276 – The Bastard Rebel King

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The story of Edward is one of contradictions. There’s something about his rule that seems … complicated and requiring more nuance than many of our earlier rulers. Here we have a King that did what must have seemed impossible… he began his rule holding dominion over Wessex and Kent. Huge portions of his kingdom were in outright rebellion against him. Now at the end of his reign he holds all the Anglo Saxon land south of the humber, and has the submission of all the Welsh Kingdoms, Jorvik, the rest of Northumbria, Strathclyde, and the Scots.

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  1. There was a throwaway line in there about not trusting 10th century common knowledge if your question was “what is the shape of the planet” which made my ears prick up a bit. There’s a common myth that everyone before Columbus believed the world was flat (based loosely on the fact that the point of his journey was to find a previously unknown navigable trade route to the East Indies, and probably confusion with the heliocentrism/geocentrism controversy a century later with Galileo). It’s certainly true that the ancient Greeks understood the shape of the Earth (and even made a pretty accurate stab and calculating it’s size), and that information was probably available to Columbus’ contemporaries, but I suppose that doesn’t mean that that represents “common knowledge” to the 10th Century British. But it’s also been pointed out that for anyone who used the stars to navigate across any reasonable north-south elevation, it should actually be glaringly obvious that the Earth was a sphere.

    I’ve always wondered – are there any actual records of how people understood the shape of the Earth throughout the medieval period (i.e. before the return of classical ideas about cosmology during the renaissance)? And do you think there would be a difference between how your average Unferth the peasant thought about, versus for example a longship navigator (for whom it was working knowledge) or perhaps a scribe in a monastery (for whom it may have been more of an issue of theology)?

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