Anglo-Saxon: Unequivocal Evidence

The archaeological evidence from the City of London is difficult to reconcile with the Saxon Sagas that were parsed onto parchment by the Dissembling Deacons of yore.

Mortimer Wheeler, 2nd Keeper of the London Museum, suggested these documents are valueless.

After a brief survey of the development of the Romano-British towns up to 410 and a description of the invaders, Dr Wheeler goes on to consider the nature of the available evidence.

He points out that the documentary evidence is valueless.

Nowhere is there any specific information as to the fate of London.

Review by R. M. Wilson of
London and The Saxons – R E M Wheeler – London Museum – 1935
Antiquity – Volume 10 – Issue 39 – Sept 1936 – pp. 373-375

This was a big problem for the Academic Acolytes of the Saxon Sagas.

If we reject all disputed evidence we have practically no materials left for a history of England in the Dark Ages.

Review by R. M. Wilson of
London and The Saxons – R E M Wheeler – London Museum – 1935
Antiquity – Volume 10 – Issue 39 – Sept 1936 – pp. 373-375

Peter Grimes, 3rd Keeper of the London Museum, indicated these documents are a contradiction.

One of the outstanding negative results of the Excavation Council’s work over more than sixteen years has been the absence of structural, or indeed any other, evidence for the occupation of London in the early part of the Saxon period.

The puzzling feature about this gap in the archaeological evidence is the contradiction that it embodies with the situation in London in the late sixth and early seventh centuries as implied by the records.

The Excavation of Roman and Mediaeval London – W.F. Grimes – 1968

Peter Grimes specifically highlighted the archaeological evidence showed “no sign of life” between 600 and 750 AD when [for example] King Ethelbert was supposedly building a church.

The ordination of Mellitus as bishop of London in 604 and the building of the church of St. Paul by King Ethelbert must be taken to mark the renewal on some scale of the occupations of London by about A.D. 600.

This would seem to be true even if this first attempt to establish Christianity in post-Roman London must be accepted as having failed.

Yet the archaeological evidence seems to be consistent in showing no sign of life until more that 150 years later.

The Excavation of Roman and Mediaeval London – W.F. Grimes – 1968

However, others believe the Saxon Sagas provide “unequivocal evidence”.

Unequivocal evidence for a Middle Anglo-Saxon royal site in London is provided by the law code issued by the Kentish kings Hlothhere and Eadric between 673 and 685, which refers to a king’s hall in London, where the sale of property was witnessed by the king’s town-reeve. [1]

[1] Translation in D. Whitlock (ed.), English Documents Vol. 1 c. 500–1042 (London, 1955), 360-1.

The Evidence For Royal Sites In Middle Anglo-Saxon London
Robert Cowie
Journal of The Society For Medieval Archaeology – Volume XLVIII – 2004

So let’s take a closer look at this particular example of “unequivocal evidence” provided by the “law code issued by the Kentish kings Hlothhere and Eadric”.

The cited source of this “unequivocal evidence” is the translation of the Dissembling Deacons into Erudite English by the Dark Towers in the Saxon Swamp.

English Historical Documents (EHD) is a series of publications of source material on English history by the academic publisher Eyre and Spottiswoode, now part of Oxford University Press. Some later volumes were published by Routledge.

Publication began in 1953.

Sources published in other languages (French, Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse, Latin) are given in English translation.

The volumes have been widely reviewed, and are considered as a basic standard resource.

David Charles Douglas (1898–1982) was a historian of the Norman period at the University of Cambridge and University of Oxford.

Dorothy Whitelock ( 1901-1982) was an English historian.

During the 1950s, Whitelock returned to her work with renewed vigour, producing a series of important works culminating, in 1955, with her most famous book, English Historical Documents.

Her achievements were finally recognised in 1956, when she was elected a fellow of the British Academy.

In 1957, Whitelock returned to Cambridge, where she had begun her career, succeeding Bruce Dickens as Elrington and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon (in which capacity she supervised Simon Keynes, the post’s present incumbent).

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, CBE, FRSL (1892-1973), known by his pen name J. R. R. Tolkien, was an English writer, poet, philologist, and university professor who is best known as the author of the classic high-fantasy works The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and The Silmarillion.

He served as the Rawlinson and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon and Fellow of Pembroke College, Oxford, from 1925 to 1945 and Merton Professor of English Language and Literature and Fellow of Merton College, Oxford from 1945 to 1959.

In Edgbaston, Tolkien lived there in the shadow of Perrott’s Folly and the Victorian tower of Edgbaston Waterworks, which may have influenced the images of the dark towers within his works.

More specifically, the cited “unequivocal evidence” is the Law of Hlothhere and Eadric contained within the Textus Roffensis aka Annals of Rochester.

The Law of Hlothhere and Eadric is an Anglo-Saxon legal text.

It is attributed to the Kentish kings Hloþhere (died 685) and Eadric (died 686), and thus is believed to date to the second half of the 7th century.

It is one of three extant early Kentish codes, along with the early 7th-century Law of Æthelberht and the early 8th-century Law of Wihtred.

Written in language more modernised than these, the Law of Hlothhere and Eadric has more focus on legal procedure and has no religious content.

The text does not indicate that Hloþhere and Eadric ruled together when it was issued, so it is possible that decrees of two reigns were brought together. [3]

Like the other Kentish codes, the Law of Hloþhere and Eadric survives in only one manuscript, known as Textus Roffensis or the “Rochester Codex”.

This is a compilation of Anglo-Saxon historic and legal material drawn together in the early 1120s under Ernulf, bishop of Rochester.

