Monday, April 23, 2018

St Andrews: Royal and Ancient

By Annie Whitehead

Think of St Andrews and you'll probably think of the university, the golf course, maybe even where Kate met Wills, or perhaps you'll remember that the actors portraying the 1920s Olympians ran along the beach there when filming Chariots of Fire.

But there is very much more to this ancient place, and the moment I stepped from the car I got a sense of the deep, and sometimes dark, history of St Andrews.

This curious marking on the pavement commemorates the spot where the protestant preacher, Patrick Hamilton, was killed in 1528.

It was a rather grisly welcome. But the history of St Andrews does not begin - nor indeed end, though it seemed likely for a while - with the Reformation. In fact, the earliest reference to its existence comes from the Irish Annals, known as the Annals of Ulster, and an entry for 747, when the death of Abbot Túathalán is recorded. [1] At that time, the place was called Cennrigmonaid, which means something like, 'church on the head of the king's mount'.

Royal connections were established when in the tenth century King Constantín mac Áeda abdicated and became the leader of the monastic community in 943. This was not an uncommon practice; across the border in Mercia, King Æthelred had done the same thing in 704, as had an East Anglian king, Sigeberht, although it ended less well for him when he was dragged out of his monastery to fight Penda of Mercia, and faced the invading army with only a staff as a weapon... [2]

Queen Margaret, an Anglo-Saxon by birth, was instrumental in helping the cult of St Andrew to thrive at the monastery, establishing the ferry over the Firth of Forth which enabled pilgrims to travel to the saint's shrine.

The monks at the time were Culdees. Culdee is a corrupted form of the term Céile Dé, which means 'companions of God'. Their history is hard to unravel, but it seems to have been applied to those living in monasteries by the time St Andrews was first founded.

However, in the reign of Margaret's son, Alexander I (1107-24) the bishop, Robert, decided that the Culdees should be replaced by Augustinians, and as the Culdee community lost its prominence, so too did the Gaelic place name, and Cennrigmonaid, which had become translated to Kilrymont, became St Andrews as Bishop Robert established his new cathedral priory.

No one is exactly sure where the original monastery was sited, but visitors today can see the remains of the  cathedral, which dates to around 1160 and included the Augustinian priory, and St Rule's church, which dates to the time of prior Robert. Probably. It's difficult to date it precisely. It might date back to the time of Bishop Fothad who married Malcolm III to Queen Margaret at Dunfermline in around 1070, but most of its architecture dates more securely to Robert's time.

The tower can still be climbed up - I didn't, because I'd arrived on quite a busy day and there was quite a queue - so my picture of the tower is from ground level:

The building of the cathedral took quite some time, and although it was begun in around 1160, the first bishop who was buried there was Bishop Malvoisin, in 1238. The building is a ruin, like most others of this period, but it is impossible not to be awed by the scale of it.

Perhaps it was just too big. It suffered a partial collapse in the 1270s, and then during the war with England, Edward I - Longshanks - ordered the lead stripped from the roof for use during the siege of Stirling Castle.

St Andrews, too, has a castle. It was never a royal residence, but was used by the bishops and later archbishops of St Andrews. However, it did have royal visitors, and James first celebrated Christmas there in 1425. It is possible that his grandson, James III, was born in the castle.

In 1546, Cardinal Beaton was murdered. At the battle of Flodden in 1513, James IV of Scotland had been killed, along with his illegitimate son, Archbishop Alexander Stewart of St Andrews. There followed an unseemly rush for the vacant see, won by Andrew Foreman, who was then succeeded in 1521 by James Beaton. He was a powerful influence on the young child king, James V and a vehement opponent and persecutor of protestant reformers. My guide explained to me that the memorial I had seen when I first arrived, to Patrick Hamilton, was a reminder that Hamilton had been burned at the stake on the orders of James Beaton in 1528. Just outside the castle is another macabre memorial, that of George Wishart, burned at the stake there.

But this was not at the orders of James Beaton, but his nephew and successor, David. And it was he, who in 1546, was murdered after a siege during which the castle was undermined. The assassins stabbed him and hung his naked body from the castle walls, before taking over the castle. They in turn came under siege by the forces of Regent Arran, and in 1547 during a truce, the famous reformer, John Knox, entered the castle and spoke to the murderers. He later wrote a sharp condemnation of Cardinal Beaton, whom he accused of being 'a cruel persecutor of Christ's members, a manifest and open oppressor of all true subjects', and accused him of having on his hands the blood not only of Wishart, but also of  'simple Adam Wallace, and of others who did suffer for Christ's cause only.' [3]

A French fleet arrived to assist Regent Arran  and with the artillery bombardment the castle was largely destroyed. Some rebels were imprisoned, while Knox became a galley slave and was not released until 1549.

After the reformation, the cathedral was never repaired, and in 1606 the castle was taken away from the archbishopric and given to the earl of Dunbar. Charles I of England tried to re-establish the archbishopric in 1636, but the Scottish people were suspicious of the king and his popish inclinations.

Trade declined. The university considered moving. By the 1700s visitors were greeted with grass-covered streets filled with 'dunghills which are exceedingly noisome and ready to infect the air.' [4]

The saviour of St Andrews was golf. Not just the golf course, but the manufacture of the golf balls and clubs themselves which were being exported throughout the 1800s. The Society of St Andrews Golfers was founded in 1754 and with trade and visitors, the fortunes of St Andrews were turned around.

The relationship between the burgh and the cathedral resulted in a spectacular fall from grace after the Reformation of 1560, but it did ensure that the ruins there today were not redeveloped.

As one might gather, the university did not move. It had been founded at a time when, because of the wars of independence, many students had been forced to study abroad. By the mid 1500s it had three colleges: St  Salvator’s (1450), St Leonard’s (1511) and St Mary’s (1538). The buildings of St Mary’s College and St Salvator’s Chapel date from this period. And this is where we came in. The memorial in pebbles to the martyred Patrick Hamilton is outside St Salvator's chapel, which is all that now remains of the original building.

All the places mentioned are within easy walking distance of each other. Spend an hour, spend a day. You'll be made most welcome, and take my word for it, the streets are no longer filled with dunghills.

[1] Annals of Ulster; Royal Irish Academy 747
[2] Bede Historia Ecclesiastica iii 18
[3] John Knox Select Practical Writings: Professing The Truth in Scotland
[4] Transactions of the Literary and Antiquarian Society of Perth, Volume

All photographs by and copyright of the author


Annie Whitehead is an author and historian, and a member of the Royal Historical Society. Her first two novels are set in tenth-century Mercia, chronicling the lives of Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, who ruled a country in all but name, and Earl Alvar who served King Edgar and his son Æthelred the Unready who were both embroiled in murderous scandals. Her third novel, also set in Mercia, tells the story of seventh-century King Penda and his feud with the Northumbrian kings. She is currently working on a history of Mercia for Amberley Publishing, to be released in 2018.
Amazon Page
HWA/Dorothy Dunnett Short Story

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Smuggling Gangs

Brandy Kegs - a smuggler's treasure chest!
© Nctfalls – Purchased Adobe Stock
by Helen Hollick

Fiction, movies and TV tend to portray the smugglers of the past as small groups of local fisher-folk from isolated coastal villages hoping to make an extra penny or two to feed their starving children. Or you see the lone villainous ruffian out to bully some vulnerable young lad into breaking the law by smuggling in a keg or two of brandy in his poor, very ill pa’s rowing boat. Both are true to a point. But only to a point.

