Monthly Archives: December 2015

Seminar CCXXVI: Ottoman professional network maintenance

Returning in somewhat subdued fashion to my seminar report backlog finds me still somewhat out of area, as you can probably tell from the title. My tenure in Birmingham as Interim Curator of Coins at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts sort of ex officio made me welcome at the General Seminar of the Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies in the University, and that welcome was warm enough that I tried, when I could, to get along to the Ottoman papers as well as the Byzantine ones. So it was that on 29th January 2015 I was there to listen to Dr Christine Woodhead give a paper entitled, “Friends, Colleagues and Grand Vezirs: the Ottoman art of letter-writing”, and it had enough crossover with things I’m interested in that it seems worth a report.

Portrait of Islamic judge Azmizade Mustafa Efendi of Istanbul. d. 1631 The only portrait of our star, Azmizade Mustafa Efendi, that I can quickly dig up, and I have no idea of either provenance or date, so it could be very misleading but it sets us up, anyway, doesn’t it?

Dr Woodhead was working on a translation of the letter collection of one Azmizade Mustafa Efendi, a senior judge in Ottoman Istanbul who died in 1631, and she was running into many questions arising.1 Apparently Ottoman letter collections are not uncommonly preserved, but like early medieval ones they tend to have been preserved not for historical but for literary interests, as examples of writing to be imitated, making such minor details as date and addresses uninteresting to copy and thus they often have to be worked out from context, not always possible. It also means that the letters that are selected by preservation are highly stylised, often very poetical, fairly formulaic in terms of the emotions that they express or the occasions chosen on which to write (and thus, not least, quite hard to render into modern English that still sounds purposeful). Dr Woodhead argued that these are anyway very valuable sources for outlooks and worldviews, but even as she presented the questions that kept coming to the surface were more basic ones about to whom Azmizade was connected by these letters and when and why they were written.

Portrait of Azmizade Mustafa Haleti I really am struggling for images here but, here is another unprovenanced undated portrait that seems to be of the right man…

In particular, there is very little in the collection from after his appointment as qadi in 1614, either to him (much rarer in any case) or from him. Was this because having risen to a top spot the networks of grace and favour which had sustained him thus far were now less important, or was it just that that was when he became important enough for someone to compile his letters as examples (perhaps itself an expression of flattering attention by an underling), or even, did he just start a fresh volume at that point and we don’t have it or it hasn’t yet been found? Answering any of these questions is very hard to do from the collection itself, and so what one winds up wanting is other letter collections from his correspondents so that the missing voices in these exchanges can tell us something to condition and contextualise the literary posturing that is the first thing these letter collections were made to preserve. There were lots of other issues to explore here, such as the genuineness of the emotions expressed (and whether they are naturally filtered by the fact that letters were apparently mainly written to people long distant whom the writer hadn’t seen for ages, whereas a more jovial tone might have been used to a friend easier of access), but these seemed so familiar from what reading I’ve done about Carolingian and, actually, Byzantine letter collections that it was nice to be reminded that as we’ve suggested before sometimes the early modernists are really not facing anything very different from we medievalists, even in a world where all could be thought to have changed between the two periods.2


1. Setting up this post has let me come across C. Woodhead, “Circles of Correspondance: Ottoman letter-writing in the early seventeenth century” in Journal of Turkish Literature Vol. 4 (Syracuse 2007), pp. 53-68, online in preprint here, which suggests that perhaps not all of these were new questions to our speaker.

2. For my home period and area my stock references are Mary Garrison, “‘Send more socks’: on the mentality and the preservation context of medieval letters” in Marco Mostert (ed.), New Approaches to Medieval Communication, Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy 1 (Turnhout 1999), pp. 69-99 and Matthew Innes, “Practices of Property in the Carolingian Empire” in Jennifer Davis & Michael McCormick (edd.), The Long Morning of Medieval Europe: new directions of in early medieval studies (Aldershot 2008), pp. 247-266, but really the wellspring for both of them and also cited by Dr Whitehead is Margaret Mullett, “Writing in Early Mediaeval Byzantium” in Rosamond McKitterick (ed.), The Uses of Literacy in Early Mediaeval Europe (Cambridge 1990), pp. 156-185, which joins up the circle quite nicely I think.