Hloþhere and Eadric’s law occupies folios 3v to 5r.

[3] Whitelock, English Historical Documents, vol. i p. 360

The Textus Roffensis manuscript is deemed to have been written over 400 years after the deaths of the eponymous Hlothhere and Eadric.

The Textus Roffensis (Latin for “The Tome of Rochester”), fully entitled the Textus de Ecclesia Roffensi per Ernulphum episcopum (“The Tome of the Church of Rochester up to Bishop Ernulf”) and sometimes also known as the Annals of Rochester, is a mediaeval manuscript that consists of two separate works written sometime between 1122 and 1124.

The Textus Roffensis: Full colour digital version – University of Manchester

Wikipedia provides some insights into the precarious provenance of the Textus Roffensis.

Over the centuries, the Textus Roffensis has been loaned, lost and recovered on several occasions and has been in the custody of a variety of different people and places: it is now held at the Medway Archives Office in Strood.

Sometime between 1708 and 1718 the book was immersed for several hours in either the River Thames or the River Medway when the ship transporting it overturned; water damage is apparent on a number of pages.

What Wikipedia doesn’t mention is that the Custodial History of the Textus Roffensis begins with William Lambard in 1573 i.e. 450 years after it was said to have been written and about 885 years after the deaths of Hlothhere and Eadric.

The Textus Roffensis

Custodial history of the book

William Lambard had access to the Textus in 1573 and annotated several folios.

Medway Archives, The Textus Roffensis

William Lambarde (1536-1601) was an English antiquarian, writer on legal subjects, and politician.

William Lambard was a protégé of Laurence Nowell who [strangely enough] encouraged him to publish a collection of Anglo-Saxon laws in 1568.

In 1556, Lambarde was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn.

He studied law with Laurence Nowell, and in 1568, with Nowell’s encouragement, published a collection of Anglo-Saxon laws, Archaionomia, which was printed by John Day.

In the introduction he acknowledged Nowell’s contribution.

This publication included a woodcut map (“Lambardes map”) depicting the seven kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England, which is thought to be the first map of any sort to have been designed, printed and published in England, and which is very likely to have been the work of Laurence Nowell.

Nowell famously came into possession of the only extant manuscript of Beowulf in 1563.

Laurence (or Lawrence) Nowell (c. 1515 – c. 1571) was an English antiquarian, cartographer and pioneering scholar of Anglo-Saxon language and literature.

Nowell also collected and transcribed Anglo-Saxon documents and compiled the first Anglo-Saxon dictionary, the Vocabularium Saxonicum.

In 1563, Nowell came into possession of the only extant manuscript of Beowulf.

So why was Beowolf ignored for the best part of a thousand years?

Possibly because this “unnoticed” manuscript only became amenable to academic interpretation after it was “badly damaged” by fire in 1731.

Possibly because this epic tale of Old English country folk is set in Scandinavia.

Possibly because this epic tale of Old English country folk was written somewhere between 300 and 600 years after the described events occurred in Scandinavia.

Possibly because these “imperfectly understood” Scandinavian stanzas could only be dated after the “historical events which are scattered through” them had been formalised into a Settled Historical Narrative.

Possibly because Beowulf was only discovered in the 16th century.

A more comprehensive rationale is that Beowulf was simply viewed as Protestant Propaganda that was clumsily cobbled together during the English Reformation.


In 1570 William Lambard wrote Perambulation of Kent.

A Perambulation of Kent – William Lambarde – Written in 1570

Curiously [and just by chance] Lambard’s Perambulation of Kent references [amongst other things] Eadric, King of Kent, who “ruled by lawe”.

Eadric, the other king, succeeded in Kent, after Lotharius, who, because he rather reigned by luste, then ruled by lawe, incurred the hatred of his people, and was invaded by Ceadwalla (King of Westsex) and Mull his brother; which entring the countrie, and finding no resistance, herried it from one end to the other ; and not thus contented, Ceadwalla, in revenge of his brother Mull’s death, (whom the countrie people had cruelly slaine in a house, that he had taken for his succour) entred this countrie the second time, and
sleying the people, spoiled it without all pitie.

And yet not satisfied with all this, he suffered the quarrell to discend to Ina his successour, who ceased not to unquiet the people of this shyre, till they agreed to pay him 30,000 markes in golde, for his desired amendes.

A Perambulation of Kent – William Lambarde – Written in 1570

In 1571 Laurence Nowell died and William Lambard inherited his books and manuscripts.

On Laurence Nowell’s death, he inherited his books and manuscripts, which may have included the manuscript of Beowulf.

Arguably, he also inherited Nowell’s Birthing Beowulf sinecure because two years later William Lambard becomes the first documented custodian of Textus Roffensis.

Whether this all happened by pure chance is left to the reader to decide.

He was appointed Keeper of the Rolls by the Lord Chancellor Sir Thomas Egerton in 1597, and Elizabeth made him Keeper of the Records in the Tower in 1601.

Evidently the concept of “unequivocal evidence” cuts both ways with the Saxon Sagas.

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3 Responses to Anglo-Saxon: Unequivocal Evidence

  1. rishrac says:

    Im looking at how Willam Lambarde is dressed. The first thing noticed is how the coat he is wearing fastened. There are no buttons. and second I consulted my old temperature record for 1570, not the new and improved IPCC one, it was cold. That’s probably why the clothing is way up around his neck.

  2. Uwe Topper says:

    There is a website which partly offers English articles, too. For example an article about the late concoction of the Beowulf.

  3. Pingback: Groundhog Year | MalagaBay

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