News: Gypsy tart originated from the Isle of Sheppey
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Topic Summary

Posted by: Leofwine
« on: February 20, 2013, 00:20:24 »

As far as the Britons not having the hill... there are a number of reasons, but the biggie is that the Anglo-Saxons already had it!  It is also possible that they hoped to make a surprise attack, not realising the full mobility of the early Anglo-Saxon warbands, or that they believed they had a sufficient superiority of numbers to carry the fight.

As to why they tried to take it back, the answer is simple. They had to if they wanted to regain control of Kent. History is full of such do-or-die situations. Sometimes they pay off (Agincourt, D-Day, etc), sometimes they don't (Hastings, Arnhem, etc.)  If the Britons had managed to reach the top of the hill unopposed the situation would have been reversed, with the Anglo-Saxons facing the uphill struggle. In that case history would remember it as a bold and effective attack by the Britons.

As to leadership/judgement of the Britons, they had both good and bad leaders, but sadly they were busy trying to fight a series of what we might now call civil wars in addition to fighting off a foreign invader. They were heavily criticised for this by their own people in the following century or so, most notably by the monk, Gildas.

It does seem that they failed to learn from their mistakes though. In the fifth century they invite in Germanic mercenaries to fight for them, but fail to keep them under control and find their mercenaries becoming their conquerers. Then, after a few decades someone organises them enough to stem the tide (Arthur, or at least his model(s)), so they begin squabbling amongst themselves. To boost their armies they hire mercenaries from amongst those same enemies, who take the opportunity to scout out the British half of the country during such employment, learning the strengths and weaknesses of various leaders, towns, forts etc. When they have suitably weakened themselves through internecine warfare they are surprised when the mercenaries (and their relatives from the oversea homelands) turn on them and the take the rest of the land they want from them!
Posted by: YonderYomper
« on: February 19, 2013, 23:54:39 »

Thanks for taking the time to answer those points.

Just can't fathom how the native Britons found themselves not in possession of that hill in the first place...Just walking around it, and certainly having been raised here, you'd think anyone would appreciate the importance of it strategically... and not give it up for anything.

And what could make them think they could take it back, considering the points you've made?

History gives a very poor impression of the ability and especially the judgement of the Briton's leadership.

Posted by: Leofwine
« on: February 19, 2013, 23:05:37 »

Firstly, The name Hengist/Hengeist/Hengest (as it is variously spelt, depending on where you look), do you think this could have some kind of significance derived from the German word Geist- spirit, as in Zeitgeist... like the spirit of the horse, or something like that; Is it the same word (piece)?

As I understand it  the Old English from 'hengest' means stallion, but the original Old German is 'hengst' in turn derived from Indo-European roots. Interestingly in Medieval German 'hengist' was a word for a gelding, very different to  the 'stallion' of Old English.  The word Geist (again to my understanding, I may be wrong) is etymologically identical to the English ghost (from a Common Germanic word 'gaistaz') but in German has retained its full range of meanings -  mind, spirit, or ghost (as opposed to the English version - the spirit of a dead person.)  However, I don't think it has anything to do with the name Hengest.


Secondly, what can not have failed to impress anyone who has visited the Coty, and Blue Bell Hill area when walking up it, is just how steep it is!  Even going up the longer, shallower inclines is a task in itself... what are the practicalities of getting an army up there to fight, and can this tell us anything about likely routes taken to get there, or the actual site of battle (let alone getting stones up there from anywhere else!)?

