A woman, a priest and an inheritance

This post fulfils an old promise. After a careless footnote in which I maintained that, despite all the counter-examples mentioned here there were some women from Catalonia in my period who were not called Adelaide, she who is The Naked Philologist demanded a story about one by way of proof. One sprang immediately to mind, and I then failed to write it up for what is now months. So OK, here she is. I grant you that Riquilda is almost as common a name in my documents as Adelaide, but at least she’s not also a major city in la Philologiste’s country of origin, so slightly more exotic perhaps. So, OK, Riquilda Saruilda, come on down!

We know about Riquilda from a gift that a priest called Seniol made to her in 989.1 She doesn't seem to occur anywhere else, at least not with that surname, and without it it's hard to be sure that any given woman of that name is her. I have my ideas but we'll come to them later. First it's best to get the charter into play.

In the name of the Lord. I the priest Seniol am donor to you the woman Riquilda whom they call Saruilda and your sons and daughters born of one father. By this scripture of donation I give to you my own alod, houses and courtyards and orchards, lands and vines and trellises, cultivated or waste and all the sorts of trees which are there and mills with their millstreams and with all their equipment. And this is that which came to me through my parents and in part through purchase. And all these things are in the county of Osona, in the area of the Castell de Voltregà, in the place which they call Vila Segari, and some in the area of Roda or Savassona, in the place which they call Esplugues or On the Ridges.

He gives the boundaries, and goes on:

All these things written above I give to you Saruilda fully and integrally with their exits and entrances, in such a way namely that while you shall live if you do not join yourself [te non coniunxeris] to any man through any libidinous urge you may hold and possess and make to nourish your sons and daughters therefrom and make well or better whatever you see or are able to, after your death indeed let it revert to them freely and intact and let them hold and possess and divide equally between themselves. For if you shall join yourself to any man [te coniuncxeris] all these things that are written above shall come into the power of your sons and daughters who are born of one father without any delay and they may do about these things as is written above.

And the rest is the usual ‘if anyone abstracts this stuff they must give back twice as much’, the dating clause and the witness and scribal signatures. For once, I’m not interested in them.

Sant Martí Xic, Castell de Voltregà

Sant Martí Xic, Castell de Voltregà, where Riquilda might have gone to repent her misspent youth (if she regretted it)

The first thing to say about this is that although the phrasing is a little lurid, it seems to me, what was legally going on here is not unusual or unprecedented. Plenty of transactions exist in which a woman was given property on which to support herself and her children, but if she should remarry it was assumed that she would thenceforth be supported by her new husband so the kids could now enjoy the full share. (This also stopped their stepfather claiming it was his and passing it on to any new children instead.) But this is almost exclusively done in wills by a still-living husband looking ahead to when he would not be there. That’s not what was happening here, because there’s no relation at all specified between Seniol and Riquilda. Also, they do usually talk about remarrying, whereas Seniol manages to give the impression that Riquilda’s hormones were perpetually on the point of getting the better of her and that marriage might be something she asked about afterwards, if at all.

With that conundrum set up one starts to wonder what was not being said. Does the peculiar emphasis on children ‘born of one father’ imply, along with the sex-negative emphasis, that Riquilda had offspring by more than one man? If so, why on earth didn’t Seniol specify which father was at, er, issue? This was obviously open to misuse. If not, on the other hand, why bother to say anything extra? Was this some kind of moral congratulation for continence? It’s a bit weird if so. Secondly, why was it Seniol who had to provide for her? The property was coming from ‘his’ parents, not ‘their’ parents; it’s not that, or at least not said that, this was family property to which Riquilda had any kind of right, and even if some of it were, that certainly wouldn’t apply to the parts of it that Seniol had bought. As I say, this is the sort of provision which you’d only ever see normally being made by a father for his children.

Virgin and Child from an eleventh-century Catalan copy of Bedes De Locis Sanctis

Catalan illustration of another famously misunderstood mother

So on first reading I was led to look very suspiciously at Seniol. There certainly were some priests who gave alms to get people out of poverty, redeem captives, free slaves and so on, but this was a very generous endowment if all he wanted to do was keep her off the breadline. You have to wonder in how many other ways he had fulfilled the rôle of a father, or at least, I do. As a priest, he probably shouldn’t have been having children, though plenty did admit families with no problem. And maybe that’s why no father is specified; he and Riquilda would both have known who was meant but it still wasn’t going to go down in scriptura if he could help it… And so I thought that Riquilda might actually have finally done quite well out of a series of ill-fated liaisons, because you know, mills were a money-earner, the properties she was getting are not small as we can tell from the boundaries, she was sorted for life here, as long as she didn’t marry. So, was the idea here that if she stay comfortable she also stay quiet? (Worse, was he perhaps even keeping her available?) Certainly some kind of arrangement seems to have been made here in which her children acquired a lasting interest in his family property, and whatever the explanation actually was it would seem to involve some fairly close connection.

