You know who else was a great German Nationalist orator? The Saxon Wolf

The Saxon Wolf (Fire Born 2) is out in a few days, and so I thought I would tell you a little about one of the main characters, and the man who gives my historical novel its title: Widukind of Westphalia. Who? I hear you ask. He was the man who in the late 8th century bravely led the 30-year resistance to Charlemagne’s brutal annexation of his homeland. But the reason you haven’t heard of him is that he was co-opted by the Nazis twelve hundred years later.

That was a stroke of very bad luck for poor old Widukind. For centuries he had been a legendary figure of German folklore, a sort of Robin Hood type, who rallied the Saxon peasants and rebelled against the oppressive Christian regime of the invading Franks. He used bows and arrows a lot, apparently, and ambushed the Franks from the thick woodlands of central Germany, running rings around them, if the stories are true. You can see why I – who have written ten Robin Hood novels and three short stories about the English hero – might have felt a spark of interest.

The truth is that we know very little about the real Widukind (as with our own Robin Hood) and even his name might only be a nom de guerre. Widukind means “Child of the Woods”, which is a kenning, or alternate name, for a wolf. Hence the title of my novel The Saxon Wolf. It is likely that his real name was Theodoric, like his father, but no one can be entirely sure. What we do know is that he was a nobleman of Westphalia, a western part of Old Saxony, south of the River Elbe, and that he was married to the daughter of the King of the Danes, Siegfried (or Sigfred).

This marital connection was to prove very fortunate for Widukind. He used the Dane-Mark as a base for his guerrilla operations against Charlemagne’s armies, and whenever things got too hot in Saxony, he was able to flee north to seek refuge with his father-in-law. He is first mentioned in the Royal Frankish Annals (a contemporary account of events written by Charlemagne’s monks) in AD 777 when he refused the Frankish King’s invitation to attend a gathering in Paderborn of all the defeated Saxons, and instead fled north to escape Charlemagne’s wrath.

He must have been a charismatic leader and a fine orator, too, to have persuaded his pagan fellow countrymen to resist the Christians for so long. Most of the aristocrats surrendered to Charlemagne early in the conflict but Widukind, who plays a leading role in my novel, and his peasant army kept on fighting for thirty years against their oppressors. We will probably see a good deal more of him in future volumes of the Fire Born series.

Bronze statue of Widukind

I think of him as a fascinating but flawed character and I think he would now be a good deal more famous if it were not for the Nazi connection. Master propagandists as they were they depicted Widukind as the saviour of the Saxon “race” fighting to prevent its pollution by “lesser races”. Which is not a great reputation to have post-WW2. Of course, he was a nationalist but certainly no Nazi, and he may even have been a genuine hero. But, more the the point, I think he was a very interesting guy.

The Saxon Wolf (Fire Born 2) will be published by Canelo on Thursday January 13, 2022. You can order a copy here.

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