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Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Who was King Raedwald?

King Raedwald is thought to be the king buried in the Sutton Hoo longship in Suffolk. 

His name (spelled Rædwald) means 'power in counsel'. Raedwald was King of the East Angles, and one of the most powerful figures of the Anglo-saxon period. The famous Sutton Hoo helmet that was discovered amongst other treasures at the burial site is now synonymous with Raedwald.

King Raedwald was a member of the Wuffinga dynasty. The family name came from his grandfather, Wuffa (which means 'wolf' in Old English). Few details remain about Raedwald's reign, as the 9th Century Viking invasions destroyed the East Anglian monasteries. However, historians have managed to gather enough evidence over the years to create a remarkably clear picture of the powerful and charismatic ruler.

Raedwald of the East Angles:
  • ruled from circa: 593 A.D. to 624/625 A.D
  • lost his son, Raegenhere, during the the Battle of the River Idle against Æthelfrith of Northumbria - Raedwald went on to win the battle and, with Æthelfrith dead, he installed Æthelfrith's exiled brother, Edwin (who was loyal to Raedwald), as the new king of Northumbria
  • had a second son, Eorpwald, who went on to succeed him
  • also had a stepson, Sigeberht, a son from his wife's first marriage. Raedwald eventually exiled Sigeberht to Gaul in order to protect the Wuffinga bloodline. However, after Raedwald and Eorpwald's deaths, Sigeberht returned from exiled and claimed the East Anglian throne for his own
  • was married to a pagan princess, possibly from Essex. Little is known about his wife, although historical accounts from Bede reveal that she was devoutly pagan, strong-willed and forthright
  • was the first king to convert to Christianity - although he remained loyal to the pagan gods as well - probably due to his wife's influence
  • is thought to have had his royal residence in Rendlesham - this was likely to have been a great timbered hall with a straw thatched roof.

During Raedwald's reign, Gipeswic (today, Ipswich) grew into an important important trade centre, due to its location on the upper reaches of the River Deben. Some historians believe that Raedwald's kingdom was the inspiration behind Beowulf, and that many of the characters and locations in the epic poem, including the famed 'Golden Hall' are actually from Raedwald's reign.

Raedwald was a warrior king, who would have died as he had lived. With this in mind, he was my inspiration for Dark Under the Cover of Night. I set this historical romance in 624-25, during the last year of Raedwald's life. The story, although fiction, culminates in Raedwald's burial on the banks of the River Deben.

Books about Raedwald:

Newton, Sam, Dr: The Origins of Beowulf and the pre-Viking Kingdom of East Anglia, 1993, ISBN 0 85991 472 0.
 Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Translated by Leo Sherley-Price, Penguin, 1990, ISBN 0-14-044565-X.
Carver, M. Sutton Hoo: Burial Ground of Kings? British Museum Press, 1998, ISBN 0-7141-0591-0.
Laing L, Laing J. The Picts and the Scots. Sutton, 2001, ISBN 0-7509-2873-5.

Inspiration: this cover image from Dr Sam Newton's book "The Reckoning of King Raedwald", inspired me to write a tale of vengeance, honour and love.


Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Sutton Hoo – the perfect setting for an historical novel!

Some historical settings lend themselves to fiction – and Sutton Hoo is one of them. Legend and mystery surrounds Sutton Hoo. Discovered in 1939, while war raged in Europe, this site is one of Great Britain’s most significant historical findings. The Sutton Hoo burial ground sits above the river Deben in Suffolk, East Anglia, upon a spur of land that contains a number of barrows – burial mounds. These barrows contained a wealth of artefacts from the Anglo-Saxon period. The River Deben is a wide, tidal river that forms one of a group of estuaries that drain from the south-eastern side of Suffolk, through its characteristically flat, gentle landscape towards the North Sea. For many centuries, this river was a major route inland, and the natural choice for the burial ground of kings.

The burial ground contains two sixth and seventh century cemeteries – including the famous barrow with an undisturbed longship burial. The beauty of the Sutton Hoo longship is in its size and completeness. Inside the longship, the archaeologists discovered a wealth of treasures – now on display in the British Museum – including a collection of metalwork dress fittings in gold and gems, a ceremonial helmet, shield, sword, lyre, as well as many pieces of silver plate that would have come from the Eastern Roman Empire.

Sutton Hoo has become a cornerstone for early medieval historians; giving them insight into a period of English history shrouded in myth and legend.  The longship burial dates back to a time of Raedwald (who died in circa 625 AD), the warrior king of the East Angles. Many historians believe it is indeed Raedwald who was entombed here.  Raedwald was the most powerful ruler of the Wuffinga dynasty, and the wealth and craftsmanship of the treasures found in this burial appear to point to Raedwald.

It does not take much imagination to envisage what the burial mounds of Sutton Hoo must have looked like during the Anglo-Saxon period. To create Raedwald’s barrow, warriors would have dragged the longship up from the river to the top of the bluff and laid it in a trench. Then, they would have built a gabled hut amidships for the king’s coffin before surrounding him with his treasures. Lastly, they would have filled in the trench and raised a mound over it so that the barrow stood majestically against the skyline.

My mother’s family come from this area of Suffolk and Sutton Hoo has always fascinated me. When I visited the exhibition hall and wandered through the site itself on a grey, chilly day, I imagined this burial ground as ‘the Great Barrows of Kings’, a revered place during the time of the Wuffingas. That thought grew into the seed of a story based around King Raedwald and his burial here. Eventually that seed blossomed into my novel, Dark Under the Cover of Night.

Sutton Hoo inspired me to write a tale set in a world dominated by the warrior, the sword, vengeance and honor – and if you are ever in Woodbridge, Suffolk, a trip to this magical site is a must for history lovers!

Books about Sutton Hoo:

Sutton Hoo by Martin Carver (British Museum Press – April 20, 2000) 

Treasures from Sutton Hoo by Gareth Williams (British Museum Press – January 14, 2012)

The Sutton Hoo Ship Burial by Angela Care Evans (British Museum Pubns Ltd; Revised edition – August 1995)