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Competition and tradition: Carolingian political rituals, 751-800

Carolingian Lindau Gospels late 9th century
Carolingian Lindau Gospels late 9th century
Carolingian Lindau Gospels late 9th century

Competition and tradition: Carolingian political rituals, 751-800

Ian McIver (Glasgow)

Grounding Ancients: Volume 2, April (2014) 

Abstract

In 751, the Carolingians supplanted the traditional ruling dynasty of Francia. This article surveys Carolingian political rituals between 751 and 800, and argues that ritual was one means through which this new royal family sought to construct and legitimate its authority against its dynastic competitors. This article also highlights the neglected spiritual dimension of many of these rituals. Whilst tradition often formed an important part in these ceremonies, early medieval ritual was not static, and there is evidence of innovation and improvisation. The meaning of rituals was also unfixed, as reflected and conditioned by competing textual accounts.

Peasant woman: How do you become king then? King Arthur: The Lady of the Lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water, signifying by divine providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. That is why I am your king. Dennis: Listen, strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.

King Arthur‘s encounter with the anarcho-syndicalist‘ peasants in Monty Python and the Holy Grail provides an unlikely entrée into our topic. In the past fifty years or so, ritual has become an increasingly popular subject of historical study. However, recent work by historians such as Phillipe Buc and Christina Pössel has sharply challenged how we conceptualise the notion of ̳ritual‘ in the context of early medieval history. In a controversial and strident critique of its traditional treatment by early medieval historians, Buc reconsiders rituals as inherently dangerous, given the potential for disruption, as well as for competition over meanings.

Click here to read this article from Grounding Ancients

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