was trying to kill him – slowly, I grant you – while a fair part of the congregation –let’s say the bride’s party was aiming at shortening the days of the groom guests, This would be quite … enlivening (not sure if this is the right adjective). To cut a story short (not sure if this is the appropriate verb) Helga loses a boyfriend while Egil loses his life, nobly. Aldwin debates whether to die nobly and guess what Leif is tortured – nobly- by jealousy.

All is well that ends well. Overcome by joy at having discovered America before Columbus, Leif allows our two very boring lovebirds to marry.

Now comes the curious historical challengeof the last few minutes.

In 1928, Anse aux Meadows had yet to be dug up. At the time, academics seriously believed Leif Erickson had reached Rhode Island if not New York. Beside watching with quite hallucinating eyes a Viking motley crew in a scene inspired of the usual Spanish conquistadores, cross and flying flags included on a beach, we are told that Leif Erickson in few words was the founder of the Watch Tower of Newport in Rhode Island (I’ll skip the last scene which re-enacts an anticipatory Thanksgiving scene down to participative Native Americans. One can see that in 1928, some people were starting to feel some un-ease about some future events) as the Native are noble. By the way, If native there are, one suspects some people discovered America earlier than our dear Leif via the Bering Strait…

Leif Erickson in Newport? Is this feebly humoristic essay going to revolutionize History time line via a silent movie? The watch tower was built between 1635 and 1698 says Radio-Carbone dating. Thus, why this insistence on an inaccurate movie?

In 1928, Sutton Hoo, Carbone Dating, New Found Land archaeology had not been added to History facts. Do not sneer at our Viking; he can only give you what 1928 could give.

Historians can only say a fact is a fact when they have in their hands a PROVEN fact. Real historians write about undisputed facts and not about legends.

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A far from insignificant princess.

