Category Archives: Sculpture

Æthelflæd and Wednesbury

Aethelflaed at Wednesbury

“The renowned Ethelfleda, who governed the kingdom of Mercia with so good conduct, fortify’d this Town against the Danes who infested her Nation”
[Robert Plot (1686) The Natural History of Staffordshire]

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A number of places in the western midlands of England claim to have been founded by Æthelflæd, the Lady of the Mercians. One such place is Wednesbury, a town lying between Walsall and Dudley. Formerly in the old county of Staffordshire, Wednesbury is now part of the borough of Sandwell in the post-1974 metropolitan county of West Midlands.

Aethelflaed at Wednesbury

Wednesbury’s position in the West Midlands.

Æthelflæd was the eldest daughter of Alfred the Great, king of Wessex from 871 to 899. She was born a year or two before her father succeeded to the kingship. Her mother Ealhswith was a Mercian noblewoman of royal ancestry, so Æthelflæd was half-Mercian by blood. At the time of her birth, the old kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England were under relentless pressure from Viking attacks. Mercia had once been a large and powerful kingdom, its rulers holding sway across almost the whole of the midlands. But in the second half of the ninth century it was repeatedly ravaged by the Great Heathen Army, a huge Viking force said to have been comprised mostly of Danes. Indeed, by the mid-880s only a western rump of Mercia remained under English rule. Its steadfast ruler, Lord Æthelred, continued the fight against the Great Heathen Army. Competent in war, he became a redoubtable ally and trusted subordinate of King Alfred. His loyalty was duly rewarded when, sometime in the mid-880s, he received the hand of Alfred’s daughter Æthelflæd in marriage.

Aethelflaed at Wednesbury

Southern Britain in the early 900s.

In the ensuing years, Æthelred and Æthelflæd sought to strengthen their lands against further Viking raids, as well as against the ever-present threat of assault from Wales. They built ‘burhs’ (fortresses and fortified settlements) in strategic locations across western Mercia, often at places that had been important to the kings of pre-Viking times. After Æthelred’s death in 911, Æthelflæd continued the burh-building programme and led the Mercian army on campaign, right up until her own passing in June 918. It is in this seven year period that Wednesbury claims to have been founded by her. Although its name is absent from the Mercian Register – a contemporary record of Æthelflæd’s career in which a number of her burhs are mentioned – this need not preclude a connection. The places named in the Register are unlikely to represent a complete list of all the burhs she founded or re-fortified.

Aethelflaed at Wednesbury

Mercian burhs founded by Æthelflæd: sites identifiable today.

Wednesbury has a long history. The oldest known record of its name comes from 1086, when the royal manor of Wadnesberie was noted in Domesday Book. The name is Old English ‘Woden’s Fort’, recalling the paramount god of the Anglo-Saxons, a pan-Germanic deity whom the Vikings knew as Odin. Woden had been worshipped by the earliest English-speaking settlers in Britain during the fifth, sixth and early seventh centuries, before their conversion to Christianity. It is rare to find his name preserved in a present-day place name. That it survived at all in the post-conversion landscape might seem remarkable, until we note that he was not entirely abandoned by the Christian descendants of the early Anglo-Saxon settlers. Indeed, he was given a new role as an ancestor of kings, his name being included in royal genealogies compiled in the eighth and ninth centuries. Tracing descent from Woden seems to have become a matter of importance for the ruling dynasties of Mercia, Wessex, Northumbria and other kingdoms. Yet it did not compromise their rejection of paganism. The new, post-conversion Woden was not the powerful god of old but a less divine figure whose lineage was now linked to the Old Testament patriarchs Adam and Noah.

Aethelflaed at Wednesbury

St Bartholomew’s on Church Hill, Wednesbury.

