Conflicts, Political Violence and Human Rights

  • Lucy Thomas (Invited speaker)

Activity: Participating in or organising an eventParticipation in conference


'‘Criste sende the this swerde’: Dreams Promoting Violence in Political Middle English Romances'
Medieval kings were expected to be able to distinguish between good and bad earthly counsel correctly in order to ensure the safety and contentment of their realms; this concept applies to the counsel received in dreams. Middle English romances explicitly and implicitly address the ways in which a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ dream promoting violence could also have adverse effects on a kingdom. Gregorian dream-theory acknowledges both the pitfalls of falling for a demonic dream but also the negative repercussions of ignoring an angelic dream. It was believed that where ignoring God-sent instructions may mean losing divine favour for a kingdom, following the sinful influence of a bad dream could equally steer a kingdom dangerously away from God and into a state of corruption.

In oracular dreams, angels instruct romance rulers Athelstan (Guy and Colbrond), Alantyne and Charlemagne (The Siege of Milan) to commit violence, either themselves or via a named representative, against an opposing army. Although model rulers Athelstan and Alantyne lack any discernment in their responses – in some ways risking the safety of their kingdoms – the poets work to emphasise the strife that their kingdoms face pre-dream; the dream condones violence, implying that it is the only solution to their issues. These model dreamer-rulers do not respond correctly per se; rather, it is by chance that they consequently obey a benevolent dream-vision.

Despite ‘correctly’ listening to a benevolent dream, the model response is something that somewhat weakens the romance-ruler politically, in that they do not follow royal protocol and consult an earthly council, nor do they consider the malevolent potential of dream and the injury that violence could cause to their kingdoms. Thus, the royal dreamers of romance face an interpretive dilemma – one which I will demonstrate through my investigation of Charlemagne’s outlying response to an oracular dream.
Period27 May 2022
Event typeConference