Archive for the ‘Northumbria The Lost Kingdom’ Category

Book review: The Anglo-Saxon World by Nicholas Higham & Martin Ryan

Thursday, December 18th, 2014
The Anglo-Saxon World

The Anglo-Saxon World

Skimming the other reviews for The Anglo-Saxon World, I see I’m just adding to the consensus but, you know, sometimes a consensus exists because something is true: this really is the best one-volume introduction to the Anglo-Saxon world around. It’s not cheap, but it is worth every penny.

Nick Higham’s writing style has improved immensely since he wrote The Kingdom of Northumbria A.D. 3501100 (my go-to guide when working on Edwin High King of Britain and now Oswald: Return of the King), and he now combines engaging prose with his immense knowledge of the subject. Really, no criticisms; if you want to learn about the history and culture of the Early Medieval Period in Britain, read this book.

Book review: The King in the North by Max Adams

Sunday, July 20th, 2014
The King in the North

The King in the North

Not surprisingly, Max Adams’ book finds an appreciative reader in me: it’s all about Northumbria! Although ostensibly a biography of Oswald, in fact it tells the story of the great age of the kingdom, starting with its emergence into history under the ‘Twister’ Aethelfrith, through my favourite, Edwin, to Oswald, Oswiu and Ecgfrith, with an afterword about the golden cultural age of the eighth century. Adams is never less than fascinating, he brings to light all sorts of nuggets of information and parallels – I particularly liked the comparison between Oswald and Thomas Cochrane, the premier frigate commander of the Napoleonic Wars and a man of such daring his exploits would appear ridiculous in a film – and his book brims with a life-long love of the subject. In fact, the only other book on Northumbria I’d recommend as highly is my own, and Adams beats me into a cocked hat with the absolutely superb double page map on the inside front cover, which shows Northumbria and the other kingdoms of northern Britain in the style of the map in ‘The Lord of the Rings’, all hand-drawn hills and sketched forests. Superb, and on its own responsible for an extra, fifth star! Well done, Mr Cartographer.

Travel Northumberland

Friday, March 14th, 2014

I first wrote this article for Time Out magazine. Since our first son was one at the time, it’s older than I thought!

Bamburgh Castle and beach - at high tide!

Bamburgh Castle and beach – at high tide!

‘It’s perfect, isn’t it?’ My gesture took in not one but two castles, three lighthouses and a beach, broad and empty as the moon.

‘If perfection includes sand blasting and freezing water,’ said my wife.

And there you have it in a nutshell. The Northumberland coast produces extreme reactions. People either think it the most wonderful place they’ve ever seen, and make annual visits as faithfully as the pilgrims to Holy Island, or they get on a plane to a country where toes dipped in the sea don’t turn blue, and wind defences are not a prerequisite for a day at the beach.

In the Pink on Yeavering Bell

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

Yeavering Bell is an Iron-Age hillfort in Northumberland, one of the largest in the country. The tumbledown ramparts, still clearly visible in the photograph below, were originally 10 feet high and they enclose an area of  some 12 acres.

Yeavering Bell with ramparts clearly visible.

Yeavering Bell with ramparts clearly visible.

The hillfort looks over the site of Ad Gefrin, Edwin’s royal palace and the place where Paulinus baptised for thirty days in the River Glen at the bottom of the valley. Ad Gefrin is now a wind-swept field of grass, but it remains a hugely evocative place.

The field of Ad Gefrin, with Yeavering Bell in the background. 'Look on my works, ye Mighty and despair.'

The field of Ad Gefrin, with Yeavering Bell in the background. ‘Look on my works, ye Mighty and despair.’

The rock that was used to build the ramparts of Yeavering Bell is a local andesite that, when first quarried, is bright pink, before lichens and weathering grey it. Where a stone has tumbled, revealing a previously hidden face, it’s possible to see just how Barbie-esque the fortifications would have been when first built.

The salmon pink of fresh andesite - once all the hills were laced with it.

The salmon pink of fresh andesite – once all the hills were laced with it.

There is, to my mind, something wonderful about the thought of these grim hills – almost all of them had hillforts on them – necklaced in salmon pink.

New Back Cover Copy for Edwin: High King of Britain

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

Now my publishers, the lovely people at Lion Fiction, have had the chance to read the complete text of Edwin: High King of Northumbria they’ve written a fresh draft of the back cover copy. I’d be very grateful if you could read it and let me know what you think.

