Tuesday, 19 January 2021

How to Get Rich Quick! or Judicial Dispossession and Enslavement in 11th c. England

What was the scandal that got RBS into trouble after the Great Financial Crisis of 2008?  It boiled down to some small business loan managers (a few bad apples) lending to good businesses with good managers, calling in the debt at the first sign of stress, forcing liquidation of the business (and often the proprietor's home if it secured the business loan as collateral), and then pocketing a hefty profit on the excess value of the business and the house relative to the debt.  That's nasty!

It may be nasty, but it wasn't a new business model.  11th century tax collection by the king's reeves worked on pretty much on the same principles.  This is why Eadric Streona - Eadric 'the grasper' - was so hated in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, besides his habit of backing out of battles at the last minute and changing sides to whoever looked like winning.   

Tax collection worked like this:
  • The king's reeve comes to your land and says you owe a certain amount of Geld (tribute to the king), Danegeld (pay off to the Vikings), or Heregeld (retainer to the Vikings to protect you);
  • and then something like "Nice farm you've got here. It'd be a shame if something should happen to it."
  • You do not get to negotiate the assessment, and your ealdorman - essentially a war-lord with assigned territory from the king - will be standing behind the reeve with armed warriors to prevent you doing violence to the reeve;
  • As a perk of office, the Reeve is permitted to buy your land for the Geld assessment if you cannot pay the geld assessment. If it was the biannual or annual assessment in the spring or the fall, you should have set the geld aside or be able to pay it from your livestock;
  • Either you pay up the Geld assessment or Bad Things Happen:
  • Either you pay up the Geld assessment or Bad Things Happen:
  • Either you pay up the Geld assessment or Bad Things Happen:
    • The Reeve declares you in default of your Geld assessment;
    • The Ealdorman as judical agent of the king can force you to make good the default by one of three methods:
      • You sell your slaves (not so bad), your wife (depends how you get on with her whether it's bad or not), or children (generally pretty bad) in the local slave market to make up the Geld assessment.
      • The Ealdorman judicially enslaves you for the Geld assessment and sells you in the market, though generally this was a local sale to keep you near your kin.  Sometimes your kin bought you if they liked you.
      • The Ealdorman judicially dispossesses you of your land which can be bought by anyone who pays the value of the Geld.  The Reeve is standing there with a big bag of gold and silver and can come up with the Geld price right then and there, so the Reeve gets the land for the Geld-price then sells it to the Ealdorman or one of his local retainers at a quick profit a back at the local mead hall when they've got the gold and silver money together from looting, friends or family.  The Ealdorman is happy, the Reeve is happy, and one of the military retainers of the Ealdorman is happy!  Yay!
It's ugly, but generally Anglo-Saxons chose to sell their children before the Danish Conquest.  They had more children back then, so anything more than two for working a smallholding could be considered spare.  Lots of children got sold into slavery for default of Geld.  Initially they were used for prostitution and then when they got old and ugly, if they lived so long, they would be sold for labour in mines, salt-works, agriculture, aquaculture, weaving, etc.

This is why around 1011 Bishop Wulfstan began to get agitated:

You could see and sigh over rows of wretches bound together with ropes, young people of both sexes whose beautiful appearance and youthful innocence might move barbarians to pity, daily exposed to prostitution, daily offered for sale.  - Vita Wulfstani, as translated by M. Swanton, Three Lives of the Last Englishmen (London, 1984), p. 126.

It is worth noting that Bishop Wulfstan didn't object to slavery in principle.  He objected to prostitution and the sale of slaves to non-Christians.  The church owned more slaves than anyone in Anglo-Saxon England as they had big estates that were exploited on very scholarly and industrialised principles of capital and labour.

Maybe you would hope that the business model for taxation and slavery would change under new management with King Cnut?  Nope.  If anything the Danish earls that took over from Anglo-Saxon ealdormen after 1016 were much worse because the Anglo-Danish war for the conquest of Saxon England had been so bitter and bloody, and Cnut had been betrayed by the Saxon earldormen who invited King Aethelred back from exile after King Swein's death.  The conquering Danes would take the Saxon women and children too, but what they really wanted was the Saxon land.
From now on Anglo means the Angles from the North of England who were allied with and kinship with the invading Danes.
King Cnut's early reforms divided England into 5 earldoms.  Each earl was a sub-king in his domain, and could rule pretty much as he pleased as long as he paid tribute to King Cnut twice a year.  The royal tribute was collected by Huscarls and carried to London by the London Lithsmen, a fleet of royal mariners sworn loyal only to the king.

