Thursday 20 November 2014

A 'Sorcerer's Stronghold' in Anglo-Saxon Nottinghamshire: Teversal, Sherwood... & Tolkien's Dol Guldur?

A previous post on this site looked at Teversham in Cambridgeshire (Teuresham in 1086), which is best interpreted as an early Anglo-Saxon place-name meaning 'the estate of the sorcerer', 'sorcerer' probably being the original sense of Old English *tēafrere/*tīefrere. Needless to say, such an origin is rather intriguing. Teversham does not, however, stand alone, and the following note is intended to examine the meaning and possible literary influence of another place-name that is believed to derive from the same first element as Teversham.

The location of Teversal, shown against a map of modern Nottinghamshire. Image drawn by C. R. Green, using a Creative Commons map from Wikimedia, contains Ordnance Survey data © Crown copyright and database right 2010; an approximate depiction of the extent of the medieval Sherwood Forest is also included, based on its extent in 1600 and the recorded medieval boundaries.

The place in question is Teversal, which is a village near to Mansfield (Nottinghamshire) that lay on the western edge of the medieval Sherwood Forest. Early forms of the name include Tevreshalt and Tevershald (1086), which seem to reflect the same first element as Teversham plus a different second element.(1) In the case of Teversham, the second element is Old English hām, 'estate or homestead', whereas in Teversal it appears to be Old English (ge)heald, Anglian hald, 'protection', probably here having the concrete sense of a 'stronghold' or 'refuge'.(2) As such, one credible interpretation of the name Teversal is that it originally meant 'the sorcerer's stronghold' and/or 'refuge'!

Such an explanation of the place-name Teversal naturally raises all sorts of interesting questions, although it does need to be recognised that other interpretations of the name are possible. For example, whilst the suffix in the name Teversham—Old English hām—suggests that the Cambridgeshire place-name is likely to date from the early Anglo-Saxon period and so was probably coined at a time when Old English *tēafrere/*tīefrere still retained its original sense of 'sorcerer', rather than the later secondary sense of 'painter', the situation is not so clear with regard to Teversal.(3) Anglian hald lacks such generally agreed chronological implications as hām and so the name Teversal could have been coined rather later than Teversham is usually believed to have been—consequently, a meaning of 'painter', rather than 'sorcerer', for the first element is perhaps more plausible for the Nottinghamshire name than it is for Teversham. Nonetheless, despite such concerns, Ekwall, Watts and other commentators clearly consider that a reading of Teversal as 'the sorcerer's stronghold' is still perfectly acceptable.(4)

If we thus have potential place-name evidence for an Anglo-Saxon 'sorcerer's stronghold' (and/or 'refuge') that was located on what was the western edge of one of the great forests of medieval legend, Sherwood, what else can we say about this? Whilst we cannot now know what real-life context lay behind the coining of such a name, I have to say that I find it a little difficult not to think of J. R. R. Tolkien's Dol Guldur when considering the above etymology for Teversal! For example, just as Teversal can be read as 'the sorcerer's stronghold', so too is Dol Guldur described in The HobbitThe Lord of the Rings and Unfinished Tales as a 'dark tower' of a 'black sorcerer', the 'dark hold' of 'the Necromancer', 'the stronghold of the Enemy in the North', and 'the first stronghold of Sauron'. In other words, 'the sorcerer's stronghold' is a description that would fit Dol Guldur very well, and Tolkien does, in fact, use the relatively rare and archaic Modern English form of Old English (ge)heald, Anglian hald, to refer to this fortress in The Hobbit when he calls Dol Guldur a 'dark hold'!(5) Similarly, both Teversal and Dol Guldur are located on or near to the western edge of great legendary forests, Sherwood in the case of Teversal, Mirkwood in the case of Dol Guldur, with the name of the latter reflecting, for Tolkien, Old English mirce, 'darkness, mirk', a word that is identical in form to Old English Mirce, 'the Mercians', within whose kingdom Sherwood Forest was once located.(6) And, finally, just as Teversal might be read as either 'the sorcerer's stronghold' or 'the sorcerer's refuge', so too is it clear that Dol Guldur was both a stronghold and a place of refuge for its master. It was to here, after all, that the 'dark sorcerer'—Sauron, the Necromancer—retreated and where he lay hidden for many years, in order that he might regain his 'shape and power' in secrecy after his defeat by the Last Alliance at the end of the Second Age (e.g. Lord of the Rings, Book 2, chapter II).