The Big Trade, the big money-makers were very far from this romantic idealistic view. The smuggling gangs were little more than vicious thugs, especially when smuggling became organised by efficient gang leaders – an 1700-1800 Mafia equivalent.

The ‘smuggling companies’ mostly operated in the south-east of England, from Sussex, Kent and Hampshire. (Not our fictional vision of a rugged, isolated Cornish cove as in Poldark… although the West Country did have smugglers – but that will come later in a different article!)

Gang members were not always seamen, but landsmen based along the roads leading to London and the larger, inland towns. Seamen brought the cargo in, the gangs collected and dispersed it, and if there was trouble from the Revenue Men... the gangs were well ready for them!

These gangs often comprised of forty to fifty men, but on a prosperous run with a large haul of contraband the different gangs would unite into as many as two or three hundred men. The Revenue, ill-informed, under-manned, under-armed and under-paid rarely had any hope of intervening, let alone putting a stop to such formidable opponents, especially when burly smuggler bodyguards formed two lines of protection by wielding stout ash poles. (Think Robin Hood fighting Little John and his quarterstaff on the bridge in Sherwood Forest.)

Smuggling soon started to hit the purses and coffers of the government, and the wealthy. Something had to be done. By the mid-to-late 1780s the militia and customs men were getting their act together. Better equipped with better firearms, better ships, with better firepower and more reliable ‘intelligence’ meant they stood more chance of stopping the gangs and seizing the contraband. Even so, these gangs were no pushover. They were armed, rough, tough men, and were ruthless when ensuring potential informers kept their mouths shut. Betray a gang, and it was very likely you would end up dead with no hope of your murderer even being identified, let alone caught.


The Colonel of Bridport Gang operated in Dorset, under the leadership of ‘The Colonel’. One contraband cargo was nearly intercepted by the revenue men, and had to be hastily sunk in the sea to hide it, but it floated free of its makeshift anchor and was washed ashore near Eype Mouth, not far from West Bay and Bridport, to the great delight of the locals who discovered and ‘liberated’ it!

Lyme Bay, Dorset
© Tony Smith 

Apart from this mishap, the Colonel’s gang was highly successful, and were never caught. They supplied many of the taverns in Bridport and the Lyme Bay area with contraband liquor from France.

The Groombridge Gang named for a village a few miles west of Tunbridge Wells were active from about 1730. Several of them had wonderful nicknames such as ‘Yorkshire George’, ‘The Miller’, ‘Old Joll’, ‘Towzer’, ‘Flushing Jack’ and my favourite, ‘Nasty Face’. Nicknames, were commonly used among smugglers and highwaymen not as familiar terms of friendship but because they hid a true identity.

The Groombridge Gang was first mentioned in legal documents in 1733 when thirty men were bringing a cargo of tea inland using fifty or so horses. A group of eager militiamen challenged them, but outnumbered, were disarmed and forcibly marched en-route at gunpoint until the cargo was safely delivered. An inconvenience for both sides, for the whole affair lasted four hours. The militiamen were eventually set free, unharmed, but on oath not to renew their interfering.

The oath was made, but did not last long.

The Hadleigh Gang from the Suffolk town of the same name were known for fighting against the local dragoons in 1735, with the intention of recovering a seized cargo that had been confiscated and stored in a local tavern. More than twenty men of the gang were determined to retrieve their property. In the fight which followed several dragoons were injured and one was killed, the smugglers, however, managed to reclaim their goods. Seventeen of them, alas, had been recognised and were arrested, with two of them hanged immediately after their trial.

The interesting thing about Hadleigh is that it is not a coastal town, but lies a good forty miles inland!

The North Kent Gang worked along the coast from Ramsgate to the River Medway. In 1820 their use of violence increased when the Blockade Men came across the gang. A fight followed in which one officer was seriously injured, but the gang fled with their cargo. During the spring of 1821 forty of the gang gathered at Herne Bay to land a cargo, with more than twenty more men armed with bats and pistols to protect them.

Unfortunately for the gang, the batsmen had partaken of too much pre-run ‘hospitality’ at the nearby inn. Led by Midshipman Sydenham Snow, the men of the blockade appeared - drawn by the rowdy noise that the drunken smugglers were making. Eighteen of the smugglers were arrested. Four went to the gallows, with the others transported for life to Tasmania.


The Northover Gang were from Dorset and named for their leaders. In December 1822 Preventative Men, William Forward and Timothy Tollerway were on patrol: hearing whistling they saw two boats coming into shore with four men already on the beach. Forward and Tollerway then met with three of the men who dropped the kegs they were carrying and ran off. Tollerway kept guard on the abandoned contraband, while Forward seized a dozen more kegs after firing his pistol to summon help, but the gang surrounded him and forced him towards the waterline. Tollerway ran to give assistance. The gang leader, James Northover Junior, was subsequently arrested when more Preventatives arrived, and he was sentenced to fourteen months in Dorchester gaol.

Lessons were obviously not headed. James Northover was to serve time in gaol twice more and was then impressed into the Royal Navy in 1827 for yet another offence. We do nor know what subsequently happened to him.

The Hawkhurst Gang. Hawkhurst is about ten miles inland from the Kent and East Sussex coast, and between 1735-1749 the gang became known as the most notorious and feared in all England. They brought in silk, brandy and tobacco which had been landed at Rye or Hastings, with up to five-hundred men able to help out when needed.

Tobacco. The smuggler's fancy
© Stephen Orsillo –  Purchased Adobe Stock
The gang joined with the Wingham Gang in 1746 to bring ashore twelve tons of tea (that is a lot of tea!) but the Wingham men were set upon by their so-called partners. Seven Winghams were injured and the Hawkhurst lot made off with the tea and several valuable horses. There is no account of whether the horses were ever returned, either amicably or by stealth.

Inevitably, despite the benefits of smuggling, villagers grew fed-up with the gang’s increasing tyranny and led by local militiaman, William Sturt, a retaliation was made in April 1747. Confident of their power the gang jauntily marched to the village not expecting to meet with a small army of people determined to put a stop to their bullying. One of the gang’s hierarchy, George Kingsmill, was shot dead and he is buried in Goudhurst churchyard. His brother, Thomas, was later arrested and hanged at Tyburn in London, with his body taken back to Kent to be hung in chains and left to rot on the gallows.

