Monthly Archives: July 2009

I left my heart phone charger in St Andrews (3 of 3)

The second evening of the St Andrews conference I’ve been reporting, Monasteries and Secular Authorities in the pre-Millennial Medieval World, held the conference dinner, which was really rather good (though we paid separately for it), and then the next day was the last. I packed at some speed before the papers started, and as a result, it subsequently became clear, left my phone charger plugged into a wall—bet you were beginning to wonder about that—though I didn’t notice this till the battery actually ran out on the last day of Leeds, by which time it was a little late to do much about it.

A high medieval chrysobull awarded to one of the monasteries of Mt Athos

A high medieval chrysobull awarded to one of the monasteries of Mt Athos

Anyway, the third day was only a half day and in that half, Ann Williams discussed the alleged predatoriness of Earl Godwine upon the late Anglo-Saxon Church and found the evidence somewhat thin—apparently she plans to rehabilitate Archbishop Stigand next—and Rosemary Morris took us though the considerable intricacies of the tax evasion, or avoidance—when you can get the Byzantine Emperor to sign off your tax reduction, much to the annoyance of his own officials who are trying to enforce payment, the legality of your tactics are fairly moot—practised by the monasteries of Mt Athos in the eleventh century. She challenged the Western diplomatists to come up with anything as impressive as the chrysobull of Alexios Comenos; give me time… Then in the second and last session Matthew Zimmern told us about Stavelot-Malmédy, a house which developed a split personality to match its dual site in the ninth century, for reasons that once more could be apportioned on the one side to royal interests and on the other to those of the familia of Columbanus.

The modern Kremsmünster Abbey viewed from the North-East, from Wikimedia Commons

The modern Kremsmünster Abbey viewed from the North-East, from Wikimedia Commons

The conference and that session were closed out, saving the summary, by Leanne Good who was presenting on the foundation of the Bavarian (now Austrian) monastery of Kremsmunster. It only occurred to me some time after I’d left the town that although I’d been talking to her avidly about the edition of the place’s charters, which I met through Lay Archives, she may have been confused as I had jumbled it in my head with that of Kaufungen, which is a rather different place. Sorry, Leanne! Anyway, because Kremsmunster was a frontier foundation on a border with ill-defined territories owing notional loyalty to a non-Christian polity there were lots of things that leapt out at me from this paper that sounded like my area; granted, her non-Christians were Slavs and Avars and mine were, well, if only I knew but in some cases at least Muslim, but there are parallels. Not least, Tassilo of Bavaria was doing this exercise partly so as to pitch himself as a mission leader and Christian ruler in the face of Carolingian pressure on his independence; the situation isn’t quite the same with Guifré the Hairy, who is basically free of such pressure, but the parallel still gave me some added perspective on what Guifré may have been trying to do with his monastic foundations.

It also involved some interesting speculation on the audience for the foundation document, presumably the court, which in turn raised questions about what kind of pressures Tassilo was trying to deal with among his own nobility. It is as we were later to hear in Leeds; sometimes, the strange things that people do tell you most about them. Of all the papers we heard this was the one I most wanted a copy of, for my own purposes, and I must in fact mail and beg one. Warren Brown summed up, reminding us how much we’d heard about how the sources themselves interfere in the history they record, but also reminding us that so do our own interpretations. Should we really be surprised when we hear of cleric-kings, of family monasteries or monasteries with no monks, or is it just our modern perspectives messing up our expectations? And of course, though we had seen monasteries several times as political tools here we had also seen powerful communities asserting their own agendas, and ideally our pictures of how monasteries and secular powers interacted in the early Middle Ages would always remember that both parties to the interaction had some input.

Ruins of St Andrews Cathedral, borrowed from the Gypsy Scholar, who in turn borrowed it from Wikipedia

Ruins of St Andrews Cathedral, borrowed from the Gypsy Scholar, who in turn borrowed it from Wikipedia

All of this, anyway, will go some way to explaining why I got so much out of this conference. I ordinarily avoid themed conferences, partly because one of the things conferences do for me is tell me about stuff that I otherwise had no idea about, but I think that this one genuinely pushed all participants to think new things about their material and its possibilities, so I shall reconsider this policy now. I also got to meet a number of people of importance for my own work and, I hope, several new friends, and any excuse to go to St Andrews is a good one. So I came down on the train quite cheerful (though if Roy Flechner is reading, I should like to say once more: that bus would have got us there in plenty of time). As soon as I was back near a computer, however, I had to send literally twenty different e-mails as upshots or in preparation for the next conference, as a result of which my home and so on hardly saw any of me before I was off again, with the blog running on automatic and a suitcase with room for spare books as I headed for Leeds. The blog of that will follow in due course, but first, some light historiographical reflection… (Stay posted.)

