Tag Archives: Rosamond McKitterick

Leeds 2013 report part 1

I’ve been backlogged with reporting nearly this far before now, of course, and it’s the annual conferences that always seem silliest to report on in these circumstances. Who cares about the 2013 International Medieval Congress now? We’ve already had the 2014 one! Thoughts like this flap round this entry, but completeness compels me, and besides, hey, maybe you weren’t there, maybe you were and just didn’t go to the things I did, I’ll cover it, but because it’s also huge, I’ll put the actual paper reports behind a cut.

Ornamented pillars in the anteroom of the Great Hall on the main University of Leeds campus

Ornamented pillars in the anteroom of the Great Hall on the main University of Leeds campus

Last year’s conference theme at Leeds was ‘pleasure’, and perhaps I’m just a gloomy type but this didn’t engage me much, so I found myself drawn by neither of the keynote lectures that always start the conference. Instead, I made an early assault on the second-hand book fair (which only runs till lunchtime the second day, so you have to be quick) and generally tried to get the shape of the new premises, because as you may recall the previous year saw the Leeds conference finishing its residence out at Bodington and Weetwood campuses and getting ready to happen on the university’s city centre campus. As you can see from the above left, parts of that are fairly splendid, and in general it did seem an improvement. There were still rooms that had people on the floor while in others seats were empty, and to be fair the conference staff did try and swap some sessions over when this became clear, at the cost of some delay, but in general the spaces and moving between them were more comfortable and having everything on one site was worth a lot.

Entry to the Great Hall on the main camopus of the University of Leeds

Entry to the Great Hall (where, in fact, I think I never went)

My fears that the essential communality of Leeds would be lost was unfounded, too: a centrally-positioned marquee serving still-dreadful but essential caffeine proved an anchor point past which almost everyone had to pass sooner or later, and in the evenings the main bar proved a reasonable place to search people out also and also had better beer than Bodington ever had (though not than the sadly-missed Stables pub at Weetwood). So in general the move seemed OK. But, the papers! Continue reading

Some of my teachers on the Internet

Here is a light-weight diversion while I wrestle with a lecture. By various routes I’ve happened upon some of my old teachers in Cambridge strutting their scholarly stuff on the Internet and thought I’d direct your attention to them. Dr Catherine Hills, famous in certain circles as the person who’s probably excavated more Anglo-Saxon graves than anyone and whose recent book Origins of the English is well worth a look, lectured me in Anglo-Saxon Archaeology during my M. Phil. in Medieval History at Cambridge, and has always been ready with news and help since then when I’ve had the pleasure of running into her. Here she can be seen talking about a dig in her actual college, Newnham, and although it is something of a puff piece about how brilliant a Cambridge education is, nonetheless there she is being herself and unproblematically getting teenage girls to clear a metre and a half depth of soil in order to uncover Roman remains.

And then, more purely scholarly, my old boss, patron and fount of information and help, Dr Mark Blackburn, who also taught me during that M. Phil. as well as by knowledge, publication and example for the time I spent at the Fitzwilliam, managed to get onto the BBC to talk about Anglo-Saxon coinage (and an Elizabethan medal), and there aren’t many people who could do so interestingly enough to make that worth recommending. Here Mark demonstrates that he can. Long may he so continue! It’s an article with supporting audio, so I can’t embed it here, but do go look and listen.

Then, lastly, one of the people I owe most to, Professor Rosamond McKitterick, was awarded a Heineken Prize last year and was therefore hauled onto Youtube, as it were, to talk about her research. And it’s still there, er, here:

The setting is somewhat incongruous but the erudition is real and somewhat better-founded. I, for my part, will have a couple more short Oxford seminar notes then a Cliopatria media-medieval-misuse post, and then I want to ask you guys for some teaching suggestions, but I am not, at the moment, going to guess when I manage this. Keep an eye out…

Stock take, part IV: o but these are just taking up house room and brain space

Right, this has gone on too long, which is more or less the point of the thread indeed but the time has come to wrap it up and make some pledges. Because, you see, I have a bunch of papers kicking around that are finished, ready to submit, in fact in some cases have been submitted and come back unloved, but this doesn’t mean I’m throwing away that research. No: these should be out there working for me and gosh-darnit I intend that they shall go out once more. There is no room in the 2-up, 2-down of my brain for academic output that has now fully grown to be lounging on the mental sofa eating crisps and claiming there’s no journals to apply to for work. Get out! I shall name and shame them.

