Tag Archives: Conrad Leyser

Towards a Global Middle Ages I: going global in the first place

The backlog decreases at last; I arrive in September 2014 and am therefore now less than a year behind again. This seems like an achievement! What was I doing in September 2014, you may ask, and the answer seems mainly to be settling into a new job, but also turning a blog post into an article, negotiating carefully with the Abadia de Montserrat over long-desired facsimiles, sending off proofs of imminent publications and reading an old article of Philip Grierson’s about the Brevium Exempla.1 However, in the middle of that time I was also hanging out at the edge of a weekend meeting of a group called the Global Middle Ages Network, and this left me with thoughts that I reckoned worth blogging.

A game of chess, pictured in the Tratado de Ajedrez

One thing at least that did travel between various medieval cultures, the game of chess, pictured for that purpose from the Tratado de Ajedrez by the Oxford Centre for Global history webpages

Global history is of course all the rage right now, as being present at Oxford for the creation of their Centre for Global History had impressed upon me, and that shiny new institution contributes a number of the players to this group. It is as befits its name more widely spread, however, and there are also participants based in London, Newcastle, Sheffield, Warwick, Norwich, Manchester, Leicester, Edinburgh, Reading, Liverpool, Leiden, York and even Cambridge, as well as most relevantly the University of Birmingham, where pretty much all the medievalists seem to be involved and one of whom invited me along. The group’s general aim is to bring the Middle Ages into debates about global history and ensure that years before 1492 don’t get relegated to the sidelines as this new bandwagon gets rolling, but their specific aim at this time was to thrash out the writing of a volume of essays which is due out in 2017. Accordingly, various participants—Catherine Holmes, Naomi Standen, Mark Whittow, Conrad Leyser, Arietta Papaconstantinou, Simon Yarrow, Anne Haour, Ian Forrest, John Watts, Monica White, Jonathan Shepard and Scott Ashley, along with various people brought in to provide feedback and balance, most notably the Oxford modernists Alan Strathern and John Darwin but also such non-contributors as Chris Wickham, Paulo Fernando de Moraes Farias, Rebecca Darley and my humble self, as well as others whom my notes no longer decode—convened at Winterbourne House and explained what they thought their chapters would look like and what questions and issues they were confronting. Some had advanced their chapters a lot further than others, and because everything was very clearly subject to at least some change, I don’t think I should try to summarise their presentations here. Instead, I want to try and formulate some of the issues that the two days of discussions made me think about, and set them out so that you too can think about them.

Poster for a publication workshop of th Global Middle Ages Network held in Birmingham in September 2014

The poster for the workshop

It seemed to me in the wake of this workshop that there was material for three posts here, and the first is on the concept of a global Middle Ages at all and what falls within it. This was something that was very much debated in the workshop, not least because decisions had already had to be made about what could be included with the available expertise. Thus, Europe was most definitely in, because what’s medieval if Europe is not? Byzantium was reasonably covered, Egypt and the middle eastern coast of Africa (though not Ethiopia or the Red Sea) was covered, although not really in the workshop; China is well covered (but Japan is not); and North Africa also gets some attention, as, encouragingly, will Meso-America. Although that therefore has some claim to globality, there was much lament about the lack of coverage of other areas: I have mentioned two that one might have wished for but for which the group just didn’t have the expertise, everyone wondered what was going on in sub-Saharan Africa but the truth is that we just don’t know (though Dr Fernando did point out that we know more than people think, and I wondered about Benin and Mali given that one of the words that kept coming up was ’empire’).2 Arezou Azad, present, made a plea for the importance of Afghanistan and its area, Arabia was generally felt to be somewhat lacking and India was most conspicuous of all by its absence from both plans and discussion, as it seems generally to be from global history projects the more of them I meet; we will hear more on this. But the group has the people it has and the first book is already too advanced to put more into it, so I guess that those who think these omissions serious must hope for a second.

