«The development of the family into a small unit in which descent was traced almost exclusively through the male line is regarded as a major turning ...»
The transformation of kinship and the
family in late Anglo-Saxon England
The development of the family into a small unit in which descent was
traced almost exclusively through the male line is regarded as a major
turning point in medieval European history. The early stages of the
formation of agnatic kinship have usually been connected to strategies
designed to preserve and retain control of patrimonies and castles, arising
from the breakdown of public order. In this article it is suggested that the emergence of new kinship values was connected to the investment of aristocratic energy and resources in monastic programmes, and to subtle changes in lay involvement with the rituals associated with death and the salvation of souls.
`Wulfric re-established it [Burton abbey] for his own sake and the sake of his ancestors and ®lled it with monks in order that men of that order under their abbot might ever serve God in that place, according to St. Benedict's teaching'.1 Testament of Wulfric, founder of Burton abbey, c.1002 x 4 Attitudes towards death and kinship At the turn of the eleventh century the nobleman Wulfric founded Burton abbey in Staffordshire so that Benedictine monks would pray for the salvation of his own and his ancestors' souls, but who were these ancestors? Prosopographical studies of confraternity books (lists of names of deceased souls for whom the monks offered special prayers) have been used to suggest that nobles such as Wulfric stood at the centre of extended kindreds, which de®ned their identity through bilateral descent (descent traced through both male and female kin) and kinship connections with royal and ecclesiastical of®ce holders. At each generation these kin-groupings contracted or expanded depending upon the Anglo-Saxon Wills, ed. D. Whitelock (Cambridge, 1930) [henceforth W.], no. 17 (S 1536), p. 50, ls. 27±30; p. 152.
Early Medieval Europe 2001 10 (3) 375±399 # Blackwell Publishers Ltd 2001, 108 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1JF, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA 376 Andrew Wareham interplay of politics, royal patronage, marriage alliances and `®ctive' kinship strategies such as fosterage, godparenthood and so on.2 As it happens, Wulfric's family or for that matter any other tenth-century English dynasty cannot be mapped in this way because England, in contrast to continental Europe, does not have suf®cient number of confraternity books.3 The corpus of Anglo-Saxon wills provides the best available evidence to analyze kinship, but it also encourages a slightly different perspective from the prosopographical studies of European confraternity books. Anglo-Saxon wills have been used, for example, to outline the parameters of kinship, to assess the fortunes of a prominent dynasty and to address other important themes,notably the development of military obligations and property law.4 The strong emphasis placed in the wills upon testators' preparations for death and the salvation of their own and their kinsfolks' souls (discussed later in this article) suggests that these texts could be used to look at the processes by which the family developed from a horizontal assembly of kinsmen and kinswomen into a much smaller unit governed by agnatic principles (i.e., descent from a common male ancestor). An initial orientation can be achieved by looking in general terms at what was involved in the European family's transformation.
The transformation of the European family into an agnatic, patrilinear structure between the tenth and early thirteenth centuries can be divided into several stages.5 The intermediate stage was marked by the investment of wealth in family monasteries, marriages between cousins and neighbours, and the writing of simple genealogies which traced descent through the male line over several generations. This was followed by the advanced stage: the construction of castles, preservations of patrimonies and the commissioning of complex genealogies which È ÈÈ È K. Schmid, `Uber die Struktur des Adels im fruheren Mittelalter', Jahrbuch fur frankische Landesforschung 19 (1959), pp. 1±23.
Ã Â Â J.-L. Lemaõtre, Repertoire des documents necrologiques francais (Paris, 1980); O. Oexle, Ë È È `Memoria und Memorialuberlieferung im Mittelalter', Fruhmittelalterliche Studien 10 (1976), pp. 72±120; S.D. Keynes, The Liber Vitae of the New Minster and Hyde Abbey Winchester, Early English Manuscripts in Facsimile 26 (Copenhagen, 1996) pp. 49±65, at p. 52.
L. Lancaster, `Kinship in Anglo-Saxon Society', British Journal of Sociology 9 (1958), pp. 230±50, 359±77; J. Crick, `Women, Posthumous Benefaction, and Family Strategy in Pre-Conquest England', Journal of British Studies 38 (1999), pp. 399±422; A. Williams, `Princeps Merciorum gentis: the Family, Career and Connections of álfhere, Ealdorman of Mercia, 956±83', ASE 10 (1982), pp. 143±72; N.P. Brooks, `Arms, Status and Warfare in Late-Saxon England', in idem, Communities and Warfare 700±1400 (London, 2000), pp. 138±61; P. Wormald, `On a wñpnedhealfe: Kingship and Royal Property from áthelwulf to Edward the Elder', in N.J. Higham and D.H. Hill (eds.), Edward the Elder, 899±924 (London, 2001), pp. 264±79.
