anglo saxon art

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Viking sword hilt, pins, necklace and decorated jewellery, National Museum of Scotland, 24.2.17.

Emma of Normandy - Twice a Queen

There is a tantalizingly small amount known of Emma’s early life. She was the daughter of Richard I “The Fearless” Duke of Normandy and his second wife Gunorra and was born between 985 and 990 A.D. Emma was married to the Anglo-Saxon King Aethelred “The Unready” of England in 1002 when she was probably in her early teens. This marriage was a decisive and desperate political move made by Aethelred. The reign of King Aethelred was plagued by war with the invading Vikings and, though he was forceful, Aethelred was branded “Æþelræd Unræd” or “Aethelred of Bad counsel.” The name quickly evolved to “Aethelred the Unready.” He married Emma because she was Norman, and therefore of Viking descent, as her great-grandfather was the Viking Rollo, founder of Normandy. 

Emma was around twenty years younger than her husband Aethelred, who already had ten children by his first wife, including several sons. Nevertheless, Emma produced three children: Edward (later Edward the Confessor), Alfred Aetheling, and Goda of England. The early years of Emma’s life in England can not have been peaceful for her. She was a Danish outsider who could not speak the old English language of her subjects, as far as some people were concerned. She was often caught between the English and Danish factions and was held somehow responsible for attacks carried out by Swein Forkbeard, the ruler of Viking occupied England. Out of this, Emma likely developed a sharp political mind. Soon the volatile political climate turned towards war. In 1109, Aethelred and Emma were preparing for a major battle with the Vikings and all able men in the country were called upon. But in 1011 Swein Forkbeard was victorious and moving dangerously far into southern England. 

Acting as a dutiful queen, Emma followed her husband’s lead and continued to hold court, but she convinced him to move the court to Kent. It was not long before Emma realized the end was near for Aethelred’s reign, even if he did not. She escaped to Normandy, humiliated by her husband, and had her children follow. Meanwhile, Swein and his sons Harold and Cnut established the first Viking dynasty in England. A year later Swein was dead and by 1016 Aethelred was as well, leaving Emma a widow. Emma knew her son Edward was unlikely to succeed his father, as her stepson Edmund Ironside was the obvious heir. She saw Edmund as a chance to save the fortunes of her children and herself and sought to stay in his favor in order to keep her own estates. But Edmund was soon dead. Swein was succeeded by his son Cnut, who would one day be known as “Cnut the Great.” When Cnut made it clear that he would have Emma as his queen it seemed her only safe option was to marry him. But Emma also had her own motives for doing so. She wanted to protect her own wealth, estates, and the Anglo-Saxon people she ruled over. Most importantly, marrying Cnut would save her three children by (ostensibly) neutralizing their claims to the throne. Emma married Cnut and became Queen of England for a second time under a completely new dynasty. She bore Cnut two children, a son called Harthacnut and a daughter called Gunhilda.  

As Cnut’s Queen, Emma took an active role in Church politics and was a patroness of many religious works. It is suggested in the Encomium Emmae Reginae  (written in praise of the Viking kings of England as well as of Emma) that Emma and Cnut did marry for political reasons, but that their union developed into one of real affection. Cnut died in 1035 and was succeeded by his and Emma’s son Harthacnut. In 1036, Emma’s sons Edward and Alfred returned from Normandy and soon afterwards Alfred was captured, blinded, and died as a result. Edward fled after this incident, perhaps to protect his own claim to the throne.

Emma was one of the main influences during the reign of Harthacnut. She also helped to engineer the joint reign between her sons Edward and Harthacnut and maintain peace between the Anglo Saxon and Viking factions.She may even have acted as a co-ruler. When Harthacnut died in 1042, Edward was left as the sole ruler of England. Emma died in 1052 and was buried in Winchester next to her second, and perhaps best loved, husband Cnut the Great and her son Harthacnut. Her influence is still felt in history through the prominence of her eldest son, Edward the Confessor, who may never have been king had Queen Emma not fought for herself and her children. She is the most visible of the early medieval queens and one of the first Queens of England to have a marked role in government.   

