From the sources VI: a longer more complicated piece of swearing

You know what? There isn’t enough swearing on this blog. I know we just had some the other day (week, month…) but it was short and a bit weird, you know. I think you deserve better. Also, more to the point, I think my future students on that Feudal Transformation course deserve better, so when I was getting that previous one I also transcribed another Catalan feudal oath that is more typical in its length and its content. I’ll give a translation below and put the text in the footnote. Once again, vernacular words and phrases are emboldened, but it’s hard to draw the lines in some cases; we have `vernacular’ words with Latin inflections here… There’s also some weird play with singular and plural here that I think may betray a model text that only covered one person, so I’ve stuck to the text in that respect even where it seems to make no sense (huge singular count-countess Gestalt!) and otherwise tried to make the oddities of the text appear in the translation.

I, Ermemir of Castelltallat, son of the late woman Bellúcia, swear that from this same hour I will in future be faithful to my lord Ramon, Count of Barcelona, and his wife Elisabet, Countess, without fraud or evil intent and without any deception and without trickery. And I the above-written Ermemir from this hour will not do you Ramon or Elisabet already said out of their life nor their members that they have on their body, nor their cities or city, nor of their bishoprics or bishopric, nor of their counties or lands, nor of their fortresses or castles, nor of their rocks or peaks, managed estates or wild lands, nor of their honour that they have in al-Andalus, nor of the selfsame parish of Castelltallat, nor of the lordship that the count ought to have there.

The hilltop, castle, church and observatory of Castelltallat, Manresa, Catalonia

Of course tall hills are good for more than just castles but I think Ermemir would be a bit surprised by what his home is now used for (image from Wikimedia Commons)

And I, the above-written Ermemir, will be faithful over all those same things to Ramon and Elisabet the above-written, and will not do them out of them, nor offer them any harm, and I will be their help against any gathered men or man, women or woman, who might wish to attack them or do so. And of this aid I will not deceive them and I will help them without any trickery except [where it concerns] the viscount of Cardona himself, the sons of the late lord Folc, my lord.

And I, the above-written Ermemir, within the first 30 days that I shall know that the above-written Count Ramon be dead, if I shall have survived him, I will swear a similar oath to and hold it from the selfsame son to whom Ramon the already-said shall have left the selfsame city of Barcelona, like the one I’ve sworn to them, to the already-said Ramon and the already-said Elisabet. Just as has been written above, thus I the afore-said Ermemir hold it and for it serve the aforesaid Count Ramon and the already-said Elisabet without deceiving them, except whatever the above-written Count Ramon and Elisabet, the above-written countess, shall forgive me through the grace of their generous hearts, without compulsion. So help me God and these same relics of the saints.1

You may ask what makes this one more typical than the last one.2 Answers might be, firstly, that there was a castle involved, and that some of the rights protected specifically refer to the counts; later on this would become a formalised clause granting access and indeed reversion on demand. Secondly, there was another lord, the viscount of Cardona (apparently at this time uncertain, which probably dates the oath to 1040, when Folc I (1019-1040) had very briefly been succeeded by his brother Eribau Bishop of Urgell (bishop 1035-1040) who then died on pilgrimage to Jerusalem).3 It may be in the Bible that no man can serve two masters, but two was relatively unambitious for a Catalan castellan where the layers of infeudation could get a lot deeper than this.4 It does also mean that what was going on here is that Ramon Berenguer I, the Elder, (1035-1076) was gazumping another lord by bribing his client, but that is basically how Ramon Berenguer overcame the Feudal Transformation and it’s interesting to see him doing it this early in his reign; if this does date from 1040, he was sixteen or seventeen at this point and hadn’t yet proclaimed his majority. In this case, the viscount retained the ultimate call on Ermemir’s loyalty; when Ramon Berenguer was older and less opposed, he no longer accepted such second-place status, another thing that makes this look early. Thirdly, there’s an arrangement for the succession; that hold over the viscount of Cardona might not have been a good one, but it was meant to endure, although for some reason the count seems to have been more prepared for his own death than that of Ermemir (who may, of course, have been little older). The whole thing looks a bit more as if one could find the institutional basis of a governing class in it than the previous all-female one (though right at this time female government was all too accepted as far as as Ramon Berenguer was concerned, in the shape of his implacable grandmother and regent, Countess Ermessenda of Girona (993-1057), so I don’t mean to imply that the two women’s agreement was less effective than the men’s one here).5

