Charles the Trek part 1

Charlemagne is still alive and kicking 1200 years later for TSMorangles 2014 Early Medieval Holidays

When summer comes, the amateurish History Buff starts looking at the calendar: Anniversary calendar, tell me what happened in:

1914: my grandfathers are going to war…

1814… Napoleon horoscope: Not good.

1714 … Anne Stuart leaves the stage

1614: nuptials. Pocahontas marries John Rolfe (too late to buy a wedding gift).

1514. Another wedding: Henry VIII marries off his buxom sister to King Louis XII of France. (Another cunning plan to snatch the French crown and doomed to fail as usual. E for effort).

1414, …

1314: Templars. Burning (note to self: holidays are people friendly; not executioner fun)

1214: Bouvines. Now we enter the nitty gritty of medieval stuff.

1114, …

1014 Aethelred the Unready is packing his suitcase to go back to Britain (problem: snailfrog lives in Britain and plan to travel eastwards)

914: loads of battles in the Middle East (shaking head sadly as nothing seems to change)….

814…

814!

Charlemagne dies. Sorry. 814. Close enough to my favorite era: The Merovingian times! This settles it. Germany: Aachen and maybe… maybe… we shall see. The formula is simple: plan ahead sort of. (short of?) And be ready for a booty of delighted photos.

Will 2 cameras along a mobile phone suffice? Are we ready? We shall cross the Channel (Napoleon dreamt of it: 1814 box ticked). First stop: France. Ticking boxes for 1514, 1414, 1314 etc.

Charlemagne, I presume? Here, we come!

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The crown is massive!

No wonder Charles was a big man as in magnus; he had to be to carry this 4 pounds of gold on his head.

We start: …

Let’s be open as in Frank (which is a pun considering what follows) about what the expression Dark Ages may imply in reality:

some museums, you will wish to visit, may suffer drastic budget cuts. Bring your torch (no joke). The Musee d’Archeologie Nationale (Museum of National Archaeology of Saint Germain en Laye) shows finds related to French History. It is also dedicated to Gauls, Iron and Bronze ages and if you want to see the real thing, albeit in a museum which is keen on cutting its electricity bill, this museum is for you. You can see and almost touch items found in Queen Aregund’s grave.(580 AD) It is a pity the French ministry of Culture which runs the museum spends so few monies on artefacts of value such as

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Which is her ring or this mysterious terra cotta:

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What we know is that it was made about the instant t of King Clovis conversion so end 5th, early 6th C. Who is this person? A cross on the forehead yet armed with a sword trampling a snake while carrying a spear and … a shield? Anyhow his boots were made for walking and he was not an eunuch. What are the funny ears, the diadem, the heads on his side? If any heathen/pagan of new of tumblr community has an idea, please tell us!

http://musee-archeologienationale.fr/categorie/premier-moyen-age

One thing is sure. As per this Saxon knife and its scabbard, Raedwald of Sutton Hoo fame had contacts with the Continent.

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I want to thank the museum staffs who allowed its disabled visitors to use the goods-lift. Not fancy but kindly offered and welcomed. Also worth a bow the kind musuem-shop manager who gave sound advice to her books buyers.

Next step: Charlemagne Exhibition in Aachen.

A triple exhibition (you can from the start buy the three tickets with the much needed matching three audio-guides): 19 euros per person. A few booklets in your language about the Dom, the Treasure and the exhibition plus a Charlemagne Aachen guide! This printed shopping spree will cost you about 50 euros. I recommend it as you cannot take photos; here it is postcards only)

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The original bronze fountain of Aachen as chosen by Charles will find you today at the Dom atrium.

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Some say it is a she-bear, some a she-wolf. It sits among us since it left the workshop of its Roman maker in the 2thC AD.

Some decoration artefact from a Langobard palace with matching Iron crown. This exhibition is amazing.

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All you wanted to know about the palatial complex, how it was built, what are the actual lines of research can be found at the RatHaus: Town Hall for you and me. If you have money to spend, you can dine (not cheap alas) at Charles’s cellar or Keller as the RatHaus is built on the great hall of our exalted friend. The old coronation hall hosts the exhibition, which is nice considering that up to 1531 all the Emperors of the Holy Roman Germanic Empire have been crowned in this room.

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Aren’t we glad Google exists as we could not take picture of the Coronation Hall because this was verboten since it was hosting the exhibition!

Charles possibly at one point sat on this throne, courtesy of France Bibliotheque Nationale.  This is possibly Dagobert the 1st own favourite chair. As dear Dagobert passed away in 639 AD, you will realize that our ancestors were building stuff which really lasted! Well outlasted them.  By the way, this is massive; on par with the marble throne found at the Dom.

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Is it Merovingian then Carolingian? It is rightly debated. Frankly, nobody is sure but for one thing. Carolingian kings/emperors sat on it. As the Emperor was a tall man, it fits the imperial physicality as it is very heavy

http://www.karldergrosse2014.de/?lang=en

Carolingian cavalry man, improvement on body armor against arrows…

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Links with Byzantium and Baghdad. A must see : sadly no camera. And if you are wheelchair bound: the tags are too high to be read by our disabled friend. By the way, if you do not speak German, ready your souls. This exhibition should and will reconcile France and the Anglo-Saxons. No translation on the tags as for the books. The full catalog exists only in German and to get a human guide, you must book it weeks ahead. None the less, you quickly get an idea of the richness of the architecture during the not-so-dark-ages…

I will add that the curator has a special door and lift for disabled visitors (one of our group had suffered a stroke some time ago hence our targeted comments.).

