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The First Battle of Lindisfarne: Where History and Legend Meet

By Nicole Evelina

Long before Lindisfarne became known as one of the most isolated holy islands in Britain — second perhaps only to Iona — it was an area of great strategic importance. So much so that I borrowed from this history in my third and final book in the Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy, Mistress of Legend. However, what I borrowed was not the famous Viking battle of 793 that ushered in their ascendancy on the isle. No, Lindisfarne was a strategic stronghold long before the Vikings changed English history with their victory. What I borrowed from was an earlier fight between the Angles and the northern Britons that took place somewhere between 547 and 590.

Lindisfarne, then referred to as The Isle of Winds (or Medcaut in Nennius’ The History of the Britons), was is a key strategic point for blocking any Pictish attack by water. Located off the coast of Britain just north of Bamburgh (a possible site of the famous Battle of Catraeth), it was a critical access point to the Firth of Forth. Whoever held it controlled whether or not the Picts could access Britain via water. At the time, Britain was in chaos following the withdrawal of the Romans and decades of civil war; even the peace brought about by the defeat of the Saxons at the Battle of Mount Badon was nearing its end. The Picts were sniffing around Hadrian’s Wall, seeking access to resource-rich northern Britain. Knowing they could not lead a successful attack by land, they turned their sights to the sea.

About a century before the Christian monastery was built on the isle, Lindisfarne was home to a small hillfort that kept watch for miles around. It was a tidal island, cut off from the mainland twice a day at high tide, but otherwise accessible by a mud and sand causeway. Around the year 547, King Ida and his sons, Theodric and Osmere, took over Bamburgh, the capital of Bernicia, and claimed it as their own. As cited in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Theodric led a three-day battle against King Uriens of Rheged for the Isle of Winds. Uriens was desperate to defend it to keep both the Saxons and the Picts at bay and Ida wanted to control it in order to weaken Uriens and further establish his foothold in Britain. On the third day, the Britons were close to winning, but King Morcant Bulc, who was allied with Uriens, turned coat and paid a foreign assassin to murder Uriens, effectively undoing the Briton’s progress and handing the victory to the Angles.

Now, in my book there is much more political intrigue, involving the Votadini tribe of what is now southern Scotland and the Saxons (it was easier to conflate them with the Angles for fictional purposes) and the fight for the survival of the Briton’s traditional way of life. But as in history, this battle marked the first in a series of defeats for the native Britons that would eventually culminate in the Battle of Catraeth and determine the fate of the isle. And what does this have to do with Guinevere? She was leading the British army at both skirmishes.

The Guinevere’s Tale Trilogy (all three books in a single volume) is on sale for $0.99 in ebook July 8-15 at all major online retailers. Click here to learn more.

For more on the history of Lindisfarne and its importance to the Picts, Angles, and Britons, please read Brian Taylor Hope’s wonderful book Yeavering: An Anglo-British Centre of Early Northumbria.

Nicole Evelina is a historical fiction, non-fiction, and women’s fiction author whose six books have won more than 40 awards, including three Book of the Year designations. You can find her online at http://nicoleevelina.com or follow her on Twitter @NicoleEvelina

Top Image: Lindisfarne Castle on Holy Island in Northumberland – photo by Alan Cleaver / Flickr



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