On this day in 616 King Æthelberht of Kent died. He had converted to Christianity under the influence of his Frankish wife, Queen Bertha during the Gregorian Mission sent in 596. He was buried in the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, Canterbury, near Bertha, who had died a few years before.
At this point in history the nature of burials was slowly changing in line with the changes of religious beliefs. Up until the Gregorian Mission it was mostly Northern European pagan beliefs that were practiced by Anglo-Saxons in England. These beliefs influenced the burying of the dead; for the rich and wealthy these would have included burials such as the one at Sutton Hoo and would have included grave goods, items that might be needed in the afterlife. Cremations would have also occurred with the most widespread form of burial being the simple inhumation which didn’t require as much equipment and time. With the spread of Christianity, customs around burials changed, as is reflected in how Æthelberht was interned. It is markedly different to the burial at Sutton Hoo, which is thought to be that of King Rædwald of East-Anglia, which probably occurred a little later.
We learn a little about Æthelberht’s death and what happened next from Bede in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Just before Bede discusses Æthelberht’s death he recounts his role as Bretwalda (a sort of high king) and lists the first five Kings who held this title, including Rædwald of East-Anglia:
"The first king to hold the like sovereignty was Ælla, king of the South Saxons; the second was Caelin, King of the West Saxons, known in their own language as Ceawlin; the third, as we have said, was Æthelberht, king of Kent; the fourth was Rædwald, King of the East Angles, who even during the life of King Æthelberht was gaining the leadership for his own race; the fifth was Edwin, Kind of the Northumbrians, the nation inhabiting the district north of the Humber."
We learn from Bede that Rædwald succeeded Æthelberht as Bretwalda. Whether this happened immediately after his death is not recorded. We also do not know whether Rædwald would have attended Æthelberht’s funeral, a possibility given the closeness of the two kingdoms within the Heptarchy and their relationship. If Rædwald did attend, maybe his role as the new Bretwalda was immediately recognized, possibly with some tribute from Æthelberht’s widow or son, Eadwald, with some of the tribute ending up as part of Rædwald’s burial goods. We know that Bertha, Æthelberht’s first wife, was from Frankia, maybe it was via Bertha that Frankish coins came to Kent and then onto East-Anglia to be included in the burial at Sutton Hoo. Another object at Sutton Hoo was a scepter/whetstone, the significance of which is now lost. It is believed to be an emblem of power, with its design resembling Roman scepters, owned by holders of high office; was this an item that demonstrated that Rædwald was the Bertwalda?
We may never know what happened at Æthelberht’s funeral or the details around Rædwald’s apparent rise to the position of Bertwalda, but we do have a small and intriguing glimpse at some of the significant events that unfolded after Æthelberht’s death and Rædwald’s elevation in Anglo-Saxon politics. This will be the focus of our next blog on the life of Rædwald.
These scenes were built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models on early Anglo-Saxon England. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
Out With the Old, In With the New
In case you’ve missed some of our recent blogs, we’re currently in the middle of looking at Rædwald, King of East Anglia (599 to 624), who is thought to have been buried at Sutton Hoo and the subject of Netflix’s recent drama film, The Dig. We pick up his story with Rædwald having converted to Christianity and been baptised in Kent.
The life of Rædwald in Bede’s Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum (Ecclesiastical History of the English People) is relatively scarce and piecing it together chronologically is challenging if not impossible. Bede is pretty much all we have and he suggests that Rædwald turned back in part to his old religion following his baptism and apparent conversion to Christianity. In chapter 15, Bede writes:
“Indeed his (Eorpwald) father Rædwald had long before been initiated into the mysteries of the Christian faith in Kent, but in vain; for on his return home, he was seduced by his wife and by certain evil teachers and perverted from the sincerity of his faith, so that his last state was worse than his first”.
Bede goes on to tell us that Rædwald had one temple with two altars, one for his Christian faith and the other “...on which to offer victims to devils”.
