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Title: Papal privileges in early medieval England, c. 680-1073
Author: Savill, Benjamin
ISNI:       0000 0004 7430 5798
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2017
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Papal privileges were documents issued in the names of the bishops of Rome, granting or confirming special rights to individual persons or institutions. They comprise a genre of written evidence unique among what survives from early medieval Europe in the breadth of their distribution across both time and space. This thesis investigates their role and function in England up to 1073 and, in so-doing, reevaluates the region's own place within wider continental developments. Studies of the relationship between the early English church and Rome have formed a key component of modern Anglo-Saxon historiography, to some degree conjuring a held truth that the English maintained an exceptionally 'close connection' to the papacy. Yet while studies of Anglo-Saxon diplomatic and documentary culture have stood at the forefront of the past half century of scholarship on pre-Conquest England, this work has not, so far, seriously extended to the analysis of papal privileges. Accordingly, the documentary aspects of this Anglo-papal 'connection' have typically not been afforded the same level of scrutiny, nor rewarded with the same level of insight, as their 'native' counterparts, despite the relative wealth of material available to scholars. This thesis confronts this blind spot in the scholarship. Yet this is about more than simply 'filling in the gaps.' The unique quality of papal privileges - that is, as a recognisably single broad genre of written evidence produced and authenticated at a single location, yet sought by, and issued to, diverse beneficiaries from across the post-Roman west - means they have an extraordinary potential for historians as tools for comparative analysis between different regions. The thesis proceeds in two stages. Part One determines the form, content and function of the surviving corpus of papal privileges in early medieval England. It establishes not only a solid source base for further research through a corpus-wide diplomatic analysis of these documents, but also demonstrates the various processes through which these aesthetically-spectacular instruments were petitioned, drafted, conveyed and confirmed, and the implications of this for further inquiry. Part Two then proceeds chronologically, investigating in turn the four periods for which reliable evidence for the acquisition of papal privileges in England survives: c. 680-c. 715, c. 770-c. 830, c. 960-c.1000, and 1049-73. It looks at each individually as a discrete period by which we might study not only the function and effect of these documents in England, but furthermore take into account the entire, continent-wide corpus of contemporary acquisitions - thus allowing us to think comparatively about perceptions and uses of papal authority. The thesis rejects the idea of a 'central'/papacy-defined meaning or role for papal privileges in the early medieval west, arguing instead for a diversity of uses and 'readings' across England and Europe, in which the intentions, perceptions and frameworks of reference of the beneficiaries and their local/'peripheral' societies were key. It further argues against the use of any simple 'royalist'/'papalist' binary as an explanatory model for this period; and against the notion that (at least in terms of documentary activity) early medieval England had any kind of uniquely 'close connection' or special relationship to Rome. If there was a peculiarly 'special' quality to papal privileges for English institutions in these centuries, it perhaps only came from the comparatively non-routine, even exotic, nature of such acquisitions - something increasingly unusual in light of wider European developments from the mid-ninth century onwards.
Supervisor: Foot, Sarah Sponsor: Wolfson Foundation
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available