About This Blog

This blog contains the ramblings of a retired historian who is trying to write a crime fiction novel set in seventh century Britain. The story begins with a murder that really took place. Around about the year 615, Hereric, father of the woman known to us as St Hilda of Whitby, was poisoned while in exile in the British-ruled kingdom of Elmet. Hereric was heir to the throne of the Anglo-Saxon-ruled kingdom of Deira. Both Elmet and Deira were in the area now covered by the modern county of Yorkshire.

The novel is a 3M sort of affair (Medieval Murder Mystery). It is not, quite, the more common 4M sort of book, justly made so popular by Ellis Peters (Medieval Murder Mystery with Monks), but yes, there are herbs and healing in the story, as well as love and music, feasting and fighting.

The action ranges from the Isle of Anglesey, through the ancient kingdoms of Gwynedd in North Wales and Mercia in the Midlands and all the way up to the lands north of Hadrian’s Wall. The novel covers a period of a single year, 633, and examines the consequences of Hereric’s murder from the point of view of both Anglo-Saxons and Britons. It is, in a sense, an Anglo-Saxon cold case.

This period of British history has inspired many epics of sword and sorcery. After all, Anglo-Saxon language and literature was J. R. R. Tolkien’s area of expertise and the inspiration for his Lord of the Rings trilogy, while King Arthur is associated with the time of the earliest Anglo-Saxon invasions. But despite being set in the seventh century, no obviously mythical beasts find their way into this story and for most of the time most of the action follows the laws of physics as understood in the 21st century. However, this does not mean that the characters in this novel do not believe in the supernatural, because they do.

So expect plenty of swords, and people who know how to use them. But sorcery? Well …

6 Responses to About This Blog

  1. Morgana Krinsley says:

    Have you found http://heatherrosejones.com/ yet? She is the go-to person for all things Medieval Welsh.

  2. Sally says:

    Thanks Morgana. No, I hadn’t come across this before and I will check it out at once.

  3. Charles Barnitz says:

    Sally,
    I too blunder around in the Anglo-Saxon period, only a century or so later. My first novel, called The Deepest Sea, is set in 793 in Northumbria and Ireland and the main set piece is the sacking of Lindisfarne. I try, as you seem to, to research the factual context of the period and to be as truthful about the known facts and as faithful to the period as I can be. I recently published as a Kindle Select offering a novel set in York in the year 783. It to is a 3M story, although not strictly in the Ellis Peters sense. If we want to create a literate character with some hope of geographic mobility we’re pretty much stuck with affiliating him with the Church in some way. My character was a former novice at the minster who was expelled as a result of minster politics as the echo of a dynastic coup in Northumbria. Anyway, I was glad to discover this blog and I want to encourage you to continue the good work of making the Anglo-Saxon period available to the general reader who is not steeped in the history of the time.

    Chuck Barnitz

  4. Sally says:

    Hi there Chuck
    Thank you for your comments. I will track down your books and check them out.
    It is interesting how little the general public knows about the early medieval period in Britain. I am continually surprised by my well-educated friends, especially those whose field is outside the Arts. They have some sort of a dim handle on the high middle ages, but not on anything much earlier. I blame Hollywood! Any movies set much earlier than about 1200 seem to feature compulsory magic and mystification and/or play extremely fast and loose with whatever stray facts might come to hand. Ho hum! We do what we can.
    Cheers
    Sally

  5. Diane van Poelgeest says:

    Sally,
    You know that old saying wherein we find what we need when we really need it? Well, today, I discovered a need for Welsh Law, in particular I am searching for what would be a category of worst crime ever to least for a fiction series–neither 3M or 4M!–but rather more high fantasy involving Welsh mythology with overlaps in Roman history and myth. Yeah, crazy. However, as I have been working on the right voice an structure to carry this monster, one of my middle ideas played rose to the fore, that of using the backdrop of a trial–done this way I can carry on with the tradition of oral storytelling that was paramount in Wales up through the middle ages. That is how I came across your article/blog. You are so right about the Laws and the Medieval representation of their use. So little has come of the actual time period. I am grateful for your description and links regarding the Llys. I would love to open a dialogue with you regarding your ideas and conclusions on this topic. I don’t think our works will, in any way, overlap, but it just strikes me that we have much in common and much we can play off each other as far as ideas go. It is difficult to find anyone who can talk about such topics and not nod off!

    You have many posts, it will take me time to pick through them, but in the meantime I wonder what you think of combing through the mabinogi in regards to responses to certain laws. I have found, that though they are in text form they do stem from an oral source, older than perhaps Hywel Dda, and his written laws stem from those old traditions that were kept orally and well understood.

    • Sally says:

      Thanks Diane. Your interest will perhaps force my mind back to this, which is a GOOD THING! I expect you have already found the medieval Welsh law codes, which are readily available on line. They are full of all manner of goodies but are, of course, relatively late redactions. Somewhere or other I posted about this and my thoughts on how far we can extrapolate back from the Laws of Hywel Dda to the early medieval period. We know so little about the Welsh story for this period, especially compared to the fabulous evidence from Ireland. Did they in any way ‘investigate’ crime, for instance, or was it like the Anglo-Saxon legal system where it seems to have been about finding the right number of people of the right status to swear on oath to the guilt or innocence of the accused.
      What has always interested me, however, and for which the codes themselves provide evidence, is precisely the severity attributed to crimes. It is here that we are taken directly to the strangeness of the past, the past as a foreign country. Murder was not then at all what it is now and Anglo-Saxon kings seem from their earliest law codes to have been attempting to prevent blood feud, rather than to punish murderers, and I sense that a similar struggle was under way in the Welsh kingdoms. It is very much as if the early law codes are about ‘kings’ trying to take control of punishment/justice away from more local/’tribal’ lords. This had a long way to go, of course, and it was not really until the Tudors that ‘legitimate’ force became the sole preserve of the state.
      I look forward to hearing more about how you are going with your interesting project.

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