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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The Codex Eyckensis and other things seen in Europe

This post is a present for the person who keeps searching ‘Anglo-Saxon Embroidery’.

These are the Maaseik Embroidery (or pieces thereof), the oldest surviving Anglo-Saxon textile remains. I gathered, from the signage in the church as translated for me by my guide, that they were either the work of Sts Harlindis  and Relindis, or were possibly sent *to* them and sewn into a garment. However, the SCA, who have a good description of the embroideries and seem to have read some scholarly work on the topic, are telling me that the embroideries postdate the good saints H&R.  Either way, there are far better photos here.

And that is the Codex Eyckensis, the oldest Codex in the lowlands. It’s pretty. And also really nifty in its hybrid of different decoration styles.

Europe: it’s surreal

I slept for about 12 hours last night. Over (very belated) breakfast with my hosts, we had this conversation:

Host C: How about we go to Aachen tomorrow, it’s a bit late in the day now…
Host A: Mkay.
Host C: We could go to Thorn instead today!
Host A: *odd look* You’re very set on Thorn, aren’t you?
Host C: Well, it looks pretty, and your mother told me something about, about protecting noble ladies, it sounds interesting.

“Something about protecting noble ladies” turns out to be the Abbey of Thorn – a late 10th century establishment, of which little to none of the original buildings survive. It was established first as a Benedictine by Hereswind, and her husband, Bishop Ansfried of Utrecht. Later on, in the 12th century, it seems to have become – and I’m hazy on this, I’m going from Wikipedia and the signage at Thorn as translated by my non-medievalist hosts, one of whom lacks the technical terminology in English and one of whom lacks it in Dutch – a… convent of sorts for noblewomen rather than a strict Benedictine foundation? Very exclusive and very wealthy, at any rate. They were a sovereign entity and the smallest state in the Holy Roman Empire, and the abbess had a seat in the Reichstag.

Stained-glass window of Hereswind
Hereswind – stained-glass window (I don’t know the date) in the Romanesque cryped (12th c.) of Thorn Abbey. [Ed: She’s sideways. Battery dying, will fix later.]

Also, in the Gothic crypt of the Abbey church, there’s a forearm of St Benedict of Nursia.

I’m not sure how to process the fact that I could trot off to some place because my friend thought it sounded interesting, and just happen upon the forearm of St Benedict.

After we’d finished in Thorn host A thought that Maaseeik sounded like fun. Maaseik, he says in the car on the way over there, has the oldest codex in the lowlands. The Codex Eyckensis just happens to be in Insular style (although continental production, and some of the decorations were distinctly Not Insular At All). I was rather pleased to have figured that out to my satisfaction by examining the digital display of the scripts and the decoration, before I found an information board about the ‘handscriften’ and made Host A. translate it for me.

I also just happened to see the oldest extant Anglo-Saxon textiles, also in Maaseik. And the oldest privately owned apothecary in Belgium, which was being refurbished and therefore not actually very interesting.

And a baptismal font, made by Bishop Wilibrord on the site of a former Woden Pit.

Wilibrord's baptismal font

Tomorrow, adventures in Aachen! Host A. is already making “if we have time…” noises so who knows what else we might just happen across.

EUROPE: IT’S VERY SURREAL. YOU KEEP FALLING OVER HISTORY EVERYWHERE.

Rare Anglo-Saxon Embroidery Find

Via Scribal Terror: Extremely rare fragments of Anglo Saxon embroidery from Worcester, nearly 1,000 years old and hidden away for decades, are currently being painstakingly restored and conserved by specialists.

… Tantalising too, is the real possibility that they may have been part of vestments which belonged to St Wulfstan, Bishop of Worcester from 1062 until 1095. The 1,000th anniversary of his birth is being celebrated this year.

Photo at the Scribal Terror link; more information at medieval material culture.

(N.B. St Wulfstan is Wulfstan II of Worcester, not Wulfstan II of Worcester and I of York, who is the Wulfstan I normally natter on about.)

What is ‘Wulfstan’s Commonplace Book’?

