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*Corresponding author: Gesner Las Casas Brito Filho, Doctorate in History of Medieval Art, Doctorate in History of Medieval Art, Master’s in social history at the University of São Paulo (FFLCH-USP). Member of the Laboratory of Theory and History of Medieval Image and Music (LATHIMM-USP). University of Leeds, UK
How to cite this article: Gesner L C B F. House of Wessex and the Use of Nobility Burials in the 10th Century to Build their Sovereignty over England.
Glob J Arch & Anthropol. 2019; 10(2): 555781. DOI: 10.19080/GJAA.2019.10.555781
The aim of this paper is to show some examples of the attitudes towards the burials and afterlife both in general and specially in the case of the nobles and the kings in the 10th century. One of the main questions of this research is to answer how Junius 11 can help to understand views about afterlife in late Anglo-Saxon England, but in a practical way, connected with the afterlife and highlighting the funeral practices. Since there are more evidence of funerary evidences that survived until today from the aristocracy, especially the kings, the main samples of the tenth century are the kings’ tombs, especially the house of Wessex and kings of the Anglo-Saxon England. New Minster in Winchester refoundation seems to have connections with the main concerns about the places where the Wessex kings were buried. The kings were in the top of the list of the privilege of ad sancto based on the hierarchy of social status that is be buried in the holy ground of the churches or monasteries in Anglo Saxo England. Even tough, it is difficult to measure who decided where the dead kings would be buried .
One question necessary to mention, but not fundamental, it is the idea of purgatory. Le Goff  claimed that before the twelfth century there was not consistently belief in purgatory, challenged theory for some authors, as for example in Anglo Saxon England there is some authors that talk about purgatory or something similar more than only heaven and hell in afterlife: Bede, Boniface and Ælfric . There are also the two Junius anonymous homilies: Oxford Bodleian Library, Hatton 114 and Oxford Bodleian library, Junius 85/86 also only mention two possible final destinies to the souls in the afterlife . In an all those examples there are similarities and differences in the approach of heaven and hell but the focus of this paper is to understand the attitudes towards the kings or nobility tombs. Although, in most of Anglo-Saxon writings there is no clear mention about the space of the purgatory, but only heaven, hell and earth (that includes earthly paradise). Another subject that connects vision of the afterlife is the rituals made for the sick people that aimed help the soul of the person to go to the right sphere, to heavens. Most of then found in the Anglo Saxon England from tenth and eleventh century, especially in the southern England , where the center of political power was being built by the House of Wessex in the tenth century.
Before going to the burials of the noble people, especially the kings, it is noteworthy the connection of the heathen burials, or
prehistoric with the monstrous, initiated in the 8th century by the Christians and possible to trace in the writings. This explains in the late Anglo-Saxon locations for death penalty of criminals on those monuments or historical ritual places . In the eight century the Anglo-Saxons converted to Christianity began to use the Christian religion to stablish an effective power over their territories. The cemeteries from the age before the Anglo-Saxons cemeteries were chosen not only as burials, but as settlement, and even the architectural construction of the halls was modified by those changings: Prehistoric monuments and monument complexes were used not only for burial but sometimes as locations for settlement as well. (…) A changing style of hall also suggests an increased investment in elaborate, large buildings, and the introduction of restricted and bounded areas with fenced enclosures that, although not confined to these sites, served to demarcate and shape space perhaps even regulating access and movement .
There were also an increasing of the number of corporal punishments in the early tenth century, especially after Athelstan laws and a clear limitation of possibility to appeals to the king of appeal to king mercy . This might show how the house of Wessex aiming to control the society and create the Alfredian project of a unified Anglo-Saxon England. About the afterlife according to Peter Brown, Western Christianity left behind
between 7th centuries a more physical notion of afterlife in
favor of a new one more based on the soul punishments .