World history time chart for 800 to 1500 from H. G. Wells's An Outline of World History, p. 614

World history time chart for 800-1500, as drawn out in H. G. Wells’s The Outline of History, being a Plain History of Life and Mankind, revised edn. (London 1920), p. 614

The second issue here is what a global history of this period can aim to achieve. You might think that it was somewhat late to be examining such questions but it came up, not because of a lack of reflection on the issue but because different participants continued to favour different answers. I want to muse more on this apropos of something else I went on to read, but essentially the division was between those who wanted to write an actual history, more or less diachronic, of phenomena that occurred worldwide, and those who instead wanted to write comparative thematic history. Since the book was to be multi-author, the former would be very difficult to coordinate, although there was general agreement that current attempts at it consider the Middle Ages a very poor sibling that can be left out of the new inheritance, roughly what this group is looking to change.3 The book structure will be thematic anyway, so this was at best a rearguard action, but it raised the issue of what framework a diachronic global medieval history could address anyway. As the two modernists pointed out, the work that dismisses global connectivity for the Middle Ages is not just uneducated: there is a difference between our period, when oceanic sea travel was basically accidental, and a period when a dip in silver mining in Peru could affect prices in markets in Vienna the month after. Global historians of a later period can write their narrative mainly around trade, war and disease, even if fewer do so than work in terms of ideas, but the connections between the areas of the globe in the period roughly 500-1500 (and that period is an issue in itself, for which the next post must do) were so thin and occasional that they can bear no such causality.4 Although I thought that someone probably could write an interesting book about the years 800-1400 as a period of long-range diasporas, Viking, Arab, Polynesian and perhaps overland migrations in the Americas, in which the world was pre-connected prior to the European ‘Golden Age of Sail’, it would still be hard work to assert that those links changed anything very much back at the points of origin of any of those diasporas, excepting the Vikings.5

Map of recorded voyages of Polynesian travellers in the Pacific Ocean

I realise that there are some problems dating all of this to within the Middle Ages as we count them in the West, and long-term readers will know how controversial the date for human arrival in New Zealand is, but nonetheless, this is quite a big web…

So although the whole concept of global history seems to invoke the idea that everything can be seen as connected, medievalists wishing to join in have to face the fact that this was not how the people they study experienced the world. A few people brought the idea of climate into discussion as a global factor, but one of the things that we should by now appreciate about climate, as Britain just about shakes a summer out of an otherwise dismally wet year for the third or fourth year running while elsewhere deserts spread and seas rise, is that it is locally variable to an almost chaotic degree.6 Anyone saying, “one thing that we can say is that the globe got warmer,” may well be right in aggregate but is missing any kind of relevance to what that would have meant for the globe’s various, and separated, inhabitants. Scale therefore becomes a major issue with this cope, as it always is of course, but here the problem is how to scale down from the global without losing any overall thesis in regional variation.

The map in the Bodleian manuscript of the Geography of al-Idrisi

A genuinely medieval view of the world, the map in the Bodleian manuscript of the Geography of al-Idrisi, deficient in some crucial respects (like continents); image from Wikimedia Commons

The harsh critic might say that this simply shows that the Middle Ages was not a global-scale phenomenon, but naturally the group was not going to just give up and disband because of that possibility, so the other major area of discussion was what could in fact be compared. Mark Whittow wisely argued that no-one can understand anything about such a book without there first being a comparison of sources, which is one place where the massive variation of the world record for the period is actually explanatory, because it explains what it is possible for historians of different areas to expect and to attempt, thus explaining how the different essays in the book would vary. All those essays are being written by teams of authors working on different areas, however, so comparison should be built in from the ground up. This process had already isolated cosmologies, religious structures and beliefs, value systems both economic and non-economic, power structures and the apparatus of social mediation (including things like family, patronage and abstracts like trust), movement of people and networks of communications as things that could be compared across a wide frame, even if they didn’t necessarily (or even necessarily didn’t) join up. As with all comparative history done right, we would learn more by the exposure of any given understanding of things to an alternative.7

