Tag Archives: women

Leeds 2012 Report 4 and Final

This last post on the International Medieval Congress of 2012 is a bit more ‘last post’ than usual, because it also involves saying goodbye to the place where all the previous instances of ‘Leeds’ had taken place, the Bodington Campus of the University of Leeds. There were plenty of drawbacks to this place, and even to its more modern partner across the playing fields, Weetwood Hall; the number of sessions in these buildings I’ve been sat on the floor for because there wasn’t room for them anywhere larger, the trek across the fields that got significantly less pleasant in the rain, the vulnerability of socialisation to the weather generally, indeed… and I won’t miss the food even a bit. On the other hand, one accepts that an event of that size is constrained by that, and on the upside, as I’ve often observed, with good weather, you could within ten minutes more or less reliably locate anyone you wanted to see as they would either be at the pub or sprawled on the same lawn as most of the rest of European medieval studies, and that was immensely valuable. It will be very interesting to see how the new version goes. Meanwhile, rather than eulogising Bodington any further, I’ll merely point out that [c] of The Pen, the Brush and the Needle already did a post about it, so if you miss it you can direct yourself thither.

Bodington Hall, University of Leeds, viewed across some ponies, 2012

Bodington Hall exemplifying its somewhat troublesome fit among the local landscape, and also more or less defying any pretence of actually being, you know, in Leeds

Change was already afoot in 2012, though, and I don’t just mean the myriad of goodbye events, though I think it something of an indictment of the IMC spirit of fun that it had taken them this long to put on jousting. (I missed most of the actual jousting and only saw the riders repeatedly knocking over a quintain which they’d not been allowed enough flat ground to set up stably.) No, I mean the creeping extension of the conference length. It used to be that the last day of the conference finished at lunch, but thus year just gone it crept out into one afternoon session and now this year there will be two, so it’ll finish at six. I imagine that those last sessions will be very poorly attended due to everyone with much distance to travel having disappeared, and in that respect, though I am not exactly happy about being first on the morning after the dance again (twice at Kalamazoo and three times in a row at Leeds now) I can certainly see how things could be worse. Anyway, last year I doggedly went to to sessions till the end, here are some of the details. I will be brief-ish, because apart from anything else I have yet to pack for this year’s Leeds and head off to it, but you’ll see how I wanted this done first…

1525. Construction and Continuity of Episcopal Identities in the Alpine and Rhineland Regions, c. 400-800

  • Christine Davison, “The Authority of Bishops and the Cults of the Saints in Late Antique Trier”
    Certainly it’s safe to say that I knew a lot more about late antique Trier and its bishops at the end of this paper than at the beginning but one of the things I now knew was how little we know, if you see what I mean. There was some brave hypothesising to fill the gaps.
  • Chantal Bielmann, “Bishops and the Cults of Saints in Alpine Switzerland: the cases of St Peter (Geneva) and St Lucius (Chur), c. 300-800″
    I will confess that it was the the prospect of two papers together on Chur that had lured me to this sessions; Chur is one of those areas I nearly could have worked on, ever since Matthew Innes pointed me at the Carolingian-period episcopal estate survey we have from there and I came back all excited about bishops taking tax in iron and so on.1 Also, it has my kind of scenery. With all that said, however, I never did really work on it, so I take the chance to learn from those who have when I get it. That said, this paper taught me more about Geneva than Chur, and the obvious common factor appeared to be the bishops’ care to control access to and veneration the saints in their cathedrals, which Ms Bielmann used the architectural history lucidly to explicate.
  • Helena Carr, “A Briton Abroad? St Lucius of Chur and the Moulding of a Diocesan Patron”
    This was certainly the most fascinating of the papers for me, though, because it had such an excellent premise. In Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People we are told that a King Lucius of the Britons sent to Rome for missionaries in A. D. 156, which is a fiction Bede acquired from the Roman Liber Pontificalis. This Lucius was nonetheless later culted as the patron saint of Chur, which for those of you less oddly-educated than me is in the south of the Alps, just south of Liechtenstein. You may at this point, if you so choose, allow yourself a large-scale, “Huh?” Basically, after that it probably didn’t matter what Dr Carr said to explain this state of affairs, the existence of it was interesting enough, but she had been looking: the cult at Chur seems to start in the eighth century, when it replaced one of Andrew, and to be focused on a local saint from the Prättigau relocated into the city. And what was the Latin name of that area? Bretanga, a mere lenitive slip away from Britannia… By the late eighth century the nearby monastery of St Gallen (whose monks knew their Bede) had this worked up into a full-scale Vita of a king who gave up rule to become a missionary. Dr Carr wondered if this ex-royal saint might be being focused on to rival the reputation of the erstwhile Burgundian king Sigismund at nearby centres, but another factor might have been the pilgrim traffic across the Alps, which included as we know an increasing number of Anglo-Saxons; did it also include Britons, or would the English have thought this part of their heritage by now, as Bede obviously sort of did?2
  • Sadly there wasn’t much time to debate any of this, but I certainly now felt it had been worth getting up on time, even if coffee did also seem a great desideratum. (And Bodington’s supposed coffee is another thing I shan’t miss, actually.)

1609. Apocalypticism and Prognostication in the Early and High Medieval West, II: Around the Year 1000

It was probably ineluctable that I go to this, except inasmuch as I obviously chose to, but you know what I mean. Year 1000, Gerbert of Aurillac and our esteemed commentator Levi Roach, how was I to do otherwise?

  • George David House, “Uncovering the Gregorian Eschatological Rhetoric in Gerbert of Aurillac’s Letter 57″
    Mr House was here trying to argue that the thinking of Gerbert of Aurillac, eventual Pope Sylvester II having been fired upwards from every job he’d previously had but known to me mainly because of his Catalan training, was more influenced by Gregory the Great than by St Augustine. It could not be said that I have a dog in this fight but nonetheless I did think that the language on which Mr House placed emphasis could just as well be read as reaction to a general crisis rather than any particular belief-set about the end of the world. I suppose the question is what came to Gerbert’s mind when he contemplated general crisis, but I think that getting into Gerbert’s head, especially in his letters which are often written for an audience other than the recipient, is going to be a tough job.
  • Joanna Thornborough, “The Whore of the Apocalypse and Kaiserkritik around the Year 1000″
    The Biblical figure of Jezebel was widely used as a figure for criticising queens in the Middle Ages, as is well studied,3 but she also has an appearance as the Whore of Babylon in Revelations, or at least it was clear to the age’s commentators that the two were the same. Ms Thornborough took us through three texts that make great play of this theme, and suggested that they all one way or another link back to a greater policing of powerful women’s roles at the Ottonian court, using Apocalyptic imagery already in play as part of the wider monastic reform movement.
  • Levi Roach, “New Approaches to an Old Problem: Otto III and the End of Time”
    Apart from being a paper whose title clearly should have been the other way round for maximum drama—I mean, come on, isn’t Otto III and the End of Time a film waiting to be made?—this was Levi’s usual high standard of erudition, looking through Emperor Otto III’s charters for some way to choose between the maximalist and minimalist views of how preoccupied his court were with the thought of the impending Apocalypse. There seems no way to deny the idea was around: Otto was crowned in a robe ornamented with depictions of the Apocalypse in the year 999, after all, moved his court to Rome and allegedly planned to retire to Jerusalem in the year 1000! I have to note that this is supported much less obviously from the charters than the records of Otto’s reign by others, though. The question then becomes whether Otto himself thought the world was about to end, or whether he was just playing on other people’s fears that it might do so, and perhaps more interestingly as Levi asked, if he did believe it was about to end, did he think he could do anything about that? I suspect we will never know but it is a worthwhile reminder that the stakes of power were arguably somewhat higher in a world brought up to believe that their own actions were part of a much large framework of events, in which someone in a position like an emperor’s might be playing a vital rôle but one for which the script was less than clear…

1723. The Viking Winter-Camp at Torksey, Lincolnshire, II

Last but not least, back to the archæology. You may not know that in recent years quite a lot of work has been done on the camp where a Viking force seems to have wintered in 871-872, a site that has become apparent only because of the incredible amount of metalwork that detectorists have pulled out of it, but I was well aware because a decent collection of those finds now resides in the Fitzwilliam Museum and more arrived when I was still there. So I went to find out more…

  • Dawn Hadley, “Burial Practices in Viking-Age Torksey”
    This paper reported on four cemeteries, all of which as far as my notes reveal turned out to be later than the Viking occupation, even though one of them sounded suspiciously like a battle-grave, or at least a catastrophe one. That one, however, was being dated from pottery alone, so there’s at least room to check there. Nonetheless, actual pre-Viking Torksey stands largely unrevealed apart from a few kilns so far, not least because so far everywhere they’ve put a spade they’ve hit a tenth- or eleventh-century cemetery!
  • Hannah Brown, “Surveying the Landscape of the Viking Winter-Camp”
    Here, on the other hand, the geophysics gave quite a lot of scope to imagine underlying structures and settlement, and also fairly clear evidence of a sectional ditch around the camp with holes outside, presumably not part of the fortification but perhaps clay pits? That in itself reveals the problems with this method: you can see there’s something there but putting a date on it will take excavation, which weirdly—and there was probably a reason for this explained but I haven’t recorded it—has not yet been done at the actual camp.
  • Søren Sindbæk, “Ring-Fenced Vikings: Scandinavian army camps and defensive tactics from Torksey to Trelleborg”
    In the absence of actual evidence, one approach then becomes to look elsewhere and see what we might expect, and Dr Sindbæk did this in fine style, taking us through Aggersborg and Trelleborg and emphasising that the very short lifespans of both indicate that they were a response to some kind of crisis, rather than part of a sustained fortification programme like the Anglo-Saxon one of which Torksey eventually became part. Torksey would have likely been even more ephemeral, though, lacking the organised and impressive buildings of the two Danish sites, so exactly what might have been there is still something of a mystery.

