Monthly Archives: June 2015

Dark Age Candles (v)


Maserfield & Brune

St Oswald being killed at Maserfield
St Oswald being killed at Maserfield

So that’s me back in the mother-ship, Burnley, where I’ll be working from a distance on The Mumble for the coming cultural orgy that are the Edinburgh festivals. I’ll also be lighting a few of these Dark Age Candles while I’m down here, starting with something remarkable that has grown out of my recent investigations into the site of Brunanburh, that great 10th century battle which settled the native nature of the British Isles forever. Since I completed the dig, back in April I received an email from the much-maligned but incredibly keen-minded New Zealand Litologist,  Sean Bambrough, which contained the following sentence;

Could ‘this place called Brune,’ in chapter 10 of Geoffrey of Monmouth be your Burnley?

Could it indeed? I’d never see it before, thinking the Annales Cambrae use of the word Brune – as appertaining to the battle of Brunanburh – was the only use of the name, as in;

938  Bellum Brune

It was time to get my litological hands dirty again, & finding the passage in  Big Geoff’s History, I observed that the name Brune was given to a place where the Northumbrian king, Oswald, was slain in battle.  When I discovered that variant editions of Big Geoff, such as the Harlech,  give us Burne, I’m like, this really does feel like Brunley/Burnley. Looking into Oswald’s death, I discovered that it took place about the year 642, where King Penda of Mercia met & slew Oswald at a place called Maserfelth, as in Bede’s; ‘Oswald was killed in a great battle, by the same Pagan nation and Pagan king of the Mercians who had slain his predecessor, Edwin, at a place called in the English tongue, Maserfelth, in the thirty-eighth year of his age, on the fifth day of the month of August.’

During my dig, I’d shown how the Burnley area was some kind of border zone prone to warfare, such as the battle of Winfeld.  Was it possible that Maserfield was also fought in the area? At first glance,  nothing popped up. But I was aware of the name Marsden from the Nelson area, the town just to the north of Burnley into which its terraces blend seamlessly. I also knew that where ‘den’ means ‘narrow valley,’ felth means ‘open space’ – rendering it possible that there once was a Marsfield connected to Marsden. Andrew Breeze comments on the Northern-ness of this word when he writes;  ‘The element -felth might direct scholarly attention towards the northern part of the conflict zone, the southern portion of Yorkshire being an area where place names containing “-field.’ He also adds that the battle must have taken place on or near the Northumbrian border – which Burnley was by the way – as in;

By telling his readers that Oswald was slain pro patria dimicans, “fighting for his fatherland,” Bede seems to be suggesting that Maserfelth was a battle fought in defence of Oswald’s core territory (HE 3.9)… Taken at face value, this might direct the reader to envisage the site of the king’s death as a place within Northumbrian territory or close to its frontier… In this context, Oswestry seems an unlikely candidate, being situated not only a considerable distance from Northumbria’s nearest border but closer to the core territory of her foes.

Marsden Park, Nelson
Marsden Park, Nelson

Its now time for a spot of chispology, through which we can ascertain that Maserfield was indeed fought in a field next to Marsden. Looking into ‘A History of the County of Lancaster: Volume 6 (1911)’ we find the following names for the township of Marsden’

Merkesden, 1195;

Merclesden, Merkelstene, 1242;

Merclisden, 1258.

Which we can compare with Maserfield variant  names, such as John of Brompton’s Maxelfeld (15th C) or better still  the Marcelde’s field found inscribed on an ancient well dedicated to Saint Oswald.  Mr. Baines says

Little more than half a mile to the north, on the road to Golborne and Wigan, is an ancient well, which has been known from time immemorial by the name of ‘St. Oswald’s Well.'” This well is still in existence, and a certain veneration at the present time hovers about it in the minds of others than the superstitious peasantry. On the upper portion of the south wall of the church is an inscription in Latin, purporting to be a “renovation” of a previous one, by a person named Sclater, in the year 1530, in the curacy of Henry Johnson. On a recent visit, this inscription, as well as other portions of the edifice, I found had undergone further renovation. Gough translates the first three lines as follows

This place of old did Oswald greatly love: Who the Northumbers ruled, now reigns above, And from Marcelde did to Heaven remove.

Mr. Beamont gives the translation of the inscription as follows:

This place of yore did Oswald greatly love, Northumbria’s King, but now a saint above, Who in Marcelde’s field did fighting fall, Hear us, oh blest one, when here to thee we call.

(A line over the porch obliterated.) In fifteen hundred and just three times ten, Sclater restored and built this wall again, And Henry Johnson here was curate then.

This, and its repetition by Hollingworth in his “Mancuniensis…,”The inscription does not, as some have assumed, state the church is built in, on, or near Marcelde. It merely asserts that Oswald died at a place so named.