The monumentality reflected the new era for the elite: Planning
and structured layouts and larges enclosures with elaborate
gateways are features present at Cheddar, Goltho, Steyning, and
Little Paxton. The visual approach to such structures is suggested
to have been an important factor in their design: the entrances
and enclosures used as a means of framing the buildings. (…)
Ritualized itineraries and more formalized royal activities of the
tenth and eleventh centuries (see for example, the itineraries of
Edgar, Edward and Æthelred) . The tenth century is a moment
of change of the Anglo-Saxon regions and the landscapes will
reflect that. The old prehistoric sites will be reused by this elite
while new buildings and burials will also be used as a tool to
control not only the real life, but the afterlife of the Anglo-Saxons.
As architecture plays a very important role in Junius 11 Art.
The Endowment and Reformation of New Minster of
Winchester is a culmination of a process of tension where the
West Saxon kings claimed to be the king of the Anglo-Saxons, and
their most important tool was the church and all the imagery
about kings brought up by the Christian Bible, especially the
Old Testament. The sovereignty of the Rex Anglo saxonicus was
assured and repeatedly proven by the support of the church and
materialized by the construction of the New Minster in The kings
who were more inclined to pursue with more tenacity the project
created by Alfred of a united Anglo-Saxon England tendentially
were Edward the Elder, Æthelstan and Edgar. Edward law code are
seen as an extension of Alfred’s, which they both appear before
With Edgar came a revived imperial vision and a return to early
years saw a reaction against The Refoundation of the New Minster
can provide access to the views about seminal and intrinsic nature
of power and buildings in Anglo Saxon England. The New Minster
was used as a tool to reassure their power as king: Winchester
was included in the Burghal Hidage (temp. Edward the Elder) as a
fortification rated at the highest assessment of 2400 hides. It has
been suggested that the royal court may have settled there towards
the end of Alfred’s reign. At least from this time, it probably took
some political administrative and economic functions away
from the exposed coastal lines trading-centre and royal villa of
Southampton. Although the latter remained of importance both to
the West Saxon economy and to shrivel government, Winchester
began to advance to national significance. In this context, the
foundation of the New Minster by King Edward the Elder and his
advisers (…) may been seen as a political action, underlining the
king’s power in the refortified borough as against the bishop or
some of the leading citizens may have been at times out of favor
with the king, due to dynastic politics, the city remained of crucial
importance to the southern part of the kingdom, first of the Anglo-
Saxons and later of England .
Even though happening later is not randomly how an episode
of a plot against monks and the consequences inserted in the
records of Refoundation of Winchester Minster in 996 is told
evocating the same ‘story’ told in poem Genesis from Junius 11. It
is remarkable how the highlighted aspects of poem and drawings
are retold here. Apparently, it seems not connected, but the plot
against those monks resemble the plot of Lucifer against God, and
the object of desire of both are materialized in the right of the
monks in have their monastery.
ix. CONCERNING THE ANATHEMA ON THOSE WHO PLOT
AGAINST THE MONKS. If moreover it should happen on any
occasion, at the Devil’s instigation, that, glorying in the arrogance
of presumption. The cast-down canons should wish to plot to cast
down the flock of monks which I have respectfully established
with a shepherd in God’s property, let it be done with them, and
with everyone who might give them, and with everyone who
might give them aid, blinded by some kind of bribe, as happened
with proud angels and with the first man seduced by the Devil’s
trick, namely that, having been expelled from the bounds of
Paradise and from the sublime seats of the kingdom of Heaven,
they shall be thrust down into the fires of the Abyss with these
[other] disdainful ones who have spurned the Lord’s service, and
be tormented with perpetual misery. Nor pulled out from there to
boast that they have evaded the torments, but rather, they shall
be joined together in the Underworld with Judas, the betrayer of
Christ, and his confederates, shrieking with cold, scorched with
heat, deprived of joy, troubled by lamentation, fettered by fiery
shackles, smitten by dread of the attendants, perplexed by the
memory of crimes, removed from recollection of all goodness,
mourning, they shall be punished with eternal torment .
The identification of the traitors against the monks with the
rebel angels shows how the narrative of fall of Lucifer was deeply
connected with this historical moment of rebuild the Kingdom
(as England) and the reformation itself. And this episode might
show the resistance of the ones who have not accept the new
spiritual and political directions of the late Anglo Saxon England.
