Thursday, July 13, 2017

God Speed the Plough: "About the ordering of ritual vessels, I have some knowledge; but warfare I have never studied."

Not really  a review, so much as a meditation
We don't really do literary histories of Anglo-Saxon England, any more. The texts are known,  their exegesis secure. It's possible to have a literary controversy over them, but what they are trying to say about the history of Anglo-Saxon England seems more-or-less settled. Mark Atherton isn't the revisionist sort --he's not even a historian-- but he definitely thinks that the texts would benefit from a more serious examination. I've flippantly played with the idea of reading the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles with the same attention given to the Springs and Autumns, and the title is the key quote from the Analects on the Confucian art of war. That is, accepting that Master Kong does not answer Duke Ling flippantly, a true understanding of military affairs begins with the proper ordering of ritual vessels. Get rulership (morally) right, if you want to have a large army, the Sage is bluntly explaining. 

In much of what follows, I am assuming that the "praise and blame" in the Chronicles is there, but carefully disguised, because it pertains to ecclesiastical interventions into secular politics. We wall off ritual from politics and warfare at our own risk. Says Atherton, not me!

Besides picking up Atherton's monograph on the new books carousel at the library the other night, this post is mainly inspired by the Gustafson fire north of 100 Mile House, which has left me just a little pissed with your average global warming denier, of which we have an excess in the country to our south. The night before I began writing this post, the fire prompted the evacuation of the entire town. My sister, nephew and niece had left several days earlier, but it is still an open question whether they will have a home --or even employment to return to. Even family lawyers need some kind of local economic base in which to operate. 

Anyway, global warming deniers are sometimes Americans, and Americans live in the country to the south of Canada, and on 22 August, 1138, on Cowton Moor, near Northallerton, The Most Reverend Thurstan, Archbishop of York, advancing before a caroccio carrying the Sacred Host and adorned with the sacred banners of York, Beverley and Ripon (but not of Durham), encountered David, son of Malcolm, King of Alba, Prince of Cumbria, styled Earl of Northumberland, in arms. His Grace was victorious on the day, but, on 26 September, Cardinal Alberic, Bishop of Ostia, arrived at Carlisle to negotiate a peace in which David was confirmed in Northumberland, his son, Henry, in Huntingdon and Doncaster; and the bishop of Glasgow was relieved, forever, of his suffragen dependence upon York. 

This last bit is the "proper ordering of ritual vessels" part. On any but the most superficial reading, the Archbishop's victory was punished by the King of England. Thrustan was embroiled in the York-Canterbury dispute, which, in his day, turned on the stark difference between Canterbury's twenty-odd suffragen bishops, and York's . . . much smaller number. York had, in fact, only one English subordinate, and its attempts to expand into the north Atlantic world ran into the pretensions of rival bishops [Pirate bishop! Yarr!].  Glasgow was one of Thurstan's legacy suffragens, and losing the See of St. Mungo cost him more than all the gallowglass spears in the world could extract. The question of archiepiscopal status is a question of proper ordering of ritual vessels. (To finish piling on this analogy, there's a parallel with the thesis that global warming denial is a legitimate strategy of Kulturkampf. That is, since all the proposed solutions are "liberal," it is okay for a conservative to mischievously deny the plain scientific facts.) 

Below the cut is the place for pictures. This is the Gustafson fire, seen from the top of the 100 Mile House hill, at the point when my family left for Vernon.

This is the imaginatively named Soccer Park, which is just behind my sister's home.

