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The Sea and Englishness in the Middle Ages

The Sea and Englishness in the Middle Ages: Maritime Narratives, Identity and Culture

Edited by Sebastian I. Sobecki
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 274
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  • Book Info
    The Sea and Englishness in the Middle Ages
    Book Description:

    Local and imperial, insular and expansive, both English yet British: geographically and culturally, the sea continues to shape changing models of Englishness. This volume traces the many literary origins of insular identity from local communities to the entire archipelago, laying open the continuities and disruptions in the sea's relationship with English identity in a British context. Ranging from the beginnings of insular literature to Victorian medievalisms, the subjects treated include King Arthur's struggle with muddy banks, the afterlife of Edgar's forged charters, Old English homilies and narratives of migration, Welsh and English ideas about Chester, Anglo-Norman views of the sea in the Vie de St Edmund and Waldef, post-Conquest cartography, The Book of Margery Kempe, the works of the Irish Stopford Brooke, and the making of an Anglo-British identity in Victorian Britain. Sebastian Sobecki is Professor of Medieval English Literature and Culture at the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen. Contributors: Sebastian Sobecki, Winfried Rudolf, Fabienne Michelet, Catherine A.M. Clarke, Judith Weiss, Kathy Lavezzo, Alfred Hiatt, Jonathan Hsy, Chris Jones, Joanne Parker, David Wallace

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-784-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Contributors
    (pp. xi-xii)
  6. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  7. 1. Introduction: Edgar’s Archipelago
    (pp. 1-30)
    Sebastian I. Sobecki

    ‘Britain isn’t an entity, it’s an argument.’¹ Initially voiced at a conference panel, David Baker’s assertion was not just a gut feeling worth publishing. How else, for instance, is one to interpret the peculiar pecking order governing British passports? Issued in no fewer than six classes, a British passport formalises one of the following ranks of belonging: British citizenship, British overseas citizenship, British overseas territories citizenship, British national (overseas), British protected person, and British subject.² Connecting and separating these gradations is British nationality law, an intricate web of privileges and restrictions, which the Home Office openly acknowledges to be ‘complicated’.³...

  8. 2. The Spiritual Islescape of the Anglo-Saxons
    (pp. 31-58)
    Winfried Rudolf

    The British islescape wields an undeniable power in shaping the collective identities of all peoples which have inhabited this part of the world. For the Anglo-Saxons, the ‘insular mentality’ was rooted in a myth of arrival at the island and the subsequent conquest of this confined territory. In the continuous perception of the littoral landscape they could further construct and perpetuate this specific mindset. Their word for island (OEealond/igland), a compound combining water (ea) and land (land/lond), must have resounded in their minds with a semantic delay to which present-day users of the word are almost deaf.¹ Unlike many...

  9. 3. Lost at Sea: Nautical Travels in the Old English Exodus, the Old English Andreas, and Accounts of the adventus Saxonum
    (pp. 59-80)
    Fabienne L. Michelet

    Myths of origins play a crucial role in the emergence and strengthening of an idealised sense of collective identity. Inscribed in a community’s shared memory, they are a means through which a particular group or society expresses its sense of itself. These real or imagined origins include both a genealogical and a geographical component, thus situating an individual and the group to which he or she belongs in time and space. They offer a narrative of how a particular community came into being, they shed light on its present situation and, by implication, they foreshadow its rightful future. Many elements...

  10. 4. Edges and Otherworlds: Imagining Tidal Spaces in Early Medieval Britain
    (pp. 81-102)
    Catherine A. M. Clarke

    The movements of sea tides around the coast of Britain form perhaps the most significant and wide-reaching example of the mutable, permeable edges produced by the interaction of land and water.¹ Yet no sustained attention has been paid to the representation of tides and tidal geography in literary texts. This chapter focuses specifically on the depiction of tidal sites in a range of early medieval texts from Britain, asking questions about how these shifting, dynamic, elusive spaces are written and understood. Rather than a comprehensive or exhaustive study, this short discussion seeks to offer a starting-point and to open up...

  11. 5. East Anglia and the Sea in the Narratives of the Vie de St Edmund and Waldef
    (pp. 103-112)
    Judith Weiss

    In 1963, in a groundbreaking book, Dominica Legge asserted that ‘the love of the sea and of voyages is characteristic of Anglo-Norman literature’.¹ Over forty years later, scholars are more cautious and more inclined to detect ambivalent attitudes in such literature. Sebastian Sobecki sees, in Anglo-Norman narratives after Benedeit’sSt Brendan, a ‘growing uneasiness towards the deep’ and anxieties about the ‘cold, treacherous and tempestuous sea of Northern Europe’, even if this sea enabled communications and carried Christianity.² TheVie de St Edmund, by Denis Piramus (c. 1170), and the anonymous romance of Waldef (1200–10), both unfinished, enable us...

