Of Vikings and the Cavalry

St Ragner’s Shrine

In a recent article on the immortal Custer, my old friend, The Practical Historian said this, “Remembrance is not history, but the American mind needs both.” He’s right, and we’ll come back to this.

We’ve talked of this fairly often here, we’ve talked about the myth of the west as portrayed by John Ford and John Wayne, and the romance of the Alamo, and not only for Texans. But it’s not just Americans.

Another blogfriend of mine, Eleanor Parker, the author of The Clerk of Oxford, recently wrote a post on St. Ragner of Northampton, a very local saint, indeed. She’s also plugging her book,  Dragon Lords: The History and Legends of Viking England, that link is to Amazon.co.uk, here is the US one, sadly not available here until September 30, although you can order from Amazon UK. I doubt I can wait! 🙂

In any case:

 

Almost all we know about St Ragner comes from a short Latin text, surviving in two late-medieval manuscripts, which describes how his relics were supposedly discovered at St Peter’s Church in Northampton in the 11th century. The only information this text provides about Ragner’s identity is the claim that he was the nephew of the more famous St Edmund of East Anglia, who was killed by a Viking army in 869. It says that Ragner died alongside him and was therefore a martyr and saint, though no other source mentions this or gives Edmund a relation of this name.

The text has much less to say about Ragner himself than about the discovery of his relics. This rather touching story involves a series of visions revealed to a simple but devout Norwegian man living in Northampton, who is miraculously shown where the martyr, unknown to anyone else, is buried in the church. He persuades the priest of St Peter’s to excavate the spot, where they find the relics and an inscription explaining the saint’s connection to St Edmund. It is a reward for the patient devotion of the unnamed Norwegian man, whom no one had taken seriously until his visions were thus proved true.

St Edmund was a hugely popular saint in Anglo-Saxon and Norman England, although he was later supplanted by St George.

Who was this mysterious St Ragner? Since St Edmund was so popular, medieval hagiographers provided him with a number of saintly relations for whom there is no historical basis. But in Ragner’s case, his name and the connection to St Edmund hint at something more interesting: a possible link with medieval legends about the Viking hero Ragnar Lothbrok.

The Ragnar of Old Norse sagas was certainly no saint, nor a relative of St Edmund. However, two men whom medieval legend called ‘the sons of Ragnar’, Ivar and Ubbe, were said in Scandinavian and English tradition to be responsible for St Edmund’s death and legend explained their relationship with him in various ways. Ragnar Lothbrok in medieval English sources, especially ones linked to the cult of St Edmund, is very different from the equivalent figure in Norse tradition, famous today from the TV series Vikings. In East Anglian stories Lothbrok sometimes appears not as a fearsome Viking but as Edmund’s friend and protégé, who turns up at his court by accident and is cruelly murdered by one of Edmund’s men. His murder leads his sons Ivar and Ubbe to avenge his death by killing Edmund and invading East Anglia in retribution.

If so, then this very local saint in England almost forgotten, is also a TV star, the very Ragnar Lothbrok of the TV series Vikings. Remembrance is not history, but often it bears on how we see ourselves.

And back to Custer: The Historian says this:

Was Custer a villain? Does he represent the evils of American expansion?… Such histrionics sell books, inspire ambitious filmmakers, and rouse the irritable activists; but little understanding is actually achieved.  Custer was an ambitious military officer who saw the Plains Wars as an avenue to personal advancement.  But, he was also a frontiersman who sympathized with the plight of a complex foe.  He was a soldier fighting a complex war few people adequately understood, himself included.  Yet, Custer lives on.  He lives on in our memory, exactly where we can imagine him; trotting at head of the 7th Cavalry, wind whipping through his long hair,  the airs of “Garry Owen” whistling over the plains.   Remembrance is not history, but the American mind needs both.

Indeed so, that is how I see him in my mind’s eye. And you know, I suspect that many historians are historians because they fell in love with the romance of history, not to mention its Sagamen, not all of whom were Vikings.

He and Ragnar have much to talk about at Fiddler’s Green

Sound Garry Owen, and launch the longships, the adventures of the English Speaking people are far from over.

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About NEO
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38 Responses to Of Vikings and the Cavalry

  1. Nicholas says:

    I’m glad to see that nationalism is alive and well in Norway. Having seen what’s become of Sweden, I’d hope Norway will learn the lessons.

    Liked by 2 people

    • NEO says:

      They seem to be doing better than Sweden, actually. They saw it quicker than most. The connections between England and Scandinavia in that period are fascinating, and Eleanor writes well of them.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Nicholas says:

        Not my area of expertise, but interesting nonetheless. I like discovering which bits of the English language come from Old Norse rather than Anglo-Saxon, and I’ve always been a fan of Norse mythology, which has a lot of parallels with the Greek and Near Eastern corpora, and then there’s the role of the Vikings in the formation of Kievan Rus.

        Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          And on down the river to form the Varangian Guard of the Eastern Emperor, which a fair number of Anglo-Saxons joined after 1066. And you died in the fall of Constantinople.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Nicholas says:

          Considering where we are today, the fall of Constantinople was a dark day. I take it you’ve seen about Erdogan’s win in Turkey.

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          I have, a sad thing, but hardly unexpected. Sooner or later we’re going to have to take out the trash, I fear.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Nicholas says:

          Yeah, I wasn’t surprised either, and I’m glad the US is exploring other options to avoid dependence on Incirlik. It’s worrying what Turks are doing in Europe too, e.g. Germany.