Map of world civilisation with historical timeline c. 979

It is all a bit much to cover in its full complexity…

This opens up the paradoxical possibility that even a negative result of the overall enquiry, in which in the end the participants are forced more or less willingly to admit that the ‘global Middle Ages’ is a fiction, could still be a useful contribution, because the essence of such a conclusion would, it now seemed, not be merely, “the set is empty” but rather, “it’s complicated”. Usually that’s a cop-out but here it could have an impact: simply by showing that there is enough that we can point to and compare from the period that our comparisons fail due to the complexity of trans-regional variation would demand a recognition that the set is populated and that stuff was in fact happening all over the world in our period and needs to be included in long-term pictures wherever those pictures depict. The question then becomes: what stuff is happening, and is any of it at all characteristic of a so-called medieval period? And it’s that latter I’ll pick up in the next one of these posts.


1. P. Grierson, “The Identity of the Unnamed Fiscs in the Brevium exempla ad describendas res ecclesiasticas et fiscales”” in Revue belge de philologie et d’histoire Vol. 18 (Bruxelles 1939), pp. 437-461, DOI: 10.3406/rbph.1939.1300.

2. I sort of felt that Benin should have been on the locals’ minds because the cover of R. E. Bradbury, Benin Studies, ed. Peter Morton-Williams (London 1974), has been displayed on the wall in the School of History and Cultures on the way to the kitchen for who knows how many years, but a more useful cite for the period in question would be Natalie Sandomirsky, “Benin, Empire: origins and growth of city-state” in Keith Shillington (ed.), Encylopedia of African History (London 2013), 3 vols, I, pp. 132-133 and further refs there.

3. The Network web-page includes a reading list, where the most useful works of this type might be Alfred W. Crosby, Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900–1900 (Cambridge 1986) or Patricia Crone, Pre-Industrial Societies: Anatomy of the Pre-Modern World (Oxford 1989), but the one that came up in discussion most is not there, that being Jerry H. Bentley, Old World Encounters: Cross-Cultural Contacts and Exchanges in Pre-Modern Times (Oxford 1993). Of course, as the image implies, I reckon one could enjoy starting with H. G. Wells, The Outline of History, being a Plain History of Life and Mankind, revised edn. (London 1920), 2 vols…

4. Indeed, historians of an earlier or at least much longer period already do write in such big-phenomenon terms, if we will accept Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (New York City 1997), repr. as Guns, Germs, and Steel: a short history of everybody for the last 13,000 years (London 1998), as a work of history. At the very least, it demonstrates that the scale can be written within.

5. On them, see Lesley Abrams, “Diaspora and Identity in the Viking Age” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 20 (Oxford 2012), pp. 17-38, DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-0254.2011.00333.x; it is worth noting that Lesley is herself a member of the Global Middle Ages Network.

6. When I have to cite something for this I tend to cite Michael E. Mann, Zhihua Zhang, Malcolm K. Hughes, Raymond S. Bradley, Sonya K. Miller, Scott Rutherford & Fenbiao Ni, “Proxy-based reconstructions of hemispheric and global surface temperature variations over the past two millennia” in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Vol. 105 (Washington DC 2008), pp. 13252-13257, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0805721105.

7. My guide here is Chris Wickham, “Problems of Comparing Rural Societies in Early Medieval Western Europe” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 6th Series Vol. 2 (Cambridge 1992), pp. 221-246, DOI: 10.2307/3679106, rev. in idem, Land and Power: studies in Italian and European social history, 400-1200 (London 1994), pp. 201-226, and lo, he is also a member of the Network…

Blogger meetup, new Cliopatria piece

Leeds International Medieval Congress masthead

I am running things about as close to the line as they can go currently and have no time to organise or write a number of things that I would like to. One thing that must be written is that there needs to be organised the Leeds blogger meet-up, since there seem to be rather a lot of us attending, some from very far away, and it would be a real shame if nothing was done to celebrate this. As the two people who usually wind up proposing this, Magistra and I have conferred and decided that it suits us best—and if we’re organising I think that is allowed to be one of our priorities, don’t you? so glad—to gather bloggers, blog-friendlies and commentators at the Stables pub on the Tuesday evening, say from six till eight, at which point I imagine several of us will want to go and visit the St Andrews reception. So there it is, now you know and we shall hope to see fellow practitioners of this, er, well, practice, there.

