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Families of the King

Families of the King: Writing Identity in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle

  • Book Info
    Families of the King
    Book Description:

    The annals of theAnglo-Saxon Chronicleare fundamental to the study of the language, literature, and culture of the Anglo-Saxon period. Ranging from the ninth to the twelfth century, its five primary manuscripts offer a virtually contemporary history of Anglo-Saxon England, contribute to the body of Old English prose and poetic texts, and enable scholars to document how the Old English language changed.

    InFamilies of the King, Alice Sheppard explicitly addresses the larger interpretive question of how the manuscripts function as history. She shows that what has been read as a series of disparate entries and peculiar juxtapositions is in fact a compelling articulation of collective identity and a coherent approach to writing the secular history of invasion, conquest, and settlement. Sheppard argues that, in writing about the king's performance of his lordship obligations, the annalists transform literary representations of a political ethos into an identifying culture for the Anglo-Saxon nobles and those who conquered them.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7479-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. Introduction: Reading the Chronicle′s Past
    (pp. 3-8)

    The difficult manuscript and textual histories of the extant versions of theAnglo-Saxon Chronicleare well known to both historians and scholars of Old English literature, but the ways in which they affect how we read theChroniclehave only recently become part of scholarly discussion. To explain why they have begun reediting the manyChroniclemanuscripts, the general editors of the new collaborative editing project assert that it was once ʹimpossible to establish reliably the reading of any given version save by returning directly to the manuscripts themselves.ʹ¹ The recent editions of four of the five primary manuscripts, MSS...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Writing Identity in Chronicle History
    (pp. 9-25)

    In a recent argument against the possibility of medieval national identity, Patrick Geary declares that ethnic nationalism is a product of the nineteenth century and suggests that in the medieval period, the ʹsense of belonging to a nation did not constituteʹ one of the most important forms of collective identity.¹ But while the plausibility of medieval national identity is a contested and well-discussed subject, the texts themselves do suggest that some kind of group identity is possible. For example, the Anglo-Saxons refer to themselves and, indeed, are variously referred to asAngli Saxones(the people),Engelsaxo(one man), orAnglorum...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Making Alfred King
    (pp. 26-50)

    As a whole, the Alfred annals of theAnglo-Saxon Chroniclehave not received the kind of attention that has so illuminated other parts of theChronicle. Because these entries have primarily been read by historians focusing on Alfred and his military engagements, many modern explorations of Alfred’s reign are blends of biography and military history.¹ Such studies frequently interpret the Alfred annals as an example of Alfredian dynastic and personal propaganda and ultimately present Alfred as a successful warrior whose victories lie at the foundation of what is sometimes called Greater Wessex, Engla lond, the home of theAngelcynn, and...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Proclaiming Alfred’s Kingship
    (pp. 51-70)

    Recent work on Asser’sVita Alfredihas pursued two separate but complementary directions. While one set of scholars has returned to the question of authenticity, asking whether the work is a genuine ninthcentury text or a forgery, the other has focused on the problem of audience.¹ Because it is written in Latin, theVita Alfredistands out from other Alfredian texts like theOld English BedeandOld English Orosius, histories that, together with theAnglo-Saxon Chronicle, suggest the importance of vernacular historical writing at Alfred’s court. Nonetheless, the evidence overwhelmingly indicates that Asser’s text is genuinely from the ninth...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Undoing Æthelred
    (pp. 71-93)

    Read as a history of Æthelred II’s reign, the annals from 983 to 1022 reveal a story in which the people so carefully created or identified by the Alfred annalist become another conquered population.¹ But though the annalist suggests that the king and hiswitanare to be held accountable, the idea that the king is responsible for the loss of his kingdom is not intended to be a full and objective analysis of the situation. Rather, Æthelred’s accountability is essential to the annalist’s narrative focus. The Æthelred-Cnut annalist proclaims, ʹEalle þas ungesælǒa us gelumpon þuruh unrædas þæt man nolde...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Unmaking Æthelred but Making Cnut
    (pp. 94-120)

    When read as a history of the reign of Æthelred II, the annals from 983 to 1022 explain the loss of the kingdom.¹ But this narrative does not fully account for the explicit lordship language and ideology underpinning the portrayal of Æthelred’s final defeats or the representation of the Danish Conquest as a series of accessions founded on Cnut’s lordship relations. When read as a history that legitimizes Cnut, however, the annals form part of a larger history of theAngelcynn, a people created and defined inChroniclenarratives of conquest and invasion by the king’s performance of his lordship...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Writing William′s Kingship
    (pp. 121-143)

    TheAngelcynndo not survive the Norman Conquest, but the story told in the D annals suggests that the defeat at Hastings is not the sole cause of their demise.¹ Even prior to narrating the coming of the Normans, the story of the Anglo-Saxons is one of a people who, though separated by their ethnic collective terms and distinguished by their geographic histories, are united in denying their lordship obligations. These details significantly alter our understanding of the ensuing D conquest narrative: the William annalist suggests that the reasons for the loss of Anglo-Saxon lordship culture lie among the Anglo-Saxons...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Conclusion: After Lives
    (pp. 144-156)

    TheChroniclenarratives of conquest, invasion, and settlement create a discourse of collective identity for a people known as theAngelcynn. Explicitly negotiating the issues that accompany invasion, defeat, conquest, and settlement as questions of the various kings’ performances of their lordship obligations, theChronicleannalists give new meaning to carefully selected aspects of the political and social practice of lordship.¹ By focusing on Alfred’s ability to use lordship relations to bind the Danes to him in peace, the Alfred annalist narrates the foundation of a kingdom and the creation of a people. The Æthelred-Cnut annalist sets the principles of...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 157-216)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 217-250)
  14. Index
    (pp. 251-266)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 267-267)