Dr Francis Leneghan

Dynastic Drama of Beowulf book cover

I work on Old English literature, in particular heroic poetry, biblical translation, and writing associated with King Alfred. 

My recent monograph, The Dynastic Drama of Beowulf, Anglo-Saxon Studies 39 (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2020), unravels the web of Scandinavian royal legends known to the original audience of Beowulf. The book offers a new interpretation of the work’s structure based on the principle of the dynastic life-cycle and provides explanations for features of the poem that have never been satisfactorily explained, most famously its many digressions and episodes. Highlighting the work’s originality, it proposes that the poet created a fictionalized monster-slaying hero and inserted him into royal legend in order to dramatize moments of dynastic crisis. It also brings into focus the poet’s debt to biblical paradigms of kingship and shows how the Anglo-Saxons came to read Beowulf as their own Book of Kings. As a follow-up project, I have recently written an article exploring links between the poem and the Staffordshire Hoard.

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 authorities such as King David, Gregory the Great, Bede, Boethius, Augustine and Orosius. The project will also result in the publication of a collection of essays, The Age of Alfred: Translation, Adaptation, Innovation, 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.

The Psalms and Medieval English Literature cover

Related to this research, I have co-edited two volumes of essays on medieval English psalms: with Tamara Atkin, The Psalms and Medieval English Literature: From the Conversion to the Reformation (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2017); and with Helen Appleton, The Psalms in Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman England, special edition of English Studies, 98.1 (2017). In 2013, I co-organised with Tamara Atkin and Ruth Ahnert the Psalm Culture conference at Queen Mary Univeristy, London.

Together with Prof. Kazutomo Karasawa (Rikkyo) and Dr 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. 

I am Associate Editor for The Year's Work in English Studies, responsible for publications on Old and Middle English. 

I lecture on Old English poetry and prose in the English faculty, and teach Early Medieval English at both St Peter's and Exeter colleges.

Undergraduate teaching and supervision:

Prelims Paper 2 (Early Medieval Literature, c. 650-1350)

FHS Paper 2 (English Literature 1350-1550)

Course II FHS Paper 1 (Literature in English 600-1100)

FHS Paper 6: 'Hit and Myth: (Mis)representations of the Medieval in the Modern Age'

FHS Paper 7: dissertations on early medieval English. 

Graduate teaching and supervision:

MSt in English 650-1550:

'Old English for Beginners/Improvers'

'The Age of Alfred' (C-course)

I also supervise Masters and Doctoral dissertations on a wide range of topics connected with Anglo-Saxon England and its literature. Recent and ongoing DPhil dissertations that I have supervised include work on Anglo-Saxon medicine, Mercian vernacular literature, the Old English Metrical Charms, Anglo-Latin and Old English saints' lives and Alfredian prose. I welcome applications from students interested in any area of Old English.


‘Dishonouring the Dead: Beowulf and the Staffordshire Hoard’, Quaestio Insularis 21 (2020). 

The Dynastic Drama of 'Beowulf¨, Anglo-Saxon Studies 39 (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2020).

'The Departure of the Hero in a Ship: the Intertextuality of Beowulf, Cynewulf and Andreas', SELIM: Journal of the Spanish Society for Medieval English Language and Literature 24 (2019), 105–32.

The Psalms and Medieval English Literature: From the Conversion to the Reformation, ed. Tamara Atkin and Francis Leneghan (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2017).

Introduction: a Case Study of Psalm 50.1-3 in Old and Middle English’, in The Psalms and Medieval English Literature: From the Conversion to the Reformation, ed. Tamara Atkin and Francis Leneghan (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2017), pp. 1–33.

'Making the Psalter Sing: the Old English Metrical Psalms, Rhythm and Ruminatio’, in The Psalms and Medieval English Literature: From the Conversion to the Reformation, ed. Tamara Atkin and Francis Leneghan (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 2017), pp. 173–97.

The Psalms in Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman England, special edition of English Studies 98.1 (2017), ed. Helen Appleton and Francis Leneghan.

Introduction: The Psalms in Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman England’, (with Helen Appleton) in The Psalms in Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman England, ed. Helen Appleton and Francis Leneghan, special edition of English Studies 98.1 (2017), 1–4.  

Preparing the Mind for Prayer: The Wanderer, Hesychasm and Theosis’, Neophilologus 100.1 (2016), 121–42.

Translatio Imperii: the Old English Orosius and the Rise of Wessex’, Anglia 133.4 (2015), 656–705.

Teaching the Teachers: the Vercelli Book and the Mixed Life’, English Studies 94.6 (2013), 627–58.

Reshaping Tradition: the Originality of the Scyld Scefing Episode in Beowulf’, in Transmission and Generation in Medieval and Renaissance Literature: Essays in Honour of John Scattergood, ed. Karen Hodder and Brendan O’Connell (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2012), pp. 21-36.

Royal Wisdom and the Alfredian Context of Cynewulf and Cyneheard’, Anglo-Saxon England 39 (2010), 71-104.

The Poetic Purpose of the Offa-Digression in Beowulf’, The Review of English Studies 60.246 (2009), 538–60.    

Making Sense of Ker’s Dates: the Origins of Beowulf and the Palaeographers’, Proceedings of the Manchester Centre for Anglo-Saxon Studies Postgraduate Conference 1, March 2005.


Podcasting and Outreach

Comets, Omens and Fear: Understanding Plague in the Middle AgesThe Conversation June 2020

Click these links to listen to my podcasts:

The One Who Flies: A History of Pandemics (Queen's University, Belfast)

'Beowulf' (for Oxford University's Great Writers Inspire Project)

'Why should we study Old English?' (for the 'Challenging the Canon' Project)

Bob Dylan and Co. Longford (Shannonside.fm)


The Oxford Psalms Network

Oxford Medieval Studies

St Cross College website

Year's Work in English Studies



  • Dishonouring the Dead: Beowulf and the Staffordshire Hoard

  • The Dynastic Drama of "Beowulf"

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

  • Simon C. Thomson. Communal Creativity in the Making of the ‘Beowulf Manuscript’: Towards a History of Reception for the Nowell Codex

  • Review of Stacy S. Klein, William Schipper and Shannon Lewis-Simpson, eds, "The Maritime World of the Anglo-Saxons"

  • Introduction: a Case Study of Psalm 50.1-3 in Old and Middle English

  • Making the Psalter Sing: the Old English 'Metrical Psalms', Rhythm and 'Ruminatio'

  • The Psalms and Medieval English Literature

  • More