Helloo, Blogoverse! I just finished the introduction to my thesis, and am bouncing off the walls. In an endeavour to calm down and get some sleep, let me share with you my historiographical introduction to the study of Wulfstan’s ‘Commonplace Book’. Please excuse the talking-up of myself at the end, I’m told it’s necessary, in order to justify one’s writing a thesis at all, to situate onself in relation to the best scholarship in the field. Also please excuse the inexplicably tiny text, no idea why it’s done that to me.

Mary Bateson, in 1895, first identified four manuscripts, including Nero A.i(B), which contain a common collection of canon law and ecclesiastical tracts in Latin. She posited that the Commonplace Book was a sort of scrapbook for a bishop’s personal use, as a guidebook in diocesan administration.[1] A substantial part of the Latin writings in these manuscripts comprised what was known, on the basis of medieval and early modern textual errors, the Excerptionese Ecgberhti. The Exerptiones have now been shown to be a collection of canon law by earlier authors, not distinct from the similar texts around it, and collected by Wulfstan himself rather than his predecessor Ecgbert.[2]

Dorothy Bethurum repeated Bateson’s assessment of the ‘Commonplace Book’ in her edition of the Homilies,[3] and in her seminal article, ‘Archbishop Wulfstan’s Commonplace Book’, identified a group of eight manuscripts, including Nero A.i(B), which contain a similar series of Latin works, dealing with the affairs of a bishop in administering a diocese. Her opinion was that three of these were compiled during Wulfstan’s lifetime; Nero A.i(B), British Library Cotton Vespasian A.xiv, and Copenhagen Royal Library Gl. Kgl. S 1595. [4] (Another manuscript, held in Rouen, has been added to the list in 1992,[5] and another in Bodleian Ms Barlow 37.[6]) Subsequently, Bethurum systematically worked through the evidence for Wulfstan’s own use of the Commonplace Book, finding numerous examples of large and small excerpts used in Wulfstan’s Anglo-Saxon writings.[7]

The dominant approach to the study of this manuscript group, until Patrick Wormald, was in this vein. Mary Bateson had seen the Commonplace Book as a personal administrative tool for a bishop; Dorothy Bethurum then went on to show that Wulfstan personally used the collections of Latin ecclesiastical writing as a core resource for his Anglo-Saxon compositions. H. R. Loyn, in his introduction to the facsimile edition of Nero A.i(B), applied the same principle to the Anglo-Saxon texts therein, pointing out that the manuscript contains an almost comprehensive survey of English law up until the rein of Cnut, and was thus ‘an indispensible source-book’ for Wulfstan in the composition of his final law code, I-II Cnut.[8]

Patrick Wormald, in his article ‘Archbishop Wulfstan and the Holiness of Society’, called for a change in the focus when it came to the study of these manuscripts. In his study of Nero A.i(B), he demonstrates that Wulfstan’s compilation of Latin ecclesiastical matter is by no means a simple collection of sources for further writings: rather, it represents an early attempt at a comprehensive collection of canon law, comparable to those of being composed on the Continent at the time, although less well structured than its European counterparts.[9] Furthermore, he argues that the Anglo-Saxon portion of the manuscript is not only a collection of English legal writing, but ‘the realisation in secular law’ of the teachings found in the canon law collection.

Canon law collections are not meant to be used by one man alone as a reference work: they are intended to be circulated in the present and to be referred to into the future. Wormald, in ‘the Holiness of Society’, notes that the revisions of Nero A.i(B), combined with the fact that section a went on to a life of its own after removal from the main texts, suggests a ‘production line’ for the composition of such manuscripts.[10] In The Making of English Law he went one step further, suggesting that perhaps Nero A.i(B) was not originally a single manuscript, but two or more books or parts of ‘books intended not to make a point… but to serve a purpose’.[11]

This is the direction in which the study of the ‘Commonplace Book’ manuscripts is proceeding: the study, not of Wulfstan’s personal literary sources, but the study of collections of texts made for his lifelong purpose, the restoration of Christian social order in England. The ‘Excerptiones’ have been re-edited as Wulfstan’s Canon Law Collection, in which Cross and Hamer present not an editorial attempt to reconstruct Wulfstan’s personal exemplar, but two distinct recensions of the collection, which more accurately reflects its circulation in the late Anglo-Saxon period and subsequent centuries. I, for my part, have examined the Anglo-Saxon part of the manuscript, and the claims Wulfstan makes within the vernacular text about the use and purpose which he intended for his books.


