Nearing the conclusion. Possibly.

Or at least as far as I’m likely to go. My aim was not to disprove the legend that Hubba the Dane landed at Appledore in Devon in 878 (or 879), or that arx Cynuit, the fortification in front of which the Danish leader met his death according to Asser, was in the near vicinity.

I was curious to find out why anyone ever thought it was there, why the belief dates back hundreds of years and has persisted up to the present day. Scholarly opinion gives it little credence and the early sources which record the historical event don’t pinpoint the location.

Between the earliest records (i.e. the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and similiar annals deriving from it, Asser’s Life of King Alfred and, for instance, Gaimar’s Estorie des Engleis) and the time when the popular legend appeared there is a gap of several hundred years.

I’ve consulted the writings of ten different historians, antiquarians and scholars, starting with John Leland who undertook his West Country Itinerary in 1542/3, and ending with Robert Studley Vidal, who wrote his letter to Archæologia in 1804. Of these, William Camden seems to me to have played a pivotal role here. The first edition of his Britannia was published in 1586 and the last in 1607 and there are important changes between the two. But leaving him for the moment …

John Leland

John Leland

1. Before him was John Leland, whose Itinerary wasn’t published until the 18th century. He doesn’t appear to have heard anything of the legend – or at least he didn’t think it worth mentioning:

The ryver of Taw is no very mayne streame at the ebbe as it apperith at Berstaple. From Berstaple to the very haven mouth a v. miles: and the very mouth of it is no large thing, and a little without is a barre. There rennith a shore on the west side of the haven; a 3. miles byneth Berstaple to this nesse or point metith the ryver of Turege and Taw togither, making a brode water, and go to the Severn se [ed. Toulmin Smith].

And after Camden came Thomas Westcote who wrote A View of Devonshire in MDCXXX. Although this wasn’t published for over 200 years, in 1845, it does tell us what people knew or believed in 1630. There are several references to the fate of Hubba the Dane, and it’s worth looking at each of these extracts:

1. [p 89 Book I Ch XXIII]

Thought of some [stones] to be there erected and fixed in memory of the great victory at the overthrow and slaughter of Hubba, the Dane; who, with Hungar, his associate, having harried over all the country, from Eglisdon (now St. Edmondsbury,) to this country, was here utterly vanquished, and with his whole army slain, anno 879, and the banner (wherein was curiously wrought, by the fingers of the daughters of King Loth-brook, (in English, Leather-breech,) a raven, which they called Rephan, whereon they reposed no small confidence for good success, having been so oftentimes fortunately and with so happy success displayed,) taken, and the place since that time called Hubbleston. But for that place we may perchance find it hereafter near the mouth of Torridge.

This could either mean that possibly the site is ‘near the mouth of Torridge’ (but it could be elsewhere); or, more literally, that he understands it to be there and he may perhaps be able to find it.

2. [p 275 Book IV Ch VIII]

Now I thought I might have left Chulmleigh, but I am staid at Stone-Castle. Asserius speaking of the overthrow of Hubba the Dane, who had so horribly vexed our country, says it was at Kenwith-Castle, and the place after was called Hubble-Stow, or Hubbes-Stone. We shall seek this place at Henna, or Hennaborow, in Northam, and at Instow; and what we shall find there we will impart to you. Some would have Hubble-Stone to be this castle, (now by the ruins a heap of stones,) for site, strong on every side but east; so was this: and as it hath lost its strength and beauty, so it hath lost (if it be the same,) the two first syllables of its name.

It’s not known what version of Asser’s work Westcote had seen, but there is no mention of anything like Hubble-Stow or Hubbes-Stone in the surviving text, nor did Asser name Hubba. I looked at Matthew Parker’s ‘editorialised’ version of 1574 and there was no additional information in that passage either.

Asser, of course, wrote of arx Cynuit, not ‘Kenwith-Castle’.  Interestingly, in 1630 Westcote is referring to the actual site as Henna or Hennaborow, which accords with Vidal’s information that local people knew it as Henni Castle or Henni-borough (and not Kenwith which they said was a recent name).

3. [p310-11 Book IV Ch XIX]

Here [Instow] I should seek for Kenwith Castle, where Hubba, the Dane, was overthrown, and the place after called Hubblestow: now whether it should be here or not is questionable. The congruity of the names may somewhat persuade and import much, as Instowe abbreviated from Danestow, and that again from Hub-dan-stow; and over against it, on the farther side of Torridge, the inhabitants of Northam have a place which they call Hubblestow, or Hubblestone. Let everyone applaud his own opinion: you know mine; and what I find elsewhere I will impart unto you.