Now, sadly, there is a better explanation, though it does involve positing some important and inexplicable omissions in some documents, and it doesn’t in any way remove the idea of people having sex with other people whom society might expect them not to. My attention was initially drawn to Seniol because I thought, at an early stage of my doctorate, that one thing it might be interesting to do was to track down people who appeared in the documents of more than one archive, and see what their connections were. This wasn’t actually very interesting, as it turned out, but Seniol was one such man. There is a charter from rather before this, you see, 978, in which one Seniol made a substantial gift of property which he had been holding in trust to a newly-adult lad by the name of Guillem Amat, whom we have met before, the son of a castellan called Unifred who had a wife and a lover, or at least a documented lover. Guillem was not the son of that lover, however, whose name as you may remember was Sesnanda, but of Unifred’s actual wife, whose name was… Riquilda. And Seniol was Guillem’s uncle, and presumably therefore (since he is never named among Unifred’s well-documented brothers) Riquilda was his sister. To top it off, there too property as at a place called Esplugues is concerned. This one has been taken to be in the county of Barcelona, like all the rest of the properties mentioned, but actually the way the text is phrased does not make that certain.2 This seems like too many coincidences. Can this be therefore the same Seniol?

Sant Pere de Savassona

Sant Pere de Savassona, another possible prayer location for the 'lucky' mother

It would make a certain amount of sense. Unifred was indeed dead by 989, so Riquilda would have been without support (though it does imply that both his partners must have been contemporary). The family may well therefore have had to pony up for the children, and perhaps Seniol was all the family that was left. If, just possibly, Unifred had dumped Riquilda because she’d got pregnant by someone else, Seniol’s attitude and silences might still be explicable in terms of disgust, and he have had to disburse property like this now only because the other guy had stopped supporting her as well. If he was already holding property for one of the sons, and had handed that over before Riquilda had had hers, she might have had quite a claim on him as he arguably should have given her hers first.3 Of course, they probably weren’t at that point forecasting that she’d be put aside by Unifred, if that happened.

The biggest problem with this is that the Seniol who gives to Guillem Amat did not use a clerical title. Not just that, but he repeatedly appeared with Count Borrell II without doing so.4 There are certainly cases of priests who didn’t always use their titles in documents, but that many times in that exalted a company is a bit much for me.5 So there are problems either way. If this guy was not Riquilda’s brother, I think he had some explaining to do. If he is, what is he doing with this priestly rank? I don’t know. But either way, Riquilda seems to have done all right out of him. I like to think she had a joyful life, anyway, if a slightly careless one, and that this represented a happy ending. I’m aware that’s not how it works out for a lot of single mothers, but we can but hope for her.


1. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), doc. no. 1564.

2. Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los Siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18/Publicaciones de le Sección de Barcelona 15 (Madrid 1951), doc. no. 182.

3. If for some reason you should want a quick primer on inheritance law in this area at this time, I would recommend you to Nathaniel L. Taylor, “Testamentary Publication and Proof and the Afterlife of Ancient Probate Procedure in Carolingian Septimania” in K. Pennington, S. Chodorow & K. H. Kendall (edd.), Proceedings of the Tenth International Congress on Medieval Canon Law (Vatican City 2001), pp. 767-780, online at http://www.nltaylor.net/pdfs/a_Testamentary_Pub.pdf, last modified 9th December 2006 as of 24th June 2007, which will tell you where everything else you need is. Beyond him the key work is Antoni M. Udina i Abelló, La successio testada a la Catalunya altomedieval, Textos i documents (Barcelona 1984).

4. He also occurs in A. Fabregà i Grau (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Barcelona: documents dels anys 844-1260. Volum I: documents dels anys 844-1000, Fonts Documentals 1 (Barcelona 1995), doc. no. 201; Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, docs 1238, 1266, 1464 & 1635 & J. Rius (ed.), Cartulario de «Sant Cugat» del Vallés Vol. I (Barcelona 1945), docs 126, 191, 240, 295 & 302.

5. The best example is in Jesus Alturo i Perucho, “Le statut du scripteur en Catalogne (XIIe-XIIIe siècles)” in Marie-Claude Hubert, E. Poulle & Marc Smith (edd.), Le Statut du Scripteur au Moyen Âge. Actes du XIIe Colloque Scientifique du Comité Internationale de Paléographie Latine (Cluny, 17-20 Juillet 1998), Matériaux pour l’Histoire publiées par l’École des Chartes 2 (Paris 2000), pp. 41-55 at pp. 44-45 but I can find you more if you really need them.