The practicalities of an attack up a hill like that are simple - it is extremely difficult for the attacker and offers great advantage to the defender on the higher ground!!!  Which would be precisely why the Anglo-Saxon war-leaders chose it as their point to defend.  They knew the Britons would cross there as it was the only practical crossing point for miles. In our modern world of good roads and many bridges we sometimes forget the restraints mother nature put on moving large numbers of people in the past. Once across the ford (probably a fairly tiring exercise in its own right) the attacking Britons would have probably had very limited choices of route. They could have marched along the river bank via Wouldham, towards Rochester and avoided the steep hill, but that was, at that time, probably mostly marshy or scrubby woodland, very impractical for armies. This second choice would have the Prehistoric trackway that ran about halfway up the hill, which would have offered a better, but still not ideal for an army. The third choice was the Roman road which ran to the top of the hill (approximately where the road still runs today) which was designed for moving armies along, so what the best choice, despite the gradient. From the position on the top of the hill the Anglo-Saxons would be able to quickly judge which route the British commander was going to take as they are a long way apart nearer the river, converging as they approach the hill. From the top of the hill it would be no trouble to move your troops to intercept either route long before the attackers got there.  All in all it shows how well the Anglo-Saxon commander chose his ground to fight.  Such a position would also have given a smaller number of well trained warriors an advantage over a much larger conscripted army with lower levels of discipline and training.  In real terms, the Anglo-Saxons had probably won the battle before the Britons had even crossed the ford, and the fact that the accounts of the battle make it such a close run thing at first probably speaks for a British commander of considerable skil and/or a vastly larger British army.


Thirdly, when considering the origins of the megaliths, it's often a question of whether the builders quarried the stone locally, or from afar... but could it also be that the builders of the monuments took the stones from other, pre-existing sites, like the tombs of the ancestors of the vanquished, after all, it saves them the work of cutting new stone.  You see this with the pyramids at Giza, with most of what used to cover them being found in newer buildings, and other recycling of old buildings... should we not consider these more ancient builders just as likely to do this as more recent peoples, and at least a possible source of the stones at Kit's Coty?

Prehistoric monuments are not my area of expertise so I'm just going to point at davpott's excellent answer to that one!
Posted by: YonderYomper
« on: February 19, 2013, 18:58:05 »

Thanks on that point Davpott,

It answers that question for me about getting the stones there. No way they'd get them up the hill, even with horses or oxen pulling- although it offers a funny thought if they had, as to why Little Kit's Coty is further down the hill, as the chaps remembered their labours the first time round, and thought, well we liked this guy as a leader, be he wasn't that great... let's just build it here at the bottom of the hill!"

It just occured to me that it's an impressive statement to those you've beaten, to take what was sacred to them, and "bury it" in your own new structure... and wondered if older artefacts may have been incorporated into more recent buildings, effectively "lost" in plain sight.
Posted by: davpott
« on: February 19, 2013, 17:57:20 »

As a sort of update there was an article on the BBC at around 6.30pm this evening in which those interviewed made a case for Beowulf being based on Sheppey rather than in Denmark.  The presenter mentioned this would be on i-player and the BBC site.  I couldn't find a link (sorry) but did anybody else, and is anybody placed to comment?

The BBC link to the programme. The piece starts at about 19.55 . It will only be available for the next few days http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01qtcyy/Inside_Out_South_East_18_02_2013/
Posted by: davpott
« on: February 19, 2013, 17:03:34 »


Thirdly, when considering the origins of the megaliths, it's often a question of whether the builders quarried the stone locally, or from afar... but could it also be that the builders of the monuments took the stones from other, pre-existing sites, like the tombs of the ancestors of the vanquished, after all, it saves them the work of cutting new stone.  You see this with the pyramids at Giza, with most of what used to cover them being found in newer buildings, and other recycling of old buildings... should we not consider these more ancient builders just as likely to do this as more recent peoples, and at least a possible source of the stones at Kit's Coty?

 The sarsen stones used in Kent are natural rocks found at the top of the downs. There is an abundant quantity nearby on the top of the downs of Bluebell Hill. It can also be found in hill wash on the scarp side of the downs as a result of erosion following clearing of the woodland early in the Neolithic period ( c4000-c2500 BC). Of the Stour valley long barrows only 'Julliberrie's grave' has so far been excavated however none are believed to have been constructed using sarsen stones. To me that suggests their function was more important than what they were constructed from.