[Edit: dagnabbit, bother and drat, it would probably be a good idea to include some identifying information. My academic website has a picture of me on it that is current, which you can see full-size here. There are no known photographs of Magistra, but as she suggests, I’ll probably be making more noise so you’ll see me first anyway.]

Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford

The other thing that needed to be written, or at least reported, is a very small part in the current move of no confidence by English universities against the government’s higher education policies (or rather, their ever-changing suggestions of what a policy might look like that justified the funding cuts they’ve already made), a part already reported in brief by Historian on the Edge. I since wrote about it at Cliopatria and you might like to read it. Meanwhile, see you on the other side of Leeds!

Seminar LXXXIII: arguing about kinship with anthropologists and families

Sorry, fell off the ‘net to a certain extent again there. Let me return to the fray with a seminar report, from where the amiable and erudite Dr Conrad Leyser (a man whose Oxford web presence is even more exiguous than mine, but who is at Worcester College, not Jesus College or Manchester University any more, whatever their webpages may tell you) presented at the Oxford Medieval History Seminar (though there again he is not listed, he’s like the Internet’s invisible man) under the title, “History, Anthropology, and Early Medieval Kinship”, on 31 January 2011. This was a lively paper, which is not something you can ordinarily say about presentations on the history of scholarship (unless they’re by Dr Beachcombing of course). It also served to teach several of us, I suspect, including me, just where some of our teachers, mentors and in Conrad’s case parents had been getting their ideas from…

Claude Lévi-Strauss

Claude Lévi-Strauss

Edward Evans-Pritchard

Edward Evans-Pritchard

The reason Conrad was doing this was that he is editing the proceedings from the sort of interdisciplinary conference we don’t have enough of, and has therefore got to write an introduction.1 This was one possible shape of it, explaining how we got to the points of needing the conversation that that conference had provided. Conrad started the paper by setting up a great opposition in old (social) anthropology, between the structuralist approach of Claude Lévi-Strauss (who only died in 2009), interested in working out what the system of kinship does for society and especially in the incest taboo, and the much more empirical, descriptive approach of Edward Evans-Pritchard, more interested in just documenting different societies than reflecting that back on the entirety of humanity, and seeing genealogy not as a structure, since it was so readily edited in the social memory, but as a narrative, with a point to make.2

From here Conrad diverted into history, but for summary I think that works better at the end so I’ll stick with the anthropology for a minute. By the 1970s, he told us, anthropology was getting quite suspicious about kinship as a term an a field of study, the suspicion being that it was occidentally-centred and a political concept unsuitable for application to many of the subjects of study. The logical outcome of this was that the field began to look at such ideas much more in the west itself, and that some genuinely challenging work has come out of the debates around in vitro fertilisation, because sometimes donors of eggs or sperm can be close kin to the people who will raise the child.3 Asking who then is the real parent is tricky enough in any surrogate situation—an ex-girlfriend of mine has six parents by some reckonings, thanks to adoption and divorces—but it gets a lot trickier to describe relationships when the incest taboo is broken like that, and so forth. Conrad pointed out here that medieval and indeed modern Christianity wrestled or wrestles with this all the time: Jesus was after all a surrogate baby, right? But He was also of the house of David! via, er, Joseph… Exegetical kinship in the minds of our subjects is therefore something that this kind of work may help us find words for and thus be able to explain better.

