Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England

[Image: Witness list of a royal diploma, S 497 (extract); Aelfwine]


Special features

PASE is distinguished from a number of other prosopographies both by its balance of compilation and interpretation, and by the range of information-sources on which it draws and the scope of its target-category. PASE’s characteristics result in part from the relatively compact body of source-material for Anglo-Saxon England: it was possible in PASE to enter data from virtually all written sources produced in Anglo-Saxon England, or in a few cases produced outside England but relating to it, in the period specified. Prosopographies have traditionally been concerned with particular categories or groups, usually elite men. Instead, PASE has aimed, from the outset, at inclusiveness.

Nevertheless, the amount of information on different individuals varies greatly. For Anglo-Saxon England, as for any earlier-medieval European society, there is always very much less (if any) information on peasant individuals and groups than on royal or aristocratic ones. Ecclesiastical personages are disproportionately represented in PASE because monks and clergy played a large part in the production of the written record, and their institutions had a strong interest in preserving these texts. Women, even nuns, are poorly represented. Peasants and artisans are near-invisible in most sources, and if they appear at all mostly do so anonymously. They have been entered in PASE, as anonymi, and this allows linkages to be made with other, better-recorded, people. Within these limits, PASE has achieved comprehensiveness. PASE 2’s inclusion of many more peasants and lesser landholders was made possible by the uniquely comprehensive Domesday Book material.

Churches kept documents in which gifts and privileges were recorded or confirmed in charters. Anglo-Saxon charters normally required the attestations of witnesses, and the documents therefore contain lists of names, sometimes in abundance. Even if a named witness is recorded nowhere else, one charter can supply social and geographical associations that allow the individual to be more than a name. Anglo-Saxon churches kept lists of ‘friends’ and patrons to be commemorated in regular services. The bearers of names recorded in knowable time and space can often be linked with other known individuals.

Prosopographers enter quantities of persons, named or unnamed, in a structured form, with as much recorded data on each as possible. The fields of a relational database are designed to allow users to identify people, relationships and groups, and to find rapidly any relationships between them.

PASE has been source-driven. The researchers collected and systematically entered information from almost all known written sources produced in the Anglo-Saxon and immediately post-Conquest periods. The special characteristics of charters made it necessary to devise a separate way of entering and editing data from them. When material was merged, identifications between named individuals were made where possible, to produce a research-tool of extraordinary power and manoeuverability. Accessing PASE is no substitute for first-hand engagement with the sources themselves, however. Extracting and structuring data inevitably pares away the sources’ explanatory and contextual material.

PASE’s start-date is that at which contemporary written records begin in Anglo-Saxon England; its end-date was dictated by the team’s assessment of what could be completed within five years. PASE 2, funded by the AHRC to record person-data for the period 1042 to c. 1100, and also data from sources written after that date which record Anglo-Saxons across the whole period 597−1100, was designed, at the same time, to maintain, and substantially enhance, PASE itself. For this three-year project (July 2005−June 2008, the co-directors were joined by Stephen Baxter (Department of History, King’s College London), a historian and prosopographer of later Anglo-Saxon and early Norman England. Extensions granted by the AHRC without extra funding made it possible to publish substantial quantities of new PASE 2 data on the existing web interface on 23 December 2009, and to publish the resource on a new web interface with improved search facilities and PASE Domesday on 18 August 2010.