The fort of Woden that gave Wednesbury its name is often thought to have originated as an Iron Age hillfort on Church Hill, the high ground where the parish church of St Bartholomew now stands. No ancient fortification can be seen there today but, if it did once exist, it would have been an important feature of the local landscape in the centuries before modern urbanisation. In the 1700s and 1800s, faint remains of old earthworks were indeed said to have been visible on the hilltop. Such claims appear to be consistent with the results of an archaeological excavation undertaken a decade ago, when a large ditch was discovered. This feature seems to belong not to the pre-Roman Iron Age but to the early medieval period, the time of the Anglo-Saxons. It contained framents of pottery that have been dated to the eleventh century, perhaps within a hundred years of Æthelflæd’s death. This raises the possibility that the ditch was first dug in her lifetime, and that it formed part of a fortification that she herself ordered to be built (or rebuilt). If that was the case, then Wednesbury would be one of her unrecorded burhs.

Any discussion of Wednesbury’s early history should also consider that of nearby Wednesfield, another small town lying 4 miles to the north-west. Both places share the same Woden– element in their names and, given their close proximity, it might be more than mere coincidence. Wednesfield, recorded in the late tenth century as Uodnesfeld (‘Woden’s Field’), holds a special place in the history of the Viking Age. In 910, it was the scene of a major battle in which the combined forces of Mercia and Wessex defeated a raiding-army of Danes from Northumbria. The same battle is also placed at Teotaheale or Totanheale, now the village of Tettenhall on the edge of Wolverhampton. Tettenhall lies only 3 miles west of Wednesfield, close enough for us to imagine a battle raging fiercely across the lands in between, with both places caught up in the fighting. Alternatively, the name ‘Woden’s Field’ might originally have referred to an extensive area of felde (‘open ground’) which encompassed Tettenhall and other settlements, including the one that became present-day Wednesfield. If this was the case, then ‘Woden’s Fort’ at Wednesbury might have been so named because it was an important location in the wider district of Woden’s Field, perhaps a prominent landmark. We should also keep in mind the slight possibility that Woden’s Field might have taken its name from Woden’s Fort rather than vice-versa.

Aethelflaed at Wednesbury

Geography of the Tettenhall/Wednesfield campaign, AD 910.

And so we come back to Æthelflæd. In 914, according to the Mercian Register, she built a burh at a place called Eadesbyrig, usually identified as the Iron Age hillfort of Eddisbury in Cheshire. It is thought that she repaired Eddisbury’s ancient ramparts before installing a garrison of soldiers there. Perhaps she did something similar at Wednesbury, refurbishing a long-disused hillfort and turning it into a garrisoned stronghold? Placing a burh in such a location would have been consistent with her policy of strengthening her long frontier with the Danelaw (the part of England under Viking control). This frontier ran diagonally from the Mersey to the Thames and had divided the ancient Mercian lands since c.880. Proximity to the Roman road network was a key factor in Æthelflæd’s burh-planning and we may note that Wednesbury is close to the presumed line of a road running from the major highway of Watling Street. This route took a south-east alignment between the Roman forts of Water Eaton on Watling Street and Metchley near Birmingham, although its precise course in the Wednesbury area has yet to be confirmed.

If the Lady of the Mercians did indeed build a burh at Wednesbury, what did she call it? One possibility is that it might be the unlocated Weardbyrig (‘Watch Fort’) that she built in 915 according to the Mercian Register. A more ingenious theory relates to Wednesfield and the great battle of 910. It has been suggested that the name ‘Woden’s Field’ might not pre-date the battle (as is often assumed) but could have been coined in its aftermath. As both legendary royal ancestor and erstwhile war-god of the Anglo-Saxons, Woden would have been an appropriate figure to invoke in commemoration of a great victory over the Danes. Following the same train of thought, ‘Woden’s Fort’ on Wednesbury’s Church Hill might likewise have acquired its name around the same time, by virtue of being a landmark in a large area that had recently been renamed Woden’s Field. Or perhaps ‘Woden’s Fort’ was coined by Æthelflæd herself as a suitable name for a new burh within Woden’s Field? Such musings might not be as idle as they seem. Some historians do indeed wonder if the Mercian soldiers who fought in the Tettenhall/Wednesfield campaign were led not by Lord Æthelred – who appears to have been seriously ill at the time – but by his wife. Did Æthelflæd subsequently devise the name ‘Woden’s Fort’ to mark not only the English triumph at Woden’s Field but also the part she played in it?

