British Chilterners

Enough backdated self-publicity! Here instead is another of those posts where I take a sober, careful and reasonable set of deductions made from patchy evidence by a suitably cautious and reputable scholar and just keep pushing well beyond the evidence, and again, the topic is the formation of Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. It’s not just me this topic interests, as a couple of good essay volumes show,1 but it certainly does interest me; when I got the Oxford job it was partly with a presentation on that subject, a presentation that then became a lecture three months later, and I repeated that lecture with adaptations the two subsequent years, so there’s no point pretending I don’t have views. Even if I did so pretend, anyway, for readers of this blog it would be too late.

Now, if you’ve followed that link or remember it, you’ll know that one of my pet interests is whether we can countenance the survival of whatever sub-Roman British political organisation had been improvised in the aftermath of the withdrawal of Rome into the Anglo-Saxon period, and if so where and how far, something with which one has to be careful as somewhat wild theories abound at the far end of this spectrum.2 There are a few more-or-less accepted cases of this, the northern kingdoms of Elmet and Gododdin being the obvious ones, and some arguments to be made in favour of both Lincoln and London (the former rather more so) having survived as centres of sub-Roman authority long enough to coordinate some sort of settlement of Anglo-Saxon-cultured federate troops around themselves as defences before, presumably, becoming the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Lindsey and Middlesex, if the latter ever was a kingdom.3 If it was, it can’t have been for very long as Essex seems to have taken over London and already lost control of some of it to Kent by 602.4 But since there was a name, the idea that there was a unit there which could be described in terms of `Middle Saxons’ must have been reasonably widespread for a while even if any actual polity lasted no longer than a mayfly.

"Sites associated with the Battle of Bedcanford ca. AD 571", reproduced from John Hines, "The Anglo-Saxon Archaeology of the Cambridge Region and the Kingdom of Middle Anglia", fig. 11

“Sites associated with the Battle of Bedcanford ca. AD 571″, reproduced from John Hines, “The Anglo-Saxon Archaeology of the Cambridge Region and the Kingdom of Middle Anglia”, fig. 11

So, this post is occasioned by having read a chapter in one of those essay volumes by John Hines.5 The case he wants to make is for the Cambridge area having for a while in the sixth and seventh century been a region of some local importance controlling a border area between two cultural zones that later distinguished as Middle Anglia and East Anglia, though by then Middle Anglia’s centre had been sucked westwards to its bishopric at Leicester and its border with its new Mercian masters. This is interesting, but it’s not what caught me because, about two-thirds of the way through, Professor Hines introduces the above map and tries to use it to argue for identifying the four centres on it, all of which bar Eynsham are at crossings of the Roman road known as the Icknield Way (Eynsham being a Thames crossing) and all of which are said in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle to have fallen into the control of Cuthwulf King of the West Saxons in AD 571, as likely points of a decentralised British-identified group of settlements. This is not very near Cambridge and what it is doing in his argument is initially hard to see, but he lingers on it just long enough to link it tentatively to St Albans, a centre of British Christianity that Bede admits still existed in his day but won’t tell us any more about.6 Now, Hines does not put a name to this grouping of settlements, but we obviously could, and it would be Cilternsæte, ‘the people of the Chilterns’, which is in the Tribal Hidage and given its geographical referent would more or less have to be close to this zone or in it.7

The particular genius of Hines’s chapter, I think (and so does he, I think, as he emphasises it at the end) is to argue for a number of these decentralised groupings (and he sees Cambridgeshire as another, which is the link) that actually did so well for themselves, by virtue of achieving stability and relative prosperity, in a local and supra-local economy we can sort of see in metalwork distributions, that they did not in fact develop into kingdoms, remaining cheerfully established as decentralised groupings while the big neighbours who would eventually swallow them were slogging it out between élites of which only one group would eventually triumph (as with the previous one of these posts, about Kent). As he says, this implies, “that progress towards state-formation under strong monarchial [sic] government may at its very source in the early Middle Ages have been more revolutionary than evolutionary”.8

The Wikimedia Commons map of the Tribal Hidage

The Wikimedia Commons map of the Tribal Hidage; click through for an interactive version!

