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. Below are my publications in this area which are freely available in Open Access:

Conceptualizing the Life Course in Early Medieval England (with Harriet Soper)

in: Early Medieval English Life Courses: Cultural-Historical Perspectives, ed. Thijs Porck & Harriet Soper (Leiden: Brill, 2022), 1-14

This introduction poses a sequence of initial questions regarding the status of the life course in this period. How far do contemporary definitions of the life course respond to contextual demands? What is the interplay between the delineation of life stages and other elements of identity formation? What is the role played by intergenerational dynamics? Tackling such questions requires sensitivity to the nuances of generic context, linguistic distinctions, and historical contingency; it is only then that more sweeping conclusions about the contours of the early medieval English life course can be reached. The perceived shape of the life course can ultimately be found to reflect and inform countless contemporary issues of religion, law, medicine and literary expression.

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The Ages of Man and the Ages of Woman in Early Medieval England: From Bede to Byrhtferth of Ramsay and the Tractatus de quaternario

in: Early Medieval English Life Courses: Cultural-Historical Perspectives, ed. Thijs Porck & Harriet Soper (Leiden: Brill, 2022), 17-46

This chapter provides an overview of schematizations of the human life course found in Old English and Anglo-Latin texts. Patristic traditions of biblical exegesis and natural philosophy prompted early medieval English authors to divide human life into three to six ‘ages of man’, a flexible but uniform system of life course stratification in which three main phases (pueritia, iuuentus, senectus) could each be subdivided. The chapter also zooms in on an intriguing diagram in Cambridge, Gonville & Caius, MS 428/428, which uniquely visualizes four stages of life as women. This diagram and its accompanying text, the Tractatus de quaternario, have been ascribed to Byrhtferth of Ramsay. However, an exhaustive analysis of Byrhtferth’s writings, as well as a consideration of the diagram and text in their manuscript context, reveal that this attribution is unlikely.

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Gerontophobia in Early Medieval England: Anglo-Saxon Reflections on Old Age

in: Sense and Feeling in Daily Living in the Early Medieval English World, ed. Maren Clegg Hyer and Gale R. Owen-Crocker (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2020), 219-235, 278-282, 287.

Anglo-Saxon texts often feature evocative descriptions of the social, physical and emotional drawbacks of old age and typically characterise the elderly as being deprived of earthly pleasures. This chapter outlines how various Anglo-Saxon writers, including Ælfric and Wulfstan, used this negative image of old age to inspire their audience to turn to more spiritual pleasures and to be mindful of Heaven, where the absence of old age, notably, was assumed to be one of its joys. Thus, these texts reflect a sense of gerontophobia, ‘fear for old age’.

Open Access link:

Growing Old among the Anglo-Saxons: The Cultural Conceptualisation of Old Age in Early Medieval England

Unpublished PhD-thesis, Leiden University, 2016

This PhD dissertation comprises a detailed study of the Anglo-Saxon cultural conceptualisation of old age as manifested and reflected by words, texts and artwork of the inhabitants of early medieval England. While prior studies identified the Middle Ages as a ‘golden age for the elderly’, this dissertation offers a more complete and nuanced picture of how people considered old age over a thousand years ago. The project stands out for its multidisciplinary approach, which highlights that a study of how people thought about growing old should take into account as much of the cultural record as possible, ranging from visual arts to texts and even individual words. This PhD-thesis is mostly superseded by my book Old Age in Early Medieval England: A Cultural History (Boydell, 2019; 2021[pb]), but that book does not include the semantic field study of Old English word for old age in Chapter 2 and the Appendix of the PhD thesis.

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Vergrijzing in een Oudengels heldendicht. De rol van oude koningen in de Beowulf

Madoc. Tijdschrift over de Middeleeuwen 26 (2012), 66–76

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

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