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21.12.04 Ashe/Ward (eds.), Conquests in Eleventh-Century England

21.12.04 Ashe/Ward (eds.), Conquests in Eleventh-Century England

The seventeen essays in this volume emanate in one way or another from a conference held in Oxford in 2016 to mark the millennial anniversary of Cnut’s conquest of England, and the 950th anniversary of the Norman Conquest. Its aim was to compare and contrast the two conquests from a multitude of different perspectives, examining “their agents, origins and effects; their mechanics and logistics; their ideologies, hinterlands and legacies” (vii). It is perhaps symptomatic of an often-unconscious historiographical bias that by convention the Norman Conquest of 1066 is usually graced with an uppercase initial, whereas the Danish equivalent of 1016 is in no way so distinguished. In contrast to the advent of Norman rule, it has been widely held that the twenty-six years of the reign of Cnut and his sons were an aberrant interlude that had little impact on the development of English society and politics. Conquests in Eleventh-Century England: 1016, 1066goes a long way to deconstruct this view.

The book is divided into three broad sections. The first, “Conquests, Kings, and Government,” begins with Charles Insley’s apposite question “Does 1016 Matter?”If the historiography says no, then Insley argues that the dearth of diplomas in Cnut’s reign and contemporary Skaldic verse indicate a new warlike identity which, contrasted with the penitential kingship of the late tenth century, fragmented elite society. He concludes that the reign changed how the English kingdom saw its past and left it ill-equipped to deal with the future. Niels Lund, in asking “why England?”, argues that it is merely necessary to follow the money for an answer: the realm was not only rich, but also had a precocious system of local government that enabled a ruler to tap its riches. With his brother Harold as king of Denmark, Cnut saw England as a lucrative prize in the face of competition from fellow countrymen such as Thorkel the tall. Next, Bruce O’Brien contrasts the attitude to English law in both conquests. Although Cnut I and II followed a purge of English opponents, both codes invoked the authority of Edgar’s legislation, attesting an aspiration to embrace existing customs and norms. William the Conqueror’s legislation is more difficult to identify, but there is little to suggest that, murdrum notwithstanding, much was changed either. With invaders in both 1016 and 1066 coming from unsophisticated legal cultures to a well-developed one, continuity in the law is to be expected. Elisabeth van Houts examines the ruling style of the two conquerors and their changing reputations. They were remarkably similar. Both Cnut and William founded churches in expiation of bloodshed, both employed imperial titles, both had able wives who acted as regents. Neither were much loved by contemporary Englishmen, but in the course of time their reputations grew. Cnut was reinvented in some quarters as a most Christian king and William, if not such a paragon, then as a strong ruler. Rory Naismith takes up the theme of continuity in the production of coin. Although the detail is complex, moneyers generally stayed in place over both conquests and little was changed in a highly efficient monetary system. Both monarchs, however, milked the system for all it was worth, Cnut in raising the tribute of 1018 and William in the imposition of monetagium. Finally, in an innovative study of the Liber Exoniensis, Lois Lane reveals the sources of this, the earliest surviving Domesday manuscript, and concludes that it was quintessentially an episcopal enterprise reflecting the central role of bishops in William’s administration.

The second section, “Conquests, Society and Culture,” is somewhat more discursive. Julia Crick looks at the culture of manuscript production. The first conquest saw the development of the divide between Carolingian minuscule and insular for Latin and vernacular texts respectively. Both styles continued to be taught after the second, reflecting, on the one hand, the need for continued access to English texts and, on the other, the survival of an underbelly of English scribes, in a process that contributed to the way in which the Normans became English. The cult of saints was a unifying factor in both conquests. In a study of Durham, Bury St Edmunds, and Canterbury, Sarah Foot shows that English saints were patronized by Cnut and William the Conqueror with mixed motives. Political expediency was a factor, and piety and atonement for sins were also part of the equation. But, above all, there was the awareness of a need to forge a collective English identity. In a revisionary paper John Gillingham reassesses the decline of slavery after the Norman Conquest. Hitherto, the development has been attributed to changes in the economy, the law, and religious sensibilities. Gillingham argues that none of these provides an adequate explanation. Rather he suggests that the answer must be sought in a diminishing supply of slaves in a post-Conquest warfare culture that favoured ransom to enslavement. Catherine Karkov addresses the impact of conquest on material culture. Through an analysis of, inter alia, the picture of Cnut in the Hyde Liber Vitae, she shows how art reacts and responds to political change to assimilate different tastes and values. The final three papers in this section examine the role of women in conquest and settlement. In an essay on the patronage of English queens, Elizabeth Tyler outlines the affinities of the Vita Ædwardi Regis. Although the work was written by a Flemish monk, Queen Edith was clearly a collaborator in a project that was not only in touch with a wider cultural world but was also an innovator within it. Cutting across the usual categories of literary history--period, nationality, gender, and so on--this study places the queen at the heart of a European culture. The changing role of women in royal genealogies is analyzed by Peter Sigurdson Lunga. Anglo-Saxon genealogies deal almost exclusively with male succession. All of that changed with the Norman Conquest. William’s claim to the throne was in part based on descent from Queen Emma and, in the century that followed, women increasingly figured as bridges to male legitimacy in the dynastic struggles of the period. Stephanie Mooers Christelow rounds off this section with an account of the remarkable case of Hawise de Bacqueville (f. 1086). The widow of Hugh fitzGrip, she held a considerable estate in Dorset and seems to have enjoyed a degree of independence that was not experienced subsequently. Her story suggests that women in the late eleventh century were not always ciphers in the legitimization of the tenure for their husbands.

Section 3, “Conquest: Perspectives Beyond England,” concludes the volume. Timothy Bolton provides a synoptic overview of relations between England the European mainland throughout the period. England had never been isolated from this broader world, but, not surprisingly, conquest intensified contacts. Interaction with the Welsh is the theme of Rebecca Thomas’s paper. It centres on a discussion of the career of Gruffudd ap Llywelyn of Gwynedd as it can be perceived through the Welsh annals and the Vita Griffini. These sources are primarily concerned with the legitimization of Gruffudd’s rule, but they nevertheless tell us much about how the Welsh constructed their relationship with the English to the east and a wider “insular Viking zone” to the west. Benjamin Savill makes the case for papal inspired reform in England between the two conquests. The aims of the programme were different from the post-Conquest Lanfrancian reconstruction, but it is clear that the English church was not the irredeemably corrupt institution that Norman propaganda portrayed. Finally, Emily Joan Ward examines Edgar the atheling’s claim to the English throne in the light of the accession of the child kings Henry IV of Germany and Philip I of France in the mid-eleventh century. Age was clearly no barrier to Edgar’s succession to the English throne in January 1066, but Harold most likely reneged on a promise to act as a protector and regent. Edgar was more readily supported following Harold’s defeat at Hastings in the following October, but it seems that, in the absence of his mother Agatha of Hungary, there was no agreement on a protector and Edgar’s bid for the throne foundered.

These papers provide stimulating and sometimes novel insights into the dynamics of conquest in the eleventh century. In large part they fulfil the avowed aims of the conference from which they emanated. Inevitably, there are lacunae. As well-trodden as the subject may seem, an examination of the so-called tenurial revolution of Anglo-Norman England would have been welcome. To what extent were the two conquests so very different? Above all, though, it is the absence of an introduction by the editors that is to be regretted. There are wider themes, both historical and historiographical, that could have been profitably explored. The issue of legitimization and the imbalance of the sources, for example, were surely worthy of further comment. Nevertheless, the editors are to be congratulated for furthering the problem of conquest and its correlates.