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13.10.06, Roffe, ed., The English and their Legacy, 900-1200

13.10.06, Roffe, ed., The English and their Legacy, 900-1200

This work is a collection of essays in honor of Ann Williams, who is perhaps best known for her excellent and important book, The English and the Norman Conquest, but who has written widely on Domesday Book and on the late Anglo-Saxon period. It is not surprising, therefore, that the various contributions in this book, written by former students and fellow scholars, focus on the late Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman periods. After a brief introduction by David Roffe, the first contribution is a short tribute by Stephen Church, which nicely captures Williams' influence as a teacher as well as a scholar. Several of the early essays in this volume take a prosopographical approach, which is particularly fitting since Williams herself has often used that approach. Lucy Marten reconstructs a noble late Anglo-Saxon kin group based on the byname Svart, or Black, and though bynames can be tricky as markers of kinship, her reconstruction is convincing. Marten then shows how this kin group adapted to the changing political circumstances of late Anglo-Saxon England, though it mostly failed to weather the Norman Conquest. Hirokazu Tsurushima studies the moneyers of Kent from the reign of Edgar to that of Henry I, combining what little can be known of them from the documentary evidence with what the coins themselves reveal. In doing so he provides further evidence for just how wealthy and important some moneyers could be. In a somewhat confusing article, Valentine Fallan links some of the individuals listed by Wace as companions of William the Conqueror to families involved in the Anglo-Norman civil war of the middle of the twelfth century and links Wace himself to the Wac or Wake family.

Other articles in the collection deal with estates and boundaries. Vanessa King painstakingly reassembles what can be learned about the history of a set of estates connected with Bredon, which was itself first the site of a minster and then of an important episcopal estate in the diocese of Worcester. Pamela Taylor uses some very local sets of boundaries in an area where Middlesex, Essex, and Hertfordshire meet to raise questions about the development of the administrative units known as hundreds in the late Anglo-Saxon period. Charles Insley combines prosopography and the study of estates in a piece on Wulfric Spott, founder of Burton Abbey, based on that important nobleman's detailed will. Although Wulfric was active after the West Saxon kings had incorporated Northumbria into what was becoming England, Insley makes the intriguing argument that his family's estates had been constructed as a kind of marcher lordship between Mercia and Northumbria in the period in which the kings were trying to gain dominance in the north.

The other essays in the collection cover a wide variety of subjects and employ a number of approaches. William Aird, author of a biography of William the Conqueror's son, Robert Curthose, offers some reflections on writing the biographies of medieval figures. Simon Keynes places the burial of Aethelred the Unready at St Paul's in the context of the surprisingly varied burial sites of late Anglo-Saxon kings, and argues that Aethelred's burial in London was fitting in light of the importance of that city in the resistance to the Danish invasions of his reign. Keynes also discusses a later inscription placed at the tomb in the context of the king's posthumous reputation. Sally Harvey points to the two very different weights of coinage issued during the period of the 1051-1052 crisis and notes the relationship between these weights and the coinages used respectively in Boulogne and Flanders at the time. She uses this observation to make a necessarily speculative but fascinating argument that part of what was at stake in that crisis, which initially pitted Eustace of Boulogne against Earl Godwine--who had many Flemish connections--was rivalry over trade routes and continental alliances. Katharine Keats-Rohan seeks to undermine the orthodox view that Bishop Odo of Bayeux was responsible for the Bayeux Tapestry by arguing that it was in fact commissioned by Archbishop Stigand for Odo as part of Stigand's failed effort to gain favor with the new regime. Her hypothesis might explain why Stigand's former ally, Harold, is depicted surprisingly favorably in the Bayeux Tapestry's account of the Norman Conquest, and would account for the surprisingly pro-English slant many scholars have detected in the work. However, it also raises questions. Why should Stigand's effort target Odo rather than King William himself? Why would Stigand not distance himself more from Harold and cleave more closely to the Norman view in order to ingratiate himself with the new regime? Ultimately, therefore, I remain skeptical, but scholars of the tapestry will need to take her argument into account.

David Bates explores the interest of the Norman chronicler and historian, Robert of Torigni, in English history, stressing his heavy reliance on Henry of Huntingdon but also showing how Robert fit into the broader framework of Anglo-Norman historiography. As Bates stresses, Robert is particularly useful for providing a Norman view of England and its relationship with Normandy. Emma Mason discusses various later responses to Earl Waltheof, who was executed by William the Conqueror for involvement in a conspiracy, in sources ranging from twelfth-century histories to skaldic poetry to an Anglo-Norman poem, Waldef, which had almost nothing to do with the historical figure but used his famous name. David Roffe studies what can be learned in Domesday Book and later sources about English landholders who survived the conquest in Lincolnshire. He sides with Ann Williams' relatively optimistic picture of English survival among landholders against a more pessimistic view that has been advanced by other scholars, including me. Roffe does characteristically good work here, and adds a handful of surviving families in Lincolnshire to those already known, no easy task, as I am in a better position than most to recognize, given the paucity of evidence. To his credit, he also provides a few new pieces of evidence that work against his view. Ultimately, for reasons too specific to go into in a review, I am not convinced that his arguments fundamentally change the picture, but this is a debate in which much depends on extrapolating from limited evidence, and therefore it is no surprise that serious scholars might disagree. Mark Hagger provides a fascinating overview of the social and symbolic uses of food and feasting in the Anglo-Norman world, taking the Bayeux Tapestry as his starting point but covering a broad range of sources. Stephen Church returns with some ingenious detective work into several related topics, including the relationship between the exchequer and the medieval chessboard, the history and the nature of the exchequer cloth that was purchased yearly from the twelfth to the nineteenth century, and the reproduction of the now lost illustrations of the Irish exchequer in the fifteenth century. The volume ends with a bibliography of Ann Williams' publications through 2011.

As will be apparent, most of these essays are fairly narrow in scope. This is not a criticism. Only through careful case studies of specific topics can historians build up a broader picture of a society that is suitably dense, nuanced, and well-grounded. As some of the contributors themselves note, one of Ann Williams' strengths is her ability to move between different levels of focus, and to use the study of very specific issues to illuminate broader ones. These essays, which will help increase our understanding of Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman society, thus provide a fitting tribute to an important and influential historian.