Saintly side of nascent medieval nationality

The Medieval State
August 24, 2001

James Campbell of Worcester College, Oxford, is best known to a non-specialist audience as the editor and co-author of a popular and scholarly illustrated book, The Anglo-Saxons. He is justly honoured in this book, The Medieval State , a series of essays by students and colleagues on a strikingly pertinent and wide-ranging theme.

While the administrative precocity of the English state in the 12th and 13th centuries has long been recognised, Campbell's boldness has led him to extend such power back into the late Anglo-Saxon period, emphasising the power the English state wielded over the raising of revenue, the making of law and the ability to harness the support of its subjects. The editors' theme, moreover, is a doubly well-chosen one as it acknowledges Campbell's own knowledge of the later middle ages, expressed in an early paper, and thus allows the contributors to honour his teaching as well as his research and to trace issues of state development throughout the medieval period, both in Britain and on the Continent. Campbell's quest for late Anglo-Saxon governmental efficiency and a "political nation" is wide-ranging in its scope. It deals with the creation of political identities through the writing of history and the patronage of saints' cults as well as more familiar inquiry into administrative structures. Such concerns are mirrored in the 14 papers offered in The Medieval State .

Alan Thacker's study of patron saints in the early Middle Ages covers Italy, Francia and England and illustrates how, in an atmosphere of regional particularism, saints' cults could reaffirm but also transcend local allegiances. Gregory the Great, for example, was venerated as a peculiar patron of the English despite the fact that he was not a local saint.

Pre-conquest England is also recalled in J. R. Maddicott's comparative essay on Northumbrian and West Saxon expansion. The focus here is on access to material resources and continental trade as well as a wider "culture" of the frontier. Pre-Viking Northumbrian expansion was underpinned by silver, cattle and maritime links to the south. Wessex gained more permanent settlement from expansion but lacked access to wealth and was ultimately more dependent on expansion into old lands.

Alexander Grant's essay on "The construction of the early Scottish state" combines observations on the ideological construction of statehood with a thorough analysis of early Scottish institutions and estate management. Campbell's ability to open up a single document and allow it to paint a wider picture is well demonstrated in M. K. Lawson's essay on the hillock scene from the Bayeux tapestry, which underpins Campbell's "maximalist" view of the late Anglo-Saxon state by focusing on the ability to mobilise a powerful and flexible military system.

Mark Philpott draws attention to the rather neglected subject of Eadmer's knowledge of canon law and illustrates how Eadmer effectively rewrote the history of the early English church through his reconsideration of the career of notable pre-conquest bishops such as Wilfrid.

Such insights reveal Campbell's own concern to explore the problems presented by the different genres of history and hagiography, evident in early published papers on Bede and the Anglo-Saxon conversion process. They are well complemented by Richard Fletcher's study of 12th-century Spanish historical writing, which echoes an essay by Campbell himself on Anglo-Norman perceptions of the pre-conquest past. An inmate of the community of San Isidoro in Leon sought to commemorate Alfsono VI in the Historia Silense . He never fulfilled his purpose, but the surviving material with its emphasis on Spain's godly past, the piety of its kings and the cultivation of learning served as a tract for his times in an atmosphere of particularism and "barbarian" threat.

Michael Jones concentrates on hagiography in a peripheral zone: Brittany. His discussion of the politics of Breton sainthood, in an analysis of the cult of the Breton duke, Charles of Blois, shows how the 14th-century Breton civil war could find expression in attempts to create "political" martyrs and opened the duchy to wider, more central-interest groups such as the papacy. Jones deftly compares the hagiographical material with the ducal acta, thus juxtaposing source materials often considered separately.

Charles Insley considers another "peripheral" zone through acta : 13th-century Wales. Insley manages the materials well, handling such fundamental matters as the number of surviving acta, their provenance and the princely titles used, while simultaneously considering wider issues about the existence of a Welsh secretariat and the penetration of Welsh charters by Anglo-Norman diplomatic forms. He clearly shows how an understanding of Welsh diplomatic history casts light on the rise of Gwynedd.

Robert Stacey focuses on another means of constructing identity: the creation of outsiders, in a study of "Anti-Semitism and the medieval English state". Twelfth and 13th-century England lay at the forefront of Christian charges of Jewish ritual crucifixion and cannibalism. The minority status of Jews was highlighted through their absence in the pre-conquest state, while murder charges were proliferated by judicial eyres and governmental efficiency.

D. M. Palliser's wide-ranging essay covers the political life of English towns through the entire post-conquest period, W. M. Ormrod seeks to examine the extent to which a "fiscal policy" was present in England and the Plantagenet empire between 1259 and 1360, and John Hudson focuses on a particular monarch in a thorough and penetrating analysis of "Henry I and council".

David Morgan's piece on Tamerlane is entertaining and instructive while also highlighting the geographical breadth of the volume. Finally, Craig Taylor's piece on the complex diplomatic situation surrounding Brittany's relations with the French crown after the English attack upon Foug res (1449) again explores the theme of the relationship between royal authority and local privilege and independence.

The book is prefaced by three introductory essays: an insightful analysis of Campbell's qualities as a historian by Patrick Wormald; a witty appreciation of him as a tutor by David Hargreaves; and a warm assessment of him as a long-standing colleague at Worcester by Harry Pitt.

The Festschrift is often a hit-or-miss affair. It can be a hearty feast of scholarship or a dog's breakfast. Fortunately, thanks to a well-chosen theme and meticulous editing, this book falls into the former category. Its central themes - the creation of political identities; the relationship between local elites and central, royal government; the managing of economic resources; and the attempt to control conflict - resonate through recent scholarship on the medieval state. The inclusion of chapters on Germany, Ireland and, above all, more thorough treatment of the Carolingians would have been welcome, particularly as much important work has recently been done on all three. Wider issues of the legitimacy of discussing the "state" in the Middle Ages could also have been addressed, perhaps in a short introductory essay.

The book is, however, a fitting tribute and an admirable addition to a burgeoning historiography on the medieval state. Those who read it in its entirety will reap rewards.

Simon Coates was formerly British Academy postdoctoral research fellow, King's College London.

The Medieval State: Essays Presented to James Campbell

Editor - J. R. Maddicott and D. M. Palliser
ISBN - 1 85285 195 3
Publisher - Hambledon Press
Price - £35.00
Pages - 262

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