Edwin: High King of Britain | Back Cover Copy

Edwin is a king. Yet he is about to be betrayed and butchered.

Edwin, the long-exiled king of Northumbria, thought he had found sanctuary at the court of King Rædwald – his friend and now protector.

But as Rædwald faces the draw of riches and the fear of bloodshed, rumours abound that he will not hold firm to their bond.

As Edwin contemplates his fate and the futility of escape, hope is offered by a messenger from an unknown god. It is prophesied that Edwin will ascend to greater power than any of his forefathers.

Through cunning victory in battle and a strategic marriage to the Kentish princess Æthelburh, Edwin’s power grows.

But his new wife and her missionary priests bring more than political alliance. Where should Edwin look to for a power not of this earth: with their new God, or with the Anglo-Saxon gods of old? And can any power raise Edwin above all other thrones?

Edwin: High King of Britain is the first book in The Northumbrian Thrones trilogy – a riveting read seeped in the intrigues, bloody battles, and romance of the kings of Anglo-Saxon Britain.




Bede the Gentle-man

Friday, September 27th, 2013

In his Ecclesiastical History of the English People the Venerable Bede invented the very idea of England. Reading the book today, I’m struck by its generosity, its concern for historical sources but most of all by the evident kindness of Bede himself. This was a good man. I wonder if the quintessence of the ideal of England – the gentle-man – was prefigured and, in a way, preformed by the man who invented England, Bede himself. I can think of few better patterns for a nation than the man from Jarrow.


Blurb for Edwin: High King of Britain

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

Here’s the publisher’s blurb for Edwin: High King Of Britain. What do you think? Would you be inclined to read the book after reading this and looking at the cover?

Edwin, the deposed king of Northumbria, seeks refuge at the court of King Raedwald of East Anglia. But Raedwald is urged to kill his guest by Aethelfrith, Edwin’s usurper. As Edwin walks by the shore, alone and at bay, he is confronted by a mysterious figure – the missionary Paulinus – who prophesies that he will become High King of Britain. It is a turning point. Through battles and astute political alliances Edwin rises to great power, in the process marrying the Kentish princess Aethelburh. As part of the marriage contract the princess is allowed to retain her Christian faith. But, in these times, to be a king is not a recipe for a long life …This turbulent and tormented period in British history sees the conversion of the Anglo-Saxon settlers who have forced their way on to British shores over previous centuries, arriving first to pillage, then to farm and trade – and to come to terms with the faith of the Celtic tribes they have driven out.


Edwin: High King of Britain

Thursday, September 19th, 2013


Here it is, the cover for the first volume of my trilogy of historical novels on the kings of the north, The Northumbrian Thrones. Edwin: High King of Britain is due out in March 2014 from Lion Fiction and I am really rather excited.

It’s available to pre-order on Amazon, the Book Depository and Waterstones.

Current Archaeology reviews Northumbria: The Lost Kingdom

Friday, April 26th, 2013

Current Archaeology magazine has reviewed Northumbria: the Lost Kingdom in issue 278. Reviews aren’t online, so they’ve kindly given me permission to reproduce the review here.

Once, Gething and Albert write, ‘Geordies ruled us all’. While not strictly true, there is no doubt that during its 7th- to 8th-century Golden Age, the Anglian kingdom of Northumbria was one of the great powers of Medieval England, home to ecclesiastical heavyweights like Bede and Alcuin, and to stunning artefacts like the Franks Casket. But these achievements are too often overshadowed by other kingdoms, particularly Wessex, the authors argue. To redress this, historical sources and archaeological evidence are woven together in a rich tapestry, using findings from the Bamburgh Research Project (CA 239) – of which Gething is a co-founder and co-director – and other excavations to expand our picture of Northumbria from the monastic and royal spheres that form the focus of most contemporary writings. This is interspersed with interviews from archaeologists and historians with expertise in a wide range of fields. A lively and interdisciplinary book.

Bamburgh Research Project Crowdfunding

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

The Bamburgh Research Project, which has done more than anyone else to bring to light the extraordinary archaeology and history of Northumbria, is looking for help and seeking it through crowdfunding via Sponsume. If you can help at all, either by contributing a small amount or sharing the link and spreading awareness, please do so.