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It seems like only yesterday that ‘Royal Blood – heads & tales’ was being installed at Andover, but since then versions of the show have visited Fareham and Aldershot and are still in situ at Alton, Christchurch and Eastleigh. Now the exhibition has gone up a notch and ‘Royal Blood – births, battles and beheadings’ has just opened at the Sainsbury Gallery, Willis Museum, Basingstoke.
The larger venue allows for a more expansive display but the time frame has been narrowed to cover, in six steps, the period from 100 BC to AD 1649. Star attraction of the Iron Age case, on loan from the British Museum, are items from the ‘Alton Hoard’, including coins of Tincomarus, an Atrebatic leader. Representing the Romans are objects from recent work at Silchester and a previously unseen enamelled belt buckle with military connections, from Kingsclere. The Saxons chip in with buckets and buckles, but of the most exquisite and rare variety, from Breamore and Monk Sherborne.
The medieval period focuses on Odiham Castle, one of Hampshire’s hidden gems. As well as a fragment of the building raised for King John, there’s the county’s oldest example of the Great Seal, added to an Andover charter 10 years before the Magna Carta. This is rarely seen outside the Hampshire Record Office. Also on show is a beautiful heraldic horse harness pendant of the Despenser family.
For the Tudors the Tichborne Spoons, a remarkable example of Elizabethan craftsmanship, shine out, but the Stuart period focuses on the Civil War, with armour, a sword and a hoard of 122 silver coins capturing the strife and disruption so widespread at the time.
In addition, hunting – a popular pastime at all periods – and music are celebrated, both via the pages of Tudor volumes, on loan from Winchester College.
Reminding us, throughout, that history is about people not about things, are the costumed figures dressed, appropriately, in shades of red. These majestic personages, based on historical individuals, led far from genteel existences and questions of birth, battles and beheadings were ever present in their royal lives.
Royal Blood is at the Willis Museum until the end of October – Admission Free.
It seems like only yesterday that ‘Royal Blood’ was being installed at Andover, Fareham and Aldershot…and already it’s time to up sticks and cases and graphics and objects and move things to Alton, Christchurch and Eastleigh. At Alton it’s the Allen Gallery that hosts the touring exhibitions and last week saw RB safely installed, with particular mention of the Late Iron Age and Civil War periods.
We chose the Late Iron Age because there’s a hoard known as the ‘Alton Hoard’ in the British Museum. The find was of particular significance because it contained coins of a tribal leader previously known only as ‘Tinc’ – and believed to be ‘Tincommius’ (by adding the ‘Tin’ bit to his father’s or grandfather’s name). The new finds (well, 1996) contained coins marked ‘Tincomarus‘, causing excitement across the numismatic world. Incidentally, although the hoard is said to hail from Alton – it’s actually from Froxfield – ‘and that’s nearer to Petersfield’ as one mildly indignant Altonian told me.
Whichever corner of East Hampshire the coins hail from, they’ll be on show in the main Royal Blood exhibition, which begins its tour (at Basingstoke) in early September.
The other featured element at the Allen Gallery is the ‘Storming of Alton’, and this Civil War episode couldn’t have reached its climax much closer to the exhibition’s location. In December, 1643, as Alton was occupied by a Royalist force of 900, the Parliamentary General, Sir William Waller, gathered 5000 men and began a night march, ostensibly towards Basing. He turned towards Alton, however, and surrounded the town. A fierce battle ensued, with Waller getting the upper hand by using a number of lightweight leather-barrelled field guns, recently received from London.
The defenders fell back on the church of St Lawrence, a stone’s throw from the Museum. The attackers tossed in grenades, before storming the building. Colonel Richard Bolles led the defence, defying his men to surrender. With his death, however, they laid down their arms and over 800 were taken prisoner and marched off to Farnham.
Among the items on display is a small iron shot unearthed in Alton Churchyard, which must be from one of the leather-barrelled guns. Other parts of the exhibition reflect on the careers of Waller and Sir Ralph Hopton – friends before the war, but on opposing sides during the conflict – and there is the full sweep of the Heads and Tales timeline, from the Atrebates to our very own Elizabeth II.
