Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Julius Caesar's "Invasions" of Britain: The Latest Evidence

by Mark Patton.

For almost thirty years, I have used the example of Julius Caesar's supposed "invasions" of Britain, in 55 and 54 BC, to impress upon my students just how much might have happened in the remote past, whilst leaving no apparent trace in the archaeological record. We know of these incursions from Caesar's own account of the Gaulish Wars, and, whilst it has long been understood that he was writing propaganda to advance his political career in Rome, it hardly seemed likely that he would have told an absolutely blatant lie, given that he would be returning to Rome with tens of thousands of troops, who would have a clear idea as to where they had or had not been.

Julius Caesar, Musee d'Arles.
Photo: Mcleclat (licensed under GNU).

For all of this, until very recently, I could not point to a single piece of unambiguous archaeological evidence (not a sword, a spearhead, a skeleton, or a ditch) to suggest a Roman military presence on these islands prior to the Emperor Claudius's invasion in 43 AD. I always had in mind that such evidence might come to light at any stage, and now, it seems, it has, thanks to an excavation by University of Leicester archaeologists, at Pegwell Bay, on the Isle of Thanet, Kent.

Caesar's first visit to Britain was very much an exploratory expedition, as he himself explains:

 " ... Caesar ... set out for Britain, aware as he was that our enemies in almost all our wars with the Gauls had received reinforcements from that quarter. He considered, moreover, that even if the season left no time for a campaign, none the less it would be a great advantage to him simply to land on the island and observe the kind of people who live there and its localities, harbours, and approaches ... " (from the Oxford World's Classics translation by Carolyn Hammond).

Caesar's two legions (around 12,000 men) encountered more resistance than they might have expected (presumably from warriors of the Cantiaci tribe of Kent), and his ships' captains were also surprised by the ferocity of the autumn gales in the English Channel. A disaster narrowly averted, he returned with his force to Gaul.

During Caesar's absence, it seems that tribal war broke out in Britain. A man named Mandubracius, a prince of the Trinovantes tribe of Essex, made his way to Gaul, and requested Caesar's support to recover lands that had been seized from his people by the more powerful Catuvellauni tribe of Hertfordshire. Caesar agreed, and returned to Britain with a much larger force. It is the landing site of this army that may have been discovered at Pegwell Bay. The Roman fort, probably a tented camp, may cover an area as large as twelve hectares in size, and has a ditch four to five metres wide, and two metres deep: it is securely dated to the First Century BC, and finds include a Roman spearhead closely comparable to examples found at the French site of Alesia, which Caesar is known to have besieged a few years later.

Map, showing the location of Pegwell Bay,
John Richard Green (image is in the Public Domain).

Pegwell Bay, Kent. Photo: Ron Strutt (licensed under CCA).

A reconstruction of a Roman fortification at Alesia (France).
Caesar's fort at Pegwell Bay may have had a similar design,
although it had a different purpose: the fort at Alesia were "investment" works -
intended to place an impenetrable cordon around an enemy stronghold;
that in Kent was a "beach-head" work, intended to protect Caesar's fleet,
and thus his lines of resupply and retreat.
Photo: Carole Raddatto (licensed under CCA). 

Reconstructed fortifications at Alesia.
Photo: Carole Raddatto (licensed under CCA).

Roman (left) and Gaulish (right) weapons found at Alesia.
Image: Jochen Jahnke (Public Domain).

This time, Caesar's legions fought their way through Kent, probably crossing the Medway and the Thames, and finally defeating the Catuvellaunian King, Cassivellaunus, possibly at his stronghold in Hertfordshire. It still was not Caesar's intention, however, to leave a Roman garrison in Britain: he secured a promise from Cassivellaunus to stop molesting the Trinovantes (but Cassivellaunus's successor was minting coins on Trinovantian territory only a few years later); took "hostages" from the Catuvellauni (not nearly as frightening a prospect as it might have appeared - these were aristocratic young men who would be fostered out to the wealthiest families in Rome, given an education worthy of a Consul's son, and, if circumstances allowed returned to Britain to rule as thoroughly pro-Roman client kings).

Bigbury Camp, Kent, the possible site of a battle between Caesar's 7th Legion
and the warriors of the Cantiaci tribe.
Photo: Google earth (image is in the Public Domain). 

The Devil's Dyke, near Saint Alban's, Hertfordshire,
the possible site of Caesar's defeat of King Cassivellaunus.
Photo: Colin Riegels (image is in the Public Domain).

For a further century, Rome traded peacefully with the British tribes; sent ambassadors and diplomatic gifts to them; and played one tribe off against on another to their own advantage; until, in 43 AD, renewed conflict between the Catevellauni and their neighbours to the east and south provided the pretext for the Emperor Claudius's invasion, which resulted in most of Britain being absorbed into the Roman Empire.


Mark Patton blogs regularly on aspects of history and historical fiction at https://mark-patton.blogspot.co.uk. He is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Editors Weekly Round-up, January 28, 2018

by the EHFA Editors

Enjoy this week's posts from the blog.

by Paula Lofting

by Anna Belfrage
(an Editor's choice from the EHFA Archives)

A paperback copy is being offered to UK readers. 
(This giveaway will close on Sunday, 28th January 2018 at 5pm GMT)

Friday, January 26, 2018

From Witches to Riches - a Story of Immorality

by Anna Belfrage

Lägg till bildtext
Sometime around 1620, a boy was born in Suffolk, England, to a Puritan clergyman called John Hopkins. The little boy was named Matthew, had a number of older siblings and that’s about everything we know about this young man’s childhood. One must assume he had dreams of his future (even if his mother most definitely did not warble “Qué será,será” while smoothing his hair down) and there must have been days when he worried that future of his would be very short and stunted, what with the increasing tensions between King and Parliament.

Whatever the case, the first time Matthew Hopkins steps out of the sea of anonymity to properly greet us is in 1645, when he proudly introduces himself as a Witch-finder. A what? Yup, you heard the young man: he’s making a living finding witches.

To understand his choice of profession, one needs certain context: England at the time was in the throes of Civil War, Puritan factions instilled a rampaging fear of evil, and to further add spice to this particular soup, it wasn’t all that long ago since the previous king, James VI of Scotland and I of England, had presided over the infamous Berwick Witch Trials, emphatically stating that witches did exist and had to be fought with all possible means. This most learned (but also rather foolish) king even wrote a book about witches , a text young Matthew seems to have studied quite avidly.

