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The Political Thought of King Alfred the Great

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Part of Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought: Fourth Series

  • Date Published: September 2007
  • availability: This ISBN is for an eBook version which is distributed on our behalf by a third party.
  • format: Adobe eBook Reader
  • isbn: 9780511287206

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About the Authors
  • This book is a comprehensive study of political thought at the court of King Alfred the Great (871–99). It explains the extraordinary burst of royal learned activity focused on inventive translations from Latin into Old English attributed to Alfred's own authorship. A full exploration of context establishes these texts as part of a single discourse which placed Alfred himself at the heart of all rightful power and authority. A major theme is the relevance of Frankish and other European experiences, as sources of expertise and shared concerns, and for important contrasts with Alfredian thought and behaviour. Part I assesses Alfred's rule against West Saxon structures, showing the centrality of the royal household in the operation of power. Part II offers an intimate analysis of the royal texts, developing far-reaching implications for Alfredian kingship, communication and court culture. Comparative in approach, the book places Alfred's reign at the forefront of wider European trends in aristocratic life.

    • Definitive study of Alfred's translations into the vernacular of important monuments of religious writing
    • Moves lucidly between biblical, patristic, Irish, Frankish and Anglo-Saxon sources
    • Will be of interest to Anglo-Saxon historians and literary scholars, and historians of the Carolingian renaissance and court culture
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    Awards

    • Winner of the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists Publication Prize for Best First Book, 2007–2009

    Reviews & endorsements

    Review of the hardback: 'Pratt's wide-ranging study offers intriguing speculation into the political causes of Alfred's literary activity.' Stephen J. Harris, Speculum

    Review of the hardback: 'This book is compelling argument for the significance of these texts as a body of work directed by a single program. Pratt puts his contribution in its historiographical context and often engages with the work of such eminent scholars on early England as Patrick Wormald and Janet Nelson. One of its real strengths is the frequent comparisons with West Frankish and East Frankish contexts, as well as Mercian, Welsh, and Irish influences … the book is a valuable contribution for the study of intellectual history, the history of political thought, or early medieval kingship.' Comitatus

    Review of the hardback: 'This book, with its focus on political thought, and exceptionally large coverage of political practice and the real-life contexts in which ideas were generated and discussed, is a manifesto for a history uniting thought and action. Pratt's central contention, that Alfred was a considerable political thinker in his own right, as well as being a king with a notably successful style and performance of his own, is presented with maximum conviction. It convinces this reviewer. Anyone arguing to the contrary will have to contend with a new-powered case. Anglo-Saxonists will not be the only scholars to await further David-and-Goliath contests with bated breath. Meanwhile this wide-ranging, deep-delving, shiningly crafted book ought to put its author on the historiographical map as surely as it puts King Alfred on political ideas syllabi.' Janet Nelson, H-Albion

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    Product details

    • Date Published: September 2007
    • format: Adobe eBook Reader
    • isbn: 9780511287206
    • availability: This ISBN is for an eBook version which is distributed on our behalf by a third party.
  • Table of Contents

    Acknowledgements
    List of abbreviations
    1. Introduction
    Part I. The West Saxon Political Order:
    2. Resources and extraction
    West Saxon resources and royal power
    Military service and the common burdens
    3. Royal lordship and secular office-holding
    The king's thegns
    The royal household
    Gifts and gift-giving
    4. Royal lordship and ecclesiastical office-holding
    A new accommodation: royal monasteries and the council of Kingston (838)
    The southumbrian episcopate and the state of ecclesiastical discipline
    Bishops as the 'best king's thegns'
    Royal priests in the royal household
    Frankish ecclesiastical conditions and Carolingian kingship
    5. The articulation of power under King Alfred's predecessors
    Collective office-holding: West Saxon royal devotion
    Royal office-holding: the first English coronation order
    The uses of literacy?
    Sources of textual culture (1) ecclesiastical communities
    Sources of textual culture (2) the west Saxon royal household
    6. The impact of the Vikings
    Logistics of defence
    Lordship and manpower
    Land and landholding
    Royal income and urban development
    Collective security (1) 'king of the Anglo-Saxons'
    Collective security (2) 'ruler of all the Christians of the island of Britain'
    Part II. Alfredian Discourse and its Efficacy:
    7. The field of Alfredian knowledge
    Alfredian innovation: Alfredian wisdom and the shift to vernacular prose
    Intended audiences and the shift to vernacular literacy
    Textual dissemination and the field of Alfredian knowledge
    8. The construction of Alfredian discourse
    'Royal' production: Alfredian discourse and its distinctiveness
    Languages of office-holding (1) Georgian language
    Languages of office-holding (2) Solomon's dream
    The implications of Alfredian discourse
    9. Alfredian technology: books and aedificia
    Books and book production
    Candle-lantern, 'aestels' and the Fuller brooch
    10. The Hierdeboc as a treatise of power
    Language and context
    The origin and purpose of power
    The active and contemplative lives
    The hierdeboc and the southumbrian episcopate
    11. The Domboc as a Reorientation of royal law
    Written law: authority and status
    The construction of Alfredian judgement
    The historical projection of secular law
    The defence of lordship
    The Domboc in practice
    12. Tribulation and triumph in the first fifty psalms
    Apparatus and voice
    God, rihtwisnes and sinful enemies
    Royal hardships and divine justice
    Alfred's psalms and Alfredian theatre
    13. The search for a satisfactory consolation
    The consolatio philosophiae in context
    Royal translation and Carolingian expertise
    Alfredian adaption: mind, wisdom and the 'wordly blessings'
    Craeft, tools and resources
    Wyrd and divine justice
    The Froferboc and Alfredian theatre
    14. Seeing God as he is
    The Soliloquia in context
    Royal translation and Carolingian expertise
    Alfredian adaption: wisdom and the sight of God
    Lordship and authority
    Alfred's soliloquies and Alfredian theatre
    15. Conclusion
    Appendix: West Frankish deployment of Solomon's dream
    Bibliography
    Index.

  • Author

    David Pratt, Downing College, Cambridge

    Awards

    • Winner of the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists Publication Prize for Best First Book, 2007–2009

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