The picture painted for us by Bede suggests that Rædwald returned, under persuasion by others, back to his old religious practices – those of the Anglo-Saxons and we only have a small window looking into what Anglo-Saxon religion may have been like. At Yeavering we have the clearest archeological evidence to date of a temple - what it would have looked like above ground however remains open to conjecture (we have taken inspiration from Scandinavian church architecture from a later period in our model). There may be more to learn with the ongoing archeological work at Rendlesham, which is believed to be the possible site of the Royal Place as mentioned by Bede and may be the home Rædwald as well (you can find out more about this work here www.heritage.suffolk.gov.uk/rendlesham). Written sources are also limited and come from Christian writers such as Bede and Aldhelm. Evidence is also taken from place names where connections can be made with the names of gods.
Given the religious practices carried out in the northern Germanic lands that the Anglo-Saxons came from and the evidence we have there is indication that the god’s who would have been worshipped included Ealh, Hearg, Wíg Ós, Wóden (Óðinn in Norse), ꝥunor (Thor in Norse), Tíw and Fríg. Some of these god’s maybe more familiar to us than others, such as Thor god of thunder. More subtly the names of these god’s have lived on in the names of our days - for example Wednesday in old English is Wódensdœg (Thursday - ꝥunresdœg, Friday - Frigedœg). The day-to-day religious practices are not clear from what we know, there is suggestion though that animal sacrifices (but not human) would have been carried out.
For Rædwald, religion may have had a strong connection with his identity as a warrior king. Given his point in history, where the Age of Christianity was about to dawn on Europe and England, he clearly was pulled in two directions and consequently he may have made a compromise between the two faiths to maintain his power. The finds at Sutton Hoo include both Christian and pagan items, some of which we have included in this model (can you spot and name them?).
These scenes were built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models on early Anglo-Saxon England. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
Myles Standish, Military Governor
If you have been following our blog over the last twelve months you may remember that we joined in the celebrations of the 400-year anniversary of the Mayflower voyage (from England to New England, America) looking at some of the events before, during and after the journey across the Atlantic. If you missed any of these you can see them in our archive.
When we last left the Mayflower, her crew and passengers had anchored in Plymouth Harbour in the middle of December 1620. In the following weeks they battled against the cold weather and went about the start of constructing their new homes. The first house, timber frame with wattle and daub walls, was built slowly over two weeks. Slowly the settlement took shape with more homes being built along with a wooden platform to support a cannon on the nearby Fort Hill.
The winter took its toll on the Pilgrims and Passengers. There was a lack of shelter, poor living conditions on board the Mayflower and disease. Of the 102 passengers. 45 died that winter. Many were too poorly and weak to help with the construction of the new settlement. Plans had aimed to construct 19 homes, however they were only able to complete seven residences and four common houses. It was enough though to unload the provisions from the Mayflower.
During these weeks of hard toil they also had several intense encounters with the Native Americans and so by mid-February they organised themselves into military orders. To lead the militia they appointed on 17th February, Myles Standish as the colony’s first commander. His name may stand out, with good reason, as he had played a key role in the three expeditions in the months leading up to the decision to settle in Plymouth. He had been hired by the Pilgrims as a military adviser back in the Netherlands, where he had been living in Leiden, possibly after having served in the English forces supporting the Dutch in the Eighty Years' War.
During his years as a solider in New England, the Plymouth colony would continue to re-elect him. His military leadership was to have a significant impact on its future and its relationship with the native people. He retired from service in 1640’s and went onto live in the town of Duxbury where he died in 1656, aged 72.
This scene was built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models on the voyage of the Mayflower. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
No way For a King to Die
On this day in 1400 Richard, formerly Richard II of England. died. The exact cause of his death is the subject of speculation to this day.
Richard had started his reign on a high following the Peasants’ Revolt, however from there onwards it had been on a downwards slop. Eventually dissatisfaction with his reign led to him being deposed on the October 1st 1399 and his first cousin, Henry Bolingbroke was crowned on October 13th, becoming King Henry IV. Having become King, Henry agreed to let Richard live. Henry had Richard taken from the Tower of London to Leeds and then onto Pontefract Castle.
In the months that followed Henry stripped titles from the earls of Huntingdon, Kent, Rutland and Salisbury and Lord Despenser – titles that Richard had given during his reign. Unhappy at the removal of their status they planned to murder Henry and reinstate Richard to the throne in what is known as the Epiphany Rising.