And thus it ends, folks, and it’s time for me to pack and head off to this year’s (though I’m scheduling this post to appear rather after I’ve done that, I should say). This year’s conference is, please note, a week earlier than last year’s, so I haven’t quite fallen a year behind. Let’s see if I get to this year’s one sooner!

1. Seriously, folks, tax in iron. The peasants got to keep most of what they’d mined, though, which in turn means they must have been selling it, because you can’t eat iron can you? It’s all quite important. Details in E. Meyer-Marthaler & F. Perret (edd.), “Das Urbar des Reichsgutes in Churrätien (9. Jht)” in eidem (edd.), Bündner Urkundenbuch. I. Band: 390-1199 (Chur 1965), pp. 373-393.

2. As far as I can see this hasn’t yet made it to publication, but those whose institutions have paid their blood-tax to ProQuest could examine Dr Carr’s thesis, “Sanctity and religious culture amongst the Alpine passes: a study of aspects of patrocinia, liturgy and scriptoria in Early Medieval Churraetia, 400-850 AD” (Ph. D. thesis, University of York, 2006), http://search.proquest.com/dissertations/docview/304950122/135BF34EDEE6AF485BA/239, where doubtless more such nuggets reside.

3. See Janet L. Nelson, “Queens as Jezebels: Brunhild and Balthild in Merovingian history” in D. Baker (ed.), Medieval Women: essays dedicated and presented to Rosalind M. T. Hill, Studies in Church History Subsidia 1 (Oxford 1978), pp. 31-78, repr. in Nelson, Politics and Ritual in Early Mediaeval Europe (London 1986), pp. 1-48 & in Lester K. Little & Barbara H. Rosenwein (edd.), Debating the Middle Ages: issues and readings (Oxford 1998), pp. 219-253.

Back in my bad books: l’affaire Zimmermann encore une fois

(The current flood of blogging here may just have led you to miss a couple of earlier posts, most obviously the notice of the Leeds IMC 2013 bloggers’ meet-up. That’s here, should you want it. Now read on!) I feel like I’m going many rounds in this struggle, and by now so do you I expect, but the conflict I have over this book is an ongoing issue. The last chapter of the first volume of Michel Zimmermann’s Écrire et lire en Catalogne deals with books, with who owned them, how many there were in the libraries we can talk about, what they were and what that tells us about what was going on, intellectually, in these places.1 It is really well done: he goes careful with the evidence, indicates when he’s guessing at the probable contents of a lost manuscript, is genuinely informative about what odd terms for certain works probably mean, all with a sound foundation in the local and international scholarship (at least as far as I’m any judge, I’m reading this book to learn not to check it, after all) and his conclusions are interesting and balanced. The short version would be, Catalonia was not quite the leading European zone of international culture its partisans have sometimes made it in the tenth to twelfth centuries; its leading centres were certainly somewhere in the top ranks, but the study of theology seems to have been oddly rare, the liberal arts were really only to be found in a couple of monasteries and most of what you can see in the libraries and references to books is a mostly-Carolingian liturgical enterprise with a continuing Gothic tinge to the way books of Scripture were read and commented on, which finally went out of the door when the Cistercians and the Victorines brought in new thinking. By that time, the cathedrals had taken over from the monasteries as the main centres of education again.

A battle scene from the Biblia de Ripoll

Lessons for the illiterate from Catalan Bibles, 1: fighting looks cool

He also observes something that I feel stupid for never having really taken up from my reading beforehand. Firstly, it was a rare person indeed in the tenth century almost anywhere who had had the opportunity to read the whole Bible. Most churches would be equipped with the Psalms, the Gospels if they were lucky, and more likely than not not all of either of those but a volume of two of greatest hits in the form of a lectionary, Flores psalmorum or eventually Breviary.2 Even the big centres might not have the whole thing. But if they did, and this is the thing that had never occurred to me before, they likely had it mostly in the form of commentaries by scholars, much in the way that these days that we, if we have our own copy of one of our sources, most likely have a critical edition (or a Penguin translation, but that technology was yet to come).3 I had observed quite how popular these commentaries are, but not stopped to think that, duh, that was probably because a commentary will also contain most or all of the actual text. So, after mentally hitting myself in the brain a few times, I now feel better about my understanding of tenth-century book-larnin’.

But. I mean of course there’s a `but’. You might think it only a small `but’, or, depending on your social politics, you might think it more serious. You’ll remember, perhaps, how I’ve snarked that I first picked up this book to learn about nuns’ literacy, and found that Zimmermann denies it existed even though he cites a charter that six nuns signed and another one in which one (whose name was Caríssima) gave a Psalter to a church her nunnery had newly had built.4 You may also remember how I have snarked repeatedly that it mentions women on 3 of its 1219 pages, which is in fact a little unfair because I was counting indexed entries; it might be, ooh, nearly twice that really. But snark is not feeling like enough by now. The evidence Professor Zimmermann deploys in this chapter is mainly gifts of books to churches, and he gives a long list of them as an appendix indeed which is extremely useful, especially compared to other parts of the text where he often doesn’t identify the charters he’s using, only gives their dates. On p. 526 he tells us whom these books are all from, and notes that it is overridingly bishops and priests, sometimes abbots, very occasionally the counts and once, just once, a monk. The afore-mentioned Carissima, cited by himself earlier, here escapes mention. Just an unfortunate slip of the memory? (Again?)

Sant Hilari de Vidrà

Sant Hilari de Vidrà, whose earlier instance held Carissima’s Psalter

Well, maybe. But then further on, pp. 591-592, Professor Zimmermann discusses cathedral libraries, and here we are well served because there are actually two tenth-century inventories of property at the cathedral of Vic that itemise the books. And, oh, I am so conflicted: he sets up Vic in its time in the neatest two paragraphs I ever saw on it,5 they’re so good I have to quote them:

L’histoire chaotique du diocèse et l’instabilité de la vie canoniale expliquent que n’ait pu se former à Vic une bibliothèque aussi importante et de croissance aussi regulière que celles qui se constituaient au même moment dans les abbayes. Lorsqu’en 888 l’évêque Godmar s’installe dans la nouvelle cathédrale érigée in vico Ausonae, il se préoccupa immédiatement d’organiser la vie du clergé selon les prescriptions de la Règle d’Aix, mais les chanoines ne conservèrent pas longtemps la vie commune : le diocèse était en pleine réorganisation et les clercs étaient appelés à exercer des charges paroissiales qui les tenaient éloignés du chapitre. Le 10 juin 957, l’évêque Guadamir accueille favorablement la plainte d’un groupe de chanoines venus le trouver sur son lit de mort cum querela de canonica que iam retro fuerat instituta et per negligentia erat dissipata157 : il décide de doter le chapitre afin de permettre à douze clercs de pratiquer la vie commune (ut communiter vivere possitis) et de suivre les recommandations des Pères (secundum instituta Sanctorum Patrum fidelissimi dispensatores existatis). Mais cette vie regulière, si elle s’est maintenue, ne devait concerner qu’un petit groupe de chanoines : au même moment, d’autres clercs vivent en dehors du chapitre, font construire leurs propres maisons dont ils disposent librement à leur mort et, à chaque nouvelle élection épiscopale (en 1010, puis en 1018), ils se font confirmer la libre disposition de leur maison infra possessionem sancti Petri. Les testaments des chanoines attestent sans équivoque qu’au XIe siècle la plupart des membres du chapitre résidaient dans leur propre maison et disposaient librement de leurs biens ; beaucoup d’entre eux, avec le titre levita, possèdent un équipement militaire complet et assurent la garde de châteaux aux limites de diocèse ; ils sont étrangers à toute forme de vie commune et même religieuse. Vers 1080, l’évêque Berenguer Seniofred de Lluça [sic] tente une nouvelle restauration de la discipline, mais sa décision, confirmée par une bulle d’Urbain II, ne fut guère suivie d’effet ; il en resulta du moins une gestion plus cohérente de la mense capitulaire.

L’individualisme des chanoines eut des conséquences décisives sur la formation de la bibliothèque. En dehors des livres indispensables au culte et à l’office, qui appartiennent au trésor de l’Église, les autres manuscrits restaient la propriété des chanoines, qui les achetaient, vendaient, léguaient ou transmettaient à celui – fréquemment un neveu – qui leur succédait dans la charge. Même les livres appartenant au fonds commun étaient fréquemment prêtés à des individus ou à des églises paroissiales dépendant du chapitre. Le catalogue de la bibliothèque capitulaire ne saurait donc constituer l’inventaire exhaustif des textes connus aux Xe et XIe siècles des chanoines de Vic, qui comptaient parmis eux plusieurs érudits : sous l’épiscopat d’Atton, protecteur de Gerbert, tout d’abord. puis sous celui d’Oliba, devenu évêque de Vic en 1018.

