Thijs Porck

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Old age and the life course in early medieval England

How did the inhabitants of early medieval England reflect on the experiences of growing old? Was it really a golden age for the elderly, as has been suggested? How did they define old age in relation to other stages of life? These are some of  the central questions I have sought to answer in my research on old age and the life course in early medieval England.

  • Old Age in Early Medieval England: A Cultural History. Anglo-Saxon Studies 33 (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2019)

This first full survey of the cultural conceptualisation of old age, as manifested and reflected in the texts and artwork of the inhabitants of early medieval England, presents a nuanced and complicated picture. The author argues that although senescence was associated with the potential for wisdom and pious living, the inhabitants of early medieval England also anticipated various social, psychological and physical repercussions of growing old. Their attitude towards elderly men and women – whether they were saints, warriors or kings – was equally ambivalent.

Multidisciplinary in approach, this book makes use of a wide variety of sources, ranging from the visual arts to hagiography, homiletic literature and heroic poetry. Individual chapters deal with early medieval definitions of the life cycle; the merits and downsides of old age as represented in homilies and wisdom poetry; the hagiographic topos of elderly saints; the portrayal of grey-haired warriors in heroic literature; Beowulf as a mirror for elderly kings; and the cultural roles attributed to old women.

More information: Publisher’s website

  • PhD project: Growing Old among the Anglo-Saxons: The Cultural Conceptualisation of Old Age in Early Medieval England (2011-2016)

My PhD project at Leiden University started on 2 February, 2011 and I have defended my thesis on 26 April, 2016 (supervisors: prof. dr. Rolf H. Bremmer Jr and prof. dr. W. van Anrooij).

More information: Event page on the Leiden University website with a PDF file of a Dutch summary

  • ‘Vergrijzing in een Oudengels heldendicht. De rol van oude koningen in de Beowulf‘, Madoc. Tijdschrift over de Middeleeuwen 26 (2012), 66–76

In this article, I suggest Beowulf should be read as a mirror of princes for elderly kings.

Publisher’s version PDF in CORE

Forthcoming publications and future plans

  • ‘Gerontophobia in Early Medieval England: Anglo-Saxon Reflections on Old Age’, in Sense and Feeling in Daily Living in the Anglo-Saxon World, ed. M. Clegg-Hyer & G. Owen-Crocker (Liverpool University Press; scheduled for 2020)
  • I have co-organised four conference sessions with Dr. Hattie Soper (Cambridge) that dealt with the early English life cycle more generally. A follow-up conference in Cambridge was held on 23 March 2019 (see Conferences). We are now putting together an edited volume for Brill called Early Medieval English Life Courses: Cultural-Historical Perspectives (scheduled for 2021).
  • I have been asked to contribute a chapter to Bloomsbury’s Cultural History of Old Age (scheduled for 2023).





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