18.04.02 , Tyler, England in Europe: English Royal Women and Literary Patronage, c.1000–c.1150

Main Article Content

Emily Ward

The Medieval Review 18.04.02

Tyler, Elizabeth M. England in Europe: English Royal Women and Literary Patronage, c.1000–c.1150. Toronto Anglo-Saxon Series. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2017. pp. xx, 464. ISBN: 978-1-4426-4072-6 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Emily Ward
Darwin College, University of Cambridge

For scholars of eleventh-century English history and literature, the first decade of the twenty-first century can only be described as exhilarating, convincing a new generation of medievalists of the existence of buried treasure. The discovery of a revised ending to the Encomium Emmae reginae in 2008 dramatically altered assessments of the text's purpose and audience. A year later, research into the collections of sixteenth-century antiquaries enabled the reconstruction of a lost poem from the Vita Ædwardi regis, revealing a verse account of the gifts given by Edward the Confessor to Earl Godwine in 1042. In England in Europe: English Royal Women and Literary Patronage, c.1000-c.1150, Elizabeth Tyler integrates these new discoveries into an effective, and eloquent, demonstration of the fundamental place of royal women in the development of English literary culture over the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Readers familiar with Tyler's articles in Viator (2005), Early Medieval Europe (2005), Anglo-Norman Studies (2009), and Review of English Studies (2012) may recognise aspects of her argument. But even those closely acquainted with Tyler's earlier works will find something new here. In revealing a vibrant and innovative literary culture centring around elite lay women, England in Europe makes a significant contribution to re-framing modern perspectives of the eleventh century.

Women such as Queen Emma, whose patronage shaped the writing of the Encomium, and Queen Edith, who commissioned a Vita of her husband, Edward the Confessor, were not distanced patrons with little involvement in the literary works they requested for production. Instead, as Tyler shows, Emma and Edith were central to authorial decision-making. Their agency provided the impetus for the Encomiast and the Anonymous--authors, respectively, of the Encomium and Vita--to strive for new ways of using stories from antiquity to provide contemporary commentaries on fiction and history. Without Emma and Edith, these new developments in eleventh-century literary culture would have lacked not only patronage, but also the necessity for such creative intellectual development, which was intimately connected to the need for careful navigation when representing these royal women.

England in Europe is divided into seven chapters, with sub-headings guiding the reader through the more technical aspects of Tyler's arguments. The "Vernacular Foundations" of the Anglo-Saxon court set the contextual scene in chapter 1. Tyler focuses here on the active culture of translation, copying, and editing of late antique texts in the ninth, tenth, and early eleventh century, discussing Boethius's De consolatione philosophiae, Orosius's Historiarum adversum paganos libri septem, the Epistola Alexandri ad Aristotlem, and the Historia Apollonii regis Tyri. Several thematic strands emerge which are then followed into the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries in later chapters. Elite lay involvement in literary culture comes to the fore, as does audience familiarity with classical stories (especially of Troy), and debates around the value of pagan fabulae as history or educational opportunities. One wonders whether drawing out these analytical strands with a thematic structure might have suited this chapter better, rather than taking the texts one by one. Nevertheless, the earlier context suitably prefaces a more detailed analysis of the Encomium and Vita, reinforcing Tyler's argument that the Encomiast and the Anonymous wrote within a well-developed Anglo-Saxon literary tradition of engaging with late antique texts and debating the use of classical stories.

Tyler's intimate and proficient knowledge of her sources shines through the next four chapters, with chapters 2 and 3 devoted to the Encomium, then chapters 4 and 5 to the Vita. The initial chapter of each pair ("Fictions of Family" and "The Politics of Allusion in Eleventh-Century England") unpicks the literary merits of the text in question, demonstrating how its author used the classical pagan past for contemporary dynastic political concerns. Virgil's Aeneid is appraised as the Encomiast's influential model. For the Anonymous, it is Lucan, Ovid, and Statius who dominate. The Encomium and the Vita then receive a more "historical" appraisal in a complementary chapter which considers issues of audience and social context ("Talking about History" and "Reading through the Conquest").

