Prelude to Forgery: Baldwin of Bury meets Pope Alexander II

Benjamin Savill

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7 Citations (Scopus)


This article argues that we can only understand Bury St Edmunds’ post-Conquest dossier of forged Anglo-Saxon royal diplomas by viewing it alongside that house’s earlier acquisition of an authentic papal privilege from Alexander II (Oct. 1071). That is, the hitherto overlooked failure of that the genuine papal document to find any acceptance in 1070s England necessitated Bury’s recourse to royal forgery. The implications of this go well beyond Bury. Abbot Baldwin’s initial optimism in eliciting papal support sprang from the renewed strength of Anglo-papal relations in the decades preceding the Norman Conquest. The genuine document’s failure, and the subsequent turn to forging royal texts, is mirrored by an almost total absence of evidence of petitions for papal support in the post-Conquest decades. In light of this, we must be wary of attempts to date any part of the wider corpus of forged papal documents for English beneficiaries within these same immediately post-Conquest years: the failed application of even genuine papal acta under the new Anglo-Norman regime suggests that attempts to forge similar specimens would have been highly unlikely in this period. The article’s appendix comprises the first full critical edition of the Alexander II privilege, together with an English translation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)795–822
JournalEnglish Historical Review
Issue number557
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2017

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