This could, of course, all be mere coincidence, but it is diverting to wonder if this is necessarily the case. After all, Tolkien was a gifted philologist and Anglo-Saxonist, plus he had an aunt in Nottinghamshire, Jane Neave, with whom he stayed for a formative period in 1914.(7) In such circumstances, it is tempting to speculate—and speculate is very much the word here!—that a knowledge of Teversal as a potential 'sorcerer's stronghold' and/or 'refuge' on the edge of Sherwood Forest might have contributed to Tolkien's concept of Dol Guldur as a sorcerer's stronghold near the western edge of Mirkwood. Whilst Ekwall didn't publish his etymology of Teversal until 1936—only a year before The Hobbit appeared—he and Tolkien were professional colleagues who knew each other and, as such, it is by no means impossible that Tolkien might have encountered Ekwall's etymology sufficiently long before its publication to have been influenced by it when working on The Hobbit, although the case obviously cannot be proven at present.(8)


1    E. Ekwall, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names, 4th edn (Oxford, 1960), p. 464; V. Watts, The Cambridge Dictionary of English Place-Names (Cambridge, 2004), p. 605.
2    E. Ekwall, Studies in English Place-Names (Stockholm, 1936), pp. 54–5; Ekwall, Oxford Dictionary, p. 464; A. H. Smith, English Place-Name Elements (Cambridge, 1956), vol. 1, p. 222.
3    On the development of the first element in the names Teversham and Teversal, see the previous post on Teversham and Watts, Cambridge Dictionary, p. 604. On the dating of hām names, see, for example, B. Cox, 'The significance of the distribution of English place-names in -hām in the Midlands and East Anglia', Journal of the English Place-Name Society, 5 (1972–3), 15–73, and J. Insley, 'Siedlungsnamen §2. Englische', Reallexikon der Germanischen Altertumskunde, 28 (2005), 344–53, especially pp. 346–7.
4    Ekwall, Studies, p. 55; Ekwall, Oxford Dictionary, p. 464; A. D. Mills, A Dictionary of English Place-Names (Oxford, 1991), p. 323; Watts, Cambridge Dictionary, p. 605.
5    W. G. Hammond & C. Scull, The Lord of the Rings: A Reader's Companion (London, 2005), pp. 237, 310—see J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit (London, 1937), chapters 1 and 19; J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring (London, 1954), Book 2, chapter ii; J. R. R. Tolkien, Unfinished Tales (London, 1980), p. 280, n. 12. On 'hold' and Old English (ge)heald/Anglian hald, see Oxford English Dictionary, 'hold, n.1'.
6    See the map of Mirkwood included in The Lord of the Rings. On Tolkien's Mirkwood and its roots, see P. Gilliver et al (eds.), The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford, 2006), p. 165; Hammond & Scull, Reader's Companion, pp. 12–13; J. Evans, 'Mirkwood', in M. D. C. Drout (ed.), J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment (New York, 2007), pp. 429–30; T. Shippey, 'Tolkien, medievalism, and the philological tradition', in I. Moskowich-Spiegel & B. Crespo-García (eds.), Bells Chiming from the Past: Cultural and Linguistic Studies on Early English (Amsterdam & New York, 2007), pp. 265–79 at p. 277; and J. R. R. Tolkien, The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrún (London, 2009), pp. 227–8. See also J. Bosworth, An Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, ed. T. N. Toller (Oxford, 1898), p. 689.
7    C. Duriez, 'Neave, Jane', in M. D. C. Drout (ed.), J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia: Scholarship and Critical Assessment (New York, 2007), p. 455; on Tolkien as a philologist and Anglo-Saxonist, see for example Gilliver et al, Ring of Words, and T. Shippey, The Road to Middle-Earth, 2nd edn (London, 1992).
8    On Tolkien and Ekwall, see for example Tolkien's reviews of some of Ekwall's key works in the 1920s and his role as a signatory to the introductory note included in the 1942 Festschrift in honour of Ekwall's sixty-fifth birthday: S. B. Liljegren & J. Melander (eds.), A Philological Miscellany Presented to Eilert Ekwall (Uppsala, 1942). The etymology for Teversal discussed here was published in Ekwall's 1936 Studies in English Place-Names, pp. 54–5, and also presumably in the 1936 first edition of Ekwall's Oxford Dictionary (it appears on p. 464 of my fourth edition, published in 1960). Note, whilst Tolkien's Guldur, 'sorcery, dark sorcery' (Hammond & Scull, Reader's Companion, p. 237) does not resemble Old English tēafor/*tēafrere, 'sorcery/sorcerer', in form, it does resemble another Old English word that relates to magic and magical practices, galdor, 'an incantation' (cf. Old Norse galdr): Bosworth & Toller, Anglo-Saxon Dictionary, p. 359.

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