Abstracts from Symposium 24/04/2021


Morning Session


The Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of Lindsey (Erik Grigg)

I will discuss the early medieval kingdom of Lindsey, which probably covered the north half of Lincolnshire and flourished in the centuries after the end of Roman rule. I will discuss the written and archaeological evidence, its possible origins and the role of religion in its fall. Finds, from recent excavations as well as those reported by metal detectorists, suggest the area was affluent and well-connected, but the kingdom is only known from a single list of its kings, why did it leave such a faint impression on history? I will re-evaluate key evidence to suggest that while many other kingdoms were bolstered by embracing Christianity, the kings of Lindsey seem absent from the narrative of conversion. Perhaps they are the test case that proves the rule that embracing the new religion and becoming connected to other Christian leaders helped solidify the rule of early medieval kings



The Anglo-Saxon Transformation of the Fens (Michael Chisholm)

The long-standing belief has been that only the Romans or Normans were capable of early major hydraulic works in the Fens.  That belief has been eroded by the realisation that an Anglo-Saxon sea-bank was built round the Wash, protecting the silt fens; and, since the 1980s, that they dug some artificial channels in the peat fens.  I am the first person to have undertaken a systematic search to try to answer the following basic question: How much hydraulic engineering did the Anglo-Saxons undertake?  Piecing together archaeological and other information, it becomes clear that the answer is: A great deal more that has been realised.  The implications of this finding ramify quite widely.  


Invasion of Settlement? Anglo-Saxon and Viking Place-Names in the Fens (Martin Blake)


People of Scandinavian (Sc) origin settled in eastern England from the late 9th century onwards, after the arrival of the (mostly Danish) Great Army in 865. How great were their numbers, and what was the impact on the existing Anglo-Saxon population? Written records for our area from this period are sparse, so we have to look closely at ‘secondary’ evidence, such as place-names (PNs). Cautionary note: the lack of written evidence means that we do not have very early forms for most PNs, and are reliant on Domesday Book (DB) or even much later sources. In addition, PN studies are neither scientific nor static; intensive research is ongoing, particularly for the (hopefully soon to be published) English Place-Name Survey (EPNS) volumes for southern Lincolnshire. Researchers may consider the same corpus of evidence and come to different conclusions. In our context, it is also important to remember that Old English (OE) and Old Norse (ON) were closely related languages, and cannot always be distinguished in PN forms (cf ON thorp and OE throp).

Density of Sc Settlement:

The Great Army probably consisted of a few thousand warriors, a substantial army by contemporary standards but not sufficient in itself to explain the apparent density of subsequent Danish settlement. It seems likely that, once Danish control of eastern England had been formalised by the establishment of the Danelaw, further waves of settlers, mostly farmers, crossed the North Sea to settle in areas newly under Danish control. A further wave may well have followed the conquest of England by Swein Forkbeard in 1015.

Sc place-names are densely distributed through Lincs and other eastern counties (though not in the fens – see below), but it is not possible to extrapolate directly from this to estimate numbers of inhabitants. In recent years, DNA evidence has shown considerable Sc influence on the present-day gene pool of long-standing inhabitants of Lincolnshire.

Where did they settle, and what were relations between the English and Sc populations?

Where settlements with English and Sc names are situated in close proximity to one another, it is often the case that the Sc settlement is on poorer, more marginal soil, e.g. on the Lincolnshire Wolds. This does not suggest that the existing population was driven out by the newcomers, or indeed intimidated by them. Having said this, Sc settlements were doubtless still being established well after the conquest of the Danelaw by the kings of Wessex in the 10th century.

An interesting group of PNs is the so-called ‘Toton hybrids’. These consist of a Sc personal name combined with an English habitative suffix, particulary -tun. Earlier scholars believed that these were former English settlements taken over and renamed from a military leader in the Great Army. It is now considered more likely that they result from a much later land redistribution, perhaps as late as the 11th century, indicating that the settlement’s new overlord had a Sc name. (There are examples of Sc names being adopted by the English aristocracy, e.g. the Godwins). Another group of hybrids consists of a Sc suffix, particularly by, attached to an English personal name or other element. These are generally considered to be later formations, from a time when -by had been absorbed into the English language, and hence are not evidence in themselves of Sc settlement.