Instow is opposite Appledore, on the other side of the Torridge, so is a quite distinct site. Westcote’s etymologising is worthy of William Baxter: since the name in Domesday is Iohannestou and the medieval (14th c.) church is dedicated to St John the Baptist, that would seem to be at the origin of the name.

Church of St John the Baptist, Instow

Church of St John the Baptist, Instow

4. [p342 Book IV Ch XXVIII]

Here [Northam] may we see some remains of the Castle Hennaburgh as it is said, as also that hereby was Kenith-Castle, so famous for that Hubba the Dane was vanquished at the siege thereof and slain, and his ominous banner Refan taken: in remembrance whereof a great heap of stones was there piled up together as a trophy of the victory gotten by the natives, and the place yet remembered by the name Whibbestow ; not much exchanged from Asserius his word Hubbastow. Though the heap of stones be long time since swept away by the continual encroaching of the sea. But to tell you truly, I find as many places in this county claim the honour of this victory, as cities in Greece for the birth of Homer.

Again Westcote refers to Asser’s mention of ‘Hubbastow’. If indeed he did find it in the copy which he saw of Asser’s Life of Alfred, it seems likely that it was a later addition. Hubbastow is a Saxon form (Hubba + stow) – Hubba’s Place, and therefore distinct from Gaimar’s Ubbelawe (Ubbe + hlāw) – Hubba’s burial mound.

The burial itself may also have been a late introduction (by Gaimar?) into the narrative, since Asser’s version was that few Danes survived and escaped to their ships. This seemed to leave little opportunity for them to find their dead leader among the hundreds of corpses and bury him beneath a monument of stones.

5. [p 350 Book V Ch I]

Westcote says he was given the poem, of which this is part, by Tristram Risdon, who completed his own Chorographical description or survey of the county of Devon in about 1632, roughly two years later, though he certainly started it several years before. Although this wasn’t published until 1811, the manuscript circulated among his antiquarian friends, of whom Westcote was one; so they knew each other’s work. Here the poet (Risdon himself, I presume) is describing the river Torridge:

At Bideford with bridge his stream is crown’d,
For number and fair arches much renown’d.
His tilting tides near unto Appledore
Have clean swept Hubba’s trophy off the shore
That there was set : posterity might know
At Kenwith Castle his great overthrow.
So forcible are those his swelling waves
They wash the dead again out of their graves.
Forward she forceth on the sandy burrows
On what we term the Bar, in foaming furrows.

So before we get back to Camden, the outline of the legend is in place: Appledore, Kenwith Castle, Hubba, Hubbastone, the Raven banner. We still lack ealdorman Odda – or earl Oddune – and the origin of Northam’s Bloody Corner. This is also a detail which doesn’t fit the facts. If Henni Castle is arx Cynuit then Bloody Corner can hardly be the site of the battle: Asser’s narrative describes how the Saxons burst out of the stronghold early in the morning and fell upon the besieging Danes, taking them by surprise. The Saxons would have had to pursue the fleeing enemy for a good two miles before slaying them at Bloody Corner, Northam. That is not what the surprise attack implies.

An assemblage of facts could provide an explanation of the origin of the legend, possibly. But that’s for next time.

Corrigendum

I misread the one word in Alford’s text which I queried: when magnified, I see it is not nimiùm but nimirùm.

nimirum

Nimirum would commonly imply certainty not doubt, although in some contexts it is seemingly (see Sir W. Smith’s Dictionary) used ironically; and Jean Baptiste Gardin Dumesnil (Synonymes latins et leurs différentes significations avec des exemples tirés des meilleurs auteurs, 1777) states that it is also used for scilicet. But in any case it is clear what it’s referring to in the sentence ‘ibi … ubi …… ‘. The battle was fought in Devonshire, Camden conjectures, there (namely) where the river Taw, wider than (or ‘widened by’) the waters of the river Torridge, makes for the Severn sea.

