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.)