Tag Archives: Edward the Confessor

DARK AGE (SAXON AND VIKING) LONDON  

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Another in the  series of posts taken from  my forthcoming book, “The Flower Of All Cities” …

History

Considerably less is known about this period of history than either the succeeding or indeed even the preceding one, such that it is often referred to as the “Dark Ages”.  One of the reasons we know so little is that the Saxons appear to have built almost exclusively using perishable materials such as timber, wattle-and-daub, and thatch, which typically leave very little archaeological record.

What is known is that there was essentially a hiatus in the occupation of London between when the Romans left, in the  fifth century, and when the Saxons arrived in numbers at the turn of the sixth and seventh (archaeological evidence points to a Saxon presence in the city, although not a full-scale occupation, from around 430-450).

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When the Saxons did arrive, they chose for some reason to make  their principal  settlement about a mile to the west (upstream), and without the walls, of the  old Roman City of Londinium, around what is now Aldwych in the City of Westminster, and they named it Lundenwic.

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Lundenwic became  subject to increasingly frequent and savage raids by the Vikings in the ninth century.  On the wings of dragons  they came in 839, axes agleam, and according to the Old English “Anglo-Saxon Chronicle”, went  only after “great slaughter”.  And back they came in 851 “and stormed … London”, and again in 872 “and there chose their winter-quarters”.

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Then in 878, Alfred the Great emerged from the fastnesses of Athelney to defeat the Vikings at the Battle of Edington in Wiltshire, and subsequently to force them to withdraw into what became known as the Danelaw in the  north and east of the country  (east of the River Lea in London).   Eight years later, in 886, according to Asser, a monk and later Bishop of Sherborne, in his “Life of King Alfred”, written in 893, he “restored the [Roman] city of London [Londinium] … splendidly … and  made it habitable again … ”; and moved the  Saxon settlement to within its perimeter and river walls, and renamed it Lundenburg.  In the process, he  set out the street plan that still in essence survives to this day.  He then “entrusted it  [and command of its burgwara or militia] to the care of [his son-in-law] Ethe(l)red, ealdorman of the Mercians”, to hold it under him.

The raids continued, though.  In 994, again according to the “Chronicle”, “[the Danish King] Swein [Forkbeard] came into London …  with 94 ships, and they proceeded to attack the city stoutly and wished also to set it on fire … .  But the holy Mother of God showed her mercy to the citizens on that day and saved them from their enemies”.

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In   1013, the city fell again to the Danish Vikings, albeit again only temporarily, being retaken in 1014 by the English King Ethelred “The Unready”, in alliance with the Norwegian Viking Olaf, Olav or Olave  Haraldsson.  According to the Norse “Olaf Sagas”, Olaf  destroyed the Saxon incarnation of London Bridge and the Danish  Viking army assembled on it by pulling it down with ropes tied to his long-boats.  The  court poet Ottar Svarte wrote, in the eleventh century, and Snorri Sturluson rewrote, in the thirteenth: “London Bridge is broken down.|Gold is won, and bright renown.|Shields resounding, war-horns sounding,|Hild is shouting in the din!|Arrows singing, mail-coats ringing-|Odin makes our Olaf win” (many believe this ode to be the origin of the much-loved nursery-rhyme “London Bridge is falling down”).   Olaf later converted to Christianity, and, as King Olaf II, introduced the religion to Norway in 1015.  He went on to be martyred fighting heathen Danish Vikings at the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030, and to be canonised by the  English Bishop of Selsey, Grimkell or Grimketel in 1031 (the local canonisation was later confirmed by Pope Alexander III in 1164).  In the later Middle Ages, his tomb, in the most northerly cathedral in Christendom, in Nidaros [Trondheim], became an important pilgrimage site, and the centre of a widespread “cult of Olav”.  Interestingly, a  number of churches in and around the City of London are  or were dedicated to him,   including  St Nicholas Olave, St Olave Broad Street, St Olave Hart Street, St Olave Jewry and St Olave Silver Street in the City, St Olave in Southwark, and St Olave in Rotherhithe.

