Tag Archives: immunities

From the Sources XVI: a document that nearly wrecked some of my work

Since I wrote my last post, about something I found in the last stage of work on an article about Sant Pere de Casserres, that article has come back to me in proof, so even though I laid down that stub in 2018, it is evidently exactly now that I was meant to be writing about it! So, here is another post about that final stage of work on it, and it relates to that great fear of the historian, new data.

Sant Pere de Casserres, from above

Sant Pere de Casserres, from above, just to remind you

You might think, of course, that most historians, especially medievalists with our paucity of sources, would always be glad to have new data become available, and to an extent that’s true. But, when you reach the point of having assimilated everything you know there to be of significance, and of having risked doing the pattern-tracing and generalisation that constitutes interpretation and you think and hope you might be right about the past in this one area, then honestly it is a person of the strongest of character who can with equanimity face the sudden realisation that actually, there is more. It’s bad enough if you’ve set out a conclusion based on the existence of evidence; whatever pattern you’ve drawn or progression you’re depicting, it could be ruined by an outlier or contradictory piece of data, but at least you can hope that your overall findings still look plausible even if once or twice something else happened. Much worse, however, if you’ve risked an argument from silence, constructing a pattern in which the fact that something is not in the evidence is important, because then at any point it could turn up and make you look a fool; and my article partly rests on the argument that a certain document we would expect to exist was in fact never written… All we historians, maybe all academics, live in fear of the hypothetical person at a conference or seminar who might in discussion begin, “I don’t know if you’re aware, but…” (which of course means, ‘Obviously you are not aware…’) and expose the vital, contradictory, piece of evidence which destroys one’s argument. And as already discussed both long ago and recently, this article was a project on which this happened to me twice, so I was already reading the edition of the charters of the viscounts of Cardona (explained last post) with some trepidation.1 As it happens, I escaped major embarrassment on anything to do with the actual article—that document still doesn’t exist!—but there is one other document there which was a complete surprise to me and nearly made several other things I’d already said or even published elsewhere fail.2 So I thought it was worth a post, and after a few minutes looking at it I decided the only way to do it was a proper ‘from the sources’ translation. It’s, um, not easy reading, so there is a summary below. But if you want the full flavour, here it goes.3

“In the name of the Holy, Eternal and Immanent Trinity. Let nothing be held by anyone on the basis of an unknown constitution, but rather let it be known and made open to all and everyone that I, Borrell, by Grace of God Count and Marquis, son of Count Sunyer, of good memory, and also of Countess Riquilda, whose memory may God keep, and my wife Countess Ledgarda, by the highest divine clemency providing some offering for love of the divine celestial kingdom and out of fear of the pains of horrible Gehenna, do consider the weight of my sins and become very frightened of the coming Day of Judgement, and so that I may hope to acquire pleasingness to God and may come before the tribunal of Christ so as to be acquitted of those sins of mine by God’s help, having considered in my heart, for the love of God and of the congregrated Christian people, in honour of Omnipotent God and all the Saints, and have by way of generosity made over all rent and service and the bearing of all servile yoke to all the people dwelling within the limits of the castle of Montdó, which they call Tallat, for all rights which devolve to me in the aforesaid castle, and just so do I, so that it ineluctably may be free.

Therefore I wish and order that the aforesaid castle be free, with all its bounds and limits, just as King Charles or his son Louis ordered the city of Barcelona to be free by their order and indeed precept or also by the donation which the counts or inhabitants of the already-said city received from them and as it thus dwells nearby in the precepts of the Holy Father.4 These royal powers carry forward the donation of royal power, which is by my right bestowed upon or awarded to whatever persons it may be, so that it remains in my name, by such a rationale that, by this royal means a benefaction awarded in his name who should promise it remains transferred, so that his may be the power to do or judge whatever he wishes with it.

