Saturday 31 August 2013

Staffordshire Heritage Day 2013 : Staffordshire 913

Staffordshire 913  are celebrating 1100 years of the founding of the Stafford Burh and planning a day of talks by experts on the Saxon period, including demonstrations by The Poor Cnichts of St Chad.

Æthelflæd and the Mercians at Stafford
Last month Stafford saw Big Burh Day celebrations in the Market Square and Victoria Park. Now Staffordshire Heritage Group, an umbrella organisation for history, archive and archaeology groups throughout the county, is organising its first Heritage Day on the theme of the town's Anglo Saxon origins. Following the success of its history fairs, held every two years, a day of talks has been set up for 7th September, at Castle Church Hall,  Newport Road, Stafford, ST16 1DP.

Stafford 913
Steve Dean, Principal Archaeologist of Staffordshire, will set the scene for the day by giving his ‘Stafford 913’ talk, describing the Burh of Stafford, including an update on the recent excavations and continuing progress on the Staffordshire Hoard restoration work.

The Poor Cnichts of St Chad
The Stafford based group, The Poor Cnichts of St Chad, a historical re-enactment group who work and re-create life in Britain in the 10th and 11th centuries, will describe life in Anglo-Saxon times through a talk and various artefacts, demonstrating trades and general way of life. (Cnichts with a 'C' - 'Cnight' is the Anglo Saxon spelling of Knight they say).

Made Worthy by Weapons: Warfare in the Time of the Hoard
After a buffet lunch and opportunity to examine artefacts and browse at the bookstall, Steve Pollington will deliver his talk ‘Made Worthy by Weapons: Warfare in the Time of the Hoard’ will present an overview of the social context of warfare in the pre-Christian and post-Conversion age, focusing on how and why people fought, what they fought with. Including a display of weaponry.

The Anglo-Saxon Landscape
Following a break for tea Della Hooke, from Birmingham University, an expert on Anglo-Saxon Landscape, will talk generally about her subject and offer an insight into Stafford’s relationship with its wider Anglo-Saxon landscape.

Tickets : £15.00, from Staffordshire Heritage Group. Price includes refreshments and lunch.
For a booking form and further information visit the website of the Staffordshire Heritage Group.

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Saturday 3 August 2013

King Alfred and the Anglo-Saxons

As my home town of Stafford celebrates 1100 years since its founding by Æthelflæd, The Lady of Mercians this summer, it is with perfect timing that historian Michael Wood presents a new three-part series on BBC Four on the story of King Alfred the Great and his struggles against the Danes. Wood argues that Alfred and his descendants were England's most influential and important rulers.

In Michael Wood's television debut back in 1980 he focused on Alfred the Great as part of the series In Search Of The Dark Ages. Wood now returns to Alfred in a major three-part television series on BBC Four commencing next Tuesday 6th August at 9.00 pm. King Alfred and the Anglo-Saxons examines the careers of King Alfred the Great, the Lady Æthelflæd, his daughter, and King Athelstan, his grandson and first king of all England.

Alfred the Great, probably the best-known Anglo-Saxon king, reigned 871–899, is famously remembered for burning the cakes. The son of King Æthelwulf of Wessex, Alfred succeeded his three older brothers to the throne in 871. At that time, Danish invaders had conquered much of England, and Alfred struggled to prevent Wessex from succumbing to the same fate.

From his retreat to The Isle of Athelney in the Somerset marshes, Alfred launched the Anglo-Saxon recovery leading to the decisive victory over the Great Heathen Army of Guthrum at the Battle of Edington in May 878. King Alfred went on to establish towns, trade and coinage, reviving learning and literacy, laying the foundations of a single kingdom of 'all the English'.

Episode 1 – Alfred Of Wessex, 6 August 
The first episode of the series shows Alfred fighting a desperate guerrilla war from the marshes of Somerset leading to the battle at Edington.  Filmed on location from Reading to Rome, using original texts read in Old English, and interviews with leading scholars, Michael Wood describes a man who was ‘not just the greatest Briton, but one of the greatest rulers of any time or place’.

Episode 2 – The Lady Of The Mercians,  13 August
The second episode sees Alfred’s children continue the family plan to create a kingdom of all the English. The tale begins with a savage Civil War in a bleak decade of snow and famine, culminating in an epic victory over the Vikings near Wolverhampton in 910. The key figure in this episode is Alfred’s daughter Æthelflæd, the ruler of Mercia. Michael Wood recovers her story from a copy of a lost chronicle written in Mercia in her lifetime. One of the great forgotten figures in British history, Æthelflæd led armies, built fortresses, campaigned against the Danes and was a brilliant diplomat. Her fame spread across the British Isles, beloved by her warriors and her people she was known simply as 'The Lady of the Mercians’. Wood concludes that without her ‘England might never have happened’.

Episode 3 – Æthelstan: The First King Of England, 20 August.
In the third episode, Alfred’s grandson Æthelstan fulfils the family plan and creates a kingdom of all England. Here Wood tells of Æthelstan’s wars, his learning and his lawmaking and shows how he created a national coinage and traces the origin of the English Parliament to the king’s new assembly politics. But there’s also a dark side, with later legends that the king had his brother drowned at sea. In his last desperate struggle, Æthelstan defeated a huge invasion of Danes and Scots in what became known as the Anglo‐Saxon ‘Great War’. Wood argues, Æthelstan was one of the greatest English monarchs, and with his grandfather Alfred, his father Edward and his aunt Æthelflæd, a member of our most remarkable royal family, and ‘even more than the Tudors, the most gifted and influential rulers in British history’.

The statue of King Alfred the Great at the eastern end of The Broadway, 
Winchester, near to the site of the city's medieval East Gate, 
erected in 1899 to mark one thousand years since Alfred's death.

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