Ælfred's Britain by Max Adams

  • By Louise Freeman
  • 03 Oct, 2017

War and Peace in the Viking Age 

Max Adams  is a critically-acclaimed author and biographer, an archaeologist,  traveller and writing coach. His journeys through the landscapes of the past and the present, of human geography, music, art and culture are a continuing source of inspiration in his writing.

Ælfred's Britain will be published by Head of Zeus on 2nd November 2017.

Max writes

For an author of Dark Age history to tackle the Viking Age (roughly 800-950) might seem an obvious book project.  Abundant material, both literary and artistic, propels an irresistible narrative of  warriors and heroic struggle, while the contemporary relevance of Christian states struggling against a predatory foe with apocalyptic ideologies seems obvious.  And yet, in writing about Britain, the whole of Britain, in this period, daunting challenges emerge.  To begin with, the canvas is vast, encompassing all of Atlantic Europe and beyond.  The available sources – Viking sagas written more than two hundred years after the events they describe; an Anglo-Saxon Chronicle with a strong pro-Wessex bias, must be treated with caution.  They are also patchy: we have very little indeed for Scotland and Wales in this period– we hear of those kingdoms primarily through sketchy news reaching the distant ears of Irish annalists.

The temptation is to write another biography of Ælfred, the model English king whose enthusiasm for learning means that, for the first time, we can actually read the words of a literate, thoughtful English king.  But that is an inherently Anglo-centric narrative, which would do little to create a credible portrait of the rest of the British Isles, where hints and fragments of hints suggest that interesting, not to say monumental events and cultural contacts are shaping our world.  These are the generations when great dynasts emerge in Scotland under Constantín mac Áed and in Wales under Hywel Dda.  To the north of Watling Street Viking meets native, intermingles; converts; builds thriving towns and forges new cultural, legal and political institutions.  How, then, to draw a balanced picture?

In Ælfred's Britain I have opened a treasure chest of broad and nuanced resources: the dispassionate testimony of excavation and of coins; the trickier evidence of place names.  I have sought to read between the persuasive lines of the Chronicle for a subtler, more complex and, I hope, richer account of Britain's encounter with Scandinavian raiders, entrepreneurs and settlers. 

The landscape of these islands, from Iona and Portmahomack in the north to Athelney in the south, has had its say, too. I have, I hope, put Ælfred and Wessex in their place.  It is for the reader to judge the outcome.

The book is copiously illustrated with maps, timelines and photographs.   Explore  members will be able to get signed copies from the publication date, at a modest discount.  

Photos:

2. Ælfred's Victorian statue at Wantage, his Berkshire birthplace. 3. Ragnarok, the last great battle, portrayed on a Christian cross slab in the Isle of Man. 4. Scandinavian place names, widespread in the Midlands and in Yorkshire.

Explore Lifelong Learning blog

By Louise Freeman 03 Oct, 2017

Max Adams  is a critically-acclaimed author and biographer, an archaeologist,  traveller and writing coach. His journeys through the landscapes of the past and the present, of human geography, music, art and culture are a continuing source of inspiration in his writing.

Ælfred's Britain will be published by Head of Zeus on 2nd November 2017.

Max writes

For an author of Dark Age history to tackle the Viking Age (roughly 800-950) might seem an obvious book project.  Abundant material, both literary and artistic, propels an irresistible narrative of  warriors and heroic struggle, while the contemporary relevance of Christian states struggling against a predatory foe with apocalyptic ideologies seems obvious.  And yet, in writing about Britain, the whole of Britain, in this period, daunting challenges emerge.  To begin with, the canvas is vast, encompassing all of Atlantic Europe and beyond.  The available sources – Viking sagas written more than two hundred years after the events they describe; an Anglo-Saxon Chronicle with a strong pro-Wessex bias, must be treated with caution.  They are also patchy: we have very little indeed for Scotland and Wales in this period– we hear of those kingdoms primarily through sketchy news reaching the distant ears of Irish annalists.

By Louise Freeman 28 Sep, 2017

Many people know and associate Newcastle with TV and Film icons Get Carter, Byker Grove, The Tube and Our Friends in the North. However, do you know where Ralph Richardson stole money from in 1939? Why a den of spies were living in Jesmond in 1951? Who met Tommy Lee Jones on the High Level Bridge in 1988? Why Gateshead High Street was under siege in 2009? and which Newcastle flats seem to appear in every programme or film made in Newcastle?

By Louise Freeman 12 Sep, 2017
Our new Explore Evenings option will be available starting from the week of 9th October 2017- each course will cost £65.
By Louise Freeman 12 Sep, 2017

Our next FREE taster event will be on  Tuesday 26th September from 11.00 to 13.00at Commercial Union House.  Book now via this link

Come and try our taster experience - lectures by our expert tutors in our welcoming centre on the 4th floor of Commercial Union House.

John Griffiths will be talking about local history - on this occasion - the history of the Newcastle central motorway followed by Anthea Lang on Gibside and author Max Adams with an introduction to his autumn course on trees.

By Louise Freeman 12 Sep, 2017

Our new patron, historian John Grundy, turns his attention to the history of Newcastle upon Tyne.  In his inimitable style he tackles questions such as… 

  • Where did the Roman bridge at Newcastle actually lead to? 

  • What did St Wilfred choose as a holiday souvenir from his trip to Rome? 

  • Why did medieval Newcastle need town walls?

  • How was Newcastle reviewed on the 17 th century version of TripAdvisor?

Always knowledgeable, often funny and sometimes irreverent, this talk is perfect for anyone who is passionate about our great regional capital.

Come along and hear John talk about his new book John Grundy's History of Newcastle on Saturday 23rd September at 13.00 at Newcastle City Library.  Explore tutor John Griffiths will be introducing John Grundy and letting people know about our forthcoming autumn taster!

This event is now SOLD OUT but there are still some tickets available to our free taster event - click here

Photo by Steve Brock 


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