Does his ghost linger in the village I wonder?
  © stocksnapper
Smuggling in Fact and Fiction by Helen Hollick is due to be published by Pen & Sword Press in January 2019


Smuggling In The British Isles by Richard Platt
Smuggling: A History 1700-1970 David Phillipson
Smuggling In Fact and Fiction Helen Hollick (not yet published)

Helen Hollick lives on a thirteen-acre farm in Devon, England. Born in London, she wrote pony stories as a teenager, moved to science-fiction and fantasy, and then discovered historical fiction. Published for over twenty years with her Arthurian Trilogy, and the 1066 era she became a USA Today bestseller with her novel about Queen Emma The Forever Queen (UK title A Hollow Crown.) She also writes the Sea Witch Voyages, pirate-based nautical adventures with a touch of fantasy. She has written a non-fiction about pirates and one about smugglers in fact and fiction which is due to be published in 2018.

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Helen is also the founder of Discovering Diamonds, a review blog for historical fiction, submissions welcome.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Who Was the Real Elen of the Hosts?

By Kim Rendfeld

I would love to believe “The Dream of Macsen Wledig” in The Mabinogion. Elen of Caernarfon and her husband, Magnus Maximus (Macsen Wledig), have a happy ending, ruling the Roman Empire.

In the legend, our hero, the emperor of Rome, marries the woman of his dreams—literally. He sends messengers all the way to Britain to find her, and when they do, Elen tells them if Macsen is really in love with her so much he will make her his empress, he can come to Britain himself and tell her to her face. Macsen does, and they marry. He loses the throne after being absent for too long but regains it with help from Elen and her brothers. Elen (also known as Helen Luyddawc, or Elen of the Hosts) had roads built throughout Britain—the men would not have constructed them for anyone but her.

From a 15th century Welsh language version of
Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

The reality for this fourth century power couple is sadder. Is “The Dream of Macsen Wledig” a story of a sovereignty goddess common in Celtic lore? A tale with based in history? A bit of both?

If we are to believe Lives of the Queens of England before the Norman Conquest by Mrs. Matthew Hall—my instinct tells me to take what it says with that proverbial grain of salt—Elen was the only child of Eudda (also Eudaf or Octavius) and his wife, Gula, and they were seeking a husband for her. She was quite the eligible bride and heiress. Gula’s dowry was the kingdom of North Wales, and Eudda was the duke of the Wisseans and son of the duke of Cornwall.

Eudda wanted to make sure his daughter was settled before he died and called a council. After some debate, Magnus Maximus, a Spaniard and kinsman of Roman general Flavius Theodosius, was chosen. At the time, he was likely a commander of a Roman garrison in Britain and had already seen battle in Britain and Mauritania.

Marriage at the time was a political arrangement rather than a love match. If husband and wife happened to like each other, great, but the alliances forged by the marriage took precedence over sentiment.

From a political vantage point, Elen’s marriage to Maximus made sense. Another element that boded well for the couple was that both Elen and Maximus were pious. Elen would become a patroness of Welsh churches. Maximus was Orthodox, following the Nicene Creed.

Maximus was not content to remain in Britain. He apparently did not like Emperor Gratian. It could be that Maximus thought he deserved a better rank. Perhaps he resented the execution of Flavius Theodosius, done in Gratian’s name when the emperor was an infant. Or perhaps his army goaded him into seeking the throne for himself (a rather popular and remarkably convenient reason).

In 383, apparently after many years of marriage, Maximus was proclaimed emperor of Britain and traveled to Gaul with an army to confront Gratian. After a few battles, Gratian’s soldiers deserted him. Gratian was killed at Lyons. Maximus claimed not to have ordered it. Still he ruled part of the empire, Britain, Gaul, and Hispania. Gratian’s 12-year-old brother Valentinian ruled Italy and Africa (in name), and Theodosius rule the East, recognizing Maximus on the condition he not bother Valentinian.

Classical Numismatic Group, Inc.,,
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0
Unported license via Wikimedia Commons

Elen accompanied her husband on his conquest. They settled in Trier, which had served as the capital for Gratian’s father. The couple had five children. Their son Victor accompanied his father on his campaigns. Another son, Publicius, became a cleric, and a church at Segontium was dedicated to him. Their third son, Cunetha, apparently remained in Wales.

Apparently all was not well between Maximum and Valentinian. In 387, Maximus decided to cross the Alps and invade Italy. Maybe he wanted to make Valentinian a puppet, or he simply thought war was inevitable and decided to strike while he had an advantage. Italy fell, but Valentinian and his mother escaped and fled to Theodosius. In 388, Theodosius struck back. His generals trapped Maximus in Aquileia. Maximus surrendered, but the generals executed him. Victor was captured in Gaul and killed.

Elen and her daughters were in Trier at the time and taken prisoner. I wonder what Elen said to her captors or what people said about Elen. Theodosius showed some mercy. He released them to the care of a kinsman and provided a pension. Cunetha would inherit his mother’s lands in Wales, and his children would go on to rule.

Perhaps, the emperor believed Elen and her surviving children weren’t a threat. Maybe he thought harming the widowed empress and her family would cause him to lose support. Another speculation: Elen was still popular in her homeland and hurting her would cause a lot more trouble among those troublesome Britons than it was worth.


The Dream of Macsen Wledig,” The Mabinogion
The Oxford Dictionary of Saints by David Hugh Farmer
Lives of the Queens of England before the Norman Conquest, by Mrs. Matthew Hall
"Magnus Maximus," by R.S.O. Tomlin, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Elen of the Ways” by Judith Shaw, Feminism & Religion

Kim Rendfeld has written two novels set in 8th century Europe, and a third, Queen of the Darkest Hour, will be published August 7. In The Cross and the Dragon, a Frankish noblewoman must contend with a jilted suitor and the fear of losing her husband (available on Amazon). In The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar, a Saxon peasant will fight for her children after losing everything else (available on Amazon). Her short story “Betrothed to the Red Dragon,” about Guinevere’s decision to marry Arthur, is set in early medieval Britain and available on AmazonQueen of the Darkest Hour is available for preorder on iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo.

Connect with Kim at on her website, her blog, Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at, on Facebook at, or follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Robin Hood vs. Bell, Clim, and Cloudesley

by A. E. Chandler

A Wiltshire clerk listing members of parliament (and evidently thinking that his job could be more interesting if he used a little creativity) after the first eight names included the following: “Adam, Belle, Clyme, Ocluw, Willyam, Cloudesle, Robyn, hode, Inne, Grenewode, Stode, Godeman, was, hee, lytel, Joon, Muchette, Millersson, Scathelok, Renoldyn.” This was in 1432, and it is the first known textual mention of the outlaws Adam Bell, Clim of the Clough, and William of Cloudesley.

