When Denis Diderot wrote, ‘Poetry wants something enormous, barbarian and savage,’ he was alluding to the infinite possibilities of poetic forms. One of these in a particular is a big ‘un, but has a such natural feel, the ‘Chaunt Royale’ shoudl be seen as the Queen of them all. It’s heyday was in Northern France during the 15th century, with a revival of interest in late Victorian Britain. The form consists of 5 eleven-line staves (mini stanzas), & an ‘envoi’ of five lines to close – a total of 60 lines. I looked at the Chaunt Royale about a decade ago, & found the 11 lines a little too complex for the English artistic temperament; dropping a line from the staves to make them like those wondrous wee 10-lined staves of Keats’ Odes. The results were pleasant, with lots of possibilities for rhyming patters within the 10-lines, including Blank verse, I also noticed that as the poem was divided into 5 parts – like a Shakesperian play – I thought each Chaunt Royale could be as a mini-play, & poured the dramatic muse into its mould.
I would wager a good ninety-nine percent of the world’s poets would not have heard of the Chaunt Royale, which is a shame as it allows the poet to become Shakespeare for a moment – fifty five lines of bombastious dialogue are much easier to pull off than, lets say, composing a Hamlet. My only work with the form was an 8-part ‘Chaunt Royale Grande,’ which told the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie & the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745-46. Here is Scene 6 …
SCENE 6 - Drummossie Moor… it is a rainy morning… The British cannon are pounding the Highland Lines
Cumberland Come see the Pretender in the distance, His rascally & ragged rebel bands, The Irish… & there look! the flag of France At last those fools are fed into our hands! From Lancaster, Carlisle & Falkirk Moor He slipped my net, I thought him rather shrewd, But this, a broken field of boggy moor, All credence lacks, his choice seems rather crude, & should, methinks, have shut up in the town… Now ve princes contest the British crown! Lord Bury Most noble Duke, as I surveyed the moor Close to those blasted pipes of shrieking skirl Above me passed the first shots of the war… & as you hear our answer is aswirl Their lines harangued by wind & hail & sleet With cannonballs theirs is a sorry lot & hastening th’onset of their defeat We rain upon them thick shards of grape shot But wait! what is that roar? at last they charge! Our guns shall seek the measure of their targe!
They watch the battle
Wolfe Sir, now your men in mortal combat meet, All is confusion, noise, concern & heat On the left the thickest of the fighting Barrel’s brave boys on their broadswords biting But of this day the king will never fret Those heathen fall beneath infernal fire Or spitted on an English bayonet & on the right their charge shows no desire Strict discipline & guts rip thro that shield This godless place becomes their killing field
Cumberland Orpheus to my ears! the fleeing shout & come to a decision the matter Tis strange to see the nation’s bravest rout Those boasted broadswords not as they flatter Not since Lord Noll had they such a thrashing Let Lord Ancram pursue them with the horse Hold no quarter, slaughter, sabres slashing & extirpate that race as fighting force Destroy clannism, burn their homes & grain So these wretches shall never rise again!
Wolfe Great tidings sir, when London hears the news The oldest wines shall happily be drunk The Bonnie Prince & all his bonnet blues Into the freezing Moray Firth hath sunk The flower of the highlander lies strewn Upon this ghastly field & down the roads Shall ride many a merciless dragoon All to the weeping streets of Inverness So far we have counted a thousand swords Now raise a cry for Britain & God bless
D’Eguile The crucial battle has been fought The tartan torn & strewn The fleeing rats so easy caught VENGEANCE shall cut the Celtic throat Beneath a weeping moon
What has happened is that modern poetry has detached itself from a tradition going back thousands of years, beyond the Egyptians & even the Sumerians. But like I’ve said before, is it not the right time to, if not banish completely, at least demote Free Verse from its domination of the page, recognizing it only as a mere medium through which we can translate one’s mimesis. Let us instead enrich the poetical sensibilities of both ourselves & that of the entire Zeitgeist. Any old fool can chuck a few words down on a piece of paper in slap-dash fashion, but if you can pull off a half-decent Chaunt Royale, you can consider yourself a ‘proper’ poet. You may still write better in Free Verse, but the fact you have a Chaunt Royale in the bank means wider horizons, & a clearer view of the art form as a fully composite & universal being.
872 AD: Colga mcConnagann abbot of Kynnetty, the best and elegantest Poet in the kingdome, and their cheefest chronicler, died.
The Annals of Clonmacnoise
Of all the poetic forms we moderns have inherited, it is the pretty little fourteen lined sonnet that offers the poet keys to the kingdom, so to speak, for within its myriad possibilities lie the secrets to the esoteric nature of the art. As these lectures progress, I shall reveal these wonderful mysteries one-by-one, but for now let us examine what should be the goal of all prospective sonneteers.
Ever since the Tuscan poets brought the sonnet out of Sicily, there has been a penchant among certain poets to place their sonnets in a sequence. Of these, the English senate has declared that Shakespeare’s collection of 154 sonnets is the finest, thus it is perfectly natural to use this model as our benchmark.
It is clear from a reading of Shakespeare’s sonnets that his sequence is actually a collection of seceral sequences, written over the span of three decades. Published in 1609, we can trace at least one of them to the early 1580s;
Those lips that Love’s own hand did make Breathed forth the sound that said “I hate” To me that languished for her sake. But when she saw my woeful state, Straight in her heart did mercy come, Chiding that tongue that, ever sweet, Was used in giving gentle doom, And taught it thus anew to greet: “I hate” she altered with an end That followed it as gentle day Doth follow night, who like a fiend From heaven to hell is flown away. “I hate” from hate away she threw, And saved my life, saying “not you.”
In 1971, Gurr proposed this sonnet was actually written for Anne Hathaway, noticing a possible pun in ‘hate away’ & hathaway, while ‘and saved my life’ was a phonetic match to ‘Anne saved my life.‘ The editor of Gurr’s essay, FW Bateson, suggets that phonetically, ‘in Stratford in 1582 Hathaway & hate-away would have been a very tolerable pun,’ & Shakespeare really did love his punning. With Shakespeare’s name appearing elsewhere as ‘Shagspere,’ pronunced with a short vowel like the ‘a’ in cat, we can see how the Warwickshire vowel lengths were interchangeable, & how Hathaway could easily have become Hate-away. If Shakespeare is writing this sonnet to Anne, we can see how he had developed a teenage crush, after which he ‘languished for her sake.’ Was this indeed the very ‘woful Ballad / Made to his Mistress’ Eye-brow,’ that Shakespeare alludes to in As You Like It.
Other sonnets in the sequence are written to William Stanley. Leo Daugherty, in his brilliant book, ‘William Shakespeare, Richard Barnfield & the Sixth Earl of Derby’ declared that he had made ‘conclusions of some enormity,’ & actually ascertained the identity of the Handsome Youth;
A few years down the road, & increasingly mindful of Haines’ caution to Buck Milligan that Shakespeare’s sonnets are, ‘the happy huntingground of all minds that have lost their balance,’ I nonetheless came to conclude from the evidence I accumulated that not only was Barnfield’s Ganymede the sixth Earl of Derby, William Stanley, but also that Barnfield’s published poems from 1594 (including over twenty homoerotic love sonnets) were in dialogue with some of Shakespeare’s own homoerotic sonnets to his Fair Youth… we hardly have reason to be very surprised if, after all, Shakespeare’s beloved & revered male addressee might turn out to be William Stanley
If Shakespeare did accompany Stanley, then one of these amorous encounters could have been played out with the Dark Lady of the Sonnets, of whom Aubrey Burl writes; ‘After so many centuries and after so many people have searched the records for her identity, to those seekers she has remained… the mysterious woman of darkness.’ Things can never be so cut & dried as this, however, & a simple read-through of Stanley’s Garland, a ballad describing his travels on the continent during Shakespeare’s ‘lost years,’throws up a natural candidate;
Sir William was taken prisoner, And for his religion condemn’d to die.
A Lady walking under the prison wall, Hearing Sir William so sore lament, Unto the Great Turk she did go, To beg his life was her intent
A Boon, a Boon, thou Emperor, For thou’rt a Lord of great command ; Grant me the life of an Englishman, Therefore against me do not stand,
For I will make him a husband of mine, Whereby Mahomet he may adore ; He’ll carry me into his own country, And safely thither conduct me o’er.
The Lady’s to the Prison gone, Where that Sir William he did lie ; Be of good chear, thou Englishman, I think this day I’ve set thee free ;
If thou wilt yield to marry me, And take me for to be thy bride ; To take me into thy own country, And safely thither to be my Guide.
These events are said tohave taken place in Constantinople , today’s istanbul, & if Leo Daugherty was correct in identifying Stanley as the Handsome Youth of the Sonnets, then it is in the ‘half-year’ or so after he was released from prison that he found himself in the company of a Turkish noble lady who had fallen in love with him. This story contains elements of the ménage a trois between Shakespeare, the Handsome Youth & the Dark Lady, & all that remains is to place Shakespare in Constantinople at the same time, where he would have marveled at the Turkish Lady’s non-Aryan beauty;
In the old age black was not counted fair, Or if it were, it bore not beauty’s name; But now is black beauty’s successive heir, And beauty slandered with a bastard shame: For since each hand hath put on Nature’s power, Fairing the foul with Art’s false borrowed face, Sweet beauty hath no name, no holy bower, But is profaned, if not lives in disgrace. Therefore my mistress’ eyes are raven black, Her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem At such who, not born fair, no beauty lack, Sland’ring creation with a false esteem: Yet so they mourn becoming of their woe, That every tongue says beauty should look so.
