Kingship is not a
inevitable feature of any type of society. Historical
labels can be misleading, and some of the most
labels surround the idea of kingship. A medieval king of
contains details of
tradition going back centuries, sometimes hardly altered. It is a mix
and new traditions, facts and fictions. It was meant to explain the
not just describing the past. In the early Middle Ages the law of
Each succession was settled by the conventions and customs of the times, but not always peacefully. Often a “strong man armed” gained the throne, and he would feel bound to justify his action. From the way in which the king justified his ascension can be seen what rules he was pretending to have followed. If at all possible, he showed that he was related to his predecessor–that he had a hereditary claim. He argued that the people had accepted his rule in due form–that he had been ‘elected.’ He asserted that his predecessor named him as successor–had been designated by a reigning king. An understanding of the making of kings must include these three methods; inheritance, election and designation. Each of these were part of the process in the Middle Ages.
The word “king”
is common to all
known Germanic languages. When Goths and Vandals and Lombards emerged
history, they had strong, unified monarchies. There the kings
claimed to be derived from the best ancient stock, but election
to them than heredity. In
The most obvious
about kingship, that only one ruled at a time, had many exceptions. In
early days kings did not necessarily rule alone. While one king might
dominant, all the male members of a family could rule together. When
It has been the
practice in many
societies for men to recite with pride the list of their ancestors. The
genealogies of primitive peoples are rarely historical documents,
can preserve elements of genuine tradition. Their purpose is to join
reigning king to the ancestor from whom the kingdom started, even from
who gave the kings their authority. The early records of royal Saxon
are mainly genealogical, therefore there was a patrilineal element in
succession. The genealogies inclined men to stick to the male line, to
that a king should be the direct descendant of the ancestor who gave
to the dynasty. In the early records of
The “election” seems to have been a purely formal process, but persuasion may have been used behind the scene. In the election of Anglo-Saxon kings there was no majority principle, no fixed body of electors, and usually one candidate. The “election,” or choosing, was an important part in their way of thinking. There was some difference of opinion but people did not choose whom they please, and every Anglo-Saxon claimed the right to resist a tyrannical king, the right to rebel. The people did not choose the king, they simply acknowledged him, which would seem to be the true meaning. In many cases this word may hide discussion and arrangement; election actually described a formal process of acknowledgment and acclamation. Sometimes in the records it was God who elected. All kings felt themselves to be kings by God’s grace–and so by His choice, by His election.
The final act in the making of a king was the solemn confirmation by God’s blessing of the process which had gone before in the rites of anointing and coronation. Inheritance, designation, and election all have an oral history going back into early Germanic society. In the fifth and sixth centuries the ceremonies of Anglo-Saxon coronation were similar to the Germanic tradition of raising the king on a shield.
By the mid-seventh century anointing by the pope or bishop became a part of the coronation ceremony as a consecration. The concept of consecration of a king by anointing came from Biblical accounts of the coronation of David, who, though not being related to Saul, was his predecessor on the throne. It was the priests who anointed him, making him king. The crucial event in the ceremony of coronation was the anointing. This was done with holy oil, which was also used in the ordination of priests and the consecration of bishops. Anointing the new king came to be regarded as having a sacramental character, as a kind of ordination..
is known of the ceremonies of coronation between Offa’s and Edgar’s
975, at the age of 50 and at the height of his power, Edgar was
anointed and crowned. There are records of the ceremony performed by
Two bishops led the king into the church while the choir sang a hymn. The king prostrated himself before the altar, laid aside the crown (which he already wore), and the bishops, would sing the “Te Deum.” They then raised the king, and the archbishop administered to him the coronation oath. Then the king swore: “The Church of God and all his Christian people shall keep true peace under our rule at all times; that I shall forbid thefts and every iniquity to every grade of man; that I shall ordain justice and mercy in all judgements, that the kindly and merciful God may grant to me and to you his mercy.”–and to this all present said “Amen.” After three prayers, came the solemn prayer calling down God’s blessing “on your servant (the king), whom we have chosen with suppliant devotion for royal authority over Angles and Saxons,” and asking God to grant him the faithfulness of Abraham, the gentleness of Moses, the fortitude of Joshua, the humility of David, the wisdom of Solomon, and to help to nourish, instruct, fortify and build up the church of his kingdom and all the people committed to him, ending with the anointing by archbishop in Christ’s name, and the anthem “Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet,” which is still in use. In the midst of further prayers, the king was given a ring and sword, symbols of royal power; then he was crowned, and scepter and staff were placed in his hands; and a blessing pronounced over him. The king received the allegiance of his leading subjects, his royal position defined, and after further prayers the ceremonies were completed by a solemn mass.
The queens had
not always been so
respectfully treated. The
King Egbert’s wife, Redburga, was therefore only considered the king’s wife, and not given the title of queen, or the respect which came with that position in later times. The death of Beorhtric, and Eadburh’s infamy, would have greatly affected her standing with the people. This could be one of the reasons there is so little known about her. She probably received more respect and consideration because of her relationship to Charlemagne than she would otherwise have gotten as a queen. The events surrounding Beorhtric’s death were too recent for the general population to readily accept her, or anyone, as a queen.
For the most part women were respectfully treated in Anglo-Saxon England, but there was a difference between queen-making and the status of women. It was possible for property to pass in the female line under Anglo-Saxon law, but not normal. It is possible that succession in the female line was more common than historical records suggest. But women were not of an equal footing with men, and queens could not demand the same authority as a king.
King Cenwulf of Mercia
King's Gate, St. Swithin's, Winchester
Offa leading his fyrd
|Historical Time Line
The Making of Kings- Kingship, The Army and Warfare
Events before King Egbert's Time- Beginning in Europe, The 7 Kingdoms and the Church, Lineage, Ancestors and Parentage
The Life of King Egbert- The Early Years (775-802)
The Kingship- Chronicle Excerpts, 802-824, 825-829, 830-839, Reasons for Success
The People and Places Important to King Egbert - The People, The Places
Society in King Egbert's Time- Part 1 (Government, Household, Allegiance, Finances) Part 2 (Great Hall, Cooking & Eating, Food, Feasts, Christmas)
Part 3 (Crafts & Trade, Clothing and Appearance, Hygiene, Medicine) Part 4 (Peasants, Farming, Gardens & Plants, Common Tasks, Home, Village) Part 5 (Art)
Sources and References