17.04.09, Hoofnagle, The Continuity of Conquest

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Ivana Djordjevic

The Medieval Review 17.04.09

Hoofnagle, Wendy Marie. The Continuity of the Conquest: Charlemagne and Anglo-Norman Imperialism. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2016. pp. viii, 193. ISBN: 978-0-271-07401-6 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Ivana Djordjevic
Concordia University, Montreal

The Continuity of the Conquest is a welcome contribution to the growing body of work on the symbolic aspects of Anglo-Norman kingship and its representation by twelfth-century writers. Over the last few decades a great deal has been written about the ways the Norman newcomers to England, both royal and aristocratic, legitimized their conquest by presenting themselves as the Anglo-Saxons' lawful heirs or, in a more emphatic version of the argument, as the Anglo-Saxons themselves. The forms this take are varied, ranging from the adoption of locally venerated saints to the elision of the Conquest in insular romances, whose heroes sometimes inhabit a notionally Anglo-Saxon world while displaying distinctly twelfth-century attitudes. Without minimizing the Anglo-Normans' symbolic investment in their insular predecessors, Wendy Hoofnagle enriches the picture by studying "the Normans' debt to an idealized, even legendary, interpretation of Charlemagne's imperium" (2).

Chapter 1, "Conversion Politics and the Ideology of Imperialism," begins in the latter part of Charlemagne's reign, when the ideal of kingship shifted from military power to spiritual leadership: the admirable king is now one who peacefully converts pagans to Christianity and thereby civilizes them, encouraging their assimilation by the promise of wealth and power-sharing. The new policy of allurement rather than coercion relies heavily on pageantry designed to dazzle the conquered, impressing on them at once the futility of resistance and the benefits of compliance. Hoofnagle singles out baptisms, coronations, submission rituals, royal feasts and hunts as especially suggestive stagings of the civilizing power of the imperium. The way Charlemagne used this kind of "soft power" (19) to strengthen and expand his dominion, filtered through the adulatory literature that turned him, over the years, into a legend, becomes "an integral part of the Normans' own ideology of kingship" (29) even before their conquest of England, and is eventually adapted in twelfth-century writers' portrayals of the Anglo-Norman realm as an "emerging courtly civilization" (20). Hoofnagle traces these developments from Alcuin through writers who cast a nostalgic backward glance at Carolingian greatness, such as the Poeta Saxo and Notker, to Dudo of St. Quentin's glorification of Rollo and his Norman descendants as divinely ordained empire builders. Once the Norman dukes become English kings, this legendary and semi-legendary material is deployed to support their claims to be the land's rightful rulers, their self-image as civilizers, and their expansionist policies towards England's non-Anglo-Saxon neighbours. Hoofnagle's principal examples are William of Malmesbury, Geoffroi Gaimar, and Wace, but she also makes good use of the Chanson de Roland and the bull Laudabiliter as quoted by Giraldus Cambrensis. Because many medieval rulers, including the kings of Anglo-Saxon England, liked to model themselves on the Charlemagne of legend and historiography (which often actively fed the legend), Hoofnagle makes sure to differentiate between Carolingian and Anglo-Saxon influences, pointing out that different aspects of this idealized construct appealed to different cultures of kingship: the Anglo-Saxons thus emphasized "the sacral aspects of Charlemagne's rule," while the Normans were more interested in "imperial expressions of power" (5). The rich textual material is read perceptively, connections between historically distant materials are drawn with care, and whenever I began to wonder if the evidence could quite bear the weight of the claims being made, I would find, on the very next page, a convincing explanation of why it could.

In chapter 2, "Making Their Mark: The Imperial Ideology of Topography," Hoofnagle shifts her attention from imperial rituals as symbolic texts to Anglo-Norman rulers' symbolic uses of the physical environment, notably their imitation of Charlemagne's building programme (the chapter opens with William of Malmesbury's claim that Hereford Cathedral, newly rebuilt in 1080, was modelled on the imperial basilica in Aachen), their exploitation of "the ideological possibilities of the via regia" (58), and their extensive castle building, already much discussed in earlier scholarship. Rome is a major presence in this chapter, which shows the Normans as savvy heirs of the Carolingians' exploitation of Rome's prestige, of which the Roman practice of building in stone is just one example.

An important part of Rome's legacy was its extensive road building programme, as much an expression of power, Hoofnagle reminds us, as a response to practical needs. Its symbolism was deepened by Carolingian writers like Alcuin, who drew on the biblical idea of the via regia to bring together and place under the royal aegis principal highways, peace-keeping, and a broader, more abstract idea of justice, ultimately hinting that imperial expansion under a righteous king can count on divine support. Following this complex of ideas into the twelfth century, Hoofnagle understandably spends much time discussing Henry of Huntingdon, who developed, in his Historia Anglorum, the "myth of the Four Highways" (64), using it to emphasize "the strength of the king's laws, which unite the entire island, including Wales and Scotland, in peaceful coexistence" (65).