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Signs of the End Times, or, Rock’n’Roll is Dead

This was not what I had planned for this post, but as has regrettably happened often before events outstrip my backlog. The unthinkable has happened: Lemmy, founder of Motörhead and an occasional voice of popular wisdom cited on this blog, is dead, of cancer he hardly had time to know he was facing. We enter 2016 with the army of snarling rock’n’roll sadly weakened. So first and foremost, those to whom this news matters, raise a glass and turn it up.

Now keep that channel running on autoplay and consider this. As I’m sure you know, it was widely considered that Lemmy should have died of general rock’n’roll excess in the seventies or eighties so that his continuing survival could only be some peculiar expression of Providence. That this is suddenly otherwise can surely only be a sign of the encroaching End Times! At which rate, CAN IT BE COINCIDENCE that this is this blog’s 1000th post? I didn’t want to use it for this purpose, but in some ways it’s more fitting than what I had planned; a significance will now attach to it that I will remember. I was lucky enough to see Motörhead live a good few times, once even with Hawkwind supporting and Lemmy guesting on ‘Silver Machine’. An era in which that was possible is now over. I hope for nothing so monumental changing as the blog enters its eleventh century and indeed its tenth year, but these things also should be marked and if they travel only in the wake of Lemmy’s passing, well, that’s as it should be; the breaking of so great a thing should only come with a full-sized helping of what another dead rocker I once knew called The Big Noise.

All That Glitters, Experiment 1

Almost the last academic thing I did last year before breaking for Christmas was the first two sessions of a project that is now nearly finished, All That Glitters, announced here so long ago. It was so long ago that it might be worth reintroducing. Basically, by great happenstance one of my predecessors in taking care of the coin collection at the Barber Institute had run into two people at a conference who were presenting about the ability of the X-ray fluorescence (XRF) equipment their company, Bruker Industries Ltd., produced to do metal analyses. That predecessor, Rebecca Darley, also knew Robert Bracey at the British Museum, who had done work with XRF on the coinage of the Kushan Empire, and now I was in charge of the Barber’s coins. None of us are archæometallurgists and our knowledge of archæology and numismatics didn’t necessarily combine with the metals analysis expertise upon which we could call so as to somehow make a composite archæometallurgist out of us all, but Robert could borrow the British Museum’s handheld XRF scanner, Bruker had a new machine they wanted to test against real problems, the Barber is on the same campus as several much larger and more expensive machines also supplied by Bruker some of whose host departments proved happy to let us use them and to tell us about them; a project seemed obviously to exist in potentio and our task was to work out how to make it tell us something useful.

Bruker Industries Tracer IV handheld XRF analysis system

I’m not sure if this is the exact machine we were using but its resemblance to a phaser seems impressively reminiscent

It’s too early to say whether we achieved that, pending actual publication of our results and conclusions which we are even now working on writing up, but right from the beginning it was clear to us that before we could have any historical conclusions we would have to have methodological ones. This is because there are so many potential problems with XRF analysis, problems which not all publications using it consider, and when they do, consider most often for silver alloys rather than the high-purity gold we would be testing, that the first priority had to be not to find things out, but rather to find out what we could find out.1 Accordingly, our pilot experiments were designed to evaluate the machinery more than the coinage, and we started on the 3rd December 2014 when Robert brought the British Museum’s handheld scanner up from the British Museum, along with its calibration standard, and Mike Dobby and Colin Slater from Bruker brought in their new M1ORA energy-dispersive scanner and we put some coins through their x-rays.

A gold solidus of Emperor Anastasius I struck at Constantinople (in the Eta <i>officina</i>) between 492 and 507, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B0005

The first coin to go under, a gold solidus of Emperor Anastasius I struck at Constantinople (in the Eta officina) between 492 and 507, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B0005

We had chosen a test set of ten coins running from Anastasius I (491-518) to Constantine VI (785-797), with two coins for each ruler from the same mint and if possible, the same workshop of the mint (if that’s what officinae were), hoping that whatever results we might obtain would thus be internally secure against outlier coins from a bad day at the mint or similar.2 All of those got zapped on both sides with both handheld and the microwave-like M1ORA. Both of these use a spot beam, but with the M1ORA it’s possible to target it precisely, so we aimed for flat surfaces wherever possible.