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Why would the scion or more likely the father of said scion of the Royal House of Kent marry the only legitimate child of a deceased sonless king of the Frankish realm?
Aside suggesting you compare and contrast the size of the kingdom of Kent and the Kingdom of Paris, I want you to focus on the particulars of the rules of succession in the Frankish Realm.
Salian Law. Only sons begat by sons can inherit the crown. Does it mean they leave their daughters penniless and adrift? No.
Though her own father and probably brother had been killed by her uncle Gondebaud, Chlothildis, Bertha’s great grandmother (a princess fiercely Roman Catholic) was bespoken by Chlodoweg (that is her great grandfather). And her dowry was consequent.
If Bertha was just a royal princess, she still inherited quite a few choicest pieces of her father personal treasure. Her half-sister, another Chlothildis called the Superb orphaned like her was put into the care of Radegunda their step-grandmother. Later on, her decision to forcefully leave the convent was to fill quite a few anxious pages from Gregory of Tours’ diary. Eventually successful, she knows she would live free and enjoy a peaceful non-recluse life. A life clearly comfortable!
So let’s nor delude ourselves. Bertha was not going to hand out the Kingdom of Paris to a Saxon prince. She was not going to marry him empty-handed either! Only legitimate daughter, one can imagine a very substantial dowry and inheritance.
Gregory says she was handed to the ‘man from Kent’ by her parents. Since Charibert was dead, who were said parents? Most probably her guardians.
We are clueless as when Charibert married Ingoberga, just like we are clueless about Gunthramm own matrimonies. We know that in 566, their brother Sighebert marries the Visigoth and Arian princess Brunhildis and soon after their younger half-brother Chilperic follows suit with Galswinthe, Brunhildis sister.
Gregory makes great fuss of the royal lineage of the two sisters. He implies Charibert’s consort was not of a similar rank. Royal, Ingoberga was not. It does not say she was of an ancillary background. Far from it. She gives a dressing down to her husband when Charibert takes wives/concubines of a lesser rank by showing him their plebeian father at work. Not royal true; but certainly aristocratic.
Some grants suggest Ingoberga of Tours was related to bishops and of a senatorial rank family. Frankia had no Senators. Yet Gallo-Roman families who had belonged to aristocratic Gaul families and in her case families high enough to count Senators in their midst would naturally be proud of their glorious past. Maybe not royal, but her last and very dignified days are given a proper bow by Gregory. Bertha was not royal on the maternal line: she could only be ashamed of the repudiation of said mother (and possibly a nasty temper).
Ingoberga had given no son; Ingoberga had remonstrated her husband. Charibert was no Henry VIII Tudor; his ex-wife carried on living in Tours. As Tours was a former capital of the realm, one can imagine Ingoberga living in the old palace educating her daughter … or not. Charibert was son less and his heirs were short lived daughters but for little Aldeberga (her real name) and baby Chlothildis. He had a son finally dead soon enough then poor Charibert died.
Chlothildis mother was either repudiated already or dead. Bertha was older and legitimate. Who were their guardians? Judging from Chlothildis, the two girls must not have been 10 years apart. An age where little girls can be spoken for but not nubile to enter physically into matrimony.
On one side, Chilperic and his wife Fredegunda. The half uncle suspected of killing his other wife Galswintha and allowing the murder of his own children including the rape of his daughter Basina and Fredegunda totally suspected of having ordered the murder of her brother-in-law Sighebert (and with this woman, one may need to review how Charibert died: poisons already existed, right?). Shall we add Gregory nicknames Chilperic Nero?
In 567, all this blood-shed had not yet been spilled but the atrocious behaviour of Chilperic toward Athanagild’s daughter must have already got tongues wagging. If Brunehildis and Sighebert were providing the impeccable lineage of what was accepted for aunt and uncle, Chilperic and his whore Fredegunda were not.
Gunthramm, king of Orleans was possibly known for an erratic love-life; still he was also known for being generous with the church and much later would become Saint Gontran at the request of his subjects. Gunthram (Battle Raven) was not perfect but seems to have been a decent uncle.
In this equation, one must keep in mind Ingoberga the widow whose good deeds pleased the Church and naturally Radegunda, the very virtuous step-grandmother.
Bertha would be raised under the watchful eyes of her mother and grandmother and her uncles King of Metz and King of Orleans would have first rank as guardians. Chilperic could keep Fredegunda, get bits of his deceased brother kingdom but his opinion on the matter of his niece future was less powerful.
Years passed. Sighebert is assassinated and his son little Childebert is himself raised by the now dowager Queen Brunehildis. Brunhildis hates the diabolical couple but her virtue is far from perfect. Would Radegunda relinquish her watch? No.
Our two ladies, the one who repudiated the King and the one who was repudiated keep their daughter and grandchildren safe. Far from Paris, Soissons and close enough to the Orleans kingdom to find asylum in case of danger.
In 575 Sighebert is assassinated; in 577 Gunthramm sons die. All of them. Gunthramm decides to name as his heir his Austrasian nephew. Not Chilperic’s sons. There is no love lost between the half-brothers, nor between their wives.
Would Radegunda allow her step orphaned grand-daughters to set foot in this hornet nest? No.
Bertha along her sister is educated fast from the three courts. Gunthramm must have made sure his nieces would not be found lacking. At mote distance, Brunehildis would have played the girls from the late king of Paris (a womanizer, true but a peace lover if we believe Venantius Fortunatus and he would know as Radegunda own bishop). Brunehildis will play a part in Kent conversion to Christianity unlike Fredegunda.
So we have it. Bertha may be brother and father less; but she is not missing in the department of kind guardians. Though she is clearly not missing in her share of the wicked uncle and the evil aunt.
And this is but the tip of the iceberg. Bertha is Charibert only legitimate heir; as much is true.
Now let’s have a look at her uncles’ sons. In 577, Gunthramm renounces to having son and starts flirting with the notion of allowing his nephew via Sighebert to be his heir. Said putative heir is only 10. Chlothildis is possibly 11-12. Bertha is now… 15? But a catastrophe occurs. Chilperic’ sons die one after the other. He was careless with his heirs via Audovera; God punishes him via the children Fredegunda has given him.
In 584 AD when Chilperic dies, he leaves a four month old baby boy whose parentage is debatable. And this is it. If in 584, baby Chlothar is not nor given to Chilperic as a child, the crown goes and the entire realm to young Childebert who is 17. And this is it. Because Childebert is the last male heir.
… And we have Bertha.
True Salian law applies. But you see now how close to a dynastic crisis the Merovingian bloodline has been sailing and how important is insignificant Bertha.
Do not forget that if Chlothar II is indeed a bastard, it only means one thing. In 606, when Chlothar gets rid of his Austrasian family, the only true heirs of Chlodoweg are to be found in Canterbury.

For Kent and the Oiscing royal family, marrying a Mrovingian princess orphaned yet heress to estates probably wider than their own realm was a diplomatic coup. … Do not forget we have not even started yet to discuss a trade treaty!

