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:
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”.
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.