Category Archives: Feudalism

Seminar CLIX: lords in the middle

One of the many notable things about being in the thick of the Oxford academic environment for that while that I was was the very large number of very good doctoral students hanging about, often from outside the UK, all gnawingly nervous about their prospects on the job market and very often being supervised by Chris Wickham; had we not already established that Chris has some modern-day equivalent of ravens informing him of the world’s doings I would wonder how he kept track of them all. I cannot remember now if Nicholas Schroeder was one of Chris’s, but he was certainly one of the brighter sparks doing the Oxford seminar circuit while I was there.1 I saw him present twice, and the first of these occasions was on 28th January 2013, when he spoke to the Medieval History Seminar with the title, “The Forgotten Lords: the feudal revolution and monastic lordship in Lotharingia, c. 900 to c. 1250″.

Map of tenth-century Lotharingia

Map from M. Schroeder’s handout for the paper, pencil customisations in the original; apologies for photo quality, I’m away from home as I write this

Invoking the feudal revolution at all of course means stepping into a dense historiographical forest over the social changes of the tenth and eleventh centuries in Europe, in which as M. Schroeder observed, the debate has died without being solved. In his home country of Belgium, however, the local version was very much carried into orthodoxy by the work of Léopold Genicot, who saw the great estates of the earlier period being broken into new territorial lordships by means of lords subjecting peasants to what had previously been public jurisdiction, and solidarities developing within the communities subject to those lords.2 To this were then added various new voices, Florian Mazel arguing for a new style of ecclesiastical lordship developing in the period of papal reform in which rule via advocates and lay abbots ceases to be acceptable and a more old-fashioned and direct form of lordship had to be adopted instead, Paul Fouracre arguing that even in the eleventh century ties of lordship were more personal than territorial, the familia being the most important group to which anyone belonged, and Charles West most recently arguing that what was going on was the ultimate success of the Carolingian effort to create a locally-responsible lordship based on relationships that was, however, intended to be different from ownership but in fact never really became so before the state that required this ceased to be. Charles also argues that this worked out very differently on the two sides of the Meuse, Champagne becoming a big territory and Upper Lotharingia never ceasing to be a land of monastic lordships within a greater lord’s less intensive territory.3

The current state of the old abbey of Stavelot-Malmédy

The current state of the old abbey of Stavelot-Malmédy, whence most of the information in the paper here discussed, from Wikimedia Commons

Having laid all this out for us in good critical fashion, M. Schroeder then began the task of setting it against his work on the monastery, documents and territory of Stavelot-Malmédy.4 This hit immediately against two complications: the first was trying to get perspective on a society that is larger than just the Church when the Church’s documents are almost your only source, and the other was that the Church, as Mazel’s paradigm just discussed implies, had different pressures on the way it managed its property from those operating on laymen. I am not convinced that the ideologies are that different, in fact, but in the eleventh century especially the Church was under pressure from within itself and without to adhere more closely than before or later to the ideology its members urged upon society more widely. Nonetheless, M. Schroeder pointed out that one can find all manner of models of lordship in the Stavelot evidence, more than any of the templates outlined above accommodate: there’s already territorial lordship in the tenth century (he said), with both jurisdiction and personal ties (in labour and service obligations); attendance at courts of the monastery’s familia could be demanded from people both inside and outside its territoria, people could live inside the territoria who were ‘strangers’ because they were not members of the familia, and Stavelot’s one attempt to create a castle lordship seems to have failed and got reorganised into villages. What M. Schroeder did not see, however, was the monastery’s subordinates and advocates becoming threats to its own authority, and neither did he see much collapse of the various forms of lordship into each other until the late twelfth and early thirteenth century.

The château-fort de Logne as it now stands

The castle lordship may not have worked out but the castle itself is still quite impressive! The château-fort de Logne as it now stands

In questions two things came out: one, raised by Mark Whittow, was what archæology might add to this, which of course really hits against the problem that that archæology is arrayed across several countries and turns out to be M. Schroeder’s post-doctoral project, and the other, raised by me, was that some way to distinguish between the different rows and columns of what he called a matrix of lordship might be to consider who had set them up. I think that might work for Catalonia to an extent, in as much as counts and monasteries do seem to aim for different things there, but I don’t think I got the question out right as what M. Schroeder answered with was that the important thing might be when lordship and village organisation combined. That may well be true but I still want to know if what I had meant to ask would have been useful… Anyway, that aside, this was a very careful sifting of evidence through a variety of frameworks that left me with some hope that there are in fact ways to advance the tired old feudal transformation debate to the point where we might actually reach new ways to express and explain the developmental similarities it currently struggles to unite.


1. Although there are other publications by now, the one of M. Schroeder’s that got mentioned in the introduction was Jean-Pierre Devroey & Nicholas Schroeder, “Beyond royal estates and monasteries: landownership in the early medieval Ardennes” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 20 (Oxford 2012), pp. 39-69, DOI:10.1111/j.1468-0254.2011.00334.x.

2. At the time I noted down a reference to ‘Genicot 1968′ but the venerable professor turns out to have been quite busy that year and I don’t know which publication was meant: the most obviously relevant seems to be his “Nobles, sainteurs et alleutiers dans le Namurois du XIe siècle” in Album J. Balon (Namur 1968), pp. 117-123, but that seems pretty short to be a classic and irreplaceable formulation!

3. Referring to F. Mazelle, Féodalités 888-1180 (Paris 2010); P. Fouracre, “Marmoutier and its Serfs in the Eleventh Century” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th Series Vol. 15 (Cambridge 2005), pp. 29-50 and idem, “Marmoutier: familia versus family. The Relations between Monastery and Serfs in Eleventh-Century North-West France” in Andrew Reynolds, Wendy Davies & Guy Halsall (edd.), People and Space in the Middle Ages, Studies in the Early Middle Ages 15 (Turnhout 2006), pp. 255-274; Charles West, Reframing the Feudal Revolution: Political and Social Transformation between Marne and Moselle, c. 800-c. 1100 (Cambridge 2013).

4. The charters of the abbey are edited in Joseph Halkin & Charles Gustave Roland (edd.), Recueil des chartes de l’abbaye de Stavelot-Malmédy (Bruxelles 1909-1930), 2 vols, which is apart from anything else one of the most handsome books I think I ever handled in the course of medieval studies.

Three-pointed sales and the limits of comital power

While I was slogging through the documents in Catalunya Carolíngia IV I became aware that I was seeing a particular thing again and again, that being apparent deals in which a property was sold to one party and then immediately sold on to another. The first set-up like this that I met, and I’m now thinking perhaps the oddest, was the repeated sales of the castle of Carcolzes, which I mentioned here a long time ago. There, Count-Marquis Borrell II borrowed half of the Osona frontier castle of Clarà from Bishop Sal·la of Urgell, pledging the Urgell one of Carcolzes to the bishop in exchange, and then wouldn’t give Clarà back. Sal·la plainly didn’t want Carcolzes for keeps (er, no pun intended), and he complains about it at great length in a document in which he sold it to his sacristan Bonhom for 500 solidi‘s worth of produce. Bonhom doesn’t seem to have liked it either, though, and sold it on to Viscount Guillem of Urgell, which we know because the next year we find Guillem selling it back to Bishop Sal·la for an equivalent price, whereafter Sal·la gave up and gave it to the cathedral of Urgell for his archdeacon nephew to hold as castellan.1

The remains of Castellnou de Carcolzes

The remains of Castellnou de Carcolzes, image from Wikimedia Commons. I suppose the fact that there had to be a new castle shows that the problems were irremediable…

In that case it seems more or less obvious what’s going on, to wit that the bishop got swindled and that there was something really wrong about Carcolzes that became apparent to each of its holders, though never so much as to make them accept a lower price. But the other case we’ve seen here, in which Borrell II (again) sold a substantial deal of land at el Buc in Manresa for 200 solidi to his wealthy follower and castellan Unifred Amat, who then the next day promptly sold it to someone called Guifré, with Borrell witnessing, it was obviously designed to wind up that way in the first place, and I speculated at length as to exactly what configuration of power would explain it.2 Now, I have three more cases that may make things a bit clearer.

The Castell de Gotmar at Callús, from Wikimedia Commons

The Castell de Gotmar at Callús, again from Wikimedia Commons

The first of these is basically the same set-up as the previous: Borrell II’s son Ramon Borrell, acting for his father in Osona in the last year of Borrell’s life, 992, sells an alod called Castellet to a priest by the name of Miró Marcuç for 100 solidi and Miró next day sells it on to Abbot Arnulf of Santa Maria de Ripoll. Arnulf witnessed the first transaction and the same scribe wrote both.3 Here, if I had nothing else, I’d think that for one reason or another Miró needed a big favour from Arnulf and used his apparent connection to the count to get it, though one would ideally still like to know what it was about Castellet that made it better than anything Miró already owned (which was a fair bit).4 The other two cases begin to suggest an answer to that dilemma, and thus to what may have been going on in the case at el Buc too.

