Tag Archives: prosopography

Seminars CXXXI & CXXXII: searching the margins of Anglo-Norman England

I’m sorry, did I say ‘the next week‘? Apparently I meant ‘the next month’. Wow, that’s never happened to the blog before, I do apologise. I have, for what it’s worth, been trying to secure the short-term future of my sanity and balance by actually seeing some bands, the medium-term future of history at my college by marking admissions tests and the long-term future of your humble blogger by offering myself as employee to people, and of course if anything comes of that you will hear in due course. But in the meantime, this is the only evening at home I shall have for a while even now so I should put some blog up, and that blog should be seminar reports. Given how immensely behind I am with these, I will skip one that I’ve no useful expertise with, Robert Hoyland speaking to the Earlier Middle Ages Seminar at London’s Institute of Historical Research on 7th March 2012 to the title, “Theophilus of Edessa and the Historiography of the 7th-8th-Century Near East”—sorry, Byzantinists and early Islamists—because although it had certain detective elements to it as Professor Hoyland was on the trail of a lost source, I knew almost none of the names involved and don’t read any of the languages and I have no means of evaluating how significant what he was saying was. Cool stemma diagram though! If you’re eager to know more I can revisit it, but otherwise I’ll move on to stuff I do have opinions about, those being my erstwhile colleague Emma Cavell, addressing the Late Medieval Seminar at the I. H. R. on the 9th March with the title, “Did Women Cause The Fall of Native Wales?” and Stephen Baxter, Chris Lewis and Duncan Probert addressing the Earlier Middle Ages Seminar there on the 14th March with the title, “Profile of a Doomed Élite: the structure of English landed society in 1066″.

View of Clun Castle

Clun Castle: capital of intrigue circa 1281!

Emma’s area of expertise is the March of Wales in the time of the Norman kings of England, and the Marcher lords who made their fortunes there, and even more specifically, the women in the Marcher lords’ families.1 What she had for us on this occasion was that, while becoming yet more expert on these people, she’d come across a number of letters to such women, Maud de Braose wife of Roger Mortimer (the first one) particularly, from local lords on the other side of the frontier, and what these letters were reporting was nothing less than military intelligence about the composition and motions of the army of Prince Llewellyn of Wales. This comes from a time in 1281 when Roger was out on campaign on that frontier because Llewellyn had just fortified it. Maud, meanwhile, was at Clun Castle and apparently running the command post, this information presumably going back out to Roger and the lords getting information back and so on. Unlike my period, we only have the letters in here, whereas I’m more used to having letters out, but nonetheless there she was at the centre of a fifth-column spy ring and she wasn’t the only one; Howys leStrange (good name madam!) is apparently reported commanding the defence of Welshpool when Llewellyn attacked, and the text that tells us this also tells us that while she was doing that she took care to hide all the documents in the castle. Yeah, I’ll bet! That is a relatively rare mention of such activity in the chronicles of the time, but the letters make it clear that there is more to tell. Emma has been working this up since, including details of a juicy family conspiracy between these groups, and I believe it’s now in some kind of print process, so you may be able to find out more soon!

Now, I thought this was pretty exciting myself, spies, spymistresses, treacherous compacts made on battlefields between mutually-cautious relatives and the last-but-one flash of Welsh independence briefly burning bright in the pan, but Emma got quite a grilling from Judith Bennett, no less, about the role her title had given the women and whether it was fair, and whether this evidence told us anything the Paston Letters don’t, and various others likewise sang up saying such behaviour wasn’t unusual in their area. I’ve had these questions (the ‘it’s not unusual’ sort) myself and I’m never sure what they’re supposed to achieve other than perhaps to imply that the questioner’s area of expertise is somehow more developed than the speaker’s.2 Well, great, but the paper isn’t about that area, so, can we talk about what was actually said perhaps? Anyway, you will see from my description that I thought it was good stuff and maybe you also think it sounds like that too.

