01 December, 2007


Michelle Moran has an interview with me over on her History Buff blog.


Susan Higginbotham said...

Enjoyed reading the interview!

Bernita said...

Excellent, Carla.

Constance Brewer said...

Nice interview. Very informative. Congrats!

Russell Whitfield said...

Hi Carla - I really enjoyed the interview. I have to say that I'm a little jealous, I wish I could walk the walk that my characters do.

One thing you said that you start from Bede...I was watching this programme the other day, it's on our Virgin Media back catalogue thing, called "Arthur's Britain." Now, you will know tonnes more than I do about this, but the chap doing the programme said that Bede was fibbing much of the time, and definately had an agenda.

If I recall - Bede's agenda was to portray Roman Christianity in a positive light, whereas - according to this programme - British Christianity was going strong and was deeply embedded into the culture. However, that was an abhoration to the Roman church, so old Bede had to portray the Celts as smelly barbarians and the Anglo-Saxons as brave upstanding heroes, risking life and limb for Blighty. Also...they said that Bede never actually left his monastary.

Now, as I say, I know nothing nothing nothing about this period, but I was going to say if you want me to try to tape this programme on to DVD for you, I can certainly try...apparently, our DVD player can do that. Though I've never tried!


Carla said...

Thanks, all!

Russ - all historians select and interpret their material, and no doubt Bede was no exception. Since we have few other sources to cross-check against, for much of his narrative we cannot say either that it is, or is not, accurate. What we can say is that he lived 1300 years nearer to the events than we do! I'd be reluctant to assume that we know better than him, unless there's compelling evidence to the contrary. This isn't the same as saying that we should believe everything Bede said uncritically; but nor do I think it's fair to dismiss him out of hand. I think it's an unduly harsh judgement to say he was fibbing much of the time.

He was writing a history of Christianity among the English, so his 'agenda' is at least obvious from the title! He wasn't claiming to be writing a history of Christianity among the British, or a general political history of the island (more's the pity, because both of those would have been most interesting). He doesn't portray the Celts as smelly barbarians. He has a lot of praise for the Irish, apart from their custom of celebrating Easter on a day that he thought was incorrect. The British (Brittonic) church comes in for criticism for having refused to submit to Augustine as Archbishop of Canterbury, but even there Bede does present the story in a way that indicates the Brittonic bishops might have had some sort of a reason for their actions. We discussed this here on the blog a few months ago, as it happens - if you read the post, read the comments as well because more points came up in discussion. Bede also doesn't portray all the English as fine upstanding heroes. He is quite critical of King Oswy, for example, and of Penda of Mercia. He has some harsh things to say about the Brittonic king Catwallaun of Gwynedd, but considering that Catwallaun and Penda had ravaged Northumbria pretty thoroughly in Bede's grandparents' time, you can understand Bede taking a dislike to him. Bede may never have left his monastery - we have absolutely no idea whether he did or didn't - but that's no different to an academic now who never leaves the library. Bede lists his sources at the front of the Historia and says he had consulted documents and people from Kent, the West Saxons, Lindsey and East Anglia as well as Northumbria and the papal archives in Rome.

Priests and/or monks of the Brittonic church may have played a significant role in converting some of the English. At least one historian claims there's evidence for that in western Mercia, though I haven't researched it enough to know whether I agree with her yet. Since such Brittonic Christians weren't subject to the Roman church at Canterbury, they may have gone largely unrecorded. Bede may either have not known about them, since he was working mainly with people and records of the Roman church, or deliberately chosen to omit them. We don't know. Certainly the Brittonic kingdoms were Christian in the early medieval period, and certainly the Roman Archbishops of Canterbury didn't like the Brittonic church claiming independence from Canterbury's orders (and this indeed persisted well into the Middle Ages). Bede actually shows both of these things. I'd say the TV programme's comments say more about the presenter's agenda than Bede's!
If it's easy for you to save the programme onto DVD, please do, as I'd be interested to see what they have to say. But don't worry about it if it proves to be a pain!

Rick said...

Great interview!

Bede does not hide his sympathies, or follow our convention of evenhandedness. But as came out in the discussion you linked, he provides information that cuts the other way - he's a better historian than propagandist.

The greatest service of a historian is providing a detailed account, because that's the raw material for coming to an independent judgment.

Carla said...

Rick - thanks!
"The greatest service of a historian is providing a detailed account, because that's the raw material for coming to an independent judgment."
I couldn't agree more. Which is one of the reasons I'm grateful to Bede for writing his History!