Category Archives: England

Seminar CLXII: scribal dialects explored digitally

Some of the sticky posts are unstuck and the seminar report backlog is back under a year again, this all seems like progress. For lo, we now reach Armistice Day 2014, on which day Birmingham’s Centre for the Study of the Middle Ages had its Seminar addressed by Birmingham’s own Wendy Scase, with the title “The Simeon Manuscript and its Scribes”.

London, British Library Additional MS 22283, here showing the lower part of fo. 142v

End and beginning of two of the texts in the Simeon Manuscript, otherwise known as London, British Library Additional MS 22283, here showing the lower part of fo. 142v

This was the early part of an enquiry that had begun with a different manuscript, Oxford, Bodleian Library, Eng. poet a.1, otherwise known as the Vernon Manuscript, of which you can find details here. This is a huge, 700-page and 22 kilo, compilation of Middle English literature, totalling 370 texts including things familiar from many an English syllabus like The Prik of Conscience, The Ancrene Riwle and Piers Plowman as well as, obviously, quite a lot more, and lavishly decorated to boot. But it is not alone: the Simeon manuscript is, or rather was since apparently many of its illustrations have gone and it’s probably only about fifty per cent present now, another one like it, not quite as lavishly decorated but not far off and sharing one (we thought, till this paper) of the same scribes. (Its details are here.) Both of these manuscripts seem, from what can be said about palæography and provenance as well as about scribal language, to be West Midlands productions and so of what you might call local concern.

Oxford, Bodleian Library, Eng. poet. a.1, fo. 265r

A page of the Vernon Manuscript in the Bodleian’s online exhibition about it, to wit fo. 265r

But scribal dialect was where Professor Scase had got interested, because it raises many kinds of question about copying. If a text is not in local dialect, but the scribe speaks it, does he translate, adapt or ignore the pressures of his own normal language? If it is in local dialect, do they usually translate out of it into something more like a standardised written English? How local is local anyway? Do we have several written Englishes with their own local variation? Do individual scribes change their ways of writing over their careers, and if so towards or away from the local vernacular? And most immediately for Professor Scase, what happens when several scribes collaborate: are they distinguishable by dialect even where they might not be by script?

London, British Library, Additional MS 22283, fo. 130v

The start of another text in the Simeon Manuscript, complete with fancy initials, this time at fo. 130v

The answer to this last, at least, would seem to be yes. It is, I learned, now possible to plot these things to an implausible level of precision using two big databases online, the Linguistic Atlas of Early Mediaeval English and the Linguistic Atlas of Late Mediaeval English, which among other things did allow Professor Scase to justify her suspicion that the hand known as Scribe A in this manuscript, which is also present in the Vernon one, was in fact two people, only one of whom wrote with dialectical symptoms, which we can sometimes be sure he was introducing because of being able to identify the exemplar from which he and the other scribe were copying. But his dialect is more pronounced in the Vernon Manuscript, some spellings from which he doesn’t repeat in the Simeon (‘w3uch’ for ‘which’, for example), so what’s going on? Either he had driven this habit out between the two, which their apparent closeness of date makes unlikely, or as Professor Scase suggested, he was aiming not so much for an outside standard of language as consistency within the manuscript. And there will probably—may by now already—be other such details that emerge as the study progresses. I, as long-term readers will probably know, really love these little windows into how someone centuries ago went about a complex task that detailed manuscript work can give you. These two are fairly lovely manuscripts, in terms of pure colour and artifice, but it’s great to be able to see through them to the sweat and thought that went into their making.

Seminar CLXI: two medievalist myth-makers

As you may have noticed, things have calmed down enough that I am beginning to have time to blog again, but I am nonetheless currently a year and two days behind still. I’m not apologising, so much as explaining that I still have a certain amount of Birmingham stuff to report on that still seems worthwhile, and the first of them is last year’s Centre for the Study of the Middle Ages Public Lecture, which was given by Dr Carl Phelpstead with the title, “Geoffrey of Monmouth and J. R. R. Tolkien: myth-making and national identity in the twelfth and twentieth centuries”.

