Monthly Archives: May 2008

Unconsidered trials

Well, the problem appears to be partly fixed in as much as I can write under IE, though not Firefox. I may well need to update. Anyway, this means firstly that I really need to get one of my newer machines going, but secondly that I can at least write this post. This is just a little Catalan vignette while I deal with other things about which I want to post, which involve downloading pictures, reading PDFs or building webpages, whereas all this involves is some reading I did the other day.

I went to the library the other day because I had just gone through a chapter where I’d said that I’d looked for Count Miró of Cerdanya (Abbess Emma‘s brother, against whom she holds the Vall de Sant Joan hearing, since you ask) in all the available editions, and of course there was one where I hadn’t. So I went checking, and did in fact come up with two occurrences I hadn’t observed, though not really significant ones. The thing that linked them was that they were both hearings carried out at the wish of the Bishop of Girona, and the second one hasn’t been published before. Now of course the fun thing about dispute hearings in this era and area is how they frequently contain reported speech, so that you get slightly formal-sounding arguments laid out in front of you.2 This one, however, though it does do this, cries out for deformalising immediately. If one had been allowed to script it for comic effect, it would clearly have gone like this…

The saió The court of Girona, 5th March in the year of our Lord 950, judge Adericus presiding! Gentlemen, be seated!
Adericus Now then, now then, what’s the cause, hey?
Bishop Godmar II The advocates of Holy Mary of the See of Girona will show that the defendant Gauzfred wrongfully abstracted lands in Villalonga from the selfsame Church of the Mother of God, your honour.
Adericus Right then! Anything to say in defence, Gauzfred?
Gauzfred Yes yer ‘onner, I’ve got a charter for it. [Brandishes charter.]
Adericus Oho! And who issued this charter then?
Gauzfred The Lord Count Miró the Young, yer ‘onner, and ‘is son the lord Count Sunifred, when ‘e succeeded, yer ‘onner, ‘e called it in and checked it in case of fraud, and ‘e signed it as well, yer ‘onner.
Adericus Well your Grace, over to you then, anything to beat that?
Godmar Well, that is quite impressive, certainly. A charter not just from the current count of Cerdanya, but his father too? The only way to beat that’d be if you had a royal charter, wouldn’t it?
Gauzfred, sotto voce I don’t like the sound of this…
Godmar, continuing I don’t suppose you have a royal charter as well, do you? Because that would really be the clincher.
Gauzfred: Er, no, just this one signed by, you know, two generations of the rulers of our land…
Godmar: Oh dear. Pity. Because… [produces sheaf of parchments] we actually have got royal documents covering these lands. Observe, they’re in this one of King Carloman, this one of King Odo, this one of King Charles who was father of King Louis whom we’ve got now, and, oh, actually, here’s one from Louis himself that we got just a few years ago. So that’s all the way back to the year of Our Lord’s Incarnation 881, before Miró was even born, and four different divinely-anointed rulers. Will that do, do you think, Adericus?
Adericus: Aye! Case found for the Mother of God, sorry Gauzfred but Count Miró stitched you up. Sixty days to turn over the lands or we’ll have yer guts for garters. Next!

Okay, enough hilarity (or not), but that’s roughly the sequence of events. The interesting things here are many-fold. Firstly, I find it fascinating that Sunifred called in his father’s charters, or at least this one, “to be shown to him so that he could ensure no fraud had taken place”. Is this just someone trying to mirror what Louis the Pious is supposed to have done with Charlemagne’s charters?3 Or was Sunifred really bothered that his father had probably, in between fathering extra kids on the wife of one of his castellans (which he did do), given away lands to which he plainly had no right? And if so, why didn’t this one get picked up?

Signature of Charles the Simple from a diploma to the Catalan nunnery of Sant Joan de Ripoll, 898

Secondly, Girona do love their royal charters: in the other hearing I mention above, they produced precepts of Louis the Pious and Charles the Bald to back their claim. And they have a long sequence, too, we have surviving texts to Girona from Louis the Pious (834, referencing a lost one of Charlemagne), Charles the Bald (844), Louis the Stammerer (878), Carloman II (881), Charles the Fat (886), Odo (891) and Charles the Simple (three of these, 899, 900 & 922).4 Every time the king changes, Girona get an update, and I’ve elsewhere argued that the updates change in a way that indicates real concessions by the counts on the king’s orders. But they’re talking here about having one of Louis the Foreigner. They don’t actually say “that King Louis who’s on the throne now”, but Charles who was father of Louis must be either Charlemagne, Charles the Bald or Charles the Simple, but if it’s the former two then the list is out of natural order, and it starts with Carloman for the very good reason that the charters before him don’t cover Villalonga so it really has to be Louis the Foreigner. Only we have no trace of that document, or any clue that it ever existed. Except this, previously neglected because of only existing in a seventeenth-century copy. But it seems possible enough, just unusual.