This has an enjoyably Marxist-eschatological tinge, with its implication that the Revolution can only come once everyone’s doing badly enough to actually rise up, and for Cambridge at least I would imagine that the discovery of the Trumpington ‘princess’ and Anglo-Saxon remains (albeit late ones) under the University’s Old Schools may necessitate some re-evaluation of Cambridge’s only being one among many similar centres in its area, but a question remains for me about the Cilternsæte, which is, what did they have that made them a people to the outside point of view that the Tribal Hidage must represent? Why was this one people rather than many? Could it just have been a surviving British cultural identity (or even language)? Well, if we were in Gaul at this point rather than Britain the obvious answer would be staring us in the face, as Hines suggests, in the form of a bishopric at St Albans. There was once such a bishop, we know, and we also know that there were British bishops, plural, when St Augustine came to England, or at least Bede reports a folkloric story that presumes such. There has been some argument about whether they could ever been as close to the ‘English’ zones as this, but someone must have been in charge of the cult site whether they had a crozier or not. That would presumably have given some kind of thing to identify with, though if it had been the absolute key it’s strange that we don’t find the people called *Albaningas or *Verlamwe or something more pinned to the site, and it is a way east of any other centres we might put in this zone. Nonetheless, what else could there be to link all these various groups together? Should I put the Chilterners on the notional survival map if I ever do that lecture again? What do you all think?9

View of Dunstable Downs, Bedfordshire

Gratuitous English scenery at Dunstable Downs in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty—or do we mean British scenery?


1. Stephen Bassett (ed.), The Origins of Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms (London 1986); Tania Dickinson & David Griffiths (edd.), The Making of Kingdoms: papers from the 47th Sachsensymposium, York, September 1996, Anglo-Saxon Studies in Archaeology and History 10 (Oxford 1999); one should also mention Barbara A. E. Yorke, Kings and Kingdoms in Anglo-Saxon England (London 1990, 2nd edn. 1997).

2. A sane round-up in Thomas Charles-Edwards, “Nations and Kingdoms: a view from above” in idem (ed.), After Rome (Oxford 2003), pp. 23-58; a more British-generous view than most in Christopher A. Snyder, The Britons (Oxford 2003), pp. 73-138. The canonical patron of such views is Ken Dark, whose From Civitas to Kingdom: British political continuity, 300-800 (Cambridge 1994) is a beast to obtain but widely cited, and whose more extreme Britain and the End of the Roman Empire (Stroud 2001) is somewhat less so; there is also Nick Higham, The English Conquest: Gildas and Britain in the Fifth Century (Manchester 1994), which is on its own path in the same wilderness.

3. For Lindsey, see Bruce Eagles, “Lindsey”, in Bassett, Origins, pp. 202-212, then Kevin Leahy, “The Formation of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Lindsey” in Dickinson & Griffiths, Making of Kingdoms, pp. 127-133; for Middlesex, see Keith Bailey, “The Middle Saxons” in Bassett, Origins, pp. 108-122; also worth comparing in that volume are John Blair, “Frithuwold’s Kingdom and the Origins of Surrey”, pp. 97-107, and David N. Dumville, “Essex, Middle Anglia, and the Expansion of Mercia in the South-East Midlands” and “The Origins of Northumbria: some aspects of the British Background”, pp. 123-140 & 213-222, which affect the areas mentioned as well.

4. Barbara E. Yorke, “The Kingdom of the East Saxons” in Anglo-Saxon England Vol. 14 (Cambridge 1985), pp. 1-36, updated in eadem, Kingdoms, 2nd edn. pp. 45-57; cf. Dumville, “Essex, Middle Anglia, and the Expansion of Mercia”.

5. John Hines, “The Anglo-Saxon Archaeology of the Cambridge Region and the Kingdom of Middle Anglia” in Dickinson & Griffiths, Making of Kingdoms, pp. 135-149, map here used from p. 147 and hopefully fair use since it’s part of the discussion here and low-resolution.