The actual battle site, I believe, is to be found at Whitefield in Nelson, which connects smoothely with the 12th century historian, Henry of Huntingdon’s account of the battle: “It is said the plain of Maserfeld was white with the bones of the Saints.” We can also connect the area with the Welsh name for the battle – as in the Canu Heledd’s; ‘On the ground of Maes Cogwy, I saw armies, battle affliction,‘ & the Historia Brittonum’s, ‘Battle of Cocboy.’ About a mile from Marsen, in the direction of Burnley, one comes to a valley called ‘Cockden,‘ whose first semantic element matches both ‘Cog‘ & Coc.’



More evidence comes from the village of Oswaldtwistle, about 5 miles from the field. According to Halliwell’s dictionary, ‘twistle‘ means – ‘that part of a tree where branches divide.’ This connects to the grisly demise of Oswald, who according to Bede had his limbs & heads torn from him & put on stakes – i.e. the branches were divided from his body.  That this took place at Oswaldtwistle is confirmed by a certain rivulet known as the White Ash Brook, which flows through the village. White in ancient Welsh is the same as ‘holy,’ thus once it would have been the Holy Ash Brook which connects with Reginald of Durham’s account of a miracle concerning Oswald’s right arm.

The arm, with its consecrated right hand, fell on the bare hard rock. All at once, through God’s wonderful power, from the spot where the holy arm touched the ground in its fall, there gushed out a clear unfailing spring… It so happened that Oswin the king, prompted by a message from God, found his way to this spring… He took the arm and hand out of its waters, and as the vision had commanded, he bore away the most holy head with its arms and hands. On this spot, right up until today, miracles are worked through the power of God and the merits of St Oswald. Here sick people receive the gift of health; the mad who come here are freed of their demons; and through drinking the consecrated waters, many kinds of illness are redeemed. The Life of St Oswald by Reginald of Durham (1165) 

White Ash Brook
White Ash Brook

More miracles are recorded about the death of (Saint) Oswald, which we can now give a location as the Whitefield in Nelson, Lancashire. Bede tells us;


OSWALD, the most Christian king of the Northumbrians, reigned nine years, including that year which is to be held accursed for the brutal impiety of the king of the Britons, and the apostasy of the English kings; for, as was said above, it is agreed by the unanimous consent of all, that the names of the apostates should be erased from the catalogue of the Christian kings, and no date ascribed to their reign. After which period, Oswald was killed in a great battle, by the same pagan nation and pagan king of the Mercians, who had slain his predecessor Edwin, at a place called in the English tongue Maserfield, in the thirty-eighth year of his age, on the fifth day of the month of August.

How great his faith was towards God, and how remarkable his devotion, has been made evident by miracles since his death; for, in the place where he was killed by the pagans, fighting for his country, infirm men and cattle are healed to this day. Whereupon many took up the very dust of the place where his body fell, and putting it into water, did much good with it to their friends who were sick. This custom came so much into use, that the earth being carried away by degrees, there remained a hole as deep as the height of a man. Nor is it to be wondered that the sick should be healed in the place where he died; for, whilst he lived, he never ceased to provide for the poor and infirm, and to bestow alms on them, and assist them. Many miracles are said to have been wrought in that place, or with the earth carried from thence; but we have thought it sufficient to mention two, which we heard from our ancestors.

It happened, not long after his death, that a man was traveling near that place, when his horse on a sudden began to tire, to stand stock still, hang down his head, and foam at the mouth, and, at length, as his pain increased, he fell to the ground; the rider dismounted, and throwing some straw under him, waited to see whether the beast would recover or die. At length, after much rolling about in extreme anguish, the horse happened to come to the very place where the aforesaid king died. Immediately the pain ceased, the beast gave over his struggles, and, as is usual with tired cattle, turned gently from side to side, and then starting up, perfectly recovered, began to graze on the green herbage; which the man observing, being an ingenious person, he concluded there must be some wonderful sanctity in the place where the horse had been healed, and left a mark there, that he might know the spot again. After which he again mounted his horse and repaired to the inn where he intended to stop. On his arrival he found a girl, niece to the landlord, who had long languished under the palsy; and when the friends of the family, in his presence, lamented the girl’s calamity, he gave them an account of the place where his horse had been cured. In short, she was put into a cart and carried and laid down at the place. At first she slept awhile, and when she awaked found herself healed of her infirmity. Upon which she called for water, washed her face, put up her hair, and dressed her head, and returned home on foot, in good health, with those who had brought her.


