Battle of Cynuit (4): another antiquary

Tristram Risdon (c. 1580-1640) wrote about the county of Devon: ‘The Chorographical, or survey, of the county of Devon’ was completed in the 1630s but not published until the following century, complete with all its commas:

Risdon's survey

Risdon’s survey

‘Appledore, in the Saxon’s tongue Apultreo, a place, since our father’s age, meanly inhabited, but at present mustereth many mansions, and may, for multitude, compare with some towns, so near situate is it to the outlet of two notable rivers into the sea, and the next harbour for ships within the bar. In this place it was that Hubba, the Dane, in the days of king Alfred, that Saxon monarch, landed with thirty-three sail of ships, coming out of South Wales, where he had wasted all in his way with fire and sword. And hereabout it was he laid siege to the castle of Kenwith, 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, to be the same; which conjecture, I partly ground upon the name, that not much differs after the revolution of so many ages, and partly from the nearness of the place where he landed, no other fortification in this quarter being to be found.’

An early 19th-c. edition (1811) contains many additions made by the editors, including:

‘NORTHAM is a rectory, in the gift of the collegiate church of Windsor.

An allusion is made in [Risdon’s] text  to a splendid event in Anglo-Saxon history, which is understood to have occurred in this parish, the signal victory obtained over the Danes by the Earl of Devon, in the reign of Alfred. The vague surmises of the identity of the situation of the ancient Kenwith and the modern Henniborough, to which our ancestor [again, Risdon] alludes, having been recently converted into strong probability by the investigation of an able Antiquary, Robert Studley Vidal, Esq. F.S.A. whose residence is at Cornborough House, near Bideford. The result of his enquiry is contained in the 15th Volume of the Archæologia.’

OS map shows Kenwith Castle

OS map shows Kenwith Castle

The strange point about this is that ‘Kenwith’ (= Cynuit) was assumed to be the ancient name and ‘Henniborough’ the modern one. Yet modern maps show the name Kenwith, which Henniborough was supposed to have replaced, altered ‘after the revolution of so many ages’. It was only a supposition that Henniborough was the modern version of Kenwith. I have not found an old map marking either Kenwith, Henniborough or Henny Hill.

It seems more likely that the story became attached to the place, Cynuit was identified with the name Henniborough and finally Cynuit – in the made-up form Kenwith – replaced the old name when local tradition became historical fact.

If that is the case, there is very little evidence other than local tradition – not even the name – to suggest the present location had anything to do with the historical event.

So much for Kenwith, so much for Beaford. And so to …


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