Leeds 2013 report part 1

I’ve been backlogged with reporting nearly this far before now, of course, and it’s the annual conferences that always seem silliest to report on in these circumstances. Who cares about the 2013 International Medieval Congress now? We’ve already had the 2014 one! Thoughts like this flap round this entry, but completeness compels me, and besides, hey, maybe you weren’t there, maybe you were and just didn’t go to the things I did, I’ll cover it, but because it’s also huge, I’ll put the actual paper reports behind a cut.

Ornamented pillars in the anteroom of the Great Hall on the main University of Leeds campus

Ornamented pillars in the anteroom of the Great Hall on the main University of Leeds campus

Last year’s conference theme at Leeds was ‘pleasure’, and perhaps I’m just a gloomy type but this didn’t engage me much, so I found myself drawn by neither of the keynote lectures that always start the conference. Instead, I made an early assault on the second-hand book fair (which only runs till lunchtime the second day, so you have to be quick) and generally tried to get the shape of the new premises, because as you may recall the previous year saw the Leeds conference finishing its residence out at Bodington and Weetwood campuses and getting ready to happen on the university’s city centre campus. As you can see from the above left, parts of that are fairly splendid, and in general it did seem an improvement. There were still rooms that had people on the floor while in others seats were empty, and to be fair the conference staff did try and swap some sessions over when this became clear, at the cost of some delay, but in general the spaces and moving between them were more comfortable and having everything on one site was worth a lot.

Entry to the Great Hall on the main camopus of the University of Leeds

Entry to the Great Hall (where, in fact, I think I never went)

My fears that the essential communality of Leeds would be lost was unfounded, too: a centrally-positioned marquee serving still-dreadful but essential caffeine proved an anchor point past which almost everyone had to pass sooner or later, and in the evenings the main bar proved a reasonable place to search people out also and also had better beer than Bodington ever had (though not than the sadly-missed Stables pub at Weetwood). So in general the move seemed OK. But, the papers!

111. The Pleasure of Archives: uncovering England in the thirteenth century

  • Emma Cavell, “Constructing the Past in England’s Borderlands: a curious case from Monmouth”
  • Richard Cassidy, “Richard of Cornwall, Recoinage and Reform”
  • Kathleen Neal, “Power and the Pleasure of Prose: the correspondence of Edward I and Llywelyn ap Gruffydd”
  • There were a lot of sessions with very loose links to the theme in their title, but this one turned out to be a genuine pleasure, and an excellent way to start the conference proper, because it had been arranged by the UK’s National Archives and the organisers were themelves evidently delighted to be able to show the research going on with their holdings and thus to encourage others to come and play. (There are obvious reasons why this kind of attitude to documents seems foreign to me sometimes, as you know.) Emma dealt with two documents that seem to deal with grants to Howys, lady of Monmouth, in 1101 or 1102 but which both turn out, on close inspection, to be later or much later copies designed to look like originals; she had work still to do here on working out what interpolations might have been put in by whom to make this worth doing, presumably for a later court case, but they were fascinating doucments all the same. Mr Cassidy was working on the Rolls of the Exchange, the office in London that ran the thirteenth-century Royal Mint, and tracked through its records a tangled tale of large-scale corruption by Duke Richard of Cornwall under King Henry III, who was so indebted to Duke Richard that letting him basically run the Exchange for his own profit was the best he could do for quite a while, only to have its profits collapse for other reasons when he wrested control of his coinage back. Just Henry’s luck, really…

    Detail of a draft letter from Edward I to Marie of Brabant, dowager queen of France, 12 August 1295

    Kew, TNA, SC 1/13/28. Detail of a draft letter from Edward I to Marie of Brabant, dowager queen of France, 12 August 1295. Photo by Kathleen Neal.

    And lastly Kath dealt with Henry’s more successful son, Edward I, by looking at the various drafts that exist in the National Archives of letters from the king to his notional subordinate, Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffydd of Wales, at a point in 1278 when Llywelyn was in dispute with his brother Gruffydd and asked Edward to arbitrate: the first draft is covered in erasures and scribbled alterations as the king’s scribes spotted sore points and problems, not the least of which was that Llywelyn was calling on feudal law, as a lonely advantage of his subjection to Edward, and Gruffydd demanded settlement by the Welsh common law, and even the third has some editing. Unsurprisingly the scribes wound up taking the feudal case, since that justified Edward’s arbitration, but who was actually doing the choosing here? Do we have to imagine Edward down in the chancery arguing the legal toss with his scribes? Well, why not? The documents would permit it…1 In questions, however, it was Emma’s material that caught my attention most because of the documents was a pancarta, an all-our-documents-in-one kind of affair, that she thought had probably been compiled ‘live’, without all the documents it reported necessarily having existed, their witnesses instead signing for the first time in the pancarta, and I think I’ve seen one of those before

    Memorial to the death of Prince Llewelyn ap Gruffydd of Wales

    These are still politically sensitive matters, especially given how things worked out between Edward and his supposed vassal…

Then there was lunch, the first experience of the marquee convergence effect, and a general catching up with the first flood of people I hadn’t seen for ages, after which I returned firmly to the early Middle Ages.

