The Alfred Jewel

The Alfred jewel=

Many – or perhaps most – lovers of early medieval history will probably have heard of The Alfred Jewel. As a writer of novels set in the mid-late 9th century during the lifetime of Alfred the Great, it stands to reason that I should mention this fabulous jewel at some stage. That mention comes in the last chapter of the final book of the Sons of Kings series: King of the Anglo Saxons.


So what is this jewel, why it is of special interest and why it has been linked to King Alfred, shown in images below?

An historical mixed media figure of Alfred the Great by artist/historian George S Stuart. Photographed by Peter d’ Aprix
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Alfred’s statue in the Market Place in Wantage, reputedly the town of Alfred’s birth. Own photo.

The Alfred Jewel is a rare and magnificent piece of filigreed gold enclosing a tear-shaped slice of clear quartz over a cloisonné* enamel plaque of green and blue. It is about 2.5 inches long and 1.2 inches wide, its purpose being to hold a pointer that could be attached to a page of a manuscript and moved down to facilitate reading of the text. Such implements were referred to aestels in Anglo-Saxon times.  Several others have been found, all fabulous finds, but none as exquisite, or colourful, as the Alfred Jewel.

The image on the plaque of the Alfred Jewel is of a man with prominent eyes, holding two floriate stems. It could be a picture of Alfred himself, the pope, one of the saints, a figure of Sentient Man or Christ Incarnate. Modern thought favours the last two. The back of the enclosing gold is flattened for smooth sliding over a page (as with all aestels) and is decorated with an intricate design, thought to represent the Tree of Life.


The gold thickens at the base of the ‘tear-drop’ to become a dragon-like head. Inside the creature’s mouth is a cylindrical socket/hollow tube designed to hold a pointer. Most pointers were of wood but other materials were also used, notably ivory. The pointer was held in place by a rivet. Around the edge of the jewel is the inscription, ALFRED MEC HEHT GEWYRCAN, which means ‘Alfred ordered me to be made’.


The jewel was ploughed up in a field on land owned by Sir Thomas Wroth at North Pemberton in Somerset in 1693. The site is a mere eight miles from Athelney, where Alfred built his stronghold in order to defend his kingdom from Guthrum, and his invading Danes in 878 (Sons of Kings, Book 3, Wyvern of Wessex). We took his photo from an information board at Athelney:

Location of Athelney from a board at the site


The jewel was bequeathed to Oxford University by Sir Colonel Nathaniel Palmer (1661-1718) and today it is in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford – where it has been described as ‘a matchless piece of goldsmith’s work’ by the British Archaeology Collection at the Ashmolean Museum


*Cloisonné is decorative work in which pieces of enamel, glass or gemstones are separated by strips of flattened wire placed edgeways on a metal body.



Happy to be Back!

It’s been far too long since I wrote a post and I’ve really missed doing so. Unfortunately, sometimes life gets in the way, and/or other things must take precedence. Last year was not a good year for my family. We had so many illnesses to deal with, some of them worryingly serious. All in all, I got little writing done at all, either on my books or my blog. So this year has been a mad rush to get Book 3 of my Sons of Kings series finished, edited and formatted and published on Amazon. And, at last, this is it:

It was uploaded onto Amazon a couple of weeks ago, so I can now start to relax a little and get back to writing a few blog posts. Well, that’s the plan… On the other hand, Book 3 didn’t finish either of my protagonists’ stories, so I am now writing Book 4. My trilogy has become a series (or perhaps a quadrilogy).

All three of my Sons of Kings books will be 99p/$0.99 until July 31st. After that, Book 1 (Shadow of the Raven)  will be 99p for a little longer, Book 2 (Pit of Vipers) will be $1.99 and Book 3 (Wyvern of Wessex) will be $2.99, the usual price for each of the three books.

My book of short stories and flash fiction pieces will be still at its usual price of £1.49/$1.97. Amazon won’t allow it to be any lower because of the number of coloured images I’ve included. I had intended this book to be permanently 99p!


Thoughts on Writing a Trilogy


When I first started planning my ninth century novel about King Alfred and his battle against the Danes, I intended it to be just a single book.

Statue of King Alfred in Wantage, where he was born.

I’d spent a long time researching the period, as well as spending time in Denmark and visiting various sites around Britain. So I had files full of information.  As I continued to plan the book, I decided to widen the story by including a second protagonist. Eadwulf’s story became as long, and as important as Alfred’s

So that was the end of my plan to write a single book: I am presently writing Book Three of the trilogy.

Looking back, I now think I should have stuck with the idea of a single book. Not that I’m unhappy with the way my story is unfolding but . . .

. . .  it all comes down to ‘The trials and tribulations of a first time novelist‘, which I wrote a post about when my blog had barely started.