Ealdormen didn't exist anymore under Danish rule, and you can take that literally, as according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 1016 'all the nobility of England was destroyed'.  Eadric Streona and a few other complicit Saxon carry-overs were allowed to live a short while and then killed on Christmas Day 1017.

King Cnut created the Huscarls as an Anglo-Danish (no Saxons allowed) fraternal order to collect the taxes for the king, and every Huscarl was sworn personally loyal by oath to the king and brother Huscarls.  Becoming a Huscarl required election by brother Huscarls, proof of glory in battle, and possession of gold and silver trimmed weapons.  In other words, impoverished and defeated Saxons need not apply.  Thanes, who used to swear oaths to the king, were demoted to serve earls as landed retainers.

The first five Danish earls had almost unlimited power as sub-kings in their earldoms to administer justice however they saw fit.  It is notable that all four 1017 earls were sea-lords who had commanded great fleets of war-ships during the Danish Conquest and knew how to rape, loot, and pillage via waterways: Erik Hakonson, Thorkell the Tall (foster-father and military tutor to King Cnut and greatest Viking ever!), Ulf Thorkellson, Eilaf Thorkellson and Godwin Wulfnothson.  They also had thousands of land-hungry skippers and mariners who wanted to settle on the conquered land and take wives.  Such Saxon women who survived and didn't escape to convents, or such as survived the Danish raids on convents, might have become wives or concubines of the conqueroring Anglo-Danes. The Danish mariners and warriors and their Danish wives wouldn't farm though; they would buy Saxon or other inferior slaves for that.

In general the Anglo-Danish earls saw fit to profit from looting the churches and abbeys, judicial dispossessions, and violent or judicial enslavement from 1016.  Land ownership concentrated rapidly into the families of earls and their military retainers.  Slave exports from Bristol, Winchester and York boomed as enslaved Saxons were sold east to get silks, spices and dyes to please the womenfolk of the noble households and display more glory of conquest for higher Huscarl social status.  The Huscarls voted on status every year and where you sat at the Huscarl table in their hall in London depended on this status.  Reputation and glory meant a lot to Huscarls.

At first King Cnut did nothing about this, preferring to cash in with the others from exploitation of his own earldom of Wessex, Sussex and Kent.  Only after he became king of Denmark and Sweden on the death of his brother King Harald in 1021 did King Cnut begin to take royal administration more seriously.

He made Godwin earl of Wessex, Sussex and Kent in 1021.  Earl Godwin had been dux or minister of the king since 1018, probably the royal reeve and commander of the London Lithsmen (king's ships).  He is described in the Vita Aedwardi as 'dux et baiulus' - war-lord and office-bearer.  Earl Godwin may have been in charge of Sussex before 1021 because only Sussex was organised as 'rapes' on a model that was similar to Godwin's life-long good friend Count Baldwin V's administrative reforms around the same time in Flanders.  Each rape had a fortress, a river, and an assigned territory to support the military in the fortress with provisions and tribute.  The Romans recognised a similar model of civitas and tributary pagus for Belgic and Germanic auxiliary tribes.  The Danes also had a rape model for tributary land exploitation, but not so well organised.

From 1021 Earl Godwin was married by Cnut's urging to his foster-sister Gytha Thorkellsdottir, sister of Earls Ulf and Eilaf.  He also became subregulus, meaning Godwin acted as king of England when King Cnut was away in his other kingdoms or conquering the Baltic.   This change of subregulus demoted Earl Thorkell the Tall, who was father of Godwin's wife Gytha and foster-father to King Cnut.  Thorkell and King Cnut fell out for a while.  They made up when King Cnut made Thorkell's son Ulf, Earl of the West and Midlands, the foster-father of his son Harthacnut and Jarl of Denmark because he was married to Cnut's sister Estrith.  After he ordered Ulf killed he made Thorkell jarl of Denmark and his sister Estrith subregulus.  (Yeah, 11th century royal families are complicated.)

The church was generally free of royal and manorial taxation, but that didn't secure it from Godwin. 
Godwin was notable throughout his life for looting churches and abbeys and dispossessing them of land.  He saved his worst violence for the reign of King Edward, according to a monk of Canterbury, but early on he took Berkeley from nuns who he killed or sold into slavery (wife Gytha refused to eat the produce there), he took Steyning when Bishop Aelfwine died though it should have passed to Fecamp Abbey, he took Bosham from Canterbury daring the archbishop to complain to the king, etc.  It was said he acquired the great sandy port at Plumbsted by fraud and Folkstone by bribing the archbishop. 

After securing the Baltic through violent conquest, in 1026-27 King Cnut travelled to Rome with his Norman wife, Queen Emma, the widow of King Aethelred and mother of exiled sons Edward and Alfred, as well as Cnut's son Harthacnut and daughter Gunhilda.  He secured travel and trading privileges from the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor and a new lot of Roman-trained clerics to improve royal administration in England.  When King Cnut came back he issued a letter to Englishmen telling them they could now travel freely through the Empire to get to Rome or markets of the Empire (good for English slave exports!) and instructing his earls and reeves not to judicially dispossess or enslave people unfairly.  King Cnut even forced Earl Godwin to give a port at Bretda he had dispossessed on becoming earl back to Fecamp Abbey, in a restoration writ sometime after 1028.  Godwin would come back to raid the port three times while in exile in 1051 and 1052 and then violently take all of the great port at Rameslege from the clerics until 1066.

The Huscarls were exempt from Heregeld assessments on their own lands, which greatly increased the oppression of others over time as property ownership concentrated in the Huscarls.  Fewer and fewer freemen had to meet higher and higher Heregeld assessments.  No wonder the English hated that tax!  King Edward repealed the Heregeld in 1051, but Godwin and the other earls reinstated it the next year after a successful rebellion forced King Edward into virtual retirement, powerless, within Westminster. As the Lithsmen were disbanded it is not clear if King Edward ever collected taxes from his powerful and troublesome earls in the later years of his reign.

Whether King Cnut was ever able to curb his powerful earls from raiding, looting and dispossessing the weak and vulnerable isn't really very clear.  By 1066 the children of Earl Godwin, four of whom became earls and one of whom became queen, owned over 2/3 of all land in England that wasn't owned by the church in Domesday Book.  Earl Harold Godwinson, later King Harold, looted and dispossessed at least two bishoprics when the bishops died: first Helmham in the first earldom he held in Essex, then Wells in the second earldom he inherited from his dad in Wessex.  Elder brother Sweyn Godwinson looted the abbey at Leominster and took the abbess as captive to seize her estates for ransom.  Younger brother Tostig also raided churches and abbeys when he became earl of Northumbria, prompting a revolt by the proud Angles who had never been looted after the 1016 conquest until Tostig arrived. 

Today the government still lets the rich and powerful exempt themselves from paying taxes so that the burdens fall more heavily on the poor and hard-working.  Today the government still looks the other way when powerful corporations loot and pillage, although they drew the line at the predatory antics of RBS - at least for a while.  Today the government can still force the sale of your goods and home to meet a defaulted tax debt.  That's bad, but not as bad as if they forced you, your wife and your children to be sold into slavery and shipped east.

Monday, 8 April 2019

What The Heliand tells us about 9th century warrior society and early Christianity

I am reading The Heliand, a 9th century retelling of the Christian gospels that takes vast liberties with the 4th century texts selectively approved by the Emperor Constantine as the Bible (Translation and Commentary by G. Ronald Murphy, OUP, 1992).

The changes which had to be made to attract Germanic chieftains and warriors to the faith of Rome 500 years later tell us quite a bit about the society of the day.

These four [Matthew, Mark, Luke and John] were to write it down with their own fingers; there were to compose, sing and proclaim what they had seen and heard of Christ's powerful strength - all the many wonderful things, in word and deed, that the mighty Chieftain Himself said, taught, an accomplished among human beings - and also all the things which the Ruler spoke from the beginning, when He, by His own power, first made the world and formed the whole universe with one word.

First, the power of God comes from the word of God - 'God's spell' or gospel.  Holy magic comes from divine incantation, and all of the universe is formed from God's words.

Rumuburg or Rome is made the centre of the imperial warrior-religion that would follow Christ by God's will, even though Christ was to be born among his 'warrior-companions' in Israel.  Christ was born under the authority of a Roman emperor and his power and authority would transfer to Rome and Roman emperors and popes thereafter.

Geld, the Germanic word for worth or tribute payment, is used for worship - quite literally 'worth-ship' - which makes sense at a time when all sins could be redeemed for payment to ensure divine favour after death.  An offering of geld measured your devotion and your worth to an earthly king as taxes and geld also measured your heavenly worth to God's church.  Ritual observance mattered too, but in a pinch gold and silver would do just fine.

