Brunanburh – A Novel of 937

An apt day to share this, I hope. The beginning of my latest novel about a great battle between the English, the Welsh, the Scots and the Dublin Norse.

Prologue September 925 Kingston upon Thames

The church is full, the smell of incense heavy in the air. Expectant faces look my way, some friendly and open, others more hooded although none are overtly hostile. These are my people, and I rule them as King. This ceremony will officially mark me as anointed, raised above them by Almighty God. And for the first time ever, I will be crowned as King of the English, with an actual crown. No helmet will grace my head, marking me as a warrior before a King, for all that I am a warrior, and proud to be one.

No, my holy men have decreed that it’s time for a change. A new Coronation service has been constructed and a new crown has been moulded and fitted to my head. It is made of the lightest gold and embellished with the finest, though understated, jewels. It is beautiful to behold, and probably the worst kept secret in my kingdom.

It will fit me perfectly, and it will mark me as no other King has yet been marked. Not my illustrious Grandfather, Alfred, who bought his religious conviction to bare in crushing the Viking menace and holding Wessex complete against the attack, nor my father, Edward, who continued my grandfather’s work, and added Mercia and much of the Danish lands to his kingdom.

My father. A man I respected and loved, and yet who decreed that despite my grandfather’s expectations, I would not be sole King after him. No, he gave that position to my half-brother; a youth younger than I, though barely, less tested in the ways of war, but more in the skills of the diplomacy of the Wessex court. And the men of the Wessex witan voted for him.

I didn’t curse my father for his choice, but it did confuse me, until the men of the Mercian Witan voted that I was to be their King. And yet, dividing the only recently reunited realm seemed wrong somehow, counter-productive. However, I didn’t have long to question my holy men or decry my father’s good sense, for my half-brother, as I say, a youth younger than I, shortly joined my father in his heavenly splendour, and then it was I who acceded to the kingship of Wessex as well as Mercia. Almost as if my Lord God too decried the division of our mighty realm.

Not that it was as easy to achieve as I’ve implied. The men of Wessex were unsure of me, a youth raised at my aunt’s Mercian court, following my father’s second marriage. His decision to crown my step-mother as Queen, a position denied my own mother, long dead now, somehow making my brother more ‘throne worthy’ than I, a child born of the union between a young man who was not yet King, and his wife, who would never be a Queen. A King born of two consecrated parents is to be preferred where there’s one available!

I’m a youth tried in battle against the Vikings and the Danish and yet somehow, not tried against the wily nature of the men of Wessex. But I shouldn’t dwell on that now, not when I’m at my own Coronation.

And now the land is united, again, under one ruler-ship, my own. And this is my moment of divine glory.

A prayer is intoned by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Aethelhelm appealing to God to endow me with the qualities of the Old Testament kings; Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David and Soloman. As such I must be faithful, meek, full of fortitude and humility whilst also being wise. I hope I will live up to these expectations.

I am anointed with the holy oil and then I’m given a heavy gold ring with a flashing ruby to prove that I accept my role as protector of the one true faith. A finely wrought sword is placed in my hands, with which I am to defend widows and orphans and with which I can restore things left desolated by my foes.

Further I’m given a golden sceptre with which to defend the Holy Church and a silver rod to help me understand how to soothe the righteous and terrify the reprobate, help any who stray from the Church’s teachings and welcome back any who have fallen outside the laws of the Church.

With each item added to my person, I feel the weight of kingship settle on me more fully. I may have been a King for over a year now, but this, this is the confirmation of all I have done before and all I will be in the future. It is a responsibility I am pleased to take, but a responsibility all the same. From this day forward, every decision I make, no matter how trivial will impact on someone I now rule over. It’s much for a young man to think about.

The prayers continue around me but I am looking at those who I now rule, my second step-mother Eadgifu, little older than me for all that she produced nine children for my father before his death, is resplendent in the front row of the Church. She is serine in her place as King-mother; for all that she is not my mother. I have her support, and the support of her sons and daughters. She will rule my household for me, and in payment, and in part to fulfil my own wishes, I will stay celibate, choosing never to marry. After all, I have half-brothers a plenty who can rule when I’m dead in my grave. And if I live to old age, then their own sons can rule in my stead.

I catch her eye with a solemn nod of my head, and she inclines her own head in acknowledgment that the new King has marked her with especial favour. She is a woman who knows the worth of her own good looks and uses them to the best advantage. She dresses carefully, the colours sombre but pleasing to look upon.

She is pleased with the way events have played out. I think she misses my father, her husband, but she must have known when they married that in all likelihood he would die before her. But with our agreement, she’s lost nothing. She’s still Queen of the Anglo-Saxons, as she was consecrated, at my father’s command. Still the mother of King’s and likely to me the mother of King’s for many long years yet to come.

And I? I am King of the English, as my Archbishop proclaims to rousing cheers from all within the heavily decorated Church, festooned with bright flowers and all the wealth this Church owns. Gold and silver glitters from every recess, reflecting the glow of the hundreds of candles.

I am more than my father was, Edward, and I am more than my grandfather, Alfred. I am King of the English, king of a people not a petty kingdom.

It is done. I am an anointed King and I will protect my land, and with God’s wishes, I will extend its boundaries yet further, clawing back the land from the Danes and bringing the Kingdom of the Northumbrians back under my command.

As the cheers reverberate throughout the confined space of the Church I hold my joy in place. It would not be Kingly to sit and grin at everyone. Instead a regal expression touches my face, a small tug of my cheeks to show my understated joy at becoming King of this proud people.

Releasing 31st October 2014

Bradford Kaims in Current Archaeology

Bamburgh Research Project's Blog

This month’s Current Archaeology magazine features a multi-page article on our recent work at Bradford Kaims. They have done a tremendous job, so do have a look if you get the chance.

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Also, if you have not yet discovered it, Edoardo Albert has a new book out about Alfred the Great, which he describes in his own words below:

The summer is over, the children are back at school and I’ve got a new book in stores. In Search of Alfred the Great: the King, the Grave, the Legend, from Amberley Publishing, is a biography of – you’ve guessed it – Alfred, first king of the Anglo-Saxons, and the man who saved England. Indeed, if all you know of Alfred is the cakes, then this book will tell you why, of all England’s monarchs, he was the only one to be called ‘Great’.

My co-writer is human osteologist…

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