Bruker Industries M1ORA XRF analyser at work in the Coin Study Room of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, University of Birmingham

The M1ORA at work in the Barber’s Coin Study Room, with team members in eager attendance

The initial results of this made the handheld device look like much the poorer sibling, as its readings were extremely variable. Robert worked out, however, that this was related to how much of its expected sample it had been able to observe—this in turn probably down to surface relief but already we were into unknowns—and when the figures were all normalised to a notional 100% of sample they came out much more like what the M1ORA was seeing. The M1ORA was able to dump its readings straight into a laptop equipped with suitable software, and did this levelling-up in that software, so made things immediately clearer for us by automating that step, solely an issue of configuration but we still needed to be aware of it. I keep stressing variables and difficulties because I don’t want to imply that we were getting actual true results, but that said, once they were both talking to us in the same framework the message of the machines was pretty consistent: all these coins were being analysed as very high-purity gold, 97% or more, which is astonishingly high for any pre-modern metallurgy. However, other than silver and copper, which occurred in about the proportions one would expect (i. e. not very much and even less), the only other element that was consistently detectable was iron. That was in part a factor of what we had asked Mike and Colin to make the machinery look for but if you have to do that at all, there is obviously a restriction inherent in your question-setting…

A gold dinar of Sindh imitating a Persian dinar of Shah Shapur II (309-379), struck at an unknown mint and date, Barber Institute of Fine Arts S0073

So then for something rather different, a gold dinar of Sindh imitating a Persian dinar of Shah Shapur II (309-379), struck at an unknown mint and date, Barber Institute of Fine Arts S0073

The very high fineness was sort of what we might have expected, anyway, as it is roughly what earlier analyses of Byzantine gold coins by a number of methods have suggested.3 It still made me uncomfortable for its lack of variety, however, and so since we had run-time left in the day I started hauling other things out of the cabinets. These included two Persian gold dinars, of Shahs Shapur II (309-379) and Varhran IV (388-399), and the above piece which is pretending to be something like the former, as well as an Arab-Byzantine solidus from Carthage and some more Byzantine pieces. Mainly I just wanted to be sure that the machinery actually would report lower gold finenesses, and so it duly did, with the Persian pieces both lower (but not by the same amount) and the Sindh piece even less fine (which, to be honest, was already apparent in its colour, but that was why I’d chosen it). The Byzantine stuff, and the coins imitating that, remained high in the machinery’s estimation.

A gold solidus of the second reign of Emperor Justinian II, struck at Constantinople between 705 and 711, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B4464

Another part of the starting sample, a gold solidus of the second reign of Emperor Justinian II, struck at Constantinople between 705 and 711, Barber Institute of Fine Arts B4464

This bit was fairly unsystematic sampling, but it did give us some reason to believe that the machinery was observing something consistent with our expectations, and which therefore fitted into existing understandings of the early Byzantine gold coinage. That is circular, though, obviously! This and the likely effect on the readings of differences between the surface of the coins and their cores, because of both manufacturing factors and subsequent environmental exposure, meant that we weren’t willing (and still aren’t) to say that these figures are actually how fine those coins were. We also weren’t seeing a range of trace elements which we had expected on the basis of older work, and which might have suggested things about changes in metal supply and treatment that would potentially be historical evidence.4 So, while these machines might serve other people’s purposes, we ourselves were going to need some bigger kit. And that would be Experiment 2, about which I shall write in a couple of posts’ time. In the meantime, however, here is some shiny metallic blogging for the Christmas season and I wish you all a happy holiday!


