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1 I n t roduct ion For centuries, the county of Cheshire was the northern bulwark of the Welsh Marches, one of England’s key border zones. As such, it offers an ideal opportunity for a revisionary critique of pre- and early modern English national identity from the vantage point of an explicitly regional literature. The provincial texts under review in this book— pageants, poems, and prose works created in Cheshire and its vicinity from the 1190s to the 1650s—work together to complicate persistent academic binaries of metropole and margin, center and periphery, and nation and region. In addition to the blurring of established spatial categories, the close study of early Cheshire writing and performance also serves to reconfigure England’s literary and social histories as processes of temporally uneven accretion. The vantage point of Cheshire demonstrates that the regions of the nation do not move in lockstep from one historical period to the next. Indeed, by covering nearly five centuries of literary production within a single geographical location, I challenge still dominant chronologies of literary history that emphasize cultural rupture and view the Renaissance as a sharp break from England’s medieval past. My longue durée historicist account of Cheshire writing reveals instead the strategies whereby local writers, texts, and performances maintain regional continuity in response to the administrative pressures of academic and political centers.1 In the following chapters, regional space/time emerges as a viable alternative to the national space/time that still defines both countries and canons. Premodern Cheshire’s suitability for my project derives from the county’s awareness of itself as a community separate from its English and Welsh neighbors. This sense of regional distinction is already fully developed in the oldest extant piece of Cheshire writing, the ca. 1195 Liber de Luciani laude Cestrie (“The Book of Lucian in Praise of Chester”).2 Lucian’s book is a description of the county town of Chester produced 2 Introduction by one of the monks resident in the city’s Benedictine Abbey of St. Werburgh ’s. In a section of the text glossed De moribus provincialium (“On the character of the provincials,” p. 65), Lucian launches into a glowing account of his fellow Cestrians. Most of the regional virtues he lists are nondescript ones, common in any encomiastic discourse. But a few qualities stand out as specifically Cestrian: Si quis autem petit, vel in pleno, vel in proximo, secundum habitationem morum provinciales tangere, instar reliquorum viventium pro locis terrarum, ceteris Anglis in parte dissimiles, in parte meliores, in parte inveniuntur equales . . . Britonibus ex uno latere confines, et per longam transfusionem morum, maxima parte consimiles. (p. 65) (If anyone wants to compare, either fully or as closely as possible, the character of the provincials in relation to that of those living elsewhere, he will find them partly different from the other English, partly better, and partly equal . . . confined on one side by the Britons and, through a long transfusion of morals, mostly similar to them.) The Cestrians are a hybrid population, neither truly English nor truly Welsh.3 Their preconquest Mercian origins connect them with their eastern neighbors, but their daily traffic (marital, mercantile, and military) with their western neighbors pulls them in the opposite direction. According to Lucian, the regional landscape bears primary responsibility for the Cestrians’ status as heterogeneous dissimiles. Their AngloWelsh tranfusio morum is possible due to the liquid nature of the River Dee, the county’s western boundary. The connection between riparian topography and ethnic instability is not made explicit in De laude Cestrie: the section of the text devoted to the Dee (De amne diva, p. 46) concentrates on the river as a nexus of international trade between Chester, Aquitaine, Spain, Ireland, and Germany. But we do find a contemporary version of it in Gerald of Wales’ Itinerarium Kambriae, the first version of which was completed ca. 1191. In book 2, chapter 11, Gerald reports that “Item, ut asserunt accolae, aqua ista singulis mensibus vada permutat; et utri finium, Angliae scilicet an Kambriae, Introduction 3 alveo relicto magis incuberit, gentem illam eo in anno succumbere, et alteram praevalere, certissimum prognosticum habent” (“The local inhabitants maintain that the Dee moves its fords every month and that, as it inclines more towards England or Wales in this change of channel, so they can prognosticate which nation will beat the other or be unsuccessful in war in any particular year”).4 The territory through which Gerald travels with Archbishop of Canterbury Baldwin...


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