Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Scandinavia in the Time of Hakon “the Good” By Eric Schumacher #History #Vikings @DarkAgeScribe

Scandinavia in the Time of Hakon “the Good”
By Eric Schumacher

When we think of the Viking Age, we often think of events that happened beyond the borders of Scandinavia, such as the raid on Lindisfarne in 793, the invasion of England by the Great Heathen Army in 865, the attacks on Paris, the discovery of America, and so forth.

One hears far less about life on the homefront, in the geographical areas that are now Norway, Denmark and Sweden. As this is the backdrop of my Hakon Saga novels, I thought I would take you back to the North in the time of the Viking raids, highlight some of major themes of that day, and perhaps dispel some misconceptions.

Countrymen They Were Not

When I first began studying the Vikings, I thought of them as raiders from three distinct countries; but that wasn’t the case at all. For much of the Viking Age, the geographic areas we now call Norway, Denmark, and Sweden were actually a conglomeration of petty kingdoms. Norway was not a unified kingdom with one king until 872, though some might argue it took another thirty to forty years for the land to truly come together under King Hakon “the Good”, the protagonist of my novels. Denmark’s first sole king was Harald Bluetooth, who came to power in c. 958, and who didn’t really subjugate all of the Danish lands until later in his reign. Sweden did not have an undisputed king until c. 970. But even with those monarchs, most people still thought of themselves as hailing from a particular area, not a country; and if they swore allegiance to anyone, it was most likely to their local chieftain or earl, not their king.

Internal Wars

Mention of the Viking Age often conjures images of warriors attacking other kingdoms in their dragon ships. This they did, but that does not mean the homefront lacked for strife. For centuries, the petty kingdoms of Norway, Denmark and Sweden fought each other. From c 850 to 870, King Harald Fairhair fought the kings of Norway’s petty kingdoms for total control of the realm. The same goes for Harald Bluetooth in Denmark in c 970-990, and Eric the Victorious in Sweden in the later half of the 900s. Moreover, the Danes war off an on with the Franks and Norse. The Norse people war with the Swedes and Danes, and so on. The constant strife may be one reason why the Vikings look elsewhere for land. It is certainly one reason why the Vikings are such vicious fighters.

Politically Savage and Savvy

In comparison to continental Europe’s proximity to England, it is easy to think of much of Scandinavia as remote, and therefore, disconnected from the politics and affairs of other European countries. The opposite seems to be true. Scandinavians were very aware of other realms and world events. The Danes of Jutland had an ongoing dispute with the Franks and Saxons. There is documented proof that traders sailed from Wessex in England all the way to the far reaches of what was then called the North Way. Men from Swedish areas traveled east and down through the rivers of modern day Russia and Ukraine to Constantinople. Tales of their exploits and of events in different lands most certainly traveled. The information that made it back to Scandinavia was one of the reasons why the Vikings were so successful in their raids. They knew what was happening in different kingdoms and how best to exploit situations for their advantage.

Staunch Believers

In comparison to the rest of Europe, the Scandinavians were slow to accept Christianity. For the first half of the Viking Age, Christianity did not take hold there, despite the work of missionaries (mostly notably Ansgar) in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. While Norway saw the first Christian king with Hakon the Good, the missionaries who came to help him convert the land were killed. When Norway finally accepted Christianity in c. 1000 AD, it did so grudgingly, and often through the use of force. Denmark’s monarch Harald converted in c. 970, though it took much longer for the people to convert, nor did the king’s conversion do anything to stem the tide of Danish raids on Christian lands. In fact, the Danish raids on England grew to all-out invasions under the Christian kings of Denmark. While Sweden’s monarch also converted to Christianity in the late 10th century, he converted back to the old gods later on; and it would take another century or so for the Swedes to “defeat” the old gods.  

I hope that this gives you a broad picture of Scandinavia during the Viking Age. As in the rest of Europe, it is tumultuous time. The Scandinavians at home were no less susceptible to violence or danger than peoples of the lands they attacked. It is just not something we think about when we think of the Vikings.

