Arguing with the Dead
Medieval historians are a small band. Departed greats such as James Campbell remain with us as long as we seek their opinions.
The dominating feature of Committee Room 10 in the Houses of Parliament is an enormous painting of King Alfred, by George Frederick Watts. Alfred, striking a heroic pose, is, in the words of the caption: ‘inciting the Saxons to resist the landing of the Danes’. Beneath this stirring scene, dedicated by the artist to ‘patriotism and posterity’, 100 Anglo-Saxon historians gathered recently to celebrate the projected publication of James Campbell’s Ford Lectures in British History. Delivered in 1996, Campbell had worked intermittently on them since; but on his death in 2016 they were left in some disarray. Their subject is ‘Origins of the English State’; and their uncompromising focus is on the Anglo-Saxon period, when, in Campbell’s view, the most important lineaments of the English state were laid down.