Witches have been around for a long time. For primitive man, so much of what surrounded him was difficult to interpret as anything but magic, and it follows that if there is magic there are people who can use magic. Even to this day, a surprisingly large percentage of the world’s population remains convinced that witches and wizards exist, and the savvy person makes sure never to tread on said witches’ toes.

From a Christian perspective, witches did not exist – at least not initially. The early fathers of the Church may have been derogatory of women in general, blaming them for everything from excessive carnal desires to a weak intellect and a propensity to sin, but they rarely said anything about witches. In fact, the Church held it heretical to claim someone was a witch, as to do so was to give credence to Satan’s lies.

But things happened as they say, and on one hand the Church was fighting a battle against ancient superstitions that insisted witches existed, on the other the Holy Catholic Church was being beset by heretics. And somewhere along the line, someone was smart enough to combine the accusations of heresy with those of unnatural magic – take the downfall of the Knight Templars, for example.

The Inquisition, ever eager for more victims to sink its teeth into, started mumbling and grumbling about witches – and especially about the heretical aspects of witches, as these old crones per definition worshiped Satan. A couple of fanatic monks latched on, a malleable pope sighed and went with the flow, and by the close of the 15th century, the Holy Church had concluded that witches did exist – and had to be rooted out. A papal bull confirmed this was so, a detailed handbook in how to identify the evil creatures (Malleus Maleficarum or The Witch Hammer - the Latin is in feminine, presupposing witches are mostly female) had conveniently been written in 1487, and armed with both these documents the representatives of good set out to do away with evil. Hmm. Major hmm, as these supposedly evil people were often women who deviated somewhat from the norm or who earned their living as healers and midwives.

Over the coming two centuries, somewhere around 45 000 to 65 000 people were to be executed as witches – mostly based on their own confessions, extracted from them via torture. Many of these poor souls were burned alive, but in most cases they were hanged, or beheaded, or garrotted, or strangled, before they were burnt. I suppose we must consider this a mercy. In the cases where they were burnt, it was often the sin of heresy that had them being tied alive to the stake. The Holy Church deemed heresy a far graver sin than that of dabbling in magic.

In difference to most of Europe, England had an established judicial process that required there to be proof before anyone was found guilty of anything (I know: such a novel concept!). This in turn means that England has a relatively low number of convicted witches – estimates land around 500 people, all in all. Of these, 300 can be attributed to Matthew Hopkins, who obviously took to the role as Witch-finder as fish take to water.

Back to 1645 and Hopkins’ grand debut – and it was quite the coup, as young Matthew managed to have close to thirty people convicted and executed as witches in one fell swoop. I guess he did some high-fives while pocketing the sizeable amount of money he was paid for his services – and herein lies the key to our Matthew’s dark, corroded soul: he was greedy, and he had found a way to make very easy money!

In March of 1645, Hopkins went after one Elizabeth Clarke. A perfect victim, seeing as this lady’s mother had been hanged as a witch. At his insistence, Elizabeth was thrown into prison, and his subsequent interrogation had her confessing to everything – and naming five other women as witches.

So what did he do to this poor woman, to have her condemning herself to death by her own confession? Hopkins was a subtle man – and more than aware that torture was forbidden in England. Of course, “torture” is relative, and throwing someone naked into a dark cold room, beating them and leaving them without food or light could be considered torture. As would another of Hopkins’ favourite methods, namely sleep deprivation. The poor prisoner was constantly watched, and whenever they seemed about to nod off, they were hauled to their feet and made to walk until they were properly awake.

If this failed, Hopkins advocated tying people in a cross-legged position for well over twenty-four hours, after which he would have them walked up and down in their cells until their bare feet blistered and bled. Nice guy, huh? And then we have the humiliating process of “pricking” which involved shaving the poor victim of all their body hair and then repeatedly sinking a needle or other sharp object into the victim. Should Matthew hit upon a point that didn’t bleed – well, obviously the naked, terrified woman being inspected was a witch. How convenient if one should use a pricking implement where the blade could be retracted into the handle, thereby ensuring there was no blood.

Poor Elizabeth caved in. So did most of the other women apprehended, and at the subsequent trial in Chelmsford in July of 1645, thirty-two people were accused of being witches. Twenty-nine were condemned to hang, and for every witch found guilty, Hopkins pocketed twenty shillings – a huge amount of money when considering a labourer earned at most half a shilling a day.

With Chelmford, Hopkins reputation was made. While he was never appointed by Parliament – and in fact there were quite a number of people in various positions of power that objected to Hopkins – he proclaimed himself Witch-finder General and went on to make the lives of the unfortunate women living in East Anglia even more uncertain than they already were.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Hopkins leapt onwards and upwards, and at the following trials in Bury St Edmunds in August of 1645, he noted with glee that 18 people were hanged on the same day based on his testimony. Two were men. One of these men was close to seventy, a minister named John Lowes. After several nights of sleep deprivation, coupled with being chased back and forth in his cell until he collapsed only to be pulled back to his feet and be subjected to it all again, Mr Lowes broke down and confessed that yes, he was a witch that had even caused a ship to sink off Harwich. No one bothered to check if a ship had in fact sunk…

Hopkins was now unstoppable. Hundreds of women – and a handful of men – were arrested and subjected to his patented forms of interrogation. If everything else failed, Hopkins recommended the “swimming” test, whereby the person was tied up and thrown into the water. If the person floated they were guilty. If they sank, they were not. Most people float – at least initially – when thrown in water. And once they start sinking, chances are they’re already more dead than alive… Hopkins, however, hedged his bets, and had ropes attached to the victim’s waist – to save them if they sank, he said, but just as likely his accomplices knew to use the rope to make sure the person “floated”.

Throughout 1646, Matthew Hopkins hauled one person after another to the gallows. At times, he was fortunate enough to see up to twenty people hang simultaneously, at others he had to content himself with only the single dead woman.

