Tag Archives: dispute settlement

Ghost voices in the first person

When I wrote this, in May 2013, I was working my way through Patrick Wormald’s post-mortem Festschrift, which has some excellent stuff in it sharing space with several things that are only just papers.1 I won’t name any of the latter, but there is among many other good things a new treatment of the Fonthill Letter by Nicholas Brooks which does exactly what I would do when given a tricky and well-known document to squeeze something more from, to wit, look for the participants in other charters, and it works out well.2 In the course of doing it he opened one of those problems I hadn’t realised was a problem, though, and I want to turn it round a bit. [Of course, when I wrote this, he wasn't dead, and I might have hoped to turn it round in conversation with him, but I didn't, now I can't, so I can only hope there's nothing here he would have minded. It seems unlikely that he would have.]

Great Ridge Wood, near Cricklade, part of the estate concerned in the Fonthill Letter

Great Ridge Wood, near Cricklade, which the Wikpiedia entry on the Fonthill Letter reckons part of the estate concerned and therefore uses to illustrate the entry! “Great Ridge wood near Chicklade – geograph.org.uk – 465121” by Andy Gryce – From geograph.org.uk. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

First I should probably explain what the Fonthill Letter actually is, which has not always been certain. It seems safe to say that it is a letter written to intervene with King Edward the Elder of the English (899-924), son of Alfred the Great, over a land dispute of Alfred’s time, which one of the parties was now trying to reopen. The landholder, one Helmstan, had been challenged over it because he’d stolen someone’s belt, and the challenger presumably thought this would weaken his network of support and make him vulnerable to challenges on other grounds. In the event, the author of the letter, Helmstan’s godfather, rallied round and interceded for him, even when Helmstan, having been securely reaffirmed in his rights over the land, then threw it all away by getting caught cattle-rustling some time later. The godfather’s interest in this was that Helmstan had promised him the land in question in exchange for his support, Helmstan to carry on holding it under his lordship. By the time of the letter, this had all taken place, Helmstan was presumably dead and the author had shifted the ‘hot’ property on to the cathedral of Winchester in exchange for other less contentious estates, and really didn’t want the whole thing challenged. He entreats Edward: “Sir, when will any suit be ended if one can close it neither with money nor with oath? Or if one wishes to alter every judgement that King Alfred made, when shall we have finished disputing?” All of which is very true and poignant but fails to hide the fact that Helmstan had been able to get away with theft twice because his godfather was in with the kings. It is, as ever, tough to be up against the Man in the tenth century.3

But who was this godfather? The author of the letter doesn’t explicitly name himself, but in it Helmstan is said to have held land from Ealdorman Ordlaf of Wiltshire, and such a man is also listed as present at the final settlement of the case which is recorded on the dorse of the document, along with a Canterbury scribe’s note that the whole document was useless, ‘inutile‘, and should presumably have been thrown away. Nicholas made a good case, using the charters as said, that Ordlaf is the author, and this has been argued before, but a problem with it is that Ordlaf is referred to in the third person and the letter is written in the first. Split personality? Nicholas thought not, and points out: “Such variation between the first and third persons is in fact a common feature of the most nearly comparable extant documents, namely Anglo-Saxon wills.” Which is where I come in, because in the wills of tenth and eleventh-century Catalonia I occasionally see the same thing, as witness (with my emphasis):

In the name of God. Men of these names, Borrell the priest, Ermegell and Dacó, who are executors of the late Avendi, we together as one are donors to God and to the monastery of Sant Benet, which is sited on the Riu Llobregat. By this same donation we give 1 modiata of vine, which came to me Avendi by purchase…

This is not the best example I could give but it is maybe the shortest and it was certainly the first one I could find.4 There are a few of these documents where suddenly the voice of the dead testator comes back to haunt it, and up till now I’d always assumed this was a relic of the elaborate testamentary process used here, where an initial will was sacramentally published before judges or at least churchmen and then individual bequests carried out by the executors, or almsmen, as would be a fairer translation of their title, elemosinarius.5 This obviously opens the possibility that people writing up the latter parts of the process would refer to the initial will and quote it direct without adjusting the grammar, and I’m sure that’s what happened in this case of 987.

But can this explain Ordlaf’s elusiveness in the Fonthill letter? Nicholas went a bit round the houses here, suggesting that there might be a distinct semantic register of documents where the use of the third person for oneself was more appropriate than the first, and that such a document may have been involved here, the local reeve’s judgement that the land Helmstan held from Ordlaf wasn’t forfeit because it wasn’t really his. And I can’t work out if this step about the semantic register is necessary. Certainly, in the Catalan cases, if such a respect for the original will is why it’s quoted direct, it’s not done consistently even within documents (though Nicholas referenced an observation of Mechthild Gretsch’s that the same could be said of King Alfred, or at least whoever wrote the Old English translation of Gregory the Great’s Cura Pastoralis in Alfred’s name).6 The Fonthill letter is anything but an accomplished piece of writing, which is one of the things that makes it so interesting (and so hard to edit and translate); if there was a written antecessor here I’m not sure that the author would have thought to change the grammar to fit the new context. That such a thing would be in writing to quote is itself slightly surprising but perhaps not impossible. But between mistake and respect, I find it hard to choose, and wonder whether we even need to: to the recipients and audiences, in all cases, the meaning would presumably have been clear anyway. All of these documents are, after all, at some level reported speech anyway, and we’re as happy now to quote direct or to report speech as this would require. That a nobleman would address the king by letter anyway already suggests a familiarity with writing; I’m not suggesting that this should automatically breed contempt, but we could possibly underestimate the readiness of such a writer to adapt texts to his whim, even if he wasn’t Wessex’s top redactor. A charter, yes, is a special piece of writing, a scriptura, Scripture, but this was not, even if it now is to us, and greater freedom may have been available for the author in which to trip up…


1. Stephen Baxter, Catherine E. Karkov, Janet L. Nelson & David Pelteret (edd.), Early Medieval Studies in Memory of Patrick Wormald (Farnham 2009).

2. N. Brooks, “The Fonthill Letter, Ealdorman Ordlaf and Anglo-Saxon Law in Practice”, ibid., pp.301-316.

3. Following Brooks’s translation, ibid. pp. 302-306 with quote p. 304.

4. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), doc. no. 1522.

5. The easiest guide to testamentary practice in Catalonia is Nathaniel Taylor, “Testamentary Publication and Proof and the Afterlife of Ancient Probate Procedure in Carolingian Septimania” in K. Pennington, S. Chodorow & K. H. Kendall (edd.), Proceedings of the Tenth International Congress on Medieval Canon Law (Vatican City 2001), pp. 767-780, online here, last modified 9th December 2006 as of 24th June 2007.

6. M. Gretsch, “The Fonthill Letter: language, law and the discourse of disciplines” in Anglia Vol. 123 (Berlin 2005), pp. 662-686 at p. 669, cit. Brooks, “Fonthill Letter”, p. 313 n. 26. On doubt over the authorship here, see Malcolm Godden, “Did King Alfred Write Anything?” in Medium Ævum Vol. 76 (Oxford 2007), pp. 1-23; cf. Janet Bately, “Did King Alfred Actually Translate Anything: the Integrity of the Alfredian Canon Revisited” in Medium Ævum Vol. 78 (2009), pp. 189–215. Brooks referenced other work on the Letter, but one might add more generally Patrick Wormald, “Charters, Law and the Settlement of Disputes in Anglo-Saxon England” in Wendy Davies & Paul Fouracre (edd.), The Settlement of Disputes in Early Medieval Europe (Cambridge 1986), pp. 149-168 and Simon Keynes, “Royal Government and the Written Word in Late Anglo-Saxon England” in Rosamond McKitterick (ed.), The Uses of Literacy in Early Mediaeval Europe (Cambridge 1990), pp. 226-257.

