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Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Penda's Treasure

Of course no reputable academic has been crass enough to label the magnificent Staffordshire Hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold as such, but the prevalence of war accoutrements and battle spoils over brooches and hair grips, and the twisted Christian cross, fit the last of the great Saxon pagan warrior-kings like a glove. Research and dating will reveal more. And where is the coin? The hoard is largely stuff prised from weapons and armour to make a high-value transportable load, but the intact swords and scabbards from which it came would have been more valuable still, so the form of the hoard suggests loot being carried away rather than part of a royal treasury. So many questions. It is right that not only should the hoard be kept together, but that it should be accessible to us all as part of our shared heritage.

Back in 1974, Alan Clarke directed a seminal 'Play for Today' written by David Rudkin under the title 'Penda's Fen', and the BFI summarises the plot thusly;
"Central to Rudkin's drama is the timelessness of the countryside and its place in the construction of 'Englishness'. At the beginning of the play, Stephen has a solid if somewhat conservative sense of nationality defined through his Christianity, his belief in the sanctity of marriage, faith in the military, distrust of socialism and a love of the music of Elgar. His encounters, coupled with the discovery that his father's beliefs are far from orthodox and his realisation that England has a religion much older than Christianity, compel Stephen to re-evaluate not only his own values, but also his notion of what it means to be English."
I remember watching it as a lad. There's a single short clip available on Youtube of some interest to inverts, but I confess I didn't recall the auto-eroticism to any great extent; as far as I can remember, the conflict was between dark pagan forces and the salvation of Christianity (manifested through Elgar and the Regiment, of course) . It did nothing to alter my own distrust of Socialism.

Poor old Penda was no doubt dismayed by both his daughters, who not only converted to Christianity but retained their virginity throughout marriage. And his infant grandson Rumwold, who preached ceaselessly for his three days of life before expiring in an odour of sanctity.

Anglo-Saxon names are a source of joy to me. In J.I.M. Stewart's Oxford Quintet the dying J.B. Timbermill, modelled on J.R.R. Tolkein, lies paralysed in his North Oxford attic grasping for the most valued of his Anglo-Saxon artefacts, a scramaseax attributed to an Anglian king, descendent of Raedwald. "At the end he just kept repeating 'Anna' " reported the nurse; "was that his wife?"


William Gruff said...

About fifteen years ago a pile of sheep bones was unearthed on Holy Island by archaeologists who immediately jumped to the conclusion that they had discovered the remains of the flock slaughtered to provide the skins for the Lindisfarne Gospels. Do you believe that Raedwald was the 'king' buried at Sutton Hoo? I don't: It's a supposition based entirely on the long outmoded idea of 'The Heptarchy' (nor can I understand the reasoning behind the Saulos and Paulos interpretation of the 'spoons', which is entirely fanciful)?

I thought you were a modernist, not a mediaevalist.

Anonymous said...

I would like my child as yet unborn to be named Ceolwulf (having probs getting it past the missus). There are some wonderful names in teh Anglo-Saxon canon. Some shockers too, especially for women.