An Epoch of New Dynasties
An Epoch of New Dynasties
From the Later Tenth Century to the End of the Eleventh
The Wessex kings’ conquest of the whole of England during the first half of the tenth century created conditions that led to a nation-state being recognizable by the end of the eleventh. In Scotland this was a much longer process, and Wales remained fragmented. The differences between them are mirrored by coinage; increasingly regulated and systematic in England, but not even produced in Scotland or Wales. The nation-state remained focused upon kings, however, elevating their status but exposing society to the haphazard behaviour and ambitions of an individual. They might still be seen as leading their ‘people’, English, Norman or whomsoever, but in reality they depended upon the support of a military elite and legitimization by the Church, rather than upon an efficient bureaucracy, let alone upon popular acceptance. Physical expression of royal supremacy was provided by increasingly elaborate inauguration rituals, and by crown-wearing ceremonies held on major feast-days at Gloucester, Winchester, and elsewhere, when the king represented his elevation by displaying himself with his emblems of power. A crown had been used as an image on coins by King Athelstan in the 930s, though his immediate successors stuck mainly to the traditional diadem. Ethelred (978–1016) added a staff, symbolizing a king’s pastoral duties to his people, and was occasionally shown wearing a round cap, usually taken to represent a helmet based on Roman coin images rather than on contemporary armour. The ‘hand of Providence’ on the reverse of some of his coins implied God’s blessing on an anointed king (cf. Col. pl. F.2). Cnut (1016–35) began his reign with a coin showing him crowned, as though to emphasize that his usurpation of power was legitimized by God through his coronation; the crown was a new type, an open circle surmounted by gold lilies. He followed it with a coin that has him wearing a tall, pointed helmet, this time a form that was in contemporary use. The lily-circlet crown had already been shown in a manuscript picture being worn by King Edgar in c.966, and a domed version was drawn being brought down from Heaven to crown Cnut in a painting that commemorates his donation of a gold cross to the New Minster at Winchester.
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