The manuscript of Greater Domesday

The manuscript of Greater Domesday

Then the next week I was back in the same building to hear about a different native population being subjugated by the Norman yoke (MAYBE), slightly earlier, as Stephen Baxter and his team told us about the first results from the Profile of a Doomed Elite project that he is running at King’s College London. What they are trying to do is to properly, scientifically, electronically and most of all accurately count, identify, locate and describe the landholders of England in 1066 and work out what had happened to them in 1086 via the magic window of Domesday Book. This has, of course, been attempted before, but never so thoroughly, and in work that Stephen described as “riddled with mistakes” and “methodologically flawed”.3 There is a lot to do here, and it’s not easy: starting estimates are 27,000 pieces of property assigned to 1200 different personal names, only a very few of whom have titles and very many of whom might therefore be people with the same names. I am very familiar with that problem, as of course are they from the PASE Domesday project that Stephen also ran, and the digital solutions they were working out here were consequently of a lot of interest to me.4 They involve combining maps and tables of data, frequencies of names, their predecessors on the estates, their wealth and using all this stuff to arrive, not at solid identifications, but at confidence measures for possible identifications. I like this a lot because it avoids the two common problems with prosopographical databases where identification is uncertain, of either the database format forcing the user to decide where someone belongs before they have the full picture of the database completed, thus not actually allowing that database to help with the identification, or else that format not giving a way of assessing or making links at all, so that the identification always has to be done real-time by eye, and therefore not necessarily with consistency.5 Better still, it does not resolve this problem by having the computer do black-box identifications whose basis isn’t flexible. When our data is as variable as the Domesday data, pretending that we won’t sometimes get garbage out when we put it in is just unrealistic. This solution lets one measure how garbagey each result is, and as Stephen explained it’s solid enough to start doing statistics with, because adequate statistical methods can factor in things like confidence and make them part of the measurements. This should allow them to ask questions like: how long is the tail of small free independent English landholders left after the big guys whom we know lose out? how much of English wealth is actually peasant-held? How does the Church compare, how do women do compared to men? (A preliminary take at that last from 1066 suggests, apparently, that ninety per cent of lay wealth then was held by men and half the rest by Queen Edith! Lucky her?)

After Stephen had talked us through that in taut and dynamic style, Duncan and Chris filled in some texture. Duncan talked about the greater accuracy of micro-studies in this method because of small landholders pretty certainly not holding anywhere else so we see all their stuff; but most of a nation’s worth of micro-studies and a big enough computer of course equals one very detailed macro-study, so it will all add up. Chris, on the other hand, focused on the big identifiable people, not least Archbishop Stigand of Canterbury, who now emerges as the third largest landholder in England tempus rex Eadwardi (I presume after Earl Harold and the king?), and actually least, weirdly, Harold’s sister Gunnhild, although she was a professed nun apparently living on her own estates; nonetheless, they were only 30 hides, which makes her the smallest landholder the team can place in a secure family connection. Chris also showed us Danes settled in Wessex (described as such), mixed-name families, northern king’s thegns taking service with Norman earls and many other possibilities. I’m sure some of these have been spotted before, probably largely by Ann Williams, but of course they’re going to catch all that are reasonably catchable through this project and there seems no question that that will give them new things to say about how Normans became Anglo-Normans, how English dealt with or were dealt with by Normans and how that varied from place to place. There were questions, all the same, including a marvellously Heisenbergian one by Susan Reynolds pointing out that since the king’s commissioners themselves didn’t know the answers they were soliciting from the jurors at the inquests that made up the Domesday data, the enquiry was itself presumably changing the data; but, there wasn’t anything that the team didn’t have some means of testing for and trapping via the statistical analyses. It can’t be rock-solid accurate, of course, it just can’t, because of factors like Susan’s but also because of the variable data quality and so on, and also of course because of the large chunks of England not included in Domesday Book, but it might be as close as we can get…


1. For example the widows, as studied in Emma Cavell, “Aristocratic widows and the medieval Welsh frontier: The Shropshire evidence” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th Series Vol. 17 (Cambridge 2007), pp. 57-82.

2. One would like, generously, to suppose that it was to offer scope for Tom Jones filks, but if so no-one grasped that nettle.

3. I guess that by this was implied Robin Fleming’s Kings and Lords in Conquest England (Cambridge 1991), not least because esteemed commentator Levi warned us some time ago that Stephen makes criticisms of this work in his The Earls of Mercia: Lordship and Power in Late Anglo-Saxon England (Oxford 2007) but I don’t know if Stephen would also have meant Ann Williams’s The English and the Norman Conquest (Woodbridge 1995).