[1] Mary Bateson, ‘A Worcester Cathedral Book of Ecclesiastical Collections’, The English Historical Review 10 (1985), pp. 712-731.

[2] Wormald, ‘Holiness of Society’, pp. 196-203.

[3] Dorothy Bethurum, The Homilies of Wulfstan, p. 99.

[4] Dorothy Bethurum, ‘Archbishop Wulfstan’s Commonplace Book’, PMLA 57 (1942), pp. 916-929.

[5] J. E. Cross, ‘A Newly-Identified Manuscript of Wulfstan’s “Commonplace Book”, Rouen, Bibliothèque Municipale, MS. 1382 (U. 109), fols. 173r-198v’, Journal of Medieval Latin 2 (1992), 63-83.

[6] Wormald, ‘Holiness of Society’, p. 197.

[7] Dorothy Bethurum, ‘Archbishop Wulfstan’s Commonplace Book’, PMLA 57 (1942), pp. 916-929.

[8] Loyn, A Wulfstan Manuscript, p. 48,

[9] Wormald, ‘Holiness of Society’, p. 202-3.

[10] Wormald, ‘Holiness of Society’, p. 195.

[11] Wormald, The Making of English Law, p. 202.

Professorial Quote of the Day:

The Bocera explains to his second-year class why Anglo-Saxons create themselves a ‘martial-arts version of Christianity’ (that’s not his quote, that’s from a paper K, my insider source on all things second year Anglo-Saxon studies, was reading):

It is necessary to construct a warrior Christ, as in Dream of the Rood and Christ and Satan, because the Anglo-Saxon heroic ethos respects courage, defiance, and most definitely not letting yourself get murdered by your enemies.

This, the Bocera intones, is because Christianity is a religion for looooosers.

(In the best Germanic sense, that is.)

St Edmund: Christian martyr, Germanic loooooser.

Full credit to the Goblin, K, Eggs Maledict and Pixie, who reported this gem of professorial insight to me.

To the Students of “Myths, Legends and Heroes”:

I assume you’re responsible for the sudden spate of AElfric-related search strings which have been bringing people to this blog, particularly the ‘aelfric cult of saints’ string and the ‘St Eadmund’ string.

For those wanting to know about English attitudes to the Vikings- there are some half-decent sources out there on that, but not much (that I know of) in the way of scholarly sources online. Sadly, almost everything which is of use to you in book form is currently either loaned out to me or to K (which is why I know about your assignment, as she is in MLH with you), and as your essay is due on Tuesday you’re not going to get hold of it by then.

When it comes to St Edmund, you might as well give up- K tells me there is one article out there on the depiction of the Vikings in the St Edmund homily, but I don’t know the citation for it since I didn’t look at Vikings when I worked on Edmund. Best to work from your lecture notes or come up with your own interpretation.

Instead of googling, I recommend you use the Old English Bibliography Database to find articles which you can use for your essay. You will need to register- put down your university as your affiliation, and then you’ll need to read their ‘how to search’ instructions as the search function is a bit complicated. But that will find you everything written on Old English lit or history up to 2004.

If you are going to research using google, can I please encourage you to consider some principles for using online sources before doing so? I know all of your teachers: your lecturer is my supervisor; one of the tutors is my mentor and the other two I like to consider friends. (“Some Principles” was vetted by said mentor, so you can trust it as a reliable guide to reliability). They are none of them silly people; they will notice if you’ve plagiarised or used unreliable sources. For the love of Bede, do not use anything from this blog- don’t plagiarise, they can all use google, and don’t cite me, they all know who I am. Finally, if you do use any online source, please consider the example citation which I gave in “Some Principles”. Your markers will feel less like strangling you if you have all the appropriate details in your citation.

Yours Sincerely,

Highlyeccentric.

P.S. If any of you are doing the ‘decay and destruction’ question, can I recommend the Sermo Lupi ad Anglos? I think it’s not a text about Viking invasion so much as about social decay. One day, I will write a paper or a thesis or a book about this, but for now, consider it a free idea and I’ll be glad to have influenced young minds.