The Origins of Peter's Pence
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The English Historical Review 134(568) : 521-552 (2019)
Peter’s Pence began as an annual donation from England to the papacy. It was later taken up more widely and lasted until the Reformation in England, but its beginnings are much murkier. This article reassesses the earliest forms of Peter’s Pence in the period before 1066. Offerings made by individual Anglo-Saxon pilgrims to Rome gave rise to more regular gifts from several kings between Offa (757–96) and Alfred (871–99); under the latter, gifts also began to be associated with the people as well as the king. A fully articulated mechanism for raising Peter’s Pence only emerges later, however, in the time of Edgar (959–75) and his successors, especially Æthelred II (978–1016). The nature of the national and local frameworks which were used to extract, channel and safeguard the render are assessed in detail, based on sources from across England. Bishops played a central role in this system, above all the archbishop of Canterbury, who received the collected tribute from the kingdom as a whole. The article, utilising a variety of chronicles, law codes and religious texts, as well as coins, stresses the significance of the emergence of Peter’s Pence for views of late Anglo-Saxon England’s government and religious ideology. Comparisons with gifts to Rome from post-Conquest England and from other parts of early medieval Europe underscore the uniqueness of Anglo-Saxon England’s large and regular offering—a powerful reflection of its close and ongoing relationship with St Peter and his heirs.