REVIEWS RELIGION AND LITERATURE IN WESTERN ENGLAND, 600-800. By Patrick Sims- Williams. Cambridge Studies in Anglo-Saxon England, 3. Cambridge University Press, 1990. Pp. xv, 448. £ 40.00. Simon Keynes and Michael Lapidge inform us in their editorial preface to this series that it is their 'intention to encourage the publication of original scholarship which advances our understanding of the field through interdisciplinary approaches'. Patrick Sims-Williams, in his introduction and conclusion to this volume, provides an apologia for what he describes as 'the English tradition of interdisciplinary regional studies' applied in his case to two seventh- and eighth-century Anglo-Saxon kingdoms. The territories studied are those of the Hwicce and the Magonsaetan, which were approximately coextensive with the later medieval dioceses of Worcester and Hereford respectively. The use of the interdisciplinary approach is to be welcomed in principle. The combined resources of history, archaeology, literature and other ancillary disciplines are essential for the recovery of the fullest possible understanding of early medieval peoples. The problem with this book is that the region chosen for study is too small, too poorly documented and too lacking in cultural definition. The book might more honestly be entitled Studies relating to the Hwicce and Magonscetan: two sub-kingdoms in south-west Mercia, for it only deals with a fraction of what by any standards-Anglo-Saxon or other-can be called 'Western England'. This study excludes even the Wreocensaetan (northern neighbours of the Magonsaetan located in parts of Shropshire), as well as north-west Mercia, covering modern Cheshire and Staffordshire. On the author's own admission, the Hwicce and Magonsaetan are so poorly documented that we do not know precisely when in the seventh century they were converted to Christianity or by whom, and by the eighth century, when records begin to promise a fuller picture, both sub-kingdoms were subsumed into the greater Mercian realm, thereby losing whatever fragile political identity they may have previously possessed. It is difficult to speak meaningfully about such tribal or quasi- tribal territories without constant reference to the kings who ruled them, but the early political demise of those rulers has meant that their royal pedigrees have not been preserved in the eighth-century Anglian collection of genealogies. This precludes all knowledge of their tribal or dynastic polity-crucial for the definition of what Sims- Williams refers to elsewhere as a 'discrete people' in the early Middle Ages. Political weakness and the geographical isolation of south-west Mercia from centres enjoying the patronage of powerful overlords in Mercia proper, Wessex and Northumbria, has sealed the fate of the Hwicce and Magonsaetan for the modern historian as that of essentially prehistoric and proto-historic peoples. Not even the happy chance of the survival of a relative abundance of early.charters in the Worcester archive can offset that stark fact. For this reason, too, as Sims-Williams is aware, Bede had very little knowledge of the Hwicce or the Magonsaetan, but this does not deter the author of
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