1. Part of our problem was that so much of the literature about these problems was old enough to relate, potentially, only to a much more primitive incarnation of the technique. Nonetheless, Michael F. Hendy & J. A. Charles, “The Production Techniques, Silver Content and Circulation History of the Twelfth-Century Byzantine Silver Trachy” in Archaeometry Vol. 12 (Oxford 1970), pp. 13-21, William A. Oddy, “The Analysis of Gold Coins—A Comparison of Results Obtained by Non-Destructive Methods”, ibid. Vol. 14 (1972), pp. 109-117 and J. Tate, “Some Problems in Analysing Museum Material by Nondestructive Surface Sensitive Techniques” in Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research Part B Vol. 14 (Amsterdam 1986), pp. 20-23, all suggest that differences should be observable between surfaces and cores of coins and between methods that measure only the surface and those that measure total composition, and L. Beck, S. Bosonnet, S. Réveillon, D. Eliot & F. Pilon, “Silver surface enrichment of silver–copper alloys: a limitation for the analysis of ancient silver coins by surface techniques”, ibid. Part B Vol. 226 (2004), pp. 153-162, DOI: 10.1016/j.nimb.2004.06.044 and Vasiliki Kantarelou, Francisco José Ager, Despoina Eugenidou, Francisca Chaves, Alexandros Andreou, Elena Kontou, Niki Katsikosta, Miguel Angel Respaldiza, Patrizia Serafin, Dimosthenis Sokaras, Charalambos Zarkadas, Kyriaki Polikreti & Andreas Germanos Karydas, “X-ray Fluorescence analytical criteria to assess the fineness of ancient silver coins: application on Ptolemaic coinage” in Spectrochimica Acta Part B Vol. 66 (Amsterdam 2011), pp. 681-690, DOI: 10.1016/j.sab.2011.08.001, give some explanations of why that should be so. (I have to thank Dr Eleanor Blakelock for some of these and several other useful references.) All of these except Oddy and Tate were working with silver alloyed with base metal, however, and so another of the problems we have is in knowing how far the same applies to gold and if it does, whether if alloyed with base metals only or also with noble metals such as we expected to see. And the mess only gets worse from there…

2. Barber Institute of Fine Arts B0005 & B0006 (Anastasius I, Constantinople, officinae Eta and Iota), B2761 & B2762 (Heraclius, Constantinople, both officina Eta), B4384 & B4385 (first reign of Justinian II, Constantinople, former marked Theta), B4464 & B4465 (second reign of Justinian II, Constantinople, no control marks), B4598 & B4599 (Constantine VI and Eirini, Constantinople, no control marks).

3. Those earlier analyses being principally those gathered and conducted in Cécile Morrisson, Jean-Noël Barrandon & Jacques Poirier, “La monnaie d’or byzantine à Constantinople : purification et modes d’altérations (491-1354)” in Morrisson, Claude Brenot, Jean-Pierre Callu, Barrandon, Poirier & Robert Halleux, L’or monnayé I : purification et altérations de Rome à Byzance, Cahiers Ernest Babelon 2 (Paris 1985), pp. 113-187.

4. The kind of conclusions, indeed, that were coming out of ibid. and another study there, Jean-Pierre Callu, Claude Brenot, Jean-Noël Barrandon and Jacques Poirier, ‘”Aureus obryziacus”‘, ibid. pp. 81-111, albeit with a rather more variable sample of evidence!

Seminar CCXXV: an attempted rehabilitation of the Emperor Honorius

On 28th January 2015, I was once again in the Institute of Historical Research for the Earlier Middle Ages Seminar, which turned out to be one of the more impressive double-acts I’ve ever seen in academia, with Graham Barrett and George Woudhuysen taking the stage with a paper entitled “Small Wars in Faraway Places under the Emperor Honorius”. I say ‘double-act’ and ‘stage’ deliberately; the paper was not just scripted but choreographed, with each speaker stepping forward for a few lines then stepping back to let the other take the spot; slick was not the word. So what was it that was being so slickly imparted?

Madrid, Real Academia de Historia, Codex 78, otherwise known as the Codice de Roda, fo. 190r

Madrid, Real Academia de Historia, Codex 78, otherwise known as the Codice de Roda, fo. 190r, showing the opening of our text in question, the De Laude Pampilona Epistula

Well, those who know Graham or have read of him here will know that he is in his normal appearance a scholar of post-Muslim Northern Spain, whereas George is a late Roman person, and the point of this paper was in something that concerned them both, a misunderstood text in the Codex Rotensis. This is a tenth-to-eleventh-century manuscript made for the court of Pamplona that contains a version of Orosius’s Seven Books of Histories against the Pagans, to which were then added Isidore of Seville’s History of the Goths, the Chronicle of Alfonso III in its simpler version and the Prophetic Chronicle, some noble genealogies and a bunch of ephemera, these including a Visigothic poem of praise for the city of Pamplona which, crucially for the paper, incorporates a letter of Emperor Honorius (393-423) whose rubric says that it was brought to Pamplona by an otherwise unrecorded patrician.1

