Writing Land in Anglo-Saxon England
Smith, Scott Thompson
Doctor of Philosophy, University of Notre Dame, April (2007)
This project considers the ways in which the Anglo-Saxons used writing (in both its documentary and discursive sense) to establish legitimate and enduring possession of property and in doing so formed longstanding cultural ideas that connected writing and holding land. Anglo-Saxon legal texts designed to control the ownership, use, and transmission of property produced a pervasive discourse for land possession with its own terminology and concepts. Composed in Latin and Old English, these texts stipulated specific terms and limits of possession, but more powerfully, they also defined land by establishing its history and charting its boundaries. Land tenure practices were originally an instrument of ecclesiastical institutions, and tenurial texts, originally written in Latin were heavily inflected with religious language.From at least the late sixth century, for example, land holding in Anglo-Saxon England was framed in a rhetoric of salvation and oppositions between the eternal and transitory. The terminology of land tenure was translated into the vernacular, yielding such terms as bocland and lænland, which further facilitated the adoption of tenurial language for considering issues of transience, salvation, political power, and sacred history.