697 AD The Mysterious Affair of Osthryth or Why not Mercia!

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Sunday September 1st was closing day for the Staffordshire Hoard exhibition at Stoke-on-Trent museum. They plan to re-open in about 2 months in upgraded rooms. And we are still waiting for the re-opening of the Dark Ages rooms at the British Museum of London…

Interestingly, it gives an unexpected angle about the origin of the hoard and the elusive Mercian murder case of 697 AD.

Care to remember: Bede writes that this was the year where Osthryth, (King Oswiu’s daughter and Aethelred’s wife thus a Lady of the Mercians as I have been told the concept of Queenship was not as formalized as in Frankia, Langobardia etc) was murdered by her own household… and that is where ‘the plot thickens’.

Mercia was more or less permamently at war with Northumbria. Why then her half-brother did not avenge her death? Allow me to put a metaphorical deerstalker on and my dear Dr Blog let’s ravel up this crime story…

Northumbria did not avenge her death. Right? Would have Northumbria avenge the death of her half-sister when in somewhere about 656 AD said sister called Alchflaed had murdered Peada her husband : King of Mercia and himself half-brother of Aethelred?

Yes, it is very complicated and kind of creepy when two families whose manfolk are keen at killing each other on a battlefield (Aedwin of Deira, Oswald of Northumbria, Penda of Mercia… if not more) are just as keen at marrying their youths hoping for what: peaceweaving? or giving a chance to their womanfolk to kill their spouses.

Either these people were stupid or they were planning to outdo the Verona Capulet and Montaigu.

Naturally, what did you expect, Aethelred killed Ostryth’s brother. So lots and loads of bad blood between our happy couple. That Osthryth would end up killed like her brother, uncle, father and brother-in-law etc does not come as a surprise. What is surprising is that her native realm did not wage war?

Had she been… well… unworthy, unfaithful? Giving solid ground to be killed by an irate? cuckholded? untrustful husband? Had her household avenge the honour of his king or neutralized a would be traitor? And we are not told that a weregild was paid which could happen when a royal died of un-natural causes and said cause felt slightly guilty…

A cheating wife would be rejected by Northumbria and would not be avenged. Bede’s silence would be understandable. Just like on what exactly happened to Achflaed after she got rid of her Mercian husband… because here also there is a mistery…

The Mercian attitude contradicts this version of events. Far from being disowned, Osthryth is buried at Bardney Abbey: a monastery she had endowed with gifts when she was alive and her husband carries on after her death. The monks who grumbled against having St Oswald (her paternal uncle killed by her father-in-law Penda) ’ s head do not grumble. Years later, Aethelred who will abdicate becomes abbot of said monastery, gets himself buried there and the finally re-united couple become local saints. And Royal Mercian Saints (always useful to have Saints in a family) copying shamelessly the Kentish and Deiran Saintly couples Aethelberht/Bertha, Aedwin/Aethelburg.

Sainthood allows loads of un-orthodoxical lives but certainly not criminal activities. Osthryth of Mercia as a saint is in few words proclaimed by Mercians a virtuous, blameless, innocent queen grieviously murdered and probably while doing her duty to her Lord and King.

If Osthryth was indeed an innocent victim of her household and at worst a bit too fangirling about her sainted uncle Oswald; why then Northumbria did not start a war or to the least showed some anger?

There is only one answer to that: the assassination of any Queen would have raised questions, and wardrumming… just like 150 years earlier in Frankia when Queen Galswinthe mysteriously got strangled. It must have been just as much a scandal than it had been in Gaul. People would have talked about it and where Chilperic, Galswinthe’s very dodgy widower was suspected and a blood feud/faida war started between him and his sister-in-law Galswinthe’s sister which provides interesting reading in Gregory of Tours and Fredegar’s chronicles… here nothing.

Bede had no choice but mentionned the Scandal of 697 AD. Had no choice and must have relish at pointing at the criminals: her Mercian household. But stops short of writing what really happened.

Until we pry between the words, the not-said and get a different picture. Fair enough, poor Osthryth got killed by her Mercians. Do we entertain the notion a ‘Saintly’ wife would not have been avanged by a king soon to become himself a saint? No.

Bede says nothing because he would have been obliged to acknowledge that her husband did the right thing. For Bede, to write that a Mercian would be doing ‘good’ is anathema. For her Northumbrian brother though, Aethelred attitude must have been ringing true.

