Monday, 28 August 2017

A geographical entity I

Before Romans times, “Britain” was just a geographical entity with no political meaning and no single cultural identity. 
The gene pool of the island has changed slowly and the idea of large-scale migrations has been widely discredited. The island has always consisted of multiple cultural groups and identities, many of which looked across the seas for their closest connections - they did not necessarily connect naturally with their fellow islanders. Genetic studies are revealing much more of this island's past and it makes fascinating reading.
From the arrival of the first modern humans - who were hunter-gatherers, following the retreating ice northwards - to the beginning of recorded history is a period of about 100 centuries, or 400 generations; a vast time span we know very little about. 
Biologically these people were part of the Caucasoid population of Europe. The accepted regional physical stereotypes - red-headed people in Scotland, small, dark-haired folk in Wales and lanky blondes in southern England - existed in Roman times.
Different environments encouraged a great regional diversity of culture that consisted of small-scale societies, petty 'tribal' identities, typically lasting perhaps no more than a few generations before splitting, merging or disappearing. These groups were in contact and conflict with their neighbours, and sometimes with more distant groups - the appearance of exotic imported objects attest exchanges, alliance and kinship links, and wars.
At the end of the Iron Age (roughly the last 700 years BC), the first eye-witness accounts of Britain appear. Greco-Roman authors like Julius Caesar reveal a mosaic of named peoples (Trinovantes, Silures, Cornovii, Selgovae, and many more), but there is little sign such groups had a sense of collective identity.

Romans, modern archaeologists and the Iron Age islanders themselves all agree that they were not Celts. This was an 18th century invention; the name was not used earlier. Around 1700 the non-English island tongues were found to relate to that of the ancient continental Gauls, who really were called Celts. This ancient continental ethnic label was applied to the wider family of languages. But 'Celtic' was soon extended to describe insular monuments, art, culture and peoples, ancient and modern: island 'Celtic' identity was born, like Britishness, in the 18th century.
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Dr Simon James is Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Leicester. He specialises in Iron Age and Roman archaeology, Celtic ethnicity and the archaeology of violence and warfare. I found an very interesting article of his, quite long, and the above is my attempt to whittle out the main points so that I will remember them. You may wish to read the entire article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/british_prehistory/peoples_01.shtml#top

Friday, 25 August 2017

Viking Scotland V

King Malcolm II
King Malcolm was for some time the most powerful man in the country. King Owen of the Britons of Strathclyde had died without issue, and Malcolm’s grandson, Duncan, was the rightful heir through marriage. The Four Kingdoms of Alba were finally united under one throne  -  and under Malcolm.

King Duncan I
Duncan was related to previous rulers through his mother Bethoc, daughter of Malcolm II. He became King in 1034. Defeated by the native English at Durham in 1040, he was a weak character and a poor leader. At a place called Bothganowan meaning "Blacksmith's Hut" in old Gaelic, (or Bothgofnane, Bothgofuane, or Bothgowan, today Pitgaveny near Elgin), his cousin, chief of the northern Scots defeated and killed Duncan, and took the kingship for himself.

King MacBeth
The Mormaer of Moray, MacBeth (Mac Bethad mac Findláich,) claimed the throne on his own behalf and that of his wife Grauch, and formed an alliance with his cousin the Earl of Orkney. Respected for his strong leadership qualities, MacBeth was a wise king who ruled successfully for 17 years from a fortified castle at Dunsinane north of Perth. His rule was secure enough for him to go on a pilgrimage to Rome in 1050.

Duncan’s son Malcolm had fled to Northumbria after the defeat of his father and had never given up his claim to the throne. In 1054 with the support of Earl Siward, he led an army against MacBeth, and defeated him at the battle of Dunsinnan. MacBeth remained king, and restored Malcolm’s lands to him, but in 1057 at Lumphanan in Aberdeenshire on 15th August, Malcolm finally killed MacBeth and took the crown. He also married MacBeth’s widow.


Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Viking Scotland IV

Alban kings
The first king named as rí Alban (King of Alba) was Donald II who died in 900. Before that the title seems to have been King of the Picts or King of Fortriu. Constantine II followed him and reigned for nearly half a century. When he lost the battle at Brunanburh, he joined the Culdee monks at St. Andrews and tradition claims he and bishop Ceallach of St Andrews, brought the Catholic Church into conformity with that of the larger Gaelic world.
The period between the accession of Malcolm I (Maol Caluim Mac Domhnuill) and Malcolm II (Maol Caluim Mac Cionaodha) was marked by good relations with the English. When King Edmund of England invaded cumbra land (Old English for Strathclyde or Cumbria or both) in 945, he then handed the province over to king Malcolm I on condition of a permanent alliance. During the reign of King Indulf (Idulb mac Causantín, 954–62), the fortress called oppidum Eden, i.e. almost certainly Edinburgh, was captured.
It marked the first foothold in Lothian. The reign of Malcolm II saw the Scoto-Pictish kingdom of Fortriu incorporated into Alba. He defeated the Northumbrians at the Battle of Carham in 1018. In the same year, King Owain died, leaving his kingdom of Strathclyde to his overlord Malcolm. A meeting of Malcolm with King Canute of Denmark and England in 1031 secured these conquests. Some say that Malcolm accepted Canute as his overlord, others do not. Lothian was not incorporated into Scotland until the Wars of independence.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Viking Scotland III

Alba is the Scottish Gaelic name for Scotland. Historically, the term referred to Britain as a whole and is ultimately based on the Indo-European root for "white." I would guess the white chalk cliffs had something to do with it, plus when viewed from the north coast of France, or the sea, the island is often under a layer of white cloud. Scottish Gaelic speakers used it as the name given to the former kingdom of the Picts around the reign of king Causantin mac Aeda (Constantine II) from 943–952. The region Breadalbane (Bràghad Albann, the upper part of Alba) also takes its name from it.
The name
There is no precise Gaelic equivalent for the English terminology 'Kingdom of Alba' since the Gaelic term Rìoghachd na h-Alba means Kingdom of Scotland. English scholars adopted the Gaelic name Alba to refer to a political period in Scottish history that existed between 900 and 1286.
The land
The territory of Alba extended from Loch Ness south to the firths of Clyde and Forth while The Hebrides, Orkneys and Shetlands, together with much of the mainland north of Loch Ness, remained under Viking control. Southwest Scotland (the Kingdom of Strathclyde) suffered under the same Norwegian Vikings who settled in Dublin. In the southeast, Lothian, once part of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria, lay under the control of the Danish Vikings who settled in York
The people
The people of this period in Alba were mostly Pictish-Gaels, or later Pictish-Gaels and Scoto-Norman, and markedly different to the period of the Stuarts, when the elite of the kingdom were mostly speakers of Middle English, which later evolved into Lowland Scots.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Viking Scotland II

Early History
The tribes to the north of Hadrian’s Wall were largely undisturbed by the Roman occupation of Britain. A Roman document of the 3rd century mentioned the Picti, a new tribal group that had established a dominant position in the country. Scholars suggest this was a Romanised version of a tribal name, or that they tattooed their bodies (picti is Latin for 'painted people'). They are thought to have been an indigenous people with a non-Indo-European language. They were later subdued by Celts - not from within Scotland, but from overseas. In the 5th century a Celtic tribe from Northern Ireland settled on the west coast of Scotland.

The Scots
The invaders were called Scots. (Yes, the original Scots were a tribe from Northern Ireland). The Scots established the kingdom of Dalriada in both what is now Northern Ireland and the south west of Scotland. By the 9th century the Irish Dalriada succumbed to Viking raids, but in Scotland the Dalriadan kings established themselves and withstood constant Viking pressure from all sides.

The Vikings
Monasteries of the time owned sufficient wealth to attract Viking marauders. Lindisfarne on the east coast of Northumberland was raided in 793 and Iona, on the west coast of Alba, three times in a decade (in 795, 802 and 805). Even monasteries which seemed secure on inland rivers fell victim to longships rowing upstream. During the 9th century, the raiders settled in the Scottish islands and the Isle of Man and seized territory on the mainland of both Britain and Ireland. In 838 Norwegians captured Dublin and established a Norse kingdom in Ireland. From 865 the Danes settled in eastern England.

