Saturday, February 20, 2010

Shearsman’s new version of Tottel’s Miscellany

The miscellany (1557) was the first printed anthology of English poetry in English, one of the first examples of possibly dodgy editing practice and a wonderful book. Although it named Surrey on the title page, it also published Wyatt beyond his immediate circle of friends.

This edition, published on my birthday no less, is wonderful in the literal sense of that much overused word. Unlike the usual meaningless blurb the back cover is used to provide most of the necessary background information. This in itself deserves praise. My only real quibble with the whole book is that the afterword isn’t signed and we can’t thank who ever edited this version.
Tottle began with “The printer to the reader”:

That to haue wel written in verse, yea & in small parcelles, deserueth great praise, the works of diuers Latines, Italians, and others, do proue sufficiently.

The lyric was coming of age. Although there are beautiful anonymous pieces from the middle ages, with Tottel the short poem steps up, sometimes with the writer’s name attached, to be considered as “deserving great praise”. This new edition makes it possible to see the moment as it was.

As the quotation makes obvious, the spelling hasn’t been modernised. This isn’t a problem. I’m also grateful to the anonymous editor for deciding not to reproduce the heavy black type of the original. My second hand copy of the Scolar press facsimile is now almost unreadable.

In “The Modern Poet” Robert Crawford, discussing how the presentation of poetry has become subsumed into the academic process, points to the way modern editions of poetry from the past are likely to be edited by scholars who are academic experts in their field. This produces a familiar book where the poems, squashed between the critical apparatus, are presented as objects for study. The penguin Complete Wyatt has 262 pages of poems in very small font on grainy paper, squashed between 66 pages of introduction and 178 pages of notes.

I confess to being a compulsive reader of footnotes, endnotes, introductions glossaries forewords, afterwords and all the familiar paraphernalia of the critical modern edition. So there’s a delightful sense of unfamiliarity to open the Shearsman edition and find nothing but the poems on the page. Set out in a readable font on good paper, the book is slightly bigger than the usual paperback and that makes for a decent sized page.

At first sight it’s actually odd. The poems aren’t jostling for space or competing for attention. Stripped back to what it was, the book invites the reader to pay attention to the poems. This is what I imagine Graves meant when he said poets and readers need “clean reading copies” of poetry. And I like it. It’s pleasant to read. Rochester please?

It’s hard not to start by looking up favourite poems. Doing so misses some of the odder little pieces scattered about.
But being a fan of Sir Thomas, to page 48 to read the tottled version of “They flee from me”. What Tottel did to Wyatt has been well known since the mss versions of the poems were discovered in the 20th century and has been discussed at great length.

This means that modern editions of Wyatt usually include the almost obligatory discussion of “How to read Wyatt” with attendant attempts to show the editor’s favourite version of the metre or method Wyatt may have been using. Fortunately this edition does not do so and resists the urge to correct Tottel.

Reading the Totteled version not as a foot note or as extracts in a long essay is a strange experience. Tottel added titles. I haven’t read them all but he seems to have used third person titles to introduce first person poems. So the piece I know as “They flee from me”..is ”The louer sheweth how he is forsaken of such as he sometimes enjoyed”. (Which is an advance on the penguin complete’s LXXX)

I can see why people may prefer this version of the poem although the stanza break makes little sense. The poem lacks that familiar jaggedness (highly technical term!) I like in Wyatt. Instead of being forced to think about how to speak the lines, they just toddle along.

But the Tottel version not only adds words but changes them. The sarcasm of the ms “kindly”, which is in keeping with “I have leave to go of her goodness’ has been replaced by the more obvious “unkindly” and the understatement goes out the window. The last line in Tottel’s version is almost bland compared to the bitter whine of “I would fain know what she hath deserved.”

There’s nothing new to say about Tottel or Wyatt and if there is I’m not going to be the person saying it. So all this to say having a good reader’s edition of Tottel presents poems as things to read and enjoy not to study. Anyone interested in English poetry, or in the short lyric poem, should buy this book.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Leofric's family...the events of 1065

With so little evidence the Historian is forced to fit what is available into which ever grand narrative he or she prefers. It’s the only way to make what is a scattered mess into a tidy story. The generally accepted master narrative of the 11th century is that the families of Godwin and Leofric vied for power, possibly at the expense of the Anglo-Saxon state and the unity and strength of the kingdom.