Hence, we know now poor Osthryth is killed without her husband knowedge/approval; but why a saint. Royal female saints were like Anna’s daughter Ethelreda, twice married, still a virgin – better than Radegunde or like Bertha whose virtues seem to have been a good spouse and helping the conversion of Kent or like her daughter Aethelburg again good wife, Deira’s conversion helper and then abbess! Osthryth must have been a good wife: Aethelred’s decision to end his days in the monastery where she was buried after having lavished gifts and lands on said abbey would suggest two things either he was feeling guilty or he was really missing her. But being a good wife is not enough for sainthood…

And this really got me thinking. We are in 697 AD, we are in the middle of Beowulf’s psychological timeframe. Osthryth was generous with the church but this is not enough. Her mother Eanflaed was a good wife and generous with the church. Still. her mother never made it to Sainthood. I was thinking and considering a three pipes problem when the Oswald background gave me the Eureka moment.

One can and did become a Saint in these days for heroic behaviour , some sort of secular martyrdom. What if the good wife had risen to the occasion, proven her unquestionable credentials as a true Lady of the Mercians. And we have Oswald’s head and in these days , gold was generously pouring about saintly relics…

I was not there but somehow Osthryth must have ….protected her husband’s treasure chest? … defended saintly relics? …. whatever she defended was a treasure and she paid this protection with her life.

But what treasure? Imagine three robbers: the king is gone hunting; the queen is at church praying: these members of the queen household start pilfering the king’s coffers… when the queen turns up much earlier than ancitipated… they have been found out… she calls for help and is killed in the process. The robbers avoid getting caught but leave with only one tenth of what was going to be the greatest robbery of the 7th century.

Aethelred does not take kindly on being robbed, made a widower and getting at risk of another and this time justified war from Northumbria. The robbers hide the treasure, separate and hope that the scandal will quiet down. But it does not, Aethelred is really angry and cannot care less for what has been stolen. He wants the murderers dead or alive and probably alive…

Were they caught? If they had not been, Bede would have jumped on the occasion to blacken Mercia a bit more. Caught and dispatched they were. The treasure was never found; war was avoided and Mercia got its own royal saintly couple.

Now, my dear doctor Blog: tell me if this theory does not sort out a lot of loose ends…

The Fate of a King’s Daughter…

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… or …

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… is not a life of pleasure in the Dark Ages.

This post will discuss what would be your destiny if your father was lucky enough to stay… king and alive!

Let say that your mother has had at one point the bright idea to give a son, a living son to her lord and master. (Feminism in those days was likely to be designating the way women lived. Do not entertain the notion of being equal). Your father or failing him if he is dead, your guardians have the right of Life or Death over your head; so you better behave yourself.

Your father is alive and the King. Your mother is either a consort of similar rank. Maternal grandfather is a king. More excatly was a king as the death rate implies he is likely to be dead. If your mother is not royal, she may be a concubine. If she has given birth to a son, her level gets higher at court. Sons are seldom bastards in the early days of recently converted Barbarian Kings. She may not be of royal rank, but your besotted father has wedded her following the guidance of his bishops. Regardless of the method, your mother is Queen. If Gramps was king himself, the higher the chances of yourself marrying a King or the King-to-be.

Father is king; brother (brothers?) is the Crown Prince. Where does it lead you? Bearing in mind you survived infancy and all the infectious conditions which are prone to shorten drastically your life in a time where hygienic medicine is roughly drinking small beer rather than water as alcohol is healthier for you (it kills the germs swimming in the water pulled from the Royal Wells)?

You survive. You have so much survived you are now nubile. Which means that regardless of the age you had when you started have periods, you can have children. Yes, the word paedophilia could come to mind. But these are the days where society sees no wrong in the bedding of the twelve-years old to a thirty-something man because he is king and marries her. With the Church’s blessings. As long as every party is satisfied, all is fine. He is willing; her parents are willing. She would not dream opposing her parents.

If she does and has understanding parents: she will end up in a convent. God’s calling is accepted by the Church. Only God. No other human love. Or the wish not to be married. It is marriage or nunnery.

Tn the Dark Ages/Barbarian Times/Migrations Era, people marry young. That is for the lucky low classes. The higher your family is in the hierarchy, the more complicated thus the longer planned is your marriage. hich means you could have been betrothed while sleeping in your cradle and none the wiser. If your father is an artisan or a simple noble, you may marry quite old about 15. If you are the sole heir of your father (thus giving a would-be groom means to claim your father’s kingdom) it mat take longer. Especially if your guardian is the uncle who killed in one go your parents. Chlothildis (we shall meet her in part 2) got married despite being an Old Maid at 20. Which was a very old age for a woman to marry.

