Tristram Risdon

screen-shot-2017-02-01-at-19-07-36In 1701, John Prince (1643-1723) published his great work, The Worthies of Devon, describing the most prominent personages of the county. Among these was Thomas Risdon (d. 1641), Bencher of the Inner Temple; and tacked on at the end of the entry on Thomas, under the same heading, Prince appended a note on Thomas’s cousin: “To this family belonged Tristram Risdon, the famous antiquary of the county of Devon”.

There followed a description of how the young gentleman had  ‘a good school-education’, went up to Oxford, though left  ‘without taking any scholastick degree’, retiring to his (newly) inherited estate at Winscott, St Giles in the Wood, some 12 miles inland from Bideford.

There from 1605, probably not long after his return from Oxford, Risdon devoted himself to the antiquarian study which finally produced the Chorographical Description or Survey of the County of Devon, never published in his lifetime though a number of manuscripts circulated among interested parties.

Prince considered him worth at least an extended note in the article on his kinsman Thomas, though not quite worthy enough to merit an article of his own (the Survey of Devon had still to be published). Nevertheless, he waxed indignant at the criticism levelled at the author of the Survey : ‘Some there are, I know, who either to boast their own skill, which is not much, or to vent their malice, which is more, carp and cavil at this worthy person’s performance herein; and pretend him to be mistaken in things very near his home.’ Who these critics were and of what mistaken views Risdon was accused, Prince does not reveal.

Wm Camden, Britannia, pub. Radulphus Newbery, 1586

Wm Camden, Britannia, pub. Radulphus Newbery, 1586

What we can say, to recap, is that Risdon was not the first to associate the Battle of Cynuit and Hubba the Dane with this corner of Devon, near the river Taw. Camden had heard about this by 1586 when the first edition of Britannia was published in which he was wondering whether Chimligh/Chulmleigh was the location of ‘Kinuith castrum‘.

Risdon nevertheless had a role to play in the story. He might, indeed, have caused Camden to abandon any thought that arx Cynuit was located near Chulmleigh, even if his own studies (still at a very early stage in 1607) had not yet  thrown up a clear alternative.

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Camden’s speculation

In the first edition of Camden’s Britannia (1586), he’s musing over whether ‘Chimligh’ (for Chulmleigh) is Asser’s ‘Kinuith’ or not. He describes how the Torridge, not far distant from the Promontory of Hercules (Hartland Point), passes through Torrington and Bideford before joining the Taw. The course of the Taw itself is further inland, rushing through Chulmleigh, not far from the village of  ‘Chettelhampton’ (Chittlehampton) before hurrying on to Barnstaple (click on image for clearer details).

raleigh

Here he pauses to say: ‘An verò Chimligh illa, sit Kinuith castrum cuius meminit Asserius, non facilè dixerim.’ He must have heard this suggestion from someone before 1586 (so not Tristram Risdon who was born c. 1580). Asser’s Domnania and the ASC’s Defenascire stretched much further afield than this little corner of Devon, so who had first located the Danish raid of 878 here?

Following through subsequent editions of Britannia, 1587, 1590 and 1600, Camden adds a number of new details, but the key sentence in 1600 is the same as in 1586: ‘An verò Chimligh illa, sit Kinuith castrum cuius meminit Asserius, non facile dixerim.’

It isn’t until the final edition in 1607 that he omits it, substituting a new passage: ‘Hinc [i.e. from Barnstaple] Tawus Ralegh [an estate north of Barnstaple, not the hamlet of Raleigh close to Henniborough/Henny Castle], quae olim nobiles sui nominis habuit dominus, nunc clarae familiae de Chichester cognominatae possessionem salutans, et postea Towridgi aquis auctior Sabrinianum mare petit, sed Kinuith castrum, cuius meminit Asserius, non invenit.’

The mention of Raleigh appears to be incidental, included in order to give details of the local gentry – an abiding interest of the antiquarians. So between 1600 and 1607, Camden omitted his reference to the possibility of ‘Kinuith castle’ being at Chulmleigh.  Less importantly, since Camden is no authority anyway, what is implied in the final edition which says the Taw does NOT ‘find’ the castle in the region of the lower Taw?