ABOUT the same time, another person of the British nation, as is reported, happened to travel by the same place, where the aforesaid battle was fought, and observing one particular spot of ground greener and more beautiful than any other part of the field, he judiciously concluded with himself that there could be no other cause for that unusual greenness, but that some person of more holiness than any other in the army had been killed there. He therefore took along with him some of that earth, tying it up in a linen cloth, supposing it would some time or other be of use for curing sick people, and proceeding on his journey, came at night to a certain village, and entered a house where the neighbors were feasting at supper; being received by the owners of the house, he sat down with them at the entertainment, hanging the cloth, in which he had brought the earth, on a post against the wall. They sat long at supper and drank hard, with a great fire in the middle of the room; it happened that the sparks flew up and caught the top of the house, which being made of wattles and thatch, was presently in a flame; the guests ran out in a fright, without being able to put a stop to the fire. The house was consequently burnt down, only that post on which the earth hung remained entire and un- touched. On observing this, they were all amazed, and inquiring into it diligently, understood that the earth had been taken from the place where the blood of King Oswald had been shed. These miracles being made known and reported abroad, many began daily to frequent that place, and received health to themselves and theirs.


Saint Oswald Durham Cathedral
Saint Oswald Durham Cathedral



This is a wonderful moment in Anglo-Saxon studies, for now not only can we finally confirm the contentious sites of Brunanburh & Maserfield, but we gain more insights into the lost but very real Anglo-Saxon presence in Lancashire. It is also a great confirmation for the power of words to hold the keys of history in their meagre letters, & I shall leave this post with the words of Professor Dwight Whitney, who in his “Life and Growth of Language,” says, ‘It must be carefully noted, indeed, that the reach of phonetics, its power to penetrate to the heart of its facts and account for them, is only limited. There is always one element in linguistic change which refuses scientific treatment, namely, the action of the human will. The work is all done by human beings, adapting means to ends, under the impulse of motives and the guidance of habits which are the resultant of causes so multifarious and obscure that they elude recognition and defy estimate… Every period of linguistic life, with its constantly progressive changes of form and meaning, wipes out a part of the intermediates which connect a derived element with its original.

As linguistics is a historical science, so its evidences are historical, and its methods of proof of the same character. There is no absolute demonstration about it: there is only probability, in the same varying degree as elsewhere in historical enquiry. There are no rules, the strict application of which will lead to infallible results. Nothing will make dispensable the wide gathering-in of evidence, the careful sifting of it, so as to determine what bears upon the case in hand and how directly, the judicial balancing of apparently conflicting testimony, the refraining from pushing conclusions beyond what the evidences warrant, the willingness to rest, when necessary, in a merely negative conclusion, which should characterize the historical investigator in all departments.


Dark Age Candles (IV)


The Birth of Edinburgh

An Early Edinburgh
An Early Edinburgh

Today I leave Edinburgh for a few weeks, heading back to Lancashire where most of these Dark Age candles are going to be lit. However, before I go I’d like to propose the approximate birth-date of the  city of Edinburgh outwith her castle.

The main difference, I believe, between my personal approach to history & that of many scholars, is that where they spend the majority of their time attacking the sources, I tend to use them. The key is learning how to read a difficult & oblique text, rather than declare it as phantasmagorical & discard it completely. Modern scholars also tend to trust each other’s work a tad too much, putting complete faith in their school & schooling rather than their own abilities. The York historian Guy Halsall summed up the attitude perfectly. After countering his anti-Arthurian stance with some new evidence, he retorted by saying, ‘I’ve looked at your bibliography & you don’t know anything.’ The thing is, my bibliography in the main consisted of primary sources, & his insistence on me not knowing anything was based upon my not quoting from the academic handling of this source material. So, moving on quite regardless, let us now examine these lines from the Book of Carmarthen’s poem, Pa Gur, an intriguing text which highlights some of King Arthur’s obscurer battles.

In the fastnesses of Dissethach,  
In Mynyd Eiddyn,         
He contended with Cynbyn;

These three lines store a hell of a lot of information. We know that Arthur fought a campaign in Scotland against the Cynbyn – which translates as ‘Dogheads.‘  We know the campaign was fought in Scotland, for Mynyd Eiddyn is Edinburgh, while Dissethach connects to Tig Scathach, & Dun Scathach, the ‘Fort of Scathach’ found on the island of Skye. Scathach is a legendary figure in the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology, a Scottish warrior woman whose homelands were Alpae, i.e. Alba. This is the moment where most historians stop their research into the affair. The thing is, we moderns must probe deeper & look for these combinations elsewhere in the records. In this case, there is a great deal of information waiting to burst out of those three wee lines.