157 Diplom. Vic, doc. 302.6

I translate, roughly, for non-Francolexics:

The chaotic history of the diocese and the instability of canonical life explain why Vic was never able to form a library as important and as regular in its growth as those that were forming at the same time in the monasteries. When in 888 Bishop Godmar moved into the new cathedral erected ‘in the vico of Ausona’, he straight away busied himself with organising the life of the clergy according to the precepts of the Rule of Aachen, but the canons did not maintain the communal life for long: the diocese was in the throes of complete reorganisation and its clergy were being called to take on parish duties that took them far away from the chapter. On the 10th June 957, Bishop Guadamir favourably received the plea from a group of canons who had come to find him on his deathbed ‘with a complaint about the canonry that there once used to be and which had been dissipated through negligence’: he decided to endow the chapter so as to allow twelve clerks to live the communal life and to follow the recommendations of the Fathers. But this regular life, if it survived, must have concerned only a small group of canons: at the same time, other clerks lived outside the chapter, building their own houses of which they disposed freely at their deaths and, at each new episcopal election (in 1010, then in 1018), they got the free disposition of their houses ‘subject to the possession of Saint Peter’ confirmed. The canons’ wills testify unambiguously that in the eleventh century most of the canons lived in their own houses and disposed freely of their property. Many of them, bearing the title of deacon, owned full military equipment and undertook the guard of castles at the edges of the diocese; they were strangers to any form of common or even religious life. Around 1080, Bishop Berenguer Sunifred de Lluçà attempted a new restoration of discipline, but his decision, backed in 1099 by a Bull of Pope Urban II, hardly had any effect. It did result, at least, in a more coherent management of the chapter’s provisioning.

Modern metal statue of Bishop Oliba of Vic

A modern representation of Bishop Oliba, patron of big library budgets

The individualism of the canons had decisive consequences on the formation of the library. Apart from the books that were indispensable for worship and the offices, which belonged to the Church treasure, the other manuscripts remained property of the canons, who bought them, sold them, bequeathed them or transmitted them to the person – frequently a nephew – who would succeed them in their position. Even books belonging to the common stock were frequently lent to individuals or to parish churches dependant on the chapter. The catalogue of the library thus cannot constitute an exhaustive inventory of the texts known to the canons of Vic in the tenth and eleventh centuries, canons among whom there numbered many scholars. In fact, from the mid-tenth century onwards, the cathedral was the site of intense cultural activity, in the episcopate of Ató, protector of Gerbert, first of all, then in that of Oliba, made Bishop of Vic in 1018.

That, right there, that is my study area explained in six hundred words. On reading that I really wanted to love this book again. And then two pages further on, he gets properly into the booklists. Now, I’ve talked about one of these inventories here before, because one of the interesting things about it is that a quarter of the books were on loan as he describes, and it records who had borrowed them. If you quickly have a look at that post, and what I thought was important about it, you’ll be much better prepared for what follows when you come back; go on. Okay? Good, so, pp. 592-593 see Professor Zimmermann discuss these loans, and on p. 593 he notes, “Quant à Richeldes, il conserve le livre des Rois.”

‘Il conserve’? ‘Il conserve’? It’s a woman’s name, this is not a controversial or odd assertion, nor is there a man’s name I know with which it could easily be confused. Richeldes, Richildis, Riquildis, Riquilda or any variant spelling you like, it’s a woman and she’s reading Kings. Why is this worth obscuring? What would it do to this man’s world if, in 971, one more woman could read? I don’t know, but by now I feel quite strongly that it’s not OK.

1. M. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIe siècle), Bibliothèque de la Casa de Velázquez 23 (Madrid 2003), I pp. 523-613.

2. One particularly interesting instance of the Flores, which is the same as a florilegium, a kind of personal best-of collection of improving texts, and one that Zimmermann indeed notes, is the will of Dacó adolescens. We have this in the form of its publication before judges, which exists as a single-sheet in the Arxiu Capitular de Vic, but the original actual will as made by the boy was not formally drawn up like that; evidently things were quite dire, as it was written for him in a book in which he had the Flores psalmorum and a few other orationes and then he made his mark in it and that was the will. There’s so much that’s interesting about this: he was too young to be holding property so what he actually bequeathed was his rights in his father’s property, he had books but he couldn’t write, he was important enough that two cathedral clerics came and helped him write his will (in which they both feature, we might notice)… but no more is known of him but this document, which is edited as Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològico LIII (Barcelona 1999), doc. no. 1849 among other places.

3. I suppose if we wanted to work that analogy a step further we could observe the similarity between Flores-volumes and modern-day source anthologies.

4. Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. nos 645 & 856, cit. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire, I pp. 302 n. 111 & p. 500 respectively, from the older edition of Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18 (Madrid 1951), nos 128 & 146.

5. You could get a lot more detail, and in English, from Paul Freedman, The Diocese of Vic: tradition and regeneration in medieval Catalonia (New Brunswick 1983), online here, pp. 14-67, but that is, you have to admit, more than two paragraphs.

6. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire, I pp. 591-592; the inventory is Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. no. 1106.

Leeds 2012 Report 1

I have to say that I wonder exactly what the point of writing up blog on the International Medieval Congress at Leeds of 2012, on the very day that early registration closes for the 2013 one. I will have to find some way to strike a medium between giving a bald itinerary of papers seen I can barely remember or else reconstructing the whole thing at length from my notes. But the only way to find out what transpires is to try, so here goes.

Entrance to Bodington Hall, University of Leeds, adorned with banner for the 2012 International Medieval Congress

The soon-to-be-late and lamented Bodington Hall, entrance thereto

As is by now traditional, I got through breakfast slightly too late to make it to the main room in which the keynote lectures were held and had the weird experience of arriving on the already-full video relay room to see no-one there I knew, which takes some doing at Leeds usually. Luckily this was a misleading omen. The actual lectures, meanwhile, were more or less perceptible if slightly blue-tinged on the video, and were as follows.

1. Keynote Lectures 2012

  • Sverre Bagge, “Changing the Rules of the Game: when did regicide go out of fashion and why?”
    As an early medievalist, I had not realised that no European king was killed by his successor or replacements between 1282 and 1792. That does seem to want some explanation, and Professor Bagge made dynastic legitimacy a part of it, a factor of stability, but other explanations were harder to come by, and there was some difficulty with the sovereign paradox, the problem that the king makes the law and is thereby able to choose if it applies to him.1 Certainly, there is something special about kingship, but why it should only have acquired full force then was not really resolved.
  • Nicole Bériou, “Just Follow Christ and the Gospels? Monastic Rules and Christian Rules in the 13th Century”
    This lecture opened up for us a twelfth-century debate about the worth of monastic rules; in an era when individual concern for one’s own salvation could be put before other’s views of what your soul required for its health, some put the view that the Gospels were the only ‘rule’ that counted. This was not how monastic life had traditionally been envisaged, of course, indeed it rather questioned the necessity or utility of that life for oneself, and such theorists thus started seeing other vocations as monk-like, and society itself as the monastery, which then meant that things like marriage could be seen as requiring Rules too! None of this was ever what you’d call widespread, as we were told it, but it’s interesting to see such thinking in the high era of papal monarchy, which could be imagined as more or less stamping down such autonomous theologising.

Then after that, and after coffee, it was charter time.

133. Nulli… si quis & Co.: sanctiones, corroborationes and penal forms in medieval charters

The number of people who can get excited about a whole session on what set of repeated words scribes used to threaten those who infringed on transactions is probably limited, but no-one would be fooled that I am not among them, and indeed I was not the only one here to hear these:

  • Mark Mersiowsky, “Rules in the document: Carolingian corroborations”
    Few people have seen as many early medieval charters as Professor Mersiowsky, in fact I might go so far as to guess that no-one has, and that means he’s seen a lot of charter issuers signing off by way of confirmation. He took us through the earliest Carolingian monarchs’ chosen ways of doing this, largely with crosses or monograms that he thought were in fact done in the monarchs’ own hands until the time of Charles the Bald (840-877) but whose accompanying phrases suggest older referents, perhaps Byzantine or late Roman. The transition from that is the great gap in the evidence that swallows all conjectures, of course, but it was interesting to see rules being set by these kings of correctio in still another way.
  • Sébastien Barret, “The sanctiones of the Cluniac charters of the 10th-11th centuries”
    Sébastien looked for rules slightly further up his documents, in the penalty clauses already mentioned of the charters of St-Pierre de Cluny in Burgundy, now of course searchable, and found that certain words almost only appear in those clauses, such as, “componat“, ‘let him compensate with’, and indeed more surprisingly “Si quis…”, ‘If anyone…’, though this was something I would also shortly find in my own work, I have to say.2 It was not uniform practice in these clauses: innovation and especially elaboration was possible, even if exact grammar and sense were not, always. Nonetheless, something had to do this job recognisably in these documents, and we may here be crossing the difference between what computers can recognise and what the people of the time could.
  • Arnold Otto, “Nulli… Si Quis and their Copycats: penal forms in later medieval charters”
    The trouble with later medieval charters is that the vernaculars get in and changes everything, so Dr Otto was sensible and went for numbers instead, looking the size of penalties in the penalty clauses of Emperor Charles IV. These, again, varied within fairly regular patterns; though their effect was more deterrent than real, even for a king like Charles, that deterrent was still worth ramping up on special occasions it seems!
  • In questions there was much asked about how many stages these documents were written in and whether penalties were ever carried out, but my notes don’t suggest any patterns emerged from that, not least because we probably only spoke up if we thought we had a difference to add. But then it was lunch and a canter across to Weetwood Hall for some archaeology.

204. Rules for Early Medieval Grave-Goods? Implications for the World of the Living from the World of the Dead

    Set phrases in documents, dead bodies, let no-one say I don’t know where the fun is in medieval studies… This session was introduced by Roland Steinacher, who wanted to remind us all that the Roman Emperor Theodosius I actually passed law allowing the recovery of treasure from graves for the benefit of the state, and then we moved on to the papers.

