‘A Certain Royal Island’: Glastonbury, Abbey and Throne before the Normans[1]

Around the year 540, the British writer Gildas, in a tract for the times entitled De Excidio Britanniæ (‘On the Ruin of Britain’), reflecting on the Germanic invasions and their aftermath, denounced by name five British rulers. Among them (ch. 28) was Constantine of Dumnonia (Devon and Cornwall) who, alongside the usual adultery:

This very year, bound himself by a dreadful oath not to work any deceit against our fellow-citizens, who trusted first in God and the oath, then in their companions the choirs of the saints and in the Mother of God [Genetrix], then in the bosoms of two venerable mothers, the church and their mother in the flesh. He nevertheless, in the cloak of a holy abbot amid the sacred altars, did with sword and javelin, as if with teeth, wound and  tear at the tender sides and vitals of two royal boys, with their two attendants, whose arms, although not cased in armour, were yet boldly used, and stretched out towards God and his altar and will hang up at the gates of thy city, O Christ, the venerable ensigns of their faith and patience; and when he had done it, the cloaks, red with coagulated blood, did touch the place of the heavenly sacrifice.

In Avalonian Quest, 1983, Geoffrey Ashe, noting like the Victorian translator Giles before him that Genetrix (birthgiver) was the usual Latin equivalent of the Greek Theotokos (God-bearer), applied to the Virgin Mary, suggested that the monastic church (‘the choirs of the saints’) in question might be Glastonbury, where the cultus of the Virgin appeared to be primary. He pointed out that in the sixth century dedications to the Virgin were actually rather rare outside the East Mediterranean and Rome itself.[2] There cannot have been many in South-Western Britain. His suggestion met with predictable silence in Academe, but deserves rather more serious consideration. At the time of writing, Gildas was not yet himself a monk, although he tells us that he hopes one day to become one. He was, in fact, in all probability a teacher of Latin rhetoric, writing somewhere in the South-Western quarter of Britain (the Late-Roman province of Britannia Prima) in some centre where elements of Romanitas were still valued. One might think, perhaps, of Cirencester, Gloucester or Bath. He appears to know a great deal about Constantine’s outrage (‘in this very year..’). Gildas eventually did become a monk, and, indeed, an abbot, one whose rulings on monastic disciple were particularly valued and preserved by the second generation of the Irish church. Writing in the 1120s the Anglo-Norman historian William of Malmesbury believed he had been buried in Glastonbury, before the altar of the wooden Old Church.

William also saw what he believed to be an authentic land-charter dated 601 recording a grant to Glastonbury (identified under a supposed Welsh name, Ineswitrin) and an abbot Worgret by a king of Dumnonia whose name was no longer legible. Most charter scholars have regarded this as a forgery, although Heather Edwards believed it might have been based on something genuine. One problem is that there is no evidence that Dumnonia, in either its Iron Age, Roman or post-Roman manifestations, ever extended further East than the Quantocks.[3]

All of which brings us to the vexed question of whether there really was a pre-Saxon church or monastery at Glastonbury at all. This was universally assumed from the tenth century until the later 1970s when doubts arose, centred initially on the archaeology. In the 1960s excavations were carried out at Chalice Well, Beckery chapel site, and on the Tor by archaeologist Philip Rahtz. At Beckery and the Tor he found sherds of imported Byzantine pottery (then known as Tintagel ware) which appeared to be missing from the Abbey site. Rahtz dug at the height of the craze for ‘Arthurian’ archaeology and was initially inclined to interpret his findings on the Tor as evidence for some Dark Age chieftain’s stronghold. As Arthurian theorising fell from grace, he began to favour an alternative interpretation as a ‘Celtic’ style monastic settlement, hypothesising further that this was the ‘original’ Glastonbury monastery, only moved to its present site by the Saxons in the later seventh century. This appeared to be supported by radio carbon dates, centring on the 670s, obtained in the 1980s from what had been presumed by Ralegh Radford (its initial discoverer) to be the boundary ditch of the pre-Saxon monastery. In 1991 in an unpublished but important doctoral thesis, Matthew Blows argued forcefully that Glastonbury had been founded de novo by the West Saxon king Centwine in 678.

A variant of Rahtz’ ‘up the Tor’ hypothesis appeared as late as the end of 2013 under the name of his old friend, the late ‘Time Team’ archaeologist Mick Aston, in a book devoted to the long-running Shapwick archaeological project. Here the ‘original’ Glastonbury Abbey was identified with the location known from Glastonbury record as Lantokay, the church or cemetery of the British saint St Kea, somewhere in the area of modern Street, and here identified (equally dubiously in my view) with the churchyard of Holy Trinity, Street.[4] In conversation in November 2014, Aston’s co-author, Prof. Gerrard, confirmed that this had been written before the interim results of Reading University’s re-evaluation of Glastonbury Abbey’s historic excavation archive had appeared, and been widely publicised, in June 2011, further accepting that these theories had been blown out of the water by its results. The ‘missing’ Byzantine pottery is now revealed to have been present all along, having been initially recognised by Radford, who changed his view in deference (apparently) to British Museum ‘expertise’. The Abbey site is now shown to have a pottery sequence from the Middle and Late Iron Age (coeval with the famous Lake Villages), though all four centuries of Roman occupation, into, and very possibly right through, the sixth century. This suggests the classic evolution from Iron Age farmstead,[5] through successive phases of Romanisation to villa status (signalled by hypocaust tile and Roman window glass) with, unusually, ‘high status’ occupation continuing well into the post-Roman period. Such occupation is not shown necessarily to be of an ecclesiastical, rather than a secular, nature but the whole subsequent history and traditions of the site must shift the balance of probabilities in favour of the former.

What might a post-Roman monastery have looked like archaeologically in one of the formerly most highly Romanised areas of Britain, a region where Christianity among the villa-owning class is witnessed in the fourth century by expensive mosaics like that of Hinton St Mary? Models derived from the highland zone of Britain, or from Ireland, at a rather later period are in all probability not appropriate here, and one should think rather of those villas in contemporary Gaul which evolved into family monasteries. The villa-site at St Laurence’s School, Bradford on Avon (Wiltshire), is of interest here: the dining room of a Roman villa, complete with mosaic, had been adapted to serve as a Christian baptistery in, the excavators judged, the fifth century. This is the kind of thing which future excavators at the Abbey should be looking out for. Moving into the seventh century, a monastery at Glastonbury might have retained a wholly British (i.e. Welsh/Cornish) character, might already have an Irish element, this being the great century of Irish monastic endeavour both on the Continent and elsewhere in Britain, e.g. at nearby Malmesbury, and might even have a Frankish connection. For what little they are worth, of the three names William of  Malmesbury gives as those of pre-Saxon abbots, while Worgret and the last, Bregored, are plausibly Celtic, the second, Lademund, is indubitably Germanic and almost certainly Continental Germanic. Frankish clerics, acting initially independently of Canterbury, took the initiative in the conversion of the West Saxons from 635, and if the Frankish church could take an interest in its pagan Saxon neighbours across the Channel, there is no reason why it could not have had equally friendly relations with British Christians across their border.

