Blog Tour: The Last King: England: The First Viking Age
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By M J Porter
July 14th – September 15th 2020
Please welcome MJ Porter to my blog as part of her blog tour, to talk about an aspect of her research into The Last King. As a writer of pre-Conquest England myself, her post here resonates with me! Imagining the landscape of England in times gone.
Mapping the 870’s
The Last King is set in Mercia in the Ninth Century, one of the ancient kingdoms of England.
One of the particular challenges of writing about Mercia, or any early English period, is trying to reconstruct the physical landscape. Places that could be assumed to be prominent, were simply not, and vice versa. The most obvious of these is that London was not England’s capital at the time. Equally, river courses may have changed, and bridges may have been built in the modern era, although there are a surprising amount of ancient bridges that might surprise you.
While there are many maps of the time period available, they never (in my experience) actually show everything that you want to know. They don’t tell you where the roads went in great detail, or even what the roads looked like. They don’t always make it clear which side of a river was inhabited, and which side wasn’t. The size of the population is unknown, and even more, the size of the Viking forces is impossible to calculate.
In writing the three books to date in the Ninth Century series, I’ve had a bit of an ace up my sleeve. My father is known as the ‘mapman’ and my ‘mapman’ has hundreds, and hundreds of antique maps of England, Scotland and Wales. And so, rather than spending hours pouring over google maps, I’ve spent my time looking at these antique maps, in conjunction with the maps available from historical non-fiction sources.
For the third book in the series, I wanted to write about both Northampton, and Cambridge. I’ve never visited either place, and more, I don’t know what they might have looked like in the past.
So, to my ‘mapman,’ and his 1610 Speed Maps of both of these places. John Speed (1551/2 – 28 July 1629) was an English cartographer and historian and is one of the best-known English mapmakers of that time period. His maps are highly decorative, and they also show little ‘cut outs’ of the county towns. And so, for Northampton, and Cambridge, I had an idea of what those places looked like in the Seventeenth Century. Still, eight hundred years later, but much closer than visiting those sites today and trying to decipher what might have been there long ago.
Yet, even here, there was a piece of information waiting to trip me up, because unlike the Cambridge of today, it’s believed that Cambridge in the 870’s was actually on the opposite side of the river.
Finding the landscape of the historical past is difficult, but I’ve found that using antique maps, rather than more modern ones, can be incredibly helpful, especially when they include images of the landscape (trees and hills)!
M J Porter
I’m an author of fantasy (viking age/dragon themed) and historical fiction (Early English, Vikings and the British Isles as a whole before the Norman Conquest), born in the old Mercian kingdom at some point since AD1066. I write A LOT. You’ve been warned!
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