Use this URL to cite or link to this record in EThOS: https://ethos.bl.uk/OrderDetails.do?uin=uk.bl.ethos.821548
Title: The function of writs in England before the Norman Conquest
Author: Fenton, Albert
ISNI:       0000 0004 9359 7810
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2020
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Abstract:
This doctoral thesis offers a sustained re-examination of the corpus of Anglo-Saxon writs, a group of over 120 vernacular documents that survive predominantly from the later tenth and eleventh centuries, and which were issued by kings alongside a range of non-royal individuals. These short, nimble, epistolary-form texts contained an address clause that greeted the constituents of a regional or local court, or occasionally a single individual, and articulated an announcement or instruction. Such announcements typically regarded grants of land and clusters of associated privileges, but they also dealt with a variety of other issues including disputes over taxation and the possession of land, notifications of ecclesiastical appointments and permissions to create documents. Methodologically, the thesis employs an inter-disciplinary approach, drawing on the insights of palaeographical, diplomatic, art historical and inter-textual analyses. In doing so, it focuses sharply on the question of the function of these documents—attempting to elucidate their use and setting in the contemporary world of late Anglo-Saxon politics, kingship and court culture. Chapter One introduces the pre-Conquest writ corpus, providing a definition of this diplomatic typology alongside a historiographical overview and methodological outline. Chapter Two moves on to deal with the transmission and preservation of Anglo-Saxon writs, analyzing aspects of the nature and appearance of writs preserved as ‘original’ single sheets, and writs entered into manuscripts in a contemporary or near contemporary hand. This is followed in Chapter Three by an inter-textual analysis of the component diplomatic parts of the pre-Conquest writ, namely the protocol or address clause, the main announcement clause and the additional clauses (prohibitions, sanctions, valedictions etc.). It seeks both to describe and to understand the range of possible influences on writ diplomatic forms (for example, influence from other typologies of charter as well as legal and epistolary discourses), the relative stability and dynamism of these forms, and the question of their performativity, particularly in relation to the prevalent use of Old English alliterative formulae. Chapter Four considers the material and textual evidence for the association of Anglo-Saxon writs with seals (apparent in the collocation gewrit and insegel or ‘writ and seal’)—and interrogates the material evidence for the use of seals in pre-Conquest society, as well as textual evidence for the functions of such sphragistic devices. In Chapter Five, the thesis returns to the question of the legal function of writs with an analysis of the terms that constitute the legal register of many pre-Conquest writs: for example sake and soke, toll and team and their associated constellations. This chapter will also consider the important sub-group of writs issued by individuals other than kings, placing them in the wider context of the participation of non-royal élites in diplomatic practices. This is followed by the conclusion. Throughout the thesis, Anglo-Saxon writs are considered within the wider context of other genres of charter writing in both Latin and the vernacular, with a view to understanding how diplomatic forms interacted, and how writs functioned as part of a wider system of administration and governance in late Anglo-Saxon England—one that relied upon the production, use, performance and re-performance of written texts.
Supervisor: Keynes, Simon Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID: uk.bl.ethos.821548  DOI:
Keywords: Early medieval history ; Anglo-Saxon history ; Diplomatic ; Charters ; Writs ; Seals ; Sigillography ; Sphragistics ; Legal culture ; Political culture
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