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Then, in 1016, the Viking Cnut, son of Swein Forkbeard, son of Harald Bluetooth, decisively defeated in battle the Saxon Edmund “Ironside”, son of Ethelred and Aelgifu of York,  to become King of England as well as Denmark; and in 1017 he married Ethelred’s widow, Emma of Normandy, one of the more remarkable women of the age, wife of two Kings, mother of two more, and in her own right an influential political as well as an important dynastic figure, as described in the “Encomium Emmae Reginae”.  Cnut was in turn succeeded by Harold “Harefoot”, his son by Aelgifu of Northampton, in 1035, and  Hardicanute, his son by Emma,  in  1040.

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Finally, the Saxon Edward “The Confessor”, son of Ethelred and Emma,   became King when the Viking Hardicanute died, leaving no heir, in 1042; and the ill-fated Harold Godwinson, Harold II, in 1066.

The consecration of Westminster Abbey (1065)

Edward the Confessor's body being brought to the abbey for burial in 1066

Westminster Abbey was consecrated on this day  in 1065 …

A monk of St Bertin’s Abbey wrote of its construction:

“Outside the walls of London … stood a monastery [founded by Bishop Dunstan under King Edgar the Peaceable and] dedicated to St Peter, but insignificant in buildings … .  … The king [Edward the Confessor], therefore  … gave his attention to that place, for it both lay hard by the famous and rich town and also was a delightful spot, … [and] … decided to have his burial place there [he was to die on January 5th, 1066].  Accordingly, he ordered that out of the tithes of all his revenues should be started the building of a noble edifice, worthy of the Prince of the Apostles; so that, after the transient journey of this life, God would look kindly upon him, both for the sake of his goodness and because of the gift of lands and ornaments with which he intended to ennoble the place.  And … there was no weighing of the costs, … so long as it proved  worthy of … God and St Peter”.

Robbing Peter to pay Paul (Westminster Abbey)

On this day in 1540, the Abbey Church of St Peter Westminster was made a Cathedral with its own See.   Not long afterwards, it was incorporated into the Diocese of London, and much of its estate was sold off to pay for repairs to St Paul’s – hence the expression, “robbing Peter to pay Paul”.  It is now a “Royal Peculiar”.

The abbey was originally founded, as the Benedictine monastery of St Peter, by the Bishop of London, Dunstan, under the Saxon King Edgar, in 960, on what was then Thorney Island – according to legend, on the site of a church founded by Sebert in around 604 (the same year that St Paul’s was founded).  It was rebuilt under Edward, “The Confessor”, in the years up to 1065, rebuilt again,  in the Early Gothic style, under Henry III, in the mid thirteenth century, and extended, in the Late Gothic style, under a succession of kings, including Henry VII, in the late fourteenth to early sixteenth (in part by the master mason Henry Yevele).

1 - Henry III's thirteenth-century north entrance with Rose Window

3 - Henry III's thirteenth-century Chapter House (left) and Henry VII's early sixteenth-century Lady Chapel (right).JPG

4 - Henry VII's early sixteenth-century Lady Chapel

5 - Wonderful grotesques on Henry VII's early sixteenth-century Lady Chapel  .JPG

The present structure is essentially surviving thirteenth- to sixteenth- century,

 

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7 - Twentieth-century martyrs' memorial

although with some eighteenth-century additions in the form of  the west towers,  by Hawksmoor, and some twentieth-century  additions and restorations.

There are a great many important monuments in the interior, including those of no fewer than seventeen monarchs.  An equally large number of important state occasions have been held in the abbey, including all of the Coronations since that of the first Norman King, William I, the Conqueror, in 1066.  The fore-runner of Parliament, the “Great Council”, first met in the Chapter House here in 1257, only later moving to nearby Westminster Hall.

