Friday, 15 April 2016

The Danish Conquest, Part 9: Bloodshed in the North

1016 in the D version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (BL Cotton Tiberius B IV, f. 66)

1016 was a dramatic year in England. On this blog we've been marking the 1000th anniversary of Cnut's conquest of England by following the course of this long-drawn-out conflict, and in the spring of 1016 things were finally coming to a head.

In the last installment, back in the autumn, we saw Cnut returning to England from Denmark with his fleet and raiding across Wessex. Meanwhile, King Æthelred was ill, and at odds with his son Edmund Ironside; the king's closest advisor, the Mercian ealdorman Eadric streona, had just defected to the Danes (not for the last time).

Six months on, the situation was not looking much better for Edmund and the English. Early in 1016, with Cnut's forces now increased by the addition of Eadric's ships, Edmund began to summon up an army, but he could not look for much help from his ailing father. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (E) begins its entry for 1016:
Her on þissum geare com Cnut cyning mid his here .clx. scipa. 7 Eadirc ealdormann mid him ofer Temese into Myrcan æt Cræcilade. 7 wendon þa to Wæringscire innon þære middewintres tide. 7 hergodon 7 bærndon 7 slogon eall þæt hi to comon. Ða ongan se æðeling Eadmund to gadrienne fyrde. Þa seo fyrd gesomnod wæs. þa ne onhagode him buton se cyng þære wære. 7 hi hæfdon þære burhware fultum of Lundene. Geswicon þa þære fyrding. 7 færde ælc mann him ham. Ða æfter þære tide þa bead mann eft fyrde be fullum wite. þæt ælc mann þe feor wære forð gewende. 7 mann sende to þam cyninge to Lundene. 7 bædon hine þæt he come ongean þa fyrde mid þam fultume þe he gegaderian mihte. Ða hi ealle tosomne comon. þa ne beheold hit naht þe ma þe hit oftor ær dyde. Þa cydde mann þam cyninge þæt hine mann beswicon wolde. þa þe him on fultume beon sceolden. Forlet ða þa fyrde. 7 cyrde him eft to Lundene.
[In this year King Cnut came with his army of 160 ships, and Ealdorman Eadric with him, over the Thames into Mercia at Cricklade, and then turned into Warwickshire during the midwinter festival, and they raided and burned and slew all that they came to. Then the atheling Edmund began to gather an army. When the army was assembled, they would not be satisfied unless the king were there and they had the support of the garrison from London. So they gave up the campaign, and everyone went home. Then after the festival the army was commanded again, under full penalty, that every man who was able should come, and the king was sent to in London and asked to come to join the army with all the support he could gather. When they were all come together, it was no use, any more than it had often been before. Then the king was told that they were going to betray him, those who should have supported him; he left the army, and went back again to London.]

This picture of disorganisation and general mistrust among the English leaders is typical of the chronicler's narrative of these years (whether accurately or not), and he sounds especially jaded here. The Chronicle goes on:

Ða rad se æþeling Eadmund to Norðhymbran to Vhtrede eorl. 7 wænde ælc mann þæt hi woldon fyrde somnian ongean Cnut cyng. Þa ferdon hi into Stæffordscire. 7 into Scrobbesbyrig. 7 to Legeceastre. 7 hergodon hi on heora healfe 7 Cnut on his. 7 wende him þa ut þurh Buccingahamscire into Beadafordscire. 7 þanon to Huntandunscire. andlang fennes to Stanforda. 7 ða into Lincolnescire. þanon to Snotingahamscire. 7 swa to Norðhymbran to Eoforwicweard. Ða Uhtred geaxode þis. ða forlet he his hergunga 7 efeste norðweard. 7 beah þa for nede. 7 ealle Norðhymbran mid him. 7 he gislode. 7 hine man ðeah hwæðere ofsloh. 7 þurcytel Nafanan sunu mid him. 7 þa æfter þæs se cyng Cnut gesætte Yric into Norðhymbran to eorle. eall swa Uhtred wæs. 7 syððan wendon him suðweard oðres weges eall be westan. 7 com þa eall se here toforan þam Eastron to scipon. 7 se æþeling Ædmund wende to Lundene to his fæder. 7 þa æfter Eastron wende se cyng Cnut mid eallum his scipum to Lundeneweard.

[Then the atheling Edmund rode to Northumbria to Earl Uhtred, and everyone thought they intended to gather an army against King Cnut. They went into Staffordshire and into Shrewsbury and to [Chester], and they raided on their side, and Cnut on his; and [Cnut] then turned out through Buckinghamshire into Bedfordshire and from there to Huntingdonshire, along the fen to Stamford, and then into Lincolnshire, from there to Nottinghamshire, and so to Northumbria towards York. When Uhtred heard this, he left his raiding and hurried north, and submitted out of necessity, and all Northumbria with him, and he gave hostages; but nonetheless he was killed, and Thurcytel, son of Nafena, with him. And after this King Cnut appointed Erik as earl in Northumbria, just as Uhtred was, and afterwards went southwards by another route, down the west. And then all the [Danish] army came to the ships before Easter, and the atheling Edmund went to London to his father, and after Easter King Cnut went towards London with all his ships.]