6. Ibid., pp. 145-146; for Bede’s reticence on Britons see M. W. Pepperdene, “Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica: a new perspective” in Celtica Vol. 4 (Dublin 1958), pp. 253-262; W. T. Foley & Nick Higham, “Bede on the Britons” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 17 (Oxford 2009), pp. 154–185, doi: 10.1111/j.1468-0254.2009.00258.x, and cf. Howard Williams, “Forgetting the Britons in Victorian Anglo-Saxon Archaeology” in Nick Higham (ed.), Britons in Anglo-Saxon England, Publications of the Manchester Centre for Anglo-Saxon Studies 7 (Woodbridge 2007), pp. 27-41.

7. See Yorke, Kingdoms, 2nd edn. pp. 1-24 on the Hidage versus other sources; Hines references Dark, Civitas to Kingdom, but gives no page reference.

8. Hines, “Middle Anglia”, pp. 146-148, quote from p. 148.

9. Edit: I am reminded by Howard Williams in comments below that there is at least some historiography (or archæography?) on the Chilterns for those interested to follow up, and I had meant to cite it but when I got to that footnote couldn’t remember what was meant to go there… Foolish boy. The standard reference, for those few who can find a copy, is Kenneth Rutherford Davies, Britons and Saxons: the Chiltern Region 400-700 (Chichester 1982), but there is also now John T. Baker, Cultural Transition in the Chilterns and Essex Region, 350 AD to 650 AD, Studies in Regional and Local History 4 (Hatfield 2006), of which at least some is visible on Google Books. I can’t claim to have read either of these but the former at least I have been meaning to for a very long time, being a child of the Chilterns myself…

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46 responses to “British Chilterners

  1. The first time I walked on the Devil’s Dyke, east of Cambridge, it struck me that it would make sense if to the east of it lived people who fought as infantry (e.g. German barbarians carrying big axes) and to the west cavalry e.g. the Romano-British. This is wild speculation by a historical amateur. But a dirt dyke and ditch that wouldn’t much impede infantry would be an utter nuisance to cavalry. Unless they rode Norwegian mountain ponies, or some equally sure-footed beasties.

    • The Dyke and its kindred eartheworks are part of Hines’s argument here, certainly, and he uses them to suggest that the Cambridge area was fortified in such a way as to privilege access from certain directions only in this period—I am avoiding going to look for exact details just now—but as far as cavalry is concerned, I don’t think we have any good reason to suppose that the Romano-British used it any more than the putative Anglo-Saxons. I suspect that impeding cattle movement might be a more immediate factor…

  2. Reminds me of a new(ish) book on the subject of Lindsey by Thomas Green, which I’m afraid I haven’t yet read but it looks useful: http://www.arthuriana.co.uk/britons/index.htm

  3. Since you asked, Jonathan, my maternal grandmother’s family, the Tweeds, are from Cheveley in Cambridgeshire. They’ve resided mostly in a variety of towns in Cambridgeshire (preferentially Cheveley), but occasionally in Essex and Yorkshire, and have distant relatives of that surname (pre-1500) in Suffolk who were wealthy wool merchants.

    Tweeds have lived in south-east England since the Hundred Years’ War: the oldest surviving record of a Cambridgeshire Tweed is of Richard Tweed senior (his son was also named Richard) in Essex in the early 1400s.

    One might expect a family established so long in England would consider themselves English, but the Tweeds identify more closely with the Welsh and Cornish, and still prefer to intermarry with families who self-identify similarly.

  4. It occurs to me that since the early Kings of the House of Wessex are assigned British rather than Saxon names, might the change of official language be obscuring Wessex’s origins? Could it at first have been a competing branch of the British kingdom of Dumnonia?

    • I haven’t seen that suggestion per se, though I don’t think I would rule it out, but I have seen it suggested that Cerdic and Cynric were, if real at all, local lords of British affiliation who mounted a take-over bid on a failing Saxon grouping which they turned into a contendor. Now if only I could remember where… Yorke’s Kings and Kingdoms would be a good place to start looking, but I’m not sure that’s it. Certainly, there is a good case (made by David Dumville) that the bits of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle that have Cerdic and Cynric arriving in three ships (twice) are back-formations from the West Saxon genealogy, intended to give their forebears as much antiquity as the kings of Kent…

  5. If I were looking for ancient Brits near Cambridge I might start with (i) the Fens, and (ii) villages with names like Barton or Comberton.

