‘a narrative from the mind of a practiced storyteller’
15 September 2018
Overall a decent hardback production with a striking cover, 40 illustrations, mostly interesting photographs of modern remains and relics.
Anglo Saxon England was divided into kingdoms, small and large. The main four were Wessex, Northumberland, East Anglia and Mercia. While Wessex would become the most important and come to essentially rule them all, the history of Saxon England is a history of multiple kingdoms which were often at odds with each other.
They lost their individuality very slowly, indeed today in their modern heartlands it’s not hard to tell the difference between them, and had not the Vikings eliminated them one by one, leaving Wessex to rise, they might not have lost their autonomy for many years. Saxon England can therefore be viewed and studied as one large group, or as separate entities stemming from a similar cultural tradition. Looking back today, it is true, as the author points out, that Mercia tends to fall behind more famous Saxon kingdoms, such as Wessex and Northumberland.
Usually the Saxons are eulogised by most of the English today as a sort of perfect Anglican race, one in mind and spirit, isn’t it interesting to instead view the Saxons, at least to begin with, as a much more complex society, made up of parts rather than a single nation.
Books like “Mercia” therefore can help up view the Saxon kingdom in a different light.
Award winning author Annie Whitehead so there’s no doubt that readers can enjoy a narrative from the pen of a practiced storyteller. She has crafted together the story of the Mercian kingdom from many of the usual and some less well known sources, and takes time to evaluate and discuss her thoughts regarding them.
A story that is not just about Mercia but all England, for indeed the book covers a wide geographic as well as historical sphere, and is laden with famous names such as, Eadric Streona, Godiva, Aethfled lady of the Mercians, Penda and Offa. Names which form such an ingrained part of English founding myth, of which only Lady Godiva, due to that fabled equestrian streaking incident is known popularly. The Viking interlude is just as important and serves as a sort of turning point.
Despite losing ground to Wessex the story of Mercia remained integral to the progression of the Saxon kingdom and indeed its fall in 1066, in which the Earls Edwin and Morcar played no small part, Annie Whitehead has chosen a fascinating corner of early medieval England to investigate and has done so handsomely.