Sunday, May 15, 2011

Master Kong Reads the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: Trashing Robert Ferguson's Hammer and Cross

In the good old days, homemade genealogies were even crazier than they are now. Having read more than a few from his era, I can relate to the  seventeenth century Lorrainer jurist who ruled that obscure descent proved noble status, as long as it was before the fourteenth century or so. Who would have heard of them, otherwise? Absence of evidence was evidence.

Hermeneutic circle? Hermeneutic schmirckle! Historians must like that move, because we do it all the time. Take intellectual history. Have a first, famous, author? Presumably he's decent, or calculating, enough to give his teachers due credit. And that's our founder! We might know (next to) nothing about Pythagoras and Confucius, but they must have been hot stuff!

If I had to guess, Confucius and Pythagoras are attractive figures because they are blank canvasses, or perhaps inkblots. For example, we get Pythagoras as a founder by counting back from Plato. And how we do that, I think, is starting from the fact that Plato was gay and on the make. That seems like an amazing fact given that his writings have been handed down to us through some pretty homophobic times; but, on closer examination, it's the opposite of surprising. We get that Plato is consciously writing at two levels, to potential lovers on the one hand, his peers on the other. The stakes for a gay man facing a potential death sentence for sodomy may be rather greater than some bashful heterosexual, but, basically, we all do the same. Life prepares us to look for "esoteric" readings, and Plato signals very hard that we can find Pythagoras hiding in there. So what do we find? Secret geometries? Heliocentric cosmologies? Anti-democratic political messages? Who cares? (Unless it turns out that Plato wants your phone number. If you have a time machine and are into Greek guys, well, who knows? Alan Bloom, probably not so much.) The point is that the fun is in the looking, which develops close reading skills that can be used coding, researching, lawyering, and building merchandising displays.

Now, the way we arrange things, Pythagoras is "us," and old Confucius is "other." The translations are weird and off-putting, his concerns a little strange. Which is odd, because according to the Kinsey report, Master Kong's concerns and anxieties are roughly eight times more common than Plato's.

Master Kong needed the money, so he had to work for a living and put up with pointy-haired bosses who left him precious little time or freedom to do more than  compile the writings of others. (Although it's complicated.) The most that he could do is steer the best of them down less awful paths, and in the annals of the State of Lu, he did his best to do so, through one of the most adroit exercises in moral education through sarcasm in the history of literature.
Oh, I know that the modern scholars take  the Spring and Autumn away from Master Kong, claim that he never reorganised the annals into clever patterns of "praise and blame." That's a crazy way to treat a chronicle, right, the kind that only some incomprehensible foreigner would do.

Well, here's the thing. I'm struggling through a very frustrating book right now, and I've had just about as much as I can take of Robert Ferguson. How can an author start out by noting, and sometimes even using, modern source criticism while proclaiming that he's not going to go too far, lest he lose the coherent story presented by the sagas. Dude. What if the story is wrong? I mean, not to go all psychoanalytic here, but there's only so much of praising hard, manly Vikings for cleaving the soft, effeminate flesh of monks and priests with their longswords that you can do without people asking questions.

 Anyway, here is praise; what about blame? I think I'd like an outsider's perspective, here. Someone who isn't embedded in the narrative, who can see bishops as Machiavellian operators, monks as hardbitten killers; and  "Viking" as a  heuristic to be deconstructed.
 Master Kong, can you read the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles for me?

Master Kong finds the first reference to "Northmen" quickly enough.

A.D. 787. This year King Bertric took Edburga the daughter of
Offa to wife. And in his days came first three ships of the
Northmen from the land of robbers. The reve (30) then rode
thereto, and would drive them to the king's town; for he knew not
what they were; and there was he slain. These were the first
ships of the Danish men that sought the land of the English

And he notices a problem immediately. "In his days?" This is a chronicle. And while it's not uncommon for the chronicler to drop strict chronology, other examples nail at least one event to the year: for example:

A.D. 784. This year Cyneard slew King Cynewulf, and was slain
himself, and eighty-four men with him. Then Bertric undertook
the government of the West-Saxons, and reigned sixteen years.
His body is deposited at Wareham; and his pedigree goeth in a
direct line to Cerdic. At this time reigned Elmund king in Kent,
the father of Egbert; and Egbert was the father of Athulf.