The back-story as provided in the Garland is a perfect fit for that found in the sonnets, from which we must presume that a Stanleyan Grand Tour seems not only possible, but probable. Returning to the sequanza, we can then see the Rival Poet archetype found in the sonnets as Richard Barnfield, dating these particular sonnets to the early 1590s. The picture I am painting is of a Sequanza being a collection of sequences, an overall umbrella in which to place the similarily-themed & formed writings of a poet. In the same fashion, following the plan of the Divine Comedy, a Dantean sequanza would consist of 100 cantos, subdivided into three books of 33 cantos & started off with an introductory canto. The Shakespearen sequanza is more of a metaphysical beast, less linear than the Dantean, it works with archetypes, onto whose essence a poet’s particular mood & style may pin his creativity. With Shakespeare, I believe the ‘Handsome Youth’ archetype was used for both William Stanley & Henry Wriothesley, the young Earl of Southampton to whom he dedicated Venus & Adonis. Similarily, when creating my own Shakesperian Sequanza, The Silver Rose – which you can read here – I comblended the love sonnets I had written to various women into a paean to an idealised female figure I named Sally Cinnamon.
(for Elinor Dickie)
My love, as our love is spreading wider than the morning
Together, with waking day, in the wake of night
Let us settle in silent ecstasy
Observers of cities below Watching
From this high advantage Developing
On heath, up hill, Enveloping moments
As one For like a flight of swallows lift
On ocean winds, above the isles We touch
Soft spirits sail higher Eyes comitting
Pleasure beckons Mercurial kisses
We smile As kitten paws a mellow mouse
The lion roars inside these feral souls
& we are born again, the music of the morn
Accompanies these energies love’s mysteries supply
(for Glenda Rome)
(for Katie Craig)
Come with me to my bed, so that in love & sleep we may learn to trust one another Circe – The Odyssey Book X
As every maid Odysseus posess’d
Pinn’d Telemachus, home now, to their breast…
I want to wake beside you every day
Tell you I love you, ask if you’re OK
Give you a kiss if you’re going to work
Or hide if you’re menstrual & going bezerk
For ye are the one thing I crave here the most
Ycamped on the crest of this ocean coast
Where under me sea nymphs whisper your name
& above glitter stars with your eye-light’s flame
As an eagle glides by me as deft as you do
All these & this singing reminds me of you
For you are the music that livens my drumming
Be patient, my love, I am coming…
The first of my Silver Rose sonnets were written in 1998, with the last being etched indelibly only last year. Inbetween I had written literally thousands, some in epic sequences & some were simply individual ones that flew into my mind. A few years ago I realized that to place 154 of my sonnets in a fresh sequence would be an excellent thing to do, & after doing so I have slowly preened & pruned the bush, adding any new sonnets that ‘made the grade,’ which inevitably meant the weakest sonnets would have to be removed. Finally, at the close of last year, I felt the sequence had been brought to perfection, & if any sonnet were to be removed, the whole sense & structure of the sequanza would suffer. In short, the Silver Rose was complete.
My personal immersion in the sonnet form has coincied roughly with my own bardic training, & because of the merits I have discovered of the sonnet in teaching me all aspects of the art, I believe that a Shakesperian sequanza should be placed upon any curriculumnof the new bardic school – perhaps to be read out towards as the bard approaches graduation to his happy classmates. For those poets just setting out, if you are going to write a Shakesperian Sequanza, you must write your first sonnet – & keep writing them over many years to come. Record your life through its little lens, & as you approach your twentieth year of training, really work hard on creating your very own sequanza – you really only get one chance at this, for you only get one life & only the very best of this life’s sonnets should find their way into your collection. Good luck!
Ye goon to Cauntebury – God yow speede, The blisful martir quite yow youre meede! And wel I woot, as ye goon by the weye, Ye sharpen yow to talen & to pleye; Chaucer
Eighteen years ago this week, I found myself in a modern cell of a studentesque room, high over the rooftops of Portsmouth, England’s fairest port. In the distance I could make out the masts of HMS Victory, & about me were scattered the first few tomes of my rudimentary poetry library. A few months previously, at the back-end of 1996, I had discovered that I was, in fact, a poet, the circumstances of which propelled me some years later to compose the following sonnet;
Old Town Barnsley, nineteen-ninety six Pushing back the bound’ries of the corners of my mind Cultivating the way of the artistic essences Even kinda dabbled in a little wyrd occult Read the esoteric life of Aleister Crowley - Smack-addl’d mystic of Sumerian lore - & beginning to write – all the energy within me Focused upon the page… creation… literature & my breath, O frail spark, was changed forever An intellectual girlfriend at the time saw my glow Gave me her edition of the complete WB Yeats Starry acolyte of the order of the Golden Dawn, & as eagles rose from my fermenting imagination Led by the light of a true Gaelic bardsman I found I was a poet after all
Since those heady, vernal & rather joyous days – I was only 20 at the time – both my capabilities in the poetic spheres & my library have grown somewhat. On a personal level, I am only a couple of years shy of completing what to Julius Ceasar was a course of training in the Bardic Arts. In his Gallic Wars he states; ‘Reports say that in the schools of the druids, they learn by heart a great number of verses, and therefore some persons remain twenty years under training.’
Little did I know when I set out on my own poetic path that my spirit was that of one the Celtic bards, but over the years I have had many flashes of insight that have all but confirmed that this is my true calling. A great deal of this has been my work with Clio – the muse of history – for to the traditional Celtic poet , & indeed the poets of other more distant lands, such as the Izibongo of Africa, their work consists of both praising their chiefs & chronicling the history of the tribe. One of the last examples of the practice were the bards of the Earls of Thomond, who in the 17th century produced praise-poems & genealogies for their noble sponsors.
Despite a recent resurgance in dressing up as Druids down Wales way, the true British Bardic Colleges are long gone. To redress this, I have had to become both my own pupil & teacher, which has led to the initiation of these lectures. With only two years left until my graduation, so to speak, I thought it would be prudent to re-assess all the poetical studies I have undertaken these past two decades, & at the same time set some kind of universal benchmark as certain poets find themselves compelled to do from time to time (Sydney, Shelley, Arnold, Elliot). As for my blog, for these next two years I shall be exclusively working on these lectures – my life & travels may at times creep into the text, but in essence my posts shall be completely devoted to a personal dissertation in the poetic field. The final result, I believe, & if I pass my own stringent course of examination, will be my accession to some kind of druidical status : not the mistletoe-chopping, virgin-sacrificing type, but a modern-day version who may influence social matters through the word-weavings of his pen. The title obtained will be that of a Pendragon, whom in Ceasar’s words; ‘Of all these druids one is chief, who has the highest authority among them.’
To assist me in the endeavour, I am slowly gathering in my library down from Scotland – the first installment arriving a couple of weeks back from East Lothian, being a couple of hundred books & my old computer. Among the collated tomes is the very excellent Selected Essays of TS Elliot (1917-1932), which are something of a similar project to my own. Elliot was the last meaningful poet to write extensively on the art, & interestingly enough his essay-writing began exactly a century before my own shall end. Elliot, & his pal Ezra Pound, were the heralds of the modern poet, who muscled the iambic pentameter off the page & opened up the infinite array of possibilities latent within Free Verse, which for myself found its perfect pitch in the American Beat poetry of the 50s & 60s. Since then, Free Verse has rather waddled along like a duck out of water, & I believe that the art of Poetry must in some way be reset, that we have come full circle.
The same sentiments are etched into my copy of Elliot’s Essays – I do not know when I scribbled them down, but it must have been sometime after the 20th November 2003, when I was due to return it to Brixton Library. My guess is 2006, for it was in the winter of that year, approaching the half-way point along the Bardic path, that I completed my first batch of poetical essays, on the Sicilian island of Maretimo. Whenever exactly I made the above scholia, they form a perfectly apt prologue-cum-manifesto to what I hope to achieve these two years coming;
I have perfected poetry on a personal level & now wish to project that mastery onto a wider field by selecting the choicest fruits from the orchard… by founding a school to study all previous poetry as ‘classical’… to form a launch-pad for any future evolution of the Art.
Poetry has drawn full circle & is complete. The twentieth century adventure is over, there is nothing more to be gained from persisting in the all-conquering modes we utilise. We should now concentrate on the poetry of life & propel it into such poetic devices as we have created over the ages.