The Soccer Park at 100 Mile House. The line of trees marks the course of Bridge Creek, and the scruffier area beyond is a slough/final-treatment stage sewage settling pond. 
The photographer, unfortunately, decided to illustrate the Soccer Park with a picture of the Soccer Park. Which is understandable. But if the camera had just been turned around, you would see the finger of vacant, higher ground that connects the hayfields of 108 Mile House Ranch with Bridge Creek and the municipal park. Heavily laden with the detritus of a scrub woodland of fifteen years or so standing, it's a good example of the kind of "fuel load" that is making our Canadian "interface fires" so dangerous. It's also a good illustration of the precise nature of the problem. Because while I am not absolutely sure why the Ranch held onto this land, there are signs along the fence that make it very clear that it did. It's rangeland! It should be ranged and grazed! It's not! So either the Ranch clears it with machinery; or it begins running cows on it; or it continues to exist as a dangerous salient by which a wildfire can reach my sister's backyard. This occasions bleak meditations; unless the Canadian economy can generate a great deal more grazing than it is, it is not entirely clear that we can continue to live a sedentary life in the western Canadian back country.

Enough of that for now, because this is about the opposite trajectory; the intensification of agricultural production in turn-of-the-millennium England. What has this to do with ritual vessels and Anglo-Saxon texts.  When I last talked about Confucius and the Anglo-Saxons, my thesis was that we should read these texts for "praise and blame." With the caveat that we are talking about a version of Confucius that probably only exists in Mencius' mind and not the Springs and Autumns at all, figuring out just who is being praised and blamed, and why, might well be a fruitful way of getting beneath the texts and learning a bit more from them.

 This is Dr. Allerton's intepretation. He starts slow, with the lengthy passage in which the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle discusses Aethelwold's revolt:

Her gefor ælfred Aþulfing, syx nihtum ær ealra haligra mæssan; Se wæs cyning ofer eall Ongelcyn butan ðæm dæle þe under Dena onwalde wæs, 7 he heold þæt rice. oþrum healfum læs þe .xxx. wintra. 7 þa feng Eadweard his sunu to rice. Þa gerad æðelwald his fædran sunu. þone ham æt Winburnan, 7 æt Tweoxneam butan ðæs cyninges leafe 7 his witena. Þa rad se cyning mid firde þæt he gewicode æt Baddanbyrig wið Winburnan, 7 æðelwald sæt binnan þæm ham mid þæm monnum þe him to gebugon, 7 hæfde ealle þa geatu forworht in to him, 7 sæde þæt he wolde oðer oððe þær libban oððe þær licgan. Þa under þæm þa bestæl he hine on niht on weg, 7 gesohte þone here on Norðhymbrum, 7 se cyng het ridan æfter, 7 þa ne mehte hine mon ofridan; Þa berad mon þæt wif þæt he hæfde ær genumen butan cynges leafe 7 ofer þara biscopa gebod, forðon ðe heo wæs ær to nunnan gehalgod. 7 on þys ilcan gere forðferde æþered. wæs on Defenum ealdormon, feower wucum ær ælfred cyning [source]

Atherton notes the opening parataxis. "Alfred died. Edward succeeded. Aethelwold rode to Wimborne and seized it against the will of king and council."
Wimborne Minster; the point is obscured in all the textual criticism, but Wimborne was a nunnery, so Aethelwold's "seizure" was probably aimed at his wife. By Bellminsterboy - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Parataxis is one of those cheap, rhetorical strategies that aren't necessarily cheap in this context. By putting the sentiments together, the author invites us to infer a connection without stating one. Why? Directly after the parataxis, Aethelwold escapes siege at Wimborne, abandoning his wife in the process. We are then told that the unnamed wife is a nun. The author, known as Winchester Scribe II invites us, in the parataxis, to "blame" Aethelwold. This rules out the possibility that he is rescuing a woman from relegation to a nunnery --something that even a medieval author could acknowledge might happen. So who is this nun? If Alex Woolf is right, this woman is Aethelgifu, the holy lady of Shaftesbury; a royal lady and a very important player in the dynastic politics of Wessex for many years thereafter. Whatever Scribe II thinks of Aethelgifu, no good can come of him being any more explicit about this story than he has been, already! The objective is is to discredit Aethelwold's rising without doing an injustice to the facts, as they were known to contemporaries and imaginatively reconstructed by a great medievalist. Mission accomplished!

King Edward, Saint and Martyr, immediately prior to his highly successful job application. If you're wondering why this is here, he was buried at, or rather, translated to, Shaftesbury Abbey  from nearby Wareham, burial place of Beohrtric before him. 

