Michael Alford

Who? Michael Griffith. He was a 17th-c. Jesuit missionary with aliases, because he lived through an era of persecution. Arrested and imprisoned several times, he took the names Michael Alford and John Flood. I did not know any of this last week.

Philosopher, theologian and scholar, Alford was born in London in 1592/3 and died in St Omer in 1652. His best known work was the Fides regia Britannica, sive, Annales ecclesiae Britannicae (Liège, 1663), of which Tomus Tertius is ab Anno Domini 800. AD. 1066.

Title page of the Fides regia Britannica, t. 3, Liège, 1663. At the sign of the Earthly Paradise

For the present purposes, the interest is that Alford is a scholar who compares favourably with the more rigorous standards of the present day. He has three relevant named sources: Asser, c 892, biographer of Alfred the Great; Henry of Huntingdon, annalist, writing in the 12th century and familiar with the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle; and his own near contemporary, the antiquarian and topographer William Camden, compiling Britannia at the turn of the 16th-17th centuries.

For his retelling of the 878 ‘Battle of Cynuit’, Alford has combined these three sources (though Henry disposes of the incident in under four lines) and comes up with a version not far removed from the familiar Appledore ‘legend’. He elaborates the narrative without adding extra details, rewriting it in his own smooth, learned neo-Latin, and indicates where he’s transcribing his sources verbatim. He mentions Æthelweard in his text, but did not apparently use his version for this incident, as there is no mention of Odda, dux Provinciae Defenu being present. Alford might have distrusted him in view of Æthelweard’s obvious mistakes here – like saying the Danes won the battle, when they lost.

Only Asser had given a full account of the siege of arx Cynuit, and Alford gives what is, verbally, a completely different version but equally full. Most of the details are there, though additions are that Alford names the Danish brother as Hubba, whereas Asser leaves him unnamed, as does Henry; and the detail of the Raven standard, which Asser himself omits though Henry includes it, is present. Most significantly, arx Cynuit has become the ‘arx Kinwicus’ (jubet Hubba in Kinwicum arcem pugnare) and Alford tacks on to the end of his description Camden’s details of where the defeated Hubba fell:

& loco nomen fecit Hubbeston. Pugnatum in Devoniensi agro, auguratur Camdenus, ibi nimiùm, ubi Tawus fluvius, Towridgi aquis auctior, Sabrinianum mare petit; licet castri supradicti, nulla sint jam reliqua vestigia.

But note the words ‘auguratur Camdenus’ – ‘as Camden conjectures’ – though I’m not quite sure whether ‘ibi nimiùm’ refers to the river mouth or Camden’s conjecture (suggestions, anyone?), since obviously there is no dispute that the site was in Devoniensi agro somewhere.

[There is a fine picture of the Taw estuary HERE (copyright, I assume). The Taw is the river heading off to the left, the Torridge to the right. The bareish land on the right is Northam Burrows, so Appledore will be on the small headland where the two rivers part.]

One would like to think that Alford was familiar enough with his early sources to know that the location is unidentified. The phrase Camdenus putat also appears several times in Alford’s text, as if he is not himself quite ready to vouch for it all, perhaps is even a little sceptical.

This may be  significant in indicating that in the mid-17th century (when Camden’s work became well known?), the Appledore legend was circulating but was not fully accepted. Added to that, we have Vidal’s  (slightly miffed?) report in 1804 that the local people had no memory of any notable event having taken place at ‘Kenwic Castle’ and that they had, in any case, known it by no other name but Henni Castle or Henni-borough until the time of the current owner.

Vidal saw Henni as a possible corruption of Cynuit, but, historically, how could that work? Cynuit might, just conceivably, have been corrupted over the centuries into Henni, but on what evidence, and by whom, would it then have been identified with arx Cynuit and converted back into Kenwith or Kenwic?

If there is no evidence of a persistent folk tradition in the locality, dating back a very long time, and no early written evidence which would support such a tradition ………?

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