Finally, of course it tells you something fairly important that a person with a charter endorsed by one respected count and one still ruling can still lose to royal documents issued by a family that haven’t been near the relevant territories in person for more than a century. This would never work in Toulouse. But here, the counts still obey the king here and there, and in fact in four years’ time Sunifred’s brother Guifré will become the last Catalan count ever to go north to meet the king in person. Why does he go? Because he and his brothers want royal approval to the take-over of the lands of a viscount called Unifred who rebelled against them. But we first see this viscount in 913 (he witnesses Miró’s will along with Emma in 925) and last see him, probably, in 946.5 So he’s almost certainly died in rebellion before they can attempt this, and then they need royal approval. Why? What on earth can the king add to their own clout? I don’t yet have the answer to this, but I will suggest a few things before long, see if I don’t.


1. Santiago Sobrequés i Vidal, S. Riera i Viader, Manuel Rovira i Solà (edd.) , Catalunya Carolíngia V: els comtats de Girona, Besalú, Empúries i Peralada, Memòries de la secció històrico-arqueològica LXI (Barcelona 2005), ed. Ramon Ordeig i Mata, 2 vols, where the two hearing are docs 171 & 288 respectively, 288 being the one I explore in detail here.

2. My favourite one of these is one I discussed elsewhere where, with the count in question safely dead, a guy records how when that count demanded some of his lands in compensation for a lost castle in Andorra, he responded, “I am not giving away the alod of my parents before my death at the earliest!” Yeah, Sendred, I bet you gave him a real earful of defiance there in those chains…

3. Recorded in Thegan’s Gesta Hludowici imperatoris, ed. E. Tremp in idem (ed.), Thegan, Die Taten Kaiser Ludwigs (Gesta Hludowici imperatoris). Astronomus, Das Leben Kaiser Ludwigs (Vita Hludowici imperatoris), Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Scriptores rerum germanicum in usum scholarum separatim editi) LXIV (Hannover 1995), online here, last modified 8 November 2004 as of 30 May 2008, pp. 167-277 with commentary pp. 1-52, cap. X. Note however that at least one Catalan charter-holder, Teudefred the Hispanus got his father Jean’s original from Charlemagne back when he went to have it renewed as well as the new one from Louis that Thegan suggests should have been replaced: the charter is Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia II: els diplomes carolingis per a Catalunya, Memòries… II & III (Barcelona 1926-52), 2 vols, Particulars I & III, and on Jean and his family you can most conveniently see Susan Reynolds, Fiefs and Vassals: the medieval evidence reinterpreted (Oxford 1994), pp. 106-110.

4. Abadal, Catalunya Carolíngia II, Girona I-IX & Particulars XXX.

5. Manuel Rovira i Solà, “Noves dades sobre els vescomtes d’Osona-Cardona” in Ausa Vol. 9 no. 98 (Vic 1981), pp. 249-260, online here, at pp. 255-256.

From mallus to mall via Patrick Wormald

There comes a time, I suppose, in the study of anyone who works on early England, when you come up against the writings of the late lamented Patrick Wormald, and find him disagreeing with you. Then, as I remember from meeting him, it is wise to take careful stock of what you know, because the odds are pretty good that it’s not as much as he did.

Depiction of King Ethelbert of Kent presenting his law to his subjects, by Lee Lawrie, on the South Façade of the Nebraska State Capitol

I have just been reading his paper in Davies & Fouracre’s Property and Power, and in it he discusses at length the 1086 claim of the bishopric of Worcester, in the person of the other Bishop Wulfstan, to hold the triple hundred of Oswaldslow and all the revenues from justice that are collected there. It has been argued, and was indeed being argued right then by Wulfstan, you see, that this is an ancient immunity that implies that the Anglo-Saxon kings were, like the Carolingians, giving away their rights to powerful supporters. Patrick proves to my satisfaction that these are recent claims, not supported by the evidence except that which Wulfstan had confected or arranged, and that as far as can be told Anglo-Saxon royal officials could always carry out justice in lords’ territories, at least as far as the rules were concerned.

