Journalists and writers make mistakes. There is a clear divide between those who don’t dwell on their errors and those who do. The former (mostly) just accept that the only way not to make a mistake in print is not to write anything and will try to learn from the experience and move on. The latter – of whom I am one – remember every little and not-so-little slip with embarrassment and shame that doesn’t really diminish with the passage of time.
And now I have just discovered a mistake in something I wrote two years ago in the profile of my book LONDON CALLING:
[Colin Joyce] currently lives in Colchester which is the only place other than London to have ever been capital of Britain. Unfortunately, that brief peak in Colchester’s fortunes was around 2,000 years ago under the Romans.
(I am assuming that readers know authors write their own profile – you can tell a lot about someone by what he chooses to say about himself when it is permitted to speak in the third person.)
Anyway, I remember fretting as I wrote that because Colchester wasn’t officially a capital. It was where the Roman administration was based when they first claimed dominion of Britain – so I decided it was (briefly) the de facto capital of Roman Britain.
I also worried because history books trace the kings and queens of England back to the House of Wessex, who were based in Winchester. But, as I understood it, the kings of Wessex were only ever considered to be kings “of the Anglo Saxons” or “of the English” or “of England”. That is, not Kings of Britain.
However, I just watched a series of programmes by the always entertaining TV historian Michael Wood about those early kings of Wessex. In one episode he showed that Aethelstan (who ruled from 924 – 939) claimed dominion over all Britain, making Winchester another theoretical “capital of Britain”.
Coins were minted across Britain bearing his name and the title in Latin “Rex To Br” (an abbreviation meaning “King of All Britain”). Documents list the kings of Wales as his “sub-regents”; he marched his armies all the way to Caithness in northern Scotland to impose his rule. It didn’t last, but it was a real claim to rulership of the whole island of Britain which, incidentally, the Romans failed to achieve. (Scotland was not conquered by the Romans despite their best efforts.)
Wood argued that Aethelstan’s achievements were downplayed in the immediate aftermath of his own reign. Aethelstan’s accession and reign was disputed and his enemies imputed that he was illegitimate. It seems he secured the throne by agreeing not to have children thus ensuring the throne would “revert” to his half-brother’s family. These successors seem to have preferred to airbrush him from history and Wood thought this contributed to Aethelstan being a “forgotten man”.
So in the annals of my mistakes, this is one for which I have some sort of excuse.
Colin Joyce currently lives in Colchester, the “first capital” of Britain. Unfortunately, that brief peak in Colchester’s fortunes was around 2,000 years ago under the Romans.