Living Through Conquest: The Politics of Early English, 1020-1220

Oxford University Press

Living through Conquest is the first ever investigation of the political clout of English from the reign of Cnut to the earliest decades of the thirteenth century. It focuses on why and how the English language was used by kings and their courts and by leading churchmen and monastic institutions at key moments from 1020 to 1220. English became the language of choice of a usurper king; the language of collective endeavour for preachers and prelates; and the language of resistance and negotiation in the post-Conquest period. Analysing texts that are not widely known, such as Cnut's two Letters to the English of 1020 and 1027, Worcester's Confraternity Agreement, and the Eadwine Psalter, alongside canonical writers like Ælfric and Wulfstan, Elaine Treharne demonstrates the ideological significance of the native vernacular and its social and cultural relevance alongside Latin, and later, French. 

While many scholars to date have seen the period from 1060 to 1220 as a literary lacuna as far as English is concerned, this book demonstrates unequivocally that the hundreds of vernacular works surviving from this period attest to a lively and rich textual tradition. Living Through Conquest addresses the political concerns of English writers and their constructed audiences, and investigates the agenda of manuscript producers, from those whose books were very much in the vein of earlier English codices to those innovators who employed English precisely to demonstrate its contemporaneity in a multitude of contexts and for a variety of different audiences.




About the Author

I am a Welsh medievalist with specializations in manuscript studies, archives, information technologies, and early British literature. I have published widely in this area over the last twenty years, focusing on religious poetry and prose, and manuscripts from c.600 to c.1300. I teach core courses in British Literary History up to about 1600, on Text Technologies, and on Palaeography and Archival Studies. I supervise honors students and graduate students working in early literature, Book History, and Digital Humanities. I am committed to providing a supportive and ethical working environment for all scholars and colleagues. My current projects focus on the book as object and the long history of Text Technologies. I research the hapticity and phenomenology of the medieval book, and will be publishing Perceptions of Medieval Manuscripts: The Phenomenal Bookwith Oxford University Press in 2021. My newest work concerns the application of machine learning and AI to investigate medieval manuscripts and the transmission of textual culture. Two new book projects are underway: an Introduction to Manuscript Studies; and a new collaboration with Greg Walker, Landscapes of Immortality, which investigates sacred sites, memorialisation, and the human desire to be remembered.

I am the Director of Stanford Text Technologies (, and, with Claude Willan, published Text Technologies: A History in 2019. Other projects include 'CyberText Technologies' and research into personal archives ('Recollections'). In the former, we've developed models for predicting the future of information technologies, based on discernible patterns and cyclical trends inherent to all historic forms of communication. Text Technologies' initiatives include an annual collegium now in its sixth year: the first, on 'Distortion' in May 2015 was published as Textual Distortion in 2017. The fourth, the largest with 25 speakers, was recently published by Routledge as Medieval Manuscripts in the Digital Age. I am the Principal Investigator of the NEH-Funded 'Stanford Global Currents' ( and Co-PI of the AHRC-funded research project and ebook, The Production and Use of English Manuscripts, 1060 to 1220 (Leicester, 2010,; the expanded version 2.0 appeared in 2018: Recent publications include A Very Short Introduction to Medieval Literature (OUP, 2015); Living Through Conquest: The Politics of Early English (OUP, 2012); and the Cambridge Companion to British Medieval Manuscripts, co-edited with Dr Orietta Da Rold. Among other work, I edited The Oxford Handbook of Medieval Literature in English (OUP, 2010) with Greg Walker. With Walker, I'm General Editor of the OUP series, Oxford Textual Perspectives and with Ruth Ahnert, I'm General Editor of Stanford University Press's Text Technologies Series.

Some of my new work in both teaching and research is focusing specifically on the issue of Digital Interpretative Frameworks and the phenomenology of the digital environment. I'm a keen advocate for and critic of the use of digital technologies in the classroom and in research; and I am concerned about the ways in which we describe and display manuscripts, and employ palaeographical and codicological tools online. As the former Director of the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA) at Stanford, I focused on enhancing the archival projects we supported. I'm a qualified archivist and, with colleagues, am developing archival courses and methodological scholarship. Also with colleagues at Stanford and at Cambridge, we launched the massive online courses, 'Digging Deeper 1 and 2': 'Making Manuscripts' and 'Interpreting Manuscripts'. I blog and tweet regularly, and my most read publication was 'Beowulf in 100 Tweets' (#Beow100)!

I have been an American Philosophical Society Franklin Fellow and a Princeton Procter Fellow. I'm a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries; a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society; an Honorary Lifetime Fellow of the English Assocation (and that Association's former Chair and President); and a Fellow of the Learned Society of Wales. I'm affiliate faculty in Stanford's Human-centered Artificial Intelligence Institute; the Woods Institute; and the Europe Center. In April 2021, I became a Trustee of the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth.