This week’s picture quiz is another mechanical device – though somewhat earlier than the Enigma machine. What is it? And for no prizes whatsoever – who did it belong to? Readers of the blog who also attend my classes may recognise it as I am prone to mentioning it whenever I discuss it’s owner.
So who spotted the Enigma Machine? It was possibly a bit easier than the Viking lock and key.
Essentially the enigma machine was developed by the Germans during World War II to encrypt messages so that they could be transmitted securely. For a time the code seemed unbreakable. Alan Turing cracked the code with his team at Bletchley Park. The brilliant mathematician was eventually able to use the Bletchley Park Bombe machine to decrypt the signals.
Polish mathematicians initially started the process which was complicated when the Germans started changing their code every day. The capture of a set of code books and an in tact enigma machine by the Royal Navy on May 9th 1941 was key to the success – in later times Holywood played fast and loose with history by replacing the British Navy with an American force.
Having been to Bletchley Park I am still more than a little confused by what went on in hut 8, despite using the children’s guide and can only conclude that some very clever people worked there.
As you can see we’ve moved forward in time from the Vikings. I have the feeling that this will be more obvious.
Well! This week you were certainly intrigued and so many good guesses but no one got it. The image is of a padlock and key found in York dating from the Viking era during the Coppergate Dig – something I looked forward to seeing most summers now I come to think about it.
The barrel shaped lock is opened by inserting the key into the opening at the end. I think that the action of fitting the key compresses springs to release the shackle of the bolt. The lock is a high status item in its own right.
This is part of an image of an unfolded Roman curse tablet that can be found in Bath. There are 130 of them inscribed on sheets of lead or pewter. They were rolled up and dropped into the spring belonging to the goddess Sulis Minerva – Sulis is Celtic and the Romans simply tagged their own most appropriate goddess into the equation. They largely contain curses relating to thieves in Latin. One of the tablets is written in the Celtic language – making it unique.
I must admit that there are many fascinating Roman artefacts that I could have chosen. I selected these because they were recognised by UNESCO in 2014
This one is tricky – all I’ll say is that you wouldn’t want to be the subject of one! There are approximately 130 examples of these in varying states. They have to do with a Celtic goddess who was Romanised – and that’s the biggest clue I’m going to give you.
The picture I gave you last weekend was the mouthpiece.
The Sutton Hoo helmet was found in 1939 when a ship burial was excavated in Suffolk near Woodbridge. The ship – identified by the ghost of its decayed timbers and rivets was 27 meters long. It is believed to have belonged to King Raedwald of East Anglia. So, of seventh century origins. But because of the dates of the coins found with the helmet there are other possible owners for the ornate helmet including my own favourite King Anna.
Bede records that Raedwald converted to Christianity during a visit to Kent but reverted to Paganism on return home.
Anna was descended from the Wufflingas family – or Wuffling – what’s not to like? His father was Raedwald’s nephew. The family was related to the famous Abbess Hild of Whitby.
As for the helmet – it contains over 4,000 garnets so it belonged to a very important man indeed. Amongst the contents of the tomb were items from Scandinavia and the Mediterranean, demonstrating the complexity of early medieval trade routes as well as changing the way that Historian’s viewed the Anglo-Saxon world.
The BBC identified the helmet as one of the world’s most important 100 objects.
How did you do with the Alfred Jewel? Remember I’m choosing items of national significance from whatever period they might be. I think this one is a bit trickier…possibly.
The first image in the History Jar’s new quiz is, of course, the Alfred Jewel which can be found in the Asmolean Museum in Oxford. The words around the end of the jewel read, “Alfred ordered me to be made.” The jewel is the ornate end of an aestel -that’s a pointer to you or me. The socket formed by the dragon’s head at the bottom of the jewel is where the ivory pointer would have sat.
The jewel was found a few miles from Athelney Abbey in Somerset in 1693 when it was ploughed up. Athelney Abbey is very near the site where King Alfred made his counter attack against the Great Viking army in 878. The king had been forced to retreat into the marshes in 877 and built a fort near Athelney before launching his counter attack.
Asser, who was Alfred’s chaplain, described the site as being a small island. And it was Alfred who is often credited with the founding of Athelney Abbey. However, there is a distinct possibility that there was already some sort of monastic foundation on the site as the name and the charter suggest enlargement rather than foundation.
William of Malmesbury writing later describes the abbey as poor but that the Benedictine brothers who lived there loved solitude. By the fourteenth century the quiet and solitude seems to have turned Athelney into a retirement home for royal pensioners. The archives contain a protest from the monks about Gilbert de Reagan who had been sent to the abbey to live as a pensioner. The monks replied that there were already two aged servants of the king living at the expense of the abbey.
In 1314 the abbey was used a prison for another Benedictine, William de Walton, who according to the Bishop of Lincoln, had been very wicked and should be kept locked in fetters in his cell at all times. Eventually William was returned to Peterborough Abbey, where he originally came from, as he had escaped a couple of times much to the consternation of the Athelney brothers.
In 1349 the plague hit the abbey killing two abbots in swift succession.
By 1536 the abbey was in debt to the Crown to the tune of £33 but that might have been because in 1497 the abbot had supported Perkin Warbeck against Henry VII and the abbey had been fined 100 marks. Cromwell’s commissioner found the abbot and his eleven monks to be leading good lives but on the 20th February 1539 the abbey surrendered.
https://www.ashmolean.org/alfred-jewel Follow the link for a closer look at the Alfred Jewel.
‘Houses of Benedictine monks: The abbey of Athelney’, in A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 2, ed. William Page (London, 1911), pp. 99-103. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/som/vol2/pp99-103 [accessed 5 June 2020].
A new quiz to keep you interested this week as we take a break from the store cupboard of quotes. I’ve chosen a number important historical artefacts that tell the story of England – some of them date before 1066. What famous historical item is this?