To begin in chronological order, as Tyler does, with the Encomium. Previous scholars have struggled to reconcile the Encomiast's fictional presentation of Emma's family history with the fact that the author was writing for Harthacnut's court, an audience who would have recognised the flagrant falsity of these claims. One such "fiction of family" is the Encomiast's comprehensive gloss over King Æthelred, to whom Emma was married between 1002 and 1016. This results in an impression of Cnut as Emma's first husband and Edward as Cnut's son (not, as in reality, Æthelred's). In chapter 2, Tyler takes a different approach to the Encomiast's use of fiction, emphasising its open and deliberate nature, seen especially in the author's intentional adoption of a writing style which he saw as unsuited to history writing (69-70). Central to this argument is an understanding of the Encomiast's Virgilian framework and use of allusion. Tyler shows how the author's resort to Virgil was integral to the meaning of the text, allowing the Encomiast to praise Emma through her family and the success of the Anglo-Danish dynasty. In this context, Tyler presents the revised ending to the Encomium as somewhat ineffectual. Hurriedly produced after Harthacnut's death and Edward's succession as king, the new ending blatantly contradicted much of the Encomiast's carefully constructed Virgilian framework. Consideration of the tradition in which the Encomiast came to be so familiar with Virgil's Aeneid arrives rather late in chapter 2. Tyler states that Servius's fourth-century commentary on the Aeneid was "almost certainly known to the Encomiast" (79), but the reader must either break the narrative flow to follow the footnote reference, or take Tyler's statement on good faith and wait until the supporting evidence arrives (92-97). This is a rather trivial point but, organisationally, it would have made more sense for this discussion to come slightly earlier, ideally before the section "Reading Carefully: Virgil."

The Encomium's social and linguistic contexts form the basis of chapter 3. Tyler first advocates for greater consideration of the oral context, or "talking," around the text in order to understand how the Encomium was intended to help Emma in political debates at Harthacnut's court (105-108). The multilingual court context, featuring English, Danish, French, and Dutch vernaculars, made Latin particularly valuable as the choice of language in which to write for the queen. A persuasive case is made for Emma's centrality to the oral lay understanding of the Encomium, and her influence on the way in which the Encomiast deployed the Latin past. Although we know little of Emma's education or knowledge of Latin, Tyler proffers Emma's daughter, Gunnhild, as a closely contemporary example of a lay woman who, whilst not being Latinate herself, could still exploit Latin literary culture for political means (124-126).

With the move to discussing the Vita in chapters 4 and 5, the Anonymous's familiarity with the Encomium can be fully appreciated. Tyler returns to the relationship between the two texts on several occasions to show important continuities and divergences, such as the two authors' use of the same passage from Lucan to work for very different meanings (157). The Vita's most obvious departure from the Encomium is one of form, with the Anonymous choosing a prosimetrical composition, combining poetry and prose, and restricting the Roman story world to verse alone. Tyler's treatment of the Anonymous's poetry in chapter 4, including the newly reconstructed poem detailing the ship and gifts given to Godwine, significantly furthers our understanding of the Vita. Focusing on the more secular poetry found in the first of the Vita's two books, Tyler challenges the view that the text was a straightforward Godwinist account of Edward's reign. Classical allusion allows the Anonymous to present a text with multiple purposes, using different forms to engage with "diametrically opposed (indeed potentially irreconcilable) perspectives on Edward, Godwine, and his sons" (141). The Anonymous's use of Statius's Thebaid is a particularly apposite example of this, with its Oedipal overtones rendering Godwine and Edward as figures for censure (175-180).