Thus I order that the already-said castle be free with all its bounds and limits just as commemorated and confirmed below, such that no count, vicar, reeve, prior, officer or procurator, nor any person greater or lesser, may by custom there seek or require nor bear off any rental service in no way, except the selfsame tithe that he offer to God, and to him whom I or my successors will ordain; and they shall equally serve in the the army against the regions of Spania in the service of me the already-said count; and if there shall arise among them contempt or a quarrel shall exist between them, let no-one by custom distrain them except before me or my successors so that everything may be emended according to the order of the Law and the precepts of the Holy Father, and just as the law of the Goths contains.5

The hill of Castelltallat, including its castle, church and the observatory

By way of a break, here’s what is under discussion, or at least its centre, the Serra de Castelltallat, including eventual church, castle and modern-day observatory (because this is also still relatively speaking nowhere). Image by Victor M. Vicente Selvas, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

The aforesaid castle in the county of Manresa, in the neighbourhoods of the Marches, whose bounds begin: from the east, on the slope, and thus it runs along the torrent and comes to the yard which was the late Guisard’s, and then it runs by the steading that was Eldrud’s, and thus it descends by the torrent and it comes to the settlement which they call Porques; and from the south clearly it ascends along the ridge which they call Centelyes and runs from the pass that was Ataulf’s and thus it runs to the ancient [sic] from the torrent of Bono and thus it ascends to the pass of Corregó and thus it runs by the pond and thus descends to the settlement which they call Luvosa and thus it runs to the stronghold; and from the west side indeed it begins at la Tuscela and climbs to the tower which was Nantovigi’s and thus it runs by the torrent of Matadeporos and reaches the dip that is called Sorba; from the part indeed around it descends by the peak of the ridge and runs by the pass that was Marwan’s and comes to the settlement that was Marwan’s and comes to the settlement that was Agela’s and thus it descends to the stronghold where that cross is which the already-said Count Sunyer of good memory had made, and it comes to the settlement which they call Mulnent and thus it reaches that stone which is at the bound of Salau and thus it descends to Fontfred and climbs by the summit of Puigros and comes to the settlement that was Daco’s and comes to the altar and thus it ends at the selfsame slope or at the pass of Figuera.

The aforesaid bounds of the already-said castle with all its neighbourhoods and with all the houses that have been built there or all those which can be built, I wish and order and hand over into the power of the inhabitants who live or shall live or shall come to live within the aforesaid bounds; let them hold this freely in their possession in quiet order, whoever God may let be able to have acquired or be going to acquire whatever it may be there or be able justly to have such things there, let them be allowed and able to have, except my own alod that I have there or may justly acquire there according to the order and precept that is described above. That none of the already-said persons shall presume to demand or bear off any rent and service and tribute from the aforesaid inhabitants or dwellers or their successors but let each one of them be free in his own power and if they choose lords let them have power to commend themselves to whomever they want of the men from my counties or other counties and not to another count.

For if I the already-said Count Borrell or any of my successors or whatever person it may be, greater or lesser, should presume to do anything or acquire any rent or bear off any tribute or to collect anything unlawful there, let this not avail but remain in all things and furthermore let him compound in bondage to the aforesaid inhabitants or dwellers five pounds of gold and furthermore let him be obliged to bear the sins of my soul and let the aforesaid castle with all its limits and bounds with all improvements remain by enough in the power of the inhabitants or dwellers intact and sound and let this scripture, pact or agreement remains firm and stable as before now and for all time.