Then on we moved to the Cathedral. As they say, the Dom and what a Dome it is. Firstly it was raided by the Vikings in 881 AD. So it suffered plenty of destruction before it was one hundred years old… yet… what a sight.

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The marble and mosaic are modern as in late 1880s. Hagia Sophia inspired. You must imagine it white! With maybe some red drawings? Maybe as in the few surviving frescoes of the 9th century still around IN Europe (one can dream of a cortege copycatting Justinian and Theodora…)

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This gentleman comes from Malles, St Benoit Church. a rare glimpse of a real Carolingian lord.

The Dom has a lot to offer:  many bronze doors are from Charlemagne days, Roman columns, a white marble seat (proof of Imperial thriftiness as it comes from recycled marble floors) and balconies. The whole built on older Roman remains. 

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The Dom tourist bureau offers a daily guided tour in English (do not complain; at least you get one in your native language. On the plus side, about all Europe was obliged to follow the English speaking tour since their German was as good or rather poor as mine).

And here we close…

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today the first part of this journey.

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The Return of the wrongly-named kings

Oswald as Hamlet & Oswiu as Aragorn

 

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Recently, the Daily Mail has discovered the brilliant book of Max Adams about the Kings of Northumbria. Regarding this comprehensive and extensive research, I cannot but approve the publication of this article. Though I feel the journalist could have published it much earlier!

 

Regardless of the newspaper,  this work is of the highest quality. Albeit there is a but as ….

 

More recently, New Zealand has once again proven it is the country favoured by kiwis and hobbits. Said furry-footed creature  is gracing our screens with Elves and Dwarves though how can Mr Peter Jackson manage to film a book of less than 250pages in more than 6 hours, is a mystery which baffles me (and I am not alone in this amazement). Tolkien, its writer was an academic on Anglo-Saxon lore and used his historical knowledge to give us Aragon as the Returning King.

 

So far so good are you thinking. The journalist punctuates his article by quoting Beowulf; thus what’s wrong? Precisely, what feels wrong? Max Adams has written a good book, Tolkien is nonpareil. Beowulf is certainly a rare and valuable authentic glimpse on Anglo-Saxon England while the Lord of the Ring Trilogy is a deserved international success suddenly all freezes.

 

It is wrong because the journalist misses the point because of his sloppy work. Up to the point I wonder if he has actually read the book! Not to mention if he has ever opened a school history book.

 

True Oswald of Northumbria was born around 604 AD to die in 642 at Maserfelt battle. Killed by the shining star of Pagan Englaland : Penda of Mercia. (no typo error here, Englaland was the original name for England and can be found in the French ANGLETERRE : The Land of the Angles).

 

Oswald: only 38 years:  a man with a short but intense life. A life which deserves better than sloppy fast journalism. And a life where truths however unpleasant must be told.

 

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Before becoming a man and in Oswald case a warlord later to be king, one is first a child, a son. Born to a father Aethelfrith of Bernicia and a mother Acha of Deira. For us : Northumberland and Yorkshire respectively.

 

In the best case scenario, it is Aethelfrith’s father who kills Acha’s father the current Lord of Yorkshire. I write Lord as lordship and kingship in the Early days of Anglo-Saxon England are foggy. Let’s not forget we have no written evidence from 604. What we have is once again my pal Bede writing 125years later.

 

Whether Bernicia invades successfully Deira via Oswald grandfathers or not, we can only hope Acha was more than just a war prize and possibly a willing bedfellow.  I write bedfellow and not bride as it seems that Aethelfrith had more than one wife/concubine?.

 

Among the wives of his father or himself, there is a Bebba. “Eadfered Flesaurs [Aethelfrith the Flexer] reigned twelve years in Bernicia, and twelve others in Deira, and gave to his wife Bebba, the town of Dynguoaroy, which from her is called Bebbanburg.”

 

 

 

Was Bebba a pure-bred Angle or did she carry some interesting alliance with the native Romano-Britons, I do not know. What I know is that aside Bebba and Acha, Oswald father may have got frisky with a (Pictish?) lady as he fathered Eanfrith before Oswald. In fact Oswald father fathered a lot of sons if the genealogy is not fantasist :

 

 

 

Eanfrith of Bernicia
Oswald of Northumbria
Oswiu of Northumbria
Oswudu of Northumbria
Oslac of Northumbria
Oslaf of Northumbria
Offa of Northumbria
Æbba of Northumbria

 

 

 

Of Oswudu to Offa we know about nothing else; of Aebba, we have her as the ‘uterine sister’ to Oswiu the younger (youngest?) brother.  By which may mean Aebba is Oswiu half-sister as his mother remarries after her widowhood or they are twins.

