The Politics Of Royal Burial In Late Anglo-Saxon England

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This dissertation investigates how kings' corpses, funerals, and tombs contributed to the process of royal succession in tenth and eleventh-century England. There are few explicit descriptions of dead monarchs in our extant sources, so the posthumous fates of Anglo-Saxon rulers must be pieced together from casual textual references, monastic records, and archaeological remains. This evidence indicates that the bodies and memories of English kings were systematically evoked by living royalty: at a time when regular hereditary succession was rare, new and aspiring rulers advanced their political ambitions by forging connections with dead predecessors. My study shows that kings' bodies were regarded as repositories of dynastic memory and used as political propaganda during periods of interregnum. The opening chapters examine how prestigious burial were used to enhance the legitimacy of reigning monarchs and proclaim dynastic continuity. First, I demonstrate that royal mausolea were increasingly modeled on saints' shrines, identifying kings with Christian elites and distinguishing them in death from ordinary laymen. The following chapter investigates how kings' corpses became integral to the transfer of royal power: where earlier Anglo-Saxon kings were crowned at the palace at Kingston, tenth and eleventh-century rulers were acclaimed and anointed beside their predecessor's tomb. In these examples, royal corpses and tombs functioned as symbols of royal authority, advertising the unique status of the monarchy and the legitimacy of new rulers. The later chapters investigate the inversion of prestigious royal burial practices in instances of conquest and usurpation. I begin by examining kings who desecrated or concealed their rivals' bodies, and I contend that the infliction of recognizable criminal punishments helped suppress the royal claims of competing dynasties. Next, I focus on foreign conquerors who diverted attention from the bodies and tombs of deposed native rulers in order to deemphasize the change in regime. These deviations from normative burial indicate that royal memory and dynastic legitimacy were linked to the treatment of rulers' remains, and I conclude that modes of honorable and dishonorable burial were systematically used to construct signifying narratives about royal continuity, legitimacy, and authority.

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