Intermediate sorts of swearing: second-level feudal oaths in the tenth century (Feudal Transformations XVI)

I am, as usual, sorry for the gap between posts. The near future has been worryingly shapeless till recently, now it has a shape (on which more when contract in hand) and that shape desperately needs filling in with teaching materials and moving arrangements, plus which Problems and Possibilities is in final proofs, another paper is necessary to submit very shortly, I am also pleasantly afflicted also with society that can’t be ignored and the washing-machine has broken down. But here is a post, mostly written ages ago but hopefully of interest to some, and as ever I hope that more will follow shortly…

Ruins of the Castell de Miralles, Anoia, Catalonia, from Wikimedia Commons

Castell de Miralles, Anoia, Catalonia, centrally concerned and presumably also better maintained in the document we’re discussing today; image from Wikimedia Commons

One of the things that struck me as I was crunching through the charters in Catalunya Carolíngia IV a while back was that really, the death of Count-Marquis Borrell II of Barcelona in 993 made a lot of difference. I go on at great length about Borrell’s importance, I know, but one of the things he definitely did was a good example of the game of changing things while trying to keep them the same; his authority was newly-developing so he stressed its ancient roots, he was asserting new control over the church so he tried to resurrect the area’s old archbishopric to do it from, he was establishing military settlements along the frontier but where possible on old forts (and at other people’s expense), and so on.1 Everything new was always old. What this can mean, though, is that when you get into the next generation you realise that some of the things that Borrell II was doing in an old-fashioned way, others were already doing in a newer one. I will write more on this, but here is one part, a small instance of Dominique Barthélemy’s mutation documentaire, where actually the documents change much later than society and so don’t provide a good index of change.2 Now, the last time I did this argument for Catalonia here, you may remember I countered it, to the best of my humble ability, by comparing the entrusting of a castle to a subordinate from 951 with a similar arrangement from between 1039 and 1049 and showing that they weren’t even doing the same thing, which made their different forms kind of incidental. But it got stickier when I found this document of 987 in which a similar arrangement is reached between a man called Ennegó Bonfill and Bishop Fruià of Vic.2 This is a pig to translate, not least because some of it was illegible to the editor due to fire damage, but also because it’s fairly obviously trying to render in Latin bits that would later be vernacular and that don’t necessarily make idiomatic sense in the more formal language. There’s also the issue that quite a lot of text was added in between the lines after the document was first written, which I’ve indicated by throwing it into superscript. Something, however, like this:

I, Ennegó, whom they call Bonfill, to you Bishop Fruià; let me be known to make to you and the name there… of me the already-said Ennegó whom they call Bonfill the selfsame half of the castle of Mirallesof Saint Peter of the See of Vic and you … of you the aforesaid bishop. Wherefore I promise to you my sincere faith over your selfsame half of the selfsame castle… or of the walls or of the rock or of the buildings that are on the rock or of the precinct… of the half-parish or of the half of the labour from the lands and the vines or of the half of the bounds of the aforesaid castle … thus far we shall mutually be able to increase in the future through the rights of that same castle already said or the selfsame half… lords who held it before us or we ourselves ought to have mutually through any right or in… I Ennegó whom they call Bonfill over your selfsame above-written half to Saint Peter or to you the already-said bishop Fruià … so that, with me knowing no intent evil pertaining to its or your damage but straightforward and sincere friendship … for that half that Saint Peter has or you have in those above-said cases without any evil intent or any deception. If, moreover, I Ennegó whom they call Bonfill shall stir up a like malicious case over it or neglect to fulfil by negligence or… occurs to me and I make any dispute with you over it and you command me to make amends to you… I will undertake to make amends to you without delay just as our three friends shall justly judge between us. And if… by any negligence should occur to you and you should raise any dispute over it with me and you, having reminded… that… and within the already-said 30 days without delay or any argument whatsoever those three friends… between you and me… Ennegó whom they call Bonfill will sincerely bear that faith unto Saint Peter or you the already-said Bishop Fruià and… you… without any evil intent or any deception to my knowledge tending to Saint Peter’s or to your detriment, an it please God….3

Now, there’s quite a lot here that we can only intuit from the later documents where these arrangements become more common.4 The three friends who will arbitrate any dispute are one such feature; the thirty days to act on a complaint are another. It’s also not very clear what Ennegó actually gave to the bishopric for this half-castle, although it is, intriguingly, pretty much explicit that it was receiving labour services, and that these went back at least to the lords before Ennegó (whom, as you may have gathered, they called Bonfill). The bishop’s own interests in the property were protected, of course, and the additions seem mainly intended to ensure that this agreement also applied to his cathedral too, but there’s no sign of a rent or dues to be paid or anything, just the agreement that if anything went wrong between the two parties they had ways to resolve it.