Tyler's reconsideration of the provenance of the Vita in chapter 5 underlines Edith's agency as patron, and forefronts the women of the royal nunnery of Wilton as the text's audience. The case for a Wilton audience is convincing. As well as Edith's personal connections to the foundation, the dynastic backgrounds, courtly connections, and Latin learning of Wilton women across the Norman Conquest made them ideal recipients for a text steeped in classical allusions seeking to work for the queen. Particularly fruitful comparisons are made with Goscelin's life of Edith, a daughter of King Edgar who became a nun at Wilton, and his Liber confortatorius produced for Eve, another Wilton nun. Whilst this chapter's primary focus is royal women in England, Tyler emphasises a wider European context in parallels with German nunneries and discussion of the use of bridal mysticism. On this latter point, John of Fécamp's writing for Empress Agnes of Poitou is cited, and Agnes is directly compared with Edith. However, in suggesting that Agnes had taken the veil and "retired" to a nunnery in Rome by 1061 (224), Tyler appears to be unfamiliar with the German scholarship which has long established that Agnes's departure to Rome did not take place until four years later, after her son Henry IV had come of age. [1] Chapter 5 concludes with a re-evaluation of the Anonymous's identity, with several candidates displayed in contention for the Vita's authorship. Although refusing to throw her weight behind any one individual, Tyler seems most convinced by Tom Licence's recent case for Folcard, a monk of Saint-Bertin, as author (249-252). [2]

England in Europe is refreshing in refusing to be bound either chronologically or geographically, an important authorial choice when considering medieval women, to whom normative political and geographical boundaries did not always apply. Turning from a textual examination of the Encomium and Vita to place these texts into a far wider network than ever before, Tyler cements the value of this broad approach in chapter 6, "The Women of 1066." The movement of elite women engendered by the Norman Conquest impacted literary culture in England and across Europe well into the twelfth century, as is clear from Tyler's treatment of Matilda of Flanders and her daughters, the nun Cecilia and Adela of Blois. Engaging with the work of later eleventh-century poets of the Loire school, especially Baudri of Bourgueil and Hildebert of Lavardin, Tyler shows how writing for a lay woman with experience of political power (in this case Adela) once again required authors to seek new frameworks and new uses of the classical past to make their text work for their patron and subject. One factual inaccuracy appears to have escaped correction in a reference to Empress Matilda as "the young wife of the German emperor Henry IV" (298). Matilda was, in fact, the wife of Henry V, as is stated correctly later (303, 347). This is a forgivable slip or typographical error in an otherwise immaculate text.

Tyler's reframing of Edith/Matilda's impact on the production and reception of William of Malmesbury's Gesta Regum is a highpoint of chapter 7, "Edith Becomes Matilda." Building on the work of Joan Ferrante, Tyler crucially shows how writing for a lay woman--and with Empress Matilda's rule in mind--shaped William's search for historical models, and made him acutely aware of the limitations of classical portrayals of women. [3] Faced with a dearth of historical information about some of the royal women featured in the Gesta, William added stories of his own, as when he related the difficulties Æthelflæd faced in childbirth (343-344). The theme of internationalism running throughout England in Europe is revisited in the conclusion, where Tyler considers both the Empress Matilda's decision not to use Latin literary culture for political means and Adeliza of Louvain's role in the appearance of vernacular French writing.

Tyler's dedication to detail, and to painstakingly setting out her argument for the role of English royal women in the development of literary culture across Europe, makes England in Europe a pertinent and convincing text. The book's strong focus on reassessing female lay involvement in textual creation, discussion, and circulation will surely ensure that Tyler's England in Europe remains a standard work for many years to come, as will its importance for those concerned with issues such as the nature of history writing, the relationship between history and poetry, and the use of historia and fabula for political and dynastic purposes. --------


1. Especially Tilman Struve, "Die Romreise der Kaiserin Agnes," Historisches Jahrbuch 105 (1985): 1-29, and Mechthild Black-Veldtrup, Kaiserin Agnes (1043-1077): quellenkritische Studien (Cologne: Böhlau, 1995).

2. Tom Licence, "The Date and Authorship of the Vita Ædwardi," Anglo-Saxon England 44 (2015): 273-285.

3. Joan Ferrante, To the Glory of her Sex: Women's Roles in the Composition of Medieval Texts (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 1997).

Article Details