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In this book Kay Page brings to the lav reader the results of recent expert investigation, drawing his material from sources historical, literary, artistic, lin- guistic, archaeological, numismatic, medical and economic, to portray the everyday life of this vigorous people. In doing so he introduces the reader to a multitude of fascinating individuals, from the great of the land— the pious, thought- ful, creative and vital king Alfred, the determined and implacable bishop Wilfred, the efficient and skilful lady Aethelflaed — down to failures like Helmstan, who got into trouble for steal- ing a belt, or the unnamed widow who was drowned at London Bridge for practising witchcraft.

Batsford Ltd new york: G. Putnam's Sons To E. First published igyo R. Change was much slower in the early Middle Ages than it is today, yet over years there was change. Everyday life in the mid fifth century, when the Anglo-Saxons were pagan invaders fighting Christian defenders;, was different from that at the end of the tenth, when they were Christian defenders fighting pagan invaders. Nor was everyday life the same over the whole country. Any book on Anglo-Saxon daily life must be very much a simplification, picking out salient features of the time and encouraging the reader to further investigation by showing the range of sources, archaeological and written, literary, linguistic and historical, Latin and ver- nacular, available to us.

This is all I have attempted. Specialists in the various fields may feel that my treatment of their subjects is cavalier — for example, the archaeologist will remark that, in my section on houses, I have avoided refinements of dating and the development of building techniques, while the numismatist may regret that I have not stressed economic aspects of the administrative system which the later Anglo-Saxon kings com- manded.

I can only plead lack of space. In several fields our knowledge of Anglo-Saxon England is rapidly increasing.

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To take two examples: it is only in compara- tively recent years that scholars have realised the light that numismatic studies can cast on Anglo-Saxon historical and social conditions; the many archaeologists digging settlement, industrial and ecclesiastical sites are revolutionising our know- ledge of technical processes and building methods. PREFACE social historian can hope only to be as up to date as possible in fields like these, knowing that some of his statements may quickly be outmoded.

My spelling is thus not always consistent, but luckily neither was that of the Anglo-Saxons. I cannot thank by name everyone who has helped me write this book, for it derives from the work of the last 15 years, during which time people of many disciplines, art historians, numis- matists, archaeologists, historians, linguists and literary scholars, have answered my enquiries. Four scholars I must thank specifically for their assistance.

Professor Dorothy Whitelock read through the book in draft form, and from her encyclo- paedic knowledge of the period gave me a great deal of invalu- able advice. Wilson helped me notably in the archaeological sections, and suggested much of the material I use there.

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Professor Bruce Dickins and Dr B. Hope-Taylor have read parts of my text, which has profited from their acute criticisms. Finally, I must thank my wife and children for showing their customary forbearance while I was engaged in this work. Kcrsting, F. From Loveden Hill, Lines. MS Auct. Their political power was destroyed in the second half of the eleventh. In the six centuries which separate these events, they created their arts, handicrafts, literature, forms of government, society and agricultural and mercantile activity amid the turmoils typical of the early Middle Ages.

The settlement of England was violent. The Anglo- Saxon Chronicle tells of the struggle between Saxon and Briton in the south and west of the country in the fifth and sixth centuries, and other sources describe the fluctuating fortunes of war and the fierce resistance which the Britons offered at various times and places. Even after the settlement had established the pattern of Anglo-Saxon occupation, strife did not cease, for the small early Anglo-Saxon kingdoms were constantly clashing with one another and with the remaining Celtic peoples.

In Ceolwulf became king of Wessex, and 'continually fought. In Acthelfrith of Northumbria broke the Celts of western Scotland at Degsastan, but in the battle lost his brother Theobald with all his bodyguard.


In Edwin of Northumbria was treacherously attacked by an assassin sent by Cwichelm of Wessex, and in revenge invaded that kingdom and 'killed five kings there and a great number of people'. Edwin, and his son Osfrith with him, died in battle at the hands of the British leader Cadwallon and Pcnda of Mercia, who then devastated Northumbria. Penda subsequently killed Edwin's other son Eanfrith, and king Oswald of Northumbria, and was in turn slain by Oswiu, Oswald's brother and successor. In Armed men attack a house: an archer defends it Ccadwalla of Wcsscx annexed the Isle of Wight and massacred its inhabitants.

