These pages are intended as a focus for those interested in the royal burial mounds of Sutton Hoo in south-east Suffolk. It is widely believed and it seems most likely (no serious argument has ever been mounted to cast any doubt on the view) that this was the burial-place of the Wuffings during the late sixth to early seventh centuries.
The most famous of the Sutton Hoo burial-mounds is Mound One, which was excavated in 1939 and found to contain the remains of an undisturbed treasure laden ship, the funerary vessel of an early seventh-century Wuffing king. In the burial chamber amidships lay one of the greatest treasure-hoards ever discovered in archaeology, including the gold and cloisonné regalia of a warrior-king, silver feasting equipment, and other wonders.
The Mound One ship-burial revealed an unexpected world of wonder at the dawn of the story of England, which has led to a major revision in our understanding of the origins and early history of the Wuffing kingdom. It is believed by many to be that of King Rædwald, the greatest of the kings of the Eastern Angles and overlord of Britain from c.617 until his death c.625.
For a tour of some of the wonders of the royal war-gear, which helps reconstruct the king’s appearance, click on the headings below (British Museum pictures used with the blessing of the late Dr Rupert Bruce-Mitford).
The above is based is the authoritative report by Rupert Bruce-Mitford, The Sutton Hoo Ship Burial, 3 vols (British Museum 1975, 1978, 1982) and the more recent handbook by his successor, Angela Care Evans, The Sutton Hoo Ship Burial (British Museum 1986). Rupert Bruce-Mitford’s Aspects of Anglo-Saxon Archaeology (London 1974) is also very useful.
There is much more to the wonders of the royal vessel from Mound One than I describe here, which are largely those immediately associated with the royal body – the regalia of a warrior-king. There is also the sumptuous feasting equipment, which includes silver plates, bowls, spoons, drinking horns, cups, a great iron-bound, yew-wood vat (estimated to have held about 178 pints), and the king’s harp. As well as that, there are also several mystery objects, such as what appears to be a ceremonial whetstone, sometimes referred to as a sceptre.
The treasures from the Sutton Hoo ship-burial can be seen in the British Museum (see the COMPASS section of the British Museum Website for the best online images of some of them)
The National Trust Visitors’ Centre at Sutton Hoo
The Exhibition Hall at the National Trust Visitors’ Centre at Sutton Hoo, which was opened in March 2002. This has made the site and its story more accessible than ever before and is a huge asset to Sutton Hoo studies. Recent improvements include a much improved new video, but I’m still concerned about the paintings by Kelvin Wilson.
The Mound 17 horse and rider, for example, are depicted with what appears to be a Native American horse ridden by an arrogant hippy. For some reason, this image is in the background of the painting, the foreground being dominated by what looks like a pair of peasants. The artist appears to have assumed that the working classes have been excluded from Sutton Hoo and so has sought to compensate by foregrounding these two ‘forgotten’ figures. The painting thus seems to have little to do with attempting to authentically reconstruct the horse and rider from Mound 17, surely one of the richest and most interesting horse-and-rider burials ever discovered on the island of Britain. It seems to be more about projecting a rather superficial political view of our past which is still fashionable in some quarters despite being lampooned with great comic effect in a memorable scene in Monty Python’s Quest for the Holy Grail, where Arthur’s legendary kingship is questioned by a muddy peasant using the jargon of the students’ union bar.
I also have grave doubts about the huge painting of the hanged man, which seems unnecessarily obtrusive by the door of the treasure-room – and why is there a sort of abbot by the gallows? Now that even Professor Carver accepts that the “execution burials” are part of a separate chapter of the site’s history this painting should be removed.
Nevertheless, the exhibition is well worth a visit. Among many other good things (such as the treasure room, the replica harp, the recordings of music and Old English poetry, or the Mound 17 horse harness and fittings) , its centre-piece is the Gifford’s superb full-scale reconstruction in oak of the midsection of the ship and the burial-chamber (though the shop-dummy lying on the deck looks very unlike a king lying in state). The Exhibition Hall is augmented by restaurant where one can eat or drink in comfort enjoying a magnificent view of this part of the Deben valley.
The currently arranged opening times of the National Trust Centre can be seen on the National Trust Sutton Hoo webpage at http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-vh/w-visits/w-findaplace/w-suttonhoo/
Also within my Sutton Hoo Pages:
1. Echoes of Lost Literature at Sutton Hoo
2. What Literature Reveals about Beliefs Associated with Royal Burial Mounds
3. In Defence of the Wuffings: My Review of Martin Carver’s Sutton Hoo: Burial Ground of Kings?
© Copyright Dr Sam Newton AD 2000, 2013