  • Marion Sorg, “Are Brooches Personal Possessions of the Deceased?: An Empiric Investigation Based on Analyzing Age-Relatedness of Brooches”
    This was a question about an assumption, one that could be more general than just with brooches, that the goods in a grave belonged to the deceased. With brooches in the early Middle Ages it’s even a specific assumption that a woman would own a set of brooches that were almost her identity kit, and keep them all her life, which if it were true would mean that they had an age similar to that of the skeletons with which they are found. Enter the evidence, gathered from 27 cemeteries in Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria, where only about 11·5% of individuals had brooches anyway, but where all age groups could have new brooches but worn brooches were certainly most commonly found with older individuals. This provoked Dr Sorg to wonder whether there might be several stages of a woman’s life where she would acquire such brooches, but I have to say that to me the figures she was presenting seemed to show more or less the same levels of wear in all age groups, so that these intervals would be suspiciously evenly spaced at about 20 years. I asked if we might be looking at object lifespans rather than people’s, I must have been reading something… There’s more work needed to identify what’s active here, I think.
  • Mirjam Kars, “Invisible Rules: the study of grave goods in the context of privately organized intergenerational transmission in families”
    What would mess up such paradigms of course is heirlooms, goods being passed to new owners, and that was the subject of this paper. Women in early medieval cemeteries seem to be buried with fewer goods as they age, suggesting a dispersal of their early kit to younger relatives or friends, which Dr Kars linked with group identification signification. She found very little that wouldn’t be circulated, which itself was interesting given what such analyses show in other cultures; her theory was coming from gift exchange stuff but I wonder now what commodities theory would do for her view.3
  • Stephanie Zintl, “Things to be Taken from the Dead: a case study on reopened graves”
    This paper was about grave-robbing, except that as the speaker said, that’s how we might see it but it’s not clear that the early medieval populations of Francia or Kent did, because it was pretty widespread. She asserted that half of the 600 graves she’d checked had at some point before excavation been reopened, early on as she figured, although this turned out to be on the basis of the very few with several eras of goods in, what is not what you’d call a perfect measure. That half was, however, substantially the ones containing goods, not those without, suggesting firstly that robbery was not the motive and secondly that those opening them could tell which was which still, implying some kind of marker above the surface. The reburiers must have firstly wanted to change the graves somehow and secondly presumably have known that the same would likely happen to theirs. This provoked a lot of discussion and you can see why, a very interesting set of questions despite the methodological difficulties.

325. Post Mortem Problems: Saints, Sinners, and Popular Piety

    Having done murder, confinement, threats and burial what could be left but zombies? I have a space to fill, after all.4

  • Stephen Gordon, “Practical Innovation, Local Belief, and the Containment of the Troublesome Dead”
    This was a study of some of the many English stories about dead bodies found walking, which the speaker suggested might get more common once the idea of Purgatory lengthened the chronology of death rather. Maybe so, but it’s certainly a common thing before that too, even when we have so few sources!5
  • Brian Reynolds, “Dodging Damnation: The Virgin’s Advocacy in Medieval Theology and Popular Piety”
    This paper looked at the development of the idea that Mary will basically be calming Jesus down at the Last Judgement and urging forgiveness of those who appealed to her in life. This placed the real action 1200-1500, but did make the point, probably widely realised, that because Mary was supposedly assumed into Heaven, there are no relics of her body, meaning that her cult is easier to diffuse widely, which I suppose is true.
  • Isabel Moreira, “Hector of Marseilles is Purged: political rehabilitation and guilt by association in the 7th-century Passion of Leudegar of Autun
    If you were a churchman of seventh-century France, as we’ve observed here indeed, you were probably deeply involved in government; escape from worldly cares was basically impossible, and this means that those who would write lives of saints in that era had to be imaginative about their interactions with laymen of less exalted characters. The patrician Hector of Marseilles was such a layman, a rebel against the king with whom St Leudegar got mixed up, and this paper argued that Leudegar’s biographer tried to get round this by giving him a martyr’s death that should have purged any sin, with imagery of being tested in the fire like gold, and so on, an idea that might possibly have been applied to others of the Merovingian-era nobility who lived messy lives with horrible ends.

So that was the first day of Leeds 2012 for me, and that seems worth the writing, both for me and hopefully for you; I guess I’ll do the rest in their turn…

N. B.: alternative coverage of some of these sessions by Magistra et Mater also exists

1. Addressed repeatedly by Kathleen Davis, Periodization and Sovereignty: how ideas of feudalism and secularization govern the politics of time, The Middle Ages (Philadelphia 2008), pp. 7, 34, 59, 73, 79-80 & 83, inter alia, all more or less in the same words, but it’s worth reading one of the occurrences.

2. J. Jarrett, “Comparing the earliest documentary culture in Carolingian Catalonia” in J. Jarrett & Allan Scott McKinley (edd.), Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Charters, International Medieval Research 19 (Brepols forthcoming), pp. 000-00.

3. That largely because since then I finally read Arjan Appadurai (ed.), The Social Life of Things: commodities in cultural perspective (Cambridge 1986), which is really interesting and will generate a future blog post.

4. The most relevant reflection of that place’s nature being John Blair, “The Dangerous Dead in Early Medieval England” in Stephen Baxter, Catherine Karkov, Janet Nelson and David Pelteret (edd.), Early Medieval Studies in Memory of Patrick Wormald (Farnham 2009), pp. 539-560. Why have I never thought before about the significance of putting a piece about the unquiet dead in a memorial volume? I’m pretty sure John didn’t mean any of the things that might be implied by that…

5. Much of the early material gathered either in Blair, “Dangerous Dead”, or Nancy Caciola, “Wraiths, Revenants and Ritual in Medieval Culture” in Past and Present no. 152 (Oxford 1996), pp. 3-45.

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 2010 report I

Since I’ve already been to one other conference that I’m already opining about on other people’s blogs, and since I there plugged all heck out of this blog (not that this seems to have brought any great slough of visitors) it’s probably time I wrote something about Leeds. This year’s was a good Leeds despite the weather; I’ve said before now that bad weather can ruin Leeds because everyone is crammed inside small overheated rooms and can’t find each other, but although it bucketed down for much of the conference I didn’t find that to be the case this year. I had the impression that there were fewer people there than usual, in fact, although there were as many sessions as far as I can tell so I guess it was non-presenters who decided they couldn’t spare the money this year. Fair enough I suppose, but those who were there had a good time I think.

1. Keynote Lectures 2010

Gerald of Wales's Map of the Atlantic Sea

Gerald of Wales's Map of the Atlantic Sea, c. 1200

The theme of this year’s Leeds was travel and exploration, and I did as usual and basically entirely avoided the theme except for the keynote lectures. These were also about the only point when I didn’t have timetable clashes, too; for some reason the early medieval sessions were unusually conflictual this year, which I think may also reflect that there were an awful lot of them. Anyway. The keynotes were both good, and the first of them was Patrick Gautier-Dalché speaking to the title “Maps, Travel and Exploration in the Middle Ages”. What he was addressing here was the fact that to us, often, a medieval map looks worse than useless, used as we are to measurable scales and Mercator’s Projection. In fact, he argued, although maps were largely representational rather than scientific in the Middle Ages, they were far from useless. Some might be just for looking at, in the old picture worth a thousand words scenario, because a map, even a distorted one, is still a very good way of encoding geographical information.1 Then, they could even be useful for actually getting to places, if you approached them in the right way. The Map of the Atlantic Sea by Gerald of Wales above, M. Gautier-Dalché claimed though if the image above really is it I see no sign of this, is marked up with not just the pilgrimage routes through Western Europe, but the distances between their various stopping points. As long as you could find someone to put you on the road to the next destination, therefore, you would still be able to use the map to budget your provisions and journey time and maybe carry some very basic local information. In cases where precision navigation was a bit more essential, to wit at sea, maps perhaps served as aides-mémoire more than literal graphical information; a reminder of what a certain coastline looked like when you approached it, what the hills round the port are like, and so on. Not much use for doing it first time, but perhaps quite useful for doing it first time in say, ten years. The last example was maps’ use in judicial cases; unlikely, you might think, but apparently Columbus’s maps were produced in court in 1535 to prove that he had actually discovered, and indeed drawn, the coasts of South America. So a map might be a teaching tool, a contemplative resource, a planning aid, a piece of judicial proof, and was above all an interpretation, but Mercator has perhaps spoiled us to their possibilities.

An ancient stitch-and-glue boat hull on display in a restaurant in Zadar, Croatia

An ancient stitch-and-glue boat hull on display in a restaurant in Zadar, Croatia

The second keynote was given by Dionysius Agius, and was entitled, “‘In these Seas Horrors beyond Count Befell [Us]: travel in medieval Islam”. This was less of an argument and more of a tour of the evidence for medieval Islamic travel, which was fine by me as I know very little of it beyond the names of Ibn Battuta and al-Mas’Udi, and it was also accompanied with some fabulous, and indeed very presentist pictures, illustrating continuities of construction technique, goods trafficked, routes and so on, not least the stitched boats of which an older example is shown above. He talked us through the trade routes, both overland and overseas, without leaving much time for detail on any of them, just telling us a good story or two, and you know, this too is a skill, especially for a keynote on a specialised theme before a general audience. I did sort of know, for example, that the ends of trade routes across desert zones (and indeed the middle of them) tend to shift according to where the nomads who run the entry-points to them have currently got their shops set up, but it was as well to be reminded in the same few minutes as having the seasonal cycle of the currents of the Indian Ocean explained, there being a large part of the year when it’s far easier to go one way than the other, which is then reversed for another equally large part. After all, some people were plotting to get goods all the way along both routes. The other thing that I technically knew but which was well linked up here was that, at the period when Islamic ships were breaking out into the Indian Ocean (and indeed further) they were far from the only ships sailing it; indeed, as Professor Agius pointed out, they were sufficiently outsized and outnumbered by Indian and Chinese vessels that sometimes those groups were induced to provide warship escorts to keep away fleets of cannibal pirates (or so the travel narratives earnestly tell us, anyway). Whether the stories of Sindbad the Sailor really have a medieval context may, as we have said here before, be doubted, but Professor Agius happily brought them in anyway to illustrate the sort of stories that were probably told. So, not afraid to indulge in anachronism, and perhaps even Orientalism, but not to a bad purpose I thought and an entertaining lecture to attend.