This episode among the others new elements might have been the
perfect cultural and social environment that motivated the artistic
choices behind the project of Junius 11. Also, there is a connection
between the Endowment of the New Minster in Winchester and
the burials of the nobility and the kings from the house of Wessex
as we can see in the Table 1 in the annexe. Apparently there was
an connection between times when the ruler has a compromise
with the Alfredian idea of a unified Kingdom of England and the
period of a fragmentation where Wessex and Mercian have had
some territorial conflicts and this idea of unified England was not
put as a priority by the King and his court, kingdom of Eadmund
I (939)-9946), Eadred (946-955) and Eadwig (955-959). Alfred
brought the body of his father Æthelwulf to Winchester from
Steyning in Sussex. And as said before the New Minster was part
of his plans for Winchester. As we can see all the noble during
Edward the Elder (899-924) and Æthelstan (925-939) were
buried in the New Minster.
Modes of royal burial varied with the political needs of each
generation. The Tenth century was characterized by intradynastic, West Saxon succession. From 899 through 1013, every ruler of
England was a patrilineal descendent of Alfred the Great, with
each king succeeded by his brother, son or nephew . There is
a pattern, when the ruler was someone who prioritized the Union
of the Anglo-Saxons as England as a unified kingdom, the dead
noble people were buried in the new Minster, that is the ruler ship
of Edward the elder (899-924), and Æthelstan (925-939). In the
meantime, between 939-959, during the ruler ship of Eadmund I
(939)-9946), Eadred (946-955) and Eadwig (955-959) as kings of
Wessex, there was some troubles in Mercia to accept those kings as
their ruler, and they seem to be no to worried about that as project
as their predecessors. It is remarkable, given this context the most
prominent site as king`s grave was Old the Old Minster], that royal
burial shifted away from Old Minster in the tenth century. This
move was initiated by Edward the Elder (r.899-924), who opened
his reign by building a large new church, known as New Minster,
next door to Winchester`s mother church. The king intended his
foundation to supersede Old Minster as the kingdom premier
royal burial place, but the mausoleum faltered after Edward`s own
death; only one later Anglo-Saxon ruler, Eadwig (d. 959), would be
entombed there` .
But with Edgar, both ideas of a unified England as one kingdom
and the New minster as important place as burial of noble and the
kings came back to centre of the stage. And more than this, there
is the idea of reformation of The New Minster as symbol of this
moment. The New Minster as tool for Edward the Elder to assure
his legitimacy as new king of Anglo-Saxons: Æthewold`s interest in his father`s resting place might be attributed to convenience,
were it not for the fact that Edward began cultivating his own
father`s body at precisely the same time. Edward, however,
pursued a more ambitious message than his cousin. While
Æthelwold could revoke his father`s seniority as ruler of Wessex,
Edward portrayed Alfred as the founder of an all-encompassing
Anglo-Saxon kingdom, rendering Æthelred`s superior position
within the West Saxon royal family a moot point. The concept of a
cohesive Anglo-Saxon nation was rotted in Alfred`s own rhetoric
- among other innovations, he was the first West Saxon ruler to
be styled rex Anglorum Saxonum in his charters - but Edward`s
posthumous celebration of his father`s body and memory helped
cement this ideology .
The management of the AngloSaxon kingdom in the 10th
century was perfected for a better control of the territory for
such kings as Edward, Athelstan and Edgar: The Basic functions
of the West Saxon Hundred unit can all be found as features of
the landscape prior to the tenth century and it appears likely
that earlier social and political institutions were re-shuffled at
this time. I tis evident that the entire administrative machine
was tightened up and regularised from the reign of Alfred, but
increasingly so during the tenth century reigns such as Edward
the Elder (899-925), Æthelstan and Edgar . The ordinances
of Edgar show that worrying about the administrative regional
powers, a worrying meaning to make uniform the procedures
through the Anglo Saxon-England. That show a new moment
of the management of the kingdom: In the Danelaw areas the
equivalent unit to the hundred was the wapentake. The word
“wapentake” is derived from the Old Norse vapnatak, which refers
to the brandishing of weapons in consent in an assembly . In
the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in the entrance for the year 975, there
is the information how Edgar was consecrated in Bath seeking
remember the Glories of the Roman Empire, and the possibility of
being called King of the whole island.