    • Well, the Fens have good Anglo-Saxon pedigree for unexpected Britons, as Felix’s Life of Guthlac has the saint, an ex-warrior who cut his teeth on Mercia’s Welsh border, being assailed by and hiding from demons that spoke Brittonic! We’ve got no very good idea how to read this, of course, since Felix knew the Life of St Anthony and was obviously keen that his saint also be assailed by demons in the wilderness, plus which Guthlac was fasting and who knows what stories he later told, but, it’s there…

  6. Plenty of food for thought here (and the impetus to re-read Hines’ essay!). Looking at the matter in terms of the name Cilternsæte, the -sæte ending is one often encountered in south-west England/Welsh border, but rarely so this far east. One exception is in a boundary description fringing the Cray valley in Kent – another place where an early annal locates a confrontation between Britons and in this case proto-Kentish incomers. Most such names (well, the ones I can recall) have a broad topographical feature as the specific, like the Chiltern Hills, but Dorset < Durnovaria/Dorchester is a notable exception, so it's not all that easy to account for why Verulamium/St Albans did not generate an equivalent name. Perhaps like you say it's because it is non-central within the area. Generally, there's a fair chance -sæte may be an Old English identifier of significant non-Germanic populations; I think Ken Dark argued something similar in his book (I also remember being underwhelmed first time around by the way in which he presented his argument – perhaps some more re-reading is called for…). So maybe the Cilternsæte should make the cut!

    • I’ve certainly seen such cases argued for Magonsæte and I think Wreoconsæte (both by Dumville in the Bassett volume?) but I’m not sure that the argument was any more than “these places are so close to the Welsh that they must pretty much have been Welsh really”. If one believed in small settler armies, that wouldn’t hold for long against a determined wish by a lord (of whatever branding) to arm his western border against Welsh reivers (if I can mix my own borders like that…).

  7. At the risk of getting it very wrong, I think -sæte is related (perhaps a plural form?) of one of two OE words: sæta, ‘holding of land’ or sæte ‘house, building’. Both seem apt to be extended to have a territorial connotation. Not sure if its group sense has come through into present-day English but maybe the latter persists as badger sett?

    However we date the Tribal Hidage that gives us Cilternsæte, Elmetsæte etc., its geographically uneven application should tell us something about the polities (and peoples) it was attributed to. I wonder of anyone has tried looking at the early medieval finds reported to the PAS to see if there are C5-7 Germanic-type artefacts being found in the hitherto empty Chiltern region (though granted there are few if any certainties as to what such objects tell us about the people who possessed/were buried with them)?

    • How nice to have another reason to mention badgers on the blog! As for the PAS, well, a very quick stab at early medieval objects for the Chiltern district of Buckinghamshire currently produces a full six finds, including a penny of Æthelred II of Northumbria, weirdly, but otherwise all late Saxon bar one ‘unidentifiable object’ with no date. I realise there’s more of the Chilterns than that, but for now, I’m going to cautiously answer your question with ‘it’s still looking fairly empty’…

  8. I’m not sure if anyone thus far has flagged up John Baker’s work on the archaeology and place-names from a few year’s back – essential reading to see how the Chilterns fit in relation to surrounding territory, and arguably far more rigorous than John’s Cambridge piece.

  9. Tell me something, JJ. It’s the Dark Ages. German bands of robbers are abroad – or rather, they are right here. Why don’t the Romano-British retreat from scattered farms and gather for mutual protection in towns, or at least fortified villages, or even fortified villas? Yet everything I read says that Roman villas, towns and cities dwindled away rapidly. It seems a bit odd.

    • The villas, towns and cities do indeed dwindle, though we could draw that too sharply: digging at Wroxeter in the 1980s showed marks of building in wood in the old forum that suggested occupation continued, and that kind of building would be archæologically very hard to pick up—basically differences in soil colouration—and may not have been recognised in earlier digs. But in general that picture seems right, and it’s not too surprising because the towns and villas were both part of a system based on there being a market for surplus, in terms of the army and tax, and with that demand gone, economic simplification seems to have followed with drastic speed. What we do have, however, at least in the west, is a return to pre-Roman hillforts as centres of occupation and tribute taking. Leslie Alcock’s work on this led the way: his Economy, Society and Warfare among the Britons and Saxons (Cardiff 1987) collects a lot of the important bits and might give you a slightly different view. I am a big fan of Alcock’s work.