Eric Schumacher
Eric Schumacher (1968 - ) is an American historical novelist who currently resides in Santa Barbara, California, with his wife and two children. He was born and raised in Los Angeles and attended college at the University of San Diego.

At a very early age, Schumacher discovered his love for writing and medieval European history, as well as authors like J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Those discoveries continue to fuel his imagination and influence the stories he tells. His first novel, God's Hammer, was published in 2005. Its sequel, Raven’s Feast, was published 2017. A third, yet-to-titled book, is currently in the works.

For more information, connect with him at one of these sites:

God’s Hammer

History and legend combine in the gripping tale of Hakon Haraldsson, a Christian boy who once fought for the High Seat of a Viking realm.

It is 935 A.D. and the North is in turmoil. King Harald Fairhair has died, leaving the High Seat of the realm to his murderous son, Erik Bloodaxe. To solidify his claim, Erik ruthlessly disposes of all claimants to his throne, save one: his youngest brother Hakon.

Erik's surviving enemies send a ship to Wessex, where the Christian King Athelstan is raising Hakon. Unable to avoid his fate, he returns to the Viking North to face his brother and claim his birthright, only to discover that victory will demand sacrifices beyond his wildest nightmares.

Raven’s Feast

It is 935 A.D. and Hakon Haraldsson has just wrested the High Seat of the North from
his ruthless brother, Erik Bloodaxe. Now, he must fight to keep it.

The land-hungry Danes are pressing from the south to test Hakon before he can solidify his rule. In the east, the Uplanders are making their own plans to seize the throne. It does not help that Hakon is committed to his dream of Christianizing his people - a dream his countrymen do not share and will fight to resist.

As his enemies move in and his realm begins to crumble, Hakon and his band of oath-sworn warriors must make a stand in Raven’s Feast, the riveting sequel to God’s Hammer.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

King Arthur ~ Who was he? #Arthurian #myths #legends

King Arthur ~ Who was he?

“Pay heed to the tales of old wives. It may well be that they alone keep in memory what it was once needful for the wise to know.”
J.J.R Tolkien, Lord of the Rings.

Imagine you have been mysteriously transported to Tolkien’s Middle-earth. What do you see? Hobbits, elves, dwarfs… a ring? Rolling valleys, a tiny borough, huge impossible mountains, an all-seeing eye? Whatever you see it is foreign to what you know. It is an imagined kingdom, sweet in the telling, but it has no substance. It is a world apart. So impossibly brilliant that it could never be true.

But I know of a place that has rolling valleys, tiny boroughs and huge impossible mountains. A place where the rivers hide secrets and caves do not give up their treasures. There is no Gondor, but there is a Camelot. There is no Aragorn, but there is an Arthur. There is no Gandalf, but there is a Merlin.

There is no ring, but there is a grail. There is no Middle-earth…

Or is there?

Did Tolkien know something that we did not?  You see the island of Britain has an inner story. A story you will not find in a history book. And yet, this story is so compelling that for over a thousand years we have been telling it in one form or another.

This story has sparked pilgrimages. It has encouraged fearful soldiers to be brave. And it has convinced a nation that she will never fall to an aggressor. It is, of course, the story of Arthur and his Knights.

In folklore, we find Arthur, not in some dusty old history book. It is at the hearth where his name was first heard, spoken in whispered tones of awe and then later as someone to imitate. Now we read his story in books or watch it on the big screen.  Arthur is everything that is good. A worthy hero. The perfect Knight. A just King. But who was he really?

It is a simple question, but one that is so difficult to answer. Could he be a shadowy Celtic deity? Or perhaps a Roman general? Maybe he is not one man, but several — for there have been many possible Arthur's. Perhaps he is nothing but an invention of a bard's overactive imagination? Is there any truth to him at all?

Over the next couple of posts, I am going to be exploring the possible Arthur's and the land in which he ruled over...

In the meantime ~ why not head over to the 6th Century and find out what happened after the death of King Arthur.

War is coming...