 

 

 

8 years are separating Oswald from Oswiu. What is the life of young Saxon princelings? As boys Oswald must have started warrior training, the siblings have survived the many perils of childhood  diseases our times have forgotten (Clue Measles were deadly, same goes for Scarlet fever, Rheumatic fever left cardiac scars etc). Oswald is now 12; he is probably looking for the big event of his young life: the Saxon equivalent to the Roman Barbatoria: the passing of age when a young man has his first shave and really enters full warrior training: in short entering the teen age years with more life-threatening consequences. Some historians a lot more serious than me like Michelle Ziegler have postulated Oswiu may not have share the same mother as Oswald as explaining why tough born of Acha as we suppose him to be the Deirans would take ages to recognize him as their king.

 

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The problem is not here or there: Oswald is planning his big day while little Oswiu follows him like a Tantony pig as he is only 4 hen tragedy strikes. Their father is killed by Aedwin of Deira: their uncle. Their exiled uncle. Acha’s brother. Remember: I wrote about him in previous posts.

 

All the family runs in a debacle to the safe haven of Scotland: suggesting the Northern kingdom of Bernicia had close familial bonds with the realm of the Picts/Scots.

 

 

 

Uncle, Mr Journalist and this should remind you of … not Tolkien but Shakespeare and Hamlet. A young prince deprived of his crown by a cruel uncle. The fact is that the cruel uncle was pursued for years end by the vigilant hatred of Aethelfrith down to East Anglia intimating Raedwald of the East Angles (yes, the Sutton Hoo guy) either to kill him to save time or to surrender him to Bernicia. As you may not know Raedwald had a wife –  name unknown- who remonstrated her husband and decided him to stand by the exiled Deiran. A battle later, Raedwald had proven himself as the worthy heir of the late Bretwalda Aethelbehrt of Kent who had died earlier in the year and Aedwin was now king of Bernicia.

 

 

 

Acha could have returned to her native land but she did not. She stayed by her sons and daughter. Considering the usages practiced by the time, young nephews standing in the way to the throne did not live long and I speak of Frankish and Visigoth and Langobard Christian kings ! Acha remained in Scotland and her sons thrived. Edwin was not a distant cousin; he was Oswald uncle.

 

 

 

Time flies. Edwin succeeds peacefully to Raedwald as Bretwalda, he is now Christian married to Aethelbehrt of Kent daughter (yes, just like nowadays kings practicing endogamy among their social circle I.e. kings can but marry princesses) . And guess what he has a few sons and … a daughter.

 

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Another battle: gone are Edwin and sons.  By the way, Daily Mail,  IT WAS NOT A Welsh King: it was a coalition against Edwin and it had in its rank the rising star of Mercia: Penda in its rank.

 

 

 

Eanfrith as the eldest son succeeds his father but cannot rule Deira handed to a nephew of the slain king. A year later, both have been killed by this time Caedwallon of Gwynedd ( the native Welsh by which you translate the real Romano-Briton of the time).

 

 

 

Where does Oswald mirror Beowulf’s life? Dunno. Beowulf has a pretty good relationship with his family. Unlike Oswald. As for Heorot, Gefrin as nowadays Yeavering offers clues (dismal when you visit the site) about how a hall would have looked. If you want to see and guess history Yeavering is for you, if you want more than gazing at a herd of goats go else where.

 

Once again, time flies and another battle later. Oswald who has married, who has become Bretwalda has suffered the very same fate his father, his maternal grandfather and uncle have suffered plus a retinue of brothers and cousins. Once again the 2 kingdoms are sliced apart and Bernicia longs after Deira.

 

 

 

Oswiu his brother is not  a romantic figure. What can you do when your evil uncle is made a saint like Edwin and your big brother is also a saint? Nothing, all you can do is endure and build back from scratch. Instead of uniting the 2 realms through battles and wars, lil’bro decides to win by love.

 

 

 

Why does he think that courting his orphaned cousin via the ministrations of a priest? Your guess is as good as mine. Still it works. The maid is now queen of Deira while her and his cousin, Edwin grand/great-nephew rules over Deira. Some patience, something? Survival of the fittest? Oswiu gets the cousin assassinated. As by the time, Penda is more or less the Bretwalda and he has just defeated Oswiu, one expects Penda to get very angry. But he does not. And the death does not suggest war but a personal element. It shrieks it is not about the throne. None the less the new king is now Aethelwald (Oswald son). Well the one he had from his last Queen. Aethelwald betrays Uncle Oswiu at the Winwaed battle 4 years later and good bye , Oswaldson. At long last Oswiu has re-united and for long (for very long as Deira will never rise again) Bernicia and Deira into Northumbria.

 

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Oswiu succeeds in 642, dies in 670. Fights many, many battles. Some lose, some wins. The ones where he must win to survive, he wins. He does in his sleep, peacefully: rare feat in the Dark Ages. He resolves complicated Christian conflicts within the Church (because just like nowadays and Luther and the Cathares etc, the Christian church supposedly devoted to one unique God has spent its time into divided chapels fighting as what is the best worship. No further comment). He also starts to have a more civilized, a more rational state. Oswald for all his sainthood may have dreamed the dream; it is Oswiu who builds it.

 

 

 

Aragorn may be a lot of things, a dreamer he aint.

 

 

 

In short,  Beowulf has in my opinion a lot in common with the complicated history of Northumbria and its opposing ruling clans: Edwin and Aethelfrith and their sons. Shakespeare describes very well Oswald/Oswiu in the Prince of Denmark with a conflicted mother: what to do about my husband/brother who has also killed my husband but my husband killed our father….

