Wednesday, 1 February 2017

The Family of Meavy in Pre Conquest England

The second chapter of my family history of the family of Meavy, from Meavy in Devon is completed. It deals with the family in preconquest England under the reign of King Canute and Edward the Confessor. 

Photograph Credit John Stickland 

Life for my ancestors, during what is known as the Dark Ages, was nothing more than a struggle to survive, the ‘family’ known as Meavy would be oblivious to the changes that were taking place in distant parts of Devon, let alone England itself.

By 878, the kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon England had fallen into the hands of the Viking invaders, it was King Alfred’s kingdom of Wessex that stood alone. One story that sums up England's position at this point in time, is the tale of King Alfred burning the cakes of some poor peasant woman who left him in charge. It is unlikely that this event ever happened, but as a tale it shows quite clearly the danger that England's last kingdom faced, and how much responsibility was placed on Alfred’s head. In reality, by the May of 878 Alfred’s Wessex was secured, and after years of fending off the Viking invaders King Alfred finally struck a deal with the Scandinavians following his famous victory at the Battle of Edington in Wiltshire.  Not only did he gain some control of these marauding Vikings, but he paved the way for the future unity of England. Soon after the Viking defeat, Alfred encouraged the Viking leader Guthrum to convert to Christianity. Guthrum’s baptism is said to have taken place at Wedmore and where, it is also said, a formal treaty, sometimes called the Treaty of Wedmore, was signed. However, historians think that this may have occurred else where and that the passing of time has merged the two events into one. Regardless of this, under this ‘treaty’ the vikings agreed to leave Wessex in peace and return to East Anglia to the area we know now as Danelaw. Cessation of violence did not happen immediately, there were sporadic attacks in the West Country, such as two attacks in 997, one at Lydford and one at Tavistock where its abbey was burnt to the ground.

The raid on Tavistock Abbey in 997, was one of the last recorded raids on Devon, previous attacks took place in 918, 977 and 988, however it is probable that there were other smaller raids that went undocumented.  Steep Holm, an island in the Bristol Channel, may well have been used as a base for attacks to the mainland during the winter months, the Danes using the island to over winter in preference to returning home. The raid at Tavistock is mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, from this we can visulise how horrendous these attacks were. 

“The Danes went around Devonshire into the mouth of the Severn and there ravaged in Cornwall, Wales and Devon. Then they put into Watchet and did much evil by burning and slaughtering. After that they went around Land's End again on the south side and went into the mouth of the Tamar, continuing up until they came to Lydford, burning or killing each thing they met - they burnt down Ordulf's monastery at Tavistock and brought with them to their ships indescribable plunder.'


My story contiues on my website: http://meanderingthroughtime.weebly.com/meavy-pre-conquest.html

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