Cover of Lewis Thorpe's translation of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae

Cover of Lewis Thorpe’s translation of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae

Covers of the first edition of J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings

Covers of the first edition of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings

You may well look at that and wonder where the comparison could lie between these two figures, I mean, apart from being internationally-famous writers of fantasy literature that was translated into many languages who were born outside England but finished up with jobs in Oxford obviously.1 And indeed I steal that hook straight from Dr Phelpstead’s lecture but there is, he was arguing, more to the comparison even than that, in that they were both at some level out to create a new national myth that was like, but not ultimately based in, history. The comparison only goes so far in this direction, of course, since as far as we clearly understand what Geoffrey of Monmouth was up to it was to reinsert Britonnic heroes and the past of his Welsh nation into the longer history of the kingdom that was now England, and he seems to have done this cleverly enough to be liked and read in equal measure by those who identified against the English and those like King Henry II who wanted it to be clear how the perhaps-separate histories of the British and English nations were now united, indissolubly, under one obedience, namely to him.2 Tolkien, on the other hand, was apparently dubious about the meaning of Britain as a construct, identified fairly firmly as English and when pushed as Mercian, and reportedly told his son in a letter that if he was anything he was Hwiccian, a marginal identity par excellence but not one with a great deal of meaning attached outside Anglo-Saxonist circles perhaps.3 In this light, it is notable (said Dr Phelpstead, but it seems to be right to me) that except when there is a war afoot, admittedly for most of the Lord of the Rings cycle, the various races of Middle Earth normally leave each other alone and certainly have no shared or overruling government.

Obviously, we have a lot more material from which to gauge Tolkien’s intentions than we do for Geoffrey’s, and the most interesting thing about this lecture for me was those snippets of the author before The Lord of the Rings became the thing for which he was mostly known, indeed before it existed. These suggest that what he was after to provide a missing English epic, something to make up for the fact that England (definitely England) has no sagas, no equivalent to the Kalevala and so on. Like those, it would not need to be historical, but it would need to be in keeping, and for Tolkien at least, express what he called, “a certain truth” about the nation whose culture he aimed thus to supplement. For Dr Phelpstead this was also a point of junction between the two authors: Geoffrey’s ‘certain truth’ was that the history of the island was really that of its older inhabitants, for Tolkien it was more about the quality of heroism and determination in the cause of peace, but the aim to put across a deeper message in their stories was there. Of course, Tolkien knew Geoffrey’s work but precisely because of its British agenda it wouldn’t serve as a basis for his own. In the event, of course, neither did England, and in fact neither did Britain for Geoffrey; both epics escape national confines fairly dramatically and transcend into something that appealed to readers of a great many more nationalities than the target ones, in ways neither author could easily have foreseen.

Pages from an illuminated edition of Tolkien's Silmarilion

Of course, of course someone has done this, this being a hand-illuminated edition of Tolkien’s Silmarilion. There is an interview with the artist, Benjamin Harff, here.

I’m not sure, going back over this, that the comparison here actually yields new insights about either Geoffrey or Tolkien; I learnt a lot about Tolkien and something about Geoffrey from this paper, but more separately than together. The curmudgeon in me wants to cite Chris Wickham’s demand that historical comparison must have a meaningful object to be worth doing, but a public lecture can perhaps be allowed to be entertainment for the brain rather than world-changing insight, and of course I’m not a literature scholar and every now and then I get reminded that things are different over that fence.4 The important thing about this lecture was therefore probably that I enjoyed it and learnt things, and it tided well for the seminar programme ahead.

1. It has subsequently become clear to me that I have, for the last few years, been proceeding around Tolkien’s career itinerary in the wrong order: he grew up in Birmingham, studied and got his first job in Oxford, went from there to a Readership at Leeds and then returned to Oxford as a professor. I’m now slightly worried lest I have to balance all this out by dying in South Africa, where he was born.

2. In so far as I didn’t learn all this from the Internet and seminar papers by John Gillingham, I think that I have it from David Dumville, “An early text of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae and the circulation of some Latin histories in twelfth-century Normandy” in Arthurian Literature Vol. 4 (Cambridge 1985), pp. 1-36, repr. with addenda in Dumville, Histories and Pseudo-Histories of the Insular Middle Ages, Collected Studies 316 (Aldershot 1990), XIV, and Nicholas Higham, “Historical Narratives as Cultural Politics: Rome, ‘British-ness’ and ‘English-ness'” in idem (ed.), Britons in Anglo-Saxon England, Publications of the Manchester Centre for Anglo-Saxon Studies 7 (Woodbridge 2007), pp. 68-79. But mainly John and the Internet are to blame.

.3. Tolkien’s letters are partly published as Humphrey Carpenter & Christopher Tolkien (edd.), The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien: a selection (London 1981), whence this kind of information was largely drawn.

