Please welcome my guest poster for today here on Paula’s People. John is a member of our facebook group Historical Writers Forum and I’ve invited him along to talk about his book on the birth of that beautiful British Province Kernow!
Hello! My name is John, like Paula I am a writer and reenactor although we currently sit in ‘opposing’ societies dedicated to Early Medieval Reenactment. Paula has kindly let me take up some screen space to introduce myself and to also showcase a short extract from my first book, The Western Kingdom – The Birth of Cornwall. The Western Kingdom is an examination of Cornwall and the far SW of Britain during the Early Medieval period. That is, roughly between 400 and 1100 CE. For all of Britain this was a time of immense change and upheaval, but also the solidifying of national identities that we would recognise today – The English, The Scottish, The Welsh and, though often forgotten, the Cornish.
Not only does Cornwall emerge as both a political and personal identity in this period, the actions of the Cornish allow this identity to survive despite coming under the political control of Wessex. How they managed that, when so many Brythonic entities were utterly eclipsed, is a fascinating story. Below is a short extract from The Western Kingdom, discussing the exploits of King Egbert and how Cornwall came to be defined both by its people and, potentially, by the modern borders for the first time.
“In 813 the Chronicle records that he is on the offensive in one of the most infamous, for Cornwall certainly, passages in the entire recording: ‘King Egbert spread devastation in Cornwall from east to west.’ This is frequently interpreted as a campaign that took the entirety of Cornwall into his dominion, or at least it suffered from his campaign [Kirby, 1992]; however, this is difficult to square with the longer-running conflicts we’ve seen over the preceding century. Additionally, if Wessex is able to so easily dominate the entirety of Cornwall, then we would expect the conflict to end here and potentially Cornwall’s unique identity to more or less vanish, in the way that Devon’s Brythonic origins are now only vaguely remembered. Obviously neither of these things occur. Of course, even the Chronicle doesn’t actually state he conquered the region, only that he went raiding or harrying: ‘spreading devastation’. As such, it seems necessary to seek out alternative explanations. The most obvious interpretation, and in this case the most likely to be correct, if we start from a position of conflict in mid-to-west Devon (as highlighted earlier), is that Ecgberht finalised the conquest of Devon around this time, pushing from the region around Exeter and Crediton towards the Tamar or north towards Launceston. This may, in this case, be the first time that Cornwall corresponds to its historic boundaries, tying its longer-standing identity into the region that modern audiences will be most familiar with. Between this and the early eighth-century identification of the Cornish as a separate people, it is not entirely without merit to suggest that Cornwall is actually the oldest of the nations that make up the United Kingdom. While questions around Cornish nationalism are fraught with both emotional and political stakes, it is certainly true that the Cornish as a people originate from outside the English state, and in this regard have as much claim to a national identity as the Welsh or Scots. The counter-argument to this, that Cornwall was absorbed by the English state, could also be made about those two nations, albeit on very different timelines. Certainly in the early ninth century Cornwall is being referred to, by its own people, by a name we would recognise (Cerniu) while the concept of a singular English state is still not fully formed. Even at the height of his power, Ecgberht is not ‘King of the English’ – he is instead still King of Wessex, extracting tribute and acquiescence from those beneath him. The same is true of Wales, where the many small kingdoms will not start formulating a singular shared identity – that of the ‘folk’ or Cymru – until the tenth century at the earliest. Returning to Ecgberht and his exploits in Cornwall, the idea of a whole sale conquest is undercut in 825 when, in the same entry describing his victory at Ellandun, a fight is recorded between the men of Devon and the Cornish at Gafulford. Gafulford was at one time thought to be Camelford in Cornwall; however, this is too far west to be taken seriously and for the most part seems to have been arrived at without considerable supporting evidence. More recent works, such as Higham , have instead looked towards Galford on the northern section of the border between Devon and Cornwall, which seems to have the much stronger claim based on its location along the traditional border and the obvious place-name evolution.