 

 

 

The good point is that just like at the end of The Lord of the Rings  when Aragorn was crowned King Elessar Telcontar of Gondor while marrying Elrond‘s daughter Arwen, and assumed the Sceptre of Annúminas as King of Arnor, uniting the two kingdoms for the first time since the reign of Isildur. Oswiu marries Eanflaed, daughter of Edwin, uniting peacefully the two kingdoms of BERNICIA and DEIRA for the first time ever (peacefully I repeat).

 

 

 

Oswiu is the real Aragorn (Did I mention I have a soft spot for him?)

 

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Thou shalt not steal … my hound and my hawk

In the early middle ages, to steal one’s hunting dog or one’s bird of prey cost you dearly and I do not speak only of the 15 gold solidii you paid as a fine.But of the public humiliation to have to kiss said dog’s … behind.

These were the days where hunting was a serious business!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solidus_%28coin%29

1 solidus : 4,5grams of gold; 15 solidii : 67, 5 grams.

A fine verging $600.00 and a dog’s bottom kiss…

From The Private Life from Late Antiquity to Byzantium. Georges Duby and Philippe Aries Editors.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0674399749/ref=oh_details_o02_s00_i00?ie=UTF8&psc=1Image

Barbatoria

To Shave or not to shave.

There is a before and an after when a man can trace the moment he started needing a shave. Our ancestors went through the same change. Romans called it the BARBATORIA. The first shave.

Generally around age 12, the very young men were going through some sort of ceremony. Some offered the first cut to the Gods… then the Barbarians came… and carried on until Charlemagne.

As early as in Tacitus, a rite of passage was described with the chieftain/father/foster father: a shield and sword was handed to the young man. Did boys grow a moustache at 12? Was it a gentle rubbing of the cheek or a full trimming? Let us not forget that shaving in 500 AD was not exactly the safe exercise our days know with the electric shaver.

Greeks, Romans and Germanic tribes were all for a clean shaved teenager. We know that tombs of known Saints could be the objects of the gift of said hair! Franks, Visigoths, Byzantines pronounced prayers at this special time of the life of a man. (Bearing in mind, we are probably describing the barbatoria of a young aristocrat/prince). Foster fathers held such ceremonies.

Charlemagne father Pippin was given a luxurious ceremony. Pippin grand sons would not enjoy such treats: but would go through the original Germanic rite: the sword gift.

A much bigger razor.Image

Real warrior does not wear Piglet on his helmet

MERCIAN TRAIL 005

Warriors in 561AD and how Hollywood see them.

Recently, Stoke-on-Trent Museum of Potteries has closed Temporarily the rooms dedicated to the Staffordshire Hoard. Said rooms are going to be upgraded. Hopefully the ghastly red wall-paint will be forgotten. Hint : red when your major exhibits are small intricate gold pieces makes the sighting difficult. It literally kills it! (Personal rant space closing)

I hope the curators will get enough fund and private contributions to get new rooms able to enfance the beauty and art of what must be indeed called Dark Ages Male Bling. Male warrior naturally. Which leads me to today’s blog entry.

Warriors: how they looked as reconstructed by historians and archaeologists versus Hollywood and sudden dashes into the realm of fancy by originally sound minded artists.

When you enter the museum, you are met by a 7-foot statue of a Mercian warrior. Who wears on the top of his helmet something looking curiously like Piglet!

I have no doubt that Barbarian (not as Barbaric but as Barbaroi: foreigners, others, people from a different culture as in not Greco-Roman) warriors were just as keen as to decorate their ‘uniforms’ which did not exist with as much gold, gilt and silver as they could afford adding horse tail or wild boar (not the tusks apparently and this is an interesting question which should be raised: what happened to the tusks?) hair. They must still have refrained from wearing a stuffed young wild boar on their head! If only for the rather reasonnable wish to avoid being more singled out on the battlefied. The association of a spear with arrows but no long sword is a bit odd; none the less you get the gist of the honourable and probably headachy gentlemen: one does not mess with Mercian warriors.

I say headachy because warriors would wear helmets to battle: right? And the heavier the helmet the shorter the battle will have to be as our skull is not exactly made to carry heavy objecs fot a certain length of time if you want to keep being mobile, agile and promptly swift as on a 6thC battlefield.

Which is why I prefer the simpler terracotta approach of what a training field warrior might have looked like. And this is where i erupt. Warfare was taken just as seriously in the 7thC as it is taken in 2013. A warrior king wore chain-mails, tried to protect his face/nose/cheeks with metal parts and would knot them! He may wish to have his battledress sartorial taste lauded. He would still avoid wearing stuffed creatures on his head (Medieval knights may have worn bizarre contraptions over their heads but at jousting just for a few minutes). And more importantly HE WOULD HAVE WORN HIS HELMET!

Because I am sort of tired of watching Aragorn/Thorin (Tolkien fantasy based on Dark Ages Britain Oswald) and the new series Vikings showing successful warriors going to battle without decent protection. In real life, they would not have been successful. They would have been dead suicidees.

Somehow I suspect Hengest and Horsa did not show their locks when they faced Vortgiren. Male bling does not imply idiocy.

 

Mercian warrior in training

MERCIAN TRAIL 001

Mortain Chrysmale

Runes are not French?

ecriture runique france 2 001

Runes are not French… they say.