Royal Blood; Heads & Tales – Allen Gallery, Alton, 16 July to 18 September
The Royal Blood exhibition ‘Heads and Tales’ is now on show in three of the Hampshire Cultural Trust museums; Andover, Fareham and Aldershot. Andover features the Iron Age and Saxon periods and rehearses the story of Dead Man’s Plack, in Harewood Forest, where King Edgar the Peaceable (959-975) is reputed to have slain his right-hand man, Aethelwold.
Having sent his loyal servant on a wife-scouting mission to Devon, where the fair Aelfthryth was reputed to be a maid without compare, Edgar was just about coming to terms with the unfavourable reports when he tripped over a beautiful woman in the Forest. He followed her home and found that it was none other than Aelfthryth. Aethelwold, bewitched by her beauty, had decided to keep her for himself – a bad move. The King ordered him to saddle up and accompany him on the hunt – whereupon he ran him through with a spear. The ‘Plack’ – a stone cross – marks the spot where it happened. He then took Aelfthryth as his bride.
The story found a champion in landowner Col William Iremonger, who had the cross put up in 1825. An Oxford Professor, Edward Freeman, then poured cold water on it, but that only incensed the famous naturalist, William Hudson, who while out searching for rare spiders in Harewood Forest, ate his lunch in the shade of the cross and imagined he saw the whole tragedy unfurl in front of his eyes. He was so taken by the story he put it in print (1920).
Edgar and Aelfthryth had a son (Ethelred) and following the King’s death, Aelfthryth was implicated in the murder of his son by a previous marriage – Edward (‘the Martyr’) – at Corfe, so that her son could take the throne. Again it is thought that the medieval chroniclers painted a far worse picture of her than she deserved, and she had nothing to do with the heinous crime.
Aelfthryth’s close connection to the Harewood Forest area seems to have been through Wherwell Priory, which she is variously credited with founding, or endowing with gifts. She died there around the year 1000. Comparatively recent work has discovered the plan of the abbey (Priory) church and shown that some of the buildings still survive intact, but a number of graves found in an archaeological dig were left in situ, as the development work was tailored in such a way that they would remain undisturbed.
One hundred and fifty years after Aelfthryth, Wherwell was again at the heart of the action, following the ‘Rout of Winchester’, but that’s another chapter.
William Henry Hudson, 1920, Dead Man’s Plack and an Old Thorn
Wherwell Priory – survey and excavations – Hampshire Studies 53, Roberts; 55, Clark and Roberts; 58, Manning and Rawlings.
Series by; Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Jane King, Lesley Johnson, Peter Stone.
Bury Hill’s earthworks are quite prominent on the summit of a low rise at the confluence of the rivers Anna and Anton, near Andover. An Early Iron Age hillfort of 10 ha (24 acres) occupies the site but was superseded by a much stronger circular fort of half the size. The earlier enclosure, tested by geophysical survey and excavation, had no evidence of occupation, but it was a different picture in the later camp, which was densely packed with features.
What was striking about Barry Cunliffe’s work here in 1990 was the remarkable haul of horse harness and chariot fittings. The excavation produced six copper alloy terret rings, three strap unions, two small strap rings, a linchpin and an antler side piece capped with a copper alloy disc, as well as numerous iron horse bits and nave rings. Actual horse remains comprised 48% of the animal bones found, about ten times higher than at nearby Iron Age sites, suggesting highly specialised activity at Bury Hill.
Calculations show an average height of eleven hands for a horse population aged between one and fourteen years. With less than 5% juvenile mortality it is likely that the animals were not kept for breeding and they may have been semi-feral, similar to New Forest ponies today. With peak mortality at age six or seven years it is also unlikely that they were exploited for meat. The probability is that the herd was carefully managed, with the emphasis on horses for riding and chariot use.
It seems clear that the community viewed the chariot as a symbol of prestige. It is likely that the vehicles were manufactured at the site and the necessary specialised metalwork made there by craftsmen working for the local elite. This was a group potentially more warrior-dominated than in previous Iron Age generations and ties in with Caesar’s descriptions from 54 BC, when the Late Iron Age forces ranged against him included up to 4,000 chariots!