The problem is, for me, that at the edges this seems like rules-lawyering. Patrick says:

… there may be a relationship between socage [the right to summon someone to your court for their crimes] and the lord’s jurisdiction over what would later be called his ‘manorial’ court. But ‘manorial’ jurisdiction is no more to be confused with franchisal rights than is ‘seigneurial’ with ‘feudal’ lordship.

And at that point my personal alarm bells go off because I think there is every possibility of confusion between seigneurial lordship and feudal lordship. The difference he’s hanging this on is that a seigneurial lord, or someone owning a manor, has judicial rights over the inhabitants because he owns them outright; a ‘feudal’ lord or someone with a franchise is taking judicial profits that correctly belong to the state, with varying degrees of legitimacy. I see the difference in theory, but I would find it very hard to draw it in practice, and I wonder how much it mattered.

Consider this parallel, if you want. In one imaginary state, for whatever reason, the government caves into a powerful business lobby and sticks administrative charges or whatever up so high that small shops can no longer make money, and the supermarkets and malls become the only outlets for goods. In another, instead, the supermarket owners merely take advantage of their greater capital and ability to buy stuff wholesale that the small shops can’t, and strangle them with market share; the government legislates to protect small business, but ineffectively and the shops all fold. People in the UK are arguing which of these things, if either, is happening to small shops at the moment, but the result is the same; the shops die off, the supermarkets cluster round the edges of town, everything functioning in town centres is part of a much bigger company and it all gets a bit Reaper Man. Similarly: if a medieval lord can draw people to his ability to give justice, I don’t know if it matters whether the state has commissioned him to give it or if their own courts continue alongside looking more and more useless. This latter is what seems to happen in Catalonia; it’s been argued that the former happened in France. Patrick would have argued, I guess, that neither happened in England, and I accept that. But neither can be assumed, and I don’t find the labels very helpful because they probably weren’t in use at the time and anyone who did perceive them would have had an interest in calling it one way or the other. I guess I need to track his thinking a bit more deeply and read The Making of English Law. It may just be that I’ve misunderstood, in which case feel free to suggest modifications…


The paper in question is Patrick Wormald, “Lordship and Justice in the Early English Kingdom: Oswaldslow revisited” in Wendy Davies & Paul Fouracre (edd.), Property and Power in the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge 1995), pp. 114-136, with quote at p. 130. For the decline of courts in Catalonia see Jeffrey Bowman, Shifting Landmarks: property, proof, and dispute in Catalonia around the year 1000 (Ithaca 2004) and for France, I guess, Jean-Pierre Poly & Eric Bournazel, The Feudal Transformation, transl. Caroline Higgit (New York 1983).

AFK past and future

Hullo there and sorry for absence: the furore around getting the new exhibition set up at the Fitzwilliam and various other things, some of them good and some of them bad, have kept me from getting as far as the blogosphere. And now it’s going to happen again, because the Museum are sending me to Madrid on a courier trip. All right for some eh? It would be lovely were what I should be doing instead not so urgent. But I’ll try and come back with some pictures. And also, I have things to write about, not least one really interesting hearing I just stumbled across today for an entirely other reason. And also I have, as you might expect, some things to say about this… So, stay tuned! But not till Friday I fear…

Also, I don’t know what’s going on here but currently WordPress’s write-new-post page is crashing every graphical browser I can throw at it. This was written under lynx on a remote Linux server. This is a particular kind of difficult, I hope you appreciate my going to these lengths to complain at you…

Seminary XXVII: educating Atto

Steffen Patzold is someone I mainly know from running into him with Theo Riches at Leeds, but his papers are, as Jinty Nelson said when introducing him at the Institute of Historical Research Earlier Middle Ages Seminar on 14 May, always worth hearing, and knowing this I had made sure that I was there.

He was speaking to the title, “Educating the clergy: rural priests and their knowledge in Carolingian Francia”, and his basic case was that, although it was certainly patchy and variable, actually we can see genuine results of the programmes of the Emperors Charlemagne and Louis the Pious to improve standards of education among the clergy of their time, the basic aim of the so-called Carolingian Renaissance. His arguments were based on various manuscripts that seem to contain teaching texts for priests that had been laid out by capitulary legislation; that is, if he’s right, these texts might constitute a further fragment of otherwise terribly rare evidence that the Carolingians’ prolific legislation was ever actually enacted. This has previously been missed because of people studying these texts only from codicological or transmission angles, he suggested, but it obviously has quite far-reaching significance for assessments of what the emperors could achieve and what they actually did.1

Medieval lecturer addressing students

That said, as ever it was the detail that got me. He began the paper with a single example, which despite its difficult manuscript background looks pretty illustrative. But it also illustrates the realities of life in the period and is not without its unfortunate humour, so I thought it was worth giving here too. It’s a letter that appears to be addressed to Louis the Pious, and it’s from a guy called Atto.