Aethelflaed at Wednesbury
Aethelflaed at Wednesbury

Present-day Wednesbury has undoubtedly taken the Lady of the Mercians to its heart. Near St Bartholomew’s Church, a street called Ethelfleda Terrace preserves the Victorian form of her name, as does the nearby green space known as Ethelfleda Memorial Gardens. In the town centre, her image can be seen in public artworks created from stone and metal. At the main bus station she appears as one of two sturdy ‘caryatids’ supporting an arched gateway, while on nearby Holyhead Road she is depicted on a large mural as a spear-wielding warrior confronting a boatload of Vikings. There is no doubt that local people view her with affection, regardless of the uncertainty surrounding her connection with their town.

Aethelflaed at Wednesbury

Wednesbury bus station: sculptured arch supported by ‘caryatids’ (Æthelflæd on the left; a worker from the tube-making industry on the right).

Aethelflaed at Wednesbury

The Æthelflæd caryatid (see also the photo at the top of this blogpost).

Aethelflaed at Wednesbury

(above and below) Mural sculpture on Holyhead Road, Wednesbury: Æthelflæd confronts Viking raiders.

Aethelflaed at Wednesbury
Aethelflaed at Wednesbury

Finally, we may note that the dedication of St Bartholomew’s church is of interest in the context of an Æthelflæd connection. We know that she was keen to promote and develop the cults of Anglo-Saxon saints, especially Mercian ones, among the people under her rule. One such saint was Beorhthelm who, according to old tales, had lived in Staffordshire as a monk and hermit in the early 700s. He is also known as Bertelin, and this is the usual form of his name in present-day churches dedicated to him. Some of these churches can justifiably claim to have been founded in Anglo-Saxon times, examples being St Bertelin’s in Stafford (adjoining the parish church of St Mary) and the parish church of Runcorn, now dedicated to All Saints but formerly dedicated to Bertelin. Another alternative form of the saint’s name is Bartholomew which in some cases took over the original dedication. This is what happened at Runcorn, where St Bertelin’s church eventually became known as St Bartholomew’s before being re-dedicated to All Saints in the nineteenth century. Might a similar process account for the name of St Bartholomew’s at Wednesbury, with the dedication having replaced an older one to Bertelin?

Stafford St Bertelin's Chapel

Stafford: the outline of St Bertelin’s Chapel beside the parish church.

Stafford and Runcorn are two old Mercian towns that originated as burhs founded by Æthelflæd, in 913 and 915 respectively. The original dedications of their churches are thought to reflect her promotion of Bertelin as one of Mercia’s premier saints. It is even possible that both churches were founded by her to serve the inhabitants of the new burhs. At Wednesbury, we cannot – on present evidence – be certain that she played any direct role in the town’s foundation. Nevertheless, the dedication of St Bartholomew’s parish church is certainly worth noting, and the possibility that it was originally known as St Bertelin’s can at least be kept in mind. Medieval records mention a church at Wednesbury in 1210, a building that may already have been old at that time. Whether a church existed as far back as the early tenth century is a question that archaeologists might be able to answer in the future.

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Notes & references

Wednesbury is mentioned in my book Æthelflæd: the Lady of the Mercians as a possible Æthelflædan site and as one of the places where she is commemorated in public art.

Further information on Roman roads, place-names and Anglo-Saxon settlement in the area containing Wednesbury, Wednesfield and Tettenhall can be found in David Horovitz’s meticulous work Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians; the Battle of Tettenhall 910 AD; and other West Mercian studies (2017).