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Friday, 12 January 2018

In the time of King Arthur... Gawain and the Green Knight #Arthurian #Legends #Myths

In the time of King Arthur…

Gawain and the Green Knight

Gustave Doré's illustration of Camelot from Idylls of the King 1867 ~ Wikipedia

In the 14th Century, a poet — whose name has been lost over time, but is now referred to as The Pearl Poet — wrote an epic Arthurian poem. This is how The Pearl Poet described Christmas at Camelot.

“…then they brought the first course, with the blast of trumpets and the waving of banners, with the sound of drums and pipes, so that many a heart was uplifted at the melody. Costly and most delicious foods were carried in. Many were the dainties, delicacies and fresh meats, so great was the plenty they might scarce find room on the board and table-cloth to set all the silver dishes. Each helped himself as he liked best, and for each of two guests were twelve dishes served, with a great plenty of beer and bright wine…”

According to The Pearl Poet, Arthur knew how to throw a party! One would expect a feast at the Midwinter/ New Year celebrations, but perhaps not on such a grand scale.

There would have been music and entertainment at such a feast. I should imagine there were jugglers and those with what we would call Circus Skills!

Tom 1068 ~ No attribution required ~ Pixabay

 Bards would tell wonderful stories to entertain the guests — perhaps they told stories of Arthur and his Knights — and as the evening wore on, old men would become philosophical, as they contemplated mortality.

But there is one story about a Christmas feast that every Arthurian enthusiasts will of heard of, and that is...

Gawain and the Green Knight.
by The Pearl Poet

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (from original manuscript, artist unknown) ~ Wikipedia

If you not familiar with the story, then read on for a very abridged version with a little of my own poetic licence thrown into the mix!

New Year's Day, Camelot

The Knights of Camelot were celebrating the New Year in Arthur's Great Hall. Food was a plenty, and the mead was freely flowing. Friends and family gathered around the fire pit to listen as a bard wove the most fantastical tale.

Sir Gawain was content to sit and listen to the bard. There was nothing that needed his attention. This was a time to relax and rejoice. The New Year promised to be a good one. The Kingdom was at peace, for the most part, and everything was as it should be.

But this tranquillity was soon quashed when someone pounded against the great oak door of the Hall. The door rattled on its hinges. The bard fell silent, as did everyone else. All eyes turned towards the door and everyone held their breath.

The door opened and there, on a horse the colour of spring grass, was a giant of a man. The giant's skin, like that of his horse, was an unnatural shade of green. Without a by-or-leave, the giant rode his horse into the Hall and dismounted. In his hand was a monster of an axe. This Green Knight narrowed his eyes and looked around him with a contemptuous sneer.

"Is this Arthur's court?" the giant asked, his voice was so loud that some of the women shrieked. "Are these his Knights?"

"It is," Arthur said, rising to his feet. "They are. What can we do for you?"

The Green Knight smiled, showing a perfect set of green teeth. "Your knights are the bravest in the land, or so I am told, and the most chivalrous. Well, we will see about that. I wonder if there is any knight amongst you that would be brave enough to accept a challenge from me."

All the Knights looked to Arthur… But one.

"I will accept your challenge," Sir Gawain said, rising from his seat.

"Gawain, no,” Arthur ordered under his breath.

"Brave boy," the Green Knight snarled. "Or a foolish one. Take my axe, Sir Knight, and chop off my head."

"Why? Do you not like life?" Gawain asked, taking the axe from the Green Knight. The axe was so heavy that Gawain had a job to lift it.

"I do not fear for my life, but perhaps you should fear for yours."

A block was brought forth, and the Green Knight knelt.

 "Aim true," he stated.

Shaking his head, Gawain lifted the axe and then with a sickening thud, he took the head from the Green Knight’s shoulders.

The silence that followed was deafening. But then something strange happened. The Green Knight’s headless body stood, and his hands reached for his severed head.

"Meet me at the Chapel Green this time next year, so that I can return the favour," the decapitated head said, and then he left.

Gawain watched as the door closed behind the Green Knight. He turned to face his King with a look of horror. What had he done? There was no way he could survive such a strike.

The year that passed was uneventful, but each day Gawain knew he was a step closer to his death. As the leaves turned from green to brown and the first snow began to fall. Gawain tacked up his horse and, with a heavy heart, he set out for the Chapel Green.

