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Monday, 2 January 2017

Take a tour across 7th Century Anglo-Saxon England

My current 'work in progress' (THE WHISPERING WIND —Book #1 of The Kingdom of Northumbria) is now with my editor. 😊

I've been stuck into writing over the past couple of months—with two manuscripts on the go—but have wanted to write a blog post to give some background about the setting of my upcoming novel.

In THE WHISPERING WIND my characters do a lot of travelling! 

Aelfwyn and Leofric set off from the northeast of England and travel down the Yorkshire coast to Whitby and then on to Lincolnshire. They finally travel back into Yorkshire to what is now York. Only the towns, villages and landmarks they visit are nothing like modern, or even medieval, England—as such the photos below only depict what these places look like now!

Britain in Anglo-Saxon times

So far, I've written six novels and a novella set in Britain's exciting 7th Century. My novels have focused on three kingdoms in particular (East Anglia, Mercia and Northumbria) but others such as Powys, Kent and the East Saxons also crop up in the stories. The Anglo-Saxon place names I use in my novels are far different to the modern names of towns, villages and landmarks. Not only that but the spelling varied hugely. For example, the Anglo-Saxon name for York was spelled Eoforwic, Eoferwic or Eoforīc—depending on the source.

Let's take a look at what England looked like all those years ago...

The tour: from Bebbanburg to Eoforwic

Bebbanburg (Bamburgh)
Today the mighty red stone fortress of Bamburgh looks out to sea from a high rocky headland. In the 7th Century it was called Bebbanburg—named after Bebba, the wife of the Northumbrian king, Æthelfrith.

In the period of my novel (mid 7th Century), Bebbanburgh looked nothing like today's fortress. Instead it would have been a great fort, built mainly in wood with gate houses at each corner. Inside the fort there would have been a large village of timber and wattle and daub dwellings, workshops and stables.

 'My' Bebbanburg (which first makes an appearance in Book #2 of The Kingdom of Mercia - Darkest before Dawn), also has a 'great tower' made of the same red stone as the rock upon which the fort stands. There's no evidence to suggest that Bebbanburg had a 'great tower'—however when I visited Bamburgh Castle I discovered that these great towers were precursors to Medieval keeps. So I decided to include one in Bebbanburg.

Lindisfarena (Lindisfarne)
Holy Island as it's now known has long been a setting I've wanted to include in one of my books. There's something incredibly mystical about this windswept island that's only accessible via a tidal causeway.

Lindisfarne is one of the United Kingdom's most iconic spots of religious pilgrimage—and the place the Vikings first came ashore.

Lindisfarne priory was founded in 635 AD by King Oswald. My current story takes place in 670 AD, so around 35 years after the priory was built. The monastery became the religious heart of the Kingdom of Northumbria until the Vikings sacked it in 793 AD. After that, the surviving monks fled and the monastery wasn't rebuilt until 300-400 years later.

I deliberately set this book at this time so that I could include Prior Cuthbert in the novel. Saint Cuthbert is one of the most important saints of Medieval England. After his death many miracles were attributed to him. Cuthbert only appears for a handful of chapters, I really enjoyed bringing him to life.

Read more about what Lindisfarne would have been like in my recent blog post.

Streonshalh (Whitby)
In 657 AD, King Oswiu of Northumbria (the father of the king in my upcoming novel) founded the abbey at Streonshalh. Today this location is the beautiful seaside town of Whitby. At the time, the abbey would have perched on the cliffs above a tiny fishing village.

Like the buildings in the locations above, the abbey would have looked very different to the ruins visible today. It would have had a wooden perimeter filled with a collection of buildings that included a great hall, a refectory, a weaving shed, the abbess's lodgings, an orchard—as well as a collection of huts where the nuns lived. Also, in early Anglo-Saxon times, monks as well as nuns dwelt at Streonshalh—the division of the sexes did not come till a bit later in history.

THE WHISPERING WIND begins around 13 years after Streonshalh Abbey's founding, at the time when Abbess Hilda (or Hild) lived there. She was the founding abbess and, like Cuthbert, was one of Medieval England's most important saints.

Lincylene (Lincoln)
I was born near Lincoln (in the market town of Louth) so this setting is very close to my heart. Lincoln was founded as a Roman fort called 'Lindum Colonia'.

Lincylene was the seat of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Lindesege (Lindsey). The King of Lindesege in THE WHISPERING WIND is called Eatta. He appears in the list of Anglo-Saxon monarchs for the kingdom although I could find no details about what kind of man he was. As such, my depiction of him comes entirely from my own imagination.

The settlement I describe in my novel is surrounded by a surviving town wall that was constructed by the Romans. The spot which currently has Lincoln's magnificent cathedral, housed the king's Great Hall and an early church built of wood and stone.

Eoforwic (York)
This town was an important hub during Anglo-Saxon England. Sitting on the confluence between two rivers: the Ouse and the Foss, Eoforwic was accessible by river to the coast (something the raiding Vikings later found very useful).

Like Lincoln, York has Roman origins. The city was founded in 71 AD, when the Ninth Legion conquered the Brigantes and constructed a wooden military fortress on flat ground above the River Ouse close to its confluence with the River Foss. Later it was resettled by the Angles in the 5th Century.

High wooden ramparts would have surrounded the town and there would have been a number of boat building and fishermen's huts along the banks of the Ouse. Like Lincoln, I placed the Great Hall and the town's church at the highest point overlooking the town. And like Bebbanburg, I created a low gate—through which you enter the town—and a high gate that houses the Great Hall.


Looking forward to immersing yourself in these settings?

I should have a release date for THE WHISPERING WIND soon—so watch this space! 😊


  1. I absolutely love that map! Where did you get it? :)

  2. Thanks, Mark - comes from :-)