The British History Podcast
Summary: The BHP is a chronological retelling of the history of Britain with a particular focus upon the lives of the people. You won't find a dry recounting of dates and battles here, but instead you'll learn about who these people were and how their desires, fears, and flaws shaped the histories of England, Scotland, and Wales. iTunes is restricting our list to 300 episodes for some reason. To access all episodes, click subscribe. Support the Show
It was January of 878. The dead of British winter – and Alfred was running. Through fields, past hamlets, keeping out of sight whenever he could. He ran. He headed for the Somerset Levels. This was a coastal plane during the 9th century – a dense network of impassable marshes. It wasn’t ideal, but at least Alfred would be difficult to find there. Much like the Fens had protected East Anglia from numerous over-land invasions, Alfred hoped the nigh impenetrable swamps of Somerset would grant him safety. And so he ran. Support the Show
For generations, the Anglo Saxon dominance in eastern Britain has gone largely unchallenged. In the face of this, the warlike vagabonds that first came to these lands had been transformed into gentry. Power had calcified into the hands of a few, war had become a ritualized way for dynasties to settle arguments over wealth, and Kingdoms grew complacent. And into this arena entered the Northmen… skilled opportunists who saw that the systems that supported these dynasties were outmoded and could be wielded against them. And they were stunningly effective. In barely over a decade, all of the Heptarchy had fallen to the Danish sword. Most recently, Wessex, the last free anglo saxon kingdom, had fallen to Guthrum. All was lost. Or so many thought. Hidden in the marshes of Somerset, Alfred prepared his next move. He had lost his crown, his kingdom, and god knows what was happening with his family but he wasn’t out of the fight yet. He still had a small band of supporters and while it would be difficult, what he had would have to be enough. The kingdom needed to be retaken… and Alfred had a plan. His war would continue and Alfred will become Great in Season Six of the British History Podcast: Wessex. Support the Show
How do you redeem a year like 877? If you’re Alfred, how do you fix something like this? Even if he cast it in the best possible light, the story of 877 would still be the story of how Wessex lost control of two of its major coastal strongholds, was unable to directly counter the military strength of Guthrum, and largely only survived thanks to bad weather. Now, true, that could certainly be cast as divine intervention, and that would definitely bolster some spirits, but even in that circumstance, you’re looking at a year that was so bad that the almighty had to get involved to keep the kingdom safe from total annihilation. And the hits kept coming. As harvest season drew to a close, Alfred would have received word from across the channel that King Charles the Bald of Frankia had died. Charles was never the best king, but his death raised the specter of instability… and don’t forget how powerful the Viking fleets became when they were able to exploit Frankish instability. The prospect of short sighted nobles once again financing these pirates would have been cause for concern to say the least. Support the Show
At some point early in the Viking Age, a group of Northmen came across a natural harbor on the western side of the Irish Sea. Being that they were a seafaring people, having places in foreign lands where they could safely make port was a significant advantage. Orkney was already showing its usefulness, and now they needed another waypoint further south. The life of a northman, even the life of a Vikingr, involved a lot more travelling and trading than it did actual raiding. So having friendly trading spots along their route wasn’t just convenient, it was good business. Support the Show
When we left off, Guthrum had marched into the heart of Wessex without being noticed, lead his forces right past Alfred’s hold in Winchester, and seized the Royal tun of Wareham. In response to this, Alfred raised the Fyrd, marched upon the southern port town, and besieged it. Now all of our surviving sources are silent on how long this siege lasted. Alfred may have tried to end it quickly, but it’s just as likely that he and his army camped on the edge of Wareham for a very long time and that Guthrum’s army was running low on supplies. Looking at the record, our best guess is that the siege lasted until winter and only came to a conclusion in either in the end of 876 or early 877, but this is one of those details we will never know for sure. Support the Show
It's that time again!
