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Title: Perceptions of peoples in early medieval Wales
Author: Thomas, Rebecca Lynne
ISNI:       0000 0004 7651 3232
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2019
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This PhD dissertation investigates the construction of identities in the early Middle Ages, focusing on three key texts conventionally dated to the ninth and tenth centuries: Historia Brittonum, Asser's Life of King Alfred, and Armes Prydein Vawr. I examine the way these writers constructed ideas of Welsh identity in the wider context of their perception of peoples more broadly. Particular attention is paid to the texts that may have influenced the three sources, investigating, for example, Historia Brittonum's use of the works of writers such as Orosius, Jerome, and Prosper. This thesis also examines the possibility of wider trends through placing the Welsh material alongside evidence from across Europe. I compare, for example, the construction of a Trojan origin legend for the Britons in Historia Brittonum with similar accounts of the Trojan origins of the Franks. In Chapter 1 I investigate the names used for Wales and the Welsh, and suggest that, whilst these texts continued to view the Welsh as Britons, the rightful inhabitants of all Britain, there is nevertheless an indication of the construction of a specifically Welsh identity, focused on the geographical unit roughly equivalent to modern-day Wales. Chapter 2 discusses the relationship between language and identity, considering the use of Welsh place- and river-names in the Life of King Alfred, and the use of English loan-words in both Historia Brittonum and Armes Prydein Vawr. Contrary to the tendency in scholarship to downplay the role of language, I argue that it is a crucial component in the construction of identity. Chapter 3 focuses on the presentation of origin legends in Historia Brittonum and Armes Prydein Vawr. I compare the origins of the Saxons as presented in the two sources to illustrate the recycling and adaptation of material to suit varying agendas, and place Historia Brittonum's origin legend of the Britons in a wider context, examining both the sources used in its construction and its relationship with the origin legends of the Franks. Chapter 4 investigates the writing of history more broadly in Historia Brittonum and Asser's Life of King Alfred, examining the adaptation of material to create a past which suited the construction of a specific group identity. Particular attention is paid to Asser's depiction of the vikings as pagans, in contrast to the Christian Anglo-Saxons. These chapters combine into a coherent whole, offering significant new insights into the construction of identities in early medieval Wales.
Supervisor: Bonner, Ali Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Celtic Studies ; Wales ; Medieval History ; Latin ; Identity