The Castell d'Òdena, image from Wikimedia Commons

The Castell d’Òdena, image once more from Wikimedia Commons

Back a bit to 989 and some familiar participants. We are now at the castle of Òdena, founded by none other than Unifred Amat with his daddy Sal·la, and it is two more persons of the latter name who are dealing here, the first being an Òdena-based Sal·la who was clearly connected to the family to which Unifred belongs but whose relation to them is never stated and the second being the bishop (who was Unifred’s first cousin).5 On 10th May the first Sal·la sold the second Sal·la a substantial alod that he had “from my parents or from purchase or from aprisio“, for which the bishop paid him 2 pesatas in goods, probably equivalent to 480 solidi.6 Then, on 12th May, Count-Marquis Borrell II and his son Ramon Borrell, tous les deux, sold it back to the first Sal·la and his wife for two pesadas in goods as before, helpfully explaining that the bishop had sold it to them (presumably on the 11th).7 Why on earth go through all this in three days? The answer seems to be in the only difference between the two property descriptions: the counts sell the estate “sine ulla inquietudine vel sine ullo censu vel sine ulla funccione”, ‘without any disturbance or any rent or any service’, more or less, in other words tax-free. And this is also what happens in the other case, on 16th April 990, where a priest called Sunifred gives Ramon Borrell an estate in Sant Llorenç and gets it back the same day at the price of 100 solidi, but accompanied by “censum vel functionem qui exinde exiebat vel exire debebat”, ‘the render or service that used to come or should have come from it’.8 This case gives us some extra, as not only was it obviously worth 100 solidi for Sunifred to have those dues lifted off the estate, but we also have his purchase of the estate the previous year, and then he paid a pesa in goods, probably about 240 solidi‘s worth.9 So Ramon Borrell was not getting the estate’s worth in this deal: it really was a sale of tax revenue done in a rather roundabout way.

Castell de Sant Llorenç del Munt, Osona

Castell de Sant Llorenç del Munt, Osona

Might this then be what’s going on in the other cases? With Carcolzes, I think it cannot be; the castle went through fiscal hands twice and the people who should have had the advantage of that still got rid of it. In the other two cases, however, it’s more possible. Granted, the documents don’t say that the lands were sold tax-free, but on the other hand we don’t have any indication that they weren’t the counts’ to start with, and it might be that comital land didn’t pay tax (though that would raise more questions). I do think it’s significant that all these deals involve the same limited set of participants, Borrell, Ramon Borrell or Bishop Sal·la, and that they all take place so close together, all within three years of each other bar the case with Unifred Amat. (Carcolzes is trickier, as what we have is Sal·la giving up, rather than the original pledge, but to take him at his word he seems to have held the place for two Pentecosts and more before giving up on getting his own castle back, and he did that in 993, so this could still be in that group.)

The Castell de Clarà

The one that got away: Castell de Clarà, though when Bernat and Borrell had to share it I guess there was more than this!

Whether these are all the same thing or not, though, it tells us something interesting about the power the counts of this age could claim. Firstly, it tells us that they could actually demand enough revenue from privately-held land that it was worth paying quite a lot to be rid of those obligations, though I have my suspicions that the actual demanding of those obligations was fairly new and that if played right this could be less of a general system and more of a protection racket, in which the counts picked somebody whose tax liability they were willing to enforce in order to bind them closer into the structure of personal obligations created by these kinds of deals.10 But it also tells us about limits. The counts of Barcelona circa 990 would not, or could not, simply sell tax revenue; elaborate structures of transaction had to be mounted within which that was done. Later on there would be no problem with this, or even with making a personal obligation out of it: that’s what the money fief’s for, right?11 (Likewise, at Carcolzes, Borrell could apparently not simply compulsorily purchase a half-share of Clarà but had to extort it, though that may have more to do with the fact that the owner of the other half, Sal·la’s brother Viscount Bernat of Conflent, was not under his direct control.12) But at this stage they didn’t have the tools for it; while Borrell II was alive, at least, what would later be done with arrangements in fief had to be cloaked in traditional formulae. The question I have yet to answer is whether this is because what they are doing was actually new (which other things Bishop Sal·la did might support) or because Borrell was especially keen on making his governmentalist power-grabbing look old-fashioned and traditional (which other things he did would support).13 A further question is whether this was happening a lot more widely but is undetectable when we only have one of the documents in the chain. Plenty to do! But here’s one way I’m working this stuff out.


1. C. Baraut (ed.), “Els documents, dels anys 981-1010, de l’Arxiu Capitular de la Seu d’Urgell” in Urgellia: anuari d’estudis històrics dels antics comtats de Cerdanya, Urgell i Pallars, d’Andorra i la Vall d’Aran Vol. 3 (Montserrat 1980), pp. 7-166, doc. nos 239 & 243.

2. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. nos 678-680.

3. Ibid., doc. nos 1635 & 1636.

4. I identify him in ibid., doc. nos 1189, 1364, 1391, 1411, 1537, 1538, 1539, 1592, 1602, 1609, 1620, 1635, 1636, 1734, 1747, 1768 & 1789, in all but two of which (1592 and 1636 as above) he was buying land, mostly in Castell Gotmar and often from the same people, which makes me wonder if we see a large family here consolidating as per Jonathan Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), pp. 112-114.

5. The kindred relations here are worked out by Manuel Rovira, “Noves dades sobre els vescomtes d’Osona-Cardona” in Ausa Vol. 9 no. 98 (Vic 1981), pp. 249-260.

6. Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. no. 1556.

7. Ibid., doc. no. 1557.

8. Ibid., doc. nos 1578 & 1579.

9. Ibid., doc. no. 1559.

10. Ideas about what comital power could demand here are very strongly based around templates from elsewhere and less around local evidence. The best such schematic treatment is probably still 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 (Barcelona 1969, repr. 1974 & 1989), I pp. 181-226.

11. Best described in Marc Bloch, La Société féodale (Paris 1939), 2 vols, transl. L. A. Manyon as Feudal Society (Chicago 1961), 2 vols, I pp. 173-175 of the translation.

12. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled, pp. 136-141.

13. Sal·la for example issued lands in benefice with the prescription that its holders might seek no other lord and was the first ruler in his area to grant land by convenientia, the term that would later be used of grants in fief; see Jonathan Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, unpublished Ph. D. thesis (University of London 2005), online at http://www.chiark.greenend.org.uk/~jjarrett/thesis.html, last modified 24th March 2011 as of 15th February 2014, pp. 305-307, and 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. 54-59; for Borrell’s initiatives, see Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled, pp. 141-166.

On the economics of tenth-century mills

Every now and then I write a post for this blog that is probably really a paper. Occasionally this is deliberate, because I’m having trouble working something out and I try and explain it to an imagined audience. All of those posts are still in the queue, which is now so long that the paper may be finished before they are… but this one, like one or two others, I started writing merely to get something off my chest that I hoped might be interesting and then by the end it’s nearly three thousand words and has enough footnotes for a centipede. Were it not that a lot of these posts start as me trying to show someone wrong about something, it’d be a great way to carry out scholarship. But maybe that doesn’t stop it being a viable paper, and it’s been some time since I wrote about my actual research area, so, hey: let’s ask a Marxist question about mills in early medieval Catalonia! That question is, of course: who controls the means of production? There is an accepted answer about this and I’m not sure it’s quite right. Interest piqued? The rest is behind the cut below. If not, here is that really cool mill location I wrote about before once more, why not look at that instead?

Building set into a riverine waterfall at Marfà, Castellcir

Building set into a riverine waterfall at Marfà, Castellcir

Continue reading

Seminars CXXXV & CXXXVI: characterising some medieval disputants

The need to catch up on the seminar reports is still fairly urgent, so I must do my now-usual filtering of what is in the pile. Out, with reluctance because it was good but with reassurance because as so often Magistra has already covered it, goes the second Clerical Cosmos conference in Oxford, but do go have a look at Magistra’s reports if the subtitle, “Ecclesiastical power, culture and society, c. 900 to c. 1075″, sounds like it should hit your interests. That at last takes me into the Easter term of 2013, and that term was greeted in Oxford by a paper by Mark Whittow to the Medieval History Seminar on the 23rd April entitled, “Territorial Lordship and Regional Power in the Age of Gregorian Reform: Matilda of Canossa and the Matildine lands”.

Countess Matilda of Canossa, enthroned with attendants, manuscript portrait from the Vita Mathildis by Donizone

Countess Matilda of Canossa, enthroned with attendants, manuscript portrait from the Vita Mathildis by Donizone (who may be the cleric at her right)

This paper did the audience the good service of recapitulating Matilda’s career, something it’s quite hard to get in one place from literature outside Italy despite its importance in the politics of Germany and Italy (and especially both) in the time of the eleventh-century dispute of Holy Roman Empire and Papacy, and assessing her landed holdings.1 Out of this came several observations, one being that little enough of her focus was actually in her marquisate of Tuscany, where competition for power was perhaps not one-sided enough, and another being that while she is often represented as a champion of public office because she held one, her armies were formed of vassals based in castles even if the emperor had approved the grant of the castles. In other words, she was pretty much as feudo-vassalitic in operation as the Dukes of Aquitaine, even if she was more closely involved with a persistent and intermittently-powerful royalty than they were. Nonetheless, there was a difference in the discourse of power Matilda used, with artwork and manuscripts presenting her as imperially-descended and legitimate and traditional in a way the Meridional princes wouldn’t have used unless they went for Roman roots, as Christian Lauranson-Rosaz would argue they did in the Auvergne.2 That, at least, would have worked to undermine the claims of a royalty that drew its ancestry back to fairly recent, and certainly post-Roman, times, but Matilda was competing for the same grounds of legitimacy as her German royal opponents (and sometimes allies). So this was all very interesting and fitted Matilda into a different framework than the one where English-language historians usually meet her, but the thing that sticks with me is something that I had to raise in questions, that the pictures we have of her do, yes, twice show her on a throne, but they also consistently show her dwarfed by it, compared to her noble antecessors shown on the same throne in the same manuscript. The author of that manuscript knew the lady personally; it was hard not to conclude that the artist did too, and what he or she knew was that their patron was pretty small.3 This obviously didn’t make her any the less considerable, if so!

