Tag Archives: lolhistorian

There then followed a period of seminar fail: notes of what might have been

As the second week of term dawned here I organisationally ploughed into the dirt somewhat, and started missing things I’d wanted to go to. The first lecture was probably an active factor here, but I was very much struggling to work out a daily routine that would let me actually get incidental things done as well as routine ones, and to be honest I still am. It’s not much of a post to say what I missed, but I just want to take stock, avoid any expectations of particular seminar reports and beg for notes or guest entries from anyone who made them, I guess.

Dedication stone of Lyminge Abbey

Dedication stone of Lyminge Abbey

I did not make it to Gabor Thomas presenting at the Medieval Archaeology Seminar here on 18th October, which was a pity as Gabor is a man who can make strap-ends interesting so to hear what he’d do with material like, “Recent excavations at Lyminge: settlement, community and conversion in the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Kent”. If anyone made it to this and would be able to spare a few short words, that would be great, though the project website is a start at least. I did have quite a good reason for not making it to this, though, and we’ll come to that next post.

Gold aureus of Emperor Commodus in the Government Museum, Chennai (Madras)

Gold aureus of Emperor Commodus in the Government Museum, Chennai (Madras)

Likewise, I did not make it down to hear my erstwhile quasi-colleague and friend, I think, yes! friend, Rebecca Day presenting to the Royal Numismatic Society on the 19th October, because I was lecturing the next day, but she has been kind enough to send me a text of her paper, “Late Roman and Byzantine gold coins in the Madras Government Museum – fashion, imitation and the economics of religious devotion”, and I can tell you that it includes, by way of passing reference or deeper exploration, Roman obsession with Indian food, early medieval Indian faking of Roman gold coins (some of which were then exported to China!), 6th-century Tamil poetry and 9th-century Byzantine flat-earthism, which is I reckon a reasonable amount of bang for the aureus. I can say more about this if you would like, and if she doesn’t mind, but I hope and assume that it will be published.

Obverse of a silver penny of King Æthelred the Unready

Obverse of a silver penny of King Æthelred the Unready

Then the next day I didn’t make it to London again, this time for Professor Simon Keynes, presenting the David Wilson Lecture for the Joint Institute of Archaeology and British Museum Medieval Archaeology seminar and the Institute of Historical Research Earlier Middle Ages seminar, on “The Archaeology of Æthelred the Unready”, and although I have been hoping notes might appear on the Cambridge ASNC Department’s blog, as yet no such luck. I actually saw Professor Keynes a few days later at a meeting of the Sylloge of Coins of the British Isles/Medieval European Coinage committee, on which I now have the honour to serve (which means it’s my fault once more, though it’s not my fault the webpage hasn’t been updated any more…), and he said there was no text, as such, and that may be why. Still, again, I’d welcome comments from anyone who was there and feels able to offer them.

1548 woodcut of John Wyclif

1548 woodcut of John Wyclif, the original Lollard

Between Professor Keynes and Dr Thomas that was two of the more relevant things to what I’m teaching that I might have gone to, and I didn’t, so it was ironic that the next thing I did make it to was Alexander Russell presenting at the Medieval History seminar here on 25th October, to the title, “England’s Involvement with the General Councils of the Church, 1409-1449”, which was I think not something I myself can use, though there were lots of interested questions from others and it was certainly interesting of itself. I’ve expressed uncertainty about whether I should cover these here already, however, and I think that I won’t this one, as it’s far enough out of my period that I feel under-qualified and also I don’t think the speaker would expect or necessarily welcome it. But I was at least reminded that I should really know more about Lollards if I’m going to go round doing things like this.1

So, I offer those mainly as points of discussion. Blogging will resume with the standard ridiculous self-promotion and then with a pedagogical question for those of you in the USA, and finally a proper IHR seminar report such as is expected by the readers of what I have now heard called “your improving blog”, and readers, he meant it transitively. I am not sure this post will have improved you much but, if not, better luck soon!


