RHS Lecture — Professor Joanna Story, 5 May 2023

‘Script, scribes and scholars: Anglo-Saxon influence in Charlemagne’s Francia’


Professor Joanna Story

(University of Leicester)


Friday 5 May 2023
17.00 BST – in person at the Sir Ambrose Fleming Lecture Theatre, Roberts Building, University College London, and Online
Please see below for directions to the Lecture Theatre


Booking for this event is now available via eventbrite


On 25 December 795, Pope Hadrian I died in Rome. Exactly five years later, on 25 December 800, Charlemagne was acclaimed as emperor in St Peter’s basilica and his son, Charles, was crowned as king.

In the intervening years, a large inscription was erected over Hadrian’s tomb in the south transept of the basilica, made of black marble that had been sourced in Francia, with an inscription cut in epigraphic capitals, self-consciously recalling the script of the ancient empire. Its verses proclaim that ‘I, King Charles’ had commissioned the epitaph. In fact, its author was Alcuin, a scholar from York in the kingdom of Northumbria, who had been part of Charlemagne’s inner circle and tutor to his children.

Alcuin is the best known of many English travellers to Charlemagne’s Francia. This lecture uses evidence from contemporary manuscripts to explore influences from the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms on the intellectual culture of Francia in the eighth and earlier ninth centuries. Books written using ‘Insular scripts’ survive in great numbers in European libraries; many were exported in the eighth century or were written on the continent at that time by scribes who had been trained to write and make books in Insular style.

These manuscripts include some of the greatest treasures of medieval European heritage, but many more are utilitarian and much less elaborate. The scripts, decoration and methods of making these manuscripts, as well as their content and context of survival, have much to reveal about the movement of books, ideas and people, and about connectivity between England and Francia in the age of Charlemagne.

Speaker biography

Jo Story is Professor of Early Medieval History at the University of Leicester. Her research falls principally within the period 600–900CE, covering the early English kingdoms, Francia, and Italy and connections between them. The material culture of the written word is central to her work using manuscript and epigraphic evidence as well as sculpture, coinage and archaeology.

Jo was lead academic advisor for the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition at the British Library in 2018–19, and early medieval manuscripts are at the forefront of her research on connections between England and the Continent in the Age of Charlemagne. Jo’s latest book is Charlemagne and Rome. Alcuin and the Epitaph of Pope Hadrian I, published by OUP in June 2023.

How to reach the Ambrose Fleming Lecture Theatre at UCL

The Lecture Theatre is part of UCL’s Engineering Department which is part of the main UCL campus in Bloomsbury: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/engineering/about/getting-here

The Department is reached via the entry to UCL on Tavistock Place (opposite Malet Street and the large Waterstones booksellers).

Entry to the Lecture Theatre is via the building immediately on your left as you head through the gates. This is the Roberts Building and is signed on the door.

You will be asked to confirm the event you’re attending and then be let through the gates to the lecture theatre. The theatre is on the ground floor and is accessed by walking straight on from the gates. From there, the location of the theatre will signed, and there will be RHS staff on hand to guide you.

Booking for this event is now available via eventbrite

More on the Royal Historical Society’s events programme, 2023 >

HEADER IMAGE: Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, Cod. Guelf. 496a Helmst., f.1r, c.800 Fulda: CC-BY-SA