Subsequent to the publication of The Western Kingdom I happened across another near-contemporary source (as is always the way!) which may have an interesting insight to offer regarding this clash at Gafulford. Inside the Codex Oxoniensis Posterior, a collection of Early Medieval manuscripts; many of which are Cornish in origin, is a Latin teaching text known as ‘De Raris Fabulis’ or ‘On Uncommon Tales’. In and amongst various short lines of text to help new monks learn Latin is the following: “…there had been a great battle between the king of the Britons and the king of the English, and God gave victory to the Britons because they are humble as well as poor, and they trusted in God and confessed and received the body of Christ before they entered the skirmish or conflict. The English, however, are proud, and because of their pride God humbled them, for God did as it was said, ‘God opposes the proud but he gives mercy or victory to the humble’. A great combat (that is, hair) was ventured, and many of the English were struck down, but few of the Britons” – De Raris Fabulis The dating of the text in the 9th or perhaps early 10th Century puts the tantalising possibility forward that this lengthy, and somewhat gloating, description of a victory recalls the conflict between Cornwall and Wessex in the 9th Century and provides, perhaps, support for the Cornish victory. Gafulford wouldn’t be the last time that Wessex and Cornwall clashed, that would come later in 838 at Hingston Down. This is another battle that is usually sited much too far West, although discussing the many reasons why would require another blog post! Suffice to say the more likely location, in the Western fringes of Dartmoor, would see the fighting end in Devon and thus prove crucial in the ongoing preservation of the Cornish identity and, at least into the late 9th century, a Cornish monarch. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this window into Early Medieval Cornwall, if you’d like to learn more I of course encourage you to seek out The Western Kingdom at a bookshop near you!
John Fletcher is a local historian, based in the far SouthWest of Britain. He has also been an Early Medieval reenactor for sixteen years, with much of that being focused on recreating life in 8th-11th century Cornwall and Devon. He researches and gives talks on this period and the emergence of the Cornish state.
He has a Bsc in Environmental Sciences and focussed his dissertation on how climate change impacted Early Medieval settlement on Dartmoor.
So the blog hoppers from the Historical Writers Forum have come together this December joined by the spirit of the Icelandic tradition of giving books away. So now its my turn and here is a little about me and my books.
You can see the past and future blog posts if you follow this link
I am Paula Lofting and by day I am a psyche nurse and in my spare time I like to write and blog about a particular century that totally fascinates and intrigues me. I love all things historical but my period of interest is the eleventh century, in particular the epoch that saw the tide turn for the early pre-Norman Conquest English. I am also a re-enactor of what is notably referred to the Dark Ages which although a delightful hobby, I take as seriously as I can! My one biggest insistence that I carry into my books and writings is that I aim to be as accurate as I possibly can both in facts and the world in which my characters inhabit and whilst I make it my mission to ensure the narrative of the period is as factual as possible, I want my readers to feel as immersed in eleventh century England as they can be from a thousand years away.
Some years ago, but later in my life, I decided, at a time when I had gone through a lot of difficulties, that I could sit back on my laurels and wallow in my misery, or I could pick myself up and make a life for myself that was far less ordinary. I would not wait for fortune to find me, I would make of my life what I could and I went to college, then to university to study mental health nursing, and it was at this time that I rekindled my love of reading and writing, which had always been my biggest love.
To cut a long story short, and not to be boring you with drawn out details, I became inspired by a re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings and two books. One was written by Ms Helen Hollick called Harold the King, the other was by famous historian, David Howarth. Hollick’s book gave ne the impetus to write about this period, though not solely about Harold Godwinson, but more focussed of the period as a whole and through the eyes of a semi-fictional character named Wulfhere for whom I have created a narrative of what might have happened to a family caught up in the turmoil of the times. The idea was for the reader to get to know them, invest themselves in them emotionally and then hit them with the barbaric conquest that comes to tear their lives apart so they can experience the devastation of what happened to the English people after the invasion.
