09.09.19, Barrow and Wareham, eds., Myth, Rulership, Church

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Heather Tanner

The Medieval Review 09.09.19

Barrow, Julia and Andrew Wareham (eds.). Myth, Rulership, Church and Charters: Essays in Honour of Nicholas Brooks. Aldershot, Hampshire: Ashgate, 2008. Pp. 268. ISBN: 978-0-7546-5120-8.

Reviewed by:
Heather Tanner
The Ohio State University

The title of this festschrift highlights four main areas of Nicholas Brooks' scholarly endeavors. These areas are diverse and expansive, and Julia Barrow's introduction does an excellent job of discussing Brooks' contributions to Anglo-Saxon historical studies and a broad overview of the current issues in each of the thematic areas. Chris Dyer's chapter provides the reader with a personal view of Brooks and his contributions to Birmingham's School of History. The remaining chapters are not organized by the themes of Brooks' interests, in part, because of the overlap among the topics and the use of charters as evidence.

The theme of myth is examined by Barbara Yorke, Pauline Stafford, Sarah Foot and Nick Webber. Barbara Yorke posits that there was "an interest in maintaining and proclaiming aspects of culture that stemmed from their North Sea homelands" in early Anglo-Saxon communities in Britain. The ruling houses used identification with their peoples' origins as part of their effort to establish their authority, and therefore they were promulgated and re-fashioned at the time of the formation of the kingdoms. Pauline Stafford convincingly argues that the group of annals known as the Mercian Register were a reflection of the ambiguities and tensions of the effort to consolidate Mercia into the West Saxon kingdom. These annals, she posits, follow in the Alfredian tradition of annalistic writing and help us better understand the compilation of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Sarah Foot examines the claims made for Aethelstan as ruler of Britain in the Brunanburh poem. Foot revises her earlier argument that the poem was focused on the creation of a sense of Englishness and accepts Brooks' and Simon Walker's argument that it was also about the realm of Britain. Nick Webber argues that while England occurs frequently in the narrative of Norman history from Dudo of St Quentin's tenth-century history, it was not "incorporated into 'Normannitas' until the twelfth century."

The theme of rulership, embedded in the chapters on myth, is more directly examined by James Campbell, Barbara Crawford, Janet Nelson, and Catherine Cubitt. James Campbell's chapter looks at the insights of a largely forgotten nineteenth-century historian, Eben Robertson, whose densely argued work on the three common burdens imposed by Anglo-Saxon kings--fortresses, bridge building, and army service-- foreshadowed the current contours of the debate on these issues. Barbara Crawford argues for the significance of the cult of St Clement in the Anglo-Saxon and Norman periods and its associations with not only maritime trade, urban centers, but also with difficult river- crossings. Janet Nelson, reversing her earlier position that the Second Ordo was designed by Plegmund for Edward the Elder at Pentecost 900, now concurs with Brooks' suggestion that it was designed by Archbishop Athelm for Aethelstan's coronation in 925. Catherine Cubitt examines the role of Archbishop Dunstan as prophet and his use of liturgical curses to achieve his political objectives.

The third theme, the Church, is the subject of the chapters by Susan Kelly, Margaret Gelling, and Alicia Correa. Susan Kelly's article builds upon Brooks' analysis of the expansion of Canterbury's episcopal authority, through an analysis of the See's incorporation of Reculver minister. Correa examines the fragments of an Anglo-Saxon missal found in Oslo and shows how it most probably was brought from Canterbury by a missionary Anglo-Saxon priest or bishop to Scandinavia. Margaret Gelling follows in Brooks' footsteps in combining an examination of charters with place-names and topography in an attempt to identify Stour in Ismere, the subject of a 736 charter of Aethelbald of Mercia.

The fourth and final theme of charters is the focus of the chapters by Simon Keynes, Alex Burghart and Andrew Wareham, and Julia Barrow. Simon Keynes' contribution, honoring Brooks' work as member and then chairman of the Anglo-Saxon charter committee, explains how and where searches for lost pre-Conquest charters might be undertaken. The article is also a very useful summary of the state the cataloguing, critical editions, and publication of Anglo-Saxon charters. Alex Burghart and Andrew Wareham look at the development and use of leases from the ninth century onwards and posit a possible agricultural revolution based upon improved estate management techniques. Julia Barrow's article looks at the relative dearth of episcopal charters in Anglo-Saxon England, the hiatus of charters between 1066 and the late 1080s, and the slowly increasing use of episcopal charters in the twelfth century, which merged features of Anglo-Saxon and French charters in the late eleventh centuries.

It is difficult to provide any overall assessment in conclusion; the collection, while interesting, is a mix of focused specialist studies (e.g. the chapters by Gelling, Crawford, Campbell, Correa, Nelson, and Kelly), broad or rangy analyses (e.g. Yorke and Cubitt), and studies of interest to non-Anglo-Saxonists (e.g. Burghart and Wareham, Stafford, Webber, and Barrow). The articles also vary in tone--some are case studies from a larger project, some are preliminary analyses, while others are tightly argued and self-contained. The collection would be of use to graduate students and specialists of Anglo-Saxon history. The non-Anglo-Saxonist would profit from the chapters that fit into a broader conversation on the role of myth, historical writing, ritual, and charters.

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Heather Tanner

The Ohio State University