In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Louis the great emperor. To your authority, my lord, I would not dare speak so, but I seek your sanctity out of my great necessity. I Atto am so unworthy a priest and by my birth your slave. Now I seek your sanctity, that you may deign to turn your consolation to my sinful self, because I have no other refuge, unless it be you, where the whole people has refuge.

The cleric Frotwin has one church in the county of Erchanger. Then Frotwin placed me to sing in that church; and over all things I might have half of the dues of that tithe. In such a way I served thus at that church a year and a half, for which I received nothing there of which we had this agreement. Afterwards I asked that man for my part of that tithe. And he blazed up exceedingly with fury in his heart against me; and he came by night upon me with his kinsmen Alberic and Gebhard and Wolfram; thus they beat me, until they had all but released the life in my body. I, most wretched wretch, sought the mercy of God and Saint Remedius, and reclaimed [my rights] through your name. And those men said, neither saints nor any man should release me from their hands. Afterwards they dragged me to the altar of Saint Remedius and they made me swear constancy at that church. And they made me swear another oath, that I might not for all my days appeal to your piety or to your missus, so that they might do me justice. Then I sought my justice of them, but found the least possible. Now I fear for my ordination, I fear what those men do not. On account of this, I beseech your sanctity, so that my justice may achieve value. For I can find neither justice nor mercy at their hands, except through your mercy; and for the redemption of the soul of your father, whose slave I was before.2

Poor Atto! Browbeaten into preaching in someone else’s living for free and then actually beaten when he demands his pay! But he’s done well, you notice, not just a freed slave but a priest, and one apparently quite able to survive for a year and a half despite that lack of income, though he may of course have been on his uppers the whole time. And he writes, he doesn’t go to court as a fugitive. So, though the first time his house needed a bit of extra fortification it seems, he’s sitting tight. But he wants his money, so he pulls on old connections and hopes the appeal to Dad will convince Louis that he remembers him. Who knows if it worked? But it’s a good little story, and that’s what this blog would like to be about, sometimes.


1. Best immediate introduction to the idea of the Carolingian Renaissance is probably John J. Contreni, “The Carolingian Renaissance: education and literary culture” in Rosamond McKitterick (ed.), The New Cambridge Medieval History II: c. 700-c. 900 (Cambridge 1995), pp. 709-757. For the problems with capitularies and their effects, see now Christina Pössel, “Authors and Recipients of Carolingian Capitularies, 779-829″ in Richard Corradini, Rob Meens, Christina Pössel & Peter Shaw (edd.), Texts and Identities in the Early Middle Ages, Forschungen zur Geschichte des Mittelalters 12, Denkschriften der phil.-hist. Klasse 344 (Wien 2008), pp. 253-274.

2. The Latin text is edited as “Epistola Variorum 25” in Ernst Dümmler (ed.), Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Epistolarum tomus V, Ævi Karolini III (Berlin 1899), pp. 339-340. The translation is my own, and as you can tell the rather broken syntax and odd phrasings have given me some trouble. Atto was clearly an educated man who knew how a letter like this should go; but this didn’t make him a natural at Latin! All the same, he could sing Mass and compose letters to an emperor, I can translate him fairly easily, he would have managed.

ZOMG documents

The things I discover while searching for images to support this blog’s posts are often close to being the best excuse for doing the blog in the first place (although the other night I was congratulated on it by David Ganz, which was a little unsteadying). Nonetheless, look. You may just have heard of an initiative called ARTEM, which was a project at Nancy in France to collect and digitize all the original charters preserved in France from before 1121. And this has done grand service by allowing really close palæographical analysis of a large base of charters, pointing out various tricky things about scribes, and compiling huge databases of words and vocabulary that allow some really clever things to be done about testing dubious documents for plausibility, and also studying the development of the language (if you can stop that becoming a circular enterprise, anyway).

