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'Geoffrey of Wells’ and the Anarchy of King Stephen’s Reign

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Abstract

This article offers a fresh insight into the psychological and intellectual processes that drove the development of saints’ cults. It re-examines the most significant of the various twelfth-century contributions to the development of the legend of St Edmund of Bury, an account of the martyr’s ancestry and adolescence written between c.1150 and 1156. The argument is that the author, Geoffrey of Wells, was chiefly concerned with exploring the ways in which the succession should be handled when a king died without leaving a legitimate male heir—in circumstances identical, that is, to those which had brought about the so-called ‘Anarchy of King Stephen’s reign’ (c.1139–1153). By suggesting that Edmund had achieved high office through the passive acceptance of God’s will, Geoffrey presented the saint as a model of propriety in the pursuit of royal office at a time when many of his devotees will have yearned for an end to crippling conflicts over the succession.