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Some of the amazing objects associated with St Cuthbert.  His coffin in Durham Cathedral is engraved with the figure of Christ which is surrounded by four Evangelists’ symbols on the lid - also in Old English Runes, on one end the earliest surviving iconic representation of the Virgin and Child outside Rome from the medieval art of the Western Church, with the archangels Michael and Gabriel on the other. The sides show the Twelve Apostles and five archangels.

The Gold and Garnet pectoral cross found in his coffin in 1104 along with the St Cuthbert Gospel - the oldest fully intact bound book in Europe.

Below, the incredible Lindisfarne Gospels created in honour of “God & St Cuthbert”

And finally his tomb in Durham Cathedral.

Edith of Wessex - The Last Anglo-Saxon Queen

Born the third child and eldest daughter of the Anglo-Saxon Earl Godwin of Wessex and his Danish wife Gytha Thorkelsdóttir, Edith was a member of the most powerful noble family in England. She had six brothers, including the ill-fated King Harold Godwinson, and two younger sisters. Edith was afforded a good education at Wilton Abbey. She is known to have spoken several languages. It is unknown exactly when Edith was wed to King Edward the Confessor, but it is likely that she was in her early twenties. Edith appeared as a good match for the Anglo-Saxon king just emerging from years of disputes and succession wars with the Viking controlled east. Though her father was a thoroughly Ango Saxon earl, her mother was of Viking descent and was the sister of a brother-in-law of Cnut the Great, the late stepfather of King Edward. 

Edward the Confessor and Edith were married for at least fifteen years, yet the royal union produced no children. It has been popularly assumed that Edward was so deeply religious that he took a vow of chastity. There is also a theory claiming that Edward so loathed Edith’s family that he refused to consummate the marriage. Neither of these theories are plausible. In 1051 Edith’s family did indeed fall out of favor with King Edward and as a result Edith was forced into a nunnery. It is thought Edward was considering divorce due to their childlessness But by the next year the Godwins had retaliated and Edith was back at Edward’s side.

Queen Edith may be viewed as a silent and un-involved consort, but she was likely a driving force behind her husband and the creator of his image. She commissioned jewels and other adornments for Edward, which contributed to his kingly presentation. In The Vita Edwardi Edith is praised for her piety, but Edith appears to have been more fiercely political than quietly devoted. She was part of the innermost circle of Edward’s advisers and was determined, opinionated, perhaps even a little calloused. She involved herself in church matters and regional politics, at one point securing the earldom of Northumbria for her favorite brother Tostig, which later resulted in rebellion. 

Upon Edward the Confessor’s death Edith’s brother Harold was declared king. To the Anglo Saxon faction, Harold Godwinson was the rightful heir of King Edward. But across the Channel, Duke William of Normandy was asserting his right to the throne as Edward’s cousin. The dispute culminated in one of the most famous battles in history- the Battle of Hastings. King Harold was cut down by an arrow through his eye and William emerged as King William the Conqueror. Edith lost three more of her brothers at Hastings, with another imprisoned. Within hours she had become the senior member of the noble family of Wessex. 

 After the Norman conquest Edith lived relatively quietly. She paid tribute to King William and kept her estates and personal wealth.The Domesday Book records her as the wealthiest woman and fourth wealthiest individual in England in 1066. Edith occupied herself by studying the lives of saints and it has recently been theorized that she was the author of the famous Bayeux Tapestry. Queen Edith died at Winchester on 18 December 1075. King William was responsible for arranging her funeral and according to The Anglo Saxon Chronicle she was “ brought to Westminster with great honour and laid her near King Edward, her lord.”          

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Today, The 4th of June, is the feast day of Eadfrith, Bishop of Lindisfarne - Saint Eadfrith. 

Bishop of Lindisfarne from 698 until his death in 721.  He is solely responsible for the creating the stunning Lindisfarne Gospels. - Images include the carpet page introducing the Gospel of Matthew, and the Chi-Rho page, as well as pictures of the book on display in Durham in 2013.