But they also made images of all these documents, you see, and it seems that some if not all, and several others, have now made it to the web, by means of a separate initiative of the Ministère de Culture called ARCHIM, ARCHives Nationales, IMages de documents. Now it’s not massively searchable, I have to admit, but, folks, there is magic and gold in there for a diplomatist. If you go in via the guided search form, each field has a link to a list of the available options (this, unlike the access method, is very good practice). And if you for example choose date, you can see that there are twelve seventh-century documents in there, of which several turn out to be papyrus. And it’s not just documents: here, for example, for the enthusiasts of the late Carolingians among us, is a fragmentary seal of King Louis IV of the Western Franks (937-54):

Seal of King Louis IV the Foreigner

And here is dear Charles the Simple again, confirming an immunity to the canons of Paris:

Precept of immunity from King Charles the Simple to the canons of Paris, 911

It’s a pity one has to dig so hard, but there is gold in there all right. I have as usual added it to the sidebar.

Guardian good, Guardian bad

A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. This seems to be especially true if you’re a journalist. If I encounter a newspaper at all, it tends to be The Guardian, because my housemate gets it. I myself would not, partly because I get my news online anyway, and mainly because of the sheer wash of redundant paper it involves; I mean, we read about a twentieth of what comes through the door, and the rest just goes straight into the recycling. It gives me tree conscience. Anyway. The Guardian give a lot of space to their writers. Sometimes, as we have seen, this results in in-depth supplements that give fair balance on a wide range of aspects of something. And sometimes it results in utter under-researched tosh.

Romantic representation of King Alfred and his Witan

A few days ago, in the wake of the London mayoral election, they put this on the front page, an article about the outgoing mayor having turned up at the office to see how the new one was doing. This, I grant you is odd, and it shows something of the complexity of the new mayor’s public persona that although his usual outward image is bumbling and stupid, when asked what they’d talked about he reportedly answered, “The Anglo-Saxon Witenagemot”.

Now I suspect that the new mayor is better-educated than the reporting journalist, Patrick Barkham, who goes on to explain for the clueless reader that this was, “a reference to the tribal assembly of wise men who kept the king in check before the Norman conquest,” and adds, “Weak rulers were dependent on the Witenagemot.”

Now I was going to fulminate at very great length about this, but I don’t even have to, because better attempts exist already to make the Anglo-Saxon king’s council, which may not even have had a formal existence, let alone have been the check on tyranny that Barkham’s education seems to have foisted upon him fresh from the nineteenth century, relevant to US politics than he has made of making it relevant to UK ones. Witness this fine article… Now if only we could get Mr Barkham to read it, and, ideally, to stop writing.

Austrian connections unmade

When I wrote about Zell-am-See’s medieval heritage a while ago, I really ought to have remembered seeing it in the news before…

Medieval processional cross found in Zell am See

This is the story about some lucky Austrian woman who found what transpires to be a medieval processional cross that the Nazis looted from some place unknown and stored in the local castle at Fischhorn. Somehow, from there it got into the skip (or, for the US-English readers, dumpster) of an elderly neighbour of this woman. It has now finally been returned to its owners’ heir, as Melissa Snell reports, with links to various stories including the one I poached the image above from. Now, why didn’t I remember this when I was there, eh? That would take the stakes of skip-diving up to a new level all right…

Edit: A few more details and links in this post at Medieval Material Culture.

Carnivalesque XXXIX: ancient and medieval edition

Now, don’t push, there’s room for everyone, and besides, this is going to be a fairly amateur presentation as I’ve not done this before. Welcome to the May issue of the well-known and highly-esteemed Blog Carnival for the Historical Humanities, Carnivalesque!

Carnivalesque Logo

Had I but wit enough and time, I’d try and generate some entertaining veneer theme such as has been done before by the more experienced: but lacking both of those commodities, instead I shall try and let the links speak for themselves. Ho yus. And because we naturally impose patterns on chaos, perhaps, it seems to me that the blogosphere at which I’ve been pointed or through which I’ve wandered lately has broken down into a few fairly broad themes.

The Ancients

Now the past as we medievalists know only too well falls into three parts: the ancient world, our bit, and the rest until now. One might be able to leave that last bit out of this particular gathering, had not Judith Weingarten so cunningly joined them up with a post that reminds us that the Renaissance really did involve some Classical models, and in this case a pretty Sienese one too, at Zenobia, Empress of the East. Meanwhile, no less imperious but with the tranquility that only being 1921 years old can instil, the Emperor Antoninus Pius gives us his fond recollection of Rosemary Sutcliffe’s The Eagle of the Ninth as he discovers it is to be filmed. Of course, sometimes it does to remember that we don’t have to reconstruct the doings of the ancients: quite a lot of what they constructed can still be seen, and seventeen of the best in the line of theatres and auditoriums are presented by OTBeach’s Travel News, which I freely admit has no other relevant content at all as far as I can see, but these pictures are worth a quick look.

