Ecclesiastical advice literature in Anglo-Saxon England
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This work focuses on how ecclesiastical writers in the Anglo-Saxon period used their writing to shape political opinion, especially in regard to the duties and roles of kings. Officially, ecclesiastics were prohibited by cannon law to become involved in politics or to hold political positions. Yet at the same time, this same group controlled both the production and dissemination of writing. While ecclesiastics like Bede and Asser produced purely religious documents on the surface, this work shows that they had clear political goals and used their texts to influence both kings and the nobility. These obfuscated goals are revealed by connecting the content of their texts to contemporary political situations and to texts that were influential to the writers, such as Old Testament kingship models. First, the work examines models of kingship revealed in the works of Eusebius and Gildas, two early ecclesiastic historians who would influence later Anglo-Saxons. Then Bede's Ecclesiastical History is placed within the political contexts of Northumbrian succession controversies to show that it was written to criticize a pacifistic and weak king by praising victorious Old Testament war-kings like David. Following this, it is established that Asser's Vita Alfredi draws on Continental models to promote a model of kingship rooted in wisdom and teaching, emphasizing the sacral function of kings. Finally, the work shows how Wulfstan, Archbishop of York advocated for a united Christendom in opposition to paganism, laying the groundwork for holy war.