The Romanesque cathedral of Urgell, from Wikimedia Commons

The Romanesque cathedral of Urgell, from Wikimedia Commons

  1. Oldest first: “Bishop and Brother: kindred and Church in an early medieval noble family”. This was a part of the thesis that kept getting cut. Never quite essential enough to make the grade, I gave about half of it as my first ever Leeds paper and then bound it as an appendix to my thesis to try and counterbalance the fact that I’d hardly considered the Church. At least, it seemed that way at the time but really, on rewriting stuff for the book it seemed to me that really, there was quite a lot of Church in it and I’m not sure why I was worried. Anyway. The other half of it is summarised in the book, but the two halves still belong together because the original catch was just that: it’s about Bishop Sal·la of Urgell and his brother Viscount Bernat of Conflent, who around the year 1000 are easily visible collaborating as a family to maximise their wealth and power but who use completely different tactics to achieve their individual aims. The point is a contrast of lay and clerical modes of power, and all it needs, I am convinced, with a couple of recent articles on related people assimilated at least, is a rewrite to make that agenda louder and then I have two journals in mind for it, one UK and one actually in Catalonia. I would like it to go the latter more because it would get me seen by the people in my actual field but it goes to the former first because that will get me seen by people who might hire me. Next time, Catalonia, next time.
  2. The three papyrus Bulls recording the promotion of Archbishop Ató of Osona

    The three papyrus Bulls recording the promotion of Archbishop Ató of Osona

  3. OK, next up. “Archbishop Ató of Osona: false metropolitans on the Marca Hispanica”. I first gave a version of this at a conference in 2003, and the first proper write-up some time in the next year after I’d learnt a lot more about papyri, which feature heavily. I have given about half of it here as a blog post, but only half. The trouble is, it’s huge. I sent it to a journal Gesta knows well a while ago and they came back saying “we like it but you need to cut it by half, somehow” and the reviewer was quite snippy about what bits weren’t contributing anything. If I’d cut everything he suggested, though, half the point would have been gone. So I consulted Professor McKitterick and she suggested an entirely different journal which would probably have it uncut. And then, to my great shame, I didn’t get round to it. Right, well, that’s enough of that. I have made a rapid attempt to check for related work, believe that I have found the most obvious examples and this one will now be next out the door, before even the Leeds papers book paper item because all it needs is formatting and submitting. Now, given its size that’s still no negligible task but it is stupid that I have not done this and I hereby pledge that this will end.
  4. Sant Andreu de Gurb, home in its previous incarnation to the parchments of Adalbert of Taradell and family; photograph by the author

    Sant Andreu de Gurb, home in its previous incarnation to the parchments of Adalbert of Taradell and family; photograph by the author

  5. “Documents that shouldn’t survive: preservation from before the archive in Catalonia and elsewhere”. This was put together in something of a hurry for Leeds 2008 and turned out to be one of my better papers even if I fluffed the delivery somewhat. Several people told me I should publish it forthwith as it’s important, or so they think, and suggested some very high-profile journals they thought I should try. And there’s really only two things I need to read for it and they’re both short, or at least the parts of them that need reading are short. But I can’t, because it’s based on Lay Archives work and I’ve been asked quite firmly not to do anything with that work, at least until the project itself has managed to publish. But because I have so much else that needs finishing, though it grates me I see no point in causing an upset by pursuing this until all concerned parties agree that I can.
  6. 1176 copy of the 945 foundation charter of Sant Pere de les Puelles

    1176 copy of the 945 foundation charter of Sant Pere de les Puelles

  7. “Legends in their Own Lifetime? The Late Carolingians and Catalonia”. Mentioned already, born out of the twin wombs of “The Continuation of Carolingian Expansion” and “The Identity of Authority” fertilised by the pressing need to come up with something for last year’s Haskins Society conference. This actually turned out to be a good paper, or so I thought, and on good advice I got a professor who’d been there to critique it for me. Now all I have to do is revise according to his criticisms and send it off. Furthermore, a high-end journal already saw a version of this back when it was still basically “Continuation” in argh 2006 and they came back with a friendly revise-and-resubmit, which I should therefore have done straight away and maybe I’d have a job now. But I didn’t, because I wasn’t happy with it and it wouldn’t have been as good as I wanted. Now, this version is that good, so I think the first thing to do is to send it back to the same journal and see if they want it still. Failing that, another journal has actually asked me for it, so if its first home no longer has space or interest, they shall get their wish. This is another easy score and it will therefore go into third place on the list of shame, because I really don’t have an excuse for not having it done by now.
  8. You may be bored of this charter by now but I never will be

    You may be bored of this charter by now but I never will be

  9. Lastly the newest: “Nuns, Signatures and Literacy in late-Carolingian Catalonia”. Fresh from delivery, this one of course has a home, and when I say it’s finished I mean that I think it could be printed as it is and it would shame no-one involved. However, there is actually a lot more work on nuns in early medieval Spain than I have read, and I want to take Wendy Davies’s advice from my viva and make sure it’s in my thinking before I submit the final version. So perhaps it should have been in the previous version, as all the relevant reading is currently on my desk but there’s still a fair whack of it. Nonetheless, I intend finishing this one very soon, because I have done enough things for Professor McKitterick rather too late and by halves and this will not be another of them.

So, er, I make that fourteen papers I have in some sort of form without having done enough to get them published, and that’s ignoring the fact that I was contemplating a second bookThis is really not helping me. There is a point of view that says that one can’t actually drop everything one’s working on to concentrate on one at a time and to do so would make me unhappy, it’s true. But this is just stupid.

