Games of thrones

While researching the book, I was frequently reminded of analogies between the political dealings of tenth-century Britain and those depicted in the television series Game of Thrones. Being a fan of the series, it was perhaps inevitable that it would spring to mind whenever I came across historical references to dynastic marriages, temporary treaties and oaths of fealty. At times, the webs of alliance and allegiance in the 900s seem just as fluid as those involving the royal families of fictional Westeros – and with similar levels of intrigue.

A number of tenth-century treaties directly involved the kings of Strathclyde, who were as adept as any Lannister or Tyrell in the cut-and-thrust of political negotiation. Strathclyde’s geographical position gave it a shared border with several other realms and this meant that its kings were seen as useful allies. They could also be dangerous foes, and had few qualms about switching sides if it suited them to do so. Like their contemporaries in other lands, they might swiftly abandon a treaty when it no longer gave them an advantage, even at the risk of breaking a sworn oath.

I’ve highlighted three treaties in Strathclyde and the Anglo-Saxons in the Viking Age, weighing the significance of each and examining the sources that record them. All three were hosted by Anglo-Saxon (English) rulers of the West Saxon royal house, the family to which Alfred the Great belonged, but the other attendees came from far and wide. From the northern Celtic lands came the kings of Strathclyde and Alba, representing the North Britons and Scots respectively. From the old realm of Northumbria came the Viking rulers of York and the still-English lords of Bamburgh. From the West came various Welsh kings and, from across the Irish Sea, the kings of Viking Dublin. Other key figures also turned up from time to time.

The three treaties are discussed more fully in the book but here I’ll simply list them in chronological order, with venue and participants named (where known). Names in italics mean an identification is uncertain.

Bakewell Anglo-Saxon Cross

Shaft of an Anglo-Saxon cross at Bakewell Parish Church in the Peak District.

Year: 920
Venue: Bakewell
Hosted by: Edward the Elder, son of Alfred the Great
In attendance: Constantin, king of Alba; Ragnall, king of York; Ealdred and Uhtred, lords of Bamburgh; Owain, king of Strathclyde.
Purpose (probable): recognition of Edward as ruler of all Britain south of the Mersey and Humber estuaries.
Source: Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Manuscript ‘A’)

* * *

Mayburgh Henge Cumbria

Standing stone in the prehistoric henge of Mayburgh, a possible venue for the royal meeting near the River Eamont in 927.

Year: 927
Venue: River Eamont (near Penrith)
Hosted by: Athelstan, son of Edward the Elder
In attendance: Hywel, king of the West Welsh; Constantin, king of Alba; Owain, king of Strathclyde; Ealdred, lord of Bamburgh.
Purpose (probable): recognition of Athelstan as the most powerful king in Britain; mutual agreement to refuse offers of alliance from Vikings.
Sources: Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Manuscript ‘D’); William of Malmesbury’s ‘History of the English Kings’

* * *

Chester Anglo-Saxon Cross

St John the Baptist Church, Chester: head and part of the shaft of an Anglo-Saxon Cross.

Year: 973
Venue: Chester
Hosted by: Edgar, nephew of Athelstan
In attendance: Cináed, king of Alba; Máel Coluim, king of Strathclyde; Maccus, son of Harald, Viking warlord; Dyfnwal, former king of Strathclyde; Guthfrith, brother of Maccus; Iago, king of Gwynedd; Hywel, Iago’s nephew; Iudicael, count of Rennes in Brittany.
Purpose (probable): non-aggression pact to prevent future hostilities
Sources: Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Manuscript ‘D’); John of Worcester’s Chronicle

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7 thoughts on “Games of thrones

  1. Victoria (was Thompson) Whitworth

    I would really appreciate more about any thoughts you have about the Eamont landscape – have just been writing it up myself from a sculptural perspective.

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    1. Tim Post author

      It would be good to hear your views on this, Victoria. Maybe we could have another email discussion. By coincidence, I was re-reading our Govan hogback conversation last week.

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    2. esmeraldamac

      I live near there, Victoria. Very interesting place not least because of the way the old coaching roads chop up the older/ancient stuff! Still waiting for the book to be released, Tim… would that be 11 days to go, then?

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      1. Tim Post author

        Publication starting to look like mid-October now, Diane. I think it’s going to the printers early next week. I’m expecting to show the front cover on my blogs in the next few days.

        I’m wondering if that Penrith antiquarian book by ‘Ewanian’ might be a useful one for Victoria – if it gives info on the old landscape etc.

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        1. esmeraldamac

          Hi Tim – good news on the book.
          As for Ewanian – its prehistory is all about duelling knights and sacrifices and nothing of any actual historical content (other than the history of history, of course!). It’s hard to better Tom Clare’s Prehistoric Monuments of the Lake District (which covers all Cumbria, not just the Lakes… 😦 ). He was the county archaeologist and the books is very comprehensive. Or as a second, David Barraclough’s Prehistoric Cumbria.

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    1. Tim Post author

      Yes, the Vikings were still a menace in the English Channel and caused plenty of trouble for Brittany in the tenth century. Back in 936, Athelstan (Edgar’s uncle) had sent a fleet to help a Breton count against Viking invaders.

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