Obviously, Hopkins had a giant streak of sadism in him. Plus he rather liked the wealth he was amassing. And when people started questioning his methods he was very affronted, which was why he published a little pamphlet called Discovery of Witches in 1647, describing what he did and why. Some were less than impressed, and as the outraged voices of reason began to gain the upper hand, Matthew Hopkins found it wise to slip back into the obscurity from whence he came.

It is believed Hopkins died in 1647. Church records support that assumption. Some people hope that the legend by which he met his death at an angry mob who submitted him to his swimming test is true. Sadly, I am more prone to believe the version whereby he died in his bed of consumption, having coughed his lungs to pieces over several consecutive months. Whatever the case, I don’t think he was much missed.

In Revenge and Retribution, my main character, Alex Graham, faces accusations of being a witch. No wonder she is more than unnerved when she hears this. Just the thought of being subjected to one more humiliating inspection after the other – plus the fear that she might be found guilty – must have led to an endless number of sleepless nights!

An Editor's Choice from the archives, originally published August 26, 2014.

Had Anna Belfrage been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does not exist, she became a financial professional with two absorbing interests, namely history and writing.

Presently, Anna is hard at work with The King’s Greatest Enemy, a series set in the 1320s featuring Adam de Guirande, his wife Kit, and their adventures and misfortunes in connection with Roger Mortimer’s rise to power. And yes, Edmund of Woodstock appears quite frequently. The first book, In The Shadow of the Storm was published in 2015, the second, Days of Sun and Glory, was published in July 2016, and the third, Under the Approaching Dark, was published in April 2017.

When Anna is not stuck in the 14th century, she's probably visiting in the 17th century, specifically with Alex(andra) and Matthew Graham, the protagonists of the acclaimed The Graham Saga. This is the story of two people who should never have met – not when she was born three centuries after him. The ninth book, There is Always a Tomorrow, was published in November 2017.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Giveaway: The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin

A paperback copy of The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin is being offered to UK readers

It is 1914, and twenty-five-year-old Frances Marion has left her (second) husband and her Northern California home for the lure of Los Angeles, where she is determined to live independently as an artist. But the word on everyone s lips these days is flickers the silent moving pictures enthralling theatergoers. Turn any corner in this burgeoning town and you ll find made-up actors running around, as a movie camera captures it all.

In this fledgling industry, Frances finds her true calling: writing stories for this wondrous new medium. She also makes the acquaintance of actress Mary Pickford, whose signature golden curls and lively spirit have given her the title of America s Sweetheart. The two ambitious young women hit it off instantly, their kinship fomented by their mutual fever to create, to move audiences to a frenzy, to start a revolution.

But their ambitions are challenged both by the men around them and the limitations imposed on their gender and their astronomical success could come at a price. As Mary, the world s highest paid and most beloved actress, struggles to live her life under the spotlight, she also wonders if it is possible to find love, even with the dashing actor Douglas Fairbanks. Frances, too, longs to share her life with someone. As in any good Hollywood story, dramas will play out, personalities will clash, and even the deepest friendships might be shattered.

With cameos from such notables as Charlie Chaplin, Louis B. Mayer, Rudolph Valentino, and Lillian Gish, The Girls in the Picture is, at its heart, a story of friendship and forgiveness. Melanie Benjamin perfectly captures the dawn of a glittering new era its myths and icons, its possibilities and potential, and its seduction and heartbreak.

Advance praise for The Girls in the Picture

Melanie Benjamin, known for her living, breathing portraits of famous figures, takes on the Golden Age of Hollywood, and the friendship between icons Mary Pickford and screenwriter Frances Marion. As riveting as the latest blockbuster, this is a star-studded story of female friendships, creative sparks about to ignite, and the power of women. Dazzling. Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You and Cruel Beautiful World

Set at the dawn of Hollywood, The Girls in the Picture explores the friendship between renowned starlet Mary Pickford and screenwriter Frances Marion. With the artistry for which she has become renowned, Melanie Benjamin has simultaneously created an insightful tale of the relationship between writer and muse and a breathtaking view into Hollywood s most glittering era. Pam Jenoff, New York Times bestselling author of The Orphan's Tale

Melanie Benjamin s The Girls in the Picture is a scintillating journey back in time to the gritty and glamorous days of old Hollywood. With elegant prose and delicious historical detail, Benjamin delivers a timely tale of female friendship and the powerful duo who dared to dream beyond the narrow roles into which they'd been cast. Allison Pataki, New York Times bestselling author of Where the Light Falls and Sisi

For UK readers who wish to win this book, please leave a comment below. Don't forget to leave your contact details!

This giveaway will close on Sunday, 28th January 2018 at 5pm GMT

*This giveaway is now closed and the winner will be notified

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Editors Weekly Round-up, January 21, 2018

by the EHFA Editors

Every week, English Historical Fiction Authors brings readers posts on various aspects of British history. Enjoy this week's round up!

by Matt Lewis

by Kim Rendfeld

by Simon J. Cook
(an Editor's choice from the Archives)

Friday, January 19, 2018

Changing Faces of Britain’s Natives

by Simon J. Cook

Late-Victorian histories of the English began in the woods of Schleswig, before the migration to the British Isles. But around 1900 historians decided that English history proper should begin with the foundation of the modern state in the fourteenth century. What came before was deemed not only barbarous but insufficiently documented. The story of ancient Britain, and of the peoples who settled it, was left to a motley crew of archaeologists, folklorists, philologists and, increasingly, writers of fiction.

Early Britons* 
Elsewhere I've investigated the early twentieth-century search for the ancient English; in this post I track the changing face of Britain’s natives. The picture (right) depicts a sort of ancient ‘close encounters’ moment: native Britons watch the arrival of the Roman fleet of Julius Caesar. This captures the conventional Victorian image of the Romans bringing civilization to a savage island.

Compare the primitive Britons above, barefoot and attired in rude animal skins, with the blond giants below. Although this second picture was published earlier, it embodies a newer historical thinking. These iron-age warriors are still Britons, but they are no longer natives.

Later Britons*

For much of the nineteenth century it was assumed that Britain had been settled for only a few generations before the coming of the Romans. But this view became untenable after 1877 and the publication of Canon William Greenwell’s British Barrows. From his meticulous and extensive archaeological excavations, Greenwell drew the conclusion that prehistoric long barrows were not only older than round barrows, but had been built by a different people.

