Diggin' It - Sutton Hoo
Today, January 29th 2021, the new drama film, The Dig, is being released on Netflix and we can't wait to watch it! We suspect our followers are the same! The film is an imaginative view of the now famous excavation of the main mound at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk, England. It so happens that Sutton Hoo is one of our favourite historical sites, so much so that our very own James Pegrum has visited it many times in recent years, with the first occasion being part of our research for our big 2016 Anglo-Saxon build.
So why is Sutton Hoo so significant? At its simplest it’s a grave site (have you noticed that we have a thing for graves at the moment?). Graves in themselves are a rich source of information for historians and provide a great window into past. Sutton Hoo is a grave site and a half, holding a wealth of interesting and rich artefact's. These artefacts have helped historians understand the Anglo-Saxon period to a greater depth.
The site consists of around 20 barrows, which vary in size, content and condition. Controlled excavation of the site began in 1939 where the markings of a ship burial were found. The nature of this ship burial has drawn links with the Old English poem, Beowulf, and the world it portrays.
The ship was found to be the grave of an important figure, thought to be King Rædwald of East Anglia, who reigned between around 599 and 624. He was buried along with over 30 different items which have helped deepen our knowledge of trade, technology, weapons, religion and so much more during the Anglo-Saxon period. Most famous amongst these items is the iconic helmet, which is currently on display at the British Museum. Other items in the grave include a shield, throwing spears, a jewelled hilted sword, silver dish, silver spoons of Byzantine origin, gold coins from Frankish mint, beaver bad with a lyre inside. Archaeologist David M. Wilson has remarked that the metal artworks found in the Sutton Hoo graves were "work of the highest quality, not only in English but in European terms"
The Discovery of Antractica
On this day in 1820 a Russian expedition led by Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen and Mikhail Lazarev discovered Antarctica. They spotted an ice shelf at Princess Martha Coast that later became known as the Fimbul Ice Shelf. Bellingshausen and Lazarev therefore became the first explorers to see and officially discover the land of the continent.
It had been long theorised that a vast continent, known as Terra Australis, exist in the far south of the globe, and hypothetical versions of it often appeared on maps between the 15th and 18th centuries. The theories however actually originated in antiquity, with the term Antarctic, referring to the opposite of the Arctic Circle, coined by Marinus of Tyre in the 2nd century AD. The existence of Terra Australis, or Antarctica, was not based on any survey or direct observation, but rather on the idea that continental land in the Northern Hemisphere should be balanced by land in the Southern Hemisphere. This theory of balancing land has been documented as early as the 5th century on maps by Macrobius, who uses the term Australis on his maps.
The rounding of the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn in the 15th and 16th centuries proved that Terra Australis Incognita ("Unknown Southern Land"), if it existed, was a continent in its own right. In 1773 James Cook and his crew crossed the Antarctic Circle for the first time but although they discovered nearby islands, they did not catch sight of Antarctica itself. It is believed he was as close as 240 km (150 mi) from the mainland.
So it would not be until January 27th 1820 and the expedition of Von Bellingshausen and Lazarev that the existence of a landmass was confirmed. It is certain that the expedition’ ships, the Vostok and Mirny, reached on January 28th 1820 a point within 32 km (20 mi) from Princess Martha Coast and recorded the sight of an ice shelf at 69°21′28″S 2°14′50″W. The expedition also discovered Peter I Island and Alexander I Island, the first islands to be discovered south of the circle.
Three days later, on January 30th, a British expedition captained by Irishman Edward Bransfield sighted Trinity Peninsula, and ten months later an American sealer Nathaniel Palmer sighted Antarctica on November 17th. The first landing was probably just over a year later when American Captain John Davis, a sealer, set foot on the ice on February 7th 1821. The exploration of the continent commenced, although for most of the 19th century it would be confined to the coastal areas and not penetrate the interior. This would take place in what is known as The Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration, which began at the end of the 19th century, and ended after the First World War, with Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen’s expedition reaching the South Pole on December 14th 1911.
