Creating kings in post-conquest England: The fate of Charlemagne in Anglo-Norman society

Date of Completion

January 2008


Literature, Comparative|Literature, Medieval|History, Medieval




This dissertation challenges the traditional notions of the Anglo-Normans as rapacious colonizers of Britain by exploring how they modeled their kingship on their idealized interpretations of Charlemagne's imperium. Although there was a considerable advantage to validating Norman legitimacy through their association with Anglo-Saxon kings, the Introduction demonstrates how Charlemagne maintained a great deal of political and cultural clout for the Normans from their tenure as dukes in Normandy. ^ Chapter 2 considers the appeal of conversion politics found in Anglo-Norman literature, defined as enticing subjects with the promise of inclusion in a more civilized way of life, rather than dominating them by the sword alone. Anglo-Normans justified expansion by portraying themselves as inheritors of an Anglo-Saxon pan-British empire; as a result of the influence of Carolingian conversion politics, however, it was perceived as radically different from more violent pre-Conquest practices. Chapter 3 examines the ideological reasons behind the Norman program of building castles and roads across Britain for creating an enduring image of their authority. The Normans appropriated the Roman ruins that formed the English imperial landscape in imitation of Charlemagne's practice at Aachen, which established their new empires as a “second Rome.” ^ Additionally, Carolingian legal practices shaped the Normans' administrative policies such as the Forest Laws. Chapter 4 shows how the Norman kings' economic and political control of forests, a system that Charlemagne was first to fully exploit, further served to promote the Forest as an imperial landscape. The literature of the thirteenth century, conversely, underscores how ideals of kingship adapted to the political changes of England's separation from its Continental holdings. Chapter 5 further traces the patterns of kingship and courtly behavior, especially the ways in which certain texts attempt to contain the legend of Charlemagne, who is present as a shadow to be boxed with, a polarizing (French) figure to obliquely position their own (English) heroes against. As a result, the resurgence of an idea of “Englishness” in the later Middle Ages can be viewed as much as a consequence of the Anglo-Norman imagination and experience as inheritors of Charlemagne's legacy as a reaction against it. ^