Mary Swan

title.none: Pelteret, ed., Anglo-Saxon History: Basic Readings (Mary Swan )

identifier.other: baj9928.0110.019 01.10.19

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Mary Swan , University of Leeds, messwan@ARTS-01.NOVELL.LEEDS.AC.UK

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2001

identifier.citation: Pelteret, David, ed. Anglo-Saxon History: Basic Readings. Basic Readings in Anglo-Saxon England, vol. 6. New York: Routledge, 2000. Pp. iv, 447. 60.00. ISBN: 0-815-33140-1.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 01.10.19

Pelteret, David, ed. Anglo-Saxon History: Basic Readings. Basic Readings in Anglo-Saxon England, vol. 6. New York: Routledge, 2000. Pp. iv, 447. 60.00. ISBN: 0-815-33140-1.

Reviewed by:

Mary Swan
University of Leeds

This volume is the sixth in the Garland Series Basic Readings in Anglo-Saxon England, and the first to announce a straightforward focus on history (volumes 1 to 5 deal with poetry, archaeology, and manuscripts). Despite the constrictions implied by the collection's title, and this reviewer's reservations about the viability of separating out 'history' from other interrelated disciplines, Pelteret has gathered together a wide-ranging collection of essays which go some way towards demonstrating just how much history as a modern disciplinary category can include. Several of the pieces included in this collection make use of methodologies of disciplines other than 'pure' history, including archaeology and art history, and thus helpfully show how modern disciplinary categories are not always sufficient to delineate our ways of working, just as they are not sufficient to categorise the remains of medieval culture.

In the General Editors' Preface to the volume, the aim of the series is set out as to "collect classic, exemplary, or ground- breaking essays in the fields of Anglo-Saxon studies generally written in the 1960s or later". (xvii) The range of essays which Pelteret has chosen for this volume is not entirely predictable, and it is the better for that. The series practice of omitting any previously reprinted work must have restricted Pelteret's choice considerably, and it is to his credit that he has found important examples of historical scholarship for the volume, that three of the authors whose work is included--Simon Keynes, Niels Lund and David Roffe-- have made additions or amendments to update their essays--and that he has supplemented the set with one new piece; that by Patrick Wormald.

The organisation of the volume's contents into two parts--a general section, containing nine essays, and a second section entitled "Special Approaches", which contains a further seven essays--explicitly identifies the volume's mission to set out a range of ways of working on the historical evidence for the Anglo-Saxon period. This combination of major pieces on general topics with a range of methodologically specific essays enhances the declared purpose of the volume: to serve as a "first book" on its subject. (xvii)

The general section of the collection opens with D.A. Bullough's "Anglo-Saxon History and Early English Society", which takes on H. Munro Chadwick's Studies on Anglo-Saxon Institutions (1905; repr. 1963), surveys subsequent work on important related issues, and shows the limitations of a purely 'institutional' approach to Anglo-Saxon history. Next, Eric John's "The Social and Political Problems of the Early English Church" explores the relationship between sanctity and politics. In "Bede's Native Sources for the Historia Ecclesiastica", D.P. Kirby sets out the evidence for sources on the different kingdoms and shows how fragmentary it is. Nicholas Brooks examines "The Development of Military Obligations in Eighth- and Ninth-Century England", and Barbara Yorke's "The Bishops of Winchester, the Kings of Wessex, and the Development of Winchester in the Ninth and Early Tenth Centuries" returns to the collection's developing focus on the related themes of political and ecclesiastical development.

Niels Lund echoes Kirby's comments on fragmentary evidence in "The Settlers: Where Do we Get Them From--And Do We Need Them?", and applies them to a later part of the Anglo-Saxon period by emphasising the unevenness and ambiguity of much of the evidence for the scale of Viking settlement in England. Simon Keynes's "The Declining Reputation of King Aethelred the Unready" extends its reach into the post-Conquest stages of the transmission of opinion about Anglo-Saxon royal competence. Patrick Wormald's new essay, "Archbishop Wulfstan and the Holiness of Society", is an important contribution to this volume and to late Anglo-Saxon studies in general. Wormald argues for the coherence of Wulfstan's ecclesiastical/homiletic and political careers through a charting of his moves to provide the English Church with a code of canon law. In the Appendix to his essay, Wormald sets out the reasons for deleting "Rectitudines Singularum Personarum" or "Gerefa" and the "Northumbrian Priests' Law" from the Wulfstan canon. James Campbell's essay, "Some Agents and Agencies of the Late Anglo- Saxon State" has a more specifically secular political focus, and argues for a revision of accepted views about the level of commercialisation in urban and military contexts.