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…

Revenge served stone cold? The Santa Maria de Roses inscription

For a brief flickering moment, back to the research. Trying to make things play with the altar slab from Sant Pere de Casserres and all its names has meant following up a lot of similar lumps of marble (and in one case wood) in the hope that they will tell me more about what people were scribbling on altars where and when. In this, advice from Mark Handley has been invaluable and I’d like to thank him for that. An answer of sorts has emerged, and will be in the paper some day when, but for the meantime one of these examples presents a probably insoluble query. But these days, that just means it presents a blog-post, right? So here it is.

The church of Santa Maria de Ciutadella, previously the abbey church of Santa Maria de Roses (from Rosespèdia)

The church of Santa Maria de Ciutadella, previously the abbey church of Santa Maria de Roses (from Rosespèdia)

There is not so much left these days of the monastery of Santa Maria de Roses (although Rosespèdia, the excellent community Wiki from which I borrow the above image demonstrates that the church will still hold a concert). It was probably never that huge, although it lasted a long time, till 1592. We first find it mentioned for sure in 944, when it was being handed into the middle of a clanging dispute over the monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes (not Roses).1 Roses was allotted to Rodes (stay with me) but that didn’t help much as Rodes was itself being claimed by Sant Esteve de Banyoles. It was another four years before all the relevant counts could be brought to agreement and Rodes was allowed to be independent.2 But by 960 Santa Maria de Roses was a monastery in its own right (the 944 document calls it a cella) and so it thereafter stayed, Sant Pere de Rodes not withstanding.

Map of the Catalan counties c.950, by Philip Judge and Jonathan Jarrett

Map of the Catalan counties c.950, by Philip Judge and myself, from the book

But this isn’t yet complicated enough. It’s complicated because of where all these places are. Sant Pere de Rodes—which is one of the most gorgeous ruins in Catalonia— was then in the county of Empúries, ruled by one Count Gauzfred along with Rosselló (now Roussillon, in modern France). But Sant Esteve de Banyoles is in Girona, which was ruled in 944 by Count-Marquis Sunyer of Barcelona, Girona and Osona. By the time of the final settlement Sunyer had retired to the monastery of Notre Dame de la Grasse, far to the north in Carcassonne, and his rôle had been taken over by the probably-teenaged Borrell II (natch) and his brother Miró, though Miró, even younger, appears to have played no part in this affair and Sunyer, monk or not, still appears as one of the negotiators in the 948 document. So the dispute between the monasteries is also one about whether the counts of Girona get a dependent church deep in Gauzfred’s territory or not. Where is Santa Maria de Roses in all this, you may ask, and you may then understand Gauzfred’s concern better if you know that Roses is just along the sea-shore from Empúries, Gauzfred’s capital, which the church overlooks. This was presumably not property that he wanted going to someone whom the counts next door could boss around.

Reassembled fragments of the dedicatory inscription from Santa Maria de Roses

Reassembled fragments of the dedicatory inscription from Santa Maria de Roses

All this makes this thing, which was recovered from the site in 1937 and is now in the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya’s premises in Sant Pere Galligants in Girona, rather hard to explain.3 The inscription transliterates, expands and translates more or less as follows (Latin in the footnote):

The famous Count Sunyer, choosing celibacy and spurning life for the love of Christ, trading perishable things for an eternal body, for his burial ordered the church to be repaired from the foundations by his wife and sons. They, studiously following the precepts, managed to fulfil them, instituting a suitable worthy man for the ministry of Christ, Argibadus, namely, a priest and perfector of these works. By order therefore of the spirit of Prince Sunyer, I who am called Argibadus finished this work.4

Right, so, what? When this was put up, apparently the church needed repairs; there is no sign that it was monastic or that it belonged to someone else. These ought all to be good reasons to make this an early early record, from before its acquisition by Sant Pere de Rodes, and you might think that it naming Count Sunyer makes that a problem. In fact, however, though Sunyer of Barcelona seems to have made the name unpopular, it had previously been a common one among the counts of Empúries: Gauzfred had a short-lived brother of the name, his grandfather of the name had ruled fifty years in Empúries (something this family seem to have been good at was living for ages, little Sunyer aside) and supposedly forced Guifré the Hairy into acknowledging King Odo by putting up rival episcopal candidates with Odo’s consent, and his father, also Sunyer, had waged naval war on al-Andalus and been killed by Bernard of Septimania’s son William, who had by then ceased listening to his mother.5 It’s a proud lineage. The only wrinkle is the obvious implication of the inscription that the relevant Sunyer became a monk, which is not recorded of any of these Sunyers, only the one of Barcelona.6 But if he had been, as he had, Count of Barcelona, why was he not buried in his own territories, or more relevantly, at la Grasse, where he presumably died?

If you zoom in on the centre, the monastery site is flagged, but note Castelló d'Empúries just down the coast (and ignore the modern marina development between the two)

Well, the easiest solution seems to be that one of the counts of Empúries had a late and otherwise unattested conversion, really, doesn’t it? Not only is, in my fairly untutored opinion, this stone’s script earlier than Sunyer of Barcelona (compare his elder brother’s stone from 911, which might be nearer the mark), but there is the problem of the intermittent and intermittently subject monastic cell to explain otherwise and I simply cannot imagine Gauzfred allowing his principal rival to be buried over-looking him and his city.7 And it is very clear that Gauzfred controlled the whole site by 976, if not well before, and was claiming to have repopulated it from scratch after it was desolated by the pagans, which is chronologically very unlikely and which this stone more or less proves false, but which indicates a fair degree of control.8 But might it also indicate an alternative story that needed to be squashed? There was after all a dispute over this house that involved all our parties. Could our one known monastic Sunyer actually have managed to be buried in his rival’s back yard, by way of having the last word after being forced to back down? I can’t, quite, credit it, but the sheer petty commitment to superiority it implies is quite impressive to imagine even if it can’t be true.


1. That document printed in Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia II: els diplomes carolingis a Catalunya, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica II & III (Barcelona 1926-1952), 2 vols, Sant Pere de Rodes I.

2. Ibid., Sant Pere de Rodes II.

3. I learnt about this from P. de Palol Salellas, “Una lápida medieval de Santa Maria de Rosas” in Analecta Sacra Tarraconensia Vol. 19 (Barcelona 1946), pp. 273-278, but in the web-searching for this post also came across the more recent Hug Palou i Miquel, “El temple de Santa Maria de Roses. Noves aportacions als primers documents” in Annals de l’Institut d’Estudis Empordanesos Vol. 24 (Empúries 1991), pp. 32-53; both of these include a facsimile and a transcription of the slab, and it’s the latter’s image I’ve borrowed here. The latter paper is online through Revistes d’ACcès Obert, here. In attempting to find this paper just now, moreover, I also found J.—M. Nolla, “Roses a l’antiguitat tardana. El cementiri de Santa Maria”, ibid. Vol. 30 (1997), pp. 107-146, which reveals that here as in so many places there was a late antique burial ground here before there was a church, but I haven’t yet had time to soak this one up.

