The Heroic Age

A Journal of Early Medieval Northwestern Europe

Issue 9 (Oct 2006)

Oswald, King and Saint: His Britain and Beyond   |   Issue Editor: Michelle Ziegler

Founded 1998   |   ISSN 1526-1867

Issue Navigation

Issue Homepage

Holy Kingship

Locating Maserfelth

The King's Fragmented Body

Exogamous Marriages

Enemy's Eyes

St. Oswald's Martyrdom

Forum—Irish Hagiography

Forum—Refusing the Gaze

Electronic Medievalia

Continental Business


Letter from the Editor

Welcome to the 9th issue of The Heroic Age. This issue is a celebration of the 1400th anniversary of the birth of King Oswald of Northumbria in c. 605. Our celebration began with a successful session on "St. Oswald, King of Northumbria" at the 39th International Medieval Congress in Kalamazoo in May 2004. All four of our participants at that session are included in this issue.

As this issue is a celebration of Oswald's mortal birth, it had originally been planned that this issue on a saint would focus on his mortal life. Alas, as so often happens, his afterlife has demanded at least equal attention. I should not be surprised and perhaps, it is fitting. The political relevance of Oswald's kingship was relatively short-lived, but his symbolic importance as a Christian, as a king, and even as a hero began to dominate his memory immediately after his death and endures to his day.

Oswald's mortal importance as a role model for kingship and Christianity became immediately evident in the career of his brother Oswiu and popular devotion at Maserfelth shown by his friends and foes alike. Two of our authors, who also participated at Kalamazoo, have tackled these issues. Kent Hare opens the issue, as he opened our session, with a review of how perceptions of holy kingship, for Oswald in particular, changed over the Anglo-Saxon period from Bede to Ælfric. As Hare reveals, although Bede provides all our details on Oswald, his withholding of the title 'martyr' did not last long. John Edward Damon looks at Oswald's martyrdom from a different angle. Damon examines primordial questions of the psyche of feud and the continuance of sacrificial kingship in a newly Christian setting through the lens of René Girard.

Tim Clarkson's and Martin Grimmer's contributions bring us back to Oswald's Britain. Clarkson reminds us of how poor the evidence that the battle of Maserfelth took place at Oswestry really is. Clarkson makes another proposal for the location of Maserfelth. Grimmer reexamines the early marriages (or relationships) of King Oswald's brother and successor Oswiu. His relationships with a British and an Irish women occurred either during their exile as youths or during Oswald's reign. These two relationships are unique as being the only English-Celtic marriages during the early Anglo-Saxon period in the historical record, although there must have almost certainly been others. These marriages produced two northern English kings, Alchfrith King of Deria 655–c.665, who was most influential in triggering the synod of Whitby and the rise of Bishop Wilfrid, and his half-brother Aldfrith, King of Northumbria, 685–705, a rare scholar king who brought Northumbria nearly twenty years of relative peace and prosperity.

Our last two papers on St. Oswald focus on the presentation of Oswald among foreign peoples. My paper looks at the context that caused ninth century Gwynedd (North Wales), who claimed King Cadwallon, Oswald's greatest enemy, as their former king, to present Oswald in such a positive, saintly way. David Defries introduces us to the earliest continental writings on St. Oswald by Drogo of Saint-Winnoc in Flanders. The cult of St. Oswald in Flanders, primarily known to us through the writings of Drogo, provides a vital link between the insular and Bavarian veneration that dominates later veneration and legend. This paper also ties into two of our book reviews this issue: my review of Marianne Kalinke's St Oswald of Northumbria: Continental Metamorphosis and Michel Aaij's review of Rolf Bremmer's book Here is Written: Reading and Writing in the Frisian Lands around 1300.

Our other sections include all our usual offerings. Two forum contributions are both appropriate for Oswald's Anglo-Irish world: Dorothy Bray reviews the state of Irish hagiography and Jessica Jordan discusses links between Queen Thryth of Beowulf and the recent movie Kill Bill, Volume 1. Our columns return with Patricia Cossard's discussion of humanities computing in Electronic Medievalia and Michel Aaij writes of scholarly activitiy on the continent in his Continental Businesss column. In addition to the reviews mentioned above, we also have two more reviews on Martin Chase's Einarr Skúlason's Geisli: A Critical Edition and Eamonn O'Carragain's Ritual and the Rood. We could not close this issue without marking the passing of two scholars, Leslie Alcock and Nicholas Howe, who each transformed medieval studies in their own way.

I hope you enjoy this issue, please return to visit us in the future.

Michelle Ziegler