I’ve taken a look at the Anglo-Saxon history of nearby Wolverhampton in a recent blogpost on Lady Wulfrun.

Lastly, a curious item of local news from Wednesbury. The original brass plaque in Ethelfleda Memorial Gardens was stolen some years ago, as reported in an article from the Express & Star newspaper.

[All photographs in this blogpost are copyright © B. Keeling]

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Lady Wulfrun

Statue of Lady Wulfrun

On the steps below St Peter’s parish church in Wolverhampton stands a fine modern sculpture of a woman in medieval garb. She stands proudly on a stone plinth, gazing out over the present-day urban landscape. A plaque on the plinth tells us that she is ‘Lady Wulfrun’ and that the sculpture, by Sir Charles Wheeler, was presented to Wolverhampton in 1974 to mark the centenary of the local Express & Star newspaper.

The people of Wolverhampton regard Wulfrun as the eponymous founder of their city, the name of which is said to derive from Old English Wulfruneheantun (‘Wulfrun’s high settlement’). Little is known of her origins but we know that in the late tenth century she was a major Anglo-Saxon landowner with close links to the royal dynasty of the newly emerging kingdom of England. She is named as the beneficiary of a charter issued in 985 by King Æthelred the Unready in which she received a gift of royal estates in Staffordshire at Heantune (later Wolverhampton) and Trescott. The charter was witnessed by the leading figures in Æthelred’s kingdom, including the archbishops of Canterbury and York. Another charter, dated to 994, confirmed a grant of lands from Wulfrun to the church of Heantune to enable its re-founding as a college of priests. Unfortunately this document has been shown to be a fake, probably created in the eleventh century by the Wolverhampton clergy. It does, however, appear to incorporate older information on estate boundaries and may be based on authentic documents associated with Wulfrun’s ownership of local lands. She is shown holding this charter, represented as an unfurled scroll, in the sculpture beside St Peter’s Church.

St Peter's Church in Wolverhampton

Stone inside St Peter’s Church commemorating the charter of 994.

Lady Wulfrun of Wolverhampton

Stained glass window in St Peter’s, showing the charter of 994 being issued by Wulfrun to the clergy of ‘Heantune’.

Wulfrun’s son Wulfric (known in later times as Wulfric ‘Spot’) became one of the richest landowners of the Late Anglo-Saxon period, holding lands not only in his native Mercia but in Northumbria as well. He received some of his estates as grants or bequests from his mother while others were inherited from his father whose name is unknown. Wulfric died sometime in the first decade of the eleventh century, leaving his lands to his daughter and other relatives. His will is one of the most important documents to come down to us from pre-Conquest England.

The name of Wulfric’s father – Wulfrun’s husband – has long been a subject for speculation. Some historians think a likely candidate is Wulfsige the Black, an important Mercian nobleman, but others think Wulfsige may have been Wulfrun’s father. The little we know of Wulfsige suggests that he was a loyal henchman of Edgar, king of England from 942 to 975, from whom he received substantial estates in Staffordshire and Derbyshire. Some of Wulfsige’s lands were later held by Wulfrun before passing to her son Wulfric. If these people do indeed represent members of the same family, the estates may have simply passed down through three generations from father to daughter to grandson.

Another of Wulfrun’s sons was Ælfhelm who served King Æthelred as ealdorman of Northumbria (based at York) from 993 to 1006. Ælfhelm was eventually murdered on the king’s orders, presumably for an act of treachery, and his two sons were blinded. However, his daughter Ælfgifu survived and, in 1013, she married the Danish prince Cnut. Seventy years earlier, Ælfgifu’s grandmother Wulfrun had herself come into close contact with Danes when she was kidnapped from Tamworth by Viking raiders from Northumbria. Tamworth may have been an important place for Wulfrun’s family, for her son Wulfric Spot bequeathed an estate in the area to his daughter and this could have been an ancestral landholding.

Lady Wulfrun at Wolverhampton

Wulfrun depicted in a window at St Peter’s Church, Wolverhampton.

