All That Glitters, Experiment 3
3 weeks ago
Hector Munro Chadwick (1870-1947) was second Elrington and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon in the University of Cambridge (1912-41). Through the immense range of his scholarly publications, and through the vigorous enthusiasm which he brought to all aspects of Anglo-Saxon studies -- philological and literary, historical and archaeological -- he helped to define the field and give it the interdisciplinary orientation which characterises it still. The Department of ASNC, which owes its existence and its own interdisciplinary outlook to H.M. Chadwick, has wished to commemorate his enduring contribution to Anglo-Saxon studies by establishing an annual series of lectures in his name.
The H.M. Chadwick Memorial Lecture, established in 1990, is delivered by a scholar who is invited to Cambridge for the occasion, on a subjected calculated to be of interest to the whole Department.Everyone welcome.
Over the next three years I will embark on an exciting new research project, provisionally entitled ‘Apocalypse and Atonement around the Year 1000: Æthelred “the Unready”’ and Otto III in Comparison’. My intention is to investigate how discourses of penance and apocalypticism influenced kingship and politics at court in England and Germany in the 990s and early 1000s. Specifically, the study will focus on how the rulers of these two kingdoms, Æthelred II (better known to posterity as ‘the Unready’) and Otto III reacted to contemporary apocalyptic and eschatological fears. It has long been noted that a degree of millennial anxiety is visible in this period, and it has likewise long been appreciated that discourses of penance and repentance played an important role at Æthelred’s and Otto’s courts. My intention, however, is to look at the intersection between these two, which has yet to receive detailed commentary. The aim will be to investigate both how fears of the Last Judgement may have helped fuel concerns about penance and atonement, and how on the other hand such apocalyptic anxieties themselves may have been in part a product of contemporary concerns about sin and repentance. It is my contention that these concerns about apocalypse and atonement came together in a unique fashion in the 990s, in part—though certainly not only—in response to the approaching millennium. It is, therefore, no accident that both Æthelred and Otto are known to have performed penance, and equally no accident that in both cases this seems to have taken place in the later 990s.
 That Otto III performed penance is well established and S. Hamilton, ‘Otto III’s Penance: a Case Study of Unity and Diversity in the Eleventh-Century Church’, Studies in Church History 32 (1996), 83–94, surveys the evidence admirably. The evidence for Æthelred’s penance is more circumstantial, but compelling nonetheless. It has yet to receive detailed treatment in print, but will be discussed at length in two forthcoming studies: C. Cubitt, ‘The Politics of Remorse: Penance and Royal Piety in the Reign of Æthelred the Unready’, Historical Research (forthcoming); and L. Roach, ‘Public Rites and Public Wrongs: Ritual Aspects of Diplomas in Tenth- and Eleventh-Century England’, Early Medieval Europe 19 (forthcoming 2011). I am grateful to Dr. Cubitt for making her paper available to me in advance of publication. For the time being, see also her insightful remarks in ‘Ælfric’s Lay Patrons’, in A companion to Ælfric, ed. M. Swan and H. Magennis (Leiden, 2009), pp. 165–92, at 171–5.