View of Santa Maria de Miralles, Anoia, Catalonia, from the castle; image from Wikimedia Commons

View from the castle over Santa Maria de Miralles, the domain entrusted to Ennegó Bonfill; image from Wikimedia Commons

So it’s hard to say what this is. Was the castle a fief, so early, and this a feudal agreement? Fief (feodum) is a word they didn’t use, and neither did they use fiscum which meant more or less the same thing, here and then at least.5 The deal looks private; there’s no whisper of public rights (unless somewhere in there causas actually did mean court-cases and the revenues from them) and there are no other parties witnessing. It’s just an arrangement by which Ennegó Bonfill got the running of and presumably some of the profits from the castle, or rather half of it, from the bishop. Now, therein lies an obvious question, which is, who had the other half? In fact, where did this half come from? And the answer to those questions is the same: Borrell II, who on 4th January 987 gave that same half of the selfsame castle to Sant Pere de Vic (without mention of any specific bishop, or indeed castellan).6 But Borrell was not there himself, obviously, and he must also have had a castellan there. How did that castellan get on with Ennegoó Bonfill, we might wonder? And eventually, via a now-lost document of 6th November 992, the answer reaches us: pretty well, in fact, as that castellan was also Ennegó Bonfill, who was given life rights on the comital half of the castle when that too was given to Vic by Borrell’s son Ramon.7 So he ran the lot, he had been running the lot for quite some time, and Vic probably had very little choice indeed about who their new castellan was. This is even more likely to have been the case when one realises that Ennegó Bonfill’s comparatively limited footprint in this part of the frontier is dwarfed by the numerous castles he held further south for the Bishop of Barcelona and the Abbot of Sant Cugat del Vallès; there was probably no single more powerful man in these counties who wasn’t a count (and indeed when the eighteenth-century abstract that’s all we have of the latter gift to Vic was written up, that was in fact what the copyist assumed Ennegó was). He now has a street named after him in at least one of these castle’s old villages.

Church of Santa Maria de Miralles with the ruins of the Castell in the background, from Wikimedia Commons

Church of Santa Maria de Miralles with the ruins of the Castell in the background, from Wikimedia Commons

So does all this mean that Vic were being stitched up, that though the counts got their prayers the bishops actually got nothing? Maybe. But it has to be said that Ennegó was loyal to the counts all his life, and that while placing so many fortified eggs in one basket might seem like risky policy for the counts, their choice of basket was entirely sound in this instance. The bishops of Barcelona and abbots of Sant Cugat may also have felt the same, but it’s the counts that interest me here, because, there’s really no way this man was not a feudal magnate. He held incredible amounts of fortified property, and at least some of it he held by agreements like this that look very much like later oaths that most people would be happy to call feudal.8 Also, he did not have a title: he is not called Vicar here, which the usual template of authority for this area would expect from someone holding a castle from the counts.9 Yet he was a representative of and a servant of the public powers of the land. If this is feudalism, it’s feudalism that works to the benefit of the state. And if it’s not feudalism, then what on earth is it? I am too fond of the phrase “edge case”, not least because of its enjoyable double meaning when applied to frontier situations, but this can’t be an edge case; he runs something like a dozen castles. He may be unusual (though I think that if he is it’s only in quantity), but his pattern is still dominant. Whatever way we conceptualise power in this area and period has to find a way for this to be normal and not a stage of decay of one structure or the precursor of another. This arrangement worked. It deserves its own recognition, and I don’t think we have one yet.


1. Jonathan Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), pp. 141-166.

2. For example, Dominique Barthélemy, “The Year 1000 without abrupt or radical transformation” in Lester K. Little & Barbara H. Rosenwein, Debating the Middle Ages: issues and readings (Oxford 1998), pp. 134-147 (extracted and translated from Barthélemy’s La société dans le comté de Vendôme de l’an mil au XIVe siècle (Paris 1993), pp. 333-334, 349-361 & 363-364; cf. Pierre Bonnassie, “Nouveautés linguistiques et mutations économico-sociales dans la Catalogne des IXe-XIe siècles” in Michel Banniard (ed.), Langages et peuples d’Europe : cristallisation des identités romanes et germanique. Colloque International organisé par le Centre d’Art et Civilisation Médiévale de Conques et l’Université de Toulouse-le-Mirail (Toulouse-Conques, juillet 1997), Méridiennes 5 (Toulouse 2002), pp. 47-66.

