Amberley, September 2015
272 Pages, Hardback and Ebook
The discovery of the Staffordshire Hoard in 2009 has captured the imagination and stimulated renewed interest in the history and culture of the Anglo-Saxons. The discovery poses some interesting questions. Who owned the treasure and how did they acquire it? Was it made locally or did it originate elsewhere? Why was it buried in an obscure field in the Staffordshire countryside?
To answer these questions, Martin Wall takes us on a journey into a period that still remains mysterious, into regions and countries long forgotten, such as Mercia and Northumbria. This is a story of the ‘Dark Ages’ and the people who lived in them, but darkness is in the eye of the beholder. This book challenges our notions of these times as barbaric and backward to reveal a civilization as complex, sophisticated and diverse as our own.
Martin Wall’s nonfiction debut is a great introduction to- well- the Anglo-Saxon age and its leading figures, events and developments. I greatly appreciated the chapter on Ethelfleada of Mercia, the daughter of Alfred. The early chapters were also interesting and useful, even if they stray from the current, fashionable notion of a gradual, small scale invasion. Personally, I could not help agree with the author’s take on Gildas and Bede.
Both appear to have been men of great learning (we know Bede was) who were eyewitnesses, or had access to first-hand accounts and good sources of their own. What reason did they have to lie, or to make up everything? Why, then, should be dismiss their accounts of the Adventus Saxonum out of hand? As for bias, if we admit it, we all biased sometimes, but we don’t reject everything our fellows tell us on this basis.
Not that I agree with everything the author says- like the assumption that Oswald of Northumbria had the last surviving son of Edwin killed. Not much evidence seemed to be given to back up this claim, and it doesn’t fit what I know of Oswald. Nor did I appreciate the assertion that Edward the Confessor must have been homosexual or impotent because he did not have any children. It really gets on my nerves when people automatically jump to such conclusions about historical figures on this basis.
There are, sadly, biological and gynaecological reasons why some people cannot have children today- so why can be not give people in the past the benefit of the doubt? The attempts to link the Robin Hood stories to ancient paganism at the end just struck me as odd, unnecessary and rather tenuous. I understand the author is something of an expert on myth and folklore, but in the last chapter it comes across as- dare I say it- something of a fixation?
Aside from the complaints detailed above, I did enjoy the book and would recommend for it for general readers interested in the period. I would certainly be interested in Mr Wall’s next book The Anglo-Saxons in 100 Facts that is due for release in a few months.
I received a PDF copy of this book from Amberley Publishers for review. I was not required to write a positive one and all opinions expressed are my own.