There is a need for a resolve of sorts. So, here is my pledge. I will revise, format and submit “Archbishop Ató”. I will do all the necessary reading for “Uncertain Origins” and make sure that it isn’t me who is holding up the Leeds volume. I will try and do both of these in the next three months, but I won’t promise the timing because of now being teaching and having other papers in final stages, book about to reach proofs and so on. However, I will do it at the earliest feasible point. Then I will revise and submit “Legends” and then I will concentrate on “Succession to the Fisc” until delivery time and then we’ll see what happens next.

Excellentissima et merito famosissima historica II

RM Monogramme

Back again in the Winstanley Lecture Theatre atop Blue Boar Court in Trinity College, Cambridge, I really regretted the no-caffeine resolve when I just about got to the second day of Rosamond McKitterick’s birthday celebration conference on time. Trinity is a very odd mix of styles internally, and really I think it would be fair to call it an odd mix of styles generally. It is full of odd little contradictions to its general ambience and attitude, and some of them are architectural. But anyway. We were safe away from the street, in fact from pretty much everything, so we settled into our seats and listened to the tributary scholarship.

Opening page of the St Petersburg manuscript of Bedes Historia Ecclesiastica

Opening page of the St Petersburg manuscript of Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica

Session 3. History and Memory

  • Paul Hilliard, “Bede’s Use of History”. A nice clear summation of how Bede’s programme to incorporate the Anglo-Saxons into a universal history of Salvation actually operated, logically.
  • Linda Dohmen, “History and Memory: Angilberga and the court of Louis II”. A close study of the public profile of the wife of the third Holy Roman Emperor, one of the most powerful women of the early Middle Ages, who by the twelfth century, in certain chronicles, a figure of feminine evil, Jezebel-style (and where have we heard that before?). Linda presented some extra material that showed that this discourse was not completely fictional, and found the roots in eighth-century politics that had been twisted into romance, which make it hard to discern whether the stories would have been heard as romance or as history.
  • Rob Meens, “The Rise and Fall of the Carolingians. Regino of Prüm and his conception of the Carolingian Empire”. A useful presentation of one of the Carolingian period’s gloomiest but most informative chroniclers, arguing that Regino saw the Carolingians’ fall as being brought about by their mismanagement of the proper restraint of sex and violence in due deference to Rome that had brought them to power.
  • In questions Matthew Innes made the excellent point that one of the things that the chroniclers dealing with the Vikings do is emphasise the way things have gone topsy-turvy by putting the Vikings in the narrative places of the king; instead of royal itineraries and victories you get pagan ones, and the whole world seems shaken out of joint as a result. I wonder how deliberate this would have to be but it’s very sharply observed. I wish, for various reasons, I could catch up with Matthew more often, he has a point like this for almost every discussion.

Psalter of St-Denis, also known as the Psalter of Charles the Bald, Paris BN Lat. 1152, fo 6v.

Psalter of St-Denis, also known as the Psalter of Charles the Bald, Paris BN Lat. 1152, fo 6v.

Session 4. Res italica karolina

  • Richard Pollard, “Carolingian Connexions: Reichenau and Nonantola. A new manuscript fragment of Hatto’s Visio wettini“. Seriously complex manuscript stuff trying to work out how the two different versions of this rather odd and surprisingly contemporary text about Charlemagne in Purgatory actually relate to each other, and in the process thickening the links we already knew between these two Carolingian mega-monasteries.
  • Clemens Gantner, “The Lombard Recension of the Liber pontificalis Life of Stephen II”. Posited that a part of the LP‘s assembly of papal biographies might have been sanitised of its ethnic abuse and general anti-Lombard rhetoric for the eighth-century political situation in which Lombard support started to seem desirable to the popes, again demonstrated by painstaking manuscript work. This one met with sceptical questions but Clemens was equal to them with the evidence.
  • Frances Parton, “Louis the Pious, Lothar and Gregory IV: why was the Pope at the Field of Lies?” By means of a very thorough run-through of the texts, Frances showed that there is considerable uncertainty about Pope Gregory IV’s purpose in coming from Rome to assist Emperor Louis the Pious’s sons in deposing their father, and concluded that while Gregory had seen an opportunity to restore the papal status as arbiter of the Frankish monarchy Lothar had had much smaller ideas for him and kept him from having any such rôle. This also met some tough questions, almost as many of which were answered by Charles West as were asked, if not the other way about, but one thing that was made clear to us all is that Nithard, and possibly other writers of the time, were definitely thinking of the papal approval of Pippin III’s kingship in 751 when they wrote up the doings of 833.

Then there was a really quite nice lunch, and then back to battle/s!