4. Palou, “Temple de Santa Maria”, p. 58, expansions in round brackets, editorial insertions in square ones: “CELEB(RI)S COM(ES) SVNIARIVS CELIBE(M) / ELIGENS VITA(M) SP(ER)N[EN]Sq(VE) XP(IST)I P(RO) AMORE CADVCA P(RO)PRIO / MERCATVS E(ST) CO[R]PORE EETERNA NA(M) SVO TV(MVLA)TV IVSSIT RE / PARARI A FVNDAMENTIS ECCL(ESI)A CONIVSq(VE) EI(VS) CV(M) / FILIIS EI(VS) SEqVENTES P(RE)CEPTA STVDIOSE HOC ADIMPLE / RE CVRAVERV(NT) STATVENTES QVE(N)DA(M) P(RO)bV(M) DIGNVMq(VE) XP(IST)I / MINISTRV(M) ARGIBADV(M) VIDELICET SACER(DOS) ET / [OPER]IIS HVIVS P(ER)FECTOR • IVSSV IGITVR / SVNIARII PRINCIPIS ALMI QVI VOCOR • / HOC OPVS EXPLEVIT ARGIBADVS“.

5. The ecclesiastical controversies covered to a good extent in J. Morera Sabater, “Un conato de secesión eclesiástica en la marca hispánica en el siglo IX” in Anales del Instituto de Estudios Gerundenses Vol. 15 (Girona 1962), pp. 293-315 and now J. Jarrett, “Archbishop Ató of Osona: false metropolitans on the Marca Hispanica” in Archiv für Diplomatik Vol. 56 (München 2010), pp. 1-41 at pp. 9-12; for Sunyer II’s naval career you would probably need to go back to Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals, Els primers comtes catalans, Biografies Catalanes: sèrie històrica 1 (Barcelona 1958; 1980). The genealogies of all this lot are more or less sorted out by Martin Aurell, “Jalons pour une enquête sur les stratégies matrimoniales des comtes catalans (IXe-XIe s.)” in Federico Udina i Martorell (ed.), Symposium Internacional sobre els Orígens de Catalunya (segles VIII-XI) (Barcelona 1991-1992), also published as Memorias de le Real Academia de Buenas Letras de Barcelona Vols. 23 & 24 (Barcelona 1991 & 1992), I pp. 281-364.

6. In Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los Siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18 (Madrid 1951), doc. no. 148, about which you have heard before, as well as in a welter of forged la Grasse documents that are much too tricky to go into here. It should however be noted that it is only those documents which tell us where Sunyer became a monk.

7. I’m pleased to see that the same has also apparently occurred to our quasi-resident sage of the databases, Joan Vilaseca, whose Cathalaunia.org page for this inscription tentatively suggests a redating after 913, after Antoni Cobos Fajardo, Joaquim Tremoleda Trilla and Salvador Vega Ferrer, L’Epigrafia medieval dels comtats gironins (Girona 2009-2010) (non vidi) who suggest 909; as Joan says, Count Sunyer II was active till at least 913 so this cannot easily be right.

8. In Santiago Sobrequés i Vidal, Sebastià Riera i Viader & Manuel Rovira i Solà (edd.), Catalunya Carolíngia V: els comtats de Girona, Besalú, Empúries i Peralada, ed. Ramon Ordeig i Mata, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica LXI (Barcelona 2003), 2 vols, doc. no. 434, on which see J. Jarrett, “Caliph, King or Grandfather: strategies of legitimisation on the Spanish March in the reign of Lothar III” in The Mediaeval Journal Vol. 1 (Turnhout: Brepols forthcoming).

That Bonnassie story in full, or, psst! wanna buy a tower?

The monastery of Sant Cugat del Vallès

I said I would tell you Pierre Bonnassie’s story that I used, with caution, in the Oxford seminar paper just gone, and so I will. It’s about a man called Hisnabert and a tower scam. No, not a pyramid scam: read on. Here’s how Bonnassie put it, in my own rough translation.1 He was writing of the wild lands beyond the organised frontier, and said:

This extreme march was really a terra incognita, except to a few specialists. How can one not, in dealing with this, cite the enormous mistake committed in 1012 by the monks of Sant Cugat concerning their territory of Calders? At that date, a certain Hisnabert, pretending to be descended from a very noble line, presented himself to them and claimed that he had, with great effort and at great expense, installed his household, his peasants and livestock there, cleared the territory there and built a tower fifteen cubits in height. The monks, taking him at his word, saw in him ‘an envoy of God and of Saint Cucuphat’ and conceded the domain to him under very advantageous conditions. It would only be five years later, in 1017, that they discovered the imposture (nothing had been done and Calders was in the same state ‘of desert and of solitude’ as in the past!) and they delayed no longer in getting the donation anulled by the judges of the count, Ramon Borrell.

Zing! How could this come about, you may ask, and there the answer is a bit more complex. Sant Cugat is one of the older monasteries in Catalonia: it later claimed to have been founded by Charlemagne (of course) but at the very least it was operational by the 850s, and in 878 it obtained a precept from King Louis II, the Stammerer as he is known to us, confirming all its properties.2 This was, shall we say, aimed at the future, in as much as it included a huge swathe of frontier land at that point well beyond any organised control.3 But, by the approach of the year 1000 that had changed; continuous creeping frontier clearance had advanced the line of organised settlement well into these “extreme furthest ultimate marches” and Sant Cugat was now facing the possibility of being able to claim its rights in these lands, for which reason in 982 it had had them freshly royally confirmed so as to deal with any possibility of people claiming reversion under the Visigothic thirty-year rule and so on.4 The territory was still far from them and difficult to control, of course, so this was why someone like Hisnabert would have seemed so heaven-sent to them; a powerful man who could perhaps reduce some of it to order and get them something out of it. (And if he couldn’t, of course, well, nothing much lost, something that Bonnassie’s version chooses not to consider.)

A tower in Calders, Barcelona

A tower in Calders (probably not the right one but not far off the right height)

But is this really what was happening? If so, it seems very odd that we get to hear about it. That the story was written down once in the grant to Hisnabert is probably explicable: this was an unusual situation and probably demurring voices were raised at the monastery, so the story functions here as a kind of insurance, saying why this odd thing made sense to do. But why do we have it? Once the old grant had been proved worthless, would you keep the original? and would you then, as Sant Cugat did, copy it up later into your cartulary? Okay, maybe their copying endeavour was that attention-less and their archiving that shoddy, but it’s a problem, enough of one to make the original text worth hunting down, and happily for us all, Josep Rius Serra’s edition of Sant Cugat’s cartulary is online. So, what does that say? Well, this is a long document, by the should-be-legendary super-scribe, Bonhom.5 It begins with an account of the capture of Barcelona by Louis the Pious that brought these lands into royal control, the fact that they then remained unused,

because of the incursion and persistent siege by a multitude of the depraved and most savage Ishmaelite race with their troops which raised battles and raids without intermission against the fortifications and castles of the Christians which were founded in the marches of the aforesaid Barcelona

all of which made it a bit unsafe, if you see what he means, and so for more than thirty years, do you see what he did there (and Bonhom is a judge, his own copy of the Visigothic law survives, we know he knew what that implied) it was left for pasturing beasts and nothing more.6 He then sets out the bounds of the property, and there’s quite a lot. But, he adds, after many years of this ceaseless plunder and demolition by the Muslims, Ramon Borrell and his brother Count Ermengol (the First of Urgell) raided through to Córdoba itself, guided by the Hand of God, and:

they put all the Saracens and Berbers to flight, with the help of God, and the king of the Muslims [Mucelemiticum], who had fled to them, they placed in the royal seat at Córdoba. Then God gave tranquillity unto the Christians, and they went out and walked everywhere around the aforesaid Marches [presumably thereby setting boundaries...] and they built many fortifications and castles which had once been destroyed by the aforesaid power of the pagans.

