Life In The Dark Ages
It has been said that much of the Anglo-Saxon period in England is not very well documented. Be that as it may, we are now able to gain a little insight into the daily lives of common people, albeit some rather unusual ones. A short while ago, Historian Oswin Twonk was handed a fragment of writing found by a spelunker in a Cheshire cave.
Having made a particular study of the period after the Romans departed from our land and the Normans arrived, Mr Twonk was able to translate the text into modern English and he has now released his initial result. Nobody knows who wrote the original manuscript or when it first appeared, though it may be reasonable to infer that it was penned in the early 800s, as there is some mention of the Norse invaders, but none of Alfred the Great.
The document deals mainly with ordinary people and makes only limited reference to prominent ones. It is incomplete and does not have an obvious beginning or end. Still, it gives us some absorbing information about a few interesting characters. Mr Twonk has provided Madazine with an extract which he hopes our readers will find intriguing. It is given below:
One of the characters to whom we are introduced is Egbreath the Horrible, noted for his huge consumption of raw garlic – and the fact that he apparently had few close friends. He lived in a typical one-roomed cottage of wattle and daub. His wife was also noteworthy. Her name was Illwinda and she was widely known for her malodorous flatulence, and was usually avoided by neighbours. Some people might wonder whether she perhaps inspired the phrase ‘it’s an ill wind that blows nobody good’. The origin of this expression seems to be unclear, though it seems to have been well known early in the sixteenth century, when it was already described as a proverb.
We are told that while out walking one day, Egbreath met a village elder and the following conversation ensued:
Elder: Good morning, Egbreath. I understand that you have come into an inheritance.
Egbreath: I have. My late aunt bequeathed me a billy goat.
Elder: How nice for you. Where is the creature now?
Egbreath: He is in my cottage, sprawled out by the fire.
Elder: But Egbreath, what about the smell?
Egbreath: Oh, never mind him. He will get used to it.
Another remarkable character was Thithelthroth the Unvigilant, who claimed to be part Viking. He contrasted sharply with Hereward the Wake, who came along much later. When it became known that marauders were seeking food in the vicinity of Thithelthroth’s village, he distinguished himself in a most egregious manner. Assigned to nocturnal lookout duty for the first and only time, he became bored, consumed a gallon of mead and fell into a drunker stupor.
While the incompetent watchman snored the night away, the roving miscreants made off with a dozen head of cattle, twenty goats and thirty sheep. To add insult to injury, they also picked an acre of peas, quietly dug up a patch of four hundred square yards of cabbages and onions, and raided the collective dairy, stealing all of the villagers’ butter and cheese. The record does not say what price Thithelthroth paid for his behaviour.
We are also introduced to Hogsgirth the Vast, a man described as of astounding circumference, as broad as he was long. This fellow had a gargantuan appetite and fed himself to such a bulk that in the final year of his life he was unable to leave his home, as the doorway would not have been wide enough to permit his egress, even if he had been able to attempt it, which he was not. He perished immediately after tackling his last meal, a whole roast ox. (Well, that would probably be the last meal of anyone who tried it.)
In addition to giving us an overview of the lives of common folk, the work enlightens us briefly about several striking people among the nobility, including Ethelspread, Etheldread, Ethelthread and Ethelbreeda. The first of these was noted for giving lavish banquets, the second distinguished himself by his cruelty, the third got his name because he was reputedly thin enough to be passed through the eye of a needle, and the fourth was a lady of astounding fecundity, who it was said gave birth to children to numerous to count.
I, your informant, am working on a book based on the four pages of parchment passed to me by the cave explorer. So far I have produced 200,000 words and am close to the end. I hope for a high level of sales.
Editor’s note. I am puzzled by the fact that Mr Twonk does not comment on the inclusion of ‘a’ in the names of the three male ‘Ethels’ he mentions in his penultimate paragraph. I do not believe that spelling was used in the period concerned, as may be gathered from two undoubtedly real Ethelreds (or Aethelreds). To my mind, the extra letter in the third syllable of the names in the manuscript cast doubt on its authenticity. I suspect this supposed find might be another ‘Piltdown Man’ type hoax.
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