The first person to assume the title Rex Anglorum (King of the English) was Offa of Mercia.

ahem, morning everyone. emerging from my silurian slime is getting easier since the drought broke, and i’ve been noticing that more and more, the historians and interpreters of old texts both long and short, (texts and interpreters come in all lengths and widths), both in the past and the present, and yes the future too, all seem to be needing a bit of help with it and that’s what i’m here for.

so you can all heave a great sigh of relief that the really murky problems of history have been taken out of the sticky fingers of the homo sapiens and handed to us newts, who are bound to do less mischief with them. this we amphibious axolotlene neotenites undertake for the good of all earthlings out of the pure goodness of our hearts. so take your pencil out of your ear, michael, and don’t chew your nails in class please susan.

today we’re going to look at the above quote which comes from wikipedia’s beautifully crafted web-page at where it appears about four lines down from the top after the bit that warns you about not counting ethelreds, egberts and things. good advice it is too and i’d strongly advise you all not to take any of it too seriously until i’ve written things in the margins as a guide.

for now we’re going to look appalled, gaze aghast, if you like, upon the horrific mess the experts are making of english history because of a simple oversight which we shall find revealed in all its gaspworthy shockingness when i part the murky waters for you with my spatulate fingers to show you the true meaning of the quote above and to trace for you some of the implications of it.

offa was a king back in the eighth century ad, or so they say, though i wouldn’t trust ’em. before the renaissance, during the renaissance and right up until after the renaissance, there were more calendars than you can shake a stick at, and they had to be reconstructed anyway from entries in tomes, and you couldn’t always tell entry numbers from year numbers nor could you tell page one of a given book from year one of the founding of the city, monastery, tower or school that kept it, nor could you be sure you had the first book of a series or the fifth, seventeenth or zillionth. then even when the calendars were sorted out, historians and recorders of events were undisciplined in their attempts at chronology, and were often ambiguous or made errors. in other words, all english dates before round about the first of the georges are suspect.

furthermore, even when you know the date of a book, you don’t know when the entries carefully copied into it were first written. many a beautifully bound book of gloriously prepared parchment was made at the capture of a castle or monastery, country house or church, and all the papers and parchments in it gathered into a neat pile, translated and often quite freely edited, often ineptly by people who did not know the language well and were too proud to admit it, (see keating’s account of this in the history of ireland and the coming of the cruel false st patrick who replaced the earlier beloved one) and sometimes even sarcastically (see cervantes accounts of this in don quixote). i mean, o ye earnest questers after truth, trust not the chronologies. however, for now they’re not relevent to today’s discussion.

nor the spellings neither. they hadn’t learnt the rules yet, and they also hadn’t learnt that bbc english as we find it in the oed is the (only correct) way to go and all the rest is bad english, or unlearned or rough english, or very very ignorant english, so spellings were everywhere and any which way, with even the sloppiest speakers thinking their way of saying fings was right and finking it was all right to spell it like it sounded and as you can expect, even respectable monks were making the most godawful mess of it and look, if you will – jane and anthony i’ll talk to you after class and if you don’t mind i’ll confiscate that astrolabe right now you can have it back at the end of term – look if you will, i say, at the consequences and no, james, they aren’t funny, it’s just a pity that a few have to spoil it for the rest of us.

all right, now, take out your exercise books and we’ll do a little experiment. i’ll adopt a really really cute english accent of the sort where a simple ah for artichoke is pronounced just like an o for otter, quite posh really, and then i’ll add in the little quirk we often see among poms in their own land who seem unable to pronounce a th and so say f instead. ve very fought of it might bovva some, but uvvas will be fomiliar wiv ve occent i mean. i fink it’s extont somewhere in london. now i’ll give you all a spelling test. i want you to write down the words i say in your best bbc english.


what have you written felicity? mother? good girl.

next, fovva

paul? father? good boy.

next. offa.

geoffrey? stocks what stocks? who would put you in the stocks?

charles? don’t be ridiculous, there is no rack any more.

no, maureen, they don’t burn heretics at the stake anymore – this is a perectly safe exercise. you would not be burned for a truthful try.

ouch, that hurt, nigel! those are very heavy objects you are hurling! ouch! i say, sit down everyone please. please, get back to your desks. hey, drop that gun! stop, i say! all right, you asked for it: hand me the capsicum spray, etty. thank you. there! and there! and there! gaynor, run and get nurse to look at phillip’s head, it looks nasty – who did it now? gloria, is this your ipod? i’ll see you after.

now sit quietly and answer my question. did anyone even try? amanda? yes, correct arthur!!!!!!!

now for homework write a fifteen hundred word essay on ‘how trustworthy are the chronologies relating to king offa of mercia aka king offa of england, and why would anyone even care?’ have on hand a large box of tissues for crying into, and remember there’s a helpline available for if you get dizzyings and swoonings or a fit of the vapours from staring into the turgidity of it at all. i recommend a sprig of parsley behind the ear for those with weak constitutions.


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