Battles, Riddles and Spells: the Old English Tradition 900 -1100

Course Dates: 04/11/21 - 09/12/21
Time: 14:45 - 16:45
Location: Online
Great changes occurred in England between 900 and 1100. Viking invasions had turned to settlement, influencing the culture and language. Events in 1066 changed the ruling elite. The language used at court changed from Old English to Norman French. However, English was still the common tongue, and much of the great store of Old English poetry and prose was produced during this time. This course looks at the literature of 900-1100, as well as the turbulent events that affected and shaped English writing.
This course will be delivered online. See the ‘What is the course about?’ section in course details for more information.
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Full fee £129.00 Senior fee £103.00 Concession £79.00

Course Code: HLT261

Please choose a course date 

Thu, day, 04 Nov - 09 Dec '21

Duration: 6 sessions (over 6 weeks)

Or call to enrol:020 7831 7831

Please note: We offer a wide variety of financial support to make courses affordable. Just visit our online Help Center for more information on a range of topics including fees, online learning and FAQs.

What is the course about?

This online literature course considers writing from the centuries between the death of King Alfred in 899 to the establishment of Norman rule in England. As with the previous course, Beowulf and the Origins of English Literature 700-900, we will look at a range of writing that remain to us in manuscripts, written in Old English, the predecessor of the language spoken in England and around the world today.

England’s culture and literature had mixed fortunes between 900 and 1100. There was cultural decline in the 900s, before the Benedictine Reform later in the century and into the next, which prioritised literary culture and led to the production of manuscripts that are still with us today. Great poems such as the Battle of Maldon used traditional poetic form to present historical events, as did poems within the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The Wanderer and the Seafarer are excellent elegies, difficult to date, that are found in a unique manuscript that also contains many examples of a riddle tradition. The influence of Alfred is still being felt, with English religious writing flourishing in this period.

What other kinds of literature circulated in the period? Who wrote it? What is the relationship between the literature we have in manuscripts and cultural changes happening at the time? What about the oral composition and performance that must have operated before and during time? This course aims to probe these complex and disputed issues. It also aims to demonstrate the brilliance of literature in the English language as it really finds its feet.

This is a live online course. You will need:
- Internet connection. The classes work best with Chrome.
- A computer with microphone and camera is best (e.g. a PC/laptop/iMac/MacBook), or a tablet/iPad/smart phone/iPhone if you don't have a computer.
- Earphones/headphones/speakers.
We will contact you with joining instructions before your course starts.

What will we cover?

The style and substance of key literature of the period 900-1100.
The cultural context in which the literature was composed and disseminated.
The relationship between the literature and the oral past.
Some key figures of the literary establishment in the period – Ælfric, Wulfstan, and of course, Anonymous.

What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...

Understand the world in which early English scribes operated
Be aware of a range of early English writing
Understand the style of the literature in poetry and prose
Have a general understanding of the manuscript culture operating in the period
Understand the relationships between Latin, Scandinavian, and English writing
Understand the relationships between the literature and contemporary events.

What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?

Although this course considers early English language and texts, it is not technical and requires no specific knowledge of linguistics or linguistic terms. There will inevitably be discussion of historical as well as legendary events, but no knowledge of such matters is required before the course.

How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?

By presentation, demonstration and group discussion.

Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?

Familiarity with the Exeter Book and writing by Ælfric will be a bonus, but no prior relationship with Old English literature is expected. Specific material will be provided in advance.

When I've finished, what course can I do next?

Look for other Literary History courses under History, Culture and Writing at

Steven Breeze

Steven teaches medieval literature, including Old and Middle English, Old Norse literature, and modern interpretations of medieval works and the medieval period for the Culture and Humanities department at City Lit. He has taught at City Lit since 2013, and he also has experience teaching in higher education and in secondary schools. Steven completed a PhD at Birkbeck, University of London, in 2018, and has degrees in English and anthropology, a master’s degree in ethnomusicology and a PGCE. He is currently writing a book about performance in Old English poetry, which will be published in 2021 by Boydell and Brewer. In addition to his specialist work in Culture and Humanities, Steven also teaches in the Business and Technology department.

Please note: We reserve the right to change our tutors from those advertised. This happens rarely, but if it does, we are unable to refund fees due to this. Our tutors may have different teaching styles; however we guarantee a consistent quality of teaching in all our courses.