And so the first book, Sons of the Wolf, was first published with the help of Silverwoods Assisted publishers in 2012, and then I decided I wanted to go it on my own and revised the cover and the contents using my own imprint, Longship Publishing, in 2016 and that was when I published the second book in the series which has since recently been also been revised and streamlined to a less drawn out tome. I did this without changing the structure of the book I might add, The Wolf Banner is still, and will always remain, the same story.
A bit about Sons of the Wolf (book 1) – which is also the name of the series.
The story begins in 1054 as Wulfhere a king’s thegn, ambles home from warring in the north with his righthand man, Esegar. King Edward sits on the throne, content to leave the running of his kingdom in the capable hands of Harold Godwinson,the Earl of Wessex, whilst he enjoys more pleasurable pursuits such as hunting, story-telling, music, and praying. When Wulfhere’s daughter strikes up an illicit love affair with Edgar, the son of her father’s arch enemy, Helghi, it rekindles an old bloodfeud that threatens to spill over the county. In order to dispel the feud, the Earl of Wessex, orders that Wulfhere’s daughter, Freyda and her lover, Edgar, be betrothed to bring peace between the two families. But Wulfhere, although he reluctantly agrees, fears that Freyda will suffer at the hands of his enemy and has to find away to extricate himself from the bargain without compromising his honour and loyalty to his Lord Harold.
And so, Wulfhere has to navigate the machinations and intrigues of the court and the hell of the battlefield as well as look out for the enemy at home.
Here is an excerpt from Sons of the Wolf
Wulfhere is alerted to a fire over at the steading of his enemy Helghi and reluctantly takes his men to help them put it out.
Despite his loss of vigour, Wulfhere saw that Helghi fought like a mad boar for his home that night. Everyone in the village capable of hauling a bucket full of water was there, both young and old. Wulfhere suspected, with humour, that the prospect of having their lord as a house guest was enough to inspire the villagers to do their best to save the hall. Helghi was a surly man at the best of times. At his best, even, he was a cruel drunk with a head full of resentment for anyone and anything. He would not make a pleasant guest.
Wulfhere move towards him nervously. In front of him, flames lit up the early morning sky. He paused with some distance between them. He was unsure about the response his presence would provoke, or from any of the others for that matter. So far, there had been a lot of mixed reactions. Some were stunned to see the men of Horstede there; some silently accepted their presence unquestioningly; a few others asked what had alerted them, but none had made any objections. Most likely all were relieved and too busy with the task in hand to concern themselves with their mysterious arrival.
For a moment he stood almost enthralled, as Helghi fought like a mad bull to save his hall from the fire. He summoned up the nerve to approach. Around him was chaos. Men were yelling as they ran from burning houses, salvaging what they could whilst their women chased the livestock here and there to safety. As Wulfhere edged tentatively closer to his neighbour, he was suddenly aware of a woman screaming, somewhere near to the far end of the hall. It was bloodcurdling; he had heard the like before in Dunsinane.
A dishevelled middle-aged woman, her hair uncovered, ran toward him. She grabbed him desperately. “Come help us, good sir,” she cried and then exclaimed, “Oh Lord, save us! What are you doing here, Lord Wulfhere?”
“I and my men have come to aid you,” he reassured her gently.
“Then help my lady save her child!” the woman gasped.
He followed her as she ran around the side of the hall to where a group of women were restraining a younger woman he knew to be Mildrith, wife of Helghi. She was on her knees in the grass, screaming as her women prevented her from running into the burning hut.
“My baby!” she screeched, her hands clawing her face and hair. Every time she made to break free, they held on to her fast, sobbing and begging her to cease struggling. Looking at the hut, Wulfhere assumed that some embers from the byre, fuelled by the wind, had fallen onto the roof of the building and set it aflame.
“Why did I think it would be safe to leave her in there?” Mildrith was crying. Her shoulder-length hair was matted, her face tear-streaked and dusty. “I should have known that the hut was too close to the hall.”
Wulfhere shook his head and looked at the distraught women. He knew instantly that he had to do something. If he walked away and did nothing, he would never forgive himself for leaving a child to burn. “Get me a blanket or something doused in water,” he shouted at the woman who had brought him there. “Your cloak will do!”