P. S. Also, Sarah Tatum would like me to encourage you all to submit your work to the European Review of History, which is apparently short of medieval material at the moment. And, you know, there are worse places to be seen…

I left my heart phone charger in St Andrews (2 of 3)

The island of Noirmoutier, first site of the community of St Philibert; perfect for isolation, sea breeze and Viking raiders...

The island of Noirmoutier, first site of the community of St Philibert; perfect for isolation, sea breeze and Viking raiders...

The second day of the St Andrews conference just mentioned dawned comparatively kindly since proceedings didn’t start till the civilised hour of 10 o’clock, which suits me very well, leaving time between closing time and breakfast time for enough sleep and then for enough reading and tea to become coherent by the time anyone tries to talk to me. And the way the programme unrolled, it was a while before I thought of anything to say anyway, but Christian Harding‘s study of the peregrinations of the monks of St Philibert, who once they were shifted from their original coastal house at Noirmoutier during the Viking Age went through about six more locations before finally settling at Tournus many decades later, did raise some questions. He was seeing the monks and the gifts from the kings by which they were able to move as political tools in the rivalry between the Carolingian kingdoms, starting as a loyal outpost in the Breton march where, as we’d heard yesterday, Carolingian control was never as tight as might be wished, and then being competed for between Charles the Bald and Pippin II of Aquitaine his nephew on that border. This raised questions about whether you could really shunt a community around like that, or whether they had serious problems settling and begged more and more land, where, in short, the initiative was in all these translations, questions that could have been argued for much longer than we had.

St Edgwads Llanegwad, Wales, 10th or early 11th century structure with later modifications

St Edgwad's Llanegwad, Wales, 10th or early 11th century structure with later modifications

In the second session Thomas Owen Clancy talked about the leadership of the familia of Columba (not Columbanus this time) and Alex Woolf addressed the question of how the Welsh Church ran before the Normans got to it, focusing on the secular nature of its church communities, who seem to have operated by dividing the church property between them in private tenure. This is something that, though the Normans saw it as something in need of reform, I could easily recognise from the way that the pre-Catalan Church uses deacons and priests as unofficial managers operating from mother churches, and which Anglo-Saxonists might recognise as a bit like the `minster hypothesis’. As I said to him, Alex has a particular talent for taking a tangled argument and suggesting a brilliantly simple solution, and here again he had chosen one good way of doing this, which is to wonder if the situation was really weird or if what’s going on was what was going on in other places under different words. He also raised the important point that we often identify church sites with enclosures as monasteries, but the fact that there was a monastery at a site doesn’t necessarily imply that the site is a monastery.

The modern church of San Vincenzo al Volturno seen through the ruins of the Carolingian abbey, from Wikimedia Commons

The modern church of San Vincenzo al Volturno seen through the ruins of the Carolingian abbey, from Wikimedia Commons

In the session after that Federico Marazzi, who is leading the continuing dig at the huge Italian monastic site of San Vicenzo al Volturno, gave us an extensive introduction to the site, which raised among other things the peculiarity that the huge abbey church appears to have been accessible only via the cloister, and therefore to the monks and those they admitted; the locals, such as they may have been, must have worshipped elsewhere on the site. Melanie Maddox then told us about how Æthelflæd, Lady of the Mercians, used not just force of arms but forces of clerics in her reconquest of the North-West from the Danes and Norse, by translating saints’ relics into new churches she’d set up, not least St Peter’s at what might have become a new Mercian capital at Chester.

The Mausoleum of Theodoric in Ravenna, one of the establishments local sources consider a 'monastery', from Wikimedia Commons

The Mausoleum of Theodoric in Ravenna, one of the establishments local sources consider a 'monastery', from Wikimedia Commons