Seven centuries ago, the heraldic war-shields of the English were slightly altered, with the leopards being changed into lions. In the same fashion, it is time that the poets of the world transform themselves into nobler, more powerful beast, that they shall once more be respected as the equals of kings. For this reason, & one of self-determination, I have commenced this protracted journey through poetry & its accompanying literature. I do not know how many posts I shall write, but I do know when they shall end – mid April 2017. In due course I hope to establish a new agenda for poetical intercourse, which shall draw massively on the past, but also project well into the future. There are poets out there as yet untrained & as yet unborn, & it is for these that I commit my own erudition into indelible words. For them I shall offer these fine words of the 20th century Polish poet, Czeslaw Milosz;
On a steep street somewhere a schoolboy comes home from the library, carrying a book. The book has a title: Afloat in the Forest. Stained by the fingers of diligent Indians. A ray of sunlight on Amazon lianas, leaves spreading on the green water in mats so thick a man can walk across them. The dreamer wanders from one bank to the other, the monkeys, brown & hairy as a nut, make hanging bridges in trees above his head. He is the future reader of our poets
I’m convinced that somewhere lies the answer, whether in an as yet undiscovered charter, or perhaps a field name that has escaped the attention of an undiscerning eye. Maybe a document that lies collecting dust in an old archive- possibly in another country ? Or perhaps if we are really fortunate, one day, whilst out in the fields on a miserable windswept cold and rainy day, someone with a metal detector decides to try his/her luck on that weed strewn inhospitable stretch of land
After posting part 17 this morning from Victor Pope’s pad, I meandered into Edinburgh in pleasant sunshine – Spring has finally arrived & all is warm with the prospects of Mother Nature’s coming bounty. A little bit of banking later & I am in the National Library, ready to close my case. That is, of course, the association of Burnley with the battle of Brunanburh, the cardinal points of my argument being;
1 – There are what appear to be the remains of an Anglo-Saxon burh at Castle Hill, Towneley
2 – The Brun element of Brunanburh can be found in the earliest names for Burnley – Brunley
3 – The plains of Othlyn are connected to the legend of Saint Etheldra (Othl) & a magical ash tree (ynn), which occurred somewhere between Altham & Bradford.
4 – The Vinheath/Winaheath of Egil’s Saga is today’s Marsden Heights : a perfect fit for the Saga’s geography, & where the village of Winewall retains the name. Military detritus from the field is recorded as being found in the 1800s.
5 – Burnley’s location coincides sweetly with the flight of Alfgeir : south across a border (i.e. the Mersey-Humber line between Northumbria & Southumbria), then west to Earl’s Ness, whose name remains in the Ness & Neston of the Wirral peninsular.
6 – Burnley’s location matches the day-long retreat to the sea as given in the ASC . It is likely that the Viking contigent boarded their ships at Walton-le-Dale in Preston.
7 – Both Colne & Pendle water seem to have once been known as the River Win/Vin. Indeed I write I am in the national library, looking through a different translation of Egil’s Saga by Christine Fell (1975)., which has the following poem by Egil himself
Flame-hearted Thorolf, fear’s foe, Earl-killer, who so dared danger in Odin’s dark wars is dead at last. here, by Vina’s bank, my brother lies under earth
During the course of my dig, I have identified two places which warrant archeological investigation. This is where I must hand the case over the to those mucky pups in the field, for the litologist digs only through the paper-trails of history. I believe that within the barrow at Barrowford there rests the bodily remains of the casualties of the battle of Winwaed. Perhaps even King Penda himself is sleeping in the mound. Back in Burnley, a thorough excavation of Castle Hill & its surrounding area should yield some relics of Brunanburh fort. As for the battlefield of Brunanurh, it should be placed upon one of the ‘plains’ of Burnley, with the Daneshouse area being a natural choice.
No longer should the Brunanburh debate be centered upon a search for the battlefied’s location – instead, the Burnley site should be seen as a secure launch-pad from which to investigate the history of these islands. So far I have upturned the true sites of Etheldreda’s Ash & the Battle of Winwaed, along with scratching away the top-soil of the local Wendish historical layer. It is in the names of places, & the history stored within these names, that future litologists shall find so much succor when investigating the past. To them, I leave this little nugget I observed while reading SW Partington’s ‘Danes in Lancashire.’
An eloquent modern writer has declared, with a good reason, that even if all other records had perished, “anyone with skill to analyse the language, might re-create for himself the history of the people speaking that language, and might come to appreciate the divers elements out of which that people was composed, in what proportion they were mingled, and in what succession they followed one upon the other.” From a careful analysis of the names of the more prominent features of the land; of its divisions, its towns and villages, and even its streets, as well as the nomenclature of its legal, civil, and political institutions, its implements of agriculture, its weapons of war, and its articles of food and clothing, — all these will yield a vast fund of history. ‘
How do we find out the truth about an event that happened 1200 years ago? Well in strict terms it is impossible, the comparative objectivity which the modern journalist is afforded by photographs, film video tape… even newspapers, is a far cry from the inferential work of the medieval historian. There, sometimes, even the simple framework of events is lacking.Michael Wood
In my twenties, on each of the first three occasions I visited Amsterdam, I got in such a nick I swore id never go back. In the same fashion, my recent returns to Edinburgh have left me – by the Monday – in a similar state. However, muddling through after a massive session / hangover, I’m gonna get on with completing my search for Brunanburh. One of the main features of my quest has been using the Brunanburh materielle to open up new vistas in historical research. With that in mind, I would like to propose something , in which the coincidences are too many to ignore. So far I’ve dealt in the main with hard facts – how many historical mysteries have been waylaid by the wild speculations of fanciful scholars, so many cul-de-sacs, so many wrong turnings. Yet, I would like to now propose something of my own in that field, for I think I have enough of the teeth & bones of a beast to conject a complete dinosaur frame.
Symeon of Durham tells us that Battle of Brunanburh was also known as ‘Wendune’ & ‘Weodune.’ It is very possible that this word is the same as the Vinheath of Egil’s Saga, for in OE the word ‘dune’ can indeed be translated as ‘heath.’ Looking through the vasty annals of history, there is a place where ‘wen,’ ‘weon’ & ‘vin’ all appear together. The entity in question is the teutonic tribal group known as the Wends, who gives us our first solid link to Weondune, for according to Wulfstan, they heralded from a place called Weonodland,’ as in; ‘Weonodland was on his starboard side and to portside, he had Langeland, Lolland, Falster and Scania. These countries all belong to Denmark.’ Other names for the Wends include;
Old English: Winedas
Old Norse: Vindr
German: Wenden, Winden
These names are all matches to disparate elements of my Brunanburh case, such as Winedas=Winewall, near Colne, upon which name’s coat-peg I have hung several parts of my Brunanburh mission. Let us imagine for a moment that at some point in the distant past, a group of Wends had settled in the area between Burnley & Colne. But how did they got there, & just who are the Wends? Their traditional homelands were in today’s northern Poland, against the shores of the Baltic Sea, in the lands to west of the River Oder. From there they spread all across Europe, such as to Windic March in Bavaria Vindeboder at Roskilde, & some, I now believe, came to Burnley. Its quite ironic, really, for my home town is now seeing the return of the Poles in some numbers, the citizenry coming full circle, so to speak.
Their arrival in Britain is most likely connected to their defeat in Europe by the Romans, in 277 AD, after which they were given lands in Britain. Zosimus writes of the campaigns of Probus that, ‘his second battle was with the Franks, whom he completely conquered with the help of his generals. Then he fought the Burgundians & Vends, but seeing that his own forces were outnumbered, he decided to detach part of the enemy & engage it by itself. Fortune favoured the emperor’s plan. As the armies lay on opposite sides of the river, the Romans challenged the barbarians on the others side to fight, & gaurded by this taunt as many as possible crossed over. When the armies engaged each other, some of the barbarians were slain, others were taken prisoner by the Romans, & the rest sued for peace, accepting the condition that they surrender their booty & prisoners, but since, although their request was granted, they did not hand over everything, the emperor angrily punished them by attacking them on their retreat. Many were killed & their leader, Igillus, taken prisoner, & all the captives were sent across to Britain where they proved very useful to the emperor in subsequent revolts.
The last sentence is key, for it places the Wends in Britain at a place well-sited for handling a rebellion, suggesting a northern location. If this place was in Lancashire, we can imagine the proper origins of a number of Probus coins found in the area, such as at Worden, on the outskirts of Leyland, & at Burnley itself, where WT Watkin describes 126 copper coins known as radiates of the the late third century AD. Similarily dated Roman coins have been found near Colne at Castercliffe, which could well have been their main military base. It lies on the moors just to south of Colne, & we should notice here that in the list of Northern Roman camps, a certain Calunio was not in existence in the the time of Ptolemy (2nd century AD) but is there in the 6th century, when it appears in the Ravenna Cosmography. That it is listed comes after ‘Camulodono’ i.e. Slack in West Yorkshire – suggests that bonnie Colne is an excellent candidate for Calunio.
What springs to mind now is that the Wends arrived in the Colne area after 277 AD, whose ‘colony’ eventually became Colne. TD Whitaker, writing in the year 1800, states, ‘it seems probable that the exact spot occupied by this station was in some of the low grounds beneath the present town (of Colne) and on the banks of the river where all remains of it have been effaced by cultivation. Perhaps the real site is now irretrievable , but there are two lingulae of land betwixt Colne and Barrowford on the north side of Colne Water and formed by the influx of two inconsiderable brooks, which have equal pretensions. The modern town of Colne has certainly none. It is much too elevated and too far from the water… the environs of Colne appear to have been populous in Roman times, as great numbers of their coins have been discovered in the neighbourhood, particularly at Wheatley Lane and near Emmet where a large silver cup filled with them was turned up by the plough in the latter end of the 17th century.’ Speculating further,Roman forts were generally attended on by the local population, who lived next to or near the fort in a settlement described as a vici – the semantics of which can be observed in the name, Wycoller, a village just to east of Colne.
