29 November, 2007

November recipe: Cinnamon apple pudding with hot fudge sauce

England probably has more varieties of apples than any other country in the world. The National Collection at Brogdale in Kent has 2300 different varieties, including cooking apples, easting apples and cider apples. Apples come in all shapes, sizes, colours, textures and flavours – see Lucy Ann White’s recent post for some examples.

Probably the apple is the basis of more hot puddings than any other fruit. Apple pie, apple crumble, Eve’s pudding, baked apples, apple dumplings – all of which have almost as many variations as there are cooks. Here’s a recipe for a steamed apple sponge pudding that’s simple to make and ideal on a cold day. I generally make it with cooking apples, but it will also work with eating apples.

Cinnamon apple pudding with hot fudge sauce (serves 4)

2 oz (approx 50 g) butter
2 oz (approx 50 g) caster sugar or light brown soft sugar
1 egg
4 oz (approx 100 g) self-raising flour
1 tsp (1 x 5 ml spoon) ground cinnamon
Milk to mix
4 oz (approx 100 g) apple, after peeling and coring

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (I use a wooden spoon and a bowl; you can use a food processor if preferred).
Beat the egg and mix in.
Stir in the flour and cinnamon.
Add about one tablespoon (approx 1 x 15 ml spoon) of milk and beat in. The mixture should have a soft dropping consistency (i.e. if you pick up a spoonful of the mixture then hold the spoon vertically, the mixture will slowly fall off the spoon). If it’s too stiff (i.e. if it won’t fall off the spoon) add a little more milk. Yes, this is very approximate, so don’t worry too much about getting it just right.
Grate the apple or chop it finely, and stir into the mixture.
Put in a greased pudding basin, cover with foil, and steam for about 1 hour.
Turn the pudding out of the bowl and serve hot with custard or hot fudge sauce.

Hot fudge sauce (serves 4)

2 oz (approx 50 g) butter
2 oz (approx 50 g) soft brown sugar
Few drops vanilla essence (optional)
2.5 fl. oz (approx 70 ml) single cream

Put all the ingredients in a saucepan over a low heat and stir until the butter has melted and the sugar dissolved.
Bring to the boil, and boil gently for two or three minutes.
Pour over the sponge pudding.

If there is any pudding and/or sauce left over, both can be reheated the following day. The pudding can be frozen.

There are any number of variations. Here are a few you could try:

Apple and sultana pudding: Add 1-2 oz (approx 25-50 g) of sultanas to the sponge along with the apples.
Apple and almond pudding: Substitute 1 oz (approx 25 g) of ground almonds for the same amount of flour, and miss out the cinnamon. Add a few flaked almonds as well if you like.
Spiced apple pudding: Substitute ground mixed spice for the cinnamon.

26 November, 2007

The Poetry of History: Battle of Maldon

"Thought must be the harder, heart be the keener,
mind must be the greater, while our strength grows less.
Here lies our prince all hewn,
a good man in the dust. He will always mourn
who from this war-play thinks now to turn.
My life is old. I will not fly;
but I myself beside my lord,
so loved a man, think to lie."

So speaks the old warrior Byrhtwold, resolving to fight and die beside his dead lord Byrhtnoth, at the Battle of Maldon in 991. The battle was a crushing defeat for the men of Essex and their ealdorman Byrhtnoth, at the hands of a Viking raiding party on the marshes of the Essex coast. But the commemorative poem manages to turn the defeat into a heroic last stand. The values of the warrior ethic - courage in battle, loyalty to a lord and one's companions, contempt for those who flee - echo those in Wiglaf's angry speech to the cowards who abandon Beowulf in his last fight with the dragon (in the poem at least; I can't speak for the recent film).

The Battle of Maldon was the subject of a BBC Radio 4 programme, The Poetry of History, broadcast on Sunday 25 November. A historian and a professor of English discuss the poem and its context, with splendid readings from a modern translation and from the Old English original. You can listen to it here for seven days after broadcast (so up to Sunday 2 December).

