Friday, 28 December 2012


Back to Middle Earth and the Shire for the Christmas feast, to a feasting-hall well provendered by the sister-in-law. Few of the company were eaten by trolls. Which was nice. And so to the Boxing-day hunt moot and the largest attendance by supporters I've seen so far. A short talk from the Master, frustrated but restrained and loaded with social responsibility - a decent and honourable man who resisted any temptation at rabble-rousing or divisive rhetoric. Still, from the many comments and mini-conversations amongst the contagiously friendly crowd it was clear that Nigel Farage was the only politician who could have shown their face here with impunity. It was only a couple of hours and 1000 or so people but I think there were two results; one a recognition that loathing for the established parties was more common than not, and secondly the process of a collective recognition, as of a man joining his regiment, looking about him and thinking "well, these are the people who will be beside me in battle".

Botwulf or Botulph founded a monastery at Iken-ho in the age when Anglia was slowly turning from pagan to Christian, and when the land was periodically disputed between Angles, Saxons and Danes all with strong links of kinship across the North Sea a day and a part-day's sail away. I could write a paragraph here about the misguided ignorance of historians still seeking to identify the location of geographically fixed cathedra from this age, when the bishop would travel with the king and his court in his progress around the three or four royal burghs and the See would be wherever the bishop was. Anyway, when Botwulf died around 680 his body was moved to Burgh, a place much troubled by a water-troll. Botwulf's success when alive in taming such creatures at Iken-ho perhaps gave belief that the ability survived his death. And indeed he was at Burgh for fifty years before being dug-up and moved again, this time to the Abbey at Bury, and one hears no more of the water-troll, so it may have worked.

The sole surviving Beowulf manuscript dates from around the eighth century when the tale was set-down by a scribe at Rendlesham in Suffolk. The version he wrote down features Dane names, but in the oral original the place names and person names would have altered with the audience, only the mythical-poetic elements remaining constant. A hero from across the water comes to the aid of a king troubled by a monster, or two monsters, or a monster and a dragon. Magic swords are usually involved, as are marshes, feasting halls, warriors and princesses. And exactly like pantomime, these epic tales incorporate issues of current concern, so the 'snapshot' taken by the Rendlesham scribe incorporates references to both Christianity and paganism. 

Anyway, to Burgh in the pouring rain, safe in the brother's Disco, where we sat contemplating that fallow field to the north of the church all within an ancient Roman fort later used by the Anglo-Saxons, looking down to the valley and the flooded marshland to Grundisburgh, or Grendlesburgh. For here was indeed one of the Heorots and one of the Hrothgars of one of the versions of Beowulf, with a supporting cast of water-trolls and their mothers, gold sword hilts, buried treasure and miracles. And just a little bit of that old magic sparkled and into mind came a clear vision of the hunt and the supporters translocated here to this great fort; just for a few moments was this ancient place populated with spearmen and thanes, the clatter of harness and the thud of great horses. There is still a little magic here in Suffolk. 

The site of a Heorot; St Botwulf's church in the centre


Anonymous said...

Still a little magic here in Suffolk

Thankfully, our centralist statist government hasn't managed to trample out these traditions entirely, nor will they. Old tales will be told around log fires, stirrup cups shall be drunk on horseback and the centuries old hunts will continue. And with any luck, the RSPCA will bankrupt themselves by using up £350,000 per attempted prosecution.

Coney Island

Blue Eyes said...

1000 people at a hunt don't like gay marriage and Europe SHOCK?

Demetrius said...

Did you enjoy an evening rampaging round the mead halls? We have seen Beowulf done live, it was quite something.

Serf n Terf said...

Our host is clearly not a victim of Labour ejercation policies!

Barnacle Bill said...

I think you would have made a very good history master Raedwald.

G. Tingey said...

"Botolf" as in the great church of Boston Stump, I presume?

To which I may add ... as someone who loathes hunting for sport, but is quite prepared to kill vermin & eat tasty animals (*the Goose is doing very nicely)...

"Sportsmen, arouse, the morn is clear, the larks are singing all in the air.
Go tell your sweet lover the hounds are out,
Saddle your horses, your saddles prepare,
We'll away to some covert to seek for a hare.

We searched the woods for miles around, the trial being over, the game 'tis found.
Then up she springs, through breaks she flies,
Follow, oh follow the musical horn,
Sing follow her, follow the innocent hare.

Our huntsman blows, a joyful sound, tally-ho! My boys, all over the downs.
From the woods to the valleys, see how she creeps.
Follow, oh follow the musical horn,
Sing follow her, follow the innocent hare.

All along the green turf, she pants for breath, our huntsman he calls out for death.
Relope, relope, retiring hare.
Follow, oh follow the musical horn,
Sing follow her, follow the innocent hare.