1. If you feel an urge to say something like O HAI CEILING LORD CAN HAZ FREE WULL PLZ at this point, at least provide the accompanying macro. (And if you have no idea what I mean, you may as well start with the big one

Your guide to Jarrett-spotting at Leeds, and blogger meet-up

Yes! Never mind the usual namby-pamby whining. It has occurred to me that I have said that I will buy drinks for, apologise to, pass references to or generally try and find quite a number of fellow bloggers at the upcoming International Medieval Congress at Leeds. Some of these bloggers are anonymous or pseudonymous, and in one extreme case blogless. In several of these cases I have no idea what they look like and can only guess at gender of presentation. Rather than hit up a load of internet denizens for a/s/l and a photo, therefore, it seems like a better idea to make it clear who I am and then those reading can pick me out of a crowd and/or stay well clear as they see fit.

However, before we get to that, the ever-redoutable Magistra et Mater has suggested that, since between us she and I know of nine bloggers who will be there, some of whom are mutual friends, we should at least try and organise some kind of social, and she has posted to this effect. Plans to do this in some far-off location where anonymity might be protected are however hampered by the fact that the IMC venue is a good few miles from anywhere, that I’m presenting Tuesday morning and that at least one other blogger is running something Tuesday evening, while Monday evening is a bit crowded and Wednesday is the dance. So, one idea, which is open to modification over the next week, is for me to be in the Stables pub at Weetwood, which is likely to offer more privacy than the Bodington bar as well as better beer, from 20:30 on the Tuesday, and those that wish can find me there in whatever name or capacity they choose, and there will be bloggers other than myself but I’m not saying who. And if this isn’t guarantee enough, comment with contact details or a link to some and I’ll transmit you my mobile phone number so that you can double-check if we seem to be missing, or you want to know that we’re not doing shots of something dreadful with your chief rival or whatever. My e-mail can be found on this page (N. B. at Leeds I can only check this one, not any other you may have for me) so that should also work. Come gather!

However, for you to find me in the bar or wherever, you need to recognise me. Of course there have been pictures of me on the blog before, but as two carefully-chosen examples illustrate, the configuration of my hair varies over time so current information seems wise. Here, then, are four of the versions of the Jarrett most likely to be observed at Leeds this year, modulo a suit or similar in place of the Bevis Frond t-shirt:

'I'm sorry, I don't believe I know you.'


'Ah! sorry, I was afraid you might be a crazy person from the Internet.'


'Well, I for one would question that reading of the text...'


'Are you caffeine? If not, please step aside.'

I think that covers all the major possibilities, and may indeed save you most of the bother of actually conversing with me! Otherwise, perhaps see you shortly…

Confused over Cluny: a pre-Leeds charters rant

Bits of my Leeds paper are crowding in my head wanting to be written, and I don’t yet have anything like all the data assembled to do it (though if forced I could probably assemble a text tonight). What better tactic, then, but to offload some of the brain-twisting here?

The Leeds sessions that I and my collaborators run hit their third year this year; they’re called ‘Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Diplomatic’. The idea is to show firstly that charter evidence is subtle and complicated to interpret, and secondly what you can learn when you do interpret it carefully: the first bit is problems, and the second possibilities. Everyone else’s papers seem to be about the possibilities, and mine much more about the problems. It’s not that I don’t have stuff to say on the basis of my charters, as you know, but for Leeds, when I have a charter-savvy group to work in, I get much more interested in the basic questions we often forget to ask, of why we have the evidence, why it looks the way it does, whether what they were recording was real or just formulae, and so on, the basic text criticism and the methodology of it. And this leads me this year, heavens help me, to be messing with the charters of Cluny.

A twelfth-century bifolium of a cartulary recording an 842 act of Charles the Bald for Burgundy

You see, last year when I was putting together this proposal, there obviously seemed to be all the time in the world, and so I cast about for diplomatic ideas, and came up with this. We know, and if we didn’t the work from the Lay Archives project would make it clear,1 that many charters exist in archives that appear to have had no interest in preserving them. By and large, of course, a Church archive preserves documents that relate to that church’s lands and donors, and this is most of what we have, but wherever the sample opens up a bit, things leak into preservation that don’t easily fit that scheme. Traditionally, these have been explained as background for donations that occurred later but whose documents have been lost, and that obviously has problems: why did they lose the important one and not the legacy one, why didn’t anyone throw out the useless one? Recently a couple of the people in the Lay Archives group, Warren Brown from his work on Bavaria and Adam Kosto from the Catalan stuff, have been suggesting that actually churches were functioning as kind of depositories, substituting in this way for the old Roman gesta municipalia but also just because the charters in question would often have been written by the local clerics anyway and might as well stay where they could be read. Adam also argues that whole lay dossiers of parchments were sometimes given into the care of the church in difficult times, and that does seem to be what’s necessary to explain the wealth of Church-irrelevant documents in Catalonia, where we know (because some of them still exist) that lay archives were kept.2

