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Royal Mysteries: The Anglo-Saxons and Early Britain (Hardback)

P&S History > British History P&S History > Royal History

By Dr Timothy Venning
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Series: Royal Mysteries
Pages: 272
Illustrations: 16 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781526783561
Published: 28th January 2022



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Royal mysteries never fail to intrigue readers and TV viewers. The 'mysteries', unravelled and analysed, are of enduring fascination and full of tragedy, suffering and pathos but also heroism and romance.

The text is based on deep research in original sources including rare documents, archaeological and DNA evidence, latest historiography and academic research but is essentially accessible history.

These are the 'Dark Ages' but Anglo-Saxon enlightenment is emphasised. The Heptarchy, with seven Anglo-Saxon states is examined and Alfred's victory over the Vikings and emergence of the English kingdom. But mystery surrounds all aspects of dynastic, political and military history. The story includes the surviving British and Welsh kingdoms when 'Welsh' meant 'foreigner, the Gaelic kingdoms in what became Scotland, the survival of lowland 'Britons' under the Germanic Anglo-Saxon radar - a new interpretation of early English society in its shadowy forms with the half-mythical founders of the early English kingdoms like Hengist of Kent or Cerdic of Wessex, up to William duke of Normandy - did he have any legitimate claim to justify his 'power-grab'? Some episodes have dropped out of history like the murder the teen-age King Edward the 'Martyr', but here is a re-telling of early mysteries based on close analysis of the myriad sources while stimulating romantic fascination.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Anglo-Saxons and the folk of Early Britain lived at a time referred to as the Dark Ages, for good reason. Written evidence of their capers is very limited and those manuscripts and documents nearly always seem to have a particular angle to peddle, especially those written more than five hundred years later. So, in effect, the whole period is a mystery.

This non-fiction book is richly based in evidence and some of the assumptions we take for granted are questioned. For example, the idea that the Angles, Saxons and Jutes came to British shores after the Romans moved out, with the tales of King Vortigern and his request for Germanic military support, is readily dismissed because of the Saxon artefacts found in Britain before that time. Good historical research here. It follows that the battles with the legendary Merlin and dragons probably aren't true either - because there was no need. Or at least, no evidence - of course.

The legends such as King Arthur and the leader Ambrosius are investigated using sound logic and deeply researched evidence as well as basic structure of kings and overlords at this time and how they developed after the Romans left. How many of these figures are real men or fictitious characters is a long-standing Medieval mystery, and Venning takes a look at this in depth.

​The book has ten chapters each asking a question, - within the Anglo-Saxon period from the departure of the Romans to the arrival of William the Conqueror - including mysterious deaths of royal men, the heritage of certain kingdoms and the legitimate claims to ruling England made by William of Normandy, he who defeated the last English king in 1066. Analysis of primary and secondary sources are neatly packaged and well written.

A new and enthralling piece of Migration Period history for the enthusiast, although it is readable for the layman, some previous knowledge of the period will be helpful. Exciting new original research, including DNA evidence, makes this one for the for the history shelf. Recommended.

NetGalley, AJ Sefton

If you are interested in Early Britain history , then it's a must have for you..
Excellent. Recommended.


Royal Mysteries by Timothy Venning* is a fascinating, well researched, well analysed, and just very interesting to read. I recommend the book to anyone with a keen interest in the period, as it is a scholarly book, best enjoyed by people with prior knowledge. In its 10 chapters it touches on many mysteries from that period, ending with my favourite one, the dynastic succession of 1066.

These mysteries are not only in England, but Welsh kingdoms and Picts are a part of the history too, which was great. I think I enjoyed the part about the Picts best because I remembered from my visit to a small museum near Inverness about them. It surely is a difficult period of history to study due to the lack in available resources, so it makes for a fascinating read.

The Anglo-Saxons and Early Britain is the second book in the series. I loved the first one and I loved this one too. The chapters are short and concise, but filled with interesting details. As I mentioned, some prior knowledge would be great, to fully appreciate the scholarly research done by the author. Although anyone that is interested in this topic can read the book and do a bit of research when it comes to a specific place or something similar. The book also offers a very good insight into the difficulties faced by medieval historians when so much information is lost and what is recorded is biased at best. His remarks about Bede’s intentions when he recorded the history are great too. As one can assume, there are lots of mentions of chroniclers such as Bede and William of Malmesbury and their work is nicely critiqued.

5 stars

Read the full review here

Coffee and Books

The book split into 10 chapters looks at various royal stories, kings and kingdoms of England, and the way others interacted with them with relations from abroad and the Celtic countries. Although I’m still learning about this period, I’m thoroughly enjoying reading books like this, by authors who clearly know what they’re on about. Highly recommended and an enjoyable read.