Place-names in the area, such as Trawden & Marsden, are clearly Teutonic. Jane Sterling writes of the English entry into Lancashire; ‘towards the end of the sixth century Angle tribes penetrated into Lancashire, & successive waves of them made extensive settlement in the river valleys and on the coastal plain. The extent of this penetration into Lancashire cab be assessed by the number of Lancashire place names which have their origins in early Angle settlements which have survive din such names as Pilling, Melling, Staining & Billinge. Ingas means tribe or family, & it is usually associated with a chieftan’s name. Melling, for example, means the sons, or the tribe of, Moll or Malla. These ‘ingas’ settlements in Lancashire represented the oldest of the places where the ‘English’ built their villages of thatch’d timber frame huts & surrounded them with a ditch or stockade… The second wave of Angle settlement is represented by places whose names originally ended in ‘ingaham.’ This has in many cases been contracted to ‘ingham’ or simply ‘ham.”
Their are other faint traces of the Wends in the area. An early 4th century Christian level can be discerned from Saint Helen’s Well at Waterside, Colne, & also in Henry Taylor’s, ‘an ancient map, in the possession of Colonel Parker, shows that, in 1747, a Roman cross was standing on the far common, near Alkincoats.’ The Pendle village ofSabden (Sapedene 1296) means ‘long, narrow valley of the Sabs,’ the ‘Sab’ phonetic of this name being quite rare in Britain, & of unknown origin. The Wends, however, called themselves the ‘Sorbs,’ which means the original could well have been ‘Sorbden.’ Of their habitation on continental Europe, Gerald Stone writes, ‘the present-day sorbs may be regarded as descendants of the Slavs who moved into Lusatia in the 6th & 7th centuries… it seems likely that the ethnic name srbi was then in use among them & was later retained both by the the Sorbs & by those other Slavs (the Serbs) who moved southwards to the Danube.’ The Wends were known for building circular encampments, similar to those found east & north of Burnley, of which TT Wilkinson writes’
After crossing Float Bridge Beck and Catlow Brook, we next arrive at Broad Bank… on the summit of which are the remains of a circular intrenchment, measuring about 150 feet in diameter. There is no appearance of walls, but both the vallum and foss are perfect through-out the whole circumference.
Passing through Thursden Valley, to a corresponding crest on the opposite ridge called Bonfire Hill, at the distance of about a mile, we find another circular intrenchment, 130 feet in diameter, and very similar… This encampment is surrounded by an earthwork rampart, which is still comparatively perfect on three of its sides, and easily traceable on the fourth. The rampart measures 700 feet in length by 450 in average breadth
In the mid-19th century, James Stonehouse gave us; ‘as we pursue our ramble along the road towards Roggerham, we arrive at a farm house on the right hand called “Rotten”; and a short way beyond it find a gate on the same side. Opening this gate we discover a narrow road, having in the centre a pavement of large boulder stones, the footway on one side being skirted by a stone wall which enclose portions of the moor; on the other a thick hedge. An unobservant person even would notice something unusual in the appearance of this bye-road. The mystery of it-if there be such a thing as a mystery-is soon made manifest. The road is found to lead upon the open moor land, and where the enclosure walls end it gradually becomes lost in the moorland and herbage, although its track can be really discovered rising over the hill before us. But before it becomes so hidden in the heather and the thick grass it passes an enclosure of some 200 feet by 160 feet, that the antiquary and the archaeologist would not fail to gaze upon with deep and absorbing interest. The road is Roman. As the Romans left it, there it is. The enclosure is Roman. As the Romans constructed it, there it is; at least what remains of their handywork. The enclosure is the remains of a fort erected by this great nation, when occupying this part of Britain. The fort is known by the people of the vicinity as “Ring Stones Camp.” The walls, at least as much as is left of them, are about a foot high from the interior surface. Outside the Vallum is a foss or ditch. It is deep in some portions, and filled up in others. It seems to be of the true V shape by the inclinator of the sides. The walls appear as strong as when the soldier mason laid stone upon stone and spread the strong concrete that has hardened till it rivals the stone in durability. At one of the sides, there is an opening where stood the Decuman gate. On the side facing it is another opening. This is the Proetorian gate, so called as being near where the Praetor fixed his quarters. In the centre of the enclosure are great inequalities of ground which, if carefully examined, will perhaps exhibit some of the arrangements of the encampment or fort.
A stone’s throw away from Ring-Stones lies the hamlet of Roggerham, which can now be connected to the Rugians, who were considered to be among the Wendish peoples. In the 8th century, the very venerable Bede stated that they formed part of the composite Anglo-Saxon layer to the English gene-pool, as in;
The Angles or Saxons, who now inhabit Britain… are still corruptly called ‘Garmans’ by the neighbouring nation of the Britons. Such are the Frisians, the Rugini, the Danes, the Huns, the Old Saxons, and the Boructuari
According to TD Whittaker, the earthworks at Ring Stones are highly similar to ones found near Barnoldswick, Skipton & at Middop, Gisburn, the latter having an identical gateway to that Ringstones. For me, the same culture would have built all four of these fortifications in order to defend their territory. It’s north-eastern limits could well have been at the River Dunsop, in the Forest of Bowland, which may be connected to the ‘Sorbs.’ Indeed, the Dunsop flows into the Hodder, which reminds us of the River Oder of the Polish Wends. A possible ‘market’ for the Wends can be placed close to Roggerham. That it was important in ages long gone is given in the name of two fields on Extwistle Hill – Chipping Meadow & Chipping Pasture – with Chipping meaning in OE ‘market fair.‘
The whole concept of a Wendish realm based on & around Pendle is beginning to taking shape – its early days, & I will leave it to a future dig to ascertain the true measures of that long-lost demense. For now, let us be satisfied in finding the root etymology of both Vinheath & Wendune, & also be content with the realisation that even that smallest & most innocuous of ancient place-names can can be the eternal storehouses of so much history.
Jane Sterling – Dark age and Norman Lancashire 1974
T. T. Wilkinson – ON THE BATTLE OF BRUNANBURH ;— AND THE PROBABLE LOCALITY OF THE CONFLICT. Transaction of Lancahire & Cheshire, 1856
James Stonehouse – Roman Remains Near Burnley – The Preston Guardian Saturday August 15 1863
Gerald Stone – The smallest Slavonic nation (1972)
John Clayton – ‘ADMERGILL’ 2009 & ‘VALLEY OF THE DRAWN SWORD’ 2006
TG Powell- EXCAVATION OF A CIRCULAR ENCLOSURE AT BROADBANK, BRIERCLIFFE, LANCASHIRE – Transactions of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire 1953
Michael Wood – In search of Offa, BBC, 1981
Zosimus – tr. RT Ridley 1984
Henry Taylor – the ancient crosses & gholy wells of lancashire (1906)
Alfred the Great – translation of Orosius’ Histories
WT Watkin – Roman Lancashire 1883
Here’s a few photos of my time in Edinburgh & East Lothian…
The trumpet sounds retreat; the day is ours Come brother, let us to the highest of the field To see what friends are living & who are dead Shakespeare – I Henry IV
So that’s me firmly ensconced back in the National Library, Edinburgh – the office, I like to call it. Beside me are a few books on both Waterloo & Robin Hood, fodder for future workings, & ahead a few days of good old fashion’d rock n roll, broken up by a trip to the ballet with a bonnie blonde. Before all that carnage, I’d like to begin closing the Brunanburh case, beginning with the closing acts of the battle.
One can imagine the sun setting upon East Lancashire, its reddening rays blending with blood-stained earth & tunic. From Worsthorne to Nelson thousands of corpses covered the ground, at some places climbing on top of each other in grotesque piles of stycharine agony. The battle in the valleys, forests & moorland wastes ‘ymbe’ Brunanburh was the bloodiest single battle the island of Britain has ever seen, & the casualties were epic. Almost every chronicle reports this bloody side of the battle;
Never was there more slaughter on this island, never yet as many people killed before this with sword’s edge: never according to those who tell us from books, old wisemen, since from the east Angles & Saxons came up over the broad sea.ASC
In a battle lasting from morning til evening, they slew five kings & seven dukes, whom their adversaries had brought as auxillaries, & shed more blood as had been shed up to that time in any war in EnglandSymeon of Durham
On this occasion there fell of the Pagans an unheard-of multitudeCroyland Chronicle
There was a great slaughter of Normans & Danes, among which these ensueing captaines were slain. Viz. Sithfrey & Oisle the 2 sonnes of Sithfrick, Galey, Awley, ffroit, & Moylemorrey the sonne of Cossey Warce, Moyle Isa, Gebeachan king of the islands (isle of man), Ceallagh prince of Scotland with 30000 together with 800 captives about Awley Mcgodfrey, & abbot of Arrick Mcbrith, Iloa Deck, Imar the King of Denmark’s owen son with 4000 souldiers in his guard were all slain. Annals of Clonmacnoise
Just like the French at Waterloo, the Confederate army dissolved into a panicky rabble & fled for safety. Symeon of Durham tells us, ‘the enemy, suffering the greatest distress, on account of the loss of their army, returned to their own country with a few followers.’ The Anglo-Saxons were hard at their heels;
The West-Saxons pushed onward all day; in troops they pursued the hostile people. They hewed the fugitive grievously from behindASC
While his men still pursued the fugitives, king Athelstan left the battle-field, and rode back to the town, nor stayed he for the night before he came thither. But Egil pursued the flying foe, and followed them far, slaying every man whom he overtook.Egil’s Saga
There the North-men’s chief was put to flight, by need constrained to the prow of a ship with little company: he pressed the ship afloat, the king went out on fealene flot, he saved his life. ASC
When the ASC tells us, ‘All the day the West Saxons pressed on the loathed bands,’ we can assumethat the battle was fought within a day’s retreat of a sea or river estuary. Egil’s Saga gives extra information, saying the ships were ‘far’ from the field. It would be safe to say, then, that the field would be somewhere between 15 & perhaps as much as 40 miles away from a navigable site in which the Viking longships could wait (precluding Lanchester in the process). The actual translations (from Boswoth & Toller’s Anglo-Saxon Dictionary) are:
Feallan: dusky brown (like all ancient names of colours, indefinite); of shingle Flot: n. Water deep enough for sustaining a ship
If one was to flee the Burnley battlefield, the first navigable, shingly place for ships to wait would have been at Walton-le-Dale, just south of Preston. This was the first ford of the Ribble, & Roman site from which a raod to London wound. I visited the site on my way to Scotland yesterday, buting a £6 day ticket which allowed me to hop on & off the bus. It was bitterly cold, but dry, & my first stop was a brief look at Hoghton Tower, a little private pilgrimage to a chief site in my first historical Winter blockbuster, composed earlier in the Winter – Shakespeare’s Grand Tour.
