Fragments and Reflexes of Kingship Theory in Ælfric's Comments on Royal Authority
For some time now, scholars have mined the homiletic writings of Ælfric of Eynsham in order to gain insight into late Anglo-Saxon notions of royal authority. While Ælfric generally preferred to talk about kingship in moral terms, discussing what constitutes a good or bad king, some passages have been interpreted as reflecting the homilist's own views about royal legitimacy. The utility of these passages as providing honest glimpses into Ælfric's theory of kingship have since been called into question based on the nature of the homilist's sources and our understanding of Anglo-Saxon political practices. On occasion, the relevant passages have also been read against each other as expressing potentially conflicting notions regarding royal authority. While acknowledging the difficulty of consulting passages that were originally applied in moral or theological contexts, this paper reassesses the usefulness of Ælfric's comments on kingship in reconstructing the homilist's views on royal authority and demonstrates that he likely viewed elective kingship, theocratic authority and hereditary birthright as complementary notions consonant with late tenth-century and early eleventh-century political ideologies.
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