4. But it would be curmudgeonly, so I won’t.

This post was written with the aid of Moon Healing Activation by Das Ludicroix, and jolly effective it was too.

Calls for Papers: ‘Rethinking the Medieval Frontier’ at Leeds IMC 2016, and Conquest: 1016, 1066

I am getting ahead of my backlog somewhat to say it, but the two sessions I ran on Rethinking the Medieval Frontier at this year’s International Medieval Congress in Leeds went well, so well in fact that I/we want to do it some more. Therefore, please see, consider, circulate and publicify the following Call for Papers!

Poster masthead for the International Medieval Congress, Leeds 2016

Rethinking the Medieval Frontier, at Leeds International Medieval Congress 2016

Frontiers and boundaries offer one of the best areas to study societies and polities in their essence, the presence of rival identities allowing and even necessitating definition against them. The Middle Ages was especially rich in such situations, which often struggle within the theories now used to explain them. It is time for medievalists to reevaluate their frontiers and boundaries and to come together in generating new theories to inform both our colleagues and those in other disciplines. After a successful beginning in 2015, we now invite scholars across all fields of medieval studies to join us in Rethinking the Medieval Frontier at the International Medieval Congress, Leeds, 4-7 July 2016. Particular topics of interest are: what makes frontier societies different from the cores of which they are the edges? Where does that difference begin and end, and how we can detect it? What effects did militarisation have on medieval frontier space? We invite papers especially on these topics, on internal frontiers and on non-physical and non-conventional frontiers, as well as on any other aspects of the frontier from any area and period of the Middle Ages. Please send prospective titles and abstracts of 100-200 words to Dr Jonathan Jarrett at <> by 15 September 2015.

Masthead image for the conference Conquest: 1016, 1066, Oxford 2016

Meanwhile, I am not alone in trying to organise things; my old colleague and friend Dr Laura Ashe at Oxford alerts me to an event of a couple of weeks later, namely Conquest: 1016, 1066. An Interdisciplinary Anniversary Conference. The Call for Papers looks quite interesting enough to justify its posting here:

Conquest: 1016, 1066


Paper proposals are invited for this interdisciplinary anniversary conference 21-24 July 2016 at the Ioannou Centre and TORCH, Oxford. Papers may be on any topic relevant to the area, though the main suggested themes are listed below. Individual paper proposals (of 20 minutes’ length) are highly encouraged and are anticipated to make up the majority of the programme; proposals are also invited for consideration by a number of session organisers. Sessions which are filled may be replicated if enough paper proposals warrant it.


  1. The Church; monasticism, clerical reform, theology, religious experience
  2. Literature, authors, and patronage
  3. Language and multilingualism, language contact
  4. Institutions and governance; lordship; kingship
  5. Warfare, battles, conduct in war, fighting men
  6. Art and material culture; music; court life
  7. Society and peoples
  8. Trade and commerce
  9. Space, movement, contact, networks; England and Europe, England and Scandinavia
  10. Historiography

SESSIONS CALLING – proposals warmly invited

  1. Economies of Power
  2. The English Language in the Long Twelfth Century
  3. Domesday Debated
  4. The Norman Conquest and its Myth
  5. Representing Gender and Conquest
  6. Rewriting the Narrative: Archaeological methods and evidence
  7. Women and the Conquests
  8. Women and the Legitimization of Succession Revisited
  9. Neither 1016 nor 1066? Key moments in England’s eleventh-century conquests
  10. Conquest 911 – The (proto-)Norman Conquest of Neustria Reconsidered
  11. Stories of migration in a century of conquest

SESSIONS PRE-ARRANGED – further related proposals will be considered for replica sessions, and as individual paper proposals

  1. Saints Alive! Conquest and cult, 1010-1110
  2. Embroidering the Death of Harold: Adela of Blois, Edith Swanneck and the Bayeux Tapestry
  3. Rebels or Collaborators? The conquests of 1016 and 1066 compared
  4. Assandun to Hastings: The Archaeology of eleventh-century battlefields
  5. Landholding and society in Lonsdale and south Cumbria: the impact of 1066
  6. Artefacts in Transition: people and things in the eleventh century
  7. The Structure of Landed Society in England, 1066-1086
  8. Communication between Powers in the eleventh century – The Normans and mainland Europe
  9. Approaching the Conquests of England using Geospatial Analysis
  10. Repercussions across the North Sea: Post-Conquest Relations between Scandinavia and the British Isles