This page, pact or agreement done in the year of the Incarnation of the Lord 982 in the 10th Indiction in the Era 1027 on the Kalends of October in the 29th year of King Lothar, son of a certain Louis.
Sig+ned Count Borrell. Sig+ned Countess Ledgarda, who have equally made this scripture of endowment or pact or agreement and asked for it to be confirmed. Sunifred SS. Sig+ned Amalric. Signed Guisad.
Sendred, judge, who wrote SS

Now, if you found that heavy going, believe me I have simplified and emended throughout to get it even into that state (and put in the paragraph breaks). The scribe, the judge Sendred, seems to have thought that ad was the only preposition of relation left in Latin, and used it for all of ab, ad, de, ex and probably others, and also blurs it with aut, at, ac and maybe more things too. This may tell us a lot about how he actually pronounced the language, but it’s not easy to follow him through it. His care about inflection and number of nouns and their agreeing adjectives is also highly variable, and his spelling is awfully inconsistent. Furthermore, he went back over the charter and corrected it even to get that far: quite a few words are added in superscript between the lines. (Features like this at least mean it is definitely an original.) So to get that translation, I have throughout had to do the exercise I sometimes advise to my students, of taking a step back from the actual grammar, deducing what it must mean to say, and then going back to see what words the scribe thought would mean that. Then there are some words I would rather not have translated: cens and its cognates, for example, which I’ve given here as ‘rent’ or ‘rental’ but which is halfway between there and ‘tax’ really, and villa which I’ve given as ‘settlement’… In short, it’s a right pain to understand, but if I have done so, then the below is a summary, from paragraph to sentence, of what’s being said:

  1. Count Borrell, and perhaps his wife Countess Ledgarda, are very afraid that he may go to Hell. So—and why this is supposed to help with that is not clear—they are conferring all the rights they hold in the castle at Montd´, known as Castelltallat, upon the inhabitants of its district.
  2. This is possible for him to do because once Charlemagne and Louis the Pious, apparently with papal backing, did the same for the inhabitants of Barcelona and that royal power now sort of falls to Borrell and a royal grant of that kind frees people utterly of obligations.
  3. That means that no public officer of any kind may henceforth make any demands on the inhabitants except tithe, which will go wherever Borrell and his successors demand, and the inhabitants must still serve in the army against al-Andalus; also, any disputes involving them must come before the count.
  4. Just to be clear where we’re talking about, here’s its boundary [about which I will say more in a moment].
  5. So everything within that is now the inhabitants’, including whatever they already have and whatever they or those who may come to live there shall have in future, which by the way still includes Count Borrell who has his own land there too, thankyou; and they can set up a lord or take whatever person they like as a lord, in Borrell’s counties or anyone else’s, but it mustn’t be a count.
  6. If anyone tries to mess with this, firstly that shouldn’t work and secondly they must also pay five pounds of gold to the inhabitants who can then go on exactly as before.
  7. And lastly the date and signatures.

Now, there is so much I could say here. It may be worth starting with the circumstances. The Muslim first minister al-Mansur had just begun making serious raids on the north of the Iberian Peninsula. The Barcelona area had already been lightly pillaged in 977, so defensive measures were by now very much on Borrell’s mind.6 The people here may have been extra aware of that, because it is very noticeable how few of the people named as neighbours of the property were in fact alive, just one of the seven named individual neighbours, it seems to me. One of the dead guys had had a tower, though, and there were two strongholds (archae) here too, so this was already a defensive landscape; maybe it just hadn’t been defensive enough… (It’s also interesting to see an Arabic name, Marwan (Marvano) among the dead estate-holders, isn’t it?) So the overall context was a need to move settlers in on attractive terms, and the terms offered were basically total indemnity from any requirements of the state except military service and loyalty to the count.

In short, this document is what would later be called a franchise. Now, there is a big collection of these from Catalonia but the editor didn’t know about this one, and if he had I think he might have needed to think again about some of his early inclusions.7 The first unimpeachably original franchise, other than this, is Borrell’s massive grant to the townsmen of Cardona of 986, very similar in some ways; it refers to earlier grants, but we don’t have them separately.8 We do have a few other things which purport to be earlier franchises, and even use that term, but they are dead dodgy, only surviving in late copies and conferring rights which we otherwise have no basis to believe even had their own names before the early eleventh century.9 Now, you may have noticed this already, but the word franchise (franchitatum), or even ‘frank’ (franca, basically tax-free), doesn’t occur here. In fact, the scribe and/or count seem to have been quite unclear as to what sort of document this actually was, using four different nouns in sets of three to cover it. I think this is because this was their first franchise, and they didn’t yet have a stable idea of what that actually meant. Borrell was trying something new here. I think this is also why we have the almost spurious pious preamble about the pains of Hell for what is not, actually, a donation to the Church; I guess that all the documents like this that Borrell or Sendred might have seen were royal ones to churches and so they thought that’s how this one needed to begin. They definitely had something like a royal precept before them, because the phrase ‘no count or vicar etc.’ comes straight from that formula-book; you can find it in many such royal documents.10