4. Cf. Chris Lewis, “Joining the Dots: a methodology for identifying the English in Domesday Book” in Katherine Keats-Rohan (ed.), Family Trees and the Roots of Politics. The prosopography of Britain and France from the tenth to the twelfth century (Woodbridge 1997), pp. 69-87; Jonathan Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), p. 19.

5. I have actually spoken in public about this, at the Digital Diplomatics conference in Naples that I blogged some time ago, and my paper there, “Poor Tools to Think With: the human space in digital diplomatics” is, I believe, still under review for possible publication at this time, though it’s possible that it’s in press and no-one’s told me. Now I’ve said this, proofs will probably arrive in my INBOX just as I head out of town this week…

Leeds 2011 report 3: Catalans, coins, churches and computers

[Edit: hideously mixed-up footnotes now all match up and exist and so on.]

Looking back at it, it does seem rather as if the 2011 International Medieval Congress was fairly intense for your humble blogger. Having been called to the warpath the previous day and then entirely surrounded by people with Livejournals, the third day of the conference, Wednesday 13th July, also provoked me in various directions. I’ll try not to relive too much of the drama, not least because I intend a separate post for one of the episodes, but this is roughly how the day went.

1014. Concepts and Levels of Wealth and Poverty in Medieval Catalonia

It is unusual for Catalan scholars to turn up in England, where Spain is usually represented only by Castilians, and I had read work by two of the speakers in this session and also its organiser, so I was determined to show my face. In fact the group had already discovered my book and thus my existence, so it was all quite well-timed and it seemed like a jolly happy meeting. There were also of course some papers and those went like this:

  • Pere Benito Monclús, “Famines and Poverty in XIIth-XIIIth-century Catalonia”, looking closely at who spent their wealth on feeding the poor in time of famine when the usual Church safety net was stretched too far, concluding that it was the public power last of all.
  • Francesc Rodríguez Bernal, “Rich Nobility and Poor Nobility in Medieval Catalonia, 10th-12th Centuries”, stressing how little we have actually found out about quite a chunk of the medieval Catalan nobility, and how varied it is; this was not really news to me as such, but it was actually really nice to hear someone talking about my research area as if it mattered all the same.
  • Sandrine Victor, “Salaries and Standards of Living in Catalonia according to the example of Girona at the 15th century”, was doing careful quantitative studies of the demographic distribution of wealth, and had a lot to say about labourers and their accommodation (almost always rented, unlike their masters’ owned houses) in the late medieval city.

The last of these papers was perhaps the only one that was presenting new work as such, work in progress even, whereas Senyors Benito and Rodríguez had both elected to give papers that were kind of introductions to their topic for specialists from other fields. There were quite a lot of these papers at Leeds this year, it seemed to me, and though I would rather see more developed or developing work, I understood why they did; they wouldn’t have known there would be anyone who knew the area there and I’m hardly a whole audience anyway. It was impressive how many languages the questions were in, though: English, French, Castilian and Catalan (one question in German, too, that had to be translated), and the conversation afterwards was, well, extremely informative. But we’ll get to that next post.

1121. Making the World Go Round: coinage, currency, credit, recycling, and finance in medieval Europe, II

I got into this session late somehow, probably because of hunting really bad coffee with Catalans and then realising I needed to be across the campus next, but what I caught was interesting.

  • Gareth Williams, “Was the Last Anglo-Saxon King of England a Queen? A Possible Posthumous Coinage in the Name of Harold II”
  • What was going on here, as far as I could divine after my late entry, was that there seems to have been a very short-lived issue of coins in the name of King Harold II from the royal nunnery of Wilton, almost all known from one hoard that also contains 1067-68 coins of William the Conqueror. Gareth suggested that the responsible party might be Queen Edith, Edward the Confessor’s widow, Harold’s brother, who owned the nunnery, and who didn’t submit to William straight away; that seems to make sense of what we’d otherwise have to assume was counterfeiting so that was pretty cool.1

  • Tom J. T. Williams, “Coins in Context: minting in the borough of Wallingford”
  • This was an interesting combination with the archaeological attention that Neil Christie had given Wallingford the previous day, though possibly only really interesting to numismatists; it did however include the fact that we can use Domesday Book to plot where one of Wallingford’s moneyers, Swærtlinc, actually lived in 1086, and he’d struck for Harold II as well so some English at least did come through, even if at a low level.2 One of the questions raised (by Morn Capper) was whether moneyers were too important to remove or too humble, and we still don’t know, but Mr Williams is I believe aiming to try and answer this for the later period as Rory Naismith tried to answer it for the earlier one, so we shall see I guess!3