In the last session that day, all certainties were temporarily dissolved. We had begun the conference, most of us, reasonably certain that we knew what a monastery was and that, fundamentally, there was a Benedictine ideal in play for most of our period to which places either conformed or did not. Now, Tom Brown told us (more) about Ravenna, where drawing the line between monastery and not-monastery is made harder by a plethora of tiny little private cells with a population of maybe one or two who really lived elsewhere, more like Egyptian hermits’ cells than Benedictine abbeys except for the fact of their urban location. Monasticism can, as he said, mean a lot of things. But this was nothing compared to what Albrecht Diem unleashed by what started as an innocuous comparison of Gregory of Tours’s Vita Patrum to Jonas of Bobbio’s Life of Columbanus (told you we’d be back there). He stressed that almost all our sources operate by asserting some kind of continuity with the time of writing, even if it’s only a recognisable location, and that the present therefore shapes the past in its reporting, but then brought out specifically how Gregory’s and Jonas’s times and agendas bent some of our primary established facts about the ecclesiastical set-ups of their times. Gregory has a range of ascetics from all walks of life doing their various things, but the noble bishop is still the boss; but Jonas makes the ascetic the boss, even telling kings what to do and immune from their attack (both legally and by miraculous intervention), and the interesting thing is that he’s using Gregory as he does it; the parallels Albrecht drew were pretty damning. Someone out there can tell me where the maxim about not dismantling your master’s house with his own tools comes from (yes, OK, so can Google, it’s Audre Lorde), but here is Jonas at the very least rebuilding his master’s house with exactly the same equipment. Take that, Loltheorists!* The upshot is that we really don’t know a lot about the politics of these people’s times even though it seems as if we do. If the Vita Columbani is at least partly literary construction, how much do we really know about how Merovingian kings operated? Almost only what’s in Gregory, who makes them seem like illiterate buffoons because of his basic “trust the educated bishop” message. And for an encore, in questions, Albrecht went on to question the historical existence of Saint Benedict of Nursia and whether the Rule of Benedict even existed as a text before the Carolingians asked for a copy. I’m not joking. Piotr Górecki summed up with the air of a man slightly shellshocked, and urged that a book should come of all these papers; I later gathered that this is indeed the plan. If so Albrecht’s paper will be the kind of reading that makes the floor seem worryingly flimsy beneath us.

A later illumination showing Archbishop Gregory of Tours as suppliant before a king

A later illumination showing Archbishop Gregory of Tours as suppliant before a king


* Yes, I know that’s nothing like what Lorde meant, I’ve even read the original essay, and I will willingly admit that I am inappropriately using it to describe a contest of wits between two privileged members of a white male élite; but nonetheless they are politically opposed over where the control of monastic life lies, and one of them is repurposing the literary work of the other to completely invert his point. I think it stands up.

Cat and dog anthropomorphism from centuries 13 to 17

Well out of my period and I had forgotten I even meant to write about this, but in the Thomas Bisson Festschrift there is an article by Alan Friedlander about notaries’ symbols in 13th-century Languedoc. I am academically fascinated by individualised documentary practices anyway, but had I not been I think I would have been sold on the work by this first page:

fonties_sig

I love this stuff. The goat is in fact the authentication sign used by the notary public of Lésignan-la-Cèbe who wrote the transfer charter, Maitre Raimond André de Fontiès, who used this sign so that his work could be recognised. All the notaries public of the area had their own signs like this, though not usually quite so cute. Friedlander goes on to give some careful thought and evidence about how this system worked and what people used it for but mainly he is having fun showing drawings by people being funny, or symbolic, and sometimes both. And fair enough. It’s just that, from four hundred years later, I recognised one of the jokes. See this:

catala_sig

This is, as he says, the mark of Pierre Catala de Pézenas, and maybe it’s just my mind that finds it perfectly natural that he’d have come up against the homonymy before and decided to react against it rather than with. On the other hand, when I saw this I was immediately reminded of something else, an English seventeenth-century token issued by a man with a name like Doggett, bearing a cat on the obverse side. I have to guess, because I can’t find it in our catalogue, which mystifies me as I can only have seen it here; but it’s not here, and so if I only read about it, or dreamt it which given how many of these things I was once dealing with is quite possible, I don’t have an image to give you. (Should a numismatist who knows the piece I mean stumble across this page in a websearch, please let me know I wasn’t dreaming it.) Instead, here is another such token with what I suspect is a similar process going on.

Halfpenny token of Peter Sammon, Kensington, London, 1667, Fitzwilliam Museum, CM.BI.1051-R

Halfpenny token of Peter Sammon, Kensington, London, 1667, Fitzwilliam Museum, CM.BI.1051-R

What I take to be going on here is that again, a man whose name contained an obvious icon opted to twit it, perhaps with some rationalisation like, “and what liketh a Sammon better than a catte?” I mean, okay, maybe he just had a cat and this was well known in his street. Maybe Pierre Catala had a dog. I think it’s probably the same thing going on. This is all too late to prove what I would like it to prove, or rather disprove, the idea that individuality began in the eleventh century, but I like being able to show that the same small joke occurred to two people of no particularly special status or achievements beyond being well-to-do and trusted (no point in issuing tokens if you weren’t) across four hundred years and rather more miles. Helps one remember that one’s studying human beings with whom, were time travel and one’s languages good enough (remember: we already travel in time, it’s just changing direction that’s proving tricky), one could talk, and whom one might like or dislike but who would not be the same as any other person you might meet. Each one a missing person to recover. We are going to return to this theme, oh yes.