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          We’re going to have to some quick thinking – the rebuild for F-35 engines is in Turkey, and supposedly they’re buying some, doesn’t strike me as prudent.

          Liked by 1 person

    • the unit says:

      I don’t know much/or anything about Norway or Sweden. Friend married beautiful girl from Sweden over 50 years ago. But #MeToo, “I’m glad to see that nationalism is alive and well in Norway”. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

    • the unit says:

      Friend who married the Swedish beauty was a psychiatrist in New Orleans. Never could learn the details, but they got mixed up with Jim Garrison, the D.A. in the Kennedy assassination debacle. No one in my high school class who have searched for classmates to attend alumni get togethers have ever been able to find them since. Buried beneath the the grassy knoll perhaps? 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Scoop says:

    Legends are necessary for a society I believe as they are the first exposure we get as children to heroes and villains and can be useful in uniting a people behind those traits and qualities that make boys into men and which makes chivalry and the femininity of women live in the heart of society.

    History on the other hand, can and will discover facts that might take apart some of our early heroes and show that they may have not been the heroes or villains that we thought. That is fine, but we also must understand that historians have their own biases as well. What we understand, or should understand in history, is that people are rarely as good or as bad as we imagine; for people are complex individuals that struggled with both.

    What is important is what a given society actually teaches its children (as in AATW’s post today). I think it says a lot about a society that no longer remembers the Davy Crocket’s or the George Washington’s in favor of immortalizing a Harvey Milk etc. It bespeaks of a sad loss of the fairy tale type legendary figures that I grew up with.

    Liked by 4 people

    • NEO says:

      And of replacing heroes, with (at best) non entities, and usually much worse.

      Say what you want about Ragnar and Custer, they bet their lives on what they believed, even if wrong, that demands respect. Nor am I all that sure they were wrong, they advanced their people.

      Liked by 4 people

      • Scoop says:

        Indeed they had an impact on their respective histories and they did go “all in” for what they believed. An admirable trait in each.

        Liked by 4 people

        • NEO says:

          Yep.

          Like

  3. Reblogged this on Boudica2015.

    Like

  4. the unit says:

    Warren replaces Geronimo. 🙂
    Rememberance and history of those gone by, some “for whom there is no historical basis”. And then there’s the Liz Warren catagory. Liars. 🙂
    As for old Western myths, I’ve seen some old pictures of real saloon and dance hall gals from the time. They weren’t the ones on the tv or the movies. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Scoop says:

      You mean they all weren’t like Kitty from Gunsmoke? I’m crushed.

      Liked by 2 people

      • NEO says:

        Sadly, no. Poor cowboys!

        Liked by 2 people

      • the unit says:

        A bath in a tub even with Michael Moore would’ve helped them Of course, have to be above ground pool, not a tub. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      • Even as a Brit, discovering the Gunsmoke re-runs has been a blessing of what most Americans believed in as to morals and good & evil at the time! James Arness was just the real deal! Btw, he was really a blonde and toe-head, early he had to dye his hair – for the tall, dark and handsome aspect. Btw, I loved the movie, The Thing From Another World! Arness was of course The Thing! … RIP James Arness (WW2 American Army Infantry Vet. / combat at Anzio, Bronze Star, Purple Heart)

        Liked by 3 people

        • Scoop says:

          So was Lee Marin, one of my favorites: US Marine Corp. ~ Purple Heart Medal, the Presidential Unit Citation, the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal, Combat Action Ribbon.

          Liked by 2 people

        • What a voice Lee Marvin had… distinctive! Semper Fi, RIP!

          Liked by 2 people

    • NEO says:

      Nope, and they didn’t look like Maureen O’Hara either! 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

      • Scoop says:

        I’m very sad. My bubble has been burst. Just don’t tell me that they looked like Elizabeth “Pocahontas” Warren.

        Liked by 2 people

        • the unit says:

          Good Gosh! Not that bad! And probably better odor. 🙂

          Liked by 2 people

        • Scoop says:

          O thank goodness! I was worried for a minute.

          Liked by 1 person

        • the unit says:

          Yep, when I think of Liz I have to take an Imodium instead of an Alka Seltzer.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Scoop says:

          You too, huh?

          Liked by 2 people

      • Indeed there was only “one” Maureen O’Hara! What a beauty! Btw she was great friends with Charles Laughton, who gave her her screen name, O’Hara!

        Liked by 2 people

        • the unit says:

          Where you been, Blondle?

          Liked by 1 person

        • Hey Unit… It’s all grey now, but thankfully I still have it, i.e. my hair! Out here in Utah things are busy & beautiful! And we went to Canada for awhile on vacation.

          Liked by 2 people

        • the unit says:

          Just grey now? Lucky dog…er, lucky Father! They called me “Cotton” when I was six,…remembrance, not history yet. But just blond then, now cotton for sure. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        • the unit says:

          Won’t say missed you. 🙂 Glad you back. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Concur, mate

          Liked by 1 person

        • @NEO: My hair is also getting white on the sides, like my father if I live long enough.. it will go all white! 😉 I miss true conservatives for sure! The other day someone asked me if I liked the American Republican Party? I said in ideology, but I am personally a conservative libertarian, who loves the American Constitution!

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          That describes me – I was gray by 25 and now its as white as Santa Clause, no harm in that. 😉

          My beliefs reflect yours, the Declaration and the Constitution, if your party agrees with them, I’m with you, more often that’s the Republicans, but it hasn’t always been. 🙂

          Like

  5. the unit says:

    Finally, the “romance of the Alamo”… 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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