While Robin Hood stood in the greenwood of Sherwood Forest with Little John, Much the Miller’s son, Scarlok, and Reynold, we hear of the first three outlaws listed as members of parliament standing in Inglewood, a forest in Cumberland spanning from Penrith to Carlisle. Carlisle is where William of Cloudesley’s wife, Alice, and their three sons live. When he ventures into the city to visit them, he is betrayed by the old wife to whom the family has shown charity, having her live with them. The sheriff and justice assemble men to capture Cloudesley. Alice defends their door with a poleaxe as Cloudesley shoots from a window. The house is set on fire, and Cloudesley is at last captured. He will be hanged the next day. However, a swineherd’s boy, a friend of Cloudesley’s, runs to the forest and finds Adam Bell and Clim of the Clough.

These two outlaws rush to Carlisle, arriving on the morning of the execution, and tricking the porter at the gate into believing that they bear the king’s seal. When he permits them to enter the city, Bell and Clim wring the porter’s neck in two, taking his keys and tossing him into a dungeon. Heading to the marketplace, they string their bows, shooting and killing the sheriff and the justice. Cloudesley is freed, and the three friends fight their way out of Carlisle to reunite with Alice and the children in Inglewood.

The three outlaws then race south to crave pardon from the King before he hears of their fresh crimes. The King intends to hang them, but the Queen intervenes in her role as peace-weaver, and convinces her husband to grant the desired pardon. This done, the King receives a letter telling him that Bell, Clim, and Cloudesley have just battled their way out of Carlisle, slaying more than three hundred men. Cloudesley shows the King his skill at archery, first by splitting a hazel wand four hundred yards distant, then by cleaving an apple on top of his seven-year-old son’s head with a deadly broad arrow. Cloudesley is made the King’s bow-bearer and chief rider, his wife the Queen’s chief gentlewoman and governess of the nursery, and Bell and Clim yeomen of the Queen’s chamber. The former outlaws make confession and are absolved of all their sins.

This story is perhaps the most similar to Robin Hood’s in outlaw literature, and both likely grew out of the early to mid thirteenth century. The earliest surviving versions of Adam Bell, Clim of the Clough, and William of Cloudesley are in print, and no handwritten manuscript has been found to predate them (just as with A Gest of Robyn Hode). Possibly the oldest fragment dating from 1536, the earliest extant complete version comes from London, about 1560. The story was well-known in the early modern period, and Dobson and Taylor note that it was referenced in plays by William Shakespeare and Ben Jonson.

While J. C. Holt, the world’s leading expert on Robin Hood, does not rule out the possibility that Robin was based on a historical figure, he opines that the tale of Bell, Clim, and Cloudesley is entirely fictional. The events – betrayal, capture, rescue, archery, and royal pardon – are shared by medieval tales of Robin Hood, and many details are similar. Bell’s plot is most alike to Robin Hood and the Monk. Monk is one of the five surviving “ballads” of Robin Hood from the medieval period. In it, Robin and Little John quarrel over an archery contest and part ways. Robin then goes to St. Mary’s in Nottingham to pray, where a monk informs the sheriff of his presence. Robin kills twelve men before being captured. To rescue him, Little John and Much the Miller’s son intercept the monk travelling to the King. They kill the monk and his young page, going disguised to court in their places. Returning to Nottingham, they use the King’s seal to free Robin. Bell, Clim, and Cloudesley receiving pardon from the King is more like fytte seven of A Gest of Robyn Hode, another of the five surviving medieval “ballads,” when the King pardons Robin and his men. Robin agrees to serve at court, bringing along seven score and three of his men.

The characters also share similarities. A. J. Pollard points to Bell’s opening stanzas, where the three protagonists are named immediately after a description of the occupation of a walking forester. Throughout the medieval ballads, Robin touts his status as a yeoman. In fytte four of Gest we are given greater insight into the type of yeoman he was during a run-in between Little John and a monk. (Some have theorized that the latter could be the same one who turns Robin over to the sheriff in Monk.) When the monk hears that Little John’s master is Robin Hood, he calls the outlaw a strong thief. Little John objects, calling Robin instead “a yeoman of the forest.” This is not meant to be simply a euphemism, but a complete juxtaposition. “Yeoman of the forest” is a term meaning forester, and it is the foresters who enforce the forest law. Little John is essentially saying that Robin Hood is not a criminal, but a cop. This is attested to by the way in which Robin carries out his “crimes.” He does not steal, but rather exact payment, part of his duty as a forester. The monk might be forgiven for his mistake, as Robin’s exactions were overly zealous, and often not made within the confines of a forest, which was where forest law was supposed to be enforced. Robin, like Bell, Clim, and Cloudesley, is a northern outlaw and, though he visits Sherwood, he is based in West Yorkshire at Barnsdale.

Two of the most significant differences between the two legends are that William of Cloudesley is married and has children – a theme entirely missing from the surviving medieval Robin Hood stories (killing the monk’s page boy is about as close as it gets) – and the ubiquitous retelling of shooting an apple off someone’s head. The latter is most commonly identified with the legend of William Tell, but also present, Maurice Keen notes, in the Scandinavian stories of Weland the Smith and Hodr, as well as the German story of Dietrich von Bern, among others. Yet before Cloudesley orders that his son be tied to a stake in order to facilitate this feat, he has already won the King’s admiration for cleaving a hazel rod at four hundred paces. It is similar to when we hear in fytte seven of Gest of Robin twice cleaving a wand before the disguised King, who declares the mark too far away by fifty paces; or in Robin Hood and the Potter of the outlaw splitting a prick into three pieces before the sheriff. Skill at archery was essential for foresters. During the Hundred Years’ War, they were desirable recruits, as the English army depended upon good archers. William of Cloudesley and Robin Hood both show discernment in their tackle, Cloudesley choosing a bearing arrow for the hazel rod, better for distance, and a broad arrow for the apple, wide enough to split the fruit, and at one hundred twenty paces not too cumbersome to handle for a skilled archer paying attention to the wind. Meanwhile, in Potter, Robin is able to pull the string of the best bow amongst the sheriff’s men to his ear, proclaiming, “This is but right weak gear.”

There was ample reason for the Wiltshire clerk to think of Robin Hood and his men when he thought of Adam Bell, Clim of the Clough, and William of Cloudesley. A number of writers have sought to bring their legends closer together over the centuries, from the early modern ballad of Robin Hood’s Birth, Breeding, Valor and Marriage, to Paul Creswick’s 1902 The Adventures of Robin Hood, to my new novel The Scarlet Forest: A Tale of Robin Hood. These two groups of outlaws share more commonalities than differences.