Germanic dominance of mid-Somerset is traditionally dated from 658 when, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the West Saxon king Cenwalh defeated the British at the uncertain location ad Peonam (‘at the Pens’) and drove them as far as the river Parret.[6] Cenwalh (642-672) had come to the throne a heathen but had converted to Christianity during a period of exile in East Anglia (645-8). The celebrated Staffordshire Hoard, almost certainly war booty, dates from precisely this time, the 650s, a generation after Sutton Hoo. It illustrates not only the splendour of the Anglo-Saxon military elite but the ease with which it adopted Christianity as a kind of superior war magic. It includes an arm torn from a processional cross inscribed on both sides with a quotation from Numbers and the Psalms: ‘Arise O Lord and let Thine enemies be scattered; let those who hate Thee flee before Thy face.’ It was not necessary to be close enough to read it, even if one could read: the words themselves would radiate supernatural power.

Glastonbury later claimed a charter in the name of Cenwalh dated 670 but it is regarded as a later forgery. A lost charter of king Centwine (c.676-c.685) dated 678, granting six hides on the ‘island of Glaston,’ recorded in a contents list of a lost Glastonbury cartulary, was accepted as genuine by Blows. He regarded it as the foundation-charter of a new monastery, but it can also be seen, as by Heather Edwards, as marking the regularisation of an existing British monastery at Glastonbury within the Saxon landholding system. Centwine seems to have been overthrown by, or abdicated in favour of, the next West Saxon king, Cædwalla. According to the great Saxon scholar Aldhelm, he then entered a monastery where he ended his life. William of Malmesbury read his name on a Glastonbury monument and concluded he was buried at Glastonbury. In William’s day two sarcophagi, which he referred to as ‘pyramids’, flanked the altar in the Old Church. They were then used as reliquaries for St Patrick, and another Irish saint, Indract, of probably mid-ninth-century date, but this is unlikely to have been their original purpose. It has been suggested that they were erected as the tombs of Centwine, as Saxon re-founder of the monastery, and Hæmgils, the first Saxon abbot. If this dating is correct, they may be compared with the surviving monuments at Jouare, to the East of Paris. Here Agilbert, the Frankish second bishop of the West Saxons, and subsequent bishop of Paris, was buried alongside his sister Theodechilde, the founder of the convent. Their two monuments are the most important pieces of sculpture in seventh-century Francia. A dubious charter of 744 in the name of the West Saxon king Cuthred has the king place it on the altar of the Old Church while some observance was being conducted at the tomb of Hæmgils, as if there was something notable about his monument. He is the only abbot recorded as buried in the Old Church. Centwine had a daughter, Bugga, who founded a ‘double monastery’ (i.e. of both monks and nuns) dedicated to the Virgin – perhaps a reflection of Glastonbury’s cultus. Aldhelm wrote a poem describing its dedication.

Cædwalla, 685-688, patronized Malmesbury but not, apparently, his predecessor’s favoured monastery of Glastonbury. He, too, abdicated and went on pilgrimage to Rome where he was baptized and died in 689. He was succeeded by Ine, 688-726, whom an eleventh-century note inserted into the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle credited with building the minster at Glastonbury. This is interpreted to indicate that he built the stone church to the east of the Old Church. William of Malmesbury recorded a dedicatory poem praising Ine inscribed on the stone church of his day, but the wording makes it likely that this was an antiquarian composition from the time of Dunstan’s expansion of Ine’s church in the tenth century. The complex of Saxon churches beneath the west end of the later nave of the Great Church was excavated in the 1920s. The small surviving Saxon church of St Laurence at Bradford on Avon, once thought to have been built by Aldhelm around 700, and therefore contemporary with Ine’s church at Glastonbury, is now thought to date from the tenth century; however, it gives an impression of what Ine’s church, only a little larger, would have been like. It was suggested by the excavators that a semi-sunken feature at the east end of the earlier church, rather grandly called a hypogeum, was originally intended as a burial vault for Ine. In the event, however, Ine, like his predecessor, abdicated and went to Rome where he died at the threshold of the Apostles.

A single-sheet charter in the name of Ine, dated 704-5, exists in Taunton. It is regarded by the staff of the Somerset Heritage Centre as a genuine document of that date, which would make it not only the oldest surviving Glastonbury document, but the oldest charter to survive from Wessex as a whole. Lesley Abrams, however, regarded it as a facsimile of the tenth century, while allowing that it might have been produced as late as the eighteenth century.[7]

Ine’s departure for Rome seems to have coincided with increased pressure from the Mercian kingdom, which had already absorbed long-established West Saxon land to the north of the Thames. The Chronicle records that in 733 Athelbald of Mercia occupied Somerton, the royal estate which was the centre for the Sumersætan (the ‘Summer-dwellers’), a move which must have affected Glastonbury. We do not know how long the occupation lasted, but Bath became a residence for Mercian kings and West Saxon kings were obliged to witness charters as the subordinates of their Mercian overlords. The most powerful Mercian king, Offa (757-796) may have taken an interest in Glastonbury towards the end of his reign and William of Malmesbury found English translations of a privilege by Pope Leo III of around 798 granting Coenwulf of Mercia  possession of the monastery for his son Cynehelm and his heirs in perpetuity. This is the concept of the proprietary monastery, for which the German term Eigenkloster (‘owned cloister’) is sometimes used. Matthew Blows argued that Glastonbury had been a West Saxon royal Eigenkloster from the beginning. It was Dunstan’s biographer who described Glastonbury as ‘a certain royal island’ but he was writing c.1000 when it was already the burial-place of two powerful English kings, and his words cannot be used to illuminate its status in former centuries.

The Mercian supremacy was overthrow by Egbert of Wessex (802-839) at the battle of Ellendun in 825. The long journey to West Saxon dominance in England had begun, but the renewed independence of the kingdom seems to have brought little immediate advantage to Glastonbury. The ninth century, indeed, is as obscure as the eighth, even before the advent of the Danish Great Army in 865 overshadowed all else. It might have been thought that Alfred (871-899), given the importance of the Somerset levels in his victory over the Danes, his piety, and his passion for education, might have valued Glastonbury or, if it were at a low ebb as some have surmised, have been concerned to restore it. This does not seem to have been the case. When he founded a monastery at his former refuge of Athelney in thanksgiving for his victory he looked not to neighbouring Glastonbury but across the Channel for monks and an abbot. A Glastonbury estate at the place we call by its Norman name of Montacute was apparently still in its possession between 871-7, but belonged to Athelney by 1066. It must be assumed to have been appropriated by Alfred for his own foundation. Blows’ explanation for his apparent indifference concerns events in the reign of Alfred’s father, Æthelwulf (839- 858).

