Sed ex parte desunt mihi, servulo vestro, exquisitiores eruditionis scolasticae libelli, quos habui in patria per bonam et devotissimam magistri mei industriam vel etiam mei ipsius qualemcumque sudorem. Idem haec vestrae excellentiae dico … ut aliquos es pueris nostris remittam, qui excipiant inde nobis necessaria quaeque et revahant in Frantiam flores Britanniae, ut non sit tantummodo in Euborica hortus conclusus, sed in Turonica emmisiones paradisi cum pomorum fructibus, ut veniens Auster perflaret hortos Ligeri fluminis et fluant aromata illius, et novissime fiat quod sequitur in cantico, unde hoc adsumpsi paradigma: ‘Veniat dilectus meus in hortum suum, et comedat fructum pomorum suorum’; et dicat adulescentis suis: ‘Comedite, amici mei, bibite et inebriamini carissimi. Ego dormio, et cor meum vigilat’, vel illud exhortativum ad sapientiam discendam Esiae prophetae elogium: ‘Omnes sitientes venite ad aquas. Et qui non habetis argentum, properate emite et comedite; venite, emite absque argento et absque ulla commutatione vinum et lac.’
In a frequently cited passage from a letter written to Charlemagne in 796/7, Alcuin, in semi-retirement as the abbot of St Martin's at Tours, describes, in the context of a request for his monarch's support in the enlargement of the monastic library, his commitment to the improvement of the standard of monastic education at St Martin's in Tours.
English identity in the early Middle Ages might seem an insensitive topic for an Englishman to choose as the first of a series of lectures in Cardiff. But the subject was, of course, central to the interests of Henry Loyn. Though a Welshman born in Cardiff, educated here and for most of his career employed here too, Henry always delighted in English literature and the English language; he also concentrated much of his teaching and the majority of his researches upon English history. In his honour, therefore, I seek to survey how far the Anglo-Saxon peoples of Britain thought of themselves as a single people of common descent, customs and language in the centuries between the writing of Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People and AD 1000, the end of the first millennium. By that time a kingdom of the English had – so it proved – been effectively established. I shall necessarily hasten over the centuries, but will alight upon and analyse in some detail those authors and sources that seem to me of particular significance. I shall not attempt to explore the issue, which the scarcity of early medieval sources makes problematic, of how widely particular ethnic identities may have been held in society. I am not attempting to prove or to disprove the existence of early medieval English nationalism. I rather seek to understand the development of, and pressures upon, the concept of English identity in this period.
Widows as a group are often generalized. It is not uncommon to read that upper-class widows were more independent and had more freedom of action than other women, a statement frequently made without reference to the social, political and familial circumstances of those involved. Such generalizations are not always untrue, but at times they can be harmful. They can lead to assumptions about all women that prevent certain questions from being asked about individual women. The way forward lies in more studies of individual women, to ensure that a more subtle picture of widowhood emerges. Few detailed investigations of noblewomen have been conducted, as Louise Wilkinson has noted: ‘Although female property rights in this period [the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries] have attracted a good deal of interest, studies of the lives of individual women have been lacking.’ This article aims to further redress the deficiency by focusing on the landholding of six Yorkshire widows from the Arches and Percy families who were active in the twelfth century. Widows' actions in disposing of land varied between different women and even with the same woman when in different situations; the alienation of land by a woman was dependent on numerous variables, only one of which was widowhood. By examining a woman's experiences on an individual basis, as Wilkinson has done, ‘the important influences which social status, family relationships and the female life-cycle exerted on aristocratic women’ can be seen.
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