And here’s another one …

Namely, Alfred. An Epic Poem, In Twenty-Four Books, by Joseph Cottle,  first edition published in 1800.

Joseph Cottle, bookseller and publisher, of Bristol

This is just a short cul-de-sac to compare it with Fitchett’s poem and Cumberland’s drama.

The poem is mainly ‘history’ and battle, judging from the first volume, more manly epic than Gothic romance. And the main difference is it’s shorter than Fitchett (and less florid in style) and longer than Cumberland.

The ‘Battle of Cynuit’ is (un)interesting in that there is no reference to Devon: the Danes don’t land there, Oddune is not earl of Devonshire, ‘Kenwith Castle’ is not said to belong to him and it’s not even imprecisely located, nor indeed does it appear to belong to anyone in particular – no one is mentioned as living there. Oddune with his Saxons takes refuge there from Hubba’s bloodthirsty army, and they find themselves besieged with only ten days (or perhaps twenty – I’ve forgotten exactly) provisions.

King Alfred, on his way to Selwood Forest, is made aware of Oddune’s plight but he has his hands rather full and tries to decide which of many tasks he should do first: fight the Danes, set their fleet on fire or rescue Oddune, whose fate hangs in the balance for a few books.

Hubba eventually attacks the castle, putting ladders up to the ramparts but is beaten back with great slaughter of Danes, though Hubba himself is not a victim. Unfortunately, Oddune and his men are still besieged as they don’t break out in the way that Asser describes. Ingeniously however, he and his men manage to sneak out quietly under cover of night while the furious Danes are noisily clamouring for their blood. Thus they escape death by starvation or thirst, and go off to Selwood Forest to meet up with King Alfred. The next day the Danes raid the undefended castle and find the enemy gone, which isn’t very canonical.

Not really much of interest insofar as the Devon legend is concerned: we have the name Kenwith, a castle somewhere near a coast; Oddune, not particularly associated with Devon; and Hubba who is not killed (Ivar and Guthrum are also present, though Guthrum will presumably have to hasten to Edington where Alfred will defeat him in the same year), nor is the Reafan standard captured. In fact, a bit of poetic licence makes the Kenwith episode more of a Great Escape story than a Saxon victory.

Next time: back to Richard Cumberland’s play where there was something quite interesting.

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