British Barrorws*
After Greenwell it was generally accepted that the Celtic-speaking Britons, the supposed makers of the round barrows, had intruded upon an earlier population. The result was the rehabilitation of the Britons: no longer the passive victims of history, conquered and pushed aside by more vigorous peoples, the Britons became invading immigrants in their own right – ancient barbarians, maybe, yet virtuous and worthy ancestors for the modern British. In the caption of the second picture above the leading Briton declares: ‘Tell Suetonius that we scorn his mercy and will die as we have lived, free men.’

Who, then, were the newly discovered natives? With precious little archaeological or philological evidence to work with, scholars turned to fairy tales.

In 1900 John Rhys, the first Oxford Professor of Celtic, delivered the presidential address to the Anthropology section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. His chosen theme was the value of folk tales for the study of the ancient past, and he argued that behind the ‘rabble of divinities and demons’ who disport themselves in Celtic folklore it is possible to discern the succession of peoples who have inhabited the British Isles. Welsh fairy stories, according to Rhys, contained dim memories of the native population encountered by the first Celtic-speaking intruders. The real ‘little people’, he inferred, had been ‘a small swarthy population of mound-dwellers, of an unwarlike disposition... and living underground’.

by John Buchan*
Rhys’ ideas seem to have sparked the imagination of a couple of young minds. John Buchan went up to Oxford in 1895. His short story ‘No-Man’s-Land’, which appeared in print seven years later, tells the dreadful story of an Oxford scholar of Northern Antiquities (like Rhys perhaps, or one of his students), who holidays in the remote Highlands of Scotland, where he encounters – and is taken captive by – ‘the Hidden People’:

Then suddenly in the hollow trough of mist before me... there appeared a figure. It was little and squat and dark; naked, apparently, but so rough with hair that it wore the appearance of a skin-covering... in its face and eyes there seemed to lurk an elder world of mystery and barbarism, a troll-like life which was too horrible for words.

While captive in their ‘hill refuge’ the Oxford scholar hears harsh words directed at the British invader, bitter curses for the Saxon stranger; and he glimpses ‘a morbid hideous existence’ preserved for centuries by these relics of a nameless past.

Buchan’s natives are the complete antithesis of the modern British subject; a sort of primitive Hyde to the modern Dr. Jekyll. One can perhaps discern a post-WWII twist to this fable in The Inheritors, the 1955 novel by William Golding (who incidentally attended the same Oxford college as Buchan). In Golding’s story the original dwellers of the land have become Neanderthals – a separate species to modern humans. But in contrast to Buchan, Golding represents these natives as a peaceful if queer-thinking folk; it is the human intruders who are violent and frightening.

Buchan’s portrayal of Britain’s ancient folk as radically different to the modern population of the British Isles made for a good story; but it did not reflect an Edwardian scholarly consensus that all newcomers to Britain had interbred with those already settled on the land. Far from being a separate species, scholars believed that much native blood flows through the veins of the inhabitants of modern Britain (the same kind of idea is now put in terms of DNA). An Englishman, a Scotsman, or a Welshmen who meets one of the forgotten little people is quite possibly discovering but a smaller version of himself. And if such encounters have today become rather rare in the fields and hedgerows of Britain, this is a familiar enough experience to many readers of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic children’s story of 1937, The Hobbit.

Hobbits are a homely depiction of Britain’s natives. Tolkien tells us that they are a ‘little people’, who today ‘have become rare and shy of the Big People, as they call us’. But once upon a time, ‘long ago in the quiet of the world, when there was less noise and more green’, hobbits were ‘numerous and prosperous’.

Going up to Oxford in 1911, Tolkien as an undergraduate probably attended Rhys’ lectures; later, in a short essay of 1932, we find him engaging carefully with his scholarship. And it seems that Tolkien had read the Professor of Celtic’s 1900 presidential address. At one point in this lecture Rhys discusses certain ‘underground – or partially underground – habitations’ that, he believed, had been home to Britain’s natives. These abodes, he explains:

appear from the outside like hillocks covered with grass, so as presumably not to attract attention... But one of the most remarkable things about them is the fact that the cells or apartments into which they are divided are frequently so small that their inmates must have been of very short stature.

Bag End entrance*
But if Tolkien first stumbled upon a hobbit hole whilst reading Rhys’ lecture, it seems likely that his imagination drew also upon Buchan’s depiction of Britain’s natives as subhuman trolls. Certainly, John Buchan was one of Tolkien’s favourite authors. Of course, Bilbo’s hole under the hill is snug and comfortable; the encounter with a ‘hideous existence’ within a ‘hill refuge’ described by Buchan finds its counterpart, not at Bag End, but in that cave deep within the Misty Mountains into which had wormed his way, long ages ago, ‘a small slimy creature’ called Gollum.


1) Early Britons - from: Our Island Story. A History of England for Boys and Girls, by H.E. Marshall, illustration by A.S. Forrester (London, 1905).
2) Later Britons - from: Beric the Briton. A Story of the Roman Invasion, by G.A. Henty, illustrator unknown (London, 1893).
3) From: British Barrows. A record of the examination of the sepulchral mounds in various parts of England, by W. Greenwell (Oxford, 1877).
4) From: John Buchan’s The Watcher by the Threshold (London, 1902).
5) Bag End entrance - Photo: Sebastian Stöcker.

This post is an Editor's Choice from the EHFA archives, originally published on September 12, 2016.

Simon J. Cook is an intellectual historian. His award-winning monograph on the political economist Alfred Marshall was published by Cambridge University Press in 2009.

After weary years in various universities Simon is now setting himself up as an independent scholar and, inspired by many authors of English (and other) historical fiction, has made the move to digital self-publishing. His recent essay J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lost English Mythology was published by ‘Rounded Globe’ (his own ebook publishing venture) (Amazon US) (Amazon UK).

Many of Simon’s academic papers are available for free on his Academia.edu page. For further background on the scholarship discussed in this essay see especially: ‘The Making of the English: English History, British Identity, Aryan Villages: 1870-1914’ (published in 2014 in the Journal for the History of Ideas).