For some time this has seemed problematic to me. As with a lot that Adam writes, it’s so close to what I think that I find it hard to articulate my difference, but it seems to me that when a body of charters reaches a Church archive, it often does so because someone who has inherited or acquired the land to which they relate is now giving it to the Church. That is, both explanations were sometimes true at once: there are lay dossiers, and they’re given to the Church with land. But sometimes these dossiers include documents that are nothing to do with the land. So, for example, the first case of this I came across: there are in the Arxiu Capitular d’Urgell six charters from the late ninth century that feature a judge called Goltred. Five of them are purchases of land that eventually come to the cathedral, classic transmission if you will. The sixth however is a trial over which he presided, in which one man was set to pay compensation for breaking into another man’s house, beating him with a cudgel (the document makes it clear that part of why this was so bad is that it was the victim’s own cudgel) and then kidnapping and keeping him prisoner in a neighbour’s house for a week. Frustratingly, why the perpetrator did this is never explained, though the document does say he claimed it was done in self-defence! But anyway: the compensation is monetary, though paid in produce; no land is involved, and neither does the cathedral of Urgell feature.3 So I think the only reason that we have this is that one of the documents that came out of this trial went to the judge, by way of record, and when he finally gave his lands to the cathedral, they shunted all his parchments into the cathedral archive and no-one looked at them for about 1,800 years. Preservation by neglect, I call this, and I think there’s a lot of it.

The abbey of Cluny as it appears today, from Wikimedia Commons

Anyway, we have paradigms, they need testing, and this is where Cluny comes in. There are certain places where the charters preserved predate the actual archive institution’s existence. In Catalonia most places have one or two from ‘before’, and pinning the reason they’re there down is very hard because the string is so short. Four charters at Vic feature an extraordinarily long-lived Viscount called Franco, who seems to have ruled the mini-county of Berguedà in apparent independence. All of the charters are purchases, he doesn’t appear anywhere else, two of them predate Vic’s refoundation in about 885, two of them don’t.4 The lands didn’t identifiably come to Vic, and the only explanation that I can think of is that they were stored at some church in Berguedà of which the cathedral of Vic later acquired control. There’s no proof though. So I wanted to look elsewhere and see what the trends of this preservation are where we’ve got more of it. And there’s nowhere with more than Cluny.

Cluny is a desperately important abbey for most of the High Middle Ages, but in early medieval terms it’s a latecomer, being founded only in 910. Its charter corpus, however, starts in 813, almost a century before, which obviously needs some explanation. I don’t have one, except that so much exists from Cluny, many thousands of charters (almost all of which now exist only in scholarly copies, but that’s the Franco-Prussian war for you), that it seems unlikely they ever really went through weeding the archive: once something came there it stayed. There is a classic edition of Cluny’s charters, but it never reached the index volume, so up till now really working with them has been difficult.5 Now, however, the various projects on Cluny being run from the University of Münster have resulted in a digital transcription of that edition, if you know where to look. So I have been steadily databasing this early stuff, and searching through the files trying to find out why they wind up with Cluny. (“Stand back! I know regular expressions!”)

It’s extremely frustrating. Sometimes they’re just singletons, neither place nor recipient ever seem to turn up again. They may well do, of course, because places change names and landholders bequeath stuff without writing it down but a broken trail is little better than no trail in this particular inquiry. As one advances towards foundation date, the trails get easier to follow, but even so one is often left going: “there’s the land in 880; here’s land in the same villa in 910 that seems to be bounded by the same geography in a couple of edges, but it’s bigger, and if it contains the same estate, if, how it got from Adalramn to this Ardeo geezer is just impossible to say”. They don’t name their parents, they don’t say how they got the land, you’re just stuck with this magic lantern now-you-see-and-now-you-don’t situation when you can see it at all. I’ve got some good cases where it does work out, and especially the royal ones are almost always really simple; this precept is here because the relevant estate is in the hands of the monastery via this person one generation later, sorted. But I’ve also got quite a lot just marked “no clues!”