15th-century manuscript depiction of the Court of Common Pleas, London

15th-century manuscript depiction of the Court of Common Pleas, London

Then the very next day the Medieval Church and Culture Seminar was lucky enough, as we were told at fulsome length, to be host to Professor Paul Hyams, who spoke with the title, “Disputes and How to Avoid Them: charters and custom in England during the long 12th century”.4 This appealed to me, predictably perhaps, as it was a paper about what the charters aren’t telling us, the trouble that a dispute settlement charter averts or that preceded its issue but which its scribe thought it impolitic to recount, at least from more than one side. It dealt with the invisible threshold of wealth beyond which written records were even available, specifically, and whether we can see serfdom in medieval England as early as it may start. I wouldn’t like to say that it concluded that we could, but the plea to consider what else was going on around the documents we have – the meetings, to and fro voyages of negotiation, the feast and the talk at dinner when a transaction was concluded, all of which probably explain a lot more about how a given transaction unfolded than does its surviving record – is a plea always worth hearing, especially when loaded with this many interesting examples.


1. The core text here is a Vita Mathildis by one Donizone of Canossa, whence we get the charming picture, the text most recently edited and translated (into Italian; I’m fairly sure there’s no English translation) by Paolo Golinelli as Vita di Matilde di Canossa (Milano 2008); the secondary work that Mark cited included Golinelli (ed.), I poteri dei Canossa da Reggio Emilia all’Europa. Atti del convegno internazionale di studi (Reggio Emilia – Carpineti, 29-31 ottobre 1992) (Bologna 1994), especially Guiseppe Sergi’s “I poteri di Canossa: poteri delegati, poteri feudali, poteri signorili”, pp. 29-39, and Sergi, I confini del potere: Marche e signorie fra due regni medievali (Torino 1995); on the dispute between empire and papacy in which Matilda became so involved, I like Ute-Renate Blumenthal’s The Investiture Controversy: Church and monarchy from the ninth to the twelfth century (Philadelphia 1988).

2. For example, C. Lauranson-Rosaz, “La romanité du midi de l’an mil (le point sur les sociétés méridionales)” in Robert Delort (ed.), La France de l’An Mil, Points-Histoires H130 (Paris 1990), pp. 49-74, rev. as “La romanité du midi de l’an mil : le point sur les sociétés méridionales” in Xavier Barral i Altet, Dominique Iogna-Prat, Anscari Mundó, Josep María Salrach & Michel Zimmermann (edd.), Catalunya i França Meridional a l’Entorn de l’Any Mil: la Catalogne et la France méridionale autour de l’an mil. Colloque International D. N. R. S.[sic]/Generalitat de Catalunya « Hugues Capet 987-1987. La France de l’An Mil », Barcelona 2 — 5 juliol 1987, Actes de Congresos 2 (Barcelona 1991), pp. 45-58.

3. The manuscript is Vatican City, Biblioteca vaticana, MS 4922, and is edited in facsimile as Donizone di Canossa, La vita di Matilde di Canossa: Codice Vaticano latino 4922, ed. Golinelli, Codices e Vaticanis selecti 62 (Milano 1984). A few more bits of it are online here.

4. This was work deriving from a project to follow up P. Hyams, Rancor and reconciliation in medieval England (Ithaca 2003), and I guess we can expect it to start some disputes as well as settle some…

Seminar CIII: in which I document the end of an era

Sorry about the gap; this term is burying me somewhat. Matters should improve in a fortnight. Meanwhile, I am so behind with seminar write-ups that I must reluctantly skip those about which I am qualified to say little, and this leaves me moving on, to my complete surprise I assure you, to ME.1 Because, in fact, the presentation to the Earlier Middle Ages Seminar at the Institute of Historical Research in London on 15th June this year was by your sometimes-humble correspondent, talking with the title “Managing power in the post-Carolingian era: rulers and ruled in frontier Catalonia, 880-1010″.

Jonathan Jarrett presenting his research at the Institut of Historical Research

The cunning and alert reader will notice a suspicious similarity between paper subtitle and the title of my book (which, I seem not to have said for a while, you can buy here), and that would be a fair cop. I was not quite presenting new research here, although there was some towards the end; if you happened to have and have read my book, have heard me at Leeds in 2010 and also read this blog post, I’m afraid you would have learnt nothing from this presentation except by linking it all up. I don’t think anyone there present fell into all those groups, however, so I hope it was diverting for them, and there were at least some pretty pictures. What the paper did, essentially, was to give the overall thesis of the book, with some cherry-picked examples, synthesize my conclusions there, and then as a kind of epilogue talk about my next major project, and the comparisons in the way that Borrell II and his contemporaries presented their power in their documents that I have been able to make as part of the early work on that project. As such, there might be some point for the person who hasn’t read my book, but is wondering if they should, in reading this paper first, and if it leaves you wanting more, well, it’s out there. For that reason, and also just out of vanity, I uploaded the text I wrote for this to Academia.edu here. I have no plans to do anything further with it, so I imagine it will stay there unless Academia.edu melts down or disappears. You should be aware that I didn’t have time to put notes on it, so all my claims are unreferenced, but most of them are in the book and the rest will shortly appear.2

Attendees of the Earlier Middle Ages Seminar at the Institute of Historical Research

Alice Rio invites an audience member to make their point, if they dare (I kid, I kid...)

Vain though I undoubtedly am, however, I am not actually the point of this post. The era whose end I’m documenting is not, in fact, the Carolingian one in the lands of its most loyally disconnected supporters, but one in the history of the actual seminar. Again, long-term readers will know I have been going to this seminar a long time, and it’s a lot longer than the blog too, but it goes back far further than me; it was, I believe, started by none other than R. Allen Brown, and taken over subsequently by John Gillingham and then/also Jinty Nelson. In other words, its second set of convenors have now retired. (Susan Reynolds includes some of these details in her reminiscences here; like her, I have found this seminar a lifeline, albeit for different reasons given our respective statuses.) And in that time, it has almost always been held in the Ecclesiastical History Room of the Library of the Institute of Historical Research, in the Senate House of the University of London. This, by ancient precedent, allowed those attending to haul volumes of the Patrologia Latina (or occasionally even the Græca) off shelves to check references during discussion and on the other hand by equally ancient precedent prevented anyone else using the books in there during the seminar. The other ancient custom, which had to be explained with embarrassment to every new speaker, is that the audience did not applaud, a rule which I only very rarely saw broken.

Attendees of the Earlier Middle Ages Seminar at the Institute of Historical Research

Professor Reynolds herself, centre of photo, among other worthies of the seminar

This has now all stopped. The Senate House is being extensively rebuilt internally, the entire IHR is being refurbished in a two-year project, and the Library has therefore been moved to the other side of Senate House. Once it reopens, the seminars and the books will be housed separately and basically it will all be different. Whatever that room is to be used for in future, it seems unlikely that it will ever again house this seminar (though the seminar itself continues meanwhile, in new accommodation). And for that reason, once I’d wound up, Jinty Nelson had the typically excellent idea of getting people to photograph the room, the gathering, the proceedings and the surroundings, so that it could be somehow recorded for posterity. And Jinty and Alice Rio, both of whom I can never disappoint, asked me to put it up on the blog, and so now I have. And when it moves off the front page I shall set it up as its own page and link it from my Seminars page in the top menu bar there, and so, I hope, it will be documented as long as I have the blog, which is something I have no plans to stop doing soon. If it lasts as long as the seminar has, though, that’ll be something…

Attendees of the Earlier Middle Ages Seminar, Institute of Historical Research

Jinty herself, centre back, explaining; not sure what the others are looking at, probably a camera by this stage!


1. It was actually a surprise, because I had to look up the date I presented before I realised I was next. I thought I’d be writing up a conference at this point, which is instead next. The paper I’ve elided was Aleksandra McClain, “Commemoration, Landscape, and Identity in Medieval Northern England”, presented to the Oxford Medieval History Seminar on 13th June 2011, which displayed great command of her material, was very clear and seemed likely to be right in stressing that Northumbria was no cultural backwater even in the thirteenth century but did hold to conservative forms of funereal display as part of a local complex of identity; I just have no basis on which to critique this at all or anything to add of my own, so I’m afraid I cruelly relegate it to this footnote.

2. References for the new stalkers and the search engines: J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power, Studies in History (London 2010); idem, “Caliph, King or Grandfather: strategies of legitimisation on the Spanish March in the reign of Lothar III” in The Mediaeval Journal Vol. 1 (Turnhout forthcoming).