That, then, is what the weird paragraph about royal power is doing. Those who know my work well will know that this was not the only place Borrell made such claims; there is one dodgy charter of 972 which also refers to a grant of royal rights in waste lands made to one of Borrell’s ancestors, and then two of 986 in which he uses the same phrase (written by different scribes) to describe the general transfer of royal power in the area to his ancestors by some kind of grant.11 It’s bubbling up here because Borrell was effectively granting an immunity, a grant which removed an area from public jurisdiction and tied it only to the sovereign, but that was something which up till now only kings had done here; so he felt that there had to be some kind of explanation of how come that was all right for him, not a king himself, to do, and the fudge about royal rights devolving on him is what is trying to do that, made more complex by the later emergent fact that he himself was immune from this immunity and kept his property there—by which we presumably mean not that he had a holiday chalet there he sometimes popped in on, but that in this island of freedom there would still be some people who worked his land as tenants and jolly well did still pay cens and do service if demanded.12 The grant to Barcelona by Charlemagne and Louis the Pious which he mentions is unknown, meanwhile, but it’s not impossible that Borrell knew about one of Charles the Bald’s ones (and Charles also had a son called Louis, who had a son called Charles who also had a son called Louis, for heaven’s sake, so maybe I’m just wrong that it’s Charlemagne and the conqueror of Barcelona who are meant). At this point Borrell just needed a plausible legal precedent, because there wasn’t one; this had never been done by a count here before! (We could also say things similar to those I’ve said before about the clause requiring no commendation to another count; in sixty years that would be called ‘solid’ or liege homage, but at this point those concepts just didn’t exist, so other ways had to be found to say this thing.)

So, I don’t think anything I’ve said in my early work is wrong because of this document; but I wish I could have written that work with knowledge of it, because it would have deepened and made more convincing my claims there that Borrell was trying to find new ways to assert power in and manage his territories, and that when he did this he looked for ways to justify them as being old.13 He wasn’t the first person to fortify or develop these frontier areas: his grandfather and brother had made grants to Cardona before him, and we see here the cross put up by Borrell’s father Sunyer which tells us, probably, who also put those strongholds on the ridges in one of which that cross apparently stood. But for whatever reason, Borrell needed a better reason than that and wanted to make arrangements which would stick, as indeed, evidently, his predecessors’ had not. And it’s this almost-unnecessary ingenuity about how to do this, here filtered and fragmented by the good but grammatically dubious offices of the judge Sendred, that makes me so interested in Borrell as a ruler. I may not have known about this document when I first needed to; but it’s going to be part of my thinking from now on.


1. Francesc Rodríguez Bernal (ed.), Col·lecció diplomàtica de l’Archivo Ducal de Cardona (965‒1230), Diplomataris 71 (Barcelona 2016), online here.

2. It should be noted how much worse this could have gone, because it has done for at least one other. The editor’s introduction to Rodríguez, Col·lecció, describes at pp. 58-59 how he only found out about this archive just as he was finishing his thesis on, of course it would have to be, the viscounts of Cardona, and it more or less invalidated everything he’d done and meant he took three years longer to finish after a complete rewrite. It’s every Ph.D. student’s nightmare and he actually had to live it. The edition may not be enough recompense…

3. Rodríguez, Col·lecció, doc. no. 15.

4. I honestly don’t know what’s going on here, and if you can do better than I have with, “et vel ita comine morat in praecepciones Sancti Patris” then, please, offer it up! (Full Latin ibid. p. 94, and it’s online as said in n. 1 above.)