A portrait of Emperor Honorius in the consular diptych of Probus, dated to 406

A portrait of Emperor Honorius in the consular diptych of Probus, dated to 406, “Consular diptych Probus 406“. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

The letter has, claimed our two speakers, been dismissed as unintelligible, but confrontation with the actual manuscript helps with this—and it is of course now online, which makes that a lot easier—and George and Graham interpreted it as a tax break for local soldiery, not identified but not Gauls as they were being granted the same privileges as the Gauls. There apparently follows an additional provision that actually mentions Spain and establishes a retirement fund for the soldiers addressed. In other words, it looks like an attempt to reward loyal soldiery or buy back intransigent ones. Now, I have been very cautious about how I phrase all that because despite all the preparation one thing that Graham and George did not give us was a text, or sight of one, so my notes are based only on what they told us it said.2 If they’re right, however, then this all probably fits in with the fairly recent rebellion of the prefect in charge of the Spanish army, Constantine the-would-be-III, who had also held Britain and Gaul against Rome for a while between 407 and 409. Honorius is generally held to have been unable to regain the provinces he lost in that rebellion, so this letter, if it’s correctly interpreted and its associated texts mean that it really does belong in Spain, show some attempt on his part to put things back in place.

London, British Library, Add. MS 10970

The opening of the sixth book of Zosimus’s New History, not in the oldest manuscript (Cod. Vat. Gr. 156 of the tenth century) but in a sixteenth-century paper copy that is now London, British Library, Add. MS 10970; my late medieval Greek palæography is not good enough to find you the right bit, I’m afraid, but the rest of the MS is linked through if you want to try

Now this may all sound strangely familiar to those who know their Bede, because Britain is another province which Honorius is supposed to have lost, and indeed abandoned; the sixth-century historian Zosimus mentions a letter of Honorius to the Britti telling them to look to their own defences. George and Graham therefore then turned their attention to that, reminding us that other interpretations had been offered but thinking that the letter probably was meant for Britain but has also been misread; in Zosimus’s actual Greek, sadly not (yet) digitised in its oldest version which is likewise eleventh-century, it just tells the British to be on their guard against the emperor’s enemies.3. The context here, noted George and Graham, was the deployment of the Gothic army of Alaric against Constantine, permitting the interpretation that Britain, too, was a loyal province to whom Honorius could offer nothing but words but did so hoping that they would be enough. Consequently, arguing that Britain left the Roman Empire in 410 would be misguided and we should assume that it too simply fell apart under the pressure to defend itself with whatever non-Roman forces were making themselves available.

Silver siliqua of Emperor Honorius, struck probably at Milan between 383 and 402 but found near Colchester in Britain

Silver siliqua of Emperor Honorius, struck probably at Milan between 383 and 402 but found near Colchester in Britain

I’m not, per se, against the decatastrophising of the end of Roman rule in the West here; as the speakers put it, there was no Waterloo moment, just a long series of too many problems. All the same, this is an awful lot to try and base on two letters, both of whose attribution is debatable and whose preservation context is dubious in the extreme—an eleventh-century collection of texts perhaps referring to Pamplona and Zosimus, preserved in a manuscript no older and far less directly informed, are not where one would wish to find unalloyed depictions of fifth-century imperial strategy. Questions therefore centered not least on whether other evidence could be available: Rebecca Darley asked about the preservation of Honorius’s coinage in these areas, and Graham admitted that they more or less cease to turn up after 410 but argued that the dating of those later coins may well be wrong; Wendy Davies however added that in Britain at least these late issues are found only in a very few places, like Caerleon, anyway, so in fact the coinage doesn’t really help either side of the argument except by supporting the idea that Honorius had no actual resources to commit to preserving the empire. Graham and George may still be right, however, that that didn’t stop him trying.


