Charters and Leofwine, Ealdorman of the Hwicce

I always think that the characters of Anglo-Saxon England are a little too ethereal for people to really connect with. As I’ve said before, I think it’s difficult to visualise life before the Norman Conquest, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

My current obsession, and victim of my historical fiction endeavours is Leofwine, Ealdorman of the Hwicce during the reign of Aethelred, who I refuse to call ‘Unready’ because I just don’t think he was. I think, as many might say about todays economic situation, that he was a victim of his times, treated harshly by historians. (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/344194)

My research is going deeper, examining the evidence of the charter attestations that Leofwine made (where he signs, and therefore, it must be assumes, agrees to whatever the charter is concerned with). Charters from before the Norman Conquest are rare, and have only survived in copies because they benefitted someone in some way, normally the monastery or Church that the copy of the original charter has survived in.

This effectively means that in determining the validity of the Charter, historians need to know about what was happening in the world at large, when the COPY of the charter was made. Effectively, to study Anglo-Saxon history, you have to also study early Anglo-Norman history to work out just what’s going on and why the Charter is so important.

In the records of Sherborne, Leofwine’s name can be found attesting two charters. No original copies of the charters survive, and the record as we have it, is in a twelfth century hand. So, should it be trusted? Should it be used as an historical source? Or as with so much history, can it really only be used as a historical record of the time period that produced it? After all, at least a hundred years and probably more like 150 years, separate the copy of the charter and the date of its drafting and attestation.

It’s an interesting dilemma and one I don’t plan on solving today. Would I use it? Yes, I would but I’d be standing on the shoulders of those giants of academic history who have studied far more charters than me and who have decided that the copies are ‘probably’ genuine as they stand. 

And how relevant are they to Leofwine? I think very, because they appear to show his standing at the Royal Court. In S933 (AD1015) he signs as the third ‘dux’ (ealdorman) and on S910 from AD1005 he also signs as the third ‘dux’. So what does it all mean? Well, as with everything the picture is wider than just Sherborne. In total Leofwine attests 41 charters whilst an Ealdorman. So although I think its important to examine the validity of the Cartularies that the charters survive in, it’s a bit of a painstaking and picky business. But one I’m enjoying. For anyone really keen to look at Leofwine’s charters in more detail, you can start by having a look at http://www.kemble.asnc.cam.ac.uk.

Enjoy.

The Liberties of Historical Fiction and What makes a perfect work of historical fiction

Non-fiction is a wonderful genre when the author has an engaging writing style; but historical fiction can really bring an historical event to life – so that we can visualise it and, if we’re really lucky, put ourselves in that time and place with the characters.

But with that said, historical fiction is responsible for reenforcing outdated ideas about the past, and when it becomes popular (or rather if) does it do more harm than good?

As a self-confessed history nerd, I know that if a work of fiction captures my imagination, I will nine times out of ten, research the time period myself and see how realistic the portrayal was. It doesn’t spoil my enjoyment of the fiction if I find huge errors, but it might make me a little wary when reading future books by the same author. 

Often the worse thing, in my opinion, that an historical fiction author can do is weave a fictional character into a sea of ‘real’ historical characters and present them as just as real. Not that I don’t appreciate that many ‘bit parts’ will be fictional, but surely, not the main character in a story of King’s and Princes. (I was once traumatised after reading a trilogy of books of over 500 pages each when this first happened to me – and I’m naming no names!)

But there are also far worse things – they can use glaringly modern terms, or misinterpret the events, or put a rosy ‘romantic’ glow over it all (as happens in much historical fiction about women!) or present their heroine as rising about the societal norms whilst inflicting those norms on other characters.

Don’t get me wrong here, I strongly believe that humankind has not suddenly undergone some strange enlightenment in the past century. I believe romantic love must have existed for far longer than some historians would have us believe. Today’s population can’t wholly be the result of non-consensual sex and rape, for if it us, what does that really say about men and women as two separate genders. I think some commons sense must be applied. Men and women have been in relationships since they first walked on Earth. And in Anglo-Saxon and Viking times (before the Christianisation took place) men relied on their wives or common law wives to run their homes in their absence. If not love, then at least trust must have existed.

But I digress, so far my pet hates are too much romance, too much ‘bad’ history, and too much ‘one rule for everyone else and a different one for the authors hero or heroine’. To that I must add historical fiction that’s exclusively ‘man’ orientated – battles, blood and gore (yawn!).

So what makes my perfect word of historical fiction;

1) a good storyline that’s more truth than fantasy

2) a firm grounding in the time period

3) characters who are people

4) to be taught something

5) a series of books – I don’t like stand alone novels as a reader, I’ve not yet decided as an author.

6) something different – not the same people told from a different point of view i.e. the Tudor women.

If I think of anything else, I’ll add it on. Let me know what you think.

 

Nationality before 1066

At the moment I’m writing about the battle of Brunanburh in 937, a battle between the English King, the Scottish King, the King of Strathclyde and the Dublin Vikings. It’s a great project and I’m really enjoying it, but it’s made me consider how I should be using my characters nationality, and more importantly, how I should be describing them.

http://www.wattpad.com/story/15294409-brunanburh

It all seems simple enough to use English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh but really, is that correct? The Welsh are perhaps giving me the most trouble because back in 937 the kingdoms weren’t amalgamated, instead being very much like the earlier Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of the Mercians and the Northumbrians. And even the term Welsh, which I seem to think is Anglo-Saxon for foreigner, may not be how these people thought of themselves.

In the end, I’ve chosen to call those living in what is now Wales the British because the thinking is that the arrival of the Anglo-Saxons pushed the native Britons into the extremities of the UK, into Wales, Cornwall and Scotland. I know it’s a slightly picky point, but when dealing with the time period in question, it’s important to get the little details correct.

More than anything I want to portray the men I’m writing about in a way that readers today can relate to them. Yes, they might have been a little more violent, but overall, they really can’t have been that different to us.

So, have a read of Brunanburh over on Wattpad and let me know how you think I’m doing!