The political writings of Archbishop Wulfstan of York

Author: Andrew Rabin

Archbishop Wulfstan of York is among the most important legal and political thinkers of the early Middle Ages. A leading ecclesiastic, innovative legislator, and influential royal councilor, Wulfstan witnessed firsthand the violence and social unrest that culminated in the fall of the English monarchy before the invading armies of Cnut in 1016. This book introduces the range of Wulfstan's political writings and sheds light on the development of English law during the early eleventh century. In his homilies and legal tracts, Wulfstan offered a searing indictment of the moral failures that led to England’s collapse and formulated a vision of an ideal Christian community that would influence English political thought long after the Anglo-Saxon period had ended. More than just dry political theory, however, Wulfstan’s works are composed in the distinctive voice of someone who was both a confidante of kings and a preacher of apocalyptic fervour. No other source so vividly portrays the political life of eleventh-century England: what it was, and what one man believed it could be.

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‘Rabin has provided handy translations of works by Wulfstan that are ill-served by or excluded from Bethurum's standard edition of the homilies or Liebermann's of the law codes. The resulting book is a superb scholarly presentation of an easy-to-overlook corpus.'
Jonathan Wilcox, University of Iowa
Speculum: A Journal of Medieval Studies, 92.1

‘There is much more of interest that can be gleaned from these texts. Scholars of social, cultural, legal, religious, and political phenomena will find many clues to the early history of such topics, to just name a few, as penance, marriage, tithes, wergild, oaths, sanctuary, and slavery. And for those interested in broader social and political ideas, Rabin is undoubtedly right that Wulfstan's writings offer one of the most ambitious attempts to describe a coherent "political theology" known from Anglo-Saxon England (vii). The clarity of the translations and the relatively modest length of the book will also make it appropriate for use in the undergraduate classroom. These texts will allow readers to come to their own conclusions about Rabin's claims that Wulfstan was "a political thinker of the first order," and that his Institutes of Polity "represents the most sophisticated work of English political theory before John of Salisbury's Policraticus" (15-16).'
Richard Keyser, University of Wisconsin-Madison
The Medieval Review

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