Above pictures belong hence they are copyrighted to a book called

Nos Ancetres les Barbares. Our ancestors: The Barbarians. Journey about the graves of three Frankish chieftains. Publisher Museum of Saint Dizier and Somogy Editions d’Art  – Cecile Vareon Editor.

Shall I add that Patrick Perin the former National Curator for France National Archaeology and Jean Soulat have participated to this book.

May God help Eada who ordered this chrismale to be made.

Is it the gift of a Northumbrian noble, an object brought back from Britain by a Viking who later converted along Rollo of Normandy or is it the swan-song of a Frankish literacy which became extinct during the reign of Chilperic grand-son: Dagobert.

In 633 after Hatfield, the Dowager Queen of Northumbria Aethelburgh fled to Frankia. She feared for her son. Her brother the King of Kent may have proven to be unreliable or himself unable to protect her from the wrath of Caedwallon of Gwynnedd and Penda of Mercia. Maybe her brother Eadbald felt it safer for her to be in Gaul: one can imagine how Dagobert king of the entire Frankish Realm would have received the envoys from the two men who had slain his cousin’s husband. Both kings Eadbald and Dagobert were Chlothar the First great grandsons. Did the widowed queen bring along the crysmale? Or was it made by Eligius : Dagobert chancellor, minister, bishop and goldsmith. All the above in one man.

Runes. A Germanic writing. Which did not survive the persistent onslaught of Latin and its Roman alphabet. We are told that upon – firstly converting to Christianity  Clovis followed quickly by accepting a Faustian deal : You will rule us and we shall pay taxes into your coffers without rebellion whilst you will worship our one and only God forsaking your paternal polytheist pantheon and you will speak our language.

Thus France was born. Esau got its riches and the Chosen One got the significant share of the inheritance. Franks lost their souls to a Gallo-Roman version of the Divine and more importantly lost their roots and culture as they swapped their tradition for the much vaunted Romanitas…

Thus Runes were not. Rues were either Anglo-Saxon with a bit more vowels and Scandinavian. France or rather Frankia as in the Frankish Realm was not to be Germanic.

Yet we have names given via Runes to jewellers and women they were. And on swords pommels similar to ones found in Kent. As time progresses and archaeological digs give a clearer picture, we come to realize some certainties are not so certain.

Cantwaras as in the People/the Men from Kent got their part of the bargain. Runes graved on swords and jewellery as in man bling may have been used as symbols of friendships between the two kingdoms. Both eager to trade and benefit from trade. It may even explain why the legitimate daughter of the late King of Paris was sent over to Canterbury to become the first known Queen of British History following the Roman departure.

And what if Runes were somehow French or Frank? Chilperic, one of her two guardian uncles wanted to have Germanic sounds/ vowels? consonants? to the Latin alphabet. Was he trying to add some runes to try and protect his native language from the ruthless Gallo-Roman tsunami?

In Mortain

http://www.ville-mortain.fr/specific/formats/format_patrimoine.jsp?id=52

near the Mont Saint-Michel there is a curious object from the 7th century: a chrysmale/crysmale/chrismale. A small gilded box to allow safely the transport of hosts. Some believe it was brought up by Anglo-Saxon missionaries travelling through Frankia toward Frisia and Germany. 

But isn’t the Augustinian mission to the Cantwaras Roman? Runes Augustine did not use. As for the Irish monks of Saint Aidan or the Romano-Briton native church, again Latin was their root. Runes do not grace the Book of Kells nor the Lindisfarne Gospels. Runes yet are gracing the box.

Runes in France… another REAL mystery.

Dark Ages Movie Theatre take 1 : The Viking 1928

the viking 4

As you know by now, I am All Things Saxonsidered a true Dark Ages aficionada, down to looking for the proverbial rough diamond of stupendous water and the mercifully soon to be forgotten plonk movies of yore.

Today, me hearties: The Viking 1928, silent but in colour. Courtesy of YouTube and our Russian friends who love Oldies but Goldies … and Weirdies. In which this review will show that one can bite quite a few juicy bits out of … well, let’s start:

Our story starts by a castle (Bamburgh must have inspired our Californian director) and the young Christian Earl of Northumbria. So far, so good. California sun is also invited at the party as not only the Saxons are bare-armed but the Vikings are bare-chested looking no doubt to get some of the famous suntan one can achieve near the Cheviot Hills.

This is just when your lips start to quiver as our Norsemen are about all sporting lovely horned helmets but they also would break the heart of PETA members and all are dressed with fur skirts. Which gives the audience the sudden concern of an alternate reality. Wait a minute: I paid a ticket/DVD rental for Scandinavian pirates not Iron Age/Bronze Age sword-happy monk-killing-crazy wild persons.

Monks? OK, Vikings says the audience. Alwin loses the battle, his mom and his freedom as he becomes a thrall somewhere in Vikingland where Norse maids wear rather short skirts and cute winged metal helmets.

At this point the audience has started the game of Let’s count how many historical inaccuracies this movie is going to pull up with. The winner will get my everlasting thanks as the very stony castle looks ever so slightly gothic down to the doors. Which is not wrong in an ironic way as Gothic comes from Goth which is turn is originating from Geat (Beowulf, guys!) and Geats certainly were living in Scandinavia.

