Abstract

The so-called "Anti-Monastic Reaction," the period of anti-clerical violence and anti-monasterial litigation following the death of King Edgar in 975, is among the most important yet least understood episodes in the history of later Anglo-Saxon England. This article examines the influence of the Anti-Monastic Reaction on subsequent Reformist portrayals of royal power and legal authority. In particular, it considers how the Old English translation of the Ely foundation charter and Ælfric's Life of Saint Eugenia express Reformist anxieties about the integrity of secular law and royal protection. As free adaptations of pre-975 Latin documents, the Ely charter and Eugenia illustrate the evolution of Reformist rhetoric following the Anti-Monastic Reaction. In each case, the author/translator alters his source-text so as to redefine the relationship between legal and spiritual authority. Yet more is at stake than just the representation of royal law and its limits: each of these texts situates its critique of secular authority within a narrative focused on problems of female sexuality and erotic desire. Implicitly, the inadequacy of royal authority when confronted with the threat posed by unconstrained female sexuality parallels its similar failure to contain the Anti-Monastic Reaction. Exploring the ways in which the bodies of SS. Æthelthryth and Eugenia may be viewed and interpreted enables the authors of each text to express monastic anxieties concerning royal law and to rethink Reformist models of spiritual order and legal identity.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1543-0383
Print ISSN
0039-3738
Pages
pp. 220-265
Launched on MUSE
2013-04-06
Open Access
No
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