The ford/ big modern bridge is situated at a lovely bend of the Ribble, just after the confluence of the Darwen. I got off the bus there, & in the process of taking some photos found myself in the breeding ground of some Ribble Geese, who like a bunch of angry North End fans flew at me Luftwaffe style from the other side of the Ribble – it was only a couple of well-aimed stones & a quick dash upbank that procured me my safety.
Where Frank Coupe writes on the bank of the river, ‘stood a warehouse used expressly for the purpose of strong alum from the mines at Alum Scar near Salmesbury Mill, previous to it being transported down the river in barges during the high tides; this fact would immediately suggest the probability that, during the period when tha station at Walton-le-dale was occupied by the Romans, their necessary commodoties & military equipment would be conveyed by water along the Ribble, advantageous use being made of the tides,’ we gain confirmation of Walton’s use as a sea entry-point. Close by, at Cuerdale, a great hoard of Viking silver was found in the 19th century, dated to roundabout the time of the Battle of Brunanburh (937 AD). Intriguingly, a antique Lancashire custom said that anyone who stood on the south bank of the Ribble at Walton-le-Dale, and looked upriver to Ribchester, would be within sight of the richest treasure in England. Was the treasure hidden in the panic, & its location forgotten. Either way, reaching Walton-le-Dale brings us to the final bit of textual evidence, the ASC’s
Gewitan him þa Norþmen nægledcnearrum, dreorig daraða laf, on Dingesmere ofer deop wæter Difelin secan, eft Ira land, æwiscmode. Departed then the Northmen in nailed ships. The dejected survivors of the battle, On Dingesmere, sought Dublin over the deep water, to return to Ireland, ashamed in spirit.
At first, the Irish Sea was associated to Dingesmere through suggestions the word meant ‘noisy sea.’ The Otho MS of the ASC gives us Dinnesmere, with Din meaning noise, while the related Dynge means; A noise, dashing, storm. Thus Dingesmere may mean ‘noisy/stormy sea,’ a plausible description of the Irish Sea. Paul Cavill says of the ‘mere’ element; ‘in verse, both as a simplex and as the first element of many compounds, it means ‘the sea, the ocean.‘ Alternatively, a 2004 paper entitiled ‘Revisiting Dingesmere’ put the case forward for Dingesmere being named after a Viking Ting – assembley place the þing-volr, – at Thingwall on the Wirral. Throughout my dig I have shown how Egil Skallagrimsson was the poet behind the Brunanburh poem in the ASC. He was an Icelandic Viking, which suggest that the otherwise unrecorded name, Dingesmere, was coined by himself. The Things were Viking meeting places, like the Anglo-Saxon ‘moot,’ where citizens could come together, air their grievances & network for trade. Cue near-hysterical claims by the ‘Wirral Set’ that they’d found Brunanburh, Still, it is an intersting & valid suggestion, for the name Dingwall in Scotland is also based on a Viking Ting. Yet as I have shown, Bromborough could never have been Brunanburh, & since its inception in 2005, the Bromborough theory has gradually faded from academic inquiry, with less biased scholars declaring
The thing about the ‘Thing,’ is that topographically it just does not fit the idea of a battle being fought on the Wirral. There are no rivers, tumuli, eminent hills or anything that even suggest a battle. Kevin Halloran
If the 60,000 invaders had been hemmed into the peninsular of Wirral, with a neck only 7 miles across, they would have had no chance against Athelstan who held the fortresses of Chester, Runcorn & Edisbury. Bromborough is only 10 minutes walk to the Mersey. That is not a ‘long pursuit. John Henry Cockburn
Apparently the aged Stephen Harding and some friends went from Bromborough to Thingwall and the journey took them from 11 am until 4:30 pm. Therefore proving that a “day long pursuit” was possible. This was utterly unbelievable as the distance is approximately 5-7 miles and there is no way that the journey could have taken so long. They must have been crawling along and obviously forgot that Anlaf’s forces wererunning for their lives with the west Saxons in pursuit. Here’s the link, it should give you a giggle : ) Matthew Wall
With the Battle of Brunanburh now firmly sited at Burnley, I mused upon the possibility that the Ting of Dingesemere could be be derived from a different place.
The IMP (Inherent Military Probability)of a battle being fought in the Wirral cul-de-sac, coupled with a complete lack of anything in the locality matching the evidence given by the sources, suggests that the Wirral ‘Thing’ was not intended when Egil wrote ‘Dingesmere.’ Then it suddenly struck me that there was also a Viking Ting on the Isle of Man, which still meets today as the Tynvald, founded in the early 10th century, & is one of the longest running parliaments in the world. Its position at the centre of the Irish Sea – the capital if you will – makes it a far likelier candidate of Dingesmere’s ‘Thing,’ & was an important Viking location, being both the capital of the Kingdom of Man & The Isles, & sitting neatly between the Viking kingdoms of Jorvik (York) & Ireland (Dublin). Analyzing the poetic techniques of the Anglo-Saxons, we should compare the line, ‘On Dingesmere, sought Dublin over the deep water,‘ With…
On the sea-flood over the cold water(Christ)
On the path of the whale, over the expanse of the seas(The Seafarer)
In this case, in the first half of the line the sea is represented in a poetic fashion, followed by a simpler, more direct definition of that same sea.
To conclude, the ASC’s ‘Dingesmere,’ would be the circular portion of the Irish Sea epicentred by the Isle of Man. This piece of evidence almost brings us to the end of the dig, but not quite. During my investigations I began to notice a few interesting seedlings surrounding the last name of the battle – one which we haven’t looked at yet – Symeon of Durham’s Wendune, the resulting work upon which has thrown up something absolutely fascinating…
Coupe, Frank – Walton-le-dale (1954)
Revisiting Dingesmere – by Paul Cavil, Judith Jesch & Stephen Harding (2004)
Cockburn, John Henry – The Battle of Brunanburh & its period – (1931)
Halloran, Kevin – The Identity of Etbrunnanwerc – Scottish Historical Review Oct (2010)
I am now at Nicky’s house down Sycamore Avenue, bags packed and ready to head back to Scotland for a bit. My Brunanburh blogs have gone well, I think, & I’ll be finishing them up there from a distance. My return to Burnley has also gone wel- – Ive got a house & a job, well, if you call winning a Djing residency in a new motown venue in Burnley a job – I even ironed my shirt for the audition last Saturday!
Before I head west for Preston, I’d just like to add another tantalising piece of evidence into the Brunanburh-broth Ive been cooking up these past few weeks. It concerns a possible battlefield a mile or so due north of Townley, at a place called mereclough near the delightful village of Worsthorne. At Mereclough, an old map has the words, ‘battlefield’ & a ‘battlestone’ & also a ‘battle place’ attached to its pasture in the Civiger valuation of 1822. The stone was still there in 1974, mapped at reference point880306 but since then has been destroyed or removed to faciltate farming operations.
Of the local ‘remarkable tradition,‘ TT Wilkinson writes that it in the 19th century it was, ‘still prevalent in Worsthorne, to the effect – that the Danes constructed these defences – that a great battle was fought on the moor – & that five kings were buried under the mounds.’ Personally, I believe the battlefield is connected to an incident at Brunanburh that occurred before the main events on Vinheath & in the Plains of Othlyn. It reevolves around the short-lived arrival of an English bishop in the area, whose death announces the start of the battle proper.
When the bishop arrived at the war with his forces, he had no fear of an ambush on the grassy, level plain, & pitched camp on the exact spot from which the king had retreated.William Malmesbury – Deeds of Bishops.