At about the same time Guthlac, of the royal house of Mercia, gathered a band of warriors from various races, and 'devastated the towns and manors of his foes, their villages and fortresses with fire and the sword', though, as a sign of the divine grace which was to lead him to sainthood, 'he would return to the owners a third part of the treasure collected'. Within the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms themselves strife was intermittent, often between the great nobles or between rival claimants to the throne. Usually our sources give us only the bare bones of the story, as in the cases of the burning of the caldorman Beorn by the high-rccves of Northumbria in , the conflict between Osred and Aethclred for the Northum- brian kingship which ended with the killing of Osred in and the death of Aethclred, slain by his own people four years later, and — though here we have rather more detail — -the murder of king Edward to allow the accession of his brother Aethclred in Occasionally we have fuller information and a clearer picture of political struggle.

In Cyncwulf, king of Wcsscx, was trapped in his mistress's house by a rival prince, Cynchcard, and was cut down with nearly all the small bodyguard he had brought with him. When the rest of Cynewulf's retainers heard of the killing, they surrounded and stormed the homestead, and in their turn slaughtered Cynehcard and 84 of his supporters. A circumstantial report is preserved in the Chronicle, perhaps because it had become a popular tale among the Anglo-Saxons. In the struggle for power following the death of the mighty king Cnut, earl Godwinc seized prince Alfred, who was then blinded and confined to the monastery of Ely.

His followers Godwine drove into flight and some he killed in various ways, Some of them were sold for cash, some cruelly slaughtered, Some of them were fettered, some blinded, Some were mutilated, some scalped.

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No more dreadful deed has been done in this land Since the Danes came and took peace at our hands. From the late eighth century onwards there was a further source of violence in the country, the Vikings. About the year three ships, described as Norwegian, came to the south coast near Dorchester. The king's reeve thought the crews were foreign merchants and tried to control them according to law.

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They killed him. The Vikings returned in the late years of the tenth century, assaulting England with renewed ferocity under leaders with more consciously imperialist aims, and remained a threat until after the Norman Conquest. The Chronicle writers gave the Vikings a bad press, and they clearly deserved it. Their own surviving literature — the odes the court poets wrote in praise of their kings and the inscriptions of their memorial stones— shows a delight in bloodthirsty action, so it is not surprising to read in the Chronicle for of the army of the kings Olaf and Swein 'doing as much damage as any host could do in burning, harrying, and slaughter, both along the coast and in Essex, Kent, Sussex, and Hampshire', or of Cnut's army of , which 'turned into Warwickshire.

Certainly the Vikings acted like savages on occasion, as in when, in a drunken frenzy, they brutally murdered the archbishop Aelfheah whom they were holding to ransom, by pelting him with bones and the heads of cattle. I do not suggest that the history of Anglo-Saxon England is one of battle and sudden death only, or that during the six centuries of Anglo-Saxon occupation England was in a state of anarchy.

The country was sometimes — for a medieval land — secure, law-abiding and well administered. For quite long periods of time there was litde organised warfare. Bedc boasts that the reign of Edwin of Northumbria was so peaceful that a woman carrying a new-born babe could walk across the island from sea to sea without danger of molestation, and in a verse passage in the Chronicle on the death of Edgar in , the writer comments: 'No fleet was so proud, nor host so strong that it could prey on England while that noble king held the throne.

The blood-feud was a feature of social behaviour and the royal legal codes which supplemented customary law recognised it and indeed legislated for it. The law itself was violent, though a trespasser would often avoid its severer penalties by paying a fine if he could afford it. The various extant codes — which differ a lot from each other — prescribe the death penalty for a variety of offenders; thieves and those who harboured, supported or avenged them, traitors, witches and wizards who killed by their arts, incendiaries, absconding slaves, those who protected outlaws, and so on.

