A fun story about dead kings!

My favourite kind of story. Over at Heavenfelth, Michele talks about the humble and very much dead King Oswine, who was murdered by King Oswiu after a period of intrigue involving battles that never happened and treasonous retainers. She also talks about the reasons why Bede might have included this story in his history.

What interests me about this story, though, is that Oswiu’s queen, Eanfled, was Oswine’s cousin.  So she demanded weregild from her husband – it was to be paid in the form of the foundation of a monastery at Gilling. Now, as Michelle notes, Oswiu had seriously pissed off the church by killing Oswine, so Eanfled probably had some powerful churchmen backing her demand. But it’s interesting to me that the demand was framed as weregild, not merely as penance; and that a wife could claim weregild from her husband for the death of a cousin. I don’t recall ‘found a monastery’ ever appearing in any of the law codes on weregild that I slogged through, although obviously this is a couple of centuries earlier than said codes. But that still leads me to conclude that this is a very odd social/legal transaction, and all the more interesting for it.

Besides, as Michelle noted in the comments, that means that the monastery of Gilling was founded to pray for both Oswine (murdered) and Oswiu (murderer). There’s a special sense  of narrative coherence to that.

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6 Responses to “A fun story about dead kings!”

  1. Jonathan Jarrett Says:

    I hadn’t actually thought of the oddity of monastery as weregild in this case because this kind of deal is very common in Leonese documents, with which I am just about more familiar (though this has been changing lately). Actual legal compensation is almost never paid in the surviving records, there’s always some way round it, and there is an argument to have (which I usually have with Graham Barrett) about whether this is reflective of actual practice or just that the documents we have are preserved by churches and monasteries and so naturally enough we only have cases evidenced that involve land-grants to churches. Formularies might be more informative here if we only had any from England…

    • highlyeccentric Says:

      Hmm. See, I’ve only read *law codes* on this matter, and it’s true that law codes only bear vague resemblance to actual practice… I suppose one could go through all the monasteries we know of and whatever records we have of them, looking for those which may have been founded as weregild…

      • Jonathan Jarrett Says:

        An easier approach, perhaps, might be to take a quick run through Patrick Wormald’s hand-list of lawsuits and see how many of them had compensation payments set, and then look in the archive that holds that lawsuit for the concerned parties…

        • highlyeccentric Says:

          When in doubt, Patrick Wormald!

          (What are you doing awake at this hour of the night/morning? It’s what, 2am? Not a time to be thinking about medieval lawsuits!)


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