This hare has led us a noble run, success to sportsmen, ev'ry one!
Such a chase she has led us, four hours or more.
Wine and beer we'll drink without fear,
We'll drink a success to the innocent hare."

There is a (very knackering) dance to the same tune, as well.

Anonymous said...

A Yorkie born and bred but lover of all of England and particularly the South Coast and Kent.
With the tranquility of Dungeness and Romney marsh which echoes to the England of old - a walk through history in all of Kent and along the channel coastline.
Then Devon and Cornwall through the west of England, Wiltshire, Glouc's and up to the Iron age hill forts of Shropshire, a simply stunning county and the beautiful marches across to the heart of England, Warwicks' and Leic's along the grand union. I love it all dearly.
One place, which is unfamiliar, is Suffolk, sounds like a grand place to me and to be.
I must get down and along, to St. Botwulf's, to bend my knee in thoughtful and reverent contemplation and to imbibe the air of history redolent in Suffolk.

Anon 2 said...

So now I know why you are "Rædwald"!

Thank you for this post, it's my best Christmas reading this year. And your take on Beowulf offers possible answers for some of my questions -- like: "Can we identify some specific local situations that were contemporary with, and parallel to, the text"?

Incidentally, I didn't know that a provenance of Rendlesham was established for Beowulf: I wonder if you'd be good enough to expand on that?

I especially like your point that The version he [your scribe] wrote down features Dane names, but in the oral original the place names and person names would have altered with the audience, only the mythical-poetic elements remaining constant. Of course, some scholars suggest that a few of the factual/historic parallels might have remained constant, too; one obvious relationship is that between the careers of Hygelac (d. c 521) and Beowulf.

Also interested in your ref. to north of the church all within an ancient Roman fort later used by the Anglo-Saxons. This in light of the theory that, after the Roman withdrawal, some Anglo-Saxons may have remained in Roman service as federates. Your info. opens the question as to continuity in use of your fort ... and of the church (some Romans were Christians) and, consequently, of literacy. Where might I find further info on this?

Oh, we are indeed fortunate in our heritage and in the time for meditation/remembrance that is this Christmas season. It's wonderful that you, too, have taken the opportunity to get back in touch with it and honour the learned methods of our ancestors!

Happy New Year, Rædwald!

Raedwald said...

Anon2 -
(1) "The origins of 'Beowulf' and the Pre-Viking Kingdom of East Anglia" Sam Newton 2004 ISBN 9780859914727 offers a great wealth of internal and circumstantial evidence

(2) ibid

(3) 'Burgh: Iron Age and Roman Enclosure', Edward Martin, EAA40, Suffolk County Council 1988 ISSN 0307 2460

Sam Newton's website also contains a dramatic aerial photo of the Burgh site at

Given the breadth and dedication of Beowulf scholarship worldwide I'm really hoping this amateur antiquarian hasn't just thrust a stick into a hornets nest...

G. Tingey said...

Of course there's the OTHER expression of Roman -> Saxon -> English continuity.
Also in the corner of a "Roman" fort (of the Saxon Shore)
One of my favourite places, about an hour's drive from here, where the sea, the sky & the land merge & it's hard to tell which is which.
It is still, technically a church - the oldest conplete building in these Isles.

DeeDee99 said...

Thank you for a most interesting (and inspiring) blog today Raedwald.

Old England is still out there - if only we look.

Anon 2 said...

Thank you Rædwald! No; no hornets here. One knows the Beowulf scholarship is intense and complicated.

Beyond that, my interest in post Roman A-S continuity has hitherto concentrated chiefly on Northumberland e.g. Bamburgh :). I realised there'd be more further south, of course; ... family farmed in Essex for a few generations! So I'm glad of the specifics.

Thx. also GT.

Weekend Yachtsman said...

Thanks R, as an exiled East Saxon your post brought a wee tear to the eye.

And G.T. yes indeed, there are few places more moving, to me, than St. Peter's on the wall. Redolent of all that history, including the history of my own folk as far back as anyone can trace them, it too holds a place in the heart.

Happy New Year to all, confusion to the French, may Boney (in his latest incarnations) grow bonier than ever, etc etc.

Anonymous said...

"Happy New Year to all, confusion to the French, may Boney (in his latest incarnations) grow bonier than ever, etc etc."

Yep, never forget the Battle of Aboukir Bay and how after a disastrous campaign and because he did not have a fleet. Boney, eventually high tailed it and ran away. Leaving behind the remnants of his bedraggled army stranded, diseased and alone.
Some bloody general, some bloody hero, no wonder the French are in constant denial even now.