This tells us that the "Northmen" could have come any time between 784 and 800. More likely, that this is a later interpolation. It's also a little odd (I've lent Master Kong access to Wikipedia and Google Maps) that the Northmen show up for the first time at a west coast port. We also find overt praise of Bertric. Master Kong assumes that if the chronicler has to tell you that Bertric is of noble lineage, the point is actually a little iffy. And surely it is no accident that the very disrespectful failure to name the "daughter of Offa" precedes the reference to "Northmen" from the land of robbers. Isn't Offa's Mercia north of Wessex? Interesting. Even more interestingly, Master Kong notes a momentous event in this year that gets no mention at all. Bishop Higbert was raised to the status of Archbishop of Lichfield at the behest of King Offa and Pope Adrian. This was the third archdiocese in England (leaving aside St. David's claim) and was vociferously opposed by Canterbury, at least. We'd know more about the opposition if the ASC told us more than some very obscure comments under 785. It is subtle "blame," indeed, to carefully say so little. Certain events do not rise to the status of history, because they should never have happened in the first place.

A.D. 793. This year came dreadful fore-warnings over the land of
the Northumbrians, terrifying the people most woefully: these
were immense sheets of light rushing through the air, and
whirlwinds, and fiery, dragons flying across the firmament.
These tremendous tokens were soon followed by a great famine: and
not long after, on the sixth day before the ides of January in
the same year, the harrowing inroads of heathen men made
lamentable havoc in the church of God in Holy-island, by rapine
and slaughter. Siga died on the eighth day before the calends of

Master Kong (after first establishing that years begin in September for the compilers of the ASC and noting that the chroniclers obviously think precious little of Siga or they would have found something to put between the words "slaughter" and "Siga") notes that only 13 of the last 28 entries have dates, and yet we have a nice little timeline of events in Northumbria for 792--4. With one exception, because surely the compilers of the ASC know that Pope Adrian didn't just die in "796,) but on 25 December, 795, by modern reckoning, or 794 by that of the ASC.

A.D. 792. This year Offa, King of Mercia, commanded that King
Ethelbert should be beheaded; and Osred, who had been king of the
Northumbrians, returning home after his exile, was apprehended
and slain, on the eighteenth day before the calends of October.
His body is deposited at Tinemouth. Ethelred this year, on the
third day before the calends of October, took unto himself a new
wife, whose name was Elfleda.

A.D. 793. This year came dreadful fore-warnings over the land of
the Northumbrians, terrifying the people most woefully: these
were immense sheets of light rushing through the air, and
whirlwinds, and fiery, dragons flying across the firmament.
These tremendous tokens were soon followed by a great famine: and
not long after, on the sixth day before the ides of January in
the same year, the harrowing inroads of heathen men made
lamentable havoc in the church of God in Holy-island, by rapine
and slaughter. Siga died on the eighth day before the calends of

A.D. 794. This year died Pope Adrian; and also Offa, King of
Mercia, on the fourth day before the ides of August, after he had
reigned forty winters. Ethelred, king of the Northumbrians, was
slain by his own people, on the thirteenth day before the calends
of May; in consequence of which, Bishops Ceolwulf and Eadbald
retired from the land. Everth took to the government of Mercia,
and died the same year. Eadbert, whose other name was Pryn,
obtained the kingdom of Kent; and Alderman Ethelherd died on the
calends of August. In the meantime, the heathen armies spread
devastation among the Northumbrians, and plundered the monastery
of King Everth at the mouth of the Wear. There, however, some of
their leaders were slain; and some of their ships also were
shattered to pieces by the violence of the weather; many of the
crew were drowned; and some, who escaped alive to the shore, were
soon dispatched at the mouth of the river.

The dates tell us that King Ethelred takes a daughter of Offa to wife, but she is named, unlike Bertric's wife, and her father is not identified, and it happens right after Osred is taken and killed, and Osred is buried at the monastery at Tynemouth. In January, 793, 15 months later, comes the "heathen" outrage at the Holy Isle of Lindisfarne. By this reading, the outrage is no seaborne raid, but Master Kong is aware that others make the date June rather than January. Fourteen (or 8) months after the outrage, just in time for news of Adrian's death to reach Northumbria, Ethelred is "killed by his own people." Master Kong notes that these are not the little people. No ethnic name nor town is attached to them. These are noble conspirators. Nor is a replacement named here, although other sources, specifically the letters of Alcuin of York, tell Master Kong that, in fact, Osbald succeeded Ethelred, and was deposed in June. But as far as the ASC goes, he must look ahead to 795, and find Erdulf acclaimed king in May, 795, and consecrated at York, far from a common practice for a Northumbrian king. York's suffragen bishops of Lindisfarne, Hexham, and Casa Candida (Whithorn) attended, while the "departed" bishops of Lindsey and London were soon replaced. Both seem to have been supporters of either Offa's reorganisation, or of a compromise proposal that would have folded Canterbury and Lichfield into an archdiocese of London.