1. The standard edition of this text, and not the only one, is José María Lacarra (ed.), “Textos navarros del Códice de Roda” in Estudios de Edad Media de la Corona de Aragón Vol. 1 (Zaragoza 1945), pp. 193-284, online here, at pp. 266-270; for further and more up-to-date references see Esteban Moreno Resano, “Cultura jurídica e instituciones cívicas entre la Antigüedad Tardía y la Alta Edad Media: observaciones a propósito de De laude Pampilona epistola” in VII Congreso General de Navarra: Arqueología, Historia Antigua, Historia Medieval, Historia del Arte y de Música volumen I, Príncipe de Viana Vol. 72 no. 253 (Pamplona 2011), pp. 193-205 at pp. 193-194 n. 1.

2. I could of course now provide you the text from Lacarra or even try and read one myself off the facsimile, but to be honest, I’ve linked you to both and it’s been quite a difficult few days, you can manage, or at least, will likely do as well as I can; I don’t find the facsimile especially easy going.

3. For those other interpretations see Edward A. Thompson, “Fifth-century facts?” in Britannia Vol. 14 (London 1985), pp. 272-274.

Beat this for impact!

In the English academy it’s all about impact these days, unless it’s all about networks or public engagement, those are very hot too. But mainly impact, by which we mean, for those not reading in the language of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (may it live forever?), changes in the way people outside the university environment do things on the basis of our work. This is sometimes seen as hard for medievalists to produce; not a lot of people do things on the basis of their understanding of the Middle Ages in the first place, so first we have to make them do that. Of course we do produce this effect via both our teaching and our book sales outside the Academy but we’re not allowed to score those, don’t ask me why. So this is rightly attacked as not fit for purpose yet we still look, desperately, for ways in which we might be able to show impact as so defined. Well, check this out for a direct influence on modern economic behaviour from my work:

Ovelia modiale, nou nascut

“Ballachulish has given birth to a new Ripollesa lamb, born yesterday:

Ripollesa sheep Ballachulish with new lamb Ovelia Modiale

“I’ve named her Ovelia Modiale in honour of my brother-out-of-law, Jonathan Jarrett whose paper on the use of cows, sheep and possibly pigs as monetary units in 10th century Catalonia is a must read. Our tiny new lamb (3.8kg at birth, so small) probably is not yet worth a modius of grain, but I’ll love her all the same….”

And you can click through the picture for more details should you really want them; he refers, of course, to my most recent actual publication, a while ago now and something I hope will be changing soon. Now, admittedly there are problems with this as an impact case study. Firstly, it’s in Catalonia, though the people involved are still UK voters; secondly, as far as I know they only named one animal on the basis of the paper, so it’s not exactly public policy; and thirdly, of course, this was December 2014, so loved or not that lamb is still long-eaten chops by now, though you could claim that that just represents the propagation of the effect of my work into the local environment… But still: I’m betting not many other medievalists can claim this kind of impact! Thankyou to the Crofter and the Croft

Seminar CCXXIV: being more careful about William Rufus

The seminar backlog now moves forward to 21st January 2015, when none other than John Gillingham was speaking to the Earlier Middle Ages Seminar of the Institute of Historical Research with the title, “Eadmer of Canterbury and William Longsword”, which was fun. The William Longsword in question, you see, was none other than King William II, otherwise known as William Rufus, but that is not what Eadmer, otherwise better known as biographer of Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury, calls him. John was, for this reason and several others, out to argue that Eadmer was an under-appreciated, if very difficult, early source for William’s reign.1

Portrait of William Rufus from London, British Library, MS Royal 14 C VII, fo. 8v

I think, the earliest depiction of William II that’s not one of his coins (not very helpful in conveying the ‘inner man’ alas), from British Library MS Royal 14 C VII, fo. 8v, though here grabbed via Wikimedia Commons, “William II of England” by Matthew Parishttp://molcat1.bl.uk/IllImages/BLCD%5Cbig/c131/c13122-35.jpg, licensed under Public Domain via Commons. Click through for the MS, however. Note his portrayal as a supporter of the Church…

This is not to say that Eadmer liked William II at all; he has many terrible things to say about the king who supposedly forced his patron archbishop into morally-justified exile. Another way to see that, of course, is that Anselm’s hardline adherence to a private principle left England without the benefit of its chief clergyman’s guidance and help for years on end, whereas the responsible thing to do might have been what Anselm’s predecessor Lanfranc did and stay in the system, working with the king for change. This was, John argued, precisely the charge that Eadmer was protecting Anselm against, which meant making the other side of the argument, the king’s, correspondingly less reasonable. This is the axe which John sees Eadmer a-grinding.

