BBC Christmas Ghost Stories
During the 1970s, UK national broadcaster BBC One would broadcast the special Ghost Story for Christmas Series during the holiday season; usually one of M.R James’ chilling tales, but also Dickens (The Signalman) and Le Fanu (Schalcken the Painter). The tradition was revived in 2005 with sporadic stories, thence becoming a more regular event under the aegis of writer/director/actor Mark Gatiss (Sherlock/The League of Gentlemen/Dracula). BBC Two’s 2023 Christmas offering is an adaptation of Arthur Conan-Doyle’s ‘Egyptomania’ horror tale, Lot No 249.
With the exception of The Signalman the 1970s, stories are freely available on YouTube, but that hasn’t stopped beloved British classics channel Talking Pictures reviving the idea and broadcasting the 1970s shows.
Treasure Hunters in the East Anglian Kingdom
Which brings us to the main subject of this piece. The 1972 ghost story, A Warning to the Curious, was an adaptation of the M.R. James story concerning the hidden ‘Three Cursed Crowns’ of the Kingdom of East Anglia, which if discovered, will doom the finder and foreshadow great evil befalling England. The terrible consequences for treasure hunters are depicted in the drama:
The Wuffingas – East Anglia’s First Ruling Dynasty
The Three Crowns of East Anglia remains the flag of the region, consisting of the red St George’s Cross of England, combined with a blue shield bearing three gold crowns – the arms of the early Anglo-Saxon Kingdom of East Anglia. Medieval heralds ascribed them to the kingdom and to its first ruling dynasty, the Wuffingas (c. 599—749 AD).
The Wuffingas are also referred to as Uffingas or Wiffings and their ancient kingdom today includes the English counties of Norfolk and Suffolk.
Could M.R James’ Chilling Story Of the 3 Cursed Crowns Come True?
With the recent discovery of a pagan temple complex at the Wuffingas ('wolf people') dynastic capital in Rendlesham, Suffolk, will the legendary crowns be found -and what could the result be if they are? Can there be any truth in M.R James’ story – the finders cursed to a horrible death and the country doomed to invasion?
Apparently, some Wuffinga royal regalia was taken by the Mercian kingdom as it rose to dominance – only to be followed by a relatively swift fall and displacement by the Cerdic House of Wessex.
A Deeper Dig into the Wuffinga Dynasty
The Wuffingas are best known for the Sutton Hoo Burial, near Woodbridge, Suffolk, England. Possibly the tomb of Wuffinga King Raedwald (560-624 AD), an intriguing anomaly who apparently kept a foot in both Pagan and Christian camps, the haunted ship tumulus is shown in the 2021 motion picture The Dig:
The Wuffingas, as the ‘wolf clan’ are also said by some to be the descendants/kin of the mythic Beowulf, a Geat from Southern Sweden. Wuffa (d. 578 AD?), the legendary king who gave his name to the dynasty, was actually not the first East Anglian monarch of the line. That was Wehha (d. 571 AD?), another semi-historical character, who according to the 13th Century ‘Anglian Collection’, was the son of Wilhelm, who was te son of Hryþ, who was the son of Hroðmund, the son of Trygil, the son of Tyttman, the son of Casere Odisson, the son of the chief god Wōden.
The name Wehha has been suggested as a shortened version of Wihstān, the father of Beowulf’s companion Wiglaf, perhaps evidence for the connection between the Wuffingas and the Swedish royal dynasty of the Scylfings.
First English King to be Killed by a Pagan Noble
Eorpwald (reigned from 624 AD, assassinated c. 627 or 632 AS), succeeded his father Rædwald as King of the East Angles. After becoming king, Eorpwald received Christian teachings and was baptised in 627 or 632. Soon after his conversion, he was killed by Ricberht, a pagan noble. Eorpwald was the first English king to be killed due to his adoption of Christianity (although possibly syncretically infused with heathen elements) and was venerated by the Church as a saint and martyr.
He was the inspiration for the king whose tomb supposedly contained both Christian and Phallic Infidel symbols in Angus Wilson's classic novel Anglo-Saxon Attitudes (1956): ‘Gerald Middleton is a sixty-year-old self-proclaimed failure. Worse than that, he’s "a failure with a conscience." As a young man, he was involved in an archaeological dig that turned up an obscene idol in the coffin of a seventh-century bishop and scandalized a generation.’ (from Good Reads)
A Timely Warning to Archeologists
To the archaeologists digging in Rendlesham, a timely warning paraphrased from Doctor Zaius (Maurice Evans) in Planet of the Apes (1968), “Don't look for it. You may not like what you find.”
To close, another Antiquarian mystery from the mind of Montague Rhodes James:
Stephen Arnell’s first novel, Roman Mystery The Great One is now available on Amazon Kindle (cover art by the Earl of Buchan).