The MacAlpin line
A recognizable Scottish kingdom had appeared by the mid-9th century. Some suggest the year 843 to be the important date, but it was Kenneth MacAlpin, king of the Scots since 840, who won acceptance as king of both Picts and Scots. The MacAlpin kings took Strathclyde and Lothian into Scotland and Kenneth's male descendants provided kings for the next two centuries. The separate Pictish kingdom disappeared. All that remains are the beautiful carvings of weird beasts.


Monday, 14 August 2017

Viking Scotland I


When writing historical novels with Vikings as central characters there is much scope for where to place a story. I like to place them in the north-west Highlands because I have enjoyed so many holidays there. Vikings settled in the northern and western isles and along the coastline of Scotland from Caithness to Argyle during the early part of the ninth century. By the middle of that century a Viking kingdom had been set up.
I soon found that research in this area is sketchy and conclusions were hard to come by. For example, Laithlinn was the Viking name for Scotland. Laithlinn is also written as Lothlend, Laithlind and later Lochlainn, and not all scholars believe the name refers to Scotland. Information in the Irish Annals, the Icelandic Sagas and Norse histories of South West Norway often contradict each other. Old languages present further problems and to add to the confusion, writing itself was not the precise thing it is today. Spelling of names was inconsistent and punctuation often absent. There are also all the problems of who is writing, who paid him to do so and how one-sided was the view put forward. In all of history it is usually the victor who dictates the story.

Scholars continue to argue about terms such as Dane, Norseman and Viking, who they were and where they came from, but proof is sadly lacking. Viking itself isn’t really a name, but a verb; to go “a-viking” was to travel by ship in search of adventure and reward. It is easy to see how the term became a description of a shipload of hungry men waving axes.

The first systems of writing developed and used by the Germanic peoples were runic alphabets and the runes that were carved in stone still exist. Paper evidence of the period is almost none existent. When Edward I invaded in 1296 he ordered all the symbols of Scots nationhood removed to London. A treaty provided for the return of the records but they remained in London until 1948. Only about 200 documents remained.

The archives had an unlucky life. The records that built up after Edward’s time remained safe in the Castle until its capture by Cromwell's army in December 1650, when they were removed to Stirling Castle. When Stirling fell in 1651, the records were carried off by the garrison, or sent to London. Some were returned in 1657, other were sent back in 1660, but the 'Elizabeth', one of the two ships carrying the archives, sank in a storm off the Northumbrian coast.


The surviving records were deposited again in Edinburgh Castle then transferred in 1662 to the Laigh Hall on the Royal Mile. Damaged by damp and vermin, the great fire of 1700 saw them removed to St Giles Church. Eventually they were given a safe and permanent home, but early records pre 1296 are almost non-existent. The King lists survive, but little else.

Friday, 11 August 2017

A Poldark Moment

There are several marriages portrayed in the Poldark series currently airing on tv. The third  element of series came to an end last Sunday, so it seems to good time to look back on the entire series so far. The prominent couple, Ross and Demelza,  is shaping up to be a match of equals in spite of her having been brought into his house as a lice-ridden kitchen maid. Ross acknowledged that he needed a wife who could skin a rabbit as well as wear a pretty frock, and Demelza fits that very well. Perhaps even Ross didn't expect her to be capable of taking on the running of the farm and the mine as well as the kitchen and the family. Because she has the intelligence to do that, she is slowly starting to come into her own, accusing him of not asking her opinion of anything. She is beginning to think like a modern women. 

Then there’s Elizabeth and George. He has loved her since forever and tries to woo her still with expensive gifts of jewellery that she knows are perfctly vulgar in their situation. She manages to  accept them without wearing them, which takes some tact on her part. I’m not sure what Elizabeth feels for George, just as I was never sure what she felt for Francis. I know she loved Ross, but that turned to hate for a while, and then simmered down to match his fondness for an old love. Perhaps she’s a pragmatist and makes the best of what she has -money, power and positon in society. It is interesting that she is old Cornish gentry and he is a self-made millionaire.