The woman nodded and dashed off to do his bidding. The other women looked at him, their mouths dropped open in surprise as they recognised him. Wulfhere reassured Helghi’s hysterical wife that he would get her baby for her. He grabbed her shoulders, put his face close to hers and spoke earnestly to her. She seemed to look right through him and Wulfhere realised there was great fear for her child. He glanced round at the hut and saw why. The fire had taken hold with a firm grip, and the chances of the building collapsing in on him were ominously high. Just then, the woman returned with the cloak doused in water, and he threw it over his head ready to enter the burning hut. For a moment, he marvelled that only two nights ago, he’d returned home after surviving a bloody battle with the Scots; now, here he was, risking his life to save the child of a man whose hatred for him rivalled any enemy he had ever met on the battlefield.
He said a quick Paternoster, and gazing upwards, added, “I hope you reserve a nice comfortable seat for me up there, oh Lord!” Then he kicked the door of the hut, which came away easily, and entered, gingerly.
The intensity of the heat was overpowering. His eyes streamed and stung with the smoke. He was coughing and spluttering and smoke-blind, fearing he could not go in but when he heard a baby’s whimpering, he knew he could not give up.
Flames burned on the front right side of the hut. This was the area of the little building that was nearest the hall. As he tried his best to focus, he heard the child choking from a corner of the hut somewhere behind the flames. He had to get there quickly, for the flames were growing and if she wasn’t burned to death, the smoke would fill her lungs and kill her. As he peered tentatively from underneath the protection of the cloak, he could just about see her outline; the baby was bouncing in fear, and his heart lurched. She was a little thing of no more than a year or so, same age as his Drusilda. She was pressing herself against the wall. Her piercing wails broke his heart as she cried out frantically in her cot. Within seconds, the flames had moved closer to her. Through the smoke, he tried to see another way round. Above was a loft, the floor of which had just started to burn. He hoped that the timbered base would hold out until he could get to her, for he knew they would be done for if it came down. He thought about running back out for water, but the thatch on the roof in the middle was beginning to burn and he knew there was no time.
“Stay with me, God, and help me,” he prayed. “Lord, if you let me live today, I promise to do more good deeds.” He crossed himself, kissed the little iron crucifix that hung about his neck, and lunged forward.
His outstretched hands felt for her, but he could barely see because of the flames and the smoke. Behind him, he heard something crackle and collapse, and he tried not to think of it. What mattered most at that moment was what was before him. He managed to grab the screaming infant and tucked her under his right arm. With his free hand, he drew the cloak closely over them both. When he turned to get out, he saw that the way was now blocked by the blazing thatched roof which had collapsed into the interior. He felt the heat searing toward them and the smell of burning oak was almost suffocating. The little girl clung to him, smothered against his heart, whimpering with terror. He had to find a way to get her out.
“Paula Lofting transports us back to 1054 England, to a time of political upheavel and warrior kings, religious interference and hero’s. We are introduced to the family of Wulfere, Thegn of Harold Godwineson and father of six. Through this inperfect but loyal subject, we are shown a colourful and vivid picture of life in medieval England, from struggling family life at Horstede to the clash of the political heavyweights of ancient europe. We find wonderfully real characters and family members who feel like our own, to the giants of european history both woven into a rich and vibrant story. With a deep knowledge of the time, Paula leaves no stone unturned, you can feel the atmosphere and smell the changing seasons. Clever sub plots intwined with historical knowledge and a perfectly timed splash of old English help to paint a picture thats trully believable. Having already enjoyed this book twice i find myself drawn to a third adventure whilst writing this, if only to catch up with Wulfere,s twins. i cant wait for the second installment in the series to check what mischief and mayhem Wulfric and Wulfwin will cause, bravo Paula a real gem and the nicest feeling cover i’ve ever held.“
Showing a comprehensive knowledge of pre conquest Britain, Paula Lofting has taken historical fiction to a whole new level, skilfully interweaving factual and well recorded events with the fictitious lives and loves the thegn Wulfhere and his family, neighbours and affinity. Wulfhere and his neighbour Helghi were real people who appeared in the records. Although the lives they led is unknown, Ms Lofting’s accounts of the family relationships – the marital problems, the bickering between the children, the tantrums of a teenager in love – are all so clearly described as to show a true understanding of human nature throughout the years. The book is carried smoothly by vividly realistic conversations and wonderfully picturesque descriptions which add greatly to the sense of time and place. The reader feels inside the book with the characters, living and breathing and seeing what they experienced. Ms Lofting’s knowledge of the history of the era is as comprehensive as her knowledge of the early language, yet never does the reader feel as if they are reading a lecture. I liked the personal nature of the story and its focus on Wulfhere and his family and their struggles amidst war and personal feuds. Wulfhere also takes part in actual historical events whilst in service to the King.The characters feel like real people, with complex human emotions.