  12. 6. The Sea and Border Crossings in the Alliterative Morte Arthure
    (pp. 113-132)
    Kathy Lavezzo

    The Somnium Scipionis or Dream of Scipiooccupies the final book of Cicero’sde Republica, and was familiar to medieval readers thanks to its incorporation into Macrobius’s extremely influential commentary. A product of the late-republic era of the Roman Empire, Cicero’s text offers a spatially inflected commentary on imperial conquest in which the ocean plays a critical role. In the dream, young Scipio Aemilianus finds himself perched high amongst the stars with the ghost of his grandfather, Scipio Africanus. Upon seeing his grandson focus his gaze upon his earthly home, Africanus schools him on the ordering of the cosmos and...

  13. 7. ‘From Hulle to Cartage’: Maps, England, and the Sea
    (pp. 133-158)
    Alfred Hiatt

    Two theories, both inherited from classical Greek and Roman scientific texts, underpinned the representation of the sea on medieval English maps. The first was that the known world, comprising Asia, Europe, and Africa, was surrounded by an encircling ocean, within which the islands of Britain and Ireland could be found. The second theory – distinct, but not necessarily incompatible with the first – was that the known world was just one of four land masses, which were divided by two oceans: an outer, encircling ocean ran from the north to the south pole, intersecting with another ocean that ran along the equator....

  14. 8. Lingua Franca: Overseas Travel and Language Contact in The Book of Margery Kempe
    (pp. 159-178)
    Jonathan Hsy

    The Book of Margery Kempe(c. 1436) is an English narrative that conspicuously spans both sides of the sea. The Proem opens with an ‘Englyschman’ who comes ‘into Yngland’ from ‘beyonden the see [in] Dewchland’ (Proem, ll. 66– 89), and a merchant’s voyage from England ‘seylyng ovyr the see’ (2.2.12) launches Book 2 of the text; the protagonist of the Book of course makes her own trips back and forth over the Channel, and the text traces her movements through a striking range of insular and Continental settings.¹ So well-travelled is she, in fact, that the narrator proclaims the text...

  15. 9. ‘Birthplace for the Poetry of the Sea-ruling Nation’: Stopford Brooke and Old English
    (pp. 179-194)
    Chris Jones

    Stopford Brooke is a figure largely overlooked by scholarship concerned with the history of the discipline of Old English Studies.¹ This is hardly surprising; such work usually concerns itself with tracing a teleological narrative of material and intellectual discoveries, problem solving, and the advancement of knowledge about Anglo-Saxon literary culture, as it is assumed to have actually existed, from a position of relative naivety and ignorance, to the present state of understanding. As with all discipline histories, literary, Anglo-Saxon or otherwise, that present state of understanding tends to be seen as both the vindication and the summative bequest of the...

  16. 10. Ruling the Waves: Saxons, Vikings, and the Sea in the Formation of an Anglo-British Identity in the Nineteenth Century
    (pp. 195-206)
    Joanne Parker

    When the Danish Princess Alexandra arrived in Britain in 1863 to marry Albert Edward, the prince of Wales, she was welcomed in verse by Alfred Austin, the future poet laureate, with the promise that the nautical expertise of her ‘Viking’ ancestors would make her a welcome presence in her new home.¹ For much of the nineteenth century, England’s relationship with the sea was essential to two projects which were central to national identity. One was the justification of British colonialism. The other was the need to cement what Linda Colley has termed an ‘Anglo-British’ identity by culturally consolidating the political...

  17. Afterword: Sea, Island, Mud
    (pp. 207-218)
    David Wallace

    King Arthur stuck in the mud, returning to but still short of his native Britain, remains for me this volume’s iconic image. At a key moment in theAlliterative Morte Arthure, having defeated the naval forces of Mordred, Arthur finds himself arrested, as Kathy Lavezzo puts it, by ‘oceanic mud’ (p. 131). Occupying neither sea nor land, Arthur momentarily straddles the Old English terms that give us, through the ‘combining [of] water (ea) and land (land/lond)’ (p. 31),island. Many other key locales in this volume borrow imaginative potency from such meetings of land and water: Maldon, Chester, Lindisfarne, and...

  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 219-248)
  19. Index
    (pp. 249-260)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 261-261)