Tales of First Kings and the culture of kingship in western Europe, c.1050 - c.1200

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Abstract

Using as its point of departure a series of regnal origin narratives from across the Latin west (though with a particular focus on Scandinavia and Central Europe), this article explores how writers of history in the high Middle Ages thought and wrote about kingship. It considers both the image of royal power conveyed, and its place within the wider intellectual and cultural context of a narrative and its production. Especially in the “new realms” emerging between the beginning of the first millennium and the early thirteenth century, the origin of kingship was a paradigmatic moment, and the exercise of kingship by first rulers was almost by definition ideal. Yet these origin tales also emerged within a specific cultural milieu. This social context, in turn, required a refashioning of regnal history to meet contemporary expectations of what this kind of writing about the past should look like. In the process, an idealized past often became a means with which to define the role of the social group for which these texts were written, and to which many of the writers themselves belonged. Much of that process of self-representation was incidental. It mattered, but it was not the main focus of these narratives. Yet exactly because of this somewhat circumstantial nature, the resulting image of kingship, and of the right ordering of a regnal community, allows us to gain better, deeper and broader understanding of the cultural framework of royal power and its exercise.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)101-127
JournalViator
Volume46
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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