With the subtitles, we are told our spirited Valkyrie-dressed damsel-cum-equestrian is the ward of Leif Erickson. Who does not prevent the movie prop department to play with more helmets: this time Gaul ones. Sigurd, her BFF tried to mend a sprained wrist without any anaesthetics before they go shopping for slaves. Guess what: she buys the indignant Alwin!

Later we are introduced to Leif Erickson camp and his merry men who have taken singing classes at Munich Oktober Fest. (shhh! It is a Silent movie but this version includes music, songs and a minimalistic approach as to the sound one can expect of a battle scene) while we are given more helmets to ponder at. One supposes that ‘after many months at sea’ the horns must have dissolved while the one which has not, has grown barnacles looking like a lamp bulb. No, this writer is not making things up). Now why do I make such a fuss from helmets? Let’s not forget that the Sutton Hoo, the CopperGate of York helmets have not been discovered in 1928. The jowls protections of the Staffordshire hoard have yet to be metal detected. So let’s try and be fair. And ‘Carry on’ with a Monty Pythonesque spirit. Armoury wise, the movie offers a melting pot of different eras. Shields suffer the same fate than helmets down to a sword scene where the main characters use what look to my unforgiving eyes like bin covers. The famous shield wall is not impressive in this movie. One the plus side the freedom Viking women enjoyed is rather well underlined though some wooden halls look more like…. Californian summer sheds.

Count yourself lucky I shall spare you the cheesy love story classical triangle and move to some ‘quite interesting’ developments from a historical point of view. Because we are doing movie reviews in the sense of looking for the gold nugget of proper historically accurate and fairly reasonable reconstruction of turning points in our history.

The scene shifts to the Royal Hall of Olaf Tryggvason, Norway’s first Christian king and suddenly you could very well be witnessing Real not Hollywood Northumbrian King Edwin listening at Paulinus speech about a swallow and the destiny of a soul. Suddenly, this scene gets you right at the centre of Bede famous anecdote. Edwin is hesitating still to convert; around him his Deiran and Bernician thegns are even less sure about Christianity. And it becomes clear that the solid stern faith and stubbornness of the first missionaries must have impressed the seasoned warriors. It is a brief moment but it is worth it. Just like the following scene which takes us to another moment this time set in Heorot when Beowulf uncle was entertaining its guests before Grendel stroke fear in his Great Hall.

Grendel belongs to the non-Christian geographical realm of the Dark Ages. Olaf maybe Christian, Iceland is not. Erik the Red was not; as we meet the redoubtable father of Leif, we meet – what I suppose is- a statue of Thor whilst the bard/skald is busy writing down a judgement (in runes?). If I can see Aethelfrith of Bernicia with Penda of Mercia raising their horns to an Anglo-Saxon Woden, one can be safe in suspecting this Hollywood styled Thunor would have surprised them.

In any movie, one can follow the apparent plot. Here, a noble youth unjustly sold into servitude gets back his freedom and the girl. And they will discover America while probably every Viking will become Christian by switching sword blade to whittling as the world’s proto folding cabinet maker. A four letter household name springs to mind.

Then comes the subplot. Conversion.

Why, how, Why forsake Gods who were good to your folk and ancestors. Why leave a boisterous pantheon akin to one’s tolerant if noisy family for one and one only intolerant jealous God? Did the world end and water fell down from the Sea as dragons would eat you alive? We smile because we live in a world which did not end when Neil Armstrong walked his momentous step. We send a Viking probe to the silent void which bathes new born suns and never yet seen galaxies. Just like Vikings we look for a final frontier; unlike them we know Space has no end for us to meet.

This is where this silent movie of 1928 is still relevant. For its corny helmet and scantily clad damsels in distress with matching horns or wings, it asks the right question humanity has been asking from the beginning. In the times of uncertainty of the Dark Ages and certainly in the days following the failed Crusades: what’s next? What shall we do if the East is closed to us? Go West?

Mercifully, our synopsis takes us to Greenland where numerous cows must wander hornless if we are to believe our helmet-watch. A few cheesy scenes later while a Zeus like thunderbolts wielding Thor statue weeps silently in the distance watching the undignified brawl between a Heathen and his converted son. I hope for the sake of my readers that our own ancestors whose fathers had worshipped Odin, Teutates, Jove or Amon-Ra suffered less abuse from their families. Yes another question this little 1928 gem is raising. Beside the appalling clumsy sword fights as these sword scenes should get their director to be pilloried!

By now, we are now sailing to the edges of Earth or Vinland Anse aux Meadows depending on your beliefs/facts. Our Norse miss who has more horned hats than what the average salary/monastery plunder can bring to an honest hard-pillaging Northman is on board with her three swains: Leif Erickson the historical character (the movie Real hero/America discoverer & Christian), Aldwin of Northumbria Earl/slave/Leif best mate(we are on a ship, guys. What were you thinking?) and Christian and a guy known as Egil the Black : the light bulb/Prussian Army/early Hell’s Angel helmet warrior. The betting book on which character dies at the end is now open. Just like the book on how many eye injuries these darn helmets will have caused!

Helga dreams of Aldwin, has sisterly affection for Leif and is ‘just friend’ with Egil proving that indeed Scandinavian ladies were ahead in the Women’s lib front. As nowadays, our boys realize while two is company, three is a crowd and four is certainly Tokyo metro at rush hour.