From primary PN evidence (towns,villages and parishes), the Sc incomers appear to have had little interest in settling in the fens of Cambs and southern Lincs. Such terrain existed in Denmark, albeit probably not on the same scale, but it requires long experience and specialist knowledge to exploit its resources, and people possessing these were presumably not among the settlers in England. Alternatively, settlements in this marshy area occupied limited areas of higher ground, which were presumably fully occupied and left little opportunity for new settlement. Having said this, it is noteworthy that ‘secondary’ PN elements, particularly field-names, are common in this area. These are believed to belong to a later stage of PN-formation when terms such as -carr, -garth and –wong/wang had been absorbed into the English language, a process which seems to have continued well into the post-Conquest period.

Finally, it is worth noting the literary evidence from both English and Icelandic sources, in some cases contemporary, suggesting that, as late as the 11th century, OE and ON were mutually intelligible. If there is any truth in this, it would presumably have been even more true in the late 9th century andwould have aided the integration of the English and Sc populations if they had been minded to do so.

Afternoon Session


Crowland Abbey and the Battle of Threekingham (Freya Trotman)

In 869 during Theodore of Croyland’s Abbacy, the Danes who had landed all along the east coast and were encamped at Thetford for the winter. The men and monks of Crowland along with hundreds of others living in the Fens met them in battle at Threekingham on the Fen edge. The battle was brutal and hundreds were killed on both sides. Bodies were rumoured to have lain three deep and the slaughter was appalling.

The Anglo Saxons who had survived the battle made their way home through the Fens to tell others that the Danes had won and to warn of the danger. The Danes followed the monks back through the marshes and waterways. On the flat landscape of marsh and water the low lying island of Crowland with the whitewashed Abbey would have looked like a beacon on the horizon. As they came from Threekingham the Danes attacked the other churches on the fen edge. St Firmin’s Church at Thurlby was one of many others that suffered at their hands.

Before the inevitable reprisals, the brothers at Crowland hastened to move the Abbey’s treasures to safety, transporting them across the water to Anchorigg at Thorney, where the treasures were alleged to have been hidden in a pond, (which still exists). When the Danes came they slew all the brothers as they were at Mass. One young brother was saved by a Dane who took pity on the boy. My talk aims to tell the story of the battle and the aftermath in the context of the modern landscape and buildingsthat have survived.


Hereward and the Saxon Resistance: The Ely Rebellion (Michael Gilbert)

The Ely Rebellion was one in a series of uprisings against the Norman invaders in the ten years following the conquest. It has generally been overlooked and regarded as of minor importance not posing a serious threat to Williams rule. However, the rebellion combined three powerful elements; local rebels under the leadership of Hereward, surviving members of the Saxon nobility and a Danish fleet that together had the potential to provide a credible challenge to the Normans. This talk considers how serious a threat the Ely Rebellion posed and why it failed? It also asks what do we know about Hereward as a leader of the Saxon resistance and can we separate fact from fiction?


Countess Lucy: AngloNorman Heiress (Neal Sumner)

The focus of this session will be on Lucy, Anglo-Norman heiress, founder and benefactress of the Benedictine Priory of St. Mary and St Nicholas in Spalding. Drawing on recent research I will discuss what is known of her ancestry and its influence on her life and marriages. I will examine how her roles as daughter, wife, mother and widow contribute to our understanding of this crucial period of transition between the Anglo-Saxon and Norman periods. How does Lucy’s life reflect themes of gender, identity, and the limits of female power and agency in the era of the Norman Conquest? The discussion concludes with an evaluation of the ways in which her legacy was preserved and extended by her children.

SGS Symposium 2021 Abstracts.doc

Leave a Reply