Kathrin McCann introduces her new book, Anglo-Saxon Kingship and Political Power: Rex gratia Dei.
During the late 8th century it was said that England’s powerful ruler, King Offa of Mercia, sought to depose Pope Hadrian. He allegedly hoped to persuade his role model, Charlemagne of Francia, to replace the current pontiff with a Frankish ally. The pope, who regarded the king as his sincerest supporter and friend, was naturally enraged upon discovering this talk – he would not believe the wicked and utterly false rumour even if Offa were a pagan. Yet such was his concern that the pope sent an investigative mission to inspect the state of the Church and remedy all ills.
An episode such as this might appear inconsequential in our modern world of gossip and fake news, but in the early Middle Ages news travelled slowly, and the documentation of this information was serious. What if a king could depose a pope? What would that mean for the order of things, indeed of the world? The Middle Ages often saw king and Church oppose each other, as neither wanted to cede authority or influence. The documents that have come down to us tell a fascinating story about how each party attempted to establish their position within the God-given order, and how they used the means at their disposal to negotiate and legitimise their roles. Ideas of rulership and power are evident in letters, legates’ reports, laws, homilies, charters and even verse. This book explores those documents within their social, cultural and historical context to show how kings were made and unmade.
Kathrin McCann is the research funding manager at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Germany, after having worked in the Humanities Division at the University of Oxford for several years.