Having sent Alfred to Rome (aged four) in 853, Æthelwulf himself set out with him in 855, having first left endowments to many churches, including Glastonbury. He left the kingdom in the hands of his eldest surviving son, Æthelbald. It seems to have been assumed that Æthelwulf would end his life at Rome like Cædwalla and Ine before him; instead he retuned in 856 positively rejuvenated, with a young bride, Judith, the daughter of Charles the Bald, king of the West Franks, a great granddaughter of Charlemagne, who was aged around twelve or thirteen. He had her anointed as Queen in Francia before his return, contrary to West Saxon practice at that time. Æthelbald was less than pleased and refused to stand down for his father, who had to be found a sub-kingdom in the eastern parts of the West Saxon domains. Alfred’s biographer Asser, who must here be assumed to be speaking with Alfred’s voice, tells us that this revolt, as he presents it, was fomented in the parts west of Selwood, and that the instigators were Ealhstan, Bishop of Sherborne, still at this date Glastonbury’s diocesan and Eanwulf, the powerful ealdorman (effectively, regional governor) of Somerset who had earlier defeated a Viking fleet at the mouth of the Parrett. Eanwulf was a patron of Glastonbury and was eventually buried there. Blows surmised that Glastonbury’s association with the revolt was the cause of Alfred’s aloofness. Æthelwulf died in 858, when Æthelbald compounded his offence in Asser’s eyes by marrying his nymphet step-mother, a thing contrary to cannon law. He, too, only lived to enjoy her company for a further two years. On Æthelbald’s death she returned to Francia, where her father set her up in an establishment ‘with all the honour due a queen.’ She soon tired of that, however, and eloped with Baldwin of Flanders, by whom she had issue; one of her descendants was Mathilda, wife of William the Conqueror and mother of William II and Henry I.

Asser records that Alfred’s eldest son, who succeeded him as Edward the Elder (reigned 899-924), was educated by tutors at the royal court while his younger brother, Æthelweard, attended a school with other young noblemen. It is known that Dunstan attended such a school at Glastonbury from c.916, and it has been suggested that Æthelweard, despite his father’s prejudice, was also educated there. He may have been intended for the Church. The charter historian Findberg evolved an elaborate fantasy in which Alfred established Irishmen at Glastonbury to run a school there, but this has no genuine warrant.

It is common ground that monastic life was at a low ebb in Britain, as in other parts of western Europe, by the later ninth century. The material destruction wrought by the Vikings was accompanied by a collapse in vocations, especially, as Alfred asserts, among the nobility. It may be that such monastic life as continued was at a lower social level. There has been much debate about the character of Glastonbury Abbey by the beginning of tenth century The great Anglo-Saxon scholar Stenton could write with confidence in 1943 that Glastonbury ‘was no longer a house of monks, but a school was maintained there by clerks [i.e. secular priests] following some form of common life.’[8] This is perhaps too pessimistic a view. Dunstan’s uncle, Ælfheah ‘the Bald’, was a monk whose background might well lie at Glastonbury. Glastonbury remained a ‘mixed’ community under Dunstan and priests were serving the altar of All Hallows in the Galilee at the end of the thirteenth century, while the Priests of Our Lady served in the Lady Chapel until the Dissolution.

The large diocese of Sherborne, which had served Wessex ‘West of the Wood’ since 704, was divided by Edward the Elder in 909, with Somerset obtaining its own bishopric governed from the minster church of Wells. It is around this year, according to the likeliest chronology, that Dunstan was born near Glastonbury (traditionally at Baltonsborough). His biographer, who identified himself only by the initial ‘B’ and who was a priest in Dunstan’s household during the 940s and 950s, tells us that he attended school at Glastonbury where he was able to study books donated by Irish pilgrims to the relics of St Patrick, a cultus already established by this date. Edward’s reign was largely spent in reasserting English control of areas which had been conquered by the Danes in the previous century, and all the kings of Britain submit to him in 920 in a foretaste of things to come.

His son Æthelstan (924-939) had a troubled succession but was finally crowned at Kingston upon Thames on 4 September 925 by Archbishop Æthelhelm, who was Bishop of Wells before his elevation to Canterbury in 923, and who was another uncle of Dunstan, who was almost certainly present at the coronation. Æthelhelm introduced the young Dunstan to the royal court, where he may have been based for some nine years. Æthelstan’s brilliant court is best described by Armitage Robinson (1923).

Dunstan eventually fell into personal difficulties and was denounced by fellow-courtiers, some his own relatives for, among other things, excessive fondness for pagan poetry (part of his own copy of Ovid’s Art of Love survives) and studying sorcery.[9] Expelled from court, he was attacked and left for dead in a bog. He took refuge with his uncle, Ælfheah ‘the Bald’, from 935 Bishop of Winchester. He was persuaded by Ælfheah to pursue a monastic vocation at Glastonbury. He was ordained priest on the same day as another young Glastonbury monk and former member of Æthelstan’s court, Æthelwold, who apparently came from Winchester but about whose background nothing further is known.

A relative of Dunstan’s, and also of the kings (they were probably both related to him through his mother), a widowed lady named Æthelflaed, had established herself as a religious ‘vowess’ in a house to the west of the Abbey, and gave Dunstan support.  Æthelstan and his retinue paid her a visit there. A manuscript of Bede’s Lives of St Cuthbert[10] with a portrait of the king presenting it to the saint, which he gave to Cuthbert’s community at Chester le Street while campaigning in the north, has sometimes thought to have been produced at Glastonbury. Another possibility is Wells, where the parish church is dedicated to St Cuthbert. It, and Æthelstan’s coins, are the earliest representations of an Anglo-Saxon king wearing a crown rather than a diadem.

An intellectual who collected relics and books, whom an Irish writer described as ‘the pillar of all this western world’, Æthelstan was also concerned to extend West Saxon power. A political and academic orthodoxy has developed in recent years that a concept of Britain dates only from the eighteenth century. This is a nonsense (and a dangerous one, as highlighted by recent events). Bede has been credited with inventing the phrase gens Angelorum, ‘English nation’, but he did so within a pan-British context; his Northumbrian hero-kings ruled over Welsh and Irish speakers as well as the various Germanic groups whom Bede collectively calls ‘English,’ and the Mercian kings of the century after Bede claimed overlordship of all Britain. Bede, indeed, wrote of an imperium held within Britain by Germanic rulers from the earliest years of the Invasions by kings to whom the ninth-century writers of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle and the translators of Bede accorded the title of Bretwalda, ‘ruler of Britain.’ Simon Keynes writes that this term ‘is a useful reminder of the continued significance of “Britain”, as a unifying principle, throughout the Anglo-Saxon period, subsuming all the inhabitants of the island and harking back to the Roman past.’[11]