The article is, as you can see above, Alan Friedlander, “Signum mei apposui: Notaries and their Signs in Medieval Languedoc” in Robert F. Berkhofer III, Alan Cooper & Adam Kosto (edd.), The Experience of Power in Medieval Europe, 950-1350: essays in honor of Thomas N. Bisson (Aldershot 2005), pp. 94-117, reproductions here of pp. 94 & 101. The discovery of the individual hypothesis can be found in Colin Morris, The Discovery of the Individual 1050-1200 (London 1972) or Aaron Gurevich, The Origins of European Individualism, transl. K. Judelson (Oxford 1995), and it is contested by Caroline Walker Bynum, “Did The Twelfth Century Discover the Individual?” in Journal of Ecclesiastical History Vol. 31 (1980), pp. 1-17, with a reply by Morris, “Individualism in Twelfth-Century Religion: some further reflections”, ibid. pp. 195-206, and complicated by Michael Clanchy, “Documenting the self: Abelard and the individual in history” in Historical Research Vol. 76 (2003), pp. 293-309. Make what you can…

I left my heart phone charger in St Andrews (1 of 3)

Right! I’m really back now. And I used up all my buffer while I was away so had to actually write stuff. To help me with this, the world broke my catch-up lie-in with two early morning doorbells, the second of which woke me from a dream about how I’d forgotten to get up in time and had lost the whole day and not fed the child yet (the child gets his own breakfast quite happily but my subconscious is not satisfied with dull facts), and this left me deeply confused about what time it actually was. I could wish I’d been feeling cleverer when I wrote this, because there are agendas to be considered in the reportage. Quite apart from the basic complications of saying things about others in public, one person I’ve met wanted not to be reported without seeing it first, which is quite understandable but not my usual practice, and it will be difficult to write anything at all without endangering other bloggers’ anonymities. So if any of the below is incoherent all that’s why. Anyway. I think I have about eight posts I have to write. This is the first, and is about a conference I went to in St Andrews. Before I got very far trying to write this up short it became clear that it wouldn’t stay that way, so instead of one Leviathan this is the first of three posts, one for each day with the last half-day also having a round-up and the shout-outs. Okay!

View of St Andrews from St Rules Tower, by Joel Afferty

View of St Andrews from St Rule's Tower, by Joel Afferty

St Andrews is one of my favourite towns, to visit at least; I might find it a bit slow to live there, but I keep hoping to try anyway. I have friends there, some of the people in the profession I would consider friends even if they weren’t colleagues and some others not in the profession, and I always find stuff there to make me think. This time the stuff mainly came from a conference organised by two postgraduates under the name of Monasteries and Secular Authorities in the pre-Millennial Medieval World, and it must be said that they did an awesome job. Maps, programme, equipment, accommodation and free-flowing socialisation all just seemed to unroll without any major problems, and these guys could surely be making better money as PAs somewhere, though I hope that they don’t take it. The whole programme was full of good stuff. You can read it at that link so I won’t replicate it here but just remark on a few of the papers that really made me think.

Aerial view of the Irish monastic site of Clonmacnoise

Aerial view of the Irish monastic site of Clonmacnoise

The first session was on the existence or not of the town in early medieval Ireland. It is widely argued that there was nothing in Ireland that scholars of other areas would recognise as a town until the Vikings fortified Dublin, and the debate isn’t even about that, really. The question is whether, until then, monasteries fulfil a similar function as centres of population, production and exchange. It seems to me that this is essentially subjective. A Roman villa could fit that description. Is Clonmacnoise up there any bigger than a Roman villa site? How large does a place like that have to get before it stops just being a farm with a religious function and perhaps some legal jurisdiction? This is a semantic field really and I prefer to deal in the archaeology of what was there, which is why I prefer the approach Martin Carver et al. have taken with Portmahomack in Scotland where such questions have essentially been secondary. Anyway. There’s some useful introduction at the link under that image if you want to know more. Charles Doherty argued that the important churches of Armagh and Kildare had political jurisdictions by virtue of being associated with kings and particular kingdoms from early on, but they eventually had to settle for essentially spiritual jurisdictions as politics left them behind. Against this Colmán Etchingham argued that a lot of the evidence for non-agricultural activity, especially assemblies, at these places is based on faulty equivalences between modern Irish and Old Irish terms that have shifted their meaning. Agreement was not general with either speaker, but these two have apparently been sparring for a long time and were able to disagree like gentlemen and be friendly to all, which is exemplary. It did make me think, however, that by their criteria any of my subject monasteries are towns, which makes no sense in a landscape with cities in it such as I have. I just don’t think it makes any more sense in a landscape where the cities are missing; there’s just a sort of social articulation that doesn’t happen in Ireland till later, though it’s worth saying that Dr Etchingham thought that the paper I mainly have this idea from was all kinds of wrong.