Ye Machine, Simon’s website and blog, is updated from time to time.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Ælfflæd: An Abbess Who Was Always a Princess

By Kim Rendfeld

Ælfflæd’s life was decided in her father’s battle against the Mercians in 655. Northumbrian King Oswiu made a promise: if God granted him victory, he would give land and his 1-year-old daughter to the Church. Ælfflæd would never be a queen, but she wielded royal power.

When she was an infant, Ælfflæd was commended to the care of her mother’s kinswoman Hild, abbess of Hartlepool. Two years later, Hild founded the double monastery of Whitby with the donated land, and she and the toddler took up residence there.

Because of her father’s decision, Ælfflæd was no longer eligible for a political marriage. Probably not a bad thing in this family. Elder half-sister Alhflæd might have had something to do with the death of her husband, the son of the ruler Oswiu killed in battle. Her full sister, Osthryth, later married to a Mercian king, was murdered by Mercian nobles.

Ælfflæd grew up in Whitby, a center for learning and a cradle of bishops. While Ælfflæd was still a child, the abbey hosted the Synod of Whitby in 664 to decide whether the Church should practice Christianity like the Romans or the Celts. The two sides disagreed on many things such as the date for Easter and how tonsures should be shaped. Ælfflæd’s own parents were on different sides—her father favored the Celts while her mother supported the Romans. The Roman way prevailed.

At the abbey, Ælfflæd would become a teacher and was probably being groomed to succeed Hild. It was common for an abbey to pass from aunt to niece or another female relative. As an aristocrat, Ælfflæd was expected to lead.

After Oswiu died in 670, Ælfflæd’s widowed mother, Eanflæd, joined her daughter at Whitby. Eanflæd and Hild apparently were close in childhood, baptized together in 627. When Hild died in 680, Ælfflæd and Eanflæd jointly ruled the double monastery. Eanflæd died after 685, and Ælfflæd assumed sole rule until her death in 714.

And rule she did.

Ælfflæd might have played a role in one of Hild’s pupils becoming a bishop. She commissioned the Life of Gregory, a hagiography written by one of her monks or nuns, and oversaw the translation of her grandfather King Edwin’s relics to Whitby. She was influential enough to write to a continental abbess of behalf of religious women pilgrims. And she was a close friend of the holy man Cuthbert. One story has a linen girdle Cuthbert sent miraculously healing her of an illness that left her paralyzed. About 684, she consulted with him on a matter close to her heart.

She might have been concerned that her brother Ecgfrith, her father’s successor as king of Northumbria, had no sons. Ecgfrith’s first marriage with Etheldreda ended with her following her dream to be a nun, at the urging of Bishop Wilfrid (whom Hild also disliked), and her brother’s second marriage had yet to produce heirs. If we are to believe Cuthbert’s hagiography—and that’s a big if—Cuthbert reminded her that she had a half-brother born out of wedlock before her father’s first marriage. I have a feeling Ælfflæd knew all along and was testing Cuthbert’s loyalty.

Cuthbert was appointed a bishop of Lindisfarne soon after the meeting. Supposedly, he didn’t want the office. It would not surprise me if Ælfflæd played a role the decision.

Ecgfrith died in a disastrous battle in 685, and half-brother Aldfrith, a man in his 50s, ascended to the throne. Although she did not wear a crown, Ælfflæd was someone to reckon with when it came to making peace between Aldfrith and Wilfrid. The archbishop seeking the reconciliation wrote to both the king and his sister. Apparently brother and sister were close, and she had a streak of pragmatism.

When Aldfrith died at the end of his 20-year reign, he had an 8-year-old son, Osred. A rival named Eadwulf seized the throne but was expelled two months later, thanks to teamwork from Ælfflæd, Wilfrid, and a nobleman. Ælfflæd testified that Aldfrith wished for his successor to reconcile the royal family with Wilfrid, and Osred became Wilfrid’s adopted son and king. The next year, Wilfrid didn’t get the See of York as he wanted but he was allow to retain two churches and named a bishop.

With her combination of piety, education, and savvy, it is little wonder her contemporaries called her “a wise woman and learned in the Holy Scripture” and “ever the comforter and best counsellor of the whole kingdom.”

Public domain images via Wikimedia Commons.


“Ælfflæd (654–714)” by Alan Thacker, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

“Osred I (696x8–716)” by David Rollason, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Bede’s Life of Cuthbert

Beda: A Journey to the Seven Kingdoms at the Time of Bede by Henrietta Leyser

The Earliest English Kings by D. P. Kirby

Double Agents: Women and Clerical Culture in Anglo-Saxon England, by Clare Lees, Gillian Overing

Motherhood and Mothering in Anglo-Saxon England by M. Dockray-Miller

Prayer and Thought in Monastic Tradition: Essays in Honour of Benedicta Ward SLG edited by Santha Bhattacharji, Dominic Mattos, Rowan Williams

A Handbook of Anglo-Saxon Studies, edited by Jacqueline Stodnick, Renée Trilling


Kim Rendfeld has written two novels set in 8th century Europe. In The Cross and the Dragon, a Frankish noblewoman must contend with a jilted suitor and the fear of losing her husband (available on Amazon). In The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar, a Saxon peasant will fight for her children after losing everything else (available on Amazon). Her short story “Betrothed to the Red Dragon,” about Guinevere’s decision to marry Arthur, is set in early medieval Britain and available on Amazon.

Connect with Kim at on her website kimrendfeld.com, her blog, Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at kimrendfeld.wordpress.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/authorkimrendfeld, or follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Lambert Simnel and the Blind Poet

by Matt Lewis

One of the most intriguing and confusing stories I read about the possible survival of the Princes in the Tower comes from Bernard Andre, the blind French friar-poet who would act as tutor to Prince Arthur Tudor and possibly to Henry VIII too. It epitomises the lack of conviction that runs through almost all of the contemporary and near-contemporary sources about the precise fate of the sons of Edward IV.