Methods of execution included hanging, beheading, stoning, burning, drowning and breaking the neck. Among lesser penalties were mutilations such as cutting off hands, feet, nose, ears, upper lip or tongue, blinding, castration and scalping, as well as branding and scourging. Humane clerics preferred such punishments, for they gave the sinner time to 'One man must ride on the broad gallows' repent. And the law's rigour was not hidden from men. A poem called The Fates of Men describes thus the exposure of the hanged body upon the gibbet.

His hands cannot ward off the attack of the flying destroyer, but, without feeling or hope of life, he endures his fate, pale upon the gibbet. And the law often encouraged brutality in the apprehension of suspects or culprits. One who tried to escape or to defend himself could be cut down, however small the offence and however young the offender. A man could attack with legal impunity another whom he caught in fornication with his wife, mother, daughter or sister.

A stranger who travelled off the recognised way and who neither shouted nor blew a horn to announce his presence could be assumed to be a thief and killed out of hand. Side by side with the violence of man was the violence of a nature over which man had little control. Particularly terrible was famine, and its companions murrain and plague, such as harried England in the early years of Edward the Confessor's reign. In tempests damaged the crops, and storm and plague killed the cattle. In there was famine, with corn 'dearer than anyone remembered it, so that a scstcr of wheat cost 60 pence and more' — worse even than the year of dearth, , when it had reached only The accompanying pestilence which struck the country lasted into , while in the cattle died of murrain.

In , Canterbury tradition tells, the town was so stricken with disease that in Christ Church only five monks survived. Certainly at this date there is confusion in the suc- cession of archbishops which suggests that the Canterbury community had become quite disorganised.

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About arch- bishop Wulfstan of York, who looked on the black side of things and saw in the troubles of his times signs of the approaching dissolution of the world, listed England's miseries. Apart from the perennial worries, high taxation and bad weather, they were 'devastation and famine, burning and bloodshed. The cruelty of man and the cruelty of nature were alike seen as God's punishment of an impious people.

Under these conditions it is not surprising that the life of Anglo-Saxon man, often poor, nasty and brutish, was often also short. The Fates of Men catalogues the deaths a man may die. The list compares interestingly with its modern equivalent, for we have suppressed many of its dangers and replaced them by different, but equally ferocious, ones. The Anglo-Saxon was threatened by attack by the wolf, hunger, storm, feud and war, a tumble from a tree presumably while at work, hanging, fire and the drunken brawl.

The alternative — and it is represented as a triumphant one — is to live till old age, honoured and wealthy. Of course we must not underestimate the Anglo- Saxon's expectation of life, Many survived long. Ceolnoth occupied the sec of Canterbury for 36 years, while Ealhstan was bishop of Sherborne for 43 and Waerfrith bishop of Worcester for 42, so all three must have reached a respectable age.

Yet these were probably exceptional. Alfred the Great was 50 when he died; Edmund, murdered, 25; Edgar 32; Edward, also murdered, about Acthclrcd the Unready died at about 47, Cnut the Great at about 40, Hardacnut in his 20s. Edward the Confessor in his early 60s, while Harold, last of the Anglo-Saxon kings, was killed at Hastings in his mid 40s. The evidence of the Anglo- Saxon cemeteries has not been properly assessed, but a few examples are revealing.

At Camcrton, Somerset, which may have been a plague cemetery of the seventh century, 1 15 bodies were found, 16 of them of children and 24 of infants. Few were of people over 40, and many of them suggest undernourishment. The statistics of two smaller cemeteries dug recently are more precise.

The seventh-century cemetery at Holborough, Kent, contained 32 bodies, and there were also two graves which had probably contained infants. Twenty-three bodies were of under 30s, eight between 30 and 45, only one above Only four were of people over 35, and none of them lived beyond Fourteen died between 20 and 35, three in adolescence and five as children. High infant and child mortality, fre- quent attacks of pesti- lence, deaths from weakness, hunger and infection, physical oppression and violence from personal or political enemies, all these must have been commonplaces of Anglo-Saxon existence; life evidently transitory and subject to sudden change.