Scribal portrait from Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, MS Ludwig XI 6, fol. 44v

Our culprit, Eadmer, probably at least, since it is a scribal portrait in a manuscript of Eadmer’s On the Life and Conversation of Anselm of Canterbury, now Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum, MS Ludwig XI 6, fol. 44v, again here from Wikimedia Commons, by Unknown (illuminator, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons but again linked through to the source

With this identified, the interesting thing is how Eadmer doesn’t identify the same failings of the king as later writers do, most notably William of Malmesbury. For example, it is often suggested that William Rufus was gay, an idea which largely stems from accusations levelled by Church writers of sodomy at his court. Leaving aside the very broad way in which medieval writers could use that word, this turns out to come from Eadmer, although in reporting these evil stories he does say that they were untrue.2 William of Malmesbury and Orderic Vitalis subsequently both say that Rufus’s courtiers were effeminate but call the king an adulterer and fornicator, and the Brut says that he spent his energies on concubines. And the earlier writer Hugh of Flavigny instead condemns clerical sex, of the most heterosexual kind, at William’s court, in which obviously William was not a participant. But somehow it is the stories which Eadmer denies, though still reporting, which have stuck even among modern historians.3

A silver penny of William II struck at Rochester by Guthrothr between 1089 and 1092

You see what I mean… A silver penny of William II struck at Rochester by Guthrothr between 1089 and 1092, York Coins H4095, now in a private collection

The other side of this coin—ah-ha-ha—is that when one starts looking for other, more positive, appraisals of William’s reign, they’re not hard to find. Vernacular literature is usually positive and he seems to have enjoyed especial popularity in Normandy, perhaps just by not being his grim Crusader brother Robert Curthose but still: Orderic Vitalis, despite his other attacks, has a story about William landing in Normandy and spontaneous parades of people forming to run alongside his horse, cheering. Richard Sharpe, who was present, did put forward some other early and hostile sources like, not least, the law collection known as the Quadripartitus, but it does seem that, while it’s indubitable that William Rufus annoyed a lot of people, so many of them were apparently later churchmen that we probably can use a reappraisal of the reign, which it is therefore to be hoped John will give us!


1. Eadmer’s two works of relevance are his Historia Novorum in Anglia, transl. Geoffrey Bosanquet as Eadmer’s History of recent events in England: Historia novorum in Anglia (London 1964) and his De Vita et Conservatione Anselmi Cantuariensis, ed./transl. Richard Southern as Eadmer, The life of St Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury (London 1962). On William Rufus, until John gets his new work published, the standard works are Frank Barlow, William Rufus (New Haven 2000) and Emma Mason, King Rufus: the life & murder of William II of England (Stroud 2008).

2. I need a go-to cite on the medieval definition of sodomy, but for now Ruth Mazo Karras, “The Latin vocabulary of illicit sex in English ecclesiastical court records” in Journal of Medieval Latin Vol. 2 (Turnhout 1991), pp. 1-17, looks pretty relevant.

3. Named culprits here were Richard Southern, Saint Anselm and his Biographer: a study of monastic life and thought 1059-c. 1130 (Cambridge 1963) and Barlow, William Rufus.

Link

Entrevista a mi en Català

The seminar reports are catching up but reports on my other activity seem still to be mired in busy busy November 2014. At the very end of that month, I had the unusual honour of being interviewed for a Catalan history news website, a sort of recognition I’m very flattered to receive although I wish I could have given them a better photograph. Should you be interested, it’s here:

I should probably post the English, shouldn’t I? But I am writing this on a train to Birmingham to x-ray more coins and time and wi-fi are both scant, so I’ll wait to see if anyone wants it. Meanwhile, speaking of Birmingham, even while posting was sparse here I was still cropping up in other places on the Internet, not least the blog of the Centre for the Study of the Middle Ages, as follows:

And then lastly, though I will write properly about All That Glitters soon I promise, even as Cross Country Trains carry me towards the next session, here is a snapshot about one of those we already did:

I have never been so twitterfied! Anyway, with that I must get back to what I am doing now, but here at least is some record of what I have been doing that you didn’t have before!