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9 responses to “A woman, a priest and an inheritance

  1. Impressive as always – you realize that you’re about to get your own place in my note-taking system don’t you? I just need a few days to start running through your blog to do it right.

    I’m curious how you keep track of the interrelationships you come across in your work with charters/diplomas. You obviously have excellent command of your material. I’m trying to come up with a good way to do this that doesn’t involve purchasing software – some sort of html/link system seems to be the way to go. My simple spreadsheet isn’t quite enough for what I want, I don’t think. If you tell me you just have the capacity to remember this or that you do it through your filing system I’ll concede failure and try to get creative.

    • I think I’m flattered by the note-taking place, but I feel faintly as if I should be able to demand copies. Your notes on me may well be better than mine for a start!

      Inter-relationships, this could be a post in itself. It’s sloppy. As I read the editions (or on occasions the actual documents) I asterisk in the margins where someone I’ve seen before comes up, and I make notes of where the previous or next occurrence is. This requires me of course to remember them, to be right that it’s the same one, and to be able to find them, though with that last, indices help. Eventually this goes into ridiculous legacy Word files full of embedded links. (This was not a good idea! Read on…) Those are my main resort but where I’m focussing tightly on a particular area or set of persons I’ll check I’ve got them all with indices and sometimes I will also database them in Access. I database all originals (eventually) because there are no indices. That catches most of it.

      This was a set of choices dictated by my available technology in, er, 2000, and I was well behind the times then. Since then small chunks of the data have been upgraded as needed and as I learnt and got more software. If I were doing it afresh, I would now do it all on some free Wiki software or other, an entry for each charter, an entry for each person and one for each place and a long tail of hyperlinks joining them all up. When I have money spare to employ a research student, converting my files to that form will be their first task. I shall need these data as long as I work on this area. But when I started there was just no-one to advise on this stuff.

      • You can take a look at the cathalaunia site. The Fons Cathalaunia section in the wiki, has by now only sixty documents fully indexed (maybe an 1% of expected total?), so it’s still far from adressing all the complexity of the full documentation set, but it can be an starting example of how to organize those informations. In fact, I am learning a lot just in the very procress to build such a ‘repository’.

  2. “I think I’m flattered by the note-taking place, but I feel faintly as if I should be able to demand copies. Your notes on me may well be better than mine for a start!”

    Hardly – and my emphasis will likely be a bit different than yours. While reading your last post, I’m thinking to myself, “I’d read Jonathan’s book.” Then the little light bulb went on. You’ve been blogging for 4 years, and the material’s excellent – why don’t I read that from the beginning?

    Sometimes it takes me a while to figure out the obvious. I’ll try to avoid commenting on 3-year-old posts. ;)

    • It won’t be very long before you can in fact read the book, of course; it’s considerably more informed than a lot of my blog posts… But I am of course duly flattered. The biggest problem with the blog posts is that they’re often shunted out there without much awareness of the secondary literature, especially in Castilian; so caveat lector as far as that goes. Comment on anything you like though! It’s often interesting to have this stuff brought to people’s attention, and I’ve acquired a lot of readers since some of it was written.

  3. highlyeccentric

    *grins* That *is* an interesting story! I’m glad Riquilda was looked after, but oh my, that’s an odd situation. If this Seniol is Riquilda’s brother, and Guillem her *legitimate* son, to whom Seniol has already given money, you then wonder about the *other* children. If he specifies that he’s providing for children born of one man, presumably that means Guillem and his paternal siblings?

    Why are Riquilda’s family intervening to support her legitimate children at all, though? Isn’t that the job of the legitimate father’s family?

    • This is another of the reasons I don’t like the identification of the two Seniols. I don’t find any other evidence of any siblings for Guillem, and he should not need any provision by now anyway, so he should be excluded. However, that said, actually the paternal family are very near extinct at this point; grand-dad Sal·la died in 970, Daddy Unifred is dead by 978, Uncle Isarn may be too as he’s certainly ceased to appear by 989, and Cousin Abbess Filmera of Sant Pere de les Puelles, well, that would be a story in itself (and one that I’d have to make up lots of) but suffice to say she isn’t available to help if she’s alive at all. So the reason Seniol may be laying in at all, even in the first grant to Guillem, is that Guillem has little other help, though he seems to find a home at court with the count, which Seniol presumably fixed for him. And if it is the same Riquilda, then Sesnanda the lover may have succeeded in claiming a right to enjoy the family property while she lives, leaving him without any. That might be why she has to defend it at law, indeed. So it would still fit oddly well. I just still don’t like the clerical title missing…

  4. Pingback: Tonight: Storytime with Highly! « The Naked Philologist

  5. Pingback: Feudal Transformations XIII: proving a negative with power relations in Catalonia « A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

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