Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

For the third month in a row, images from a Parker Library manuscript are used to illustrate an article in History Today. This article, by Sean McGlynn, puts forward yet another candidate for the real-life inspiration behind the famous mythical outlaw. The new contender is not from Yorkshire, Nottingham or Lincoln but Kent. And his name is not Robin.

McGlynn sets out the documentary evidence that the name Robert or Robin Hood was being applied to criminals and outlaws by the early-mid thirteenth century, suggesting that the legend was well-established by this time. Hollywood tends to set the legend in the reign of Richard I (r. 1189-99) when the king was held captive and his loyal servant, Robin, lived in the woods and fought injustice.

However, McGlynn identifies a figure from a slightly later but equally turbulent episode of English history, the first barons’ war of 1216-17, when nobles unhappy with John’s rule invited Louis, son of the King of France, to invade England. A minor royal official, William of Kensham or Cassingham, took to the Kent and Sussex woods and led a band of bowmen who loyally served the crown, acting as a resistance force in the area under French occupation. He was celebrated as ‘Willikin of the Weald’.

One of the key sources for these events is the Chronica Maiora of Matthew Paris (CCCC MS 16). Here is his illustration of Louis arriving in Kent at the start of his occupation in 1216.

Arrival of Louis from the Chronica Maiora of Mtthew Paris (CCCC MS 16, f. 50v)

Arrival of Louis from the Chronica Maiora of Matthew Paris (CCCC MS 16, f. 50v)

For more on William and his possible connections with the legend of Robin Hood, see the March issue of History Today.


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January’s issue of History Today contained an article about King Hákon I of Norway, the so-called foster-son of King Athelstan, illustrated with the contemporary image of Athelstan from CCCC MS 183.

An article in this month’s issue of History Today focuses on another Parker Library manuscript, CCCC MS 339. The first text in the manuscript is known as the ‘Winchester Annals’, a Latin chronicle which records events from 519-1139 and which was written at Winchester priory in the late twelfth century. The article, by George T. Beech, focuses on the annals’ account of the reign of Egbert (r. 802-839), king of Wessex and grandfather of Alfred the Great.

The text says that after the battle of Ellendun (825) in which Egbert defeated the Mercians, he had himself crowned king of all Britain and issued an edict proclaiming that the island should henceforth be known as England and its people, whether Jutes or Saxons, should be called English.

CCCC MS 339, f. 11v

CCCC MS 339, f. 11v

Veniunt Wintoniam clerus et populus et assensu omnium partium coronatus est Egbirtus in regem totius Britannie. Et dixit illa die rex Egbirtus ut insula in posterum uocaretur Anglia, et qui Iuti uel Saxones dicebantur,  omnes communi nomine indifferenter [f. 12r] Angli vocarentur.

If true, this would be the earliest example of an English king calling his united kingdom ‘England’. Beech’s article assesses the reliability of this account, written some three and a half centuries after the event. He compares the annals with earlier accounts of Egbert’s reign, including that given in another Parker Library manuscript, the ‘A’ text of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (CCCC MS 173), the earliest sections of which were also written at Winchester.

The full article is available on the History Today website.

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The January  issue of History Today includes an article by Synnøve Veinan Hellerud on Hákon Aðalsteinsfóstri. Synnøve Veinan Hellerud, author of  Oslo, a Thousand-Year History, explains that Hákon I, or Haakon the Good, nicknamed “Athelstan’s foster-son”, strove to make Norway more like his mentor’s realm, a well-organised Christian kingdom.  Hákon was the youngest son of the Norwegian king Harald Fairhair, and brother of Eric Bloodaxe, and despite scant historical evidence, it is believed that he was brought up in England at the court of King Athelstan. In 930 Hákon returned to Norway as king, ruling as the first Norwegian Christian king until his death in 961.

There is no known portrait of the adult Hákon

so the author of the article MS 183, f. 1vhas used the frontispiece to the

Parker Library MS of Bede’s Life of Saint Cuthbert,

where Athelstan presents the saint with a copy of the Life.

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The outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, reflects on the last 10 years in a television programme next week. The hour-long broadcast, which will go out on New Year’s Day on BBC2 at 5.30pm, looks back over Dr Williams’ tenure as Archbishop; for more details see http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/proginfo/2013/01/goodbye-to-canterbury.html. Some of the footage for the programme was filmed in the Parker Library, which Dr Williams visited several times while Archbishop.

The Parker Library contains the sixth-century Gospel book (here shown at the illustration marking the beginning of  St Luke’s Gospel which is used in the ceremony for the inauguration of each new Archbishop.

The Right Revd Justin Welby, at present Bishop of Durham, will be sworn in as Archbishop in March 2012.

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We had the pleasure recently of hosting a visit by the historian and presenter  Michael Wood and his team. The Parker Library and its manuscripts, including the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, will be featured in three programmes that the team  are filming for a new BBC series. The trilogy of films, scheduled for broadcast in Autumn 2013 will cover the lives of Anglo-Saxon kings from Alfred through to Aethelstan.

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Jon Culshaw and Dr Rory Naismith

Jon Culshaw, Dr Rory Naismith and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

This was the scene in the library last week when the impressionist Jon Culshaw visited with a TV crew to talk to Dr Rory Naismith of the ASNC department and to look at some of our Anglo-Saxon manuscripts. Jon is filming a series called  Britain’s Secret Treasures for ITV about various hoards and other archaeological finds that have been discovered over the past few years and reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme. The filming in the Parker Library was part of an exploration of the context of the Silverdale Hoard, discovered by a metal-detectorist in North Lancashire in 2011.

Silverdale Hoard. Photo by Ian Richardson.

Silverdale Hoard. Photo by Ian Richardson. Copyright: British Museum.

Among the 201 objects in the hoard is a silver coin inscribed on one side REX and on the other side AIRDECONUT which is evidence for the existence of a previously unknown Viking ruler, Harthacnut, in Northern England, probably around the year 900. Rory showed Jon the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (MS 173), one of the very few contemporary written records from Britain in this period and also MS 383, a collection of Anglo-Saxon law codes. Although this manuscript dates from the late 11th century, it contains a copy of a treaty made c.890 between Alfred the Great and the Viking ruler Guthrum which established a boundary between their two kingdoms and regulated relations between the Anglo-Saxons and the Danes in both legal matters and trade.

The programme will air on ITV1 in mid-July.

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Viking Apocalypse

The Parker Library features in an upcoming documentary on the National Geographic TV channel. The programme, entitled ‘Viking Apocalypse‘ looks at the mass grave uncovered by archaeologists near Ridgeway Hill in Dorset in 2009.

Skeleton from Ridgeway Hill mass grave

Skeleton from Ridgeway Hill mass grave (National Geographic TV)

The grave contained the skeletons of 54 men, mostly in their teens or twenties, and all had been dismembered; their skulls were buried separately. From their injuries, archaeologists were able to determine that they weren’t killed in battle but executed, sometime between 910 and 1030 AD. Analysis of the teeth of 10 of the men showed that they weren’t natives of Britain but Scandinavians.

The theory the programme explores is that the men were Vikings executed by Anglo-Saxons. The programme’s presenter, Dr Britt Baillie-Warren, came to the library to see what the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle has to say about warfare and execution during the period – and the Vikings’ place in English history.

Britt Baillie-Warren looking at the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

Britt Baillie-Warren looking at the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (National Geographic TV)

The programme will be shown on Wednesday 25 January at 9pm.

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