In an earlier post I  showed how King Arthur was a Pictish King, who appears as Garthnach son of Gygyurn in the Pictish King Lists, as in;

Drest Gurthinmoch (472-502)
Galan Erilic (502-517)
Drest son of Gygurn (517-530)
Garthnach son of Gygurn (530-537)
Cailtaine son of Gygurn (537-538)

What interests us here is the name Galan Erilic, who lost his kingship in 517 AD, to be replaced by Arthur’s brother, Drest. Let us now look at another event that happened in that very same year.

517 - The Battle of Badon, in which Arthur carried the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ for three days and three nights on his shoulders and the Britons were the victors.

The question is, are the two events connected in some way, did Galan Erilic give up his throne in response to his defeat at Badon.

In the Historia Brittonum’s list of Arthurian battles, the siege at Badon is preceeded immediately by the siege of Mount Agnet – which I & other scholars have shown to have been fought at Edinburgh. I have also shown how the battles of Agned & Badon seem to have been fought in the same year, based upon a Scandinavian warrior known as Yder / Ederyn fighting at both battles.  In light of this, by adding Pa Gur into the mix we begin to see, or rather scry, a campaign fought by Arthur in which Galan Erilich was involved.



Now comes the juicy part. The epithet ‘Erilic’ means ‘Herulian,’ a dark-age warrior-tribe based in both Scandinavia & SE Europe, the symbol of whom is present on a number of Pictish stones. The exact same symbol as shown above – the Scandinavian rune for sun, the lighting-like Sowilaz, running through a pair of Herulian concentrics  – can be found in Skye, one of only a couple of Pictish stones discovered on the island. It is called the Clach Ard stone, & its presence on Skye provides us with the Herulian angle, to whom we can connect to Galan Eriliz through the name of the majestic Cuillin hills, as in Galan = Cuillin. Indeed, Clach Ard translates as ‘Ard’s Stone,’ & an Arthurian aspect to it may not be ruled out.



 Loch Coruisk and The Cuillin Hills from Sgurr na Stri in
Loch Coruisk and The Cuillin Hills from Sgurr na Stri in


The final piece of the jigsaw comes with the viable connection of the Cynbyn/Dogheads with Galan Erilic.  We begin with a fragment of a stone found in a church wall at the southern shore of the Maelar (Strängnäs) in Sweden, which has inscribed upon it;

.rilaR .wodinR

This connects the Herulians to the wolf-cult of Woden, which also included the Lombards among its devotees. Now let us look at the following passage from the 6th century historian Paul the Deacon; {The Lombards} pretended to have some cynocephapli (that is, men with dog’s heads) in their camp, & circulated among their enemies a rumour that these warriors never tired of fighting, that they drank human blood, & if they could not lay hands on an enemy, sucked their own blood.’  Here Paul the Deacon is referring to the ‘bezerker’ quality of ancient warriors such as the Lombards & the Herulians.



Combining the evidence, one can see Arthur fighting a campaign roundabout 516/517 in which he defeated at least some Herulians in Edinburgh, Dumbarton (Mount Badon) & Skye. In the aftermath we get the perfect background for Big Geoff’s statement that Ebraucus, ‘built the city of Alt Clud towards Albini, and the town of mount Agned, called at this time the Castle of Maidens.’ The refortification of these two strongholds in the wake of the war would have secured central Scotland for the Arthurians, & with it the first streets of Edinburgh would have been built around Castle Rock – which up until that time had been a mere defence work, which according to the Lancelot-Graal, ‘had been secretly fortified at the time Vortigern married the daughter of Hengist the Saxon.’ This was in the mid-450s, & the fort had seems to have been built upon the Roman ‘Alauna,’ as mentioned by Ptolemy. However, it was after Arthur’s victory against Galan Erilic that a comforting blanket of peace descended on the area, enough for  Eleuther / Ebraucus to build the first version of Edinburgh at some point after those fateful battles of 517AD.

Dark Age Candles (III)


Coroticus & Old King Cole

Carlow Cathedral St Patrick Preaching to the Kings
Carlow Cathedral St Patrick Preaching to the Kings

During my Grail-Quest, I observed how the famous Old King Cole of the nursery rhyme was in fact the founding father of a series of northern dynasties stretching from the mid-fifth  to the late 6th century. I also showed how he had been slain in battle by Horwendil – where he had the name Koller – & was buried in Ayrshire. Saxo Grammaticus tells us;

Horwendil held the monarchy for three years, and then, to will the height of glory, devoted himself to roving. Then Koller, King of Norway, in rivalry of his great deeds and renown, deemed it would be a handsome deed if by his greater strength in arms he could bedim the far-famed glory of the rover;

We learn from this that that Old King Cole was something of a ‘rover’ – ie a pirate. Now, before we continue I would like to introduce the following babel-chain;



Cereticus * Guledic

It is possible, then, that Cole is a shortening of Guledic, which meant something like cheiftan in Dark Age Welsh. Indeed,  Harleian pedigree 19 reads:

Catguallaun map Guitcun map Samuil penissel map Pappa post Priten map Ceneu map Gyl hen

Gyl, by the way, is a perfect match for Kyle – the district in Ayrshire said to be named after King Coel himself. This means that Cole/Koller could have been Cereticus Guledic, who appears in the Harleain genealogies as the father of Cinuit. It cannot be denied that Cinuit is a match for Ceneu, who just so happens (in the DMN) to be the son of Coel. Further proof comes with the descendental presence of Cynfelyn, king of Edinburgh, in both genealogies.


