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Archive for the ‘Non Tudor history’ Category

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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.

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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.”

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Warlike items.

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.”

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Beowulf.

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

have departed.

The hard helmet, hasped with gold,

will be stripped of its hoops; and the

helmet-shiner

who should polish the metal of the

war-mask sleeps;

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.”

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This post continues the Civil war theme of last week with a look at how the musket was used and also what might happen if a person was hit.

Maintaining a constant rate of fire.

As you can see from the previous post, firing the gun was not an easy process. An experienced person might manage just under 3 shots a minute but the rate of fire would most often be about one shot every 30 seconds. In order to maintain a constant volley of fire, groups of musketeers were arranged in ranks. Whilst the person at the front would be firing, the three people behind would be re-loading. As the first person discharged his gun he would retreat to the back of the line and begin re-loading,  the gunner at the front would then fire before returning to the back to load again. In this way the gunners would advance across the battlefield towards the enemy lines – firing more or less continually.

Comparison with the longbow.

Before this period the English longbow was the most feared weapon on the battlefield. It is interesting to note that the longbow has a longer useful range  than the more technologically advanced musket. It is estimated that a longbow could shoot an arrow up to at least 180 yards – compared to 70 to 100 yards for the musket. There is an idea that the musket was used because it was easier and quicker to train someone to use it. Another idea is that the longbow simply fell out of fashion – eventually there were less people who could use them in battle.

The Musket ball and it’s effectiveness.

12 bore musket ball

12 bore musket ball

This is a 12 bore musket ball and it measures about 3/4 of an inch in diameter. The term ‘bore’ comes from the number of balls that can be made from a pound of lead. It is possible to make 12 of these balls from a pound of lead. Sixteen bore shot was also commonly made i.e. 16 smaller balls from a pound of lead.

As stated in the last post test firing has revealed these guns to be much more accurate than expected but what effect did they have ?

It is generally thought that at up to a range of 30 yards the ball would go straight through a man. At a greater range it would still be enough to cause very significant injuries. At this time,  any serious wound would be almost certainly prove to be fatal. In his excellent book about the Civil War, Trevor Royle describes the death of a soldier called Gabriel Ludlow who was  wounded in the battle of Marston Moor

his belly broken and bowels torn, his hip bone broken, all the shivers and the bullet lodged in it’

Of course,  for poor Gabriel and thousands of others like him there was little chance of survival. The wound would have fragments of cloth and dirt driven into it, although not immediately fatal,  it would certainly become septic quite soon – causing a prolonged and painful death to the victim.

Just in case all this hasn’t put you off why not learn to be a Musketeer yourself?

(This is the second of a two part post – see also ‘Musket’

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