Posted by: kljolly | July 6, 2013


I did get carried away with the idea of a prologue chronicling the seven year wanderings of the community of St. Cuthbert from Lindisfarne to their new home at Chester-le-Street (Kuncacester).  The draft is now posted as a page.  It undoubtedly needs some rewriting to expand characters and dialogue and loosen it up a bit.  I have been told more than once that my writing, academic and fiction, is very “dense.”   That is usually the way my early drafts are, and then I need to untangle everything.  For now, though, writing the prologue has helped me see how the succeeding chapters covering Aldred’s era almost a century later might be sequenced.


Path by the River Wear, Chester-le-Street, in summer

Some of the issues that came up in trying to construct the wanderings are well known to scholars of the events, others are peculiar to historical fiction writing.

The dating and itinerary are a nightmare.  What both the Historia Sancto Cuthberto and Symeon of Durham (and other intermediary sources) narrate is impossible, so I have taken liberties.  I did make use of Richard Hardwick’s St. Cuthbert’s Final Journey route (thanks, Richard!), based on places with St. Cuthbert memorials suggesting “Cuthbert slept here.”  But clearly the community once it left Lindisfarne in 975 spent months, or even years, at a time in one location, probably major monastic estates, and them made forays out into other areas.  So I made some guesses as well as tried to correlate with known events that might cause them to move (I have a master timeline, such as it is).  I really tried to get the Strathclyde Britons in there, Senchus.

I have them spending three years in Northumbria, two at Carlisle after moving west to Cumbria, and then two securing the move to Crayke and then Chester-le-Street.  I fudged on the last year, having them move from Crayke to Chester-le-Street in 882 but delaying the installment of Bishop Eardulf to 883 on the grounds they would need to get the place set up first.


River Wear, Chester-le-Street, in summer

I also used the liturgical calendar as well as the seasons to place them in the timeline at different locations.  Some events correlate with St. Cuthbert’s two feastdays, others with Easter or Advent.  I did have to use a calculator to find out when Easter occurred in 881, using this helpful site from the Astronomical Society of South Australia, although this site on the Ecclesiastical Calendar will do it for you.

Place and people names are an issue.  I did opt to have them go to Morecambe Bay to retrieve the Gospelbook, but am struggling with what it wwas called then. Or can I get away with modern place names if they have some semblance of sounding like they date back to the early Middle Ages?  With Workington, I opted for “Derwentmouth.”  The same name issues occur with people groups–like Sally Wilde, I am wondering whether to use Cumbrians or Britons vs Anglians, Northumbrians and Southumbrians. Then there are the wretched vikings–Irish Norse, regular Norse, Danes, or just call them Scandinavians.

St. Bega made it into the itinerary of the Gospelbook, but I wasn’t able to develop her much, yet.  I do want more female characters.  When the community got to Crayke, I did decide to go with the minority view that the otherwise unknown “abbot” Geve of Crayke was an Abbess Geva presiding over a double house (Hadley, Northern Danelaw, pp. 259-60).


River Wear, Chester-le-Street in winter

Once I started moving the group toward Chester-le-Street, I got carried away with their making the viking Guthred king of York.  The story is so full of possibilities that I made up all kinds of things.  One difficulty is that the alleged ceremony took place on “Oswydune,” an unidentified place name, but it suggests someplace where the seventh-century King Oswy stopped.  Taking some literary license, in order to make the narrative work, I made it Crayke hill itself.

Any way, for those diligent enough to work their way through the thickets of the Prologue, feel free to make comments there or here.  Much appreciated.


  1. Hi Karen, I understand that ‘Morecambe’ comes from the Celtic and means bent or crooked estuary, but I have seen other suggestions, all of Celtic origin. It is sometimes equated with Ptlomey’s Moricambe but not certainly and there is also a Morricambe Bay on the Solway. I trying to think of a good reference that might be useful. There was an article by Bill Shannon in last years Trans CWAAS that might be of interest. In either case the name seems to have survived from very early times until now so it would presumably have been used at the time you are writing about.

  2. I’ve just looked up Moricambe on the Solway in the Place-Names of Cumberland, which says ‘The meaning is, of course, ‘sea-bend’.’ So there you go!

  3. Thanks, Dan! I feel better now about using Morecambe in the name, maybe playing on the “sea-bend” meaning. I do have the Victoria County History for Cumberland in my office, but did not think to check it.
    For all of the place names, though, I have this problem: should I look up the history of each one? When it is used in a primary source, I don’t have any problem, but things I locate on the map and then use sometimes worry me.
    Fortunately, many local history societies put info on their towns online.

    • Oddly Ekwall’s ‘Place Names of Lancashire’ doesn’t seem to give a derivation for Morecambe, which it ought to be in, so I had to look up Moricambe instead. Place-names are a problem in this part of the world because so few are recorded earlier than the 12th or 13th century, especially given the Domesday survey’s limited coverage. It’s not difficult to look up the place-name meanings, probably easier than looking at the original sources!

  4. VCH Cumberland doesn’t have Morecambe Bay–I would have to get Lancashire out of the library. I also checked PASE online (Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England) but did not find much, probably because it relies heavily on Domesday and charter evidence, along with coins.

  5. Hi Karen.
    You wrote: ‘I am wondering whether to use Cumbrians or Britons vs Anglians, Northumbrians and Southumbrians.’
    I’d be inclined to use ‘Britons’ here, even if English monks in tenth-century Northumbria would probably refer to their British neighbours as Cumbras or Straecledwealas. Both ‘Cumbrians’ and ‘Welsh’ would therefore be correct in a historical sense, but their modern geographical associations might confuse your readers. Although ‘Britons’ has similar potential to confuse, it serves well as a cultural label when readers have already been made aware of its early medieval usage.

  6. […] probably a ninth century Irish-born saint in Cumbria and Northumbria, not a 7th century one (see discussion of the Prologue and Melvyn Bragg’s Credo); the local historian who greeted me at the Sunday coffee hour was […]

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