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King Alfred according to Bernard Cornwell

annis
Bibliomaniac

Postby annis » Sat September 6th, 2008, 1:53 am

Good point about the need for exactitude with those involved in healing, Margaret, though it seems that some of the later physicians got by on a great deal of bluster and blood-letting! I think that the herbalists would always have needed to be very careful, though, especially when accusations of witchcraft could be so readily leveled against them if something went wrong.

It would be interesting to know what Duggan made of King Alfred. Sometimes I think his characterisations of well-known figures were a bit flat, whereas with an unknown quantity like Cerdic he could let himself go a bit more. Maybe someone has read "King of Athelney" and can comment?

chuck
Bibliophile
Location: Ciinaminson NJ

Postby chuck » Sat September 6th, 2008, 2:57 pm

"annis" wrote:Good point about the need for exactitude with those involved in healing, Margaret, though it seems that some of the later physicians got by on a great deal of bluster and blood-letting! I think that the herbalists would always have needed to be very careful, though, especially when accusations of witchcraft could be so readily leveled against them if something went wrong.

It would be interesting to know what Duggan made of King Alfred. Sometimes I think his characterisations of well-known figures were a bit flat, whereas with an unknown quantity like Cerdic he could let himself go a bit more. Maybe someone has read "King of Athelney" and can comment?


I prefer BC's spin of Alfred the Great....I don't mean to over simplify the Great Alfred....but he as a man in a time of a constant turmoil.....Was he a guilt ridden warrior, administrator, or a pious clerk? Take your pick...To me he was all three and those roles took their toll on the "man"....Can you imagine if the Great Bard or Marlowe would have penned a play about Alfred?.....Saint Olaf, 995-1030 the martyred Saint of Norway....a Viking King and a Saint huh?.....I realize he helped Norway to take up the Cross. but at the same time he like Charlemagne was unforgiving when dealing with the vanquished...... Olaf, Charlemagne, and Alfred they all had some Cerdric in them.....or how could you explain their impersonal and violent behavior in dealing with their enemy.....My opinion....I think the Pagan/Berserker element influenced them especially when their Blood was up...... Alfred's greatness is still a mystery to me.....I cant get past the Cleric's propaganda....I will take the middle road on his greatness.....He did not do it alone.....Charlemagne had Alcuin....Alfred had.....Must stop this babble.......

annis
Bibliomaniac

Postby annis » Sun September 7th, 2008, 2:14 am

Hi Chuck - I think that the really great commanders have always needed to have that ability to assess a military situation in a dispassionate, ruthless way. They may have been attached to their warriors and sorry to lose them, but that wouldn't influence a pragmatic decision to sacrifice them where necessary, and I'm sure that Alfred was no different in that respect.

In the early medieval days of Christian conversion, too, I think that warriors didn't necessarily see being a Christian as something which conflicted with traditional pagan beliefs and actions, but more as yet another god to worship- one with the added advantage of giving you a chance at life after death. That's my take on how Charlemagne could massacre all those Saxons at Verden ( though I know some historians dispute whether that massacre actually happened) and then ride off to celebrate Christmas, for example. He certainly didn't see any inconsistency in maintaining his large number of wives and mistresses.

That reminds me - getting off the track of KA, I know--I came across another novel about Charles Martel (though sadly, not about Charlemagne, who remains elusive in the HF stakes.)
"Charles Martel and the Lance of Destiny" by Louis deMartelly.
Btw, I tracked down a copy of Harold Lamb's "Durandal' and really enjoyed it- a good old-fashioned adventure in the Boy's Own model.

annis
Bibliomaniac

Postby annis » Sun September 7th, 2008, 4:53 am

We've been discussing propaganda in relation to King Alfred, and I happened upon this story which discusses the "burnt cakes" legend mentioned by Margaret. It points out that both the English and the Vikings competed in efforts to make themselves look good and the other side bad. The cake story is almost certainly a piece of morale -boosting propaganda, but the question seems to be- whose story was it first?
http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2007/mar/13/britishidentity.research