At Eamont in 927 all the rulers of Britain submitted to Æthelstan as overlord, as they had previously done to Edward, but Æthelstan was perhaps the first individual to assert effective control over the whole island of Great Britain since the Roman governor Agricola in the first century. His royal title henceforth becomes consistently Rex Angelorum, King of the English, and he is described as governor, or custodian, of all Albion. Albion, preserved by Classical writers, was the ancient Bronze Age name for Britain, before Britannia (more properly Pretannia, Welsh Prydein) became current in the Iron Age. The tenth century found it in Bede, who had it from Pliny. Its use fitted well with the ornate Hisperic or ‘hermeneutic’ style of Latin which gloried in obscure vocabulary, particularly Græcisms. Pioneered in Ireland, and at Malmesbury by Aldhelm in the seventh century, this style became popular again in the tenth. Æthelstan, who revered Aldhelm and Malmesbury and was eventually buried there, was perhaps an agent in its revival. ‘Albion’ in the tenth century, however, seems to have stood for more than mere literary decoration. It comes to denote an idealised, almost spiritual, vision of Britain, as it did later for William Blake and, following Blake, certain ‘alternative’ patriots in the 1980s.[12] For the average Anglo-Saxon, doubtless, a Briton was primarily one of the traditional Welsh enemy. ‘Albion’ could sound, to follow a modern usage, more ‘inclusive’.

Despite his accumulation of relics and books from Celtic realms, and the presence of prominent Celtic figures at his court, however, Æthelstan’s relations with the Celtic-speaking peoples of Britain were often hostile. He campaigned in Wales and Cornwall, and in 934 he ravaged in the North as far as the Grampians, and his fleet as far as Caithness. Unsurprisingly, his aggressions stirred a reaction. A grand alliance of his Celtic and Viking enemies penetrated into the heart of England in 937, to be confronted by Æthelstan and his younger brother Edmund at the unidentified site of Brunanburh in one of the greatest and most celebrated battles of the British Dark Ages. The English achieved a crushing victory. Edmund succeeded his brother on the latter’s death, only two years after Brunanburh.

One of Edmund’s earlier acts was to recall Dunstan to court. This must betoken some previous relations with, and regard from, the heir apparent; but Dunstan soon aroused jealousy once more and was told to leave. He was packing his bags intent on seeking his fortune in Germany when an incident occurred which, were our source for Dunstan’s life at this period not so good, we would be inclined to regard as a myth. The king was hunting at Cheddar (where a substantial royal palace was excavated in the 1970s) when a stag, in panic, ran over the cliff, followed by the pursuing hounds. Edmund’s horse was out of control and seemed likely to follow; it flashed into his mind that he had wronged Dunstan and he wished he might have made amends. At this point the horse halted at the very edge of the Gorge. Edmund, not surprisingly, saw this as a miracle. He collected Dunstan and they rode to Glastonbury, where he appointed him abbot. This was perhaps as early as 940 or 941.

Edmund’s reign (939-946) had a troubled beginning. By the end of his first year, Danish-settled eastern Mercia and Northumbria had slipped from his grasp. The former was regained in 942 and the latter in 944. In the course of his northern campaigns, Edmund acquired relics of north saints, giving those of Aidan, founder of Lindisfarne, to Glastonbury. Dunstan’s biographer assures us he was an important councillor to Edmund but little evidence of his activities at court survives. Much of his time must have been spent in building up the monastic community at Glastonbury on the Benedictine model, and in considerably extending Ine’s church building, adding a tower. A skilled craftsman, Dunstan embellished his church with metalwork, bells and an organ.

One tangible product of these years is the complex artwork, traditionally by Dunstan himself, which forms the frontispiece to the manuscript compilation known as the Dunstan Classbook.[13] Different elements have clearly been added over a period of time but, despite some academic quibbling, I prefer to regard the whole as the work of Dunstan. Here the monk Dunstan kneels before Christ, returning with the clouds of heaven which hide His feet. The little poem above the prostrate monk reads ‘Remember, merciful Christ I pray, to watch over Dunstan; let not the Taenarian storms swallow me up,’ neatly combining humility with a display of Classical education. The book Christ holds bears a quotation from the Psalms: ‘Come ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord.’ This quotation is also found in the introduction to the Rule of St Benedict. Above the staff (an object of contemporary regalia) which Christ carries is written a further quotation from the Psalms: ‘The sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre.’ This quotation is found in what is known as the second English coronation ordo. It used to be thought that Dunstan himself had composed this coronation service (the ancestor of that still in use) for the crowning of Edgar in 973. It is now recognised that it is older, having probably been first used either for the coronation of Edward the Elder or for that of Æthelstan in 925, a ceremony which, as we have seen, Dunstan probably attended with the presiding Archbishop. In this one image, then, we have encoded much of Dunstan’s world view: the kingship of Christ, the Anglo-Saxon kingship which, ideally, mirrored it, and the teaching role of Benedictine monasticism, all in the context of the imminent return of Christ and the descent of the New Jerusalem; and, if Douglas Dales is correct in identifying the solitary hill-profile between Dunstan’s pate and Christ’s robe with the Tor, seemingly in the context of Glastonbury itself. The Second Advent, the New Jerusalem, is imminent here, now, within the Abbey. It is a powerful image, for which the overused word ‘icon’ is for once appropriate.

An event of some cultural significance occurred toward the end of Edmund’s short reign. It is generally believed that the Arthurian legend entered English (or rather Anglo-Latin) letters with the appearance around 1136 of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s fabulous History of the Kings of Britain. This is an error. It did so in the fifth year of King Edmund I, 943/4, in the form of the so-called ‘Vatican Recension’ of the Historia Brittonum, the History of the Britons. This Cambro-Latin text, originally compiled in northern Wales in 829/30, famously contains the account of Arthur’s twelve great battles at the head of the kings of Britain. The version known as the Vatican Recension descends from an edition re-written in England, with the Latin improved and parts of the text omitted or re-arranged. The section on St Patrick was extracted from its original position and placed (along, indeed, with the chapter on Arthur which precedes it) at the end as conclusion. The notably sceptical scholar David Dumville, editor of the Vatican Recension, wrote: ‘It has not proved possible to identify the English church at which the “Vatican” recension was created.. A speculation may perhaps be allowed. The special treatment accorded to the text’s account of St Patrick inevitably raises the possibility that the church in question was one which had more than a passing interest in him. We know from B’s Life of St Dunstan.. that that was unusually true of Glastonbury in the first half of the tenth century.’[14] This is of some archaeological interest in the light of Ralegh Radford’s analysis of the supposed burial-site of Arthur which he believed he had identified in his excavations of 1962. He believed the disposition of the grave, with an inscribed lead cross under a large stone slab (perhaps itself originally inscribed) at the original ground-level, was the result, not of deliberate fraud in 1190, but of the raising of the monks’ cemetery carried out under Dunstan and of acknowledgement of the supposed burial at that time. Radford’s conclusions may or may not have been correct, only re-excavation with modern techniques might shed further light on the matter, but he appears to have been unaware of the Vatican Recension, whose evidence would have considerably strengthened his case.