One of the most intriguing theories about Wulfrun proposes that she was a grand-daughter of Æthelflæd, the Lady of the Mercians, via Æthelflæd’s daughter Ælfwynn. This would make Wulfrun a great-grand-daughter of Alfred the Great. At first glance, the idea seems to gain slight support from a medieval description of Wulfric Spot being of ‘nearly royal’ blood. However, the little we know about Ælfwynn suggests that she remained unmarried and childless, possibly having been forcibly confined as a nun after her mother’s death in 918.

The chronology of Wulfrun’s life is uncertain. She might have been quite young, perhaps a teenager, when she was abducted from Tamworth by Danish Vikings. Four decades later, when she received lands from King Æthelred in 985, she was perhaps in her fifties. The Wolverhampton charter of 994, although spurious, might be correct in depicting her as still alive in the final decade of the tenth century. The date of her death is unrecorded but she might not have been long deceased when a charter of c.1005 refers to her as having taken ‘her last breath’. What, then, was her true ancestry? Rather than being an otherwise unknown descendant of Alfred the Great it seems more likely that she sprang from one of the senior noble families of central Mercia. Her kin may have obtained much of their wealth from estates bestowed as gifts by grateful kings in reward for loyalty and faithful service. At present, there is not enough data to connect her with Wulfsige the Black or with any other known figure of the tenth century.

Wolverhampton Anglo-Saxon cross

Wolverhampton’s Anglo-Saxon pillar: the shaft of a cross?

Finally, we return to St Peter’s in Wolverhampton and to another monument in the churchyard: a tall sandstone pillar, somewhat weathered but displaying an array of sculptured animals and intricate patterns. Mystery surrounds its provenance and purpose but it has been tentatively associated with Mercian stonecarving of the ninth century, placing it a hundred years before Wulfrun’s time. If it is the shaft of a cross, as some observers believe, its existence would suggest that the St Peter’s site has been a focus of Christian worship since the 800s. In any case, it must have been a familiar sight to Wulfrun after she took ownership of the surrounding lands in 985.

St Peter's Church in Wolverhampton

A display inside St Peter’s includes this scale model reconstruction of the Anglo-Saxon pillar.

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Notes and References

David Horovitz, Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians; the Battle of Tettenhall, 910 AD; and other West Mercian studies (Stafford, 2017)

Anthony and Joyce Perry, Lady Wulfrun’s Hampton: early Wolverhampton and its church (Revised edition: Wolverhampton, 2011)
[I obtained this excellent little booklet at the shop inside St Peter’s Church for a couple of pounds]

Wulfrun’s abduction from Tamworth was reported in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle under the year 943:
Here Anlaf broke down Tamworth and great slaughter fell on either side, and the Danes had the victory and led away great war-booty with them. There Wulfrun was taken in that raid.
[Anlaf (Olaf) is either Anlaf Guthfrithsson or his kinsman Anlaf Sihtricsson, Viking warlords from Dublin who ruled successively as kings of Northumbria.]

In the online Sawyer index of Anglo-Saxon charters, the Heantune charter of 985 is numbered S.860. Wulfrun’s spurious charter of 994 is S.1380

Older generations of historians, particularly in Victorian times, liked to make the names of Anglo-Saxon women look more feminine by sticking an ‘a’ on the end. Hence we sometimes see Ethelfleda (for Æthelflæd) and Wulfruna (for Wulfrun).

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TCWAAS online

Giant's Grave Penrith

The Giant’s Grave (© B Keeling)

The Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society has recently made the full text of its Transactions available online. All volumes of this highly respected journal from 1874 onwards have been digitised, with all except the past 10 years being freely accessible and downloadable to non-members.

The Transactions (often abbreviated as TCWAAS) is published annually. Each volume contains a number of articles on the history and archaeology of the present-day county of Cumbria. The online archive can be searched by keyword, not only in the title but in the body of the article (a very useful facility). Words can also be excluded from the search, thus eliminating unwanted articles and making the process quicker and more specific.