Our director lost in his philosophical lecture on the phenomenon of conversion has missed what Helga left at her own endeavours has come up to. At this stage, his movie is a Viking harem! An unruly harem as our guys naturally vie for the consort slot.

I hear you, me maties. Aren’t we supposed to be reviewing from an historical medieval point of view this movie? Aren’t the characters supposed to be suffering the inner turmoil of souls adrift contemplating monotheism and discovering America and popcorn for future cinema theatres on the plus side?

Maid Helga is getting married in a wedding dress looking more like a Roman Vestal than a Valkyrie. Who cares? We are sailing a ship since weeks but our hero does not grow a beard or needs to shave. The very fine combs used to remove nits are not needed in our Viking world. The captain/chieftain room is large enough to fit a library or about; we are not going to be beholden to the laws of Historical facts and their ilk. Enters the Wedding scene… Blessed be the Gods as we were running out of adjectives to describe the characters angst as regarding their ‘feels’.

The director saves the day by introducing during the ceremony an attempt on the groom life. Now, imagine how weddings would be entertaining if suddenly the best man instead of handing the ring to the groom was trying to kill him – slowly, I grant you – while a fair part of the congregation –let’s say the bride’s party was aiming at shortening the days of the groom guests, This would be quite … enlivening (not sure if this is the right adjective). To cut a story short (not sure if this is the appropriate verb) Helga loses a boyfriend while Egil loses his life, nobly. Aldwin debates whether to die nobly and guess what Leif is tortured – nobly- by jealousy.

All is well that ends well. Overcome by joy at having discovered America before Columbus, Leif allows our two very boring lovebirds to marry.

Now comes the curious historical challengeof the last few minutes.

In 1928, Anse aux Meadows had yet to be dug up. At the time, academics seriously believed Leif Erickson had reached Rhode Island if not New York. Beside watching with quite hallucinating eyes a Viking motley crew in a scene inspired of the usual Spanish conquistadores, cross and flying flags included on a beach, we are told that Leif Erickson in few words was the founder of the Watch Tower of Newport in Rhode Island (I’ll skip the last scene which re-enacts an anticipatory Thanksgiving scene down to participative Native Americans. One can see that in 1928, some people were starting to feel some un-ease about some future events) as the Native are noble. By the way, If native there are, one suspects some people discovered America earlier than our dear Leif via the Bering Strait…

Leif Erickson in Newport? Is this feebly humoristic essay going to revolutionize History time line via a silent movie? The watch tower was built between 1635 and 1698 says Radio-Carbone dating. Thus, why this insistence on an inaccurate movie?

In 1928, Sutton Hoo, Carbone Dating, New Found Land archaeology had not been added to History facts. Do not sneer at our Viking; he can only give you what 1928 could give.

Historians can only say a fact is a fact when they have in their hands a PROVEN fact. Real historians write about undisputed facts and not about legends.

the viking 3

A far from insignificant princess.

CAPIU0NSCA12Q6DZCA1PPF8JCAUQXNKACAKYN3KACAQD57FVCAPKY1IOCAVEP8GFCATZY0BXCA2ETMM3CALCVIJ5CAD36RG4CA9QWSPTCA99Z6GQCAPXEVACCA3C7MNCCAQQPEMMCAY31QGBCAIWFTHZMany (?); let say a lot of historians write off Aldeberga of Paris as a non significant royal maid given to the heir of the very small kingdom of Kent as a reward to a sub-king