The "Special Approaches" section of the collection opens with an essay by Margaret Clunies Ross which is labelled as "Anthropology", but which in fact examines lexical change for signs of shifts in ideology and morality in "Concubinage in Anglo-Saxon England". Martin Biddle's essay, categorised as "Archaeology"--" Felix Urbs Winthonia: Winchester in the Age of Monastic Reform"-- is an example of the study of a single town, tracking its development from the late Roman period to a large urban community with three monasteries. Carol Neuman de Vegvar's "A Paean for a Queen: The Frontispiece to the Encomium Emmae Reginae" is identified as "Art History", but is in fact more than that: in her short essay, Neuman de Vegvar shows how to interpret a manuscript illustration as a documenting of royal power. "Economic and Comparative History" is the slightly unwieldy category label for Peter Sawyer's "Early Fairs and Markets in England and Scandinavia", which explores the distinction between local and international markets, and the connection between the sites of churches and markets or fairs, and thus links social, religious and economic activity and aproaches. "Geography and Geology" are represented by Peter Robinson's "Mapping the Anglo-Saxon Landscape: A Land-Systems Approach to the Study of the Bounds of the Estate of Plaish". Robinson uses charter evidence to provide data for the reconstruction of the occupation of an area, and explains the benefits of this in giving scholars, especially archaeologists, a quick insight into the features of an individual location. Another geographically-focussed essay, "Charltons and Carltons", by H.P.R. Finberg, is the example of "Place-Names" scholarship. Finberg suggests that these Old English/Scandinavian place-names are the sites of the dwellings of the king's husbandmen. The final essay in the volume is in the related area of "Topography and Archaeology": "Stamford: The Development of an Anglo-Scandinavian Borough", by Christine Mahany and David Roffe, which uses the methodologies of history and archaeology to show how the two can work together in the study of an Anglo-Saxon site through to the mid-twelfth century.

In all, the general section of the collection is less problematic than the "Special Approaches" one. All of the essays in both sections are interesting and useful, but-- perhaps inevitably--whilst the general section works well as a set of perceptive and influential pieces on major issues, with a noticeable focus on administrative topics, the "Special Approaches" section seems patchier in its coverage of related and innovative methodologies. For example, although Ross's and Neuman de Vegvar's essays are partially concerned with the analysis of gender, they are not labelled as examples of Gender Studies, and this vibrant and growing category of Anglo-Saxon historical scholarship is not singled out for representation in the collection. Robinson's essay is much more explicitly methodological--in the sense of being about a methodology rather than simply exemplifying its application--than the others in this section, and although its appeal is thus probably narrower than some of the other essays, it is interesting precisely because it articulates how its work of analysis is being done. In a volume of this size, it is impossible to be truly representative of the range of work which can be gathered together as Anglo-Saxon History, and in some ways the gaps revealed by the construction of a "Special Approaches" section highlight just how broad is the range of methodologies currently deployed by Anglo-Saxonists, and should encourage the not-quite-beginning reader to seek out other work.

The general quality of production is good, some small typographical and typesetting errors notwithstanding, and the thorough General Index makes the collection very browsable, and means that its usefulness is not restricted to specialist readers of an individual essay. For a student reader absolutely new to Anglo-Saxon studies, the collection would be too hard-going, but for a student who has acquired a good basic grounding in Anglo-Saxon culture, many important points will be raised, clarified and expanded on by the work in this volume. For a senior or postgraduate student, the volume would be a very good, thought-provoking immersion in important topics, and for a more established Anglo-Saxon scholar, it will provide a useful mapping of the stages of important debates, and some pointers to future directions in the field. Pelteret has gathered a stimulating collection of work whose focus on how to interpret evidence for aspects of daily life at all social levels is a convincing counterbalance to his introductory reminder that "Most Anglo-Saxons fact, textually silent".