Unflinching loyalty to a chieftain, especially in battle, is the highest virtue, as is loyalty to God.  Loyalty to a chieftain, whether the divine Christ or a more earthly king, measured worthiness as a warrior-companion of Jesus.  Remember that at this time all Kings were consecrated as the instruments of God's will on earth, and within a century Christian warriors would go on crusade against heretics and tyrants as God's enemies.

When Zachary, made a nobleman-priest in the Heliand, is approached to confirm the name of the infant delivered to his aged wife he is given a beech stave to incise the name on, uuritan gives us the English word writing.  The power of the inscribed name John confirms the infant John's power as an evangelist and restores Zachary's speech.

Joseph and Mary are from noble families and Joseph is a warrior chieftain among the Nazarenes as a humble carpenter just wouldn't do.  In 9th century Germanic society only warriors were law-worthy and owed the protection of their chieftains for their service.  The Roman Church had likewise adapted to a very mercantile sort of evangelism.  Rome wanted protection from Goths and Sarcens, trade, gold and silver for its church, so it targeted chieftains and warriors and mercantile elites as converts.  The weak and poor were of no interest then or for centuries afterwards.

Just as 'clear-thinking' loyalty is the highest virtue of men, Mary is depicted as 'clear-thinking' and trusting when informed she is to bear Christ by the Holy Spirit.  "Let it be done unto me according to your words, whatever my Lord wills - nor is my mind in doubt, neither in word nor in deed.   And so I have heard it told that the woman very gladly received the message of God with an easy mind, with good faith and with transparent loyalty.  The Holy Spirit became the baby in her womb."  The Trinity has always been a controversial doctrine, but in the Heliand the Holy Spirit morphs into the embryonic Jesus Christ.

The census in the Heliand requires warriors to return to the hill-fort burgs of the clan where they were born.  (This makes no less sense than the Biblical version.   If Mary and Joseph were both descended from King David, then so were all their families, and they would have travelled in a massive family party to Jerusalem.) Virtually all mercantile and maritime tribes of the north lived in secure hill-fort cantons and practiced fostering of their young, sending boys away at age 7 or so to be fostered to adulthood elsewhere, negotiating fostering as carefully as marriages.  Fostering promoted like-minded fellowship, education, alliances, trade networks, suitable marriages, survival from local attacks, and ensured young were raised to be multi-lingual, productive and disciplined - rather like upper classes sending their young to public boarding schools at age 7 now.  A Celtic audience would understand that warriors were being told to return to census counts in their birth burgs.  In that sense, it makes more sense than the biblical version.

The birth in a stable story is omitted.  No divine warrior of God could begin life so low.  The birth is announced by God's angel as being at Bethlemhemburg, within the walls, as befits a warrior chieftain, and the magic of Christ's birth is confirmed by the heavenly angels' songs:  "They then began to sing a holy song as they wended their way through the clouds towards the meadows of heaven."

Where the Roman bible has shepherds and sheep, the Heliand has Christ's birth witnessed by horse grooms guarding horses.  Among the warrior class of the 9th century any contact with chattel animals   belonged to the class of slaves or serfs that worked the land and tended the herds.  Only horses were noble and served the warrior class.

We'll stop there.  By now you get the point.

Christianity has always reinvented itself to adapt to local tastes and biases.  Because we are familiar with the bible story, the Heliand provides valuable contrasts and inconsistencies that illuminate the 9th century warriors it was written to entertain and convert.

Friday, 7 December 2018

British Library Exhibition of Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms

I gave myself a full day out in London yesterday.  After a panel retrospective on 2018 at the RSA I ventured to the British Library for the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition.  I was irritated by the exhibit narrative from the first display, and remembered why I had found academic history so frustrating when doing my MA at King's College London.  The narrative provided with displays regurgitated so much that is just plain wrong when better narrative would be possible and more interesting. 

The very first panel informs the reader that the Angles, Jutes and Saxons emigrated to Britain from the 5th century.  It mentions no indigenous peoples living in Britain before their arrival - no Britons, no Romans, no Celts, Picts or Scots.  It ignores how the newcomers rose to power and seized imperium.  The newcomers just magically come over and suddenly we have Anglo-Saxon England.  As far as we are told there was never any political organisation, no kingdoms, writing nor religion before these emigrations.  Absolute nonsense.  There had been civilisation and kingdoms in Britain from several centuries before the arrival of Caesar, and these kingdoms had laws and religious texts written in Greek and Latin.  They organised, collaborated, fought and shaped Britain long before the 5th and 6th centuries, and should at least merit a mention as setting a context for the newcomers.