Sarcophagus and crypt of St-Bénigne de Dijon

Sarcophagus and crypt of St-Bénigne de Dijon

Session 5. Trouble and Trouble-Makers

  • Charles West, “Possessing Power. Unauthorised miracles and Dijon, c. 842″. Keen observers may recognise this title—I certainly lost no time in taxing Charles about it because I’m nice like that—but this was actually a markedly different paper, albeit about the same miraculous episode, largely because Charles had now been able to consult the manuscript that sources it and found it to be probably contemporary and rather out of place in its binding; though a later cover appeared to have been made for it out of a redundant notarial instrument, the actual libellus that tells of the strange events at Dijon in 842 may well be the very one that Bishop Theobald of Langres received from Archbishop Amilo of Lyons and therefore presumably travelled as a letter between the two. The other new emphasis was on the parish structures which Amilo apparently thought, even in 842, should be absorbing these people’s religious energy and piety, rather than crazy cult sites with politically-charged ownership issues. For one small text there’s a huge amount of potential here, I envy Charles the find.
  • James Palmer, “Apocalypticism, Computus and the Crisis of 809″. A series of well-aimed kicks at the idea that there was a widespread belief in the years leading up to 800 that that was going to be year 6000 anno mundi and therefore the end of everything, largely as expressed by Richard Landes. James’s position basically is that there is no conspiracy but there are a lot of people really interested in time and how you reckon it. In making this stand, however, he also dismantled in passing a number of the pro-millennial arguments which was a joy to hear. The significance of 809 is that in that year computistical experts were consulted by Charlemagne and his ecclesiastics on the age of the world, according to a council record, but that came on the back of two years’ famine and a defeat by the Slavs so the date may not have been the big issue. I think we all finished this paper remaining comfortably convinced that 800 was a Carolingian high point, not a year everyone spent waiting for the sky to fall on their heads.
  • These darn summaries are getting longer as I warm up. Let’s see if I can keep this under control.

  • Elina Screen, “Adalhard the Seneschal: troublemaker?” As one of the really important nobles of the time of the war between Louis the Pious’s sons, Adalhard has been seen as a kind of destabilising kingmaker figure. Here Elina argued the opposite, that as a kind of ‘shuttle diplomat’ he was frequently one of the few forces holding the fragile confederacy of brother monarchs together, largely because he had so very much to lose if it broke. She rightly pointed out in the course of this that an awful lot of the terminology we use to describe the politics of the mid-ninth century is straight from the Cold War: summit meetings, shuttle diplomats, and so on. I’m not sure what that does for our perspectives, because it does look like that in the sources…

At this point, what should have been the closing remarks were shunted forwards to allow the relevant speaker to make a plane connection, so we were next treated to:

  • Mayke de Jong, “Rosamond McKitterick and the Frankish Church”.
  • This was more of a personal tribute than an academic one, but one of the things Mayke noted is that in a climate of scepticism Rosamond’s early work always took religion seriously and that this is a great strength. And this is true, but more widely, one of Rosamond’s greatest strengths of character is that she takes people, generally, seriously. The fact that one of the most notable professors with whom I’ve ever had contact listens to my ideas and thoughts as if they might be interesting and insightful has helped me wrestle down the imposter syndrome more often than I can tell you, and I’m sure I can’t be the only one. This is one thing I didn’t manage to say in my personal thanks to her so I’ll put it here.

By now people were already gently and quietly making their farewells. People had come from Scotland, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA and Israel, as well as many points of England, and there were planes and trains necessary to catch. Pity, because the last session was just as interesting as any of the others.

Roman tuba or military trumpet

Roman tuba or military trumpet

Session 6. Taxes, Trumpets and Texts

  • David Pratt, “Taxation and Origins of the Manor in England”. While this paper was not an exception to the statement I just made, because Dr Pratt’s erudition is considerable, I have friends who are a lot more sceptical about the solidity of the terms that litter Anglo-Saxon economic history for the sorts of land that were recognised in law than this, and there was also a somewhat apocalyptic rôle for knight service which didn’t seem to have heard Nicholas Brooks’s new evidence about the date of its introduction. So I’ll forebear from further comment except to say that really, the Institute of Historical Research Earlier Middle Ages Seminars are worth attending if you can, but almost all the Cambridge people only go if they’re speaking. I think exposure to Sally Harvey’s and Professor Brooks’s papers would have made this one a different shape.
  • Jesse Billett, “Theuto’s Trumpet: the cantor in the Carolingian Renaissance”. A very unusual paper, as papers on chant usually are, not least because they are usually given by people who aren’t afraid to actually sing their subject, Dr Billett being no exception. Here he focused on one particular mention of a cantor with a trumpet in Ermold the Black‘s In honorem Hludowici and concluded that the usage was probably metaphorical, associating the poem’s military victories, which both mention real trumpets, with the spiritual one of the baptism of the Danish royal Harald Klak in 826.
  • Matthew Innes, “The Carolingians and the Archival World: charters and their preservation in the ninth-century Mâconnais—and beyond”. I actually can’t say too much about this one because it was a Lay Archives paper, and I have caused trouble before by talking too much about the Lay Archives project. You can see from his title that my work overlaps with Matthew’s here and this is something that I think we would have wished to avoid, had better communication been possible. Suffice to say that half the paper was stuff I knew nothing about and was fascinating, and of the remaining fifty per cent half is not yet agreed between us… But Matthew’s stuff is as I say always fascinating so wherever this one actually comes out it will be worth the read. (The papers should be printed; but I believe this one may be spoken for already.)