Why would the scion or more likely the father of said scion of the Royal House of Kent marry the only legitimate child of a deceased sonless king of the Frankish realm?
Aside suggesting you compare and contrast the size of the kingdom of Kent and the Kingdom of Paris, I want you to focus on the particulars of the rules of succession in the Frankish Realm.
Salian Law. Only sons begat by sons can inherit the crown. Does it mean they leave their daughters penniless and adrift? No.
Though her own father and probably brother had been killed by her uncle Gondebaud, Chlothildis, Bertha’s great grandmother (a princess fiercely Roman Catholic) was bespoken by Chlodoweg (that is her great grandfather). And her dowry was consequent.
If Bertha was just a royal princess, she still inherited quite a few choicest pieces of her father personal treasure. Her half-sister, another Chlothildis called the Superb orphaned like her was put into the care of Radegunda their step-grandmother. Later on, her decision to forcefully leave the convent was to fill quite a few anxious pages from Gregory of Tours’ diary. Eventually successful, she knows she would live free and enjoy a peaceful non-recluse life. A life clearly comfortable!
So let’s nor delude ourselves. Bertha was not going to hand out the Kingdom of Paris to a Saxon prince. She was not going to marry him empty-handed either! Only legitimate daughter, one can imagine a very substantial dowry and inheritance.
Gregory says she was handed to the ‘man from Kent’ by her parents. Since Charibert was dead, who were said parents? Most probably her guardians.
We are clueless as when Charibert married Ingoberga, just like we are clueless about Gunthramm own matrimonies. We know that in 566, their brother Sighebert marries the Visigoth and Arian princess Brunhildis and soon after their younger half-brother Chilperic follows suit with Galswinthe, Brunhildis sister.
Gregory makes great fuss of the royal lineage of the two sisters. He implies Charibert’s consort was not of a similar rank. Royal, Ingoberga was not. It does not say she was of an ancillary background. Far from it. She gives a dressing down to her husband when Charibert takes wives/concubines of a lesser rank by showing him their plebeian father at work. Not royal true; but certainly aristocratic.
Some grants suggest Ingoberga of Tours was related to bishops and of a senatorial rank family. Frankia had no Senators. Yet Gallo-Roman families who had belonged to aristocratic Gaul families and in her case families high enough to count Senators in their midst would naturally be proud of their glorious past. Maybe not royal, but her last and very dignified days are given a proper bow by Gregory. Bertha was not royal on the maternal line: she could only be ashamed of the repudiation of said mother (and possibly a nasty temper).
Ingoberga had given no son; Ingoberga had remonstrated her husband. Charibert was no Henry VIII Tudor; his ex-wife carried on living in Tours. As Tours was a former capital of the realm, one can imagine Ingoberga living in the old palace educating her daughter … or not. Charibert was son less and his heirs were short lived daughters but for little Aldeberga (her real name) and baby Chlothildis. He had a son finally dead soon enough then poor Charibert died.
Chlothildis mother was either repudiated already or dead. Bertha was older and legitimate. Who were their guardians? Judging from Chlothildis, the two girls must not have been 10 years apart. An age where little girls can be spoken for but not nubile to enter physically into matrimony.
On one side, Chilperic and his wife Fredegunda. The half uncle suspected of killing his other wife Galswintha and allowing the murder of his own children including the rape of his daughter Basina and Fredegunda totally suspected of having ordered the murder of her brother-in-law Sighebert (and with this woman, one may need to review how Charibert died: poisons already existed, right?). Shall we add Gregory nicknames Chilperic Nero?
In 567, all this blood-shed had not yet been spilled but the atrocious behaviour of Chilperic toward Athanagild’s daughter must have already got tongues wagging. If Brunehildis and Sighebert were providing the impeccable lineage of what was accepted for aunt and uncle, Chilperic and his whore Fredegunda were not.
Gunthramm, king of Orleans was possibly known for an erratic love-life; still he was also known for being generous with the church and much later would become Saint Gontran at the request of his subjects. Gunthram (Battle Raven) was not perfect but seems to have been a decent uncle.
In this equation, one must keep in mind Ingoberga the widow whose good deeds pleased the Church and naturally Radegunda, the very virtuous step-grandmother.
Bertha would be raised under the watchful eyes of her mother and grandmother and her uncles King of Metz and King of Orleans would have first rank as guardians. Chilperic could keep Fredegunda, get bits of his deceased brother kingdom but his opinion on the matter of his niece future was less powerful.
Years passed. Sighebert is assassinated and his son little Childebert is himself raised by the now dowager Queen Brunehildis. Brunhildis hates the diabolical couple but her virtue is far from perfect. Would Radegunda relinquish her watch? No.
Our two ladies, the one who repudiated the King and the one who was repudiated keep their daughter and grandchildren safe. Far from Paris, Soissons and close enough to the Orleans kingdom to find asylum in case of danger.
In 575 Sighebert is assassinated; in 577 Gunthramm sons die. All of them. Gunthramm decides to name as his heir his Austrasian nephew. Not Chilperic’s sons. There is no love lost between the half-brothers, nor between their wives.
Would Radegunda allow her step orphaned grand-daughters to set foot in this hornet nest? No.
Bertha along her sister is educated fast from the three courts. Gunthramm must have made sure his nieces would not be found lacking. At mote distance, Brunehildis would have played the girls from the late king of Paris (a womanizer, true but a peace lover if we believe Venantius Fortunatus and he would know as Radegunda own bishop). Brunehildis will play a part in Kent conversion to Christianity unlike Fredegunda.
So we have it. Bertha may be brother and father less; but she is not missing in the department of kind guardians. Though she is clearly not missing in her share of the wicked uncle and the evil aunt.
And this is but the tip of the iceberg. Bertha is Charibert only legitimate heir; as much is true.
Now let’s have a look at her uncles’ sons. In 577, Gunthramm renounces to having son and starts flirting with the notion of allowing his nephew via Sighebert to be his heir. Said putative heir is only 10. Chlothildis is possibly 11-12. Bertha is now… 15? But a catastrophe occurs. Chilperic’ sons die one after the other. He was careless with his heirs via Audovera; God punishes him via the children Fredegunda has given him.
In 584 AD when Chilperic dies, he leaves a four month old baby boy whose parentage is debatable. And this is it. If in 584, baby Chlothar is not nor given to Chilperic as a child, the crown goes and the entire realm to young Childebert who is 17. And this is it. Because Childebert is the last male heir.
… And we have Bertha.
True Salian law applies. But you see now how close to a dynastic crisis the Merovingian bloodline has been sailing and how important is insignificant Bertha.
Do not forget that if Chlothar II is indeed a bastard, it only means one thing. In 606, when Chlothar gets rid of his Austrasian family, the only true heirs of Chlodoweg are to be found in Canterbury.

For Kent and the Oiscing royal family, marrying a Mrovingian princess orphaned yet heress to estates probably wider than their own realm was a diplomatic coup. … Do not forget we have not even started yet to discuss a trade treaty!

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