23 November, 2007

‘Anglo-Saxon’ cemetery discovered in Yorkshire

A three-year archaeological excavation has identified the first high-status English (‘Anglo-Saxon’) cemetery known in the north of England. The exact location of the site has not been announced, but is near Loftus in Cleveland, North Yorkshire, and from the picture of the site on the Kirkleatham Museum website it appears to be on a headland above the coast (scroll down to the third picture, and I think you can see the sea in the background). The cemetery is on the same site as an earlier Iron Age settlement, so presumably the graves must have been dug through the Iron Age structures, though this isn’t specified in the press reports. I wonder if this is chance, geography, or an indication that the site was still regarded as special in some way?

The cemetery contained 109 graves, arranged in a deliberate plan with an entrance to the south. One of the graves was covered by a low burial mound. One burial was that of a high-status woman laid on a bed, and with her were found three spectacular gold brooches. According to the report on the local council’s website, the most spectacular brooch was made using gold from Merovingian France, and the others are thought to have originated in Kent. Presumably the gold could have been identified as Merovingian by trace element analysis – gold from different sources contains slightly different trace quantities of other metals, which can be measured by mass spectrometry and other techniques – though this isn’t specified in the press reports. It isn’t clear from the reports so far whether the lady with the brooches was laid under the burial mound, or whether the mound covered a different grave.

The Kirkleatham Museum website has a picture of a spectacular gold and garnet brooch from the dig, presumably the brooch identified as being made of Merovingian gold. More pictures are available on the BBC Tees website, and see also Martin Rundkvist's post on Aardvarchaeology. The archaeologist leading the dig, Steve Sherlock, dates the brooch to around 650 AD, and is quoted as saying, “it must have been commissioned from the best craftsmen in Anglo Saxon England and I think it would have been the jewellery of an Anglo Saxon Princess.”

He goes on to observe that the site is only 10 miles from St Hild’s abbey at Whitby, and to suggest that the lady with the brooches probably knew St Hild. Which raises the interesting question of who she might have been. The jewellery is rich enough to indicate that she was a lady of very high status, possibly royal. The royal houses of Northumbria and Kent were linked in the 620s, when Eadwine of Northumbria married Aethelburh daughter of Aethelbert of Kent. Aethelburh fled to Kent after Eadwine’s death in 633, taking with her their young daughter Eanflaed who was brought up at the Kentish court. In around 651, Eanflaed returned to Northumbria to marry her cousin King Oswy. Kent had close links with the Merovingian Frankish kingdoms, as Eanflaed’s grandmother (Aethelburh’s mother) Bertha was a daughter of the Frankish king, so a brooch made of Merovingian gold would be entirely logical. Perhaps Eanflaed, or someone important in her entourage, brought the brooch with her when she came north to marry Oswy.

Could the lady with the brooches be Queen Eanflaed of Northumbria herself? Unlikely, as Bede (Book III Ch 24) tells us that Queen Eanflaed was buried in the church of St Hild’s abbey at Whitby, along with King Oswy, their daughter Aelflaed, and King Eadwine (in Eadwine’s case, possibly only some of him). It may be possible that Bede mistook the location. Another possibility is that the lady with the brooches was a friend or confidante of Eanflaed, perhaps having come with her from Kent or perhaps having been given the brooch as a gift.

Another interesting observation is that if the cemetery dates to the mid seventh century, Northumbria was officially Christian by then, having been converted once by St Paulinus from Canterbury and King Eadwine in 626 and again (after a year of chaos following military defeat) by Bishop Aidan from Iona and King Oswald in 634 or so. Christian burials don’t usually contain grave goods, to the chagrin of archaeologists who are thus denied valuable dating evidence. Rich burials are more usually associated with non-Christian religions. Perhaps, as is very likely, tradition in Northumbria was slow to change. Or perhaps there is another Merovingian connection here. Sixth-century Merovingian royalty were buried with spectacular grave goods, despite being Christians (for example, see the tomb of Queen Arnegunde at St Denis in Paris, excavated in 1959). Queen Arnegunde was buried in 580-590. Perhaps the lady with the brooches at Loftus knew of this Frankish burial tradition – perhaps she was even from Merovingian France herself – and wished to emulate it?

Probably we will never know the details. What seems certain is that the site is one of the most important finds in early English archaeology.

21 November, 2007

Autumn colours

Exotic-looking berries in a local hedgerow. I don't know what they are; anyone care to hazard a guess?

Woodland at sunset. The smaller trees and shrubs have mostly lost their leaves by now, but the oaks are still a lovely golden-brown colour.