The book itself is beautifully presented with a wonderfully designed eye catching cover and helpfully includes pronunciation and place names guides, as well as a glossary of unfamiliar terms, which is very helpful.
Sons of the Wolf is the first in a series of novels about the Norman conquest of England. I enjoyed this book very much and found it a delightful read. The wealth of historical detail keeps it from being a lightweight. I look forward to reading the next in the series!”
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read – and real life beats fiction. Reviewed in the United States on 3 August 2013Verified Purchase
“Set in the 11th century, a decade or so before the battle of Hastings, the Sons of the Wolf tells the story of Wulfhere, thegn of Horstede and his family. That Horstede had a thegn named Wulfhere is established fact as per the Domesday Book (a very nice touch in my opinion), but the author makes it very clear that apart from the name and the location, her Wulfhere is a fictional hero, however involved he is in the actual events of his time.
The novel has a substantial amount of cameo characters, most of them based on real people. Harold Godwinson, Edward the Confessor, Gruffyd of Wales – they all make an appearance in Ms Loftings novel, and in general I think the author does a very good job in breathing life into these long dead people. In particular, Ms Lofting has done an excellent job depicting the Godwinson brothers – and their sister, Queen Edith. The historical context is rich and well-described, and I was particularly impressed by the description of the Battle of Hereford – Ms Lofting succeeds in conveying the grime, the blood, the sheer terror of fighting hand to hand.”
5.0 out of 5 stars Trouble at home and on the battlefieldReviewed in the United States on 11 November 2014Verified Purchase
Sons of the Wolf brings us into the turbulent eleventh century where violence is just a breath away and can come from any direction. Wulfhere, our protagonist and thegn of Harold Godwinson, has recently come back from the Battle of Dunsinane in Scotland when he faces his own battles at home. In a Romeo-and-Juliet-style romance, his daughter Freyda has reawakened a generations-old feud between Wulfhere and his despicable neighbor Helghi. In an attempt to keep the peace, Earl Harold insists that the wayward lovers should marry in order to put the feud to rest. Alas, it is not so easy for Wulfhere and matters go from bad to worse as he watches his family fall apart.
At the same time, we are drawn into the troublesome quarrels between Harold and his siblings, and a new conflict arises with Earl Aelfgar, whose resentment of the Godwinson clan boils over. Aelfgar oversteps himself and is outlawed, which drives him to join forces with Gruffydd ap Llewelyn, King of Wales. Together, these new allies descend on the important border town of Hereford. Once again Wulfhere must fight for Harold, and we see the dreadful battle at Hereford where England’s first attempt at cavalry fighting comes to an inglorious end.
Paula Lofting’s historical narrative is gripping, and she effortlessly pulls the reader into the midst of the action. Her characters are well-defined and compelling, and we come out of the novel with an enhanced understanding of just how destructive a bitter feud can be.
So I hope you will avail yourself of a free download of Sons of the Wolf book 1 I can guarantee that you will be in for a real historical ride! And if you are hooked, I am giving away a paperback edition of The Wolf Banner anywhere in the UK all you have to do is leave a comment here on the blog or on the post on our Facebook Blog hopper’s page
And if you enjoy both books, coming soon, the third in the series is coming soon in the new year!