  • Henry Fairbairn, “The Value and Metrology of Salt in the late 11th Century”
  • As you know I think the salt trade’s important—I must have read something once4—but I don’t really know how important so this was worth hearing. The units involved in salt-measuring are a bit obscure but by working up from tolls, we came out with figures of approximately 150 g of salt per penny in a world where a pig is 8 pence and a sheep 2 and a half. That makes salt less of a bulk product and more of a luxury than one might have thought and it must have been hard to get very much of it if you were a peasant. So that’s not nothing.

1202. ‘Reading’ the Romanesque Façade

I had wanted to go to this session partly just to see beautiful things and get my Team Romanesque badge metaphorically stamped, but also because Micky Abel whom I met a long time back was supposed to be presenting. In fact, though, she was unable to be there and then I got distracted by books, and so I missed much of the first paper. I have hardly any notes, but it was gorgeous to look at, because it was about the Conques tympanum and we know how that goes, right?

Typanum of the church of Sainte-Foy de Conques

Typanum of the church of Sainte-Foy de Conques, from Wikimedia Commons

  • Kirk Ambrose, “Attunement to the Damned at Conques”, thus argued that the passivity of the victims on the Hell side of the tympanum was actually supposed to frighten the viewer, and
  • Amanda Dotseth, “Framing Humility at San Quirce de Burgos”, took us through a complex system of sculptural ornament that seems to have been dismantled and put back in a different order at some point in its history, but which also may have encoded the monks of the relevant church into the artwork
San Quirce de Burgos, including its intriguing portal

San Quirce de Burgos, including its intriguing portal

1301. Digital Anglo-Saxons: charters, people, and script

This was essentially a session advertising the work of the Department of Digital Humanities of King’s College London, still the Centre for Computing in the Humanities when the conference program was printed. The DDH is one of KCL’s expansion zones, and there’s a lot to advertise, so it was something of a shame that Paul Spence, one of the speakers, had been unable to show, not least because that was the charters one. Instead, however, his paper was kind of combined with one of the others. Thus, we got:

  • John Bradley, “Anglo-Saxon People: PASE II – doing prosopography in the digital age”
  • This put the expanded version of the Prosopography of Anglo-Saxon England, which now (as you may recall) contains all the people in Domesday Book too, into a wider context and emphasised how they had gone for a structure dictated by information, not by sources or persons, which he called a `factoid’ model. This seems like a really useful way to think about treating this kind of data, actually, and I was impressed with the flexibility it seems to have permitted them. Of course, I’d never then actually attempted to make serious use of PASE and having done so for this post now I’m slightly less sure how much use it is to me…5

  • Peter Stokes, “Computing for Anglo-Saxon Palaeography, Manuscript Studies and Diplomatic”
  • Dr Stokes’s paper was about ASCluster, the umbrella project that tries to manage all the data that the DDH handle in their various Anglo-Saxonist endeavours together. Since they don’t all focus on the same sorts of data, trying to create a way of making them all connect is actually really tricky. You would think that pulling a personal name out of their charters database and also PASE and getting all the information together should be simple enough but the databases weren’t designed together and they aren’t searched in the same way, and so on. I could feel his pain; I remember these kinds of dilemma all too well. By the sound of it they have some challenges still to defeat, though the ability and lateral thinking on the team demonstrated by these two presentations would encourage one to think that they will in fact defeat them.

You can tell perhaps that I had mixed feelings about the efforts here. This is not just that I doubt that the money they’re likely to sink into this integration of their projects is going to see a return in terms of use; it’s already possible to search these things separately and compare the results oneself, after all. That isn’t actually their problem: they made a case for doing it, got the support and are setting about it, fine. Lack of use is a problem that a lot of this sort of project is suffering and we will hear more about this in future reports. No, my cynicism came from a much simpler source, which is that I had never at this point nor at many points subsequently managed to get their exciting-looking database of the Anglo-Saxon charters, ASChart, the one that I do have a use for, to work. Once I knew of it, I quickly found that the site would never load, from wherever I tried it, home, office, JANET or commercial internet, never. And I tried it many times, in the months after this session, every time I happened to have reason to check on this post whence I’d linked it in fact; nada. They must have known it didn’t work, because it can’t have been serving any pages, and yet it kept being advertised as a completed project, while actually the only recourse was Sean Miller’s scratch pro bono equivalent. This kind of thing annoys me. The result of an unsuccessful attempt to replicate an already-existing resource should not be that your team gets showered with more money and converted into a full department, especially in a time and at an institution where huge cuts had only a little while before been projected across the whole of the humanities. I don’t want them all fired, of course, quod absit but I would like the system to reward and therefore encourage fulfilment of the things that the money was awarded for. But no-one in power checks up and so there’s no consequence, bar slight embarrassment, if those things don’t work, and the system doesn’t actually incentivise them to improve the situation.