And, you see, this is why I don’t mind so much that there are no chronicles from this area so early, because that’s most of one for 1010 right there. There’s even truth behind the Biblical triumphalism: it seems that a number of frontier fortresses were demolished as part of the peace terms between Borrell II (because he had to come into this somewhere) and his brother Miró III and the Caliph al-Hakam II after he came to power in 961, so these places would have been vacant for most people’s memory by this time.7 And this is the context into which Hisnabert arrives, after a full page of the printed edition gone on historical preamble. Bonhom goes on:

Meanwhile there came forth a certain noble man, Hisnabert, of the nobler sort of origin, who predestined by God and Saint Cucuphat had taken over much of the aforesaid place and sought it from us to live in, he having come there with all his household… [and the rest as in Bonnassie]. For this place, heavy experience tells, was placed in great terror and trembling, so that anyone who should live there from day to day would not escape being himself often subject to danger on account of his or others’ possessions or money. On account of which it pleased us [Abbot Guitard of Sant Cugat, in whose voice the document is phrased] and all the congregation of monks subject to the aforesaid martyr, with the consent of the lord Count Ramon, his wife Countess Ermessenda acquiescing, Borrell Bishop of Osona assenting, Pere Bishop of Girona and Ermengol Bishop of Urgell agreeing, we unanimously with good heart and prompt will give and concede the aforesaid town and its church of Santa Oliva with the money or offerings of first fruits or other gifts of the faithful, and of these tithes we dedicate two whole parts [presumably of three]… to you the aforesaid Hisnabert.

There then follows a long precision of the terms under which he holds, which are basically that his family may inherit it but that neither he nor they may bestow this property or its proceeds anywhere other than Sant Cugat, that Sant Cugat will still be able to pasture their animals there and they retain rights of access and can remove him if necessary. And the abbot and fifteen monks sign along with six untitled laymen and the count and countess. So okay, let me just pull out some things there:

  1. If Hisnabert is actually a fraudster, it’s not just the monks and abbot he’s fooling here; he’s also fooled the count and countess and every bishop in Catalonia, some of whom know this area as only frontier landgrabbers could (that’s Saint Ermengol to you);8
  2. the specification of the property’s bounds calls it Santa Oliva, “as it was called in antiquity”; I don’t quite know if they’re anticipating him restoring the church, they don’t say so explicitly, but they do appear to anticipate it rendering tithe (or rather money: denaria not decima), which in turn implies a reasonable population base and it’s hard not to imagine the church is already up and running;
  3. it seems to be implied that Sant Cugat’s contact with this area has been, and will remain, running herds of animals through it; at that rate, they ought to be passing through the area probably twice a year if not more, and should also have known there was no tower if tower there wasn’t, not just far quicker than five years later but even before this was being granted, which is also implied by the gravis experientia of its vulnerability that they report; it all reads as if this was familiar territory to them, even if still wild.

All of which then makes me want to look at the five-years-later charter, also available online.9 And, lo, it is a bit complicated, but basically what happens here is that a woman called Adelaide comes to court at Barcelona, on behalf of her infant son by her late husband Guillem del Castell Sant Martí, whose father Galí had cleared some frontier territory at Calders, and she says Sant Cugat are moving in on her land and what’s the count going to do about it? So the abbot rocks up with his papal privilege and royal precepts and so forth and sets them all down, but the array of judges present, including Ponç Bonfill Marc, Son of Ervigi Marc the Wonder Judge, look them over and find there’s nothing in them covering this property. Red faces for Sant Cugat’s men! But it’s no better for Adelaide, who also can’t prove any right to the land. “On which account,” intones young Ponç, “it was judged in the same court to be better and more true that this land should be princely land just like the other spaces of waste land,” or to put it another way, the count gets to swipe it. It seems to be at this point that the abbot produced the grant to Hisnabert, or Isimbert as Ponç prefers to spell it, which is the first point at which it becomes clear we’re talking about the same property or properties, but the judges decided that since Sant Cugat had held no right to the land, they could not rightfully have granted it to Hisnabert. The count, however, so careless about his property, decided that probably Sant Cugat should have it after all, now, and granted it there anyway, aww, whereafter,

since it is necessary to build castles and fortifications in the waste marches and in solitary places against the attacks of the pagans, and since Isimbert himself did not develop this land, which instead remains a waste and solitude, the above-noted Guitard, abbot, and his monastic brothers were advised and ordered, on the instruction of Countess Ermessenda and by her son Count Berengar, and by the men written below, that they should seek out such a man as would build and develop this waste land in the service of God and Sant Cugat, just as they should require, and they give it to that man by this precarial charter of donation for management together.

By this stage I’ve already lost track of just whom Hisnabert even would have ripped off: Galí and son, the monks, the count? But what is clear is that no-one is here saying he wasn’t a nobleman or had lied or whatever, or that there was no tower. That would have been at Santa Oliva, presumably; the land here is at Calders, and the problem seems to be that he hadn’t developed that, in other words, that his tenure had resulted in insufficient value added. The count, or rather the countess—this case, despite its date of 1017, seems to have dragged on past Roman Borrell’s death in 1018, take note—weren’t happy with that, but the implication seems pretty strong that if the monastery had not been told to do otherwise, they’d have given the lands straight back into Hisnabert’s hands. Instead, the document as we have it has the whole hearing copied out merely as a precursor to the new grant to one Bonet Bernat. And then, right at the end, in a fit of afterthought worthy of his learned father, Ponç adds, along with his own signature and that of the other judges, this codocil:

we the judges who edited this, and by the ordination of our competence gave a term to the waste land at Torre, the tower that Isimbert made in the lands of Sant Cugat by the ordination of the above-noted donation that Abbot Guitard made to that Isimbert, and we reserved all the lands brought under cultivation, and all the buildings and workings that are in the circuit of the already-said tower to that term. The rest however, we ordain just as is written here. Signed Ponç, also known as Bonfill, cleric and judge, who have written these things….

And that, I think, changes everything. Because look, a tower! It was there all along! And cleared lands and buildings and stuff! Hisnabert had done his stuff! Instead, what seems to have happened is that Adelaide’s suit, far from the only one that Sant Cugat’s efforts to make its privileges and precepts count in these lands kicked off, had started an enquiry no-one wanted, not even her at the end, leading to Ramon Borrell being able to assert fiscal control of the area and thus retaining the ability to direct it, via Sant Cugat. That this is so, even though the terms on which it was given back to the monastery grant them full right, is clear from Ermessenda’s later order to change its manager; Bonet Bernat was presumably one of her people she wanted in instead. Or, indeed, maybe Hisnabert just hadn’t done enough. But either way, Sant Cugat weren’t, to their credit, about to turf him and his familia out on their collective ear; his tower was quietly secured as its own term by the judges, quite possibly once the countess (not a woman it was wise to cross) had left, and left “the rest… just as is written here”. So for once, a happy ending, except for Adelaide and her little son Bernat (wait, Bernat? but no, there are probably a dozen Bernats here, it probably isn’t the son being put in charge alas) at least.