When writing about the Lambert Simnel Affair of 1487, two years into Henry VII’s reign, André provides an account that is quite shocking, yet which just might make sense of the whole muddled business. Andre begins his explanation of the events by describing how ‘the cruel murder of King Edward the Fourth’s sons was yet vexing the people’. On the surface, this is an explicit assertion that both of the boys were dead and is presumably meant to be understood to implicate Richard III. He had earlier written of Richard that ‘After the tyrant, safe in his London stronghold, slew the lords he knew were faithful to his brother, he ordered that his unprotected nephews secretly be dispatched with the sword.’ Referring to news that a coronation of this supposed King Edward of the House of York had taken place in Dublin, André does not refer to the boy as Edward, Earl of Warwick, as the official Tudor version of events has it. The poet specifically states that ‘word came back that the second son of Edward had been crowned king in Ireland’. This second son would have been Richard, Duke of York, yet everywhere else it is made clear that the boy was named Edward. If he was a son of Edward IV named Edward, then he can only have been claiming to be Edward V.

The story doesn’t end there. André continues to describe the questioning of numerous messengers sent to Ireland to discover the boy's identity. Eventually, one person was sent to conclusively answer the question of who this boy really was. André has frustratingly left a blank space where the name should be, but it is possible it was Roger Machado, a herald trusted by both Edward IV and Henry VII. Whoever he was, André tells us that he ‘claimed that he would easily recognise him if he were who he claimed to be’. On this man’s return, André laments that ‘the boy had already been tutored with evil cunning by persons who were familiar with the days of Edward, and he readily answered all the herald’s questions’. So, we are told, a herald who knew Edward IV’s sons was sent to identify the boy in Dublin and returned unable to say he wasn’t Edward IV’s son. He didn’t say that the lad looked nothing like either of the princes. All he could say was that all of his questions were answered satisfactorily, a shocking development that André put down to quick and clever trickery.

In summing up, André confirms that ‘To make a long story short, through the deceptive tutelage of his advisors, he was finally accepted as Edward’s son by many prudent men, and so strong was this belief that many did not even hesitate to die for him’. André does not describe this boy as claiming to be Edward, Earl of Warwick, son of George, Duke of Clarence, but as claiming to be a son of Edward IV named Edward. It’s a brief passage, but it rings so many alarm bells. What if the whole story of an Oxford boy named Lambert Simnel impersonating Edward, Earl of Warwick was a smokescreen? Henry had an Edward, an heir of the House of York, in his custody, so putting out that the boy in Ireland was claiming to be someone imprisoned in the Tower would undermine his attempts to unseat Henry. Warwick was produced at St Paul’s for questioning by former members of the Yorkist court to prove that he really was a prisoner. What if that story was a pretence to whip support from beneath the boy in Ireland by painting his claims as a demonstrable lie, a joke even?

If we allow for a moment that the boy in Dublin might have been claiming to be Edward V, it makes sense of many other snippets of detail. Polydore Vergil, writing twenty years later, described the boy in Ireland as seeking to restore or re-establish himself, using the Latin verb ‘restituere’ to define his efforts. It would be an odd word to apply to Warwick, who had never held the throne in order to be able to restore himself to it. Given Edward V’s lack of a coronation, the desire to crown him in Dublin might also be significant. There is open confusion about the age of the boy later captured at the Battle of Stoke Field, and one account contained within The Heralds’ Memoir refers to the capture of the boy by Robert Bellingham and gives his name as John. Adrien de But even claimed that the boy escaped the field and was taken to Calais by Edmund de la Pole, then Earl of Suffolk, though de But does identify the boy as the ‘young Duke of Clarence’, referring to Warwick’s father’s title.

There are other interesting connections too. The sudden fall from grace of Elizabeth Woodville and the arrest of Thomas Grey, for example. The official Tudor version of the dowager queen’s removal from public life and her loss of her property was Henry’s outrage that she had endangered her daughters, including his wife, by releasing them to Richard III in 1484. Odd to become so suddenly scandalised three years after the fact and over a year into his own reign. Thomas Grey was supposedly told that if he really were loyal to Henry, then he wouldn’t mind a spell in the Tower to prove it. The timing of both events is highly suggestive that it was related to the emergence of the threat in Ireland. Elizabeth Woodville and Thomas Grey would have absolutely nothing to gain by supporting Edward, Earl of Warwick. Elizabeth was implicated in Warwick’s father’s fall and execution. If anything, placing him on the throne would make the Woodville position weaker. The only thing that can have been preferable to her daughter on the throne beside Henry VII for Elizabeth Woodville would have been one of her sons on it.

John de la Pole’s involvement is equally hard to fathom if the Lambert Simnel Affair had been a plot to place Warwick on the throne. Contrary to what has become popular opinion, Richard III never appointed an heir after the death of his only legitimate son in 1484. Some have claimed Warwick was designated heir, whilst other identify John, Earl of Lincoln as receiving that honour. Some even believe Warwick was initially appointed only to be replaced by Lincoln. None of these is true. Richard III left no instruction regarding who should succeed him, not least because he was planning to remarry and would have hoped for another son and heir. Lincoln would, by most measures, have been Richard III’s heir presumptive until a son arrived to replace him. Warwick was a male line descendant of the House of York, but his father’s attainder legally barred him from the succession. Undoing that impediment would create the sticky and awkward question of his senior claim that Richard himself possessed.

Lincoln therefore held his own claim, senior to that of Warwick, which he appears to have ignored. With Henry VII’s removal of Titulus Regius from the statute books, the illegitimacy of Edward IV’s children was reversed. If one or both were still alive, his sons would now possess the most convincing legitimate claim to the throne for the House of York. Warwick had no affinity of his own, having been orphaned at a young age and kept away from any kind of power as a child. Lincoln didn’t really have a swell of support, but he had a legitimate claim unhampered by attainder. The only Yorkist claim better than Lincoln’s was that of the sons of Edward IV. If Lincoln overlooked his own suit in 1487, it only makes sense that he did so for one of the Princes in the Tower.

The fate of the Princes in the Tower ultimately remains a mystery. However, it is a mystery clouded by later Tudor writers and by the unquestioning acceptance of what they wrote. Returning to the source material is critical to stripping away these layers of myth and misdirection, and in this case, it throws up some interesting questions. If you think about it with an open mind and push aside your preconceptions, the Lambert Simnel Affair makes an awful lot more sense as an uprising in favour of Edward V than it does as an attempt to place an imposter Earl of Warwick on the throne. Of course, Henry VII had a vested interest in denying the continued existence of two boys with a better and more popular claim to his crown than he had. Maybe that’s why he ordered that all of the records of the Irish Parliament held in 1487 should be burned. Maybe they referred to something he could never afford to have see the light of day. Maybe they referred to an attempt to return King Edward V to the throne of England. Maybe Henry VII has succeeded in pulling the wool over the eyes of history.

