17.03.14, Sweetinburgh, eds., Early Medieval Kent, 800-1220

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Courtnay Konshuh

The Medieval Review 17.03.14

Sweetinburgh, Sheila, ed. Early Medieval Kent, 800-1220. Kent History Project, 10. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2016. pp. 347. ISBN: 978-0851-1558-38 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Courtnay Konshuh
University of Saskatchewan

This book is the tenth and final volume in the Kent History Project, completing the series and filling the gap between the last two volumes, the 2010 volume Later Medieval Kent and the 2007 volume The Archaeology of Kent to AD 800, and was launched at a conference held at Canterbury Christ Church University on 3 September, 2016. Supported by Kent County Council and published by Boydell, this volume is a welcome addition to the series, filling out a period that, as many of the authors assert, was critical for the further development of Kent. Sheila Sweetinburgh, who also edited the 2010 volume on the late medieval period, emphasises the importance of a volume covering this era in her introduction, as the period witnessed the rise of ecclesiastical power, the development of settlement patterns and landholding customs, and the establishment of urban centres, most of which retained their importance throughout the medieval period and into the present day. This volume draws attention to the wide range of sources uniquely available in the county of Kent for the early medieval period.

What is especially valuable about this book is the wide range of methodologies used throughout. This book is truly interdisciplinary, profiting from the number of excavations conducted over the past twenty years, clear in the meticulous bibliography and many of the chapters, as well as work on place-names, manuscripts, and narrative and architectural evidence. Because of this wide variety of approaches, the volume has essays which focus on periods, themes and regions, such as the topics of lordship, landholding and settlement (articles by Draper and Brookes), and the Kentish church (Powell, Heath, and Berg). It also includes case studies on Canterbury, a centre of regional and national importance throughout the medieval period (Brooks, Bennett and Berg, and Weekes; Berg's monastic article also fits in this category). Finally, Sweetinburgh's selection of Kentish place-name elements from Paul Cullen's PhD thesis rounds off the volume. Two events loom large in many of these essays: the Viking predations and sack of Canterbury in 1011, and the Norman Conquest of 1066. Despite the damage incurred (it was probably the Viking raids that led to a decline in monastic culture), Canterbury and Kent recovered quickly each time, maintaining strategic and economic importance within England, and ultimately remaining the centre of English Christianity.

Sweetinburgh's introduction outlines lordship and landholding from 597 through 1220 to give a background for the subsequent essays. She points out that while the number of monasteries was reduced to only the communities at Dover, Canterbury and Rochester after the Viking attacks, and despite aristocratic incursions of the Godwines and under Duke William, land remained concentrated in the church and various tenant holdings, a theme that will resonate in many of the essays in this collection and is ultimately the source of Kent's ability to maintain a strong identity. Andrew Richardson's article, "What Came Before: The Kingdom of Kent to AD 800," focuses on the nature of Kentish identity, which persists as a distinct identity to this day, and developed from the fifth to the end of the eighth century. He asserts that there was migration from Jutland, south Scandinavia, and the North Sea coastal zone under Frankish influence, but that by the end of the fifth century they had all come "under the control of an elite group who were able and keen to demonstrate a Jutlandic or North Sea coastal zone identity" (30) with a strong affinity to Frankish culture. Based on their distribution along waterways, he suggests some or many of these groups may have been part of a Frankish attempt to gain a foothold via strategic coastal waterways. Regardless of their origins, these migrants created strong centres capable of supporting high quality craftsmanship, and established an extensive trading network based around the wics, royal control of rich estates, and a political centre in Canterbury. These qualities led to Kent being so desirable that it was conquered by Mercia and Wessex in the eighth century.

