167 – The Beginning of the End

Season Four is called Anglo Saxon Ascendancy because we have been seeing mighty kings like Offa, AEthelbald, and Coenwulf acquire vast amounts of power in Britain that enable them to nearly become the first kings of England. Their hegemonies were so big and impressive that we have one Mercian leader getting into arguments with Charlemagne and another claim the title of Emperor.

But we are reaching the end of that era. The Viking armies are coming…. and the great Kingdoms of Northumbria and Mercia, which could have functioned as bulwarks against continental aggression 100 years earlier… are collapsing under their own weight.

The line of Ida in Northumbria had largely died out about 100 years ago. The Idingas were fierce and effective leaders… but they also tended to die young, and sometimes without children. And now with their end, the warnings of Bede regarding the weaknesses of the Northern Kingdom are starting to look like prophecy. For the last century, Northumbria has been wracked by civil war, with 5 families enthusiastically murdering each other in their attempt to claim the throne. There are too many kings of Northumbria to count who met an untimely death, many times without kids… And it might lead you to wonder whether the kingdom have been strong enough to stop the Norse invasion if King AEthelred I of Northumbria hadn’t been murdered. Or if any of the other kings and claimants hadn’t been murdered.

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  1. I like the idea of a match between Wilfred and Wulfred. But dude c’mon, Middlesex vs. York is not a boxing match. It’s a cricket match.

    And the interesting bits isn’t when they off directly, because though Wilfred can bat a bit, they are both bowlers. And not hard-charging pacemen either. These guys are spinners. The dish out right-angled legbreaks, well chosen wronguns and suspicioulsy crooked doosras, their careers result in plenty of fallen foes and even more scandle. These guys are clearly the Warnie and Murali of 8th centry politics.

  2. I cant say I agree that the main driver is culture. It sounds far to Marxist to me, No. My take is all these things are in a dynamic tension and sometime culture is the main driver and at other times the big man. Of course there are other dimensions too.

    1. To my knowledge, Marxism doesn’t really apply to the study of history. He had a great deal to say about things, and there are many books that you can read that will give you a full understanding of his theories, but as for history… he really doesn’t apply.

      Now, Herbert Spencer, writing in 1860, made the argument against Carlyle’s Great Man Theory. And he did such a great job of it that his views on it are still influential today and The Great Man Theory has been out of favor among historians for over 100 years now.

      1. You might be quite right that “Marxism doesn’t really apply to the study of history”, but that’s probably not the way Marx saw it. He was somewhat of a meta-historian, his whole thesis was about how different social forms met the needs of particulars mode of production relevant to particular historical periods. He also talks about how the working out of that stuff ate way at the underpinnings of each period thus driving the March of History.

        The thing is that Marx invented “Historical Materialism”, not “Historical Culturalism”. That is, he beleived that the important aspects of culture are determined by the modes of production, and that culture itself is not very important except in so far as it enables changes in those modes. He’s probably half right about this, and this explains why millions of Chinese factory workers are probably devoted fans of Manchester United and Lady Gaga, while 15th century Chinese peasants had never heard of either of them.

        Still I reckon Stephen is right that there is interplay between culture, great men and dumb luck. In Anglo-Saxon England there were strong pressures towards patchwork polities (‘twer ever thus, and they hated each other); and strong reasons the other way (they all more-or-less spoke English, and had some common enemies). The latter pressure got stronger over time, but it the it’s conduit could as easily have been Mercia as Wessex.

  3. I know you said this was a tough episode to create Jamie, but damn … Best Episode in a Long Time! I love seeing all the threads tying together. Amazing job.

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