Tag Archives: Canterbury

Seminars CXLII & CXLIII : tracing text transmission by means old and new

I am back from my international appearance, and fell immediately into a nest of twisting deadlines, most of which I have now beaten and so I resume the slightly foolhardy attempt to get caught up on my seminar reports. Let’s start with 23rd May 2012 (hopefully I won’t actually get a full year behind) when Professor Jo Story spoke to the Institute of Historical Research’s Earlier Middle Ages Seminar with the title, “Bede, Willibrord and the Letters of Pope Honorius I on the Genesis of the Archbishopric of York”. This was an excellently clear and clever paper that went into the messy question of when exactly York became the second archbishopric of the English. There’s a lot of difficult detail here and Bede, our most important source for it all, was unfortunately up to his neck, it seems, in an attempt to find dubious precedent for the promotion of Bishop Egbert, recipient of that there letter, to the archiepiscopal dignity in 735. The precedent should have been Bishop Paulinus, to whom the pallium that marks the archiepiscopal dignity out from a more usual metropolitan bishop’s was sent by the Pope Honorius I of Professor Story’s title in 634. Unfortunately, by then he had been kicked out of his see at York and his patron king Edwin murdered by King Penda of Mercia, so the precedent is not what you would call ideal. The question then arises what was going on in 735, and here the fact that the new archbishop of Canterbury, Nothelm, had earlier also been responsible for much of the archival research in Rome on which Bede relied, and which would have presumably turned up the relevant papal letters, was probably significant. Also significant, as Alan Thacker pointed out in questions, is that Nothelm may have been from Mercia, to which Roy Flechner then joined the fact that initially, of course, the southern metropolitan was supposed to be based at now-Mercian London, not Kentish Canterbury… There’s room for quite a lot of shifting of ground here and Professor Story certainly gave us good reason to suppose that Bede’s sheet isn’t quite as clean of misrepresentation as once used to be thought. I won’t say more for the very good reason that the paper is now published in English Historical Review so you may be able to see the argument for yourself, but it was fun to hear in advance.1

Hraban Maur presenting his Liber de Sancti Crucis to Archbishop Otgar of Mainz, encouraged by Alcuin: Vienna, Codex Vindobonensis 652

A close-to-contemporary manuscript image of Hraban Maur, he being the young one (from Wikimedia Commons)

Then a week later there was a paper that I was sure Magistra had covered but in fact I can’t see that she has, so I better had. This was Dr Clare Woods of Duke University speaking with the title, “Ninth-Century Networks: books, (gifts), scholarly exchange”. This was a very interesting report on an ongoing attempt to turn network analysis to the service of the study of transmission of manuscripts, specifically manuscripts of the sermons of Hraban Maur, Abbot of Fulda. We do already sort of do this via stemma diagrams, which are a kind of network, but this doesn’t tell us what manuscripts were being used for, if at all, what they are copied with, where they physically are, where they were actually made, and so on, and Dr Woods was interested in seeing just how much of that one could represent and network. The paper was thus a kind of walk-through of methods she’d tried, starting with the most basic (sticking them all on Google Maps with different colour pointers like this), which opens up possibilities of comparison between works and might tell us about where a master’s pupils wound up, moving through putting routes to manuscript movements using tools like Stanford University’s marvellous ORBIS, because after all these things moved with people and those people must have taken routes, and so on. From this kind of location-centric, rather than author-centric or text-centric, networking, we get some idea of what areas were interested in an author’s work, where he was big news and where he was no news, and perhaps some hints of the people to whom he was news. The next step would be GIS, and there is the problem looming that many people who use GIS have found, that in an effort to find the most relevant factor one winds up mapping so much that nothing is distinguishable from it… There are methods to deal with this, though, and we can hope for some interesting things from Dr Woods’s work if I’m any judge.

One interesting question that came up was how to publish this kind of work. If you look at the example above, one of Matt Gabriele’s coming out of the background work on his book on the legend of Charlemagne, you see the beginnings of the problem, which is that the data is dynamic. Lots of what we were being shown in this paper was animated, extra spots appearing on a map, ideally things being added or taken away according to the presenter’s whim. With Matt’s test diagram you could just about publish it as a series of maps to compare with each other, but for something like Dr Woods was doing you’d rapidly head towards a paper that was forty or fifty slides and almost no descriptive text between them apart from a bewildering set of cross-references. The obvious form would seem to be an interactive website but as Dr Woods observed, we have yet to work out how to count such things as peer-reviewed publication (though getting interested and qualified people to spend an hour playing with it would be easy enough, you’d think…). I gamely suggested electronic journal publication with an embedded Flash game, but though I’d love to see it (and I bet somewhere like The Heroic Age would love to host it) I still suspect it’ll be a while before it’s the new form… Wendy Davies raised worries about a species of the Grierson Objection, whether books moving as gifts were behaving the same as books moving as goods, but as Susan Reynolds pointed out, one would only be able to distinguish these cases by first of all mapping the survival, so… Another problem raised by Alice Rio was that the manuscripts might not be moving permanently, but just long enough to be copied; we see that possibility in the letters of Lupus of Ferrières, for example, though with him we mainly see it in theory as Lupus protests that he is going to send the book back, just, like Augustine and chastity, not yet.2 Thus this wound up being one of those best but frightening of IHR Seminars, where the assembled great and good of the field are so piqued with interest by your project that they start trying to work out how they would have done it. I’m not sure how it feels to be the speaker in those circumstances but it’s always slightly awe-striking to see a lot of very agile brains all focused on a single objective for a while like that. Papers and discussions like this are why I always think it worth going, basically…