The Medway long barrows are believed to have been constructed c 3900-3800BC. That is the first time in the British Isles that sort of technology or knowhow existed to build such structures. At the start of the Neolithic period the population for England is estimated to have been around 100,000 (that's less than the population of Maidstone district council area). Even by the end of the Neolithic the population had probably little more than doubled over the course of c2500 years. So throughout the entire period there would have been little or no land pressures to prompt large scale warfare. And there is so far no evidence of Neolithic constructions being distroyed (in prehistoric times at least), indeed on the contrary ancient sites have often been adapted for modern usage during subsequent periods. 
Posted by: linyarin
« on: February 19, 2013, 11:28:26 »

 

Though I think I may have seen descendants of Grendel's line on Sheppey.....
Ouch!

 :)
Posted by: YonderYomper
« on: February 19, 2013, 01:55:01 »

Hello Leofwine,

Just read all the posts on this thread, and immensly appreciated it all.

A couple of questions, or wonderings I'm curious to know your opinion on:

Firstly, The name Hengist/Hengeist/Hengest (as it is variously spelt, depending on where you look), do you think this could have some kind of significance derived from the German word Geist- spirit, as in Zeitgeist... like the spirit of the horse, or something like that; Is it the same word (piece)?

Secondly, what can not have failed to impress anyone who has visited the Coty, and Blue Bell Hill area when walking up it, is just how steep it is!  Even going up the longer, shallower inclines is a task in itself... what are the practicalities of getting an army up there to fight, and can this tell us anything about likely routes taken to get there, or the actual site of battle (let alone getting stones up there from anywhere else!)?

Thirdly, when considering the origins of the megaliths, it's often a question of whether the builders quarried the stone locally, or from afar... but could it also be that the builders of the monuments took the stones from other, pre-existing sites, like the tombs of the ancestors of the vanquished, after all, it saves them the work of cutting new stone.  You see this with the pyramids at Giza, with most of what used to cover them being found in newer buildings, and other recycling of old buildings... should we not consider these more ancient builders just as likely to do this as more recent peoples, and at least a possible source of the stones at Kit's Coty?
Posted by: Leofwine
« on: February 19, 2013, 00:12:54 »

I've not heard the article, but I suspect his arguments for that are tenuous at best, and that for every argument he can make for Sheppey there are 100 much more convincing ones for it all being based in the Baltic!   

Though I think I may have seen descendants of Grendel's line on Sheppey.....
Posted by: davpott
« on: February 18, 2013, 23:30:05 »

I've got a feeling this is Dr Paul Wilkinson promoting his new book.
Posted by: yeoman
« on: February 18, 2013, 21:01:08 »

As a sort of update there was an article on the BBC at around 6.30pm this evening in which those interviewed made a case for Beowulf being based on Sheppey rather than in Denmark.  The presenter mentioned this would be on i-player and the BBC site.  I couldn't find a link (sorry) but did anybody else, and is anybody placed to comment? 
Posted by: Far away
« on: November 28, 2011, 09:04:29 »

Thanks, it all makes sense  :)

So, when you are reading a document you need to always bear in mind what the writer considered each group was called - which must interesting if a second writer quotes the earlier work a couple of centuries earlier and has not considered this...

Posted by: Leofwine
« on: November 25, 2011, 18:29:44 »

This has made me think, and now I wonder if there is not some confusion in history about references to Wales and the Welsh, and Britons. If 'Welsh' means 'foreigner', are our references to Britons and Welsh for the period actually the same thing, and that 'Wales' was really the rest of Britain that the Germanic tribes had yet to conquer? Basically, was Wales all of Britain except East Kent in those early days? Does 'fighting the Welsh' mean nothing more than 'fighting the Britons from the other side of the river'?