The more significant question is why Edmund’s regime, which already had Bede’s Ecclesiastical History, both in the original Latin and in Old English translation, and the vernacular Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, which at this period functioned as a vehicle of West Saxon royal propaganda, should find an English edition of the History of the Britons, a text written from a Welsh viewpoint, desirable? An answer should be sought in the period leading up to the battle of Brunanburgh, when Welsh historic myth had been employed as a tool of propaganda. We know this from the survival of the poem Armes Prydein, the ‘Prophecy of Britain.’ In this, the druids, and Merlin in his earliest literary excursion, foretold the return of Welsh heroes from the dead, not, in this instance, Arthur, but Cynan, legendary founder of Brittany, and Cadwalladr, a composite figure remembered as the last Welsh king of Britain,[15] to lead a grand alliance of all the Celtic peoples and of the Vikings to drive the English back into the sea. The alliance, as we have seen, had proved more than a fantasy and Edmund had fought alongside his brother in its defeat. The History of the Britons was rather less hostile to the English than the Armes Prydein, asserting as it did a Welsh role (contrary to Bede’s account) in their conversion. While the quasi-pagan prophecies of Armes Prydein advocated alliance with the heathen against the Christian English king, the Arthur of the History of the Britons offered an alternative model, one of the unity of the minor kings of Britain under a Christian emperor and the banner of the Virgin Mary (Glastonbury’s patroness, we might note) against the pagans. The History of the Britons did not just contain the first sketch of the Arthurian legend. It contained the first surviving draft of the Brutus story, a British version of the Roman Æneid of Virgil, later also to be utilised by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his epic British pseudo-history, in which Brutus, or Britto, a grandson of Æneas, founder of Rome, came to Britain to found a nation. This legend, at whatever point before 829 it had first been created, was designed to give the British a pedigree equal to that of Imperial Rome. The story is elaborated in the text represented by the Vatican Recension, which as a whole may be seen as consistent with the increasingly imperial style adopted by the West Saxon kings in the tenth century; its own dating clause was by Edmund’s ‘imperium‘, as in his charters of 944. Edmund may be seen as anticipating the Angevins in wrapping himself in pan-British myth as a diversion from his non-insular origins.

Edmund was killed at Pucklechurch, north of Bristol, on 26 May 946 when he intervened to help a steward who had been attacked by a returning exile. Dunstan buried him at Glastonbury. Before the present Wells Road was constructed in the late eighteenth century, Glastonbury’s north road ran up Bove Town and over Edmund Hill, sometimes given as St Edmund Hill. This is the route that Edmund’s body will have followed southwards, doubtless resting overnight on the outskirts of Glastonbury to be met and formally conducted to the Abbey for burial the next day. If no convenient chapel already existed, the place would in all probability be marked by a standing cross, and a chapel subsequently built. A small chapel stood in Bove Town on the north side of the old Wells road, surviving today as Jacoby Cottage. It is plausible that Edmund Hill derives its name from the resting of the king’s body there. Similarly at Edgarley (‘Edgar’s woodland clearing’), on the eastern approach to Glastonbury: a chapel, later dedicated to Dunstan, stood on the south side of the road. Antiquarian speculation imagined a royal palace or hunting lodge at Edgarley to account for the name, but this, too, would be a convenient place for the royal body to have rested overnight before being formally conducted by Dunstan to the Abbey for burial the next day.

Edmund’s sons being still infants, he was succeeded by his brother, Eadred (946-955), whose health was poor. He may have been lame, and towards the end of his life had difficulty swallowing his food, perhaps a symptom of throat cancer or the like. None the less, he overcame considerable military difficulties. In 947 the Viking Eric Bloodaxe was accepted as King of York. In a northern campaign in 948 in which Dunstan accompanied the king, and himself saw the uncorrupted body of St Cuthbert, Ripon minster was burnt down and Eadred threatened to devastate the north. The people of York rejected Eric but in a further revolt in 951 they again accepted Viking rule, and Eric briefly returned. He was finally expelled in 954 and was subsequently killed on Stainmore.

In his last years, Eadred witnessed few of his own charters, his place being taken by Dunstan and the Queen-mother, the powerful and long-lived Eadgifu, who together seem to have taken much of the weight of administration off of the king’s shoulders. Although the first example is found in Edmund’s reign, it was under Eadred that the so-called ‘Dunstan B Charters’ were standardised. These charters, particularly associated with Glastonbury Abbey and with Dunstan, are characterised by brevity and the consistent royal title of ‘king and chief of all Albion.’ It is recorded that the royal copies of charters, along with the relics and treasures of former kings, where held for safety at Glastonbury under Eadred. Students of Arthurian literature, particularly the Grail literature, might note that these treasures may well have included, and could certainly have later been presumed to have included, those sent to Æthelstan by Hugo, Duke of the Franks in his suit for one of Æthelstan’s sisters. These included a cup of onyx, either of antique manufacture or a Byzantine chalice, with lifelike engravings of vines and corn, elements of the Eucharist, and a lance, said to be that which had pierced the side of Christ. This would seem to have been a sibling, perhaps even from the same workshop, as the lance-reliquary acquired in Italy in exactly the same year by Henry the Fowler, King of Germany, and now preserved in Vienna. We hear of these gifts in William of Malmesbury’s Deeds of the Kings of the English based, in all probability, on a lost pre-Conquest history of Æthelstan’s wars known to have been preserved in Glastonbury’s library.

It was under Eadred that Æthelwold developed a desire to leave Glastonbury for the Continent to experience a stricter monastic life. The Queen-mother Eadgifu instead persuaded the king, c.954, to grant him a derelict abbey site at Abingdon to set up his own community. He took with him three Glastonbury ‘clerics’. Dunstan and Æthelwold seem never to have quarrelled personally, and he would later praise Dunstan’s work in establishing Benedictine practice at Glastonbury, but every subsequent political divide saw the two men on opposing sides, which placed the seemingly doctrinaire and puritanical Æthelwold in some rather strange company.

Eadred died at Frome on 23 November 955. In his will, which survives, he leaves two golden crosses, two golden-hilted swords, and £400 to ‘the foundation wherein he desires that his body shall rest.’ Other provisions make clear that this was not Winchester and he probably intended to be buried at Glastonbury beside his brother, but in the event he was interred at Winchester’s Old Minster. Such a snub to Glastonbury may have been an early sign of the antagonism which quickly developed between the new king, Edwy, and Dunstan.

Edwy, eldest son of Edmund, called ‘All-fair’ for his good looks, was only fifteen or sixteen on his accession. He seems from the outset to have wished to distance himself from the councillors of his father and uncle, and from the influence of his grandmother Eadgifu, whose estates he confiscated. Matters were exacerbated at his coronation in January 956, when he absented himself from the coronation feast. Odda, Archbishop of Canterbury, dispatched Dunstan and his kinsman Cynesige, bishop of Lichfield, in search of the young king; they found him in bed with a woman named Æthelgifu and her daughter, Ælfgifu, the crown cast on the floor. Dunstan marched him back to the feast, but the incident was understandably resented and Dunstan sent into exile. Edwy married the younger woman, Dunstan’s biographer regarding the mother as the real instigator.