Final questions were fewer, largely because there weren’t many people left to ask them. The closing remarks were given by Walter Pohl, who made the excellent point that while the gathering had been advertised as a Festschrift, that obviously didn’t make a lot of sense to a German-speaker and he proposed instead calling it a Schriftfest, which we all thought worked a lot better. He also emphasised that the sort of open comparison of perspectives in friendship that we’d been able to do these two days was the best way to advance scholarship, and replete with that assurance, we all went our separate ways. I’m very glad to have been able to be part of all this. As long as I’m still in Cambridge it’s nice to be able to join in sometimes, and this was very good to join in with.

Excellentissima et merito famosissima historica I

At last the truth can be revealed. Why was I writing a paper about nuns all of a sudden? Why hadn’t it been in the sidebar as my next due paper? What was all the foreshadowing in that earlier post about? Now it can be told.

RM Monogramme

Very recently Professor Rosamond McKitterick had a significant birthday and, seeing this coming from some way off, various of her students had had the idea of a birthday conference. This, and its title which forms the subject header, was largely the brainchild of Richard Pollard, who also designed the monogram you see above and generally did the bulk of the donkey-work while the rest of us who were in one way or another participating kept quiet, tried not to tell ask anyone for help that wouldn’t be able to do similarly and, in the case of David McKitterick, her husband, made sure she kept the relevant weekend free without explaining why. And duly at 14:00 on September 12th she was escorted into Trinity College in Cambridge and found a gathering of about forty of her fellows, erstwhile and current students there basically to say thanks. As the person in that gathering with, I think, the longest hair other than Rosamond herself, and possibly one or two of the younger women, I feel myself uniquely qualified to say, “there was a whole lot of love in that room, man”. She’s had an awful lot of students and a lot of them have gone on to be important themselves. Some of us still hoping, also. But, well, it’s a conference. With due discretion and all that, obviously I’m still gonna blog it, if only to list the names…

Rosamond McKitterick, Professor of Medieval History and Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge

Rosamond McKitterick, Professor of Medieval History and Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge

The folder I have my notes stashed in has the monogram on the front. It contains a short biography of Rosamond, the programme, a map and contact details (all very well to hand out on arrival, but surely only useful before! this is my only criticism of the organisation) and a full or as-near-full-as-possible bibliography of Rosamond’s work, which registers (deep breath) six monographs, another co-written, six volumes of essays that she edited, another that she co-edited, and two volumes of collected papers, and eighty-two articles and chapters (not including stuff in the volumes she edited), one alone of which was co-written. If you don’t know Rosamond’s work, this may give you an idea that she is an important scholar in quantity as well as quality. Then, on the specially-printed notepaper (why yes, they did get some funding since you ask…), we have notes on the following papers.

    Keynote Address

  • Janet Nelson, “New Approaches to Carolingian Reform, or 1969, 1971, 1977 and All That”. The keynote address, which placed Rosamond in the context of her teaching by Walter Ullmann, something that Jinty also went through, and drawing the roots of Rosamond’s first work into the many branches it now has, full of shared remembrance and intriguing background that could have been supplied by no-one else.

    Session 1. The Reformatio monastica karolina

  • Marios Costambeys, “Paul the Deacon, Rome and the Carolingian Reforms”. Argued that Paul the Deacon‘s conception of Rome deliberately ignores its Christian and recent Imperial heritage, referring to it in terms of its earliest history to place both its history and the new Frankish rule in inarguable and uncontested Antiquity.
  • Rutger Kramer, “The Cloister in the Rye: Saint-Seine and the early years of Benedict of Aniane”. More or less as title except that that was the only terrible pun involved, a critical reading of the Vita Benedicti Anianensis pondering whether Benedict was in fact at first one of Carloman’s party not Charlemagne’s and how far his initial monastic conversion might have been a political retreat, then moving into questions of how his initial drive for asceticism apparently transformed to a desire for uniformity ‘that we can believe in’.
  • Sven Meeder, “Unity and Uniformity in the Carolingian Reform Efforts”. Argued that the Carolingian ideal of unity should not be mistaken for uniformity and that it was always ready to accept a good deal of diversity to which its own efforts only added. Arguable, but probably not with the Oxford English Dictionary definitions used; Susan Reynolds would have been unable to stay quiet in questions had she been there.
  • Some critical questions here especially for the latter two papers, and perhaps most notable among them James Palmer asking if, in fact, Carolingian reform could ever have succeeded adequately for its proponents or whether a perception of failure was built in. Sven responded, I think wisely, that the ultimate aim was to make the kingdom favoured by God and so the proof would be seen in events. It’s an interesting cycle of paranoia that this kind of drive might have set up, however. I think we see something similar with Æthelred the Unready‘s vain attempts to prescribe extra piety when the Danes just keep coming in his autumn years.


