Thursday 5 May 2016

1016, England and the Wider World

Rebecca Thomas and Albert Fenton write

On Saturday the 16th of April the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic played host to a conference commemorating the death of Æthelred ‘the Unready’ in its final addition to a series of anniversary conferences. ‘1016, England and the Wider World’ was the third instalment in the successful ‘Writing History: Battles and the Shaping of the North Atlantic World’ series which saw conferences commemorating the Battle of Clontarf in 2014 and Cnut’s re-invasion of England in 2015.

An exciting day of papers opened with a key-note lecture by ASNC’s Professor Simon Keynes, who re-examined Æthelred’s reputation, from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle to depictions of the payment of the infamous ‘Danegeld’ and the ‘Massacre of St Brice’s Day’ by turn-of-the-century artists.

 (Æthelred II paying tribute to the Vikings; from Hutchinson's Story of the British Nations from the early 1920s)

There was some opportunity to further consider whether Æthelred has been unfairly treated by historians over coffee, before we were presented with a session on ‘Greater Britain’. Dr Alex Woolf (University of St Andrews) provided an exhaustive account of the evidence for Cnut's connections to the kingdom of the Scots and the House of Bamburgh, whilst Dr Caroline Brett (ASNC) explored the political make-up of Brittany in the tenth and eleventh centuries, using the evidence of charters, chronicles and narrative sources to assess the Breton's contribution to the so-called 'feudal revolution'.

For the afternoon we turned our attention to the ‘wider world’, with ASNC’s Dr Elizabeth Rowe exploring the domestic politics of Denmark in the late tenth and early eleventh centuries, focusing on Harald Bluetooth’s reign, kingship, and the nature of his overlordship. Dr Levi Roach (University of Exeter) brought the session to an end, placing Æthelred’s reign in context, and exploring a range of fascinating links and comparisons with his Continental counterparts.

All three of the conferences in the series invited a speaker to discuss a more recent anniversary, succeeding in drawing some interesting parallels and contrasts in methods of commemoration, and placing our own conferences in a wider context. In the final instalment we were treated to a discussion of the battles of the First World War by Professor Robert Tombs, a historian of modern France (University of Cambridge), as he examined the changing memory of the war, and the mediums through which it was expressed. This second key-note lecture was a fitting end to a day of papers which brought together different methods and approaches in an attempt to cast further light upon the events of a thousand years previously.  

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