Today I am hosting the Historical Fiction Writers Summer Blog Hop inwhich we choose a momentous event or epoch in time. October 18th 1016 was a date that stands out because it was the first time and only time we would have a Danish king on the English throne.
England in the early 11th century was one of turmoil. At the turn of 1000 AD, Æthelred the II was on the throne and had been there since 978, coming to power under undesirable circumstances at the age of 12, following the death of his brother Edward who was assassinated. At this time, England had been experiencing a period of peace and prosperity having restored the north under the rule of what was now England. But in the 980’s, the Danes began raiding again.
In 985, Æthelred first married Ælfgifu, daughter of Thored, Ealdorman of York. He ruled over the southern half of the old kingdom of Northumbria. He and Æthelred had several issue of which Edmund was his third son. Its likely Edmund was born somewhere between 988 and 992. Like his brothers, he would have grown up to be educated and trained to be a warrior leader. His older brother, Ecgberht, died in 1005 which made him Æthelred’s second surviving eldest son. The oldest son, Æthelstan, died in 1014, which left a teenage Edmund as the principle heir to the throne.
Somewhere between approximately 995 and 1001, Ælfgifu, who does not appear to have had an official crowning, may have died, or been put aside, paving the way for Æthelred to enter into an alliance with Normandy by marrying Emma of Normandy in 1002. Throughout much of his reign Æthelred was beset by problems with the Danes and having to pay geld to them to make them leave. Despite the hefty payoffs, the Danes continued their incursions into the English kingdom.
By 1013, Sweyn of Denmark was confident enough to make a bid for the English throne and he invaded with a huge army. The English militia were forced to capitulate and Æthelred and his new wife, Emma of Normandy and their young children, sought sanctuary at the court of his wife’s brother, Duke Richard of Normandy.
Records suggest that Edmund and his older brother Æthelstan were close and this is confirmed by Æthelstan’s will (he died in 1014) in which he leaves various items as well as land to his younger brother. (It is interesting to note that a certain Godwin is also mentioned in the will intimating that there was also a relationship of friendship there too, with the man who was to become famous as the Earl of Wessex, father to Harold Godwinson and a brood of robust sons.) The brothers must have felt threatened by their father’s marriage to Emma, especially if, as declared in the Life of Edward the Confessor, England had promised that they would accept any male off-spring of theirs as the heir to the throne before any others. Whether or not this is true, this was never put to the test as Edmund was to become king before the male heirs of Emma were old enough to contest.
Whilst his father was in exile, Edmund and Æthlestan did their best to garner support and managed to gain a friendship with brothers Morcar and Sigferth, two influential thegns in the East Midlands. When Sweyn died, Æthelred was invited back and he returned, promising that he would be a better king to his people as they asked.
On Æthelred’s return, he set about showing he would be true to his word to be a better king and recaptured London from Olaf, one of Cnut’s supporters. Edmund joined his father in the retaking of London, initially showing support for him. Æthelred then launched an expedition to attack the Danes, now led by Sweyn’s son, Cnut, but instead of winning the support of those people whose lands he savaged, Aethelred lost them to Edmund, almost undoing a lot of the good that Edmund and Aethelstan had done. But in any case, Cnut and his supporters were driven out. But he was not gone forever and returned in 1015 and began pillaging England once more.
During this addendum to Æthelred’s reign, Edmund and Æthelred’s relations became further strained when he fell out with his father, who, with encouragement of Eadric Streona, known as the ‘Grasper’ the ealdorman of Mercia, executed Edmund’s friends, Morcar and Sigferth, two influential thegns from the Seven Boroughs in the East Midlands who had previously given their allegiance to the Danes. Here I feel I should mention the hypocrisy of Streona, who had supported Cnut recently himself and only just returned to the fold.