    Session 2. Reform from without, reforms to without

  • Benedict Coffin, “The Carolingian Reformation in the Frankish and Anglo-Saxon Churches”. Drawing out even more similarities between Carolingian and English reform movements as well as a few crucial differences, not least that in England it was primarily Benedictine not royal.
  • Jonathan Jarrett, “Nuns, Signatures and Literacy in late-Carolingian Catalonia”. You basically saw a chunk of this paper already, and I had to leave a lot of detail out, but it went OK and did everything I hoped for. Completely overwhelmed however by…
  • Julia M. H. Smith, “Wrapped, Tied and Labelled: importing Jerusalem, recycling Rome in the early Middle Ages”, exploring the contents of the altar in the Sancta Sanctorum in the Lateran in Rome, which transpires to have been installed by Leo III and to have contained, in 1906 when it was last opened, a mind-boggling assortment of Holy Land soil, branches, twigs, etc. from significant places there, as well as martyr relics probably from the other patriarchal sees, replacing Rome’s pagan history with a new one imported from Jerusalem and elsewhere. The illustrations were fascinating and it was a really interesting paper.
Behind those grilles is the box installed by Leo III

Behind those grilles is the box installed by Leo III

The evening was rounded off, well, for me at least, with a pre-dinner paper given by Yitzhak Hen. I won’t attempt to describe that here except to say that what I’ve written about his work here before may have failed to take his sense of humour into account. Then, there was a wine reception and a dinner, but I, with my usual mismatch of engagements, ran into London for one of the best gigs I’ve been to for a long time. But I was back the next day, aching of neck and back and short of sleep, and I will describe that later.

Confronting the/my past: how do you learn about the Carolingians?

There is I guess, no secret in the fact that I did two of my degrees at Cambridge, even if this is sometimes a cause of slight guilt. While I was there I was lucky to be taught by some very clever people whom I owe a great deal, and chief among those has to be Professor Rosamond McKitterick (though because I am ancient, she was only Dr McKitterick then…). Apart from a great deal of encouragement, administrative support and advice, and innumerable references, some of the things I owe her have only become apparent since then. Most of these are the things she made me (us) study, things that I would then, as a brash undergraduate, have as happily done without, and been a much poorer historian as a result. Such things were, for example, what palæography and manuscript studies can contribute to one’s grasp of historical change, not just intellectual history but, you know people moving from place to place, or just book production meaning you have access to a lot of sheep; or, generally, how what the clerics are arguing about can be part of the wider society they take part in and thus reveal some of the concerns of the man in the street; and I’ve since written here already about how what can, if you’re listening to Professor McKitterick for the first time, seem like a bewildering list of manuscripts resolves, once you know her approaches and can keep up with the citations, into genuine insight into issues of the days that she and I study, which perhaps no-one else could uncover for you.

An illumination of St John writing his Gospel from the Lorsch Gospels, taken from Wikimedia Commons

An illumination of St John writing his Gospel from the Lorsch Gospels, taken from Wikimedia Commons

So the main things I took from Professor McKitterick’s teaching were not to dismiss sorts of evidence as uninteresting just because I wanted to work on secular power and not monasteries, for example (not that I knew that yet, and you know, see how that worked out…), and that the élite and the general population were in closer contact and affected each other more than one might usually think. I also learned an awful lot about Carolingian intellectuals, and how to find that interesting (I still have a soft spot for Eriguena); I got my first taste of charters in the form of Tessier’s Recueil of Charles the Bald, and somewhere in there got a very important lesson about backing up your work, thankfully with something non-essential whose absence she forgave. I also got encouraged to study Catalonia after I wondered about it, and that has, if not worked out well, at least certainly worked out long-term. So yes.

This is all coming back to me fresh because I’m reading what is now my own copy, inherited by strange paths from her herself I believe, of her The Frankish Kingdoms under the Carolingians, 751-987 (London 1983). I’m not sure I ever read all of it before, which I’d consider shameful had the other two pupils of hers to whom I’ve mentioned this not confessed similarly. In their case it’s easy to explain why: it goes to 987, and none of us but me ever bothered with much after 900, whereas I went and worked on a periphery where the evidence only really starts in 880. This is the general state of the field though. The sources are much better for earlier, because Charlemagne and Louis the Pious’s kingdoms, and Charles the Bald’s also, generate lots and lots of writing and preserve more. Also, they have the big fantastic achievements (creating Europe and then creating France and Germany, behold the teleology) whereas the later kings either just hold on or, worse, fail to. Thus, there are a huge welter of books on Charlemagne; Louis the Pious has inspired a lot of scholarship even if, until a very few years ago, there was no single biography of him newer than 1839; and Charles the Bald has become the special darling of a whole bunch of scholars who’ve realised how important his reign was in setting up the events of several centuries following.1 This book goes further on, and I should have read it all then. Well, now I have, and it has been both educational and inspiring (it inspired the recent post about Cluny, for a start). On a lesser plane, however, it has reminded me of some of the things I found difficult at the time and in the teaching of the Carolingians more widely.