Wm Camden, Britannia, pub. Radulphus Newbery, 1586

Wm Camden, Britannia, pub. Radulphus Newbery, 1586

Risdon began work on his Survey in 1605, so it is possible that he had some contact with Camden before the 1607 edition was completed; but if so he didn’t say that Appledore was the place where Hubba landed, since Camden merely says, ‘Ad hoc enim littus eius nominis castrum erat …’

Risdon, apparently, first names Appledore but in 1586 Camden had an earlier source which identified Hubba’s raid with this part of Devon. Aside from that, it is just possible that he mistook Raleigh, very close to ‘Henny Castle’, for Raleigh north of Barnstaple and added the genealogical details while under that misapprehension.

Somewhere herein? (1)

Yes, I know. Many people have raked over this identical source material, and many times; but somewhere – somewhere here – is there a clue?

Why did a local legend spring up, hundreds of years ago, that it was on the western coast of Devon, at Appledore, that a fleet led by the Danish chief Hubba landed in 878; and that a place close by was Asser’s arx Cynuit where Hubba and his army were slaughtered by a Saxon force? How far back can it be traced? About 1600? Earlier?

1. Devon. Several sources dating from the Saxon era agree that the Danish fleet landed in Domnania or Defenascire (‘on Westseaxum on Defenascire’, ASC Mss A, D & E) or simply ‘on Wessexena rice’ [ASC Mss B & C] . Westseaxum was the kingdom of Wessex,  ‘Devon’ may have been a region rather larger than the modern county. Since we don’t know what the writers themselves understood by ‘Devonshire’ we can assume the modern boundaries. Approximately.

2. More precisely,  writers much later, like William Camden, placed the landing at the mouth of the river Taw, where the Torridge joins it. The last edition of Britannia (1607) and Philemon Holland’s 1610 English translation read:

160710

Which historiographers had written about this? Bishop Asser for the outline only in Domnania: he didn’t mention Hubba, or the rivers Taw and Torridge, or Hubbestow; Geffrei Gaimar, possibly: he mentioned ‘Ubbelawe’ (perhaps reflected in ‘Hubblestow’?) certainly, but said nothing about the Taw or Torridge – just that the hoge was ‘en Devenschire’. Æthelweard? He didn’t mention Hubba; he said the invader was Ivar’s brother Healfdene, who landed in occidentales Anglorum partes and besieged Odda dux provinciae Defenu in a certain stronghold. John of Worcester? No, his Chronicon ex chronicis copies Asser, word for word: just Domnania, arx Cynuit and a nameless Danish leader. Henry of Huntingdon? No, he hardly mentions the incident, doesn’t name the Danish leader but ‘Devon in Wessex’ was where he landed. No Hubba, no Hubbestow, presumably.

So many historici in the post-Conquest 12th century, to say nothing of the near contemporaries, and the legend of Appledore has little support. In any case, even Camden was less certain in 1586 when the first edition of Britannia was printed. “An verò Chimligh illa sit Kinuith castrum cuius meminit Asserius, non facilè dixerim”.

Chulmleigh - or Chymley in Camden's day - about 15 miles from Barnstaple

Chulmleigh – or Chymley in Camden’s day – about 15 miles from Barnstaple

Chimligh illa is the town of  Chulmleigh to which he had been referring a few lines earlier; a Saxon hilltop town, about half way between Barnstaple and Crediton. It’s well inland from the mouth of the Taw so it’s not clear why Camden was suggesting ‘Kinuith’ castle might have been there, other than that it was a large town by the time of Domesday and had Saxon connections.

Camden had no clear idea then where arx Cynuit might have been; and ‘Kinuith’ represents ‘Cynuit’ – not a known place called Kenwith, Kinwith or Kinwic.

But by 1607, it seems, he had gained more information: that the site of Asser’s ‘Kinuith’ was near Raleigh, close to the confluence of the Torridge and the Taw.  So someone had provided Camden with that information (which may or may not have been reliable) – in about 1600 – and that it was Hubba who led the Danes, that he was killed there and that the place was called ‘Hubbestow’.

Note to self: must check editions of Britannia to see when Camden became more precise as to the location: 1586, 1587, 1590, 1594, 1600, 1607.

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.