Count-Marquis Ramon Berenguer I and his third wife Almodis de la Marche buying the county of Cerdanya

Count-Marquis Ramon Berenguer I and his third wife Almodis de la Marche buying the county of Cerdanya, as shown in the Liber Feudorum Maior (image from Wikimedia Commons)

There are, you see, a great many things that have been called `feudal’ without any good basis or thought or agreement about what the word might actually mean; but as long as we’re able usefully to call anything feudal, I think that agreements like this, involving, you know, a fief, held under conditions of loyalty and service with reversion between generations, are probably one such thing. And this is what that looks like.


1. The text is Barcelona, Arxiu de la Corona d’Aragó, Pergamins sin fecha, Ramón Berenguer I, n.o 69 dupl, as edited by Francesco Miquel Rosell in his (ed.), Liber feudorum maior: cartulario real que se conserva al Archivo de la Corona de Aragón. Reconstitución y edició (Barcelona 1945), vol. I doc. no. 205:

Iuro ego Ermemirus de castro Talatus, filis qui fuit de Belucia, femina, quod de ista hora in antea fidelis ero ad Raimundum, comitem Barchinonensem, seniorem meum, et ad Elisabeth, comitissa, coniugem suam, sine fraude et malo ingenio et sine ulla decepcione et sine engam. Et ego Ermemirus suprascriptus de ista hora in antea no dezebre Raimundus nec Elisabeth iam dictos de illorum vita nec de illorum membris que in corpus illorum se tenent, nec de illorum civitates vel civitatem, nec de illorum episcopatos vel episcopatu, nec de illorum comitatibus vel terris, nec de illorum castris vel castellis, nec de illorum rochas vel puios, condirectos vel eremos, nec de illorum honore quod habent de Ispania, nec de ipsa parrochia de Castel Talad, nec de ipsa domnegadura que comes ibi habere debet. Et ego, Ermemirus suprascriptus, de ista omnia suprascripta fidelis ero ad Raimundum et ad Elisabeth surascriptos, et nu’ls en dedebre, ni mal nu’ls en menare; et adiutor contra cunctos homines aut hominem, feminas aut feminam, qui eis tollere voluerint aut voluerit, tulerit aut tulerint. Et de ipso adiutorio nu’ls engannare et sine engan lur en aiudare, exceptus ipse vicecomite de Carduna, qui fuit de ipsos filios domno Fulchoni, seniori meo. Et ego, Ermemirus suprascriptis, infra ipsos primos XXX dies quod ego sciero quod iam dictus Raimundus comes mortuus fuerit, si ego eum supervixero, ad ipsum filium cui iam dictus Raimundus dimiserit ipsam civitatem de Barchinona tale sacramentum l’en iurare e l’en tenre, qualem ad iam dictum Raimundum et ad iam dicta Elisabeth iurad lur en’e. Sicut superius scriptum est, si o tenre et o atendre ego Ermemirus suprascriptus ad prescriptum Raimundum comitem et ad Elisabeth iam dictam sine illorum engan, exceptus quantum me suprascriptus Raimundus comes et Elisabeth, comitissa suprascripta, me absolvran per illorum gradientes animos per grad, sine forcia. Sic me adiuvet Deus et istarum sanctarum reliquiarum.

It must also be edited in Gaspar Feliu i Montfort & Josep María Salrach (edd.), Els Pergamins de l’Arxiu Comtal de Barcelona de Ramon Borrell a Ramon Berenguer I, Diplomataris 18-20 (Barcelona 1999), but I haven’t had time to check there. Getting Spanish books out of the Bodleian’s fetching system is something of a lottery alas; will it take a day, or a week? Will it happen at all? No-one knows. 75% of cases it turns up on time. That still makes one in four library days a bloody annoyance though. Cambridge spoiled me in this respect.