The Church and doubt, mostly in the Middle Ages

You may, by now, have had enough of my conference reporting from a year ago, and believe you me, by the time summer 2014 ended I had had enough of conferences for a bit. But, there is one more to go, which was the 53rd Summer Meeting of the Ecclesiastical History Society, which took place at the University of Sheffield from 22nd-24th July, and I was there. The EHS publishes most of its proceedings and I liked the theme, which was ‘Doubt’, so I pitched a paper and they accepted it and so there I was. Now, in the event my paper was not sufficiently doubt-full to be accepted for publication, but it was still a good conference and slightly off my usual beat, which is generally good for one. Still, because I have less to say about most of the papers than usual, I’m going to get the three days done in one post, and because that will likely be large, I will just give you the list of what I saw and heard, and then stick my commentary below a cut so that those of you reading the actual front page can choose to skip on by if you like. Here’s that list, then:

    Tuesday 22nd July

    Plenary Session 1

  • Frances Andrews, “Doubting John”.
  • Session 1.1

  • Aideen O’Leary, “Devotion to St Andrew in Scotland and Anglo-Saxon England”.
  • Stephen Sharman, “Bede and the Credible Witness: a response to doubt”.
  • Christine Walsh, “Faith and Authenticity: eleventh- and twelfth-century concerns about the cult of saints and their relics”.
  • Session 2.1

  • Christine Oakland, “‘A Box Full of Hay?’ Doubt and Truth in the Diocese of Sens”.
  • Jan Vandeburie, “When in Doubt, Give Him the Finger: Ugolino di Conti’s loss of faith and Jacques de Vitry’s intervention”.
  • Wednesday 23rd July

    Plenary Session 2

  • Janet Nelson, “Carolingian Doubt?”
  • Session 3.1

  • Kimberley-Joy Knight, “Lachrymose Holiness and the Problem of Doubt in Thirteenth- and Fourteenth-Century Hagiographies”.
  • Anik Laferrière, “Doubting Monica: the deletion of Monica from fourteenth-century Vitae Augustini in the Augustinian Order of Hermits”.
  • Steven Watts, “Demons and Doubt: the peculiar account of Brother Bernard’s possession in Jordan of Saxony’s Libellus“.
  • Plenary Session 3

  • Ian Forrest, “Trust and DOubt: the late medieval bishop and local knowledge”
  • Session 4.2

  • Emily Ewing Graham, “Heresy and identity: late medieval friars and the kingdom of Aragón”.
  • Patrick Zutshi, “Evidence and Doubt: the beginning of the Great Schism according to the testimony collected at Medina del Campo in 1380-1”.
  • Thursday 24th July

    Session 5.1

  • Jonathan Jarrett, “The Anger of St Peter: the effects of spiritual sanctions in early medieval charters of donation”.
  • Thomas Smith, “Investigating the Pope’s Doubts: the validity of petitions from thirteenth-century England”.
  • Enrico Veneziani, “Doubting the Authority of Peter: the trial of Pontius of Cluny”.
  • Plenary Session 4

  • Kirstie Blair, “Unforming Faith: poetry, doubt and the Church of England in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.”

And this is (some of) what I thought about it all… Continue reading


An array of interesting links

I tend to store up interesting links against a day when I have no content to post, but the backlog situation has meant that not only does that never occur any more but that the links themselves get very old. I thought it was about time to clear some out! I had so many that categories seem necessary, even. So let me humbly suggest that you may wish to click to learn more about the following:

    Things from out of the ground

    A Celtic disc brooch looted by Vikings and now in the British Museum

    A Celtic disc brooch looted by Vikings and now in the British Museum, see below

  1. In no particular order, a previously-undiscovered Viking fortress, at Vallø in Denmark, located in mid-2014 by laser imaging and ground-penetrating radar;
  2. I have been known, in my cynical past, to say that the best way to hide an archæological discovery you wish to keep secret is to give it to the British Museum, due to their cataloguing backlog, but I was not wholly serious obviously, whereas this is a bit ridiculous (but has that brooch in it);
  3. further stuff has also been found, as is now de rigeur for all credible archæology in the UK, under a car-park, in Haddenham in Cambridgeshire where they hit what seems to have been a small sixth-century Anglo-Saxon cemetery during development work in February 2014;
  4. some eighth- to -tenth-century bodies found stuffed in a well Entrains-sur-Nohain in Burgundy provoke the writer of that post to several equally hypothetical Carolingian-history explanations
  5. an Iron Age hillfort at Broxmouth in East Lothian, Scotaland (just), has revealed what seems to be evidence of fifth-century BC steel-making;
  6. and there has been an array of hoards discovered that need their own subsection:
    A silver lidded vessel of Carolingian date recovered in a hoard from Dumfries in 2014