The plans to put Richard back on the throne went sideways when Edward of Norwich, who had been part of the group planning the uprising in December, switched sides and informed the King of the plot in January 1400. With his safety secured, Henry IV became aware of the high risk of keeping Richard alive and so when Richard died on the 14th February rumours spread that he was killed, by what means it was unknown.
To show that he had not been murdered but that he was indeed dead, his body was put on public display in St Paul's Cathedral on February 17th. There was no sign of violence on his body and it is believed that he died from starvation – of his own choice of forced on him is open to speculation. From London Richard’s body was taken quietly to a Dominican Priory at Kings Langley, Hertfordshire and buried in March. Richard’s body would later be returned to London in 1413 and buried in Westminster Abbey alongside his first wife, Anne of Bohemia. This was apparently an effort by Henry V to atone his fathers supposed murderous acts and to silence the ongoing rumours that Richard II was still alive.
Thee scenes were 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.
Battle of the Herrings
On this day in 1429 the Battle of Herrings took place near Rouvray, just north of Orléans, France. The battle of was part of the larger conflict later to become known as the Hundred Years War between England and France and their allies.
The cause of the battle was an attempt by French and Scottish forces to intercept an English baggage train on its way to supply Englis forces laying siege to the city of Orléans. It’s from this train that the battle get’s it’s weird name, as it happened to be carrying a lot of herring at the time
The English army had started the siege on October 12th 1428. The convoy of supplies included cannons, cannonballs, crossbow shafts and herring and consisted of around 300 carts and wagons which had been sent from Paris. The herring were included as Lent was approaching and meat would not be a part of the army's diet during this period. In support of the supplies was a military force led by Sir John Fastolf.
As the convoy approached Orléans a French force, supported by their Scottish allies intercepted them. The force, numbering between 3,000 and 4,000 outnumbered the English and was led by Charles of Bourbon and the Scot Sir John Stewart of Darnley. The English used their wagons to form a defensive barrier with sharped spikes in front to add extra protection, making use of the successful tactic employed at the Battle of Agincourt.
The French attacked first with their gunpowder artillery – a relatively new piece of equipment to warfare at this time - which for its lack of use to date still caused damage to the wagons and English troops. The Scottish infantry then attacked, against the orders of the Count of Clermont, forcing the artillery to stop its bombardment prematurely. Protected by their wagons, the English archers and crossbowmen were able to inflict significant damage on the poorly armored Scots.
This in turn caused the French calvary to attempt to support their allies by a cavalry charge, which was stopped by the stakes and English archers. Those in the French and Scots ranks waiting to join battle were slow in the uptake due to the pummeling their comrades were taking. Consequently, the English took the chance to turn the tables of the battle and went on the counterattack, striking the sides and rear of their opposition and causing the French and Scots to flee.
Once the English were safe, they reformed the convoy and went on to deliver their supplies to the besieging English forces at Orléans. Inside the city the morale reached a new low and the French even considered surrender. However, on the same day a certain Joan of Arc who was meeting with Robert de Baudricourt. During their meeting she informed de that "the Dauphin's arms had that day suffered a great reverse near Orléans”. She would later play a significant part in lifting the siege of Orléans, which occurred on May 8th 1429.
As for John Fastolf, due to his gallantry he was made a Knight of the Garter. He would go onto a more lasting reputation providing a basis for one of Shakespeare's characters Sir John Falstaff and being depicted in the 2019 Netflix film The King, where he is the young Prince Henry's companion at the tavern and later is seen to be responsible for Henry V's victory at Agincourt (for which there is no historical evidence, but you know, TV, yay!).
These scenes were built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models on British and European history. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
St Scholastica Day Riot
On this day in 1355 the St Scholastica Day Riot kicked off in Oxford, England. The riot started, as many riots do, because the instigators had been on the drink. Things took a turn when two students from the University of Oxford complained about the quality of wine served to them in the Swindlestock Tavern, which was based at Carfax, in the centre of the town. The quarrel escalated quickly after the students began arguing with the taverner with the inn’s customers joining in on both sides. The resulting brawl turned into a riot which lasted for three days as armed gangs from the countryside rocked up to help the townspeople. University halls and students' accommodation were raided and the inhabitants murdered; there were even some reports of clerics being scalped. By the end of the riot around thirty townsfolk had been killed, while as many as sixty three members of the university also lay dead.