5. Actually “sicut lex gothorum continet”, just like Roger Collins’s title of yore (Roger Collins, “‘Sicut lex Gothorum continet’: law and charters in ninth- and tenth-century León and Catalonia” in English Historical Review Vol. 100 (Oxford 1985), pp. 489–512), but Collins can’t have known this document. It matters only in so far as the phrase in Collins’s title doesn’t actually occur anywhere else in his article, so I’ve always wondered what charter he got it from…

6. I can immediately cite only Philippe Sénac, Almanzor: el azote del año mil, transl. Antoni Furió (Valencia 2011), pp. 88-93. I realise it may not be on everyone’s shelves, but (thanks to the translator) it is on mine.

7. Josep M. Font Rius (ed.), Cartas de población y franquicia de Cataluna, Textos 36 (Barcelona 1969-1983), 2 vols.

8. Ibid. no. 9, but better edited as Antoni Galera i Pedrosa (ed.), Diplomatari de la Vila de Cardona (anys 966-1276): Arxiu Parroquial de Sant Miquel i Sant Vicenç de Cardona, Arxiu Abacial de Cardona, Arxiu Històric de Cardona, Arxius Patrimonials de les Masies Garriga de Bergús, Palà de Coma i Pinell, Diplomataris 15 (Barcelona 1998), doc. no. 7, and see also Rodríguez, Col·lecció, doc. no. 18. On it see Victor Farías, “Guerra, llibertat i igualitarisme a la frontera” in Josep Maria Salrach (ed.), La formació de la societat feudal, segles VI-XII, 2nd ed. (Barcelona 1998), pp. 112–113.

9. Especially Àngel Fàbrega i Grau (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Barcelona: documents dels anys 844-1260, Fonts documentals 1 (Barcelona 1995), 1 vol only, doc. nos 108 & 123 (= Font Rius, Cartas, nos 7 & 8), clearly related and both purportedly given by Bishop Vives of Barcelona in 974 and 977. Fàbrega was inclined to accept the latter one, but I’m not sure why!

10. Those are of course all edited in Ramon de Abadal i de Vinyals, Catalunya carolíngia volum II: Els diplomes carolingis a Catalunya, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica 1 & 2 (Barcelona 1926-1952), 2 vols, repr. in facsimile as Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica 75 (Barcelona 2007), 2 vols, and examples therein would be Ripoll I, Sant Pere de Rodes I and Urgell III, spanning 835 to 935, and a similar formula not mentioning counts specifically in Albanya I (the very first document in it), Amer II, Amer V, Arles II, Arles IV, Banyoles II, Barcelona II, Camprodon I, Cuixà I, Elna III, Girona II, Girona VII & Sant Genís les Fonts I, in other words almost everywhere for a century, well into Borrell’s own times.

11. Esp. Jonathan Jarrett, “Caliph, King, or Grandfather: Strategies of Legitimization on the Spanish March in the Reign of Lothar III” in The Mediaeval Journal Vol. 1 no. 2 (Turnhout 2011), pp. 1–22 at pp. 9-11.

12. It is worth mentioning here that removing everyone from power relations with the recipient of such a grant except yourself was not necessarily a strategy of weakness, and may indeed have been what immunities were usually about—see Barbara H. Rosenwein, Negotiating Space: Power, Restraint, and Privileges of Immunity in Early Medieval Europe (Ithaca NY 1999), with appropriate consideration—but Borrell was levering off everyone above him as well as below him, which might have been a bit different. But it’s the whole sovereign paradox thing, isn’t it, that the granter of an immunity could choose to immunise people even to his own authority by which they held their immunity…

13. It’s yet another slight blow to Jonathan Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), for example, where pp. 117-118 & 130 would now look a bit different, not least because I think I’d have now to admit that the first bit is arguing from a charter that’s at least part forgery.