Effectively this was Cnut's conquest of the north. The Chronicle only details his route up through the Midlands into Northumbria, but Scandinavian sources tell us that along the way he was fighting battles in 'green Lindsey', and at Hemingbrough in Yorkshire. No wonder Uhtred made haste to meet him! As the most powerful man in the north of England, head of the family who had ruled Northumbria from Bamburgh for several generations, Uhtred was an important ally of Edmund and Æthelred; his murder, supposedly committed under a promise of safe-conduct, delivered the north to the Danes. Sources disagree on the immediate cause of Uhtred's murder: the C version of the Chronicle blames it on the advice of Eadric streona (which seems possible, but is a bit suspicious, given the habit of blaming everything on Eadric streona). A later but better-informed northern source says that Uhtred was killed by a man with whom he had a long-standing feud, Thurbrand Hold, and that his death began a series of revenge killings which lasted right into the 1070s. It's sometimes hard to get a clear picture of what was going on in the complex world of Northumbrian politics, but it seems here that Cnut had waded right into the middle of it. In Uhtred's place Cnut appointed (perhaps not straightaway, but certainly by 1017) England's first ever earl, a word which now began to be used in England instead of ealdorman: the Norwegian Eiríkr Hákonarson, one of his most experienced supporters.

Bamburgh from afar

And down in the south, both armies were now converging on London, where by mid-April Æthelred was entering the last days of his life.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

'That we may sing without ending'

Virgin and child (Medieval stained glass, Stowting, Kent)

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have a soft spot for medieval carols, which - despite the associations the term may have for many people today - were not confined to the Christmas season. There are carols for all seasons of the year, on subjects sacred and secular, serious and light-hearted, and most things in between. (If you're in the UK you can watch me talking about this subject on the Easter Sunday edition of Songs of Praise, should you wish to...)

There are numerous medieval carols about the Passion of Christ, but not quite so many for the Easter season, for some reason. But here's one carol which seems appropriate for Eastertide. It comes from the collection of carols put together by the Canterbury Franciscan James Ryman in 1492, and it's a macaronic text which takes its Latin lines from the Marian antiphon used in the season of Easter, Regina caeli:

Regina caeli, laetare, alleluia.
Quia quem meruisti portare, alleluia.
Resurrexit, sicut dixit, alleluia.
Ora pro nobis Deum, alleluia.

Queen of heaven, rejoice, alleluia,
For He whom you were merited to bear, alleluia,
Has risen, as he said, alleluia.
Pray for us to God, alleluia.

James Ryman's extensive collection of carols can be read in full online. It contains many carols in praise of the Virgin, and a fair number making use of a 'Regina caeli' refrain - I've posted two examples before here and here. They all cover pretty much the same ground, naturally, but they are variations on a theme - they experiment with different imagery, different ways of integrating Latin and English lines, and so on. Here's a more extensively macaronic example, which is a skillful piece of work. The following carol is not quite so difficult, but I like it for of its clever use of internal rhyme, which nicely echoes the form of the antiphon's rhyming third line (Resurrexit, sicut dixit). The Latin and English play out their own antiphonal structure of verse and response, and they work beautifully together - if you mentally translate the Latin phrases as you read, you'll see that in every verse they fit perfectly with the sense of the English lines, which is not an easy trick to accomplish! It feels like there's something playful about those chiming rhymes, even in a carol which is serious and devotional.

This is in modern spelling for ease for reading, but the Middle English can be found here.

Stella maris, micaris clare:
Regina caeli, laetare.

Behold and see, O lady free,
Quem meruisti portare,
God and man is he, thus believe we,
Regina caeli, laetare.

King Assuere, thy son so dear,
Quem meruisti portare,
In bliss so clear he hath no peer,
Regina caeli, laetare.

Since thy son is the king of bliss,
Quem meruisti portare,
With him and his thou shalt not miss, [shall not fail to be]
Regina caeli, laetare.

That lord so good, with so mild mood, [disposition]
Quem meruisti portare,
Upon the rood shed his heart’s blood,
Regina caeli, laetare.

O lady free, glad mayst thou be,
Quem meruisti portare,
As he told thee, arise did he,
Regina caeli, laetare.

By thy sweet child, so meek and mild,
Quem meruisti portare,
Man, that was wild, is reconciled;
Regina caeli, laetare.

That lord, who wrought all things of nought,
Quem meruisti portare,
Mankind hath bought and to bliss brought;
Regina caeli, laetare.

The heavenly choir that lord so dear,
Quem meruisti portare,
With voices clear laudeth in fere [praises in harmony]
Regina caeli, laetare.

That lord and king to bliss us bring
Quem meruisti portare,
That we may sing without ending:
Regina caeli, laetare.

The reference in the second verse to 'King Assuere' is an allusion to the Biblical story of Esther, who was considered to be a typological figure of Mary as Queen of Heaven - a reminder that Ryman and any reader of his carols could be expected to have a sophisticated understanding of theology and Biblical exegesis.

