Kingdom of Northumbria

The kingdom of Northumbria originally consisted of the two independent kingdoms of Bernicia and Deira. Bede writes that Ida was the earliest king of Bernicia. In the early seventh century, Ethelfrith expelled the heir to Deira and ruled over both Bernicia and Deira for the first time, forming Northumbria. A few decades later, Oswald expanded the kingdom considerably west and north, covering the south-east portion of modern day Scotland. Oswald re-introduced Christianity to his people and appointed St. Aidan to establish the monastery of Lindisfarne.

After Oswald’s death, Oswiu gained control of Mercia, making him the most powerful king in England. In the 650s, however, Northumbria lost control of Mercia once again. The kingdom was still extremely powerful until it suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the Picts at the Battle of Dun Nechtain in 685.  From this point, the power of Northumbria seemed to gradually decline.

Fast forward two centuries to the Danish invasion of England. In 867, Halfdan Ragnarsson and Ivar the Boneless conquered Northumbria and installed a puppet king, Ecgberht, on the throne. For about 100 years, the kingdom passed between English and Danish rulers until Eadred finally took over after the death of the kingdom’s last independent monarch. Northumbria was now part of the greater English kingdom.

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Anglo-Saxon burial site discovered by modern day soldiers

Soldiers recovering from injuries in Afghanistan are serving as volunteer archaeologists on a project in England known as Operation Nightingale. Led by the Defense Infrastructure Organisation and the Army, the soldiers discovered the remains of an Anglo-Saxon warrior, buried with a spear and a wooden drinking cup overlaid with bronze bands. The site of the dig around Barrow Clump on Salisbury Plain is believed to be an Anglo-Saxon cemetery alongside an ancient burial burrow dating back to 2000 B.C.

Read the full story at The Guardian.

The Huscarls

The huscarls were the household troops of the English king. The traditional meaning of the term in Old Norse meant simply a household servant. The term later evolved to reference the personal bodyguard of the king. It is believed the huscarls were firmly established in England under the reign of Cnut in the early 11th century. This institution of household troops had existed in Scandinavia before this time, and it is thought that Cnut adopted this same practice in his English kingdom. When Edward the Confessor became king three reigns after Cnut, he still kept the huscarls intact and even gave some of them land, though most of them lived and served at the king’s court.

The huscarls equipped themselves with the best arms and armor: a sword, mail-shirt, helmet, shield, spear, and the two-handed war axe. They also rode horses into battle but dismounted to fight, as evidenced at the Battle of Hastings.

Fighting for the king, however, was not the only duty of the huscarls. They also collected taxes, witnessed royal charters, donated lands, and received land grants.

After the Battle of Hastings in 1066, the organization of the huscarls seemingly disappeared. It is thought those huscarls who survived the battle migrated to the European continent and became mercenaries.

Main source:

Regia Anglorum: Who were the Huscarls?

Additional Reading:

Featured medeival historical fiction novel

Crown in the Heather - N Gemini SassonThe Crown in the Heather
by N Gemini Sasson

Paperback: 298 pages
Publisher: Cader Idris Press (June 1, 2010)
ISBN-10: 0982715803

The first novel in the The Bruce Trilogy, The Crown in the Heather is set in the 1290s in Scotland, at the time when the Bruce and Balliol families are vieing for the throne. Some of the historical figures present in the novel include: Robert the Bruce, Edward I (Longshanks), Edward II (Longhsank’s son), Elizabeth de Burgh, and James Douglas.

Rating on Amazon: 4 stars (36 reviews)

Medieval History Term of the Week: Tabard

Tabard
Outer garment made of coarse material worn coat-like by peasantsand ordinary town dwellers; later, c. 1420–50, worn as an open garment by aknight over his armour and displaying his armorial bearings.

*Source: A Dictionary of Medieval Terms & Phrases by Christopher Coredon with Ann Williams

From the prologue of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales:

In a tabard he rood, upon a mere.
Ther was also a Reve and a Millere,
A Somnour and a Pardoner also,
A Maunciple, and myself, ther were namo.
The Millere was a stout carl for the nones,

Review of Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell

Agincourt - Bernard Cornwell - Historical Fiction - Hundred Years War - Medieval History - Middle Ages HistoryOnce again Bernard Cornwell transports the reader to the Hundred Years War with Agincourt. As you can surmise from the title, the novel centers around the Battle of Agincourt, when on October 25 of 1415, a ragged, starved and outnumbered English army of 6,000 men faced off against 30,000 French soldiers. The French were well-rested. They were a seasoned army of knights and men-at-arms. But the one element the French did not have were longbowmen. And the English army had plenty.

The narrative follows the life of one of these longbowmen, Nicholas Hook. Hook is a wanted man in England for a confrontation he has with a rapist-priest, and so he joins Henry V’s army to escape being hanged. The story progresses through two sieges, one at Harfleur and the other at Soissons, and finishes with the ending battle at Agincourt. As always, Cornwell does a brilliant job with his research and describing the battle scenes.

Regarding the characters, most in this novel are pretty forgettable. Cornwell spends a lot of time with Hook of course, since he is the main character, and he does spend more time on the main love interest, Melisande, than in some of his past medieval novels, which is nice. The main antagonists are the rapist-priest, two brothers who harbor a long-standing family feud with Hook’s family, and Melisande’s father. The priest and the brothers have zero redeeming qualities, but Melisande’s father is rounded out a bit by the end. Nick’s closest friends, his longbowmen companions, are secondary and do not play much of role besides throwing in bits of dialogue here and there. Hook’s lord, John of Cornwaille, is a likeable character, and I would have preferred to see more of him.

Overall, for pure historical reference and vivid, epic battles, this novel is an enjoyable read. If you prefer stronger characters, I would recommend some of Cornwell’s other novels like his Saxon series, his Arthurian saga, or even the Grail Quest series.

My rating: 4 stars.