You may be able to listen to this BBC Radio 4 essay about Bishop Eadfrith.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01ngr4r/The_Essay_AngloSaxon_Portraits_Eadfrith_the_Scribe/

Æthelflæd,  England’s Founding Mother

Born around 870, in the midst of the Viking invasion of Anglo-Saxon Britain, Æthelflæd was the eldest child of King Alfred “The Great” of Wessex and his wife Ealhswith. The young Æthelflæd would have spent most of her childhood witnessing her father’s long campaigns against the Danes. Alfred eventually succeeded in forcing the Vikings out of Wessex and Mercia, and back into the kingdom of East Anglia, which would be known as The Danelaw. 

As the eldest daughter of a powerful Anglo-Saxon king, Æthelflæd would have expected to be married to another equally powerful ruler. But as the daughter of Alfred the Great, she was also destined for greatness. Æthelflæd was wed to Aethelred, King of Mercia, in around 886. She bore only one known child, a daughter called Ælfwynn. Æthelflæd and Aethelred are known to have acted jointly when they fortified the city of Worcester and issued charters. Æthelflæd and her husband became the guardians of her nephew, her brother Edward’s son, the future king Æthelstan. Young Æthelstan likely came to live in his aunt and uncle’s court in order to learn the ways of kingship and combat from their example. Aunt Æthelflæd proved an ideal teacher.

After King Alfred’s death and her brother’s succession to the throne of Wessex as King Edward the Elder, Æthelflæd’s husband fell ill and later died. Once Aethelred’s health began to decline, Æthelflæd took his place as ruler of Mercia. She became known as Myrcna hlædige, or “Lady of the Mercians.”  Though she lost some of her territory in return for her brother Edward acknowledging her as the rightful ruler of Mercia, Æthelflæd was a force to be reckoned with. She joined with her brother in an effort to expel the Vikings and take back the Danelaw. Æthelflæd and her army were responsible for the capture of the city of Derby, the first of the five boroughs of the Danelaw to fall to her forces. She later took Leicester as well. By the end of 917 the East Anglian Danes had submitted to Edward and Æthelflæd. In 918 many of the leading men around York promised to pledge their loyalty to Æthelflæd, but she died on June 12 before she could accept them. 

Queen Æthelflæd has been all but lost to modern popular history, though a statue of her was erected in Tamworth, the location of her death. She is overlooked between two kings, her father Alfred and brother Edward. Though her daughter Ælfwynn ruled Mercia after her death, she was deposed and the kingdom was taken by Edward the Elder. Æthelflæd’s legacy rests with her nephew, King Æthelstan. Æthelstan, the boy who received an education in ruling from Æthelflæd, would be the first king to rule a united England and call himself King of the English. A feat which could not have been accomplished without the unification set in motion by Æthelflæd.       

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Danes, Picts and Northumbrians. Playable cultures on The Great Whale Road, a game by Sunburned Games.

Support us on Kickstarter: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/sunburnedgames/the-great-whale-road/

Anglo-Saxon Hallowing Spell.

Fire I carry round the frith-stead,
and bid men to keep the peace.
Light I carry for enclosing,
and bid ill wights flee away.

Thunor hallow,
Thunor hallow,
Thunor hallow this holy stead.

Fire I carry round the frith-stead,
and bid men to keep the peace.
Light I carry for enclosing,
and bid outlaws flee away.

Thunor hallow,
Thunor hallow,
Thunor hallow this holy stead.

Thunor hallow,
Thunor hallow,
Thunor hallow this holy stead.

Fyr ic bere ymb friðgearde,
Ond béode men frið fremman,
Líeg ic bere tó belùcan,
Béode aelwihta fléogan aweg.

Thunor wéoh,
Thunor wéoh,
Thunor wéoh þisne ealh.

Fyr ic bere ymb friðgearde,
Ond béode men frið fremman,
Líeg ic bere tó belùcan,
Béode utlaga féran aweg.

Thunor wéoh,
Thunor wéoh,
Thunor wéoh þisne ealh.

Thunor wéoh,
Thunor wéoh,
Thunor wéoh þisne ealh.