The Wessex Hillforts Survey has identified an oval enclosure of approximately 1.6ha (4 acres) just outside the later camp at Bury Hill, with its largest entrance facing towards the fort. Is this where the elite warriors – the royal house guard or comitates – strutted their stuff, leaving the artisans to their carpentry workshops and smithies inside the defences?
The allegiance of this Late Iron Age ‘arms factory’ is not clear. The local Atrebates tribe were pro-Roman, but suffered incursions from the Trinovantes and Catuvellauni. Whoever it was they followed, there’s no doubt that the later 1st century BC and the early 1st century AD were turbulent times, if the importance given to the production of weapons of war is anything to go by.
Royal Blood Postscript: In later times Polydore Vergil (16th century) and Sir Richard Colt Hoare imagined Edmund Ironside and the Danish King Canute occupying Bury Hill and Balksbury respectively, as they slogged it out for possession of England in the early 11th century, but there is no hard evidence for this episode from either site.
Cunliffe, B & Poole, C. 2000. The Danebury Environs Programme: The Prehistory of a Wessex Landscape Vol 2, part 2. Bury Hill, Upper Clatford, Hants, 1990. English Heritage and Oxford University Committee for Archaeology Monograph no. 49.
Series by: Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Jane King, Lesley Johnson, Peter Stone
To Winchester City Museum, for the launch of a new book ‘Danes in Wessex’, edited by Ryan Lavelle and Simon Roffey of the University of Winchester. The book stems from a conference held at the University back in 2011, but the editors also widened their net to include contributions from a number of specialists who were not at the original event.
As might be expected from a volume which covers a period when the power of the sword was more influential than the power of the word, a good number of the papers are about warfare. Thomas Williams looks at ‘The Place of Slaughter: Exploring the West Saxon Battlescape’, while the aptly-named Derek Gore conducts ‘A Review of Viking Attacks in Western England’. Among other dark offerings is ‘Death on the Dorset Ridgeway: The Discovery and Excavation of an Early Medieval Mass Burial’ by Angela Boyle. It’s not all cut and thrust, of course, and I, for one, look forward to reading about ‘Orc of Abbotsbury and Tole of Tolpuddle’, who according to Ann Williams, enjoyed ‘A place in the country’.
Another delightful offering is sure to be ‘Danish Royal Burials in Winchester: Cnut and his Family’, by Martin Biddle and Birthe Kjolbye-Biddle. Professor Biddle was at the Museum to give his blessing to the book and enthralled his audience by describing the action taking place on a fragment of stone sculpture from Old Minster. A prostrate, bound man grapples with a large dog-like animal, which has its muzzle pressed hard against his face. This may well be depicting the episode of Sigmund and the Wolf, from Volsunga Saga.
Having seen nine of his brothers devoured nightly by an evil-looking she-wolf, Sigmund is saved by his twin sister Signy, who sent her servant to smear his face with honey and put some in his mouth. When the wolf licked the honey and thrust her tongue into his mouth in search of more, Sigmund bit hard. The shock made the wolf jump backwards and break his bonds, but Sigmund didn’t let go and tore out the lupine tongue, killing the beast.
Reading about the episode I was transported back a couple of weeks to the cinema – and a viewing of ‘The Revenant’. I’m not sure a mouthful of honey would have done much to help Mr Glass in his encounter with the bear but despite the differences in time, terrain and weapons of choice, the film certainly conveyed the feeling of a rough, tough, raiding-party world.
The ‘Big Theme’ at several Hampshire Cultural Trust venues this year is ‘Royal Blood’, which looks at the role of royals from the Late Iron Age onwards. A touring show (Basingstoke, Winchester, Gosport) starting in September, is complemented by offerings at the Community Museums.
Ryan Lavelle & Simon Roffey (eds), 2016, Danes in Wessex; The Scandinavian Impact on Southern England, c 800 – c 1100. Oxbow Books.
Series by: Dave Allen, Sarah Gould, Lesley Johnson, Jane King, Peter Stone.