Sunday, 12 July 2009

Cannington /Cynuit in Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Series

Cannington is a village and civil parish 3 miles (5 km) north-west of Bridgwater in the Sedgemoor district of Somerset, England. It lies on the west bank of the River Parret, and contains the hamlet of Edstock

Cynuit Hill Fort

The parish formerly included part of the village of Combwich, with its port and ferry terminal. In 1881 the parish contained 4,980 acres (2,020 ha).

The Saxon name of this village was Caninganmaersees or Cantuctone. Cantuc was a Old English word for a ridge, ton a settlement.
The Battle of Cynwit took place in 878, and Cannington Camp, a Bronze Age and Iron Age hill fort, (also called Cynwir or Cynwit Castle) has been suggested as the most likely location for it.
It was the site of a Benedictine nunnery, founded by Robert de Courcy about 1140, which survived until the Dissolution of the monasteries. The nunnery owned significant land in the area. The site is now Cannington Court which incorporates some remains of the Priory.
The lords of the manor were the Clifford family including Hugh Clifford, 2nd Baron Clifford of Chudleigh. Gurney Manor, a 13th-century manor house with an attached chapel wing, is now supported by the Landmark Trust and used as flats. A manor house was also built at Blackmore Farm, with its own chapel, around 1480 for Thomas Tremayll.
The Cannington Centre for Land-based Studies was formerly known as Cannington College, which was established in 1921, but now forms part of Bridgwater College. The village is also home to Brymore School.
The dairy in Cannington, which has been operating since the 1930s, is now owned by local firm Yeo Valley Organic and produces yoghurt, cream and creme fraiche.

Religious sites
The Church of St Mary has a tower which dates from the 14th century, the remainder was rebuilt in the early 15th century and restored in 1840 by Richard Carver. It was previously connected to Cannington Court and is postulated as the former church of a house of Benedictine Nuns. It has been designated by English Heritage as a Grade I listed building.

The Battle of Cynwit, also spelt Battle of Cynuit, took place in 878 at a fort which Asser calls Cynwit. This is now argued to be on Cannington Hill, near Cannington, Bridgwater in Somerset, England, but other locations are also put forward for it.
A party of Vikings led by Ubbe Ragnarsson, brother of Ivar the Boneless and Halfdan Ragnarsson, landed on the coast at Combwich with 23 ships and twelve hundred men. There they observed that a number of English Thanes and all of their men had taken refuge in the fort of "Cynwit" for safety. While the fort was secure on all sides except for the East, it lacked adequate fortifications. Thus Ubbe and the Vikings proceeded to besiege the fort, expecting the English to surrender eventually from lack of water (as there was no available source near the fort). The English however, instead of waiting to die of thirst on top of the hill, attacked suddenly out of the fortress at dawn, taking the Danes by surprise and winning a great victory.
Cannington hill fort, a possible site of the battleWhile the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle glosses over the battle of Cynwit, it is important for two reasons.
First: because it was an important victory for the English won by someone other than Alfred the Great, the king of Wessex at the time who was spearheading the English resistance to the Viking invasions. The Chronicle, in addressing the year 878, makes the claim that: “all but Alfred the King” had been subdued by the Vikings. Alfred, as it turns out, was actually hiding elsewhere with a small band of followers. Credit for the victory at Cynwit – as revealed by Æthelweard - is due to Ealdorman Odda of Devon, who is mentioned neither in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle nor in Asser’s Life of King Alfred, most likely out of reverence for Alfred’s status as king. The Battle of Cynwit shows that while Alfred was a major force in uniting the English peoples against the Danes, a number of local Ealdormen still held sway over the peoples of Wessex.
Eowls and Halfdan Banner
Second: At the battle of Cynwit, Odda and the English forces not only succeeded in killing Ubba, but they also captured the Raven banner called Hrefn or the Raven. While the Anglo-Saxon chronicle only briefly mentions the battle, it does draw attention to the capture of the banner, which is interesting considering that it does not single out any other trophy captured by the English in the many other victories they had against the Danes. What made this banner so special? Sources tell us that out of the three commanding brothers of the Vikings – Halfdan, Ivar, and Ubbe – Ubbe was the most superstitious and prone to consultation of pagan seers to dictate his course of action in battle. As Ubba’s battle flag, the Raven banner therefore held specific ritual meaning amongst the Danes, and is even described as being as ritually important to the Danes as the ‘holy ring’ that the Danes used to declare their peace with Alfred after the battle of Edington some months later.

The battle in fiction
One treatment of the battle is in The Marsh King, a children's historical novel by C. Walter Hodges, where its location is called "Kynwit". Although this novel is about King Alfred, it gives due credit to this victory, although the description of the battle may not be very accurate.
The battle also features in Bernard Cornwell's novel The Last Kingdom. Cornwell ascribes the victory, as well as the killing of Ubbe, to his fictional hero Uhtred.

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle Asser, The Life of King Alfred Æthelweard, Chronicon, ed. and tr. Alistair Campbell.
The Chronicle of Æthelweard (London, 1961)
Cornwell, Bernard, The Last Kingdom (London: Harper Collins, 2005)
Keary C. F., The Vikings in Western Christendom (T. Fisher Unwin: London)1891.
Smyth, Alfred P., King Alfred the Great (Oxford University Press: Oxford) 1995.

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