  10. Although dearieme’s question may not have a definitive and comprehensive answer, we might look ahead from the 5th and 6th centuries to the 11th and 11th. In this period we find Welsh, Cumbrian and Scottish influence, and presence, well beyond their current boundaries.
    Indeed, many of the wealthier parts of England at that time were in parts of the south-west, the midlands and the north where this Old British influence remained strong.
    As an indication of both the persistent strength of the British and the fact of extensive intermarriage, Gospatric of Cumbria, who had Cumbrian, Norse and English ancestors, held Bamburgh castle and was Earl of Bernicia and Northumbria from 1067 to 1072.

    • That’s all true enough, although we could argue endlessly over “many of the wealthier parts”—the burgeoning wool trade changed the economic importance of quite a lot of agriculturally-marginal areas but didn’t necessarily change their marginality—and I wish that we knew more about Gospatric and his ancestors. All we really know of that family prior to him is their names, and those are substantially Old English, as if the assertion they wished to make was anything but one of blending, but there are so many fragments of Northumbrian royalty in evidence at the point when it disappears from the record in 867 that one could suppose almost any kind of connection to the past for the Earls of the renascent Bamburgh, or none at all but only the awareness that one would be good to assert.

      As for your point with regard to dearieme’s question, however, I think it’s probably worth pointing out that your c. 1000 success stories all come from outside the Romanised zones. Cumbria and Scotland especially were outside the Empire, and much of northern Wales was garrison territory. These areas and their eventual rulers don’t represent the kind of adherence to urban and Roman social structures that dearieme was wondering about, I’d argue, but the triumph of the hillforts-and-tribute model against which those were set up.

  11. Regarding Gospatric: I assume you’ve seen Fiona Edmonds’ study in ‘Personal names and the cult of Patrick in eleventh-century Strathclyde and Northumbria’? (In Saints’ cults in the Celtic world [Woodbridge, 2009], pp. 42-65).

  12. Thanks for the hill-fort comment: it was thinking about Tuscan fortified hill-villages that prompted my question in the first place.

    • Ah, yes, a slightly different result there but a not dissimilar stimulus, at least as we currently understand it. But a lot of recent work has been done on those villages. Some kind of summary can be found in Richard Hodges and Ricardo Francovich’s Villa to village: the transformation of the Roman countryside in Italy, c. 400-1000 (London 2003). Sorry, I seem to keep suggesting reading even while in other threads here I admit the reading I myself haven’t done…

  13. Hill-forts might be a pretty good defendable spot for cavalrymen to take a rest and let their horses graze.

    • Actually, I can buy that, in principle. It’s one of the things I find peculiar about the castles in my actual research area, that there’s no way one could house horses on site, so tiny and precipitous are they. The problem is how little we know about horses in warfare in this early period. There Alcock’s later book is more use, but even he could say little more than that art we have shows warriors riding. There’s an old and peculiar idea that the Anglo-Saxons rode to battle but fought on foot, which I’ve never liked but while it’s out there the case that warriors fought from horseback can’t be made directly from evidence that they had horses…

      • On the narrow sites, could the hill forts be watch towers?
        As to cavalry, we know the Bretons fought on horseback, and very effectively, too. Aside from their excellent archers, what is known of the Welsh?

        • Watch-towers is exactly how I’m thinking, yes, and the only problem with it, possibly not really a problem, is that these places are still considered the centres of jurisdictions. But of course so they might well be, if the watch-tower was where you did your notional army service! I have an article on this nearly finished which I hope to be submitting in August.