The next two articles by Gillian Draper outline expansion of settlement in the countryside and in urban centres. Draper looks at settlement by region, and attributes patterns in settlement to population growth and interest in extending arable lands, as well as to the special nature of the Kentish tenurial system, which allowed great freedom of movement for tenants. This in turn contributed to the dense urbanisation which is the topic of the next chapter. Kentish towns arose from the seventh to eighth centuries due to trading surpluses, and remained important ports both for local and overseas trade and fishing. She focuses on the early towns around Wantsum channel, as well as Canterbury, the Cinque Ports, Rochester and Medway valley towns. For both her studies, there are two watersheds: the abondment of coastal minsters sites during the Viking age, and the significant topographical changes resulting from the Norman Conquest. Stuart Brookes' article, limited to Viking-Age Kent, describes the development of lordship throughout the Viking Age with a focus on civil defences. He discusses Alfredian burhs, and looks at Sandwich and Dover's defences, attributing them to second Viking age under King Æthelred. Concluding that these later defences were probably less effective because there was no overarching policy like that depicted in the Burghal Hidage, Brookes then considers further settlement, for example of reclaimed marshes. His conclusions that nucleated and short-term settlements suggest limitations on manorial lordship agree with Draper's. Brookes sees real changes in settlement density from the eleventh century onward, as well as clearer legal systems and towns as the centre of well-developed trade networks.

Powell's essay on Saints, Pilgrimage and Landscape explores how the cult of saints and pilgrimage practice changed from the early double monasteries and local saints' cults, to the ostentatious spectacle that was Becket's translation. Powell's analysis begins with place-name evidence that may suggest the reuse of pagan sites for early Christian sites, and focuses on the Old English and Latin "Life of Mildrith," the only real narrative to describe early Anglo-Saxon practice, a source that Powell believes presents an accurate picture. By 1100, most Kentish saints had been relocated by Benedictine reformers or Normans, or forgotten. Normans were initially "wary" of AS saints, but came to endorse them, also often translating them and having new vitae written. Kent's monasteries in Rochester, St. Augustine and Christ Church spearheaded these new movements in the Norman period, which were quickly emulated throughout the rest of England. Diane Heath explores the development of monastic culture from 597 to 1220 at the twin foundations in Canterbury, focusing on material culture produced over these centuries, including buildings, manuscripts, liturgy and cults of saints. She highlights the renovatio of Wulfred's archiepiscopate (early ninth century) and his push towards Roman liturgy, following the Carolingian model and anticipating the Benedictine Reform. After the devastation caused by early-eleventh-century Viking predations, little is known until the Norman arrivals, especially Lanfranc, reformed Canterbury and Heath speculates a complete turnover by 1091, the time of the rebuilding of the abbey and the corresponding translation of, among others, Augustine and Mildrith. From the archiepiscopate of Anselm, Heath sees increased engagement with the laity, agreeing with Powell. Berg's article on the architecture of Kentish churches proceeds from the premise that Kentish churches were especially important to Norman conquerors because of Kent's strategic location and status in the English church. While local thegns lost their lands and were replaced, the church saw more continuity. New appointments, starting with Lanfranc, led the rebuilding of the fire-damaged Cathedral in the "Norman" Romanesque style; due to limitations on available building stones there was no great programme of building until the twelfth century. The erection of hospitals and the foundation of new priories mostly followed and continued unabated despite turmoil at the beginning of Henry I's reign and during the Anarchy. The twelfth century also saw a range of Cluniac monasteries being built in the continental Cluniac style. Berg sees strong Norman influence until the mid-twelfth century, when this began to be complemented by other continental styles and English architecture began to reassert itself.