Dunstan spent his exile in Flanders at the important monastery of St Peter’s, Ghent, but it was not to last long. In the second half of 657, Mercia and Northumbria seceded from Edwy’s rule, electing instead his younger brother Edgar. One of his first acts was to recall Dunstan appointing him a bishop. He was first given the see of Worcester, and secondly that of London. Odda dissolved Edwy’s marriage on the grounds, the Chronicle tells us, that they were to gesybbe, ‘to much siblings’. They were, in fact, probably third cousins once removed, outside standard rules of prohibition, but relations with mother and daughter counted as incest in ecclesiastical eyes; yet Æthelwold remained close to the king, and to Ælfgifu and her mother, until the end of their lives. Edwy died of unknown causes in October 959, and Edgar assumed control of the reunited kingdom. He immediately had Edwy’s nominee as Archbishop of Canterbury, Byrthelm, sent back to his previous see of (probably) Wells and appointed Dunstan in his place. Canterbury’s historian Nicholas Brooks has called Dunstan’s appointment a ‘disgrace’. What happened at Glastonbury after Dunstan’s exile is unclear. William of Malmesbury wrote of Edwy appointing a ‘pseudo-abbot’. Recently, scholars have thought that Dunstan, on Edgar’s taking control of Wessex, re-assumed the abbacy in plurality with his episcopal appointments, with day-to-day affairs managed by priors. In this he will have anticipated Henry of Blois who, in the twelfth century, combined a successful abbacy at Glastonbury with the Bishopric of Winchester and a career as a national (and international) statesman.

Æthelwold, who had been tutor to Edgar (possibly at Glastonbury, although some have thought at Abingdon) managed to remain close to the king, who made him Bishop of Winchester in 963. Here he was associated with the harsher aspect of monastic reform, the expulsion of secular clergy from the Old and New Minsters, their replacement with Benedictine monks, and the demolition of much of the south-eastern quarter of the walled city to establish monastic enclosures. From Abingdon and Winchester he was energetic in re-founding monasteries in Eastern England, notably Ely. The third prominent monastic reformer was Oswald, bishop of Worcester from 961 and (in plurality) archbishop of York from 971, who established his first monastery at Westbury on Trym (963/4), north of Bristol. The movement remained, however, an exclusively southern English phenomenon. Edgar was closely identified with the reform movement as the guardian of the monasteries, as his third wife, Ælfthryth, was of the nunneries. In the elaborate New Minster charter Edgar is called in the text the vicar of Christ.

Although he was dubbed pacificus, ‘the peacable,’ modern scholars have stressed rather Edgar’s military strength. Near-contemporary criticism of excessive favour to the heathen probably reflects the employment of Viking mercenaries, particularly at sea. We hear of a possible expedition into Ireland against the Dublin Vikings. John of Worcester, who had access to sources now lost, wrote of his circumnavigating Britain with a fleet every year. In the North, around 970, in a diplomatic move, Edgar transferred Lothian, English territory since the seventh century, to the Gaelic-speaking kingdom of Alban, setting the border at the Tweed and thus creating what we recognise as the Anglo-Celtic kingdom of Scotland. It is instructive to compare Edgar’s more amenable relations with the Celtic realms with that of Æthelstan, and tempting to relate it to the influence of Dunstan. Dunstan’s Glastonbury was pre-eminently the place where Cymric, Gaelic and Anglo-Saxon cultures met and cross fertilised, and he himself has often been seen as one in the mould of the great figures of the Celtic churches and of those earlier English churchmen, like Cuthbert, who bore their stamp.

The aspect of Edgar’s reign which seems most to have impressed contemporaries, curiously enough, was his coronation, which seems to have been delayed for fourteen years after he was recognised as king of all England. Various theories have been advanced in explanation. Anglo-Norman historians suggested a penance imposed by Dunstan, related to Edgar’s alleged tendency to molest nuns and their young students. In complete contrast, nineteenth-century scholars stressed the emphasis undoubtedly placed in the Chronicle poem on the event on its coinciding with Edgar’s twenty-ninth year, thirty being the age at which Christ had begun his ministry and the notional age for nomination to the priesthood.[16] This is to confuse the fortuitous with the foreseen. In an age when royal mortality was so high, no-one would plan a coronation thirteen years in advance. Modern scholars have tended to assume that Dunstan did, in fact, crown Edgar after his return from Rome with the Archbishop’s pallium in 960, but that this was somehow unrecorded. My own speculation would be that Edgar had undergone some Mercian form of king-making, perhaps at Lichfield or Worcester, on his election in 957, and that when he inherited Wessex in addition to Mercia and Northumbria on his brother’s death it was felt unnecessary or impolitic, in the interest of a seamless transition, for his anointing to be repeated. What, then, had changed by 973 when he was firmly established and further ceremonial might seem superfluous? The most convincing answer is to be found in the Continental background.

Edgar was the head of by far the oldest royal family in Europe, tracing its descent from the fifth century. The crowned heads of the West had queued up for the hands of Edgar’s aunts, Æthelstan’s sisters. One, Edith, had been from 929 the beloved first wife of Otto I, dying in 946. Her remains were rediscovered at Magdeburg in 2008. Otto restored the imperial title in 962, being crowned emperor in Rome by the Pope. When his son was twelve in 967 he had him crowned co-emperor, also in Rome by the Pope, as Otto II. Edgar cannot have viewed these events with indifference. The final straw probably came in April 972, when Otto had his son, now seventeen, married to a Byzantine princess, albeit not one ‘born in the purple’, Theophano, again in Rome by the Pope, who crowned her Kaiserin the next day. Edgar was now in a position not dissimilar to that of Queen Victoria after Bismark’s restoration of the Reich in 1871, when her own daughter, on ascending the German throne, would out-rank her as an empress. Disraeli’s solution was the controversial Royal Titles act of 1876, which proclaimed her Empress of India – regina et imperatrix (or ‘New Crowns for Old Ones’ as Tenniel and Punch irreverently saw it, with the merest hint of anti-Semitism). Dunstan’s solution (or someone’s, and it is difficult to imagine who else might have had the vision) was the events of 973, the imperial-style coronation at Bath at Pentecost and the Chester Durbar which followed it.

