History reimagined: Beowulf and the emotional landscape of early medieval England (c600-c800)

Activity: Academic Talks or PresentationsSeminar/WorkshopResearch


Conventional early English history is drawn from written sources that include chronicles, charters, letters, fiscal and legal records. The first narrative history early of England was almost single-handedly constructed by one monk, Bede, who write his magisterial Historia Ecclesiastica in c730. It is the only account of the settlement of post-Roman Britain and the conversion of the pagan kings to Roman Christianity and there is little evidence to suggest where Bede got his information from. When the so-called ‘Anglo-Saxon’ chronicles were commissioned by Alfred of Wessex in the 890s, they drew entirely on Bede for information from c450-730. In recent decades, archaeological finds have contributed hugely to the body of evidence, along with the consequent scientific analysis of the artefacts, especially DNA, but this has confirmed the adage, ‘the more we learn, the more we realise we don’t know.’ One area of written material from early medieval England, however, is often neglected by historians, and that is literary works, too often dismissed as fantasy and therefore not useful or appropriate to our understanding of the period, particularly since they were often oral memories and therefore not as ‘legitimate’ as the written word. The most famous early English work, the poem Beowulf, can, however, tell us a great deal about the emotional landscape of early England. It will be argued here that it is as essential as Bede as a source for the period, especially when triangulated with the conventional written sources and the physical evidence.
Period19 Apr 2023
Held atCentre for Historical Studies
Degree of RecognitionLocal


  • Beowulf
  • Bede
  • Medieval History
  • kingship
  • feud
  • kinship
  • archaeology
  • artefacts
  • poetry
  • memory
  • emotions
  • landscape