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Anglo-Saxon saints' lives, history and national identity

Lewis, Katherine J. (2004) Anglo-Saxon saints' lives, history and national identity. In: History, Nationhood and the Question of Britain. Palgrave Macmillan, New York, USA, pp. 160-170. ISBN 1403912963

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In many works dealing with national identity and national consciousness it
has become commonplace to restrict discussion of these to the post-medieval
period. Indeed, following Benedict Anderson's influential Imagined Communities,
the very possibility of the nation is often predicated on the decline of the
Middle Ages (Anderson, 1991). This approach has been challenged and criticised
by many medievalists, who note that it is testimony to wider perceptions
of the homogeneous otherness of the medieval past Johnson, 1995; Davis,
1998). To quote Carolyn Dinshaw: 'In some very influential theoretical and critical work developing out of postmodernism, the Middle Ages is still made
the dense, unvarying, and eminently obvious monolith against which modernity
and post modernity groovily emerge' (1999, p. 15)...

Item Type: Book Chapter
Additional Information: UoA 62 (History) Copyright © 2007 Palgrave Macmillan Ltd
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D111 Medieval History
D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
D History General and Old World > D History (General)
Schools: School of Music, Humanities and Media
Related URLs:

1. Although see Pearsall (2001) for the argument that these developments should not
be seen as part of a steadily growing sense of national identity.
2. Janofsky (1991) and Frederick (2000) do consider saints' lives and national identity,
but both focus on an earlier period.
3. This idea of England's past is distinct from the notions of a British past that emerge
from the hugely popular Arthurian legends, for instance. Medieval writers faced problems
trying to resolve the British Arthurian tradition and Anglo-Saxon history into
one narrative of the nation's past. Indeed, the name and idea of 'Greate Brytayne'
was often subsumed into 'Englond' for a variety of political and cultural reasons,
although this did not go unchallenged. Elaboration of this point is well beyond the
scope of this essay; see Ingham (2001) for further discussion.
4. Further evidence for fifteenth-century interest in native saints not considered in this
essay is provided by the Nova Legenda Anglie (New Legendary of England) generally associated
with the author John Capgrave (1393-1464). See Horstmann (1901) for a
modern edition.
5. The exceptions are the lives of Edward the Confessor and Erkenwald, which are
contained in only one of the three manuscripts and are placed elsewhere in the
6. Augustine was not an Anglo-Saxon, but he initiated their conversion and his life gives
an account of the early history of Christianity in England, so he is justifiably included
in this list. He is also referred to in other of the Anglo-Saxon saints' lives.
7. The lives of two post-Anglo-Saxon English saints are also included, both Archbishops
of Canterbury, Edmund Rich (c.1175-1240) and Thomas Becket (1118-1170). Issues
of nationalism and national identity play a role in their lives too, but as this essay
focuses on Anglo-Saxon saints, they do not feature in this analysis.
8. Lavezzo (2003) was published too late for me to consult in this essay.

Depositing User: Sara Taylor
Date Deposited: 13 Dec 2007
Last Modified: 28 Jul 2010 18:22


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