Dear Mr Cornwell,
Congratulations on another excellent un put downable addition to your Last Kingdom series.
I noted in the book you make a number of references to iron rimmed shields. My understanding is that the majority of shields of the time would most likely be edged with leather? Forging an iron rim for a circular shield would involve a skilled blacksmith for some considerable time, thus making the shield expensive. However shields were semi-disposable items. The Icelandic Sagas record participants in pre-arranged single combat bringing a number of shields with them, no doubt in the knowledge they wouldn’t last long against a battle axe or heavy spear in the hands of a skilled user? I appreciate remains of iron shield rims have been recovered through archaeology however I would suggest these would be from ceremonial or “dress” shields owned by chieftains and the like who could afford them?
With Uhtred being born in 866 and Athelstan becoming king in 924, this makes Uhtred 58 for the period of the Sword of Kings. Being a six foot tall, reasonably fit 50 something myself, the thoughts of donning a coat of mail and slugging it out with sword and shield (even if leather edged) against someone of a similar build or bigger seems rather daunting? As you mentioned Uhtred lives to see Englaland united then I take it he will be present at the battle of Brunanburgh 937? This will make him a venerable 71 so presumably he will be limited to giving Athelstan sage like counsel rather than wading in to the battle with his new friend Egil who I note you have also introduced, being someone we also know from his own saga, was present at the battle. Not that you will give anything away of course!
Your reference to heraldic type badges for leaders banners and shields seems a bit anachronistic however I appreciate this gives needed clarity to the reader. The Bayeaux tapestry shows the Saxons carrying dragons on poles as standards at the battle of Hastings. This has been literally interpreted as being a carved dragon or more likely a continuance of the late Roman draco standard, being an iron forged dragon head with a brightly dyed “wind sock” arrangement attached behind it. The dragon head being forged in such a way as to give our an eerie noise when the wind blows through it. As Uhtred’s standard is a wolf’s head, it would be really cool for him to carry forth a wolf head version of this type of standard? I am not after any credit for this idea. It would just be great to read about in the next book!