    A silver lidded vessel of Carolingian date recovered in a hoard from Dumfries described below

    1. a hoard of Viking silver loot, including what was once a really nice Carolingian lidded ewer or similar, found near Dumfries in south-west Scotland in late 2014;
    2. “one of the largest Roman coin hoards ever discovered in Britain”, 22,000 or so third-century coins found in Devon in November 2013 but only breaking into the news in September last year; I think Georgia Michael told me about this one so hat tip to her;
    3. and although 5,000 coins suddenly seems like not so big a deal, nonetheless, for the Anglo-Saxon period it is; I’m pretty sure this find nearly doubles the amount of King Cnut’s coinage known to exist in the UK, for example, and this one I definitely do owe to Georgia so off that hat comes once again;
    4. Posed photograph of some gold dinars from a hoard found off the coast of Israal

      I would not let someone do this with a gold find even before it had been catalogued, myself, but I am not the Israel Antiquities Authority, in whose care this hoard of Fatimid gold dinars ended up (see left)

    5. and two thousand is hardly trying, but firstly these ones were gold and secondly they were off the coast of Israel, dating to the reigns of the tenth- and eleventh-century Fatimid caliphs Al-Ḥākim and Al-Ẓāhir, and possibly coming from a sunken tax shipment, which I bet has caused a lot more diving since the news came out and which news I owe, once more, to Georgia Michael, who must have got the idea that I like coins or something…

    Things afoot in the research world (including those parts of it that blog)

  7. A new(-ish) project running out of Oxford to map all the various hillforts of the British Isles, presumably including that of Broxmouth above…
  8. … out of which project came the following endeavours from my native land, with lots to read if hillforts are of interest to you;
  9. a thorough and useful set of suggestions about what was wrong with the UK’s Research Excellence Framework exercise, not including its terrible name but with many other good points, from the self-appointed but persuasive Council for the Defence of British Universities (and here I owe a tip of the hat to Professor Naomi Standen);
  10. more light-heartedly, here is a reason for scribal errors that I had never considered, and still rather wish I hadn’t given some of the suggested remedies;
  11. a suggestion from a doctoral researcher at Sheffield that the current male fashion for extreme facial hair has medieval precedents, and plenty of modern ones too (a tip of the hat here to one of the Australian Medievalists);
  12. Things from out of the archive

    Fragments of a mid-seventh-century manuscript of the Qu'ran in the Mingana Collection, Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham

    Fragments of a mid-seventh-century manuscript of the Qu’ran in the Mingana Collection, Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham, see below

  13. Some extra fragments of illustration from the Catalan comital cartulary known as the Liber Feudorum Maior have been rediscovered!
  14. Following our theme of materials for the study of Anglo-Saxon England feared forever lost to scholarship, you may not necessarily be aware that after much deliberation about what to do with it, Professors Stephen Baxter and John Hudson have published the unfinished second volume of Patrick Wormald’s The Making of English Law on the Early English Laws website as Patrick Wormald, Papers Preparatory to the Making of English Law, vol. II, for which many people may be very grateful;
  15. the Vatican Library’s digitisation project has a new website and a much more searchable catalogue, though it does admittedly appear to be broken just now;
  16. and, to end with something at least that is very new and exciting, we have a lot of people coming to the Barber Institute just now because they have not read far enough down this story to realise that the very very early Qu’ran manuscript it describes is not yet on display here, but it is still extremely exciting!

Seminar CLVI: whose job was high medieval English pastoral care?

I have had to neglect this blog cruelly so far this year, I am keenly aware, and I hope–this sounds foolish but I mean it–to blog about at least one of the reasons why shortly. Meanwhile, however, I will unblock the head of the queue by reporting on a lecture I went to in Birmingham last June, before the backlog can get any worse…