          As to the Welsh, I don’t know, but I know where I’d start, which is the heroic poetry. In the sixth-century Y Gododdin the 300 heroes seem to have earned their fame fighting on foot – there are shield-walls all over the place – but I don’t know if the later stuff like the Mabinogion sticks with that or instead projects an image of heroes on horseback…

  14. The British cavalry in WWI was trained as mounted infantry. (I suppose the Near East campaign might have been an exception.) In a machine-gun and barbed wire era, that was pretty sensible even for men with stirrups.

    I imagine that in the Dark Ages fighting on horseback might need much more training and practice than riding to battle and then fighting on foot. One cost is that you’d have to allow one man in three to attend to the horses (at least that was the WWI ratio).

    How much did the Dark Agers use archery: does anyone know?

    • There were a few awfully unsuccessful cavalry charges at the very beginning of the Great War, weren’t there? But as you say, not the war for it…

      As to archery, well, it was certainly done. I’ve just consulted Alcock as per and he reminds me that there’s even some case for crossbows in this period, both artistic and archæological (the latter admittedly of questionable interpretation). What we can’t do is any kind of guess at frequency, really. Archers don’t feature much in narratives about battle, presumably because it wasn’t a thing heroes or nobles did, their combat being face-to-face and honourable. With an arrow, after all, you might never know who’d killed whom, it would be much more like murder as the Anglo-Saxons seem to have seen it than man-slaying. (No real clues as to whether the british would have shared that view, unfortunately.) If Norse evidence can be allowed to count, in Egils Saga it’s a bow and arrow Egil grabs to defend his homestead when his enemies come calling, which I guess he’d have around for hunting; he’s a hero, but he’s also in dire straits and may be demonstrating the ‘crafty’ ability to turn unpropitious circumstances to advantage. The Pictish crossbow illustration shows up in a boar-hunt scene, too. (I raid this shamelessly from Alcock.) There’s no archers mentioned in The Battle of Maldon, but they were famously present at Hastings… I’m afraid beyond that it’s a case of make what you can!

      • Just a few comments on archery from the Norse point of view. I think you (or is it your source?) are mixing up various things. The Franks casket certainly shows a figure defending a building with a bow and arrow, and the figure is identified in runes as ‘agili’ or Egil, but this is the legendary brother of Weland, not the hero of Egil’s saga. The most famous saga scene of the type you mention is in fact in Njals saga ch. 77, where Gunnar’s wife notoriously denies him her hair when his bowstring breaks… But this is all late stuff.
        In my article (‘Some Viking weapons in Sigvatr’s verse’) in the Graham-Campbell festschrift, I make brief reference (pp. 350-1) to skaldic evidence for the use of bows and arrows. By its nature, the evidence is mainly from the 11th century, and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of it. I suspect that there is something in your suggestion that bows and arrows were primarily for hunting rather than warfare.

        • <rechecks Alcock>

          Um, yup, that would be me reading far too fast and jumping to the hero of the sagas without justification. I’m pleased that there is some saga connection, but I had no reason from what I was actually looking at to suppose one. Oops. Sorry, and thanks for the correction!

      • Allan McKinley

        Cavalry was still being used in the Soviet-Polish war in about 1920 – that’s the last time both sides in a battle launched cavalry at each other. It was effective in open spaces enough that in WW II the Germans retrained infantry as cavalry for the eastern front. Properly armed cavalry could take out tanks after all (that’s what the Poles were doing in 1939). And last time I looked the British army still had cavalry regiments with horses.

        But context is everything. I doubt even high medieval knights attempted to ride over fixed defences (later, in the Napoleonic wars, apparently only once did cavalry ever overrun a formed infantry square in about 15 years of warfare). And the Anglo-Saxon walking thing may be because our best two recorded battles, Maldon and Hastings, were both defensive and the context of the only other half-decent evidence, Buranburh, hardly rules out the Vikings attacking. The evidence for Alfred’s battles suggests that both sides went defensive (shieldwalls) so negating cavalry charges.

        Mind you, I’ve always wondered how people think kings and nobles who hosted deer and other animals (boar?) on horseback wouldn’t see the value of the same techniques in attacking humans…

  15. The Gododdin certainly talks about British mounted soldiers (less clear on whether there was actual fighting from horseback).