Charter of Sant Cugat del Vallès

A charter of Sant Cugat (not the right one, but probably about the right height...)

Those of you who were at the paper will maybe notice that this isn’t quite how I told the story there: instead, I suggested that the monastery had dispossessed Hisnabert for some reason, and had kept the charter to be able to prove their own title to it and the terms under which they could do that, whereas actually it seems that they probably kept it because they still had him there on the land. I would have to confess that I seem to have relied too heavily on notes and didn’t myself then notice the codocil in the second document, which does rather alter the picture. Still, I take some small solace in the fact that apparently Bonnassie didn’t either and he had it in print for thirty-five years before anyone spotted a problem…


1. P. Bonnassie, La Catalogne du milieu du Xe à la fin du XIe siècle : croissance et mutations d’une société (Toulouse 1975, 1976), I p. 127.

2. R. d’Abadal i de Vinyals (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia II: els diplomes carolíngis a Catalunya, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica II & III (Barcelona 1926-1952), Sant Cugat del Vallès I.

3. Not that this area was completely anarchic! I have got so fed up of waiting for my paper on this to come out that it is very tempting just to stick the proof PDF on the web somewhere, but for now, I still hope that you will one day be able to see: J. Jarrett, “Centurions, Alcalas and Christiani perversi: Organisation of Society in the pre-Catalan ‘Terra de Ningú'” in †Alan Deyermond & Martin Ryan (edd.), Early Medieval Spain: a symposium, Papers of the Medieval Hispanic Research Seminar 63 (London forthcoming), pp. 83-109, now heading for its fourth third anniversary in process.

4. On the thirty-year rule you can at least see my work, in this case, Jonathan Jarrett, “Settling the King’s Lands: aprisio in Catalonia in perspective” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 18 (Oxford 2010), pp. 320-342 at pp. 325-327.

5. The document is edited as J. Rius Serra (ed.), Cartulario de «Sant Cugat» del Vallés (Barcelona 1946), doc. no. 449.

6. On Bonhom, meanwhile, see Jeffrey A. Bowman, Shifting Landmarks: Property, Proof, and Dispute in Catalonia around the Year 1000, Conjunctions of Religion and Power in the Medieval Past (Ithaca 2004), pp. 84-92, where his copy of the Forum Iudicum is briefly described and where references to it are given.

7. See Jonathan Jarrett, “Archbishop Ató of Osona. False metropolitans on the Marca Hispanica” in Archiv für Diplomatik Vol. 56 (München forthcoming), pp. 1-42 at pp. 14-15 with references to the Catalan scholarship.

8. On whom see Jeffrey A. Bowman, “The Bishop Builds a Bridge: Sanctity and Power in the Medieval Pyrenees” in Catholic Historical Review Vol. 88 (Washington DC 2002), pp. 1-16.

9. Rius, Cartulario II, doc. no. 464. This one’s brilliant.

Leeds 2010 Report III

The amount of time I have for this is quite small, so this post may be subject to the law of diminishing returns as I try and compress a day at a busy conference into rather fewer lines than I have been doing up till now. On the other hand, I said that last time. So, Wednesday. I woke up extremely confused for non-academic reasons and eventually got myself together to head over to Weetwood for some really small-scale stuff.

1003. Landscape and Settlement in Early Medieval England: using the evidence of minor names

This session was mainly about getting down into not just place-names but field names to try and dig down into really old toponymy in various areas of England.

Map of field names circa 1601 in Old Marston, Oxfordshire

None of these field names, recorded c. 1601 in Old Marston, Oxfordshire, were harmed in the course of this session

  • Simon Draper, “Minor Names as Evidence for the Roman to Medieval Transition”, focussing on Wiltshire about which he has a book out, argued that it’s fairly easy to demonstrate Roman site survival into the Romano-British and Saxon periods, and among sites where this has been demonstrated those with names containing the elements ‘wic’ and ‘chester’ feature strongly, as we might expect, and thus encouraged us to look at them suspiciously. I raised awkward points about whether it would not in fact be unusual for an Anglo-Saxon site to be on virgin ground, given how densely the land was settled under the Romans, and Dr Draper conceded there was a point there, but his technique was still fairly demonstrably valid, as far as it went.
  • Susan Oosthuizen, “Early Medieval Land Use and its Wider Context”, was working on areas local to my current home, which made it especially interesting to me; she thought that areas of pastoral agriculture could be differentiated from those where arable farming had been carried out from the names for the fields that survived, and these names matched the geology and flood area of those lands quite well. So another proof of concept, but perhaps questionable how much it told us that wasn’t obvious; I suppose the point is that we can check things haven’t changed and that the landscape isn’t misleading like this.
  • Chris Lewis, “Field Names as Evidence for Dispersed Settlement: an example from East Sussex”, was why I was really there, because Chris is always interesting whether he’s working at tiny scale or national, largely because he is capable of both. Here he was also trying to prove a concept, which was what can we do with this sort of evidence in areas where there is almost no other, and picked an area of the South Downs about which this is the case to try it with, the villages of Medehurst and Heberden, the latter of which is the older name, meaning ‘Hygeburgh’s swine pasture’, but which appears to have been a dependent of the older which looks like a hundred meeting site even though it’s not attested till 1120. From this he teased out strings of history of dispersal and agglomeration of bits of settlements like a slightly tentative conjurer, all very hypothetical but certainly a valid demonstration of his exercise.

I quite like this stuff but it’s arguable that I don’t learn very much from it, I just like seeing the little picture drawn out by people who care. The big picture remains the one that offers the chance of making big connections, though, so after much-needed coffee I admitted necessity and went and rejoined the Texts and Identities sessions, which had now stopped talking about Modes of Identity and started talking about Louis the Pious, a subject on which they have been fruitful for many years now. Additionally, now the Hludowicus project have all got themselves t-shirts, identifying them with notable figures of the era in football-player style. I approve of this, mainly. I see that no-one has got Bernard of Septimania, which is tempting, but Mayke de Jong has the Judith shirt (of course) and that makes the ultimate Barcelona-based Carolingian bad boy an awkward choice. Anyway, I’m not part of the group, so let me talk about people who are.

1105. Texts and Identities, VIII: government, mobility, and communication in the Carolingian Empire under Louis the Pious (814-840), I