105. Texts and Identities, I: Merovingian Queens – Narratives and Politics

Fifteenth-century illuminatiion of Queen Clothilde offering prayers to St Martin

Fifteenth-century illumination of Queen Clothilde offering prayers to St Martin

This was where the clashes started. I probably wanted, in retrospect, to go to 104. Popular Politics and Resistance in East and West but I hadn’t fully absorbed what I’d be missing (Robert Moore insisting there was no popular heresy that counts in early medieval Europe, Andrew Marsham saying what were apparently really interesting things about rebellion against the Umayyads and Bernard Gowers, whom I already needed to meet, talking about peasants, which I am very sorry I missed but may at least be able to get a copy of) until I’d run into one of the speakers from 105 and assured her I’d be at her paper. A man of my word, therefore, I was there for the following:

  • Julia Hofmann, “Betrayal or Portrayal? The Depiction of Fredegund and Clovis in Gregory of Tours’ Decem Libri Historiarum V. 39-49″. I mainly attended this so as to have seen Julia Hofmann and Julie Hofmann in the same room, in fact. Here the argument was that whereas Gregory of Tours was usually hopelessly partial in his depictions of Merovingian court politics, which is an obvious problem for working out whether he can be trusted to tells us about them, in this particular bloody and skulduggerous episode of family in-fighting he appears to have loathed both protagonists about equally, which suggests that it may even be a fair depiction. I’m not convinced we’d think the same if it were Liutprand of Cremona, myself, though I do understand the great emotional need not to write off so much of our evidence for the sixth century as Gregory represents.
  • Erin T. Dailey, “Merovingian Polygamy”, a title that drew me in but disappointed rather as it largely concluded that there probably wasn’t really any Merovingian polygamy per se, and did so largely by refusing to nuance the category of concubine, which as a couple of people pointed out to me afterwards needs doing because sometimes concubines’ children become kings. So, while marriage may be an important distinction (and valuable security for the wife, as long as the mother-in-law wasn’t Brunhild) it isn’t a total one, and the fact that there’s only ever one queen at a time doesn’t remove the need to ask how far queens are different. Only twenty minutes, I know, but he was pressed on the matter in questions and didn’t get much further with it.
  • Linda Dohmen, “The Adulterous Queen in Early Frankish Historiography”. Full disclosure requires that I admit that I’ve known Linda for ages and it was her I’d promised to come and see, but I thought this genuinely was a good paper, carefully balanced between spice and analysis. It also did something useful by balancing Gregory of Tours out with other sources covering the same era, in their equally biased ways, the Liber Historiae Francorum and ‘Fredegar’.2 What stories like the classic one about King Chilperic, coming home early to Queen Fredegund fresh out of the bath, catching her unawares with a slap on the rear and she telling off the lover she assumed it was rather than the husband it actually was, illustrate, other than in some ways there’s not much difference between a sixth-century court and a twentieth-century soap opera in terms of plot, is that a lot of people were prepared to get into risky situations for a chance to get with the queen, and not, we presume, simply because Merovingian kings selected irresistible brides Balthild not withstanding,3 but because it was a position of power; queens could bring legitimacy to a pretender or an arriviste, could be grounds for launching a coup or mounting a rebellion and could, also, be vital tokens of continuity when those events were unrolling for other reasons. Here as often happens we need a way to express this sort of position of power often occupied by women in the Middle Ages, power which is not the same as agency, which they often didn’t enjoy (Fredegund as with so much else an exception here), being unfortunate prizes to be contested between men who certainly did, but still incredible focuses of… what? One almost wants to use ancient anthropological terms like tabu, did I not know that modern-day anthropologists of my acquaintance (and indeed modern-day feminists) would probably kick me in the constructs for it. But the word ‘power’ doesn’t really get there, and it’s very hard to discuss without accepting the sources’ language of objectification. So yes, this one is still making me think.

209. Between a Rock and a Hard Place: reassessing politics and culture in the 10th century

Decorated initial showing Pope Gregory VII excommunicating King Henry IV of Germany

Decorated initial showing Pope Gregory VII excommunicating King Henry IV of Germany

My colleague Rory Naismith and I have been at the same conferences several times now, and at Kalamazoo we were somehow scheduled against each other, which has happened before too. This not being the case this time, I told Rory I would go to his session (221. The Anglo-Saxons and Rome, II: routes, coins and manuscripts) and then gathered that one of its speakers had pulled out and that this one was on in the same time-slot… I think I’ve still seen more of his papers than he has of mine but he definitely has the moral high ground for now. However, I struggled to find the session I was going to instead and so arrived in a terribly full room slightly after the beginning of…

  • Theo Riches, “Once Upon an Iron Age: telling the story of the long 10th century between Carolingians and ecclesiastical reform”. Some day I hope Theo will write a follow-up to Tim Reuter’s contribution to the feudal transformation debate; I’ve heard Theo discuss this and his Germanist’s perspectives are really interesting.4 However, he keeps letting some excuse about that not being his actual subject get in the way, and so this was not that paper but instead a likewise interesting one about bishops and ritual. He was picking up on a recent piece of Steffen Patzold‘s about the use of ritual in Ottonian court society, as propounded by Gerd Althoff, which makes the very useful distinction between the rules of the game and manœuvres in the game, and the need to be aware which the evidence is showing us.5 This fits well with my objections to some of the French school of dispute scholarship that emphasies competing norms; sometimes, I like to point out, people are actually abnormal, and this was implicit in Theo’s discussion.6 Theo also wanted us to remember the audience, and that it is not necessarily passive; these rituals may be worked out beforehand, but they are pointless unless they are seen, which means that they are also open to interpretation. Patzold sees a change in bishops’ rôles in these contexts in the 820s, from potestas to ministerium, moving from being in charge of their own subjects to the whole of God’s people, with a consequent distancing from politics in detail. Theo suggested seeing this as move from being a player of the ‘game’ to being an umpire, and that the 820s are the point when episcopal lordship starts to become qualitatively different. This was music to my ears as my very first Leeds paper suggested that bishops in my area were lay lords plus, with extra means of recourse and a few corresponding restrictions, but essentially doing the same things;7 Theo’s take here, and Steffen’s behind it, may give me the means to nuance this. I also really liked Theo’s statement in questions that “Canossa breaks deditio, you can’t use it any more” (deditio being a ritual of simulated self-abasement to demand forgiveness from a ruler for disobeying him). This is one of many ways in which the contest between King Henry IV of Germany and Pope Gregory VII overdrives medieval politics, he’s right, things do break in that contest, and arguably not least the Holy Roman Empire…
  • Steven Robbie, “The Duchy of Alemannia in the Early Tenth Century: an ethnic community?” followed Theo, which is hard enough to do, but Theo speaks quite loudly and Steven speaks quite softly; also, it was after lunch and the room was hot and stuffy. I fear Steven may have lost some of the attention of his audience for what was quite a subtle take on the question of the Stamme, the core ‘ethnic’ territories that are supposed to underlie German duchies in a certain old-fashioned sort of historiography. Steven illustrated that this won’t work for Alemannia, which is reconstructed pretty much as needed in the political circumstances of each age and only maps to later Swabia in fairly transient ways. When all of Alemans, Thuringians and Swabians are supposed to be the same ancestral community, you realise that ethnogenesis is a game that many can play.
  • Simon Williams, “Playing to the Gallery: reinterpreting Liudprand of Cremona’s Antapadosis in its contemporary context”, did indeed play to the gallery in as much while I may some day hear a Liutprand paper in which the speaker does not tell the story everyone’s favourite Italian scandalmonger reports about Queen Guilla hiding a valuable belt where only a woman could, this was not it (and neither, of course, is my report of it). However, he did do some interesting stuff pointing out how quickly Liutprand’s work circulated, well within his lifetime too, so even if he was initially writing for a small audience that wasn’t what he revised for. Simon in fact suggested that the target audience was Bishop Abraham of Freising and perhaps Bishop Dietrich of Metz as well as Bishop Rather of Verona, and that we underestimate Liutprand if we see him as a marginal player. Liutprand writing about you, in other words, was something like being mentioned in Tatler; probably unpleasant and trivial but unfortunately read by people whose good opinion of you may be important some day…

Coffee break next but I find it combines badly with adrenalin, so I didn’t, because next was nothing less than my paper!

301. Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic

  • Jonathan Jarrett, “Caliph, King, or Grandfather: strategies of legitimization on the Spanish March in the reign of Lothar III” is actually one of my better pieces of work, I think, and compares three contemporary Catalan counts’ reactions to what I’m now arguing is a resurgent Carolingian royal self-assertion by King Lothar III. This is kind of part two of my Haskins paper from 2008 and I hope to have them both in process soon so I’ll say no more here unless people are curious enough to ask.
Grant of King Æthelred II to Abingdon Abbey, 993 (Sawyer 876)

Grant of King Æthelred II to Abingdon Abbey, 993 (Sawyer 876)

  • Levi Roach, “The Voice of Æthelred?” explored the group of lengthy royal charters of King Æthelred the Unready in which he apologises for the misdeeds of his youth and makes compensation gifts. Levi was arguing that the imagery employed here is sufficiently consistent, across several archives and many scribes, that these documents must represent an actual statement of sorts by the king, even if he probably didn’t choose the actual written phrasing. Charles Insley, who gave a not dissimilar paper a few years ago,8 was generous enough not to point this out in questions, but Levi rallied to what I think is actually new ground in reaction to a question from Steven Robbie about how long it can possibly take to be sorry; these documents after all span most of a decade. Levi’s response was that the only way it all makes sense is a rather paranoid policy of penitence till the bad stuff stops happening, which after these charters stopped was shifted onto the whole kingdom under the influence of Archbishop Wulfstan; in other words, this court’s response to crisis is to escalate repentance until the handles come off and it all goes to Hell… Which, even if it’s overstated, gives one to wonder how neutral a perspective on things anyone at Æthelred’s court could possibly have maintained… What price groupthink? and so on.
  • David Woodman, “The Rewriting of the Anglo-Saxon Past: a Middle English Rhyming Charter of King Æthelstan and the Beverley Cartulary (BL, MS Additional 61901) in context”, lastly, dealt with a rather lovely piece of Middle English fabrication in which Beverley Minster tried to claim foundation by the selfsame rex totius Britanniae in the fourteenth century. The result looks and reads nothing like an Anglo-Saxon charter, and nor does much of the stuff it’s put into a beautiful cartulary with, but it still won them several cases. David set out exactly who the enemies were in this case, and explained the success of the claim not in terms of the cluelessness of the panel judging but of opposition between the abbey, Archbishop Neville of York and Richard, Second of That Name, Kynge, but one was still left with echoes of the story in the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy where the eponymous publication’s lawyers successfully argue that beauty is truth so the prettier story is automatically true, as one would like rather like Æthelstan to have been one of those congenial souls

Now. I want to talk to you, Internet, about the Problems and Possibilities strand and what’s happening with it, but this is long enough already. I’ll do it in a separate post later on. Instead let it be noted that I managed to miss two separate receptions where free wine was available, somehow, mainly to get lightly drunk with such fine upstanding members of the Internet as Another Damned Medievalist and Ealuscerwen, in the same place but not with Gesta, which seems to be the usual way of things, and a few people who have real names, and I went to bed merry and exhausted.

1. Something that all of us who were in Siena and now also commenting at In The Medieval Middle seem to be agreeing on; a conceptual map of that city might be a lot more use than a strictly geographical one.

2. Pronounced, as I once heard Roger Collins say in a paper he was giving on the author in question, “with the inverted commas silent, like the P in Psmith”.

3. In fact, it surprises me that in a session about Merovingian queens not only did Balthild only get a passing mention, but her supposed seal was completely omitted. It’s got to be part of any discussion about how queenship is visualised, hasn’t it, especially since if it is what is claimed, it’s actually a source generated by or at least for the queen. I begin to wonder if there’s a perhaps a case for asking medieval historians to ask themselves, “is there a good reason your paper is entirely text-based?” And I am not just saying this because it’s lewd, I am saying this because I think we were already dancing near the lewd and it would have been a way to let it in without risking sounding as if one actually wanted to talk about sex.

4. Referring to T. Reuter, “Debate: the ‘Feudal Revolution’. III” in Past and Present no. 155 (Oxford 1997), pp. 177-195.

5. Referring here to Gerd Althoff, Spielregeln der Politik im Mittelalter: Kommunikation in Frieden und Fehde (Darmstadt 1997) and S. Patzold, Konflikte im Kloster. Studien zu Auseinandersetzungen in monastischen Gemeinschaften des ottonisch-salischen Reichs, Historische Studien 463 (Husum 2000).

6. See, if you should really want to, my review of Stephen D. White, Feuding and Peacemaking in Eleventh-Century France, Variorum Collected Studies 817 (Aldershot 2005) in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 15 (Oxford 2006), pp. 124-125.

7. J. Jarrett, “Sales, Swindles and Sanctions: Bishop Sal·la of Urgell and the counts of Catalonia”, paper presented in session ‘Telling Laymen What to Do’, International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds, 21 July 2005, available to you as J. Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, unpublished Ph. D. thesis (University of London 2005), pp. 289-313, online here.

8. His webpages mention a chapter, “Rhetoric and Ritual in Late Anglo-Saxon Charters” in P. Barnwell and M. Mostert (edd.), Medieval Legal Process: Physical, Spoken and Written Performance in the Middle Ages, Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy 19 (Brepols 2009), which will probably be worth consulting on this if it’s actually out; a rapid web-search reveals publication dates of 2008, 2009 and ‘in preparation 2008-2009′, but the publishers seem less sanguine. In fact, damn, I need that book even though I heard half the papers…

Nelson & Nicholas I

There is no time for detail right now; I wrote this while trying to catch up after illness and having discovered, only just in time, that I never originally wrote the lecture I was planning to recycle for the week then upcoming. (I have three tight-spaced pages of structure notes that answer a different question to the one I’m now addressing. I don’t remember most of what it was I was getting at. I can’t help but wonder if I did on the day. And what the students understood. I honestly think I have got better at teaching. Anyway.)

So in lieu of actual content, let me register two observations: firstly, that Jinty Nelson’s “Women and the Word in the Earlier Middle Ages” (in W. Sheils & Diana Wood (edd.), Women in the Church, Studies in Church History Vol. 27 (Oxford 1990), pp. 53-78, repr. in Nelson, The Frankish World 750-900 (London 1996), pp. 199-222) is brilliant and especially for successfully negotiating the line between unsustainable and sustainable generalisations, in this case about female literacy but it’s also worth looking at just as a methodological model.

Secondly, that I thought it was impossible that no-one had written anything since the 1890s about Pope Nicholas I, given how he seems to have been successful in almost every argument with kings in his pontificate and also the originator of a number of letters that show he was really interested in making his administration work (saying things that show there were problems, admittedly, like, “I hear you’ve had a letter from me appointing so-and-so archbishop but I didn’t send it so don’t, please send the case to me here and I’ll judge it in person”, but therefore that he is trying to address the problems).1 And, in fact, the learned Magistra et mater has done some digging and come up with a solid half-page of bibliography and more that I will probably never have time to follow up, but alone I could find almost nothing. Regesta Imperii records a book, but it is actually only a dissertation, written thirty years ago.2 (I searched in German too, but apparently I can’t spell ‘Nikolaus’…) However, I know those counter-facts because Google reveals that the author of that dissertation is now Lieutenant-Colonel Professor Jane Carol Bishop (and this is surely more dignities than most of us can ever aspire to have in one name) at The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina, and she hopes to publish the monographic revision of that thesis some time soon. Well, I hope she does, because as I say, I find it mind-boggling that there is so little work on this period of papal history even with Magistra’s finds, and I would buy this book and then read it, so I would.

1. On which, Ernst Pitz, “Erschleichung und Anfechtung von Herrscher- und Papsturkunden vom 4. bis 10. Jahrhundert” in Fälschungen im Mittelalter. Internationaler Kongreß der Monumenta Germaniae Historica München, 16.-19. September 1986, III: diplomatische Fälschungen I, Schriften der Monumenta Germaniae Historica 33.iii, pp. 69-113.

2. Jane Carol Bishop, “Pope Nicholas I and the First Age of Papal Independence”, unpublished Ph.D. thesis, University of Columbia 1980. (The RI-Opac link given above claims a printing Michigan 1981, but I can’t find any evidence for this elsewhere and the author’s own CV doesn’t say so, so I think it’s pretty OK to disbelieve it.)

I am beginning to see a trend here


I knew this would happen. The more of Michel Zimmermann’s huge thèse I read, the less likely I get to be able to conduct a civil conversation with him, even though I learn a lot as well. If I had to sum this difference of perception up, I would usually say that I find it difficult to believe as easily in the influence of the people who request charters made in what the scribes then write, especially when it comes down to word choice. But here I am also coming up against a broader issue which I suppose is just down to how huge the pile of evidence we share is. This problem is, Professor Zimmermann is revelatory about what one can see in the vast Catalan charter material, but I can often fault him when he asserts that something cannot be found in the material. Assertions of evidentiary silence when there’s so much background noise are always going to be risky.

An exchange between Count Borrell II and the monks of Santa Maria de Ripoll, 957

An exchange between Count Borrell II and the monks of Santa Maria de Ripoll, 957, large image linked beneath

For example. Zimmermann, in a really interesting chunk about whether people really do sign their own names in these documents, who they are when they do (almost always clerics, unsurprisingly, but not always) and so forth, notes that even if the signatories to a charter can’t write, they may be able to draw a signum, a graphical device loosely based on a cross in a circle or on a triple S (from subscripsit), and you can see a few above.1 Sometimes the scribe draws those too and the people just draw one of the dots in the angles of the cross: he says this can be seen in several documents but doesn’t reference them dammit.2 But he also says that people start to mark themselves out by individualised signa in the twelfth century (as with the notaries’ marks we talked about a while back), but not before.3 Well, er, what about the above one? And what indeed about that charter by the nuns of Sant Joan that has featured here so often? There’s at least eight different signa on that. Why don’t they count?4

Arrangement of the succession to the abbacy of Sant Joan de Ripoll, 948

Yes, here it is again, but you see the signa, right? Large version beneath

Now I suspect the answer is simply that Zimmermann, when he was doing this work, didn’t read in the original what was already edited. He does cite a few documents from the edition of the Sant Joan charters and a few from Vic, which are the two corpora I know best and know twit his generalisations here (because they have excellent, if sparingly allocated, plates, and of course I’ve seen a few of the real things too).5 But because they were already edited when he was working, I imagine he didn’t do the same kind of painstaking archive work on them. Neither did I of course, but because I was so far away from them I made extra sure I’d read the palæographical notes. Anyway. So there’s my nuns with their variety and he doesn’t seem to know. And in fact he doesn’t seem to know much about nuns at all:

… toute une catégorie de religieux, les moniales en l’occurrence, reste étrangère à la culture écrite.