13 November, 2007

The Eagle in the Sand, by Simon Scarrow. Book review

Edition reviewed: Headline, 2007, ISBN 978-0-7553-2775-1

This is the seventh in Simon Scarrow’s Roman military adventure series featuring the centurions Macro and Cato, and is set in Judaea and Nabatea (roughly the area of modern Israel and Jordan) in the first century AD. The two central characters, tough veteran Macro and the younger and more intellectual Cato, are fictional. So are most of the other major characters. The historical Imperial Secretary Narcissus has a walk-on part. Several familiar figures from the New Testament play important secondary roles, and look out for a cameo appearance by two famous and controversial Christian relics.

The devious Narcissus suspects high-level treachery in the Eastern Roman provinces of Syria and Judaea, and Cato and Macro are sent on an undercover mission to investigate. With corrupt local officials, a brigand with a suspiciously large number of well armed and equipped followers, and the rival empire of Parthia happily fishing in troubled waters, our heroes soon find their problems multiplying. Amidst political skulduggery and double-dealing, Cato and Macro find themselves besieged in a remote desert fort. Can their desperate defence hold out until help arrives? And what is the connection between the brigand leader, the mysterious scout Symeon, and a strange religious sect led by a lady called Miriam?

Readers of the Cato and Macro series know what to expect by now; an action-packed military adventure with the Roman legions facing desperate situations in far-flung outposts of the Empire, with plenty of battle scenes and a leavening of political intrigue. This seventh instalment is true to form. The plot rattles along, scarcely drawing breath between one crisis and the next, and the 500 pages zip by.

A particular feature of The Eagle in the Sand is the exotic desert setting, and the story makes full use of dramatic locations such as Petra and Wadi Rum. The Roman fort that plays a central role in the plot is a real place, and the author comments on the evocative nature of the surviving ruins in his Author’s Note. After five novels cursing the cold and rain of damp Britannia, Cato and Macro now have to deal with the harsh challenges of the beautiful but unforgiving desert landscape.

Battle scenes are among Simon Scarrow’s strengths, and The Eagle in the Sand won’t disappoint readers in search of plenty of blow-by-blow battlefield action liberally spattered with blood and guts. The plot manages to include cavalry raids on desert caravans, artillery bombardment, escalade, hand-to-hand infantry struggle and a duel to the death in the desert.

The style is colloquial modern English, and dialogue includes frequent modern expletives. Readers who are offended by the ‘f’ word may like to take note. The accessibility of the modern idiom contributes to making the novel a fast read, and suits the action-packed nature of the plot. One problem I had with it was that certain modern phrases seemed to be used to hammer home the contemporary relevance of some elements in the plot. Here we have a military force from a Western great power facing armed insurrection, incomprehensible factions and an uncompromising religion in the deserts of the East. Sound familiar? Undoubtedly history has a tendency to run in parallels, even if it rarely repeats exactly, and recognising such parallels is one of the reasons why history can be such a rewarding field of study. In this case, I did feel I would have liked a little more subtlety. Similarly with the elements relating to early Christianity. I daresay it would be impossible to set a novel in first-century Judaea without covering it, and I have no problem with the author taking a few liberties (which he admits to in the Author’s Note). I just wish they hadn’t been signposted quite so obviously. Or was that just me?

There’s a slight oddity in that the fate of one of the slimier villains is unresolved at the very end, but perhaps he may turn out to be the connection into the next instalment. If he is, I shall be interested to find out if my deduction about him is right!

A fast-moving action yarn full of battles, blood, guts and javelins, for fans of Roman military adventure. If you’ve always fancied Roman military re-enactment but haven’t quite got the inclination, this is probably the next best thing.

Has anyone else read it?

05 November, 2007

Origins of Northumbria: Two Aethelrics?

In an earlier post, I argued for 605 AD as a likely date for the annexation of Deira by Aethelferth of Bernicia, based on evidence from Historia Brittonum and consistent with Bede and the medieval chronicler Reginald of Durham. The usual interpretation of the entries in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle appears to suggest that Deira was annexed by Aethelferth’s father Aethelric in 588 AD. How might this apparent conflict be resolved?


Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

A.D. 560. This year Ceawlin undertook the government of the
West-Saxons; and Ella, on the death of Ida, that of the
Northumbrians; each of whom reigned thirty winters.

