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Dunstan's history

While reading Oxford’s Dictionary of National Biography last night I was surprised to find the writer unable to confirm even whether Dunstan was taught by Irish monks, or simply by the books they left behind in Glastonbury. I had read elsewhere that Dunstan was taught by Irish monks, but I was willing to accept some doubt on this score. The fact that Dunstan travelled with a harp and liked to play seemed fairly certain in the DNB, and so were the attacks on him by courtiers. The DNB author even speculates on Dunstan’s possibly infuriating personality, but he ignores the envy that Dunstan may have aroused because he was a skilled musician and painter, and loved by women though he was a monk. More importantly he gives a complete miss to Dunstan's Coronation Oath and to his founding of the original abbey at Westminster.

As I wrote somewhere else,

The power to burn away the dross of a human story until only gold remains or, conversely, to obliterate what was good so it seems as if it had never been, to embellish one detail and obfuscate the truth of a thousand others, to willfully misinterpret or to misunderstand despite the best intentions because the witnesses to truth had perished silently, this is history. Occasionally, a fragment of the truth can be found.

The history of the English people, which was written in mediaeval chronicles and in charters famously collected and published by Dr Stubbs, attributed the founding of Westminster Abbey to Dunstan and King Edgar and the creation of the Coronation Oath to Dunstan. The Coronation Oath incorporates the radical idea that the King will swear to give justice to his people in exchange for their support. This idea is fundamental to the history of freedom, as is the idea of executive power that is curbed and checked by other powers, and which in turn curbs and checks them.

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Westminster Abbey.

So, here on his feast day we give you Dunstan, as truly as we can, in the Liberty Timeline and in the Servant King. Perhaps he was not responsible for the Coronation Oath whose promise of justice and mercy lies behind the Charter of Liberties and Magna Carta. If not, some unknown genius of British liberty was.

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