It’s the year 876 and historians Dudo and Flodoard tell us that a fleet of Vikings slammed into the Frankish city of Rouen and nearly leveled it to the ground. In response to this attack, King Louis the Stammerer, brother of Judith, launched a campaign to oust them… but he never saw this completed because King Louis fell ill and died not long after. The Kingdom of the Franks was split between Louis’ two sons, Carloman II and Louis III. This death and political restructuring didn’t end the Frankish fight against the Vikings… but that fleet that nearly razed Rouen was htere to stay and they were lead by a man named Hrolfr… though, you probably know him by the name the Franks gave him. Rollo. This single event on the continent would change the course of British History forever. Hrolfr, at this point an obscure viking from an unknown lineage, is the founder of the House of Normandy. The house which will eventually come to rule England. Later records also tell us that Hrolfr even befriended Guthrum at some point. Support the Show
I repeat to you, gentlemen, that your inquisition is fruitless. Detain me here forever if you will; confine or execute me if you must have a victim to propitiate the illusion you call justice; but I can say no more than I have said already. Everything that I can remember, I have told with perfect candour. Nothing has been distorted or concealed, and if anything remains vague, it is only because of the dark cloud which has come over my mind—that cloud and the nebulous nature of the horrors which brought it upon me. Again I say, I do not know what has become of Harley Warren; though I think—almost hope—that he is in peaceful oblivion, if there be anywhere so blessed a thing. It is true that I have for five years been his closest friend, and a partial sharer of his terrible researches into the unknown. I will not deny, though my memory is uncertain and indistinct, that this witness of yours may have seen us together as he says, on the Gainesville pike, walking toward Big Cypress Swamp, at half past eleven on that awful night. That we bore electric lanterns, spades, and a curious coil of wire with attached instruments, I will even affirm; for these things all played a part in the single hideous scene which remains burned into my shaken recollection. But of what followed, and of the reason I was found alone and dazed on the edge of the swamp next morning, I must insist that I know nothing save what I have told you over and over again. You say to me that there is nothing in the swamp or near it which could form the setting of that frightful episode. I reply that I know nothing beyond what I saw. Vision or nightmare it may have been—vision or nightmare I fervently hope it was—yet it is all that my mind retains of what took place in those shocking hours after we left the sight of men. And why Harley Warren did not return, he or his shade—or some nameless thing I cannot describe—alone can tell. As I have said before, the weird studies of Harley Warren were well known to me, and to some extent shared by me. Of his vast collection of strange, rare books on forbidden subjects I have read all that are written in the languages of which I am master; but these are few as compared with those in languages I cannot understand. Most, I believe, are in Arabic; and the fiend-inspired book which brought on the end—the book which he carried in his pocket out of the world—was written in characters whose like I never saw elsewhere. Warren would never tell me just what was in that book. As to the nature of our studies—must I say again that I no longer retain full comprehension? It seems to me rather merciful that I do not, for they were terrible studies, which I pursued more through reluctant fascination than through actual inclination. Warren always dominated me, and sometimes I feared him. I remember how I shuddered at his facial expression on the night before the awful happening, when he talked so incessantly of his theory, why certain corpses never decay, but rest firm and fat in their tombs for a thousand years. But I do not fear him now, for I suspect that he has known horrors beyond my ken. Now I fear for him. Once more I say that I have no clear idea of our object on that night. Certainly, it had much to do with something in the book which Warren carried with him—that ancient book in undecipherable characters which had come to him from India a month before—but I swear I do not know what it was that we expected to find. Your witness says he saw us at half past eleven on the Gainesville pike, headed for Big Cypress Swamp. This is probably true, but I have no distinct memory of it. The picture seared into my soul is of one scene only, and the hour must have been long after midnight; for a waning crescent moon was high in the vaporous heavens. The place was an ancient cemetery; so ancient that I trembled at the manifold signs of immemorial years. It was in a deep, damp hollow,
Today we begin in Orkney. The history of Orkney is rather obscure, and that fact is reflected in the show… with it appearing only occasionally in the Scotcasts and Celtcasts. However, in the last 80 years, things have been changing rapidly for the inhabitants of this misty land, and the people of Orkney started to play a key role in the Nordic invasion of Britain and actually provide a window into what’s coming for Northumbria. Early in the Viking Age, the Norse discovered that only about a couple days voyage to the south lay an archipelago of about 170 islands that spanned the northern portion of Britain. It was ideal for their needs. The voyage to the British isles were perilous. It required the longships to travel out of the sight of land and that meant that, rather than beaching their ships at night and resting, they would instead have to sail adrift in undecked open ships over black night time waters. Support the Show
We begin our story in Alt Clut. Alt Clut was an ancient British Kingdom and it could trace itself back to Roman Britannia – and possibly even further. At the center of this kingdom was an old fortress on a River, the River Clyde. The Kingdom’s name derived from the Brythonic name for the rock featured by this fortress. Alt Clut: Rock of the Clyde. This rock feature on the river Clyde probably defined the area for many of its people, and over time it likely came to define the people themselves. Support the Show
It's that time again!
Click here to go the Summary of Zee’s PhD that I talked about. We are coming to a major turning point in the story of Britain.The Anglo Saxon kingdoms never had a chance of turning the Great Heathen Army back, and now it looks like they’re here to stay. There’s no denying it anymore. But that’s as much a problem to solve for the Danes as it is for the Anglo Saxons. What happens when you’re no longer invaders, but rulers? History as we know it is littered with empires that fail right at this point, when they switch from the the activity of conquering to the business of governance. This is also a major new problem for one of the last independent Anglo Saxon kings. Support the Show
As you might have noticed, the regular episode is delayed. This is due to a stunningly bad series of events that I am currently referring to as "hell month." The next episode is halfway done and should be released this week, but to keep you busy in the meantime here's a talk that Co-Producer Zee and I had on cultural imaginaries. I hope you enjoy it, and thanks for your patience.
It’s 873 and so far Halfdan has extracted THREE Danegelds from King Burgred in exchange for promising to not occupy Mercia. And, of course, he’s gone on to occupy Mercia… most recently in a town called Torksey. He also put down a rebellion in Jorvik and reclaimed the city. He pushed King Ricsige of Northumbria beyond the Tyne, effectively demoting him to King Ricsige of Bernicia. And now, he was marching (or potentially rowing) towards Repton, which was also in Mercia. Burgred couldn’t catch a break with this guy. Support the Show
It’s 872 and Halfdan’s year has been a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, he had received a major Danegeld from Mercia, to add to the one he received from Wessex in the previous year. And now he was residing within London. But on the other hand, he had just gotten word that his northern kingdom had exploded into rebellion and now some guy named Ricsige had claimed the title of King… and Halfdan’s handpicked puppets, King Ecgberht and Archbishop Wulfred, were running south. Probably, in search of Halfdan’s protection. Support the Show