Menu Close

Francis Leneghan

Associate Professor of Old English, University of Oxford

I work on Old English (i.e. pre-Norman Conquest) literature, in particular heroic poetry, biblical translation, and writing associated with King Alfred. My recent book, "The Dynastic Drama of Beowulf" (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2020), unravels the web of Scandinavian royal legends known to the work's original audience, allowing the modern reader to appreciate better the role of the monsters as portents of dynastic and national crises. Highlighting the work's often-overlooked originality, it then proposes that the poet created a fictionalized monster-slaying hero and inserted him into royal legend in order to dramatize specific moments of dynastic crisis. Finally, it brings into focus the poet's debt to biblical paradigms of kingship and considers how the Anglo-Saxons came to read Beowulf as their own Book of Kings.

Together with Dr Amy Faulkner (UCL), I am co-organiser of a major international research project involving over 40 scholars: The Age of Alfred. This aims to re-evaluate English literary culture c.850-950, including the question of what we mean by “Alfredian”. As well as the traditional corpus of texts associated with the king, namely the Old English Pastoral Care, Boethius, Soliloquies and Prose Psalms, we are equally interested in works often placed outside of this traditional canon, such as the Old English Bede, Orosius and Dialogues, the Domboc and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Literature produced at the West-Saxon court will be considered alongside Welsh and continental literary culture. Likewise, investigations into the vernacular works of the Alfredian period will be complemented by consideration of literature in Latin, while work on pre- and post-Alfredian literature will situate the traditional corpus in a broader context. My own book will explore how English writers in the late-ninth and early-tenth centuries revoiced works by respected figures such as King David, Gregory the Great, Bede, Augustine and Orosius in order to fashion a recognisable and authoritative Alfredian voice. The project will also result in the publication of a collection of essays and a freely available online database of Alfredian texts alongisde their Latin sources, with modern English translations.

Another area of research is the reception of the Bible, in particular the Book of Psalms, in medieval England. Along with Professor Susan Gillingham (Theology) and Dr Helen Appleton (English), I am a founder and co-organiser of The Oxford Psalms Network, an interdisciplinary research group hosted by The Oxford Research Centre for the Humanities (TORCH) and devoted to the study of all aspects of the Psalms. In 2020 this project was chosen as a REF-Impact Case Study for the Theology Faculty.

Together with Kazutomo Karasawa (Rikkyo) and Mark Atherton (Oxford), I am co-organiser of an international research project From East to West: the Idea of the World in Anglo-Saxon England. Through a series of symposia, conferences and other events, this project brings together scholars from aross the world to explore early English ideas about space and place, nation and identity, and geography and history. We are currently putting together a volume of essays connected to this research. My own contribution focuses on the compilation of MS Cotton Tiberius B.i, an eleventh-century anthology of historical and religious wriitng in Old English prose and verse.

With Professor Henrike Lähnemann (Medieval and Modern Languages), I co-direct Oxford Medieval Studies, a TORCH Programme devoted to the promotion of interdisciplinary medieval studies.

The Dynastic Drama of "Beowulf"

2020 | Book
The Departure of the Hero in a Ship: The Intertextuality of "Beowulf", Cynewulf and "Andreas"

2019 | Journal article | SELIM: Journal of the Spanish Society for Medieval English Language and Literature.
Simon C. Thomson. Communal Creativity in the Making of the ‘Beowulf Manuscript’: Towards a History of Reception for the Nowell Codex

2019 | Journal article | The Review of English Studies
Review of Stacy S. Klein, William Schipper and Shannon Lewis-Simpson, eds, "The Maritime World of the Anglo-Saxons"

2017 | Journal article | Speculum: a journal of Medieval studies
Introduction: a Case Study of Psalm 50.1-3 in Old and Middle English

2017 | Chapter | The Psalms and Medieval English Literature: from the Conversion to the Reformation
Making the Psalter Sing: the Old English 'Metrical Psalms', Rhythm and 'Ruminatio'

2017 | Chapter | The Psalms and Medieval English Literature: from the Conversion to the Reformation
The Psalms and Medieval English Literature

2017 | c-book
The Psalms and Medieval English Literature: From the Conversion to the Reformation

2017 | Book


  • –present
    Associate Professor of Old English, University of Oxford