Immune from criticism

When I wrote this at the end of August 2013 I had just finished reading one of the very many books I really should have read a long time ago, partly because I’ve owned it since 2008 or something but mainly because of the number of people who told me I should during my doctoral work. The book is Barbara Rosenwein’s Negotiating Space, and I can’t help feeling I may have missed something.1

Cover of Barbara Rosenwein's Negotiating Space

Cover of that selfsame book

Professor Rosenwein writes agreeably and sets out an interesting stall by beginning with the old adage that ‘an Englishman’s house is his castle’ by way of instancing the idea of legal immunity, a position or extent within which the law cannot reach you. By the time of the adage, this could be claimed as a general right, but obviously ’twas not ever thus and in the period with which this blog is usually concerned, immunity was more something you got for your properties from local authorities, who by excluding themselves and their subordinates from your jurisdiction effectively made you lord of all you could claim in the limits they’d given you. Now, absolutely there has been a lot of stuff and nonsense hung off this idea, in which kings mortgaged away their rights for immediate support and weakened the state in consequence, and Professor Rosenwein goes a long way to showing, in the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth centuries in Francia and the tenth in Italy, how this need not have been so, because going to ask for such a concession as well as being awarded one bound one tightly into a relationship with the issuer, to whom after all one would have to look to make it official. As Professor Rosenwein points out, the Carolingians made this explicit by linking such grants with their protection, placing the recipients under heavy responsibilities towards the kings if they wished that protection to be useful. That is all good, and it probably needed saying in 1999.

Royal immunity charter of King Charles the Simple for the abbey of Sant Joan de Ripoll

If I have such a thing as a favourite immunity it’s probably this one, King Charles the Simple’s 899 grant to Abbess Emma and Sant Joan de Ripoll

It may indeed be that the take-up of this book was just so rapid and thorough that, as with so many things although this time second-hand, I’ve met so many people using this work that I no longer find these ideas surprising.2 It may instead be that it doesn’t surprise me because it is an argument cognate with that that says that royal grants were made mostly because people asked for them, not because the king bestowed them at whim, and that any grant thus represents a successful and plurilateral negotiation concluded.3 But I can’t help feeling that it is also not surprising because it’s almost the only commonality that Professor Rosenwein was able to draw out of her material beyond the obvious one that what immunities were changed all the time and varied with each use. The extreme malleability of this political tool makes it hard to characterise and I felt at many points that paragraphs slipped from one definition to another rather than actually joining them up.4

Einsiedeln, Klosterarchiv Einsieden A BI 1, a confirmation of privuleges and immunity to the house from Emperor Otto I, 947

One has to admit that this is a bit more splendid, though, and not just because the seal is still attached. This is Emperor Otto I to the monastery of Einsiedeln, 947, Klosterarchiv Einsieden A BI 1.

It seems to me, from fourteen years down the line and benefitting from a lot of people’s thought about what the early medieval charter was actually for of course, that this may be a category error of sorts. Professor Rosenwein, when she wrote this book, clearly saw immunities as a category: she has appendices of exemplary ‘immunity’ documents, the whole book assumes that immunity is a diplomatic or legal thing that ranks alongside sale, donation, and so forth. Yet it seems to me that it is not so, that it is rather part of those categories. A royal precept of the kind I’m used to, which is to say, Carolingian, might include immunity, but that would be only one clause of several, and a grant of property without immunity would not look any different; you’d have to read it before you knew whether the special category applied.5 It would be late on in the document, too, after the goods had been conceded, described and all the rest, and there would be goods, even if they were only being confirmed rather than given. One could be forgiven, I think, for thinking that the goods were the main act and immunity only an aftershow. In fact one of the few things that would follow it apart from signatures might be the grant of free elections to a monastery (as in the Ottonian privilege above), often travelling with the privilege of immunity but not always. We don’t speak of election grants; why then does immunity need to stand separately from the donations and confirmations of which it always formed part in this period?6


1. B. H. Rosenwein, Negotiating Space: power, restraint, and privileges of immunity in early medieval Europe (Ithaca 1999, repr. 2000).

