A Legend of the English
More Information On The Books
This historical novel is an English legend that dates to the eighth century AD. It tells how in the late 580’s St. Gregory the Great, then abbot of his monastery in Rome (and soon to be made Pope) notices some young English boys put up for sale in Rome’s slave market.
The encounter has often been regarded as a major impulse for Gregory (as Pope) to launch a mission to Kent under the leadership of Augustine, one of his monks, around the year 596. This legend has been regarded as the foundation of the ‘English nation’.
However, this raises a number of questions:
Is the legend historically true?
There is no historic record of this event in Rome, and the tradition we have stems from only one source, the writings of Bede. An English monk at the monastery of Jarrow on the Northumbrian coast, in AD 731 Bede completed his Ecclesiastical History of the English People. You’ll find the legend is recorded in Book II, Chapter 1.
A legend is a certain kind of story. The Brothers Grimm understood legend as ‘a folktale that is historically grounded’ in real or imaginary people and events that are sometimes widely regarded as historical but have not been authenticated as historical – like the earlier British story of King Arthur (late fifth-early sixth century), where legend and truth are often inextricable.
So what’s the purpose of the legend?
The purpose may be to convey universal principles. Or perhaps to guide, inspire and share truth in non-literal ways, so that we continue to grow as persons.
A legend may have an important meaning or symbolism for the culture in which it originates. This usually includes an element of truth or is based on historic facts. Legends typically involve heroic characters or fantastic places, and often encompass the spiritual beliefs of the cultures in which they originate.
What does the legend explain?
Founding-myths explain the origins of a group. This is presented as history, through a founding father of a nation. In Bede’s tradition, the ‘founding father’ was Pope Gregory the Great who, inspired by young Saxon slave boys for sale in Rome, sends Augustine to bring the Gospel to pagan Saxons in the Kingdom of Kent.
So Bede’s story of the young slave boys in Rome is less about the boys themselves and more about how and why Pope Gregory the Great became seen as England’s founding saint. We hear no more of the young English slave boys after this first encounter with Abbot Gregory in Rome.
The task of historical fiction is to find some of the answers, and therein lies the purpose for, and the story of ‘The Legend Begins’.
These young English slave boys, who were they? How have they been snatched away from their homes in England? How did they come to Rome? What happened to them afterward? Was this encounter really the main inspiration for sending a mission to England? If so, why did it take so long before it was launched? And – Bede’s main concern – how did this help to shape the English nation from disparate and often warring kingdoms in the north, midlands, south, and east of England?
There are no clear answers to these questions. If they existed at all, they would be the merest footnote to history. My aim is to imaginatively bring them to life, provide answers to some of these questions, and maybe in a small way, provide a story to live by.
From the Wilderness of Words to the Uplands of Meaning:
A BRIEF GUIDE TO TERMINOLOGY
STORY – an account of imaginary or real people, and events, told for entertainment.
This is different from what we call
HISTORY – the study of past events, particularly in human affairs. The idea is to discover the facts and stay as close as we can to them, and interpret them as best we can.
SAGA – a long story of heroic achievement, especially a medieval story told in the language of Old Norse or Old Icelandic
EPIC – a long poem (see Saga; eg Beowulf) typically derived from ancient oral tradition, telling the deeds and adventures of heroic legendary figures of the past history of the nation.
TRADITION – the transmission or ‘handing down’ of customs or beliefs from one generation to the next, century after century.
FICTION – literature in the form of novels that describes imaginary events and people.
FANTASY – a fiction genre set in an imaginary universe, often but not always without any locations, events, or people from the real world. Most fantasy uses magic or other supernatural elements as the main plot, element, theme or setting. Magic and magical creatures are common in many of these imaginary worlds.