Carla
Compulsive Reader
Contact:

Postby Carla » Wed September 17th, 2008, 10:47 am

I think there's an alternative version of the story about Alfred and the cakes in which he remembers to turn them and they don't get burnt. Make of that what you will.... Possibly both the Alfred and Ragnar stories (is Ragnar Hairybreeks the one I know as Ragnar Lothbrok?) were borrowed from folktale motifs independently of each other, maybe when the people involved had already passed into legend. The Alfred story is, as far as I know, first written down in the 12th century, though of course we don't know how long it had been in circulation before then. Somehow I find it hard to imagine people fighting a propaganda war with stories about the leaders' relative incompetence at cookery :-)

The story about Alfred and the cakes seems similar to the story about Robert Bruce and the spider - here's the defeated king reduced to living as a hunted outlaw, yet he triumphed over his adversity and became a great king. The worse the adversity, the greater the triumph when the king wins. Stories like this make most sense to me as embellishments added later to stress how low the king had come; after all, a comeback from doom and disaster is a better story than a comeback from a minor local difficulty. That's not to say they may not have been based on some grain of truth; maybe Robert Bruce did while away a bad night in a cave watching a spider and decide to have one more go. I just suspect that they became important stories after the event, when the contrast between the great man's dire straits and his eventual success was known to everybody.

About 'spin', I wasn't thinking of chroniclers deliberately falsifying events, but more of the interpretation they choose to put on those events. For example, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says for 875,
"This summer King Alfred went out to sea with an armed fleet, and fought with seven ship-rovers, one of whom he took, and dispersed the others."

A pro-Alfred chronicler might have said that Alfred fought with great skill and bravery and despite being greatly outnumbered succeeded in capturing one enemy ship and the rest were so afraid of his valour that they fled. An anti-Alfred chronicler might have said that owing to Alfred's incompetence and cowardice six of the seven ships got away unscathed and one was captured due to the skill and bravery of one of Alfred's commanders. Neither has altered the facts: seven ships engaged, one captured and six went away, but they give a very different picture of Alfred. Then there's the issue of selection. No chronicler can write down every little thing that happens, so each has to make decisions about what is important enough to be worth recording. A chronicler used to big sea battles might have thought a naval action involving only seven ships was too trivial to bother writing down, without any intention of 'spin' at all.
PATHS OF EXILE - love, war, honour and betrayal in Anglo-Saxon Northumbria
Editor's Choice, Historical Novels Review, August 2009
Now available as e-book on Amazon Kindleand in Kindle, Epub (Nook, Sony Reader), Palm and other formats on Smashwords
Website: http://www.carlanayland.org
Blog: http://carlanayland.blogspot.com

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Rowan
Bibliophile
Interest in HF: I love history, but it's boring in school. Historical fiction brings it alive for me.
Preferred HF: Iron-Age Britain, Roman Britain, Medieval Britain
Location: New Orleans
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Postby Rowan » Wed September 17th, 2008, 4:13 pm

Since no one has written a review for The Pale Horseman, I thought I'd inject this here. Although I am listening to the audiobook, I'd rather not write the review as I know a lot will have been left out. However, I would like to say that the gentleman who reads for the audiobook - Jamie Glover - is the most enthusiastic reader I've ever heard!! When he reads about Uhtred's battles, it's as if it's his own feelings. This may only apply to Cornwell's books, but I've thoroughly enjoyed listening to him. And yes at some point I will go back and read the book itself. I'm just trying to limit what I buy at the moment.

annis
Bibliomaniac

Postby annis » Wed September 17th, 2008, 8:37 pm

Carla, not long ago I came across this article , which disputes the validity of Asser as the author of King Alfred's biography.
(Scroll down to "Unmasking Alfred's False Biographer")
Do you know what other historians think about this theory?