Richard Fletcher, who was after all writing a book about Blood Feuds, could write about the events of 1065: “ For Edwine and Morcar it was an opportunity not to be missed. Here at last was a chance to hit out at the hated sons of Godwin” (Bloodfeud. p161). Victor Head in his “biography” of Hereward wrote: “it is tempting to see in this [the exile of Hereward] evidence of the political intrigues that marked the years leading up to the Norman Conquest and to a large extent contributed to its success.”
Reading backwards family politics becomes a reason for the Norman success and for Edwine and Morcar’s recalcitrance in 1066 and later. That backward reading is supported, consciously or otherwise, by later medieval history where great families did split the kingdom all ends up and by earlier Anglo-Saxon history where Mercia and Wessex and Northumbria were kingdoms vying for political dominance. And by the assumption that two families, both alike in dignity, must have been each other’s throats.

Baxter suggests that the earls were in fact both powerful and vulnerable, hard working administrators who may not have been quite so geographically focussed as we would suspect and that the continued strength and prosperity and peace of the kingdom under the anointed king was in their best interests.

But not being an historian, I can indulge in some whatiffery. Is there any reason to suppose that the Godwinsons and Leofwinsons did hate each other? Or saw each other as rivals? If so for what?

But first a quick recap on what is known about the Northumbrian uprising in 1065.

After ten years or so, the people of Northumbria had had enough of Tostig. While he was away at the southern court they rose against him. The uprising was well-planned. The rebels entered York on 3rd October and killed Tostig’s retainers. Having declared Tostig an outlaw, they offered the “Vacant Earldom” to Morcar, the youngest brother of Eadwine and son of Aeflgar. Morcar accepted, and marched south with his new people, joined by his brother, the fighting men of Mercia and their Welsh allies. Harold Godwinson acted as an intermediary between the king and the rebels. Rather than bring them to heal by fighting, as Edward may have wanted, an agreement was reached which legalised what had happened. Morcar was confirmed as Earl of Northumbria, Edward agreed to follow the Laws of Cnut, and Tostig was isolated. Outraged, he claimed his brother had manufactured the uprising and Harold had to clear himself on oath. The rebels did a bit of Harrying around Northhampton where Tostig had estates, and then went home. The had entered York on the 3rd, the council finished its deliberations on the 28th and Tostig was offered a choice: accept or be exiled. He chose exile. Before speculating about skulduggery.


Edwine and Morcar's father was dead. So was their grandfather Leofric. But Godgifu wasn't. I wonder what Grandma G thought of all this.

1) The rebellion, which is usally simply narrated and explained, was outrageous. The Earl was the King’s appointed deputy in his earldom. To throw him out was an act of gross disobedience. In a top down society, no matter how interdependent the parts of the hierarchy, to overthrow your king’s appointed officer was novel. King’s had exiled earls, but not at the request of the people they were supposed to keep in line.

2) There’s nothing odd about the rebels' choice of Morcar. They obviously needed a candidate to replace Tostig. You don’t just rock up to Morcar’s front door in the aftermath of your rebellion and ask “how’d you fancy being earl of Northumbria’ to which he replies : ”Cor, I’d like that. Hey Edwin, bro, I’m marching south against the King, wanna get some homeys together in a posse and ride with me?”

Choosing a local replacement for Tostig was not a good idea for several reasons. Firstly it would isolate the northumbrians between the Mercians and the Scots; secondly, if Fletcher is correct, while there were candidates from old families in the area, they tended to have enemies who were candidates from other old familes; at least they could all regard an outlander with mutual suspicion and hostility. Morcar was the ideal choice: While planning the uprising they were hardly going to approach one of Tostig’s brothers; as a son of Leofric he had had what passed as training for Earling: secondly, his elder brother had an army.

3) Tostig’s actions after his exile suggest he was following a well known script without quite realising that the world had changed. He probably remembered his father’s banishment and had heard enough stories about it. The pattern, which Aeflgar had worked twice with minor variations, meant you went away, gathered an army, found an ally, roughed up the locals, then gathered enough supporters to make the King take you back. King Harald’s Saga is not a reliable historical source, but it’s interesting that in the dramatic confrontation between the two brothers before Stamford Bridge, Harold offers Tostig a third of England, including Northumbria. Tostig says it’s a pity he didn’t say this last year, and then asks what English Harold will give Viking Harald. The reply ”seven feet of ground” sums up the bind Tostig put himself in.