This map was built by Dan Harris as part of a series of models on exploration. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
The Book of Common Prayer
For those who venture into their local Church of England from time to time you may notice that during the service some of the words said are familiar and used from week to week. Well that all goes back to the Act of Unity which was passed on this day in 1549. The Act was an ongoing part of King Edward VI’s actions to introduce the Protestant doctrine to the practice of the churches in England and Wales. We gave an overview of this as part of last year’s mini-series on the Reformation, check it out here:
The introduction of the Book of Common Prayer, which was authorised under the Act of Uniformity was one of the most significant changes during Edwards reign. The Book of Common Prayer replaced several regional Latin rites in use with English liturgy, and has become a common way in which people throughout England and Wales (and throughout the world today) could and can worship in the same way. A change from Latin to English had actually been proposed in Edward’s father, Henry VIII’s reign, however, Henry was religiously conservative and opposed the proposed changes.
With Henry’s death in 1547 the Protestant reformers saw their chance to advance their cause. The Act of Uniformity was not the first piece of legislation introduced, but it was probably the most significant, the main affects being the replacement of several regional Latin rites then in use with English-language liturgy As an aside it’s believed the saying 'hocus pocus,' came from a mis-pronunciation of the Latin used during Mass from the phrase "Hoc est corpus meum”, which in English means “This is my body.) It also offered a compromise to conservatives, providing Protestants with a service free from what they considered superstition, while maintaining the traditional structure of the mass.
Nevertheless, the first Book of Common Prayer was a "radical" departure from traditional worship. It was the work of Thomas Cranmer, who had begun work on it under Henry VII, but had not been able to do anything until the King’s passing. The Book removed any doctrines of human merit contributing to an individual's salvation and was replaced with the doctrine of justification by faith, which is given by God. In Justification, men and woman are seen as being right before God when they put their trust in Jesus’ obedience and sacrificial death in their place on the cross. This doctrine is found and linked to other doctrines throughout the prayer book.
Other key doctrines changed, including those relating to communion, the eating and (or not) drinking of the bread and wine. The Protestant reformers, like John Wycliffe a few centuries before, did not hold to the doctrine of transubstantiation (where the bread and wine are changed physically into Jesus’ body and blood). When it came to the actual taking of mass the Protestant reform changed the way in which the bread (or wafer) was given from being place in the recipients mouth to being placed in their hands and the taking of the wine, which over time had been dropped from the practices of the early church.
With all these changes there was unsurprisingly some opposition by those who continued to hold on to their beliefs and practices, however Parliament passed the Act of Uniformity on January 21st 1549 and the Book of Common Prayer was required to be in use by Whit Sunday, June 9th of the same year. Following the passing of the Act, Protestants felt that the Book of Common Prayer was too traditional and easy for Roman Catholics to re-interpret. This perception was not misplaced and conservative clergy did find loopholes, making adaptions so that the services were close to the original Mass.
In some parts of the country, the introduction of the Book was particularly unpopular and led to the Prayer Book Rebellion, which largely took place in the West Country, but also saw unrest in the West Midlands to Yorkshire. The Rebellion was not only in reaction to the prayer book; the rebels demanded a full restoration of pre-Reformation Catholicism. They were also motivated by economic concerns, such as enclosure. In East Anglia, however, the rebellions lacked a Roman Catholic character. Kett's Rebellion in Norwich blended Protestant piety with demands for economic reforms and social justice.
Very soon after the Book of Common Prayer came in to use a revision was made, which was authorised when a new Act of Uniformity was passed in April 1552. However, following King Edward’s Vi’s death in 1553, there was a return to the Roman Catholic liturgy during Mary I’s reign. When Elizabeth I came to the throne in 1559, the 1552 Book of Common Prayer came back into to use, with some minor changes. When James I came to throne there were some more minor changes. The English Civil War saw the Book abolished for a second time and then it returned to use in 1662 with further modest changes. The 1662 version continues to be used up to today for the main use in church services. In the late twentieth century there were some alternative forms introduced, which technically are supplements.
According to the Church of England’s website today the ‘Anglican family consists of tens of millions of Christians’. These believers are spread across over 165 countries where the Book of Common Prayer is still largely used, some 469 years are in first came in to use.
These scenes were built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models on English Reformation. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
Richard and Anne
On this day in 1382, Richard II of England and Anne of Bohemia married at Westminster Abbey. Richard had come to the throne five years earlier at the age of ten, following the death of his grandfather, Edward III. Due to his young age, he ruled as king with guidance from councilors. These councilors upset the Commons and along with a heavy tax burden, which partially funded unsuccessful military operations in France, there was a significant level of unrest. In 1381 an all-time low was reached with the Peasants Revolt, when thousands of peasants convened on London.
