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Old age and the life course in early medieval England

How did Anglo-Saxons reflect on the experience of growing old? Was it really a golden age for the elderly, as has been suggested? How did Anglo-Saxons define old age in relation to other stages of life? These are some of  the central questions I have sought to answer in my research on old age and the life course in early medieval England.

  • Old Age in Early Medieval England: A Cultural History (Boydell & Brewer: March 2019)

This first full survey of the Anglo-Saxon cultural conceptualisation of old age, as manifested and reflected in the texts and artwork of the inhabitants of early medieval England, presents a more nuanced and complicated picture. The author argues that although senescence was associated with the potential for wisdom and pious living, the Anglo-Saxons also anticipated various social, psychological and physical repercussions of growing old. Their attitude towards elderly men and women – whether they were saints, warriors or kings – was equally ambivalent.

Multidisciplinary in approach, this book makes use of a wide variety of sources, ranging from the visual arts to hagiography, homiletic literature and heroic poetry. Individual chapters deal with early medieval definitions of the life cycle; the merits and downsides of old age as represented in Anglo-Saxon homilies and wisdom poetry; the hagiographic topos of elderly saints; the portrayal of grey-haired warriors in heroic literature; Beowulf as a mirror for elderly kings; and the cultural roles attributed to old women.

More information: Publisher’s website

  • PhD project: Growing Old among the Anglo-Saxons: The Cultural Conceptualisation of Old Age in Early Medieval England (2011-2016)

My PhD project at Leiden University started on 2 February, 2011 and I have defended my thesis on 26 April, 2016 (supervisors: prof. dr. Rolf H. Bremmer Jr and prof. dr. W. van Anrooij).

More information: Event page on the Leiden University website with a PDF file of a Dutch summary

  • ‘Vergrijzing in een Oudengels heldendicht. De rol van oude koningen in de Beowulf‘, Madoc. Tijdschrift over de Middeleeuwen 26 (2012), 66–76

In this article, I suggest Beowulf should be read as a mirror of princes for elderly kings.

Publisher’s version PDF in CORE

Forthcoming publications and future plans

  • ‘Gerontophobia in Early Medieval England: Anglo-Saxon Reflections on Old Age’, in Sense and Feeling in Daily Living in the Anglo-Saxon World, ed. M. Clegg-Hyer & G. Owen-Crocker (Liverpool University Press; scheduled for 2019)
  • I have also been asked to contribute a chapter to Bloomsbury’s Cultural History of Old Age.
  • I have co-organised four conference sessions with Dr. Hattie Soper (Cambridge) that dealt with the early English life cycle more generally. A follow-up conference in Cambridge is planned for 23 March 2019 (see Conferences); there are plans for an edited volume.