All the same, I’ve got enough to work with; and I also have the monastery of Beaulieu, whose early preservation is basically one neat example piece of an aristocratic personal archive – but if you want to know more about that you should come and hear the paper.6 I have to leave something in the bag :-)

P. S. Here we see an instance of the phenomenon I realised while leaving a comment at The Rebel Letter; I never seem to doubt that someone will be interested in this stuff. After all, I’m interested; I can hardly be alone in this in a net population of however many numbers-with-many-zeroes…


1. I live in hope that some day the Lay Archives Project will actually publish something, but at the time of writing there is nothing that I can announce. For the opposite case, stressing the way institutions profile memory and record according to its use to them, see Patrick J. Geary, Phantoms of Remembrance: remembering and forgetting in the tenth and eleventh centuries (Princeton 1985).

2. Warren Brown, “When documents are destroyed or lost: lay people and archives in the early Middle Ages” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 11 (Oxford 2002), pp. 337-366; Adam J. Kosto, “Laymen, Clerics and Documentary Practices in the Early Middle Ages: the example of Catalonia” in Speculum Vol. 80 (Cambridge MA 2005), pp. 44-74. Professor Brown’s work makes the more careful case that actually this only happened with big families storing their documents at their own foundations, but in areas that were more ‘document-minded’, as Julia Smith would have it (Europe After Rome: a new cultural history, 400-1000 (Oxford 2005), pp. 13-50, concept introduced pp. 45-46) it’s much lower-level than that, as I think this paper will partly show.

3. Cebrià Baraut (ed.), “Els documents, dels segles IX i X, conservats a l’Arxiu Capitular de la Seu d’Urgell” in Urgellia: anuari d’estudis històrics dels antics comtats de Cerdanya, Urgell i Pallars, d’Andorra i la Vall d’Aran Vol. 2 (Montserrat 1979), pp. 78-143, doc. nos 19, 22, 24, 25, 26 & 27; the hearing is doc. no. 24.

4. Eduard Junyent i Subirà (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic (Segles IX-X), ed. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (Vic 1980-1996), doc. nos 1, 5, 7 & 138.

5. This difficulty has not prevented some genuinely important work being done from them, most obviously Georges Duby, La Société aux XIe et XIIe siècles dans le region mâconnaise, Bibliothèque de l’École Pratique des Hauts Études, VIe section (Paris 1953, 2nd edn. 1971), repr. in Qu’est-ce que c’est la Féodalisme (Paris 2001) (of which pp. 155, 170-172, 185-195, 230-245 transl. Frederick L. Cheyette as “The Nobility in Eleventh- and Twelfth-Century Mâconnais” in idem (ed.), Lordship and Community in Medieval Europe: selected readings (New York 1968), pp. 137-155) and Barbara H. Rosenwein, To Be The Neighbor of Saint Peter: the social meaning of Cluny’s property, 909-1049 (Ithaca 1989). The charters are edited in Auguste Bernard & Alexandre Bruel (edd.), Recueil des chartes de l’abbaye de Cluny (Paris 1876-1900), 6 vols, of which all the material I’m using is in vol. I.

6. Or just have at the charters yourself I suppose: the relevant edition is Maximin Deloche (ed.), Cartulaire de l’Abbaye de Beaulieu (en Limousin) (Paris 1859) and it’s free to download on Google Books.


Edit: it has been suggested to me that the questions here are hard to understand for non-specialists. Therefore, I have created this summary for the neophytes of diplomatic criticism:

ZOMG I r fust lolhistorian

It would seem that I is less-than-serious historian, at least to the outside viewer…

I ar lolhistorian

And I wouldn’t post this necessarily, except that right now it seems that ‘lolhistorian’ is absent from the readily-searchable web:

Look no Google!

So if any further proof were needed of my academic originality, there, surely, it is.

No actually I have been really busy. Honest.


If, by some chance, you have no idea what I’m talking about, may I humbly suggest you go back to your Chaucer?