4) If Tostig was playing a well known script the context had changed in subtle but important ways. Godwin had been exiled for refusing to harry Dover. He had good will in the bank when he came back. Tostig had been evicted by his own people and they didn’t want him back. When he raided along the coast he was seen off by Edwin and Morcar. There was no popular rising in his favour. Godwin had faced Edward. Tostig now had to face his brother. And while Aelfgar had made treaties with the Welsh, Tostig went and made his with a man even the Vikings thought was a hard case, who wouldn’t be happy to see Tostig reinstated in York and then sail home. He wanted the crown of England. And that changed everything.
But the question that intrigues me, is did Harold “do his bother good and proper” in 1065? And does the concept of family feud obscure something else.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Leofric's family...a digression

Before the dirty deeds and misdeeds of 1065…
One of the problems of 11th century history (or one of its delights) is the dearth of available records.

Within a hundred and fifty years of the conquest the number of people who could read an Anglo-Saxon manuscript may have been less than the number who can do so today. Add to that the problems caused by the monastic habit of “Creative Copying” of older charters and documents, outright forgery, destruction and loss of manuscripts over time and then accelerated by the dissolution of the monasteries and what we can know of whole decades is pitifully small.

As the earliest story of Lady G attests, the problem is compounded because the Normans of the 12th century and those who came after weren’t that well informed about the Anglo-Saxons of the Eleventh.

We know Earl Aelfgar was exiled twice. The first time is mentioned in three of the versions of the chronicle although each gives a slightly different version of the story and none gives much of an explanation.

But almost all that is known about the second time is contained only in the Worcester version of the Anglo Saxon Chronicle for 1058.
Here Earl Alefgar was expelled, but he soon came back again, with violence, though the help of Gruffydd. And here came a raiding ship-army from Norway. It is tedious to tell how it all happened. [the entry continues with the actions of Bishop Aldred and other ecclesiastical figures.)

It is tedious to tell how it all happened. It was cold, he was bored, hungry, his fingers hurt and his back and eyes ached. How was he to know anyone would care in a thousand years time?

Hereward the Wake is a hero of Romance, the epitome of English resistance to the Norman invaders, a subject of ballads (he was?) but all the Chronicle says about him is in the entry for 1071 which begins…Here Earl Edwin and Morcar ran off and travelled variously in woods and in open country…Edwin is killed by his own men and the surviving rebels, holed up in Ely, surrender…”except Hereward alone, and all who wanted to be with him; and he courageously lead them out.”

Now, the gaps are so huge you are free to fill them any way you wish.

If you want to argue that he must have been a three toed Nergle from the planet ZIpthith who landed in Ely by mistake, thinking the monastery was a rest and recreation area and the monks were organic orgasmatrons (mark 4 ambulant) you are welcome to do so. It’s about as sensible as arguing that he must have been a son of Earl Leofric. Summarised and possibly supported by Heard in his biography of Hereward, the arguments, based on the novel by Charles Kingsley and a "history" written by a Lieut-General Thomas Netherton Harward in 1896, who thought he was his descendant. make my Nergel thesis seem a model of rational argument.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Earl Leofric's family #2

Eadwine and Morcar, the two surviving sons of Aelfgar, (lady G's grandsons (she was still alive) had their army destroyed at Fulford Gate and then disappear from the evidence until their submission to William after Hastings. If they fought at either Stamford bridge or Hastings there is no evidence, but if they fought at Hastings then they must have “slipped away”.

Their careers after the conquest are depressing: held as virtual hostages, they seem to have tried to operate within the new regime the way their Grandfather and Great grandfather had adapted but failed. There is even a story that William promised Eadwine his daughter.

They rebel, apologise, are pardoned, rebel again. Eadwine is killed by his own men and Morcar, having submitted yet again, plays out his life as a prisoner. Though pardoned by William on his death bed, he was re-imprisoned by William 2 and probably died in the same prison as Harold’s last surviving brother. He’s last heard of as a prisoner around 1086.

As Baxter writes is an ironic end to what is often seen as the great family feud of the 11th century.

Baxter shows how the sorry post conquest career of the boys may not have been simply the result of their character. As he explains, the conditions that allowed the earls of pre-conquest England to be powerful were gradually disappearing. The Earls were no longer able to protect their people; their powerbase was being eroded as their influence at the local level was being steadily diminished. A lord who could neither punish nor protect, reward nor promote, (to put it in terms Baxter doesn’t use) wasn’t worth fighting for.

