Tag Archives: England

Why Did Emperor Hadrian Build His Wall?

For reasons that may seem clear only to some, the Roman Emperor Publius Aelius Hadrianus decided his empire could not subdue or survive in peace with the Scots, so he ordered a wall from Searius and Robuckus and had it assembled over an 84-mile stretch of gorgeous mountain property over thousands of acres of prime real estate.

Nigel Spivey reviews a book on Hadrian’s Wall, describing and explaining what can be known. And part of what is not known is the reason for the wall.

Hadrian proceeded to style himself Restitutor Orbis Terrarum, “restorer” of the lands of the world. But what “restoration” he brought to Britannia remains unclear. He made a single visit to the province in the year 122, following a tour of the Rhineland, where he had ordered the installation of a palisaded frontier-line. We presume that it was during his British visit that Hadrian developed the frontier concept further, and gave instructions for the wall and the Vallum. Arguably, then, Britannia was not restored but fractured. For that is what walls do: break, mark, and divide the earth’s surface. Britannia on the emperor’s coinage may seem the faithful subject. Once broken by a wall, however, she becomes a phantom figure—and perhaps has stayed so ever since.

(Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash)

‘The English eerie is on the rise’

A loose but substantial body of work is emerging that explores the English landscape in terms of its anomalies rather than its continuities, that is sceptical of comfortable notions of “dwelling” and “belonging”, and of the packagings of the past as “heritage”, and that locates itself within a spectred rather than a sceptred isle. . . . We are, certainly, very far from “nature writing”, whatever that once was, and into a mutated cultural terrain that includes the weird and the punk as well as the attentive and the devotional.

Robert Macfarlane writes about the eerie lands of England in many art forms, beginning with a good summary of a strange story. (via Alan Jacobs)

How the Normans Ruined the British Isles for a Thousand Years

Battle of Hastings reenactment 2006

October 14 was the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. Peter Konieczy of the University of Toronto offers three reasons why this was not a typical medieval battle. One reason was that the Normans and the English were evenly matched.

We can read some of the battle’s details in this post on a French poetic account, Estoire des Engleis History of the English, by Geoffrey Gaimar. It includes a part about a Norman juggler who demonstrated his spear skills before the English army.

Konieczy also touches on how the Normans meddled with the Irish several decades later, never fully conquering them, and by 1180, “would leave the island unstable and divided.”

Singing with English Nightingales

NightingaleEnglish Nightingales don’t actually exist. They are migrants from Central Africa up in the north country for a bit of holiday. Most of them go to Europe, but some come from families that have always holidayed in England and they aren’t going to upset Grandma by suggesting the Black Forest or the Provence Alps (especially not after Freddie ran off with that scarlet thrush last autumn; Grandma’s barely gotten over that).

Musician Sam Lee holds special performances in the woods of southeast England where the nightingales sing around this time of year.  “Lee’s show presented an opportunity to focus, fully, on what a nightingale actually sounds like, miles from the nearest road,” writes Sam Kinchin-Smith. “Much to my surprise, its stop-starting, self-counterpointing quality reminded me of nothing so much as James Brown’s ‘get on up’ scat.”

Hear that sound and read more about nightingales in Kinchin-Smith’s LRB piece.

Church of England Shouts “He Is Risen!”

Central panel of Titian’s "Triptych of the Resurrection"
Central panel of Titian’s “Triptych of the Resurrection”

Beginning with words from Psalm 22, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me,” a new video from The Church of England puts Jesus’ words in the mouths of today’s rejected people before turning to celebrate our Lord’s resurrection.

“What this film shows is that God is with us in those struggles and Easter represents the triumph of Jesus over those struggles,” says the Church’s Director of Communications.

Here’s hoping all of England will hear the full meaning of the gospel this year and be transformed, not by their good wishes and sentimentality, but by the Living Word of God. Because Christ didn’t come into this world to merely sympathize with us and tell us to keep our hopes up and be nice to each other. He came to deliver us from bondage, from the hatred and lies that come from living on our own. He came to give us new life, which is literally new life, not some tired, exaggerated metaphor.

What we have on our own doesn’t work. Both subtly and overtly, we’ve earned God’s condemnation. We’re like filthy farmhands crashing an upscale wedding. We think the wedding host and guests are supposed to be loving, accepting people, so we should be able to walk in off the field and be ourselves. The doormen said if we washed up and put on the formal apparel they would give us, we could join the party, but we said we didn’t need that. We were kicked out.

Now, it might take a while to talk through the reasons we were kicked out, but Easter celebrates the fact that we will be accepted, if we will accept the washing and clothing the host offers. No one will be turned away if he is willing to be made clean.

To paraphrase Tim Keller, the problem many churches have is that they say add a little Jesus to your life and everything will be good in the end. No need to change your life. Just keep your hopes up. But such a message short-changes the gospel, which is intended to change us completely. New life is totally new, beyond our old expectations. Just as Jesus went into the grave dead and returned alive, so he wants to take our old lives into the grave and bring us out gloriously renewed.

(Image: Iconography of the Resurrection – Bursting From the Tomb)

The headless norsemen

I’m low on ideas tonight, so I’ll just pass on the most recent big discovery in Viking studies.

Last summer, a collection of skeletons were excavated at Weymouth, in Dorsetshire in England. They had clearly died violently, and were judged to be victims of a mass execution. The bones were determined to be about a thousand years old

At the time of the news I suggested, on the Viking discussion board I frequent, that the bones were probably those of Vikings. My reason was that we know of only one attempt at genocide in England during the period in question, and that was King Æthelred the Unrede’s massacre of Danes in England, on St. Brice’s Day in 1002. (You’ll know about this if you’ve read West Oversea. You have read it, haven’t you? If not, click on the yellow cover in the carousel to the right. I’ll wait.)

I am so rarely right that I feel I need to preen a little here. According to National Geographic:

Analysis of teeth from ten of the dead—who were mostly in their late teens and early 20s—indicates the raiding party had been gathered from different parts of Scandinavia, including one person thought to have come from north of the Arctic Circle.

I think some Viking enthusiasts are a little embarrassed by this news, as it casts the Norse as victims. This in spite of the fact that many recent books have in fact openly portrayed the Norse as victims (of those nasty Christians).

I, on the other hand, have tried to dispute that victimization meme in my own writing.

But of course anyone can be a victim under certain circumstances. Hell hath no fury like a bunch of villagers who get the upper hand on a raiding party.

And the St. Brice’s Day Massacre is an undisputed historical fact.

More as the story develops.

Or not.