We hope you will forgive us for straying from the Tudor theme of the blog to write about the wonderful discovery of a huge hoard of Anglo Saxon gold near our home city of Birmingham. The find, the largest hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold ever found, is believed to date back to the Seventh Century. It contains around 5kg of Gold and 2.5kg of silver, far bigger than the famous find at the Sutton Hoo burial site.
A Staffordshire field.
Amazingly the gold was not unearthed due to careful historical research – rather it was found by a 55-year-old Staffordshire metal detectorist called Tony Herbert, as he searched a field near his home with his 14-year-old metal detector. He had been a keen metal detector for 18 years, and I find it hard to imagine how excited he must have been to unearth such awe-inspiring treasures.
Spirits of yesteryear.
He said: “I have this phrase that I say sometimes; ‘spirits of yesteryear take me where the coins appear’, but on that day I changed coins to gold. I don’t know why I said it that day, but I think somebody was listening, and directed me to it. Maybe it was meant to be, maybe the gold had my name on it all along, I don’t know. My mates at the (metal detecting) club always say if there is a gold coin in a field I will be the one to find it. I dread to think what they’ll say when they hear about this.”
Many of the items in the hoard are warfare paraphernalia, including sword pommel caps and hilt plates, often inlaid with precious stones. The seven warring Anglo-Saxon kingdoms comprised Wessex, Essex, East Anglia, Northumbria, Mercia, Sussex and Kent. The Mercians dominated the middle of the country, below the Humber and down to London – where we live in Birmingham is in the middle of Mercia. The hoard points back towards a time of war, and also of great wealth, at least for those with political power. There is biblical slogan etched along a strip of golden banding on one of the pieces. It reads,
“Rise up, O Lord, and may thy enemies be dispersed and those who hate thee be driven from thy face.”
The gold points back to the time of the writing of the great Anglo Saxon poem Beowulf. There is a theory that Beowulf was Mercian in origin, and is about the mindset of these aristocratic warriors. I find these lines send a shiver up my spine! The translation from Old English is by Seamus Heaney.
A newly constructed
barrow stood waiting, on a wide headland
close to the waves, its entryway secured.
Into it the keeper of the hoard had carried
all the goods and golden ware
worth preserving. His words were few:
“Now, earth, hold what earls once held
and heroes can no more; it was mined from you first
by honourable men. My own people
have been ruined in war; one by one
they went down to death, looked their last
on sweet life in the hall. I am left with nobody
to bear a sword or burnish plated goblets,
put a sheen on the cup. The companies
The hard helmet, hasped with gold,
will be stripped of its hoops; and the
who should polish the metal of the
the coat of mail that came through all fights,
through shield-collapse and cut of sword,
decays with the warrior. Nor may webbed mail
range far and wide on the warlord’s back
beside his mustered troops. No trembling harp,
no tuned timber, no tumbling hawk
swerving through the hall, no swift horse
pawing the courtyard. Pillage and slaughter
have emptied the earth of entire peoples.”