I’ll translate:

… a whole category of religious, to wit, nuns, remained strangers to written culture.

Now he justifies this by reference to the nuns of Sant Pere de les Puelles de Barcelona, pointing out that between 986 and 996 they frequently appear in transactions and not only do they not sign but even the abbesses don’t, once or twice having the scribe profess their inability to do so!6 Well, okay, and it’s not like nunneries are thick on the ground in this period (there are three in the whole of Catalonia, though a fair few female religious in other contexts), but if that’s the period you’re looking at then Sant Pere is the wrong one to pick, because it had been sacked and its population captured as slaves in 985.7 So everyone there in 986 is a new recruit, even the abbess, who may be a comital daughter (of Count-Marquis Borrell II, as it happens; small world innit) but she cannot have been more than 18; Borrell and his wife only married in 967, and there’s no indication that Adelaide Bonafilla was their oldest child though she could have been; the oldest son was only born in 972.8 Okay, old enough to have been schooled but far from a senior ecclesiastic. It’s not like there are very many charters featuring the Sant Joan nuns but they do exist (and he knows they do, because he mentions one of them giving a Psalter to a church; strangers to written culture my foot).9 Did he just not look through the small print in Udina’s edition closely enough? Well, maybe, but one further quote has me meanly suspecting another explanation:

… Guischafredus, auteur d’une donation commune avec sa femme Eilo en 955, tient à préciser que seule la maladie l’empêche de souscrire. De crainte sans doute d’être confondu avec sa femme dans la même inaptitude!

Not without distaste, I translate:

… Guiscafred, actor in a donation made in common with his wife Elo in 955, makes sure to specify that only frailty prevents him from subscribing, doubtless for fear of being confused with his wife in the same ineptitude!

« Sans doute », Prof. Z.! I mean, isn’t that the first possibility that occurs to you, dear reader? No? No, me neither. I think it’s supposed to be funny, but I wouldn’t have let it go to the printers myself.10 It leaves me wondering whether three pages in twelve hundred on women and repeated denials of nuns’ ability to write should really be put down to missing some key charters, or whether there’s a more basic problem here.

1. Michel Zimmermann, Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIe siècle), Bibliothèque de la Casa de Velázquez 23 (Madrid 2003), 2 vols, I pp. 86-91. The charter is printed in (and scanned from) Federico Udina Martorell (ed.), El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los Siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18/Publicaciones de le Sección de Barcelona 15 (Madrid 1951), doc. no. 139.

2. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire, I p. 89.

3. Ibid., I pp. 89-90.

4. The nuns’ charter is Udina, Archivo Condal, doc. no. 128, but I mentioned that already.

5. Edited in Udina, Archivo Condal, and Eduard Junyent i Subirà (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic, segles IX i X, ed. R. Ordeig i Mata (Vic 1980-1996), 5 fascs.

6. Zimmermann, Érire et lire, I pp. 82-83.

7. And of course Zimmermann wrote the basic synthesis on that event, so knows this perfectly well: “La prise de Barcelone par al-Mansûr et la naissance de l’historiographie catalane” in L’Historiographie en Occident du Ve au XVe siècle. Actes du Congrès de la Soci´té des Historiens Médiévistes de l’Enseignement Supérieur. Tours, 10-12 juin 1977, Annales de Bretagne et des Pays de l’Ouest Vol. 87 (Rennes 1980), pp. 191-218.

8. The family is set out by 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; Borrell had Udina, Archivo Condal, doc. no. 173, additionally dated by the birth of his son, so I guess he was relieved. They do seem to have had a lot of girls.

9. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire, I p. 500, referring to Udina, Archivo Condal, doc. no. 160.

10. Zimmermann, Écrire et lire, I p. 82.

“If I may, I’d like to vent…”

A one-sided conversation

Cover of Michel Zimmermann's Écrire et lire en Catalogne

Cover of Michel Zimmermann's Écrire et lire en Catalogne

I seem to be embarking on a love-hate relationship with Michel Zimmermann‘s recent book of his thèse d’état. I have, in fact, a problem with quite a lot of his work, which can be simply expressed: I am in awe of his knowledge of the material, which is my material too but which I know far less well; I am often provoked to admiration by some of his insights; but only slightly less often am I provoked to strong disagreement. Starting in on 1200 pages of his work means this is going to happen a lot. But why such frequent disagreement? Am I just contrary? It is after all well-documented that the only person in the field who agrees with fewer people than do I is Gaspar Feliu (whom all praise! of course, he and I don’t agree on some things…).1 I mean, when Zimmermann says that Borrell II promoted himself as a duke (or at least, dux), should I perhaps not twitch, even though I know that of his 180-odd appearances only three use that title, and one of them is a forgery ripped off from one of the others, both of which are elaborate church consecrations? And that only the forgery is actually supposedly in his voice?2 But Zimmermann knows that scribal choice of words and issuer’s intent aren’t always the same thing, because he dedicates 70-odd pages of his magnum opus, based on a decade’s painstaking research, to the matter, so perhaps I should consider that he probably knows better than I do? And yet…

One serious thing, which is a relief in the immediate timeframe but disturbing in the long one. In this 1200-page meisterwerk, how come there’s no index entry for nuns? I’m working on nuns who can write right now, you see, so I know we had some. And actually, on the three pages dedicated to literate women, he mentions one of my nuns (though as book-owner, not as writer) and a couple of other women scribes I had no idea about.3 And we get women witnesses and women acting at law, too, here and there, we’re quite unusual in early medieval Catalonia. Is 3 pages in 1219 really all they get? I am of course going to have to read the whole thing because he and I are working on such similar issues of authorship and the purpose of documents, and he writes about getting beyond traditional diplomatic to the social significance of the documents in a way that makes my heart glad … but already I find myself asking, for example, if publishing a will really does make it accessible to anyone who wants it?4 I mean, who keeps these documents, and whom do they let see them? Wouldn’t you have to sue the beneficiaries before these things came out? and I know he’s going to tell me about this, because use of documents at law is something he discusses, but I also know that if we ever meet I’m going to spend the whole conversation losing arguments that I start, because I just don’t agree. Sorry.

Dialogue of the deaf (because I’ve got my fingers in my ears)


Ahem! I quote:

“Whereas the body ‘disappears’ from awareness in the everyday existence of the unimpaired, when we face pain, disease, or impairment, the body ‘dys-appears’, becoming unceasingly present.”5

Wow. There’s a separate thing I hate about academia perfectly encapsulated in each half of that sentence. Is to be able to forget our own body really the pinnacle of health? Or maybe it just accounts for how you are apparently feeling no pain for that horrible half-Hellenistic neological pun. Not so here, comrade. OW, and indeed, UGH.

P. S. I think there is one person in the world who might both read this post and recognise the title. If you do: yes, I’m still living in the past, hullo!

1. Ironically, the one piece of Zimmermann’s writing I used to quote with entire approval, “La prise de Barcelone par al-Mansûr et la naissance de l’historiographie catalane” in L’Historiographie en Occident du Ve au XVe siècle. Actes du Congrès de la Société des Historiens Médiévistes de l’Enseignement Supérieur. Tours, 10-12 juin 1977, Annales de Bretagne et des Pays de l’Ouest Vol. 87 (Rennes 1980), pp. 191-218, I no longer do because of something Professor Feliu wrote, La Presa de Barcelona per Almansor: història i mitificació. Discurs de recepció de Gaspar Feliu i Montfort com a membre numerari de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica, llegit el dia 12 de desembre de 2007 (Barcelona 2007), online here, last modified 15 September 2008 as of 3 November 2008.

2. He makes this claim in “Catalogne et ‘regnum francorum’ : les enseignements de la titulature comtale” 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), II pp. 209-263, and in Zimmermann, “Western Francia: the southern principalities” in T. Reuter (ed.), The New Cambridge Medieval History III: c. 900-c. 1024, pp. 420-456. The documents are J. Rius (ed.), Cartulario de «Sant Cugat» del Vallés Vol. I (Barcelona 1945), doc. no. 217, and Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la secció històrico-arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1998), 3 vols, doc. nos 1122 & 1127, of which 1122 is the forgery based on 1127.

3. Michel Zimmermann, Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIe siècle), Bibliothèque de la Casa de Velázquez 23 (Madrid 2003), 2 vols, I pp. 107-109, the nun Carissima (whose signature in the previous post) p. 108.

4. Ibid., I pp. 25-38.

5. Lu Ann de Cunzo, “Exploring the Institution: Reform, Confinement, Social Change” in Martin Hall & Stephen W. Silliman (edd.), Historical Archaeology, Blackwell Studies in Global Archaeology 9 (Oxford 2006), pp. 167-189, quote at p. 183.

Archaeology, peasants, women: links from the fringes

I have little of my own to add just now—the Leeds paper is taking my attention but you’ve heard what I have to say about that stuff here before—so let me instead draw your attention to a few interesting archæogical reports and other things of interest on the web this day that I write.