This is all Atherton. My interest kicks in immediately following. Having made his escape from Wimborne, way down in the southwesternmost corner of England, Aethelwold went to York, we are told, and was crowned king there "by the Vikings."

Well, actually, and this is as sound a vindication of the Sage's terseness as you can imagine, because I am glossing what historians say about the passage here, not what the passage actually says, which is that ("[S]ought he the army in Northumbria, and they followed him as king afterwards." There are no "Danes,"nor "Vikings" nor even "York" in this passage. The Great Heathen Raiding Army, as it is rendered in the modern literature (rarely with all of those adjectives) is frustratingly acephalous in the Chronicles at the best of time. Quite often, the scribes do not even name the leaders of the Army. In this passage, Scribe II does not make it Danish, although this is a fair extrapolation, given that the Danes show up earlier in the passage. He certainly does not make them "Vikings," a complete anachronism, nor yet "Northmen." York does not enter the discussion at all. This is a good example of the violence to the text that produces a "Viking [Norse] Kingdom of Jorvik." As David Rollason points out, it is much more likely that York was a typical episcopal republic, and hired Danish and "Northmen" mercenaries when they were needed. The Chronicle does not say that, because Archbishops do not rule. It's not a priestly thing to do. When Wulfhere or Aethelbald show up, it is as "advisers" to Danish kings. When that is not the dynamic in play, the "army" has no leaders at all.

Aethelwold's rebellion ended at the Battle of the Holme. Again, Scribe II's description is a masterpiece of oblique and obscure writing (translated this time):

This year Ethelwald enticed the army in East- Anglia to break the peace, so that they ravaged over all the land of Mercia until they came to Cricklade, and there they went over the Thames, and took, as well in Bradon as thereabout, all that they could lay hands on, and then turned homewards again. Then king Edward went after them, as speedily as he could gather his forces, and overran all their land between the dikes and the Ouse, all as far north as the fens. When, after this, he would return thence, then commanded he it to be proclaimed through his whole force, that they should all return together. Then the Kentish-men remained there behind, notwithstanding his orders, and seven messengers whom he had sent to them. Then the army there came up to them, and there fought them : and there Siwulf the ealdorman, and Sigelm the ealdorman, and Eadwold the king's thane, and Kenwulf the abbat, and Sigebright son of Siwulf, and Eadwold son of Acca, were slain, and likewise many with them, though I have named the most distinguished. And on the Danish side were slain Eohric their king, and Ethelwald the etheling, who had enticed him to break the peace, and Byrtsige son of Brith- noth the etheling, and Ysopk the 'hold' [governor?], and Os- kytel the hold, and very many with them, whom we are not able to name. And there was great slaughter made on either hand ; and of the Danish-men there were more slain, though they had possession of the place of carnage. And Elhswitha died that same year. This year a comet appeared on the thirteenth before the Kalends of Novembei.

Edward's Mom
It would appear that Edward was abandoned on campaign by the forces of Kent, fought "the army," and suffered extraordinarily heavy casualties amongst his leading men. This is usually an indication of some kind of meeting engagement, although I wouldn't rest too much hermeneutic weight on such a speculation. The Chronicle goes on to admit that he retreated from the battlefield, and thus was formally defeated. It also lists the leading men killed, beginning with the  Ealdormen of Kent. Weird. When, exactly, did the men of Kent un-abandon Edward? Scribe II doesn't say. So the Kentish forces un-abandoned Edward at some point?

Oh. And this "Aethelwold" fellow died, too. So that's nice. 

Scribe II is hardly burying the lede on purpose. That's for giants of journalism. What he is doing is not going to be completely obvious to anyone not versed in Wessexian court politics, so I'll take an speculation I can get. The suggestion is that Edward's third marriage, to Eadgifu of Kent, mother of Kings Edmund and Eadred, is the missing piece in the story. What "seven messengers" won't accomplish, a single engagement ring just might.

 It's a theory. It's also quite possible that the marriage did not take place for another decade!