God's Speed by Edmund Blair Leighton 1900 ~ Wikipeida

After many weeks of traveling he happened upon a castle, and there he was greeted by Bertilak de Hautdesert and his beautiful wife. Berilak asked Gawain why he was here and Gawain told him only that he had promised to meet someone at the Chapel Green on New Year's Day. Bertilak assured him that the Chapel was just two miles away. Bertilak then, very kindly, invited him to stay with them. Gawain thanked Bertilak and took him up on his generous offer.

The next day Bertilak went hunting. But before he departed he told Gawain that he was more than welcome to stay as long as whatever he might gain during the day, he gave back.

Gawain frowned at such a riddle, but later in the day, all became clear.  Bertilak's beautiful wife began to tease him. Gawain had never met anyone like her. She was intoxicating. So very beautiful. Gawain found himself clenching his fists to stop himself from reaching for her. One kiss, he finally allowed, when he could not take it anymore. Just one kiss. I will take nothing more, for Bertilak is my host.

Lady Bertilak at Gawain's bed ~ from original manuscript, artist unknown ~ Wikipedia

When Bertilak came back cold and muddy from his hunt, he asked Gawain if he had gained anything this day and if so, he must remember to give it back. So Gawain kissed his host. Sir Bertilak looked confused by the kiss, but he did not comment upon it.

The next day, Bertilak went hunting again. And once again Bertilak's wife began to tease. This time, Gawain allowed two kisses and just like the night before, when Bertilak returns he gave back what he had gained.

On the third day, like the previous days, Bertilak went hunting. This time Bertilak's wife gave Gawain a girdle of green and gold silk. She told him that if he wears it, he would stay safe from harm. They then shared three kisses. That evening he gives Bertilak the three kisses, but keeps the girdle for himself.

The Lady of Shalott by John William Waterhouse,1880 ~ note the girdle around her waist ~ Wikipedia

The following day Gawain, with a pounding heart and the girdle wrapped around his waist, set out to meet the Green Knight. He found the giant sharpening his blade outside of the Chapel.

"So you have come?" The Green Knight stated with a look of surprise.

"I accepted the challenge," Gawain stated with a bravery he was not feeling.

"The kneel and place your neck upon the blog, young Knight of Camelot."

Gawain closed his eyes briefly and prayed to God for courage. He knelt and bared his neck. The Green Knight raised his axe. And despite himself, Gawain flinched in fear.

"I should have known," The Green Knight jeered. "You are a coward, and you bring shame to your King."

"Swing again," Gawain growled, "And I will not flinch."

The Green Knight raised his axe and feigned a strike.

"Be done with it," Gawain ordered. "Do not tease."

"I was merely testing your resolve," the Green Knight stated.

The Green Knights raised his axe again, and Gawain closed his eyes. The blade cut through the air, but instead of taking his head it only scratched his skin, although it drew blood.

"That was for the lie you told me, for you are wearing my wife's girdle. Rise, Sir Knight," the Giant stated. "The challenge is over."

With unsteady legs, Gawain rose to his feet and turned to look at the Giant, but the Giant was not there. In his place was his kind host, Bertilak.

"What is this?" Gawain asked, thoroughly confused.

"A test, young knight, from Arthur's sister. She thought you would fail. I am pleased to say you passed, for you are indeed chivalrous, brave, and for the most part... Honest."

Sir Gawain and Sir Bertilak parted on good terms. When Gawain finally made it home from Camelot, he was greeted with a hero's welcome. And from that day on the Knights of Camelot wore a green sash around their waist in recognition of Gawain's quest and a reminded to always be honest.

Copyright © 2017 Mary Anne Yarde

The Vigil by John Pettie, 1888 ~ Gawain represented the perfect knight, as a fighter, a lover, and a religious devotee ~ Wikipedia

It beats a game of Cluedo and Guess Who? I suppose. Although, I think I will celebrate Christmas and see in the New Year with a couple of board games and a verse of Auld Lang Syne.

War is coming to Saxon Briton…

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