    The western hill forts are (at least in those best excavated) best seen as something more than just a watch tower. At South Cadbury (Somerset) the 5th/6th century fortifications run the whole way round the top of this once Iron Age hillfort. Work was done in the 1980s by Ian Burrow based on the gap specified in the Burghal Hidage between soldiers with spears manning the ramparts. On this analogy it would have taken several hundred soldiers to defend South Cadbury – which also had a two-story tower over the gate.

    And Cumbria was inside the Empire.

    • Stupid of me, of course it was. Where are the Walls, Jarrett? I wonder what I meant?

      As to the hillforts question, though, I think that’s my fault for being confusing rather than my being confused. I was contrasting the British hillforts, which might have been able to house cavalry, with the castles from tenth-century Catalonia which certainly weren’t. I’m not sure, however, that that is clear unless you’re reading from inside my head. Sorry. I put it down to having just finished my fifth piece of work in a week…

  16. Your horsey-hilly point was clear to me. I took your “Cumbria” to be an allusion to ancient territory stretching to Dumbarton – I never use Heath-given “Cumbria” when God-given “Cumberland” and “Westmoreland” are available.

    • Ah, I fear you give me too much credit, it was an honest-to-goodness mistake. I try and stay off the county names where possible when dealing with kingdoms, but Cumbria was probably never a kingdom as such, so… Dumbarton is definitely Strathclyde though!

  17. So when/why did the South Welsh longbow archers pop up?

    • Why, I don’t know, but when, certainly by the early twelfth century, when they were occasionally killing Norman marcher lords in highly successful ambushes! I suppose that the source here is Gerald of Wales, but I don’t know for sure, as I got it from an actual Welsh longbow archer working at Warwick Castle!

  18. It has always puzzled me that in WW1 cavalry charges were attempted against large numbers of machine guns and other artillery on high ground at a distance. The consequences of this folly were dire at the end of la Guerre Folle (the Mad War) in 1488, so how could people forget?

  19. Allan wrote that “the evidence for Alfred’s battles suggests that both sides went defensive (shieldwalls) so negating cavalry charges”. This depends on how the cavalry was used. Of course it’s stupid to ride into a pike. However, used as mobile weapons platforms, horses can be very effective against shielded foot soldiers.

    I refer everyone to the Battle of Jengland in 851, in which Charles the Bald, King of West Francia (and future Holy Roman Emperor), determined to conquer Brittany once and for all, drew forces from all parts of the Carolingian Empire, supplemented with Saxon shock troops.

    Entering Brittany via the Roman road to Nantes, the army sighted an approaching Breton cavalry troop led by Prince Erispoe. The Saxons were sent ahead, but soon came running back and scrambled for shelter behind the Frankish shield wall, pursued by the horsemen who galloped at full tilt toward the wall. At the last moment at which they could avoid impaling themselves on the Franks’ spears, the riders launched javelins (Roman pilae) then turned sharply and sped away.

    The pilum has a head with prongs designed to embed fast in shields; the shaft is made of untempered steel that bends on impact, rendering the shield too unwieldy too hold up. The pilum was used by the Roman infantry, but the incorporation of Alans (a people related to the Parthians) into Brittany immediately following the Battle of the Cataluanian Plains in 451 led to variations in tactics.

    At Jengland, the first onslaught was followed by more cavalrymen employing the same tactic. As the shields dropped, the next wave of cavalrymen aimed at the unshielded men in the front line. Over a period of two days, Charles’s army was severely depleted and at night he silently fled camp, leaving his remaining men to be surprised and slaughtered early the next morning.

    Erispoe was now able to exert firm Breton control over the Cotentin, Mayenne and western Anjou. He met Charles at Angers, where the King was probably very relieved to learn that all Erispoe wanted from him was recognition of Breton rule over the territory just taken, and in return was willing to pay his respects to Charles.

    We learn from this that: (1) Roman military technology was maintained and even improved in the early middle ages; (2) cavalry, properly trained and equipped, could systematically destroy shield walls; (3) medieval battles could last for days; (4) there was a night truce; (5) larger numbers do not ensure victory, but appropriate tactics carefully executed can.

  20. Spearmen on foot can defeat even heavily armoured knights: see Courtrai or Bannockburn.

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