Now when a minor disagreement about wine turns into a three-day orgy of violence, we tend to assume that it’s probably not about the wine and that’s probably true. Violent clashes had flared up several times previously, in fact between the years 1297 and 1322 twelve of the twenty-nine coroners’ courts held in Oxford were about murders by students. Altercations between to townspeople and students was therefore pretty common. The University of Cambridge can actually thank its foundation on this violence for it was established in 1209 after scholars left Oxford following the lynching of two students by the town's citizens.
The St Scholastica Day Riot happened in the wake of the Black Death, which swept through the town in 1349. Killing an unknown but presumably large number of townspeople and around a quarter of scholars, the plague inflicted a massive hit on the finances of the town. The population was aware of the decline of Oxford's fortunes, and this coincided with disturbance and unrest between the town and university.
It is likely that the Riot only ended because the townspeople had got bored, or at least had to go back to work, while many of the university’s students had fled Oxford.
After the rioting ended both the university hierarchy and the town burghers surrendered themselves and the rights of their respective entities to Edward III. He sent judges to the town with commissions of oyer and terminer (which literally means "to hear and to determine") to determine what had gone on and to advise what steps should be taken. Four days later the King restored the rights of the scholars and gave them pardons for any offences. The townspeople were treated less kindly, with Edward fining the town 500 marks while sending its mayor and bailiffs to the Marshalsea prison in London. Apparently not content with that outcome, the Church decided put the boot in too, with John Gynwell, the Bishop of Lincoln, imposing an interdict on the townspeople, banning all religious practices, including services (except on key feast days), burials and marriages; only baptisms of young children were allowed.
On June 27th 1355 Edward issued a royal charter that secured the rights of the university over those of the town. Amongst other things, this gave the chancellor of the university the right to tax bread and drink sold in the town and the power to insist that inhabitants kept their properties in good repair. The town authorities were left with the power to take action in legal situations where it involved citizens on both sides; any action that involved a student or the university on one side was dealt with by the university. The historian C. H. Lawrence observes that the charter "was the climax of a long series of royal privileges which raised the university from the status of a protected resident to that of the dominant power in the city".Scholars were free from interference from or prosecution by the civil authorities and the chancellor's jurisdiction covered both civil and religious matters in the town; it was a unique position for any university in Europe.
When the Bishop of Lincoln’s interdict was lifted, he imposed an annual penance on the town. Each year, on St Scholastica's Day, the mayor, bailiffs and sixty townspeople were to attend St Mary's church for mass for those killed; the town was also made to pay the university a fine of one penny for each scholar killed. When each new mayor or sheriff was sworn in, he had to swear to uphold all the university's rights. The annual penance continued until 1825 when the incumbent refused to take part and the practice was allowed to drop. As an act of conciliation on February 10th 1955—the 600th anniversary of the riots—the mayor, W. R. Gowers, was given an honorary degree while the vice-chancellor, Alic Halford Smith, was made an honorary freeman of the city.
These scenes were built by Dan Harris as part of a series of models on British history. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
Last week we looked at the famous Sutton Hoo site and mound 1, where it is thought Rædwald of East Anglia may have been buried in a ship. The items in the burial indicate a man of wealth, who was a warrior, with connections across Europe and indications of varying religious beliefs. These items point towards a King and is why it is general thought he was Rædwald, who was King of East Anglia.
So who was Rædwald? Well, this is a hard question to answer - there are few historical writings on him with the earliest being by the monk, Bede, in his book Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum (Ecclesiastical History of the English People), which he completed in 731. However, it is commonly believed, based on the few historical writings, that Rædwald died in around 624, at least 100 years before Bede’s book. It’s possible that there were more contemporary records, however due to the Viking raids in East Anglia during the 9th century, the monasteries where these would have been kept were destroyed.
What we do know is that Rædwald was a member of the Wuffingas dynasty, named after his grandfather Wuffa, who were the first kings of the East Angles, in the days before England was a nation. His father was Tytila, who even less is know about.
