Adventures in Bookland: Ecgfrith, King of the Northumbrians, High King of Britain by NJ Higham

517twmhyeqlProfessor NJ Higham is probably (no, definitely) the foremost academic expert of the history of the kingdom of Northumbria. (In one of those peculiar coincidences, he is Emeritus professor of History at the University of Manchester but, just to cause confusion, the University of Manchester has another eminent professor who is also called NJ Higham – and Nicholas is the Christian name for both of them. The other NJ Higham is the Richardson Professor of Applied Mathematics.)

So imagine my delight when, reading Professor Higham’s latest book, I found…me! Yes, I was referenced and footnoted, and not just once but multiple times. It turns out that the great man has read the book on the history and archaeology of Northumbria that I co-wrote with Paul Gething, the director of the Bamburgh Research Project, the ongoing archaeological investigation of the castle and its surroundings. Turning to the back of the book, not only is Northumbria: the Lost Kingdom in the bibliography, but so are Edwin: High King of Britain and Oswald: Return of the King!

All I can say is that I wish this book had come out before I began writing the Northumbrian Thrones. It is quite the most rigorous and thorough treatment of the kings of Northumbria’s ascent to dominance, and the perfect foil to Max Adams’ book The King in the North. Where Adams treatment is poetic and anthropological, pursuing the limited evidence by recourse to cultural parallels even if they are far removed (an approach that suggests much that is intriguing but one that establishes very little), Professor Higham’s book is much more restrained, not seeking to push the evidence beyond what we know but, by bringing a lifetime of scholarship to bear, Professor Higham extracts every last bit of inference from what we do know, creating the fullest possible picture of the kingdom of Northumbria in its heyday. Indeed, for the period of Northumbrian dominance, this book is now the definnitive work, overtaking Professor Higham’s own magisterial The Kingdom of Northumbria AD350-1100.


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