Screen capture of ASChart project homepage

Screen capture of ASChart project homepage

I was all set up for this rant when I got round to writing this post, therefore, and so it comes as something of an anti-climax to have to say, er, now that I check, it seems to be fixed. But it does, so I do. If the DDH team are reading, therefore, I’d better say thankyou for putting the effort, the bigger server or whatever in that has made this resource finally available, not least because as far as I can see there was little that required you to do so. So, it’s up, and even if the charters after 900, i. e. most of them, are not yet there and the links through to PASE crash in a sea of Tomcat errors, nonetheless it is better—in fact the Tomcat errors have gone away even while I’ve had this post in draft and those links now work!—and I suppose therefore that we may hope for better still. There are now diplomatic indices, linked from marked-up XML texts, which bodes extremely well for the future when the whole corpus is loaded and is something that I would love, especially just now, to have for the Catalan material (albeit that there is something like six times as much of that and no-one has databased any of it except Joan Vilaseca). This also means that when they get the post-900 material up, the whole thing will actually deliver something that Sean’s site doesn’t already do, though his free-text search is still unique and could be used for some of the same things. Well, anyway, we have two online Anglo-Saxon charter databases now, and yes, I have said before that I wish funding bodies would JFGI when they get an application for such a project, in case it already exists, but these two both have their points and I am running out of reasons to be cross with the DDH so perhaps I’ll try and stop?

ASCharters site screen capture

ASCharters site screen capture

Anyway. That was the last session of the day, and then there was dinner and then finally the dance, which was absolutely tremendous fun even if I did miss `Blue Monday’ but about which little can usefully be said here that hasn’t been said already. So with that I’ll wrap this up and move on to the more Catalano-centric post promised at the beginning there.


1. We know an unusual amount about Edith, which is coordinated and analysed in Pauline Stafford’s Queen Emma and Queen Edith: queenship and women’s power in eleventh-century England (Cambridge 1997).

2. I’m not quite sure I’ve got this right, because try as I might I can’t get him out of PASE—ironically given the above!—but he comes out of a search of the Fitzwilliam’s Corpus of Early Medieval Coin Finds no problem, and PASE have that data (I know, I gave it them) so he ought to show up. In fact only three people from Wallingford come out of PASE Domesday at all. I must not be using it right. That can’t be broken as well, surely?6 And even EMC doesn’t show any coins for him from Harold’s reign. I can only guess that the British Museum collections must have some unpublished examples; this could certainly be true.

3. Now available in the shiny new R. Naismith, Money and power in Anglo-Saxon England: the southern English kingdoms, 757-865, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought 4th series 80 (Cambridge 2011).

4. In fact, what I must have read is John Maddicott’s “Trade, Industry and the Wealth of King Alfred” in Past and Present No. 123 (Oxford 1989), pp. 3-51 (to which cf. the following debate, Ross Balzaretti, “Trade, industry and the wealth of King Alfred”, ibid. No. 135 (Oxford 1992), pp. 142-150, Janet Nelson, “Trade, industry and the wealth of King Alfred”, ibid. pp. 151-163 and John Maddicott, “Trade, industry and the wealth of King Alfred: a reply”, ibid. pp. 164-188), since that’s what I have notes on, but what I probably should have read is Maddicott’s “London and Droitwich, c. 650-750: trade, industry and the rise of Mercia” in Anglo-Saxon England Vol. 34 (Cambridge 2005), pp. 7-58.

5. See n. 2 above.

6. Afterthought: PASE’s About page says it excludes `incomers’, and this is a Norse name.7 Can that be what’s happened here, that the Danish-named moneyer isn’t being included as English? Because, er, that seems analytically questionable to me…

7. Also, if the DDH team are reading, the About PASE link from the Domesday search interface page goes to the Reference page, not the About page as it does from other screens.

