DOI: 10.1093/ehr/cead208 ISSN: 0013-8266

Archbishop Wulfstan of York and the Danish Conquest of 1016

Andrew Rabin
  • History


Wulfstan, archbishop of York (1002–1023) and bishop of Worcester (1002–1016), occupies a pre-eminent place in the political history of eleventh-century England, yet surprisingly little is known of his life and career. The consequences of this ignorance are particularly acute for the years surrounding the Danish Conquest of 1016. The upheavals of this period led Wulfstan to compose his most well-known homily, the Sermo lupi ad Anglos (1014), resign from the see of Worcester (1016), and transfer his loyalty from the English king Æthelred to the Danish conqueror Cnut. Yet while the years 1013 to 1018 left discernible traces in Wulfstan’s thought, the particular circumstances that produced these traces can be perceived only dimly. The means by which Wulfstan maintained his status through the years of conquest are significant for more than just their impact on his career and evolving political vision. While his role as a leading legislator during the reigns of both Æthelred and Cnut has been taken as evidence that he managed to emerge from the Conquest relatively unscathed, Wulfstan’s influence at the royal court during these years was inconsistent at best and his success in navigating the change in power was not inevitable. Wulfstan’s approach to the complicated politics of the Conquest thus provides a useful case-study of the various ways in which the Church, its leaders as much as its institutions, balanced competing allegiances to king and conqueror.

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