Royal Daughters in Anglo-Saxon England

Royal Daughters in Anglo-Saxon England

By Alice Wehling

Master’s Thesis, University of New Mexico, 2014

Abstract: This thesis seeks to investigate the social roles of royal daughters in Anglo-Saxon England. The daughters of Anglo-Saxon kings were raised in monasteries or in the royal households of their parents, and were educated in accordance with their royal status. Through their marriages to the rulers of other kingdoms, royal daughters served as the primary vehicles by which Anglo-Saxon ruling dynasties made political alliances with their domestic and continental neighbors. Royal daughters could also be consecrated to the religious life; as nuns and abbesses of prominent monastic institutions, these women served their family’s spiritual interests and wielded substantial spiritual and political influence.

In addition, royal daughters in Anglo-Saxon England were in some cases able to wield formal political power. As witnesses to the charters of their fathers and brothers, and, in a few rare cases, as candidates to succeed their fathers on the throne, royal daughters served as instrumental agents in Anglo-Saxon political administration. By examining the diverse roles of royal daughters in Anglo-Saxon society, this thesis argues that these women possessed a degree of power and social influence which was inherent in their status at birth, rather than entirely dependent on their marriages to powerful men.

Introduction: The daughters of Anglo-Saxon kings included among their number faithful wives, devout saints, land magnates, military leaders, and even murderers. Despite their brief appearances in historical sources, these royal daughters possessed dynamic and unique personalities. Yet these remarkable women all had one thing in common: royal status at birth. This study seeks to investigate the implications that this royal status had for the daughters of Anglo-Saxon kings. Throughout this work, I will primarily explore the roles that royal daughters played within Anglo-Saxon society, as well as the ways in which their royal status affected their ability to hold social and political power. By investigating the various experiences of royal daughters in Anglo-Saxon England, particularly their upbringings, marriages, and roles in both religious and secular life, I argue that these women were born with an inherent degree of power and social influence that stemmed from their royal status, rather than from their marriages to powerful men.

Click here to read this thesis from the University of New Mexico

Top Image: Saint Æthelthryth – British Library MS Additional 49598 f. 90v

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