This bishop was called Werstan & it should be that the name of Worsthorne could be derived from him. As he was arriving at the field Analf was leading his Vikings on a wide, wide march over the moors to the east of Vinheath. The skirmish on the heath would have been an excellent smokescreen for the maneuver which took him to the rear of Warcock hill, to the south of Worsthorne, aiming streaight for Castle Hill. The Croyland Chronicle picks up the story; ‘Accordingly, during the night, he made an attack upon the English, and slew a certain bishop, who the evening before had joined the army of king Athelstan.’
The battle woke the King, who was now close to Vinheath, just under two miles from Worsthorne. The Croyland Chronicle tells us; ‘Cries of the dying being heard at a considerable distance, that the king, who was encamped more than a mile from the place of attack, was, together with all his army, awoke from slumber while lying in their tents beneath the canopy of heaven; and on learning the particulars, they quickly aroused themselves.’ & so the Battle of Brunanburh truly begins. Malmesbury’s account is quite entertaining, so I shall give it here in full.
His last contest was with Anlaf, the son of Sihtric, who, with the before-named Constantine, again in a state of rebellion, had entered his territories under the hope of gaining the kingdom. Athelstan purposely retreating, that he might derive greater honour from vanquishing his furious assailants, this bold youth, meditating unlawful conquests, had now proceeded far into England, when he was opposed at Bruneford by the most experienced generals, and most valiant forces. Perceiving, at length, what danger hung over him, he assumed the character of a spy. Laying aside his royal ensigns, and taking a harp in his hand, he proceeded to our king’s tent : singing before the entrance, and at times touching the trembling strings in harmonious cadence, he was readily admitted, professing liimself a minstrel, who procured his daily sustenance by such employment. Here he entertained the king and his companions for some time with his musical performance, carefully examining everything while occupied in singing. When satiety of eating had put an end to their sensual enjoyments, and the business of war was resumed among the nobles, he was ordered to depart, and received the recompence of his song ; but disdaining to take it away, he hid it beneath him in the earth. This circumstance was remarked by a person, who had formerly served under him, and immediately related it to Athelstan. The king, blaming him extremely for not having detected his enemy as he stood before them, received this answer : ” The same oath, which I have lately sworn to you, O king, I formerly made to Anlaf ; and had you seen me violate it towards him, you might have expected similar perfidy towards yourself: but condescend to listen to the advice of your servant, which is, that you should remove your tent hence, and remaining in another place till the residue of the army come up, you will destroy your ferocious enemy by a moderate delay.” Approving this admonition, he removed to another place. Anlaf advancing, well prepared, at night, put to death, together with the whole of his followers, a certain bishop (werstan) who had joined the army only the evening before, and, ignorant of what had passed, had pitched his tent there on account of the level turf. Proceeding farther, he found the king himself equally unprepared ; who, little expecting his enemy capable of such an attack, had indulged in profound repose. But, when roused from his sleep by the excessive tumult, and urging his people, as much as the darkness of the night would permit, to the conflict, his sword fell by chance from the sheath ; upon which, while all things were filled with dread and blind confusion, he invoked the protection of God and of St. Aidhelm, who was distantly related to him ; and replacing his hand upon the scabbard, he there found a sword, which is kept to this day, on account of the miracle, in the treasury of the kings. Moreover, it is, as they say, chased in one part, but can never be inlaid either with gold or silver. Confiding in this divine present, and at the same time, as it began to dawn, attacking the Norwegian, he continued the battle unwearied through the day, and put him to flight with his whole army. There fell Constantine, king of the Scots, a man of treacherous energy and vigorous old age ; five other kings, twelve earls, and almost the whole assemblage of barbarians. The few who escaped were preserved to embrace the faith of Christ.
Looking at the evidence, it appears that Athelstan at first camped on the ‘level turf’ below Castle Hill, that are now the Townley Playing Fields, before heading off for Vinheath. The Vikings then made their strike against Brunanburh from an unexpected direction, resulting in the great battle. They were pushed back to Mereclough, I believe, & were slaughtered, resulting in the ‘battlestone,’ memorial, dedicated to Werstan. Or then again, Malmesbury may have been slightly confusing events, & the initial camp may have been near Worsthorne itself. A little foggy, yes, but another example of how the facts fit repeatedly & snugly into the Burnley hypothesis.
I hasten to add that it does not fall apart in terms of romanticism, though, as the Burnley hypothesis probably remains the best one for a film, at least to my mind.
The citizens of Burnley, that proud industrial northern town I am lucky to call home, have for a long time felt the battle of Brunanburh had been fought somewhere on the moors above their homesteads. Mr. Thomas Turner Wilkinson, a master of Burnley Grammar School, identified the Saxifields as a possible site back in 1856, while in 1869, a ceremonial vase was gen to General Scarlett, the glorious leader of the Charge of the Heavy Brigade in the Crimean War, upon which were painted two shields placed on either side of a figure of the goddess Fame. On one shield was depicted the famous charge he had taken part in, while the other sported an image of the Battle of Brunanburh. By the Edwardian period. After further investigations, by the Edwardian period, JT Marquis was declaring, ” There is overwhelming testimony in favour of the site on the Lancashire Brun.”
The district is surrounded by lovely Pennine country which fits in pleasantly with Henry Of Huntingdon’s, ‘The hills resounded / There many men born in Denmark lay / Pierced by spears, stabbed under their shields.’ I have shown how etymology is consistent with the linguistory of Burnley, while the building of a fortified burh in the district makes sound strategical sense. From Penmdle, the views are immense; to the west one’s gaze follows the river Ribble out past Fylde & to the Irish Sea. To the north can be observed the fells of Westmorland, quite miniscule in the distance, while south & east the eyes may penetrate many miles of moorland. It is a perfect vantage point, & from Pendle’s southern slopes we can see that Burnley sits at the confluence of three valleys; the plains of West Lancashire can be accessed to the west, through which the River Ribble serves the Irish Sea. To the east lies the rugged vale of Calderdale, & eventually Yorkshire & the Humber, while to the north lies Colne & its old Roman road rolling east & west. To the south there is no valley, but a road over the moors takes you to the vales of Bacup & Rawtenstall, then Manchester & the south of England. A fortress here would have been perfect, placed at a great crossroads of so many Dark Age thoroughfares.
So where is the ‘burh’ of Burnley. The true meaning of the word burh is a ‘fortified township,’ usually found on a hill. The word springs from the Latin Burgus – which signifies a fortification. In the ASC, the words geweorc or faesten are generally used for a fortress hastily thrown up, and burh is reserved for fortified towns. This was confirmed by looking through illustrated Anglo-Saxon manuscripts at the British museum, where it became clear that a burh was a walled enclosure with towers of stone. Its chief role would be as a garrison for the Saxons, & as a military town the local economy would have been geared towards its catering. Soldiers are a notoriously hungry lot, & most burhs had a wide area adjoining them to rear great herds of cattle.
Almost all Saxon buildings were made of wood, as was the Burh’s palisade, a thelwall, perhaps with some earthworks. These would have barely left a trace after Aethalstan’s victory, for with the English border moving a hundred miles to the North, the need for a fort in Burnley had been removed, perhaps explaining why the fort of Brunanburh simply disappeared from history. In the Saxon context East Lancashire was remote enough anyway, & after William the Conqueror’s harrowing of the North in 1075, the area was made wholly waste, wiping out any local knowledge of the great victory.
This is how I found Burnley’s long-lost burh. Last Autumn, while utilising Burnley library’s excellent & comprehensive collection of volumes published by the Lancashire & Cheshire Antiquarian Society, I came across the 1952-53 ‘transactions.’ These contained an account of excavations at Everage Clough by W Bennet, who in a footnote pointed me to an 18th century writer – Thomas Dunham Whitaker – whose ‘History of the Original Parish of Whalley‘ was also to be found in Burnley library. Getting stuck in Kojak-style, I obtained the following passage;
The original site of Townley appears to have been a tall & shapely knoll, southward from the present mansion, still denominated castle hill, & immediately adjoining to the farm called Old House, on the eastern & precipitous side of which are the obscure remains of trenches, which on the three more accessible quarters have been demolished by the plough. Here therefore, in every early times, and far beyond any written memorials, was the Villa de Tunlay, the residence, unquestionably, of one of those independent lords before the conquest who presided over every village & held immediately of the crown. When this elevated situation was abandoned it is impossible to ascertain from any written evidence or tradition; but the present house may in part lay claim to high antiquity.
I believe that we now can place Brunanburh beside the stately Townley Hall, on Castle Hill, whose fortifications were still to be seen in TD Whitaker’s day. I talked to my dad about the find, & despite living next to Townley itself all his life, he had never known there was a Castle Hill there. I guess this obscurity may have helped Brunanburh’s true site to be hidden from even the most hardiest of pro-Burnley enthusiasts.
An Anglo-Saxon burh formed the central administrative point of an Anglo-Saxon ‘Tun,’ from which we get the name Tunlay, & thus Townley. In the 12th century, Townley formed part of an ancient township called ‘Tunlay-with Brunshaw,’ the latter meaning ‘Brun’s wood.’ The clearing, or ‘lea’ in this wood, later on became Burnley, proving the greater antiquity of Brunshaw. This association of a Brun with a Tun tells us that the Saxon lord who ruled his ‘Tun’ from Castle Hill would have been called something like ‘Brun’ or ‘Bruna,’ thus giving us the etymylogical & historical foundations of the name Brunanburh.
