From the sources I: yer actual simony

All right, when a blogger lacks for content, especially a historical blogger, the best thing to do is always to get him or her back to the sources. Several things have arisen lately, on blog or off, where I’ve needed some particular source and been annoyed it wasn’t on the Internet, or that it was still only typed up on my old and disused P333 which now lurks in a shed unpowered. I found one of those latter in an old printout from teaching at Birkbeck, and typed it up for a recent lecture; then the photocopier broke down and no-one actually got the handout in time to refer to it, but y’know, I tried. So I thought that, having typed it up again, I’d also put it here, because it’s interesting and probably useful to teach with.

Bishop Ermengol of Urgell mistrusting a lay magnate doing homage to him, from the Liber Feudorum Maior

Bishop Ermengol of Urgell mistrusting a lay magnate doing homage to him, from the Liber Feudorum Maior

What this is, then, is my translation of an agreement between Count Ermengol I of Urgell (993-1010), son of my old fascination Borrell II of Barcelona (and also of Urgell), and Bishop Sal·la of Urgell (981-1010), who has also featured here in the past. They agree by this that Sal·la’s nephew, also called Ermengol, seen above in the mitre, will succeed his uncle as bishop, and set out the price that Ermengol demands for ensuring that this occurs. It goes like this.

I Count Ermengol, son of the late Count Borrell and the late Countess Ledgarda, swear that from this hour and hereafter to the last day of days, that Bishop Sal·la, son of the late Isarn and the late Ranló,a and I have nominated one Ermengol by this scripture, by this oath, namely, that I shall undertake to give the bishopric of the county of Urgell to Ermengol son of Viscount Bernat and of Viscountess Guisla. I Count Ermengol shall undertake to give [it] to that Ermengol, son of Bernat, and I shall perform his investiture. And from this hour in future I the above-written Count Ermengol, will not keep that Ermengol, the above-written son of Viscount Bernat, from that bishopric of Holy Mary at the See at Vic which is in Urgell.b And if Bishop Sal·la shall wish to ordain this above-written nephew Ermengol in his lifetime, I Count Ermengol as written above will be a helper to him in ordaining that Ermengol, the above-written son of Bernat, without any deception of this Ermengol, if Bishop Sal·la or his brother Bernat or any of the kinsmen or the friends of that Ermengol, the cleric named above, shall undertake to give me 100 pesas, or the value in pesetas, or a pledge of 200 pesas through another 60 pesas that they shall give me after the death of the above-written Bishop Sal·la, half of it in the first half of the year and the other in the other. And if Bishop Sal·la shall not have ordained this Ermengol his nephew in the lifetime of Bishop Sal·la, and I Count Ermengol be yet living, and that Ermengol, the above-written son of Bernat, be living, I that above-written Count Ermengol shall perform the ordination of the above-written cleric Ermengol,c if I be able, if the above-written cleric Ermengol shall wish to give me, or his kinsmen or his friends shall wish to give to me and shall have given those pesas or those pesetas or that pledge written above. And I the above-written Count Ermengol shall offer no disturbance to the above-said cleric Ermengol over his ordination to that bishopric of Urgell, not I nor any man nor any woman either by my counsel or by my stay. And I the above-written Count Ermengol shall be a helper to that Ermengol, the above-written son of Guisla, to hold and have the bishopric of Urgell just as Sal·la holds it today, against all men or women who should wish or attempt to attack him, without any deception of the above-written cleric Ermengol after the death of the above-written Bishop Sal·la or in his days, if Bishop Sal·la shall defer the episcopate to him, or give to him anything or that bishopric, if Ermengol the son of Viscount Bernat brother of Sal·la, and son of Viscountess Guisla, daughter of the late Sunifred of Lluçà,d shall wish to perform homage and fidelity to me on a dedicated altar, or on relics, and he should do [this] so that I Count Ermengol can have faith in his fidelity.

And that’s all there is, no signatures, no witnesses, but there seems no reason to doubt it per se because of Ermengol’s later reputation (see below), unless his viscount brother’s offspring got really literary when contesting their grandmother’s will with him I suppose (which they had to do). Unless that be the case, however, when they talk about lay investiture and simony and so on, this is what they mean. Here is a real example.1 This kind of deal was being cut in many places. Note especially, if you care to, the following things:

