Pagan Warrior by MJ Porter: The Coffee Pot Book Blog Tour

Today, I am delighted to host MJ Porter on this book blog tour. MJ has kindly provided some historical background to the setting of the book (see below).

You can follow the full tour here:

Pagan Warrior by MJ Porter

Audiobook narrated by Matt Coles

From bestselling author, MJ Porter, comes the tale of the mighty pagan king, Penda of Mercia.

Britain. AD632.

Penda, a warrior of immense renown, has much to prove if he is to rule the Mercian kingdom of his dead father and prevent the neighbouring king of Northumbria from claiming it.

Unexpectedly allying with the British kings, Penda races to battle the alliance of the Northumbrian king, unsure if his brother stands with him or against him as they seek battle glory for themselves, and the right to rule gained through bloody conquest.

There will be a victor and a bloody loser, and a king will rise from the ashes of the great and terrible battle of Hædfeld.

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A Little Bit about the Author

MJ Porter is the author of many historical novels set predominantly in seventh to eleventh-century England, as well as three twentieth-century mysteries. Being raised in the shadow of a building that was believed to house the bones of long-dead Kings of Mercia, meant that the author’s writing destiny was set.

Some Historical Background to Britain in the Seventh Century – a Patchwork of Kingdoms

One of the hardest processes when writing about this very early period of Britain is to get an idea of what the kingdoms might have looked like and to explain this to the reader. The seventh century is often seen as the period when the Heptarchy, the seven very well-known kingdoms of the Saxon period, emerged and formed, ultimately derived from potentially very many much smaller kingdoms, the names of which are only rarely still known.

The Heptarchy consisted of the kingdoms of Northumbria (itself derived from the uniting of Deira and Bernicia), Mercia, the kingdom of the East Angles, Wessex, Sussex, Kent, and Essex. In later centuries, these kingdoms would merge until only four main kingdoms remained, and then, from the early middle of the tenth century, England emerged. But the battle of Hædfeld with which Pagan Warrior concludes was a British-wide battle set as this process was formalising in the seventh century, and there are yet more kingdoms that must be mentioned which didn’t form part of Saxon England.

Scotland didn’t yet exist, but Dal Riata, Pictland and Alt Clut (sometimes called Strathclyde) did. Wales didn’t exist, although the kingdoms of Gwynedd, Deheubarth, Ceredigion and Powys did, The kingdom of Dumnonia (modern-day Cornwall), was also in existence and very much not part of Saxon England. Indeed, these kingdoms are often termed British, as opposed to Saxon. As someone woeful at geography – I purposefully don’t adopt the names of places from this period because it confuses me – I’m only too well aware of how much I’m asking from my reader as it is without adding weird place names to already strange sounding personal names, and yet it was necessary to add a whole host of strange names, which often, have no relation to the current names of counties, let alone kingdoms.

All of these different kingdoms, we’re told, were involved in some way in the battle of Hædfeld. Some of the kingdoms joined the alliance, spear-headed by Cadwallon of Gwynedd, Edwin’s foster-brother. Others joined that of Edwin of Northumbria. Almost all of them took one side or another in the mighty battle of Hædfeld fought in 632 or 633 (there is some confusion about the exact date) between the two sides. To ensure my readers have some idea of who’s who, I’ve termed all of the character’s as being ‘of’ their kingdom, although I’m unsure if that’s actually how they might have been named.

I was surprised by how many individuals could be named from the seventh century, particularly for the build-up to the battle of Hædfeld. The cast is not Game of Thrones huge, but it was larger than I expected. Not just Penda of the Hwicce, only later could he be termed of Mercia, and Cadwallon of Gwynedd in the British ‘alliance’, but also Cloten of Deheubarth, Clydog of Ceredigion, Eiludd of Powys, Clemen of Dumnonia, Domnall Brecc of Dal Riata, Beli of Alt Clut and Eanfrith of Bernicia. While on the Northumbrian led alliance were Edwin of Northumbria, alongside his children, Osfrith and Eadfrith, as well as Eowa of the Hwicce, Osric of Deira – Edwin’s cousin, Cynegils of Wessex, Sigeberht of the East Angles and Oswald of Bernicia – Edwin’s nephew. At least, that’s how I stack the two sides as the battle is about to commence. In later periods, it is sometimes a struggle to find who was king of where and when that might have been, so to find so many characters, even if it can seem a little overwhelming, was fantastic and ensured that the British-wide battle of Hædfeld could be retold in Pagan Warrior with a nod to each of these kings, and the part they might, or might not, have played in the events that played out on that fateful day in October 632 or 633.

Image Credit Wikimedia Commons: Map of Britain in the 600s, User:Hel-hama, CC BY-SA 3.0

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