Cover of Rosamond McKitterick's The Frankish Kingdoms under the Carolingians

Cover of Rosamond McKitterick's The Frankish Kingdoms under the Carolingians (N. B. image reversed, Lothar really sits half-left)

These all fall more or less into a category that one could call ‘assumed knowledge’. For example, Professor McKitterick herself naturally makes no real use of source translations, and she would often assume that one knew where the best edition was or how to find out, or would let us know that there was a translation but not necessarily know what it was called. That often made it quite difficult to produce it from the Seeley Library‘s rather taciturn catalogue (still incompletely digitised at that point). Now I see this assumption that we would understand the normal conventions of reference to these works as flattering, but when I think back to the confusion that references to the Life of Wala caused me, because its Latin title is Epitaphium Arsenii and the translation, which is in a volume called Charlemagne’s Cousins. doesn’t mention the work’s Latin name or Wala in its main title, I still grit my teeth very slightly.2 Of course, a lot of Professor McKitterick’s pupils go on to do research work and are of the general calibre and dedication who can survive with so little signposting, but in my own teaching I’ve always been consequently careful to give references that people can put into their own library catalogues when they’ve never heard of the book or subject before.

The other challenge was a tacit assumption that we already knew the basics. At Masters level that was either true or I wasn’t going to admit it, but at undergraduate level I think that one needs a narrative, which is not something that Cambridge medieval history generally at that time was very interested in. I still wrestle with the contradiction involved here, that we were expected, if necessary, to go to things like Louis Halphen’s or Heinrich Fichtenau’s old books, both available in translation but not going very far, or even for the basics of chronology Abel’s Jahrbücher, yet not to take any of it in too deeply as much had been revised since they were written. Our authorities were not authoritative, and the voices of authority that we heard were not interested in doing anything as mundane as telling stories. Thus, when Roger Collins wrote his Early Medieval Europe 300-1000, it got stinging reviews from some of my Cambridge teachers for being old-fashioned `battles-and-dates’ history but I thought it was a (slightly stuffy) lifeline, and I know some of my students have felt similarly about it, because they have to get this stuff from somewhere. So the book’s popularity has kept Roger in cravats or similar ever since, because it is needed. While I was under Professor McKitterick’s tuition her volume of the New Cambridge Medieval History made it to press, which was a considerable help, but something like Roger’s narrative will always have its rôle because it puts it all together in one sequence whereas by its nature the multiple-author NCMH is episodic and thematic.3

Cover of second edition of Roger Collins's Early Medieval Europe 300-1000

Cover of second edition of Roger Collins's Early Medieval Europe 300-1000

The Frankish Kingdoms under the Carolingians encapsulates both what was marvellous about Professor McKitterick’s teaching, and these difficulties. It is not really a narrative, a history of the Carolingian era’s politics is not its main mission. Instead, it now reads to me more as a series of essays, arranged chronologically, on what Professor McKitterick herself then thought most important about that age. Sometimes that was in fact its political developments: the chapters on the last Carolingians and on the confused tangle of successions, especially in Italy, after the death of Charles the Fat, are perhaps the clearest accounts of those events I’ve yet read in English, and not just because I think they may be the only ones. (It must be said however that her few paragraphs about Catalonia cannot be safely cited, because they are riddled with errors, something I find extremely surprising; whatever the Annales Regni Francorum may claim, the Carolingian armies never took Tortosa, held Huesca only briefly and quickly gave up Tarragona.) On the other hand, the three chapters on culture and learning, where I think most such books would have had only one, all of which are among the longest in the book’s twelve, indicate a clear sense of the author’s own interests, and focus almost to exclusion on manuscripts, though there is also a brief and illuminating section on painting. Since this time, of course, Professor McKitterick has edited what remains pretty much the definitive work on such matters in English, so this is not what one still needs this book for, but it’s still illustrative.4

Also, there is assumed knowledge. For example, there are two references in the early political sections to the coup against Charlemagne by his son Pippin the Hunchback. He is in the index, but who he was and when the coup was are never stated. The extent of the information that is provided makes it clear that Professor McKitterick was aiming at relative novices to the field, but in cases like this, she missed, perhaps because of cuts that were made late in drafting or careless editor’s input. At least the complicated early end of the Carolingian period is well-covered now by other works. On the later end, as I say, there’s almost nothing else and happily this book remains excellent and illuminating on that period. It should be noted however that by then it’s deliberately covering only the Western Frankish kingdom, because Professor McKitterick saved work and words by deferring to Timothy Reuter’s then-forthcoming work, which became Germany in the Early Middle Ages, 800-1056 (Harlow 1991). Reuter’s book is very good, of course, but it wasn’t to emerge for eight years after this one, not that that was within Professor McKitterick’s power to anticipate or change. It means, however, that occasionally kings from the Other Side like Arnulf or Otto I loom into the narrative unexplained and the reader is very unsure where they sprang from.

