Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index


  • Record Number: 2771
  • Author(s)/Creator(s): Armstrong , Dorsey.
  • Contributor(s):
  • Title: Holy Queens as Agents of Christianization in Bede's "Ecclesiastical History": A Reconsideration [argues that Bede marginalizes the queens in order to represent them without power or influence].
  • Source: Old English Newsletter 29, 3 (Spring 1996):
  • Description:
  • Article Type: Conference Paper Abstract
  • Subject (See Also): Bede, the Venerable, Scholar- Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum Conversion, Religious in Literature Queens in Literature Women in Literature Women in Religion
  • Geographic Area: British Isles
  • Century: 8
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  • Abstract: The Venerable Bede's "Ecclesiastical History of the English People" contains numerous accounts of what has been termed "conversion by marriage," episodes in which a royal bride acts as the first agent of Christianity in a heathen land. A close examination of these episodes demonstrates Bede' s intense concern with how the drama of gender, status, and influence is enacted at the intersection of marriage and faith. In the most famous of the conversion narratives in the "Ecclesiastical History" - that of Edwin of Northumbria - Bede begins by informing the reader that the "occasion of the conversion of this race was that Edwin became related to the kings of Kent, having married King Œthelberht's daughter Œthelburh..." (Bertram Colgrave and R. A. B. Mynors, eds.,~~"Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People" [Oxford, 1969], p. 163). Yet the key player in the conversion narrative which follows is not Œthelburh, but her bishop, Paulinus. It is he who assumes and completes the task of convening Edwin and his people. While scholars have suggested that "conversion was incumbent on the heathen ruler who acquired a Christian bride, and in this respect women played a major part in the propagation of Christianity" (Joan Nicholson, "'Feminae Gloriosae': Women in the Age of Bede," in "Medieval Women: Essays Presented to Rosalind Hill," ed. Derek Baker [Oxford, 1978], p. 23), the excruciating detail with which Bede details the progression toward Nonhumbrian Christianization - and Œthelburh' s pronounced absence from this narrative - suggest just the oppo-~~site. In his account, Bede marginalizes the role of the queen so as to render her powerless and absolutely without influence.~~This paper argues that the "conversion by marriage" model in the "Ecclesiastical History" is, in fact, not a viable model at all. A close examination of the accounts of the Nonhumbrian. Kentish, and South Saxon conversions reveals a manipulation of the historical accounts which serves to "de-emphasize" the power and participation of these queens in the subsequent Christianization of the nation: she is so ineffective as an agent of conversion that someone else has to step in and do the job. This paper funher argues that analysis of these panicular conversion narratives reveals less about the power and influence of royal women than it does Bede's own attitudes and concerns on the matter, pointing to the larger agenda of the text, and revealing the subtlety of purpose and design behind the massive undertaking which is the "Ecclesiastical History" [Reproduced by permission of Robert Schicler, the “Abstracts of Papers in Anglo-Saxon Studies” editor, and the editors of the “Old English Newsletter.”].
  • Author's Affiliation: Duke University
  • Conference Info: - , -
  • Year of Publication: 1996.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN/ISBN: 00301973
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