That is exactly what it means. Following the Battle of Aylesford England (Angleland) was the area from the River Medway to the Kent coat, Wales was all the rest of modern England and Wales!  The term Welsh (wealas) was and English (Anglo-Saxon) term for the Britons, the Britons would have used the term Briton, or perhaps have used the Brittonic word Combrogi, meaning fellow countryman (also the origin of the place names Cumbria and Cymru.)
Posted by: Far away
« on: November 25, 2011, 10:08:25 »

This has made me think, and now I wonder if there is not some confusion in history about references to Wales and the Welsh, and Britons. If 'Welsh' means 'foreigner', are our references to Britons and Welsh for the period actually the same thing, and that 'Wales' was really the rest of Britain that the Germanic tribes had yet to conquer? Basically, was Wales all of Britain except East Kent in those early days? Does 'fighting the Welsh' mean nothing more than 'fighting the Britons from the other side of the river'?
Posted by: Far away
« on: November 23, 2011, 10:09:40 »

Great piece of work, reminded me of many things I had forgotten :)

In order to understand the concept of Englishness you first have to understand how the Englishman perceives foreign-ness. In most countries foreign-ness starts beyond your country's borders. In England it starts beyond the end of your street! However, don't be fooled into thinking foreign-ness is purely a product of distance. It is equally as much to do with distance and common history. To an Englishman, a Frenchman, whose country lies a mere 20 miles or so from England, is far more foreign than say, a Canadian, an Indian or an Australian....

I heard all this kind of thing when I used to live in the UK, and then when I came to live in Poland I heard exactly the same things. I think people feel a need to find a way of justifying why their group is special, and they come up with the same answers...

I remember talking to this 80-90 year old woman in a village here where my wife's family came from, and she was telling me about things like how the Germans closed down their mill during the war. Then she asked me where I was from, and I told her England. "Never heard of it," she said "But it's probably just like here anyway."
Posted by: Leofwine
« on: November 12, 2011, 22:08:10 »

That is a good question RWTA. At the time I know it was discussed that it would be moved as the garage was due to be built pretty much on the spot it stood on, but then there were some objections and I really don't know for sure what the result was. I think it was moved a few yard, but I'm not 100% certain.  Maybe someone else on the forum does know for sure?
Posted by: Riding With The Angels
« on: November 12, 2011, 21:58:27 »

Great analysis Leofwine question though re point G

Has the White Horse Stone been moved from the site of the service station then? I have never heard this and have seen it where it is now presuming it to have always been there and the Colonels stone on the opposite side of the field?

RWTA
Posted by: PaddyX21
« on: November 11, 2011, 07:37:17 »

It is threads like this that make this forum what it is! Fantastic, well written, well researched, informative and entertaining.
Thank you!
Posted by: Riding With The Angels
« on: November 10, 2011, 23:09:12 »

Brilliant Leofwine - will read when am not so tired after a long day at work :)
Posted by: scintilla
« on: November 10, 2011, 11:50:11 »

Just wanted to add my thanks for these articles as well. You do need to print them off and sit down and read them. I've done a bit of researching about this time on the internet and haven't found anything so clearly and succinctly written as Leofwine's pieces.
Posted by: Merry
« on: November 09, 2011, 23:08:18 »

Golly, this is fantastic.  I'd heard of the battle and always think of it when I go down Blue Bell Hill.

I'm another one who'll be printing off to read in detail.  Thank you for sharing your knowledge so generously.
Posted by: Leofwine
« on: November 09, 2011, 18:11:36 »

During these visits the lord would settle disputes, oversee trials, etc. In a way these might be seen as the first royal walkabouts,......
This seems to me to be the origins of Assizes.

