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Skaldic Poetry of the Scandinavian Middle Ages

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Note to GunnLeif Merl II 9VIII (Bret 9)

[All]: Cf. DGB 116 (Reeve and Wright 2007, 151.155-6; cf. Wright 1988, 108, prophecy 32): Ad haec ex urbe canuti nemoris eliminabitur puella ut medelae curam adhibeat ‘At this, a girl will be sent forth from the city of the hoary forest to bring curing medicine’ (cf. Reeve and Wright 2007, 150). The city Geoffrey had in mind, though not identified in previous scholarship, is probably Lichfield (OE Liccidfeld), which was founded close to and partially takes its name from the Romano-British settlement Letocetum ‘Grey forest’ (cf. Watts 2004, 372; for this location see also Stenton 1970, 259). In Anglo-Latin the adj. form canutus/kanutus is used to mean ‘grey’, in parallel with the classical Latin form canus. Gunnlaugr appears to infer a connection with the name Knútr, no doubt via the Anglo-Norman (Latinised) form of this name, Canutus/Kanutus, and this is also done by some modern scholars, e.g. Faral (1929, II, 60), followed by Thorpe (1966, 177) and Merl 2012. Tatlock (1950, 77) lists the location as unknown. DGB shows a keen interest, some of it reflected by Merl, in the vicissitudes and rival claims of dioceses and diocesan cities; cf. (e.g.) I 30 (London, Canterbury, Carlisle, St Davids), II 5-8 (Winchester) and II 16-18 (Winchester and St Davids). A reference to Lichfield can be explained in those terms: already the seat of a bishop, the city had in Offa’s time been proposed as the seat of the southern archbishop. It was briefly and very controversially the seat of an archbishop under Hygeberht from 787 to 799 (officially dissolved in 803), as a result of opposition on the part of Offa, King of Mercia, to domination by Canterbury (Stenton 1971, 217-18; Kirby 2000, 142; Brooks 1996, 118–19). In the late C11th Lichfield lost its bishop (though not its cathedral status) to Chester, as part of reforms proposed by Lanfranc (see Note to I 59/2); nevertheless its fortunes were reviving in Geoffrey’s time,  with the construction of a Norman cathedral (cf. Barrow 1956, 63). Gunnlaugr’s added assertion of the status of ‘Canute’s wood’ as an exceedingly prosperous centre (l. 3) rather than a mere rural retreat, augmenting Geoffrey’s claim for its salvific influence on Winchester, may be seen as a piece of advocacy for the city fully in keeping with C12th English practice: cf. II 16 Note to [All].


  1. Bibliography
  2. Reeve, Michael D., and Neil Wright. 2007. Geoffrey of Monmouth. The History of the Kings of Britain. An Edition and Translation of De gestis Britonum [Historia regum Britanniae]. Woodbridge: Boydell.
  3. Tatlock, J. S. P. 1950. The Legendary History of Britain. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.
  4. Thorpe, Lewis. 1966. Geoffrey of Monmouth. The History of the Kings of Britain. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
  5. Wright, Neil, ed. 1988. The Historia Regum Britannie of Geoffrey of Monmouth. II. The First Variant Version: A Critical Edition. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer.
  6. Stenton, F. M. 1971. Anglo-Saxon England. 3rd edn. Oxford: Clarendon.
  7. Barrow, G. W. S. 1956. Feudal Britain: The Completion of the Medieval kingdoms 1066-1314. London: Edward Arnold.
  8. Brooks, Nicholas P. 1996. The Early History of the Church of Canterbury: Christ Church from 597 to 1066. Early History of Britain. Leicester: Leicester University Press.
  9. Kirby, D. P. 2000. The Earliest English Kings. Rev. edn. London and New York: Routledge.
  10. Merl 2012 = Horst, Simone, ed. 2012. Merlínússpá. Merlins Prophezeiung. Munich: Herbert Utz Verlag.
  11. Stenton, Doris Mary, ed. 1970. Preparatory to Anglo-Saxon England: Being the Collected Papers of Frank Merry Stenton. Oxford: Clarendon.
  12. Faral, Edmond. 1929. La Légende arthurienne, études et documents. Part 1. Les plus anciens textes. 3 vols. I: Des origines à Geoffroy de Monmouth. II: Geoffroy de Monmouth; la légende arthurienne à Glastonbury. III: Documents: Historia Britonum. Geoffroy de Monmouth: Historia regum Britanniae. Vita Merlini. Paris: Champion.
  13. Watts, Victor, ed. 2004. The Cambridge Dictionary of English Place-names. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


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