Guifré consangineus Borrelli comite

The Castell de Llordà, Vall d'Aran, the centre of the old term of Isona

The Castell de Llordà Vall d'Aran, the centre of the old term of Isona

I’m coming to realise that in some ways the best thing for this blog’s content, other than commentary on other people’s research which always feels a little parasitical, is the footnotes that don’t make it. You know what I mean? The word limit is tight, there’s this thing you’ve tried to dispatch in a paragraph, you’re pleased with its erudition but it doesn’t ultimately have much to do with your argument. So it gets cut every time and you never actually get it in print. (Not that the stuff that stays in ever yes let’s leave that shall we right.) But they’re perfect for blog posts. So here’s one about a man called Guifré. Or maybe Gauzfred.

Gauzfred, or maybe Guifré, and far from alone in my period and area in bearing either name, was a relation of Count Borrell II of Barcelona, Girona, Osona and Urgell (945/7-993), which is how I know about him. Exactly what relation he was, however, is not clear. He turns up in documents only four or five times, which is more than some nobles get, but still isn’t really enough. Let me break them down for you:

  1. In 973 he appears with Borrell in two fascinating charters whereby the deserted city of Isona, where Borrell had been maintaining garrisons and a small rural population to support them, was handed over to the monastery of Sant Sadurni de Tavèrnoles with instructions that they should populate the area. There’s masses more that could be said about this operation and as it is another footnote that didn’t make it I may well blog it separately. For now, however, note that our man appears here as Guifré, consanguineus Borrelli, kinsman of Borrell.1
  2. The next one is the dubious case; in a document of 981 through which land was sold just outside the city of Vic in the centre of Osona (not Isona), at a place called les Planes, a Count Guifré is named as neighbour. This is difficult because there was living at the time a Guifré who would later be Count of Cerdanya, and his brother Oliba was already entitled count by this time even though their father, Marquis Oliba Cabreta of Cerdanya, was still living. This is a family where the comital dignity was always shared between all brothers so if one of that generation were a count by 981, it’s not impossible firstly that little Guifré were and secondly that he had land in the thriving city of Vic where the family was well connected, even though it be in someone else’s actual county. Otherwise, however, we have to believe that this was Borrell’s kinsman because of how he goes on to appear.2
  3. In 987 there was a very large gathering about the frontier city of Cardona, which is probably also worth a blog post but has at least had lots written about it already. At it, Borrell attempted to refound the city for the third time in his family’s history, and gave the inhabitants substantial judicial privileges and amnesty to any fugitives who made it there. He also made Viscount Ermemir of Osona their defence commander and patron, and did various other things organising their independent operation. Guifré, or rather Gauzfred was there to see it done, and attested as Gocefredus comes et frater Borrelli, Gauzfred, count and brother of Borrell. Guifré of Cerdanya was Borrell’s second cousin once removed, and besides the name is different this once, so this is definitely not meant to be him and far more likely to be the mysterious kinsman with frontier interests.3
  4. Later that same year the same Viscount Ermemir is said to have made a present of some of his properties in that area to the new monastery of Santa Maria de Serrateix, which, confusingly, the family of Guifré of Cerdanya had recently founded and about which we will shortly hear more in The Case of the Disappearing Abbot. This document is what they call ‘dead dodgy’ as it attributes the foundation, which was within living memory by a count still in power, Oliba Cabreta no less, to his grandfather Guifré the Hairy, already halfway to legend in this area but not a plausible figure for the job in 987. It’s possible however that that’s all that’s been changed in this copy, and whether that be so or not there appears as witness Gauzfred, frater comitis Borrelli, brother of count Borrell, without a noble title of his own.4

There may be more in documents whose editions I haven’t yet got at, Solsona especially given the focus of these involvements, but I would like to think he’d have been spotted by the aristocracy-hungry antiquarians of yore. So, let’s briefly gather that: a kinsman of Borrell’s who can later be described as a brother—but then why not call him that in the first place? At first not a count—there are some titles that don’t always get mentioned when individuals are doing business but that’s not one—but later a count in good standing, and then finally, when not with Borrell but witnessing a donation to the ‘other’ family’s house, not a count again. Almost always concerned with lands on the far frontier, but the only sign of his own land is back at Osona, which hasn’t been on the frontier for a century.

