CeSMA Seminar: Elizabeth Tyler on ‘Lay Vernacular Literacy in the Court of Edward the Confessor: The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle ‘C’ and the Vision of Leofric’

6th December 2016

We were very lucky to have Elizabeth Tyler of the University of York at our seminar last term, talking about the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. This talk was part of a wider programme of research that aims and destabilising the idea of Anglo-Saxon England as a ‘receiver culture’, arguing instead that it was a small but culturally influential region and we should see it as a part of Europe, rather than separate.

In her talk, Elizabeth Tyler argued for the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle C-version (MS Cotton Tiberius B. i) as a complete text, a carefully crafted compilation with a political agenda. This ‘ambitious court discourse’ was aimed at promoting Leofric to his king, Edward the Confessor, and the texts within it work in conversation to achieve this.

The period between Cnut’s death and Edward the Confessor’s accession was complex and turbulent with many disputes for succession. Earl Godwin was a powerful political figure at the time, and he initially didn’t support Edward the Confessor. In fact, the two of them appear to have been in conflict with one another.Godwin was continually resented and resisted by Edward, despite being married to his daughter. Edward appears to have aligned himself with Leofric as an attempt to try to dilute some of Godwin’s power. We can see the patterns of this in ASC C, which promotes Leofric and his family.

The C-version of the Anglo-Saxon chronicle reflects this. This is somewhat to be expected, because chronicle-writing was part of the ‘political sparring’ of the court culture at the time, but it isn’t just the ASC C-version in the Tiberius B.i manuscript that serves to promote Leofric – it’s the whole manuscript.

The whole manuscript is a universal chronicle, not just a collection of histories. It connects England, Imperial Germany and Northern France in this period. It does  become more local as it gets closer to the present day, but it creates a sense of universality by linking these disparate elements together. This manuscript – Leofric’s own version of history – is reflective of the culture of intellectual ambition, and the political value this held, at the Anglo-Saxon court. It engages with a long and wide tradition of universal history-writing, too, which stemmed from the German empire and shouldn’t been seen as an isolated or introspective process.

 

 

 

 

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