But, you would be entitled to ask, what has all this to do with medieval history? Well, fair enough, and as I say Conrad had kept that ball in the court all along, I have just chosen to do it differently here. The point is, of course, that the anthropological state of the field has informed an awful lot of the work we now take as gospel in early medieval kinship. Furthermore, it has often been only one side of the field that people pick up, citing “anthropology” much as we cite archæology or even history itself, as a more or less positivist bank of knowledge on whose existence we are all more or less agreed, without realising or if realising, without making it clear that the interpretation of such knowledge is crucial to its presentation, expression and safety of use by outsiders, and that even what look like raw datasets are being shaped by these debates before they reach the reader. Thus, the shift that Georges Duby and Karl Schmid saw from an agnatic to cognatic kinship system around the year 1000, from a broad kindred drawn from both father’s and mother’s families to a patrilineage and ultimately primogeniture, for example, this is derived ultimately from Lévi-Strauss and does not use the rival English work. Conrad’s father, Karl Leyser, based in England (indeed, in Oxford) however took a much more Evans-Pritchard-like line, there was an argument about it that didn’t establish either point and as a result Jack Goody was able to borrow the point back and use Karl Schmid’s work as a fair and accurate guide to the development of medieval families, and then of course (I editorialise here) the historians all cite Goody, even if we disagree, because he’s an anthropologist and therefore we think he has special knowledge, not realising where it came from and via whom, and round and round it goes.4

Back in the field of history, however, others were noticing that our categories for this sort of thing had been assumed ever since Duby and were adjusting to the idea that kinship might be more strategic than structural, altering reproductive practice and inheritance rights to fit social circumstances.5 Now even those ideas have been called into question—who sets a family strategy anyway and how do you get anyone to keep it?—and, for example, Kate Cooper (who is Conrad’s wife; his mother, Henrietta Leyser, was also evident in questions, which must be especially awkward to argue with but at least proved, along with the other factors, as Chris Wickham said, the abiding relevance of kinship in academia!) is now arguing for an agnatic-cognatic shift under the late Roman Empire, a change which Karl Ubl is reading in basically functionalist terms…6 so it may well be that after a while in which anthropology and history have had little to say to each other on such matters, it is actually time we got them talking again. But to do that, it’s necessary for each side to have some idea of what the other has already said. So I guess Conrad’s conference was a timely affair!


1. It’s thankfully fairly easy to cite stuff for this because half of Conrad’s handout was a seriously thorough bibliography, which I even showed to my anthropologist of resort and they agreed that it was as fair a summary as you might fit onto a side of A4, so if the above seems inadequate or just wrong, it’s going to be my fault not Conrad’s. From it, anyway, I can tell you that the volume in question is C. Leyser & K. Cooper (edd.), Making Early Medieval Societies: conflict and belonging in the Latin West, 400-1200 (forthcoming). Conrad’s handout doesn’t give place of publication for anything, and I’m afraid I’m going to skimp on time and not provide it either, just because there is so much backlog to clear here.

2. Cited on the handout: C. Lévi-Strauss, Les structures élémentaires de la parenté (1949); E. E. Evans-Pritchard, Kinship and Marriage among the Nuer (1951).

3. Here citing especially J. Carsten, After Kinship (2004), though the handout also has M. Strathern, Reproducing the Future: essays on anthropology, kinship and the new reproductive technologies (1992) and C. Thompson, Making Parents: the ontological choreography of reproductive technologies (2005), which I include because it strikes me that this is the kind of edge-of-the-human territory where some of my readers have their camps currently set up and they may be interested…

