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  • Print publication year: 1989
  • Online publication date: May 2010

3 - Royal birth and the foundations of sanctity: theoretical interpretations

Summary

J. M. Wallace-Hadrill, in his masterly study of early Germanic kingship, concluded a brief examination of the Merovingian royal cults with the statement that ‘Frankish respect for the Merovingians never reached the point where it was possible to expect or assume royal sanctity.’ A random glance at Bede's Historia ecclesiastica might suggest that, in contrast, such a point was reached, and reached at a relatively early date, in Anglo-Saxon England. Indeed, William Chaney has noted of the Anglo-Saxon period that ‘the sacral nature of kingship, pagan and Christian, would lead the folk to expect God to honour the stirps regia. The recognised form of this in the new religion was sainthood.’ For Chaney the Christian saint king was the lineal descendant of the sacral ruler of the age of the migrations: sanctity simply was carried in the blood or went with the job of the Anglo-Saxon kings and, by extension, of their consorts and their offspring. It is the purpose of this chapter, first, to demonstrate that the reality was nothing like so simple and, second, to review the statements made about the relationship between royal birth and sanctity by the hagiographers of the royal saints.

ASCRIBED OR ACHIEVED? SANCTITY AND THE ROYAL STATE IN THE EARLY MIDDLE AGES

Kingship, as every medieval churchman knew and as every medieval ruler was informed, was instituted by divine concession: it was exercised Dei gratia.