Ã G. Duby, `Structures familiales dans la Moyen Age occidentale', in idem, Male Moyen Age (Paris, 1988), pp. 129±38; K. Schmid, `Zur Problematik von Familie, Sippe und Geschlecht, Haus und Dynastie beim mittelalterlichen Adel. Vortragen zum Thema: Adel und Herrschaft in È Mittelalter', in idem, Gebetsgedenken und adliges Selbstverstandnis im Mittelalter (Sigmaringen, 1993), pp. 183±239; P.J. Geary, Phantoms of Remembrance: Memory and Oblivion at the End of the First Millenium (Princeton, NJ, 1994), pp. 48±80.
Early Medieval Europe 2001 10 (3) # Blackwell Publishers Ltd 2001 Transformation of kinship and family traced descent from a distant founding male ancestor, sometimes of a relatively low social status. In Francia the intermediate and advanced stages were preceded and abetted by the breakdown of public order, but the latter was not necessarily the root cause of the transformation. This opening stage perhaps began with a subtle reorientation of kinship values during the second half of the tenth century, eventually leading to the intermediate and advanced stages of the family's transformation.
In assessing whether such subtle shifts can contribute to the formation of new frameworks of kinship, attention can be turned to a parallel example from outside the European framework. In China, between the late tenth and thirteenth centuries, there was also a transformation in the structure of kinship, but much greater attention has been paid to the role of rituals of death in this process than in studies of the European family's transition. A brief review of these developments in Sungdynasty China (c.960±1270) provides a reference point.
The transformation of Chinese kinship After the collapse of the Tang dynasty in the early tenth century the aristocratic family developed from a communal system into a patrilineal lineage structure in which membership was de®ned agnatically, by descent from a founding male ancestor.6 In some respects these changes resembled developments in western Europe, most notably the move away from bilateral models of kinship towards agnatic ancestor-focused kinship. The Sung dynasty regulated the rituals of mourning offered by Buddhist monks and Taoist priests, as a means of binding the aristocracy into a close alliance with successive emperors. The emphasis upon the doctrine that the emperor ruled all-under-heaven through ®lial devotion underwrote the new importance given to agnatic kinship bonds. These bonds were given additional strength after groups of agnates began to gather at a family tomb in order to make common offerings on feast days, such as the Chinese Feast of All Souls, initially sponsored by Buddhist monks. These practices gave rise to texts such as the Five Grades of Mourning written by Cheng-Yi (1033±1107), which allotted a more senior role to the male descendants of a greatgrandfather's eldest son over other sub-lines, reaching out as far as third cousins. Ou-Yang Hsiu (1007±72) and Su Hsun (1009±66) independently compiled genealogies in 1055 which traced the descent of their kindreds through several lines to a common great-grandfather. The For general discussion of these themes, P.B. Ebrey, `The Early Stages in the Development of Descent Organization', in P.B. Ebrey and J. Watson (eds.), Kinship Organization in Late Imperial China (Berkeley, CA, 1986), pp. 16±63; J.L. Watson and E.S. Rawski (eds.), Death Ritual in Late Imperial and Modern China (Berkeley, CA, 1988); N. Kutcher, Mourning in Late Imperial China: Filial Piety and the State (Cambridge, 1999).
# Blackwell Publishers Ltd 2001 Early Medieval Europe 2001 10 (3) 378 Andrew Wareham creation of an agnatic ideology of kinship arose initially from a series of simple stages, which was followed over the longer term by the investment of lineages' wealth in ancestral halls and charitable estates and by the commissioning of complex genealogies. New family rituals, associated with death and the salvation of souls, did not create individual patrilinear families or agnatic modes of kinship, but it did introduce new ideas which played a central role in the transition of the structure of the aristocratic family.