The articles which focus on Canterbury all explore how locals dealt with overlords and conquerors. In one of his last articles written before his death in 2014, Nicholas Brooks takes stock of his time as Chairman of the Anglo-Saxon Charters project and gives an overview of the early charters of Christ Church, Canterbury (as published in Brooks and Kelly, eds., Charters of Christ Church Canterbury, 2 vols., Anglo-Saxon Charters 17, 18 [Oxford, 2013]). He focuses on charters 2, 12, 53 and 169 from the latest volume, with colour images of 12 and 169, to show how Kentish archbishops and aristocracy accommodated external rulers from the seventh century to the Conquest. Bennett and Berg's article on eleventh-century Canterbury looks at the two "Viking" incursions, defining "Viking" to include Norman, an unnecessarily problematic re-definition. They use documentary and archaeological evidence to explore the impact of the 1011 siege of Canterbury which culminated in the martyrdom of Ælfheah and the Norman Conquest. Their analysis shows that both the Vikings and Normans used the submission of Kent as an important step in ensuring the submission of England, and that each time, Canterbury quickly recovered, and if anything, strengthened, its position as leading Christian site in England. Weekes seeks to re-evaluate the topography of Angevin Canterbury, comparing archaeological evidence with Urry's study (Urry, Canterbury under the Angevin Kings [London, 1967]) to sketch the growth of Canterbury in the twelfth century. His innovative analysis is a synthesis of various archaeological reports, especially cess and rubbish pits. He posits several interesting things like locations of marginalised communities, such as a Jewish and Scandinavian enclave, and districts for the poor and destitute near the walls. Based on this evidence, he sees a "spatial pattern of early interests on the part of the Crown, the archbishop, the priory and the abbey" (242) and "urban officialdom," and an expanding mercantile area, reflecting competition for space. He asks a great many questions but this seems an excellent application of a new methodology.

The final two articles look at Kent over the entire period. Cotter gives an overview of the huge amount of pottery found, focusing on its significance. Despite the tumultuous changes the rest of the articles deal with, pottery remains mostly unchanged throughout the period, with some developments in the twelfth century, such as the introduction of wheel-thrown pottery. The location of most kilns is still not known and Cotter concludes a great deal of work is yet to be done. Sweetinburgh's final piece is a selection from Paul Cullen's doctoral thesis on the place-names in the five lathes of Kent. While Cotter is working on the English Place-Name Society volume for the county of Kent, Sweetinburgh brings a selection from the lathes of St Augustine and Shipway. A substantial description of river names is followed by a broad range of Old English place-name elements.

The book in total is an extremely valuable collection for the early medieval period, useful for those interested in Kent in particular or in the application of regional studies to other areas of England. The date range for this book, the period 800-1220, is a little mystifying; as the last volume of the series, this is the period that had not been previously covered, but one wonders if it would not have been useful to set a slightly wider period. The closing date of 1220, the translation of St Thomas of Canterbury to the new shrine at the east end of the cathedral, makes perfect sense as a temporal boundary, but the selection of the year 800 seems slightly arbitrary. While Kent was no longer an independent kingdom by then, most of the developments integral to the early medieval period, be they in church structures, settlement, lordship or identity, have their roots in the sixth to eighth centuries. Many of the authors go back that far, especially Powell, who locates her analysis of pilgrimage in the Mildrith legends; Heath's chapters are based on early settlement, and of course the chapter by Richardson gives an overview of Kent to 800. John Williams' (ed.) 2007 volume in the series, The Archaeology of Kent to AD 800, covers pre-history through to 800, leaving only Martin Welch's chapter to cover the entire early Anglo-Saxon period. As part of an archaeological volume, Welch's chapter naturally focuses on archaeological evidence for early Kentish identity. Without an emphasis on this early period, the series does not explicitly cover the history of the migration period; as this is precisely the period in which Kent stands out in Britain for its rich array of diplomatic evidence, including laws, canon law and charters (Brooks does discuss one pre-800 charter in his essay), it is a strange gap. Indeed, the early Kentish laws are not to be found in this volume, neither in the content nor in the bibliography. The development of early Kentish records and bureaucracy are an important aspect of Kentish lordship and identity that remain out of the scope of this series.

This does not detract from what is an excellent volume with strong, cohesive ties between the articles and conclusions that resonate across many of the articles. The entire book gives a sense of how church and state operated in tandem, steering the development of Kent through a period of upheaval and conquest, and allowing Canterbury to maintain its primacy in the English Church. The book is well made with beautiful full-colour images of manuscripts, material culture, and several useful maps, most notably 3.1 (66), a map of medieval Kent including towns and rivers. Some of these studies are accessible for a general or introductory audience, while some have a more specialist audience in mind, making this book useful to anyone interested in early medieval England.

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