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Reviewed by:
  • Bury St Edmunds and the Norman Conquest ed. by Tom Licence
  • Janet Burton
Bury St Edmunds and the Norman Conquest. Edited by Tom Licence. (Rochester, NY: The Boydell Press, an imprint of Boydell & Brewer. 2014. Pp. xiv, 266. $99.00. ISBN 978-1-84383-931-6.)

The abbey of Bury St Edmunds, which grew up around the shrine of the last king of East Anglia, martyred by the Vikings in 869, was one of the most dominant and most wealthy monasteries in England. The essays in this volume commemorate the abbey in the context of the millennial anniversary of the death, in 1014, of the Danish king Swein Forkbeard who, according to legend, was slain by the hand of St. Edmund himself. Twelve essays illuminate the history of the abbey, which dominated East Anglia, in the years around the momentous events of 1066 and the subsequent Norman settlement of England. Bury was distinctive, as, by the Norman Conquest, it had a French abbot: Baldwin, monk of St. Denis and physician to Edward the Confessor. David Bates argues for Baldwin’s importance in building the reputation of Edmund overseas and considers how the martyr-king and his abbey flourished under Norman patronage. Chapters by Thomas Waldman and Sarah Foot explore aspects of what Foot calls “the abbey’s armoury of charters” (p. 31), the former looking at influences from St. Denis, and the latter arguing that Bury’s archive is distinctive both for the number of cartularies that have survived and for the monks’ capacity for copying and recopying texts from the Anglo-Saxon period. Foot shows how these were put to good use, for instance, in the abbey’s resistance to the ambitions of Bishop Herfast of East Anglia to relocate his see to Bury. Elizabeth van Houts draws our attention to the community around the abbey, in particular “the women of Bury St Edmunds” (p. 53), arguing compellingly for the particular circumstances that saw the emergence, by 1086, of a group of nearly thirty [End Page 911] nonnae and poor women in the vicinity of the abbey. Eric Fernie turns to the subject of Bury’s architecture, shedding light on the importance of the transition from Anglo-Saxon to Norman, the relationship between the abbey and the diocese, and the relationship between the church and the town. Central to Bury’s history and identity was the cult of St. Edmund; in two chapters, editor Tom Licence sheds new light on the rewriting of the miracula in the post-Conquest period and their author, Herman the Archdeacon, and the controversies they engendered. Henry Parkes takes us into the realm of liturgy and hagiography. The Passio of Edmund, compiled by Abbo of Fleury at the end of the eleventh century, gave rise both to the visual representations and—the subject of his chapter—to a series of eleventh-century chants for the saint’s feast. It was this liturgy, he argues, that “nourished” (p. 151) the monks’ image of Edmund. Books and manuscripts form the basis of the final four chapters. Teresa Webber explores the formation of the library at Bury, for which the twelfth century was a formative period, and assesses the evidence for the work of the Bury scribes. Close attention is given to the “Bury Gospels” and the “Bury Psalter,” as well as the late-tenth-century bilingual copy of the Rule of St. Benedict that was at Bury by the time of Abbot Leofstan (1042–65). Michael Gullick provides a detailed analysis of an eleventh-century medical manuscript from Bury (BL Sloane 1621), whereas Debby Banham and Véronique Thouroude, respectively, discuss manuscripts and the practice of medicine at Bury in the time of, and after, Abbot Baldwin. These essays together demonstrate the Bury monks’ response to conquest and change, as well as the place of the abbey and its abbots in England and the wider world in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

Janet Burton
University of Wales Trinity Saint David Lampeter
...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-0708
Print ISSN
0008-8080
Pages
pp. 911-912
Launched on MUSE
2015-12-18
Open Access
No
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