4. Duby himself learnt a lot from Schmid, whose “Zur Problematik von Familie, Sippe und Geschlecht, Haus und Dynastie beim mittelalterlichen Adel” in Zeitschrift für Geschichte des Oberrheins Vol. 105 (1957), pp. 1-62, remains seminal (edit: thanks to Levi below, details corrected here) but remains untranslated; there is however his “Über die Struktur des Adels im früheren Mittelalter” in Jahrbuch für fränkische Landesforschung Vol. 19 (1959), pp. 1-23, transl. Timothy Reuter as “The structure of the nobility in the earlier Middle Ages” in Reuter (ed.), The Medieval Nobility: studies on the ruling classes of France and Germany from the 6th to the 12th century (Amsterdam 1979), pp. 37-59, for an Englished introduction to Schmid’s arguments. For Duby Conrad cites the foundation stone, G. Duby, La Société aux XIe et XIIe siècle dans la région mâconnaise (Paris 1953, 2nd edn. 1971, repr. 2000), which is largely untranslated (a few parts as “The Nobility in Eleventh- and Twelfth-Century Mâconnais”, transl. Frederick L. Cheyette in Cheyette (ed.), Lordship and Community in Medieval Europe: selected readings (1968), pp. 137-55) but, as Conrad’s handout mentions, quite a lot of the supporting work and especially that about family structure is available in English in Duby, The Chivalrous Society, transl. Cynthia Postan (1977). The argument that failed to convince is Karl Leyser, “The German Aristocracy from the Ninth to the Twelfth Centuries: a historical and cultural sketch” in Past and Present no. 41 (Oxford 1968), pp. 25-53, Donald A. Bullough, “Early Medieval Social Groupings: the terminology of kinship”, ibid. 45 (1969), pp. 3-18 and K. Leyser, “Maternal kin in Early Medieval Germany: a reply”, ibid. 49 (1970), pp. 126-134. Goody’s contribution is of course J. Goody, The Development of the Family and Marriage in Europe (Cambridge 1983).

5. So, see for example Pauline Stafford, “« La mutation familiale »: a suitable case for caution” in Joyce Hill & Mary Swan (edd.), The Community, the Family and the Saint: patterns of power in early medieval Europe (Turnhout 1998), pp. 103-125 or Ian Wood, “Deconstructing the Merovingian Family” in Richard Corradini, Maximilian Diesenberger & Helmut Reimitz (edd.), The construction of communities in the early Middle Ages: texts, resources and artefacts (Leiden 2003), pp. 149-171.

6. Kate Cooper, The Fall of the Roman Household (2007); Karl Ubl, Inzestverbot und Gesetzgebung: Die Konstruktion eines Verbrechens (2008).

Talking about bishops in Oxford

Statue of Bishop Oliba of Vic in the Plaça de la Catedral de Vic

Statue of Bishop Oliba of Vic in the Plaça de la Catedral de Vic

There is a story, which somehow no-one told on the day I’m writing about, about Professor Richard Southern. Trying to get a colleague with a promising new research student to send her to a conference, he met with some resistance; his colleague didn’t think the student yet had anything ready to present. “Oh, come on, old boy,” Professor Southern is supposed to have expostulated, “she must have a bishop.” On 4th September 2010, there was a small conference in Oxford and I for one felt I was living up to that story by turning up with a paper about a bishop rather than ground-breaking new research. That said, he was actually an interesting bishop—there was brief discussion of how well a book called Interesting Bishops of the Tenth Century would sell, we thought it might do all right—and other people’s papers were rather more interesting than I (at first) felt mine was. The conference was called “The Clerical Cosmos: Ecclesiastical power, culture, and society, c. 900 to c. 1075“, and was capably organised by Bernard Gowers and Hannah Williams, both future colleagues which, given the standard of the conference, can only be a good thing.

I don’t have time to do the full write-up, but here is a list of the papers.

    Session 1

  • Julia Barrow, “Boy Clerics 900-1075”
  • Theo Riches, “Changing episcopal attitudes to popular belief c. 1000, as illustrated by the heresies of Châlons-sur-Marne”
  • Sarah Hamilton, “Response”
  • Session 2

  • Simon Williams, “Preachers, Rebels and Courtiers: The representation of Bishops in Liudprand of Cremona’s Antapodosis
  • Dominik Waßenhoven, “Episcopal claims and self-perception during royal successions in the Ottonian-Salian kingdom”
  • Conrad Leyser, “Response”
  • Session 3

  • Jon Jarrett, “Dilettante or Politician: Count-Bishop Miró of Girona (970-984) and his intellectual cosmos”
  • Richard Allen, “Before Lanfranc. The career of Mauger, Archbishop of Rouen (1037-1054/5), reconsidered”
  • John Nightingale, “Response”
  • General Response