  • Stefan Esders, “Missi and Inquisition Procedure under Louis the Pious: a new style of government”. I should make clear here for web-searchers that this is not inquisition like Monty Python and Torquemada, this is inquisition in the sense of inquest: Stefan was talking about the representatives of the court, missi, who were sent out to settle cases by holding inquiries. Stefan saw these as the hands and ears of the general initiative of correctio that formed so much of Louis’s royal policy, although he stressed that they only dealt with cases where ‘public’, that is royal, property or persons were involved, not often enough realised I think; monasteries and churches were allowed to conduct their own such proceedings. There is a particular flurry of these enquiries in 829, though they had been running since the beginning of the reign and never clearing their own backlog of cases. His main point was the sheer disruption that all these suits, enquiries and threats to office-holders would have caused; it could not have aided the smooth running of the empire to question all its operators like this, and so Stefan asked what kind of crisis Louis and court thought they were in that it might actually be better to do this. Not for the first time, parallels between the way people are thinking about Louis the Pious and Æthelred the Unready were unavoidable for anyone who’d been at both this and my session, I think.
  • Martin Gravel, “From Theory to Practice: top-down governnance and long-distance communications in Louis the Pious’s ordinatio of 825″ added to this by tracing the manuscript context of the so-called Programmatic Capitulary and including the second half of it that isn’t very programmatic, usually separated, what are cc. 25-28 if you care about such things, seeing the whole thing as a set of instructions for the operation of the Empire’s system of long-distance reporting, pragmatic as well as programmatic. I thought this was perfectly convincing, though I don’t know the text half as well as some so other views would be interesting.
  • Philippe Depreux, “Videte ut nullam negligentiam habeatis: reception of the King’s missi, tractoria and the Carolingian sense of proportion for hospitality of travelling agents”, took this a stage closer to the ground by looking at how much the royal agents of this sort were allowed to demand by way of hospitality from the king’s subjects when about their business. He stressed that while such provisions go back to Marculf’s Formulary, and therefore this was a seventh-century mechanism, it was being used much more heavily by the Carolingians, and so Louis the Pious was engaged in an ongoing effort to restrict the opportunities within the rules for venality and thus for corruption.
  • Whether this all actually worked would be a project for another time of course: it was stressed in question that though we have a lot of orders for how this was supposed to be done we have very few documents showing it being carried out, though Mark Mersiowsky predictably knew of a few. I offered to explore the early Girona documents for this question for them next year but was rebuffed with polite confusion; I might still do it for Kalamazoo. Rosamond McKitterick made the last, excellent but somewhat acerbic point, that Charlemagne and Louis both wanted people to be able to reach them to complain of malpractice,1 but that the officials those people had to go through were not necessarily so keen, especially the ones in the local positions who were likely to wind up ‘corrected’.

Obverse of gold solidus of Emperor Louis the Pious (814-40), Fitzwilliam Museum, Grierson Collection, PG.8162

Obverse of gold solidus of Emperor Louis the Pious (814-40), Fitzwilliam Museum, Grierson Collection, PG.8162

This then continued after lunch, with a slightly less administrative and more ideological bent.

1205. Texts and Identities, IX: government, mobility, and communication in the Carolingian Empire under Louis the Pious (814-840), II

    Here we had hoped to see Steffen Patzold, who had been so thoroughly invoked two days previously, but though we must have said his name five times, he was still unable to attend so instead things went like this…

  • Jens Schneider, “Louis the Pious on the Road”, which was an old-fashioned attempt to map Louis’s itinerary. This has of course been done, and big problems since found with the technique because we are no longer half so sure that the charters that are issued in king’s names with places of issue on them necessarily indicate any presence of the king, even if the dates are to do with the grant rather than whatever occasion, maybe weeks later, that the document was actually drawn up. Jens elected at the outset to ignore these problems, and so I thought it wasn’t surprising that he found that charter issue locations didn’t look the same as the spread of recorded assembly locations. He wound up with a further methodological problem, in as much as we don’t know how far the king was able to set these locations or how far they were guided by events: I was minded of Jennifer Davis’s argument at Kalamazoo that most of Charlemagne’s so-called policy was a reaction to immediate and present crisis. So as you can probably tell I thought that any charter historian would find big problems with this and so it may not surprise the attentive reader that Mark Mersiowsky stood up in questions and basically tore the method to pieces, allowing as a saving throw the fact that the documents still allowed us to show a connection between king and subject. Stuart Airlie, who was moderating, said he was cancelling his subscription to Archiv für Diplomatik forthwith, which would be a pity if he meant it as I’m in the next one. Anyway…
  • Between these questions and that paper was a rather calmer one, Eric Goldberg, “Hludowicus venator“, which asked what we should take from the unusual attention that is paid to Louis the Pious’s hunting in the sources. It’s not that Charlemagne, who built a huge deer park around his palace and so on, was immune to the thrill of the case, but the chronicles and biographies that cover Louis’s reign do largely pay a lot of attention to his hunts. It has been suggested that this was a way to engage a military élite who were having to come to terms with the fact that there would be no more big conquests, a means of continuing to supply victory, albeit on a smaller scale. Eric balanced the sources that make so much of this with others that don’t (Nithard and Thegan for example) and suggested that though it was plainly only one strategy out of many for leading an imperial-style court lifestyle, it might well be one in which Louis was a greater success than his father.
  • Because we’d only had two papers, Dr Airlie as moderator gave us an improvised “Response” to fill some of the time, reminding us that the court authors and even the legislators of the Carolingian era were often aware of each other’s work, and that while Aachen might well not be the be-all and end-all of Carolingian power, as it sometimes seems, it is still a pretty big deal, a centre of tension and above all suspicion. (Dr Airlie’s vision of ninth-century politics is often darker than many others’.) However, he also said, people were not just passive consumers of Aachen: the audience who beheld it also thought about it and interpreted it to their needs, and they evidently did interpret it as the key centre even though perhaps, in realpolitikal terms, it wasn’t. This seems like a good point, though somehow cheating in a way I can’t pin down.

By the later afternoon, I was flagging. I’d been up too late the night before, it had been three fairly intense days, and caffeine was becoming vital. Also, the rain impeded use of the silver machine, which is the only way I can explain why I was late to the next session, which was a pity. It was this one.

1302. Medieval Monuments as Technologies of Remembrance, II

Bet Giorgis church, Lalibela, Ethiopia

Bet Giorgis church, Lalibela, Ethiopia

  • So I came in in the opening minutes of Niall Finneran, “Subterranean Memories: rock-cutting Ethiopian churches as commemorative practice”, which meant that although I got to enjoy the pictures, which were fabulous, I didn’t get the paradigm he was setting up that he then spent the part of the paper which I saw contesting. We were talking about churches actually carved from the living rock, hollowed out chunks of cliff or cave, so it was easy to have fabulous pictures. I got to hear about the Axumite culture, which carved its churches so carefully that they look like wood, and had subterranean tombs in their centres just like the pagan shrines they replaced, and the slower process in which the same change-over happened in rural areas, so that Axumite features were still being replicated a millennium later 400-500 miles way. This sounded pretty amazing and then I thought, wait, what about a religion that likes its places of worship with a long hall, let’s call it a nave, crossed by another one with a place for a choir beyond the cross… how far could that spread? But the proof of the continuity of ideas is still worth something, especially when some of these buildings are in such inaccessible places. Who’s the audience? Someone who can replicate it, apparently…
  • Second paper was Meggen Gondek, “Revealing the Pictish Stones: carving ritual, memories, actions and materials”, which was why I’d chosen this one: Dr Gondek’s stuff is always very engaging and deeply thought-out. I was very glad to hear her say that the Picts weren’t one group, as you might expect, and tried to encourage her towards saying that the stones were an élite means of self-identification in questions; she wouldn’t, but did admit that the stones define the region, at the same time saying wisely that their use might not be uniform. The most interesting part of the paper was where she outlined a small group of supposedly Pictish stones which are in fact reused prehistoric standing stones, Pictishly carved, spread over the whole Pictish symbol zone. Whether this was an adoption or an erasure of the previous heritage, given that these things are displaced and arguably disfigured, however, is a lot more tricky to say. If you thought you might say, pairs of these stones in which only one is recarved, like Nether Corskie below, might then still mess up your theory. She instead chose to argue that the process of carving may be the important thing, which we are left trying to read from its results as if they were the thing the act had been focussed on, when in fact it may not have been. You see what I mean when I say her work thinks deeply…
  • The two standing stones at Nether Corskie