A.D. 588. This year died King Ella; and Ethelric reigned after
him five years.

A.D. 593. This year Ethelfrith succeeded to the kingdom of the Northumbrians. He was the son of Ethelric; Ethelric of Ida.

A.D. 617. This year was Ethelfrith, king of the Northumbrians,
slain by Redwald, king of the East-Angles; and Edwin, the son of
Ella, having succeeded to the kingdom, subdued all Britain


In the year 547, Ida began his reign, which lasted for 12 years.

Historia Brittonum

57. Ida had twelve sons, Adda, Belric Theodric, Thelric, Theodhere, Osmer, and one queen Bearnoch, Ealric. Ethelric begat Ethelfrid: the same is AEdlfred Flesaur.

Ida, the son of Eoppa, possessed countries on the left-hand side of Britain, i.e. of the Humbrian sea, and reigned twelve years.

63. Adda, son of Ida, reigned eight years; Ethelric, son of Adda, reigned four years. Theodoric, son of Ida, reigned seven years. Freothwulf reigned six years. In whose time the kingdom of Kent, by the mission of Gregory, received baptism. Hussa reigned seven years.

61. Woden begat Beldeg, Brond begat Siggar, who begat Sibald, who begat Zegulf, who begat Soemil, who first separated Deur from Berneich (Deira from Bernicia.) Soemil begat Sguerthing, who begat Giulglis, who begat Ulfrea, who begat Iffi, who begat Ulli, Edwin, Osfrid, and Eanfrid. There were two sons of Edwin, who fell with him in battle at Meicen, and the kingdom was never renewed in his family, because not one of his race escaped from that war



  1. The usual interpretation of the entries in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (ASC) is that the Aethelric (Ethelric) who is noted as succeeding Aelle (Ella) in 588 is Aethelric father of Aethelferth. As we know from Bede that Aelle was king of Deira and that Aethelferth was king of Bernicia, it’s usually further assumed that Bernicia annexed Deira in 588 AD. As discussed in my earlier post, this is difficult to reconcile with the statement in Historia Brittonum (HB) that Aethelferth reigned 12 years in Bernicia and another 12 in Deira, implying that Aethelferth took over Deira 12 years into his reign (in 605 AD). If Aethelferth's father Aethelric had conquered and absorbed Deira in 588, why would Aethelferth not have ruled over both Deira and Bernicia for the whole of his reign?

  2. HB allots Aethelric a reign length of four years, whereas ASC says five years. This could just be a rounding error – e.g. if a king reigned four and a half years and was rounded up to five years in one source and down to four years in another – or it could be a genuine discrepancy.

  3. The ASC says that Aelle reigned 30 winters, but this is inconsistent with its dates for the beginning and end of his reign (560 to 588, which is 28 years). This may be another rounding error, or it may indicate that the dates are open to question.

  4. Four kings of Bernicia – Adda, Theodoric, Freothwulf and Hussa – are listed in HB, with reign lengths for all four and parentage for two, but are missing from the ASC. Reign lengths and parentage are the sort of information one would expect to be recorded in a king list or genealogy, so it is at least a strong possibility that HB took this information from a genuine source that was either not available to or not used by the compilers of the ASC.

  5. The ASC refers to the “kings of Northumbria”. This doesn’t reflect the political situation in the late sixth and early seventh centuries. Bede tells us that Northumbria was formed from two distinct kingdoms, Deira and Bernicia, with two distinct dynasties. This agrees with Historia Brittonum, which refers to the kings of Deira and Bernicia as clearly distinct dynasties ruling distinct kingdoms.

On the face of it, this looks as though one source must be wrong. However, it seems to me they are not wholly incompatible, and the clue to a possible reconciliation is in point 5 above. The ASC was written in the reign of Alfred the Great in the late ninth century, three centuries distant from events at the turn of the sixth/seventh century. When the ASC was compiled, the old kingdom of Northumbria was under Danish rule and both its rival dynasties were extinct. Any records of the lost kingdom available to the ASC compilers in Wessex were probably scanty at best, and as the AD dating system was popularised by Bede in the 8th century, it’s unlikely that any such records contained AD dates. The ASC compilers probably had little more than king lists and/or genealogies, from which they may have back-calculated dates as best they could by adding up reign lengths. If they did not realise there had been two rival lines of kings in sixth/seventh century Northumbria, and/or if the records they had were incomplete, it would have been very difficult indeed to arrive at a coherent set of dates. Small blame to the chroniclers if they decided not to waste too much time trying to reconstruct precise details of two extinct dynasties in a defunct kingdom three centuries earlier.

