The last couple of days I have been musing over the various things in the rich stew that is Alice Rio’s 2006 article in Past and Present.1 Though it’s on the list next to Simon Keynes’s article that provoked the last two posts by complete coincidence, nonetheless it raises some very similar issues, especially about the use of law, and left me remembering that although there are penalties in the Visigothic Law, which is the only one of the so-called ‘barbarian codes’ I know at all well, for crimes, obviously, and for misreporting or distortion of the laws, there aren’t per se penalties for just not doing things as the law dictates.2 Alice has an example from a formulary of a charter by which someone would divide his inheritance equally, in plain defiance of the Salic Law that ran in the area whence the example comes; presumably, as with the case in the entry before, the law was rejected because it wouldn’t have seemed fair.3
Anyway, there are also in the article a couple of very useful quotes, and I wanted to put them somewhere and this seemed like the place. One is her own, and the other is a Dominique Barthélemy textbite that I should arguably have seen before.
The Barthélemy one first. Alice is observing that enslavement is frequently supposed to result from debt, and quotes Barthélemy as follows:4
D’ailleurs, toutes les formes de seigneurie ne reposent-elles pas sur une idéologie de la dette?
(Besides, don’t all forms of lordship rest on an ideology of debt?)
He may well be right. However, Alice is certainly right, out of context as well as in, when she earlier says:5
… the possibility of a discontinuous evolution is worth considering.
Yes. Every time. It doesn’t all happen in order. This is going to get quoted as much as Hubert Mordek’s one about the sources sometimes being right.6
1. A. Rio, “Freedom and Unfreedom in Early Medieval Francia: the evidence of the legal formulae” in Past and Present no. 193 (Oxford 2006), pp. 7-40.
2. The Keynes article mentioned is S. D. Keynes, “Royal government and the use of the written word in late Anglo-Saxon England” in R. McKitterick (ed.), The Uses of Literacy in Early Mediaeval Europe (Cambridge 1990), pp. 226-257. The Visigothic Law, should the link in the post not satisfy, is edited as K. Zeumer (ed.), Leges Visigothorum, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Leges Nationum Germanicum) I (Hannover 1902, repr. 2005), transl. S. P. Scott as The Visigothic Code (Boston 1922).
3. Rio, “Freedom and Unfreedom”, pp. 34-36, saying on p. 36, “Law was therefore more a reference to be customised than an enforceable rule.”
4. Ibid., p. 28 n. 70, citing D. Barthélemy, “Qu’est-ce que le servage, en France, au XIe siècle?” in Revue Historique no. 287 (Paris 1992), pp. 233-284 at p. 265.
5. Rio, “Freedom and Unfreedom”, p. 19.
6. H. Mordek, “Karolingische Kapitularien” in idem (ed.), Überlieferung und Geltung der normativer Texte des frühen und hohen Mittelalters (Sigmaringen 1986), pp. 25-50 at p. 30: “[M]an muss der Überlieferung immer die Chance geben, recht zu behalten”. I owe this quote to Dr Christina Pössel who uses it in her thesis, “Symbolic communication and the negotiation of power at Carolingian regnal assemblies, 814-840” (Ph. D. thesis, University of Cambridge 2004), and kindly let me see the relevant chapter in draft. She translates the quote as “One must always allow for the possibility that the sources are actually right.”
If you’re looking for quotations, there are some classic ones by Susan Reynolds. From Fiefs and Vassals:
(p 40) ‘the layers of [medieval] society were more like those of a trifle than a cake: its layers were blurred, and the sherry of accepted values soaked through. Taking the whole of society…one has to see it as a very rich and deep trifle with a lot of layers’
(p 85) ‘It is always fun for historians to find reasons for what they have already labelled as supposedly epoch-making developments, but the reasoning is more convincing after one has established what it is one is explaining.’
And the definitive comment on Otto III of Germany (a few years ago at the IHR): ‘a young man with a lot of fancy ideas, but he didn’t last long’.
Ha! Posterity, take that! I do admire Susan. She brings common sense to a field where it too often lacks, and does so with a genuine feel for avoiding anachronism.
I can’t help noticing that this term’s IHR Earlier Middle Ages schedule isn’t up yet… Having I think worked out that yes, in fact we do know each other from elsewhere than there as well, I really should have found your blog sooner! However, when Stephen gets the schedule together I imagine I’ll see you there, and get back to making Another Damned Medievalist jealous of the discussions >:-)