Returning a moment to Koller’s status as a sea-rover, as suggested by Saxo Grammaticus, let us examine parts of a letter written in the 5th century by Saint Patrick to a certain Coroticus. In it, the saint announces that he has excommunicated Coroticus’ men, while the seventh century Life of St Patrick by Muirchu Maccu Machtheni (found in the 9th century Book of Armagh) supports Ceretic-as-Coroticus with the phrase, “De conflict sancti Patricii aduersum Coirthech regem Aloo.‘ Here, Aloo stands for Alt Clud, i.e. Dumbarton, the capital of Ceretic Guledic (see note). More support for Coroticus being the British-based Coel, etc, comes in a 12th century version of the Life of St Patrick found in the Royal Library at Brussels which gives us a chapter missing from the Book of Armargh. In it we are presented with, ‘a certain British king called Coroticus, an ill-starred and cruel tyrant.

Extracts from the letter read;


With my own hand I have written and put together these words to be given and handed on and sent to the soldiers of Coroticus. I cannot say that they are my fellow-citizens, nor fellow-citizens of the saints of Rome, but fellow-citizens of demons, because of their evil works. By their hostile ways they live in death, allies of the apostate Scots and Picts. They are blood-stained: blood-stained with the blood of innocent Christians, whose numbers I have given birth to in God and confirmed in Christ.

The newly baptised and anointed were dressed in white robes; the anointing was still to be seen clearly on their foreheads when they were cruelly slain and sacrificed by the sword of the ones I referred to above. On the day after that, I sent a letter by a holy priest (whom I had taught from infancy), with clerics, to ask that they return to us some of the booty or of the baptised prisoners they had captured. They scoffed at them.

So where will Coroticus and his villainous rebels against Christ find themselves – those who divide out defenceless baptised women as prizes, all for the sake of a miserable temporal kingdom, which will pass away in a moment of time. Just as cloud of smoke is blown away by the wind, that is how deceitful sinners will perish from the face of the Lord. The just, however, will banquet in great constancy with Christ. They will judge nations, and will rule over evil kings for all ages. Amen.


Essentially, we have the dastardly doings of a sea-rover, whose name Coroticus can be chispologicaly connected with some ease to King Koller/Coel. Knowing that Koller was the King of Norway, we can now gain an insight into the etymology of Guletic. It derives, as can be seen, from the name Gulating (Old Norse Gulaþing), which was an annual parliamentary assembly which took place in Gulen (Gyl Hen?), on the west coast of Norway north of Bergen, from at least 900AD. Its roots, however, may have stretched back centuries to the days when the Kings of Norway were also known as the Guletic.

Norwegian Parliamentary Plains at Eivindvik in Gulen
Norwegian Parliamentary Plains at Eivindvik in Gulen



In the first of this Dark Age Candles series, I showed how the East Anglian dynasty was connected to both Scandinavia & Scotland, & it is the eking out of the true King Coel that stands this all in good stead.

It seems highly likely that King Coel / Ceretic Guledic / Koller & Coroticus were all the same personage – a Norwegian king who at befriended the Scots & Picts & went on to conquer the Roman-abandoned north in the 450s; whose descendants went on to rule kingdoms as far south as the Pennines. Most significantly for our studies, it also places a Scandinavian dynasty at the head of political affairs in the north. Most British scholars have never heard of the Gulating,  a situation endemic throughout British academia for there’s a reluctance to think outwith the islands.  Instead, it is there, across the North Sea, that the answers to many mysteries about the origins of the English lie…



Dark Age Candles (II)


The Author of Beowulf

These Dark Age Candles are meant to be further investigations in the two epic litological digs I made over the winter – The Quest for the Holy Grail & Brunanburh 937AD. It was during my Brunanburh dig that I came to the conclusion that the great Icelandic poet, Egil Skallagrimsson, was the author of the Brunanburh poem as found in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. In one early post I offered a quiet study of the matter, while later in the dig I stumbled upon more evidence which shows that immediately after the battle, Egil is  writing militaristic, kenning-heavy praise poetry to Athelstan, as in;

‘Land-shielder, battle-quickener,
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.’  So, using this platform as an investigation, I wondered if it could be at all possible that Egil Skallagrimsson could also have penned the great Old English epic – Beowulf. In support let us examine the following ‘flags.’




