Current Research

I am currently working on a number of research projects, some based on work from my PhD dissertation and some entirely new. Material from these projects may appear in future blog entries.

‘Against the King’s Will’: Royal Marriage, Family Planning, and the Rebellion of Edmund Ironside, AD 1015

In the late summer of 1015, Edmund ‘Ironside’, son of the Anglo-Saxon king Æthelred II ‘the Unready’, rebelled against his father. He seized lands that his father had taken from the recently-murdered north Midlands thegns Sigeferth and Morcar, and, simultaneously, stole Sigeferth’s widow from the king’s protection/captivity at Malmesbury, marrying her ‘ofer þes cynges willan’ (‘against the king’s will’). This rebellion may have turned into all-out war but for the return of Cnut in a renewed war of conquest immediately thereafter. This essay seeks to reassess Edmund’s rebellion, and particularly his marriage, in the context of marriage and succession strategies in the early eleventh century, and their connections to the national moral reform programme of Æthelredian England.

Procreation, Celibacy, and Masculinities in Later Anglo-Saxon England

The necessary precondition of producing an heir is, of course, sex. What, then, should be made of childless kings — and, perhaps even more problematic, celibate ones? Edward the Confessor (r.1042–1066) has perhaps been more closely associated with the question of royal celibacy than any other medieval English king, yet he was not the only Anglo-Saxon king to have possibly embraced a childless, or even celibate, lifestyle. His dynastic predecessor Æthelstan (r.924–939) never had children and indeed appears never to have married at all, while other kings, like Alfred the Great (r.871–899), seem to have had more nuanced views on the proper balance between Christian ideals of celibacy and the temporal need to provide heirs. This essay will explore the question of procreation in the reigns of various Anglo-Saxon kings from the late ninth to eleventh centuries, and more specifically, how we might use those kings’ relationships with procreation or celibacy to understand the intersection of masculinities and political culture in a period of significant social change. Would a childless king have been seen as having failed in a primary masculine duty if he did not produce children? Or, moreover, in his royal duty if he did not produce an heir? 

William Adelin, the White Ship Disaster, and Toxic Masculinity: Fathers and Sons in Anglo-Norman England

In late November 1119, Henry I and his court arrived at Barfleur to depart back to England. Stephen, captain of the speedy new Blanche-Nef (‘White Ship’), was granted the privilege of ferrying the king’s only (legitimate) son and heir, William Adelin, and a number of other important figures, across the Channel. After the king’s departure, the White Ship’s crew demanded drink, and soon they, and their passengers, ‘toasted their companions abundantly’. Inhibitions lost to drink, the passengers and crew — ‘young hotheads, drunk as well as foolish’ — urged the captain to set sail and overtake the king’s long-departed fleet. The ship soon struck a rock outside the harbour, capsizing and sinking with almost total loss of life, including William and three hundred others alongside him. William’s death altered the face of the Anglo-Norman kingdom, and led almost directly to the Anarchy. Writers of the era sought numerous explanations for such a catastrophe: refusing the blessing of the ship, the heir’s foolish and excessive pride, or even that ‘all of them […] were said to be tainted with sodomy’. In this paper, I will place this episode in the wider context of the (often toxic) father-son relationships of the Anglo-Norman period, and explore further the impact of gender relationships — and toxic masculine behaviour — on dynastic and political relations in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

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