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.

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 ………?