Tom Shippey

Tom Shippey’s Beowulf and the North before the Vikings is out later this year.

Don’t lie on your gold: Dragons!

Tom Shippey, 9 June 2022

What do​ dragons look like? ‘Broadly serpentine’, Daniel Ogden writes in The Dragon in the West, but with ‘animalian heads, thick central bodies, wings and clawed legs’. They are armoured with scales, live in caves, love to hoard treasure and, of course, breathe fire. George R.R. Martin found a neat solution to an old problem with dragons. The now standard layout is...

Like a Flamingo: Viking Treasure

Tom Shippey, 24 February 2022

In​ September 2014 a group of detectorists were searching a field in Balmaghie, Kirkcudbrightshire, in south-west Scotland, when one of them got a signal. This wasn’t entirely unexpected. There had been some small finds close by: a coin, some scattered silver. But when Derek McLennan dug down, he pulled out something more substantial, a silver arm-ring. The story goes that he...

The young Edward was one of a throng of half-brothers, both Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Danish (while he himself was Anglo-Norman), intent on killing one another. When his Anglo-Saxon half-brother Edmund Ironside died, 11-year-old Edward had to be hurried out of the country before his Anglo-Danish relatives came looking for him. For the next twenty or so years he lived abroad at the court of his cousin, Robert of Normandy. He and Alfred remained, however, the last known representatives of ‘the royal blood’ of England. Edward’s chance came in 1041, by which time Harold Harefoot had died and Harthacnut, half-brother to both Harold and Edward, would die the following year. Facing no immediate contender, he came to the throne in 1042. Edward could be forgiven if by this time he was irrevocably paranoid. Was he accordingly reluctant to do much in this world, hoping for salvation in the next?

Over​ the last forty years, academics have tried, without much success, to superimpose the idea of the Vikings as peaceful traders on the berserkers-and-horned-helmets tradition. There is little disagreement about the events of the Viking Age or its timeline, stretching from 8 June 793 (the unexpected raid on Lindisfarne) to 25 September 1066, when King Haraldr Harðráði,...

The Staffordshire Hoard​, discovered by the metal detectorist Terry Herbert on 5 July 2009, presents far more of a puzzle to archaeologists and historians than the other famous Anglo-Saxon discovery, at Sutton Hoo. The start of the puzzle is working out what is there. The hoard weighs in at about five kilos of gold and almost two kilos of silver, and some claim you could pack it into a...

Tolkien’s Spell

Peter Godman, 21 July 1983

Among the terms of abuse which J.R.R. Tolkien was accustomed to apply to an Oxford college of which he was (and I am) a member, there is one that makes an odd impression. It is the adjective...

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