Peasants and women

It’s approximately 15 years now since I studied the Peasants’ Revolt in any detail, and at first I thought a recent post by Bavardess was merely a worthwhile little reminder about the sequence of events. Actually, having done that, it goes much deeper into the scholarship by asking a very simple and damning question: the sources for the Peasants’ Revolt are full of women, where are they in the scholarship? And, well, I was slightly knocked back because I know that in the sources I got, they didn’t really appear and while I’m used to the idea that history teaching is gendered this is still pretty fierce. So I recommend a read of Bavardess’s post to rebalance yourself if you were taught similarly.

It’s odd that this comes at the same time that a vocal female reaction is making itself heard on parts of the web I pass near to a recent article by Patricia Cohen in the New York Times about the disappearance of ‘traditional’ history courses in the USA. It did cross my mind that I have seen such material termed ‘boy history’ in the past, and Claire Potter at Tenured Radical picks up the opposite end of the stick, shows that the first end is on fire and in your face and suggests that such laments and worries are principally caused by men on the defensive at a slightly greater incidence of women among the faculty. The figures she gives suggest that this defensiveness is, to say the least, well into no-man’s land and that the entrenchments of the establishment are still pretty safe for now. (Though it might have made her case stronger if, er, she’d read the figures that the target article presents…)

1381, 2009, who’s counting? Some men writing history are still scared of women with agency. This is one of those continuities between medieval and modern I wouldn’t mind disappearing. (And that’s intransitive, not transitive.) I suppose that a positive change is to be seen in the fact that now some women are also angrily defensive about such fears making rumour or even policy, but in words quoted about something else entirely by Maximilian Forte at Open Anthropology at the same sort of time, “it is clear that non ah we ent arrive as yet“.

Matriliny is not matriarchy, repeat after me: interdisciplinary conversation III

This is, I promise, the last post reacting to Barbero and Vigil’s La Formación del Feudalismo en la Península Ibérica. What the last few posts about it may have shown you about this book is that it made me think a lot about my material, but also in many cases decide that thirty years had really sunk quite a lot of it without trace, or should have. The last chapter is indubitably the best for my purposes. Unfortunately just before it comes a bit that made me sigh with recognition, where they bring some anthropology into the mix and even I know enough to know it goes all wrong. It also ties very well into the Judith Bennett round-table we’ve been having recently in as much as it attempts to engage with the question of women’s status but takes a stance where politics has perhaps mattered more than evidence somewhere in the chain. I translate:

Thomson says: «In general, wherever a matrilineal régime has survived, it takes the form of the succession running from the brother of the mother to the son of the sister, which has come to be seen as the norm. In reality we are dealing with a situation of transition. The original form has been conserved in the Jasi clan where the succession passes from mother to daughter, men being excluded. This form sees itself modified by a vesting of the woman’s functions to the man, either in the brother, as in the Jasi and the Iroquois, or in the husband, as in the Roman monarchy. The succession now passes from man to man but in the female line: from the brother of the mother to the son of the sister or from the father-in-law to the son-in-law. And thus we come to the patriarchal régime, in which the succession passes from man to man in the masculine line with the exclusion of women.»

We encounter the different situations to which Thomson alludes in the portion of his work that we have cited among the Cantabrian-Asturian peoples of the Roman and medieval era. The original form, in which the mother was the central figure, is encountered in the group of inscriptions proceeding from Peña Amaya and Monte Cildá, where paternal filiation is almost non-existent and where instead in a dedication the son expresses his maternal filiation. The most western Cantabrians, from the Valle de Sella and the Esla, whose most important group was the vadinienses, show themselves in a phase of transition towards the patriarchate, and indirect matrilineal succession occurs by way of the mother’s brother, that is to say, by means of the system known as avuncular, and already with ample references to paternal filiation. We can observe the third stage in the form of succession to the throne realised among the primitive Asturian kings, whose political centre arose in the Valle de Sella, precisely in the region of Cangas where the vadinienses had dwelled centuries before. In this case the form of succession operated by way of the mother, but not yet through the representation of the mother’s brother, but of the husband of the heiress with respect to his father-in-law. This represents the last relics of the indirect matrilineal line in a form —from father-in-law to son-in-law— which as Thomson observes indicates a growing preponderance of marriage that comes out into a patrilineal succession, existing previously at the same time as the matrilineal one.1

This all follows an analysis, reign by reign, of succession in early Asturias, which sometimes did run from father to son-in-law, though not always, about as often as father-to-son succession and unexplained successions or coups. The Thomson in question was working on social structure among the pre-Hellenic Greeks, but as you can tell he’d had to cast his comparative net wide, and Barbero and Vigil, having cited him as if he were anthropological authority rather than someone using old anthropology second-hand, then went on to expound from Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough (in its abridged edition) for some pages and then to use any evidence of importance of women, even equality of women as at my pet hearing in Ripoll, as evidence of ancient matriarchy. I showed this to my anthropologist of resort, along with a clarification that Thomson had written in 1961 and Barbero and Vigil in 1978 (Frazer originally wrote in 1890, the abridgement, lacking most of the original comparative mentions of Christianity, emerging in 1922) and she expressed a wish to be quoted as saying, “Oh, it makes the Baby Jesus cry!” In fact, she asked to be quoted as saying something far more vituperative but I bargained her down. Suffice to say that anthropology has come up with one or two new ideas on this score since 1890.


In fact, I knew some of them already. I’ve seen stuff like this before because I used to work on the Picts, where matriliny is also a frequent topic of conversation.2 Because of that, long before I started having these `conversations’, I read some actual anthropology that passed through my hands on its way to a new owner that addressed the topic. That was a book of essays by Alfred Radcliffe-Brown, of which one was called “Patrilineal and Matrilineal Succession”.3 I was in the midst of writing what I foolishly thought would be my first paper at the time, which wanted a response to the weirder scholarship on Pictish matriliny,4 and I devoured this book as the most fortunate coincidence. That paper, of course, originally dates from 1935, so I didn’t really get aware of the latest scholarship, which has generally moved beyond not just Radcliffe-Brown but also, well, most of the ideas expounded by Thomson as quoted by Barbero and Vigil…


It does have one very important point in it, however, supported by a range of African evidence, which is this: societies that privilege women in some respects tend not to do so in others. That is, where property passes from mother to son, family control may not; where mothers are respected as the source of a family’s identity, they may well not control the family property; in short, matriliny does not imply matriarchy and evidence of elevated women’s status in one respect doesn’t constitute evidence for an elevated status across the board. I mean, we knew this: look at the Troubadour epic, where the lady is the pinnacle of desirability and idealised to a fault, against the era that created it, where a number of powerful women not withstanding, brides were basically traded like horses; or, look at the slightly earlier situation in Catalonia where the hyper-masculinised warrior culture that generates all the feudal oaths from lord to vassal, which unlike earlier documents don’t involve couples ever, names almost all the participants by their mothers even though succession doesn’t go through them in either property or power.5 Well, okay, some of us knew it. Everyone should know it. Then I might not be able to get away with using sixty-year-old anthropology to refute not just thirty-year-old history but ten-year-old history which, in both cases, wanted to hark back to a women’s golden age that I think we’ve recently reminded everyone who’d listen never happened.

1. Abilio Barbero & Marcelo Vigil, La Formación del Feudalismo en la Península Ibérica, 2nd edn. (Barcelona 1979), pp. 330-331 and on till the end.

2. Alfred P. Smyth, Warlords and Holy Men: Scotland A. D. 80-1000 (London 1984), vs. W. D. H. Sellar, “Warlords, Holy Men and Matrilineal Succession (‘Warlords and Holy Men: Scotland, A. D. 80-1000′ by Alfred P. Smyth)” in Innes Review Vol. 36 (Glasgow 1985), pp. 29-42; Alex Woolf, “Pictish Matriliny Reconsidered”, ibid. 49 (1998), pp. 147-167; Alasdair Ross, “Pictish Matriliny?” in Northern Studies: the journal of the Scottish Society for Northern Studies Vol. 34 (Dundee 2000), pp. 11-22.

3. Alfred R. Radcliffe-Brown, “Patrilineal and Matrilineal Succession” in Iowa Law Review Vol. 20 (Iowa City 1935), repr. in idem, Structure and Function in Primitive
Society: essays and addresses
, edd. E. E. Evans-Pritchard & F. Eggan (New York 1965), pp. 32-48.

4. By which I basically mean Kyle A. Gray, “A New Look at the Pictish King List” in Pictish Arts Society Journal Vol. 10 (Edinburgh 1996), pp. 7-13, and idem, “Matriliny at the Millennium: the question of Pictish matrilineal succession revisited”, ibid. 14 (1999), pp. 13-32.

5. My reading on troubadour culture is woefully outdated, as with most of the reading in this post I suppose, but I will admit to Georges Duby, Women of the Twelfth Century Volume One: Eleanor of Aquitaine and Six Others, transl. Jean Birrell (Cambridge 1997), with which I realise there are problems. For the feudal oaths and their unusual filiations, see Michel Zimmermann, “Aux origines de Catalogne féodale : les serments non datés du règne de Ramon Berenguer Ier” in Jaume Portella i Comas (ed.), La Formació i Expansió del Feudalisme Català: actes del col·loqui organitzat pel Col·legi Universitari de Girona (8-11 de gener de 1985). Homenatge a Santiago Sobrequés i Vidal, Estudi General: revista del Col·legi Universitari de Girona, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona nos. 5-6 (Girona 1986), pp. 109-151 with English summary p. 557.