Dr Emily A. Winkler

Featured Publication
Royal Responsibility in Anglo-Norman Historical Writing

Royal Responsibility in Anglo-Norman Historical Writing (OUP, 2017)

It has long been established that the crisis of 1066 generated a florescence of historical writing in the first half of the twelfth century. Emily A. Winkler presents a new perspective on previously unqueried matters, investigating how historians' individual motivations and assumptions produced changes in the kind of history written across the Conquest. She argues that responses to the Danish Conquest of 1016 and the Norman Conquest of 1066 changed dramatically within two generations of the latter conquest. Repeated conquest could signal repeated failures and sin across the orders of society, yet early twelfth-century historians in England not only extract English kings and people from a history of failure, but also establish English kingship as a worthy office on a European scale.

Royal Responsibility in Anglo-Norman Historical Writing illuminates the consistent historical agendas of four historians: William of Malmesbury, Henry of Huntingdon, John of Worcester, and Geffrei Gaimar. In their narratives of England's eleventh-century history, these twelfth-century historians expanded their approach to historical explanation to include individual responsibility and accountability within a framework of providential history. In this regard, they made substantial departures from their sources. These historians share a view of royal responsibility independent both of their sources (primarily the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle) and of any political agenda that placed English and Norman allegiances in opposition. Although the accounts diverge widely in the interpretation of character, all four are concerned more with the effectiveness of England's kings than with the legitimacy of their origins. Their new, shared view of royal responsibility represents a distinct phenomenon in England's twelfth-century historiography.


  • medieval historical writing
  • diplomacy and communication
  • intellectual history

I work on historical writing and the literary, political, and intellectual culture of the high Middle Ages, with interests in the British Isles, the Anglo-Norman world, and the North Sea zone. I also research the social and material culture of the Norman Mediterranean world, especially Sicily and southern Italy. In my work I apply cross-disciplinary and comparative approaches to the past for a better understanding of medieval people and ideas. Several core questions are at the heart of my work. How did historians writing in the Middle Ages think about the past? How do art, architecture and archaeological remains tell stories about the thoughts and values of the people who created and interacted with them? What insights does the study of writing and rewriting history in the Middle Ages offer into diplomacy and conquest, both in practice and in perception? How can phenomenology—the study and philosophy of lived experience—and recent research on emotions in history help us to retrieve medieval ideas about human thought and feeling?

In addition to my monograph, I have co-edited two books: Designing Norman Sicily: Material Culture and Society (forthcoming, 2020), which is an interdisciplinary study of art, architecture, archaeology in high medieval Sicily, and a companion to a twelfth-century chronicler and ‘Renaissance man’, Discovering William of Malmesbury (2017). I have published articles in international journals and books on the reception of the classics, the Anglo-Norman vision of Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian, and Celtic history, attitudes towards conquest and diplomacy, and the experience of battle in the Middle Ages. For full details, please see the publications page.

Previously, I held an Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellowship at the University of Mainz in Germany (2017–2019) and the John Cowdrey Junior Research Fellowship in History at St Edmund Hall, Oxford (2015–2018).

More information can be found at:



In the Media