1 – Beowulf uses Icelandic folk motifs

In the introduction to Beowulf, edited by CL Wren & WF Bolton, we read the following passages;
The saga of the historical & well-authenticated Icelandic hero Grettir… attributes to him two fights against supernatural beings – the one closely resembling Beowulf’s fight with Grendel, & the other that which he had with Grendel’s mother in the demon-haunted mere. The resemblances are too close to be fortuitous; & one must suppose common folklorist elements lying behind both – since the late thirteenth-century Grettissaga cannot be supposed to have ‘borrowed’ these ideas from Beowulf, which was not known in Iceland.

What this tells us is that the author of the Icelandic Grettissaga was using the same motifs as the author of Beowulf, a situation which has baffled the academics. Peter A Jorgensen (Grendel, Grettir & Two Skaldic Stanzas: Scripta Islandica 24 / 1973) writes, ‘the most striking parallels are to be found in Beowulf’s battle with Grendel in the beleaguered Heorot, in which the hero eventually kills the intruder by tearing off its arm, & in Grettir’s fight with a monster in the harassed house at Sandhaugar, where the marauder is dispatched in the identical manner.’

If we see these folk-motifs as purely Icelandic, then we may assume that the author of Beowulf had access to Icelandic material – & thus most probably Icelandic.

2 – Haeft-mece / Heptisax

Where Wren/Bolton tell us;

There was evidently something important about a long-handled sword in the folk material which lies behind a fight with Grendel’s mother: for in Beowulf we find the unique haeft-mece & in Grettissaga an otherwise unrecorded instrument called a heptisax plays a part in the fight of Grettir against the female monster.

Jorgenson writes that most convincing;

is the occurrence of the much-discussed nonce word heptisax, found both in the second stanza & in the alleged prose expansion of the verses, corresponding to its generally accepted counterpart in Old English, the hapax legomenon Haeftmece (in Beowulf line 1457). It seems highly improbable that the word should occur only once in all of the extensive battle descriptions in Old Icelandic prose &, by chance, at precisely the same point in a narrative where the corresponding English text employs the cognate form.

There is a difference between the two poems, for in Beowulf it is the eponymous hero who uses the haeftmece, while in the Grettissaga it is the monster who wields the heptisax. In his paper Jorgenson concludes that, ‘the material to which the skaldic verses are eventually indebted stems from the same legend which also became part of the Beowulf epic.’ Again, we may suggest that the Beowulf author had access to Icelandic material – & was thus most probably Icelandic.


3- Compensation

In Beowulf, where Hrothgar pays compensation for the death of Beowulf’s warrior, Hondscioh, at the hands of Grendel, there is a parallel in Egil’s Saga. Here, Athelstan grants Egil two chests of silver as compensation for the death of Throrolf.

4 – The Dates fit

Egil was clearly around in the mid 900s, a period when the English had a great respect for the Danes. Nicholas Jacobs (Anglo-Danish relations, poetic archaism & the Date of Beowulf:Poetica 8 1977) writes; ‘From 927 onwards the Danes constitute a widely accepted element in English society, & an English poem complimentary to them is conceivable at least Down to the resumption of raids in 980.’  Roberta Frank (Skaldic Verse & the Date of Beowulf), remarks, ‘no linguistic or historical fact compels us to anchor Beowulf before the tenth century; if we do so, it is more from our emotional commitment to an early date rather than from hard evidence. Our one secure terminus is the palaeographic dating of the manuscript to around the year 1000.’

Where Walter Goffart estimated that Beowulf could not have been written with these historical details before 923 (Johnston Staver, Ruth (2005) :Placing Beowulf on a Timeline –  A Companion To Beowulf), Jacobs gives us a probable terminus ad quem of the poem when he writes, ‘the first reference by a skald to an event associated with one of the Scyldings of Beowulf occurs around 965 when Eyvindr Skaldaspillir calls gold ‘the seed corn of Fyrisplains’ alluding to the story.‘  Eyvindr was the court poet of Hakon the Good, the English-speaking foster-son of Athelstan, who may well have heard the poem at first hand. His epithet skáldaspillir means literally ‘spoiler of poets’ – which could mean plagarist.

This means that the poem was written between 923 & 965. Returning to Frank for a moment, she tells us ‘the political geography of Beowulf fits comfortably into the period between Alfred & Aethelweard,’ & also suggests the presence of the Geats in Beowulf is a 10th century skaldic theme; ‘The fact that the Geats held together as a people into the eleventh century does not pinpoint the date of Beowulf, but it does suggest that they were as known & topical in the tenth century as in any preceding one – & perhaps more so.’