Apparently in the last weeks 972, the Abbot of Bath, Æscwig, and a thegn, Wulfmær, were sent into the Reich for an exchange of ‘wonderous gifts’ with Otto the Great, returning with a ‘treaty of peace’. It seems impossible not to see this as a diplomatic clearing of the ways before the events of the following Whitsun, a mutual recognition by the German and British emperors. Simon Keynes has speculated that the two ambassadors may still have been in Germany for the great royal assemblies which Otto held at Magdeburg on Palm Sunday and at Quedlinburg on Easter Day.[17] Magdeburg was the burial place of Otto I’s first wife, Edgar’s aunt Edith, and Quedlinburg of Otto’s father, Henry the Fowler. Wulfmær was rewarded with a former Glastonbury estate at Berrow, Somerset, on his return.[18]

Edgar’s ‘imperial’ coronation took place at Bath on Whitsunday, 11 May 973. The participants will not have known that Otto the Great had died three days earlier on 8 May. St Peter’s Abbey, Bath, was an acceptable insular substitute for St Peter’s in a (by the tenth century) somewhat diminished Rome, which Dunstan had visited thirteen years earlier. Both were set among still-impressive Roman remains. The Old English poem The Ruin testifies to the impact which such ruins, the work of ‘giants’ of an earlier age, could have on the Anglo-Saxon mind, and it draws attention to the hot springs, which conveniently echoed those at Charlemagne’s imperial complex at Aachen. The poem’s composition, indeed, may not have been unconnected with the events of 973. Bath by this date was effectively a Dunstanian daughter house, and ‘B’ records Dunstan staying there as a visitant and perhaps, he seems to hint, enjoying the waters. As Caer Faddon in Welsh, Bath may already have been identified with the ‘Arthurian’ crowning victory of Badon Hill.

Like Kingston upon Thames, Bath was set beside a river which divided Wessex from Mercia, but the Avon gave convenient access to the Western seas for what was to follow. After the ceremony, Edgar sailed down to the Severn Sea, around Wales and up the Dee to Chester (coincidentally or otherwise, another place identified with an Arthurian victory), and at this date the major port for the Irish Sea. Here six (or, in variant accounts, eight) kings from all over the British Isles met Edgar and rowed him up and down the Dee, Edgar himself manning the tiller, and pledged to be his fellow-workers ‘by land and by sea’ – the formal language of Anglo-Saxon military service. We may imagine the kings aboard a vessel like the rather earlier Oseberg ship from Norway, which seems to have been a royal yacht rather than a workaday warship. This Chester Durbar was a spectacular demonstration of Edgar’s status within the British Isles, and around this time the imperial style which had been developing in the royal charters since Æthelstan’s reign reached its culmination. A grant dated 970 (but probably actually two or three years later) in the Glastonbury archive declares ‘I Edgar, by divine grace August Emperor (imperator augustus) of All Albion..’.[19]

The exact date of issue of the Regularis concordia, the ‘Rule of Concord’, a supplement to the Benedictine rule for the uniform governance of the English monasteries and nunneries, is uncertain, but may also be 973; an illustration in an early eleventh-century manuscript shows Edgar seated between Æthelwold (to his right) and Dunstan, identified by his pallium (to his left) giving the rule to a symbolic monk (in the lower register) who girds his loins with it. It is modelled on Ottonian imperial portraits and has been thought to be a copy of an original of the 970s. The year 973 also saw a major reform of Edgar’s coinage, standardising it at national level. These developments, taken together, may be seen as a coherent programme for a united realm.

Tragically, Edgar died only two years later, on 8 July 975 at the age of only 32, and was buried by Dunstan at Glastonbury. His death signalled the beginning of the final act of the drama of Anglo-Saxon England and his reign was seen in retrospect, both before and after the Norman conquest, as a golden age. After the French dynastic interlude was over, and Henry Tudor had marched to Bosworth under the Red Dragon of Cadwalladr, British antiquity, and not least the Anglo-Saxon period, was viewed with a fresh interest. John Dee, in the title-page he designed for his geopolitical tract General and Rare Memorials pertayning to the Perfect arte of Navigation, printed in 1577, references Edgar on the Dee with his depiction of Elizabeth I holding the tiller of the ship of (Protestant) ‘Europe’. Seeking precedent for British imperial expansion, he cites, predictably, the supposed conquests of Arthur and, more surprisingly, devotes much space to Edgar, whom he calls ‘one of the perfect Imperiall Monarchs of this Brytish Impire.’ Dee grew up under strong Dunstanian influence in the parish of St Dunstan’s in the East, London, where his father was churchwarden and where James Renynger, last organist and choirmaster of Glastonbury Abbey, found employment after the Dissolution. Dee influenced Ralegh, who made the first abortive attempt at colonisation in North America in 1585, and also Camden, author of the landmark historical and topographical survey Britannia, who was tutor to Dee’s eldest son, Arthur. The post-Union of the Crowns translation of the Britannia (1610) drew attention to Edgar’s claim to the monarchy of all Albion. Camden, in turn, influenced Michael Drayton, author of the topographical poem Poly-Olbion (1612), dedicated to James VI & I’s promising eldest son, the Henry IX who was not to be. A female personification of Albion-Britannia, wrapped in the map of Britain, adorns the title page. The ideals of Dunstanian Glastonbury, therefore, feed directly into the ideology of Great Britain as an emerging world power.[20]

In the immediate aftermath of Edgar’s death, however, Anglo-Saxon England faced a succession crisis. Dunstan favoured Edward, the son of Edgar’s first consort, Æthelflæd (known as ‘the White’ or ‘the Duck’). Æthelwold favoured Edward’s younger half-brother (aged about nine), Æthelred, known to history as ‘the Unready’. He was the son of Edgar’s third consort, Ælfthryth, who had been anointed queen. Dunstan had prophesied that he would prove a bad lot when he defecated in the font as Dunstan baptised him.

Edward was murdered at Corfe on 18 March 978 in the interest of Ælfthryth and her son. The spilling of royal blood was always a numinous act in Anglo-Saxon England, and he was quickly established as Saint Edward King and Martyr. Dunstan and others now favoured the succession of Edith, aged 16 or 17, the daughter of Edgar’s second consort, Wulfthryth, as queen regnant. She, however, declined the crown, and, dying young, was herself revered as a saint. Æthelred became king but, although he was personally too young to have been implicated in the murder, no one was ever brought to justice and it continued to taint his reign. Ælfthryth and Æthelwold exercised great influence in the first part of his reign, although Dunstan continued to attend court and witness charters. Æthelwold died in 984 and Dunstan on 19 May 988. Neither, therefore, lived to see the renewed warfare of Britain’s Second Viking Age.

