Alcuin and Alfred: Two Anglo-Saxon Legal Reformers Public Deposited

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  • March 20, 2019
  • Carella, Bryan J.
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Comparative Literature
  • In this dissertation, I examine the use of scripture in the legal documents composed by two early Anglo-Saxon intellectual figures, Alcuin of York and king Alfred of Wessex. In my introductory chapter, I begin with some general background on the topic, including the relationship between secular and ecclesiastical law, and I explain my methodology. In chapter two, I consider the Legatine Capitulary of 786, a collection of twenty canons produced by a legation sent to England by pope Hadrian to address certain abuses. This document was composed during Alcuin.s first return visit to York after he left for Charlemagne.s royal court, and there has been ongoing debate about the extent of his role in drafting it. By comparing the scriptural passages quoted in this text with parallel quotations in the remainder of Alcuin.s work, I show that he had significant influence on these canons. Next, in chapter three, I consider the debate over the source of Alfred.s extended translation from Exodus that serves as an introduction to his law code. While Fournier argued almost a century ago that Alfred used a Hiberno-Latin tract known as the Liber ex lege Moysi, his thesis has remained unproven. I construct a working edition of the Liber and compare it to Alfred.s Prologue. My analysis not only upholds Fournier.s thesis, but also shows that Alfred was using the Liber in a way consistent with the ideology of the Irish Church of the time. In my final chapter, I draw some general conclusions about the use of scripture in Anglo-Saxon law. Specifically, I look at (1) the implications of using Latin or the vernacular for a law code, (2) the way Anglo-Saxon legalists perceived the relationship between the Old and New Testaments, and (3) how scripture could be used to justify legal reform. Finally, I end with some thoughts about future research in this area.
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  • O'Neill, Patrick
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