Ruins of the medieval abbey of St-Guenolé de Landévennec, Brittany, from Wikimedia Commons

Ruins of the medieval abbey of St-Guenolé de Landévennec, Brittany, from Wikimedia Commons

In the second session Roy Flechner introduced us to the questions around Irish kings who were clerics, clerics who fought in war, monasteries that went to war against each other and in general a rather different attitude to war and its combination with the life spiritual than we usually think of even for the Middle Ages. Then David Dumville gave a paper about the monastery at Landévennec in Britanny. I suppose many people know that I have old personal issues with Professor Dumville but this was he at his best, sharply discriminating with the evidence and imaginative with its solutions, as well as crystal clear in delivery. Landévennec is important because so much that we know about early medieval Brittany comes from the abbey of Redon, which is right on the border with Francia and very much a colonising enterprise, whereas Landévennec is right on the western coast in the Celtic-speaking zone. Unfortunately it also got trashed by the Vikings several times, its monks became fugitives and the documentation from it is basically missing, so it also contrasts with Redon by mainly being an archæological site. Professor Dumville looked dubiously at the precept that the monastery later claimed to have got from Louis the Pious via an abbot whose name appears merely to be Breton for `good monk’, and which has been used to argue that Louis put Brittany under Benedictine observance, his doubt largely because it’s simply unproven that the Carolingians ever controlled that far into Brittany. He suggested that any such success was instead driven from the bishopric of Tours, and that the best division to make in Brittany might not be Frankish/Celtic, native/incomer, or whatever, but pro- or anti-Tours. I think that has something going for it but obviously the fact that sometimes there were dukes or kings opposing the Carolingian kings needs to be in there too, though we don’t really know how much they controlled either.1 The other thing that came up in this paper was the fact that there is, despite the social dislocation that they caused, very little Viking settlement evidenced in Brittany, except right up in the north-east near Coutances. This caught my ear because Coutances is very near Bayeux, where we were discussing Viking settlement only a short while ago, and Alex Woolf later informed me that the Norse names in that area are in fact predominantly Hiberno-Norse, suggesting that the invaders came from Ireland. This may be where the Benjamin Hudson theory one commentator on the previous post mentioned is coming from.

The tomb of St Columbanus at Bobbio

The tomb of St Columbanus at Bobbio

The third session opened what was going to become something of a theme of the conference, the monastic family of houses left scattered across Europe by Saint Columbanus. Opening the theme was Sarah Tatum, who argued that the Vita Sadalbergae, ostensibly the saint’s life of the foundress of Langres and Laon, should really be seen as a piece of writing intended to stress their connection to the Columban familia, as opposed to the foundress’s own family who only get the endeavour into trouble. I have to say that I thought she made her point pretty convincingly. The other paper in that session was given by Alex O’Hara, who was looking at conflict between Columbanus’s house at Bobbio and local aristocracy in the tenth century (which is, as I’ve said to many people these two weeks, where it’s at). Here the interest for me came in the questions when Federico Marazzi suggested that the real deal here might not have been the landownership exactly, but who had the lordship of lands that had been public within the monastery’s endowment. As the royal ability to control the fisc waned, that is, this might have come up for competition in a way that it hadn’t before. This of course entails knowing more about the fisc… but I think there’s something in it, even if only one case of many. Damn, that makes this a feudal transformation post

St Gall illustration of Notker the Stammerer, from Wikimedia Commons

St Gall illustration of Notker the Stammerer, from Wikimedia Commons

The last two papers were perhaps the most challenging for me specifically. They were given by two of the people involved in the Lay Archives Project, of which I have oft-times spoke, and first up was Warren Brown who was emphasising again what he has said before, that the formula or model documents that we have lurking about in various early medieval collections tell us about a much wider range of things than those documents that usually survive, which are naturally enough usually about land (because that, too, survives longer than most other goods).2 The formulae preserve all kinds of unusual operations a scribe might have to record, but it is often argued that they are relics of an age when document use was different. One set that’s definitely not, as Warren was here emphasising, was that written up by Notker Balbulus, the Stammerer, monk of St Gall and biographer of Charlemagne, d. c. 912, which Warren therefore used to explore how lay people were using documents in Notker’s time.

One of the things that came out of this, among much else that might be of interest to few, was that one of the things Notker thought his pupils might need was a document whereby an old or infirm person made a donation in exchange for his upkeep for life, not to a monastery or cathedral necessarily (which are of course the ones we have) but to a layman. This is one of the things which, counter-intuitively, the Lay Archives project has repeatedly come up against, that really when we can see laymen using documents, they do just the same things as ecclesiastics do with them, albeit here saving body rather than soul.3

The reformed church of Wynau, Switzerland, once St Mauritz, proprietary church of the Bechburg family, eleventh- or twelfth-century

The reformed church of Wynau, Switzerland, once St Mauritz, proprietary church of the Bechburg family, eleventh- or twelfth-century

The second paper in that session was given by Hans Hummer, who was looking at monasteries as centres of lordship. The interesting thing there for me was his pointing out that really, though churches do not die in usual circumstances and are indeed not vulnerable to the divisions of inheritance, you still don’t necessarily want to try and shunt all your family lands into a church you control so as to keep them together, as has been suggested people did, because churches are vulnerable to other authorities, kings, bishops, reformers, and so on. You never wholly own a church, because it has a place in some wider hierarchy that’s outside your control. (Unless, as in the Catalan case, the bishops are all your cousins…) Because there is a body of work that contends that Merovingian- and Carolingian-period nobility, among others, did just this, the counter-perspective was useful.4 I wouldn’t like to guess which is more predominant but I like to have people considering alternatives.