In the times of trouble that followed, Dunstan was increasingly regarded as a patron saint. An early eleventh-century prayer invokes him thus:

O famous confessor of Christ, O candle-bearer and teacher to the English people, O good shepherd Dunstan, nourisher of all Albion, who are healer to the various afflicted who visit your tomb, we now beseech through those holy merits which are given to you from the High Throne, that you entreat God through your prayers, that He preserve this land from enemies, and release us from the violent death of crime and lead us to eternal life. Amen.[21]

The link between Dunstan and ‘Albion’ is here explicit. The ‘violent death of crime’ refers to Viking attacks which became frequent again from the 990s, but in 1013 Swein Forkbeard, a (nominal) Christian convert and King of Denmark, led a full scale invasion, driving Æthelred into exile in Normandy. Swein was recognised as King of England but died in February 1014. Æthelred returned but Swein’s son Cnut, who had earlier fought alongside his father, led a fresh invasion in his own right the next year. He met resistance from Æthelred, and, rather more effectively, from his warlike son Edmund, known as ‘Ironside’. Æthelred died on 23 April 1016 when Edmund II became king. Through treachery, he was heavily defeated by Cnut at Ashingdon in the Essex marshes on 18 October. The kingdom was divided by treaty, Edmund retaining Wessex while his new-found ‘brother’ Cnut ruled north of the Thames. Edmund died, however, on 30 November, perhaps from complications arising from wounds. He was buried at Glastonbury.

The reason for his burial here is unknown. Had he been associated with the monastery in life, was it a nationalist gesture, or did Cnut simply want him out of the way of Winchester, where his tomb might become a focus of opposition? All are possibilities. Cnut reigned in England from 1016 to 1035, establishing himself as king of Denmark from 1018 and of Norway from 1028. From Viking warlord he became a great patron of the Church and a respected figure on the European stage. He attended the imperial coronation of Konrad II in Rome as a guest in 1027. He ordered that Dunstan’s feast be nationally observed. It was also Cnut who afforded Glastonbury its last great royal occasion of the Anglo-Saxon Age when he visited on 30 November of an uncertain year which was perhaps 1032. His purpose was to honour the tomb of his ‘brother’ Edmund Ironside on the anniversary of his death. He gave a beautiful silk cloak embroidered with peacocks as a pall for the tomb, almost certainly one of those of Byzantine workmanship given to him by Konrad in 1027. Edmund’s was the last of Glastonbury’s royal burials, and Cnut’s visit was the last recorded of any reigning monarch for two hundred years, until that Henry III in 1235.

Paul Ashdown.

Select Bibliography and Further Reading

Abrams, L., 1991, A Single-Sheet Facsimile of a Diploma of King Ine for Glastonbury, in Abrams, L. & Carley, J. (eds.), The Archaeology and History of Glastonbury Abbey, Woodbridge, pp. 97-133.

Ashdown, Paul, 2010, The Earliest Evolution of Glastonbury Legend: An Overview, in The Glastonbury Review, vol. xiv, 118, pp. 180-217.

Ashe, Geoffrey, 1983, Avalonian Quest, London.

Aston, M., & Gerrard, C., 2013, Interpreting the English Village, Landscape and Community at Shapwick, Somerset, Oxford.

Blows, Matthew, 1991, Studies in the Pre-Conquest History of Glastonbury Abbey, Phd. thesis (unpublished), King’s College, Univ. of London.

Brooks, N., 1984, The Early History of the Church of Canterbury, Leicester.

Dales, Douglas, 1988, Dunstan, Saint and Statesman, Cambridge.

Dumville, D., 1985, The Historia Brittonum, Vol. 3, The ‘Vatican Recension’, Brewer,Cambridge.

Dumville, D.,1993, Saint Patrick, Woodbridge.

Edwards, Heather, 1988, The Charters of the Early West Saxon Kingdom, BAR British Series 198, Oxford.

Giles, J., 1848, Six Old English Chronicles, London.

Kelly, Susan, 2012, Charters of Glastonbury Abbey, Anglo-Saxon Charters 15, Oxford.

Lawson, M., 1993, Cnut, London.

Lapidge, M., etc. (eds.), 1999, The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Anglo-Saxon England, Oxford.

Robinson, J. Armitage, 1923 (rep. 1969), The Times of St Dunstan, Oxford.

Scrags, D. (ed.), 2008, Edgar, King of the English, 959-975, New Interpretations, Woodbridge.

Stenton, Sir Frank, 1943 (2nd. ed., 1947), Anglo-Saxon England, Oxford.

Winterbottom, M., & Lapidge, M., 2012, The Early Lives of St Dunstan, Oxford.

Yorke, B., 1995, Wessex in the Early Middle Ages, London.

Yorke, B. (ed.), 1988, Bishop Æthelwold: His Career and Influence, Woodbridge.

[1]           This talk was given at the second Glastonbury Studies Seminar, ‘Glastonbury: Abbey and Throne,’ held at Abbey House, Glastonbury, on 31 January 2015. Some of its topics were treated in greater detail in Ashdown, 2010. As it attempted to give an overview rather than present new research, references and notes have here been kept to a minimum.

[2]           Ashe, 1983, pp. 142-144.

[3]           Ashe assumed that Glastonbury fell within Constantine’s domain but this is not a necessary conclusion. The princes’ refuge was clearly accessible to him but if it were under his ordinary jurisdiction there might be no need for subterfuge.

[4]           Aston & Gerrard, 2013, pp. 140-141. Lantokay may rather have been Walton, Holy Trinity’s ‘mother’ church.

[5]           The soil-type map reveals the rectangle of the medieval Abbey enclosure to co-inside exactly with a wide band of one of the best agricultural soils on the Glastonbury ‘island.’

[6]           Traditionally identified as Penselwood on the Wiltshire-Somerset border, a case has also been made for the Pens on the outskirts of Yeovil.

[7]           Abrams, 1991.

[8]    Stenton, 1943, second edition 1947, p. 440.

[9]           The very few lines of his surviving poetry betray knowledge of some fairly obscure demonology (Winterbottom & Lapidge, 2012, pp. 167-9); his Art of Love is in the Dunstan Classbook (see below).

10 Corpus Christi College Cambridge MS 183.

[11]          Keynes, article ‘Bretwalda’ in Lapidge etc. eds., 1999, p.74. Bretwalda or Brytenwalda was a localised insular adaptation of a Continental Germanic term meaning ‘wide-ruler’.

[12]          Compare the use of Logres by Charles Williams and C. S. Lewis. ‘Albion’ was personified by Holinshed and Spencer.

[13]  Oxford Bodleian MS Auct. F.4.32 f.

[14]          Dumville, 1993, p. 226; see also Dumville, 1985, p. 19 for knowledge of Welsh MSS in Dunstan’s Glastonbury.

[15]          The Welsh flag to this day is Drach Goch Gadwalladr, the Red Dragon of Cadwalladr.

[16]          It might be countered that John XII, the Pope from whom Dunstan received the pallium, had been elected aged eighteen.

[17]          Keynes, in Scraggs, 2008, p. 49 & refs..

[18]          Kelly, 2012, pp. 519-522.

[19]          For Idmiston, Wiltshire; Kelly, 2012, pp. 500-505.

[20]          Dee, Dunstan and Glastonbury are the subject of a forthcoming study by the present author. See also Julia Crick, Edgar, Albion and Insular Dominion, in Scraggs, (ed.) 2008, pp. 158-170.

[21]          Latin text, Winterbottom & Lapidge, 2012, p. cxxxvii; trans. (slightly modified) James Carley.

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