The fifth-ninth centuries A.D. were pivotal to the formation of kingdoms in post-Roman northern Europe. Sites of royal and aristocratic residence constitute one of the most important sources of archaeological evidence for understanding this process, providing crucial insights into the strategic deployment of landscapes, architecture and material practices as tools of kingship. A comparative perspective is crucial for understanding how these phenomena developed as a shared response to the growth of socio-political complexity across the early medieval northern world. While a surge in new archaeological data from Scandinavia has stimulated new debate and interdisciplinary approaches, a British perspective has been under-represented in recent discussions due to a limited sample of sites and an old evidence base. The key aim of the network is to harness the potential of a suite of new projects examining sites of royal residence across early medieval Britain to redress this imbalance and establish a more holistic research agenda for the future.
The past five years have seen the initiation of five research projects, each examining or seeking to reassess sites of royal residence on an ambitious scale, four in regions of Britain where such phenomena were previously unattested: Lyminge (Kent), Sutton Courtenay/Long Wittenham (Oxfordshire); Rendlesham (Suffolk), Rhynie (Pictland) and Yeavering (Northumberland). The network will bring the directors of the constituent projects into a sustained dialogue to share findings, compare methodologies and question assumptions, and open up this dialogue to leading national and international scholars to develop comparative interdisciplinary perspectives.
The Royal Residences Project will also engage with senior staff from Historic England and Historic Scotland to inform the future management of relevant sites as key heritage assets and to raise public awareness of their rarity and cultural significance. A ‘virtual exhibition’ page on the project website and a teaching resource tailored at Key Stage 2 History will be used to promote engagement between the five participating archaeological projects and local communities, schools and stakeholders; both of these resources will be made available beyond the life of the network as a legacy of the research. The findings of the network will be disseminated through the website and an edited collection of essays, to include contributions solicited from younger scholars.