All this post is meant to do is scrape a little  topsoil off the Egil-wrote-Beowulf theory. The thing is, he was the greatest poet of the age, he did spend time at the Royal English Courts, the Beowulf poem does contain Icelandic motifs & the poem seems to have been composed in his lifetime. This definitely makes him a serious contender not to be dismissed with ease.


Beowulf the work of single author, research suggests

Debate over whether poem was written by multiple authors or one has raged for years

Beowulf, the epic poem of derring-do and monsters, was composed by a single author, research suggests, pouring cold water on the idea it was stitched together from two poems.

One of the most famous works in Old English, Beowulf tells of the eponymous hero who defeats the monster Grendel and his mother, thereby rescuing the Danes from a reign of terror, before returning to his homeland and later dying in a battle with a dragon.

But the poem has been the subject of a long-running debate. While some argued the work is the product of multiple poets, others – including the scholar and Lord of the Rings author JRR Tolkien – have said the evidence suggests it is a single poet’s work.

Recently the debate has resurfaced with some suggesting the poem is the result of two different works joined together – one involving Beowulf’s escapades in Denmark and one involving the dragon.

Now a study adds to a growing body of work suggesting Beowulf was composed by just one poet.

“The authorship question is a topic of perennial interest in Beowulf studies,” said Leonard Neidorf, professor of English Literature at Nanjing University and co-author of the research. “Our article reopens the question in order to apply for the first time some of the most sophisticated computational methods available for author identification.”

Writing in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, the team of researchers from the US and China report how they came to their conclusion by splitting the poem into the two pieces around the points where scholars have suggested a split, and analysing small features of the text.

While various aspects of the poem, including word use, themes and style, have been explored before, the latest study looks at even smaller features of the text and their patterns of use. These include the use of certain types of pause, the use of different rhythms, and the occurrence of words produced by joining others together – such as “bone-house” (written as ban-hus), which the authors say was used to mean the human body. The team also looked at the use of clusters of letters found within words, which are important for the sound of a poem.

The results, derived from computer-based analysis, reveal striking similarities in the way such features were used across both sections of the text. That suggests – although cannot conclusively prove – it was the work of a single poet, the researchers say.

By contrast, the Old English epic Genesis, which is believed to be the product of more than one poet, was found to have marked differences, both in terms of the patterns of the pauses and the use of compound words, between what are thought to be its constituent parts.

But mysteries remain – not least the identity of the Beowulf author. “The most that can be inferred from the language of the poem is that the author probably spoke the Mercian dialect and probably lived during the first half of the eighth century,” said Madison Krieger, co-author of the study from Harvard University.

As well as the findings about Beowulf, the team says the approach also supports the controversial claim that the Old English poem Andreas, whichcharts the dramatic exploits of St Andrew, was composed by a poet called Cynewulf, who is believed to have created at least four other works based on religion.

“With Cynewulf, our tests encourage scholars to reconsider a possibility that has not been seriously entertained in the past half century,” the researchers write.

Dr Francis Leneghan, a Beowulf expert at the University of Oxford, said the study joined a body of evidence supporting the view that Beowulf was composed by one poet. However, he said it would be useful to apply the analysis to smaller chunks of the text to test the idea that it might have been formed from many smaller poems stitched together, or that some lines might have been added over the centuries by scribes.

Leneghan said the authors’ conclusions around Andreas were less convincing, and would stir debate, noting it was thought that the author of Andreas had almost certainly read Beowulf and the works of Cynewulf. “Resemblances between Andreas and the works of Cynewulf are more likely to be the result of imitation,” he said.

Kriger stressed the results were not definitive. “We absolutely entertain the idea that Andreas could be written by a Cynewulf imitator,” he said. “Our work just suggests this might be a less likely explanation than scholars have believed in the past.”

Dark Age Candles (1)



Wuffa & Urfai

Back in the saddle with Tinky Disco
Back in the saddle with Tinky Disco

I’ve been up Scotland way for a month or so now – reviewing Eden festival for the Mumble & starting up Tinky Disco once again, I’ve had a right old ball. Lancashire beckons, however, & with that a brand new 18-part series of Dark Age investigations which I have called Candles. Seeing as I’m in Edinburgh right now, I thought I’d commence with a fascinating discovery I’ve recently made regarding a connection between Edinburgh & the Anglo-Saxons who went on to dominate the British islands. As ever, its a little complex, so I feel it is better to go through the data, step-by-step.

1 – In the B recension of the Y Gododdin poem, translated by Gwyn Thomas, we read;

It was usual for the son of Golystan
(Though his father was no king)
To be listened to when he spoke.
It was usual, for the good of Mynyddawg,
To have shattered shields & a red spear
Before a lord of Eidyn, Urfai.

