Although many folk know about Alfred (The Cake) and 1066, there is not much popular knowledge about the time in between. This seminar addresses the problem
The True History of The Isles Part 14- The 10th Century
As it will be recalled Alfred (The Grate) who burnt cakes and beat the Danes (and not the other way around as some sensationalists would have us believe) had shown Great responsibility by dying in 899, so as far as his kingdom was concerned everything could start neatly in the 10th Century. Of course not everyone was inclined to go along with this trend, particularly other kings. However, at the risk of upsetting the sensibilities of other nations of these isles, it is necessary to proceed in an orderly fashion because at this stage Dates started to matter. Thus everyone will have to put up with this seminar dwelling on the 10th Century.
The Big Bit (Soon to be England)
When Edward came to the throne of Wessex he found out he might have been the first king to be called Edward and thus quite rightly called himself Edward The Elder. No sooner had he sorted this out than he had to deal with a revolting cousin Aethelwold who tried to be king, by kidnapping a very religious woman. On finding out his chances of success with this ploy were Nun he then tried to get help from the Danes. Edward a master tactician ensured Aethelwold and The Danes fought in someone’s home, where they one got in each other’s ways so that many leaders and Aethelwold died. Edward then assailed others just in case they had thought about rebelling. He also astutely noticed a bishop who everyone else had been ignoring and then as kings were inclined to, he reorganised the church while inventing shires. At this stage he wisely died in 924.
Although only named Aethelstan Edward’s son finished off assailing everyone his father had not found the time to. Through these efforts he was able to discover England. In addition, much to the chagrin of the Welsh kings they found out that because of technicalities in Aethelstan’s parents’ wills, they were now obliged to recognise him as their king, some tried to claim poor eyesight as an excuse not to, but since lawyers were often bishops this ploy foundered; the folk in East Anglia and Northumbria sympathised but having been assailed by both father & son could do little else. Since Picts and others had been invading for at least 800 years Aethelstan thought they should have a taste of their own medicine and invaded, successfully in 934, then went away. A bit miffed the Scots with Vikings invaded right back in 937, as they pointed out, quite rightly there had not been a great battle last time, so that invasion didn’t count. Unfortunately for the invaders Aethelstan won. With that done, to ensure the welsh stayed within the terms of his parents’ wills he set about ensuring that there was a lot more written law than there used to be. He also created more churches and schools to ensure that not every churchman became a lawyer. He also started the English tradition of interfering in Europe, but in a modest way by marrying off his female relatives to whoever was available. With all this business going on he forgot to get married himself; in fact, he was so busy he was unable to find the time to find out why he had died in 939
Since it was impossible to equal such who were nearly as Grate as Alfred, later kings became rather depress and woebegone, some arranging to be martyred and others just plain murdered, while one claimed he was peaceful in the hope that the Danes would leave him alone (it didn’t work). This trend culminated in Aethelread who is recorded as being Unready, but was actually Ill-advised and thus easily fooled by The Danes. Although he spent a lot of time in the 10th Century (ruled from 972) he is more interesting the 11th Century.
During this time many advances were made in civil and sometimes civic administration. Earoldomen were appointed to rule bit of land. They were also expected to ensure the king’s law was upheld, as long as it suited the king and them. The Church grew in power as long as the king allowed it, otherwise he would invoke the separation of Church and State and any bishops (arch or otherwise) from their bodies. Some religious folk found this part very trying and opted for building little stone churches in remote parts of the country and train up for sainthood. Taxation was of course unavoidable; Vikings were however.
Although bits of Scotland were ruled continually by The House of Alpin, it was a very quite (sic) large house and so there was plenty of room for furious disputes between cousins, brothers etc. So much so that family get-togethers were known as battles.
Domnall mac Causantín (or as the English lazily called him Donald II) having heard what was Alfred (The Graet- to be Saxonish) was up to, swiftly died in 900. Promptly came Causantín mac Áeda who as with most kings of that time was bothered by Vikings, and was distracted and surprised when Aethelstan turned up and insisted he was the top king. Causantín having more important things pressing, ie Vikings agreed if only for the chap to go away and let him get on with more important things ie relatives and Vikings. However, on finding The English were calling him Constantine and The ‘II’ at that, he resolved to take action. He accomplished this by advising the Vikings that Aethelstan had invaded and had not had the common curtesy to have a battle. This affronted Viking sensibilities so they joined him in an invasion of England. Since Aethelstan had inherited a thing or two from his grandfather Alfred (The Aelfred- The Wise Elf-no kidding-check it yourself!) about Vikings there was a battle, which was either a great English victory or not depending who you read. Causantín survived refused to be called Constance and died unusually of old age in 952, having abdicated (or not) in 943.
The kings who followed had terrible trouble with not only Vikings, Britons of Strathclyde but also the tempestuous Gaels, and of course treacherous family members. Thus they did not have a lot of time to make memorable advantages in administration civic or otherwise. They did however invent ‘The Epithet’ by which they would be known. These were colourful such as “the Dangerous Red” “the Aggressor” and “the Vehement” although one pallid fellow ended up as being “The White”. This was much better than the Franks (of France) who were being very disrespectful by calling their kings “The Fat”, “The Bald” “The Simple” and even “The Mad” never mind whether they were a Charles or a Louis.
Cináed mac Maíl Choluim “The Fratricide” not surprisingly ruled from 971-995. He didn’t care whether the English called him Kenneth or not, and proceeded to war and raid in all directions. His one attempt at legal reform was to try to ensure that only his children could be king (or even queen). Since lawyers had not been fully established in his domain, his attempted reform was foiled by him being killed.
Although the kings were not especially memorable in Grand Historical terms, by now they were all thinking of themselves as scots, which proves a sort of consensus.
As it will be recalled there were kings and High Kings so along with Vikings there was never a dull moment. A very quarrelsome character known as Flann had been around for a while but died in 916, having left a lasting impression that a High King meant business.
The high kings who followed were occupied with ensuring lesser kings knew their place, fighting Foreigners who were probably Vikings in disguise, exiling, killing or blinding male relatives.
Domhnall ua Néill who ruled from 956-978 obviously was good at the job, even if he didn’t get on with brother-in-law who couldn’t make up his mind whether he wanted to rule Northumbria or Dublin. In addition to being king Domhnall found time to reform the army and surprised everyone by retiring to a monastery. This was a wise move as it allowed:
Máel Sechnaill mac Domnaill to take charge until the end of the century and millennium and finally make sure that Dublin belonged to the Irish.
Thus did Ireland arrive at the year 1000AD in as tidy a state as one could expect from a population of 500,000 divided up amongst all those kings, with Vikings and Foreigners getting in the way.
Welsh having been left to their own devices in previous centuries had several promising kingdoms. Hywel of Deheubarth (a west and north bit of Wales) made sure there were laws, so there could be legal disputes with Aethelstan about this business of having to do what Aethelstan wanted. Eventually they reached an understanding; Hywel could fight where and who ever he wanted in Wales and Aethelstan could do likewise in England. Having ruled violently but neatly between 920-950 he died so his son Owain could continue the family business until 986.
Sadly for the other welsh kings they failed to be very memorable outside of their own kingdoms and era of reigning. Most, when not squabbling with neighbours, were obliged to sit around and hope something horrible happened to the Saxons (they refused to recognise any Angles, which probably explains the dearth of welsh mathematicians at that time)
Thus upon reaching 1000AD in reasonable order the Celtic, British and Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms of The Isles took stock, each other’s cattle etc and decided it was time to finish off the Norsemen, Vikings, Danes etc .
This will be examined in more depth and irony in the next seminar.