… on the west Devon connection. In fact, I may by now have forgotten a lot that I once found out, but this is a summing up of what I remember.
Camden’s first edition of Britannia in 1586 mentions the possibility that ‘Chimligh’ might have been the location of Asser’s arx Cynuit where the Viking leader Hubba Danus met his death – a suggestion which Camden confesses he isn’t certain about. But where did the suggestion originate? – Camden was mainly based in London, and his visit to Devon was apparently in 1589, three years after the publication of the first edition.
He is known to have used John Leland’s earlier research which dates from about 1543 – but Leland seemed mainly concerned with the local topography, the rivers, the hills, bridges and churches, the local gentry and where they lived … He writes of the rivers Taw and Turidge, of Berstaple, Bedeford and Apledour/Appledre, of Taringtun, Litle Tarington.
Stevenstone, the ‘fair brik house’ of Mr Rollys, is north west of St Giles in the Wood; Risdon’s Winscott is south east
He refers to ‘a very fair brik house at S Giles half a mile by est out of Taringtun’: this was Stevenstone, abode of the Rolle family (as Leland states) since about 1524. The Risdon home was also as St Giles in the Wood, at nearby Winscott, on the opposite side of St Giles. But Leland has nothing here to say about Ubba, castrum Kinuith or Chimligh/Chulmleigh, about 12 miles away.
However, these Renaissance historians were known to ‘network’ closely with each other and some (for example, John Hooker, Sir William Pole – both Devon men) were at work on their separate surveys of Devon at the end of the 16th century. Camden and William Lambarde, the Kent antiquarian, were among the first members of the College of Antiquaries, founded in about 1586 and the immediate predecessor of the 18th-c. Society of Antiquaries. Furthermore, as Professor Richardson has written (‘William Camden and the Rediscovery of England’, Transactions of the Leicestershire Archæological and Historical Society, 78 (2004), p 119):
“Localism was one of the most deeply ingrained characteristics of the Tudor and Stuart age and the country gentry were its most ardent exponents and followers. For them local history – especially the history of counties – was not a digression, a pastime, a second-best kind of history, a poor relation of historical studies. It was the most relevant and important kind of history of all so far as they were concerned – the kind of history that coincided most closely with the miniature worlds which the gentry knew intimately, dominated, and to a large extent effectively controlled.”
Frontispiece, Matthew Parker’s 1574 edition of Asser’s Life of King Alfred
The publication in 1574 of Bishop Parker’s edition of Asser’s Ælfredi regis res gestae – the sole contemporary source for the description of the Viking siege of ‘arx Cynuit’ – may well have sparked off the interest and speculation regarding the precise location of the event. Asser simply says that the invading Danes sailed ‘ad Domnaniam’. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle which would have been known to some through the manuscripts – though there was no printed edition until 1644 – specified ‘Defenascire’.
Parker’s Asser would have found a place in the library of many educated country gentlemen and they, repositories of local knowledge, communicated with the burgeoning antiquarian ‘movement’. One of these ‘local historians’ seems a likely source for the Chulmleigh connection.
This – 1586 – was too early for Tristram Risdon himself to have suggested a connection with Chulmleigh, but perhaps another member of the local gentry? There is always a hope that these unidentified places lie close to where we ourselves live and we are able to explore them.
The only apparent connection with Chulmleigh is that it was a Saxon centre. In Domesday it was Calmonleuga or Chalmonleuga. It seems agreed that this derives from the common Saxon name Ceolmund, though the version reported in Chumleigh village (Heritage) that: “In the year 815 AD Ceolmund , a 24 year old Saxon thegn, was charged by King Egbert of Wessex to go forth and settle in the land of the Dumnonii with a royal bride, as a reward for distinguished service in the field of battle’ is not given any source. Given that the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle suggests that the area would have still been something of a battlefield, with the ‘West Welsh’, it seems an unlikely place for a young man to take his royal bride and set out to look for a place to settle down – unless he took a strong militia with him and was prepared to fight for it.
There is no reason to doubt that the personal name Ceolmund is at the root of the name, but the Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England knows of no such Ceolmund associated with Devon at that date, so one is is left to wonder where the appealing story of young Ceolmund, the 24-year-old thegn, originated. But that need not detain us here … More to the point, what part of Chulmleigh resembles the topography of arx Cynuit as Asser so memorably described it? Would arx Cynuit really have been so far inland?
The medieval castle just outside Chulmleigh: perched on a hill but otherwise not at all like Asser’s description
Verdict on Chulmleigh: wishful thinking by a local person with antiquarian interests.