Many of our later legal systems had their origins in the Anglo-Saxon period, although sometimes in a much more primitive form than later versions. This is one of the (many) areas that modern research has shown started before the Norman Conquest, even though in the 19th and early 20th century the Normans got the credit for introducing them. The boom in historical interest in the 18th and 19th century was great for getting things started, but sadly very many fallacies and inaccuracies that the Victorian scholars came up with were taken as incontravertible fact by 20th century scholars, and reproduced time and time again. Fortunately modern 'multi-disciplinary' approaches combined with improvements in archaeology, post-excavation study, digitisation (and wider distribution) of historical documents, etc has meant that over the last 30 years or so much more has been discovered and these old 'truths' have begun to be questioned, often proving to have been false or distorted versions of things. Of course, some have also been proved much more strongly.
Posted by: peterchall
« on: November 09, 2011, 17:14:05 »

I am running out of words of acclaim, so will simply say "Thanks, Leofwine" :)
During these visits the lord would settle disputes, oversee trials, etc. In a way these might be seen as the first royal walkabouts,......
This seems to me to be the origins of Assizes.
Posted by: Leofwine
« on: November 09, 2011, 16:42:51 »

The only other contemporary source I know of from this period is by a monk named Gildas, whose work from the 540's is called "The Ruin of Britain". Unfortunately it seems that this was a bit of a rant about all of the tyrants that were ruling the country at the time and isn't generally looked upon as a particularly reliable source of information. He does, however, mention a major British victory around 500 at a place called "Mons Badonicus" which, if true, has never been properly confirmed or identified. It is believed by some that later memories of this battle (Britons against the invaders) is where the legend of King Arthur first took root.

Yes, Gildas' work is one of those frustrating pieces that so nearly tells us so much, but doesn't quite deliver. It hints at some things that help us understand other sources though, but is more religious propoganda than hard fact. One thing of interest to this thread, however, is that many modern scholars now believe that the Tyrant it was aimed at was Vortigern or, more likely, his direct descendants.

As far as Arthur is concerned, the mention of "Mons Badonicus" is thought to be the origin of the battle of Mount Badon in later Arthurian myth, but Gildas never mentions Arthur, and does not even make it clear if the forces concerned were led by one man or a coalition of local leaders.  I also find it interesting that in his various rants he chastises the British leaders for making the same mistakes their leaders made a century earlier - the employment of 'barbarian' mercenaries who would likely turn on them. Although we don't know his fate, I always like to imagine him living to a ripe old age in some monastery in the west of Britain, a bitter old man watching the streams of refugees fleeing the onslaught, ans waving his fist at the leaders  saying "I told you so!"
Posted by: Leofwine
« on: November 09, 2011, 16:33:49 »

Regarding taxation - this requires a system of record keeping, a mechanism for collection, and the existence of coinage. I know that the Romans had coins but in the (presumably) less organised and centralised Anglo-Saxon society, was there a common coinage, and were the 'workers' paid in cash? Presumably even a slave would have an allowance for a minimum of personal needs. It seems that there was no equivalent of the modern village shop, so if a family didn't have the skill to bake its own bread or make a pair of shoes, how did it get them?

The term taxation when dealing with this period can be misleading when used to modern monetary systems. The taxes were generally paid in produce and goods (more like the later medieval church tithes). The Anglo-Saxon term feorm was used for this 'food rent' and may well be the origin of our modern words 'farm' and 'farming'. Whilst undoubtedly some of this produce would have been sent to the lord or the king directly, much of it was supplied in situ, as the nobleman and his retinue would spend a certain amount of his time travelling to the villages on his manor, and would there literally live off this rent/tax before moving on to the next. Likewise, the king would go on tours of his noblemen's halls and the villages on his own lands and receive similar hospitality. As well as the economic significance, it also reinforced the bonds between the lord (whether king or nobleman) and his subjects. During these visits the lord would settle disputes, oversee trials, etc. In a way these might be seen as the first royal walkabouts, but the had a much more important socialogical and political significance than the simple PR exercises of today, they served  (hopefully) to unite a small and warlike tribal kingdom, and cement the loyalty of the subjects to the overlords.

As mentioned before, little is known about the life of slaves in Anglo-Saxon England. Presumably they were fed an clothed by their owners, but what rights (if any) they had are unknown. Whether they were treated like the serfs of feudal England, much like freemen but without free right of movement, and with heavy labour, or whether they were as rightless as livestock is unclear. Later, after the advent of Christianity, on the feast of Michaelmas (I think, going just from memory here, so it may have been a different feast) they were entitled to a gift of coin and a sheep which they may have ben allowed to sell, or use as a feast. There are also later examples of slaves buying their own freedom or that of their families, but how similar pre-Christian era slavery was is unclear.