In the Soil

When we move into the Middle Ages, though, we tend to find that material culture has to be retrieved from the ground with a trowel. And these last two months have seen some reasonable successes in that line, including: some Saxon (among lots of other!) finds at Dereham in Norfolk, reported by Melissa Snell at About.com on the basis of this report in the Dereham Times; a probable Viking trade centre at Woodstown in Ireland reported by David Beard at Archaeology in Europe on the basis of a BBC report; and a Viking sword pommel found on the Isle of Man and reported by the redoutable Martin Rundkvist at Aardvarchaeology, with pictures. Of course, sometimes you need to take care interpreting such things, as your humble host was moved to point out a few days ago after going to a clever friend’s paper.

Sometimes, you don’t have to dig at all, either because people just let you in as with this story about new access to 5th-century Japanese royal tombs reported by Larry Swain at The Heroic Age blog (which is encouraging); or because natural disaster suddenly reveals them to you, as with the eleventh-century church of Sant Romà de Sau in Catalonia, currently on plain view because the reservoir that usually covers it is all used up. This is less encouraging, but still fascinating: the report and a salutary picture can be found at News for Medievalists, and further links at Medieval Material Culture. Slightly more deliberate removal of water not far away in Barcelona’s docks area has in turn revealed a medieval ship’s remains, as can be read here having been reported by David Nishimura at Cronaca. And this being a blog technically focussed on Catalonia, I was never going to ignore that…

Death!

While we’re on the subject of ships, though, some of them have less happy tales. One such is the famous Øseberg ship, in which two Viking-period women were laid to their final rest, but it appears that some of the suspicions which had been entertained about their deaths can now be put to rest also, as Karen Larsdatter again reports at Medieval Material Culture. The Middle Ages is a period in which the theme of death comes up rather a lot, isn’t it? Observe this post on Anglo-Saxon infanticide at The Naked Philologist, the new blog of the highly-regarded Highly Eccentric where she is now hosting her more academic reflections, though as far as can be told they are still perhaps more eccentric than naked. Or, this note on a man who fell foul of the ill-favour of Philip the Fair, Enguerrand de Marigny, at Executed Today (though it is perhaps fair enough to expect the odd death there). And hey! Why stick at one person when you could get more than 1500 and burn most of a city? Someone seems to have done this to Florence in 1304, after all, and if you didn’t know, Heather Stein has a post at Sybilla Oritur to tell you all about it. And moving briefly from the sufferers of death to the dealers of death, Military History and Warfare brings us this useful and well-sourced introduction to Byzantium’s top soldiers, the Varangian Guard.

Sex!

But you know, in the midst of death we are in life. People don’t seem to believe it, but the Middle Ages had their share of bawdy laughs, and Karen Larsdatter of Medieval Material Culture, who thus gets her third link in this carnival and is clearly too prolific, reports on a stage adapation of Boccaccio’s Decameron that recognises this and tries to keep all the rude bits in. Er, as it were. And the Naked Philologist (she again) gets a little tied up in a little-recognised subtext in Gawain and the Green Knight here, or at least someone does and she tells us about it, which is probably both safer for her and for anyone following the link. (And Adam Golaski has published the fourth instalment of a translation of the same poem which is kinky in purely syntatical terms, but still very much worth a try. Hat tip here to Jeff Sypeck of Quid Plura.) But let’s remember that without the subject of this section, kinky or otherwise, none of us would be here! And some of us have gone further than others to prove it. Richard Scott Nokes of the Unlocked Wordhoard, for example, has gone so far as to test his students’ mtDNA in what transpires in fact to be a deeper scheme that establishes that really, he was a Viking all along! The bow-tie of the photoes or his Anglo-Saxon disguises should be considered either distractions, or perhaps super-villanous alter-egos designed to conceal his new career of plunder, pillage and arson. Remember, Professor, Rule One: pillage, then burn, OK? and good luck. The job prospects may be better your way… Meanwhile, for those of us still wrestling to get this sort of thing straight, Anna Davies coordinates a number of medieval historians into giving their best-considered dating advice courtesy of a magazine site called nerve.com. Don’t say we never do anything to help…

Medieval scribe at work, watched over from the corner...