This wonderful pictorial description of Towneley in the 18th century shows Castle Hill just behind it, that raised site upon which a typical Saxon burh was built. Once the military threat to the region had been removed, after the English conquest of Cumbria, it made sense for the local lord to resituate his abode in the level & pleasant clearings of Townley. Essentially, Castle Hill is a mound like, pyramidical hill, with the east side being a sheer drop to a small river. To the north & west there are the remains of a trench system, while the south side has no trenches but quite a sheer slope. The top of the hill has a large area big enough for a Saxon settlement & the views are amazing; it would have made an excellent border-post against the Viking North. Anyway here’s a few photos;
So there we have it – a genuine, bona fide fortification in the very area that all evidence says the Battle of Brunanburh occurred. Its early days yet, but under the soil of Castle Hill lies the evidence, I believe, that will confirm forever the Burnley-Brunanburh connection. Before we leave Townley, however, I thought it’d be nice to take a few photos of the contents of the hall – it was sold to the Burnley corporation at the turn of the twentieth century by ‘the last of the Townleys’ Lady O’Hagan. Since then, the Burnleyite has been given free access to the wonderful grounds, & the museum which Townley has now become. There is also a wonderful collection of mostly 19th century art, paid for by the benevolent local brewer Edward Stocks Massey, whose trust continues to assist in the painting of Burnley’s cultural landscape.
Building the Tower of Babel by
Marten Van Balckenborch (1535-1612)
Wilkinson, TT – On the battle of Brunanburh; and the probable locality of the conflict. Historic Society of Lancashire & Cheshire 1856-57.
Last night, just before I went to bed, I had a wee subconscious glimmer-flicker concerning Egil’s Saga. In the middle of a litological dig, when you’re up to your knees in mud & source material, you sometimes miss a nugget or three in the scattering soil. Well, it suddenly dawned on me to read through the Saga again, & lo & behold I had missed something. Basically, early on in the dig, I went about, in a rather long-winded fashion, trying to show how Egil Skallagrimsson was the possible poet of the Brunanburh poem. What I’d missed was that immediately after the battle, Egil is writing militaristic, kenning-heavy praise poetry to Athelstan, as in;
Low now this scion royal
Earls three hath laid. To Ella
Earth must obedient bow.
Lavish of gold, kin-glorious,
Great Athelstan victorious,
Surely, I swear, all humbled
To such high monarch yields.’
But this is the burden in the poem:
‘Reindeer-trod hills obey
Bold Athelstan’s high sway.’
Then gave Athelstan further to Egil as poet’s meed two gold rings, each weighing a mark, and therewith a costly cloak that the king himself had formerly worn.
This giving of rings even fits in with the ASC poem’s, ‘In this year King Aethelstan, Lord of warriors, ring-giver to men…’ Basically, historians miss a lot, or rather misintepret the information, but the truth is always there somewhere. Take Egil’s Saga for example – its an unusual text for an English mind, & instead of trying to understand it, our historians have tried to undermine it, deeming it worthless in any attempt to locate Brunanburh. Instead, I thought Id actually read the thing on two levels – one from the 13th century author, & one from the 10th century in which Egil performed his deeds & poetry. It is this method that gave me the insight into Egil’s hand in the Brunanburh poem.
I was up at the crack of dawn this morning, & out of the house about 6.50 AM, for a wee walk back in time, through dreichish weather, to one of the earliest strata of British Christianity. It begins in the oldest part of Burnley, the area about St Peter’s church known as the Top o’ th’ Town, whose clearing – lea – by the river Brun gives us the name of Brunlea / Burnley. Next to the old grammar school there is a wee fenced off area which houses 3 and a half monuments. We have the base of the old market cross, with the stocks underneath it; we have the 3m shaft of blackened gritsone, an old cross said to date from the time of Paulinus (7th century) & the stonework of the ancient Shorey’s well, which used to supply Burnley with its fresh water before the advent of pipes & stuff. There is also the dedicated empty space where two cannons taken from Sevastapol during the Crimean War, brought to Burnley by General Scarlett – leader of the Heavy Brigade – who had married a Burnley bird. Their fate was ignomninous, taken to Portsmouth to be smelted down during the First World war, the iron was found to be unusable & the cannons were unceremonioulsy dumped in the Solent!
Combining Burnley’s two oldest relics – the Paulinus Cross & Shorey’s Well – we are suddenly presented with a 7th century strata to the town. Paulinus was a missionary who converted much of the Anglo-Saxon north, while ‘Shorey’ is a devoluted form of Etheldreda. There are many versions of her name – Æthelthryth,Æþelðryþe, & the medieval Audrey. As Saint Audrey, the latter degenerated even further Shorey. Other local examples invlude Maudlin Well near Lathom House, dedicated to St. Mary Magdalen, & Mattus Well at Sawley Abbey dedicated to Matthew’s Well.
Searching for clues, I have discovered that vestiges of both Etheldreda & the Paulinus crosses can be found a couple of miles from each other just to the west & North of Pendle hill. The Roman’s brought Jesus-worship to Britain post Constantine, but they only had a century or so left in the islands, ie not enough time for the Christian cult to embed itself in the pshyche of the long paganized natives. It would be two centuries after the Romans left Britain that they returned, well the Vatican versions did, under the auspices of St Augustine in the 590s AD. Now then, the abbey at Whalley, a ten mile walk around the flanks of Pendle from my house, claims to have been founded at the same time, making it one of the oldest Christian centres in Britain. GA Williams has found a document produced by the Monks of Whalley in the abbacy of John Lindley.
It must be remembered that in the time of Ethelbert, king of the English, who began to reign in 596, at that time that is, Blessed Augustine the Apostle of the English having been sent by Blessed Pope Gregory in the third year of his papacy, at the instance & request of said king, preached in England & taught the Christian faith, – a certain parish church was built at Whalley in Blackburnshire in honour of all saints, in the cemetery of which there are certain stone crosses there set up, & are called by the people the crosses of blessed Augustine.
The claim could spurious, but the antiquity of worship is unquestionable – the physical reliques of which are the above mentioned very old stone crosses in the local churchyard.
My journey there took me along Accrington Road (Im an Accy roader at heart), on to the canal at Gannow (where I learnt how to swim) along the canal to Rosegrove, passing down into Lowerhouse & along the old railway line – now a greenway – into Padiham. Yo might not realise it – in fact no-now has actually – but that busy little paragraph contains the names of two 7th century Anglo-Saxon royals. Accrington (Akarinton in 1194) would be named after Acca – the mother of King Oswald, whose name can be found next door in Oswaldtwistle. We can also place King Penda’s son, Peada, in the area – who may have lent his name to Padiham. Indeed, Henry Taylor writes that in Padiham, ‘Baines states that a cross, a strongly resembling those found in Whalley churchyard, was discovered here.’
Leaving Padiham I dropped down into the village of Altham, where we can place another Anglo-Saxon royal, Saint Etheldreda of East Anglia. In her ‘vita’ we are told how she married a northerner (Ecgfrith), wouldnt give out, & fleeing the randy king, on her journey south founded a monastery in an ‘island’ in the fens at a certain Alftham. Goscelin of Saint-Bertin places it, ‘on an island almost surrounded by fen called Alftham. She stayed there some days and then founded a monastery there.‘
Alftham is a direct match for Alvetham/Elvetham, the earliest recorded name for Altham, & its territory is indeed fenlike – a flat & marshy swathe of the Calder Valley. The monastery she founded, I believe,once lay at a place now called Martholme, a medieval house on the banks of the River Calder. It is the fact that there is an undated moat surrounding the place that connects it to the crucial ‘island’ clue – & also this entry in the ASC.
A.D. 656. This year was Peada slain; and Wulfhere, son of Penda, succeeded to the kingdom of the Mercians. In his time waxed the abbey of Medhamsted very rich, which his brother had begun. The king loved it much, for the love of his brother Peada, and for the love of his wed-brother Oswy, and for the love of Saxulf the abbot. He said, therefore, that he would dignify and honour it by the counsel of his brothers, Ethelred and Merwhal; and by the counsel of his sisters, Kyneburga and Kyneswitha; and by the counsel of the archbishop, who was called Deus-dedit; and by the counsel of all his peers, learned and lewd, that in his kingdom were.
No-one knows where the abbey of Medhamsted was founded, but the phonetically matching Martholme is close to Padiham & Oswaldtwistle, while Medhamsted was beloved of Wulfhere ‘for the love of his brother Peada.’ What is interesting that a major player in the monastery’s early life is Wulfhere’s brother, Merwhal – He said, therefore, that he would dignify and honour it by the counsel of his brothers, Ethelred and Merwalh – whose ‘walh’ element can be found at Whalley. Traces & echoes indeed, but all wonderfully connected – there is even a Walverden water at Nelson that may be named after Wulfhere!
I tried to find Martholme myself, but unfortunately I got threatened off the land by a farmer-bully on a quad (se picture below), being followed by about fifty sheep – quite a comical scene & the banter was great;
‘I’m a historian’ / ‘I’ll give you history!’
‘I’ve got right of way’ / ‘I’ll give you right of way’
& so on, in that deep half-breed, inbred accent that has lingered for centuries in the shadowy valleys between Burnley & Blackburn.
