Meme-tag: Count Borrell II

Magistra has tentatively tagged me in a meme that she has mutated (which, given how meme theory is supposed to work, is I guess fair enough!) and although I share her discomfort with the chain-letter aspect, I’m never averse to having an excuse to trot out some stuff about my specialism. I can also take some joy in gratifying a recent websearcher whose visit here may have been a little unsatisfying. The rules of the meme, as given by Magistra, were:

  1. Link to the person that tagged you and post the rules on your blog.
  2. Share 7 random and/or weird things about yourself.
  3. My variant is that rather than say 7 random/weird things about yourself, say them about a historical figure of your choice. (Let’s be generous, semi-historical, for all those interested in more or less mythical figures).

  4. Tag 7 random people at the end of your post and include links to their blogs.
  5. Let each person know that they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.

Well, I can’t be having with the tagging. Magistra’s already chosen some good ones and I don’t feel I could appeal to people I only know through the blog to jump through a meme hoop for me. I will only say that I expect Derek the Ænglican, Michelle of Heavenfield, Sæsferd of Antiquarian’s Attic and Larry Swain might all come up with interesting things, especially since I’m adopting Magistra’s mutation. Seven odd things about myself? If I tried that here I’d very much fear for my employment chances should any academics read it, or so I like to imagine.

A long time ago in an IHR seminar Jinty Nelson got us to go round the table introducing ourselves and our subjects. John Gillingham, in so doing, concluded with the words, “and my hero’s Richard the Lionheart”. So when it came to me I was moved to imitate with “and my hero’s Count Borrell II of Barcelona”. But no-one knows who he was and occasionally I try and change this. Here then once more…

Modern equestrian statue of Count Borrell II at Cardona

He’s not actually my hero, if only because although his career’s fascinating, it’s far from being an unmixed success, but he’s certainly my main historical figure. He started operating as Count of Barcelona under his father Marquis Sunyer in 945, and succeeded to his father’s three counties of Barcelona, Girona and Osona, basically the south-west of old Catalonia, along with his brother in 947 when Sunyer retired to La Grasse to become a monk. Later that year his uncle Sunifred II of Urgell allowed him to inherit Urgell too, because Sunifred’s son, also called Borrell, had died and Sunifred now had no heirs. He ruled until 993, active till the last, and oversaw the beginning of Catalonia’s facing-up to the growing social change as the economy began to boom around the year 1000. He was an important man and he’s unusually well-evidenced, about 150 charters featuring him in some way or other.

So seven odd things about Borrell! I’m not footnoting these, because they mostly need long arguments; some day, children, there will be a book. I promise you. Anyway:

  1. Although he was titular count of Barcelona, there’s almost no sign of him doing anything there until his brother Miró died in 966 leaving Borrell as sole ruler in their three counties.
  2. He seems to have established a school for judges and recruited especially learned clerics as tame court jurists, presumably as part of a PR exercise for the quality of his own justice. These judges have since become a misleading model for what all Catalan or Meridional judges are supposed to be like, and I hope to have a paper done refuting this some time soon.
  3. They say no man can serve two masters but Borrell was a supplicant at the courts in both Córdoba and West Francia as occasion demanded.
  4. He got on really well with his cousin Miró, who was count of Besalú and also Bishop of Girona, and seems to have effectively run Girona for Borrell; but maybe that’s because Miró and his brothers kicked Borrell’s behind in battle at some point around 957…
  5. We only know of him going to war one other time, in 985 and he got his behind kicked then too, by al-Mansur who went on to sack Barcelona thereby kick-starting Catalan historiography according to Michel Zimmermann.
  6. In 985 one of the places that got hit was the nunnery of Sant Pere de les Puelles, which was Borrell’s and his dad’s foundation but where he’d probably been pressured into making one of his major magnates’ daughters abbess in exchange for getting a castle clawed back from a monastery that magnate had founded and given to Rome; but that abbess was carried off in 985 so Borrell got to emplace his daughter in the end. Convenient!
  7. He went to Rome in 970 and tried to get his pet bishop made an archbishop; and although he very likely failed, he has managed to fool all historians since then that he succeeded, all except me! me! (unless I’m wrong).

I think all of these things are odd enough to make up big chunks of the second book, anyway, but maybe I need to write the current book first… So there you go, web-searcher, Borrell II of Barcelona for you. For more detail and references, until that first book comes out, I really should get my thesis on the web which would allow you easily to get at the references there (which are at J. Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, Ph.D. thesis, University of London 2005, pp. 221-253, esp. 221-225).

29 responses to “Meme-tag: Count Borrell II

  1. I doubt not that Borrell is interesting; I’m interested, though I would be more interested if he came from Kazakhstan (not really!). But geez, what a hardcore academic performance!

  2. I’m not certain from how you phrase that whether you think that’s a good thing or not :-) But I occasionally have these leanings towards doing things properly, even here. As I say, these are cores of large chunks of planned book so they are kind of compressed, which in physics terms makes them that much more dense…

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  6. I enjoyed your 7 things about Borell – magic!

  7. There’s very little about him specifically even in Catalonia, despite his apparent importance to the country’s development. It’s odd: I hope to change it :-)

  8. Deni Borrell

    this is my family
    so they must of been interesting xxx

  9. I hate to bring down your aspirations, but Borrell was not an uncommon name in this period. How good’s your family tree? :-)

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