Richard came through the Revolt ready to rule and one of his first significant acts was to marry. His bride was Anne of Bohemia, who was also 15, daughter of Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor. The marriage was seen to have a significant diplomatic advantage with Bohemia and the Holy Roman Empire potential allies in the ongoing war with France. However, the marriage was not popular in England as Anne brought no dowry and was seen to have little direct benefit to the country. After the wedding there was a month of tournaments and banquets held in London. Anne was crowned the two days later on the 22nd.
While Anne was Queen, she had little political power, however she had a strong relationship with Richard and gained a good reputation with the people of England. Following the Peasants Revolt trials continued and Anne asked for mercy, most notably for the life of a former mayor of London, John Northampton. She also interceded on behalf of the people gaining the peoples warmth, meanwhile Richard was slowly losing popularity with his subjects.
After twelve short years of marriage Anne died of plague in 1394 at Sheen Manor west of London. Richard was so grief-stricken that he demolished the manor. Sadly, the marriage had been childless. Anne was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Historians have speculated that her counsel had a moderating effect on Richard during her lifetime. This is supported by his unwise conduct in the years after Anne's death that lost him his throne.
This scene was built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models on the Kings and Queens of England. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
Ask most people in the UK, or indeed around the world, what Britain’s most famous prehistoric monument is and Stonehenge is likely to be at the top of most peoples’ lists. The site, located in Wiltshire, England, has captivated people for centuries. In recent years, more and more attention has been given to the landscape around it, which is found to be rich in pre-historic history, but in popular culture is less well known.
Recently, controversy has arisen around the proposed dualling of the A303 and creation of the Stonehenge tunnel, which according to Transport England, will remove traffic from the Stonehenge’s setting, thereby conserving and enhancing the site. On the other hand, opponents to the scheme argue that it would Introduce a massive change to the country’s ‘premier prehistoric landscape’, disturb species such as stone curlew and the great bustard and lower the water table, thereby eradicating the preservation of archaeological remains. Whatever the rights or wrongs of the proposal are, any works will be required to carry out archaeological surveys and this could yield some exciting discoveries.
Such a situation occurred in 2002 when a survey at a development site in Amesbury, just three miles from Stonehenge, revealed an unexpected treasure. Work was taking place where a school was planned to be built when a grave with pottery from the Beaker period, which is dated to around 2,800 to 1,800 BC, was found. Within the grave the archaeologists found the remains of single man, who came to be known as the Amesbury Archer and dubbed by the press as the King of Stonehenge.
The man buried with some of the richest articles from the early Bronze Age. In all, around 100 objects were found in the grave including three copper knives, two small gold hair tresses, two sandstone wristguards (these would have protected his wrist from the bow string), five pots, 16 flint arrowheads, a cushion stone (used for metal working), a bone pin (used to hold together a piece of clothing such as a cloak) and what is thought to be Britain’s first gold objects, dating ack to around 2,500BC. It was because of the worth of the gold that the man was named the ‘King of Stonehenge’ while the items related to archery; the arrow flint heads and wrist guards led to the skeleton being known as the Amesbury Archer.
Parts of the skeleton were tested which showed he was aged between 35 and 45 at the time of his death. From the enamel on teeth it was discovered that he had grown up in central Europe within the Alps region and it is unknown when he moved to Britain. From the skeleton it was possible to tell that he was strongly built but a nasty abscess on his jaw as well has having an injury to his left knee cap, which had been ripped off, probably leaving him with a nasty and lingering bone infection.
The find was important as it was the first example of what is thought to be a person in power. The time of his burial seems to coincide with the erection of the main stones at Stonehenge and it is possible that he had an important role in its creation. Certainly, his mourners clearly considered him important enough to be buried near to (if not in the immediate area of) Stonehenge. An alternative hypontheisis is that the skeleton is that of a pilgrim to Stonehenge who was there to draw on the 'healing properties' of the bluestones.
However, his grave is of particular importance because of its connections with Continental Europe and early copper smelting technology. He is believed to have been one of the earliest gold metalworkers in Britain and his discovery supports interpreters who claim that the diffusion of Beaker Culture pottery was the result of population movement, rather than just the widespread adoption of an artefact 'package'.
His skeleton is now on display at the Salisbury Museum:
These scenes were built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models on British history. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
Cnut the Great
Cnut the Great, also known as Canute, was crowned King of England on January 6th 1017 in Old St. Paul's Cathedral, London. He would later also gain the thrones of Denmark (1018) and Norway (1028) and ruled over what is often referred to as the North Sea Empire until his death in 1035. He is popularly invoked in the context of the legend of King Canute and the waves, which usually misrepresents him as a deluded monarch believing he has supernatural powers, contrary to the original legend which portrays a wise king who rebuked his courtiers for their fawning behaviour.