Medievalists looking back

Of course, despite Ms Davies’s best advice, what many of us actually spend our quality time with is manuscripts and texts. Actually, these last two months, perhaps because a lot of the usual suspects have been either preparing for or at Kalamazoo, as shall be noted, the text work has been a bit thin on the ground. Your humble host has been squeezing pips out of a judicial record about counterfeiting of coin in tenth-century Barcelona in his old-fashioned way, but really the manuscript work that calls out for recognition is on illumination. Even when he’s avoiding writing serious content such as usually graces Got Medieval (ahem), we can rely on Carl Pyrdum for this, and his recent series Mmm… Marginalia is quality work in all its three instalments, while the inimitable Jennifer Lynn Jordan has continued her weekly Weird Medieval Animal Monday at Per Omnia Sæcula, most recently with the onager. But for serious work on texts one should probably turn to Michelle of Heavenfield, who has been doing so much lately that she’s had to move some of it, on her project on St Bede’s Abbreviated Psalter, to another blog at Selah. This has not stopped her keeping Heavenfield full of interesting stuff, though: for example, how much weight would you think that you could put on Bede’s report of what position St Oswald prayed in? Michelle not only asks but answers.

Medievalists looking forward

But really, what we like to talk about most, especially at this season, is ourselves, and especially how we include ourselves in the public. Regular readers will know that this is a perennial source of hand-wringing at A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe, but it’s really not just me. Striking opposite extremes, Matt Gabriele of Modern Medieval has been convincing people of the relevance of the Middle Ages to their right-now honest-injun lives at Delaware, while Kirsten Ataoguz at Early Medieval Art takes the brave alternative of suggesting that really, our material is anything but relevant, but that it is rather beautiful. And then they argue about it in her comments, so go and cheer them on! I want to side with Matt, but I do find Kirsten’s argument easier to sustain. And on the sidelines Michelle of Heavenfield points out a relevance we maybe weren’t expecting for our work by arguing that we are currently living through a process we more normally write about, ethnogenesis. “I’m doing things that haven’t got a name yet!”, indeed…

Elsewhere, though, some of us are just hanging on: while the ever-forthright Lettriste speaks from the heart about what this profession will do to your relationship at The Rebel Letter, the little-known Gesta does likewise about trying to meet everyone’s expectations at On Boundaries. Gesta however does the UK academics the great service of going on to find a list of what the main British funding body considers the ‘leading scholarly journals in history’ so at least we can quantify a few of these expectations. But when it comes to why any of us do it in the first place, pride of place in these last couple of months must go to Magistra et Mater, who has done what any properly obsessive academic ought to have done and not just made a list, but done it by way of modifying someone else’s. Your personal reason’s got to be in this somewhere!

And so what is it, finally, that we do? Well, this month at least, mainly we go to Kalamazoo. So much has been written about this lately, including one helpful post from Richard Scott Nokes explaining what it actually is, that really the best your humble host can do here is provide a round-up of round-ups, where again Professor Nokes has done sterling service, and links through to the overlapping but complementary one at News for Medievalists. Two write-ups that I did like, however because they involved reactions to papers I thought I would have liked to hear also, have been provided by Larry Swain at The Ruminate and the newly-apparent CyberMedievalist.

Like almost everything else ever posted on A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe, this has become much too long. Ordinarily I would quote Churchill and claim that “I didn’t have time to make it short”; this time, however, I entirely blame the quality of the various witting and unwitting contributors. It remains only to say that as I understand it, the next Carnivalesque will be no. 40, the early modern edition, and will probably appear at Janice Liedl’s jliedl.ca, though the relevant page says ‘provisional’ about that so don’t hate her (or me) if it turns out otherwise. And I hope you’ve had fun on your visit meanwhile! Thankyou for stopping by.

What’s in an immunity? II

I have just been picking the brains of Paul Fouracre on this question, via the means of his 1995 paper in Davies & himself’s Property and Power. It’s a very odd piece, trying to step a very precise line between giving a specialist answer and general conclusions, but a couple of bits definitely stand out for insight: firstly pointing out that, although when a king concedes an immunity he is certainly giving away fiscal, or public as some might say, rights even if no-one can agree how much. But who’s going to enforce this privatisation of power when the new owner has trouble exercising it? The king, of course, so you’ve got public defence of a private power holding public rights and private and public and private and public and please, let’s use some different words now. The problem is still the same though, why do people get these concessions when the king can’t enforce them? What’s that connection to the royal power of yesteryear worth to my Catalan monks, eh?

