Sunday, March 20, 2022

'Fury of Northmen' - Fakes via the Internet

 Anyone who has gone beyond the wild imaginings of recent video programs like 'Vikings' on what passes as the 'History' Channel has seen the 'quote' :

'From the Fury of the Northmen, oh Lord, deliver us!'

Such a great line.

You can imagine some whimpering Irish monk, huddled in a cold stone monastery built on a bleak and remote storm tossed island, muttering this in the early 800's. 

Only problem is that this statement is not actually recorded anywhere in surviving manuscripts.  


You see, gentle readers, I'm now working up the lectures required for my current project for Parks Canada, delivering an 8 day training program for interpretive staff at L'Anse aux Meadows NHSC. This is intended to be a crash course in material culture of the Viking Age, living history presentation methods, basic working skills in iron and wood working and textiles. Two other well experienced members of DARC will be assisting.

Now my normal method when pulling together a lecture presentation is to work inside PowerPoint. Note that this is a lot different than writing an actual paper. (Or the 'stream of consciousness' babbling of these blog posts!). I will frame up major statements, then include 2 - 4 bullet points. Once the primary elements are written, I expand to a series of individual 'one point per slide, inserting suitable (attention nailing) images.

When you start building lectures to train working museum staff, you also start considering 'how do I know this?. A lot. 

This all came clear yesterday, as I was working up a lecture 'Resources and Prototypes' :

Look at available references, some suggestions for further knowledge. Aspects of artifact preservation. Consideration of ‘critical evaluation’ of sources. Discussion of Popular Culture depictions and public misconceptions.

I was considering how to frame up 'Problems with Historic Documents', with the bullet point 'beware bias of writer'. I had already used a quote from the Anglo Saxon Chronicle (sacking of Lindisfarne) in another (earlier in sequence) lecture. I was pretty sure I remembered that the 'Fury of the Northmen' quote was not actually contained in any historic documents. But after 40 years of studying the Viking Age - just where did I find that 'fact'?

Also attempting to find an image to place on the presentation slide, plugging the actual quote into my search engine got me this :


Now, I'm roughly familiar with the Bayeux Tapestry, commissioned roughly 1070 + to commemorate the Invasion of England by William of Normandy in 1066. (1). The text on the Tapestry is in Latin for one thing. 

Hmm - so where did this depiction come from? It certainly appeared to be a photograph of an actual embroidery (or an extremely careful illustration crafted to duplicate embroidery).

The image was placed on Pinterest by this person. 

Now I really HATE Pinterest. This is a perfect example. The image had NO source credit. 'Wild Eyed Southern Celt' had none of the supplied links actually functioning. (2)

Ok - add another 30 minutes of digging. 

Taking a look at the folio copy of the actual Bayeux Tapestry available from the museum that houses it :


 This is obviously the source reference used for the creation of the illustration seen above. (This is from section 3 of the Tapestry). 

After a LOT of dead ends, I was able to find a 2001 article by Shirley Ann Brown, The Bayeux Tapestry and the Viking Age. Here the image in question is specifically attributed to the opening sequence of the 1958 film 'The Vikings' with Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis.

I found one suggestion that the quote comes from the English 'Book of Common Prayer'. But given that that volume dates to 1545 - this seems unlikely as the origin. 

I've got some individual requests out to some academic researchers I know...

PS - writing, formatting and importantly researching the various links for this short piece took me 2 hours and 45 minutes. (In case you might be wondering what a semi-retired artisan blacksmith with a heavy research arm does with 'free time')


1) Unlike many historic 'documents' the Tapestry was undertaken both shortly after, and by hands at least local to, the events depicted. 

For comparison, the raid in Lindisfarne was recorded roughly 100 years after the event, by an Saxon monk, who most certainly inserted both his (and his patron, Alfred of Wessex's) point of view.

2) In preparing this piece, I did search 'Wild Eyed Southern Celt'. A page on Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest plus a commerical shop via 'Cafepress'. NONE of these provide any indentification on who or even where (USA?) this individual is. Draw your own conclusions...

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February 15 - May 15, 2012 : Supported by a Crafts Projects - Creation and Development Grant

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