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Writing conquest: traditions of Anglo-Saxon invasion and resistance in the twelfth century

Christopher H. Flack

University of Minnesota: Doctor of Philosophy, September (2013)

Writing Conquest examines the ways in which Latin, Old English, and Middle English twelfth-century historical and pseudo-historical texts remembered and reconstructed three formative moments of Anglo-Saxon invasion and resistance–namely the so-called adventus Saxonum or the invasion of the Germanic Angles, Saxons, and Jutes (mid-fifth century), the Battle of Brunanburh (937), and the Norman Conquest (1066). In light of the stark social, religious, political, and cultural upheaval of the twelfth century, the narrative representation of these moments, as Writing Conquest argues, functioned as touchstones by which post-Anglo-Saxon, twelfth-century authors could explore questions of power, identity, and the relationship between the past and present. In some contemporary narratives depicting the events of the Norman Conquest, for instance, Harold Godwinson’s death and burial is used as a tool to express the superiority of the Normans and the subjection of the English more generally; in the twelfth century, however, such a simple binary erodes as authors struggle to reclaim their Anglo-Saxon past and integrate it with their Anglo-Norman present. Whereas previous studies have analyzed these moments of conquest, invasion, and resistance largely in isolation, Writing Conquest contextualizes them both inter- and intratextually; in so doing this study sheds new light on how the literary tradition of these foundational moments developed diachronically, but also how individual twelfth-century authors–such as William of Malmesbury and Henry of Huntingdon–responded to and reshaped these narratives to fit their ideological and literary contexts. Additionally, Writing Conquest responds to recent scholarship that has destabilized the boundary between history and fiction in twelfth-century writing by pairing more traditionally historical narratives with largely fictional constructs–like Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae, or the anonymous Vita Haroldi. In this, Writing Conquest provides a unique, and systematic, literary analysis that comprehensively articulates how invasion and resistance survived as textual memory.

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