One other major factor had changed: The King. The great magnates of pre-conquest England seemed to simultaneously muster armies and try to avoid civil war. When Godwine and Aelfgar returned after exile they did so with an army behind them, but in all three cases they were able to negotiate their return with limited bloodshed. When the Northumbrians threw Tostig out, they marched south in force with Eadwine's Mercians and some Welsh supporters, but Harold negotiated rather than raise the army and fight. There was no suggestion that Edward’s status as King was under treat. Perhaps his authority and his ability to force his subjects to do his will was under pressure but there was no attempt by any of these to actually topple the King. Heroic poetry might obscure the fact that most of the time men didn't like fighting unless they had to.

(There may have been some very underhand goings on In the immediate aftermath of Tostig's expulsion...but even so it would have exploited a general reluctance to fight a civil war... see next post).

However, William knew his position was tenuous. Any challenge to his authority implied a threat to his position. The evidence also suggests he and his men were more than happy to fight.
Next post, Revealed, scandalous political dealings in the 11th Century!

Earl Leofric's family #1

The Earls of Mercia
By Stephen Baxter.(OUP 2007)

Having sacrificed an arm and a leg to buy a copy, I have to say it’s been worth the pain. Although you’d think they'd get a decent proof reader to check a book like this. Grumble aside, this is history as careful consideration of evidence, written by someone who knows the limitations of the available evidence and keeps his arguments firmly grounded in it.
It avoids the kind of half informed wishful thinking that characterises some books about the 11th century.
This strict focus on the evidence leads to two paradoxical results.
The first is to show how very little survives from a century. The second, despite the scarcity, or even because of it, the players still emerge.
And in some cases, the evidence is incriminating in ways that speculation cannot be.

So firstly the cleaning up. I wish I’d had this when writing Lady G.
The family tree in two posts and then the more juicy stuff.

Earl Leofric’s father was Leofwine, and as Baxter says this means the Leofwinsons were the great survivors of the 11th century, holding almost continuous (though varying) office from 994 to 1070(ish). For four generations the family served nine kings representing four different royal dynasties. The Godwinsons are sexier, a family of delinquent power hungry nutters makes much better subjects for a story, but it may be better, sometimes, to serve in heaven than rule in hell?

Leofric’s grandfather is shadowy though it’s possible he is named in ‘The Battle of Maldon’ which is ironic given his grandsons’ action.

Leofric had at least three bothers, two of whom came to violent ends. Northman was executed in Cnut’s purge of 1017 although his father wasn’t. Eadwine died in battle against the Welsh in 1039. Confusingly there was also a brother called Godwine who lived til the 1050s. He’s the one who launched an attack while his son, Aelfwine, was a hostage of the Danes. Aelfwine, Leofric’s nephew, having lost both his hands, “lived out his life in the hut of an oxherd”.

Leofric and Godgifu had one son, Aelfgar. There seems to be no evidence of a daughter or any other children.

Aelfgar , who doesn’t seem to have inherited his father’s…. tact, pinballed around the 1050s in a series of banishments and returns. He is known to have had three sons and one daughter.: Ealdgyth, Eadwine, Morcar and Burgheard. The idea that Hereward the wake is a member of the family is a romantic fiction and Baxter advances the case that it is more likely that he was one of Morcar’s men.

Although at this distance it’s impossible to “know” much about Ealdgyth, the bare facts of her life provide an insight into the reality of being a member of such a powerful family. Her uncle had died fighting against Gruffudd but she married him. Dealing with the Welsh was an English problem but the border made it particularly a Mercian one. The fact that her brothers were known to have welsh allies suggests they weren’t always at each others throats. She may have been part of the price her father paid for Welsh support in his two “returns” to power. (The facts open up into speculation. Did she speak Welsh? Or did Gruffudd speak English, or did they require a Latimer? In such a marriage was conversation even necessary? )

Gruffudd was killed in 1063 after Tostig and harold raided deep into Wales. (His own men sent his head to the English). In early 1066 she married the man responsible for his death; Harold which makes her the last queen of Anglo-Saxon England. If you subscribe to the family enmity and feud version, then in theory at least it should have stopped here, not in the bathetic end of Morcar (see next post).
She had a daughter by Gruffudd, and a son by Harold, though the latter didn’t live to see him. It’s possible that if William hadn’t already been married he might have been her third husband.