At this point, at least for the sake of given blog post, we can skip right over Edward the Elder's entire reign, to his contested (fancy that!) succession. The battle is between the sons of his first two wives, and it is Aethelstan, son of Eadgifu, who triumphs. As far as we can tell, Winchester Old Minster has a poor opinion of Aethelstan. At least, this is Atherton's interpretation of the Chronicle's retreat from long, narrative passages in the first nine years of Athelstan's reign. No details means no need to "praise or blame."

That comes to an end with an extraordinary passage for 934. This is the year of the Battle of Brunanburh, Aethelstan's victory over the combined forces of Constantine of Scotland and Amlaib of Dublin(?). The event seems to require some commemoration, and Scribe III is up to it. Except that, instead of a long narrative passage that might explain just what is going on in detail, a short, epic poem in formal verse is written into the Chronicle, the first of several over the next few decades.

The reason for Winchester's deviation from its former line may be that the last of Athelstan's rivals, Edwin, had drowned mysteriously; Atherton argues that the Brunanburh poem isn't even really as much of a departure as it seems. While it praises Athelstan's achievements, the man and the king is strangely absent. That taken care of, Atherton ropes in parallels in the form of Beowulf and the hybrid Old English Boethius.  This text makes an explicit case for the idea that lyric poetry is meant to praise the good and blame the bad. Unfortunately, while it is easy enough to characterise Semiramis as a bad person and Attila(!) as a good one, it is much more dangerous to make an explicit case for Athelstan, either way!  In any case, Winchester cannot take a purely anti-Athelstan stance, when Athelstan is the first Old English "Emperor," that is, a King of Wessex who positions himself as an old Caesar. (he is emperor in the sense that he rules all of Great Britain, as is illustrated by the fact that Welsh kings, Constantine, and some other rulers pay homage to him. There are also other rhetorical and symbolic flourishes, and the famous, appended story in the English Orosius that tells of some Norse traders who travelled to Lapland to trade for furs and walrus ivory is probably to be interpreted as expressing "empire without end," because they come to Alfred's court to tell the tale.)

To bring it around to the thesis, I am going to have to cut off Atherton's discussion of Saint Dunstan, and end instead with Athelstan's final erect, middle finger at Winchester; his decision to be buried at Malmesbury. This seems a bit weak to me, because Dunstan is also a West Country man, may have been related to Athelstan's mysterious mother, and is associated with the cult of Edward the Martyr, another King of Wessex buried in the far west, instead of at Winchester. That said, the trend, from Beorhtric through Aethelgifu to Athelstan and Edward, is persistent. Wessex's political unity keeps breaking down between Winchester and the west.

If Rollason is right, the same dynamic is lethally present in Northumbrian politics. While there is no king at York, the archbishop does not hesitate to take extreme actions when the Northumbrian king, normally at save remove way up at Bamburgh, comes too close to his city. The apparent, smooth, consistent unity of the Kingdom of Northumbria papers over an ongoing conflict between rival regions.

This is a great deal of straining over the simple point that England has parochial divisions, too. But I think that it is important! One way to further deepen the divisions between ideal and real, is to assert that the key text on the life of Alfred, parallel to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles, is a later forgery. That is, that Asser's Life of Alfred was actually written in the late Tenth Century. If this is so, references in Asser that are used to buttress the clear, heathen and Nordic identity of the "Great Heathen Army" can be thrown out, and there are is also some interesting light shed on the east/west division, since Asser is, again, a westerner. (As is the presumed forger, who seems to be building up the prestige of the new see of Exeter.)