City of London
Royal 14 C VII  f. 2
Matthew Paris
England, S. (St Albans); 1250-59
Tristan at court
Additional 11619  f. 6
England, S. E.? (London?); 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 13th century
archer among foliage and strawberries
Royal 17 F I  f. 14
France, N. E. (Lille) and S. Netherlands (Bruges); late 15th century


A. E. Chandler holds a Master of Arts with Merit from the University of Nottingham, where she wrote her dissertation on the social history behind Robin Hood. When not teaching or volunteering with the Glenbow Museum’s military collection, she writes historical fiction as well as contemporary fiction concerning history. Chandler has had stories, poetry, and articles published, in addition to a book of collected non-fiction entitled Into the World, and her new novel The Scarlet Forest: A Tale of Robin Hood.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Editors Weekly Round-up, April 15, 2018

by the EHFA Editors

From ancient to modern, English Historical Fiction Authors brings you posts every week on different aspects of British history. Check out the articles for the week ending April 14...

by Paula Lofting 

by Chris Thorndycroft 

by Maria Grace

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Birth of an Heir

by Maria Grace

The Birth of an Heir

Given the important role a male heir played in a landowning family’s life, it is hardly surprising that the birth of son, especially a first son, was often more welcome than the birth of a daughter. In the case of the birth of an heir to a great house, the birth might be celebrated throughout the region.
This is not to say the birth of a girl was not welcome. As the Georgian era came to an end and into the beginning of the Victorian era, children were increasingly perceived as not just potential heirs and marriage partners to provide family connections, but as emotional resources for parents, particularly mothers. (Lewis, 1986) Daughters might be welcomed for the affection and companionship they brought to their parents, even if those same parents were also apologizing for their predilection toward sons.

Unfortunately in that era, many children did not live past the age of five. (Laudermilk, 1998) The typical illnesses of childhood illnesses, accidents, unpurified water and consumption (tuberculosis) claimed many young lives. Because of the high infant mortality rate, it was critical that a clergyman be on hand to baptize a child as soon as possible. The Common Book of Prayer of the era specifically required newborns to be baptized before the second Sunday passed.

Three godparents, (preferably two of the same sex as the child) were required by the Church of England. They were often chosen in the hope that they would provide assistance—social and/or financial—as the child grew. They might also be potential guardians for the child, should the need arise.

What Happens Next?

In the modern mind, what happens next is fairly clear. After birth, baby would be fed, either nursed by the mother or given specially prepared infant formula and take their place in the family unit. This was not necessarily the assumption during the Regency era.

Not unlike today, conflicting views argued both medical and moral grounds for the best way to feed and care for an infant. Some asserted the process of breastfeeding was so intimate that it was hard to imagine any woman of proper feeling allowing the task to be fulfilled by a wet nurse. The argument went so far as to imply that mother's milk provided more than physical sustenance. The intellectual climate of the times assumed that the additional properties were of a moral nature. (Collins, 1998)

On the other side, however there were those who claimed that raising a baby ‘by hand’ (feeding an infant on animal milk or some other mixture) was a healthier option. From the late 18th century various types of feeding vessels were used, including animal horns, spoons, boat-shaped sucking bottles and upright pots with spouts, but sterilization was unheard of, causing exactly the sorts of problems one might expect. (Adkins 2013) In 1700, less than half of English babies were breast-fed, by 1800, the number approached two-thirds. (Gatrell, 2006)

Women opted to nurse their babies for a wide variety of reasons, many which are still influential today. Some believed that it was healthier for the baby—and in many ways it was, if only considering that feeding equipment was never sterilized and might only have cursory washing. Food-borne illness was a major contributor in the mortality of ‘hand raised’ infants.

Others chose to nurse for more emotional reasons. Family pressure influenced some, as did the desire to avoid another pregnancy. Some women felt a sentimental devotion toward their infants that encouraged nursing. Still others had a distaste for the lower classes from whom wet nurses were recruited. (Lewis, 1986)

Various taboos and inconveniences convinced some women not to breastfeed. Beliefs that interfered with successful nursing included: the belief that mothers should be churched (four to six weeks after giving birth) before breast feeding; colostrum or ‘first milk’ was harmful to babies; and that babies should be purged and given other liquids for the first few days after birth including wine, sugared water, or butter and honey. (Adkins, 2013) Needless to say, some of these beliefs resulted in serious health complications including infant starvation and milk fever in the mother.

Another potential discouragement to nursing: nursing normally lasted twelve to eighteen months, during which the mother would stay home with the baby, since nursing in public was simply not done. So, for women with active social roles, nursing could represent a serious hardship.

A third option presented itself for affluent women of the era. A significant number employed the services of a wet nurse throughout the first half of the 19th century. (Lewis, 1986) Some women saw it as an ideal means to avoid to avoid the inconvenience or indelicacy of nursing or to save their figures. The desire, or even the need to become pregnant again soon could also make this a desirable option. Even if pregnancy was not specifically desired, husbands might push for wet nursing because many believed that sexual excitement in a nursing mother spoiled the milk. As late as 1792, Mary Wollstonecraft still thought that desire for sexual relations by the fathers was the main reason for the survival of wet nursing. (Stone, 1979)

Wet nurses

During the regency era, most believed that infants required no more than to be kept reasonably clean, warm and well-fed until their intelligence showed itself. (Tomalin, 1999) Babies were handed about freely without thought toward the modern concepts of parental bonding or abandonment. It should come as some relief that wet nurses often chosen for their patience and loving nature. However, this came more from a belief that a woman’s milk was endowed with the characteristic of its provider than a desire to provide a warm, maternal environment for the infant. (Watkins, 1990)

Wet nurses were usually married working-class women, capable of producing milk, often because they had lost a baby or recently weaned one. Some worked for many continuous years. Not only did wet nurses feed the infants, they took over all aspects of infant care. Often, babies were moved into the homes of wet nurses, especially if those women lived in the countryside and the alternative was to keep the infants in a disease-ridden town. A country wet nurse could earn about 2 shillings and sixpence a week. (Tomalin, 1999) In 1813 in Ireland, a wet nurse for a countess cost £26 a year. (Stone, 1979)

How long a child might remain in fostering with the wet nurse varied, sometimes lasting as long as five years. The process came under attack during the eighteenth century, but it continued for some time.

Mrs. Austen (the mother of Jane Austen) followed the custom of putting out her babies to be nursed in a village cottage. The infant was daily visited by one or both of its parents, and frequently brought to them to the family home, the parsonage. The wet nurse’s cottage was the infant’s home though, and must have remained so till it was old enough to run about and talk. (Day, 2006) Not all parents were as attentive to visit their infants as the Austens were. Some paid little attention to their children during their nursery days.

Adoptions, guardians and godparents

 Even though a child might survive into adulthood, nothing guaranteed that the child’s parents would survive to see it. Wardship was common legal instrument since many children lost both parents while still in their minority. Though a child would certainly feel the death of either parent, it was the death of a father that would most influence who had custody over the child. Women had no custody rights over their children who were effectively property of the husband (who was assumed to be the father since there was no DNA testing to prove paternity.)