A few women got married for the first time in their 20s. Generally, it was due to family difficulties. On par with the unpleasant guardian-uncle. Or aunt.

Why end up in a convent?

God calls you. Many women will feel called. A good few many hear a call as to avoid a fate worse. The groom from Hell: you are his fifth wife! He has an unsavoury reputation! Yes, even for those days, some men however kingly were held in disrepute.

God has not called you but your father, brothers, uncles thinnk He should and will once He is formally introduced to you. Within the safe walls of a nunnery. Because they think that God will overlook their own numerous and slightly bloody peccadilloes. They barter you with Him. Like they would with the neighbouring kingdom.

Or because your father has committed a few acts the Church does not approve of – at all -(like killing a few people) or because he wants God to grant him victory on his ennemies. God being nice has obliged and willy-nilly you end up in a church-house, regardless you being a one year-old. Oswiu of Bernicia famously did that.

Or because it is the ‘in’ thing to do. All the royal dynasties of the time count at least one royal abbess, one founding figure of a major monastery. In Frankia, 550 AD, there are no schools, no collegues, no establishments where your daughters can go safely aside their paternal home. A royal nunnery will give the girls a touch of learning : the Gospels , a smattering of comput(calculus) and the possibility to make friends (if said friends have brothers who are not yet betrothed yet wealthy and not squinting, limping etc, the better). A royal nunnery run by the King’s paternal aunt or step-mother will make sure you know your letters, can write, read etc. Some princesses are highly educated for the times. Your husband (some couples will be happy) may not be able to write; he will rely on you to make sure his will is properly expressed and no lies are told to him from the scrolls sent to him from your native land (that is if he trusts you. Not a given…)

If you have a physical defect which may be short eye-sight, a squint, a port-wine stain, a limp or you happen to be an uncommonly ugly baby… convent life is for you.

Like it was for Saint Odile/Odilia/Ottilia who upon been born blind, ended up behind closed doors. I suggest the read of the Legenda Aurea, the Golden Legend of (shall we dare to say) strongly edited, verging toward the miraculous, biographies of Saints. As Wikipedia says, it is most interesting of the student of medieval values. And bias.

Odile, born to a Duke and who, Holy Miracle, recovered her sight after her baptism lived in a convent and ended ,as up today, as Alsace Saint Patron.

Alsace was part of the Austrasian Frankish Realm. Her male relatives seem to have been good as playing loyal, not so loyal allies.

Here is her story without the hagiography:

Born in 660 AD reputedly blind, she is baptized. Whether she is blind or not, she ends up in a convent. Her father later reconciles with her and will endow repeatedly her monastery. Like her brother(s). She dies around 720 AD, a respected church woman and a model to the Rhenan female aristocracy.

Ottilia’s father answers to Ethicon-Adalric. He is the mythological founding father of the Hasburg dynasty, giving it the stamp of the oldest ruling Royal family. Etichon numbers, it seems, Chlothar the Great or the Cruel depending on which side you see him, as his great-grandfather. Chlothar being Chlodowec’s youngest son, you understand the importance of Etichon. In a time where bloodlines were essential, where bastards like Charles the Hammer were eager to prove that, somewhere in their blood, some genes were truly dynastic-sensitive; to claim (to be able to claim) that your family was related to the first Barbarian family who immediately converted to the Roman reading of the Scriptures was a step closer to Kingship.

Was Ottilia blind? Nobody knows. Beside, she recovered sight upon baptism curiously by an Irish Bishop?/monk? Erhard (the detail is interesting as when Ottilia is born, Whitby Synod has not yet happened). Regardless of Irish monachism, Ottilia lived the quiet life of a noble abbess, and died after so many virtuous years at what seems for the average life span of the times, the ripe old age of sixty!

Remove the fanciful theatrics; here, you have the basic storyline: a child born with a physical defect ending up in a convent (was the defect making her un-appetizing for prospective husbands?) and because she is spared the life-threatening dangers of birth-giving, lives a rather long life.

Radegundis, one of the fearsome Chlothar’s consorts was sadly for her, probably beautiful. Sole survivor with her younger brother of Chlothar’s wrath against her Thuringian royal rebel of a father, she was raised as an hostage in the palace. No expense was apparently spared for her education. When she became nubile (aged 12? 14?), Chlothar married her. Shall we mention that nobody asked her opinion about said marriage?