The Parador de Cardona, 14th-century castle in a 9th-century precinct and now a hotel!

The Parador de Cardona, 14th-century castle in a 9th-century precinct and now a hotel!

The evaluation of these traces is difficult because these documents of course have authors. Some of their content is dictated by the formulae that legally valid, or maybe socially adequate, documents, ought to follow, but less than you might think. For example, there is no formula for the Cardona franchise, because there just isn’t another occasion like it: it has a short narrative, a privilege unrivalled by anything else in the area’s history and so many special provisions that it bends out of any standard shape. It was clearly also a major occasion and the scribe may have been inclined to record it in high register, giving people dignity and standing they didn’t normally own to (though he didn’t call Borrell dux, which sometimes happens on such occasions).5 And lastly it survives only as a copy, so whatever agendas it was drafted with have probaby also gone through more or less conscious corrections by the copyist. That’s the sort of problem I mean. The scribe who (originally) wrote the Serrateix donation presumably worked for the abbey, which was a family house for the family of Besalú-Cerdanya, not Guifré consanguineus‘s, so would they have recognised any half-title he might get in circumstances like the Cardona one? If they did, did the eventual copyist who added in the Guifré the Hairy reference recognise it, and might he have taken out this other Count Guifré’s title anyway, and even maybe chosen the name Gauzfred instead, to stop him confusing things and making it look even more anachronistic? And then what did his neighbours in Osona call him and is that the only really normal record?

Then, who might he in fact be? Borrell had two known brothers, Ermengol Count of Osona who first appears in 942 and seems to have been dead in 945 when Borrell first appears as count donating for his late brother’s soul, and Miró, who after the retirement of their father Sunyer in 947 succeeds alongside Borrell to the counties of Barcelona, Girona and Osona, but who seems from his will and Borrell’s almost non-appearance there till then to have been really concentrated on Barcelona alone.6 Both these are mentioned in other family wills and so on, but Gauzfred is not. He is not to be prayed for in either of Miró’s or Borrell’s bequests, or mentioned in Sunyer’s or his second wife Riquilda’s donations either. But Sunyer had a previous wife, Eimilda, whom we hardly see except in her marriage pact, which isn’t dated as it survives but from the presence of an older Viscount Ermemir of Osona we can date to before 917.7 There are no children recorded from that marriage and we don’t see very much trace of her, but Szabolcs de Vajay has argued that a woman called Guinilda who turns up in the nobility of southern France ought to be identified as a daughter of this marriage, and if there was one…8 And it is clear at least that Gauzfred’s family relationship to Borrell is troublesome to describe, as well as being strongly implied by the record that Sunyer’s second wife got her sons into the succession and managed to more or less wipe out the record of poor Eimilda and her children if there were any.

The monastery of Santa Maria de Serrateix as it now stands

The monastery of Santa Maria de Serrateix as it now stands

So since I first discovered this guy in the records, my feeling has been that he was a son of Sunyer, either by Eimilda or by some other relationship not recorded, who was shunted out of any claim he might have had to the succession by Sunyer’s second marriage and the grooming of those children for the various counties in Sunyer’s hands. However, like those mysterious priests of a while back there were apparently some things for which dealing with this awkward relative were necessary, and with brother Miró safely dead and the need to organise the far frontier whither Gauzfred seems to have been banished, at least professionally, Borrell seems to me to have found him a róle as a coordinator and overseer of the various agencies, monasteries, bishops and viscounts, he had running settlement projects in these rather wild areas.

So I like to think of Gauzfred as a greying warlord, quite possibly based in Isona, a man who had never got to be count, to whom Borrell made an offer of status that he couldn’t refuse in exchange for cooperation in those northern frontier zones and who at last took a place in the state for a short while. But he must have been old when he did so. Count Ermengol was apparently old enough to fight in 942, so at least 14 and probably older. That means that Sunyer was married to Riquilda by 927 latest and I would rather say at most 925. If Gauzfred was born to Eimilda the previous year, 924, he would have been 49 by the time his rehabilitation appears to us, and then 64 by the time of his last appearance; and given that Sunyer and Eimilda were married by 917 at least he could clearly have been a lot older. All the same it heartens me, to see in these documents not just the fascinating machinations of frontier government, and the righteous-aggressive process of bringing it into touch with a dominant centre, but also the 40-year-old magnate Borrell reaching out the hand of friendship to his ten-year-or-more-senior family black sheep, and it apparently being accepted after so long quite literally in the wilderness. I hope that Gauzfred was able to die happy with his lot.