    The two standing stones at Nether Corskie, one of which shows Pictish symbols still in the wet

  • Last up was Howard Williams, “Technologies and Transformations in Anglo-Saxon Architecture”, which was exactly the sort of theory-driven paper that might get certain blog acquaintances’ backs up were they not friends of the speaker, but which was focussing on temporary structures, buildings for example that went on top of funeral pyres, built only to be burnt, and in that to be compared to funeral boats or the pyres themselves. Again the focus was on process: we get to see a body, a burial, and the stuff that is buried with the body, and so that’s what we think is important, but we don’t get to see, as it might be, the three or four days that the elaborate room burial is left open to be viewed by visiting relatives; by the time it’s filled in, Williams argued, its purpose might well be over, so intuiting things about belief from its durable contents might be trickier than we’ve so far imagined. The other end of this scale, of course, is the re-use of much older structures, forts, burial mounds, and so on. All this has something to do with memory, but the nature of that memory may be very little like what we think it was; it certainly wouldn’t have to be actually remembered or in any way correct to have a working effect among its holders. The ultimate point of the paper as Professor Williams pitched it was to remember that architecture is built for many more reasons than just settlement, but what I was mainly left with was the urgent need to actually conceptualise the process of burial when dealing with graves. Burial’s always kind of been the archæological focus I don’t have, though, so others may have heard different parts of this rich paper more loudly.

Now this evening was the dance. I actually nearly didn’t go, so tired was I, but I recognised from long experience that giving into that urge is a sure-fire way to feel wretched and friendless so instead I went, drank enough beer to loosen my legs and gave it some. There were enough people who wouldn’t normally dance dancing that I didn’t feel I could really claim it wasn’t my thing, after all. But some mention needs to be made of Kathleen Neal, who if there were prizes being given for enthusiasm ought to have won one, I don’t think she stopped dancing all night and this was no small reason for my also doing such as I did. This is supposed to be a point in the proceedings when you can let your hair down (in my case quite literally) and have fun, after all, it has a cathartic function, and while it’s never going to let me lose it like something where they play the music I actually own would, it’s so much better to join in than to be snotty and aloof. I went back to my room long after I’d meant to leave, reasonably happy with the state of things and much more relaxed than I had been when I got up. Now this entry has been brought to you by Amon Düül II’s Phallus Dei and Country Joe McDonald and The Fish’s Electric Music for the Mind and Body, so don’t worry that I’m losing my élitism, but I can put it down for occasions such as this, and just as well really.


1. Would you like an example? Here’s a good example because of the extra complications about how people might not have wanted the plaintiffs to reach the emperor. One occasion in 839 sees Louis the Pious make a restitution to a trio of fellows whom the Abbot of Notre Dame de la Grasse brought all the way north and east to Frankfurt, modulo my concerns about the truth of such information, where they told the emperor a sorry tale of oppression by evil men, at what comes over as very great length. The thing that makes this especially interesting is that the three men, whose names were Gaudiocus, Jacob and Vivacius, were Jews, and moreover Jewish farmers or at least, rural landholders. Presumably they were also clients of the abbey of la Grasse or they wouldn’t have got that kind of representation, so although Louis or Louis’s scribe find some good Biblical cites for not being les nice to non-Christians than to Christians, there’s really no obvious way in which these men aren’t part of the usual network of patronage and landholding in their area. People are conscious there’s an ethnic, or at least a religious, difference, but with the right intermediary they get their hearing and the verdict is just what you’d expect, albeit with a lingering impression that Louis might have given them anything just to get the lead guy to shut up: his speech is reported for some time

I guess this is in E. Magnou-Nortier & A. M. Magnou (edd), Recueil des Chartes de l’Abbaye de la Grasse Tome I 779-1119, Collection des documents inédits sur l’histoire de France : section d’histoire médiévale et de philologie, Série in 8vo 24 (Paris 1996), but I know it from the rather older Claude Devic & Jean Vaissete, Histoire Générale de Languedoc avec les Notes et les Pièces Justificatives. Édition accompagnée de dissertations et actes nouvelles, contenant le recueil des inscriptions de la province antiques et du moyen âge, des planches, des cartes géographiques et des vues des monuments, aug. E. Mabille, E. Barry, E. Roschach & A. Molinier, ed. M. E. Dulaurier, Vol. II (Toulouse 1875, repr. Osnabrück 1973), Preuves : chartes et documents, no. 97.

Seminary XXVIII: settling disputes across three countries

A monk in the stocks being berated by a bishop

Promised for a few days now, here is a report on the last seminar of the term in the Institute of Historical Research’s Earlier Middle Ages series, at which Wendy Davies was speaking to the title “Disputes and disputing in early medieval Spain: some comparisons with Wales and Brittany”. Wendy is perhaps the only person who could speak to this title, having spent considerable and intense scholarly hours acquiring a knowledge of the relevant charter corpora second to few and in combination, none. I’m not sure I got very much out of the effort of comparison, though, as it distracted me from the fascinating, and sometimes horrifying, dispute stories. However, because Wendy is a scholar, it behoves me to point out that she did make some serious points of comparison, considering the evidence from the point of view of:

  • kinds of dispute: Spain leaves us many more cases that don’t involve land in dispute, though this is usually because land is what is given instead of the financially-impossible compensation
  • procedure: Spain shows up officers of the court, mainly the ambiguous saiones, and makes much more of producing documents in evidence, even if they can as shown elsewhere on this blog be oversworn fairly easily, and Brittany has a lot of cases but only ever one sworn statement, which suggests that it’s something they really don’t usually do
  • modes of proof: Spain likes documents and sworn statements, as said, inquests, walking bounds (this last probably also occurring in Wales and Brittany) and even the ordeal, though I emphasised what Jeffrey Bowman has said, that you only go to ordeal when everything else has failed, so it’s always a breach of procedure even if it is itself done ritually; in all areas, however, the verdict and opinion of the local ‘good men’ can be crucial or even overcome an otherwise procedural judgement
  • outcomes: for major crimes, as well as compensation for the victims or their kindred, Spanish courts take a fine themselves, and sometimes this is land that is then donated to the Church which is the only reason we know about this
  • and

  • enforcement, usually done with sureties in all areas (though I couldn’t find you this in Catalonia), and in Spain the documentary forms may be hiding private settlements that are much more obvious in the Breton documents

Wendy emphasised that all these areas had formal courts, though the Breton ones could be no more than village assemblies: she suggested that such courts probably existed in all areas, but either only Brittany bothers to document them because there is almost no higher structure there, or else, the documents in Spain from them have not been preserved because there is no ecclesiastical interest in doing so. I think that last one shouldn’t be overstated: there are judgements from Catalonia that, I’m sure, exist only because the judge was a donor to the church of entirely unconnected properties (I should blog that one, just to have it somewhere), and though arguing from silence is always dodgy there could be an argument in this one. We kept coming up against the problem of what each society might have considered worth recording, and what that meant that we couldn’t see; in this, whatever Wendy pulls out of this (and she was speaking of another book), she may well reset our previous understanding which hasn’t really changed since two articles of Roger Collins’s in the mid-eighties.1