975 Her geendode eorðan dreamas Eadgar, Engla cyning, ceas
him oðer leoht, wlitig 7 wynsum, 7 þis wace forlet, lif þis læne.
Nemnað leoda bearn, men on moldan, þæne monað gehwær
in ðisse eðeltyrf, þa þe ær wæran on rimcræfte rihte getogene,
Iulius monoð, þæt se geonga gewat on þone eahteðan dæg Eadgar
of life, beorna beahgyfa. feng his bearn syððan to cynerice, cild
unweaxen , eorla ealdor, þam wæs Eadweard nama .7 him tirfæst
hæleð tyn nihtum ær of Brytene gewat, bisceop se goda, þurh
gecyndne cræft, ðam wæs Cyneweard nama. Ða wæs on Myrceon,
mine gefræge, wide 7 welhwær waldendes lof afylled on foldan.
Fela wearð todræfedgleawra Godes ðeowa; þæt wæs gnornung
micel þam þe on breostum wæg byrnende lufan metodes on
mode. þa wæs mærða Fruma to swiðe forsewen, sigora waldend,
rodera Rædend, þa man his riht tobræc. 7 þa wearð eac adræfed
deormod hæleð, Oslac, of earde ofer yða gewealc, ofer ganotes
bæð, gamolfeax hæleð, wis 7 wordsnotor, ofer wætera geðring,
ofer hwæles eðel, hama bereafod. 7 þa wearð ætywed uppe on
roderum steorra on staðole, þone stiðferhþe, hæleð higegleawe,
hatað wide cometa be naman, cræftgleawe men, wise soðboran.
Wæs geond werðeode Waldendes wracu wide gefrege, hungor
ofer hrusan; þæt eft heofona Weard gebette, Brego engla, geaf eft
blisse gehwæm egbuendra þurh eorðan westm .
After that Edgar travelled according to The Anglo-Saxon
Chronicle to Chester, another ancient Roman stronghold,
symbolically building his supremacy over the whole Great Britain.
The use of a ship to go there brings the idea that Albion, Britannia
is an Island. His travels by ship fact or post fiction reveal that
conscious factor. He was not the first king of nobleman to use the
ancient monuments as a frame for his royal activity and connect
himself with the past of the Roman Empire. But with Edgar the
theatrical reached the maximum peak until that moment: There
are implications here of far reaching vision in which the ancient ,
whether prehistoric or Roman, and perhaps the physical remnants
and memories of the Pre-Christian Past , were being drawn upon
in a variety of ways to create a network of theatres and arena s
in which power and authority were articulated and enacted.
(…) It is thus fitting to end with Edgar, a master of spectacle and
theatricality. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle records that in 973 (ASC
(A) Edgar, ruler of the English, was consecrated `as king in a great
assembly` at Bath .
King Edgar had a great interest in the activities of Continental
Europe and look for ancient sites and use the, as symbolic ritual
. Edgar was also a master of the theatrical politics. But as
said before, his kingdom is the result of a process initiated with
King Alfred, the idea of an only one nation of English people. The
ritualization and symbolic new usage of the Roman past. Cultural
topography of emerging Angle-land was to be found in texts
of Christian Anglo-Saxon culture, is allegorized form. The new
literary monumentalizing in intent, seeking as it did to control
the narrative of land, ancestry and identity through written text
in which engagement with the physical land became increasingly
symbolic and relative to a more transcendent spiritual cosmos
and polity .
As in Junius 11, the ancient monumentality of the roman
columns and the roman portraits were reused in the Christian
context to show to establish the power of God as king of the
Heavens, the same process has been made by the refoundation
of the New Minster in 964, with the assistance of Æthelwold,
the new bishop. His predecessor was buried the New Minster.
Given Edgar interest in renewing the new Minster, it is possible to
believe that he decides to bury his brother there, Eadwig, aiming
to reactivate the project of New minster as a King mausoleum.
