Monumentalising Kingship: Places of Royal Residence and the Making of Early Medieval British Kingdoms AD 500-800

Lead Research Organisation: University of Reading
Department Name: Archaeology

Abstract

The fifth-ninth centuries A.D. were pivotal to the formation of kingdoms in post-Roman northern Europe. Excavated sites of royal and aristocratic residence constitute one of the most important sources of archaeological evidence for understanding this process, providing important insights into new forms of architecture and material practices that were strategically deployed as tools of kingship. A comparative perspective is crucial for understanding how these phenomena developed as a shared response to the growth of socio-political complexity across the early medieval northern world. While a surge in new archaeological data from Scandinavia and neighbouring regions of northern continental Europe has stimulated new debate and interdisciplinary approaches, a British perspective has been lacking in recent discourse due to a limited sample of sites and an old evidence base. The key aim of the proposed network is to harness the potential of a suite of new projects examining sites of royal residence across early medieval Britain to redress this imbalance and establish a more holistic research agenda for the future.

The past five years have seen the initiation of five research projects, each examining or seeking to reassess sites of royal residence on an ambitious scale, four in regions of Britain where such phenomena were previously unattested: Lyminge (Kent), Sutton Courtenay/Long Wittenham (Oxfordshire); Rendlesham (Suffolk), Rhynie (Pictland) and Yeavering (Northumberland). We will bring the directors of the constituent projects into a sustained dialogue to share findings, compare methodologies and question assumptions, and open up this dialogue to leading national and international scholars to develop comparative interdisciplinary perspectives.

We will organise a series of three meetings over 24 months, each addressing an overarching theme of interdisciplinary significance: site dynamics and long-term chronologies; architectures of power: ritual action, performance and the built environment; and royal residences and networks of power. Each meeting will be attended by 18 participants, including early career researchers and PhD students and scholars from different countries and disciplines. The intended focus for debate will be circulated in advance, together with summaries of the invited papers to inform and structure discussion.

We will engage with national agencies such as English Heritage and Historic Scotland to inform the future management and exploitation of such sites as key heritage assets esteemed for their rarity and cultural significance. This will include inviting senior members of these bodies to sit on a Network Advisory Committee and to attend its meetings. We will also produce two resources that will significantly enhance the impact achieved by the five participating research projects within local communities: a dedicated facility on the Network web-site for special interest groups and local schools to curate their own temporary on-line exhibition, and an Education Pack that will encourage primary schools to engage with a site of early medieval royal residence in their locality in fun and creative ways in the delivery of History National Curriculum at Key Stage 2. Both of these resources will be made available beyond the life of the network as a legacy of the research.

A web-site and an edited collection of essays will be produced in order to guarantee the continuity of the network and to maximise the dissemination of its research findings. The web-site will include content for both academic and public audiences and will maximise reach through linked social media. It will post summaries of the meetings, publish announcements of work in progress, and facilitate contacts to and within the Network over the course of the project. The main vehicle for academic dissemination will be an edited collection of essays/journal special edition, including contributions solicited from younger scholars.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit from the research?

1. National agencies and public bodies involved with the care, protection and exploitation of sites of early medieval royal residence as heritage assets. This includes English Heritage, Historic Scotland, the Society of the Antiquaries of London and the Society of the Antiquaries of Scotland, who have invested heavily in the investigation, publication and guardianship of sites of royal residence in acknowledgement of their rarity and cultural significance

2. Local communities, stakeholders and voluntary groups. The current project seeks to build upon the considerable local impact already generated by the five projects at the core of the proposed network spanning some 35 local governmental organisations, museums, schools and voluntary and special-interest groups. The current project will provide new resources and opportunities for sustaining and enhancing impact within these communities of engagement

3. Primary schools, specifically teachers and their pupils studying History at Key Stage 2

4. Broader public audiences

How will they benefit?

1. National governmental agencies and public bodies
National agencies and bodies have invested heavily in this domain, but as yet there is no unified policy or guidance covering the protection and exploitation of sites of early medieval royal residence as key heritage assets. We will facilitate the creation of this missing framework by inviting key representatives from these agencies to sit on the Network Advisory Committee and to participate in meetings and discussions thus exposing them to the latest academic findings. This knowledge exchange will allow these organisations to assess, manage and promote these assets more sustainably and strategically and help them to broker partnerships with local communities, stakeholders and academic projects as part as 'co-created' management strategies.

2. Local communities, stakeholders and voluntary groups
Past engagement with these constituencies has primarily involved opportunities for active engagement in the research process, particularly fieldwork and excavation. We will deliver major new impact by improving local community's conceptual understanding of sites in their locality, encouraging them to engage with universal research themes that link sites of early medieval royal residence both in the UK and internationally. This enhanced impact will be delivered by the network web-site which will include a dedicated space for special interest groups and local schools to curate their own virtual exhibition.