The papers were given a closing review by Thomas Owen Clancy, who was erudite as ever, and then we dispersed to various locations for dinner that, St Andrews being the size it is, all wound up being the same one. I got drinking with Anglo-Saxonists, which can be dangerous, but lived to tell the tale and here I have been telling it. More will follow…


1. The top-down version of this story is told, as Professor Dumville graciously conceded, about as well as it can be told in Julia Smith’s Province and Empire: Brittany under the Carolingians, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought 4th Series 18 (Cambridge 1992).

2. Warren has said this where others can read him in Warren Brown, “When documents are destroyed or lost: lay people and archives in the early Middle Ages” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 11 (Oxford 2002), pp. 337-366.

3. See for Catalonia this case put in Adam J. Kosto, “Laymen, Clerics and Documentary Practices in the Early Middle Ages: the example of Catalonia” in Speculum Vol. 80 (Cambridge MA 2005), pp. 44-74.

4. The place I was most convinced by the original argument was Régine le Jan, “Convents, Violence and Competition for Power in Seventh-Century Francia”, transl. Jinty Nelson in Mayke de Jong & Franz Theuws with Carine van Rijn (edd.), Topographies of Power in the Early Middle Ages, The Transformation of the Roman World 6 (Leiden 2001), pp. 243-269, where the case is argued specifically for nunneries, but I was told at this very same conference by the estimable and charmingly irreverent Sarah Tatum that her thesis has thrown up a number of problems with le Jan’s examples, so that while the theory itself remains plausible actual evidence of it happening is somewhat lacking.

Thanks to Eumo Editorial

A river of 5,000 books laid out across the cloister of Sant Domènec de Vic, which now houses the School of Art and Design, for the 30th anniversary of Eumo Editorial, 23 April 2009

A river of 5,000 books laid out across the cloister of Sant Domènec de Vic, which now houses the School of Art and Design, for the 30th anniversary of Eumo Editorial, 23 April 2009

I’ve had to wait for input from outside before I could start blogging the two conferences to which I’ve recently been. In the meantime it seemed worthwhile to record something that happened just before I went. The authoritative work on the monastery I was presenting on at Leeds was written in 1998 and published by an academic house in the city of Vic, where so much of my material survives or lived, called Eumo Editorial. Nowhere in the UK had a copy of the book, so I ordered it from them direct. I don’t have a credit card (long and very old story) so this was a bit tricky; I eventually decided it was worth the bank charges to pay by transfer, but because they are rightly used to the Continental system where this is everyday and easy, not the UK one where it requires special signatures, can only be done online over a certain value and generally costs one a lot, there was a prolonged exchange of e-mail in which I tried to get the information I was told, by three different bank staff with different stories, that I needed and which, it transpired, Eumo had already sent me but the first two staff hadn’t recognised. (I don’t recommend my bank, but they’re still solvent and I don’t know of a better.)

End of a long story: I got the book. But I also asked about another book they published not long after, a fat volume of conference papers that I’ve mentioned here before many times, and which when I read it had had to be inter-library-loaned from Madrid. (Their copy was disintegrating even as I had it, too; 700 pages is just too much for a paperback binding.) Eumo, who had been sending me delightful e-mails that switched from Catalan to perfect English halfway through in response to my lousy Catalan written in a mailer with no accents, said that they no longer had any print copies, but they would send me an electronic copy. The relevant staff member’s junior then sent me something else entirely by an author with a related name, but then followed up with the full 700 pages in crystal-clear PDF, in six separate e-mails to avoid blowing up my INBOX. It would have been I-don’t-know-how-many Euros in the paper, they own it and rights to it, I would happily have paid; but no, they sent it me gratis, just because I’d asked about it. I didn’t even do my “it’s really important for my work and publishes some absolutely vital sites and archæological synthesis” pitch, although that would have been true, but now I have it. So all hail Eumo Editorial, because they are lovely. If any of my eventual books ever want a Catalan publisher I’m going to them first.