TCWAAS is a valuable resource for research on the kingdom of Strathclyde because it deals with a region that formed the kingdom’s southern province in the tenth and early eleventh centuries. The county name ‘Cumbria’ preserves a Latinised form of the name of the kingdom itself, i.e. the land of the Cumbri or North Britons.

Strathclyde Cumbria

Cumbria, realm of the Strathclyde Britons, c.900 AD.

A search of the TCWAAS archive turns up a treasure trove of information on the period when substantial territories south of the Solway Firth were ruled by ‘Cumbrian’ kings whose headquarters lay on the Clyde. The following list of articles is just a selection. It includes items that I consulted while writing my book Strathclyde and the Anglo-Saxons in the Viking Age. Topics range from the origin and meaning of the name ‘Cumbria’ to the cultural affinities of sculptured crosses and other monuments. The list gives the title, author, volume, year and pages.

‘Strathclyde and Cumbria: a survey of historical development to 1092’ by D.P. Kirkby TCWAAS 2nd series, vol 62 (1962). pp. 77 – 94

‘On the use of the terms Strathclyde and Cumbria’ by P.A. Wilson
TCWAAS 2nd series, vol 66 (1966). pp. 57 – 92

‘The Lowther Hogbacks’ by W.G. Collingwood
TCWAAS 2nd series, vol 7 (1907). pp. 152 – 164
[discusses the “Viking” hogback gravestones at Lowther Church]

Lowther hogback

Late Victorian image of one of the Lowther hogback fragments.

‘The Giant’s Grave, Penrith’ by W.G. Collingwood
TCWAAS 2nd series, vol 23 (1923). pp. 115 – 128
[a detailed study of this enigmatic group of hogbacks and crosses at St Andrew’s Church]

Giant's Grave Penrith

One of the Giant’s Grave cross-shafts (from Collingwood’s 1923 article)

‘The Giant’s Thumb’ by W.G. Collingwood
TCWAAS 2nd series, vol 20 (1920). pp. 52 – 65
[as well as discussing the Thumb (a tenth-century cross at Penrith) this article reconstructs the genealogy of the kings of Strathclyde and suggests that one of them might be the legendary “Owain Caesar” of Cumbrian folklore]

Giant's Thumb

The Giant’s Thumb (from Collingwood’s 1920 article)

‘A reconsideration of Gosforth Cross’ by C.A. Parker and W.G. Collingwood
TCWAAS 2nd series, vol 17 (1917). pp. 99 – 113
[an art-historical study of this famous Viking Age monument near the shore of the Irish Sea]

Gosforth Cross

The Gosforth Cross (© T Clarkson)

‘Rey-Cross’ by W.G. Collingwood
TCWAAS 2nd series, vol 27 (1927). pp. 1 – 10
[the place where Eric Bloodaxe, king of York, is said to have been slain during a battle on Stainmore]

‘Five Strathclyde and Galloway charters – four concerning Cardew and one the Westmorland Newbigging’ by Frederick W. Ragg
TCWAAS 2nd series, vol 17 (1917). pp. 198 – 234
[one of the charters is the eleventh-century Gospatric’s Writ which deals with an area described as “lands that were Cumbrian” (i.e. former Strathclyde territory) between Carlisle and Wigton]

‘Cumberland’ by T.H.B. Graham
TCWAAS 2nd series, vol 26 (1926). pp. 274 – 284
[a discussion of this Old English county name which simply means “land of the Cumbri”]

Members of CWAAS can also access the online version of an interesting article from 2011: ‘From peoples to regional societies: the problem of early medieval Cumbrian Identities’ by Charles Phythian-Adams (TCWAAS 3rd series, vol 11, pp. 51 – 64)

To access the TCWAAS archive, click on the link below and then select ‘Transactions’ from the homepage.