Two Aethelrics?

The ASC entry for 588 says that Aelle was succeeded by Aethelric, who reigned 5 years. If you assume that this Aethelric was also Aethelric father of Aethelferth of Bernicia, and back-calculate the dates from the date of Aethelferth’s accession (593) that can be inferred from Bede, you get more or less the dates given in the ASC, with the attendant problems outlined above.

If, however, the Aethelric who succeeded Aelle was not the same man as Aethelric father of Aethelferth of Bernicia, the situation becomes much simpler. This Aethelric could have succeeded Aelle as king of Deira at any time after 586-590 AD, when not-yet-Pope Gregory the Great met two Deiran slave boys in Rome who told him their king was called Aelle. It may have been in 588 AD as in the ASC entry, or at some other date. Either way, it doesn’t imply that Bernicia took political control of Deira at the time, so it doesn’t conflict with HB’s evidence that Aethelferth took over Deira in 605, 12 years into his reign.

If there were two Aethelrics, there is no reason why Aethelric of Bernicia should not have ruled for 4 years (HB) and Aethelric of Deira for 5 years (ASC), so that problem also disappears.

If Aelle and Aethelric of Deira ruled in parallel with a separate line of kings ruling in Bernicia, we can accommodate the missing kings from HB. There are two fixed points in the Bernician succession; Ida beginning his reign in 547 and reigning for 12 years (taking us to around 559), and Aethelferth beginning his 24-year reign in 593. Both these dates are attested by Bede. There is a gap of 34 years between the end of Ida’s reign and the beginning of Aethelferth’s. The five kings of Bernicia listed in HB are as follows: Adda son of Ida 8 years; Aethelric son of Adda 4 years; Theodoric son of Ida 7 years; Freothwulf 6 years; Hussa 7 years. Between them they add up to 32 years, so they all fit into the gap between Ida and Aethelferth. The two-year discrepancy might indicate a missing short-lived king, or it may just be a rounding error. In either case, it is much less of a problem than four missing kings.

Who was Aethelric of Deira?

So, if Aethelric of Deira existed and ruled Deira for 5 years after Aelle, who was he? There are several possibilities:

  • a brother of Aelle (possibly even a mistake for Aelle’s brother Aelfric, who is mentioned by Bede)

  • a son of Aelle (we know that Aelle had at least one child who was considerably older than Eadwine, because Eadwine had a nephew, Hereric, who was old enough to be fathering children in 614. Aethelric may have been Hereric’s father)

  • some other collateral, e.g. a nephew of Aelle or a cousin

  • some outsider who was no relation to Aelle’s dynasty

All of these are possible, and there is no firm evidence for or against any of them, so you can take your choice.

The most obvious place for Aethelric’s five-year reign is 600-605, which would mean he, not Aelle, would have been the king of Deira displaced by Aethelferth in 605. The only evidence against this is Reginald of Durham, whose chronicle says that Aethelferth killed and deposed Aelle to take over Deira. This isn’t very strong evidence, as Reginald was writing in the twelfth century and any sources had had 500 years to become garbled by then. However, Reginald’s statement can be accommodated if Aethelric was a client-king or under-king installed after Aelle’s death to run Deira under Aethelferth’s overall control. It was not unknown for under-kings to govern part of a kingdom, as Bede mentions an under-king of Deira during Oswy’s reign in 651 (Book III, Ch. 14). Client-kings have tremendous potential to confuse records if one chronicler counts the client as a proper king and another doesn’t.

When writing fiction, you have to choose one of the possibilities and go with it. In Paths of Exile I decided to make Aethelric of Deira a nephew of Aelle (because I wanted Hereric’s father for another role in the story), and to make him a client-king installed in 605 under Aethelferth’s control (because that would account for confusion in the records, and because I liked the idea). I don’t claim that this is the Right Answer by any means, but as set out here I think it is a plausible one.

Does this make sense?