So Alford may not have been expressing scepticism regarding Camden’s suggestion, though neither is he affirming its truth. On the other hand, writing some thirty-odd years earlier, the Devon-born topographer Thomas Westcote, gent (bp. 1567-1637?), in A View of Devonshire in MDCXXX was less non-committal. He refers to the stories surrounding ‘Castle Hennaborough’, ‘Kenith-Castle’, Hubba the Dane and Whibbestow-Hubbastow and remarks:

“But to tell you truly, I find as many places in this county claim the honour of this victory, as cities in Greece for the birth of Homer.”

Interesting to note that he calls the ancient remains ‘Castle Hennaborough’ – almost 200 years before Vidal’s locals informed him that his ‘Kenwith or Kenwic Castle’ had only been been known locally as Henni Castle or Henniborough. In 1630 Westcote knew both names, though whereas remains of Castle Hennaborough may be seen, a certain mythical existence attaches to Kenith-Castle, which is also ‘hereby’. Westcote does not appear to equate the two.

Of these two names, Henniborough and Kenwith, the first presumably goes back to Saxon times, hēan+ēg+burh (as in Great Henny, Essex, Domesday 1086 Heni). Even now standing in the potential flood area of Kenwith Stream, Henniborough would then have been the ‘fortification in a high place (partly) surrounded by water’. When Benjamin Donne marked ‘Henny Castle Olim Kenwith’ on his 1765 map of Devon, it might more correctly have been ‘Kenwith Castle Olim Henny’.

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 ………?

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.

Se non è vero …

Most of the tortuous plot and counterplot of Fitchett’s King Alfred, A Poem is pure fiction; but small details are thrown in which show that the author did know some early sources (that Hubba’s slaughtered army numbered 1,200 comes directly or indirectly from Asser’s Life of Alfred, for instance, a variant version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’s 840 dead).

But Fitchett, who  began his poem c.1798, also knew something of the local Devon legend of the arrival of the Viking fleet in Appledore, the siege at nearby Kenwith Castle, and the battle at Bloody Corner, just outside Northam; this even though he had no obvious connection with Devon. He also had some familiarity with the ‘factual’ base around which he was to weave his extraordinary imaginings.

Robert Studley Vidal wrote his own, rather more scholarly, essay in 1804. His version names Kenwith or Kenwic Castle, whereas Fitchett has Kinwith (cf. Cynuit); Vidal quotes Camden, Baxter and the ‘annotator on Rapin (de Thoyras)’ as siting the ‘castle’ (i.e. arx Cynuit) near the junction of the Taw and the Torridge.

Richard Cumberland (1732-1812), dramatist, by George Romney

Richard Cumberland (1732-1812), dramatist, by George Romney

A few thoughts arising from Fitchett’s King Alfred: it looks as if some story relating the deeds of ealdorman Odda – known as earl Oddune – were ‘in the air’ at the turn of the 18th/19th cc. The prolific playwright Richard Cumberland (1732-1811) wrote a play called The Days of Yore (Cumberland appears in Sheridan’s The Critic as ‘Sir Fretful Plagiary’, a name reflecting two aspects of his character and writing). The Days of Yore. A Drama in Three acts. Performed at the Theatre-Royal, Covent Garden, was published in 1796.

The Dramatis Personae included Alfred, King of England; Oddune, Earl of Devonshire; Gothrun, a Danish chief; and among sundry others an attendant lord named Roger de Malvern, who seems to have slipped back in time from post-Conquest Britain. The scene is set at ‘Kenwith Castle, and the Country adjoining’. The play opens in ‘A wild and rugged Scene on the Western Coast of England, with a distant View of the Sea’.

[I resume, several hours later]

This really is a very silly play: sort of cod-medieval Mills and Boone effort – and nothing to the point. As a (digitised) contemporary (1796) review in the London Evening Mail reported:

The.plot, Or rather(ketch, isflirnfey, and betrays mire the arrjefs un connections ofari .adventurer, than the, vigorous” effortsof the Veteran judgment. “It wars liaceiyed v/ith a degree of rapturer^but what could ‘ jrefiii the feri’urjrtehts ofloyalty and ; the fine acling of JMr.,Pop.E, who;’.never before difplayed … “. Which about sums it up.

dramatis-personae

Apart from Oddune’s Kenwith Castle being near the rugged West Devon coast, within sight of the sea, the only other piece of relevant information is that the historical action – such as it is – must have taken place some time after the Danish defeat at ‘arx Cynuit’ in 878, because Oswene, the widow of a valiant Dane called Hastings, reminds her son Voltimar that the two of them are prifoners of Earl Oddune, and that the loft ftandard of their country, the magic Reafen, the proudeft trophy England has to boaft, floats in Earl Oddune’s hall.