But always the best bit of disputes studies is the stories, because this is where we see medieval people in extraordinary circumstances, where we know emotions ran high and where any supposed grip of ritual or social control slipped looser than usual. It’s where the humanity of our subjects comes out strongest. So it seems best to close this with one of the more surprising stories that Wendy handed out, from northern Portugal in 943. The parts that I have emphasised are where the Latin, which is, er, unusual, most threatens to evade translation, and if anyone wants the original to compare, I’ll happily transcribe in comments.2

There is no doubt, but it remains known by many: I, Adulf, a priest, for my sin and by the schemings of the Devil who deceived me, I committed homicide upon a man by the name of Leo. And I compensated that homicide to his kin and there remained of that payment a portion due from me that I could not supply. And they led me for to die and I came before my lord Ansuri Gudesteiz and his wife Eilewa. And I asked the worthy men that they would make up stories to that man, so that he might put forth his protection for me since I did not have [the wherewithal] to supply that and so that I might liberate myself of that homicide and I would give to that lord Ansuri all my heredity so that I might be free of that same homicide for all the days of my life, and just so did he. On account of which I Adulf the priest, it pleases me through good peace and free will that I should give or concede my church to you the lord Ansuri and your wife Eilewa, my own church called Sao João, whose basilica is founded below Mt Petrosselo, the river Tamega running to the villa that they call Luzim in the aforesaid place in the homestead which was my father Prudentius’s, which I built from the grass up…

And from there on much more normal, but it’s quite scary stuff, isn’t it? The agonies of remorse but at the same time the hope of somehow escaping the ultimate punishment, and the whole doing the best he could but ultimately needing more help than he could get without basically subjecting himself. On a macro scale this is how peasants are supposed to become serfs, or at least one way, but firstly this is a professional who presumably lives on tithes as well as what used to be his estate revenue, and secondly he’s no ordinary peasant, if his father had this homestead and he could raise his own church on it. Makes me wonder who Leo’s kin were, and how powerful. And from there the whole question of how and why the murder took place! The Devil deceived him: is that just empty metaphor, or did he have some plan to achieve something by the murder that didn’t come off? Dammit, Adulf, you could have told us more…


1. I say `another book’, because of course she only just published Acts of Giving: Individual, Community, and Church in Tenth-Century Christian Spain (Oxford 2007). The two Collins articles, meanwhile, are R. Collins, “‘Sicut lex Gothorum continet’: law and charters in ninth- and tenth-century León and Catalonia” in English Historical Review Vol. 100 (London 1985), pp. 489-512, & idem, “Visigothic Law and Regional Diversity in Disputes in Early Medieval Spain” in Wendy Davies & Paul Fouracre (eds), The Settlement of Disputes in Early Medieval Europe (Cambridge 1986), pp. 85-104, both of which are reprinted in R. Collins, Law, Culture and Regionalism in Early Medieval Spain, Variorum Collected Studies 356 (Aldershot 1992), V & VI respectively. Collins argues that the Visigothic legal forms that generated Spanish dispute documents required an initial statement of the case, a record of any oath sworn, and a final quitclaim by the losing party, so that every case should generate at least three documents, but that these later combine into two or even one. The Leonese stuff that Wendy was showing us just doesn’t fit this: it comes from all points in the process, and those processes often had many stages, all of which generated some documentation of which we rarely if ever have more than one piece. Pity, because the Catalan stuff might almost fit the scheme…

2. Alexandre Herculano (ed.), Portugaliae monumenta historica a sæculo octavo post Christum usque ad quintumdecimum. Diplomata et chartae, vol. I (Lisbon 1867), doc. no. LIII, p. 31.

Speaking of Wendy Davies…

Professor Wendy Davies, late of University College London

Having just given her a paragraph and a chunk of a footnote, I should probably mention that she’s speaking at the IHR next Wednesday; what was a TBA slot on the Earlier Middle Ages seminar programme there is now occupied by Professor Davies speaking to the title, “Disputes and disputing in early medieval Spain: some comparisons with Wales and Brittany”. It should be good. It’ll be a full evening for me, but I’m obviously going to be there, even if I have to go sharpish once it’s finished. If anyone else in London or environs might be interested, now you know.

Two seminars too late: opposite ends of dispute settlement

It’s just struck me that I’m badly behind with seminar reporting. In fact I managed to jam the Catalonia trip between two seminars that had important similarities: they were by people for whose work I have lots of respect, they were both working on dispute settlement, and they were both studying a period later than I usually consider interesting. There the similarities more or less ended…

On 4 March Professor Chris Wickham was addressing a joint gathering of the Institute of Historical Research‘s Earlier Middle Ages seminar and the London Society for Medieval Studies, and he was talking to the title, “Getting justice in twelfth-century Rome”. To me this was worth it mainly for the stories of years-long lawsuits, flagrant disregard of the results, corrupt judges and obdurate defendants that most medieval dispute studies can bring up; the actual conclusions didn’t seem terribly transportable as the story was mainly that Rome was very unusual. The particular oddity that was being looked at here was the way that a dispute in Rome might be taken either to the Pope, or, after about 1150, to the Senate. Neither seems to have been very good at settling things, taking a very long time to produce verdicts that then couldn’t be enforced, and which might be appealed from one court to the other. It’s difficult to prove a judicial verdict is ever enforced, of course, but here we have a much higher incidence of preserved returns to court, for a new sentence after one had proved ineffective, than we get from elsewhere, and that must at least mean that such records were likely to be needed in the medium-term, which in turn speaks for an inconclusive system. What didn’t really become apparent was why the Romans persisted in using the system, although there was of course the possibility opened that mostly they were not and we were seeing only cases that people couldn’t resolve any other way, which might in turn explain why so few were settled… But there are circles here, though Chris’s work will no doubt slowly square them.

The Pope depicted as Antichrist in a 1521 woodcut by Lucas Cranach

Then soon after I got back, 19 March, there was Professor Stephen White, talking to the Earlier Middle Ages seminar to the title, “A Paranoid Style in Medieval Political Culture? The Taste for Legal Melodrama in 12th- and early 13th-century France and England”. I know Professor White’s work primarily through having reviewed a volume of his collected papers, and that gave me an impression of a very hard-nosed attitude to dispute records leavened by an interest in the actual characters in the disputes, which I can generally get behind. So I was slightly surprised to find I was listening to a paper about twelfth- and thirteenth-century romances, in which Professor White has found a pattern of disputing that he thinks tells us about political culture in those areas, especially under the Angevins. The pattern was basically that someone is falsely accused by a traitor, who takes in the corrupt and febrile king (often Arthur or Charlemagne) and is only thwarted by sane old counsellors insisting that the matter be taken to trial by combat, in which the wronged hero wins so that the balance between corruption and honour is, often briefly, restored. These stories do seem to have been popular, or at least, there seem to have been a lot of stories with these moments in, but disagreements from the floor centered on the variation between the stories in which they appeared, how important the dispute was to the rest of the story, how much extra diversity could be found in the pattern when you started to look, and of course, whether literary evidence like this really connects to the world. To the last, Professor White suggested that in the conflicts that rolled up the Angevin Empire before Philip Augustus, actually things that put tests of loyalty and misfortune from faulty rulers at the centre of their themes might have found an unsually sympathetic audience, but I still personally left thinking that little had been proved except that there are a lot more medieval romances than anyone can be bothered to read except when looking for particular motives. But is gutting literature for use as a context-less data-bank ever really sound history? It wasn’t as brute as that, but it was questionable, I thought, whether this could ever really tell us much about what people did, or even about the stories.