Tuesday, May 13, 2014

About the real Hild

In case you missed it, in the back of Hild I wrote a biographical note. It reads, essentially:

Hild was real. She was born fourteen hundred years ago in Anglo-Saxon England. Everything we know about her comes from the Venerable Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation, the foundational text of English history. Of that work, a scant five pages refer to Hild. You can read those, translated by Professor Roy M. Liuzza here (Broadview Anthology of British Literature, Vol. 1, Peterborough, ON: Broadview Press, 2006; hosted with permission of the translator).

The first half of her life can be summed up in one short paragraph. She is born circa 614 CE, after her mother, Breguswith, has a dream about her unborn child being a jewel that brings light to the land. Hild's father, Hereric, of the royal house of Deira, was poisoned while in exile at the court of Ceredig, king of Elmet. Her older sister, Hereswith, marries a nephew of Rædwald, king of East Anglia. Hild, along with many of Edwin's household, is baptised by Paulinus c. 627 in York. She then disappears from the record until 647 when she reappears in East Anglia about to take ship for Gaul to join her sister—at which point she is recruited to the church by bishop Aidan.

We don't know where Hild was born exactly and when her father died—or her mother. We have no idea what she looked like, what she was good at, whether she married or had children. But clearly she was extraordinary. In a time of warlords and kings, when might was right, she begins as the second daughter of a homeless widow, probably without much in the way of material resources and certainly in an illiterate culture, and ends a powerful advisor to statesmen-kings and teacher of five bishops. Today she is revered as St Hilda.

So how did Hild ride this cultural transformation of petty kingdoms into sophisticated and literate proto-states? We don't know. I wrote this book to find out. I learnt what I could of the late sixth and early seventh century: ethnography, archaeology, poetry, numismatics, jewellery, textiles, languages, food production, weapons, and more. And then I recreated that world and its known historical incidents, put Hild inside, and watched, fascinated, as she grew up, influenced and influencing...

The first novel ends at the end of 631 CE (or 632 if you follow Bede, or possibly even 634 according to some annals; I explain the dates here--just go with it), a little beyond the beginning of that Bede-ish caesura. Book II takes place almost wholly within it. Some of the exterior referents of her history are knownwhich king acceded and/or got his head hacked off when; who was bishop where; the name and fate of at least one her sister's children (and countless other relatives)but the story of Hild herself? I'm absolutely, completely making it up.

However, nothing in any of the books I plan to write about Hild contravenes what I know to be known. It could have happened this way.

That's all.

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