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Friday, 14 July 2017

Historical background to WIND SONG (Book #2: The Kingdom of Northumbria)

I'm now hard at work on Book #2 of The Kingdom of Northumbria. This novel is a Historical Romance, but like all my others set in 7th Century Britain the story is based on real historical events and historical figures.

WIND SONG – to be released later this year – is set in the later period of the 7th Century – when the Northumbria King, Ecgfrith (Oswiu’s son) takes on the Picts, and loses.

First up, here's a few facts about the Kingdom of Northumbria, to give some historical context:
  • Northumbria – ‘Northanhymbre’ in Old English – has always been a frontier land. The Romans built Hadrian’s Wall there to mark the northernmost edge of their empire, for they were never able to conquer the Picts. The Anglo-Saxons after them had similar difficulty in ruling the wild lands to the north.
  • Northumbria was one of the most important kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England, lying north of the River Humber. 
  • During its most flourishing period it extended from the Irish Sea to the North Sea, between two west–east lines formed in the north by the Ayrshire coast and the Firth of Forth and in the south by the River Ribble, or the Mersey, and the Humber.
  • Its military strength was greatest in the 7th century, when the supremacy of three of its rulers, Edwin (616–632), Oswald (633–641), and Oswiu (641–670), was recognized by the southern English kingdoms. 
  • Northumbria was formed from the coalition of two originally independent states—Bernicia, which was a settlement at Bamburgh on the Northumberland coast, and Deira, lying to the south of it. 
  • The kingdom probably reached the west coast by the mid-7th century, and it also rapidly expanded northward, at one time extending as far as the River Tay. To the south, the power of Mercia checked further expansion of the kingdom.

WIND SONG is focused on a pivotal historical event: the Battle of Dun Nechtain – the Picts vs the Northumbrians
  • The Battle of Dun Nechtain (or Battle of Nechtansmere as it was known in Old English), marked a turning-point between the Picts and the Anglo-Saxons. The battle ended with a decisive Pictish victory which severely weakened Northumbria's power in northern Britain.
  • The battle was fought between the Picts, led by King Bridei mac Beli and the Northumbrians, led by King Ecgfrith on 20 May 685. Relations between the two kings had been worsening for years, especially since Ecgfrith saw the Pictish king as a sub-king rather than an independent ruler. During the battle, the Picts pretended to retreat and drew the Northumbrians into a bloody ambush at Dun Nechtain near the lake of Linn Garan.
  • Ecgfrith was killed in battle, along with the greater part of his army. The Pictish victory marked their independence from Northumbria, who never regained their dominance in the north.

Bridei mac Beli is the hero of WIND SONG. Here are some facts about him:
  • Bridei mac Beli – Bridei son of Beli was king of the Picts from 672 until 693. He ruled the Kingdom of Fortriu, in Southern Pictland (today southern Scotland).
  • His father was Beli, King of Alt Clut, and his mother was an Angle – possibly a daughter of King Edwin of Deira. 
  • Bridei spent most of his childhood living at Bebbanburg, under the charge of the Northumbrian king
  • Bridei would have left Northumbria as a young man and returned to his father’s lands
  • He was based at Dundurn, a hilltop fortress in southern Fortriu.
  • Bridei was an expansionary and active king – he led violent campaigns throughout Pictland, claiming new lands and taking back old ones for Fortriu.
  • The relationship between Bridei and King Ecgfrith of Northumbria was strained – Ecgfrith likely saw Bridei as a ‘sub-king’ rather than an independent ruler, and Bridei would have chafed under what he saw as the yoke of an Angle overlord
  • Their worsening relationship led to the famous Battle of Dun Nechtain in 685, in which the Anglo-Saxon army of Ecgfrith was annihilated
  • Bridei's death is recorded as the year 693.
There are no records as to whether Bridei married, or had any children, so in my story (WIND SONG: Book #2: The Kingdom of Northumbria – to be released later this year), I create a romance between him and a young Anglo-Saxon woman, Hea. Bridei and Hea are childhood friends during his time fostering in Bebbanburg. However, when they meet again years later, their relationship changes dramatically…

Find out more about WIND SONG: 

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