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Bede's 'Historiae'

Bede's 'Historiae': Genre, Rhetoric and the Construction of the Anglo-Saxon Church History

Vicky Gunn
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Bede's 'Historiae'
    Book Description:

    The church history of the Anglo-Saxons can only be approached through the lens of a few writers, arguably the greatest of whom is Bede; his works illuminate an otherwise impoverished landscape of ecclesial development from conversion to established Christian church amongst the Anglo-Saxons. Bede, however, had his own agendas - monastic, political, and rhetorical. In her reappraisal of Bede's 'Ecclesiastical History, Lives of the Saints, History of the Abbots', the 'Lesser' and 'Greater Chronicles' and the 'Martyrology' and the audience for these texts, the author draws out the role played by classical forms of genre and rhetoric in the crafting of his work.She also explores the underlying political influences that caused Bede to write 'historia' as he did. In particular, she notes the role of 'historia' in monastic affairs, especially through the generation of a rhetoric of orthodoxy and the power of the cultural capital afforded by this within the relatively newly constituted Christian community in Northumbria. Dr VICKY GUNN is Senior Lecturer, Learning and Teaching Centre, University of Glasgow.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-693-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-5)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. 6-7)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. 8-9)
  5. Introduction Bede’s Historiae in the Late Twentieth Century
    (pp. 10-23)

    The late Twentieth Century witnessed a watershed in approaches to Bede’s writings. Whilst previous generations of commentators had focused on his straightforward style and sincere truthfulness, theorists of late and post Modernity challenged scholars to scrutinize such assumptions. In the 1980s historians on both sides of the Atlantic reconsidered Bede’s historiae from a more cynical perspective.¹ The comfort with which one might have read Bede’s historiographical writings as those of a consummate and fastidious, if at times quaint, Anglo-Saxon historian was effectively stripped away. Walter Goffart, particularly, left us with evidence of a hidden agenda and a distinctly uncomfortable feeling...

  6. Chapter 1: Understanding Bede’s Audience
    (pp. 24-35)

    The audiences of the hagiographical and historiographical literature of the Late Antique and early medieval period have come under increasing investigation by historians in the last decade.¹ In the fifty years previous to this there had been a notable degree of scepticism concerning the extent to which early medieval Christians understood the nuances of Church teaching. Following Dom Delehaye’s assertions that the recipients of hagiography, in particular, were the lowest common denominator of intelligence that depended upon the credulous rather than the historical reality of an individual, it simply was not fashionable to challenge this view. Indeed, were one to...

  7. Chapter 2: The Historical and Contemporary Context of Northumbrian Hagiography and Historiae Production
    (pp. 36-67)

    The immediate audience for Bede’s historiae was predominantly an elite monastic group. The historical context of the production of the texts themselves needs therefore to be placed within the fluctuating fortunes of seven of the institutions in which this elite group lived: Iona, Lindisfarne, Whitby, Ripon, Hexham, York, and Wearmouth-Jarrow. Whilst other monastic houses such as Melrose, Gilling, Lastingham, Coldingham and Bardney clearly played a role, it appears, in textual terms at least, that the seven former monasteries held the predominant positions of authority. Such pre-eminence was not solely a matter of the abilities of their scribes and calligraphers, however....

  8. Chapter 3 Bede’s Agenda Revisited: Monastic Superiority in the Ecclesiastical History
    (pp. 68-93)

    The previous chapter attempted to indicate the reason why so many cults and related texts were developed in the late seventh and eighth centuries. As was seen, the desire for augmented status did not just manifest itself in the interactions between the kings and their monasteries, it is also evident in the internal construct of the narratives of the texts that were produced. This chapter aims to examine Bede’s desire to enhance the status of Wearmouth-Jarrow in the text of the EH through a sophisticated method of textual manipulation, omission, and apparent ‘discretion’. To do this it will look at...

  9. Chapter 4 Bede’s Approach to the Genre of Historia
    (pp. 94-115)

    The preceding chapters have established interpretations of the historiae of late seventh- and early eighth-century Northumbria in frames of reference common to modern empirical history. One chapter uses evidence from the texts to recreate the overall historical context within which the writings were produced; the third chapter puts forward the possible political agenda that specifically motivated Bede as indicated by the rhetorical strategies evident in the Ecclesiastical History. This chapter aims to examine Bede’s comprehension of genre in terms of how he classified historia, and consequently, within what generic boundaries and traditions he worked. To do this, the chapter will...

  10. Chapter 5 A Case of Generic Discomfort: Bede’s History of the Abbots
    (pp. 116-130)

    The previous chapter illustrated that the Ecclesiastical History clearly fits within a particular genre of writing. However, it was also stated that if a text did not fit into a particular generic tradition it became a source of unease. This certainly seems to be the case with Bede’s History of the Abbots (HA).¹ This text is an anomaly to which surprisingly little attention has been given. Both Patrick Wormald and Alan Thacker (in greater detail) have offered evidence as to the sources that have influenced this text but very little has been done to discuss it in its wider context.²...

  11. Chapter 6 A Case of Innovation within Generic Boundaries: Bede’s Martyrology
    (pp. 131-143)

    Throughout the previous discussion of Bede’s understanding of historia it has been stressed that the narration of personal actions performed a central role. Moreover, it has been noted that for reasons of authority and legitimacy many of Bede’s historiae have obvious generic links with patristic and Rome-associated predecessors. At the same time they included deviations from these texts, thereby making Bede’s writings unique within the genre in which they are normally classified. Within this framework Bede’s Martyrology is another of his works that deserves to be admitted, at least as a sub-genre, to the corpus of his history writings. Although...

  12. Chapter 7 Bede’s Compositional Techniques in the Genre of Ecclesiastical History Authenticity and Authority in Northumbrian Saints’ Lives in the Ecclesiastical History
    (pp. 144-181)

    Bede used compositional techniques and strategies in the EH to which historians have tended not to pay enough attention. Yet when approaching any historical analysis of the EH it is vital to be aware of how Bede constructed his models of saintly behaviour. It was shown in a previous chapter that Bede was not averse to the rhetorical strategy of insinuation. In fact he seemed to relish it. It has also been illustrated that Bede both used directly and alluded to patristic and Roman texts to imbue the overall framework of his works with a sense of authority. In so...

  13. Conclusion The Implications of Bede’s Approach and Methods
    (pp. 182-188)

    The implications of Bede’s approach and methods in terms of the study of Anglo-Saxon history seem stark. As onlookers of a period previous to our own we need to come to terms with the possibility that Bede’s primary aim was not so much recording historical actuality as historical Christian convention, at least in the case of the personal and public actions of the individuals he identifies. Where the Ecclesiastical History, in particular, is concerned, at some level one is dealing with an embellished list of events expanded to meet the needs of a Church attempting to promote deeds worthy of...

  14. References
    (pp. 189-225)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 226-252)
  16. Index
    (pp. 253-258)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 259-259)