The books in question here are Teresa Soldevila, Sant Pere de Casserres: història i llegenda, l’entorn 35 (Vic 1998), and Immaculada Ollich i Castanyer (ed.), Actes del Congrès Internacional Gerbert d’Orlhac i el seu Temps: Catalunya i Europa a la Fi del 1r Mil·lenni, Vic-Ripoll, 10-13 de Novembre de 1999, Documentos 21 (Vic 1999).

Finding funding got slightly easier

I get asked, you know, about how to get funding for graduate research. This gives me attacks of conscience because I was turned down for it far more times than I was granted it, but I did get some in my time and occasionally still stab at getting more. Anyway, for those in the UK, it appears that this is these days marginally easier than it used to be. My Masters research was partly funded by a group called the Ian Karten Charitable Trust. They didn’t pay much of my maintenance but the fact that I’d raised some money myself and then also got some support from somewhere made it more convincing for other groups to contribute to fill the gaps, and so I was always grateful to them for unlocking the gates. How did I find out about them? Well, there used to be two big fat volumes that most if not all public libraries in the UK (or at least England) would have, The Directory of Grant-Making Trusts and a related one whose title I can’t remember. They listed basically everyone with charitable status who was in the business of making charitable grants for projects of almost any kind. About one per cent were relevant or possible, but that left one with, say, thirty potential sources of funding, and if one came up, well, that might be enough.

Trying to put this in an e-mail for someone who’d asked me this (an old friend whom I owe a lot) left me Googling for this and now I find that The Directory of Social Change have a whole load of the process, including the old Directory, online here. Now I have not tried finding much in it, and what I have fed it without the subscription it requires (it also wants cookies) reveals no funding possibilities, but, all the same, there it is, and it may help you. (I also find this while searching for other things, less likely-looking but maybe still worth giving.)

Cunning observations in recent reading, and a reconnection to the subject

It is being hard to find time or will to put much up here, partly because of imminent Leeds (a day after circulating the paper is no time to discover 23 extra charters of which you’ve taken no account, though thankfully they nuance and deepen my argument rather than wrecking it, I know now) and partly because of other attacks on my self-confidence that I won’t burden you all with. However, it seems that whatever I feel about my own writing just now, that of others remains interesting, and I wanted to just mention a couple of things I recently read that reflect and sharpen my own historical enquiry, one new and one old.

Alfonso X of Castile and his court, as shown in <a href="http://www.library.arizona.edu/exhibits/illuman/12_07.html">the 12th-century Libro de los Juegos</a>; from Wikimedia Commons

First up, an excellent article by Cristina Jular Pérez-Alfonso, given a classy Englishing by Simon Doubleday that makes readable and intelligent what could so easily have been jargon-laden and impenetrable, in an equally excellent volume I should have finished reading long ago.1 Approaches to medieval power so often concentrate on only one side of it, the ruler and his or her government, or his opposition, or the down-trodden pheasants peasants. Sometimes the opposition is the government of course, and very occasionally it’s the peasants, but what we don’t often get is all three treated distinctly. Jular tries to provide this balance, king and his ideology and how it was propagated, officials and their practice, their reinforcement or lack of it from the king and their own local standing, and the communities they ruled and their voice in how they were governed, often substantial. She is looking at thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Castile specifically but she references the legends of William Tell and Robin Hood and generally you can use this stuff. And the article gives me a moment of unsettlement when she asks whether the officials represented a class and whether they recognised each other as peers.2 I really ought to have paid a bit more attention to that. I will in future.

(My initial sense is that actually, the people who call themselves vicars in my area come from a variety of initial backgrounds and don’t even necessarily engage with the counts to get their titles even though the titles imply delegation. I think I say this quite well, but whether the different groups of vicars, those born to wide-ranging property and influence, those raised up by the count for service and those who had used local status and mixed patronage to climb a level (could I even separate those two, except in terms of character? Would I want to? Character is powerful…) saw each other as equals or rivals or both, I don’t really touch.3 This would be worth doing to revive a paper I once started researching but gave up as something that had already been done. Next time someone asks me for a paper on high-status men this is what I should offer. Anyway.)

The church of Santa Coloma de Queralt, from a local postcard

The church of Santa Coloma de Queralt, from a local postcard

Then a tiny little volume in a Catalan series of tiny little volumes called Episodis de la Història, which like a lot of Catalan probably doesn’t need translating for the English reader. These little books (24mo, about 60 pp, card covers) take one theme and give a in-depth narrative account of it, and they’re very neat. There’s one about the abbesses of Sant Joan de Ripoll, and there’s one, which I mean here, about the Catalan reconquest of the no-man’s land between them and the Muslim city states of Lleida and Tortosa.4 At times it’s a fairly dry list of mentions of castles which the author, Josep Iglesies, was using to map the slow creep forward of the frontier, but the first few chapters where he tries to characterise the frontier areas before the conquest rolled over them is exactly the sort of writing that got me into this field and has inspired some of my own work.5 Perhaps, then, it’s not surprising that it matches my own picture well: work based on this work formed my picture, after all. But what I mainly like is the acerbic cynicism with which he greets the romantic picture of the frontier pioneers and their supposed throwing back of Saracen dominion. A quick burst of my notes will give you the idea:

