Inventing Englishness: 13th Century Narratives of Anglo-Saxon England



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The formation of the idea of England came about through a long commingling of many languages and traditions. In my paper I demonstrate the cultural complexity of medieval England by examining several Post Conquest representations of the Pre Conquest period in which various peoples construct histories which define and legitimize their Englishness. My texts sample several literary genres of history writing from the 13th century: the Brut tradition, native saints lives, the so-called Matter of England romances, and the saga. Of foremost interest in each of these genres is the mark each people s history has made on the physical and linguistic landscape of England. Also at stake are issues of kinship and kingship, precedent and continuity, and more subtle considerations of the interdependence of language, law, religion and community. Although these histories use these issues to express anxieties about the roles of various ethnic groups the Britons, Anglo-Saxons, Danes, and Normans interest in England as a whole begins to take on greater importance than the ethnic heritage of the individual communities that claim their part in it. English history-writing of this period is in the midst of a paradigm shift in which the land itself becomes the constant, whatever peoples may come and go.