Chlothar offered an amazing MorgenGabe after their wedding night. Yes, if you were (and you’d better be) a virgin, the custom of the time was having your groom handing to you a gift: ‘the morning gift’. Chlothar was satisfied. Nobody asked poor beautiful Radegundis if she was satisfied. Her woes were not to be completed without Chlothar having her last sibling killed soon after her wedding!

Radegundis whose life started as a trampled on, bullied woman ends up most honorably. At one point, she stood up to Chlothar and entered, willingly as a grown woman, a convent. He tried again and again to get her back. With no avail.

Interestingly for our understanding of her personality, she would later after his death play the role of a much respected peace weaver for her rough step-sons who carried on bringing rich gifts to her convent. She may not have been their father’s obedient wife. She must have been a good step-mother. And yes, she led a virtuous life and died about aged 67. Childless.

Convent may have been boring. Being cut from the outside world. But enforced abstinence saved your life from yearly pregnancies. That is if you were lucky to have more than one. Being a Queen implied you had to give your impatient partner at least a son and hopefully more! If you died and most died… well he had no choice but to do it all over again. No contraception but plenty of unsafe midwifery. Convent life suddenly gets an appeal. Being mourned by the most loving husband has been a staple of the lives of many Dark Ages women.

Radegundis gave no children to her sinister husband. Do not feel sorry for him. We have good reasons to believe he had more wives than Henry VIII Tudor and many more sons!

People were so taken by Queen Radegundis that she was very quickly made into a saint… before Church and Rome had a say. Shall we add that Rome confirmed said sanctification; possibly having devoted yet royal and rough-riding in-laws may have helped?

This Germanic princess’s life was no fairy tale. Unlike Ottilia cursed by a ailing body, this woman was cursed by beauty … and intelligence. We still have some of her melancholic poems. Born to the highest position, confirmed as a Queen, her life was a King’s Daughter was the most unhappy one. Ottilia was rejected by her father; yet later on reconciled with him. Radegundis was family-less about all her life. But like Ottilia, she fought for her freedom. To end up in a monastery. But what was her other option?

Convent if you wanted to be/stay/had no choice but be… single.

Or be married.

Quill and vellum

imagesCAQP5NDSThis blog started as an appreciation on the amazing era called so wrongly the Dark Ages. Starting from 451 AD (not at the Fall of the Roman Empire as this notion is quite depressing, but at the Birth of a Nation, France as the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains which saw Attila been defeated by some sort of band of Frankish, Gaul and Roman brothers) this will very arbitrarily endsup in 711 AD. Date where roughly the Merovingian dynasty enters extinction, the British Isles are nominally all Christian and Spain but for Asturias is under the Rule of the Al Andalus Emirs.

To say that I am an humble fan of everything Dark Ages is but the understatement of the Century. All my friends have heard of the Staffordshire Hoard, been taken to lost villages to hear me sing songs of praises in front of a derelict Saxon wall and expect my grandson to be named after the Venerable Bede.

And I must admit to a partiality for Norse Gods. None the less, @morangles will bodly go to where loads of people have gone before: write about the Dark Ages.

I have been living with this story in my head since the past three years and I have completed the first chapter of the second part/book of this Early Anglo-Saxon story.

I love my characters. Guess what: no villain. Or some but not in Bede though in Gregory… there are plenty of bad guys and evil Queens.

Bede the Northumbrian or rather NorthHymbrian monk who never left his monastery in Jarrow, was a brilliant scientist and Gregory of Tours a posh well travelled courtier. My guys. Both writers became curiously Saints. You cannot imagine two men this more different. Yet all we know from this era rely mainly on their quills. We need both point of view: The imperious eye of the Bishop certainly not duped by the sanctimonous tale of the bloodline of Chlodovecus and the naive vision of the peaceful monk when it came to read kings imperatives.

Because tell me what is common because the Englisc priest and the aristocratic bishop who was fawning on King Gunthramm. Nothing but the will to share what they heard or witnessed from past events. They should be the Saint Patrons for Journalists and Historians.

My next entry may be the said first chapter.

Kent. 616 AD…

The Elusive Missing Link between the Germanic Pantheon and the Norse Gods

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If we do not have much information on Germanic Gods, we have about an empty closet where it comes to Pre-Roman Celtic Gods and how they evolved during the Pagan centuries of the Romanitas. When Rome converted so did Gaul and Britain.

