From Robert Craig:

I enjoyed Jim Gunter’s article in the Autumn Wessex Chronicle, Vol 11, Issue 3, but I take issue with one or two assertions.

Firstly, the “seaxe” portrayed is a heraldic device. The seax was an all-purpose tool used for chopping wood as well as limbs. It had a straight single-edged blade, not the curved notched blade depicted.

The word “Frank” is from the same root as “free”. “Frankish” is a version of “francisca”. That would suggest “of the Franks”. Hence the throwing axe would appear to take its name from the Franks, as Jim wrote. “Frankish” could mean “of the Free-Men”. Alternatively, it might refer to the “freed-axe”.

There is no doubt that the Saxons took their name from the weapon, rather than the weapon taking its name from the Saxons. A similar case is the Lombards, a Germanic tribe who settled in Northern Italy. They took their name from the “langobard” (i.e. long-bard, or pike – c.f. “half-bard”, the “halberd” of Beefeater and papal Swiss Guards fame).

The Frankish influence on Kent and the South of England has been long recognized. The Southern dialects have much in common with Dutch, essentially the descendant of Frankish. The voicing of S to Z and F to V are characteristic. Jutes were settled around the mouth of the Rhine. By the time they settled in Britain they would have been culturally Frankish. In any case, it is probable that only the leaders were Jutish and their followers Frankish. Similarly, before settling in Britain, the Saxons had lived in what is now Normandy and Brittany, alongside Franks.

Angles and Frisians came directly across the North Sea. They shared the runic alphabet, or futhorc. The Saxons do not appear to have used runes before their conversion to Christianity. Paradoxically, the Angles during the early period did not use runes in writing after conversion, except on monuments. The reason appears to be that they were converted by the Irish to whom runes were alien, if not blatantly pagan.

The Saxons were probably introduced to the runes by Greek or Gothic monks. Earlier, the Greek alphabet was adopted for Gothic by the addition of runes to represent the peculiar sounds of Gothic. I believe that this theory is supported by use in West Saxon of ð as well as þ and the introduction of y to represent the fronted ‘u’ sound (French ‘u’). Its shape suggests to me that ð is derived from the Greek letter ? (theta), the native name of “thæt/thet” also points to it being derived from theta. (It is often known as “eth”, which I think is its Icelandic name.)

Augustine and Theodore might have converted the Saxons, but the Angles were converted by the Irish. The Angles resisted Rome until the Synod of Whitby in AD 664 where the English faction was headed by Saint Hild and the Romans by Saint Wilfrid who had been an exile in Wessex.

Jim Gunter responds:

I’m very glad that Bob enjoyed the article and particularly that he accepts the basic premise of extensive Frankish influence in the creation of Saxon England. However, it is somewhat difficult to offer much in the way of further comment as he provides no sources for his information, making it hard to sift well-reasoned and researched data from the chaff.

As for his comment that the “seaxe” portrayed was a heraldic device, I agree – the image displayed was the arms of Essex.

He claims that, “before settling in Britain, the Saxons had lived in what is now Normandy and Brittany, alongside Franks”. There is some academic support for this idea although it is rather dated. Sir Frank Stenton (in Anglo-Saxon England, 1943) stated that in the middle of the 5th century AD the Saxons attempted to establish themselves south of the Channel, taking possession of Angers in 463 AD only to be dislodged by Childeric, king of the Franks. It is possible that the stream of Saxon invaders was diverted from Gaul to Britain by the extension of Frankish power, reinforcing the concept of Frankish control over the early Saxon development of England.

Being no philologist I am unable to comment on Bob’s linguistic assertions.

On the conversion to Christianity and the impact of the Synod of Whitby in AD 664, it should, of course, be remembered that delegates not only included Saint Wilfrid – formerly exiled in Wessex – but also Saint Aldhelm himself.

The Free Miners of the Forest of Dean have recently admitted to their ranks the first female free miner.

Deep in the Woods

In mediæval times, the miners of the Forest served in the Scots wars of Edward I, doing good service in undermining the walls of Berwick-upon-Tweed during a siege. This may have been the occasion for a grant of mining rights in the Forest still maintained today, though it is also claimed that the rights exist “tyme out of mynde”. To be a free miner it is necessary to be born and to live in the Hundred of St Briavels, to be 21 or over, and to have worked in a mine there for a year and a day. It is no easy qualification, now that the local maternity unit has been removed to Gloucester, far beyond the hundredal boundary. The free miners vigorously defend their rights, which have persisted before, during and after nationalisation of the coal industry. There was, traditionally, a fourth qualification for free miners, namely to be male. The rules were put on a statutory basis by the Dean Forest (Mines) Act in 1838, which refers to free miners as ‘male persons’.

But in October 2010, after a two-year legal battle, this rule was declared redundant by the Forestry Commission, who upheld the right of Elaine Morman to be a free miner because of her work in the family business at Clearwell. This mines ochre, an iron oxide used for artists’ paints and in the cosmetics industry.