5 - Wonderful grotesques on Henry VII's early sixteenth-century Lady Chapel  .JPG

Havering-atte-Bower

Another in the occasional series on “Far-Flung Lost London” …

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Havering-atte-Bower was first recorded as such, or more accurately as Hauering atte Bower,  in 1272, from the Old English personal name Haefer, and ingas, meaning settlement, and the Middle English bour, meaning bower, or royal residence (Havering was first recorded as Haueringas in the “Domesday Book” of 1086).  It essentially remains to this day an isolated small village on the top of a high hill on the north-eastern edge of London, commanding fine views over  the surrounding countryside and encroaching built-up areas.  Historically part of the county of Essex, the village has been  part of the London Borough of Havering since   1965.

The village is steeped in royal history.

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In the eleventh century, Edward the Confessor  built a hunting lodge here that over the years evolved into Havering Palace, a royal residence used by a succession of kings and queens in the later Medieval to early post-Medieval periods, before being demolished in the seventeenth century (some materials salvaged from it were used in the construction of Bower House in the early eighteenth).

There was also once another royal residence, called Pyrgo Palace, a little to the east, which had been  bought by  Henry VIII in the post-Medieval period,  as a replacement for the then-declining Havering Palace, and which was eventually demolished in the eighteenth century.

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Pyrgo Park occupies the site today.

Church of St John the Evangelist (Havering Church)

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The present church of St John was built in the nineteenth century, on the site of a previous church that had itself once been one of the chapels in Havering Palace.

The Purbeck Marble font dates back to the early Medieval period.

Greensted

Another in the occasional series on “Far-Flung Lost London” …

Greensted lies in rural Essex, a brisk hour-and-a-half’s walk east  of Epping, itself at the eastern extremity of the Central Line.   The name derives from the Old English for a clearing in a wild-wood (of which Epping and Hainault Forests are the tattered remnants).

Interestingly, in 1837, the Tolpuddle Martyrs, on their return from their unjust deportation to Australia, were granted farm tenancies in and around Greensted; and in 1839, one of them, James Brine, married the daughter of another, Thomas Standfield, in Greensted Church.   While in Greensted, the Martyrs founded a Chartist association.   This  did not go down well with the locals!  The vicar denounced  them from the pulpit, and reported them to the Home Office; and the “Essex Standard” derided them in the press, and wrote of them as “dabbling in the dirty waters of radicalism and publishing pamphlets to keep up the old game”.  Eventually the squirearchy evicted them from their land, and forced them to seek out new livelihoods and lives elsewhere (five out of the six of them in London in Ontario in Canada).

Greensted Church

“At the wild-wood’s heart

These  thrice-three hundred winters

This scant sanctuary”.

Greensted Church, the Church of St Andrew, purports to be  the oldest wooden building still standing in Europe, and the oldest wooden church anywhere in the world.

The original  church on the site was probably built at least as long ago as the middle of the seventh century, at which  time St Cedd set about converting the East Saxons to Christianity from his base at Bradwell.  Sadly, though, the only remaining physical evidence as to the existence of this church  is in the form of post-holes discovered during an archaeological excavation in 1960.

Work began on the present structure  in the middle of the eleventh century, in the Late Saxon period,  in wood (*); and continued into the Medieval and post-Medieval, in stone and brick (with  minor additions and restorations also in the nineteenth century, between 1837-48, and further restorations in the twentieth, between 1987-90).   Remarkably, much of the Saxon nave  still stands, incorporated into later extensions.  The wooden Saxon nave was evidently originally windowless, aside from some small “eag-thyrels” or eye-holes, and a single larger “niche”, known by many as  a lepers’ “squint”.  Scorch-marks can still be seen  on some of the wall timbers, suggesting lighting  by wall-mounted lamps.   Adze-marks can also still be seen on some timbers.

(*) Dendrochronological evidence acquired in 1995 indicates that the trees used in the construction of the church were felled between 1060-63.  This would have  been  during the reign of the last-but-one Saxon King, Edward the Confessor (the last was the ill-fated Harold, who acceded to the throne on Edward’s death early in 1066, before being killed fighting the invading Normans at the Battle of Hastings later the same year).