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An interesting summary of Anglo - Saxon England
on 26 September 2010
Contents: Boadicea; King Arthur; The Sutton Hoo Man; Offa; Alfred the Great; Athelstan; Eric Bloodaxe; Ethelred the Unready; William the Conqueror.
Blurb: `(Michael Wood)...explores the facts and the legends surrounding the Celtic Queen Boadicea and King Arthur and, with them, uncovers the enduring myths of the British world which the great Anglo - Saxons overcame. It was, he argues, under three great Anglo - Saxon kings - Offa, Alfred and Athelstan - that the idea of a united England came about: Offa, who built his dyke along the border with Wales; Alfred, who saved the English from the Vikings and then laid the foundations of a `national' state and culture; Athelstan, who created the kingdom still ruled today by his distant kinswoman Elizabeth II. Wood also explores the failure of Ethelred the Unready to defend England against renewed Viking invasions, paving the way for the Norman conquest of 1066.'
Comment: This book was originally written to accompany a BBC TV series from 1981 and in that context would no doubt have been an insightful source for those wishing to develop on the themes of the TV episodes. As such, this book focuses on certain key periods of Anglo - Saxon England based around certain protagonists, and as such a rather simplified linear development of Dark Age England is presented. In his defence, the author does try to put the events and people he discusses in context, but those references beyond the scope of the book are often lost on the reader. Snippets from the Anglo - Saxon Chronicle are welcomed additions to the text and give the reader a more contemporary, if biased perspective. One particular problem is how rarely the author examines kingdoms concurrently, which distorts the view of Britain as a whole; only ever the dominant kingdom of any period is explained and little reference made to the development of Wales and Scotland.
It also appears odd that an entire chapter of a book professing to deal with the Dark Ages, typically referred to as the period 410 - 1066, is spent evaluating the Boudicca revolt of 60/61. Despite literary fiction from authors such as Manda Scott speculating on the impact of a successful revolt, this Iceni rebellion had little direct bearing on eventual Anglo - Saxon Britain. Perhaps the inclusion is to illustrate the effect of myth and legend which is later explained in the chapter on King Arthur?
This book never professes to be a comprehensive guide or historical narrative to Dark Age Britain. Instead it is accessible to the generalist reader who is interested in an overview of what England was like between the Roman withdrawal and the Battle of Hastings. As an entire chronology much is unexplained, but for those kings that are covered there is great detail examining their military, political, social and religious undertakings. An interesting read summarising the main stages in Anglo - Saxon development, but those looking for a comprehensive guide to the Dark Ages will have to continue their search elsewhere.