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Title: The origins of Anglo-Saxon kingship
Author: Burch, Peter James Winter
ISNI:       0000 0004 5922 9272
Awarding Body: University of Manchester
Current Institution: University of Manchester
Date of Award: 2016
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The origins of kingship have typically been accepted as a natural or inevitable development by scholars. The purpose of this thesis is to question that assumption. This work will re-examine the origins of early Anglo-Saxon kingship through a coherent and systematic survey of the available and pertinent archaeological and historical sources, addressing them by type, by period and as their varying natures require. The thesis begins with the archaeological evidence. ‘Elite’ burials, such as Mound One, Sutton Hoo, will be ranked according to their probability of kingliness. This process will point to elite burial as being a regionally-specific, predominately-seventh-century, phenomenon of an ideologically-aware, sophisticated and established political institution. Consequently, elite burial cannot be seen as an indication of the origins of kingship, but can instead be interpreted as a development or experiment within kingship. Analysis of ‘elite’ settlements, such as Yeavering, and numismatic evidence, will lead to similar conclusions. Further, consideration of various other settlement types – former Roman military sites in Northern Britain, former Roman Towns, and enclosed settlements – will point to various potential origins of Anglo-Saxon kingship in the form of continuities with previous Roman, Romano-British or British power structures. The thesis will go on to consider the historical sources. Those of the fifth and sixth centuries, primarily Gildas’s De excidio et conquestu Britanniae, point to several factors of note. The cessation of formal imperial rule over Britain following c.410 effectively created a power vacuum. Various new sources of political power are observable attempting to fill this vacuum, one of which, ultimately, was kingship. Through analogy with contemporary British kingdoms, it is possible to suggest that this development of kingship in England may be placed in the early sixth, if not the fifth, centuries. This would make the origins of Anglo-Saxon kingship significantly earlier than typically thought. This kingship was characterised by the conduct of warfare, its dependence on personal relationships, and particularly by its varying degrees of status and differing manifestations of power covered by the term king. Further details will be added to this image through the narrative and documentary sources of the seventh and early eighth centuries. These predominately shed light on the subsequent development of kingship, particularly its growing association with Christianity. Indeed, the period around c.600 can be highlighted as one of notable change within Anglo-Saxon kingship. However, it is possible to point to the practice of food rents, tolls and the control of resources serving as an economic foundation for kingship, while legal intervention and claimed descent from gods also provide a potential basis of power. Several characteristics of seventh- and early-eighth-century kingship will also be highlighted as being relevant to its origins – the conduct of warfare and the exercise of over-kingship – relating to the general propensity for amalgamation through conquest. Other trajectories are also highlighted, specifically continuity from previous Roman and British entities and the development of ‘pop-up’ kingdoms. The overall result is one in which long-term amalgamation and short-term disintegration and re-constitution were equally in evidence, set against the wider context of broad regional continuities. Overall, therefore, the thesis will not fully resolve the issue of the origins of Anglo-Saxon kingship, but it does offer a means to re-frame discussion, explore the social and economic underpinnings of kingship and assess its primacy as an institution within early Anglo-Saxon England.
Supervisor: Higham, Nicholas ; Fouracre, Paul Sponsor: Arts & Humanities Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Anglo-Saxon ; Kingship ; Early Medieval ; Late Antiquity ; Kingdoms ; Gildas ; Bede ; Ecclesiastical History ; Tribal Hidage ; Sutton Hoo ; Yeavering ; Rendlesham