Cover of Robert Swanson's Religion and Devotion in Europe c. 1215-c. 1515

Cover of Robert Swanson’s Religion and Devotion in Europe c. 1215-c. 1515

One of the people it’s been nice to meet while in Birmingham is Professor Robert Swanson. Very loyal readers might just remember my first encounter with his work, years ago when I had to read up on the twelfth-century Renaissance very quickly.1 I enjoyed that book and it was very helpful, but it turns out that this is not really what he does, which is much more late medieval Church organisation and spirituality. That is a subject that attracts all sorts, but having talked to Professor Swanson a bit I thought it would be fun to hear him do his stuff, and the opportunity came around on 3rd June 2014, when he was asked to give the Guest Lecture to the Early Medieval, Medieval, Renaissance, Reformation and Early Modern Forum in Birmingham. The title he chose was “Pastoral Care, Pastoral Cares, Pastoral Carers: the cura pastoralis in late medieval England”. This would have been too late and too Insular for me in normal circumstances, since more or less all the questions whose solutions intrigue me about the early and high medieval Church seem pretty much settled in the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, but I had at this point just finished supervising an undergraduate dissertation on a text of this kind and era, onto the study of which Professor Swanson had put the relevant pupil, so I felt as if I might get something out of it, and so I did.2

Effigy of Archbishop John Pecham of Canterbury, responsible as you will read for making all this stuff a live issue in England. Canterburycathedraljohnpeckhamtombeffigy" by Ealdgyth - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Effigy of Archbishop John Pecham of Canterbury, responsible as you will read for making all this stuff a live issue in England. Canterburycathedraljohnpeckhamtombeffigy” by EaldgythOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

It was in fact with Lateran IV that Professor Swanson began, because one of the very many things with which that Council was concerned was the standard of care for people’s souls which the Church was administering. Lots of how-tos and instructions ensued and by 1281 this had even reached England, when a Canterbury council also considered what needed to be done in this sphere (under the presidency of the dead guy above). Now, as Professor Swanson had it, this has up till now mainly been studied in terms of what it meant for priests and others who held ministry in the Church, who were enjoined to all kinds of education, guidance and policing of vice, that is, in terms of the cure of souls, in the most medicinal sense of that metaphor. These days, however, we think of pastoral responsibilities as a much wider field of operations, more like social work, and Professor Swanson wanted to look at that sense in a medieval context; how much of that kind of ministering to people was there, and who was supposed to do it?

Werken van Barmhartigheid, Meester van Alkmaar (1504)

A 1504 Dutch painting of the Seven Acts of Corporal Mercy, “Werken van Barmhartigheid, Meester van Alkmaar (1504)” by Master of Alkmaar (fl. 1504) – : Home : Info : Pic. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

This turned out to be quite easy for him to set up a framework for. There are already, in this mass of didactic literature, a whole variety of instructions for the layperson to live a suitably holy but active life, obviously including the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, the Seven Deadly Sins and so on, and also a set of recommendations called the Seven Acts of Corporal Mercy, which could be broadly categorised as mutual assistance among neighbours and so forth. Now, they need the qualification as ‘corporal’ because there were also Seven Acts of Spiritual Mercy, rather less often discussed but nonetheless letting the laity through the gate somewhat, because of requiring one basically to watch out for the state of your neighbour’s soul, and warn them if they looked like endanngering it. Quite a lot of this sort of conduct can be found urged in sermons even without the Seven Acts mentioned, in fact, but in the more worked-out versions it was even considered pious behaviour to constrain such miscreants to stop them thus hurting their chances of Salvation, or even to denounce them to other authorities who might correct them, all for their own good of course. This could even be applied to the priesthood itself, who could be denounced to their archdeacon or bishop, mainly because of the danger to their congregation’s souls of course but also to their own, and at the very highest level it was in some sense the work of the king, who should bring his subjects to Heaven as far as possible, but also of every mother and father of a child who had to be taught to tell right from wrong, so a pretty all-encompassing theology once pieced together from these various expressions.

A fourteenth-century manuscript illustration of an archdeacon telling off some priests

A fourteenth-century manuscript illustration of an archdeacon telling off some priests for their flash duds, or something equally anachronistic

It’s hard, in fact, to see what interference this doctrine wouldn’t justify. It clearly overlaps considerably with the priestly ministry, and so in questions the issue naturally arose of whether people were actually attempting to carry this out, or even using it as a justification for what we might otherwise call nosiness, busy-bodying or, more generously, community policing. That was, in some ways, not the point of the lecture, which had been about whether there was room for a lay ministry in this period’s thinking at all, but with it fairly well-established that people could have found one if they wanted, one now rather wants to know if they ever did try to apply the theory!