The next exhibit was worse.  The big panel says Saint Augustine brought Christian conversion to Britain when he came to the court of King Aethelberht of Kent.  Of course there were Christians in Britain from the earliest apostles, some of whom arrived in Britain before Peter reached Rome.  Gildas and Bede may decry these early bishops and clerics as misguided in clinging to Greek teachings and Greek texts, but they were certainly Christians.  British bishops attended the councils of Arles and Nicea convened by Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor.  British bishops brought the tenets of the emerging Universal Church back to Britain and Eire and spread them widely along the coasts, if less so into hinterlands.  For that matter King Aethelberht of Kent was raised Christian in the court of King Cheribert of Neustria and was Christian when he married Queen Bertha there.  It was his Christian father-m-law and Nuestrian mercenaries who put him on the throne of Kent.  His Christian father-in-law sent secular clerics, including a bishop, into Kent with the young king and Bertha to exploit his new sub-realm.  In correspondence Pope Gregory writes to Queen Bertha and recognises her as the moving spirit in Christianising Britain.  Being accurate would recognise that Saint Augustine's achievement as an apostolic envoy of the pope was to subordinate the British church to the authority of Roman popes and supress British Hellenic Christianity in favour of Roman orthodoxy.  The fact that we don't have surviving Greek texts doesn't mean they didn't exist, but that they were destroyed wherever they were found.

The exhibits themselves were quite lovely, although again I despaired at the grim dark charcoal walls of the exhibition space.  I was familiar with almost all the manuscripts on display from coursework on the MA, having used many of them as references for my own researches.  The most exciting text for me was the Will of Aethelstan, one of the six older half-Danish sons of King Aethelred.  The 1012 will leaves the sword of King Offa to his brother Edmund Ironsides, later king of London, and the estate at Comtune in Sussex to Godwine Wulfnothsson, later Earl Godwin of Wessex and father of King Harold.  Aethelstan's step-mother Queen Emma and half-siblings Edward, Alfred and Goda are entirely omitted.  The display tag mentions the sword of King Offa, but not that it was given to King Edmund.  It ignores Godwin and others entirely.  The will to me has always held special magic as suggesting so much of the turmoil that would follow between Danes and Saxons and Normans, so I regretted the commentary was so minimal.

The most intriguing artefact was an elaborately carved impress seal for Godwine and Godgytha, with a representation of the couple carved into the handle.  It is possible this was the seal of Earl Godwin, though it says ministri rather than dux on the seal.  Godwin's earliest office after King Cnut was crowned in 1016 was likely as his reeve collecting Danegeld and Heregeld with the newly formed Huscarls.  Being the king's reeve would merit the style ministri.  The commentary tag translated ministri as thegn, but that is inaccurate.  Thegns were demoted by King Cnut as subordinate to earls, with only Huscarls sworn as direct servants of the king.  Godgytha on the seal's obverse could be Godwin's wife, Gytha Thorkellsdottir.  As daughter of Thorkell the Tall, the most glorious of all Vikings, the hero of the Battle of Assendun, and the military mentor of King Cnut, Gytha would be among the most powerful women in Danish-ruled England.  Her sons Swein, Harold, Tostig, and Gyrth all became earls, with Harold becoming king in 1066, and her daughter Gytha became Queen Edith to Edward the Confessor.  Gytha certainly handled business affairs for Earl Godwin, marketing the slaves his ships brought to Winchester back to her native Denmark, and hosting trade delegations from Eire, Normandy, Flanders and Denmark in her home in Winchester.

Seal-matrix of Godwine and Godgytha: British Museum, BEP 1881, 0404.1

I wondered contemplating the elegant couple on the seal whether it was a custom for Danish women to take the prenom of their husbands on marriage.  If so, Gytha Thorkellsdottir would become Godgytha on marriage to Godwin about 1021, and Gytha Godwinsdottir would become Eadgytha - Anglicised much later as Queen Edith - on marriage to King Eadward the Confessor in 1045.  It was just an idea, but I'd be grateful to hear from anyone with better knowledge of 11th century Danish naming customs for women.

Despite the irritating nonsense of a few display notes, the exhibition is a marvellous compilation of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts and artefacts and well worth a visit if you're in London.  The exhibit closes 19th February 2019.