Seminar C: differing valleys in North-Western Iberia

View of Potes in Liébana

This view of Potes in Liébana, Cantábria, seems weirdly familiar

The big one hundred goes, by more or less complete coincidence, to a fellow Hispanist, Rob Portass, who lately finished his doctorate in the History Faculty here and was thus able to be coaxed out into daylight to address the Oxford Medieval History Seminar on 6th June, which he did with the title, “Magnates and their monasteries in the tenth-century kingdom of Leon”. Rob, who has since got a Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship so that we get to keep him for a bit, is another person who has realised that the peculiar depth of Iberian charter evidence for the early Middle Ages lets one do serious microcosmic levels of study of society, but he differs from me firstly in that he’s gone to the opposite Northern corner of the peninsula, working on Galicia and Cantábria, and that he works on an even closer scale, individual valleys, which even I could only sustain for a chapter before breaking out to where the castles are. Rob’s two valleys, for this paper at least, were that around the monastery of Celanova (in Galicia) and that of Liébana, where there are two monasteries, Santo Toribio and Santa María de Piasca, to tell us what was going on in the areas.1

Map of early medieval Spanish archive preservation by Wendy Davies

Map of early medieval Spanish archive preservation by Wendy Davies

With this paper Rob was addressing an idea that when things went feudal in Northern Iberia as of course It Is Written that they did, the monasteries assisted in this process, being functionally equivalent to greedy landlords acquiring seigneurial rights over their local populations by subjecting their lands, and often becoming controlled by noble family interests anyway.2 To cut a long and careful story short, he finds this difficult to see in the charter evidence. Especially in Liébana, where one family did indeed get hold of the monastery of Santo Toribio, donation and sales to it came substantially from the wealthy and that not for very long. The peasantry just didn’t really interact with it at all (and consequently, of course, we can hardly see them). The local wealthy were only locally wealthy but all the same, Rob did not think they could be reckoned peasants by any stretch of interpretation (though we did try and stretch him on this). At richer Celanova the picture is a bit more conventional, but has its own peculiarities; here peasants did sell to the monastery, in some number, but they did not donate at all.3 Rob argued that this was too busy a land-market, and too various, to be explained as has been done in terms of poverty and bad harvests forcing people to sell up in order to obtain food, and that really this is business, and can’t be assumed to have been only to the monastery’s advantage.4 This also provoked questions, including one or two about how far we can assume that the charters give us a representative picture, even though Rob had cited me earlier on on such matters, which surely ought to have been enough! (I jest.5) But at the end of the paper and the discussion, all the same, I think Rob had successfully put across what my final paragraph of notes records: “One model here won’t do, but neither will the existing one. Our two noble abbots operate on a different scale, but local community must still be engaged and in Liébana that can’t be done.” If the model can fail, then, we need to know more about why, and for that I suppose we must now read Rob’s thesis!

The chapel of San Miguel de Celanova, with the baroque walls of San Salvador behind it

The chapel of San Miguel de Celanova, with the baroque walls of San Salvador, the Cistercian house that replaced the one Rob's subject population was dealing with, behind it; I include this because, if it is as the architectural historians think tenth-century, some of Rob's people probably went in this building. From Wikimedia Commons


1. The various documents are edited in J. M. Andrade Cernadas (ed.), O Tombo de Celanova: estudio introductorio, edición e índices (ss. IX-XII), Fontes Documentais para a Historia de Galicia (Santiago de Compostela 1995), L. Sánchez Belda (ed.), Cartulario de Santo Toribio de Liébana (Madrid 1948) and J. Montenegro Valentín (ed.), Colección diplomática de Santa María de Piasca, 857-1252 (1991).

2. There is of course an incredibly vast historiography here, but José Ángel García de Cortázar, “Estructuras sociales y relaciones de poder en León y Castilla en los siglos VIII a XII: la formación de una sociedad feudal”, in Il feudalesimo nell’alto medioevo, Settimane di Studio del Centro Italiano di Studi sull’Alto Medioevo Vol. 47 (Spoleto 2000), pp. 497-563 with discussion pp. 565-568, charts a reasonable path through it.

3. And just as well for Rob, otherwise they’d likely have been fully discussed already in Wendy Davies, Acts of Giving: Individual, Community, and Church in Tenth-Century Christian Spain (Oxford 2007).

4. This scenario is most vigorously envisaged in good old Abilio Barbero & Marcelo Vigil, La Formación del feudalismo en la península ibérica, 2nd edn. (Barcelona 1979).

5. Although, seriously, it is perplexing to me that numerous people find that part of my thesis (J. Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia” (unpublished Ph. D. thesis, University of London 2005), online here, pp. 27-71) useful, and yet I could not for the love of Mike get it into print because it “says nothing new”. (I do now have a home for it but they want a very different kind of article that will take a lot of reading to produce.) The problem is that the diplomatists aren’t telling other people what they need to know, and this is how it’s not happening. This part was not included in the book, but if you happened to have the book and looked at J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power, Studies in History (London 2010), pp. 15-17, you’d see the thinking behind the questions about peasant visibility that Rob was getting.

At last, Kalamazoo 2011… Part IV

(Written offline on trains between Oxford and London, 17-18/09/2011)

On the morning of the last day of the International Congress on Medieval Studies, as habitués know, the civilized start time of the previous days is put aside for one that beats even Leeds, presumably in the hope that people will come and see at least something before setting out homewards. That was our hope last year when my collaborators and I appeared in the Sunday morning slot, and then it more or less worked; this time was not quite so well-attended, which is a pity because I thought my paper this year was rather better. On the other hand, one of our presenters had failed to show up, so it was perhaps understandable that people went elsewhere. Thankyou, then, to those who did come and see, one of whom was the Medieval History Geek whose write-up is here.

Session 531. The Court and the Courts in the Carolingian World

    Iron-Age-style emmer wheat growing at Butser Historic Farm

    Iron-Age-style emmer wheat growing at Butser Historic Farm, from ukagriculture.com

  • Jonathan Jarrett, “2:1 Against: cereal yields in Carolingian Europe and the Brevium exempla“. You have of course read the core of this here, but I’m glad to say that it seems to make a fairly decent little paper and that the feedback, which was mainly of the form, “yes, OK, we believe you about Annapes but does your argument also deal with the low crop yields Duby reported from Italy?”, very helpful in determining what needs doing to this paper to get it submissible. I do, despite the rather flaily plan of last post, have plans to do something about this.
  • Allegorical portrait of St Luke from the Ste-Croix Gospels

    You'll be telling me next you didn't know bovine evangelists got black wings

  • Lynley Anne Herbert, “A Bishop and an Abbot Walk into a Scriptorium: uncovering the clerical courtiers behind the Gospel of Ste-Croix“, was a great thing to share a session with, an excellent paper about something almost entirely different to one’s own topic. This was an art history paper of the best kind, containing lots of pictures, very clever explanations of them that no-one’s so far come up with and even the likely solution to whodunnit, though I’ll not give that away. I can prove the point about the pictures, however, because Ms Herbert ran her presentation off this very same laptop where I first typed this and it’s still there, muahaha etc., so for those of you who didn’t come, this sort of thing is why you should have. Suffice it to say that this one was so interesting I more or less escaped without questions.
  • Cruciform tetragrams of the early Middle Ages compared

    This was an artistic parallel I can believe in

That still left the last session, though, and this turned out to be one of those joyful coincidences that can only happen when there are this many scholars present on one campus, the session where you more or less wander in off the street and can help someone you didn’t even know about minutes before.

Session 578. Images of Medieval Kingship

This session too had lost a speaker, but I didn’t see anything more interesting that wasn’t similarly hampered, whereas in this one… well, you’ll see. I was here for the second paper, really, but the first one was also interesting. We got:

    A royal Maundy ceremony in 1867

    A royal Maundy ceremony in 1867

  • Ellie E. Fullerton, “Kings of Beggars: royal almsgiving in medieval Europe”, which discussed, mainly in French and German contexts, royal ceremonial handouts to the poor, in which kings, or at least writers about kings, seem to have seen a basic royal responsibility that also offered the chance to pay off sins. Is that how Elizabeth II sees it when she gives out the annual Maundy money? Well, who knows…
  • King Alfons I and Queen Sancha of Castile, from the Liber Feudorum Maior (via Wikimedia Commons)

    King Alfons I and Queen Sancha of Castile, from the Liber Feudorum Maior (via Wikimedia Commons)

  • Shannon L. Wearing, “Representing Kings and Queens in the Iberian Cartulary: the Liber feudorum maior” was however what had drawn me in, because the relevant Liber is the cartulary of the counts of Barcelona.1 I would have loved a copy of Ms Wearing’s presentation as well, but at least in this case most of the images are already online. This was an iconographic study but done from the scribes up, which I have not seen before with this manuscript; Ms Wearing detected two clearly different artists at work, presumably at different stages, and they had different ideas about how kings and queens should look, broadly the first going for a generic portrayal and the latter much more individualised. Since it was this latter who also painted the picture I love so much of King Alfons I of Aragón and his chancellor Ramon de Caldes with a pile of charters in the archive, and who therefore gave Caldes more prominence in that illustration than the king, there’s some obvious conclusions to be jumped to about responsibility here but Ms Wearing was commendably careful. One set of questions she couldn’t answer as yet were ones about gender, however, because there are a lot of women in the manuscript, and here I was able to set some context by pointing out that the documents of which the Liber feudorum maior is mainly composed are already quite gender-odd. It is mainly, you see, the feudal oaths of which we have seen a couple here, by which the counts of Barcelona reorganised their territory into networks of sworn dependence in the eleventh and twelfth centuries (and also inherited the crown of Aragón). As you will have maybe noticed, in these documents the swearing parties are identified by their mothers, and this is the only documentary context in Catalonia where this happens. A certain amount of ink has gone on why this should be but not to any great effect; it remains a problem to be solved.2 By raising it, however, I was able to relate images and text in a way that might not otherwise have been possible, because of knowing other texts to which this is different. I hope it helped and anyway it made me feel clever.
  • King Alfons I and Ramón de Caldes review royal documents in the Arxiu de la Corona de Aragó, as depicted in the Liber Feudorum Maior

    King Alfons I and Ramón de Caldes review royal documents in the Arxiu de la Corona de Aragó, as depicted in the Liber Feudorum Maior

    Also by hanging about to the bitter end like this I met Jordi Camps, whose name has been in the `Currently reading’ part of the sidebar here for, let’s say, a very long time, and who was a gentleman and encouraging to both Ms Wearing and myself. I’d known he was around but hadn’t yet managed to catch him so this was a pleasant coincidence.