Cumbria Past: the CWAAS website

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Related blogposts

This is a quick message about two recent posts at my other blogs….

Over at Senchus I’ve written about a lecture presented by Andrew Breeze to the Society of Antiquaries last Thursday (4th December). Professor Breeze discussed the Battle of Brunanburh and suggested that it was fought near Lanchester in County Durham rather than somewhere further west (such as Bromborough in Cheshire). A video of the lecture is available on YouTube and the link can be found at my blogpost.

Meanwhile, at Heart of the Kingdom, I’ve mentioned another Viking-related lecture to be given this Friday (12th December) at the RCAHMS headquarters in Edinburgh. The topic is hogback stones – including those at Govan – and the speaker is Dr Victoria Whitworth of the Centre for Nordic Studies at UHI. Click this link to my blogpost for further details.

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Games of thrones

While researching my book Strathclyde and the Anglo-Saxons in the Viking Age, 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 (where the latter are named in the sources or otherwise identifiable by deduction).

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’)

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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’

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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 Haraldsson, Viking warlord; Dyfnwal, former king of Strathclyde; Guthfrith Haraldsson, 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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Strathclyde crosses

The Strathclyde Britons or Cumbri had their own particular style of stonecarving which was influenced by other styles such as Pictish, Irish and Anglo-Saxon. The royal/ecclesiastical settlement at Govan appears to have been the centre from which this distinctive style was disseminated across the kingdom.

In this blogpost I’ve selected a number of images showing how the sculptors of the ‘Govan School’ transferred their ideas to one type of monument: the free-standing cross.

Jordanhill Cross Govan
1. The Jordanhill Cross Only the broken shaft of this monument now survives. It can be seen inside Govan Old Parish Church. The image above shows a 1930s reconstruction near the edge of the churchyard.

Barochan Cross
2. The Barochan Cross Formerly located on a hill near Houston in Renfrewshire, it is now kept inside Paisley Abbey. The illustration here is from John Stuart’s Sculptured Stones of Scotland (1856-7).

Arthurlie Cross
3. The Arthurlie Cross The surviving part of the cross-shaft can be seen at a road junction in Barrhead, East Renfrewshire.

Dumb Proctor Lochwinnoch
4. The Dumb Proctor Re-shaped in modern times and placed on a family grave, this monument stands in a cemetery at Lochwinnoch, Renfrewshire. The image on the right shows how it might look today, if it hadn’t been altered (reconstruction by me, based on a drawing by Alan Macquarrie in the booklet cited below).

Kilwinning Cross
5. The Kilwinning Cross The photograph shows one of the two surviving pieces of the cross-shaft at the North Ayrshire Heritage Centre in Saltcoats. The cross originally stood 4 miles away near Kilwinning Abbey.

Netherton Cross
6. The Netherton Cross This intact monument once stood near the River Clyde, not far from Hamilton Services on the M74 motorway. It now stands beside the new parish church in Hamilton town centre.

For further information on these crosses (and a couple of others not mentioned here) I recommend Alan Macquarrie’s Crosses and Upright Monuments in Strathclyde, the text of his Govan Lecture, published by the Friends of Govan Old in 2006.

Macquarrie Govan Lecture

* * * * * * *

Lowther hogbacks

On one of my research trips for the book I visited Lowther Church in Cumbria to see the Viking Age sculpture, which includes hogback gravestones similar to the ones at the Giant’s Grave in Penrith.

Lowther hogback

Lowther hogback (with shaft of Anglo-Saxon cross)


Lowther hogback

Lowther hogback (with fragment of another)

Parts of the present church were built in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. It sits on high ground above the River Lowther and probably occupies the site of an Anglo-Saxon monastery.

Lowther Church

In Chapter Six of Strathclyde and the Anglo-Saxons in the Viking Age, I consider a possible tenth-century reference to this monastery as a frontier settlement between the ‘Cumbrians’ (Britons) and the Scandinavian rulers of Northumbria.