Naturally, Edmund was incensed at these deaths. He had after all, managed to win their support back for his father. Setting himself up as Ealdorman of the East Midlands, he revolted against his father and defied him by rescuing the widow of Sigferth, Ealdgyth. Æthelred had locked her up, hoping to get his hands on her land and property. Edmund married her totally against his father’s will, which did not please him. This rift in the family now completely divided father and son and the marriage strengthened Edmund’s position, for Ealdgyth’s family was one of the strongest in the Midlands.
When Æthelred became sick, it was left to Edmund to fight the Danes and win back England for the English Royal House. Streona went over to Cnut once more, and Edmund went north to meet with Uhtred of Northumbria hoping he would join him in an alliance but Uhtred was intercepted by Cnut and Uhtred gave Cnut his allegiance. Edmund went to join his father in London, failing to gather the support he needed and Cnut had Uhtred killed. Æthelred died in April 1016 and the Witan declared Cnut king but London declared for Edmund and he was crowned in St Paul’s Cathedral. This was when the real fighting started.
Eadric Streona, Edmund’s brother-in-law, gathered a substantial army that he led himself. The ASC stated that he had ‘intended to betray Edmund.’ Streona should have been loyal to Edmund, after all he was married to Edmund’s sister Eadgyth. But Eadric was not a man to keep faith and switched allegiances throughout his career. Eadric ended up in Cnut’s camp once more which meant that Cnut’s already substantial army was now augmented with English militia.
After a hasty coronation, Edmund left London which was being besieged by the Danes in the care of the citizens and went West where the fyrd rallied to him. Battles and skirmishes were fought, two of which were in Penselton in Somerset and Sherston in Wiltshire, the outcomes of which were neither victorious or lost, but ended with the Danes retreating. With this army he returned to London raising the siege that had been resisted by the people of London and then defeated the Danes at Brentwood. This exercise was repeated, with Edmund riding off into Wessex to gather more men, returning to London once more to find it again besieged and raising it once more. Then defeated the retreating army at Otford this time. Edmund pursued Cnut and the Danes into Kent; he had them on the run. It was then that Eadric decided to hedge his bets one more time and met with Edmund at Aylesford, fifteen miles from where Cnut’s army had taken refuge at the Isle of Sheppey. Streona had been Æthelred’s good friend and adviser but he could not even commit himself unconditionally to his beloved king’s son, which showed how much of a cunning swine he was.
Cnut eventually left Sheppey and Edmund went to attack him in Assundun in Essex, on the 18th of October, 1016. The battle was long, drawn out and ferocious on both sides. It is not sure how the battle was conducted, but we can assume that both sides fought on foot in their respective shieldwalls, though there is nothing to say that at least one side might have ridden into battle and cut the other side down in surprise. No one thought to record the battle details back in the day, and all we have from the English ASC was that the cunning swine, “Eadric fled the field, betraying his natural lord and all the people of England.” Thanks, Mr Streona.
The ASC refers to Edmund as acquiring the nomenclature of Ironside through his valour on the battlefield. It is tempting to imagine a powerfully built man, dressed in all the trappings of a warrior-king of the 11th century, swinging his Sword of Offa, riding into battle like a god on a horse. Sadly due to Eadric’s actions, Edmund could not fight on. Having lost much of his army in battle, he left with his life intact and the remnants of his force, wondering what might have happened if Streona had not so wickedly double-crossed him. Although Cnut’s army held the field, there was no total victory for Edmund still held Wessex.
Edmund’s story is tragic. Eadric’s deceit was inevitable, for he had already showed he was in it for himself, and later he was to pay for this ultimate betrayal later in the early days of his leadership Cnut, loathing oathbreakers, turned on him and executed him, having him beheaded. And Streona, who may well have been jealous of Edmund, was to go down in history as a grasping ‘little shit’ (as Jamie Jeffers of The British History Podcast refers to him) *
Edmund, despite the possibility of him being wounded in battle, did not give up. He was not called Ironside for nothing. Unlike his father, who only ever led his men into battle three times, Edmund then rode into the West again to raise another army. Cnut could not understand why Edmund was so determined to fight on and not submit. Surely there was only so many times a man could come back again! Edmund had been relentless in his energy in fighting back, had Cnut on the run for some time. Cnut was battle-weary and wanted to put an end to the fighting and get on with the business of being king (Susan Abernethy).