From roads Hoofnagle turns to castles, often, as she points out, read as little more than visible reminders of military occupation; for her, they too express, rather, "a desire for legitimacy and imperial continuity" (72). Like roads, castles exploit the symbolic power of Rome, combined with the practical use of Roman spolia in new buildings, "to project an image of imperial power" (72). Hoofnagle scrupulously acknowledges Anglo-Saxon influence throughout, but takes pains to differentiate between Anglo-Saxon repurposing of Roman materials, limited mostly to sacred buildings, and the Normans' secular endeavours, part of their empire-building and meant, among other things, to elevate London's glory above Rome's. This is what allows her to argue that there is something specifically Carolingian in post-Conquest building programmes: she sees them echoing Charlemagne's understanding of translatio imperii, in which his authority is in no way inferior to Rome's, on the contrary. And it is in a similar key that she reads, plausibly, Arthur's failure to conquer Rome in Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia: the Britons, too degenerate at this point to deserve imperium, inevitably yield to the Saxons, who will themselves ultimately be conquered by the Normans, deserving inheritors of the imperial project, alive as ideology though by now territorially severed from a Rome viewed as increasingly irrelevant. While this part of Hoofnagle's argument is globally persuasive, momentary slips occasionally threaten to undermine larger claims and sources are at times mined for evidence a bit too selectively, not always taking into account the broader contexts, textual as well as historical (patronage, shifting political affiliations, especially during the chaotic years of the civil war in the 1140s and early 1150s), and their implications.

It was especially in the third (and shortest) chapter, "Taming the Wild Beast: A New Look at the New Forest," that I would have liked to see some more light shed on historical and political contexts. In this final chapter, the exploration of symbolic landscapes is more closely focused on the forest as a "politicized...theatre of royal power" (90) and a stage of activities such as the ritualized royal hunt, which Hoofnagle describes as "a performance of the king's supremacy" (95). Instead of being always placed in the service of kings, however, this "idea of the forest derived from Carolingian ideals" (90) also helped writers examine "conflicts resulting from abuses of royal authority" (17). While readings of the twelfth-century forest as a politically charged symbolic space are not new, Hoofnagle adds to them her overarching concern to establish Carolingian precedents and connect them persuasively to Anglo-Norman practice. As she is the first to admit, this is not "a clear-cut exercise that reveals a definitive paper trail" (91), and it is understandable that not all her readings are equally convincing. Her treatment of Gaimar's account of William Rufus's death, for example, while insightful in general, would have gained from more systematic consultation of the introduction and notes in Ian Short's definitive edition and translation of the Estoire des Engleis. (More attentive use of Short would also have helped prevent some mistranslations, e.g. when baptismal gifts (enges) are rendered as "angels" (137, n. 138) or when a distribution of alms (departie) becomes a "send-off" (104).)

While Hoofnagle's argument in all three chapters may occasionally come across as less than entirely persuasive, it is consistently engaging and stimulating. This cannot be said of the surprisingly rough short epilogue, in which the author tries to connect her own central argument about Anglo-Norman use of Carolingian symbolism to discussions about "the emergence of a new 'English' identity" (113). Hoofnagle here appears to return to the promise made at the very end of her introduction: she would show that "the resurgence of an idea of 'Englishness' in the later Middle Ages must be viewed in its context as a consequence of the Anglo-Norman imagination and experience as much as a reaction against it" (17). Between the introduction and the epilogue, however, Hoofnagle hardly ever discusses Englishness. (This is largely a good thing, both because the promised thesis has been amply rehearsed in recent scholarship and no longer needs demonstrating and because the omission helps keep the argument focused.) This final section, which feels like a hasty abbreviation of something more substantial and more carefully wrought, is more confusing than enlightening, especially in its treatment of texts from British Library, MS Cotton Caligula A. ix. (The bibliography suggests that additional works from the same manuscript, Layamon's Brut among them, were meant to be studied in some depth but were omitted in the end.)

I am inclined to blame the editors for this disappointing conclusion, because there is evidence throughout that Hoofnagle was not well served by them. A few passages (and endnotes) are repeated verbatim, sometimes on the same page. Typos are relatively infrequent, but can be misleading, as when Eleanor Searle's book on predatory kinship is once referred to as Predatory Kingship. It is not always clear whether translations from Latin and French are Hoofnagle's own (generally reliable, in spite of a few slips like the ones I mentioned above) or borrowed. The bibliography is especially problematic. A couple of primary sources are hard to find because they are listed under the editor's name even though the author's name is known, several others because they have ended up in the "Secondary Sources" section of the bibliography. More than a dozen sources referred to in the endnotes are not in the bibliography at all. Others are, even though they are never mentioned in the text. Authors' first and last names get mixed up (Bruce O'Brien is just "Bruce" in an endnote), and books and articles end up misattributed, so that, for example, the same article appears twice, under the names first of John Blair (the actual author) and then of Philip Rahtz, while Elizabeth Salter is credited with an article published before she was born and written by H.E. Salter. All these issues, which editors should have flagged for review and revision, make it hard for the reader comfortably to pursue the many questions opened up by Hoofnagle's interesting and often illuminating book.

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