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.