Actually doing research: "nobles of the palace", Barcelona 990 A. D.

Lately my work has been held up by a single piece of research I’ve been trying to do as quickly as possible for the last chapter of the eventual book (though don’t get over-excited, I’m not revising these things in order and there’s still loads to go). This bit however needed new work and has been a right dog. It’s kind of done now and I thought there would be worse things I could do than say something about it.

I’ve been looking at Borrell II, again, and in particular at whether he had a steady court of followers and dependants, or whether he had to draw a self-standing nobility to him by patronage. The answer is kind of `both and neither’ as you’d expect, but in order to give some concrete examples of this I’ve zeroed in on one particular hearing.1 It’s an interesting and unique hearing in itself, as the matter of it is that an official called Sendred whose title is custos monetae—if he were an organisation he’d be a Currency Watchdog I suppose—appeals one of Barcelona’s moneyers, Guiscafred, for making substandard coin. What we have is not actually the document where he was tried, however, because Bishop Vives of the city immediately sails into action and tries to argue with the count that, because Guiscafred is the bishop’s man, the bishop ought to try him. Now this is of course the right of clerical privilege that got Thomas á Becket killed, but Borrell and Vives, at least as they are recorded by the unusually verbose and hyper-accurate judge Ervigi Marc, whose detail is often really useful in these records, have a civilised exchange about it. Borrell is said to have emphasised that it’s his business to protect the public, and that however much he respects the Church action has to be taken here, and Vives therefore offers the compromise that if Borrell lets him deal with it, he will administer sentence without any further delay. This settlement, not the actual trial, is what the document is intended to record, but it’s already opened up many many cans of worms that tell us loads about how money was being produced, used and checked in the city at a time when other documents tells us its standard was a problem.2

Courtyard of the Palau Comtal de Barcelona, now the Plaça del Rei, as it stands today

But the interest for me, at least today, is that Ervigi Marc (call him Harvey Mark if it helps you) states that this hearing was held in the palace of the count in Barcelona, which although we have reason to believe it had recently been rebuilt is the first mention we have of that building, and he calls the assembled worthies who are hearing the case “nobles of the palace”, nobiles palatii. So my question was, immediately, who are these people and how ‘palatine’ are they?

Methodologically this is a lot of what I do, a kind of poor man’s prosopography, but there are problems, mainly the lack, except in the case of the august scribe, of surnames. So someone is present called Sunifred: you wouldn’t believe how common a name this was at the time, and there’s just no way to say which of the other Sunifreds who turn up with the count or the bishop are when they’re not closely associated with some land where they turn up consistently. Likewise people called Miró. But with some of the group we can do better. There are for example two people called Guitard. This makes it almost vanishingly unlikely that one of them is not Guitard de Mura, a minor noble who makes it good by getting concessions of castles from both count and bishop of Barcelona beginning at about this time; he will surely have been there when the two came into dispute in his home city. That leaves the question of who the other one is, and there’s a guy who turns up witnessing for the monastery of Sant Cugat for areas all over the general Barcelona area (which Guitard de Mura does not, as his lands are all further away or actually in the city, as far as we can tell) who is at least a possible.3 There are several other names that leap out at me from Borrell’s other documents; it is at least a good chance that the attenders called Bonnuç & Seniol are the men of that name who sporadically and separately witness Borrell’s documents all over the frontier territories, here with the boss on this occasion. A deacon called Arnulf who seems to have otherwise only appeared in or around Girona also turns up only with the count, and was therefore perhaps a tame and apparently portable chaplain, which makes it likely that some Girona contingent was there, so that the Gauzfred who is present is probably the Vicar of Girona we know from later documents. And the judges are Borrell’s men too, of course, and one deacon present, Adalbert, seems to be a judge in training who only gets the full title in later appearances. Another Recosind appears to be a city landholder who deals occasionally with Borrell. Likewise, there is present a Marcuç who seems to crop up in city contexts and maybe also occasionally witness for the nearby monastery of Sant Cugat del Vallès. But it’s not just Borrell’s men: one person called Sesnan, I can’t find in Borrell’s documents, but one such is in a fair few of Bishop Vives’s, and seems to be someone the bishop gives land at the end of his life, perhaps as a reward for years of service. You’d expect there to be a few of the bishop’s men present, after all, given that one of them is the accused. And the bishop’s palace is actually right next door, possibly even adjoining the comital palace, so ‘nobles of the palace’ could be a bit relaxed as a term?