Pictures Copyright Matt Lewis


Matthew Lewis is the author of The Survival of the Princes in the Tower published by The History Press and available from Amazon and other outlets.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Giving Birth in Jane Austen’s Day: Confinement, Lying-in, and Churching

by Maria Grace

Unlike women today who often give birth in hospitals or birthing centers, women of the regency era normally gave birth at home. Preparation for confinement fell almost exclusively to the mother--big surprise, I know. Among the most significant of those preparatory decisions was where she would be confined. (Vickery, 1998)


The decision was a significant one. A woman's confinement, also called her lying-in, lasted a month to six weeks starting when the baby was born, through her subsequent recovery.  In some cases, women imminently due to give birth were also confined to the house and treated as invalids. (But only in cases where there was sufficient assistance available to take over the mother-to-be’s duties, of course.)   During confinement women were expected to stay indoors, preferably in bed. Most felt well enough to emerge from confinement after a month. (Honestly I think they’d have to be really ill not to be utterly stir-crazy by then. But then again, I get stir crazy confined by a day or two of rain.)

The medical community believed that an extended period of strict rest was necessary to help protect against the postnatal dangers threatening the mother and the baby.  Considering the number of women who died in childbirth and those who experienced complications including puerperal fever, hemorrhage, thrombosis and milk fever, the precaution made a great deal of sense.

Some women chose to return to their mother’s home to give birth. Others brought female relatives to their home for the event.  It was not unusual for rooms used for lying-in to be rearranged or redecorated in anticipation of the event. (Martin, 2004) Ideally, the mother would have two interconnected room. The inner, would contain the mother’s lying-in bed, usually kept dark though labor, delivery and at least the first week afterwards. The outer room would serve as a waiting room of sorts, a place for friends and relatives to gather.  (Lewis, 1986)

For those who could afford it, London, because of its reputation for skilled doctors, was regarded as the best place for a confinement, especially for the birth of an anticipated heir.  When a family went to town for a confinement, it could disrupt the household for weeks, even if the family maintained a house in London. And since delivery dates could not be accurately predicted, all this often happened at the very last minute. (I can’t think of anything I would less rather do at the very end of a pregnancy than be confined for hours on end in a bouncy-jolty carriage, moving households to somewhere else.) 

During the confinement, especially one with all the pomp and circumstance of a London confinement, the mother often received visits from friends and relatives. Sometimes a greate many of them, perhaps even more than she desired. Frequently these were women who had “shared in the drinking of caudle, the hot spiced wine mixture she had imbibed to ease her labor pains,” her ‘gossips.’ (Lewis, 1986) Country confinements had the advantage of fewer ‘drop-in’ sort of visitors. The new parents could exercise a little more control in who came to visit.

“The confinement itself was composed of a set of clearly defined stages in the recovery process. While these provided something of a guideline for the recovery of all women, they were flexible enough to allow for individual differences.  …  Generally, the stages …consisted of increasingly long forays from bed to sofa; thence to the outer or dressing room of the lying-in chambers; downstairs, possibly to dine with the family; and finally to take her first leave of the premises. The entire process lasted from four to six weeks.” (Lewis, 1986)


A woman’s confinement ended when the mother had been "churched" and her child christened. Considering the very real risks to both mother and infant, it is not surprising that the Church had a special service of thanksgiving after (surviving) childbirth. The Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England, called it the Churching of Women. Traditionally, a woman paid her first visit upon leaving home to her church for this service which emphasized a woman's gratitude toward God for her full recovery. (Lewis, 1986)

Although sanctioned by the Old Testament (Leviticus 12), churching was a prickly issue within the Church. Some condemned it as a remnant of the Jewish religion or as a Catholic rite. Still, it continued as a pervasive practice, especially in rural areas. (Collin, 2001) This may have been because of superstitions about women bringing bad luck following childbirth unless ritual cleansing took place.  

The ceremony was generally sought after by women, a ceremony that focused on them and acknowledged the perils they had faced. It was also an opportunity to rejoin society after extended isolation and often an opportunity to feast with the friends who had helped her through her labor (her ‘gossips.’)  (Knöde, 1995)

Women who experienced a still birth or whose child died soon after were still churched. But, women who gave birth to illegitimate children were not until they publicly repented before the whole congregation.  “There are also records of a debate whether a woman who had died in giving birth should be buried in the church graveyard if she had died unchurched. Popular custom occasionally had another woman undergoing the ceremony for the woman who had died, but such practice was not favoured by the church. It was eventually decided that an unchurched woman could be buried, but in a number of cases they were buried in a special part of the graveyard and superstitious beliefs had it that women between 15 and 45 were not supposed to be going to that particular part of the graveyard.” (Knöde, 1995)


Adkins, Roy, and Lesley Adkins. Jane Austen's England. Viking, 2013. 
Collins, Irene. Jane Austen and the Clergy. London: Hambledon and London, 2001. 
Collins, Irene. Jane Austen, the Parson's Daughter. London: Hambledon Press, 1998. 
Knödel, Natalie. The Thanksgiving of Women after Childbirth, commonly called The Churching of Women. University of Durham. April 1995   http://users.ox.ac.uk/~mikef/church.html   
Lane, Maggie. Jane Austen's World: The Life and times of England's Most Popular Novelist. 2nd ed. London: Carlton Books, 2005.
Lewis, Judith Schneid. In the Family Way: Childbearing in the British Aristocracy, 1760-1860. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1986. 
Martin, Joanna. Wives and Daughters: Women and Children in the Georgian Country House. London: Hambledon and London, 2004. 
Selwyn, David. Jane Austen and Children. New York City: Continuum Books, 2010.
Vickery, Amanda. The Gentleman's Daughter: Women's Lives in Georgian England. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998.


Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. 

After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.

