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Huffman (2015 Congress)

Rebecca Huffman
(University of Michigan – Ann Arbor)
In Search of Rule Models in Saint Erkenwald and Lydgate’s Saints Edmund and Fremund

Abstract of Paper Presented at the 50th International Congress on Medieval Studies (Kalamazoo, May 2015)
Session on “The ‘Good’, the ‘Bad’, and the ‘Ugly’ Ruler:  Ideal Kingship in the Middle Ages”
Co-sponsored by the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence and
the Center for Medieval and Early Modern Studies at the University of Florida
Organized by Mildred Budny (Research Group on Manuscript Evidence) and Florin Curta (University of Florida)

2015 Congress Events Announced

[First published on 17 April 2015]

Despite historical distance between them, Saint Erkenwald (circa 1386) and Lydgate’s Saints Edmund and Fremund (1433) are closer to one another than scholarship might at first indicate; each text’s depictions of secular and saintly leadership contribute powerfully to contemporary models of good and bad authority.  Both Lydgate and the Erkenwald author were living in an English present dominated by child kings, war with France, and domestic unrest, whereby each seeks out the memory of another historical moment:  a still-Christianizing Anglo-Saxon England.  While Saint Erkenwald began to circulate in the years following the Peasant Revolt and as the political crises surrounding Richard II became further entrenched, Lydgate writes Saints Edmund and Fremund for the twelve-year-old boy king Henry VI, whose questionable authority at home was complemented by the souring of English prospects in France.

In this decidedly selective exploration of England and English leaders in particular, Saint Erkenwald and Saints Edmund and Fremund choose a similar past as a starting point for their vernacular projects, putting it forward as foundational to their medieval present.  Erkenwald and Edmund, often viewed for their orthodoxy, instead reveal in their Anglo-Saxon histories a deeply conflicted view of England’s past, present, and future where kings and leaders caught between sacred and secular duties continually fail their subjects and broader communities.  Focusing especially on Edmund and Erkenwald, this paper proposes that while each text’s fictive leader receives superficial praise for his religious devotion, both authors show the limitations of this model and ground the qualities for ideal kingship in secular law and governance.

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  1. […] 4. Rebecca Huffman (Department of English, University of Michigan) ‘In Search of Rule Models in Saint Erkenwald (circa 1386) and Lydgate’s Saints Edmund and Fremund (1433)’ Abstract of Paper […]