Anglo-Saxon Lincolnshire — 1

HE VENERABLE BEDE (AD 673-735) appears frequently and importantly as a source for some moments of early Lincolnshire history.

For example, a priory was built at Bardney in 1087 by Gilbert of Ghent on the authority of Bede’s statement that one had existed there earlier. Bede also affirmed the existence of a monastery at Partney; this was taken as good enough reason for building a hospital there in 1115.

Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People¤ was for the 9th , 10th and 11th centuries one of only a few available histories. Another invaluable work is by Gildas. His De excidio et conquestu Britanniae (The Overthrow and Conquest of Britain) is a long lament on the wickedness of the times. Indeed he appears to relish disaster; delighting in the apparent confounding and desolation of wicked humankind. Needless to say, he was not writing ‘objectively’ but with considerable ‘spin’. For a flavour of the vindictiveness of his mind see the quotation below.§

There was a great chasm of ignorance and a lack of historical memory separating the 900s from the 700s. For example, no religious house or community which had been established before the ninth century survived the Viking raids and conquests. — which began in 793 at Lindisfarne. This was not just in Lincolnshire — there were no bishops of Lindsey or Kesteven — but right across the country. It’s a bit like saying today that there is no English history before the reign of the ‘mad’ King George: it’s all been lost or erased.

At one time there was an abbey at Bardney, which is just a few miles from Horncastle, where the relics of St Oswald were kept. [Oswald, first a king, then a saint, finds his way into these pages posthumously. An article about St Oswald is in preparation.] King Edward the Elder of Wessex, retrieved the saintly monarch’s body in a bold raid on Bardney — which was well within Viking territory and took it to Gloucester. Unfortunately, the body lacked a head and both arms; nevertheless, it was interred in the then new Royal Priory Church with all due ceremony.

Then, about 70 years later, Louth was raided by a group from Cambridgeshire, needing holy relics for their new establishment. So they came up here and stole the body of St Herefrith. In the twelfth century a church — now St James’s — was built at Louth and dedicated to the missing saint.

The date of the foray to Bardney is significant: just over a baker’s dozen years earlier, in 893, Alfred [the Great; picture right] had become king of the English. The re-education of England can be dated from that event; part of that process being the translation of Latin texts, among which Bede’s History was seriously important. From the History Alfred took the idea first expressed by Bede that the English were a single people.

King Alfred was responsible for the compilation of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle which was assembled from various sources: annals and earlier histories, Bede’s History, from genealogies, and from lists of bishops and kings; the Gildas ‘lament’ was also used. A nation without a history can scarcely be said to exist: Alfred provided it for the English people.

Yet Bede has a more direct relevance to Lincolnshire. In his History he uses the Latin term Lindisfari to refer to those who lived on the island of Lindisfarne — which is the latinisation of the Old English word Lindisfaran. But, significantly, he also uses the same word to refer to the people of Lindsey*. Elsewhere **, it is suggested that this common usage meant either Lindisfarne was colonised by people from Lindsey or there was much traffic between here and the island. Remembering the establishment of a monastery in Norway by monks from Kirkstead [click here], the idea is not at all improbable and rings authentically. Monks then were brave and adventurous, committed to spreading the Word.

The name Lindsey itself flows from the seventh century Anglo-Saxon kingdom known as ‘Lindissi’ or ‘Lindesse’. Bede refers to the ‘provincia Lindissi’.

Extensive settlement of Lincolnshire began in the early 500s. It’s thought that the early invaders were led by a man named Icel. During the next 100 years or so their domination extended both westwards and south, through the area more familiarly known as Mercia. [see next article] This expansion can be followed in part through the frequency and distribution of names — each name being presumably the group’s leader [see below*]. Northward influence was strictly limited.

For the 100 years or so before the substantial Viking invasions after 830, Lincolnshire was a fairly peaceable part of England — that is, there were no large-scale events which impinged upon or came out of the county and came to the notice of chroniclers. Local quarrels there most likely were but nothing major disturbed the peace.

§ ‘For a deadly plague swooped brutally on the stupid people, and in a short period laid low so many people, with no sword, that the living could not bury the dead. But not even this taught them their lesson.’ For more about this rather unpleasant man click here.

* This way of derivative naming can be found in many other names. For example, a group of Saxons known as the ‘Spalda’ have left their mark not only on Spalding, here in Lincolnshire, but also on towns in Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire, and Huntingdonshire. Similar instances around England can be found for the group named as ‘Billingas’, ie Billinghay in Lincolnshire for one.

** Anglo-Saxon Lincolnshire, Peter Sawyer, History of Lincolnshire Committee, 1998. This volume — indeed the whole series — has proved an invaluable source both of detail and of broader trends and ideas.