Afterwards I walked down through misty streets to the West End and Covent Garden, and then to Leicester Square to join T at the National Portrait Gallery.  By serendipity we happened on the crowd convening in Trafalgar Square for the lighting of the Norwegian fir Christmas Tree given each year by the city of Oslo in gratitude for British support during World War II.  We sang carols and ooooohhhed with the rest of the crowd when the lights were lit on the big tree.  Continuing our walk we carried on through Pall Mall to Victoria and stopped by friends' door to barge in for drinks and take them to curry.  It was about as nice a start to the holiday season in London as anyone could wish.

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Guillaume and William, Guest and West, guile and wile: The vagaries of language

I have been thinking about the vagaries of language today, realising that the certainties of today melt as we trace words back through the very fluid languages of the past.  It started with the wonderful graphic below appearing in my Twitter feed:
It graphically displayed what I had only intellectually grasped before: that languages are transmitted and mutate, but retain commonalities through transmission.  Phoenician gave rise to Greek, and Greek gave rise to both Latin and Norse Runes via Etruscan. 

Why does this matter?  Because there was no right way to spell things when few things were written down, and mostly then by foreign clerics.  In the Carmen the West in Westminster is written as Guest, because to the Franks Gu represented a W sound.  William was Guillaume.  Wile was guile.  It goes on.  There was no W in Latin.  Anglo-Saxon uses 'uu' and then W.  Lundenuuic became Londonwick.

Seeing the commonality helps understand the differences.  And it really all goes back to the Phoenicians who settled and exploited Britannia as the Cassiterides - tin islands - for centuries before Julius Caesar arrived on these shores.

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

The 1066 Surrender of London was at Westminster, not Berkhamsted

I have been thinking much of Berkhamsted, having presented last month to the Military History wing of the Dacorum U3A.  It was a full house, which was very encouraging as I was debuting a new lecture on the 1066 Siege and Surrender of London, and also launching the full colour and larger format new book: Carmen Widonis – The First History of the Norman Conquest.  The topographic maps look fantastic in colour!

Folks in that part of the world like to think that the surrender of London and the northern earls took place at Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire in 1066.  This sad confusion came about because of careless association of an entry in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Manuscript D, which says King William came to Beorhhamstede where London surrendered.  Beorh means noble or grand, ham means home, and stede means settlement, so together they mean ‘noble home settlement’.  In 1066 the only royal palace settlement for King Edward the Confessor was near Westminster, where he had built a grand Gallic palace next to the refounded  and papally privileged Abbey of St Peter. Both buildings were constructed on the model across the Channel at Fecamp in Normandy, where the abbey was next to the ducal palace during Edward's youthful residence there.  Edward also took some inspiration from other Gallic abbeys and courts he visited during his 28 years of living in Gaul in exile. 

King Edward modelled his royal lifestyle on Gallic comforts and his royal administration on Gallic methods.  The palace had apartments for King Edward's retainers, mostly Gauls and Franks he had recruited to his service from abroad.  The Abbey had a library, archive, treasury and school for royal administration.  The clerics too were mostly Norman, Gallic or Frankish.  He left his young cousin the perfect set up for taking command of England's royal administration.

English historians don't like being reminded that King Edward was far more Gallic than Anglo-Saxon, and that he had reason to love Duke William better than the Anglo-Danish earls that surrounded him in England.  They conveniently forget that Edward, as senior royal at the Norman court, was a foster-father to Duke William from the death of his cousin Duke Robert the Magnificent in 1035 until his departure for England in 1041.  William of Poitiers styles King Edward as dominus or lord or master to the young duke, perhaps indicating that Edward had help teach the young duke such arts of royal administration as he himself had acquired.

The Carmen says that King William settled at ‘a royal palace of surpassing beauty’ at line 666 and that the rebels and Londoners went there ‘to the palace’ to surrender at line 743.  Manuscript E of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle confirms that the place of surrender is Westmynstre, but that didn’t settle the matter for some Victorian historians.

Edward Augustus Freeman is justly famed for his mammoth effort in compiling The History of the Norman Conquest of England from 1867 to 1879, but Freeman was a man of his time and very carefree about making assumptions that suited his personal biases.  He was a racist, misogynist, imperialist, Protestant bigot, and that comes through in his work.   My own view is that everything he wrote should be reinterrogated by modern historians. Freeman despised Scots, Irish, Welsh, and Cornish equally.  All Danes were little better than pagan thugs.  The French were, of course, beneath contempt and damned to perdition by their Catholicism.  No wonder Freeman was so popular with English historians and schoolteachers for generations and remains one of their favourite authorities!  