Edmund and Cnut were eventually to meet up in Athelney where many years ago Edmund’s great ancestor had planned his own latter day D-Day invasion against the Danes. Needless to say, Streona was there to play his part and mediate! That must have stuck in Edmund’s gullet. If I had been Edmund I would have wanted his guts on a platter! (Only in the context of the time of course!)
A peace pact was made and England was once again divided. Cnut would have the Danelaw, Northumbria, Mercia, and East Anglia. Wessex was Edmund’s. It is said that whomever should die first would inherit the other’s kingdom so the two men became ‘brothers’ symbolically.
At this point, both men were in their prime but young by today’s standards at around 26 or 27 years old, having achieved much in their short lifetime. Edmund had a brother, Eadwig, who did not seem to have been a man of note as he does not emerge in any of this as such. Edmund’s wife Ealdgyth had given him a son in 2015 and another child was on its way. He had lost many of his thegns and ealdormen in battle though perhaps he had one loyal subject that we know of, Godwin Wulfnothson, who we know had been in his circle of friends from Æthelstan’s will. I like to think that Godwin had stayed by his side and was still supporting him. As a historical fiction author, we are allowed to make assumptions. However, it was thought that Godwin’s prior loyalty to Edmund was what Cnut admired in him.
Cnut had the bigger territory and was known to be a cunning, though honourable man, who did not like oathbreakers. It is thought that he admired, maybe even loved his adversary, Edmund. It’s sad to think the two men might have been great rulers together. By this time, Cnut’s own three sons by Ælfgifu may have been born. He had Streona and many other influential strong men in his counsel. And the pact that whoever died first would inherit the other’s kingdom was open to abuse. If Cnut, or anyone in his employ wanted to have Edmund murdered, they could make it happen for the right price. And with Streona in Cnut’s camp it’s quite credible.
Sadly, Edmund did die about 5 weeks after Assundun and not long after the meeting between the two men. We don’t know for sure why Edmund died. There are thoughts that Streona had a hand in it and as we can imagine from his treacherous behaviours this is plausible that someone in his pay could have crept in to Edmund’s camp, bribed a guard or two to do the deed. Even Cnut, though seems to have been honourable throughout his reign, was not above murder if the story about Edmund’s sons being sent away to have an accident was to be believed. Most historians however seem to have accepted that Edmund died of festering wounds after Assundun. Even a minor wound could become easily infected and cause fatal blood poisoning in those days. It could have happened suddenly if the infection was systemic. There are of course stories that Edmund was murdered and in not very savoury circumstances, which might or might not be doubtful.
Whatever the cause of Edmund’s untimely death, Streona did, in my view, have a role to play in it. His betrayal seems to have played a huge part in Edmund’s difficulties in beating back Cnut. Edmund’s tireless efforts to wrest England back from the Danes is to be admired and is largely forgotten because heroes like Edmund don’t get lauded in history because ultimately he lost his last battle too early.
Cnut seems to have gone on to be a ‘great’ king, bringing peace to this land for almost twenty years. Unfortunately his sons failed him and the crown was eventually to come back to the House of Wessex through Edmund’s younger brother, Edward, known as the Confessor.
I wonder if Edmund would have been proud of his son Edward the Exile who became a soldier in Europe and perhaps even prouder of his grandson Edgar, who seems to have inherited something of his grandfather’s determination?
Although we don’t know much about Edmund as a person, he was afforded the name Ironside in his time, I believe, and this gives us a glimmer of his character, that he was brave, committed and true to himself and what he believed in. In this current climate where we are looking back at our past and scrutinising every symbol that was ever put up to commemorate our so called heroes, I for one would be willing to put up a statue to this brave, fearless man who did his best to keep the wolves from the door and never gave up till his last days.
Writing for fun when I'm not getting paid, look out for posts on sport & history, probably with a Welsh & medieval twist. Travel writing, reviews of books, movies, food & drink, plus random scribblings all likely to feature