2. I didn’t get all of it second–hand, in fact: part of the lack of surprise may be coming from my having already read Rosenwein, “Property transfers and the Church, eighth to eleventh centuries. An overview ” in François Bougard (ed.), “Les transferts patrimoniaux en Europe occidentale, VIIIe-Xe siècle (I). Actes de la table ronde de Rome, 6, 7 et 8 mai 1999″ in Mélanges de l’École française de Rome: Moyen Âge Vol. 111 (Rome 1999), pp. 563-575 of pp. 487-972, online here, coming out of the same research.

3. Mark Mersiowsky, “Towards a Reappraisal of Carolingian Sovereign Charters” in Karl Heidecker (ed.), Charters and the Use of the Written Word in Medieval Society, Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy 5 (Turnhout 2000), pp. 15-25; of course that was already obvious to Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals, Els Primers Comtes Catalans, Biografies catalanes: sèrie històric 1 (Barcelona 1958, repr. 1980), since the Carolingian kings could not easily affect Catalonia for most of the time that area sought such documents from them, and thus to me who read Abadal long before I did Merswiowsky.

4. This may of course be my fault, for reading it in dribs and drabs and always while soaking up enough morning caffeine to function. I can’t help feeling that the fact that the book acknowledgedly (p. iv) reuses material from six separate previous article-length publications, none apparently wholly or unedited, probably also contributes to this feeling of conceptual and syntactical cæsura it gave me.

5. The ones I’m used to are of course most specifically the ones to Catalonia, edited together in Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia II: els diplomes carolingis a Catalunya, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica 2 & 3 (Barcelona 1926-1952), repr. as Memòries… 75 (2009).

6. Possibly different in Merovingian or post-Carolingian periods but Rosenwein, Negotiating Space, pp. 81-89 and 144-146 suggest that she had trouble with the refusal of rulers then to stick to her category. See esp. p. 145: “The word ‘immunitas’ does not appear in this charter. Nevertheless, the phrases are clearly patterned on an immunity….”

What’s in an immunity?

Cover of Wendy Davies & Paul Fouracre, Property and Power in Early Medieval Europe

A recent arrival in the “what do you mean you’ve never read that?” category is the second volume of essays by the Bucknell group, Property and Power in Early Medieval Europe edited by Wendy Davies and Paul Fouracre. I should of course have read it, and now I am doing, and straight away it is throwing up things to think about. First up, immunities. The introduction, by Chris Wickham and Timothy Reuter, has some quite interesting stuff about immunities. What is an immunity, I hear you ask, being quietly confident that I mean something other than resistance to the Black Death? Well, I’ll try and explain without being boring. Give me a moment to pep myself up here… Okay.

An immunity, in this sense, is a concession you get from the king that means that the property to which it applies no longer pays tax or renders to him, or has to answer to his judicial officials, who may or may not be his direct servants or the local nobility’s acting in the king’s name. (Maybe there’s no difference most of the time.) As those proceeds are no longer going to the king, the immunist keeps them, and though there may be exclusions (Anglo-Saxon grants almost always reserve work on bridges, guard service in fortresses and hospitality to royal messengers, for example, the so-called trinoda necessitas) it’s not a bad little earner. It is also, as Wickham and Reuter pointed out, basically for the Church. There is an argument that says that when so little of the documentation used by lay people survives, we wouldn’t necessarily have these, of course, but as a paper I hope to have out soon arguing with another in Early Medieval Europe shows, I think, even where we do have royal concessions of this general sort to laymen, they don’t look the same as Church immunities.