In the new Minster refoundation charter, written in 966, the
preface is very similar to the beginning of Genesis poem of Junius
11, as start with the fall of the rebel angels: EADGAR REX HOC
PRUILEGIUM NOUO EDIDIT MONASTERIO AC OMNIPOTENTI
DOMINO EIUSQUE GENITRICI MARIE EIUS LAUDANS MAGNOLIA
CONCESSIT. ΧΡ OMINIPOTENS TOTIUS MACHINAE CONDITOR
inefabili pietat uiuersa mirfice moderator que condidit . Qui
coaeterno uidelicet uerbo quaedam ex nichilo edidit quaedam
ex informi subtilis artifex prpagauit materia. Angelica quippe creatura ut informis materia nullis rebus existentibus diuinatus
formata luculento respelnduit uultu. Male pro dolor libero utens
arbitrio contumacy arrogans fastu creatori uniuersitatis famulari
dedgnans semetipsum creatori equiperans aeternis baratri
incendiis cum suis complicibus demersus iugi mertio cruciatur
miseria. Hoc itaque thmate toius sceleris peccatum exorsum est
. It starts very much alike with the genesis from Junius 11, and
even the fall of the Lucifer and his rebel angels. And also, the text
talk about how this sin leads to others worst sins, following the
same narrative of Junius 11 in image and text.
The prominence of Edgar and the fact he is the first King to be
picture in a throne is another evidence of his agenda of controlling
the spaces of power, supernatural or not altogether with the
Benedictine Reform. King Edgar was able to control spread his
control over the church itself . Then during the 10th century
there was a long process of searching by the nobility to look
for the monumentality, to the past of old or prehistoric burials
aiming to open their claiming to the power. The House of Wessex
started in project with Alfred but only in real life with Edgar this
project reached his peak of successful through the theatrical
power played by Edgar using all the Christian recurrent elements
present on Junius 11. It is impossible claim that Junius 11 was
totally created during Edgar`s kingdom (959-975) or during the
Refoundation of the New Minster (964). But after all the evidences
here presented it is possible to highlight how the tombs were used
by the kings of Wessex to reassure their own power throughout
the whole England, and how the afterlife will be the centre theme
of art productions (e.g. British Library Junius 11).
Helen Foxhall-Forbes (2013) Heaven and earth in Anglo-Saxon England: Theology and society in an age of faith. Ashgate, Burlington, USA, pp. 266.
Jacques Le Goff (1991) The birth of purgatory. Scholar Press, Aldershot, UK.
Helen Foxhall Forbes (2010) `Diuiduntur in Quattuor: The Interim and Judgement in Anglo-Saxon England`. in The Journal of Theological Studies 61(2): 659–684.
Ananya J Kabir (2001) Paradise. p. 50.
Helen Foxhall Forbes (2013) Heaven and earth in Anglo-Saxon England. p. 112.
Sarah Semple (2013) Perceptions of the Prehistoric in Anglo- Saxon England: Religion, Ritual, and Rulership in the Landscape (Oxford University Press, oxford, UK, pp. 206.
Semple (2013) Perceptions of the Prehistoric in Anglo- Saxon England. p. 207
Helen Foxhall Forbes (2013) Heaven and earth in Anglo-Saxon England. pp. 150.
Peter Brown PRL (2015) The ransom of the soul: Afterlife and wealth in early western Christianity, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, Cambridge, UK, pp. 206.
Sarah Semple (2013) Perceptions of the Prehistoric in Anglo- Saxon England. pp. 211-212.
Rumble Alexander R (2002) Property and piety in early medieval Winchester: documents relating to the topography of the Anglo-Saxon and Norman city and its minsters. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, p. 30
De Illorum Anathemate qui Monachis Insidiantur (2002) Si autem qualibet ocasione diabolo instigante contigeret ut fastu superbientes arrogantie deiectu canonici monachorum gregem quem ego uenerans cum pastore in Dei constitui possession. deicere isidiando uolerint . agatur de eis et the ominibus qui qui quolibet munene cecati iuuamen eis impenderint . quod actum est de angelis superbientibus et de protoplasto diaboli fraude seducto . ut pradisi uidelicet limitibus sublimnibus‘que’ regnin celorum sedilibus eiecti . cum his qui Domini famulatum aspernentes contemserunmt barathri incendiis detrusi iugi crucientur miseria . Nec inde euulsi se gloreientur euasisse tormenta sed cum Iuda Christi proditore eiuesque complicibus Acharonete conglutinati . frigotre stridentes . feruore perusti . letitita priuati . merore anxii . catenis igneis compediti . lictorum metu perculsi . sceletum memoria confuse, otius bonitatis recordation semoti . eterno lugubres punientur crucitu`. (Document IV, Refoundation of the New Minster, 966). Rumble, Alexander R. Property and piety in early medieval Winchester: documents relating to the topography of the Anglo-Saxon and Norman city and its minsters. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, p.83-84.