These people should not be taken as upright men. Erdulf has already survived an attempted assassination by Ethelred, and Alcuin has written both to Bishop/Abbot Higbert of Lindisfarne and to deposed king Osred, who has taken sanctuary at Lindisfarne. The letters ostensibly deal with  last year's raid and Osred's various transgressions, but Master Kong finds both letters full of sly menaces. "It would be a shame if something happened to you....") Osbald seems to have been a better reader than some of Alcuin's biographers, because he promptly flees to Scotland, disappearing from the historical record.

Kong also notes that we're out of chronological order in 794, in that King Offa's death is mentioned immediately after Adrian's even though it happened last. This might seem to make Ethelred's death depend on Offa's, but Adrian's death is the more obvious precipitator, unless Master Kong's assistant in this matter, your humble blogger, is getting confused about the chronology. By strict reading, between the first and fourteenth of August), less than two weeks after Offa's death, the "heathen" strike again, raiding "King Everth's monastery on the Wear," (actually Jarrow, one of the twin monasteries of Monkwearmouth and Jarrow at the mouth of the Tyne.) We are also told that they were defeated. As to why a short-lived Mercian king owns a monastery on the Northumbrian coast, we are left in mystery.

All in all, Master Kong finds a settling of scores at the end of Offa's long life; but also of Adrian's. The most obvious move here is the fall of Lichfield and accompanying purge of supporting bishops, but there is a strong imputation of a rivalry between Lindisfarne and York.

The "Vikings" reappear in 833, but in a distinctly enigmatic way. "Heathen men" overrun the Isle of Sheppey, 20,000 acres of low-lying marsh with intermixed low hills at the mouth of the Thames. It is not obviously a place that foreign invaders would want. Inaccessible, to be sure, and capable of controlling the shipping of the Thames, but not terribly hospitable for a large, foreign army. Master Kong is inclined to look to where the shipping might be going. Which is to say, up the Rhine or the Seine into the heart of Austrasia or Neustria, as they are still to be known for a few years yet. Sometimes one must look beyond the source, and Louis the Pious faced the concerted revolt of his older sons in 830. So Master Kong will look at the ASC going back to 830, or rather, 829.

A.D. 829. This year died Archbishop Wulfred; and Abbot Feologild
was after him chosen to the see, on the twenty-fifth of April,
and consecrated on a Sunday, the eleventh of June. On the
thirteenth of August he was dead!

A.D. 830. This year Ceolnoth was chosen and consecrated
archbishop on the death of Abbot Feologild.

A.D. 831. This year Archbishop Ceolnoth received the pall.

A.D. 832. This year heathen men overran the Isle of Shepey.

A.D. 833. This year fought King Egbert with thirty-five pirates
at Charmouth, where a great slaughter was made, and the Danes
remained masters of the field. Two bishops, Hereferth and Wigen,
and two aldermen, Dudda and Osmod, died the same year.

A.D. 835. This year came a great naval armament into West-Wales,
where they were joined by the people, who commenced war against
Egbert, the West-Saxon king. When he heard this, he proceeded
with his army against them and fought with them at Hengeston,
where he put to flight both the Welsh and the Danes.

A.D. 836. This year died King Egbert. Him Offa, King of Mercia,
and Bertric, the West-Saxon king, drove out of England into
France three years before he was king. Bertric assisted Offa
because he had married his daughter. Egbert having afterwards
returned, reigned thirty-seven winters and seven months. Then
Ethelwulf, the son of Egbert, succeeded to the West-Saxon
kingdom; and he gave his son Athelstan the kingdom of Kent, and of Essex, and of Surrey, and of Sussex.