1. J. Story, “Bede, Willibrord and the Letters of Pope Honorius I on the Genesis of the Archbishopric of York” in English Historical Review Vol. 127 (Oxford 2012), pp. 783-818.

2. The standard translation of his letters, Graydon Regenos (trans.), The Letters of Lupus of Ferrières (The Hague 1966) is not the easiest book in the world to get hold of, but if you can, you’ll see it is a bit of a theme…

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Woruldhord unchained!

Of late I have made too much of a practice of waffling for half an introductory paragraph about what the post won’t be about. Stopping that directly, this post is about a new and rather exciting collaborative web resource for Anglo-Saxon studies that you may well want to know about! However, it must still be made clear that it is not about that other exciting and at least partly collaborative resource for Anglo-Saxon studies, the Unlocked Wordhoard. This is about the Woruldhord project, and yes, that does sound like Wordhoard but Woruldhord is different. Still confused? Richard Scott Nokes, of the Unlocked Wordhoard, hearing of the Woruldhord project, wrote a post about Woruldhord at his Wordhoard, so that should remove any possibility of confusion about what I’m writing about, write? I mean, right? (Wright?) I’m glad we’ve got that clear.

Logo image for the Oxford Woruldhord project

Logo image for the Oxford Woruldhord project

So, okay, enough with the wordplay. What this is about is an Oxford project called Woruldhord that an acquaintance of mine is involved in. I went to the launch event partly because of that, partly because hey! free food (and indeed mead) but also because it sounded useful and indeed it is. So, what this thing is and does is, well, let me use their words:

The Woruldhord project is based at the University of Oxford and presents to you a collection of freely reusable educational resources to help you study or teach the period of English history centred on the Anglo-Saxons, or Old English (literature and language). This equates to a period of history roughly covering the mid-fifth century until the eleventh century. All the material held here was donated by members of the public, museums and libraries, academics, teachers, and societies. This then is a community collection created by a community of people for others to use.

Well, all very well, you may say, but what is there in it that I can use? Here I can speak with a certain amount of pain, as shortly before this event I’d had to do a lecture about early Anglo-Saxon monastic sites, and had been struggling for images of some especially expressive places like, for example, St Pancras’s Canterbury…

Ruins of the east end of St Pancras, Canterbury

Ruins of the east end of St Pancras, Canterbury. This item is from Project Woruldhord, University of Oxford (http://projects.oucs.ox.ac.uk/woruldhord); © Jonathan Dore

… or the Roman-style columns from the old minster at Reculver that are now in Canterbury Cathedral…

The columns from the Reculver minster, now in Canterbury Cathedral

The columns from the Reculver minster, now in Canterbury Cathedral. This item is from Project Woruldhord, University of Oxford (http://projects.oucs.ox.ac.uk/woruldhord); © Jonathan Dore

… and actually the lecture before, about burial in the same period, one of the objects I was supposed to refer to was the Sittingbourne Brooch but there were only images of its close partner the Sarre Brooch on the web (and do follow that link, it’s gorgeous) but – oh wait…

Sittingbourne Brooch on display in Sittingbourne Museum

Sittingbourne Brooch on display in Sittingbourne Museum. This item is from Project Woruldhord, University of Oxford (http://projects.oucs.ox.ac.uk/woruldhord); © Emma Payne

… and so it goes on. Most of the images I had used had been, shall we say, of dubious legal reproducibility, but these are all Creative Commons and fair use and so forth. If it’s here it’s been checked out and disclaimed, so you can use it, with due acknowledgement as here. The holdings are not actually that huge, and nor are they confined to images—I choose these just because they would actually have been, and will actually be, immediately useful to me as teacher. There isn’t really very much from the North, noticeably, which is a shame (though remediable). But there are much more para-academic things in there, snippets of old documentary film, bibliographies, teaching notes, poems, musical reenactment videos, you name it, someone’s contributed it, and contributions are still being accepted so if you liked, so could you. In any case it is well worth a browse. I will close with what may be my favourite bit, a small video animation called `Sparrow Flight’. Those who know will probably already have guessed what this is, but you may still be surprised, for those who don’t, watch it then read this, or if you prefer the other way round, and all will become clear…

Frame from video Sparrow Flight at the Pastperfect.org site on Yeavering

Seminary XVI: those are knights and we’re feudal, all right?

