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The Invention of England: Danes and Identity in Medieval Romance

Wollenberg, Daniel (2011) The Invention of England: Danes and Identity in Medieval Romance. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation explores the relationship between the emergence of English romance and rhetoric of English nationalism in the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Four historical romances set in England's past - Havelok the Dane, Guy of Warwick, Of Arthur and Merlin, and Horn Childe and Maiden Rimnild - are my primary focus. The concepts of England and Englishness that emerged in the late medieval and early modern periods were not the inevitable outcome of the Middle Ages, but the result of complex mediations explored in historical romances. Historical romances offered the primary stage for popular dramatizations of a national community bound by its shared triumphant history, and it is in such romances that ethnic, regional, and national identities were forged and disseminated. My project argues that a vital, though generally unrecognized, aspect of Middle English romance narratives was the castigation and delegitimization of the Scandinavians, or the "Danes," who became anathema to England and Englishness even as they settled throughout the British Isles in potentially massive numbers, as recent archeological and linguistic evidence has suggested. In the post-Conquest process of reconciliation between Anglo-Norman and Anglo-Saxon historiographical traditions, the Danes represented a philosophy of non-Christian "might is right" that was opposed to the God-ordained English system of rightful rule by proper, lawful inheritance. As secular texts written in the vernacular and designed to appeal to a wide range of the public, the historical material in Middle English romances has been perceived as reflective of the historical consciousness of the non-elite. However, my project argues that thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Middle English historical romances were not representative of a gradual emergence of long-buried folk-memory, but were themselves producing a national historical framework stressing continuity over fractures. While it has often been taken for granted that the frequent appearance of the Danes in many Middle English historical romances must have been based on lingering "folk memory" of pagan invasions centuries earlier, my project shows that historical romances were crafted so as to seem like they were recording popular traditions about the past, when in fact they were creating such traditions themselves.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee CoChairJohnson, Hannahhrjohn@gmail.comHRJ4
Committee CoChairTwyning, Johntwyning@pitt.eduTWYNING
Committee MemberBrumble, Davidbrumble@pitt.eduBRUMBLE
Committee MemberRobertson,
Date: 30 September 2011
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 5 May 2011
Approval Date: 30 September 2011
Submission Date: 15 August 2011
Access Restriction: 5 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 5 years.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > English
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Danes in Medieval Romance; Medieval Nationalism; Middle English Romance; Nationalism; Romance and Chronicle
Other ID:, etd-08152011-174256
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 19:59
Last Modified: 19 Dec 2016 14:37


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