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The Anglo-Saxon Chancery

The Anglo-Saxon Chancery: The History, Language and Production of Anglo-Saxon Charters from Alfred to Edgar

Ben Snook
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    The Anglo-Saxon Chancery
    Book Description:

    The principal aim of this book is to assess Anglo-Saxon charters from a "literary" point of view. In the ninth century, a new and highly complex Latin style started to appear in Anglo-Saxon charters: rather than writing traditional, straightforward legal language, the authors of these documents turned to their Anglo-Saxon literary heritage for inspiration, and began to fill their charters with complex and archaic vocabulary, extensive metaphors and lurid imagery. Dr Snook offers a thorough discussion of why and how this seemingly inappropriate style was adopted, throwing light on a range of broader issues, including the place of the documents in the wider intellectual history of tenth-century England, and their role in promoting the ideologies of different Anglo-Saxon kings. Benjamin Snook gained his doctorate from Cambridge University.

    eISBN: 978-1-78204-479-6
    Subjects: History, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-xi)
  4. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xii-xiv)
  5. Timeline of Key Events between the Accession of Alfred and the Death of Edgar
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-28)

    The ‘charters of the kings between Edward the Elder and Edward the Martyr’, wrote Sir Frank Stenton in the middle of the 1950s, ‘form a monotonous series’.¹ He continued: ‘as illustrations of curial scholarship these charters are disappointing.’² his words bode very badly indeed for a book which takes as its subject the charters of the kings between Edward ‘the Elder’ and Edward ‘the Martyr’. However, whilst Stenton got much right over the course of his long and distinguished career, when it came to tenth-century charters he may have been a little too quick to condemn; for the charters issued...

  7. 1 Brave New World: the Charters of Alfred and Edward
    (pp. 29-56)

    George Godfrey Cunningham, in the first volume of hisLives of Eminent and Illustrious Englishmen, published the year after Queen Victoria’s accession, eulogised Alfred (his first eminent and illustrious Englishman) in a tone which has since become all too familiar: ‘England’, he wrote, ‘has had no monarch, or patriot, of whom she has more reason to be proud, nor indeed does the history of any nation record a more perfect character, than this Anglo-Saxon sovereign.’¹ A little more than half a century earlier, no less a figure than David hume had adopted a similar tone in his own acclamation of...

  8. 2 Æthelstan
    (pp. 57-85)

    In 937, just half a century after Alfred had been forced to flee into the marshes of the West Country after his forces had been overrun at Chippenham, his grandson, Æthelstan, scored a stunning victory over an alliance of Scots, Vikings and Strathclyde Britons at the Battle of Brunanburh, consolidating his position asRex, not justAnglorum, but also, as his charters had been keen to remind their audience since the late 920s,totius Britanniae. It is fair to say that most of what we know about Æthelstan, from the composition of his court down to his daily itinerary, we...

  9. 3 ‘Æthelstan A’
    (pp. 86-124)

    ‘Æthelstan A’ was one of the most enigmatic Latinists ever to have worked in pre-Conquest England. had he been a writer of hagiography, history or poetry, we might expect a deluge of scholarship scrutinising in minute detail the finer points of his influences and influence, his background, his education, his psychology, his latin style and his career; yet, as a charter draftsman, even though he was responsible for producing the literature for which Æthelstan’s reign is perhaps best known, he has received surprisingly little scholarly attention. ‘One would like to know more of “Æthelstan A” himself’, wrote Simon Keynes at...

  10. 4 Turbulent Priests: Dunstan, Cenwald and Oda
    (pp. 125-158)

    The two decades between the death of Æthelstan in October 939 and the accession of Edgar to a reunited kingdom in the summer of 959 are amongst the most fascinating of the whole Anglo-Saxon age. There are differing interpretations of the reigns of Edmund, eadred and eadwig. on the one hand, their time in power was wracked by political instability, factionalism at the court, and moral impropriety: Edmund, having lost York to the Vikings, was murdered at Pucklechurch in Gloucestershire in 946 by a disenchanted exile; his sickly brother, eadred, who succeeded him, relied on a kitchen cabinet to run...

  11. 5 Back to the Future: Edgar and ‘Edgar A’
    (pp. 159-188)

    In many ways, Edgar’s reign can be seen as the high-water mark of the whole Anglo-Saxon age. From the infighting that had fractured English politics in the 950s, Edgar emerged as a force for unity under whose judicious guidance art, literature, scholarship and scribal culture flourished throughout England. Edgar ‘the peaceable’, as he later became known, has been seen by many as the archetypal medieval king: pious, wise, firm, fair and scholarly, his virtues were apparently legion.

    Except, of course, that they almost certainly were not. The main reason why Edgar is remembered as such a fine king is that...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 189-194)

    The uniqueness of the Anglo-Saxon charter has always lain in its ability to torment both historians and critics of literature in equal measure with its strange style, curious claims and unusual appearance. At almost every moment in Anglo-Saxon history, the charter is there in the background not simply recording grants of land but also leading all kinds of folk, from the king to the royal dish-bearer, blinking into the historical light. yet, it cannot do so quietly: for almost every ‘unremarkable’ Anglo-Saxon charter, there is usually another, not so very far away, screaming out for attention. In the seventh century,...

  13. Appendix I: S 193
    (pp. 195-196)
  14. Appendix II: S 346
    (pp. 197-198)
  15. Appendix III: S 225
    (pp. 199-200)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 201-218)
  17. Index of Charters
    (pp. 219-226)
  18. Index
    (pp. 227-234)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 235-237)