3. 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. 1513:

Ego Ennegone que vocant Bonofilio tibi Fruiane æpiscopo hanc fidem promissionis constat mihi tibi facere et ibidem nomen… de me iamdicto Ennegone que vocant Bonofilio ipsa medietate de ipsum castrum de Miralies… Sancti Petri sedis Vico et tu …dest de tibi predicto æpiscopo. Unde ego promitto tibi meam sinceram fidem de ipsa tua medietate in ipso castro …e vel in ipsos muros vel in ipsa rocha vel in ipsis hedificiis qui in ipsa rocha sunt vel in ipsum barrium… in ipsa media parrochia vel in ipsa media laboracione de terras et de vineas vel in ipsos medios termines qui sunt de predictum castrum … adhuc invicem adcrescere potuerimus in antea per vocem de istum castrum iamdictum vel in ipsa medietate… seniores qui eum tenuerunt ante nos aut nos per ullum directum habere invicem æqualiter debemus aut in… ego Ennegone quæ vocant Bonofilio de ipsa tua medietate suprascripta ad Sancto Petro vel ad tibi iamdicto Fruiane episcopo … ut nullum malum ingenium ad ipsius vel tuum dampnum pertinentem me sciente sed amiciciam directam vel sinceram … de ipsa medietate quæ Sanctus Petrus habet vel tu habes in istas causas suprascriptas sine ullo malo ingenio vel ulla deceptione. Si autem ego Ennegone que vocant Bonofilio de ista causa mali quo me de ea commovero vel implere distulero per negligentia aut … mihi accidat et aliqua calumpnia tibi exinde fecero et tu me commonueris ut eam tibi emendare faciam… emendare illam tibi ego faciam sine mora sicut de nostris tres amicis inter me et te iuste iudicaverint. Et si… aliqua negligentia tibi acciderit et aliqua calumpnia mihi exinde feceris et commonitus tu illam… et infra XXX iam predictos dies sine mora et sine aliqua contencione quemadmodum inter me et te tres amici…Ennegone quæ vocant Bonofilio Sancto Petro vel at tibi iamdicto Fruiane episcopo ipsam fidem sinceriter eam tibi portabo et te … sine ullo malo ingenio vel ulla deceptione ad Sanctum Petrum vel ad tuum dampnum pertinentem me sciente si Domino placuerit….

4. Adam J. Kosto, Making Agreements in Medieval Catalonia: power, order and the written word, 1000-1200, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought 4th Series 51 (Cambridge 2001), pp. 26-77, esp. 53-74, covering this document at pp. 60-64.

5. Pierre Bonnassie, La Catalogne du milieu du Xe à la fin du XIe siècle : croissance et mutations d’une société (Toulouse 1975-1976), I pp. 209-214; Manuel Riu, “Hipòtesi entorn dels orígens del feudalisme a Catalunya” in Quaderns d’Estudis Medievals Vol. 2 (Barcelona 1981), pp. 195-208.

6. Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. no. 1512.

7. Ibid., doc. no. 1640.

8. For example Bonnassie, Catalogne, pp. 685-710; Michel Zimmermann, “Aux origines de Catalogne féodale : les serments non datés du règne de Ramon Berenguer Ier” in Jaume 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 nos 5-6 (Girona 1986), pp. 109-151, with English summary p. 557. Cf. Kosto, Making Agreements, pp. 15-16 and of course Susan Reynolds, Fiefs and Vassals: the medieval evidence reinterpreted (Oxford 1994)! I don’t neglect Reynolds’ and others’ objections to the use of the term, and I suppose that ‘feudo-vassalitic’ might be a better term for what’s happening here, but in general I think that there are many many things for which the word `feudal’ is less apropriate than for a revocable grant of land that’s called a fevum in the source on condition of military service, which is usually what we’re dealing with here in such grants. The question is, is this one of those?

9. For that template, see Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals, “La institució comtal carolíngia en la pre-Catalunya del segle IX” in Anuario de Estudios Medievales Vol. 1 (Barcelona 1964), pp. 29-75, repr. in idem, Dels Visigots als Catalans, ed. Jaume Sobrequés i Callicó, Estudis i Documents XIII & XIV, I pp. 181-226, and rev. in Abadal & José Marí Font Rius, “El regímen político carolingio” in José Mariía Jover Zamora (ed.), Historia de España Menéndez Pidal VII: la España cristiana de los siglos VIII al XI, II. Los Nucleos Pirenaicos (718-1035): Navarra, Aragón, Cataluña, ed. Manuel Riu i Riu (Madrid 1999), pp. 427-577 at pp. 467-503.

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3 responses to “Intermediate sorts of swearing: second-level feudal oaths in the tenth century (Feudal Transformations XVI)

  1. Ennego, a noble man, promises sinceram fidem to a bishop. I am not familiar with the last half of C10th, but probably the local context, the relations between Fruia amb Ennego (and/or his families) could help to grasp how this sinceram fidem was understood then, or what it really was supposed to mean …?

  2. Pingback: Building states on the Iberian frontier, IV: what’s going on | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

  3. Pingback: Quick! To the palace! | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

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