Events do not always have a sinister explanation, but the death of Abbot Feologild does not have to have one, as it is a frightening portent however interpreted. Egbert, definitely one of the heroes of the chroniclers, is defeated by "thirty-five" pirates. The traditional explanation of this is that this is thirty-five ships' worth of pirates. The Master dismisses this out of hand. Ship's pirates lack chariots and cavalry, and do not defeat mounted men. This is not to say that they were not supplied with cavalry from somewhere; but this is more than a matter of rounding up a few strays. And Master Kong finds it most suspicious that the pirate leaders are not named. In 835, the pirates, now named as Danes, appear in Cornwall, of all places. Even granted that some think that they might have a base in Dublin or perhaps one of the estuarine islands of "Francia," this is more than a little mysterious. It also makes it quite explicit that the "Danes" have domestic allies. But again, the leaders are not named. Finally, we are told of Egbert's death, the succession of his son, Ethelwulf, and the appointment of his grandson, Athelstan, as a subking, anointing him Ethelwulf's likely successor in his turn. And, at last, we hear of the enduring emity towards him of old "Bertric."

At this, Master Kong does not even need to dig into the history of the ASC and learn that its oldest version, the Parker Chronicle, begins with Egbert's genealogy. It is transparently obvious that authority in Wessex is being contested by two branches of the royal family. It seems to him quite likely that these invisible leaders are Bertric's faction. Presumably, control of ports and markets is important to the two factions, since it allows them to draw currency to pay for mercenaries. Master Kong reads the next few entries with an eye for anomaly. Plenty of pirates and heathen men, the genealogy of the kings of Wessex, and attempts to build the legend of a young prince named Alfred present themselves to him. But none are quite so intriguing as the story of Judith, daughter of Emperor Louis, who marries one king of Wessex and then his son, before disappearing from the story. Following up on this, the Master learns of the revolt by the Bishop Alfstan of Sherborne against the then-king, and that after Judith's second marriage is annulled by a church council on grounds of consanguinity, she returns to the continent to marry Arnulf, first Count of Flanders. Master Kong is utterly unsurprised by now to find turmoil and revolt in Wessex that goes unmentioned by the chroniclers. What he finds surprising is that the rise of the new county of Flanders, soon to be the richest and most powerful in all Europe, appears to be happening by stealth. One would expect more praise than one sees for the evident success of Arnulf and Judith in opening channels to navigation and bringing cereal fields out of the flood. This is the kind of kingship of which the Master approves, although he must assume that it happened from the facts of later human geography.

Now we move on to the next major entry about "Vikings," that for 866.

A.D. 866. This year Ethered, (35) brother of Ethelbert, took to
the West-Saxon government; and the same year came a large heathen
army into England, and fixed their winter-quarters in East-
Anglia, where they were soon horsed; and the inhabitants made
peace with them.

We would like to know more about this succession, but the perplexing passage below, that tells us that a large heathen army, again with no leaders named, "fixes its winter quarters" in East-Anglia. An army takes winter quarters after a campaign, sometimes in the territory of its prince, but, ideally after a victorious campaign, in that of its defeated enemy. If East-Anglia is the defeated enemy  then the victor is presumably Ethelbert. (Master Kong looks this up and finds, again to his vast lack of surprise, that East-Anglia is  known from its coinage as a powerful English kingdom of the era. Only one of the kings so well-attested by its coinage is even mentioned in the ASC. Again, something that doesn't deserve to be history, according to the chroniclers.) Is there something wrong with employing a "heathen army?" Or are the chroniclers denying Ethelred his due glory? Master Kong finds that the simplest explanation ...for now.

A.D. 867. This year the army went from the East-Angles over the
mouth of the Humber to the Northumbrians, as far as York. And
there was much dissension in that nation among themselves; they
had deposed their king Osbert, and had admitted Aella, who had no
natural claim. Late in the year, however, they returned to their
allegiance, and they were now fighting against the common enemy;
having collected a vast force, with which they fought the army at
York; and breaking open the town, some of them entered in. Then
was there an immense slaughter of the Northumbrians, some within
and some without; and both the kings were slain on the spot. The
survivors made peace with the army. The same year died Bishop
Ealstan, who had the bishopric of Sherborn fifty winters, and his
body lies in the town.

This passage, Master Kong is told, is often read as asserting that the "Vikings" conquered York and defeated the Northumbrian kings in battle. Master Kong agrees with David Rollason that it sounds a great deal more likely that the "great heathen army" took employment with the archbishop of York (and possibly Wessex) to dispose of some troublesome Bernician bumpkins. That the death of troublesome Alfstan is noted immediately afterwards is to be read as "blame," especially now that we know of his role in the rising against Judith and her husbands.