Click here to find her books on Amazon. For more on her writing and other Random Bits of Fascination, visit her website. You can also like her on Facebook, or follow on Twitter.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Ælfgyva: The Mystery Woman of the Bayeux Tapestry – Part IV

By Paula Lofting

The woman in the Bayeux Tapestry called Ælfgyva has given commentators and historians alike, food for thought for as long as the Bayeux Tapestry has been studied. As we have seen in the earlier chapters, there have been plenty of Ælfgyvas to choose from, but none quite fits the bill as much as Ælfgifu  of Northampton. We have discounted the Queen Emma/Aelfgifu version, and also that Earl Harold had any daughter or sister of that name. I have also set aside the idea that the lady may have been a child of William’s, offered to Harold as a wife in return for an alliance.

Ælfgifu was a purely English name and Ælfgyva, being the Latinised version, was used instead of its English counterpart, as the text on the BT is written in Latin. Although a possibility, it was not likely that such a name would have been given to a Norman woman, especially the daughter of William, whose daughters were called, Adela, Adeliza, Constance, Agatha and Cecilia, and none were given an English name, as far as we know.

Edward Freeman, writing in 1869, suggests that the woman they are discussing was a lady at the duke’s palace, and the idea that a bride for Harold was discussed, shouldn’t necessarily be discounted. However, it seems unlikely that if such a lady was chosen from one of the duke’s daughters, she would have been portrayed with lewd men underneath her image pointing up her dress. One thing to remember, the name Ælfgyva means noble-gift in Anglo-Saxon, and might have been used to refer to a lady of noble birth, in which case her name might not necessarily be Ælfgyva, but a sort of title.

So, the wording on the Tapestry, could actually be meant to be taken as A Priest and a Noble Lady, in which case she could have easily have been anyone at the court of William’s, but, unfortunately, we will never know.

So, why then does Ælfgifu of Northampton seem the likeliest candidate to match the mysterious lady on the Tapestry? What is it about this Ælfgifu that draws me to believe that she is the one?
There are several versions of the scandal which Ælfgifu of Northampton was involved in, but Florence of Worcester tells us an interesting tale of the first wife of Cnut, the said Ælfgifu of Northampton. According to his writings, she was said to have passed off the bastard child of a priest as Cnut’s son, after failing to provide an heir of her own. This child was called Swein.

Later, Worcester states that she passed off another ‘son’, Harold Harefoot, who was a child of a workman, or a cobbler. Interestingly, if we look once again at the image of Ælfgyva and the priest, we see that in the lower border a naked figure of a man with a rather large member, is mimicking the stance and gesture of the priest. There is also another image of a naked workman.  The priest, who touches her face, is either stroking her cheek, or slapping her. The scene is also iconographic, which means it is supposed to be a representation of what perhaps, William and Harold may have been discussing in the previous scene, as I have already said in Part III. 

Unlike the other scenes in the tapestry, this one is not to be viewed as part of the story but more as alluding to some sexual scandal. Interpreting the face fondling/slapping aspect is a bone of contention, however. At first, I favoured the idea that the priest was slapping her but upon further research I came across an intriguing suggestion submitted by J Bard McNulty in the Lady Ælfgyva in The Bayeux Tapestry (1980).

So, if we accept that the woman referred to in the tapestry must be Aelfgifu of Northampton, we have to ponder upon why on earth Harold and William would be discussing her at this stage of the story. Aelfgifu would have been long dead at the time of this meeting (around the autumn of 1064). But let us not discount her, for she was, like her counterpart and rival, Emma of Normandy, a formidable woman. Unfortunately for her, she was not as tactful or astute as Emma. 

Cnut had most likely married Ælfgifu in the more-danico fashion, commonly known as a handfasting, rather than a marriage that is recognised by the church. We believe this, as he was later able to marry Emma, despite already being tied to Ælfgifu. A handfasted wife was, by law, legitimate, as were any children she had. However, it was customary in those times to wed traditionally for love, or for an alliance that would expediate a man’s cause, then later, marry for political reasons as Harold Godwinson did with Aldith of Mercia, to gain the support of her brothers. Cnut needed support in his early days as ruler, and had married Ælfgifu to claim the loyalty of her father’s supporters whom were opposed to Æthelred; the king had killed her father and blinded her brother. 

Cnut must have initially valued Ælfgifu and her children by him, for he sent her and her eldest son, Swein, to rule Norway as his representatives, and as Swein was a mere child at the time, Ælfgigu was to act as regent. But she was unpopular with the Norwegians, her rule being ruthless and harsh, so, after some years, she and Swein were driven out of Norway, and Magnus the Good, replaced Swein as King of Norway. It would be interesting to know if Cnut’s feelings toward Ælfgifu would have changed after she lost Norway for him. 

Eventually, Magnus the Good would make a treaty with Cnut’s son by Emma, Harthacnut, and it was this treaty that Tostig may have used to persuade Harald Hardrada to lay claim to the English throne in 1066. Harthacnut and Magnus of Norway were said to have made an oath to each other that should one of them die, the other would inherit all the other’s kingdoms, should the deceased die without issue. Although Magnus claimed his right to England, he never pursued it beyond a threat after Harthacnut died.  

McNulty’s theory concerning this scene, centres around what the two men (Harold and William) might be discussing. William broaches the subject of the English succession with Harold, and they are conferring about the claimants to the throne, one of which was Harald Hardrada. Harold reassures William that he has nothing to worry about, because of the scandal of the sons of Cnut that weren’t really the sons of Cnut.

Sounds plausible? Nope, no, and nada. Confusing? Definitely. 

What had Ælfgifu’s indiscretion got to do with Hardrada’s claim to the throne? After all, she was not mother to Harthacnut who had made the oath with Magnus, and Emma of Normandy, who was the mother of Harthacnut, was not the Ælfgifu depicted in the scandal with the priest and the workman. What a great intrigue this is turning out to be. Just when I think I am there, another ‘but’ pops up! 

And in the immortal words of Sr Walter Scott: 
Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive
Stay tuned for the next part of the intrigue, PART FIVE


Paula Lofting is an author and a member of the re-enactment society Regia Anglorum, where she regularly takes part in the Battle of Hastings. Her first novel, Sons of the Wolf, is set in eleventh-century England and tells the story of Wulfhere, a man torn between family and duty. The sequel, The Wolf Banner is available now. Paula is currently working on the third book in the series, Wolf's Bane

Find Paula on her Blog