  1. The form of document they are using here is a convenientia, an agreement, and it is basically a feudal one; that ‘without any deception’ riff is straight out of feudal pacts of the era and because of that is almost one of the first phrases we have in written Catalan, ‘sin engany’, though this document is entirely Latin. And, in that form, we would not expect signatures, witnesses or indeed a date, as the text is apparently more part of the act than a record for the future. Yes, it’s arguable, but it has been argued and certainly this is what such oaths look like except for the Latinity.2
  2. Sal·la is already Count Ermengol’s sworn vassal (and yes, we are allowed to use that word in this context dammit), but ironically, his son, Ermengol II, would eventually swear fidelity to Bishop Ermengol…3
  3. You could probably just about argue that this is not simony, but insurance; Ermengol comes doesn’t say that he will oppose Ermengol archileuita (as he is at this time) as bishop if the money isn’t paid, just that he won’t help him or perform the investiture. Technically he’s being paid to ensure that Ermengol does become bishop, not to allow him to do so. However, I don’t think many canon lawyers in Rome of 1056 would have seen it that way. I also don’t think anyone in X1003 Catalonia cared, however.
  4. It should be noted that what we are reading here is an agreement about the ordination of a man who is now recognised as a saint, albeit largely for his war-leadership against the Muslims; so subsequent papacies have also forgiven him this unfortunate slip.4
  5. Sal·la did in fact ordain Ermengol in his own lifetime, as coadjutor, and Count Ermengol I was still alive to insist at that time—he died on campaign in Córdoba in 1010, fighting Castilians who had been hired by the other contendor for the Caliphate—so the money must have been forthcoming.5 Of course, a bishop ordaining his own successor is quite uncanonical too but SAINT okay SAINT d’you hear me? Heros de la reconquesta, homes!
  6. We don’t, sadly know how much was actually being paid because we don’t know what a pesa was at this time. It’s clearly a weight of bullion—Urgell is not minting coin at this time, though it does later—but how much is unclear. Gaspar Feliu once reckoned it was an ounce of gold or a pound of silver, reckoned as equivalents, but he’s since decided it’s more complicated than that.6 Of that order, anyway, so, a lot. And a peseta is not a coin, but the equivalent in kind, a pesa-worth. So, it’s 100 pesas now, or their equivalent, or else 200 later of which 60 to be paid now. He drives a hard bargain (which may be why Sal·la took the low price…).
  7. Also, just a small point but observe that the women mentioned are political agents. Count Ermengol disclaims that he might use a woman to upset the agreement; mothers are named for all participants (in fact, for a Catalan feudal agreement, it’s rather unusual for fathers to be named, but this is very early and that form’s not yet established) and Guisla’s parentage, which was powerful as was she, is also mentioned. They’re not actually here but then they’re not bishop or count; doesn’t stop them being important.

So there you are, perhaps it’s useful, I certainly think it’s interesting, and I had it typed up already…

(Cross-posted to Cliopatria with revisions.)

a Isarn was Viscount of Conflent and possibly also of Urgell from perhaps 954 until 974; Ranló was his wife and Viscountess, there is no problem with that title for scribes of the time.

b Vic, as Anglo-Saxonists may be more aware than many, is based on a Germanic word for trading-place. This is why both Urgell and, well, Vic, have Vics, but this is Vic de la Seu d’Urgell and that’s Vic d’Osona and because Vic got big and commercial and Seu d’Urgell mainly stayed a bishop’s fortress town Vic has basically got to own the name in Catalonia and no-one uses the full form anymore.

c I love the trouble the scribe took to keep the Ermengols distinct. Given that it is finally comprehensible in a way that many such documents are not I will happily forgive him making it nearly the opposite in achieving that.

d Sunifred was Vicar of Lluçà, which was at the time one of the richest frontier castles there was in Osona. Bernat had married down but well, and Guisla was a tough customer also.

1. The text is printed in Cebrià Baraut (ed.), “Els documents, dels anys 981-1010, de l’Arxiu Capitular de la Seu d’Urgell” in Urgellia Vol. 3 (Montserrat 1980), pp. 7-166, doc. no. 276.

2. On these documents and other Latin precursors you should see Adam Kosto, Making Agreements in Medieval Catalonia: power, order and the written word, 1000-1200, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought 4th Series 51 (Cambridge 2001).

3. Baraut, “Els documents, dels anys 1010-1035, de l’Arxiu Capitular de le Seu d’Urgell” in Urgellia Vol. 4 (1981), pp. 7-178, docs no. 486 & 487.

4. For more on him see Jeffrey A. Bowman, “The Bishop Builds a Bridge: sanctity and power in the medieval Pyrenees” in Catholic Historical Review Vol. 88 (Washington DC 2002), pp. 1-16.

5. Uncle and nephew appear together at the union of the monastery of Sant Pere del Burgal with the reforming house of Notre Dame de la Grasse in 1007 (and if you need a better proof of how what a later age saw as Church corruption was fine with the first wave of reformers if it got the job done, I don’t know where you’d find it). The document is edited in E. Magnou-Nortier & A.-M. Magnou (edd.), Recueil des Chartes de l’Abbaye de la Grasse tome I: 779-1119, Collection des documents inédits sur l’histoire de France : section d’histoire médiévale et de philologie, Série in 8vo 24 (Paris 1996), as doc. no. 91.