1. Cebrià Baraut (ed.), “Diplomatari del monestir de Tavèrnoles (segles IX-XIII)” in Urgellia Vol. 12 (Montserrat 1995), pp. 7-414, doc. nos 23 & 24, the former also edited from a different copy as Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 17, Publicaciones de la Sección de Barcelona 15 (Madrid 1951), doc. no. 174.

2. Eduard Junyent i Subirà (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic (segles IX i X), ed. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (Vic 1980-1996), 5 fascs, doc. no. 491. On little Count Oliba of Ripoll and his even littler brother Guifré, and indeed their martial then monastic father, see Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals, L’Abat Oliba, Bisbe de Vic, i la seva època (Barcelona 1948; 2nd edn. 1948; 3rd edn. 1962), 3rd edn. repr. as “L’Abat Oliba i la seva època” in idem, Dels Visigots als Catalans, ed. Jaume Sobrequés i Callicó, Estudis i Documents 13-14 (Barcelona 1969, repr. 1974 & 1989), II pp. 141-277.

3. Now edited by Antoni Galera i Pedrosa (ed.), Diplomatari de la vila de Cardona, anys 966-1276: Arxiu Parroquial de Sant Miquel i Sant Vicenç de Cardona, Arxiu Abacial de Cardona, Arxiu Històric de Cardona, Arxius Patrimonials de les masies Garriga de Bergus, Pala de Coma i Pinell, Diplomataris 15 (Barcelona 1998), doc. no. 7, but the older edition of Jaime Villanueva, Viage Literario a las Iglesias de España tomo VIII: viage á las iglesias de Vique y Solsona (Valencia 1821), ap. XXX, is still useful because of the commentary. More up to date work on this document and its contents from Victor Farias, “Guerra, llibertat i igualitarisme a la frontera” in B. Riquer i de Permanyer (ed.), Historia Política, Societat i Cultura dels Països Catalans volum 2: la formació de la societat feudal, segles VI-XII, ed. Josep María Salrach i Marès (Barcelona 1998, repr. 2001), pp. 112-113.

4. Villanueva, Viage Literario VIII, doc. XXVII. This must also be edited in Jordi Bolòs i Masclans (ed.), Diplomatari del monestir de Santa Maria de Serrateix (segles X-XV), Diplomataris 42 (Barcelona 2006), but I haven’t found time to get at that yet; it would be interesting to see what Prof. Bolòs thinks of our man Gauzfred. These two volumes are also where all the other evidence for early Serrateix and its foundation come from so I must check it before writing up the Disappearing Abbot.

5. I have argued that there is no authentic charter calling Borrell dux except a huge and grandiloquent donation to Sant Cugat del Vallès and the consecration of Sant Benet de Bages, the former written up by the equally verbose scribe and judge Bonhom, edited by J. Rius (ed.), Cartulario de «Sant Cugat» del Vallés vol. I (Barcelona 1945), doc. no. 217, and the latter not by Bonhom but equally over-the-top, ed. Albert Benet i Clarà (ed.), Diplomatari de la Ciutat de Manresa (segles IX-XI), Diplomataris 6 (Barcelona 1994), doc. no. 92; see Jonathan Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, unpublished Ph. D. thesis, University of London 2005, pp. 64-66. On Bonhom, who is a fabulous generator of source material, 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.

6. On the evidence for the family, see Prosper de Bofarull y Mascaró, Los Condes de Barcelona Vindicados, y Cronología y Genealogía de los Reyes de España considerados como Soberianos Independientes de su Marca (Barcelona 1836, repr. 1990), vol. I online at http://www.archive.org/details/loscondesdebarce01bofauoft, last modified 10 Jul. 2008 as of 15 Jan. 2009, I pp. 64-81. I argue for the grooming of a son for each county in J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power, Studies in History (London forthcoming).

7. Udina, Archivo Condal, doc. no. 9.

8. I can’t find the de Vajay reference now, for some reason, but I think I must have got it from 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. 33 & 34 (Barcelona 1991 & 1992), I pp. 281-364.