On top of all the other problems that first-time writers encounter with self-publication and even more so, with self-promotion, I’ve come to realise that a trilogy isn’t the best thing to write first time round. A one-off would have been so much easier to present to traditional publishers as well as being easier to market and promote. Nor would I have felt under as much pressure to finish the next book in line. I’ve had several people who’ve reviewed both books saying they’re now waiting for Book 3. Oh dear…

These are the covers of the first two books of the Sons of Kings trilogy:

Where I went wrong was in not waiting until I had finished  Book 3– or had at least written a good part of it – before publishing the first two books. I’ve read advice from various sources telling me that most readers aren’t happy to start reading trilogies unless they know they can work their way straight thorough all three books, so it’s best to wait until all three books are finished. I’m not sure whether that’s strictly true, but I do know that readers don’t like to wait too long for the next book to appear. I’m always eager to get my hands on the next book in a series I like, myself.

Well, it’s now almost a year since I finished writing Book 2, and I’d hoped to finish Book 3 by the end of this year. Unfortunately, I’ve spent a lot of time doing other things this year – including spending time away from home and writing a lot of longish posts on WordPress – and I’ve still some way to go before finishing the book.


It’s on this note that I have to say that from now my posts will be less frequent than they have been since earlier this year. I’m not taking a complete blogging break, just easing things off.

I also want to say a big ‘Thank You’ to all of you who downladed a free copy of Book One:  Shadow of the Raven during its recent promotion on Amazon. I was really pleased with the overall number of downloads this time!



What’s In A Name . . .?


The names we choose for the characters in our novels may come to us in a blinding flash . . . or we could spend days, weeks, or even months dredging them up from the bottom of the fish pond. Alternatively, we might have already chosen our main characters’ names before we even start writing the book. Then again, we might have known for years we would write about a particular character or characters.

How do we actually go about the name-choosing process? For example, why did we call the pretty and very feminine young lady ‘Daisy,’ or ‘Poppy’ – or any such flowery name – whereas, for the older strait-laced woman we opt for Gertrude, Beatrice or Penelope?

You may call me Miss Gertrude Ramsbottom.

Of course, the abbreviated form of these formal-sounding names (e.g. Gertie) could be used for a less prim and starchy figure.

Often, we pick names we feel suit the characters so well, or even their professions. Or perhaps, the name is so inappropriate to the character that it’s comical – which is, undoubtedly, the author’s intent. How many times has a tall, brawny man acquired the nickname of ‘Tiny’?

There seem to be a whole list of things to take into consideration, including ethnic origin of the character(s) and/or where the story is set. Then there’s simply that gut feeling that the name is just right.


Certain names are definitely more prevalent than others at particular periods. Many names used in novels set in the Victorian era include names we associate with that time. A few examples could be Albert, Ernest and Frederick, and Minnie, Florence and Bertha. Many Victorian names have had a big ‘come-back’ in recent years, although many tend to use the shortened versions – Sam for example, and not the complete, Samuel. My mother’s name, Millicent, is now used quite a lot for girls in the UK, but generally as Millie (or Milly).

When writing historical fiction, unless the complete cast of characters is fictional, many of our characters’ names are predetermined. We can hardly call Henry VIII, Julius Caesar or Alexander the Great anything other than those names. Right?

Just call me Fred

“What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
-William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

My books are set in the mid 9th century, and one of my two protagonists is King Alfred of Wessex (later known as Alfred the Great).  Alfred is an easy enough name to get your tongue around (although it was originally in the form of Aelfraed, which oddly enough means, ‘Elf counsel’).

Statue of King Alfred of Wessex in Wantage – reputed to be his birthplace

But most Anglo-Saxon names are extremely difficult to pronounce, and to spell. There seem to be letters stuck in places which look quite out of place to us. For example, Alfred’s grandfather was called Ecgberht. What’s with the extra ‘c’ and ‘h’? For pronunciation they mean little; we simply say Egbert.

I can’t change real historical people’s names. In my book, I have lots of Anglo-Saxon and Danish/Viking names, but the A.S. ones are the most confusing. Alfred himself is one of six children, their father being King Aethelwulf of Wessex. Like Aethelwulf himself, five of his children have names beginning with the prefix ‘Aethel’. Only Alfred is different, which is quite convenient, really! Even Alfred’s only sister is called, Aethelswith.

Perhaps readers could just drop the ‘Aethel’ part and just remember the last syllable. It would be easy to think of Aethelstan as Stan, or Aethelberht as Bert!

Confusing names can put people off – but what can the poor historical fiction author do about it? I have a list of characters at the front of the book and hope readers will use it. And I don’t really think that pronunciation matters so much, as long as a reader knows which character is which. One reviewer on said that they enjoyed my book once they’d got used to all the difficult names. An honest opinion, and obviously valued as such. But I could name many novels with difficult-sounding names – many fantasy novels, in particular.

Anglo-Saxon place names are equally difficult, in many cases they are nothing like the names of English towns today. I know that some authors have used these A.S. names and added a list at the back/front giving their modern equivalents. I decided to call the towns and villages in A.S. England by their modern names, simply not to complicate things further. It’s easy enough for anyone to find a webpage of comparative lists.

A few interesting quotes about names:

Now you people have names. That’s because you don’t know who you are. We know who we are, so we don’t need names.” -Neil Gaiman, Coraline

Emilie. A beautiful name for a beautiful girl.”  -Marissa Meyer, Scarlet

Fate tried to conceal him by naming him Smith.” -Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.