Timelines to Visualize History

A Project by the Department of Medieval English Literature and Historical Linguistics, University of Düsseldorf

Begin End Event Description Keywords Related Events
959 975

King Edgar and the Benedictine Revival

King Edgar's most prominent achievement in non-military activities was his massive support of the revival of monastic life in England. He installed the three leading reformers Dunstan, Æthelwold and Oswald, increased the number of reformed monasteries, expelled secular clerics and replaced them with reformed monks and abbots. It re-inspired cultural life in late Anglo-Saxon England and lead to a revival of education in Latin and English.

Edgar's most prominent achievement in non-military activities was his massive support of the revival of monastic life in England. This revival of monasticism in 10th-century Europe had started on the continent with the foundation of Cluny in 910. But as clerics, the sons of the nobility often did not live according to the Benedictine Rule ("work and pray") and did not wish to give up their comfortable privileges; there were a lot of Eigenklöster, monasteries in the possession of a noble family.

To counter this, Edgar installed three leading reformers in the most influential church positions, Dunstan, Æthelwold and Oswald. The next step was increasing the number of reformed monasteries, either by re-inspiring monastic life in deserted places, of by exchanging the communities of unreformed monasteries, i.e. by expelling the secular clerics there and installing reformed abbots and monks. There was a considerable number of re-foundations or new foundations of reformed monasteries; almost 40 within only 15 years. Endowments were taken away from secular clerics and given to the reformed communities for that. The English 10th-century Benedictine Reform was not a minor movement at the fringes of society; it had rather far-reaching social consequences. Thus Edgar is usually depicted and described as a Christian king whose greatest accomplishment is this Benedictine revival.

Furthermore, the Benedictine Revival re-inspired cultural life in late Anglo-Saxon England; due to the increasing number of monasteries, more monks were educated, and there was a revival of teaching in the reading and writing of Latin, but also of English.

One of the centres of learning was Æthelwold's school at Winchester. Æthelwold himself seems to have been a capable translator – he translated the Benedictine Rule – and a devoted teacher. A number of Old English texts (the Winchester Group) show remarkable correspondences and are all connected with Winchester, so that one may argue that Winchester saw the origin of an early attempt to standardize the English language.
Old English Period, Political, Religious, Kings + Rulers, Standardisation, History