6. References gathered, if that sort of thing interests you, in Jonathan Jarrett, “Currency change in pre-millennial Catalonia: coinage, counts and economics” in Numismatic Chronicle Vol. 169 (London forthcoming), p. 00 n. 40.


15 responses to “From the sources I: yer actual simony

  1. Interesting stuff, Jon. I know it’s a pain, but it would help if you could also transcribe the Latin: Urgellia is only available in Oxbridge and London in the UK (and only Berlin and Tuebingen in Germany), and your points about it aren’t really worth much unless you give others the opportunity to see the original (not to mention that, even for undergrad teaching, if you’re dealing with feudalism you pretty much have to deal with the Latin).

    • I believe the correct and scholarly response is, “Ooh, shiny!” Bit late for me but since Catalonia is like, red route one for Arabic astronomy, anything like that is going to make the historians of science very excited.

  2. Any thoughts on why the count and the future bishop have the same name? Are they related or is Ermengol just a very common name? If not, my immediate thought would be the possibility that Count Ermengol might be the godfather of the other Ermengol, and that the relationship between them might therefore extend much further back.

    • It’s not that common a name, actually, and there’s no (known) blood relation so you might have a point except for their ages: Count Ermengol must be, er, less than twenty-one when he becomes count in 993 because Borrell’s first son, Ermengol’s brother, was born in 972. And the bishop ought to be 30 by 1007, so born at least 977. For Count Ermengol to be a plausible godfather the bishop would have to be absurdly young at succession and a teenage archdeacon. So I don’t think it works. Bother, that would have been nice.

  3. judithweingarten

    See History Carnivalesque # 57, which picked up this post

    Kind regards,


  4. Pingback: La Seu d'Urgell : informations, photos, carte, vue satellite

  5. Pingback: From the sources IV: following up the simonists and Vikings « A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

  6. Pingback: Name in print IV « A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

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  8. Pingback: While it’s been quiet I have been reading (and writing) | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

  9. Ji Yeon, Kim

    Hello, Do you remember the student who questioned you whether can I translate your article or not (about Feudal transformation) through
    I want to question one more thing, and it is about “convenientia”.
    1. 2years ago, I wrote my gradual thesis. it’s main subject was ‘the Albigensian Crusade and change of the southern nobility’s status. And, In thesis, dealing with the difference between the nothern feudalism and ‘the Occitan feudalism, I mentioned about convenientia. I described it as one of the crucial difference.
    First question is “was it appropriate description?”

    2. I try to treat ‘convenientia’ in my master’s course. I know this kind of subject had already been dealed in quantity. But, I think, discussion is still available.
    Could you recommend me some article or book related with ‘convenientia’ ?

    I’m sorry for bothering you.

    • Don’t be sorry! This is fine. I suppose my answer to your first question would be in two parts, and they’d roughly be (i) yes, I think that is actually a distinguishing factor of the way the two halves of france operate; by the mid-eleventh century they’re both handing out things they call feoda to people for service, but the patterns of that service are different north to south, or at least the documents used for them are. Of course you can do a lot with a form as loose as the convenientia, so I’m not sure that the two areas are actually behaving very differently, but the cladding is probably still different. But my second part would be, (ii) are you sure that feudalism is a helpful word here? Are you talking about military service, land tenure (and if so, does it relate to military service or not?), or just the ties of social groups (and if so, only vertical, or horizontal too?)? I’d only describe some of these things as ‘feudal’ even in casual medievalist conversation, and in an academic writing context I’d want to avoid the term just because by itself it might mean any of these or loads more things, and what you mean by it may not be what someone reads from the word, especially if their area of expertise has a different set of feudal ‘symptoms’. (This is the basic objection that Elizabeth Brown raised in her old article ‘Tyranny of a Construct’ of course.) Unless you had a good schematised definition of feudalism laid out when you started, I’d give you the same advice as I give undergraduate students who use the word; try and say what you mean instead, then you can be sure of being understood.

      As for reading, my starting point would be Adam K. Kosto, Making Agreements in Medieval Catalonia: power, order and the written word, 1000-1200, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought 4th Series 51 (Cambridge 2001). It’s actually a study of documentary type more than a conventional history, but as well as showing what the roots of the convenientia are it shows what it can be used for, and actually that involves recounting a decent part of the history of high medieval Catalonia with the convenientia at its heart. Now, there’s not much more in English on this, so you may already have read it, in which case I can suggest other things but they’re all in French or Catalan…

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