Skipping some obscure events involving the great heathen army, Master Kong wants to emphasise one final series of events

A.D. 876. This year Rolla penetrated Normandy with his army; and
he reigned fifty winters. And this year the army stole into
Wareham, a fort of the West-Saxons. The king afterwards made
peace with them; and they gave him as hostages those who were
worthiest in the army; and swore with oaths on the holy bracelet,
which they would not before to any nation, that they would
readily go out of his kingdom. Then, under colour of this, their
cavalry stole by night into Exeter. The same year Healfden
divided the land of the Northumbrians; so that they became
afterwards their harrowers and plowers.

"Stole" into Wareham? "Stole" into Exeter? What were the people of these cities doing? Master Kong suspects obfuscation.

((A.D. 876. And in this same year the army of the Danes in
England swore oaths to King Alfred upon the holy ring, which
before they would not do to any nation; and they delivered to the
king hostages from among the most distinguished men of the army,
that they would speedily depart from his kingdom; and that by
night they broke.))

Nothing subtle about the praise for Alfred here.

A.D. 877. This year came the Danish army into Exeter from
Wareham; whilst the navy sailed west about, until they met with a
great mist at sea, and there perished one hundred and twenty
ships at Swanwich. (36) Meanwhile King Alfred with his army rode
after the cavalry as far as Exeter; but he could not overtake
them before their arrival in the fortress, where they could not
be come at. There they gave him as many hostages as he required,
swearing with solemn oaths to observe the strictest amity. In
the harvest the army entered Mercia; some of which they divided
among them, and some they gave to Ceolwulf.

Again with the Danes in the far West! Needless to say, the account of the fall of Exeter makes no sense at all. Alfred defeated them and took hostages, yet left them in control of this important western port city?

A.D. 878. This year about mid-winter, after twelfth-night, the
Danish army stole out to Chippenham, and rode over the land of
the West-Saxons; where they settled, and drove many of the people
over sea; and of the rest the greatest part they rode down, and
subdued to their will; -- ALL BUT ALFRED THE KING. He, with a
little band, uneasily sought the woods and fastnesses of the
moors. And in the winter of this same year the brother of
Ingwar and Healfden landed in Wessex, in Devonshire, with three
and twenty ships, and there was he slain, and eight hundred men
with him, and forty of his army. There also was taken the war-
flag, which they called the RAVEN. In the Easter of this year
King Alfred with his little force raised a work at Athelney; from
which he assailed the army, assisted by that part of
Somersetshire which was nighest to it. Then, in the seventh week
after Easter, he rode to Brixton by the eastern side of Selwood;
and there came out to meet him all the people of
Somersersetshire, and Wiltshire, and that part of Hampshire which
is on this side of the sea; and they rejoiced to see him. Then
within one night he went from this retreat to Hey; and within one
night after he proceeded to Heddington; and there fought with all
the army, and put them to flight, riding after them as far as the
fortress, where he remained a fortnight. Then the army gave him
hostages with many oaths, that they would go out of his kingdom.
They told him also, that their king would receive baptism. And
they acted accordingly; for in the course of three weeks after,
King Guthrum, attended by some thirty of the worthiest men that
were in the army, came to him at Aller, which is near Athelney,
and there the king became his sponsor in baptism; and his
crisom-leasing was at Wedmor. He was there twelve nights with
the king, who honoured him and his attendants with many presents.

Alfred is deprived of his state, and flees to the water margins to live like a bandit. Soon, however, things reverse themselves. He builds a fort, and a bandit leader comes over to him. It is thus that the mandate passes, to be sure. But from whom? The answer usually given is some "Viking" chief, but Master Kong is long past the point of giving the chroniclers any credit for honesty, and it is no grand war of conquest of an entire state that occurs in a winter campaign. He assumes that this is actually an account of a coup by one or another of Alfred's cousins. This Guthrum will soon be king in East-Anglia. The traditional accounting of this is that the "Vikings" conquer that state, and Guthrum is then baptised and takes the English name, Athelstan. This makes Guthrum, along with Saint Edmund, the only East-Anglian kings named in the ASC for this entire century, and Master Kong is suspicious.

Okay, enough of this by now well-worn conceit. What I'm saying here is that the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles is a slippery and evasive document that we can occasionally catch flat out in playing the "praise and blame" game, and at other times in the most spectacular obfuscation. It has always been something of a mystery how "Danish" armies could just disembark on the coasts of Francia and England and carry out logistically complex operations. In the same way, the general theme of dissolving violence is  contradicted by the rapidly-rising prosperity and growing states that we know characterise the era. Wessex, Normandy, Flanders, and Brittany are all clearly on the rise, and Gorm unites Denmark just after the end of the period. That bishoprics and monasteries disappear, as they do, notably in Northumbria, cannot be evidence of social dissolution, because that's not what's happening. The Northumbrian state may be weak, but its towns are not, and that ecclesiastical properties are being taken over to form the new royal market towns seems much more plausible. The mysterious episodes in which heathen armies "steal by night" into market towns and take them over suggest, however, that these towns (or their aristocratic patrons) often had their own agendas.