Freeman’s careless speculation with geography is particularly irritating to me.  He got so much wrong by being ignorant of ancient place names and equating whatever name he came across with its 19thcentury English homonym.  He ignored the obvious fact that successive invasions of Romans, Saxons, Frisians, Angles, Danes and Normans all had given different names for the same places.   For Freeman Peunessellum becomes Pevensey, despite Pevensey being founded in the 14thcentury by a charter that says the old place was abandoned due to siltation of the port.  Hastinge portus becomes Hastings, despite there never being a town there before the conquest and never a port there at all, and the Elizabethan Richard Camden saying the old Hastings was ‘swallowed up by the sea’.  For Freeman the surrender of London in December of 1066 at beorhhamstede must be Berkhamsted, not the ‘royal palace settlement’ at Westminster where King Edward had just built a magnificent new palace to Gallic standards of comfort so convenient to besieged London.  

Obviously, Berkhamsted likes thinking the surrender of London and the northern earls happened in their neck of the woods as a local claim to fame.  In 2016 a bronze bust of William the Conqueror was unveiled to mark the 950th anniversary of the conquest and London's surrender.  Freeman would be pleased.

Recorded as Berchehamstede in Domeday Book, ‘birchtree home settlement’, the town was sited on a hillside above a navigable watercourse northeast of London.  Styled as a Burbio, indicating early establishment of an Anglo-Saxon market, it was likely a convenient place to trade for supplying London, which could be reached from there by navigation.  This is suggested by 52 burgesses and £4 thelony recorded in Domesday. 

However pleasant as a market town, Berkhamsted was far too remote for a sensible siege camp, being 26 miles distant. 26 miles was two days march or a long horse ride in 1066.  Siege warfare requires being close by.  We know King William was not shy of battle, and he had vast experience leading sieges against walled towns from his many campaigns in Gaul. He wouldn't hide out in Hertfordshire while his army surrounded London's walls.  He would have been leading the siege during each day, and retiring to the comforts of his foster-father's royal palace every night.

Moreover, Berkamsted Castle was built after the Conquest, not before.  The only reason it is dated as 11thcentury now is Freeman’s specious attribution of the surrender there.  No archaeological evidence exists of pre-conquest fortification.   

Reading the Law of Wihtred reinforced my confidence that Beorhhamstede was an Anglo-Saxon term for a royal estate.  A council of Witans gathered at Berghamstyde in 695 according to the preamble to the Laws.  Since King Wihtred was king only of Kent, it makes sense that Berghamstyde is a royal estate in Kent.  The king of Kent wouldn't travel to remote Hertfordshire to enact his laws in 695, and neither would a conquering King of England when besieging London in 1066.

So where was the royal palace in 1066?  Probably pretty much where it is today.  What is now Buckingham Palace was recorded in Domesday Book as the Manor of Ebury, belonging to King Edward and Queen Edith in 1066 and Geoffrey de Magnaville, port reeve of London, in 1086.  It seems King William gave the port reeve the palace as a further boon after the port reeve delivered London to him in surrender in 1066.  By 1086 the king had a magnificent new castle to move to next to the city, now the Tower of London. Geoffrey left the land at Westminster to the Abbey of Saint Peter, and after the dissolution of the abbeys the land fell into private ownership.  What is now Buckingham Palace was reacquired as a royal residence by King George III in 1761.

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Google is 20: Talk about making history!

20 years ago yesterday two guys in garage decided to improve the way we find information on the internet and Google was born.  I remember exactly where I was when I first heard the word Google.  It was used as a verb in a geeky seminar I attended in 2000 on XML (extensible mark-up language) data interchange, as in, "So I googled it." 

I made a note in the margin of a page to look up 'google' on Alta Vista.  I never used Alta Vista again.  I never again wrote Google without capitalisation.

Google has globally democratised information (Search), navigation (Maps), communications (gmail and Blogger), translation (Translate), and intellectual and social interaction (YouTube) in ways we could not then imagine.  To a large extent, Google drove global adoption of the internet as an essential requirement for 21st century work, life, love, and education.

