Centre for Advanced Study

at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters

The representation of the warrior in relation to the king in the European Middle Ages (600-1200)

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Former 2012/2013 Humanities - Theology

Abstract

The warrior has down the centuries been represented as part of the king's retinue or closely attached to the king and his court. When the king did battle he was, as a commander, utterly dependent on his warrior. And when the king wanted a favourable account of his triumph in that battle he was similarly dependent on his court-poet and/or the monastic learned of an allied monastery. In Ireland, however, the written discourse about the king as a commander and warrior is problematic. There is obviously a desire to present the king as a just judge and mediator and to distinguish between him and the warrior as such. When the king as commander of war is touched upon it is done normatively as is clearly demonstrated in the seventh-century Irish text Audacht Morainn (‘Morann’s testament’). In this literary admonition of just conduct for a king, the king’s role as warrior is played down and kept at a distance. The warrior, of course, represents a less complex character than that of the king and is of minor importance to the formulation of power and sovereignty. The project will examine this ambiguity in the presentation of Christian kings, comparing the four traditions covered by the project, Irish, Welsh, Norse and Old-English. A working hypothesis is that in the written representations of the king by learned Christians, the king as warrior – or the martial aspect of the king as defender of his realm – is communicated only indirectly. As a result, this complicates the representation of the warrior who becomes alienated from the king and the king’s milieu. His depiction may then be restricted so that he comes to be seen as of an incarnation of evil representing a pre-Christian ideology concerned above all with war and bestiality. In the medieval tales in which the king is meant to represent Christian virtues, the warrior is kept ‘hidden’ behind the royal figure. However, in those tales which portray a pre-Christian milieu with its pagan king, the warrior comes into full focus. In the Christian discourse full recognition is first given to the warriors when they appear as knights and crusaders – a guise that seems to allow the Church to sanctify the warrior and warfare. (‘A Christian nation is not at war — it is defending democracy’ – according to current Western political parlance). Much important research has been done on the ideology of the ruler in the medieval tradition. The pre-Christian warrior has also been studied to some extent. However, very little research has been done on the Christian warrior in the medieval tradition. This project introduces a new perspective by bringing the warrior out from the royal shadow, particularly by examining the rich field of metaphors relating to war and warriors, comparing the varied and valuable Norse and Old-English materials with those from the Celtic countries.. The sources underlying the investigation, belong to quite different, if related, cultures in North East Europe. In terms of the advent of Christianity and the written medium, they happen to represent extremes. And this range will help to deepen our understanding of the representation of the medieval warrior figure and its function. It is hoped that in addition, the investigation will shed new light on modern political discourse of war and warriors.

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