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The Ruler Portraits of Anglo-Saxon England

The Ruler Portraits of Anglo-Saxon England

Catherine E. Karkov
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    The Ruler Portraits of Anglo-Saxon England
    Book Description:

    Between the reign of Alfred in the late ninth century and the arrival of the Normans in 1066, a unique set of images of kingship and queenship was developed in Anglo-Saxon England, images of leadership that centred on books, authorship and learning rather than thrones, sword and sceptres. Focusing on the cultural and historical contexts in which these images were produced, this book explores the reasons for their development, and their meaning and function within both England and early medieval Europe. It explains how and why they differ from their Byzantine and Continental counterparts, and what they reveal about Anglo-Saxon attitudes towards history and gender, as well as the qualities that were thought to constitute a good ruler. It is argued that this series of portraits, never before studied as a corpus, creates a visual genealogy equivalent to the textual genealogies and regnal lists that are so much a feature of late Anglo-Saxon culture. As such they are an important part of the way in which the kings and queens of early medieval England created both their history and their kingdom. CATHERINE E. KARKOV is Professor of Art History at the University of Leeds.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-234-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-vii)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. viii-viii)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    For most of its history ‘Anglo-Saxon’ England was not a kingdom but a group of kingdoms and sub-kingdoms, the exact number of which fluctuated widely during the seventh and eighth centuries.¹ In the year 802, however, Ecgberht (802–39) succeeded to the throne of Wessex and rapidly gained control over much of England south of the Thames. His achievements were consolidated and augmented by his immediate successors, who diligently set about transforming the kingship of the West Saxons into the kingship of the English.² Unfortunately, no portrait of Ecgberht survives; in fact outside of coinage no image survives from before...

  7. 1 Alfred
    (pp. 23-52)

    In this well-known passage from Alfred’s preface to his translation of Gregory’sRegula Pastoralisthe king looks back to a glorious past in which Anglo-Saxon kings were pious, wise, and capable of both maintaining the peace and expanding their dominions. Although it may have been lost, this past was able to provide Alfred at the end of the ninth century with a vision of kingship and kingdom which could be used as both a model and a justification for his own political agenda in forging a future for theAngelcynn. If the great kings of the past were able to...

  8. 2 Æthelstan
    (pp. 53-83)

    Alfred had been concerned to establish an English voice, self-image and history that could serve to unite the people he ruled with each other and with a ‘common’ past; his grandson Æthelstan (king 924/5–939) used methods very similar to those of his grandfather both to unite England geographically and to create an image of England as a power within Europe. Born in Wessex but raised in Mercia, Æthelstan, more acutely than Alfred, seems to have been aware of the value of boundary space and the ways in which it could be worked and manipulated to either break down or...

  9. 3 Edgar and the Royal Women of the Monastic Reform
    (pp. 84-118)

    No king is as closely identified with books in Anglo-Saxon art as Edgar (959–75); yet one also has to question, in a way that one did not with either Alfred or Æthelstan, how much the image of the king that has come down to us was his own creation and how much was the creation of Æthelwold, bishop of Winchester 963–84. It is possible that both of the manuscript portraits that survive were designed by Æthelwold; certainly both accompany texts that the bishop is generally believed to have authored. In the manuscript portraits, as well as in his...

  10. 4 Ælfgifu/Emma and Cnut
    (pp. 119-156)

    In 1017 Cnut, king of the English (1016–35), king of Denmark (1019–35), and ruler of parts of Norway and Sweden (1028–35) married Emma/Ælfgifu, the widow of King Æthelred II. The marriage was a blatantly political step which allowed Cnut to gain some control over the fragmented alliances of the English, Scandinavians and Normans, and their various interests in the throne of England. By making Emma/Ælfgifu his queen, Cnut effectively secured her support and defused the potential threat represented by the exiled æthelings Edward and Alfred. Cnut had also taken control of a realm divided by Danish and...

  11. 5 Edward, the Godwines and the End of Anglo-Saxon England
    (pp. 157-173)

    On Easter day (3 April) 1043 Edward the Confessor was crowned king at Winchester,¹ becoming the last of the Cerdicing dynasty to hold the throne of England. The choice of Winchester was no doubt deliberate. The city had developed first as a capital under Alfred and Edward the Elder, and it had remained the dowager queen Emma’s seat of power; it was thus the perfect venue for Edward to proclaim his place within the dynasty and his reestablishment of the true Cerdicing bloodline after the reigns of the foreigners Cnut, Harold I and Harthacnut. It was not long after the...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 174-176)

    Two of the themes that have run throughout this book and its consideration of the ruler portraits of Anglo-Saxon England are the themes of borders and of books, and in closing I would like to turn briefly to those two subjects once again. Borders are an integral part of the Anglo-Saxon ruler portraits, primarily because in their quest to expand the borders of Wessex to encompass all of England, indeed all of Britain, the Cerdicing kings from Alfred to Edgar consistently placed themselves in a border position. This type of political border position is very much a part of the...

  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 177-202)
  14. Index
    (pp. 203-209)