Who pays with a shoe? Family tensions in a Vic charter

So there should have been some posts at the weekend and there weren’t. Let me make my excuses and then give you something funny I came across to be going on with. I had, while working through Catalunya Carolíngia IV as oft-times described here, come across what seemed to be evidence of an even more complicated love-life for that equally oft-mentioned castellan Unifred Amat than I’d already posted about here, a potential third partner. That was going to be your post, but this week just gone was school half-term, meaning that I had important things to do like standing on steam trains and losing at board games, and somehow I only got to the post on Sunday evening, at which point it became clear that to check the possibility meant putting about forty more charters in my database. Now, it’s not been a good week since for intensive data entry—I have my heaviest ever teaching load this half of this term and not enough was ready for it—but I’ve now got most of it done and what this makes clear is that I was wrong. And, though I rate your tolerances highly, a post solely about inconclusive prosopography didn’t seem like good enough material. But! thankfully for you all, the data entry also threw up something quite odd that I think shows us again how individuals and their preoccupations fight to the surface of even formulaic legal records.

Approach to Folgueroles, near Vic, Catalonia

Images are hard to find for this post. The relevant settlement is gone now, I don’t have a picture of the charter… "It was near here" is about the best I can do! Here, as you can see, is Folgueroles, near Vic

I ought to have a picture of the relevant charter, it was written by a scribe I’m interested in, Ermemir who also wrote the document I showed you a few posts ago. Somehow, though, I missed this one on the last trip to Vic, so will have to go back and catch it some other time, oh well. The occasion is 14th April 1000, and a family has gathered to sell some land in Mata, near Vic, but not all seems to be well.1 For a start, they are not simply described. Usually, when a mother and her children sell land, she is listed first, having the senior interest. Here, however, we have “Eldemar and my sisters Ejó and Ermelda and Guifré and I Anlo their mother”, which if we were to read it straight might suggest that Guifré was a half-sibling. Since, however, their collective father is also referred to later and it turns out in signatures that Guifré is also a cleric, I think it’s just that whoever informed Ermemir when he wrote the Vorakt wasn’t clear. But that seems in character: the details here are obviously tricky, and part of the reason is that Mum is definitely to be excluded from control over this land. When they go into the details of how they hold the land, which one would assume was ultimately from Dad for all of them which should be simple to say, instead we have:

“By this scripture of sale we sell to you 1 piece of land which came to us, to we the above-written siblings from our father and we hold it in our power because our mother relinquished it to us and restituted it into our control and because the time has already come when our mother, in whose tutelage we were, despatched it into our control, just as the law orders, in the presence of judges and worthy men who were there present at the See of Vic, and I Anlo sell to you the tenth itself of the selfsame land…”

This is not quite normal. The way that property in marriage worked here was more or less according to the Visigothic Law. A marriage entailed the wife receiving a tenth of the husband’s property as a marriage gift, although she could not alienate it without his consent while he lived (not what the law says, but evidently true from when wives did sell their land). If she outlived him, however, and there were children, she would get all his property while she lived, so that the children could be maintained, until they reached adulthood when they would get the nine-tenths and she would retain her tenth as her widow’s portion.2 All this has happened here, but as far as I know a court case was not usually involved! Even if they didn’t actually sue her, evidently the children wanted solid witness for the handover, and words like “relinquit nobis et restituit in nostra potestate” suggest some bad feeling about the process to me, especially if all this had to be gone through again when they sold. Don’t believe me? Well, consider the price and how it’s expressed:

“Whatever is within these same bounds thus we sell to you that land in integrity, which we the sellers have taken for our inheritances and we sell for our necessity and our little siblings, so that when they themselves shall come to adulthood they may come with us to a division and take their due part, and they emend to us for the price of this selfsame above-written land, this which we now accept since the aforesaid buyers Miró and Tedvira give us one ounce of cooked gold as a price and one pair of shoes, and we siblings will divide this price equally between us, the little ones along with the greater.”

Oy, complex. There are more siblings, we now learn? They are collectively hard up, and must sell. Is this where the resentment at mother has come from? Because look, she is not getting any of the price for this, hers or not, it will be divided between the siblings. I can’t escape the feeling that there is a lot of ill will here, sharpened by deprivation maybe. But somehow none of this overwhelms what is for me the most incomprehensible feature: how are they going to divide a pair of shoes (“calcias I” is I assume a single pair) between four or more siblings? Why even throw that in? Who, in the words of Austin Powers suitably adapted, pays with shoes? The charter in general may be an excellent example of intra-familial tensions spilling over into a transaction model and distorting it, but the question of the shoes is the one that echoes through the ages for me here…

1. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i de Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. no. 1847.

2. See, in Catalan, Antoni M. Udina i Abelló, La successió testada a la Catalunya altomedieval (Barcelona 1984), or in English, Nathaniel L. Taylor, “Testamentary Publication and Proof and the Afterlife of Ancient Probate Procedure in Carolingian Septimania” in K. Pennington, S. Chodorow & K. H. Kendall (edd.), Proceedings of the Tenth International Congress on Medieval Canon Law (Vatican City 2001), pp. 767-780, online at http://www.nltaylor.net/pdfs/a_Testamentary_Pub.pdf, last modified 9th December 2006 as of 24th June 2007.

3 responses to “Who pays with a shoe? Family tensions in a Vic charter

  1. Camelot Songs

    mostly I’m somewhat concerned as a member of the Crusaders union of how to bind a child to the husband as far as Visigothic law seems to confine the wyf to slavery. Shouldn’t there be any update to sovereignty on the northshore; and should vale and building tenant in modern UK practice always determine homelessness, states of childlessness and maternal condescion for monasteries, colleges, and clerics (professional titles) in England?

    • Visigothic law enslaves the wife in the case of adultery (see here) but otherwise is one of the early medieval laws most favourable to women (which is only to say that their second-class status is better-secured than usual). The woman has rights at law and property in marriage of which the husband may not deprive her. On the other hand, it’s true that the children are placed in her care if the husband dies, but not otherwise: I could produce you many examples of families joining in father’s donations too. So, as I’m afraid is usual, I’m not quite sure what your point is…

  2. Pingback: Avatar of Change | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

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