An Analogue to Wulf and Eadwacer in the Life of St. Bertellin of Stafford

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While the Old English poem Wulf and Eadwacer has a reputation as hopelessly enigmatic, it has a clear, albeit self-contained, narrative. A critically-accepted understanding of this work follows Kemp Malone’s 1962 conclusion that ‘this poem is based on a tale familiar to the poet’s audience but unknown to us’. This article argues that such a familiar tale exists in the only extant copy of the Vita of the little-known Anglo-Saxon saint, Bertellin of Stafford, printed by Wynkyn de Worde in the Nova Legenda Anglie (1516). I argue that Wulf and Eadwacer and the Vita Bertellini share significant narrative parallels and demonstrate that the latter text can be confidently dated to the twelfth century. Bertellin’s cult and church date to the Anglo-Saxon period; his singular legend is preserved in at least one iconographic representation from c. 1100, meaning that the core of this narrative is far older than its 1516 printing; and information in John Bale’s catalogue suggests that he examined a twelfth-century manuscript of this text. I conclude that the Vita Bertellini preserves authentic Anglo-Saxon material and that it and Wulf and Eadwacer are two reflections of the same local legend from Anglo-Saxon England.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalThe Review of English Studies
Issue number278
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2016


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