At the father’s death, children usually went to the nearest male relative, often a grandfather or uncle. In some cases, children might be split up along gender lines. Male children might go to the father’s family and female children to the nearest male relative on the maternal line. (Spence, 2003) In either case, the mother had little or no influence on where the children would go nor any legal right to even visit the children.

Guardians exercised all the legal rights of parents until the child reached the age of majority, twenty- one. They controlled any finances of the child and could influence, though not mandate personal matters, such as the choice of a spouse. Girls could consent to or reject a marriage proposed by a guardian, and (at 14 years of age) even petition for a particular guardian to be appointed for them. So guardians had to exercise some delicacy in the performance of their role. (Byrne,2005)

Though adoption as the practice is known today did not actually exist in the era, childless relations commonly ‘adopted’ a relation’s child to serve as their heir. (MacDonagh, 1991) Sometimes wealthy branches of a family might ‘adopt’ a child of poorer relatives, bringing them up with their own children. Whether or not that child enjoyed all the privileges of wealth or was treated as a poor relation surely varied from family to family. Such was the premise of Austen’s novel Mansfield Park in which a daughter, instead of the expected son, was sent to live with wealthy relatives.

All of this suggests that the structure of families during the era was as variable as they are today, though the actual process of rearing infants and children might look very different.


Adkins, Roy, and Lesley Adkins. Jane Austen's England. Viking, 2013.
Brander, Michael. The Georgian Gentleman. Farnborough: Saxon House, 1973.
Buchan, William. 1838. Domestic Medicine: Or, A Treatise on the Prevention and Cure of Diseases by Regimen and Simple Medicines: with Observations on Sea-bathing, and the Use of the Mineral Waters. To which is Annexed, a Dispensatory for the Use of Private Practitioners. J & B Williams, London.
Byrne, Paula. “Manners,” in Jane Austen in Context, edited by Janet Todd, p. 297-305. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
Collins, Irene. Jane Austen and the Clergy. London: Hambledon and London, 2001.
Collins, Irene. Jane Austen, the Parson's Daughter. London: Hambledon Press, 1998.
Davidoff, Leonore, and Catherine Hall. Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780-1850. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.
Day, Malcom. Voices from the World of Jane Austen. David and Charles, 2006.
Gatrell, Vic. City of Laughter: Sex and Satire in Eighteenth-century London. New York: Walker &, 2007.
Laudermilk, Sharon H., and Teresa L. Hamlin. The Regency Companion. New York: Garland, 1989.
Lewis, Judith Schneid. In the Family Way: Childbearing in the British Aristocracy, 1760-1860. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1986.
MacDonagh, Oliver. Jane Austen: real and imagined worlds. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991.
Martin, Joanna. Wives and Daughters: Women and Children in the Georgian Country House. London: Hambledon and London, 2004.
Shoemaker, Robert Brink. Gender in English Society, 1650-1850: The Emergence of Separate Spheres? London: Longman, 1998. Pearson Education Limited
Spence, Jon. Becoming Jane Austen. London: Hambledon Continuum, 2007.
Stone, Lawrence. The Family, Sex and Marriage in England, 1500-1800. New York: Harper & Row, 1979.
Tomalin, Claire. Jane Austen: a life. New York: Random House, 1999.
Vickery, Amanda. The Gentleman's Daughter: Women's Lives in Georgian England. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998.
Watkins, Susan. Jane Austen's Town and Country Style. New York: Rizzoli, 1990.

Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful.

After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.

to find her books on Amazon. For more on her writing and other Random Bits of Fascination, visit her

You can also like her on  Facebook, or follow on Twitter.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Roger Godberd of Swannington

by Chris Thorndycroft

In my previous post on a possible historical basis for the Robin Hood legend, I looked at Robert Hood of Wakefield; a man with the right name who lived in the right period within an arrow’s flight of Barnsdale (the main stomping ground of Robin Hood in the ballads). But there was one other figure of an earlier generation who, despite his name bearing no resemblance to Robin Hood, lived a life with several striking parallels to England’s famous outlaw.

Roger Godberd hailed from Swannington in Leicestershire and the records of his life come from a number of court rolls. Several people have tried to construct his biography from these tantalising scraps but the most readable is David Baldwin’s(1).

The first mention of Godberd is in 1250 where he makes a complaint that his mother and stepfather cut down sixty oaks on his land. He is noted as being underage at this time which would make his year of birth 1229 at the earliest. He appears to have later had a daughter called Diva who is mentioned in a court case in 1258 over disputed land.

Swannington was part of the manor of Whitwick until it became a manor in its own right in more recent times. There is evidence of a moated hall north of the village dating to the 12th century. Godberd appeared to be in charge of Swannington by 1259 as he is recorded handing it over to Jordan le Fleming for a period of ten years but then forcibly booting him off it a year later.

Godberd was a tenant of Robert de Ferrers, the 6th Earl of Derby. De Ferrers – a hot-headed and quarrelsome man – came of age in 1260 and immediately began a campaign to take back his lands which had been held in wardship by the Lord Edward (Longshanks, later to become Edward I, the ‘Hammer of the Scots’). One of these properties was Nottingham Castle of which Roger Godberd was a member of the garrison.

Roger seems to have run into some legal trouble during his time at Nottingham as a record included in The Sherwood Forest Book (a collection of legal documents from various sources) tells of an episode in 1264 where Roger and several companions are accused of poaching deer in Sherwood Forest(2). That this accusation arose in 1287 – twenty-three years after the fact – is perhaps indicative of the efficiency of the medieval judicial system.

The delay may have been partly caused by the outbreak of the Second Barons’ War; a civil war in which the barons, under Simon de Montfort, attempted to establish a parliament more sympathetic to their demands. Robert de Ferrers threw himself into the conflict but was more interested in pursuing his personal vendetta against the Lord Edward than supporting the baronial cause. He ultimately missed out on the Battle of Lewes which saw the barons’ victory over King Henry III.

With the king and the Lord Edward under house arrest, Simon de Montfort became ruler of England in all but name. But while squabbling broke out amongst his supporters, Edward escaped custody and rallied an army to his father’s cause. The resulting slaughter at the Battle of Evesham spelled the end for de Montfort’s movement (not to mention his life) and his followers found themselves disinherited.

The ruins of Kenilworth Castle; once one of England's strongest medieval
fortifications and the site of one of the longest sieges in English history

Pockets of resistance held out; rebels entrenched themselves on the Isle of Axholme in Lincolnshire and at Kenilworth Castle which endured one of the longest sieges in English history. Roger Godberd was apparently financially desperate and appears in the Close Rolls of 1266 for forcing the Abbot of Garendon to hand over the charters for the lands he had leased the abbey.