Ryman's carols don't come with music, sadly, though this one feels more than usually singable. (With voices clear laudeth in fere...) But for some related music, you could do worse than listen to this jolly carol from half a century earlier than Ryman, or Byrd's Regina Caeli, from just over a hundred years later.

Coronation of the Virgin (BL Harley 2838, f. 51v)

Sunday, 3 April 2016

'When I see blossoms spring'

Iffley, Oxford

When Y se blosmes springe,
Ant here foules song,
A suete love-longynge
Myn herte thourhout stong,
Al for a love newe
That is so suete ant trewe,
That gladieth al my song.
Ich wot al myd iwisse
My joie ant eke my blisse
On him is al ylong.

Of Iesu Crist hi synge,
That is so fayr and fre,
Swetest of alle thynge;
His othwe hic oghe wel boe.
Wl fer he me sothte,
Myd hard he me bothte,
Wyth wnde to and three;
Wel sore he was yswnge,
And for me myd spere ystunge,
Ynayled to the tree.

When Y miselve stonde
Ant with myn eyen seo
Thurled fot ant honde
With grete nayles threo,
Blody wes ys heued,
On him nes nout bileved
That wes of peynes freo.
Wel, wel ohte myn herte
For his love to smerte,
Ant sike ant sory beo.

Jesu, milde ant softe,
Yef me streynthe ant myht
Longen sore ant ofte
To lovye the aryht.
Pyne to tholie ant dreye
For the sone, Marye.
Thou art so fre ant bryht,
Mayden ant moder mylde,
For love of thine childe,
Ernde us heven lyht.

Alas, that Y ne con
Turne to him my thoht,
Ant cheosen him to lemmon!
So duere he us hath yboht
With woundes deope ant stronge,
With peynes sore ant longe,
Of love ne conne we noht.
His blod that feol to grounde,
Of hise suete wounde,
Of peyne us hath yboht.

Jesu, milde ant suete,
Y synge the mi song;
Ofte Y the grete
Ant preye the among.
Let me sunnes lete,
Ant in this lyve bete
That Ich have do wrong.
At oure lyves ende,
When whe shule wende,
Jesu, us undefong.
Amen.

Here's a springtime poem for Eastertide, from the early fourteenth century. It's one of the 'Harley lyrics', from the collection of English, French and Latin poems found in British Library, Harley 2253, where it looks like this:


(The second verse I've included here comes from another version of the poem in British Library, MS Royal 2. F. VIII.)

'When I see blossoms spring', with its speaker pierced to love-longing by blossom and birdsong, begins very like another of the Harley lyrics (several of them, actually):

Bytuene Mersh ant Aueril,
When spray biginneth to springe,
The lutel foul hath hire wyl
On hyre lud to synge.
Ich libbe in loue-longinge
For semlokest of alle thynge;
He may me blisse bringe;
Icham in hire baundoun.

(Between March and April, when the blossom begins to spring, the little bird takes its pleasure in singing in its own language. I live in love-longing for the loveliest of all things. She can bring me to bliss; I am in her power.)

But this is a secular love-poem, and the love-longing in this case is for a woman called Alisoun. The first verses of these two poems are almost interchangeable - gender aside - and you can see how smoothly 'When I see blossoms spring' takes the conventions of springtime love-poetry and applies them to Christ. The association between spring and Easter must have made such a device seem quite natural (in every sense), as in the texts I looked at in my last post and many others: of course spring is the season when Easter is celebrated, but spring is a reflection of the meaning of Easter, too. It's not a coincidence! You might like to compare the slightly earlier, but perhaps even more lovely, 'Summer is come and winter gone'.

Here's a modernised version:

When I see blossoms spring,
And hear the birds' song,
A sweet love-longing
Entirely pierces my heart,
All for a love new
That is so sweet and true,
That gladdens all my song:
I know in truth, iwis,
My joy and all my bliss
On him is all ylong. [is all because of him]

Of Jesu Christ I sing,
Who is so fair and free, [noble]
Sweetest of all thing;
His own ought I well to be.
So far for me he sought,
With suffering he me bought,
With wounds two and three;
Well sore he was swung,
And for me with spear was stung,
Nailed to the tree.

When I myself stand
And with my eyes see
Pierced foot and hand
With great nails three;
Bloody was his head,
On him was nothing left
That of pain was free.
Well, well ought my heart
For his love to smart,
And sigh and sorry be.

Jesu, mild and soft, [merciful and gentle]
Give me strength and might
To long sore and oft
To love thee aright.
Pain to suffer and endure
For thy son, Mary,
Thou art so free and bright!
Maid and mother mild
For love of thy child,
Win for us heaven's light.

Alas, that I am not able
To turn to him my thought,
And choose him as my love!
So dear he us hath bought
With wounds deep and strong,
With pains sore and long,
Of love we know nothing at all!
His blood that fell to ground,
From his sweet wound,
From pain us hath bought. [redeemed]

Jesu, mild and sweet,
I sing thee my song;
Often I thee greet
And pray to thee among:
Let me sins forsake,
And in this life amends make
For what I have done wrong.
At our life's end,
When we shall wend,
Jesu, us underfong. [receive]
Amen.

Blossoming cross (BL Stowe 39, f. 23v)