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The King's Sons   By: (1831-1909)

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The King's Sons, by George Manville Fenn.

This is a very short book, and it does not contain any of the usual nail biting Fenn style situations. But it is very good at what it does, which is to tell a story about King Ethelwulf of Wessex and his four sons, each of whom in turn became King.

The story concentrates on the youngest of the sons, Alfred, who became known as Alfred the Great during his reign. The four boys have a tutor, Father Swythe, but only Alfred is interested in what the monk has to teach. At this point we get a very interesting lesson on how the great illustrated manuscripts were made, how the ink and the colours were made, and how the pens and brushes were made.

Father Swythe later became Bishop of Winchester, and was known as Swithun. He was canonised, and somehow there has grown a legend that if it rains on Saint Swithun's day it will rain for forty days after that. He is portrayed as rather a portly monk in this story, but his effigy in Winchester Cathedral shows him as a very slight man. There is another story about him which makes him out to be rather a small man, who couldn't reach the key hole of the cathedral, which obligingly slid down for him. Anyway, the story is a good one, and you will enjoy it.

This website is called Athelstane, after Alfred's grandson, so we were interested to transcribe this story. NH




The sun shone down hotly on the hill side, and that hill was one of a range of smooth rolling downs that ought to have been called ups and downs, from the way they seemed to rise and fall like the sea on a fine calm day.

Not quite, for at such a time the sea looks as blue as the sky above it, while here on this particular hot day, though the sky was as blue as a sapphire stone, the hills were of a beautiful soft green, the grass being short and soft, and as velvety as if Nature had been all over it regularly with her own particular mowing machine.

But the only mowing that had been done to that grass was by the cropping teeth of the many flocks of sheep whose fleeces dotted the downs with soft white where they nibbled away, watched by the shepherds in their long smock frocks with turn down collars and pleatings and gatherings on breast and back, and slit up at the sides from the bottom so as to give the men's legs room to move freely when they ran after a restive sheep to hook him with the long crook they carried and bring him kicking and struggling by hook or by crook to the grass.

It was just over a thousand years ago, and, in spite of all the changes fashion has made, plenty of shepherds and farm labourers still wear the simple old Saxon dress then worn by King Ethelwulf's serfs, though without the girdle worn then.

There were four boys on the steepest slope of that hill side four fair haired, sun browned, hearty looking boys and they wore smock frocks, belted in at the waist, of fine, soft, woollen material, woven out of the fleeces of the sheep; for they were King's sons, the sons of the King whose flocks were feeding on the hill side in Berkshire, where he had his Court.

It was as peaceful there as it was soft and beautiful; for though news came from time to time of the cruel acts of the fierce Norsemen who had come across the sea in their great row and sailing galleys full of fighting men, they were far away from the King's home, so that Queen Osburga felt no anxiety about her boys being out on the downs at play, enjoying themselves and growing strong. This she loved to see; though, being a very learned woman herself in days when noble people thought no shame to have to say: "I cannot read or write," she sighed to find how very little her four sons cared for such things as gave her delight.

They all loved to be out in the open air along with Cerda, the Saxon jarl, one of the King's chief fighting men, who urged them to learn how to use the broadsword... Continue reading book >>

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