    Given by Henry Mayr-Harting

All of these deserved note in their various ways. Dr Barrow as ever covered considerable ground and had more evidence in reserve with which to answer questions, and reminded us that as far as Isidore of Seville was concerned adolescence went on until one was [edit:twenty-eight, and youth (iuuentus) until] fifty! She also explained something I probably should have known, that there are seven grades of ordination in the Catholic Church, but that by the ninththirteenth century at least it was common to go through the first four (doorkeeper, lector, exorcist and acolyte) all at once, which is presumably what my guys were expressing when they called themselves clericus. Theo went closely into three episodes of heresy at Châlons (he hadn’t read that morning’s blog post…) that are documented only from Liègeelsewhere and that really tell us rather more about how one Liège clericvarious biographers wanted atheir heroic bishops to be seen than about the heretics.1 In the response Sarah Hamilton raised the question of whether the increased number of episcopal vitae in this period could be seen as one more index of the growing social change and ferment, thus invoking the spectre of the feudal transformation, about which I then argued fiercely with Conrad Leyser for much of lunch.2 Alex Woolf, there by strange coincidence, observed I think quite rightly that by gearing up their response to it the bishops of the early eleventh century were recognising a power to heresy, but I felt that the thing that was going on was much more socio-economic than the change of mentalities most other people saw here, a bigger population, more surplus all round and much more town-dwelling making the speed with which ideas found new adherents newly faster than the old counter-measures could defeat.

Later tenth-century manuscript page of Liutprand's Antapodosis now in Münich

Later tenth-century manuscript page of Liutprand's Antapodosis now in Münich, from Wikimedia Commons

In the second session Simon Williams continued his mission of making people take Liudprand more seriously than is generally done by making it explicit how much of the sex and gossip he lards his narrative with is directed to the main attack of the Antapodosis, eroding and ridiculing the reputation of King Berengar II by a kind of literary sleaze campaign. Dominik Waßenhoven meanwhile looked at the change in the rôle bishops took in elections in the German kingdom and suggested that it mostly arose out of disputes but could never then be removed. In his response Conrad asked a classic Timothy Reuter question, roughly, what does it do to our perspectives if Germany is taken as normal and functional rather than the countries like England and France where episodes of crisis like Magna Carta accidentally create a constitutional monarchy that the Whigs thought was the natural order. It’s a good question, though as Theo observed this is rather the core assumption of most German scholarship.

The third session had me in it. It has struck me that the most exciting way to cover my paper here might be to transcribe my marginal cue notes, so here goes, with no concession to comprehensibility:

Miró is a famous intellectual, where famous at all. Main source for him however is charters. Hard to see anyone here except through land and power, but Miró was more, we know. This has all been covered—in Catalan—his style, vocab., verse etc. but not really put into context of his life.3 Ancestry gives him independence. Brothers; mother’s regency; ascent into orders 938-947. Problems with Unifred – royalty helps? Promotion; 957 revolt. Main source disposal of forfeited land. The army episode and subsequent invisible deal with Borrell II. Back to diaconate. Donation time begins. Bait and switch at Sant Joan; very political donations, clearing it out of their lands. Sunifred dies with some warning; Miró becomes count, then a bishop dies. Girona’s problem status. Borrell’s trip to Rome; the neophyte. Bishop Miró with Bishop Godmar. Ató’s murder; Empúries connection; Miró a compromise candidate? Return to the county; careful use of title. Rome trips; reform commands. In later years concentrates on Besalú—Sant Pere de Besalú, Sants Miquel i Genís; hardly in Girona and chapter don’t seem to care much. Death and burial – in Ripoll. Church commitment continuous but sometimes drowned out in record. Must have known Gerbert when newly count. Nothing odd for a count to be patron, or to go to Rome; but reform concern (if his) and lack of children is odd; more bishop than count. A peace-maker, not warrior cleric; talks Borrell down. Writing peace too: the Ripoll consecration creates shared ancestral past for all counts –false, but who cares, or knows? Then uses this historical consensus to bind them into an immunity, their alliance replacing king and by inclusion implicitly creating Catalonia. His intellectual cosmos thus leaves marks on the ground; his thoughts have political effect. ‘Bizarre baroque’, yes, a reluctant count, an ephemeral diocesan, but politician more than dilettante even if always thinking and talking.