But that really was the end; after that it was sitting around talking with Australians (which has become one of my favourite pastimes this summer), failing to make it to lunch with Another Damned Medievalist and Notorious Ph. D. to my chagrin, getting on a bus and then setting out homeward. So, looking back on the whole thing, what else is there to say about this Kalamazoo?

Kalamazoo non-academical

First things first: my accommodation was better this year than last. Partly, I suppose, I was just prepared for the horror this time but this dorm room had been swept, there was an adequate supply of bedding and soap and there was not a goose standing on top of the block shouting its heart out at six every morning, so I slept better and thus felt better. On the other hand, out in the world I remember being periodically enraged by people who ambled slowly up the middle of corridors without any apparent conception that others might want to get past, not just at the conference but the airports as well; I don’t remember ever meeting this so badly but it seemed as if I was always trying to get past people who had no thought that they might be blocking a thoroughfare. Anyway, that’s my personal road-rage I suspect.

Socially I enjoyed this year more than last year, and last year was pretty fun. I had several groups of friends established on arrival this time, and so I could be sure of being invited to things and having people about me if I wanted, whereas last year that had been a bit more touch-and-go; on the other hand it may also have been that the discontinuation of the shuttle buses into the town made it more difficult for people to leave campus en masse in the evenings. I was annoyed by this when I wanted to travel thither, obviously, but now I suspect it was probably helping the conference vibe to have people under more pressure to stay on site and socialise.

Anyway. It was fun. It also cost a lot, but less than last year and I have, eventually, been able to reclaim the travel and registration, so the only real cost has been in time and interest on my overdraft, plus, you know, a few books… All the same the time cost was quite high; this year I could do it, next year I expect to be teaching more and it may well be that this means I cannot go again. There is also my resolve to stop coming up with useless papers so as to go to things to reckon with; I think that this means that next year I am probably only presenting about Picts at least for a while, and that not so often. But who knows how things will look by then? So we’ll see. For now, anyway, the write-up is done and it’s onto other things more English once more.


1. Edited with some illustrations (monochrome) by F. Miquel Rosell as Liber feudorum maior: cartulario real que se conserva en el Archivo de la Corona de Aragón. Reconstitución y edición (Barcelona 1945); discussed in English by Adam Kosto in “The Liber Feudorum Maior of the Counts of Barcelona: the cartulary as an expression of power” in Journal of Medieval History Vol. 27 (Amsterdam 2001), pp. 1-21.

2. Not least by Michel Zimmermann, not just his “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, that I usually cite and which is now online here for free, but also “‘Et je t’empouvoirerai’ Potestativum te farei). À propos des relations entre fidélité et pouvoir au onzième siècle” in Médiévales Vol. 10 (St-Denis 1986), pp. 17-36, and “Le serment vassalique en Catalogne : écriture de la fidélité ou invention d’un ordre politique?” in Françoise Laurent (ed.), Serment, promesse et engagement : rituels et modalités au Moyen Âge, Cahiers du CRISIMA 6 (Montpellier 2008), pp. 585ff, the last of which I have not yet met.

From the sources VII: to demilitarise and populate

I can’t quite believe I haven’t yet posted this charter, as it’s important for a whole bunch of things, but as I noticed a few posts ago I haven’t, so here it is. This is a document from 973 that is unusually informative about the processes of settling a frontier, defending a frontier principality, about the rôle of the Church and counts in those things, and it also joins up with a couple of previous posts because as well as the inevitable Borrell II, it also features his mysterious kinsman Guifré whom I’ve mentioned here before and additionally a person who may or may not have been self-identifying as a Goth, in the late tenth century, which has also been a recent discussion here. So, here it is in translation; I’ll stick the Latin in first footnote again.1 It’s long, but it’s so full of stuff that it’s worthwhile, honest.

In the name of God. I Borrell, Count and Marquis and also Guifré, my kinsman, we together as one, under an inviolable faith in God and his sacred confidence, have chosen to make this donation to the Lord God and his holy martyr Saturninus, whose house is sited in the county of Urgell, not far distant from its selfsame see of Holy Mary next to the river, and so we do. For we give, willing of heart, to the aforementioned monastery, and to Abbot Ameli and the brothers dwelling with you or those who shall be hereafter, churches that were founded in ancient time and endowed with holy altars in the furthest outermost limits of the marches, in the place called Castell de Llordà or in the city of Isona, which was destroyed by the Saracens, and the churches… which were built in their confines or which shall have had to be built in the future. Of which, the first church is called Sant Sadurní, in its castle of Llordà. Another is called Santa Maria in the selfsame city of Isona, which was destroyed. Another Sant Vicenç which was a monastery in the centre of the already-said town, next to the spring which they call Clarà.

Portal from the belltower into the now-missing nave at Sant Sadurní del Castell de Llordà

Sant Sadurní del Castell de Llordà seems to have been a fairly accomplished building, though as you can tell by the sunlight around the edges of this Viquipèdia view of the doorway between the belltower and the nave, not so much of the latter now stands

These aforesaid churches we do concede and give to the aforementioned monastery with their praises and possessions and the sum of their acquisitions with their tithes and first-fruits or offerings of the faithful living and dead in integrity; and we do concede the tithes of our dominical workings, present and future, to Holy Mary in whole. We have arranged similarly for the plots of the selfsame scouts and guards who have guarded the selfsame castle, and we bestow upon the selfsame already-said churches that which we have… [the bounds follow].

Whatever these same bounds include, thus we do concede to the monastery of Sant Sadurní aforementioned or to the abbots, to the monks present and future, so that they may make perprisiones wheresoever they may wish or may be able to far and wide through all places, build churches in the waste solitudes, make endowments in all the places; and let them spread labourers everywhere who shall reduce the selfsame wastes to cultivation and let them live in the selfsame endowments and there let them acquire and let them buy from the selfsame possessors whatever God shall have given to those people and shall have been possible for them. And the selfsame tithes which shall go forth from those selfsame perprisiones which they may have made there or will make in future, or from their acquisitions, we do concede and give all of them to the precious martyr Saturninus and from our right into his we do hand over possession, with the entrances and exits of the properties too. Again, we accord to the already-said monks that they may make aprisiones on the selfsame riverbank of the Noguera, in the place which they call Calzina, in the selfsame plain before the rock of Pugentoso, in the place which they call Calzina and before the rock of Petra and the selfsame water which descends from the selfsame mountains, ten plots in one year and ten in the next; and let them build a church in honour of Holy Mary and let the selfsame church have the tithes and first-fruits and offerings of Perafita itself and as far as the river Noguera and as far as the river Covet and over the selfsame mountains of Calzina. Let this however be under our hand and fidelity and those of our sons and let the assembled things which pertain or ought to pertain to the monastery serve under our defence and governance for all time.

Church of Santa Maria de Covet, Pallars Jussà

The monks may or not have put in a church of Holy Mary as requested; either way, there's a twelfth-century one there now... (Image from Wikimedia Commons))

The charter of this donation made in the city of Barcelona on the 3rd Kalends of August, in the 19th year of the rule of King Lothar. If anyone against this donation should have wished to disrupt it, let him not avail in so doing but let him compound twofold and accept a portion with Datan and Abiron.

Signed Borrell, Count [and] Marquis. Guisad, Bishop, subscribed. Guifré subscribed. Fruià, chief-priest, subscribed. Sig+ned Marcoald. Sig+ned Guadall, chief of the Goths. Sig+ned Arnau. Sig+ned Senter.

Bonfill, priest, who wrote this as requested.