Exeter is in the far west. Who knew? Certainly I didn't for most of my life. It just seems unfair to make historians know as much about geography as truck drivers!
I'm not going to push that one very far, though. For one thing, the latest writer to take up the "Asser's Life is a forgery" hasn't won much credit from me with his other writing. He's not the only one to make the argument, but, again, Wikipedia:

During the 19th and 20th centuries, several scholars asserted that Asser's biography of King Alfred was not authentic, but a forgery. A prominent claim was made in 1964 by the respected historian V.H. Galbraith in his essay "Who Wrote Asser's Life of Alfred?" Galbraith argued that there were anachronisms in the text that meant it could not have been written during Asser's lifetime. For example, Asser uses "rex Angul Saxonum" ("king of the Anglo-Saxons") to refer to Alfred. Galbraith asserted that this usage does not appear until the late 10th century. Galbraith also identified the use of "parochia" to refer to Exeter as an anachronism, arguing that it should be translated as "diocese" and hence that it referred to the bishopric of Exeter, which was not created until 1050. Galbraith identified the true author as Leofric, who became Bishop of Devon and Cornwall in 1046. Leofric's motive, according to Galbraith, was to justify the re-establishment of his see at Exeter by demonstrating a precedent for the arrangement.[2][21]
The title "king of the Anglo-Saxons" does, however, in fact occur in royal charters that date to before 892 and "parochia" does not necessarily mean "diocese", but can sometimes refer just to the jurisdiction of a church or monastery. In addition, there are other arguments against Leofric's having been the forger. Aside from the fact that Leofric would have known little about Asser and so would have been unlikely to construct a plausible forgery, there is strong evidence dating the Cotton manuscript to about 1000. The apparent use of Asser's material in other early works that predate Leofric also argues against Galbraith's theory. Galbraith's arguments were refuted to the satisfaction of most historians by Dorothy Whitelock in Genuine Asser, in 1967.[2][21]
More recently, in 1995, Professor Alfred P. Smyth argued that the Life is a forgery by Byrhtferth (who simply 'adopted' the name of the obscure Asser from the references to him in other records), basing his case primarily on an analysis of Byrhtferth's and Asser's Latin vocabulary. Byrhtferth's motive, according to Smyth, is to lend Alfred's prestige to the Benedictine monastic reform movement of the late 10th century. The strongest arguments for forgery are that a) there is actually no new information in 'Asser' that cannot be found in the surviving Anglo Saxon Chronicles, so that it is not contemporary with Alfred as it claims; b) that the Latin translation is simply lifted from the Chronicles'narrative and interspersed with padding of no importance; c) that writing in Latin a contemporary narrative was anachronistic; d) that much of the alleged illness of Alfred in 'Asser' is lifted from standard hagiographic conventions and similarly so are 'Asser's' claims as to the educational development and attainments of Alfred; and e) that much of the dating in 'Asser' uses the age of Alfred can be shown as incorrect and can be traced to the mis-datings in later recensions of the Chronicles, so that 'Asser' cannot have been a contemporary of Alfred.
Although a few other historians harbour doubts about the authenticity of the work, the majority of other Anglo-Saxon scholars do not find these arguments persuasive. The stiffest opposition to Smyth's work has come from former Cambridge Professor Michael Lapidge and Professor Simon Keynes, still an eminent Cambridge Saxonist, who themselves collaborated on a book about Alfred the Great. Both have argued that Smyth's analysis of the Latin text, which relied heavily on the opinions of other academics who helped with the book, is fatally flawed. Professor Keynes felt strongly enough about the subject to place a copy of Smyth's book in the fire-grate of his chambers in Trinity College, and then photograph it for his personal website. A typed statement from department officials was also placed on the inside cover of a copy of the book kept in the ASNAC (Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic) library at Cambridge, to leave undergraduates in no doubt as to the department's views. The debate caught the imagination of the popular press when Professor Smyth's book was published, fuelled by the former University of Kent historian's claim that the Cambridge ASNAC department knew Asser's life was a fake, but that they were happy to keep the myth going in order to avoid discrediting previous eminent historians from their university such as Frank Stenton and Dorothy Whitelock.[2][21][22]
Tl;dr: Smyth's book was subjected to a public burning, and responsible persons at Cambridge University inserted a disavowal into the binding of the library's copy. In 1995. People are, it seems, very, very sensitive about this period of British history. Why? Well, because it is the founding narrative and text of English unity, of course. England didn't come together as a composite state, conquered by Normans or William III. Angles and Saxons unified themselves under the great kings of Wessex of the line of Alfred.

