Anglo-Saxon Saints' Lives as History Writing in Late Medieval England

Anglo-Saxon Saints' Lives as History Writing in Late Medieval England

Cynthia Turner Camp
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 232
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt9qdkxm
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  • Book Info
    Anglo-Saxon Saints' Lives as History Writing in Late Medieval England
    Book Description:

    The past was ever present in later medieval England, as secular and religious institutions worked to recover (or create) originary narratives that could guarantee, they hoped, their political and spiritual legitimacy. Anglo-Saxon England, in particular, was imagined as a spiritual "golden age" and a rich source of precedent, for kings and for the monasteries that housed early English saints' remains. This book examines the vernacular hagiography produced in a monastic context, demonstrating how writers, illuminators, and policy-makers used English saints (including St Edmund) to re-envision the bonds between ancient spiritual purity and contemporary conditions. Treating history and ethical practice as inseparable, poets such as Osbern Bokenham, Henry Bradshaw, and John Lydgate reconfigured England's history through its saints, engaging with contemporary concerns about institutional identity, authority, and ethics. Cynthia Turner Camp is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Georgia.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-466-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)

    The fifteenth-century canons of Stone Priory, Staffordshire had much to be proud of. They boasted a long and productive patronage relationship with the up-and-coming Stafford family, evidenced by a versified history of Stone’s founders and patrons that hung on the choir walls. They also possessed the relics of two Anglo-Saxon martyrs, Wulfhad and Ruffin, as advertised to the curious visitor by a secondtabulacontaining their Middle English legend.¹ According to thistabula’s poem, these two Mercian princes, sons of the saintly Eormenhild and unsaintly King Wulfhere, were converted by the eremetic Saint Chad but then murdered by their apostate...

  7. 1 Edith of Wilton and the Writing of Women’s History
    (pp. 25-63)

    I begin with the lives of three female saints: Edith of Wilton, Audrey of Ely (accompanied by her sisters and nieces), and Werburgh of Chester. For the communities who possessed these saints’ relics – and even, as I show in the next chapter, some who didn’t – the virgin abbess was a potent figure of institutional cohesion and longstanding purity, the inviolable female body representing the integrity of the religious community formed around her relics. Importantly, all three women also enjoyed a reputation for incorruption; posthumous bodily preservation continued their sexual purity, and the undecayed corpse became an important material...

  8. 2 Audrey Abroad: Spiritual and Genealogical Filiation in the Middle English Lives of Etheldreda
    (pp. 64-101)

    The fifteenth-century poem ‘Why I Can’t Be a Nun’ witnesses to a different conception of conventual life than does theWilton Chronicle. The poem’s speaker, Kateryne, is a pious girl who believes she has a vocation, but first her father and then, in a dream vision, Dame Experience convince her that a nunnery cannot offer the religious life she desires. Nunneries are populated by Dame Veyne Glory and Dame Dysobedyent, Kateryne’s dream visit to a nunnery reveals, rather than Dame Charity and Dame Mekenes. The poem’s satire on the ‘governawnce’ (line 311) of nunneries proposes not the institutional body’s defining...

  9. 3 Henry Bradshaw’s Life of Werburge and the Limits of Holy Incorruption
    (pp. 102-132)

    Mercia has always been a historical fantasy. The most powerful kingdom of the Anglo-Saxon Heptarchy, it is represented differently from age to age, perpetually reconstructed geographically and temporally.¹ Its origins are shrouded in Germanic myths, leaving to historians only ‘created remembrances … [that] have been honed and redefined in subsequent centuries as kingdoms themselves grew and reformed themselves’.² Outside its core domain, the subkingdoms incorporated into the Mercian hegemony throughout the seventh and eighth centuries varied in their political, ethnic, and territorial makeup, such that ‘being Mercian seems to have been a more flexible commodity’ than being part of other...

  10. 4 The Limits of Narrative History in the Written and Pictorial Lives of Edward the Confessor
    (pp. 133-172)

    The Wilton Diptych preserves one of the most famous – and most typical – images of Edward the Confessor. On the left panel, a youthful-looking Richard II kneels before the Virgin Mary and her angels, who occupy the right panel. Richard is flanked by his three favorite saints: John the Baptist, Edward the Confessor, and Edmund of Bury. Edward stands robed in cream and ermine, crowned and white-bearded, prominently holding a ring. Similar images of Edward proliferated across late medieval England – in royal apartments, on rood-screens, throughout parish glazing programs, in the great cathedrals’ statuary – making Edward easily...

  11. 5 The Limits of Poetic History in Lydgate’s Edmund and Fremund and the Harley 2278 Pictorial Cycle
    (pp. 173-210)

    In the winter and spring of 1434, Bury St Edmunds Abbey hosted the young King Henry VI, just twelve years of age, and his retinue for Christmas, Lent, and Easter. This visit was a coup for the abbey, for it ensured that its abbot, the redoubtable William Curteys, would have the king’s ear for several months.¹ Curteys capitalized on the opportunity, greeting Henry with pomp, providing him with hunting opportunities, guiding his veneration at St Edmund’s shrine, and commissioning the abbey’s resident poet, John Lydgate, to compose for him a poem about Edmund. Some years later, Henry was presented with...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 211-236)
  13. Index
    (pp. 237-246)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 247-247)