1. Robert N. Swanson, The Twelfth-Century Renaissance (London 1999); his other work includes Church and Society in Late Medieval England (Oxford 1989) and Religion and Devotion in Europe, c. 1215-c. 1515 (Cambridge 1995), pictured above.

2. The text was Dives et Pauper, which was mentioned in this lecture several times and is printed in Priscilla Heath Barnum (ed./transl.), Dives et Pauper, Early English Texts Society O. S. 275 (London 1976). I shan’t embarrass the student by naming them, but they did pretty well…

Seminar CL: Old English administration after the Norman Conquest

Moving now toward the end of March 2014 in the seminar report backlog, on the 26th of that month I was back in London for the Earlier Middle Ages Seminar at the Institute of Historical Research, because Professor Julia Crick was speaking. My work crosses very little with Professor Crick’s but despite this she has made a point of remembering who I am, I was still teaching Anglo-Saxon stuff at this point even if from much earlier and, after all, when one sees a paper title like “Who Were the Writers and Readers of Administrative English in the Century after the Norman Conquest?” it implies that there might be an answer and I wanted to know what it was. This was not least because, as Professor Crick made clear at the outset, the answer has until quite recently been basically negative: there were effectively none after about 1070, when central government switched from Old English to Latin for its writing. She exemplified this point of view with three quotes, one of which I’ll re-use:

“After the Norman Conquest the use of English for official, civil and ecclesiastical purposes was generally abandoned in favour of French and Latin, and the status of English as a literary language rapidly declined. Consequently, works from the twelfth century composed in English are exceedingly rare.”1

But the trouble with this statement is that increasingly it looks untrue. Palæographical and prosopographical work, including computer-aided work in both cases and much of that, I have to give them their due sometimes, from KCL’s Department of Digital Humanities, has identified more than a thousand scribes writing in Old English at some time in the eleventh century, by no means all of them in the first half, and several new Old English texts from both eleventh and twelfth centuries.2 What has been counted so far has largely been literary or homilectical (preaching) work, however, and Professor Crick was interested in those bits of this corpus that could be called administrative, glosses in working texts, memoranda, notes and occasional property records. We don’t, in fact, know who most of these writers were, but by their works we can know them at least a little bit.

The so-called Ely Farming Memoranda, British Library Additional MS 61735

An obvious, if early, example of the kind of marginal writing we’re talking about, the so-called Ely Farming Memoranda, British Library Additional MS 61735, complete with bonus portrait of Christ.

Saying anything useful about the quantity of this is quite tricky, because it’s one of these things like powerful medieval women where there’s quite a lot of it but proportionally to the rest it’s still negligible (the last fact, I have to say, only becoming clear in questions). It was widespread but rare, common but unusual and these other paradoxes that dog the study of marginal behaviours in the Middle Ages (er, no pun intended). One thing it does show, however, as Professor Crick pointed out, is that the idea that written Old English entered an immediate and terminal decline as soon as the Normans took over has to be abandoned; whatever it was being used for, that didn’t stop till the twelfth century. Perhaps we should have known this: the scribes who put together the legal assemblage known as the Textus Roffensis could copy and translate Old English quite happily and, as Professor Crick pointed out, there is only one twelfth-century cartulary which doesn’t contain any Old English, even if the main text and business is in Latin in all of them.3

Fo. 59r of the twelfth-century portion of the Cartulary and Register of Evesham, London, British Library, MS Harley 3763

Fo. 59r of the twelfth-century portion of the Cartulary and Register of Evesham, London, British Library, MS Harley 3763, with glosses at top right that could be in Old English? They’re so abbreviated I find it hard to tell, but I can’t easily read the abbreviations as Latin…

So what was keeping this going, when the centre was no longer interested in Old English administration? Professor Crick suggested that it might have been the use of the vernacular in court, when witness testimony was required to confirm boundaries, when oaths were made or writs and so forth were read out, when presumably after the switch to Latin they were translated. This would not be at the royal courts, but at hundred and shire courts. This would, Professor Crick argued, keep the language in use at a legal, and thus sort of official, language, though Susan Reynolds contended in questions that the hundred and shire courts were assemblies, not law courts, so not quite that kind of officialdom.4 I don’t think that would stop this being important, however.

St Petroc or Bodmin Gospels, London, British Library Additional MS 9381, fo. 13r.

Closing page of the canon tables from the St Petroc or Bodmin Gospels, London, British Library Additional MS 9381, fo. 13r., with a manumission record (in Latin, but it’s a good image) distributed between the leftover spaces.