Nicole Marafioti, The king's body: Burial and succession in late Anglo-Saxon England. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990), p.19.
Nicole Marafiotti (1990) The kings Body. p.21-22.
Marafioti N (2015) Seeking Alfred’s body: Royal tomb as political object in the reign of Edward the elder: Alfred's royal tomb as political object. Early Medieval Europe. 23(2): 202-228.
Andrew Reynolds (1999) Later Anglo-Saxon England: Life and Landscape. Tempus, Stroud, UK, p.75.
Andrew Reynolds (1999) Later Anglo-Saxon England: Life and Landscape. Tempus, Stroud, UK, p.76.
Here was Edgar (1990) of Angles lord, with courtly pomp hallow'd to king at Akemancester, the ancient city; whose modern sons, dwelling therein, have named her Bath. Much bliss was there by all enjoyed on that happy day, named Pentecost by men below. A crowd of priests, a throng of monks, I understand, in counsel sage, were gather'd there. Then were agone ten hundred winters of number'd years from the birth of Christ, the lofty king, guardian of light, save that thereto there yet was left of winter-tale, as writings say, seven and twenty. So near had run of the lord of triumphs a thousand years, when this was done. Nine and twenty hard winters there of irksome deeds had Edmund's son seen in the world, when this took place, and on the thirtieth was hallow'd king. (43) Soon after this the king led all his marine force to Chester; and there came to meet him six kings; and they all covenanted with him, that they would be his allies by sea and by land. M.Bately, The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle: A collaborative edition. vol.5, MS.a : A semi-diplomatic edition with introduction and indices. University of Exeter Press, Exeter, UK.
Sarah Semple (2013) Perceptions of the Prehistoric in Anglo- Saxon England. pp. 212.
Barrow J (2001) ` Chester`s Earliest Regatta? Edgar`s Dee –rowing Revisites`. Early medieval Europe, 10: 81-93.
Alfred K Siewers (2003) `Landscapes of conversion: Guthlac`s mound and Grendel`s mere as Expressions of Anglo-Saxon Nation-building`. Viator; Medieval and Renaissances studies 34(7): 1-39.
King Edgar Promulgated this Privilege for the New Minster and Granted it to the Almighty Lord and his Mother Mary, Praising the Great Works (2002) ΧΡ [Christ] The Almight Creator of the Whole Scheme of Things guides marvellous with ineffable love everything which He has created. He, through the co-eternal Word, so to speak, formed certain things ` out of nothing` and lie a fine craftsman, created certain other things out of the shapeless matter. An Angelic creation indeed, as shapeless matter given shape by divine influence when no [other] things existed, it was resplendent with a bright countenance. Alas making bad use of its free will, assuming with stubborn arrogance, disdaining to serve the Creator of Universe, placing itself equal to the Creator, it plunged into the eternal fire of the Abyss with its confederates, and is deservedly with perpetual misery. The sin of all wickedness also rose from this same theme. Refoundation of the New Minster 966- document IV, in Rumble, Alexander R. Property and piety in early medieval Winchester: documents relating to the topography of the Anglo-Saxon and Norman city and its minsters. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK, p. 74-75.
Karkov E (2008) ` The frontispiece to the new Minster charter and the King’s two bodies. In Scragg Donald (Eds.), Edgar, King of the English. New Interpretations. Publications of the Manchester Centre for Anglo-Saxon Studies. Boydell Press, Manchester, UK, pp. 959-975.