Excellentissima et merito famosissima historica I

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

RM Monogramme

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

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

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

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

    Keynote Address

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

    Session 1. The Reformatio monastica karolina

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


    Session 2. Reform from without, reforms to without

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

Behind those grilles is the box installed by Leo III

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

13 responses to “Excellentissima et merito famosissima historica I

  1. It is an amazing idea to celebrate someone’s birthday in such fashion (I would’ve been very excited): celebrating one’s work. It can only mean that what one does has the validity and support of the community for which one does it, and also adds to the knowledge of humankind. It was a beautiful gesture. Also, that picture of the altar in Rome is beautiful!

  2. Thanks for this generous summary!

  3. How lovely!

    I tried prescribing Extra Piety to my daughter last night after she mouthed off to me, but I think I’ll have to settle for Temporary and Involuntary Renunciation of the Nintendo DS.

    • Well, that’s a kind of fast or penance, it’s not completely out of kilter with what Æthelred was prescribing! and I tell you what, I bet you won’t be attacked by a Danish warband once afterwards either!

  4. I guess it can validate the work but doesn’t it also say “you are nothing BUT your work”?

    Either way I recently found this blog and as I am currently writing an alternate history beginning in the middle 8th century and onwards, the blog has proved really valuable to me in terms of research.


    • I’ve only summarised the academic content of the papers here; of course there was a great deal of personal friendship and gratitude expressed by the speakers and the other people present. And, on the other hand, Rosamond’s work is most of what we, her students and colleagues are in a position to celebrate. Whether all her life be academic or not, those are the parts we know and the rest is not necessarily our (or your) business…

  5. I have huge respect for Rosamond McKitterick. I recently read the volume she co-edited on ‘Edward Gibbon and Empire’ for a historiography paper. It brought out some unusual (and for me, unfamiliar) perspectives on the Merovingians and Carolingians, 18thc medievalism and ideas of ’empire’.

    • She was born grew up in Australia, so she has a leavening of ‘outsider’ perspective on the Imperial enterprise. I think that does help.

      Edit: important fact corrected after e-mail from on high :-/

  6. JJ,

    I found this wonderful summary of the Fest, much to my surprise. Unfortunately, you missed the dinner and thus the short Latin acrostic poem in Elegiac couplets that I delivered in honour of Rosamond. I append below, slightly corrected from the printout given at the conference (which had one or two typos):


    Vere exile meum parvumque, immo prope nullum
    Admitto esse quidem barbaricum ingenium
    Laudandam ad vitam unius imbutae sapienti
    Et florifera sedulitate diu,
    At sane ejus res gestas annis studiosas
    Ter viginti non aequiparare queam
    Raptim nitens per bis centum annos sine pausa.
    Omni consilio proinde panegyrico
    Stabo, forsan dicere partem possim animate…
    Antiquorum ejus notitiam nil opus
    Mi fari, quia semper scit alium tibi librum
    Obscurum, lingua difficilem Batava.
    Non admiremur si praetermittitur ejus
    Doctrinae fama, ut vertere discipulis
    Possim taedium aperti. Tantaque doctor inerrans
    Est clementia item: bibliotheca suis
    Reclusa exstat, ita ut domus. Cantor fidens, cum aliis, ad
    Praeclaros cantus. Nunc tamen exiguum
    Eloquium me deserit, finis carminis ipsi
    Temptanda est propere; grandibus ex operis,
    Undique gratia debita fundat M[ā]cKĭttĕrīcae
    Egregiae a sociis; PERPETUE et VALEAT!

    • Aha, thankyou! I heard of it during the proceedings, spoken of with awe, of course, but hadn’t thought to tap you for a text, not least because my Latin’s not nearly as good as its composer’s! I shall endeavour to parse it, but I wish I’d been able to hear it read.

  7. Pingback: Upcoming activity! | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

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