In recent years a  number of scholars have suggested that Golystan was an Anglo-Saxon name, but went no further. Instead, let us now look for a tally between Urfai son of Golystan in the other Anglo-Saxon records. This leads us to a certain ‘Uffa son of Guillem Guercha’ as found in the Historia Brittonum, one of the earliest kings of East Anglia. In another version of the lineage – the East Anglian dynastic tally in the Anglian collection –  we find Wuffa son of Wehha, which leads us onto a certain Weohstan as found in the Beowulf poem. Now let us assemble the following babel-chain.


            Wehha  — Weohstan — Golystan — Guillem Guercha

            Wuffa                                          Urfai                             Uffa


Weohstan is an interesting figure who turns up in Beowulf. It has long been recognized that the ship burial described in the prologue to ‘Beowulf’, i.e.;

In the harbour stood a ring-prowed ship,
 icy, outbound, a nobleman’s vessel;
 there they laid down their dear lord,
 dispenser of rings, in the bosom of the ship,
 glorious, by the mast. There were many treasures
 loaded there, adornments from distant lands;
 I have never heard of a more lovely ship
 bedecked with battle-weapons and war-gear,
 blades and byrnies; in its bosom lay
 many treasures, which were to travel
 far with him into the keeping of the flood.

…is describing a similar one found at Sutton Hoo, in the very heartlands of the East Anglian Kings. In the Beowulf poem we read that Weohstan & his son, Wiglaf, ‘lived among the Geats,‘ & so it is unlikely that Weohstan is the same man as Wehha / Golystan / Guillem Guercha. However, the shared name implies a shared culture, which is in this case confirmed by those textual & actual ship-burials as given above.


Sutton Hoo from the air
Sutton Hoo from the air



2 –  The conclusion we may make here is that the East Anglian King, Wuffa, was at some time the Lord of Edinburgh. Another way to connect this lineage with North Britain is through  the name Guillem Guercha, the latter bit sounding rather like a certain Gwrgi, who is found alongside his brother in the Annales Cambrae & the Descent of the Men of the North

Gwrgi & Peredur are the sons of Eliffer of the Great Retinue son of Arthwys son of Mar son of Keneu son of Coel (DMN)

580AD: Gwrgi and Peredur – sons of Elifert – died (AC)

The Anglian Collection tells us that ‘Wehha was the son of Wilhelm, who was the son of Hryþ.‘ The Thorn or þorn (Þ, þ) is a letter in the Old English, Gothic, Old Norse and modern Icelandic alphabets, pronounced as ‘th.’ This means that Hryþ sounded like Hryth, which through the chispological medium of rhotacism may become ‘hlyth,’ & thus the Eleuther of the Harleian genealogies;

[G]urci ha Peretur mepion Eleuther


Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh
Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh

3 – All that remains here is to somehow connect Peredur & Gwrgi to Edinburgh, & we will be able to see perfectly well how Urfai, the son of Gwrgi (i.e Golystan) was seen as a Lord of Edinburgh. The answer comes through looking firstly at the Mabinogion, in which Peredur’s father is given another name, as in;

Earl Evrawc owned the Earldom of the North. And he had seven sons. And Evrawc maintained himself not so much by his own possessions as by attending tournaments, and wars, and combats…  the name of his seventh son was Peredur, and he was the youngest of them.

Evrawc is a Welshified version of Ebrauc, i.e. Ebraucum, the Roman name for York. The name also appears as a personage in the jumbled history of Big Geoff, who writes that Ebraucus, ‘built the city of Alt Clud towards Albini, and the town of mount Agned, called at this time the Castle of Maidens,‘ i.e. Ebraucus built both Dumbarton & Edinburgh. Interestingly, his other name, ‘Eliffer’ is the son of a certain Arthwys, who could well have given his name to Edinburgh’s Arthur’s Seat.



We can conclude here that Eluether/Ebrauc, the father of Pheredur & Gwrgi, is also remembered as the man who built the cities of Dumbarton & Edinburgh. It also makes sense, now, that his grandson Urfai was described as a Lord of Edinburgh in the Gododdin poem. I believe he took up the position on the death of his father, which according to the Annales Cambrai took place in 580AD. Fascinatingly, according to the 13th century chronicler Roger of Wendover, Wuffa ruled in East Anglia from 571 to 578. In Dark Age chronological terms, 578 & 580 are near enough to be the same time, & so we may conclude that after Gwrgi’s death in the north of Britain (his tombstone is to be found at Yarrow, near Selkirk) his son left his seat in East Anglia & took up the lordship of Edinburgh.