Britain has as far as we know no written records of what happened in the intellectual conflicy between a native celto-romano-christian society and pagan invaders… except rare comments from Bede.

On the other hand, er have numerous tantalazing snippets from Latinized Gaul and how it managed to convert with a bare 100 years the pagan Franks and … ‘it all ended up well’. We have many archaeological finds. Thus iconography and we have Tacitus.

Forgive this long introduction but it is relevant. I suspect that over the millenia which led the Bronze Age Celts to the frontal confrontation with the Romano-Greek pantheon: things were fluid. Rome worshipped Jove, Germany a proto-Woden and Gaul somrething in betweem which could be understood by Romans and Germanic people.

Tacitus describes in Germania the importance of a Mercury type Divinity. Gauls worshiped Lug/Lugos. This triune God has Ravens on some statuary. (and I will not dare to comment on Lug as seen in Spain and Wales!). He could be young and handsome…Loki , he could be old Woden? He gave arts to humans, protected travellers and trade. Some academics see him as a magician.

I think that more research needs to be done about this mysterious God who has much in common with Odin and Loki. Faiths evolve over centuries. What becomes frozen in time like Language for exemple is bound to die at one point.

It is possible that over 500, 700 years (Two famous Celtic chieftains named Brennos caused quite a steer in Rome and Delphi in the 300, 400 BC – so we know there was some interaction between Romans and Celts) a triune God who united Odin, Loki and ? Thor evolved into three separate beings. Lug has too much in common with Loki and Odin not to be the one and the same.

Lug seems to fit the curriculum of both Gods and in its triune iconography, he seems to offer a Divine Being who does not enough enough eyes to satisfy each aspect of his triple nature. Was Lug a proto Woden who assocoated Loki and ?. Celts were not adressed to threesome. Taranis was their God of Thunder, Sounds like Thor and Donar. Taranis was associated with Esus and Teutates.

Maybe somewhere in the treasure chest of Irish and Welsh legends, hides the answer we all have been looking for!

Maybe ravens should be seen as the sign that Gods often forgotten and mostly unseen are never really gone.

Rooting for Hengist and Horsa

It has long been a pet project of mine to write a novel, a historical novel set in the Dark Ages. Firstly because it is an era which has been described at best as barbaric in my country and at worst as dark in the Anglo-Saxon world (just like the Romans having turned off the light upon their departure) and secondly because when one has read Gregory of Tours one knows that reality is much more vibrant than any would be Game of Thrones romance.

I have not read the above books and I will not. not that I disrespect the writer or the story: it is that when one has in one’s mind a universe and so many characters actually talking to you, one finds no time for anything else! When my book ends, then yes I will.

Another writer I shall avoid and again without any disregard is Bernard Cornwell. I know he is writing a wonderful opus dedicated to Alfred. Alfred’s story is set after my timeline. Way after.

It says it all, isn’t it: decent research, sound historical background and yes: very much early Anglo-Saxon. Actually (shall I add at long last), there is a revolution in the academic world regarding the Dark Ages. these were the days where life could be harsh, rough. yet harshness does not preclude absence of vibrancy, lack of passion, strong trade and far-thinking diplomacy. And we shall not mention the beauty of the artifacts found in Archaeological digs.

On the other hand, Literature set between shall we say 450 and 750 AD, is almost uniquely composed of Mills&Boon romances set in Arthurian fantasy. I have no lingering doubt about the existence of some sort of Native Britto-Roman who fought the invading Germanic tribes who were to give their name to the English speaking world. Something did happen. But for Godsake, it happened to every body!

In the English speaking world, woe is the name. Bad Saxons. Good Arthur. By the way bad Vortigern (as in traitor) and all is nice and dandy with the Celts/Native Brittons or Britto-Romans. In my universe, it is not so.

449 AD was the year of the Saxons. Well, 451 AD was the year Attila visited Gaul. if the ancestors of the actual inhabitants of Wales thought it was tough, tell that to my ancestors. Attila, Scourge of God and terror of what was left of the active Roman Empire. 451 AD was the year a ramshackle band of brothers made of what was left of Roman legions stationed in Gaul, Gallo-Romans (i.e. the native Gauls after 500 years of Roman culture) and the Frankish new comers (not invaders, but foederati: army scouts allowed to live inside the borders of the Empire) faced the Hunnic menace on the Catalaunian Plains… and made history.

