The importance of friends and friendship in late Anglo-Saxon England, c. 871-1035.
Today the bond of friendship seems almost ubiquitous, yet this same bond is conspiciously absent from the historical record of pre-Conquest England. Admittedly, attempting to understand how friendship was understood, let alone how this relationship played out, presents many obstacles. Despite this, there has been a recent surge in scholarly interest regarding the importance of friends and friendship. Scholars of contemporary Ottonian Germany have found friendship a particularly fertile area of study. Indeed, viewing Ottonian society through the 'lens' of friendship has proven so fruitful that it is now regarded as the matrix through which the kingdom was both governed and understood.
My research makes use of a range of continental comparanda, and draws on diverse source material, stretching from charters and law-codes to elegiac and heroic poetry. My work also takes a consciously interdisciplinary approach, and by taking cues from recent research in the fields of sociology and anthropology, the hope is that one is able to look past the modern understanding of an 'ideal-type' relationship, or constructions of friendship as purely affective or instrumental, and get closer to the bond's tenth-century 'real-world' context.
Scholars have often sought to conceptualize pre-Conquest government by viewing it at its most bureaucratic level, through its agents and agencies. However, these endeavours, focused on levels of taxation and administrative sophistaction, have had a reifying effect on our view of tenth-century society, and failed to incorporate the more human elements of interaction, which appear as the central feature of our sources. With this in mind, my research intends to add some texture back into our understanding of late Anglo-Saxon England, and put the personality back into a society that functioned, first and foremost, at an interpersonal level.