Gothrun (not Ubba) is on this occasion the Danish chief gathering his army round the castle after a disastrous Danish defeat at Exeter (historically, Alfred had defeated Guthrum at Edington in 878, the same year as the ‘Battle of Cynuit’). Voltimar, son of the valiant Dane Hastings, is pretending to have lost his wits. He somewhat resembles Edgar in K. Lear; he is also a bit like a Shakespearean clown, or fool, and acts the part of a harp-playing minftrel in the service of Earl Oddune (his own favourite minftrel is called Llewelyn, but he doesn’t appear in the play). Voltimar loves Earl Oddune’s daughter and saves the life of King Alfred the Great who, disguised by his cape, is captured as he walks alone outside the caftle, by the treacherous Gothrun. This means Voltimar is a Noble Dane and will be able to marry Earl Oddune’s daughter.

Apart from the fact that it’s vaguely interesting that Earl Oddune, West Devon, Kenwith Castle and sundry Danes and Englishmen are present in a garbled version of the historical record, there isn’t – oh, but hang on! there is either an enormous clue here or a very striking (and, in the circumstances, very irritating) coincidence, and the possible key to the enigma! But can one rely on anything in Sir Fretful’s chronological charade, where bits may have been wittingly collected from various sources and sewn together? In which case they will explain nothing.

Fitchett prolixissimus

John Fitchett

John Fitchett

John Fitchett, of Liverpool (1776-1838), a lawyer and writer with antiquarian interests, had no reason, as far as I can tell, to be very familiar with the West Country. His great work  – King Alfred, a Poem – was published for private circulation between 1808 and 1834  – in five  volumes.

A projected revised edition was published three years after his death, with some 2,500 lines added by the editor, Robert Roscoe, bringing the entire, completed work to six volumes and about 131,000 lines of Proustian diffuseness. If the Athenæum, reviewing the poem at the time, is correct, it is about five times as long as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey combined, and twelve times as long as Milton’s Paradise Lost. It has,  rather harshly, been described as a ‘prodigious monument of misapplied learning and mental energy’ (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography).

This is Late Gothic-Early Romantic fiction, written in Shakespearean, pseudo-archaic blank verse. Historically, it makes little distinction between the high middle ages and the Saxon era. Noble Oddune, ‘Devon’s valiant earl’, holds court in many-tower’d Camelot Kenwith, just as the legendary chieftain Arthur of Britain (who may or may not have existed in about 500 AD) was transformed into King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table with their code of chivalry.

Nevertheless, the poem has some interest because Fitchett uses material which he hasn’t invented himself but which must have been quite widely known in the early years of the nineteenth century when he started on his magnissimum opus. I can’t see that this monumental work could ever have been popular, though it might have influenced later popularisers. To be honest, I begin to feel very tired after reading about 10 lines …

In Book XX, Odda – here earl Oddune – is in Kenwith Castle relating to King Alfred (Asser is also present) everything that happened during the siege of Kinwith and the heroic victory over the Danes (much of which has already been recounted in Book XIX). Most of the essentials of the modern Devon legend are there.

  • The broad geography: the Danes arrive at the mouth of the Taw; ‘Toward the sequester’d port of Apuldore’, ‘by sandy Torridge mouth’, Northam, Abbotsham, Cornborough;
  • the two  opponents are named – Hubba and Oddune (rather than Odda);
  • Hubba and his host besiege Oddune’s stronghold, Kinwith Castle;  they are routed and slaughtered, as Oddune tells King Alfred:

“Beside a spot where the main way that leads
From this our castle
[i.e. Kinwith] on toward Apuldore
Turns suddenly into a narrow nook,
Beneath the field that borders Northam’s fort … ”

And Alfred, being told of all this:

Bids fix a massive stone upon the ground ;
And in the presence of the assembled throng
Adds : ” Be this spot, in memory of the fight,
To latest ages Bloody Corner named.”

So now we even have Bloody Corner, and a massive memorial stone, though this is not the ‘Hubbastone’ that marks the Danish leader’s burial place. I have not yet located in the poem the place where this is mentioned.