I have difficulty believing that for Britain the invasion was seen as tragic and most cruel (read Nennius and Gildas) whilst on the other side of the Channel the same ingredients of Romanitas, Natives and Barbarians called to the rescue would end up swigging Champagne (we are not far from the famous wine-yards). Gaul was to disappear and everybody would be very soon called a Frank. This victory was the happy foundation of my country and it would be hard to find a story with a negative view on the subject. The Frankish realm was barbarian by nature but totally embraced the Roman template. Chlodowech, our first king was thrilled to get recognition from Byzantium.
Tragedy in Dover while Calais rejoices. No. I do not buy it.

My heroes are going to be Angles, Jutes and Saxons. Some will be Gauls or rather Franks as my story starts at the time a Frankish king has decided that all his people will be known from niw on as Franks.

Bear with me. my story begins in Gaul; but quickly will move to Britain. Because it is how it happened. Wales will be barely mentioned. Because it was not relevant to Bede and Gregory. The heroes will be real characters who want their story told and see me as to fill the gaps missing …

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Hwaet

Beowulf

Hwaet is the first word which starts Beowulf.

Beowulf is a vibrant poem dating back from – as a written source – the late 10th century. Hence before the Conquest.

Some take it to be Northumbrian initially, others East Anglian. Some, fewer believe it was sung at Edwin’s court in Eoforvic/York or Ad Gefrin (burnt down at least three times)… It is unique and deserves the just praise it has gathered over the centuries.

Tolkien believed the poem as to be still so full of the energetic memory of a pre-Christian world that he must have been composed no more than a few generations after Britain had been fully Christianized.

Now Britain benefited from three kinds of Christian proselytism.

A native one through the Romano-Britons which were to become known later as the Welsh. These people had no kindness toward their Saxon invaders. To this day, the Gaelic Sassenach/Saxon is not a friendly word.

A Pictish one through the Irish/Scoti (yes, Scotland). Columba, Colum Cille would visit Scotland and at one point reaching Iona would establish a firm base for his missionary work. Having visited Iona (where MacBeth is buried too) after crossing through the Isle of Mull coming from Oban (following Columba’s steps in reverse), I have gained a solid respect for him and the people who lived in 563 up to 685 (one of my character will depart from Iona for a brilliant destiny). Regardless of destiny, the sky was low, it was cold, the water freezing and the sea rough. It snowed when we got back to Oban. We were in luck!
Anyhow, going back to my not-yet-British not-yet-Christians : the Irish way was rough…

The last way as in the latest way to become a Christian was through Kent and a marriage between a pagan Jutish warlord’s son to a Christian Merovingian princess and much later to be canonized Augustine of Canterbury of very strict Roman as in Papal obedience.

I shall spare you the difficulty of getting the three versions of Christianity to agree. What is important today is that the monks would record in writing the poems. Why would they?

A warrior would be – true – of noble birth and fight battles. When he did not fight. he would be at the side of the King as a companion in the Royal Hall… where they would recite/listen to poems and tales of glory while playing the luth. Yes, a true warrior could sing, play the luth and use his sword/seax and shield…

Not all monks were Italians like Augustine or Paulinus who would later convert the son-in-law of our previously pagan and now converted warlord’s son. Most monks would be Saxons and some could have been warriors themselves like Benedict Biscop of Jarrow or sons of warriors like Wilfrid of Ripon. These tales, legends would have been part of their daily routines. Approved by their society. Honour, blood-feud, weregeld were part of their social DNA. Importantly in time of active Christiniazation, a warrior society would have had trouble relating to the mis-adventures of a poor Jewish carpenter.

The Pagan tales were spiced up with Christian morals. Beowulf is cremated. Unlike a Christian. Yet in his noble attitude, in his desire to help alleviate the plight Heoroth suffers, is almost on par with a Christian knight. Tales of humane glory recorded by humble monks.

We are here. Hwaet. Hear. Listen. Attend. Depending on the elegance of the translating pen.

A fantastic tale nobody has been able to copy.

Hwaet.

The following links are from – in my personal opinion – the most poetic and true version of the poem. No Hollywood star in golden stilettos, no rewriting though G Butler version was honourable. An animated version sailing close to the wind of the poet.

Hwaet. Beowulf of the Geats/Goths. Hrothgar of the Danes.

Hrothgar gave Roger! Beowulf remains unique. As a hero should be.

Watch in six parts.

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