Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Tribal Hidage

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Today I started flipping through Barbara Yorke's Kings and Kingdoms of Early Anglo-Saxon England and I came across her discussion of the Tribal Hidage which, she asserts, was most likely put together for use by Mercia as a guide to expected tribute payments. The thing is, this doesn't make sense to me. Why would a king of Mercia want to list his own territory in terms of tribute? The way I see it, tributary payments of subject peoples would have been the responsibility of their king. So a king would only list the kingdoms, or peoples, of kings who 'owed' him. Or have I got the wrong end of the stick altogether? This is not making sense to me...

So if this wasn't drawn up by and for Mercians, was it a Northumbrian document? (And are some of the hidage amounts, e.g. only 600 for Elmet, indicative more of the friendliness of the overlord towards those territories than of the size/ability to pay of same? If so, why such a whopping amount for Kent?)

And if Barbara Yorke is wrong about this (and of course I'm quite prepared to be corrected in this regard), what else in her fab book (and, apart from the hidage thing, it is seriously fabulous--I wish I'd found it sooner) should I be wary about?

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  1. This is an age old discussion over the tribal hinge. Some argue its Northumbrian (Deiran under Edwin), others see it as Mercian. Tax or tribute... A problem with it being Northumbrian is where is the tribute for the northern British kingdoms?

    I seem to recall the most outlandish number was for Wessex... Mercia itself is a rather large number when you consider that many of the little units listed separately are usually considered part of Merica by the late 7th century.

    You have to think of a time when all those little units (ex. North Gwyre and South Gwyre) were independent enough to show up on a northern list or consider all those little units to be subdivisions under a Mercian king like Aethelbald (a Mercian king with apparently no hegemony over the north, but hegemony over the entire south). Btw, I think Elmet was split in half between Northumbria and Mercia, so there might be a Northumbrian Elmet and a Mercian Elmet.

    IMHO, the best use of the tribal hinge for a novelist is just to provide names and relative sizes for all those little units/territories.

    Btw, it has been noted that the number of little units in what we might call Greater Mercia just about fits the 30 dukes that Penda took into Northumbria on his last campaign... (I don't think this list belonged to Penda though)

  2. Ah, yes, you're right. It's the 'West Sexena' with the whopping 100,000 hides.

    I'd never come across the notion of Elmet being split. Can you point me in the direction of a good article that might explain who, why, when, etc? I'd really appreciate it. Most info I've bumped into regarding Elmet doesn't radiate a high level of confidence. Frankly, most of it seems like guesswork. (Which of course is fun. I love it when people speculate. But it would be nice to have solid details, too.)

    Would Northumbria be taking tribute from the northern British kingdoms in Edwin's time? Elmet, yet, because that got annexed permanently during his reign. But when did the other kingdoms get secured? (This is another of those arenas that seems full of mist. I can't even figure out where Rheged was meant to be--or even when. /bangs head in frustration/)

    Thanks v. much for pointing up the Penda's 30 dukes/little units connection. That might be seriously useful down the line.

  3. Hidage calculates the wealth of an area for the possiblities of royal revenue. This can come from trade, farming, mining or other activities.
    Kent was very wealthy from cross channel trade.
    Little issued coinage was required in the 7th century although gold thrymsas were occasionally struck by various Heptarchal kingdoms. These gold shilling were of great value.
    Barbara York's book is a wonderful resource. Its nice to see Gerald Browne mentioned, a wonderful linguistic scholar.

  4. I also had that same thought about the greater likeliness of Northumbrian tributary listings than of Mercian listings. The interesting thing is that it is largely this one consideration that is used to try to contradict the Venerable Bede's statements about Northumbrian dominion. If it is incorrect to say that the list is for tribute collected for Mercia, then Bede's statements much closer to the time seem to stand much better confirmed.

    British kingdoms of aboriginal Britons were probably not drafted up in a list in which cooperation was relied upon, but would have been a different sort of matter, and population information would probably have been hard to compile. And the whole Pictish/Scotish North showed long resistance that only shed in stages, by degrees in centuries to come. Kenneth MacAlpin's Alban realm of the 9th century doesn't seem to have had to deal with ending a tribute to Northumbrians, if it is thought that a Northumbrian list must include tributes of British kingdoms to Northumbria, if its king drew up the Tribal Hidage. The Picts and Scots had been the helpers in the Saxons and co.'s inroads into Briton lands, so I don't see why we should expect tributes demanded of the Northerners any time too soon, while the Northerners still wanted to see the Cymrubeaten down and ousted if possible.

    As to who would be taking tribute from the British kingdoms, would it necessarily be hte more remote Northumbrians, than the nearer West Saxons or Mercians. If it isn't wondered why they are not made to pay tribute by whoever wrote the Tribal Hidage, then why specifically ask this only if the Northumbrians are considered?

    If this was written in the time of the 7th - 9th centuries, and if earlier in that space of time the Britons would have been much more resistant fighters, requiring violence and random pillaging to take tribute from them, then why should they have been listed at all? If it was later in that time margin, the number of remainig truly British kingdoms would have to be considered against their earlier relationship to the inner conflicts among Britons who disagreed on whether or not to give the Saxon s and co. quarters to dwell on the island as mercenaries, etc. There is much to consider about the relationship between true Brits and those counted up by possibly a Northumbrian (or Mercian) king, including motives for the list, and religious convictions, etc.


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