Levi Roach (Trinity College, Cambridge)
The Journal of Medieval History, 37.1 (March 2011), 34-46
Traditional studies of royal itinerancy have depended on locating the king’s progress through his kingdom(s) as precisely as possible and it should therefore not surprise that the iter regis in pre-Conquest England has received relatively little attention, since Anglo-Saxon diplomas only rarely record their date and place of issue, making the establishment of the royal itinerary all but impossible. However, more recent studies, particularly by German scholars, have moved away from the earlier attention to the concrete details of the royal iter and focus more on the effects of itinerancy as a method of rulership, viewing itinerancy as a central part of royal ritual. This study argues that if we investigate itinerancy in tenth-century England from this standpoint, we can throw new light onto subject. Contemporary sources reveal that in England as in France and Germany the iter regis was of great importance, with symbolic acts of feasting and gift-giving accompanying royal visits. The attention given to these ritualized acts in contemporary sources suggests, moreover, that Anglo-Saxon kingship possessed an important ‘charismatic’ quality, which deserves further investigation.
The study of royal itinerancy in Anglo-Saxon England has not enjoyed much popularity: with the exception of Thomas Charles-Edwards’ remarks on the earlier Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and Alban Gautier’s treatments of feasting and hospitality across the Anglo-Saxon period, the topic has been largely over- looked. The reasons for this are not difficult to find: Anglo-Saxon diplomas rarely specify where or when they were produced, and thus it is generally impossible to establish the royal iter with any certainty. The feeling has apparently been that, since the particulars of where and when the king was to be found cannot be reconstructed with any certainty, further research was unlikely to reap dividends. It is my hope to challenge this view by a reconsideration of contemporary narrative sources, which reveal a society in which the movement of the king and his court was an essential feature of the passing of the year and the presence or absence of the king was of utmost importance in a society in which kingship was ‘charismatic’.