Where I start to have to differ from Wickham and Reuter is in their subtle argument that, whereas concessions like this are usually seen as weakness on the part of the king, who is effectively granting away his right to rule an area entirely, they should actually be seen as evidence of the closeness of the beneficiary to the king. What’s the point, they argue, of getting a concession that frees you from the intervention of royal agents, if royal agents are no longer working? Why do you go to the king at all if that’s the situation? So actually immunities are a reliance on the king for protection, they say, and that sounds quite convincing, doesn’t it? Except. That.

We get lots of these concessions in Catalonia, till late on. The last royal document to Catalonia is from 986, the year before Louis V, last monarch of the Carolingian line, dies and hands over the realm, inadvertantly, to the Capetians. By then, no Carolingian ruler has been to Spain for 179 years. None has even come as far south as the other side of the Pyrenees for nearly a century. The Carolingians no longer appoint the counts of Catalonia, they’ve been succeeding en famille since 898. The last Catalan count to come to court is Guifré of Besalú in 954, when he needs royal approval to help him with deposing a local viscount, but before that, none had done so since perhaps 891, or maybe 882, and if you would rather a date of which we’re certain, since 878. There are no signs of royal vassals still working in the area; Josep Maria Salrach suspects that the last ones rebel in 957 and get bloodily suppressed. So by 986 any royal concession to Catalonia is a dead letter, and has arguably been for some time; the kings cannot make things happen here. It certainly doesn’t show any closeness to the king or the court; they send people, or sometimes just letters to get these things, but that’s the only time they show up at court, and the king can expect nothing from them. So what’s the point?

It could be argued that having a royal diploma, even if it’s no practical use, is a status play, makes you look important, ancient, deeply established, and thus may profit your house indirectly. But it may actually be more direct use than that. You see, it does seem that though there is no reason for the counts to pay any attention to these things, they do actually do so. Evidence of this comes from a series of nine immunities issued to the cathedral of Girona between 816 and 922, because their content changes. In one they claim fifty per cent of the toll from the city of Girona; in the next they’ve ratcheted it down to a third. If you can’t actually make good on the claim at all, why would you bother? This must be a negotiation with the counts: “Nay, Bishop Guiu, ‘enutritus in aula‘ thee may ‘ave been, but tharen’t ‘avin’ all that. A third’s what we let tha predecessor ‘ave and that’ll ‘ave to do for thee. Now then.” So these documents are worth having; but only because the counts respect them, even though there’s nothing the king could do if they chose not to.1 Now as to why that is, well, that’s a different paper. Give me a few months :-)

P. .S. They also point out, elsewhere in the introduction, that the sort of concepts of property I was struggling with the lack of in my documents a while ago belong to Classical Roman law and seem to have dropped out of Vulgar law. If this means I need to read Roman law to finish that paper idea I may have second thoughts…


1. The precise cite for the paper in question here is C. Wickham & T. Reuter, “Introduction” in Wendy Davies & Paul Fouracre (eds), Property and Power in the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge 1995), pp. 1-16. As that emerged the now-standard work on Frankish immunities was in press, and it is Barbara H. Rosenwein, Negotiating Space: power, restraint and privileges of immunity in early medieval Europe (Ithaca 1999), but I’ve never yet quite worked out how to fit what she says into my thinking. On these documents specifically and especially the Girona case, there is an excellent article which is almost impossible to get hold of, but I give you the reference anyway: Ramon Martí, “La integració a l’«alou feudal» de la seu de girona de les terres beneficiades pel «règim dels hispans». Els casos de Bàscara i Ullà, segles IX-XI” in J. Portella i Comas (ed.), La Formació i Expansió del Feudalisme Català: actes del col·loqui organitzat pel Col·legi Universitari de Girona (8-11 de gener de 1985). Homenatge a Santiago Sobrequés i Vidal, Estudi General: revista del Col·legi Universitari de Girona, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona Nos. 5-6 (Girona 1986), pp. 49-63 with Castilian summary p. 530, French summary p. 543 & English summary p. 556. Ramon Martí is another of those whose articles generally deserve a reprint volume. Anyway, there you are.