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Tangled SaxonsBloodfeud Murder and Revenge in Anglo-Saxon EnglandRichard FletcherAllen Lane 1499 pp230King Canute remembered today as a wise and good monarch was a master of PR projecting an image of himself as a pious and dutiful Christian king a man properly in tune with human frailty In reality he was a violent and ruthless young man who as Richard Fletcher shows in this compelling work of forensic historical reconstruction was responsible in 1016 for a crime so dreadful that it continued to send aftershocks through Anglo-Saxon England until long after the Norman ConquestBriefly when Canute a Danish arriviste completed his subjugation of the unruly north of England he commanded the appearance of the greatest of his northern subjects Earl Uhtred of Northumbria at a place called Wiheal now Wighill near Tadcaster in Yorkshire Uhtred had been loyal to Canutes predecessor Ethelred the Unready or Ill-advised but realising that Canute now had the upper hand came with 40 retainers to Wiheal to make his submissionIn the ambush and slaughter that followed a bloodfeud was initiated that would last for almost 60 years Its not entirely clear whether this was due to the uniquely violent temper of the times or to the enormity of Canutes crime Like many academics who yearn to give their special subject popular appeal Fletcher has been unable to resist giving what is essentially a careful general study of pre-Norman culture and society a sensational subtitle murder and revenge in Anglo-Saxon England a bid for a larger audience that is at odds with what is in the bookMuch of Fletchers narrative a Sellars and Yeatmanesque parade of Ealdhuns Ecfridas Eadwulfs Aethelthryths and Orms confirms the historical perception of this dark millennial century as a succession of pitched battles from Newquay to Newcastle between villainous gangs hell-bent on plunder It was it goes without saying a mans world of warfare bloodshed and politics Only two eleventh-century queens Emma wife of Canute and Edith wife
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