Read the full review here

The History Fella

As featured in: 'Men or myth? Timothy Venning attempts to separate history from legend when it comes to Kent's founding brothers, Hengest and Horsa.'

Kent Life

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Wow this is a richly detailed book on the subject of the very complex relationships of kingship in Anglo Saxon Britain. I confess to picking out chapters to read closely and scanned the other chapters to get a full overview of this book. It contains a great deal of very well researched detail and I do not envy the authors' homework involved. Tim Venning does an exemplary job in making this book at once accessible to lay interested readers and academic scholars interested in this period. I enjoyed it thoroughly, well done Pen & Sword for another choice read. My thanks to Netgalley for an ARC of Royal Mysteries::The Anglo-Saxons in early Britain. I look forward to more books from the author.

NetGalley, Carol Elizabeth Keogh

Timothy Venning has done it again! This was an amazing book, and I enjoyed reading through the stories that were contained in this book. There was a tremendous amount of research done, and the stories kept you engaged, leaving even those with those who love history learning something new!

I have been impressed by what I have read by Mr. Venning, and I very much look forward to seeing what he comes out with in the future.

Grab this book and enjoy some fun stories!

NetGalley, Rebecca Hill

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I know relatively little about the period in history generally known as the Dark Ages. There isn’t much in the way of written record and the accepted versions of events are not always accurate or reliable. It’s an important era as the foundations were laid for both a united and disunited country and shaped Britain.

Royal Mysteries is packed with detail. As a lay reader, I’ve tackled it in chunks. There’s a huge amount of information and I guess a certain level of knowledge is anticipated. That said, I’ve found this a compelling and fascinating read. I’ve learned a great deal about the early kingdoms and how verbal narratives by the powerful have shaped our understanding. Timothy Venning’s research appears to be meticulous and the bibliography is well referenced and an excellent source of further reading for those who want to explore the period further. There’s a detailed index and some photos even though I found some of the content a little dense, I’ve really enjoyed this modern take on the Dark Ages. There’s much food for thought and many of the conclusions are persuasive.

NetGalley, Anita Wallas

I'm fascinated by Early Britain history and found this book compelling and informative.
It's well researched, full of information and it kept me hooked.

NetGalley, Anna Maria Giacomasso
Dr Timothy Venning

About Dr Timothy Venning

Timothy Venning obtained his BA, followed by PhD at King's College, University of London, on Cromwell's Foreign Policy and is a gifted historian, deep and critical researcher and attractive writer, with wide range of historical interests. He can slip easily and effectually into early history, the middle ages and to the early modern period with the academic rigour, accessibility, and with both non-specialists, students and academic reference in mind. Publications: Dictionary if National Biography contributions (OUP 1996-2001); Cromwellian Foreign Policy (Palgrave 1995); A Compendium of British Office-Holders Palgrave 2005); A Chronology of the Byzantine Empire (Palgrave 2006); A Chronology of the Roman Empire (Continuum 2010); A Chronology of the Crusades (Routledge 2015); A Chronology of Early Medieval Britain and Europe, AD 450-1066 (Routledge 2017); Anglo-Saxon Kings and Queens; The Kings and Queens of Wales; The Kings and Queens of Scotland; Lords of the Isles; Kingmakers: Lords of the Welsh Marches (Amberley 2011-2016); If Rome Had Survived (Pen and Sword 2010); Alternative History of Britain: The Anglo-Saxon Age; The Hundred Years War; Normans and Plantgenets; The Tudors; The English Civil War; (all Pen and Sword 2013-2014); plus e-books and currently with Pen and Sword: Cromwell's Failed and the Monarchy; The Fall of the British Republic and Return of the King: From Cromwell's Commonwealth to Stuart Monarchy, 1657-1670; The King Arthur Mysteries: Arthur's Britain and Early Medieval World; The Anglo-Saxons and Early Britain; Royal Mysteries of the Medieval Period; Royal Mysteries of the Tudor Period.

Perfect Partner

Royal Mysteries: The Medieval Period (Hardback)

Royal murder mysteries never fail to intrigue readers and TV viewers. Here are some of the most haunting and even horrific episodes from the middle ages, based on latest historical research and historiography, and authentic and rare sources, including archaeology and DNA evidence, uncovering wonderful tales of pathos, tragedy, suffering and romance. This is history for specialists and general readers - and sceptics - given the intense media coverage, including TV, and interest in exciting and accessible popular history. The famous and also less well-known mysteries, which may be new to readers,…

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