2. On these texts and their variations and significance, as I said last time, the go-to reference is now Adam J. Kosto, Making Agreements in Medieval Catalonia: power, order, and the written word, 1000-1200 (Cambridge 2001), plus if you can get it Michel Zimmermann, “Aux origines de Catalogne féodale : les serments non datés du règne de Ramon Berenguer Ier” in J. Portella i Comas (ed.), La Formació i expansió del feudalisme català: actes del col·loqui organitzat pel Col·legi Universitari de Girona (8-11 de gener de 1985). Homenatge a Santiago Sobrequés i Vidal, Estudi General: revista del Col·legi Universitari de Girona, Universitat Autonòma de Barcelona nos. 5-6 (Girona 1986), pp. 109-151, with English summary p. 557.

3. On this family I would ordinarily reference Manuel Rovira i Solà, “Noves dades sobre els vescomtes d’Osona-Cardona” in Ausa Vol. 9 no. 98 (Vic 1981), pp. 249-260, not least because it’s online for free here, but I now own (though have yet to read) Francesc Rodríguez Bernal, Els vescomtes de Cardona al segle XII: una història a travers dels seus testaments (Lleida 2009), which I expect will tell me rather more.

4. The best schematised discussion is, I think, still in Pierre Bonnassie, La Catalogne du milieu du Xe à la fin du XIe siècle : croissance et mutations d’une société (Toulouse 1975-1976), vol. II pp. 596-608, with diagrams that make the conventional feudal pyramid look just a touch idealised.

5. I am perpetually drawn two ways on Ermessenda: on the one hand, clearly she was awesome and when her actual husband was alive seems to have been his perfect partner, you really couldn’t say which of the two was dominant or in charge, but on the other hand her refusal to let go of that status once he was dead was a major contributing cause to decades of civil war, death and social collapse. She is studied in Antoni Pladevall, Ermessenda de Carcassona, Girona i Osona. Esbós biogràfic en el mil·lenari del seu naixement (Barcelona 1975), and the period as a whole in any of Kosto, Making Agreements, Bonnassie, Catalogne or Santiago Sobrequés i Vidal, Els Grans Comtes de Barcelona, Biografies catalans: serie històrica 2 (Barcelona 1961). There must be more up-to-date work on her but I haven’t met it yet.

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13 responses to “From the sources VI: a longer more complicated piece of swearing

  1. Disappointing. I thought this was going to be about swearing … ;-)

  2. highlyeccentric

    Ermessenda is a *fantastic* name.

    • You can have it as `Ermessendis’ if you like, too, depending on whether you’re rendering her in Catalan or French. She was from Carcassonne, so it could go either way. But was she a Goth? :-)

      • highlyeccentric

        I don’t know, you tell me. WAS she a Goth?

        • Argh! To the Muslims she would have been a Frank. I’m not sure about anyone else’s opinion. She used the Gothic law; she would have spoken some kind of Occitan. Her best clothes were probably Greek or Spanish (and the latter her husband probably looted for her). She loosely recognised a King of the Franks. I don’t think the Capetians were still talking about Gothia by her day, but it hadn’t been long; her father-in-law (Borrell II) had been called a Gothic duke by a Capetian courtier, though that was probably flattery (but why would that be flattery? etc.) but I’m not sure there’s any reason to suppose… Okay, no, I will pronounce, I very much doubt anyone thought she was a Goth (though they might have said she was from Gothia.) Some people would certainly have thought her a Frank. But what she thought she was, in those terms, I’ve no idea.

          • highlyeccentric

            Her best clothes were probably Greek or Spanish (and the latter her husband probably looted for her).

            Now that is spousal dedication, right there.

      • Did she wear a lot of black and listen to Joy Division? Oh wait, wrong kind of Goth.

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