So I hit the road again, passing through Simonstone & Read, & on to Whalley. Its another piece of Boutique Lancashire – A Surreyesque gaggle of posh shops & stuff & some really historic Christian buildings. After pottering about a bit & taking a few photos of the crosses, I thought I’d head on up towards Clitheroe, soaking in the scenery .
A couple of miles outside Whalley I came to Barrow, a long, house-lined stretch of road in the Scottish style. As I passed through, I asked several locals about the Anglo-Saxon Barrow the village was named after, with none of them – including the three old guys in the pub – having the faintest idea of what I was talking about. Basically, where the ASC states;
A.D. 798.This year a severe battle was fought in the Northumbrian territory, during Lent, on the fourth day before the nones of April, at Whalley; wherein Alric, the son of Herbert, was slain, and many others with him.
We have an 6-8th century Anglo-Saxon battle 1.5 miles from a place called Barrow, just like the battles of Barrowford & Winwaed. I don’t have the reference to hand, but I know Ive read in some obscure antiquarians magazine that a tumulus at Barrow was suspected of being Alric’s barrow. I’ll have to dig it out when I return to Scotland. The barrows location is probably connected to a place called Catlow, which seems a hybrid word of Cat (celtic/gaelic for battle) & hlaw (OE for burial chamber).
Choosing not to enter Clitheroe, I decided to climb Pendle, but as soon as I crossed the bypass it began to hail it down. Swiftly hitching a lift I avoided the worst of the flash storm & had surmounted Pendle in a few minutes, dropping from the savage heath into the hidden idyll that is Sabden. I found myself at the heart of Witch Country – that secluded hidden valley where semi-pagan, semi-catholic rituals were misconstrued by superstitious locals as sorcery, sending many inncocent women – & a couple of clearly insane old ladies – to their noose-neck deaths at Lancaster.
Dropping back into the Burnley vale, I returned to the task at hand – searching for Brunanburh. We must return to the vita of Etheldreda, who tells that after leaving Altham she headed for Bradford in Yoprkshire, where, ‘another miracle shone out under her protection, for which it seems wrong to conceal under the cover of silence. For there is a village called Bradford, in which there was a young man who had seven years long for an unknown reason lacked the use of his tongue.‘ Nahthen – on the journey between Alftham & Bradford she performed another miracle : pausing on a plain, she struck her staff into the ground – which magically turned into an ash tree.
There came a time when she was walking in the burning heat of the Sun, and exceedingly weary as the result of her unaccustomed exertion, she could scarcely stand. She therefore sought intently a shady, pleasant place, so that they might cool their bosoms, drenched as they were with sweat, and reinvigorate their weary limbs with a new strength. And her prayer was not unavailing: no, its swift effectiveness yielded the desired result, and, as she continued on her way at a slow pace, it was arranged by God’s grace that she happened upon a place nearby, suitable as a stopping place for travellers, a remarkably flat meadow – you would have thought it had been levelled deliberately – sprinkled all about with flowers of various colours. She made for the longed-for place, saw it be agreeable, was delighted that it was possible to stop there, to breathe in wiith pleasure wondeful, flower-scented draughts of air. the saintly traveller, delighted by the pleasantness of the place, desired to stop there for a little while, refresh herself for a little while, so that, once the strength of her weary limbs was restored, she might complete the remainder of her journey. Then she setteled herself down and fell asleep. And there she slept for a while in the place where tiredness had compelled her to sleep.
When, after a little while, she woke up from her sleep & rose to her feet, she found that her travelling-staff, the end of which she had driven into the ground, dry & long-seasoned, was now clothed with green bark, and had sprouted and put forth leaves. Seeing this, she was stupefied with amazement and, along with her companions, she praised god and blessed him for this most extraordinary happening from her innermost heart.
I would now like to propose that this miracle is the philological root to a name found in the Irish chronicle known as the ‘Annals of Clonmacnoise’ which places the Brunanburh battle at the Plains of Othlyn. Most scholars when looking at the etymology of Othlyn, plump for something like the pool (gealic = lynn) of Otha. Nobody, I believe, has looked at another possibility; that of the ash tree (celtic = ynn) of Othl. The burnley area in the mid-7th century was brythonic – the Saxons had only just reached Chester in 616, so the locals should have given the miracles location a celtic name. In addition, none of us were present when the Clonmacnoise scribe was writing down the word, & tho Irish scribes often changed ‘th’ sounds to ‘d,’ in the case of foreign fisrt names the ‘th’ would be kept, as in the Pictish name ‘Cathasaig’.
AD 749 Iugulatio Cathasaig maic Ailello ríg Cruithne, h-i Raith Betheach. (Annals of Tigernach)
The heart of Burnley rests very much in a valley, parts of which are indeed very plain-like; stretching from Towneley to the River Brun. By the way, overlooking that very plain are the long-forgotten, but very real remains of a fortification, that to all extents & purposes feels rather like an Anglo-saxon burh.
Ainsworth-Williams, Geoffrey – Locus Benedictus 1995
Goscelin of Saint-Bertin – Lives of female saints (tr. Rosalind C Love)
Taylor, Henry – Crosses & Holy wells of Lancashire (1906)
Before we leave Vinheath in order to explore the rest of the Brunanburh battlefields (there are at least three), let us examine one last piece of Egil’s Saga related topographical evidence that reinforces the Burnley site. It concerns Athelstan’s ally, Earl Alfgeir, who slipped away from an early skirmish on the heath, a couple of days before the main event.
Then he rode to the south country, and of his travel ’tis to be told that he rode a night and a day till he came westwards to Earls-ness. Then the earl got a ship to take him southwards over the sea
Let us now analyze the few clues found in the passage, to see if they fit in with the Burnley location;
(i) Then he rode to the south country
In 937, the Burnley area was a part of Northumbria, but only thirty or so miles to the north of the Mercian border which stretched between the Mersey & the Humber rivers. Just beyond lay the Anglo-Saxon people known as the Southumbrians or ‘Suðanhymbre.’ A record of them is found in the ASC, when in 702 King Kenred ‘assumed the government of the Southumbrians,’ two years before becoming the King of all Mercians.
(ii) Of his travel ’tis to be told that he rode a night and a day till he came westwards to Earls-ness
A full night & days riding (24 hours), through the thick Lancashire forests of a thousand years ago, would have equated to somewhere between 50 & a 100 miles. This means that we are looking for a sea-port called ‘Earls-ness to the south of the Mersey & somewhere to the west of Burnley. The only other record of an Earl’s Ness in this part of Britain is the ‘Jarlsness’ mentioned in the Orkneyinga Saga. It describes how a 12th century Viking called Sveinn sailed from the Isle of Man, harried Wales, then attacked Earl’s Ness, as in;
Then Swein and Holdbodi went out on an expedition with five ships. They plundered in Bretland (Wales), landing at a place called Jarlsness and committing great ravages. One morning they went into a certain village, and met with a little resistance. The inhabitants fled from the village, and Swein and his men plundered everything, and burnt six homesteads before dinner. An Icelander, named Eirfk was with Swein, and sang the following :
Half-a-dozen homesteads burning.
Half-a-dozen households plundered :
This was Swein’s work of a mommg —
This his vengeance ; coals he lent them.
Between the Isle of Man & northern Wales, the only part of the Mercian ‘Suðanhymbre,’ is the Wirral peninsular, between the Dee & Mersey rivers. It should be no surprise, then, to discover that there once was a sea-port called Ness that sat on the south Wirral coast. Francis WT Tudsbery writes;
In course of an expedition thence to Bretland, he anchors at Jarlsnes… I think it more likely that the Orkney Saga alludes to Wirral’s Nesses, where an Earl’s Ness is proved to have been
Taking the M6 & M56, the journey between Burnley & Ness is about 80 miles -a healthy fit for the night & days ride of Aelfgir. Ness, & its sister settlement Neston, served a small pocket of Viking townships that had been permitted to settle on the Wirral by Queen Aethelflead in the early 900s. The coastline has changed over the past thousand years & the sea-ports have been silted into still silence. However, they were once important places of traffic & transit, echoed in the discovery at Ness of a silver Viking ingot, while at Neston were discovered fragments of a Viking cross.
The Burnley Brunanburh fits in with Ness with a composite sweetness, & also helps us understand a little more about that wyrd Viking demense that sprung up on the Wirral. After being driven out of Ireland, the Norse fled to the Wirral, where they were ‘put up’ so to speak, by the Anglo-Saxon administration. Their leaderv was a certain Ingimund, who seemed to have charmed Queen Aethelflaed into letting him stay on the British mainland. But, just like in York, they would have needed an ‘Earl’ to look after them, & thus we can see how Ness – Earl’s Ness – would have been the principle port of the Wirral Vikings.
Before I whizz back to Burnley, I’d just like to show the route between Nesston & other Brunanburh candidates.
Nesston to Bromborough is basically seven miles, & although Nesston is indeed to the west of Bromborough, no border is crossed & one would imagine it would take a lot less time than 24 hours on horseback to get there.
Lanchester to Nesston does cross the border into Southumbria, & does travel west to the sea – but Alfgeir would have had to cover 175 miles in just 24 hours – thats more or less seven miles an hour , up & down the Pennines, over the most rugged roadless terrain, without ever stopping.