Any explanation but the most naive requires local support, and places the campaigns of these armies within the context of state-building. Thus, "heathen armies" may be mercenary armies with the wrong employers. And there are no shortage of these. The chroniclers are putting the rulers of East-Anglia, Cornwall, and even Northumbria out of  history. That means that, unless they did nothing at all, there are going to be a great many events that seem to have "just happened." As, indeed, the campaigns of the heathens "just happened."  The story of Judith gives us at least one concrete example of Alfred's cousins taking part in these conflicts without being mentioned in the ASC, licensing us to speculate about other episodes. Rollason's suggestion that we should similarly find bishops and archbishops in action as secular rulers, and thus as employers of "Viking" mercenaries, I find similarly persuasive.

Above all, we need to see "pirates" as an insult intended to deny actors political legitimacy, rather than as a signal that a nation with the particular ethno-biological properties of heathenness, warlikeness, and love of primitive democracy are out on the land. And even if they were, I feel a great deal more kinship to old Master Kong. I just can't help suspecting that this idea that particular ethnicities have inbred traits such as "warlikeness," or, for that matter, "filial piety," is mistaken, that it might lead somewhere dangerous.

And if that's a weak ending, bear in mind that it took me three plus hours of a Sunday morning to get it finished. Oops.


  1. Most fun I've had reading the ASC, thank you!

  2. Thanks, Holly. As far as I know, most people read the ASC critically, although perhaps not critically enough. It's when "Vikings" get into the story that people really lose it.

  3. It could be read more critically than this, if you'll forgive me saying. Master Kong really ought to be using some version that puts the different manuscripts in parallel, then he'd see where some of these oddities of chronology are coming from, and some of the other omissions and peculiarities too, especially if he'd also read Asser's Life of King Alfred. E. g. I think that what's wrong with Behrtric's ancestry is not that it's mentioned, because the A manuscript of the Chronicle usually gives full genealogies for each King of Wessex; the odd thing that here it doesn't say more. I think you're right that we have to conclude his ancestry was iffy, presumably through a female line somewhere, but it's obvious for the opposite reason to that Master Kong adduces. I could go on but it's needless. I'm sure you're right that there is a lot lurking in the various chroniclers' perspectives, some of which is as sinister as you suggest, but some of this can be explained without recourse to that kind of suspicion.

  4. I'm tempted to let Jonathan have the last word, because he's got the right of it. Source criticism is improved, the higher the level of engagement with it.
    But, private jokes aside, there was a reason why I wrote this as an extended shout out to Confucius. It's important that the first historian was also the first to call our attention to the importance of source criticism. Critical reading is the heart of historical praxis. Abandoning it in order to preserve a preferred narrative, as Robert Ferguson claims to do, just takes my breath away.

    And it's not just Ferguson. Ferguson wants his ideal Viking Age, steadily eroding under the pressure of archaeology. The readings of the ASC that he uses, by contrast, want a heroic story of the rise of Wessex and of Alfred the Great.

    I'm going to reiterate here the key historical problem as I see it. The story of northwestern Europe between 796AD and 1000AD must, self-evidently, be the story of state-building and the attendant growth of large-order social structures. Alfred can't be a solitary hero, the rise of Wessex an exception to a general story of dissolution. ("Terrors of the Year 1000" aside.) Because Wessex wasn't the only winner: the communes of London, Rouen, and Paris; the regional states of Brittany, Normandy, Flanders, and Holland; the Scandinavian nation states, the German Empire, the French kingdom; the archbishops of Canterbury, York, Hamburg-Bremen, Paris.

    And so I'll make one last argument for more "sinister" reading of the ASC. Where things spontaneously arrange themselves to allow for the success of the chroniclers' favoured actors. The chroniclers are not prepared to explain the collapse of Offa's project at Lichfield, or the tawdry details of "Judithgate." Were it not for other sources, we would have little idea of what actually happened in either case. So how can we trust them not to misrepresent a hypothetical early-medieval Saint Bartholomew's Day as a battle between "Vikings" and "Northumbrians" at York?