Date of Award

Fall 12-2011

Degree Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)





Committee Chair

Phyllis Jestice

Committee Chair Department


Committee Member 2

Westley L. Follett

Committee Member 2 Department


Committee Member 3

Andrew A. Wiest

Committee Member 3 Department



Anglo-Saxon society was built around the concept of feud, and it is clear from history, law, and literature that the twin concerns of family and vengeance remained pillars of Anglo-Saxon society and consciousness throughout the period. Given constant warfare and the cultural and social importance of feuding, it would appear logical that warfare was essentially feud writ large, that conflicts pitted one kin group against another and vengeance for the dead was a major, if not the only, reason for making war. However, royal families often fought among themselves, while wars waged to avenge a death are conspicuous by their absence. Yet, it seems unlikely that a practice with such deep and enduring significance as feuding had no influence upon the conduct of war.

The answer is that while feuding did not determine the conduct of war, it colored it. Family and feud exercised an important influence on the course of warfare, but the effect was subtle. The warband was in part a fictive family, while the ideology of kingship and the nature of warfare meant that personal grievances were not distinct from political rivalries, and that warfare begun over resources or hegemony might easily assume aspects of a bloodfeud. Furthermore, despite a common cultural background, English warriors seldom took prisoners, had no system of ransom, and commonly left slain opponents on the battlefield for the carrion-eaters, practices that probably reflect the insularity and hostility toward those outside the kin group typical of a feuding culture.