When I finish reading a historical novel, I always want to know what parts of the story are documented history, what the author made up to fill in gaps, and what (if anything) the author changed from documented facts. If anyone else shares this interest, this note is for you.
The novel is first and foremost a work of the imagination. My rule throughout
has been that where I could find a solid fact, I would not change it. But
solid facts are rare indeed in seventh-century Britain, and most of the story
in Paths of Exile is my invention.
The primary source for seventh-century English history is the Ecclesiastical History of the English People, written in 731 AD by Bede, a monk at the monastery of Jarrow in modern Northumberland. I work from the modern English translation published by Penguin Classics. Other sources for the period include the Historia Brittonum believed to have been written (possibly by a monk called Nennius) in the ninth century, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, genealogies of medieval Welsh kings, Welsh poetry, the Annales Cambriae, the Welsh Triads, various medieval chroniclers, and a few stories in Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain. All of these were written down very much later than Bede's history, though they may well preserve kernels of older tradition. Where the sources conflict, I generally give Bede primacy because of the early date of his account.
Eadwine existed. Bede tells us he was the son of Aelle, and that he was driven out of Deira by Aethelferth. The later part of Eadwine's career is described by Bede (Ecclesiastical History Book 2, chapters 9-20), so anyone who wants to know how the story worked out in the end is welcome to look it up. Bede tells us very little of Eadwine's early life, saying only 'When Aethelferth was persecuting him, Eadwine wandered as an unknown fugitive for many years through many lands and kingdoms'. From Bede's information on the date of Eadwine's death and his age at death, it can be deduced that he was born some time around 585 AD. From information on Aethelferth's reign length in Deira and Bernicia given in Bede and Historia Brittonum, it can be deduced that Aethelferth annexed Deira around 605 AD, and therefore Eadwine was about twenty when he was driven into exile. Something of Eadwine's character can be gleaned from Bede's account, though Bede was a Northumbrian and may have given Eadwine an excessively good press out of patriotism. It is also fair to say that he was writing a century after the events and may have had an unduly rosy view of the 'good old days'. Medieval Welsh poems such as the Moliant Cadwallon, and the medieval Welsh Triads give a less favourable picture of Eadwine's character. It is my intention in this and subsequent novels to show both sides. There is some evidence from the Welsh Triads that Eadwine spent some time in Gwynedd (North Wales), and slight evidence from Bede that he knew of and admired Britain's Roman heritage. If the timber amphitheatre discovered in archaeological excavations at Yeavering is attributable to Eadwine's reign it would also be consistent with knowledge of and respect for Roman ways. Everything else in the story concerning Eadwine is my invention.
King Aelle of Deira existed, and ruled some time in the late sixth century. Bede says that Aelle was a ruling king when St Augustine arrived in Kent in 597 AD. It is not known when Aelle became King of Deira or when and how he died. The nickname 'Ox-brains' is my invention.
King Aethelferth of Bernicia existed, and ruled Bernicia from 593 AD. Bede tells us that he was a very powerful and ambitious king who conquered large areas of Brittonic-controlled territory and who beat the King of Dal Riada (modern Argyll in West Scotland) in a decisive battle in 603 AD. Bede also tells us that he never gave up pursuing Eadwine, though the reason why is not known. He was indeed married to Eadwine's sister Acha, and from the dates given in Bede it is possible to work out that their son Oswald was born in 604 AD and therefore that Aethelferth and Acha must have been married at latest by early that year. Brittonum says that Aethelferth ruled in Bernicia for twelve years and for twelve other years in Deira, implying that he was king of Bernicia for twelve years before also becoming king of Deira. This places the date of the annexation around 605 AD. (For a more detailed discussion of the date, see the article 'Dating the annexation of Deira'). The method of Aethelferth's annexation of Deira is not known, but given Aethelferth's undoubted prowess as a warlord and the fact of his hostile relations with Eadwine, it seems likely that it was by military force. Aethelferth's nickname 'Flesaurs', usually translated into modern English as 'The Artful' or 'The Twister', is recorded in Historia Brittonum.
Hereric existed and was Eadwine's nephew. It is not known whether Hereric was the son of a sister of Eadwine or of a brother, and his date of birth is not known, although a minimum age can be conjectured from information given by Bede. Bede also tells us that Hereric lived in Elmet during Aethelferth's reign in Deira. Everything else concerning Hereric is my invention.
King Ceretic of Elmet existed, and was king of Elmet during part or all of Aethelferth's reign in Deira, though the date of his accession is not known.
Osric of Deira, son of Eadwine's uncle Aelfric and therefore Eadwine's cousin, existed, though it is not known what happened to him during Aethelferth's reign in Deira.
Aethelric of Deira - there is confusion here. Bede does not mention him, but the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle mentions a king called Aethelric who succeeded Aelle and ruled for five years. The date given in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for Aelle's death is 588 AD, which conflicts with Bede's statement that Aelle and Aethelferth were both ruling north of the Humber when St Augustine arrived in 597 AD. However, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle refers to 'Northumbria', whereas Bede is quite clear that Deira and Bernicia were separate kingdoms at this time, and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle may have confused an Aethelric of Deira with Aethelferth's father, Aethelric of Bernicia. If Aethelric of Deira existed, his relationship to Aelle and Eadwine is not known. (For a more detailed discussion on Aethelric, see the article 'Two Aethelrics?') I decided to make Aethelric of Deira a separate individual from Aethelferth's father, and to make him a cousin of Eadwine and a client king ruling as Aethelferth's puppet. This could account for his absence from Bede's account but also explain his appearance elsewhere.
Lilla existed, and Bede tells us that he was Eadwine's thane and best friend and describes the date and manner of his death. Nothing else is known.
A thane called Fordhere also existed and is mentioned in Bede, but all we are told is the date and manner of his death.
King Caedbaed of Lindsey is mentioned in the genealogy of the kings of Lindsey and his position in the list puts him in approximately the early seventh century. Nothing is known of him.
King Aethelbert of Kent, according to Bede, was overlord of all the English kingdoms of southern Britain in 604 AD, and died in 616 AD.
King Iago of Guenedot (Gwynedd) is mentioned in medieval Welsh genealogies, Annales Cambriae and the Welsh Triads. Annales Cambriae dates him to the early seventh century.
All the other people and events in the story are my invention.
At the end of Paths of Exile we have reached early spring in 606 AD. There are still nearly eleven years to go before Bede takes up the story, so Eadwine and his friends will fight again.