Apparently, this is not a narrative that has much room for an obstreperous Archbishop of York, or for divisions within Wessex. It is history as exemplar. I might even say, history as the proper ordering of ritual vessels.

I promised to pivot to land use. I've a feeling that the pivot is going to be late and strained, unfortunately. Perhaps I can get away with that, having written previously on the subject of anthropogenic soils and whatnot. Here's another way of looking at it, one that should raise the nape of an Americanist's neck. Aethelstan is granting "bookland" in Chalgrave and Tebworth in Bedfordshire to his faithful servant, Ealdred. The text may be less straightforward than is sometimes supposed, since the estate is bounded on one side by Watling Street, and it is not clear that contemporaries were sure just where exactly Watling Street ran. That aside, the text says that Ealdred must buy the land from the pagans, making sure that it is clear of any prior obligations; then pay the king for it. Once this is done, the land is Ealdred's allodial property.

Atherton, who steadily wins my respect as this book goes on, makes a misstep here, finding the arrangement perplexingly unfair. It is not, of course. This is just a typical, Old New-York patent. "Pagans" have land claims that cannot be assimilated into the law of the churchly Anglo-Saxon state. Ealdred is responsible for clearing those claims, at which point the land becomes the king's demesne; the king then sells them to Ealdred. All that is missing is Ealdred turning around and subdividing it into leases, issued on condition that his new tenants vote for min when he stands for the legislature.

It is not, or should not be news that modern scholars will write about how the "construction" of a Danish ethnicity in Anglo-Saxon England. (1, 2, 3). You don't have to buy what we post-modernist, anti-essentialist history-talking people say about ethnicity, however, because changes in land-tenure are at the core of what we already have of Anglo-Saxon history. The rise of Wessex wasn't just about kings being heroic and giving out arm bands and what not. It is concretely based on Alfred's "borough" system: the systemic creation of a landscape of a network of royal towns with dependent farmland.   The tendency is to write about the "burhs" as an episode in military history, because these establishments are framed in terms of giving each new borough as many hides of land as are needed to support a garrison for its walls. This is a fascinating exercise that invites the antiquarian to trace early medieval walls, and the military historian to entertain more in the way of cliometrics than the sources normally support.

The thing is that the old Anglo-Saxons had a simpler vision: the issue was one of peopling the land.   The burgh, and its hides, are an economic system, the one tied to the other, so that tenants have a motivation to pay their renders. This is fascinating. What happens if we really push on the American analogy? In America, at least as I read it (and this is not crazy revisionism if our attention is confined to the reservation system), the story of a simple arrow of progress leading from heathen "hunter-gatherers" to settled Christians is at war with a reality in which settlements break down, and "Indians" revert to a nomadic and non-Christian life. Settlement isn't a problem, and finding people for them isn't a problem; the problem lies in keeping them there.

In a European national history, on the other hand, there is no apostasy --or, rather, when it does happen, there are very clear villains, who get what is coming for them. What there is not, is an unstable world of people shifting between Christian and pagan identities, between stable settlement and shifting cultivation. I mean, it might make more sense of the evidence; but, again, apostasy is just not something our ancestors did. Period.

Our story might seem to start with army-commanding kings, in the heroic register; and sound tax codes in the administrative one. In reality, it begins with the proper ordering of ritual vessels. I don't think that this is crazily revisionist or anything --with the exception of their conscious othering of the apostasising "heathens," it is the original Anglo-Saxon frame of analysis.  It is revisionist in the sense that it is not the preferred narrative of national political history.

There's a reason for that, I think. It's a lot easier to run an economy when you imagine that the poor and disenfranchised have no choice but to play. You don't have to offer them incentives! As fires rage at the gates of Canadian towns that have declined to reproduce themselves for almost fifty years, it is, perhaps, time to acknowledge the political vision of a Confucius or a Winchester Scribe I and II. It's hard to people the land.

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