Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Friday, 11 December 2015

King Alfred, King Coelwulf II and the Watlington Hoard

A friend kindly drew my attention to the report on The Times about the discovery a couple of months ago of the Watlington hoard and the new light it has shed on the politics and warfare of the 870s.


A rare coin showing King Alfred ‘the Great’ of Wessex (r.871-99) and King Ceolwulf II of Mercia (874-79)
An enlarged photograph of a rare coin from the Watlington hoard showing King Alfred the Great of Wessex (871-99) and King Ceolwulf II of Mercia (874-79)

Image Daily Telegraph

It apperas to be the hope that the hoard will eventually go on display at the Ashmolean here in Oxford.

This is clearly a very interesting discovery but the reports are a bit hyped with all this talk of airbrushing Ceolwulf out of history and memory. As he appears to have died in 879 or soon after, and presumably by 883, almost twenty years before Alfred, so it is perhaps not surprising he came to be forgotten or sidelined.

In the circumstances of the Danish invasion I bet any surviving English rulers would cling to one another for support after the destruction of Northumbria and its kings and the fate of St Edmund. Was the depiction of the two Kings side by side not only influenced by Byzantine models - and those were often tortuous duopolies - but also an anticipation of the proposed Anglo-French union in the crisis of spring 1940?

By the 890s King Coelwulf might well be partly forgotten, though there was doubtless a tendency to celebrate Alfred and his achievements as unique by biographers and chroniclers - not so much air brushing Coelwulf out as forgetting him as time and events moved on, especially if he left no successors or heirs.

1 comment:

John F H H said...

I have seen it suggested that this does not depict the two kings, but the most Holy Trinity: God the Father, with the Son on His right, and the Holy Spirit as a Dove descending above. However, I have not seen anything further on this suggestion. Regards, John