Man, even my short notes are long. The other paper in the session was an excellent one in which it was persuasively argued by Richard Allen that Mauger Archbishop of Rouen, son of Duke Richard II of Normandy, was removed not because of all of the myriad and scandalous failings that later chroniclers attribute to him but because of messy family politics. John Nightingale’s response to us asked whether we were in a reform age here yet or not; I thought that I personally was not, and this led to considerable discussion as to how much change in European mentalities we could justifiably really attribute to Pope Gregory VII. Even cynics such as us were inclined to think: quite a lot really. This was particularly nicely expressed in Henry Mayr-Harting’s magisterial, nay, professorial response, in which he stressed that we had chosen a period to look at in which the whole basis of clerical culture had been undergoing change. No accident there, I’m sure, and that’s probably why it was such a lively gathering.


1. Theo was first to make reference to an article that kept coming up again and again, and which would obviously be the key reference for anyone wanting to do more with these ideas, it being Timothy Reuter, “Ein Europa der Bischöfe. Das Zeitalter Burchards von Worms” in Wilfried Hartmann (edd.), Bischof Burchard von Worms 1000-1025, Quellen und Abhandlungen zur mittelrheinischen Kirchengeschichte 100 (Mainz 2000), pp. 1-28, of which an English translation is apparently forthcoming.

2. I observed to Theo after this that I didn’t seem to be able to talk to Conrad at all without falling into a fierce argument, friendly-like but still basically continuous. Theo pointed out quite neatly that it’s not just Conrad with whom I seem to do this and wondered if there could be a common factor…

3. I have since writing this remembered that Josep María Salrach did his tesí de llicençiatura on Miró Bonfill, and I haven’t read it, so it seems very likely that I am even less original than I had hoped with this perspective…

Seminary XXXVI: whence the eleventh-century reform movement?

Senate House, University of London, wherein the IHR

Senate House, University of London, wherein the IHR

As I headed for the basement of the Institute of Historical Research shortly after the Earlier Middle Ages Seminar on Wednesday 12th November, where in fact I then went and posted this all-but-complete post, I passed Magistra of Magistra et Mater on the stairs, and said unto her: “Do you want to do this one, or shall I?” And she has indeed written it up a storm, going far further into the issues than I could have done. So instead here only a short notice: on that day Conrad Leyser of Manchester University, with a small clutch of his erstwhile students in attendance too, spoke to the title: “Law, Memory and the Priestly Office in the West before the Millennium”. His basic case was to try and explain the eleventh-century reform movement through a growing professionalisation of the clergy, therefore viewing themselves as a class apart and defining themselves by standards of behaviour that became reformism. He mainly drew on ecclesiastical writing from around Rome, and John Gillingham thought there were links not made between those writers and the widespread success of the reform elsewhere, and I also thought that the crowd’s involvement wasn’t explained, although Dr Leyser managed to cite a sermon by Liutprand of Cremona that apparently spends time explaining why even if he be a bad priest he’s still holy and a vessel for the Holy Spirit, which would certainly bridge the gap. But Magistra has gone into the whole thing much better than I could, as has already been recognised by Dr Nokes’s new guest blogger in the Unlocked Wordhoard’s now-revenant Morning Medieval Miscellany, and I entreat you to follow it up.

The only other thing to note on this score is that since I originally posted the schedule the gap that was to have fallen on the 26th was lately filled by Bruce O’Brien giving a paper on language change in Anglo-Norman England. I have so much backed-up content that it was always long odds that I would post that in time to make it current information, but it causes me mild vexation for two reasons: firstly, the last time I saw him it was someone else talking about that, to wit Chris Lewis, who will probably be in attendance, and it’s just generally a bit weird to reverse all these things, and secondly that was the day before payday. So, precisely because I saw both of them in the USA I couldn’t go, as I didn’t have the train ticket money to spare. Bah. Of course by the time you read this I’ll be solvent again, but still. I don’t suppose there’s any chance of someone else blogging that one too?