As King of the East Angles, Rædwald would have been one of seven kings in England, an arrangement now known as the Anglo-Saxon Hepratchy. The Heptarchy is conventionally said to have lasted from the end of the Roman period in the fifth century until most of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms came under the overlordship of Egbert of Wessex in 829.
The kingdoms of the Heptarchy were Essex, Kent, Mercia, Northumbria, Sussex, and Wessex, however it should be noted that the term Heptarchy is largely one of convenience and does not imply the existence of a clear-cut or stable group of seven kingdoms. The number of kingdoms and sub-kingdoms fluctuated rapidly as kings contended for supremacy. Furthermore, there would have been times when one King would have gained overlordship of some or all of the other Kings, that King having the title Bretwalda.
Early on in Rædwald’s reign, his overlord or Bretwalda Æthelberht of Kent converted to Christianity and it is believed led Rædwald to convert too (we’ve started some builds around Æthelberht which we hope to share soon). It’s not known when this took place, though it is thought to have happened after the Gregorian mission that took place in 597. It’s also unknown where and how the baptism took place. It's considered by some that full immersion, as carried out by John the Baptist, continued in the Western church at least into the Middle Ages a view we have taken and placed Rædwald’s immersion in the Great Stour which runs through Canterbury, believed to be the seat of Æthelberht.
Following his conversion, Rædwald took his first Christian communion and along with his retinue would have returned to East Anglia where we will pick up his story in our next blog. In the meantime you can check out what possessions of Rædwald’s ended up in his burial. (Note to history buffs – this is contextual and there is no written evidence to support our explorative depiction and connection with the items in mound 1, Sutton Hoo).
Making Music: Ethel Barns
Last week we finally managed to get our hands on the new Collectible Minifigures and picked up the new violin piece. We love getting new minifig parts because it often opens up new possibilities for subjects that would otherwise be a bit unsatisfactory. So with the new violin in our pockets (sort of) we knew we just had to come up with a blog to use it in! So today, following a wee bit of researcher around British violinists of the 19th and 20th centuries we bring you a blog on the violinist, pianist and composer Ethel Barns, who is little remembered today, but was recognized in London between 1895 and 1928 as a virtuoso who performed her own and others' works in chamber music concerts and occasionally in orchestra concerts as a violin soloist.
Barns was born in London on December 5th 1874 and at the age of thirteen went to the Royal Academy of Music. During her time there she studied the violin with Emile Sauret, the piano with Frederick Westlake and composition with Ebenezer Prout. One of her earliest performances was at the Royal Academy’s St James Hall in 1890 where she played two movements from Louis Sphor’s violin concerto. In the following year one of her earliest compositions, Romance, was published – a piece for the violin and piano. In September 1982 she became a sub-professor in violin.
In 1895 she graduated and became a substitute teacher at the Royal Academy of Music while remaining a student of Emile Sauret. By now she had shown that she was an adaptable musician and was well sought after, performing both others and her own work across the concert halls of London. Along with performing she published her own compositions with Stanley Lucas. Her compositions were for the violin, piano and voice and including “A Fancy” and “Waiting for Thee”.
Now in her 20’s she married Charles Phillips in 1899. She had meet Charles eight years before at one of her concerts. At this point in history, it was normal for a wife to take her husband's name and leave your career, Emily however kept both. The couple founded the Barns-Phillips Chamber Concert Series at Bechstein Hall.
Her compositions were in keeping with the time and popular tastes and she wrote fifty-three short pieces for the violin and piano, nineteen short pieces for the piano and thirty-seven songs. Her larger works included five pieces for violin sonatas, two piano trios, two suites for the violin and piano, a Fantaisie-Trio for Two Violins and Piano, and three works for violin and chamber orchestra. Today eighty-seven pieces of one-hundred and twenty attributed to her are still available.
She was also active in encouraging women in music being a member of the Society of Women Musicians, which was founded in 1911. In the years before World War One Barns and Phillips suffered marital problems leading to their separation; following this her musical career seems to have significantly reduced. Barns did not agree to a divorce. Between the two world wars she continued to give reduced performances, compositions and publishment of her works compared to her more active years up until 1913. It is considered by some that her last performance may have been in 1927. She died on New Year’s Eve, 1948, in a nursing home in Maidenhead.
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.
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On LEGO, History and other things by Brick to the Past