But there are also a bunch of people who just don’t recur. The names are sometimes so odd that I would think it was a garbled copy, except that it’s an original and Ervigi Marc is firstly easy to recognise by his signature and secondly not a man to make that kind of mistake. It does however mean that you can be sure, when someone is called Falcuç, and is a deacon, that he is not seen elsewhere, because all of the documents from Osona, Manresa, Girona, Besalú, or the archives of the cathedral of Barcelona, the counts themselves (though that is patchy this early) or that of Sant Cugat (though there there is a later monk of the same name at least) are well indexed and he does not occur. This guy is a one-off appearance, and there are a few others like him too. What kind of ‘nobles of the palace’ can these be who are never seen there, or anywhere else either? Not nobles at all, surely.

So my initial conclusion is that, unfortunately, Ervigi is talking a regular gathering of incidental petitioners up big because big people are involved. Actually the assembled are there for a whole bunch of reasons, and some of them are probably ordinary citizens just come along for the ceremony or to plead their own cases. Someone wanted a good crowd for this one, hauled them all in, and Ervigi lets style get ahead of fine status gradations. But it’s still a good little exercise in who might be there when the count holds court, and shows quite nicely that the body is always changing because many of the count’s men all have lives of their own and turn up either when he needs them or they need him but not by default, which is more or less what the rest of the discussion into which this chunk will go has been showing as well. So I would say that’s what it shows of course, at least it’s consistent with that. But if anyone would prefer to offer a different view I’m open to it…

1. A. Fabregà i Grau (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Barcelona: documents dels anys 844-1260. Volum I: documents dels anys 844-1000, Fonts Documentals 1 (Barcelona 1995), doc. no. 201.

2. On which you will some day be able to see J. Jarrett, “Currency change in pre-millennial Catalonia: coinage, counts and economics” in Numismatic Chronicle Vol. 168 (London forthcoming).

3. I’m not giving the detailed cites for these people’s occurrences, it would swamp the page and you don’t really need it. Or, if you do, you can wait till the book comes out :-) But at least you can now access the Sant Cugat documents online. That’s such good news, in fact, that it will make for a post by itself…

9 responses to “Actually doing research: "nobles of the palace", Barcelona 990 A. D.

  1. I love this stuff. (Not enough to do it myself, but I’m glad there’s such a blog.)

  2. Will you be buying the book when it comes out then? Every sale helps :-)

  3. highlyeccentric

    Hmm… interesting. That’s all I can say to that, but it IS interesting.

    What’s the social structure in Spain at this time? Feudal? Sort of proto-feudal? Something else altogether?

  4. Agh, she said the f-word…

    Yer question is not a simple one madam :-) It’s kind of one whole edge of my topic. `Carolingian’ would be my one-word answer but that doesn’t help you much, and you don’t want to be reading my thesis just now. In short (ha!) you could say that there are public officials of some kind in charge, but that these offices are hereditary and secure mainly because of the wealth of the holders; these holders have people who owe them for their position, or where they can’t get those, people who run their own localities but who have an interest in collaboration with the higher-ups; and some areas are pretty much independent until they need a judge or have to pay taxes. And the Church is as much a lord as anyone else. But in 990 it’s changing. Borrell is laying new stresses on rewards and service, which is not feudal but will be; think of it like an Anglo-Saxon warrior being given his few hides at retirement, except that the people Borrell recruits have a little land already, run his estates for him, or are sons or nephews of the big nobles. Also, the Church is learning to tie peasants into contracts that bind them to a place. Nobles get given fees of public land to run for the count, and their sons usually hold on to them. It’s all imminently possible for it to become something that most people would call feudal, but just at this point, it’s not clear that it will go that way yet. That all comes later.

  5. highlyeccentric

    Carolingian in fact makes perfect sense (well, as a broad descriptor, to someone who has studied neither Carolingians nor tenth century spain). That was what I was thinking of for ‘some sort of proto-feudal’- I had fun reading Barraclough’s book, title forgotten, about early medieval france/europe/thing and the shifting social structures, summer before last.

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