Higher in society we have Caroline Penvenen and Dwight, with no worries about money, power or position since she inherited money and estates. Separated first by Dwight being considered unsuitably lower in rank, and then by his terrible time in a French prison, I think they know how lucky they are to be reunited, and they too seem to be equals, but without the problems that face Ross and Demelza. Perhaps it is their honeymoon period. Her  recipe for a happy life appears to be bon bons, kisses and lots more lying in bed, and nice as that is, it surely can't last. The  poor little pug has his nose well and truly out of joint now that Dwight is home.


As for Morwenna and Oswald, we have an arranged, one could say a forced marriage where the husband is a bombastic, insensitive brute (even though he is a vicar) who drives his wife to threaten the life of their child rather than submit ever again to his demands for sex. Dangerous stuff. The vicar is just the kind of man who would, with tears in his eyes,  have her whipped off to Bedlam. There is no hope for happiness for Morwenna unless she can somehow return to Drake Carne. George, of course, was to blame for forcing Morwenna to marry by threatening to have Drake Carne sent off to prision if she refused.

Morwenna's sister has somehow persuaded the red-headed librarian to aid and abet her plans to wangle money, that will allow them to marry, out of Ossy by blackmailing him over his liaison with her. One wonders if the librarian knows the full extent of her cunning and determination. 

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

On the road

I'm so deep in edits that I can hardly think of anything else, which means I don't have anything memorable happening in my life. I have a few pics of my French holiday as yet unseen on here, like this one. I often take them from the car as we journey along, and sometimes they are clear and sometimes they're just a blur, but with modern digital cameras this really doesn't matter. If I get a good pic, I'm happy and if I get a blurred one, I simply delete it. (I did not do that in the days of my old Olympus and film!)

This is another house in France - they're all so different - and one thing I notice is that the French are not fussed about wires trailing over their heads. I think almost every pic I have has a telephone/electricity wire in it, mostly with a pole right beside the house.


Sunday, 6 August 2017

Alba is Mine

I’m close enough to publication of ALBA IS MINE to reveal the cover. I think it is wonderful and I hope it encourages people to take a look and – who knows? – buy. 

It will be available only on Kindle, as I’ve found that for me, sales of paperbacks are not worth the effort it takes to get them out and I’ve never ventured into Smashwords or Nook. Keep things simple is my motto.

I’m looking to have it available by 1st October, so in order to make that happen, I shall get to work right away. The printer died on page 29, but when the new one arrives (any day now) I shall have a fourth edit ready to print out and read through. By then it should be good to go.

Most of you will know that Alba was the ancient name for Scotland at a time when Vikings and various other peoples fought for supremecy north of the border. 

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

The Journey

Tuesday 25th July
Awake at 5am and it is hardly light, but we rise even if we don’t shine. Tim has been getting steadily more anxious over the last few hours. He trots after us, crying, as we move about, his nose only inches away from me. Showers, breakfast on the run. Tim would not go for his walk because he wouldn’t leave Bill behind. (I suspect he thinks Bill will disappear again for 5 weeks as he did in March to go to Australia) As Bill was busy stripping the bed, he didn’t want to come for a walk. Anyway, we were ready to leave by seven, bang on schedule. We stopped in Brantôme because Tim was shrieking in the back of the car. I thought he wanted a poo, but when we opened the boot, Tim shot out and raced around the car park barking at the top of his voice. How French residents of the town must have loved us, with a beserk dog being very naughty. Still it wasn’t that early, perhaps 8.30 by then. When I say Tim is in the boot, he has plenty of room and windows he can see out of to each side as well as the big window at the back. He has water there, biscuits and his quilt that he leep on every night.


It seemed a long trek to Abbeville, where we had booked in for the night, and we had several more Tim stops on the way. When we got there our plan to have dinner outside on the patio with Tim came to nought, for the weather was too chilly. The waiting staff told us to take him into the restaurant. In England this would never happen, so we walked in very slowly, checking to see that we were welcome. We chose a corner where he had the window and a wall behind him, and he sat beside me very quietly and watched everyone come and go. He was big enough to see everything on the table, and was fascinated. Of course, he got “perks” from me, which helped to keep him attentive. The only time he barked was when a small white poodle came in. The poodle owners quickly vanished behind the wall into the larger part of the restaurant, and all was peace once more. Then a quiet night upstairs in crisp white sheets, and an early start the following morning.