Warfare, Kingship and Society in Anglo-Saxon England

Course Material 2023/24

This paper uses the theme of warfare as a lens through which to study the operation of kingship in Anglo-Saxon England. The scope of the paper runs from the coming of the Anglo-Saxons to Britain in the fifth century to the end of Anglo-Saxon rule in 1066, and explores successive phases of political and social development in which the practices of warfare, military obligation and political subordination played a significant role.

The paper thus covers the consolidation of early Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in the fifth and sixth centuries, the nature of overlordship as exercised by powerful rulers in the seventh and eighth centuries, the impact of the Viking invasions on Anglo-Saxon kingdoms in the ninth century, the expansion of West Saxon power in the tenth century, renewed Viking invasion in the late tenth and early eleventh centuries, and the ultimate ending of Anglo-Saxon rule at Norman hands.

The theme of warfare is employed broadly to explore both the nature of kingship specifically and the wider operation of political and social forces in Anglo-Saxon society, including the role of the Church, as well as legal structures, towns and peasant communities. The overall approach enables engagement with a series of important debates about successive periods (the nature of the migration period, the nature of overlordship, Viking impact on Anglo-Saxon kingship, the nature of political power in eleventh-century England), while also exploring questions concerning the economics of power, hierarchy and social status, and the Church’s relationship to the world. The paper will make extensive use of primary sources, where appropriate drawing upon archaeology, material culture and place-names in addition to written sources, and will therefore necessarily encourage reflection on the nature of the surviving source material from the early middle ages.