The exact economics of an early Anglo-Saxon village are unclear, and probably varied from place to place, so the following is a very generic explanation.  As mentioned before, most villagers were primarily farmers of one kind or another, but most would also have other skills. It is likely that the parents taught the children the skills they had ,so certain families might become the village 'specialist' - baker, leatherworker, boneworker, etc. This said, most people would probably know the basics of most everyday skills, but if they needed something a bit more advance they would go to the village specialist and barter for the goods. Some skills, such as pottery, might be something found only in one village on an estate, so would be bartered between villages, not just familes. Other skills, such as spinning, weaving, carpentry, etc would be so widespread that most members of most families would know them (although many were gender specific).

Re coinage, this seems to appear in sixth and seventh century England as kings establish wider power bases and start modelling their kingship on the Roman pattern, including the issuing of formal coinage. Before this things seem to have been done with barter and bullion, rather than coins. Interestingly, even by the eleventh century it was still common to weigh coins to see they had the proper bullion value, suggesting the coin was a piece of kingly vanity and propoganda, and a convenient way to move seilver (and rarely gold) around.
Posted by: smiffy
« on: November 09, 2011, 14:29:34 »


Some excellent work from you there, Leofwine - very informative. One of the reasons I'm interested in this period is the very lack of historical information. I find the mystery surrounding this time to be one of its main attractions, giving plenty of room to speculate! It also means that even minor archaeological finds can have a lot more significance in trying to piece things together than with some other better documented periods.

The only other contemporary source I know of from this period is by a monk named Gildas, whose work from the 540's is called "The Ruin of Britain". Unfortunately it seems that this was a bit of a rant about all of the tyrants that were ruling the country at the time and isn't generally looked upon as a particularly reliable source of information. He does, however, mention a major British victory around 500 at a place called "Mons Badonicus" which, if true, has never been properly confirmed or identified. It is believed by some that later memories of this battle (Britons against the invaders) is where the legend of King Arthur first took root.
Posted by: Islesy
« on: November 09, 2011, 10:15:49 »

An absolutely brilliant posting Leofwine, one that almost deserves to be made a 'sticky'! Kent has always been the 'Arrivals' Hall for Britain and the period between the Romans leaving and the Normans arriving is one that has always fascinated.
Posted by: peterchall
« on: November 09, 2011, 09:48:01 »

After reading Leofwine's latest post I feel as if I could be dropped into Kent in about 600AD, understand what was happening around me, and feel quite at home - brilliant :) However, Leofwine, can I prevail upon you for a bit more info?

Regarding taxation - this requires a system of record keeping, a mechanism for collection, and the existence of coinage. I know that the Romans had coins but in the (presumably) less organised and centralised Anglo-Saxon society, was there a common coinage, and were the 'workers' paid in cash? Presumably even a slave would have an allowance for a minimum of personal needs. It seems that there was no equivalent of the modern village shop, so if a family didn't have the skill to bake its own bread or make a pair of shoes, how did it get them?

Posted by: busyglen
« on: November 08, 2011, 15:01:49 »

....and it's `wow' from me also!

I have only just caught up with this thread not having had much chance to read all of the posts recently, but what a joy!

When I was at school, I hated history!  Probably because my history teacher didn't seem to have the knack or the `enthusiasm' of being able to bring it to life, and I found it boring to say the least. 
Now....as an OAP, and having read all that has been said so far...I have gone on to re-read everything again, and can't wait for more.  At last I am looking for answers, rather than taking everything as `read'.  So...Leofwine, thank you so much for your informative and questioning posts, which are so interesting.
Posted by: peterchall
« on: November 08, 2011, 11:53:13 »

Another post to print and read at leisure - and never mind the expense :)
Thanks again, Leofwine
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