The Northern Way


Notes - Page 2


Main Sources: Beowulf (Penguin, 1973, Ed. Alexander, M),

Arthurian Period Sources: Gildas (Phillimore & Co. Ltd, 2002, Ed. M. Winterbottom)

Nennius: The History of the Britons (Welsh Academic Press 2003, Ed. AW Wade-Evans et al)

Geoffrey of Monmouth: History of the Kings of Britain (Penguin 1988, Ed. Lewis Thorpe)

Two characters with the name Hengest or Hengist appear in early medieval accounts: the deep-minded, vengeful warrior featuring in the Finnsburh episode of Beowulf, and in The Finnsburh Fragment; and the treacherous mercenary who led the Saxon invasion of Britain. They are roughly contemporary, and it is customary to assume that they are identical, although there is no solid evidence for this. They certainly show similar characteristics, despite being depicted from wildly different viewpoints; the archetypal Anglo-Saxon warrior who waits out his time as a retainer of his lord's slayer before finally taking vengeance; the machiavellian schemer who patiently puts up with Vortigern's waverings before seizing control. One nation's hero is another nation's villain.

I have linked the two accounts - one of Hengest in his extreme youth, showing his potential, the other being Hengest in later years as a warlord in sub-Roman Britain. Here the mists of legend begin to dissipate and we come closer to true history. But we have yet to deal with the most mysterious figure of the Dark Ages.

NB. For the unusual identification of Hengest as an Angle rather than a Jute, see Appendix C of Tolkien's Finn and Hengest.



Main Sources: Nennius: The History of the Britons (Welsh Academic Press 2003, Ed. AW Wade-Evans et al),

Geoffrey of Monmouth: History of the Kings of Britain (Penguin 1988, Ed. Lewis Thorpe),

Widukind of Corvey: Res Gestæ Saxonicæ

One of the major troubles faced by the Arthurian industry when proving the reality of King Arthur is not so much the paucity of sources, but the manner in which they persistently contradict each other. The Old English depiction of Hengest and the contrary British / Welsh view can be explained. But when one side harps continually on a figure whose absence is conspicuous in the other's legends, we run into real difficulty. Arthur is never mentioned in English literature before the Norman Conquest.

This could be explained by partisan feelings; why mention someone who resoundingly defeated you? But it has to be borne in mind that the accounts in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle regarding the Arthurian period make no mention of Arthur. They are, in fact, extremely sparse until the ninth century. This is why I have relied greatly on the fuller account of the period furnished by Celtic tradition. I have received criticism for including Arthur in a work on Anglo-Saxon legend, but my argument is that for a full, coherent account, we must use the sources that provide themselves. This section concerns Octha, who appears to have been Arthur's principal opponent; Arthur's presence is inescapable.

I have made liberal use of Nennius and Geoffrey of Monmouth's works, with occasional references to the Mabinogion and Welsh tradition. The final element, about the retreat of certain Saxons into Germany, where they founded the later Duchy of Saxony, comes from the continental Saxon historian Widukind. Its basis in historical fact is confirmed by the contemporary account of Procopius, the Byzantine historian, who refers to frequent Saxon migrations from Britain into Germany, and close links between the two groups in his day.



Main Sources: Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Greenwich Editions, 2002, Ed. Savage, A).,

Nennius: The History of the Britons (Welsh Academic Press 2003, Ed. AW Wade-Evans et al),

Bede: Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Penguin, 1990, Ed. Leo Sherley-Price)

As a term for the kingdoms of England before the rise of Wessex, the "Heptarchy" is anathema to all Anglo-Saxon historians, who repeatedly point out that at no point did precisely seven kingdoms exist - there were always more or less than this. But although the term dates from the early modern period, the notion was based on accounts of chroniclers from the High Middle Ages. This may reflect a traditional concept of seven kingdoms - seven being a significant number in many traditions - and I have taken it as such. Since my work is primarily concerned with tradition and legend I deemed it suitable.

The text is adapted from various chroniclers and historians of the Early to High Middle Ages, especially the much-maligned and eminently readable Nennius.



Primary Sources:

Anonymous: Beowulf (Penguin, 1973) (Ed. Alexander, M).

Anonymous: The Mabinogion (Harper Collins 2002) (Ed. Lady Charlotte Guest)

Anonymous: Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (Greenwich Editions, 2002) (Ed. Savage, A).

Æthelweard: The Chronicle of Æthelweard (1962) (Ed. A. Campbell)

Bede: Ecclesiastical History of the English People (Penguin, 1990) (Ed. Leo Sherley-Price)

Gildas: Arthurian Period Sources: Gildas

(Phillimore & Co. Ltd, 2002) (Ed. M. Winterbottom)

Grammaticus, Saxo: History of the Danes (1894) (Ed. Oliver Elton)

Malmesbury, William of: Malmesbury: the Kings before the Norman Conquest (Llanerch, 1989) (Ed. J Stevenson)

Monmouth, Geoffrey of: History of the Kings of Britain (Penguin 1988) (Ed. Lewis Thorpe)

Nennius: The History of the Britons

(Welsh Academic Press 2003) (Ed. AW Wade-Evans et al)

Snorri Sturluson: Heimskringla: History of the Kings of Norway (University of Texas) ----------------: Edda (Everyman, 1996)

Tacitus: The Agricola and the Germania

(Penguin 1970)


Secondary Sources:

Chadwick, H.M: The Origin of the English Nation (Cambridge 1907)

Chambers, R. W: Beowulf: an Introduction to the Study of the Poem (Cambridge 1921) ----------------: Widsith: a study in Old English Heroic Legend (Cambridge 1912)

Sisam, K: Anglo-Saxon Royal Genealogies (British Academy, 1986)

Tolkien, J.R.R: Finn and Hengest: The Fragment and the Episode (Harper Collins, 1998) (Ed. Alan Bliss).


Index  |  Previous page