Constructing History across the Norman Conquest

It has long been recognised that Worcester was a major centre of historiographical research and writing in the period covered by our book. Under the guidance of Bishop Wulfstan II (d. 1095), monks such as Hemming, Florence and John, investigated the past via a range of texts in order to construct their own versions of history. And, in doing so, they collaborated with other major centres in England, places like Malmesbury, Bury St Edmunds, Winchcombe and Durham, exchanging manuscripts and ideas. The results of this late eleventh- and twelfth-century research can be seen in a range of surviving manuscripts of unparalleled importance. The late eleventh-century Worcester cartularies are some of the earliest to have survived in England, and the main copy of the Worcester Chronica chronicarum can be shown to contain the authorial work of John himself. By comparing this version with later copies, historians can access with unusual precision the different stages that went into the compilation of this historical chronicle.

In considering the importance of the work being carried out across the period 1050-1150, we wanted to bring together the ideas of scholars who are working at the cutting edge of this material. The Worcester texts are vitally significant and yet much work remains to be done in order to make them accessible and understandable, including the very editing of much manuscript material. In two contributions to our book, scholars edit, translate and comment in detail for the first time on a text about the history and endowment of the Worcester see, and on a series of poems commemorating the deaths of Edward the Confessor, Harold son of Godwine and Bishop Wulfstan II. In another contribution, narrative passages from the final section of Hemming’s Cartulary are translated for the first time; these cast light on the Worcester monks’ strategies to protect their landed estates, as their claims are connected with both their monastic origins and Wulfstan’s incipient cult.

In bringing our volume together, we also wanted to investigate the variety of motivations that the Worcester brethren had for the composition of texts in their historical workshop. In broad terms, historians have previously pointed to the political events associated with the Norman Conquest as catalysing the writing of cartularies in particular. Worcester offers a fascinating case study of a place where this sort of writing was taking place both before and after the Conquest, and several contributions to the book touch on the Worcester impulses that led to the writing of history. For a long time Worcester has been seen as an institution that was in some ways ‘conservative’ or ‘traditional’, led by Wulfstan II, a man who was the last surviving Anglo-Saxon bishop in the post-Conquest period, and renowned for its continued use of Old English and its looking backwards to the Anglo-Saxon past. But what emerges from our collection of essays is rather a community that was examining not only the Anglo-Saxon past, but also the European past and seeking to find its own place in a world that had radically changed in political, ethnic and linguistic terms from 1050 to 1150.   


Francesca Tinti is Ikerbasque Research Professor at the University of the Basque Country UPV/EHU. D. A. Woodman is Fellow and Senior Tutor of Robinson College, Cambridge.

Constructing History across the Norman Conquest: Worcester, c.1050-c.1150
Edited by D. A. Woodman & Francesca Tinti
9781914049040, Hardcover, £60/$99
Blog offer price: £39/$64.35

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