3. Primary schools
The formation of the kingdoms of early medieval Britain forms a core part of the History curriculum at Key Stage 2, the recent revision of which places increased emphasis on the exploitation of local heritage sites for teaching. This project will exploit the potential that sites of early medieval royal residence hold for enhancing and enlivening this core teaching through interesting, fun and informative engagements with local archaeology. This aim will be facilitated by an Education Pack produced in collaboration with a professional heritage consultant and promoted to primary schools located within the catchment of the five sites of early medieval royal residence forming the core of the network.

4. Wider public audiences
The wider public will be encouraged to interact with the network through on-line resources and publications in popular magazines such as Current Archaeology.These groups will benefit through:
- An increased awareness of the relationship between sites of early medieval royal residence and historical themes of international significance, including the formation of kingdoms in early medieval Europe
- An increased understanding of how archaeological, historical and other disciplinary approaches interact to lead to these understandings

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description The research has opened up several new frontiers of knowledge by situating a focused examination of Anglo-Saxon places of royal residence within a wider international and interdisciplinary dialogue. Key advances in understanding have been made in the following areas:
- A much clearer and critically informed understanding of the influence that different methods and scales of interrogation have on the interpretation of royal/magnate residences, particularly with regards to reconstructing their spatial organisation and developmental trajectories.
- An enriched appreciation of the temporal complexity of these sites and the need for interpretation to be sensitive to both long-term and short-term tempos of change and various politically-motivated strategies for appropriating the past, both remote and recent.
- A significantly improved understanding of geographical variation and diversity in the character of early medieval royal residences and related central place phenomena across northern and north-west Europe. Discussion of this theme highlighted some very interesting blank areas in the distribution of such sites (e.g. Northern Frankia) while also bringing to light subtler regional variations with the corpus of Anglo-Saxon sites; both of these indices of variation warrant further research and investigation.
- Significant new insights have also been opened up on the relationship between royal/magnate residences and wider landscapes that came to be closely bound with the ideology of rulership through the management and consumption of resources and elite practices such as hunting. These dimensions are usually taken as given in interpretations of later medieval lordly residence, but there is considerable scope to define parallel expressions and manifestations in the early medieval landscape through interdisciplinary enquiry.
These enhancements in understanding will be fully explored in the main academic output of the Network currently under preparation as a special edition of the journal Early Medieval Europe.
The project was also successful in meeting key non-academic objectives, including the production of a teaching resource linked to Anglo-Saxon coverage within History at Key Stage 2 which has been taken up by a number of schools in the locality of the participating projects, and engaging representatives from Historic England and Historic Scotland as stakeholders responsible for the guardianship of relevant sites.
Exploitation Route The research has identified several topics and research avenues that are ripe for further investigation whether as doctoral dissertations or by senior academics working in the fields of early medieval archaeology, history and landscape studies, both within and outside the network of scholars brought together by the research. Local schools have engaged with the outcomes of the research through the Network Education Pack and there is the potential to disseminate this resource more widely in the future as a teaching aid for History at Key Stage 2, both within and beyond the Network's collaborating projects. The outcomes of this research will also enrich ongoing outreach between the participating projects within the Network and local communities and stakeholders within which they are based and in doing so benefit community cohesion and well-being.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL http://royalresidencenetwork.org/
 
Description The teaching pack produced through the Network has been adopted by a number of primary schools local to the five participating archaeological projects. Initial feedback received from teachers indicates that the resource has had a very positive impact on the delivery of the relevant part of the Key Stage 2 History curriculum and we expect that this positive feedback will be mirrored as take-up of the resource expands in the coming year and beyond. The Network has engaged closely with representatives from Historic England and Historic Scotland providing these organisations with a clearer understanding of the challenges and opportunities associated with the protection and guardianship of relevant archaeological sites. This improved understanding can be expected to filter into the updating of heritage management policies and protocols for which these organisations are responsible.
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description AHRC Networking Scheme
Amount £36,449 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/N000218/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2015 
End 09/2017
 
Description Aberdeen workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact The final of three workshops organised under the auspices of Early Medieval Royal Residence Network held at the University of Aberdeen, 8-9 February 2016. Structured around a series of formal presentations and focused discussions, the workshop brought together 16 leading scholars from five European countries together with four early career researchers and PhD students to critically examine the theme of 'Networks of Power' in relation to the life of early medieval royal and magnate residences.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://royalresidencenetwork.org/workshops/
 
Description Durham workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact The second of three workshops organised under the auspices of the Early Medieval Royal Residence Network held at the University of Durham, 8-9 June 2016. Structured around a series of formal presentations and focused discussions, the workshop brought together 20 leading scholars from five European countries together with four early career researchers and PhD students to critically examine the theme of 'ritual action, performance and the built environment' in relation to the life of early medieval royal and magnate residences.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://royalresidencenetwork.org/workshops/
 
Description International workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact The inaugural workshop of the Early Medieval Royal Residence Network held at the University of Reading, 25-26 February 2016. Structured around a series of formal presentations and focused discussions, the workshop brought together 18 leading scholars from five European countries together with four early career researchers and PhD students to critically examine the theme of 'Site Dynamics and Long-Term Chronologies' in relation to the life of early medieval royal and magnate residences.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://royalresidencenetwork.org/workshops/