The people, the places and the general action corresponding with the living legend are nearly all present here. According to Joanne Parker (England’s Darling: The Victorian Cult of Alfred the Great, Manchester UP, 2007), Fitchett began work on his poen in 1798. There is evidence which suggests  details of the Kenwith story already had a wider literary currency.

So far we can say that Devon’s legend was known at the turn of the 19th century.

One point to add, simply as a footnote to all this, is that almost all of the suspiciously numerous local place names, many of which seem to be there to add local colour, appear on Benjamin Donn’s 1765 map of Devon, so it is reasonable to suppose that Fitchett’s researches involved studying a map of the area.

Title page, volume 6 of King Alfred, A Poem

Title page, volume 6 of King Alfred, A Poem

A wonderful discovery, having consulted the résumé of each of the 48 books is that this epic poem (epic in size and subject matter) covers about two years of Alfred’s life; from about 876, when the Danes were rampaging through the country and Alfred withdrew to Athelney, until 878 when having rallied his forces he defeated  Guthrum at Edington. On which triumphant note it ends, having introduced plots, sub-plots, betrayals, devils and  angels (Satan also has a key role to play), Guy of Warwick … 6 volumes and 48 books to cover what Asser dealt with in three pages.

The final book, Book 48, relates the final glorious outcome of the bloody battle of Edington whose slaughter began in Book 47. It was left to Fitchett’s editor, Robert Roscoe, to finish the story. Fitchett left it as the mortally wounded Osmund, earl of Cornwall, takes his leave of his son Athelard and of his King. As Roscoe’s footnote says: ‘This passage of his Poem, describing a happy death-bed, “seen in the good man’s calm and holy peace,” formed a close, at once appropriate and affecting, to the long labours of the author, who, at this point was destined to resign, in a state still incomplete, the work on which he had concentrated his thoughts, and exercised his industry, for so long a course of years.’

Roscoe modestly says that he felt it was his responsibility to bring the great work to an end as briefly as was consistent with the author’s original plan, the difficulties of this being the ‘best excuse for its defects.’ It gives some pleasure to report that Roscoe’s pallid verse is no match for the majesty of Fitchett’s sublimely oratorical, rolling sentences. Overblown certainly, ridiculous in its invention frequently, yet at moments genuinely touching. Most of it (thankfully) quite irrelevant to our Devon legend – to which I shall return.

Here and there – a detour

Here being the west Devon coast round Appledore which I’m  looking at now, and there being back on the north Devon coast round Countisbury which I’ve “done”, both suggested locations for Asser’s arx Cynuit.

Just a smug interjection: I found an interesting South West Archæology report (pdf download) which almost made me think someone had read my blog 🙂 : On the name Kenwith (my bolds):

Interestingly the ‘-with’ element can be derived from the Old English widu or wiht meaning ‘wood’ or ‘bend’ respectively, and the ‘Ken-’ element from the Cornish Keyn meaning ‘back or ridge’ or a personal name. This place-name theory could push the origins of the name ‘Kenwith’ back to the early medieval period; however, there are no early forms of the place-name to corroborate the theory. While this could explain the early use of ‘Kenwith’, it is equally possible it could  represent an antiquarian retrospective, attributing a site to a key historical event or figure. The latest work on this subject (D. Gore, The Vikings in the West Country, Mint Press, 2015, pp  32-35) opts for the hillfort at Countisbury for ‘Arx Cynuit’, but admits this is a very odd place for a Danish army to land safely and achieve anything decisive.
 
That last sentence summed up my conclusions about Countisbury: the Danish fleet couldn’t land anywhere near there (I reckoned the closest would be about 10 miles away) because of the precipitous cliffs; and anyway, what would be the point? – there was nothing there; and if they pursued the Saxons west to Countisbury, they would be leaving the area where they made a number of easy raids, around the wealthy royal estates, to a deserted place where there was just an abandoned hillfort with no provisions.
I also liked the remark about the ‘antiquarian retrospective’, whereby it became generally accepted that Kenwith was the earlier name for Henny Castle  because the antiquarians had decided it was Asser’s arx Cynuit. In actual fact, Henny Castle or Heni-burh would be the earlier name and it was changed later to Kenwith to fit the confected myth. Hence, when Donn published his 1765 map of Devon and marked ‘Henny Castle Olim Kenwith’ he had no evidence that it was an earlier name, but that was what antiquarians were implying (as we see in Vidal’s attempted etymologising of ‘Henny’ from ‘Kenwith’).