Monastic Reform

Source Problems

  • Associated with the monastic reform, so most sources are monastic ones - coloured by their support, often considered to exclude other aspects, such as his role as a military king
    • Stenton: "Singularly devoid of recorded incident" - few opportunities to see him in action as a ruler
    • After his death he was viewed as bringing peace, law and order, but this is not easy to judge from contemporary evidence
    • Molyneaux: Edgar's reign was a key turning point in unification
    • Keynes: did he have a programme of unity?

Main Reformers

  • Dunstan
  • Æthelwold
  • Oswald
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Monastic Reform


  • Radical isolation of monks from secular society (Benedictine rule)
  • Communal life of prayer and contemplation
  • Fairly radical - no longer a pastoral role of teaching and preaching
    • Very intolerant of other ideas
    • Inspired by previous reforms on the Continent - contact with Fleury in W. Frankia
      • Closer parallels wth the East Frankish reforms, however
  • Unreformed monks expelled from Winchester
  • Edgar made donations to various churches - personal piety
    • Enabled him to build up a network of loyal abbots and monasteries --> massive increase in abbots who attest to his charters
  • Early 970s - Winchester council
    • Regulares Concordia
    • Aim to achieve standardisation among monasteries
    • Enforced the ties between the king and the reform
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Monastic Reform

  • 'Single programme of reform'
    • Linked to national unity
  • *Resist the idea that the reform happened at the expense of the nobility
  • Noble laymen and families also endowed and pursued connections with local monastic houses
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Internal Diplomacy

Important Dynasty

  • Brought up in Æthelstan's court
    • Very like Æthelstan in that he came from a base outside Wessex - possibly made it easier to plug unity
  • Based in East Anglia when sharing the kingship, ruled Mercia and Northumbria

Important Dynastic Marriages (3 Marriages)

  • Wulffrith - had important connections
    • No male children and repudiated as a nun
  • Ælfthryth = daughter of Ordgar
    • Connections in Devon and Cornwall, became an ealdorman at around the same time
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Internal Diplomacy

Policy to Control Northumbria More Directly

  • Appointed West Saxon bishops to Northern bishoprics and Southern ones - trying to prevent separation
  • Divided Northumbria - seperate ealdorman of Bamburgh and York
  • Scandinavian names appear in witness lists of charters - trying to draw Northern nobles into regular contact
  • Restricted number of ealdorman - about 7
  • Only 4 listed in charters: Ælfhere of Mercia, Æthelwine of East Anglia, Oslac of somewhere north, Byrhtnoth of Essex
  • Creating an elite group, drawing them tighter around him
    • Military duties of ealdormen reduced?
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  • Most kings hadd law codes highlighting particular areas of law that were important to them
  • EHD 40 and 41 = his law codes
  • Added to court system, but shire court system was probably the main innovation
  • Credited with very severe punishments?
    • Not surviving in laws, but charters do suggest that peace was based on rigorous enforcement and punishment
  • Encouraged national unity
  • Wihtbordesstan Law
    • Insists that decrees should be for everyone, but accepts that this can't always be enforced
    • --> Danelaw should keep peace for themselves
    • But is legislating for everyone - theft laws common to English and Danes
  • Interested in admin, not great changes
  • Interest in law enforcing laws, not coming up with new ones - proper observance of established practice
  • Trying to boost local-level government - became important later on
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Coinage Reform

  • 973: reformed coinage - standard weight and type throughout the kingdom, as supposed to considerable variation before
    • REX ANGLOR - compared to Æthelstan's title: REX TOT BRIT
    • National unity, but no longer aspirations to ruler Britain, just England
  • 973: second coronation - consecrated in Bath
    • Went straight to Chester, where apparently 6 Welsh and Scottish kings gave submissio and pledges of support
  • Inspired by roman ideas
  • Still trying for some kind of overlordship - is referred to as 'king of English and other areas of Britain'
  • But it was an alliance, not an aggressive hegemony
  • Everyone had defensive considerations --> gave Lothian to Kenneth (King of Alba) = concessions to secure peace
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  • Unification
  • Relationship with the Britons
  • Monastic reform
  • Bueaucracy
  • The justice/legal system
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