So, OK, my temporary pupils, some talking points here:

  1. This area had obviously been in the wars—one wonders how long ago Isona (the old Iberian city of Æso) had been destroyed by the Saracens—but equally there were people out there, which we can tell not just because there was no problem at all giving the boundaries, even if, unusually, they name no other landholders at all.
  2. That would probably be because Borrell actually claimed to own all the land in the area and the people there are his direct subject peasants, which is something that we very rarely actually see but which, some would argue, and by some I mean Gaspar Feliu, we should be expecting much more widely.2 Here, at least, the count helpfully informs us that he has dominicaturas, presumably demesne farms, out in this extremis ultimas finium marchas. So, had he moved the farmers all in as some would believe, or were they there already?3
  3. Castell de Llordà, Isona, Catalunya

    The current state of the Castell de Llordà (much later as it stands; image from Viquipèdia)

  4. Whatever their situation was—and remained, since the count only conceded the tithe off those dominicaturas, which you might think he hardly had a right to anyway—he was also getting shot of a castle and the “scouts and guards who guarded” it, who seem to have been supporting themselves by agriculture, but it looks as if Borrell provided the starting capital and as if they may not yet have been paying their way, an expenditure that was now passed onto the monastery.
  5. The monastery also got a to-do list a mile long: take in land and clear it, put churches on it, establish estates and find labourers for them, set up markets where those labourers can get their wherewithal (because not many merchants were likely to be coming this way, I suppose—on the other hand it may have been because of the obvious advantages to the monks of running the Company Store) in exchange for produce.
  6. For this the monastery got the workers’ tithes, and presumably whatever profit they made from the markets, but it’s not clear that they were the landlords, at least not to me. If not, the monastery was basically acting as a contracted developer here, which was presumably something they thought would be worthwhile somehow.
  7. The monks did get to make their own clearances too, in fact they were required to, putting at least ten fields into cultivation each year for the next two years (if I’ve properly understood that), and also to put a church up for them, which the count remained the landlord for, because as this document makes implicitly evident and others of his state, he claimed fiscal rights over all wasteland and despite the population that seems to have been in this area, this area is being counted as waste for these `accounting’ purposes.4

So there’s that, and this is all very informative about exactly how the whole process of rolling out organised settlement might work, but there’s also some points that aren’t about process and play more to my particular and peculiar interests. You may by now know the word aprisio, which is used here to describe the clearances the monks may make in their own right, but note that it contrasts with the word Borrell or his scribe used for the ones the monks might make in order to settle labourers, perprisio. This appears to be an actual Latin recognition of the difference that Gaspar Feliu (again) has seen between private and lordly clearance; the monastery will be clearing for others, as agent, and that means they don’t get the full alodial rights that supposedly accrued to those who cleared land unless other arrangements were made. As keen readers of my stuff will know, I think that these rules were essentially only being finalised at this late stage, in other words that Borrell was here floating new terms that his father’s generation would not have understood, but this is where he was doing it, in the palace at Barcelona with two bishops who also owned frontier properties and his mysterious kinsman, whose concern with frontier matters seems to have meant that he must be involved.5

There's only a certain amount of land use going on here even now

But lastly, what about the other notable witness, Guallus princeps cotorum, here rendered as `Chief of the Goths’? Well, if Jesus Lalinde had been right about `Goth’ by now essentially meaning someone living on land that made them liable to military service in the city garrison of Barcelona, this would fit pretty nicely wouldn’t it?6 Guallus would be the head of the garrison. Unfortunately, this charter is only a copy, not an original. The original, if that’s what it is, comes as you’d expect from Sant Sadurní de Tavèrnoles, who were getting all this stuff to make and do.7 And that version refers to Guallus not as princeps cotorum, which our editor here, Federico Udina i Martorell, ever the neo-Gothicist, read as a variant spelling of gotorum, but princeps coquorum, `Prince of the Cooks’.8 Udina’s text, indeed, has also been read as `princeps cocorum‘, a variant spelling of the same thing. `C’ and `t’ look a lot alike in this script, and Udina’s modification wasn’t stupid, but all the same, if it’s wrong, that might give Guallus rather a different place in the palace hierarchy, though apparently still one grand enough to flaunt in a charter signature. He doesn’t turn up again, so there’s no way to be sure.9 Obviously the original would be nice to have just to settle this, but I’d also love to know whether he could write. And also, how he cooked, of course…


1. Barcelona, Arxiu de la Corona d’Aragó, Cancilleria, Borrell II, no. 7, ed. Federico Udina i Martorell in his El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18 (Madrid 1951), no. 174*:

In nomine Domini. Ego Borrellus, comes et marchio seu Guifredus, consanguineus meus, nos simul in unum, sub inviolabile Dei fide eiusque sacra confidencia, hanc donacionem Domino Deo eligimus facere santoque suo martiri Saturnino, qui est situs in comitatu Orgellitense, non longe distante ab eiusdem sedem Sancte Marie iusta amne, sicuti et facimus. Donamus namque, pronto animo, ad coenobium prelibata et ad Amelio abbate et fratribus tibi comorantibus vel qui post ea futuri erant ecclesias, qui ab antico tempore erant fundatas et sacris altaribus titulatis in extremis ultimas finium marchas in locum vocitato caustrum Lordano vel in civitate Isauna, que est destructa a sarracenis et ecclesias que ibi sunt, scilicet, in castro Lordano vel in civitate iamdicta quam in earum confinia vel in eorum omnia pertinencia qui infra sunt constructas vel ad future erant construendas. Quarum prima in eius castro Lordano sancti Saturnini est nuncupata Ecclesia. Alia sancte Marie est nuncupata in ipsa civitate de Isona, que est destructa. Alia sancti Vincencii qui fuit Monasterium in caput iamdicte ville, iustam fontem que dicunt Clara.
His prefatas ecclesias concedimus et donamus ad prelibatum cenobium cum eorum laudibus et possessionibus ac universis adquisicionibus cum illorum decimis et primiciis seu oblaciones fidelium vivorum et defunctorum ab integre; et de nostras dominicas laboraciones presentes et futuras ipsas decimas concedimus ad ipsam ecclesiam sancte Marie integriter. Similiter facimus et de laboraciones de ipsos spiculatores ac custos qui custodiunt ipsum castrum ponimus ad ipsas ecclesias iamdictas que incoamus a parte orientis in sumitate de ipsa rocha que vocant Dronb et sic vadit per sumitatem de ipsa serra usque in collo de Tolo et sic descendit per istam aquam qui discurrit ante Tolo et pervadit usque in Procerafita et ascendit per ipsum rivum de Abilio usque in collum de Abilia et usque in collum de Spina.
Quantum iste affinitates includunt, sic concedimus ad monasterium sancti Saturnini prelibato vel ad abbates, ad monachos presentes et futuri, ut faciant per presiones ubicumque voluerint nec potuerint longe lateque per universorum loca, hermis solitudinis edificent ecclesias, faciant munificenciis in congruis locis et obducant laboratores qui ipsas heremitates reducant ad culturam et in ipsis munificenciis habitent et adquirant ibi et emant de ipsis possessoribus quantum illis Deus dederit et possibile eis fuerit. Et de ipsis per prisionibus qui tam ibidem factas habent vel future facture sunt, seu de acquisicionibus eorum ipsas decimas que inde exierint, concedimus et donamus ea omnia ad preciosum martirem Saturninum et de nostro iure in eius contrahimus possessionem, simul cum exiis et regresiis eorum. Iterum damus monachi iamdicti ut faciant aprisiones ad ipsam ripam de Noguera, in locum que vocant Calzina, in ipso plano ante podium de Pugentoso, in locum que vocant Calzina et ante podium de Petra et ipsam aquam qui descendit de ipsis montibus decem pariatas ad uno anno in decem ad alio et construant ecclesiam in honore sante Marie et ipsam ecclesia abeat decimas et primicias et oblaciones de ipsa Perafita et usque ad flumen Nogaria et usque in flumine Gaveto et super ipsos montes de Calcina. Hoc tamen sit sub manu et fidelitate nostra filiorumque nostrorum et cuncta que ad Monasterium pertinent vel pertinere debent sub defensione et gubernacione nostra servetur per cuncta tempora.
Facta huius [carta] donacionis in Barchinona civitate die iii. kalendas augusti, anno xviiii. regnante Leutario rege. Si quis contra hanc karta donacionis voluerit disrumpere non hoc valeat facere sed componant in duplo et cum Data et Abiron porcionem accipiat.
Signum Borrellus, comes marchio. Wisadus, episcopus, SS. Wifredus, SS. Frugifer, presul, SS. Sig+num Marchoaldus. Sig+num Guadallus, princeps cotorum. Sign+num Arnaldus. Sig+num Senterius.
Bonifilius, presbiter, qui hoc rogateus scripsit.

2. J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power, Studies in History (London 2010), pp. 117-118 for comital claims to wasteland and pp. 154-155 for direct lordship over peasants; cf. G. Feliu, “La pagesia catalana abans de la feudalització” in Anuario de Estudios Medievales Vol. 26 (Barcelona 1994), pp. 19-41, repr. in idem, La llarga nit feudal: Mil anys de pugna entre senyors i pagesos (València 2010), pp. 93-110.

3. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled, pp. 15-17, gives some account of the differing models that have been suggested for frontier settlement; J. Jarrett, “Settling the Kings’ Lands: aprisio in Catalonia in perspective” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 18 (Oxford 2010), pp. 320-342, has some worked-out examples and engages more critically with the historiography on the issue.

4. A more obvious example of this happening can be found in J. Rius Serra (ed.), Cartulario de «Sant Cugat» del Vallés (Barcelona 1946), II no. 464, which I discussed in an earlier post here.

5. Referring to Feliu, “Pagesia”, and also his “Societat i econòmia” in Federico Udina i Martorell (ed.), Symposium internacional sobre els orígens de Catalunya (segles VIII-XI) (Barcelona 1991-1992), also published as Memorias de la Real Academia de Buenas Letras de Barcelona Vols 23 & 24 (Barcelona 1991 & 1992), I pp. 81-115. On the peculiar rôle of Guifré on the frontier, see my earlier post here and references there.

One question I haven’t reopened here is why, if what is happening here is something that was so common in later eras, the count used a charter of donation rather than an actual contract to do it with. One may argue that those documents have yet to be developed, and that the change is only in the documents, and here I might be more inclined to buy that than I was last time I raised that argument, because firstly this must have been going on in many forms for many centuries, and secondly because such contracts are almost unknown this early; there are pacts of complantation and so on (explained here) but not actual deeds of obligation or whatever. I suspect that in this case at least, the answer is that the count liked the idea of couching this in a way that means the monks would have to pray for him for getting all this work to do.