More debated, perhaps, were the suggestions Professor Crick made based on her observation that quite a lot of this Old English extranea is to be found in Gospel Books. She thought that this might be partly down to the better preservation of Gospel Books than estate archives, but that it still needed accounting for. The problem I saw, and raised in questions, is that it is by no means just an English practice or a post-1066 one to write documents and administrivia in Gospel books, not even in the vernacular: the earliest written Scots Gaelic is in the Book of Deer, the earliest written Welsh is supposedly that in the Lichfield Gospels that I’d seen earlier that month, we could add Bavarian examples of Old High German too…5 To this Professor Crick answered that the Old English examples are largely in books much older than the writing, so it is obviously new to the English, but that, while true and something I’d never noticed, still needs some explanation, I thought. Professor Crick also saw the Gospel books as repositories for oaths and similar because those oaths would have been sworn on altars, where the Gospels were kept, so it made sense as a way to immortalise testimony (and perhaps new precisely because the change of language at law had removed whatever previous process for this had been employed, I might subversively suggest). Professor Crick saw here a tension between legal practice, conducted in the vernacular, and the liturgy with which these books and ‘Scripture’ more generally were associated, definitively in Latin, but Chris Lewis suggested that there was probably more cross-over of capability here than we might expect. What there isn’t, at least—Stephen Baxter asked and was answered—is any sign of written French in such contexts: whatever was going on here was at least a way of involving the natives, not the incomers. My sense here is, therefore, that Professor Crick has pointed out something large, variegated and potentially quite revealing and informative, but that characterising and explaining it is going to be a work in progress for quite a while still.6

1. Patrick P. O’Neill, “The English version” in Margaret T. Gibson, T. A. Heslop & Richard W. Pfaff (edd.), The Eadwine Psalter: texts, image and monastic culture in twelfth-century Canterbury (London 1992), pp. 123-138 at p. 136.

2. Here was cited Peter A. Stokes, “The problem of Grade in English Vernacular Minuscule, c. 1060-1220″ in Elaine Treharne, Orietta Da Rold & Mary Swan (edd.), Producing and Using English Manuscripts in the Post-Conquest Period, New Medieval Literatures Vol. 13 (Turnhout 2011), pp. 23-47.

3. The stock reference for Old English in manuscripts, so stock it’s not even in Professor Crick’s otherwise comprhensive handout, is Neil R. Ker, English Manuscripts in the Century after the Norman Conquest (Oxford 1960), which is obviously the survey from which the negative picture with which the audience began largely comes but still might be all right for the cartularies. We now have to add to it, however, David A. E. Pelteret, Catalogue of English Post-Conquest Vernacular Documents (Woodbridge 1990), but as he himself freely acknowledged in questions, this is no longer adequate to cover the sample, and Donald Scragg, A Conspectus of Scribal Hands Writing English, 960-1100 (Cambridge 2012) is where most of the evidence presented in this paper could ultimately be found.

4. I would still tend to refer to Henry R. Loyn, The Governance of Anglo-Saxon England, 500-1087 (London 1984), but I should probably cite something more modern like John Hudson, “Order and Justice” in Julia Crick & Elisabeth van Houts (edd.), A Social History of England 900-1200 (Cambridge 2011), pp. 115-123; also probably worth mentioning in this connection are Elaine Treharne, “Textual Communities (vernacular)” and Julia Crick, “Learning and Training”, ibid. pp. 341-349 & 352-372.

5. Arkady Hodge, “When Is a Charter Not a Charter? Documents in Non-Conventional Contexts in Early Medieval Europe” in Jonathan Jarrett & Allan Scott McKinley (edd.), Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Charters, International Medieval Research 19 (Turnhout 2013), pp. 127-149, DOI:  10.1484/M.IMR-EB.1.101680.

6. Other references that seem worth emphasising from the handout are Mark Faulkner, “Archaism, Belatedness and Modernisation: ‘Old’ English in the twelfth century” in Review of English Studies New Series Vol. 63 (Oxford 2012), pp. 179-203; Kathryn A. Lowe, “Post-Conquest Bilingual Composition in Memoranda from Bury St Edmunds” ibid. 59 (2007), pp. 52-66; and Elaine Treharne, Living Through Conquest: the politics of early English, 1020-1220 (Oxford 2012), and not from the handout, Julia Crick, “The Art of Writing: scripts and scribal production” in Clare A. Lees (ed.), The Cambridge History of Early Medieval English Literature (Cambridge 2013), pp. 50-72.