In western Europe secular rulers did not regulate rites of mourning in order to strengthen ties between courts and localities, and lay kinsmen and kinswomen played no direct role in the rites of salvation. Bearing in mind these two distinctions, we can consider whether in western Europe new, evolving and subtle shifts in the rituals associated with death and salvation of souls also contributed to the establishment of agnatic, descent-orientated kinship systems. In applying the Chinese model to the transition of the European family, castles and patrimonies can be substituted for ancestral halls and charitable estates. Castles/ancestral halls and patrimonies/charitable estates acted as the interdependent symbols of lineages' authority in the advanced stage of the family's transformation, but changes in rituals associated with death perhaps initially altered the organization of kinship in the opening phase.
Kinship and preparations for death in tenth-century western Europe In tenth-century western Europe the laity and clergy adopted an inclusive approach towards securing their joint salvation. It was acceptable for laymen to be buried in monastic cemeteries, and in England thegns made preparatory visits to view their burial plots in such cemeteries.7 When Benedictine monks prayed for the souls of the dead listed in their confraternity books, they sought not only to care for the welfare of their brothers and sisters who had been members of their own houses and other religious communities, but also to care for the souls of the lay donors and patrons with whom they shared bonds of confraternity. The rule of Saint Basil encouraged monks to care for their own and their brethren's kinsmen, and Caesarius of Arles encouraged his sister to support the relatives of the nuns under her charge.8 From that it was only a D. Postles, `Monastic Burials of Non-Patronal Lay Benefactors', Journal of Ecclesiastical History 47 (1998), pp. 620±37, at p. 636; Liber Eliensis, ed. E.O. Blake (London, 1962), p. 82;
Chronicon Abbatiae Ramesiensis, ed. W.D. Macray (Oxford, 1886), pp. 93±5; The Chronicle of John of Worcester, eds. R.R. Darlington and P. McGurk, 3 vols. (Oxford, 1995±8), II, pp. 420±1, 432±33.
H. Mayr-Harting, The Venerable Bede, the Rule of Saint Benedict and Social Class (Jarrow Lecture, 1976), pp. 7, 24 n. 20.
Early Medieval Europe 2001 10 (3) # Blackwell Publishers Ltd 2001 Transformation of kinship and family small step to care for the souls of benefactors' kin. The `space of death' was public, communal and often drawn out over a number of decades, bringing together extended families and networks of monasteries, rather than being a private moment between the priest and the individual preparing for his or her death.9 In the central Middle Ages ideas on purgatory had established that the prayers of the living merely shortened the trials of the dead, but in the ninth and tenth centuries there was a less clear-cut set of ideas.10 At times sections of the clergy and laity perhaps believed that the status and the number of those who pleaded with the Heavenly Judge for the salvation of the soul was as important as the weighing up of the individual's sins and acts of charity.11 These beliefs shaped the contents of confraternity books, and from the beginning of the tenth century led to the popularity of feasts for the dead, such as the new Cluniac Feast of All Souls.12 The confraternity books preserve a record of the monks' duties in maintaining the triangular relationship between laity, clergy and the Heavenly Judge, while wills record more of the secular perspective. There is no European equivalent to the 10,000 funerary inscriptions from Sung-dynasty China,13 but late tenth-century Anglo-Saxon testaments, multi-gift wills and post-obit donations provide extensive records of kinship strategies in the context of preparations for death and the salvation of souls.
Five of the twenty-four wills surviving for the period between c.950 and c.1016 will be discussed here as case studies,14 along with the prologue from Ealdorman áthelweard's Chronicle. All six nobles (three men, three women) belonged to the uppermost rank of the nobility, and each had established close ties with Benedictine abbeys and nunneries. The backgrounds of these nobles are suf®ciently similar to make feasible comparisons, while the selection of wills from four archives, ranging from the heartlands of Wessex to north-west Mercia, at roughly ten-year intervals between c.950 and c.1000, provides a reasonably diverse geographical and chronological sample. These individuals sought to put their family and spiritual affairs in order, addressing personal concerns and issues, but they also operated under general constraints. Given their Á P. Aries, Western Attitudes towards Death: from the Middle Ages to the Present (Baltimore, MD, 1974).
J. Le Goff, The Birth of Purgatory (Chicago, IL, 1984).
Á P. Aries, The Hour of Our Death (London, 1981), p. 101.
M. McLaughlin, Consorting with Saints: Prayer for the Dead in Early Medieval France (Ithaca, NY, 1994), pp. 75±8.
B.J. Bossler, Powerful Relations: Kinship, Status and the State in Sung China (960±1279) (London, 1998), p. 10.