Confirmation of the privileges of the Abbey of St-Denis by King Clovis II, 22 June 653, on original papyrus

The other much more important point though is one wisely made, that though immunities have long been placed at the root of the weakening of royal authority in favour of local lords, really, there are no known immunities to laymen (except actually there are, but Paul as do so many people has a footnote saying Catalonia is too weird to count—O RLY!) and no lordships of that kind that we know of built on an earlier concession of immunity. Except in Italy. Oh, and in Germany. But really only France counts for the feudal transformation scholarship, as Tim Reuter mordantly observed the same year.

Actually, that’s the third thing, I love how the Bucknell group were so cheerful about disagreeing with each other. Chris Wickham gets cited three or four times in this paper and almost every time Paul is dismissing his view as ridiculous. I’m sure Chris will have done the same in reverse in his paper later in the volume, because of course they were all at the discussions out of which the book came… Seeing Patrick Wormald arguing with Jinty Nelson at the IHR had the same thing going on; both very sharp and both completely enjoying it, because they’d been practising these arguments for years. Such a pity that he and Tim are gone, I enjoyed what little I caught of them a great deal.


Paul Fouracre, “Eternal Light and Earthly Needs: practical aspects of the development of Frankish immunities” in Wendy Davies & Paul Fouracre (edd.), Property and Power in Early Medieval Europe (Cambridge 1995), pp. 53-81.

Seminary XXVI: how to make enemies and mutilate people in twelfth-century Wales

What with various things and stuff, and also the peculiarly High nature of the programme this term, it’s been a while since I’ve attended the Institute of Historical Research’s Earlier Middle Ages seminar, but this week just gone it was Charles Insley, and although he works now on high medieval Wales, because he is one of the other people out there who knows that charters are not simple I tend to try and catch up with him when I can. So on 7 May I was there listening to him speak to the title, “Kings, Lords, Charters and the Political Culture of Twelfth-Century Wales”.

Cathedral of St David\'s, Wales

Charles was here mainly addressing an idea that he atrributed mainly to Robert Bartlett, that over the High Middle Ages a certain kind of European culture expands from centre to peripheries until medieval Europe is basically a cultural homogene. Charles was not so much disputing that this happened, but that it happened evenly, unwittingly or in a linear fashion. The examples he made most of were some extremely bloody feuds in the succession to the kingdoms of Powys and Deheubarth in the twelfth century, or some lesser kingdoms I don’t think I could adequately pronounce. There was a great deal of murder, bloodshed, castration and blinding, and complicated charts showing exactly who killed whom, from which the feud might just be reconstructed. Most of this story comes from an unusually verbose section of the rather complicated Brut y Tywysogyon (Chronicle of the Princes), and may therefore be unusual in itself (or possibly, I thought, it’s happening all the time but isn’t normally recorded…). Anyway, the point is that by the thirteenth century succession in Wales doesn’t look like that any more, it has `civilised’ and use is instead made of exile or negotiation. Now that used to be seen as Anglo-Norman influence, but firstly as Charles pointed out the Anglo-Normans can be pretty nasty to their rivals: the story that inevitably came up was the time that Henry I summons all his moneyers to court at Winchester, in 1124, and has most of them castrated and lose their right hand. And on the Welsh border nasty messes like this still happen quite a lot. The second odd thing is that these changes are happening off the border, that is it’s the areas not in direct contact with the English that seem to be cleaning up their act.

This led to a variety of interesting questions and it became one of those seminars that are fun to be at but would be horrible to give, albeit useful, where the audience start working out what it is that you meant to say. The conversation eventually settled on agency as the key concept, and one that Charles had, to be fair, started with, arguing that this cultural transformation was not one that was passively sucked up but actively adopted by people choosing from a kind of political menu of self-representation. Powys and Deheubarth and wherever were cleaning up their act so as to raise their political game to behave more like big kings elsewhere, not like all their neighbours. And this is, we seemed to conclude, how `Europe’ as Bartlett sees it spreads. Only not where you might expect, or when…

Charles was mainly using charters for this, working on the evidence of royal styles, titles and the claims they seemed to make, but as he admitted there are certainly other ways you could get at court culture in Wales in this period. In one of those happy coincidences of the Internet, I more or less logged on the next day to find the Naked Philologist, no less, linking to someone doing just that with the court poetry, and if the name Taliesin means anything to you, and especially if you think it does but you aren’t quite sure what, I do recommend having a look at that also.

(I’m not quite sure that that sentence runs as I’d like it. Something in it wants to be “I logged in next day to find a naked philologist!” But my work browser would, I’m pretty sure, block such things and I assure you that the relevant blogs are all perfectly safe for work and indeed educational in a clothed way.)