What did Henry know?

Looking at the King Alfred’s Tower website, there are details of Henry Hoare’s plans for building the tower. He wrote to his daughter in 1764:

Henry Hoare II of Stourhead (1705-1785)

Henry Hoare II of Stourhead (1705-1785)

“Out of gratitude to [King Alfred] I propose…to erect a Tower on Kingsettle Hill where he set up his standard after he came out of concealment in the Isle of Athelney near Taunton…”

No evidence is given as to what exactly Hoare ‘knew’, other than the quoted comment: what did he mean by ‘set up his standard’? Rally his fyrds?

The website continues with some airy-fairy points which are either wrong (the site of the tower was never on the triple boundary of Somerset, Wiltshire and Dorset; though might have been at the boundary between three parishes: Brewham, Kilmington and Stourton, all of which are, or were at some point, in Somerset); nor is any evidence cited for the vague claim that the site is ‘near the location of ‘Egbert’s stone’ ‘. The only point of interest is the belief that this was the ‘pass’ which Alfred took [into the forest]. That would rule out Penselwood, but it was only a belief lacking evidence.

There is one glaring reason why Mr Hoare believed that Alfred passed along that way: it was on his estate. Others probably thought it was on their estates.

Mr Rawlence’s suggestions seem mere flights of fancy: Geoffrey of Monmouth did indeed mention an ‘Ebrictus’, killed in the Battle of Camlann, which took place in about 537:

Battle of Camlann, in which Arthur, Modred - and 'Ebrictus' - died

Battle of Camlann, in which Arthur, Modred – and ‘Ebrictus’ – died

Ceciderunt namque in parte Modredi una cum se ipso Cheldricus, Claficus, Ebrictus, Burningus Saxones, Gillepatric, Gillamori, Gillasel, Gillarun Hibernienses, Scoti etiam et Picti, cum omnibus fere quibus dominabantur. [Geoffrey of Monmouth, Historia regum Britanniae Liber Undecimus §2 ]

Why Rawlence associated this obscure 6th-c. Saxon with the stones, rather than the better known Egbert (Ecgbriht) of Wessex (770-839), grandfather of King Alfred, and victor at the Battle of Ellandun (probably at Wroughton, 40 miles away), is not clear. And the idea that the Ecgbryhtesstane (being the three sarsen stones at Kingston Deverill) might have been set up as a memorial to the slain comrade of Mordred is curious: were the stones, in their original place on Court Hill, not a neolithic or Bronze Age burial site? Rawlence’s ideas do seem to be his own, owing nothing to local traditions of which he seems to be unaware.

Returning to Mr Carpenter of Kingston Deverill: he was 82 in 1928, hence born in 1846. He says that ‘when he was a boy’ (c.1855?) he remembers that “old people” said the stones had been moved down from the hill. Ah! the “old people” … that could take it back at least two generations, if not more; perhaps many more. The ‘farmer’ who brought them down had a use of his own for them. No respecter of ancient monuments (a farmer dismantling an ancient monument to make stepping stones sounds like the modern world rather than long ago). The ‘local traditions’ of the meeting place of kings, of fines being paid, of executions taking place there seem to be the echo of a more distant past.

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