La frontera incial a Garbí

[3] For Guifré I Manresa, Terrassa (maybe) and Barça face off against Tortosa and Lleida [4]; Tortosa protected by monastery at Segarra and Pallars/Urgell, Barça by the Penedès, Òdena and Calaf; before that however, Barça more genuinely a frontier city. Leading out, the Via Augusta [5] to Tarragona and Tortosa and the ancient road via Òdena and Segarra to Lleida. Roads imply a trade that we don’t see, but the castles and defences also provide the first seeds of repop. Valleys and ridges good ground for both [6], surely exploited. Prob. populations there already of course, fleeing settlers of C8th or even older; it is, as said, good ground. [7] Is also however the main zone of military contact: Sunyer, notably, fortifies it with e. g. Olèrdola [†SANT CUGAT] where is clearly still some pop., [8] and Queralt, conquered by Guifré I according to Borrell. Space between these bastions undocumented but actual settlement goes beyond [9] (CC2 SANT CUGAT II), though concessions here left unexploited b/of war and banditry. Line is insecure, [10] and Queralt area least safe of all. Settlement presumably fills in behind but slowly. Land clearance [11] and buildings by pioneers must go on, fugitives safe till become profitable [cynic!], or bandits part-time; equivalents on other side of no-man’s land too, enslavement t/fore a constant threat, but otherwise unusually free. Lords do establish people, however, B. of Barça most clearly at Montnell and Santa Coloma [12] [*BARCA], whose franchise terms may be typical (also in being second try!)

Hopefully my apparatus there isn’t too impenetrable. I’ve linked up where I’ve talked about people or places there mentioned on the blog before. Mainly I love the sense of realism with which he speculates; settlement must go on but it could easily go wrong, the grand concessions of frontier franchises fail to hide the danger of the place, and you’re freer than almost anywhere here, but that freedom includes freedom from protection against violent military enslavement by your peers across the terra de ningú. Partly I love this perspective because it doesn’t forget the ‘nasty brutish and short’ side of medieval frontier life; but also leaves room for the achievement, and the space for initiative, the hope of building something of one’s own and making a life for oneself, that for some people at least explains why on earth people came to these dangerous places at all, as well as remembering that some people’s families never left.6 It’s pretty rich for ten pages.

This post may seem a bit more like therapy than would be ideal, but it does help me to remember why I’m interested in this stuff. Hopefully you are too.


1. C. Jular Pérez-Alfonso, “The King’s Face on the Territory: Royal Officers, Discourse and Legitimating Practices in Thirteenth- and Fourteenth-Century Castile” in Isabel Alfonso, Hugh Kennedy & Julio Escalona (edd.), Building Legitimacy: Political Discourses and Forms of Legitimation in Medieval Societies, The Medieval Mediterranean 53 (Leiden 2004), pp. 107-137.

2. Ibid., p. 121: “Let us focus the discussion for a moment on the higher officers. Do they generate their own discourse, or are they permanently dependent of [sic] that of the monarchy?”

3. When I say I don’t, I mean in the forthcoming book. The title is again under debate so I won’t cite it just yet. Instead I shall put this token in: “before 1000″, so that I can easily find it to retrospectively update again.

4. Josep Iglesies, La Reconquesta a les Valls d’Anoia i Gaià, Episodis de la Història 67 (Barcelona 1963). The other is Esteve Albert, Les Abadesses de Sant Joan, Episodis de la Història 69 (Barcelona 1968).

5. The work that specifically inspired me was Pierre Bonnassie’s La Catalogne du milieu du IXe siècle à la fin du XIe siècle : croissance et mutations d’une sociètè (Toulouse 1975-1976), 2 vols, I pp. 106-110, and Eduardo Manzano Moreno, “Christian-Muslim Frontier in al-Andalus: idea and reality” in Dionisius Agius & Richard Hitchcock (edd.), Arab Influence upon Medieval Europe (Reading IL 1994), pp. 83-96, and the work that it has inspired is Jonathan Jarrett, “Centurions, Alcalas and Christiani perversi: organisation of society in the pre-Catalan ‘terra de ningú’” in Alan Deyermond & Martin Ryan (edd.), Early Medieval Spain: a symposium, Papers of the Medieval Hispanic Research Seminar 63 (London forthcoming), which, yes, I have been promising for eighteen months already but which is, honestly, forthcoming, but no longer in my hands to affect.