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The King's Body

The King's Body: Burial and Succession in Late Anglo-Saxon England

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    The King's Body
    Book Description:

    The King's Bodyinvestigates the role of royal bodies, funerals, and graves in English succession debates from the death of Alfred the Great in 899 through the Norman Conquest in 1066.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-6869-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Tables and Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Tables and Figures
    (pp. xv-2)
  7. Introduction: The Politics of Royal Burial in Late Anglo-Saxon England
    (pp. 3-20)

    On 5 January 1066, Edward the Confessor died in his palace at Westminster. A few years later, the king’s anonymous biographer produced the following account of his burial:

    The funeral rites were arranged with royal expense and honour, as was fitting, and with the infinite mourning of all. They carried his blessed remains from his palace home into the church of God, and offered prayers and sighs along with the psalms, all that day and the following night. Meanwhile, when the day of the mournful celebration dawned, they blessed the funeral office they were to conduct with the singing of...

  8. 1 Royal Tombs and Political Performance: New Minster and Westminster
    (pp. 21-52)

    The starting point for this study is the piece of information supplied most consistently in later Anglo-Saxon texts: the locations of kings’ graves. The most prominent of these sites was Winchester’s Old Minster. As a favoured mausoleum of the West Saxon dynasty, Old Minster had a sizeable collection of royal graves by the mid-eighth century and became an increasingly important ritual centre as its royal patrons emerged as England’s dominant ruling family.¹ Located at the heart of Wessex, Winchester thrived as a royal and episcopal hub in the ninth century, and by the tenth century it was operating as the...

  9. 2 Tenth-Century Royal Mausolea and the Power of Place
    (pp. 53-80)

    The burials of Alfred and Edward the Elder at Winchester and Edward the Confessor at Westminster were consistent with the political landscapes of their respective reigns. Winchester boasted conversion-era roots and a history of collaboration with the rulers of Wessex, but its emergence as a royal administrative centre dates to the reign of Alfred, when the town was refounded as aburhthat would serve as the effective capital of England for much of the tenth century.¹ Winchester’s importance persisted through the following centuries, with Old Minster rejoining New Minster as a favourite site of royal ritual: Cnut (r. 1016...

  10. 3 Funeral, Coronation, and Continuity: Political Corpses in the Eleventh Century
    (pp. 81-124)

    At the end of the ninth century, Alfred the Great identified himself asrex Anglorum Saxonum, king of the Anglo-Saxons.¹ Having gained nominal rule over Wessex, Mercia, and Northumbria, he envisioned a unified English kingdom led by a single Christian ruler.² It would be decades before these claims were realized, for it was the military and administrative advances of the tenth century that finally enabled a meaningful consolidation of these territories. Nevertheless, Alfred’s heirs continued to employ his aspirational rhetoric, depicting England’s semi-autonomous regions as parts of a cohesive realm with a West Saxon king at its head. The result...

  11. 4 Royal Body as Executed Body: Physical Propaganda in the Reigns of Harold Harefoot and Harthacnut
    (pp. 125-160)

    So far, this study has investigated how rulers’ bodies, tombs, and funerals were used to promote the idea of royal continuity – a persistent ideal, despite the fact that regular patrilineal succession was rare in pre-Conquest England. The fragility of royal claims, external threats to the kingdom, and an increasingly powerful class of elite nobility made legitimizing rituals especially appealing for those attempting to establish themselves as kings. Even when candidates had an impeccable West Saxon pedigree, like Edmund Ironside and Edward the Confessor, or had secured their authority with decisive military action, like Cnutand William, they still rendered respectful attention...

  12. 5 Body and Memory: The Missing Corpse of King Edward the Martyr
    (pp. 161-191)

    Some sixty years before the mutilation of the ætheling Alfred, the English endured another succession crisis accompanied by a scandalous royal death: the assassination of King Edward “the Martyr” by partisans of his younger half-brother, Æthelred. When their father Edgar died in 975, Edward was no more than eleven years old and Æthelred was about nine. Although Edward was Edgar’s oldest son by his first wife, Æthelred was the child of Ælfthryth, his only wife to be consecrated queen – and therefore, according to his supporters, the more throne-worthy candidate.¹ Edward was elected and anointed in 975, but Æthelred’s faction did...

  13. 6 Bodies of Conquest: Kings, Saints, and Conquerors in the Reign of Cnut
    (pp. 192-229)

    Half a century after Edward the Martyr’s relics were translated from Wareham to Shaftesbury, another prominent English martyr was ceremonially brought home: St Ælfheah, the erstwhile archbishop of Canterbury, who had been killed by Vikings in 1012. Ælfheah had been seized by a Danish army and held captive in London, where he was executed when he refused to pay his captors tribute. According to the earliest account of the episode, recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle:

    They shamefully killed him there. They pelted him with bones and with ox-heads, and one of them struck him on the head with the back...

  14. 7 Conclusions: William of Normandy and the Landscape of Anglo-Saxon Royal Burial
    (pp. 230-247)

    After his 1016 conquest of England, Cnut negotiated two political needs in his approach to royal remains: he established his legitimacy through continuity with the Anglo-Saxon royal past, and he asserted his superiority over a displaced dynasty whose members and supporters posed a continuous threat. William the Conqueror took a similar approach after his victory at Hastings, conveying distinct political messages with two royal bodies. His coronation beside Edward the Confessor’s tomb linked his reign from the outset with the legacy of England’s last West Saxon king; but William also sought to minimize the importance of Harold Godwineson, whose body...

  15. Epilogue
    (pp. 248-254)

    It is clear from the case studies treated in this book that royal burial in the later Anglo-Saxon period was a central component of the political process. In addition to providing official closure to his reign, a king’s funeral offered a forum for consensus and frequently culminated in the designation of a new ruler. Yet perhaps it is in the occasional deviations from traditional royal burial practice that the importance of these burials can be seen most clearly. Although the absence of a normative royal funeral resulted from exceptional circumstances – conquest, usurpation, or regicide – departures from standard modes of royal...

  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 255-286)
  17. Index
    (pp. 287-298)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 299-300)