6. J. Lalinde Abadia, “Godos, hispanos y hostolenses en la órbita del rey de los Francos” in Udina, Symposium Internacional II, pp. 35-74.

7. Printed in Cebrià Baraut (ed.), “Diplomatari del monestir de Tavèrnoles (segles IX-XIII)” in Urgellia: anuari d’estudis històrics dels antics comtats de Cerdanya, Urgell i Pallars, d’Andorra i la Vall d’Aran Vol. 12 (Montserrat 1995), pp. 7-414, doc. no. 23. The doubt over it being an original isn’t serious, but it seems to have been used, along with Manuel Riu i Riu, “Diplomatari del monestir de Sant Llorenç de Morunys (971-1613)” in Urgellia Vol. 4 (1981), pp. 187-259, no. 1, to create at least Baraut, “Tavèrnoles”, doc. no. 21 and Petrus de Marca, Marca Hispanica sive Limes Hispanicus, hoc est geographica & historica descriptio cataloniæ, ruscinonis, & circumiacentium populorum, ed. É. Baluze (Paris 1688; repr. Barcelona 1972 & 1989), ap. CXV, ostensibly a copy of a copy of this document found in Urgell, which might even be the Tavèrnoles original but if so got `improved’ somewhere along the transmission. That forgers have had their hands on it doesn’t, however, seem to me to prejudice the original itself. It’s also from the Tavèrnoles version that I get the form of Guallus’s name, since as you can see Udina’s text renders him as Guadall. That would be a much more common name, which is partly why I reject it; I want this guy to be odd in as many ways as possible…

8. I discussed this in Rulers and Ruled, pp. 158-159, where I pointed out and will do again here, that a princeps coquorum, one Gunzo, is (unambiguously) recorded by the poet Ermold the Black in his praise poem on Emperor Louis the Pious, In honorem Hludowici, ed. Ernst Dümmler in idem (ed.), Poetae latini ævi carolini II, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Poetae) IV, p. 71. I can’t show that the two can be connected, but if there was a copy of Dhuoda’s Manual for William in Barcelona perhaps there was also a copy of In honorem Hludowici somewhere that someone had read and mentioned one day to Guallus…

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.

Feudal Transformations XIV: proving a negative with power relations in Catalonia

Will you permit me one another post dancing round the supposed feudal transformation? You will? So kind, I’ll try and make it interesting by including, as well as the duelling historians, good old Unifred Amat, the much-beloved castellan of previous posts, as well as the inevitable Count-Marquis Borrell II of Barcelona. Let’s first set up some background. As Chris Wickham teaches us, there are several ways one can read the word `feudal’ when you’re actually doing scholarship on this period: there’s the grand-scale Marc Bloch whole-society sense, in which feudalism is the defining ethic that pervades social conduct and organisation, as espoused these days by Poly and Bournazel; there’s the Marxist sense, in which it is an economic organisation in which production is controlled by the producers but a ruling class extracts surplus from the producing class in order to maintain their social and economic dominance, as opposed to various other forms I won’t discuss here, as espoused, well, mainly by Chris really; and there is a more restricted sense about the organisation of power, in which the resources for military power are farmed out to lesser lords by greater ones in exchange for the lesser lords doing various services to the greater. This can also be called `feudo-vassalitic’, which is a horrible word but avoids confusion with the other two senses, something that has otherwise happened a great deal leading for several scholars to argue for an end to the use of the term `feudal’ at all, since what happens is that people use evidence for one sense about another and so on and so on.1 (Like matriliny and matriarchy.) So here I am talking solely about the third, feudo-vassalitic, sense. Obviously there is some cross-over: a society where power is organised solely via military bonds of service is probably not going to have a capitalist economic set-up, because that would allow other means of power organisation to operate and would make a paid army far more effective and less dangerous to those in power. (There are probably exceptions, but stay with me.) Likewise such a society is likely to preach ethics of loyal service and heroism that get into the literature and help pass those ethics out more generally, and so on. This is kind of the Bloch argument by the back door, however, and I don’t want to go there with this post (not least because it took him a two-volume book). I just want to talk about organising military service in frontier Catalonia.

A battle scene from the Biblia de Ripoll

A battle scene from the Biblia de Ripoll

By, say, 1040, it was very simple how this was done here: a great lord, like the count, bestowed a certain property, usually a castle but potentially, at the very bottom of the scale, just a salary, on a lesser character, and that lesser character swore to return it on demand, not to deny the count use of or access to the castle, and generally not to prejudice his interests in any way. The obligations were almost always negative here, not to do things, rather than to actually do things, though the obligation to turn up with troops on demand is usually there. This comes out in undated oath documents that read like this:

I, Amat son of the woman Ermengarda, swear that from this hour in future I will be faithful to you, Elisabeth, countess, without fraud or evil intent and without any deception and without your trickery, just as a faithful man ought to be to his lord, as I know myself, by direct faith. And I the above-written Amat will not do you, the already-said Elisabeth, out of the New Castle of Barcelona that I hold, not I, [any] men or man, women or woman, by my counsel nor by my cunning, and through whatever means you shall ask it of me, by your yourself or by your messengers or messenger, I will put you in power over it without your trickery. And if there should be man or men, woman or women, who take from you, Elisabeth, the already-said castle or do you out of it, I Amat already-said will have neither [common] end nor truce nor society with them or with him or with them or her until you shall have the already-said castle returned; and just as much will I be your helper in this cause until it be returned, I will not do you any harm over it, but just as it is written above, thus I will carry it out in correct faith. Just as it is written above, so I will hold it and attend to it. By God and these relics of the saints.2

I freely admit that I give that in full solely because I need it for the Feudal Transformation course next year, but you get the idea. The bits I’ve thrown into bold were in the vernacular in the original, these documents containing the earliest written Catalan there is.3 So okay, there’s that. Now there’s an argument against the whole idea that Western European society goes through terrible spasms around the year 1000 (or, ya know, whenever) that runs that instead the documentary record does so, and starts recording things that have been going on for a long time already that we previously didn’t see because the documents were formulaic, and recorded Roman-derived ideals not actual practice.4 Leaving aside the obvious issue that if the documents are changing the demand for them must also be changing, implying changes in the constitution of society that are probably quite substantial, it is also possible to attack this idea in more direct ways by proving that the documents do respond to change.5 And then it’s possible just to haul up counter-examples where what seem to be contemporary details over the organisation of power are thrashed out in a completely different way, and that’s where I’m going here. So, Unifred Amat, right?

A group swearing homage to the Count of Barcelona, from the Liber Feudorum Maior

A group swearing homage to the Count of Barcelona, from the Liber Feudorum Maior

Unifred was son of a major frontier nobleman called Sal·la, the kind of independent who doesn’t need a title and who owned all over the counties of Osona and Manresa, putting up castles, clearing lands, funding settlers and founding a monastery, which is just as well as otherwise I doubt we’d have any of the documents that tell us about this stuff. He is, in any case, the sort of person whom a scribe can have called “egregious prince” and it not immediately be assumed by scholars that the document was a forgery.6 Because he divided this importance between his sons, none of them are as irrepressible, but Sal·la also appears to have got them to take service with or hold lands from Count Borrell II, something that he himself did not do. I’ve never understood why he did this; times had presumably changed. In any case, one result was that in 951 Borrell was prevailed upon to give Unifred a substantial whack of land at Buc, on the Riu d’Or in Manresa. The document of this was unusually sonorous in phrasing, cursing any infringers with the recipient’s sins and a portion in Hell with Judas, which is unusual for non-ecclesiastical properties.7 I can’t explain that either, but I can tell you what happened next, or what is recorded anyway, which is that on the same day with most of the same people watching Unifred sold that same property straight on to one Guifré for 200 solidi.8 Obviously that put Guifré in his debt, but the only expression of a relation of subjection here is between Unifred and Borrell: Unifred was Borrell’s fidelis, whereas there’s no link specified between Guifré and anyone. So what was going on here? I see four possibilities:

  1. Unifred is hard up for cash and effectively mortgages a gift from the count to provide it. Guifré gets the land, Unifred the money, Borrell gets to push his old chief magnate’s family just a little bit further into subjection. Obvious problem: why doesn’t Unifred just ask for the money himself? Borrell may have more land than cash, but this is not a big amount for Borrell.9
  2. Guifré is a frontier settler, wanting a new project, and Unifred is his local lord; Unifred doesn’t have spare land so gets some from the count. Problem: why does Unifred do this? Guifré must be subject to him in some way that is not stated for this to work.
  3. the classic feudal answer: Unifred wishes to repay Guifré for various services or to enrol him for future ones (effectively enfeoffing him with land) and thus prevails upon his own lord to grant the land and then sells it. Guifré gets the land under terms of service that we don’t have, possibly entirely oral given the vernacular’s use in such oaths later, Unifred thus gets a client and the money, Borrell gets, well, nothing. Obvious problems: Borrell gets nothing while Unifred becomes more important, and then there is the money: Guifré pays through the nose for this land, can he really also be a feudal dependant? With that kind of spare money, why be dependent at all, or at least, why not get better terms than that?
  4. even more complex: Guifré is Unifred’s follower in some way or other and they wish, or Unifred wishes, to arrange a relationship of subjection for land in a quasi-feudo-vassalitic style for which as yet the documents do not exist; Unifred gets the land from Borrell and gives the money to Guifré so that Guifré has a counter-gift to make which expresses his obligation in some way; that is, the money is a token for the service that Unifred was really receiving. Advantage: pacifies Barthélemy. Problems: involves assuming that almost all the documents are misrepresenting things and that we know better. In particular, why use a sale formula that explicitly says that Guifré has paid all his dues for the land (“nichil de isto precio ad me comparatore remansit et est manifestum“)? A donation formula would have been more suitable; there are plenty of documents out there that do contain donations with conditions, using phrases like “in tale racione videlicet ut…” and then setting a rent or whatever.10 So the documents could have done this better, if this is what’s going on, and the money is still very hard to explain.

