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The Idea of Anglo-Saxon England in Middle English Romance

The Idea of Anglo-Saxon England in Middle English Romance

Volume: 3
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 188
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  • Book Info
    The Idea of Anglo-Saxon England in Middle English Romance
    Book Description:

    As the point of origin, both real and imagined, of English law and group identity, the Anglo-Saxon past was important in the construction of a post-Conquest English society that was both aware of, and placed great stock in, its Anglo-Saxon heritage; yet its depiction in post-Conquest literature has been very little studied. This book examines a wide range of sources (legal and historiographical as well as literary) in order to reveal a "social construction" of Anglo-Saxon England that held a significant place in the literary and cultural imagination of the post-Conquest English. Using a variety of texts, but the Matter of England romances in particular, the author argues that they show a continued interest in the Anglo-Saxon past, from the localised East Sussex legend of King Alfred that underlies the twelfth-century ‘Proverbs of Alfred’, to the institutional interest in the ‘Guy of Warwick’ narrative exhibited by the community of St. Swithun's Priory in Winchester during the fifteenth century; they are part of a continued cultural remembrance that encompasses chronicles, folk memories, and literature. Dr ROBERT ALLLEN ROUSE teaches in the Department of English, University of British Columbia.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-403-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1 Anglo-Saxonism: The Remembrance and Re-Imagining of the Anglo-Saxon Past
    (pp. 1-10)

    The Norman Conquest brought about the assimilation of England into the burgeoning Norman Empire and the destruction of a ruling elite, producing what some scholars have viewed as a cultural watershed. John Gillingham has written that ‘the devastating experience of 1066 had meant that the correspondence between a kingdom and a people, a community of tradition, custom, law and descent . . . no longer applied in England’.¹ The extent to which this ‘community of tradition, custom, law and descent’ was displaced under Norman rule is a much-debated issue, but the conquest is generally agreed to have been the end...

  5. 2 Remembering Alfred in the Twelfth Century
    (pp. 11-51)

    The dominant textual mode of history in England during the first half of the twelfth century was that of the monastic chronicle.¹ Chroniclers such as William of Malmesbury and John of Worcester constructed a view of the Anglo-Saxon past that played an important social and political function by representing England as a once-virtuous kingdom that had fallen from God’s grace, and which had been healed by Henry I’s marriage to Edith (renamed Matilda after the marriage), niece of Edgar Atheling and grand-niece of Edward the Confessor.² Henry’s restoration of the ancient line of Wessex lent a weight of genealogical legitimacy...

  6. 3 The Romance of the Anglo-Saxon Past
    (pp. 52-69)

    Among the corpus of Middle English romance there are many narratives that purport to be historical in nature. Romances of the Arthurian world vie for attention alongside legends of antiquity and of the Carolingians. Found also within this body of ‘historical’ romances are a number of texts that concern themselves with the pre-conquest history of England – those that have been termed the Matter of England romances.¹ This chapter, and the three that follow it, examine the ways that the Anglo-Saxon past is constructed in these romances and the uses for which this past is employed. Concentrating upon the Middle English...

  7. 4 The Romance of English Identity
    (pp. 70-92)

    Thorlac Turville-Petre’s work has opened up a fertile area of exploration regarding the significance of the Matter of England romances in the process of national identity formation. In this chapter I hope to throw some further light upon the question of English identity in these texts, and more specifically to question the relationship between the idea of Anglo-Saxon England and the idea of England in the Matter of England romances. English identity within these romances is a complex issue; one that is complicated by ties between England and the continent, England’s insular neighbours, and regionalism within England itself. In ‘Havelok...

  8. 5 In his time were gode lawes: Romance and the English Legal Past
    (pp. 93-133)

    During the great rebellion of 1381 the tenants of St Alban’s Abbey, led by one Walter Grindcobbe, petitioned the abbot to deliver to them charters held by the abbey that related the liberties of the vill. The abbot produced these charters, but as Stephen Justice has suggested, they seem to have lacked the confirmation of the freedoms that the rebels desired.² These deficient charters were then burned, and the rebels demanded that the abbot produce one particular ‘ancient charter . . . with capital letters, one of gold and one of azure’.³ This charter, Thomas Walsingham tells us, was believed...

  9. 6 Literary Terrains and Textual Landscapes: The Importance of the Anglo-Saxon Past in Late-Medieval Winchester
    (pp. 134-156)

    In Chapter 4 I identified the important role of place within the Matter of England romances. The appropriation of place is highlighted as an important technique in the re-creation of the Anglo-Saxon past by these narratives, creating a sense of continuity with the past by constructing significant and signifying landscapes. As is evident in Guy of Warwick and Beues of Hamtoun, romance becomes encoded upon the landscape, producing a historically and culturally meaningful geography through which England’s Anglo-Saxon past is used to express both national and regional discourses. In this chapter I wish to return to a discussion of place,...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 157-160)

    Donald Scragg has suggested that ‘few of the authors of the Middle Ages had an interest in the Anglo-Saxon period’, and Allen Frantzen and John Niles have argued that during the Middle Ages ‘the Anglo-Saxon period had rested in relative obscurity’.¹ While these critics are no doubt correct in observing the lack of interest shown by the major writers of the Middle English canon such as Chaucer, Langland, and Gower, this book has tried to suggest that an enduring literary interest in the Anglo-Saxon past can be seen in such texts as the Proverbs of Alfred and the Matter of...

  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 161-176)
  12. Index
    (pp. 177-180)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 181-181)