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Bloodfeud: Murder & Revenge in Anglo-Saxon England
     

Bloodfeud: Murder & Revenge in Anglo-Saxon England

by Richard Fletcher
 

On a gusty March day in 1016, Earl Uhtred of Northumbria, the most powerful lord in northern England, arrived at a place called Wiheal, probably near Tadcaster in Yorkshire. Uhtred had come with forty men to submit formally to King Canute, an act that completed the Danish subjugation of England and the defeat of Ethelred the Unready, to whom Uhtred had been a loyal

Overview

On a gusty March day in 1016, Earl Uhtred of Northumbria, the most powerful lord in northern England, arrived at a place called Wiheal, probably near Tadcaster in Yorkshire. Uhtred had come with forty men to submit formally to King Canute, an act that completed the Danish subjugation of England and the defeat of Ethelred the Unready, to whom Uhtred had been a loyal ally and subject. But, as Richard Fletcher recounts in the electrifying opening to Bloodfeud, "Treachery was afoot." With Canute's connivance, Thurbrand, Uhtred's old enemy, ambushed and slaughtered the earl and his men. "This act of treachery and slaughter set in motion the chain reaction of counter-violence and yet further violence, a bloodfeud that lasted for three generations and almost sixty years."
Those sixty years were also some of the most unsettled in English history. Tracing the bloodshed through three generations, Fletcher throws light on an Anglo-Saxon culture that would soon be wholly replaced by a new Norman regime. Fletcher shows us in minute detail the concerns of Anglo-Saxon life: how difficult it was to govern England, particularly the region north of the Humber River, the millennial power of the church, and the important role women and marital alliances played in renewing old feuds. Against this rich context the few reliable facts of the enmity between Uhtred and Thurbrand are "coaxed and entreated into utterance."
Bloodfeud shows us a powerful historian at work piecing together what we do and don't know, what may be reasonably surmised, and where we must simply let the imagination take over. Fletcher presents with superb clarity and wit the most stimulating account of life in pre-Norman England to be found anywhere.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"It would be hard to imagine a better, more reliable introduction to the last days of the Anglo-Saxon world than this stirring book."—Michael Dirda, Washington Post

"A swift and, by necessity, highly speculative account of some murders between 1016 and 1074 that reveal much about 11th-century English politics, religion, codes of honor, and kingship.... A graceful examination of the intricate tapestry of a culture so distant in time and temperament as to be virtually extraterrestrial."—Kirkus Reviews

"Fletcher writes with precision and wit. He has a nose for nuance, a ready supply of pithy phrases, and no time for the jargon that besets so much contemporary academic writing...Bloodfeud dazzles and delights."—Christopher Silvester, Sunday Times

"[Fletcher] enlarges skilfully on the historical context in which all the events took place and artfully on their other dimensions, taking the opportunity at the same time to expound his views on...apprehension of the millennium and the quality of the Anglo-Saxon taxation system."—Simon Keynes, The Spectator

"An excellent book."—Frank McLynn, Literary Review

The Washington Post
Most of Bloodfeud takes place in 10th- and 11th-century England during the hundred years just before the Norman invasion of 1066. This is hardly a period familiar to most readers, which makes Richard Fletcher's meticulous work of historical investigation all the more welcome. By using the murder of Earl Uhtred in 1016 as his starting point, Fletcher transports us into a grim Anglo-Saxon world, which can nonetheless be surprisingly familiar at times. — Michael Dirda
Kirkus Reviews
A swift and, by necessity, highly speculative account of a some murders between 1016 and 1074 that reveal much about 11th-century English politics, religion, codes of honor, and kingship. British scholar Fletcher (The Barbarian Conversion, 1998, etc.) returns to his beloved early medieval period to pursue a story that first attracted his attention at age 14. He acknowledges that the documentary evidence is wispy, stating at one point that what we know of one character could fit on a postcard and in another comparing his chronology to a "leaky vessel on a sea of speculation," but like all effective historians he can infer much from little. The region he brings to life is Northumberland, near Scotland (whose forces sallied south from time to time on raiding expeditions) and far enough from London that its inhabitants were occasionally resistant to such expressions of central authority as taxation. England had long been victimized by raids and occupations of varying durations, from the Romans and Vikings (meaning "sea raider," Fletcher reminds) through the Angles/Saxons/Jutes to the Danes and Normans. "Wealth attracts predators," the author declares; he proceeds to show how that fundamental attraction created bright splashes of blood across the countryside. The first murder occurred at Wiheal, where the unarmed Earl Uhtred of Northumbria was about to submit to the Danish invader Canute, but instead was slaughtered along with 40 of his important (and also unarmed) supporters by a rival named Thurbrand. A feud ensued, with sons and grandsons exchanging eyes for eyes and teeth for teeth in a variety of murder that their culture sanctioned-almost demanded, in fact-to satisfy family honor.Fletcher also explores the role played by the church and the nearly invisible histories of contemporary women, offering as well brief glimpses of the historical Macbeth. Graceful examination of the intricate tapestry of a culture so distant in time and temperament as to be virtually extraterrestrial. (8 pp. b&w photos, 7 maps, 9 genealogical tables)

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780195161366
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
03/06/2003
Pages:
264
Product dimensions:
8.56(w) x 5.84(h) x 1.00(d)

Meet the Author

Richard Fletcher recently retired from the University of York where he was Professor of History. He is the author seven previous books, among them The Quest for El Cid which won the Wolfson Literary Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Award for History.

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