I recognise that I am blessed by Google as an historian.  Difficult and rarely used Latin words and phrases come to life in every text in their original context where they were published when I Google them.  Google confirmed to me that Clangendoque at line 100 of the Carmen was both a unique usage and a Googlewhack (unique occurrence with only one result anywhere on the internet) when I first searched for it.  Google confirmed my suspicion that sinu placido meant a calm basin of the sea to Pliny the Elder, rather than a pleasant strand of beach, as I had initially translated it. 

Over the past five years of Carmen translation and research I've made thousands of Google searches, viewed hundreds of topographic maps, written hundreds of emails, published tens of this blog, tested phrases again and again in Translate (though it's no where near as good as William Whitaker's WORDS), and enjoyed the shared music, lessons and ideas on YouTube.

I don't suppose Larry Page and Sergey Brin follow this blog.  But then we never really know if our prayers are heard either.  Sometimes it is enough to be grateful.  Being grateful is an act of generosity not just to the object of your gratitude but to yourself, reminding yourself that others are engaged with you on the journey of discovery and help you each and every day.  So yeah, Google, thanks.

Saturday, 25 August 2018

'Haran Apuldran' means 'Anchorage at Appledore'. 'Hoary Apple Tree' is more Victorian nonsense.

Victorians were racist, sexist, religionist, imperialist fantasists, with limited grasp of ancient geography, language, and navigation.  In their rush to re-write English history as leading to the divine right of Germanic peoples, and especially the English, to subjugate and exploit the rest of humanity, Victorians made up a lot of stuff that doesn't hold up to scrutiny.  Most of what they made up is wrong, no matter how many times it got repeated in modern history books and text books.  Think modern American fundamentalists with Adam and Eve riding dinosaurs and Jesus sporting an assault rifle in their school books, and you get some idea of how Victorians distorted history.

Today's example is "hoary apple tree", where King Harold supposedly mustered the English army on the way to Hastings to meet Duke William of Normandy in 1066.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, manuscript D, for 1066 says:  he gaderade þa mycelne here, com him togenes æt þære haran apuldran.
Haran apuldran was translated romantically in 1861 as ‘hoary apple tree’.  Victorians even speculated on the variety of apple from those then growing around Battle Abbey.  Haran Apuldran was better translated long before in 1731 as ‘estuary at Appledore’, which is much more likely for the line of march from London and makes better sense for coastal navigation. 

In medieval navigation harena or arena meant a sandy anchorage or estuarine basin suitable for grounding the round-bottomed coastal raiding and trading vessels, carinas, named as the vessels of the English at line 319 of the Carmen Widonis.  Carinas were very much like Dutch Knorrs, and the names derive from the same ancient Frisian word. 

Per mare • per terram praelia magna parat • In mare quingentas fertur misisse carinas • [Carmen Widonis 318-19]
It is said he has sent five hundred ships to sea so as to hinder our course of return.

Both harena and arena are used hundreds of times to mean safe, sandy, tidal anchorage in the 12th century navigation guide De Viis Maris - the Ways of the Sea.  There should be no further confusion about translating haran as anchorage.

Early medieval Appledore was a small peninsula below the Roman road at the edge of the great tidal basin of the Rye Camber.  A Roman road led across tidal causeways at Tenterden, Northiam and Brede to the cape of Hastingas.  Appledore was an ideal place for muster of local land armies marching from Wessex and Mercia and sea-borne warriors being carried by ships around the coasts from the estuaries of the north, Essex and London.  Travel by coastal transport was faster, safer, and allowed much more efficient carriage of men and materiel.  King Harold, his brothers and his father always travelled by ship whenever possible, as Anglo-Danish sea-lords should do. 

At the time, all of the vast Rye Camber was tidal estuary or salt-marsh.  Appledore was on a secure tidal island or promontory extending below the Roman road leading to London.  It had fresh water, and plenty of space to the north for forage for horses.  It was also likely the place referenced, but not named, in The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 893, when Haesten sent a fleet of 250 ships up the Limne – ‘border river’ – from the coastal sea-ford where they destroyed ‘a fort within the fen, whereon sat a few churls’.  A coastal fort requires fresh water and forage for horses, so probably Appledore.

If you're a historian still repeating 'hoary apple tree', stop it.  It's silly and wrong.  Start saying 'anchorage at Appledore'.  That is accurate and sensible and a good translation of haran apuldran.

The map below shows the English camp in 1066 at Appledore, and illustrates a line of march to the cape of Hastingas using Roman roads, fords and causeways.  All the blue would have been tidal seascape in 1066.