The History Faculty and Seeley Library at Cambridge by night

The History Faculty and Seeley Library at Cambridge by night

All in all, though, it seems that the book has been needed to do something other than what its author intended. For want of anything else in English that covers the full period, it’s become a textbook for Carolingian history, and presumably it was commissioned as such, but although assigned to undergraduates, really this is a graduate book. It makes new sense of old debates and, as the blurb on the back says, it also serves very well for bringing debates that had effectively been conducted in other languages into English. What it doesn’t do is tell you the whole story, but then, the whole story has yet to be written. I’m not even sure it can be. But I still think someone needs to try, because it’s harder than it should be to learn without it.

1. Rosamond herself has just completed a book about Charlemagne, Charlemagne: The Formation of a European Identity (Cambridge 2008), and that will I imagine give references to the large body of other work; here I refer especially however to Louis Halphen, Charlemagne et l’Empire Carolingienne (Paris 1949), transl. Giselle de Nie as Charlemagne and the Carolingian Empire (Amsterdam 1977); Heinrich Fichtenau, Das karolingische Imperium: soziale und geistige Problematik eines Grossreiches (Zürich 1949), transl. Peter Munz as The Carolingian Empire, Studies in Medieval History 9 (Oxford 1957); & Sigurd Abel (ed.), Jahrbücher des fränkischen Reiches unter Karl dem Grossen, ed. Bernhard von Simson (Leipzig 1865-83), 2 vols & Bernhard von Simson (ed.), Jahrbücher des fränkischen Reiches unter Ludwig dem Frommen (Leipzig 1874-1876), 2 vols. Notice how the series goes no further forward, although it did go further back
On Louis the Pious scholarship now rests heavily on Peter Godman & Roger Collins (edd.), Charlemagne’s Heir: new perspectives on the reign of Louis the Pious, 814-840 (Oxford 1990), but recent Leeds papers have been a ferment of new thinking. The new biography referred to is Egon Boshof, Ludwig der Fromme (Darmstadt 1996), but I haven’t read this so can’t say if it advances things.
On Charles the Bald there is most obviously Jinty Nelson’s biographical study, Janet L. Nelson, Charles the Bald, The Medieval World (London 1992); that emerged from a similarly field-resetting conference, Margaret Gibson & Janet L. Nelson (edd.), Charles the Bald: court and kingdom. Papers based on a colloquium held in London in April 1979, BAR (International Series) 101 (Oxford 1981), 2nd edn. Charles the Bald: court and kingdom, Variorum Collected Studies (Aldershot 1990) with slightly different contents and all papers updated.

2. The text is edited as Ernst Dümmler (ed.), “Radberts Epitaphium Arsenii” in Abhandlungen der königlichen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin, philosophisch-historische Klasse 2 (Berlin 1900), pp. 1-98 (though Migne’s older text is online here); the translation is in Allen Cabaniss (transl.), Charlemagne’s Cousins: contemporary lives of Adalhard and Wala (Syracuse 1967).

3. Roger Collins, Early Medieval Europe 300-1000, 2nd edn. (London 1999); Rosamond McKitterick (ed.), The New Cambridge Medieval History vol. II: 700-c. 900 (Cambridge 1995).

4. Rosamond McKitterick (ed.), Carolingian Culture: emulation and innovation (Cambridge 1994).

A library with pedigrees

A package came for me the other day that turned out to be a copy of Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals’s Els Primers Comtes Catalans, which is pretty much the starting book for what I work on, an attempt to sort the national myths from the actual evidence for early Catalonia. I’d browsed for it on ABE Books on a whim and found a copy for sale in the UK. I was so pleased to score it—and it’s a nice copy too, dust-jacket has one chip and that’s all, tight, VG+, yes I did use to work in the trade since you ask—that I never thought to wonder why there was a copy for sale in the UK.

Cover of Ramon d'Abadal i de Vinyals's Els Primers Comtes Catalans

Cover of Ramon d'Abadal i de Vinyals's Els Primers Comtes Catalans

The last two trips I’ve made to Exeter have been for conferences, I mentioned one here and the other one was before the blog, and on both occasions Professor Richard Hitchcock has been selling no-longer-wanted parts of his library, as I guess he settles down to working only on what he intends to continue with. I’ve never had the money to buy the few things he was offering that touched my period, much to my chagrin. So it’s kind of amusing to find his signature in the flyleaf of my new book.

I can add this to the few volumes of Philip Grierson‘s, the couple of presents from Rosamond McKitterick and Matthew Innes and the long ton of Jinty Nelson’s cast-offs that make up a good chunk of my library. Mind you, this is not the most extreme case I know of: Matthew still has a copy of Braunfels’s Karl der Große Bd I. that he got from Rosamond, who’d been given it by Philip (who was in it). I really need to have books to give to these people to link the ends of this loop up, sadly not possible to Philip but otherwise it would be neat. I wonder if any of what I amass will be of worth to my students in the inevitable end, and if any of it will have passed to me by such means like these. How many generations can we pass books through?

A Jarrett bookcase

A Jarrett bookcase