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De Re Militari | Book Reviews

Raymond E.O. Ella

Four Anglian Kings of Northumbria

also published as FOUR YORKSHIRE ANGLO-SAXON CROWNS (Otley: Old Yorkshire Publications, 2002) £2.95 plus P&P (33p within UK, £1.15 airmail overseas). 24pp. ISBN 0 9533762 3 0

Editor's NOTE:

Mr. Ella has taken the opportunity to respond to Ms. Krug's review. His reply is appended immediately below her review. In our correspondence back and forth, it was agreed by all that this is not primarily a book for military historians. It is, however, important that the review and the reply remain accessible to the wider world of scholarship.


The history of Anglo-Saxon England has intrigued and inspired scholars for over a century, and the works of such eminent historians as Peter Brown, Sir Frank Stenton, James Campbell and David Wilson have done much to dispel the inaccurate view of this period as "The Dark Ages", a time of cultural and technological stagnation or even decline. Indeed, historians and students alike are often drawn to this period specifically for the purpose of rescuing it from this image.

It is to this body of scholarship that Raymond Ella offers a short investigation of Anglo-Saxon Yorkshire, focusing on the reigns of four kings between the sixth and ninth centuries: Aelle, Edwin, Oswine and Aella.

Only about twenty pages long, Ella's book is subdivided into short sections that deal with everything from the Viking raids in the eighth and ninth centuries, to archaeological finds from the period, to a brief telling of the death of Edwin. Arranged roughly chronologically with clear headings, these sections provide some history of the period. However, the brevity of the sections, and the author's tendency to intersperse discussions of Anglo-Saxon institutions or specific monuments among a general historical narrative makes the reading choppy at best, and at worst, disjointed. Furthermore, the historical narrative itself is far from comprehensive; the author seems to have chosen random stories that he liked best. While interesting and helpful, the placement between pages of text of a map, a family tree of Northumbrian royalty, a chart of place names, and a list of noteworthy Northumbrian women is awkward and arbitrary; these would have been better placed in an appendix.

Ella approaches his subject matter more from the stance of genealogical research than textual history. He is generally preoccupied with tracing references to the kings Aelle and Aella, with whom he shares a name, and this colors the focus of his text. His compilation of place names, for instance, only documents those derived from these two kings.

More frustrating for the serious scholar is the complete absence of notes or bibliography. Although the author does, in a short paragraph, list five primary and secondary sources essential for a study of Anglo-Saxon England, it is unclear whether those of the works from which Ella derived his information. The only sources Ella obviously used are the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and Bede's Ecclesiastical History, to which Ella occasionally refers, but rarely provides full citations.

Likewise, certain sections are thin on information. Although Ella admits that the Viking blood eagle ritual was "inhuman", he never describes in detail the practice, despite the fact that an entire section was devoted to this rite.

Ella has dedicated this short work to his family, and it is most likely they who will derive the most use from this book. Although the Northumbrian royal family tree is a useful reference guide, despite, for the most part, a lack of dates, a serious historian of this period will probably not find this book useful, and would be better off with the standard scholarly works.

Illana Krug

University of Toronto <ikrug@chass.utoronto.ca>

A reply from Raymond Ella

Regarding the review of my little book titled FOUR ANGLIAN KINGS OF NORTHUMBRIA (Or, Four Yorkshire Anglo-Saxon Crowns), 2nd ed.,2002:

The reviewer, Ms. I. Krug, starts her review with "also published as FOUR YORKSHIRE ANGLO-SAXON CROWNS". This is actually a sub-title and anyone who knows something on Anglo-Saxon history, or a novice after reading my little book, would understand that Yorkshire was once part of Northumbria during the Heptarchy, hence the sub-title.

In paragraph 2 of Ms.Krug's review she implies that my book offers a short investigate of Anglo-Saxon Yorkshire, but there are paragraphs in my book on other areas such as the kingdom of East-Anglia.

Ms. Krug states at the start of her paragraph 3 that the book is "Only about twenty pages long". There are actually twenty-seven numbered pages and these have some illustrations. Also in Ms.Krug's paragraph 3, there is a mention of "a family tree of Northumbrian royalty". This is not a family tree because most of the kings were not related, e.g., King Ella, AD 867, having been elected by most of the people to replace King Osberht resulting in a civil war. It is a chronological chart of Northumbrian kings and it does include many dates, but the reason for some omitted dates for the more obscure kings is simply because the dates are not known, but later dates were added by historians.

Ms. Krug starts her paragraph 4 thus "Ella approaches his subject matter more from the stance of genealogical research than textual history". Although I make a brief mention of the musician John Ella (1802-1888) who had a family connection, I make it quite clear that I have no connection with other persons mentioned in my book, e.g. not two but the three kings named ELLA with other early variant scribe-forms of this name.

Regarding Ms.Krug's paragraph 5: There is a mention of "the complete absence of notes or bibliography", but she does state my usage of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles (not Chronicle by the way) and Bede's Ecclesiastical History. However, I do use and cite other works such as English Historical Documents vol.1 by Dorothy Whitelock (London 1979) and this lady's printed translation of the Anglo-Saxon 'ChronicleS' in 1961.

In Ms. Krug's paragraph 6 there is "Although Ella admits that the Viking blood eagle rite was inhuman", etc. I did not dwell on this because it is only a Saga-legend written some centuries later than the events in the 9th century and, the inhuman rite is a contradiction on how King Ella at York died in AD 867. [DRM editor's note: for those interested in the Blood Eagle ritual, see Clarke, Howard B., "The Bloodied Eagle: the Vikings and the development of Dublin, 841-1014," The Irish Sword 18, no. 71 (1991): 91-119.]

The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles and other contemporary Old-English and Latin manuscripts written in the 9th century AD state that King Ella was killed in battle, so many serious historians regarding this event and many other events do not take the Sagas academically.

In Ms. Krug's paragraph 7 there is "a serious historian of this period will probably not find this book useful", etc. I agree that any person interested in the history of military warfare would not find my book useful, although I do mention conflicts and battles between kingdoms and their monarchs in Anglo-Saxon times, so I thought I would send a copy of my book to the De Re Military book reviews editor.

Even though Ms.Krug writes that my book is "choppy", I make it clear that it is only an 'insight' to further readings by anyone who knows little about Anglo-Saxon history and, it must be noted I have also used archaeological evidence.

Yorkshire Publications is mentioned at the top of Ms.Krug's review, but the only main source for copies of my book in Canada and the USA is Mr. Martin Field, c/o Anglo-Saxon Imports, 1134, Somerville Street, Oshawa, Ontario, LIG-4K5, Canada. (See Catalogue 3 on their website)

Yours sincerely,

Raymond E.O. Ella.

Page Added: September 2004; reply added October 2004