The Staffordshire Hoard and the Mercian Royal Court
By Nicholas Brooks
Paper given at the Staffordshire Hoard Symposium, held at the British Museum, March, 2010
Introduction: This paper will concentrate on interpreting the character of the hoard. Of course we are at a very early stage at present, and some possible hypotheses will be eliminated as the research and study of individual items continues; but several fundamental points can nevertheless be considered.
First of all, this is a hoard predominantly of gold. The later its date, the more it is at apparent war with the evidence of coin hoards and the production of coinage in England which suggests that from the middle of the seventh century gold was less and less available to the moneyers of London, Kent, and East Anglia. This may be because the context of the gift exchange in which kings take part is very different from the context in which moneyers work
Secondly, this is a hoard for male display – bling for warrior companions of the king – and above all a hoard of sword ornaments. 97 pommel caps is the latest total, representing a very significant number of potential warriors with an important display of weapons. In addition there are many helmet fragments, although these may represent just a single helmet, or they might be pieces to use for repair should a helmet get damaged. Despite this, the rareness of helmets in the early-medieval period, both in Britain and on the Continent, suggests that these enormously elaborate and important helmets with metal fittings are kingly or princely items belonging to people of very high status and indeed symbolic of this status. Helmets of this type are used in the earliest king-making rituals, before the use of crowns, and are worn on important public occasions. Lastly, it is possible that even the ecclesiastical items might be regarded also as specifically male items.