At the end of this, I at least am clear in my mind that this is not a feudal agreement. A fifth way of reading it is that a client of Borrell’s is here being set up with a local lord, or that Borrell is increasing his trusted castellan’s personal army to help him hold the frontier zone down; Borrell was keen on ensuring that sort of thing, ideally without paying for it himself.11 In that case, the initiative might have been the count’s, which would have its echoes in genuinely feudo-vassalitic documents but which is not here being arranged feudally. If the initiative was Guifré’s, however, then his terms were presumably advantageous to him; he wanted the land and was willing to pay. Why he approached Unifred is harder to say, but Unifred’s family was certainly important. If the initiative was Unifred’s, it makes slightly more sense, but one would expect the terms of subjection to be more explicit. It must be said that Borrell often did this, selling land to his men for large sums, but they were usually holding from him on other terms elsewhere beforehand.12 Maybe that’s the case here too and Unifred had already set up Guifré in this area and now wanted to let him do more; it’s odd that we don’t have the document but arguments from silence never hold much water round here. But it’s the money, the money that messes up any simple feudal equivalence here; Guifré obviously had means, he could have just bought land from someone else.

Buc is now known as Castellnou de Bages

On the other hand, it’s the gift from Borrell that messes up a simple sale hypothesis. Unifred was demonstrating a connection to the count here, and that implies patronage. But if it was straight feudalism, he’d have no need to do that; the need to demonstrate patronage implies competition with other possible patrons. And that gives agency to Guifré; presumably, he could choose from whom to get his land. (I mean, presumably he could have approached the count himself!) So in fine, I think what we have here is Borrell choosing to reinforce Unifred’s status as local domnus (not that that term is used), which might also explain the solemn curse and so on, and Unifred apparently needing comital help to hold on to that status when a wealthy local chooses to test this. I don’t see anything here to indicate that that local need have wound up as Unifred’s vassal, or that Unifred wound up with anything more than 200 solidi. If that was the aim of the game, this was a very strange way to organise it and, although much better ones would be available later, rather better ones were also available now.
Because of the implied competition for clients, however, it seems more likely to me that the local climate of lordship itself was not fully formed here, rather than that the means of record for it hadn’t yet been invented. I see here Carolingian, Matthew-Innes-style patronage, where the centre chooses to endorse one of a number of possible local interests who need that endorsement to achieve local dominance.13 We seem to be a long way here from the world of the convenientiae, and that’s in political as well as documentary terms. So there is still, for me, a transformation to explain here, and probably will be for a while.


1. It’s probably as well to give these references again I suppose: Chris sets out the three ideal types in “Le forme del feudalesimo” in Il Feudalesimo nell’Alto Medioevo (8-12 aprile 1999), Settimane di Studio del Centro Italiano di Studi sull’Alto Medioevo Vol. 47 (Spoleto 2000), pp. 15-46 with discussion pp. 47-51; opposition to the whole idea mounted classically by Elizabeth A. R. Brown, “The Tyranny of a Construct: Feudalism and Historians of Medieval Europe” in American Historical Review Vol. 79 (Washington DC 1974), pp. 1063-1088, repr. in Lester K. Little & Barbara H. Rosenwein (eds), Debating the Middle Ages: issues and readings (Oxford 1998), pp. 148-169, and more thoroughly and crossly by Susan Reynolds, Fiefs and Vassals: the medieval evidence reinterpreted (Oxford 1994). Bloch: M. Bloch, La société féodale (Paris 1949), transl. L. A. Manyon as Feudal Society (New York City 1961); Poly & Bournazel, Jean-Pierre Poly & Eric Bournazel, La mutation féodale, Xe-XIIe siècles (Paris 1981), transl. Caroline Higgit as The Feudal Transformation, 900-1200 (New York City 1983), 2nd edn. in French 1991.

2. Here I’ve used F. Miquel Rosell (ed.), Liber feudorum maior: cartulario real que se conserva en la Archivo de la Corona de Aragón (Madrid 1945), 2 vols, I. doc. no. 418 of between 1039 and 1049; this must be reprinted in Gaspar Feliu & Josep María Salrach (eds), Els Pergamins de l’Arxiu Comtal de Barcelona de Ramon Borrell a Ramon Berenguer I, Diplomataris 19-21 (Barcelona 1998), but I didn’t have time to order that up as well. If you want the Latin/Catalan, I can provide. For more on this kind of document you can see the very excellent Adam J. Kosto, Making Agreements in Medieval Catalonia: power, order, and the written word, 1000-1200 (Cambridge 2001), though it doesn’t entirely supplant 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. J. Bastardas, “El català vers l’any 1000″ in Immaculada Ollich i Castanyer (ed.), Actes del Congrés 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 (Vic 1999), pp. 495-513 with French & Provencal résumés & English abstract p. 514.

4. This argument is of course forever associated with the name Dominique Barthélemy, who propounded it in “La mutation féodale a-t-elle eu lieu? (Note critique)” in Annales : Économies, sociétés, civilisations Vol. 47 (Paris 1992), pp. 767-777, later expanded into La mutation féodale a-t-elle eu lieu? (Paris 1997) with the addition of other reprinted articles, the whole question reprised again in his L’An mil et la Paix de Dieu : la France chrétienne et féodale, 980-1060 (Paris 1999); in English, his thinking can be accessed in idem “Debate: the feudal revolution. I”, transl. J. Birrell in Past and Present no. 152 (1996), pp. 196-205; Barthélemy, “The Year 1000 Without Abrupt or Radical Transformation”, eds & transl. Lester K. Little & Barbara H. Rosenwein & rev. Barthélemy, in Little & Rosenwein, Debating the Middle Ages, pp. 134-147 and now Barthélemy, The Serf, the Knight and the Historian, transl. Graham Robert Edwards (Ithaca 2009).

5. The best counter-attacks so far mounted (of course) by Pierre Bonnassie, firstly in “Sur la genèse de la féodalité catalane : nouvelles approches” in Feudalesimo nell’alto medioevo, pp. 569-606, and idem, “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.

6. J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power (London 2010), pp. 144-151.

7. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i de Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), doc. no. 678. Like most of the documents relating to Sal·la and sons, this one only survives as a typescript copy of an original that someone took away for `safe-keeping’ during the Spanish Civil War. I live in hope that this cache will some day turn up. There is also ibid. no. 679, which does survive in the original and appears to be a variant copy of 678 by a different scribe allotting slightly different terms to the grant. I can't work out any way to make this part of solving the puzzle I deal with here, rather than just another complication, so I leave it aside in the argument.

8. Ibid., doc. no. 680.

9. Michel Zimmermann would have us believe that Borrell and his father were extremely short of money, which is why they kept selling castles (“La rôle de la frontière dans la formation de Catalogne (IX-XIIème siècle)” in Las Sociedades de Frontera en la España Medieval. Aragón en la Edad Media: sesiones de trabajo, II seminario de historia medieval (Zaragoza 1993), pp. 7-29 at pp.17-18), but for me at least the way that Borrell managed his resources doesn’t fit thus; he frequently gave stuff away, as here, which you might think he could have demanded payment for, and it’s not clear to me why his expenses should have been much higher than his forebears, who certainly went to war more often than he did. I don’t mean to say he didn’t want to keep those expenses down (see n. 11 below!) but that isn’t the same thing, necessarily.

10. If you’ve already got Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, out and in front of you by this point (as I’m sure you all have) you can find such a donation there as doc. no. 700, where a priest called Esperandéu gives a church to the cathedral at Sant Pere de Vic, “in tale racione, videlicet, ut” he gets the revenues from the estate for his life and he also gets to choose the next priest, who will be similarly funded by those revenues, and that priest the next one and so on, though all these priests will at least have to come from the cathedral chapter. Is this simony? I actually can’t work it out…

11. So, witness Cebrià Baraut (ed.), “Diplomatari del monestir de Tavèrnoles (segles IX-XIII)” in Urgellia: anuari d’estudis històrics dels antics comtats de Cerdanya, Urgell i Pallars, d’Andorra i la Vall d’Aran Vol. 12 (Montserrat 1995), pp. 7-414, doc. no. 23 where Borrell gladly passes on to the eponymous monastery a frontier civitas and fortress that he has apparently been garrisoning with standing troops at his own expense, turning it into into a monastic development zone. This is, I think, the only clue we have that he did this and it also contains a fabulous lengthy description of what he expects that development to look like, so it’s well worth a look. In fact I should make it into a ‘From the Sources’ post.

12. The most obvious example is the family of the previous post, the castellans of Gurb, where Ansulf was Vicar of Sant Llorenç already when Borrell gave him a whack of land in Gurb but who then bought a church nearby from the count for a swingeing amount of gold (discussion and references Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled, pp. 116-117) but he is far from the only example (more and general discussion ibid. pp. 151-154).

13. Matthew Innes, State and Society in the Early Middle Ages: the middle Rhine valley 400-1000, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought 4th Series 47 (Cambridge 2000), more or less passim really.