Carla
Compulsive Reader
Contact:

Postby Carla » Fri September 19th, 2008, 10:32 pm

Interesting theory. I remember seeing it a while ago and had forgotten about it until you mentioned the article. He has a fair point that the story about the reading competition between Alfred and his brothers contradicts the idea that Alfred learned to read only as an adult (and John Peddie points out in his book on Alfred that some of Alfred's brothers would have been young adults at the time and would certainly have had better things to do than engage in reading competitions with their baby brother). What I'm not clear about is how he can tell the difference between a wholesale forgery (which is what he claims), and a contemporary biography that's had bits and pieces accreted to it by later copyists. When there are multiple surviving copies of the same document in different manuscripts, it's quite common for them all to be a bit different from each other as different scribes edited, reworded, added bits of explanation or related stories and information that they knew about from elsewhere. Something like that could have happened to a biography of Alfred written by Asser during the king's lifetime, as claimed, that was then expanded by a later writer who had access to some legends and stories about Alfred and decided to add them in for completeness. Without several copies to compare I don't see how one could tell whether that had happened or not.

I don't know what the consensus opinion is among historians. Given that the article is dated 1995 and as far as I know people still use the Life of Alfred as a source, it looks as if his theory didn't set the world on fire.
PATHS OF EXILE - love, war, honour and betrayal in Anglo-Saxon Northumbria

Editor's Choice, Historical Novels Review, August 2009

Now available as e-book on Amazon Kindleand in Kindle, Epub (Nook, Sony Reader), Palm and other formats on Smashwords

Website: http://www.carlanayland.org

Blog: http://carlanayland.blogspot.com

annis
Bibliomaniac

Postby annis » Fri September 19th, 2008, 11:42 pm

Given that the article is dated 1995 and as far as I know people still use the Life of Alfred as a source, it looks as if his theory didn't set the world on fire.

Thanks, Carla- that was my thought too. Given that it was a fairly radical theory you'd think there would have been more debate around about it if it was taken seriously. Good point about the variation in manuscripts. Each copyist would have added some individual aspect to the original he was copying.

And I guess it was difficult not to occasionally indulge the creative urge.
I'm thinking about "Hereward's Exploits", for example, which was written (most likely) by the historian monk Richard of Ely, not that long after Hereward the Wake's death (though we don't know exactly when or how he died)
Despite the the fact that the author had first-hand information and talked to several of Hereward's companions, who although elderly, were quite capable of remembering their old campaigns, it still came out full of mythological happenings. I wonder if the original author was using his imaginative powers or if it might have been a case of copyists embellishing things later.
Last edited by annis on Sat September 20th, 2008, 12:01 am, edited 5 times in total.

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Eyza
Scribbler
Location: Seattle, Washington
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Postby Eyza » Sat September 20th, 2008, 3:57 am

annis:

Richard, the monk of Ely(I thought it was Crowland, but never mind), certainly did stick some pretty improbable stuff into his tale of the life of Hereward. OTOH, he was aiming at a particular audience, who was familiar with certain 'epics" that were floating around at the time. There was one, for example, about the supposed exploits of Alexander the Great, which was, um, pretty, um, mythological. Richard just created a "heroic" Hereward modeled from these epics, and attached all sorts of fantastic adventures to his name, especially in the earlier portion of the tale.
Anne G




And I guess it was difficult not to occasionally indulge the creative urge.
I'm thinking about "Hereward's Exploits", for example, which was written (most likely) by the historian monk Richard of Ely, not that long after Hereward the Wake's death (though we don't know exactly when or how he died)
Despite the the fact that the author had first-hand information and talked to several of Hereward's companions, who although elderly, were quite capable of remembering their old campaigns, it still came out full of mythological happenings. I wonder if the original author was using his imaginative powers or if it might have been a case of copyists embellishing things later.[/QUOTE]


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