222. To Be a Neighbour to St Maurice, I

  • Barbara Rosenwein, “Introduction”
  • Danuta Shanzer, “Revisiting Eucherius’s Passio Agaunensium Martyrum
  • Ian Wood, “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way from Agaune”
  • Albrecht Diem, “The Singing Barbarian”
  • As this strand, about the monastery of St Maurice at Agaune in the modern Switzerland, was riffing in its title on a famous book of Barbara Rosenwein’s, it was fitting enough that she, well-published on the cult herself, introduced it, promising that the same themes that had come up in her work on Burgundy about local ties being reinforced even in disputes, would recur in these papers about the same area 500 years before.2 Then, however, in a room where people were still leant against walls for shortage of seats despite its size, Professor Shanzer repudiated her own title and instead introduced us to a homily written by Bishop Avitus of Vienne for Agaune that, while it probably tells us little enough about a real as opposed to a metaphorical monastery, may imply that the monks were doing chant in shifts. Professor Wood compared Avitus’s letters to a range of other texts from the area and time, most notably the Lives of the Jura Fathers to draw out problems with the narrative of Agaune’s royal foundation, suggesting that the truth is probably that it was a refoundation at best and not that royal, either.

    The abbey of St-Maurice d'Agaune as now, seen from the air

    The abbey of St-Maurice d’Agaune as now, seen from the air

    Lastly Albrecht told us about Abbot Hymnemodus of Agaune, who was supposedly put there by King Sigismund of Burgundy. Albrecht saw this, like the Thuringian princess Radegund‘s conversion to the monastic life, as the new ‘barbarian’ kings trying to muscle their favoured personnel into the very Romanised ranks of the monastic élite, thus setting up competition between these royally-backed houses and the more traditional set-ups such as, indeed, the Fathers of the Jura. He argued that it was mainly under this kind of pressure to demonstrate separation that questions of who was ‘barbarian’ and ‘Roman’ came to matter, and that monastic discipline was one way of answering them. The questions discussed, as had Professor Wood’s paper, the peculiar position here of our best source, Avitus, as a royal courtier par excellence who clearly nonetheless felt his responsibility to be to support all forms of religious life in his metropolitan territory. The gap between people and institutions was enjoyably narrow here.

Then tea and an even bigger room for a session that in any other year would surely have been part of the Texts and Identities strand, given its participants and subjects, but instead was in a strand by itself as follows:

310. Visions of Community, III: time and history in the construction of authority

  • Veronika Wieser, “The Best Prophets of the Future: bishops and kings in late Antiquity”
  • Erik Goosman, “From Dux francorum to Custos Anserum: managing perceptions in Carolingian historiography. The Case of Carloman’s Conversion, 747″
  • Graeme Ward, “Resources of Authority in Frechulf’s Histories
  • Ms Wieser brought out another of the many aspects of her corpus of early medieval Apocalyptic texts that I’ve seen her discuss at Leeds, the use of a prophetical persona by these texts’ authors as a tool in the refutation of heresy, drawing on a higher authority to deny confusion any space to exist. Dr Goosman looked at the vexed question of what pressures convinced Carloman, Mayor of the Palace of the Franks, decide to quit the world leaving power over its Frankish portion solely to his brother and eventual king Pippin the Short, and suggested it might in fact have been in order to do penance for the massacre of the Aleman nobility at Cannstatt, a drastic public effort to rehabilitate the régime; cynicism might lead one to feel he was more likely pushed than fell, but Dr Goosman thought that this might be more appropriate in later cases than this one.3 (Despite her report post title, I notice that Magistra was not at this session; she and I finally crossed paths only in the next one, so if you want an entirely different account of this day at a conference, including the keynotes, go have a look!) Lastly, Mr Ward looked at what his author, Freculf, thought made a good source for the universal history he wrote for Empress Judith, and concluded that although he made a sharp distinction between “agiografphi”, Christian writers, and the non-Christian “gentili”, it was not quite the same as the one made by his teachers and their favoured sources. (Cognoscenti will see why I thought this was really a Texts and Identities session…) All the papers got questions, of which the ones that interested me personally the most were Søren Kaschke‘s point that Carloman’s conversion actually put him beyond his brother’s influence, not under his control, whereas their other brother Grifo just got killed, and Courtney Booker‘s just observation that surely every medieval ruler had to reckon with the consequences of their deeds for their afterlife so this can’t have been been the whole story, though of course for some it probably can have been, we just can’t say whom.

