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2 - Anglo-Saxon Royal Archives: Their Nature, Extent, Survival and Loss

from PART II

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 December 2013

Gale R. Owen-Crocker
Affiliation:
Professor of Anglo-Saxon Culture at the University of Manchester
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Summary

This paper is intended to promote a more balanced view of the extent of the royal archives kept by and for Anglo-Saxon kings than either the national land registry postulated by Cyril Hart in 1970 or the minimalist entity suggested by Michael Clanchy in 1979 and 1993. Hart envisaged a centralized registry of title in Wessex from 854 onwards, postulating ‘first that the later Anglo-Saxon kings kept copies of the royal landbooks issued by them, and secondly that this royal collection was housed at Winchester, at least during the last century of the Anglo-Saxon state’. In marked contrast, Clanchy has stated that ‘It seems unlikely that England was governed by a bureaucracy using documents in its routine procedures before 1066.’ I shall return to Hart's theory in due course but, against Clanchy's view, while acknowledging the paucity of specific references to the deposition of documents for the future use of the monarch, I would argue that the range and sophistication of royal government by 1066 would certainly have been reflected in a similar range of records kept. This may seem axiomatic to Anglo-Saxonists, but is still not always apparent to others who prefer to stress the Norman contribution to English history.

The Records of Royal Administration

Anglo-Saxon officials involved in each of a number of royal activities or responsibilities would have had to create some records not merely for immediate convenience but also for future reference. From the late sixth century onwards, these would usually have been written on parchment but may sometimes have taken the form of wooden accounting tallies of the type used in the twelfth-century royal exchequer.

Detailed accounts must have been kept of the returns from national taxation, whether in the form of money payments or of tribute in kind. Although the earliest surviving manuscript of the list of peoples and their taxable values known as the Tribal Hidage is from the first half of the eleventh century, the text itself was (as argued by Nick Higham) probably originally composed in the seventh century for Edwin, king of Northumbria, as overlord of his southern neighbours. It would have been preserved on that king’s behalf, and probably by his heirs, as both a fiscal document and a political statement.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2013

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