The name of Nicholas Brooks is not one that many Anglo-Saxonists are going to need introducing, so you will understand how we, we being Allan Scott McKinley, Martin Ryan and myself, convenors of the Problems and Possibilities in Early Medieval Diplomatic sessions at the Leeds International Medieval Congress, were quite pleased to have him speaking for us last year. Since then, however, that work has been refined and as a result he was presenting it again at the Institute of Historical Research Earlier Middle Ages seminar on 23 January, under the title: “Archbishop Æthelnoth ‘the Good’ and his knights: feudal origins revisited”.

Norman knights charging, in the Bayeux Tapestry

Norman knights charging, in the Bayeux Tapestry

What had basically been added to make up the extra half-hour was a thorough grounding of the paper in the historiography which it was attacking, and because Professor Brooks goes over things very completely it is possible to condense his basic thesis into a fairly short paragraph, albeit by leaving out most of the convincing erudition. So because there is much to write and little time I’ll do that and you’ll have to take my word for it that really, it didn’t seem terribly disputable.

Basically, the old argument starts with a premise that feudalism is about military service more than anything else, and that in this respect the Normans were something unusual. When the Anglo-Norman realm’s administration begins to be seen in detail (and I’m sure Gesta will refine this if I over-simplify) we see this being shown by land being given out to knights (the Latin word used is always milites, soldiers, and one of the problems with this is that while the word remains the same in the period warfare, and its costs and consequently the standing of those so described, is possibly changing a great deal) in exchange for their service, to a level of precision that means that we can talk about a knight’s fee, `fee’ here coming from the same route as `fief’, and meaning the amount of land appropriate to fund and reward the service of one knight. The observation that there is nothing like this visible in England before the Conquest goes back to Sir Frank Stenton, although the similar one that really, there isn’t in Normandy either, has been less widely heard. It’s not that there isn’t service by men to their lords in exchange for land, of course, although even this has only been deeply appreciated in recent years, partly because of the work of Robin Fleming, and also now because of the very detailed work on lordship and power in Mercia by Steven Baxter. Such servants are usually termed ‘thegns’, or in Latin ‘ministri’, which has a very broad range of meanings, and there’s been some debate about what it might include. But there isn’t this clear exchange of land for clearly military service by trained soldiers.

Or so we thought, anyway. But Professor Brooks has pulled together three disparate documents, two writs to newly-appointed archbishops of Canterbury, one of which, from Edward the Confessor, seems to have later been doctored, and one of which, from Cnut, apparently hasn’t. The earlier one, from Cnut, includes among other properties of the see that the Archbishop is now empowered to take possession of, the various revenues from the see’s dependents, who include “as many thegns as I have allowed him”.1

Well, not so much by itself, even if it does seem to be a royally-set limit on dependents like the later quota of knights. But Professor Brooks has also dug up a lease from the archbishop to two men who are called his ministri by the scribe.2 The scribe is quite important, because he doesn’t seem to be local. In fact his charter looked perfectly regular to me, but that’s because I study Catalonia and one thing any Anglo-Saxon diplomatist will tell you about their material is that it’s weird by the standards of any European ‘charter landscape’.3 This man, in fact, seems to be from Flanders, and the charter he writes therefore records what would be normal for a charter from there, including the laymen present, which an Anglo-Saxon charter would not normally do. And among these laymen there are thirteen whom the scribe calls milites.

There followed various bits of comparison to the later quotas of Canterbury, and an argument that if, in 1086 already they show fragmentation into bits they can’t be very new, but that was disputed in questions, and really the core is there. The Archbishop of Canterbury has some ministri that the king allows him to keep, well before the Conquest; and when a foreign scribe turns up and describes the archbishop’s retinue, he sees milites, knights. Professor Brooks suggests that these are the same people, and that actually the king is allotting armed retainers to his great men as early as 1020. Furthermore, he argues that the numbers are broadly the same as what the archbishops would be allowed in 1086, but I don’t know how far I believed the maths. It was certainly possible to consider it the sort of back-of-the-envelope calculation Professor Muhlberger has just been talking about—I have more on sloppy maths in medieval studies coming, but I thought the link was good enough by itself. Feel free to discuss :-)


1. The document can be found in Florence E. Harmer (ed./transl.), Anglo-Saxon Writs (Manchester 1952), no. 28. The translation is Professor Brooks’s. I can give the Old English if it will help anyone.

2. A text and translation of this charter can be found in John Blair, The Church in Anglo-Saxon Society (Oxford 2005), pp. 513-514.

3. I believe this term was originated by Heinrich Fichtenau, but I got it from Hans-Heinrich Kortüm, Zur Päpstliche Urkundensprache im frühen Mittelalter: die päpstlichen Privilegien 896-1046, Beiträge zur Geschichte und Quellenkunde des Mittelalters 17 (Sigmaringen 1995), p. 11, where of course it’s German, “Urkundenlandschaft”.