In October, 1266, Godberd was granted safe passage to attend the Dictum of Kenilworth; the king’s offer to the rebels to buy back their lands at rates according to their level of involvement in de Montfort’s rebellion. Eventually pardoned, Godberd appears to have moved north to begin a life of crime with his brother Geoffrey and others.

When he was finally brought to trial in 1276, the charges against him vary from burglary, homicide, arson and robbery in Leicester, Nottinghamshire and Wiltshire, the most heinous of which was the robbery of the monks of Stanley Abbey in 1270, one of whom was killed.

Reginald de Grey, Justice of Chester, was given money from Nottingham, Leicester and Derby to raise an army to hunt down the outlaws who were running rampant in those counties. De Gray had recently held the position of High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and the Royal Forests (Nottingham didn’t get its own sheriff until 1449). Interestingly, de Grey was also one of the accused Sherwood poachers of 1264 alongside Roger and Geoffrey Godberd suggesting that they had previously been comrades in the Nottingham Castle garrison and now operated on opposite sides of the law.

All this about Nottingham and Sherwood may sound more like the Robin Hood of later tradition, not the outlaw of Barnsdale in the earliest ballads. But even in those stories, it is the Sheriff of Nottingham who plays the part of the chief villain despite the fact that he would have been out of his jurisdiction pursuing outlaws in Barnsdale. Not only does this suggest that there were once two separate traditions – a Nottinghamshire one and a Yorkshire one that got blended at some point – but one of the first stories of Robin Hood includes an episode that bears a striking resemblance to what Roger Godberd did next.

In the ballad A Gest of Robyn Hode, Robin and his companions befriend a knight called Sir Richard who shelters them at his castle from an assault by the Sheriff of Nottingham. The Calendar of the Close Rolls of Henry III show that a knight called Richard Foliot was accused of sheltering Godberd and his companions at his castle of Fenwick. Richard was eventually forced to hand over his castle and son Edmund to the Sheriff of Yorkshire as surety until he stood trial for harbouring outlaws.

Sherwood Forest

There is also a record (unfortunately undated) in the Hundred Rolls of Edward I showing that Godberd and a number of his followers were captured at a grange owned by Rufford Abbey in Sherwood and imprisoned at Nottingham Castle. The man who captured them was Hugh de Babington, undersheriff at this time to Walter Giffard, High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire etc. and also Archbishop of York. Another record of Godberd’s capture has Reginald de Grey take him at Hereford before conducting him to Bridgenorth. This second arrest suggests that Godberd escaped custody (possibly from Nottingham Castle itself) only to be recaptured by de Grey.

While Godberd spent the next few years in various prisons, his followers remained active. There was an attempt to rescue him from Bridgenorth and Godberd’s brother Geoffrey attacked the servants of Lucy de Grey (Reginald’s step-mother) while they were en route to Leicester.

Stays at Hereford and Chester gaols are also recorded before Godberd was incarcerated at Newgate and brought to trial at the Tower of London in 1276. Inexplicably, King Edward I pardoned him and Roger Godberd wandered off the map of history.

So, we have a rebellious outlaw operating from Sherwood, robbing the clergy and defying the sheriffs and justices. He was sheltered by a knight called Richard and eventually pardoned by a king called Edward (just as Robin was the Gest ballad). Robert Hood of Wakefield may be an interesting candidate but there is no denying Roger Godberd’s possible influence on the legend. That the ballads alternately switch between Barnsdale in Yorkshire and Sherwood in Nottinghamshire suggest there may have been more than one source for the legend. Perhaps Godberd provided one part of the tale while another outlaw in Yorkshire provided the rest.

My recent novel Lords of the Greenwood focuses, in part, on the exploits of Roger Godberd and the Second Barons’ War. It also deals with Robert Hood of Wakefield who is outlawed a generation later and, inspired by tales of Godberd told to him by an old beggar who used to be one of Godberd’s band, sets up his own band of robbers who operate in Barnsdale.


For a fairly comprehensive list of all records pertaining to Roger Godberd, visit;

1.      David Baldwin. Robin Hood: The English Outlaw Unmasked. 2011
2.      Boulton, H. E. (ed). Sherwood Forest Book. Thoroton Society Record Series Volume XXIII. 1964


Chris Thorndycroft is a British writer of historical fiction, horror and fantasy. His early short stories appeared in magazines and anthologies such as Dark Moon Digest and American Nightmare. His first novel under his own name was A Brother’s Oath; the first book in the Hengest and Horsa Trilogy. He also writes under the pseudonym P. J. Thorndyke.

His recent novel, Lords of the Greenwood, blends history with medieval ballads. This is the entwined saga of two men, separated by a generation and united by legend, who inspired the tales of England’s famous hooded outlaw. Lords of the Greenwood is available through Amazon.

For more information, please visit Chris Thorndycroft’s website. You can also find him on Twitter and Goodreads.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Women of the Middle Ages: Wimples, Veils, and Head-rails -Part I

By Paula Lofting                        

To Wear or not to wear a wimple

Public Domain
Mention women in the early middle ages and one often thinks of women wearing long silken head-rails with long braids, ribbons intertwined, but mention the dark ages, and it conjures up women with free-flowing locks that fly like banners behind them as they ride their chariots, pulled by wild, dark age ponies. This might have been so in pagan times, but even then, women would have worn some sort of head covering, especially for practical uses, like when working. These were times when long hair, if not contained, might cause life or death situations, like having your hair catch aflame when leaning over the cooking pot. I can imagine as it is now, finding long strands of hair in your stew would not have been very appealing. It was also a way of avoiding lice or getting other creepy crawlies caught up in it. However, it wasn't unknown in Christian times, when it was considered unseemly to have one's hair uncovered, to find images of unveiled women. Below is a reconstruction of Pictish stone carving with a high-status woman riding side-saddle, her hair uncovered.

 Photo Originally uploaded by
Deacon of Pndapetzim CC BY-SA 2.5 
We know that in Europe, in the medieval period, women did cover their hair, and that the origins of the moral code behind it lay in the early Christian church. This whole thing about women having to cover their hair for moralistic purposes within monotheistic religions, began in the middle-east. But what of the western nations who had only just adopted the monotheist ideology? Did they directly attempt to replicate the women of the eastern countries, or was there some other philosophy that women should cover their hair to the western provinces of the developing Christian world?

If we look back through history, the earliest documentation of the code seems to have first been promoted by St Paul. Paul, who was both a Jew and a Roman citizen, is thought to be the first apostle who spread the teachings of Christ throughout Asia Minor and Europe. He preached that women should cover their hair as submission to their husbands and when praying in church. In a letter to Timothy, he stated that women should dress modestly and not with 'broided' (meaning twined, braided) hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array. But Paul was not the only one who lectured women on their modesty. Tertullian, a theologian writing in 200 AD, wrote that St Paul was not just referring to married women, but 'all women of age', most likely meaning those who had reached puberty. He admonishes those women who do not cover the whole of their head, leaving their ears and neck exposed. It seems that in covering the whole of one’s head, women were avoiding being gazed at, and were also encouraged to be ‘entirely’ covered, unless they were at home. Thus, it was the responsibility of women to ensure that they did not fall prey to sin, or to the lust of men, not the other way around, as according to the writings of Clement of Alexandria.

