Weaving the Midlands Myths

The story of Teon is woven around two myths involving the seventh century King Wulfhere of Mercia. The main one concerns the murder of two little boys, Ruffin and Wulfhad. The legend says that these were the sons of Wulfhere who brought them up as pagans. They liked to hunt and one day they were pursuing a white hart when one of the boys had his hand steadied by Saint Chad. Chad taught them the ways of Christianity during secret daily visits, unbeknown to their father, Wulfhere.

Meanwhile, Wulfhere’s military leader, Werbode, had asked to marry Werburgh, Wulfhere’s daughter, but she had turned him down. As an act of revenge, Werbode followed Ruffin and Wulfhad and reported back to their father. He also claimed that the boys were planning to overthrow him.

Wulfhere, famous for his temper, immediately killed both boys. Ermenilda buried the children and covered their bodies with stones, giving the name ‘Stone’ to the town in Staffordshire where they were buried. The king regretted his actions and became Christian. He also killed Werbode for his trouble-making.

There is no evidence that Wulfhere had two sons of this name, let alone him murdering them. The idea of him being pagan is also not supported by evidence, especially considering how many Christian monasteries he patronised. If he had been a pagan, Bede would have relished the story of him killing his boys and documented it in his book The Ecclesiastical History of the English People. There are several explanations of this legend and I made up this one for Teon.

The second myth has only appeared once, on the back of a cigarette card in the Churchman Legends of Britain series, produced in the early twentieth century in the USA. The card reads that Wulfhere took Redwald the Bold captive during the invasion of the Isle of Wight. Edith of Stenbury begged Wulfhere to save his life, which he did. This act gave him the title of Wulfhere the Kind Hearted. The sheer lack of any other record of this makes it probably untrue, but it is a pleasant tale nonetheless.

  Teon is available in digital and print formats from Amazon. *From 16-18 March the ebook is reduced to £0.99 (Amazon UK)

© 2017 A.J. Sefton. All rights reserved.

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Tamworth Castle: the Little Known English Castle

February half-term is usually the worst. It is too cold for the children to play outside so there are no outdoor activities planned. Trying to book anywhere like the wonderful Harry Potter Studios or Cadbury’s World is futile. Everywhere is full. But we did find somewhere to go. Not totally adult orientated but I enjoyed it immensely.

Yesterday we visited Tamworth Castle. It is built in the area that has been home to the ancient Mercian king Penda, his son Peada and his father Pybba. As we enter the city of Tamworth there is a sign informing us that it used to be the capital of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia and bears the old flag of a gold cross on a blue background. So far so good.

The castle itself is quite a dinky one. Now it stands as a Norman motte and bailey castle, altered over the years to include Tudor and Victorian elements. With the bay windows to the side, it is evident that the castle was a stately home during the Tudor period. A very nice one at that.

But being half-term it was destined not to be a normal visit. The characters from yesteryear were there in period costume, to set clues and quizzes for the castle quest. At least we got the chance to have a go of the Anglo-Saxon swords, try on Georgian wigs and see the story of the Staffordshire Hoard – complete with replica treasure.

As a writer of Dark Ages stories set in Mercia, it was a pilgrimmage. The castle grounds now play host to leisure activities, tennis and playgrounds, but were the lands where the great King Penda the Strong once roamed. It was here Penda planned his campaigns against Kings Oswald and Oswiu of Northumbria, King Anna of East Anglia and others. This place was his engine room. I felt very insignificant.

There was an artist’s impression of the palace of the most famous Mercian king – Offa. It was far more elaborate than I imangined it would have been, with sculptures of horses heads along the roof beams and fancy torches lighting the way. How my mind whirled. Tamworth castle, on the site of the Mercian fortresses and palaces of great Dark Ages kings. Mnd boggling.

So the children excitedly ran around the castle on their quest looking for clues. Once again that day, I felt very insignificant. I do every February half-term.

Tamworth Castle (16)

Tamworth Castle (7)

Tamworth Castle (20)

Tamworth Castle (20)

(c) 2014 A.J. Sefton. All photography by A.J. Sefton