RaGena C. DeAragon

title.none: Wareham, Lords and Communities (RaGena C. DeAragon)

identifier.other: baj9928.0710.033 07.10.33

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: RaGena C. DeAragon, Gonzaga University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2007

identifier.citation: Wareham, Andrew. Lords and Communities in Early Medieval East Anglia. Woodbridge: Boydell, 2005. Pp. xix, 185. $90.00 1-84383-155-4. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 07.10.33

Wareham, Andrew. Lords and Communities in Early Medieval East Anglia. Woodbridge: Boydell, 2005. Pp. xix, 185. $90.00 1-84383-155-4. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

RaGena C. DeAragon
Gonzaga University

An English Heritage co-ordinated review of the British government policies relating to the preservation and promotion of the historical legacy, Power of Place: the Future of the Historic Environment, published in 2000, was the impetus behind Andrew Wareham's study of medieval East Anglia. He was particularly drawn to the report's call for studies of "the historical dynamics of regional communities within a comparative framework of analysis which is initially related to western Europe" and conceived a project consisting of a series of case studies to examine the relationship of Anglo-Saxon lords with the great regional monasteries and the monarchy in tenth- and eleventh-century England. His study takes some account of diversity of ethnicity and social status as he attempts to gauge the reception of royal policies by the regional society and the influences of East Anglian society on those policies.

Wareham's East Anglia includes the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Cambridgeshire, and Huntingdonshire. He invokes a rather harsh but comely view of this region and its society in the tenth to twelfth centuries, with fenland and brecklands, wool sheep and windmills, marshes and uplands creating the background for a wide variety of economic activities for a sizeable and diverse population. What unity then existed came primarily, Wareham asserts, from "ecclesiastical power" (7). For East Anglia, that power was exercised primarily by the great fenland monasteries refounded in the later tenth century. His case studies focus almost exclusively on the abbeys of Ely and Ramsey, with some account of Waltham Holy Cross as well. Among the regional aristocrats he chose Wulfstan of Dalham, ealdorman Ælfgar and his daughters Ælfflæd and Æthelflæd, ealdorman Brythnoth, Tovi the Proud, and Roger I Bigod, to be his primary subjects. A few chapters look at the regional aristocracy as a whole, as in chapter six, "The Formation of Lordships and Economic Transformations during the Mid Eleventh Century." That chapter, more than the rest, moves back and forth frequently across the divide of 1066.

Wareham states that he employed the case-study method in order to avoid "one of the classic weaknesses of regional studies," which he considers a collection of facts rather than "a clear scholarly project that...continually test[s] facts against hypotheses" (xiv). He is aware of some of the problems with the case-study approach, as he can only provide a "selection of examples" and employ one method per case. As there are no best or most common examples, he tries to give "representative events." We have to take his word, however, that these are indeed representative. Wareham does little to compare them with other studies of East Anglia or other parts of England, although he does make frequent and interesting comparative reference to studies of contemporary continental societies. Case studies are most helpful when we can judge whether that case was typical or the exception.

One problem with the case-study approach is that it can make a book's organization choppy, with chapters insufficiently connected. This can be overcome by using various techniques, particularly a strong introduction and unifying thesis. Ultimately, Wareham states that the case-study method is useful in evaluating "the development of aristocracy and society in relationship to the feudal transformation" (7). This is the closest the author apparently gets to stating an overall thesis, and it is undermined by the fact that he fails to define or explain adequately the "feudal transformation" in the introduction. The same is also true for other terms he employs in the introduction, such as Königsnähe. The volume would have been better served had much of the material of the epilogue been incorporated into the introduction.

While Wareham occasionally seems to have had in mind an audience with limited knowledge of Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman history, this book is clearly written for specialists in often less-than-felicitous prose. He has adopted some of the stylistic qualities of much social-scientific prose, perhaps influenced by the studies in historical anthropology he cites. This style, combined with too-frequent use of passive voice, unclear antecedents, and occasionally questionable logic, can present reading challenges. (A series of probable statements cannot support a certainty statement, as on p. 32.) Nonetheless, Wareham's case studies are well-researched and analyzed, and thus valuable contributions to later Anglo-Saxon and East Anglian history. He takes some account of women's agency and gender issues, particularly in the chapters in which Ælfflæd and Æthelflæd appear. His strongest cases deal with the period from the late tenth to early eleventh centuries; his weakest may be the post-Conquest chapter on Roger Bigod. Judging by the data on Table 26, his claim that Bigod made good in large part due to his management skills doesn't seem to hold water. Perhaps Wareham should play to his greatest strength: his in-depth knowledge of later Anglo-Saxon society.