Alaric enters Rome [Public Domain]
The middle ages, it seems, started post the destruction of the Roman empire, so early 5thc, and ends, roughly, and depending on whose school of thought you prefer, the battle of Bosworth. Nice tidy dates there to follow without any blurring of boundaries. A sure beginning can be put in 410 AD, and the end, August 22nd 1485. I like those dates. So, what was happening in Britain at that time? According to the annals, Rome advised the administrators their most northern province, to look to their own defences, when they asked for help against invaders. Rome had left Britain’s shores for the last time, and they were not coming back. The barbarian was at their door. So those left behind would have been a mixture of British and Roman stock, but those Romans could have come from anywhere. They might have been retired legionnaires, settled, and married to British women. But just because a new epoch was about to start, didn’t mean that Roman life disintegrated overnight. Roman life in some semblance still continued into the 6thc as archaeological evidence shows.

When the exact date was of the arrival of Christianity in Britain, is not known, however, it is apparent both in archaeological and textual sourced that it was well established by the 5thc. Literature suggests that Roman women were required to cover their hair in public when walking out, but the evidence of images at this time in Britain suggests otherwise. Perhaps if the doctrine of hair-covering for modesty had reached these shores, it was not fully enforced.

The Pictish Hilton of Cadbol stone, in the picture above, which dates to around 800AD, has a Christian cross on one side of it, and a secular riding scene on the other, with a high-status lady riding side saddle, her hair uncovered. This is a reconstruction of the stone to show you clearer detail of what she is wearing and how her hair looks. It is not known who she is, but on her right are a mirror and a comb, indicative of her gender. It looks very much like a hunting scene, and the fact that she is riding side-on is intriguing, but the main delight is the way her hair is depicted in cascading waves down her back. It is fascinating, that even as late as this time, the Christian doctrine of wearing veils for modesty was not necessarily in play this far north, though it could be artistic licence. And it does not mean that the rule for church did not apply when it came to prayer time.

Reenactor, Rhydian Jones states, “If you’re on the east coast north of the Forth prior to 850 AD (ish) and doing Pictish (reenactment), the majority of evidence is that women wore their hair uncovered, and frequently wore a large cloak/shawl fastened in the centre of the chest with a penannular brooch… The bigger the brooch the posher you are.” The lady on the stone does seem to have a very large brooch. This cloak could have been pulled up over her head to provide extra warmth in inclement weather. Also, seperate hoods have been indicated also.
A cap showing the Sprang technique used by
Germanic women Photo by
Lyllyundfreya CC By-SA 30

In looking at the evidence for headdress in early the middle ages, in what was later to become England, it seems that the evidence, both archaeological and documented are scarce and what evidence there might be is debatable. That’s not to say that veils weren’t worn, just that there is a paucity of evidence. As I have said earlier, I believe that women wore head-coverings of some sort even in pagan times for the reasons I had previously mentioned, and not just for modesty. Among the dubious evidence found are small rings that might have been used for braid fasteners, but generally the consensus is that these are not practical for such a purpose. Gold brocaded fillets have also been found, but it is not known if they were worn to secure a veil, or worn without the veil.

To find evidence of what women in the British Isles might have worn on their heads, we need to look to their counterparts abroad: It is known that Germanic women in ancient Scandinavia wore caps, samples from bronze and iron age have been found to be woven in sprang, an ancient technique used in Denmark and other parts of the ancient world that made them look like hairnets. An example was found on the body of a girl recovered from the Arden Mose wearing hers over 2 coiled plaits of hair.

The Arden girl's hair [Public Domain]
via Wikimedia Commons
There is no evidence of sprang technique being used by Anglo-Saxon women though the technique was known in Britain. Drawstring-style caps were found to be worn on the figures of women wearing a Menimane Rhineland costume dated from the 5th/6th centuries. It is likely that these types of caps might have been worn in Anglo-Ssxon areas at this time.

Women in Iron Age Denmark regularly wore scarves. A bog body was found wearing a scarf at Huldremose, 1.37 metres long and 49 cm wide with fringed ends. Anglo-Saxon women may have worn similar types of veils/scarves and tabby-woven material has been found on the backs of brooches. The Merovingian queen, Arnegundis, was found in her tomb with a long red satin veil, secured by two small pins at her temples. This long veil was quite common in this period. Arnegundis seems to have favoured a longer, elaborate veil that might have been crossed over the breast and pinned, and hung over an arm. A parallel for this veil was found in the grave of the woman at Mill Hill, in Deal, Kent. Two clips have also been found like the Merovingian woman at the sides of a woman’s head in Cambridgeshire, showing that the fashion might have travelled to south-eastern parts of England. To view an reconstruction of Arnegundis' burial outfit, check this link

There is a considerable amount of linguistic evidence for head gear in Anglo-Saxon:

Haet, - AS for hat.
Cuffie - a loose fitting hood.
Scyfel - a hat or a cap with a projection.
Binde – a fillet. Binde may have been the name for the gold-brocaded fillet that a very few 6thc c women wore. Cloth ones would have left no trace.
Snod – Snood in AS in Old Norse - hofuthbond

So, in summarising, where the western world is concerned, it seems the nearer to Rome and the Orthodox Christian region, the more likely that head-covering was worn, mostly in respect of church teachings. We have seen that there is less evidence for wearing head-coverings than there is for not, and less archaeological evidence than documented or art. But we cannot discount the wearing of headwear for practical reasons, such as for work or for hygiene as opposed to following a religious moral code, but this does not increase the lack of finds.

The next post in the Wimples, Veils, and Head-rails, we venture down our time tunnel to focus on the centuries between the late 7th – 9th centuries. Please join me in this fascinating adventure to find out what we can about women in this time of so-called darkness, and shine a light on their lives.


Tertullian, The Veiling of the Virgins, The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol.4 pp27-29,33.

Clement of Alexandria.

Rhydian Jones

Further reading

Owen-Crocker G.R. 2004 Dress In Anglo-Saxon England The Boydell Press, UK.


Paula Lofting is an author and a member of the re-enactment society Regia Anglorum, where she regularly takes part in the Battle of Hastings. Her first novel, Sons of the Wolf, is set in eleventh-century England and tells the story of Wulfhere, a man torn between family and duty. The sequel, The Wolf Banner is available now. Paula is currently working on the third book in the series, Wolf's Bane

Find Paula on her Blog
on her Amazon Author Page