In the years in which I was first going to Leeds, I more or less ignored the evening events, regarding this as an encroachment into my drinking time. I am now older and know how much I will suffer for the old student policy of grabbing as much free drink as possible, and especially since the University of Utrecht alas no longer feed us cheese and jenever, I pace myself better. Also, the evening events have slowly got more interesting (than, for example, the keynotes…) and this one in particular I was never going to miss:

401. Annual Early Medieval Europe Lecture. Rosamond McKitterick, “The Pleasures of the Past: history and identity in the early Middle Ages”

    As a onetime undergraduate and Masters student of Rosamond’s who has attempted to celebrate her in print, and also one whose first article was in Early Medieval Europe, you might say I was obliged to attend but of course I was also interested. I think this was one of the sessions that got moved between rooms as the original became over-full, but in any case, Rosamond made it quickly clear that she was going to talk of pleasures of the mind, and then went into the question of whether the people we study enjoyed studying history themselves, and in what way. There were many exemplary manuscripts in this lecture, all depicted and given at a pace where one could absorb them, and it was definitely itself entertainment as well as erudition for those who favour such pleasures. Rosamond’s points were more or less that early medieval intellectuals saw the past as something to learn from and as a part of their shared identities (which reason of course lives on all too well today), but also as materials from which, more or less carelessly to the original writers’ purposes, to build the present they wanted. There was a considerable category of information from the past that was held still to apply, this most especially of course about the Christian revelation and its marks in the world; those kind of truths were eternal and indeed geographically universal. One that was not, however, was the Roman Empire, which instead became one of the sources to plunder; just as Roman buildings were raided for stone (and of course for iron) so the Roman past was chopped up, altered and reassigned to support the new (but also obviously older, because eternal) Christian actuality.

Now I believe, again having been reminded by Kathleen Neal’s blog, that Magistra and I also attempted the traditional blogger’s meet-up this evening, after we’d severally eaten. This was not really a success: people couldn’t find us, too many things clashed, and so on. It’s exactly because of the improvement in Leeds’s evening offerings that informal occasions like this will be squeezed, I guess. In any case, I’m afraid that this, combined with my increasing disappearance down a rabbit-hole away from others’ blogs, that meant there was no such meet-up this year; I’m sure it can be done, but when even the organisers have things they’d probably rather go to… Well, there we go. That was, in any case, my Monday of Leeds 2013.

1. In callously raiding Kathleen Neal’s excellent blog for pictures of her documents, I find that something obviously quite like her Leeds paper is now in print, K. Neal, “Words as Weapons in the Correspondence of Edward I with Llywelyn ap Gruffydd” in Parergon Vol. 30 (Crawley WA 2013), pp. 51-71, DOI: 10.1353/pgn.2013.0051.

2. B. H. Rosenwein, To Be the Neighbor of Saint Peter: the social meaning of Cluny’s property 909-1049 (Ithaca 1989); eadem, “One site, many meanings: Saint-Maurice d’Agaune as a place of power in the early Middle Ages” in Mayke de Jong & Franz Theuws (edd.), Topographies of Power in the Early Middle Ages, The Transformation of the Roman World 6 (Leiden 2001), pp. 271-290.

3. Cannstatt and its aftermath is reported as the reason for Carloman’s retirement in the Continuation of the Annales Petaviani, for example: Georg H. Pertz (ed.), Monumenta Germniae Historica inde ab anno Christi quingentesimo usque ad annum millesimum et quingentesimum, Scriptores in folio I (Hannover 1826), pp. 11 & 13 at p. 11: “Karolomannus intravit Alemanniam ubi fertur, quod multa hominum milia ceciderit. Unde compunctus regnum reliquit, et monasterium in castro Casino situm adiit”, “Carloman went into Alemannia, where it is said that he killed many thousands of men. Remorseful about this, he left the kingdom and went to the monastery sited in the castle of Cassino.” Note, however, that Pertz reckoned everything after “Alemannia” as a later addition… The obvious later comparison is Duke Tassilo of Bavaria, almost certainly pushed, on which see Stuart Airlie, “Narratives of Triumph and Rituals of Submission: Charlemagne’s mastery of Bavaria” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th series Vol. 9 (Cambridge 1999), pp. 93-119, DOI: 10.2307/3679394.

7 responses to “Leeds 2013 report part 1

  1. If you’re desperate there are plenty of buses from the campus to the stables, although Arcadia in Headingly is closer and has better beer, or so my other half says, I can’t stand the stuff

    • Worth knowing! I can’t imagine it being useful to get so far from the action in conference time, but one never knows where one will wind up if in town for other reasons. Please thank your other half for the recommendation!

  2. Thanks for the free publicity! Although I should say the Parergon article is related but not actually the material I was presenting at Leeds last year, which still languishes in draft form in the draw of ‘work in progress’.
    Which reminds me…

  3. Pingback: Leeds 2013 report part 2 | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

  4. Pingback: Leeds 2013 report part 3 | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

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