Winner’s Preservation II

A quick reflection brought on, between writing lecture material and doing my actual job, by an article of Jinty Nelson‘s that, as with so much else, I should have paid proper attention to a long time ago. One of the things that makes me think I must be doing something right these days is that now almost everything I read falls into that category. But I digress.

In the article, “Literacy in Carolingian Government”, Jinty is arguing that effective participation in Carolingian power entailed being ready to deal with at least a bare minimum of the written word, whether yourself or through notaries and clerics who would read stuff to you.1 At the very least, she argues, you had to know what the Emperor was sending you to read. Well, I think that depends on how high up the structure you wanted to get; Matthew Innes‘s work on the Middle Rhine suggests to me that you could be, with a decent family background in an area, so entrenched that the centre would have to deal with you one way or another whether you got copies of royal cartularies made at the local cathedral for your archive or whether you just carried on dealing with your subjects as had seemed equitable (or inequitable but possible) to you beforehand and likely your forebears too.2 Jinty would say, and does in the article, that this seems pessimistic in a world where even peasants coming to plead a case at court were expected to bring written briefs, but I think that possibly the sort of peasant who can economically afford come to court to plead a case, no matter how royal legislation may forbid a lord from refusing such a suit, is already up the ladder a good few steps compared to a colonus in Rhætia for example.3 There, just because it’s a well-known example, if you can’t deal with the local bigwig or the Bishop of Chur, you probably can’t do anything.4

You have to bear in mind, however, when I say things like this, that Jinty obviously, and if you didn’t realise this already the article would make it extremely clear, knows an awful lot more than me, and I should really be more careful than this with my opinions, were I not sure that she would be happy to take this as a suggestion and correct me where necessary…

The eleventh-century church at the priory of Perrecy, under which once lay their archive

So yes, that therefore isn’t actually the point of the post. The point of the post was that it reminded me that actually we have Continental answers too to the question I raised some time ago, what happens in our documentation when the Church, that preserves it, loses a case at law? She mentions a little clutch of documents that are familiar to me from work on Lay Archives and exposure to Matthew’s work, but that she was the first to exploit, from a place in Burgundy called Perrecy (now Perrecy-les-Forges). This place had a priory that was acquired by Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire, or Fleury as we tend to call it, towards the end of the ninth century, and that house therefore picked up its archive.5 That archive, excitingly, appears to contain a smaller private archive belonging to, not I believe, pace Jinty, the Count of Mâcon, a guy called Heccard who owned the priory, but to the bailiffs of the counts. The archive mainly preserves hearings over whether or not people in the bailiff’s areas were free or whether they owed servile service to the fisc that these men ran for the count. The hearings start before Heccard comes into office, and last beyond the first bailiff, Fredelus, so I think it’s actually associated with the vill they worked from, rather than being personal, and whoever’s in office when either the count or bailiff dies makes sure the documents are safe for the next incumbent of either office. Anyway, I’m digressing again.

The point is, simply, that that dossier also contains a case where the Archbishop of Bourges took Count Heccard to court and lost.6 Now of course we still have this because of winner’s preservation. But the point is that where we have genuine lay archives, which I’m afraid is a rare rare thing, we have documents in which the Church lost. So the original claim of Josep María Salrach, that the Church monopolised writing so much that it wouldn’t lose cases very much or at all, looks as if it might fail if there were only more evidence.7

Back to the coins!


1. J. L. Nelson, “Literacy in Carolingian Government” in Rosamond McKitterick (ed.), The Uses of Literacy in Early Mediaeval Europe (Cambridge 1990), pp. 258-296.

2. Matthew’s work most obviously being his State and Society in the Early Middle Ages: the middle Rhine valley 400-1000, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought 4th Series 47 (Cambridge 2000), but see also idem, “Land, Freedom and the Making of the Early Medieval West” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th Series Vol. 16 (Cambridge 2006), pp. 39-73.

3. Nelson, “Literacy in Carolingian Government”, p. 286. For coloni in Rhætia you can actually get at a thorough-going estate survey of the fisc run by the local bishop as E. Meyer-Marthaler & F. Perret (edd.), “Das Urbar des Reichsgutes in Churrätien (9. Jht)” in eidem (edd.), Bündner Urkundenbuch. I. Band: 390-1199 (Chur 1965), pp. 373-393.

4. Again, this area has actually got some really useful sources for local bigwigs, and you can find out about them in K. Bullimore, “Folcwin of Rankweil: the world of a Carolingian local official” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 13 (Oxford 2005), pp. 43-77, or M. Innes, “Practices of Property in the Carolingian Empire” in J. Davies & M. McCormick (edd.), The Long Morning of Early Medieval Europe: new directions in early medieval studies (Aldershot forthcoming), pp. 000-000.

5. The documents are edited in A. Prou & M. Vidier (edd.), Recueil des chartes de l’abbaye de Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire, Documents de la Société historique et archéologique du Gatinais 5 (Paris 1900-1937), 2 vols, doc. nos IX-XIII, XVI, XVII & XXIV. Heccard gives Perrecy to Fleury in ibid., doc. no. XXV.

6. Ibid., doc. no. XXIV, mentioned by Jinty in Nelson, “Literacy in Carolingian Government”, p. 275 n. 74 where she cites her fuller treatment, eadem, “Dispute Settlement in Carolingian West Francia” in W. Davies & P. Fouracre (edd.), The Settlement of Disputes in Early Medieval Europe (Cambridge 1986), pp. 46-63 at pp. 53-55. The hearing is translated there at p. 53, and reprinted thence as “Wulfadus Goes to Court” in P. Dutton (ed.), Carolingian Civilization: a reader, 1st edn. (Peterborough ON 1994), pp. 467-468. I believe it’s in the second edition too but I don’t have it to hand to check.

7. J. M. Salrach i Marès, El Procès de Feudalització, segles III-XII, Història de Catalunya 2 (Barcelona 1987).

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One response to “Winner’s Preservation II

  1. Pingback:   Winner’s Preservation II by swiftda

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