Cnut was a son of the Danish prince Sweyn Forkbeard, who was the son and heir to King Harald Bluetooth of Denmark. Sweyn became King of Denmark and Norway in 986 and raided England between 1002 and 1012. In 1013 he even led his forces in a full scale invasion. During this invasion England’s King Æthelred the Unready, and his sons Edward and Alfred, fled to Normandy, so on Christmas Day 1013, Sweyn was declared King of England.
However, Sweyn died on February 3rd 1014 and while his Elder son Harald II succeeded him as King of Denmark, Cnut was declared King of England by the Norse people of the Danelaw. The English nobility however recalled Æthelred from Normandy and the restored English king swiftly led an army against Cnut, who was forced to flee with his army to Denmark. There, supported by his brother, Cnut succeeded in assembling an army of around 10,000 men and a fleet of some 200 longships with which to launch another invasion. In the summer of 1015, they set sail.
Following a bloody campaign, in late 1015 Wessex submitted to Cnut and in early 1016 his army was able to cross the Thames, moving northwards across eastern Mercia. Æthelred’s son, Edmund Ironside retreated north to join Uhtred, Earl of Northumbria and together they returned south and harried Danish allies in western Mercia. Cnut however occupied Northumbria, forcing Uhtred to return home to submit himself to Cnut, who sent a Northumbrian rival, Thurbrand the Hold, to assassinate Uhtred and his retinue.
Edmund was now in London, where he was elevated to king on the death of Æthelred on April 23rd 1016. While the Danish attempted to lay siege to the city, Edmund managed to break out to gather an army and battles were fought at Penselwood in Somerset and Sherston in Wiltshire. Edmund was even able to temporarily relieve London, driving his Fanish enemies away and defeating them after crossing the Thames at Brentford. This was at a heavy cost to his army however, and he was forced to retreat to gather more men. Cnut’s forces were also unsuccessful in their siege and were driven off by an attacking English army.
On October 18th 1016, Edmund was decisively defeated in the Battle of Assandun in Essex, though a further battle would still need to be fought near the Forest of Dean to bring about a conclusion. In this Edmund was wounded and so on an island near Deerhurst in Gloucestershire, Cnut and Edmund met to negotiate terms of peace. It was agreed that all of England north of the Thames was to be the domain of the Danish prince, while all to the south was kept by the English king, along with London. Accession to the reign of the entire realm was set to pass to Cnut upon Edmund's death, who then conveniently died a few weeks later on November 30th. Cnut was left as king of all of England.
Cnut ruled England for nearly two decades. The protection he lent against Viking raiders restored the prosperity that had been increasingly impaired since the resumption of Viking attacks in the 980s. In turn the English helped him to establish control over the majority of Scandinavia. He is generally remembered as a wise and successful king of England, although this view may in part be attributable to his good treatment of the Church, keeper of the historic record.
Following the death of his brother Harald in 1018, Cnut united the English and Danish Kingdoms. In 1023, taking advantage of Cnut’s commitment to England, the Norwegian king Olaf Haraldsson began to launch attacks on Denmark. Cnut was forced to sail from England and fought an army of Norwegians and Swede’s in the Battle of the Helgeå, probably in 1026. His victory there left him as the dominant leader in Scandinavia.
In 1027, Cnut referred to himself as king of "the Norwegians, and of some of the Swedes" and stated his intention to secure peace between the kingdoms of Scandinavia. The following year, he set off from England to Norway with a fleet of about fifty ships. Olaf Haraldsson stood down, unable to put up any fight as his nobles had already abandoned him. And so, Cnut was crowned king, now of England, Denmark and Norway as well as part of Sweden and what became known as the North Sea Empire reached its greatest extent. Olaf Haraldsson attempted to retake Norway, but was killed at the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030.
Cnut died on November 12th 1035. In England, he was succeeded by his son Harald Harefoot while, his other son Harthacnut succeeded in Denmark. In 1040 Harthacnut would also succeed to the English Throne, following the death of his brother. Norway passed to Magnus the Good, an illegitimate son of Olaf II.
These scenes were built by James Pegrum and Dan Harris as part of a series of models on the Kings and Queens of England. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
BLOG TO THE PAST
On LEGO, History and other things by Brick to the Past