Without there being any manuscript survival, oral ‘suggestions’ regarding the history of the local area seem likely to have been the source of Camden’s 1586 edition. By 1607, he may well have been in contact with Tristram Risdon whose own speculative suggestion was that the elusive arx Cynuit was Hennaborough – Henny Castle. While this was only a conjecture, Risdon was more certain that Hubba the Dane landed at or near Appledore – ‘Apultreo in Saxon’. His reasoning is unclear.
Camden changed his mind about Chulmleigh between the 1600 edition and that of 1607 when he appears to have switched his attention from Chulmleigh to the confluence of the Taw and the Torridge. It is estimated that Risdon began to work on his Chorography in about 1605 …
As for Risdon’s text, he seems to have been influenced by William Lambarde’s Perambulation of Kent, where Apultreo is given as the ‘Saxon name’ for Kentish Appledore, the site of a slightly later Danish invasion. If mere conjecture was valid, he preferred to speculate on a site somewhat more likely (and very slightly closer to where he lived): not Chulmleigh but, perhaps, Hennaborough?
“And hereabout it was that [Hubba the Dane] laid siege to the castle of Kenwith [sic], which place some have sought for, as it were for ants’ paths, but found it not, unless they guess Hennaborough, a fort not far hence …”
Risdon’s reference to ‘Chimleigh’, however, retains the faintest reference to Asser: “Within the tything stands a castle, of stone [sic italics in the 1811 printed edition, p 302], for scite on all quarters (except the east) very defensible” – but no suggestion here that this is arx Cynuit.
[NB For comments on Risdon’s text, it should be pointed out that no reliable text, based on an original manuscript, has yet been published of what Risdon actually wrote. Until a manuscript source has been studied, no comment can be considered definitive]
Camden seemed to keep an open mind on this later idea too, not least because he knew of no precise location for the stronghold (Risdon had not at this point worked long on his Chorography, and he too was, seemingly, conjecturing). Nevertheless, the chase was pointing in the direction of the mouth of the river Taw and a place called ‘Hubbastow’ (that certainly came from a local source – perhaps Risdon – who adds that ‘the stones were long since swept away by the sea’s encroaching’). In 1702 William Baxter began work on his Glossarium (published in 1719). In a slightly obscure passage he appears to consider Barnstaple as the site of ‘Asserii nostri Arx Kinchüith’, subsequently(?) called Ubbonis Sedes or Ubbestow. This famous place, said Baxter, had long since been swallowed up by the sea and was no longer visible. It seems clear that both Risdon and Baxter were referring to Ubba’s burial mound having been swept away by the sea, not arx Cynuit itself.
That appeared to have been the state of knowledge and conjecture until Robert Studley Vidal wrote his influential paper in 1804 for the Society of Antiquaries’ publication Archæologia. In pressing the case for Kenwith Castle (Henni-borough or Henni Castle) he was opting for a site virtually on his own doorstep, since he himself lived in Cornborough House, no more than a mile away. He had therefore examined the site and ‘proved’ the case where Camden and Baxter had doubted (‘That [their] conclusions, however, were by far too peremptory, and probably drawn in a moment of negligence or haste, will, it is presumed, evidently appear from the circumstances I am about to adduce, in order to prove that not only the site of this castle, but also the enemy’s intrenchments, and the line by which the defeated Danes sought to regain their ships, may clearly be ascertained even at this day.’)
His own certainty convinced his readers and posterity – fellow antiquaries, romantic novelists, local historians, the tourist industry. From then on Ubba landed at Appledore, arx Cynuit was ‘Kenwith Castle’ – and Bloody Corner, just beyond Northam, was the very place where that battle took place in which the Danes were defeated and their raven standard captured.
Verdict on Hennaborough: This seems wishful thinking too, though could arx Cynuit be somewhere else in the area?
Well, the fleet led by Ubba (or whoever) in 878 consisted of 23 ships. The one that rowed up to Appledore in Kent in 892 had 250 ships and was followed by a further 80. These were invading forces, ‘Ubba’s’ was still a mere raiding party. It would follow that the Danes would have expected there to be something to raid and it’s not easy to see where there was sufficient Saxon wealth to tempt them in west Devon. On the north coast, especially in (present) west Somerset there were a number of documented raids; there were also at least three supposed royal estates – at Carhampton, Williton and Cannington – and therefore many ministri regis to maintain and defend them. One, at least – Carhampton – was raided twice in the 9th century. On the basis of likelihood – though no more evidence! – this seems a better guess.