Tag Archives: Michael Clanchy

Historians to remember

It is a distressing habit that seems to be developing on this blog where it is deaths that bring me out of a hiatus. Of course, there would be no such habit if there were no hiatuses, but the times are not good for that. Maybe that will get more explanation next post, whenever I can do that, but in the meantime, I shouldn’t go the whole holiday and post nothing, even if what must be posted is kind of awful. It is also delayed: this has been on my deck since February, when news of one significant death reached me and the person who’d told me then let me know about the five other major medievalists the reaper had claimed the previous month, and there were such among them that I knew I would have to write something next post instead of whatever I had planned. And finally, here we are.

My rules for giving someone an obituary on this blog are not very worked out. In general it is because, whether I knew them or not, their work has touched mine somehow or been the foundation of something I’ve done. In this, I persist in the blog’s basically self-serving purpose that it’s all about me somehow, I suppose, but to be fair, if I reported on deaths even of people I didn’t have much connection with, firstly it’d become a pretty grim blog and secondly I’d hardly be able to say much of use about them. Thus it is that I will not be saying more here about the late Jean-Marie Martin, leading expert on the society of the Italian area of Apulia on its journey from Byzantine through Lombard, Arab and Norman rules, or Jean Richard, eminent historian of the Crusades, than those notices, except to observe that apparently Richard, whose work I’ve put on many a reading list without myself giving it the attention it surely deserved, was only two weeks short of his hundredth birthday, and to provide links under their names to places where you can read more.1

Giles Constable, photographed by Randall Hagadorn

Giles Constable, photographed by Randall Hagadorn for Princeton’s Institute of Advanced Study

Then come two about whom I have more to say, but still did not know. Firstly, Giles Constable, 91 at his death, and by that stage he had been Professor of Medieval History at Harvard and Princeton’s Institute of Advanced Study, serving between times as Director of the Dumbarton Oaks Library and Research Collection in Washington DC, despite having been born in London. His was so productive a career it would hard to sum it up, and sufficiently long that I currently work with a doctoral grand-pupil of his. Wikipedia currently singles out his work on the key Benedictine reform abbey of Cluny, which I wrote about here long ago, on its abbot Peter the Venerable, a major figure in European theology and religious and intellectual life, and on twelfth-century thought in general, and certainly when making reading lists on Cluny or the twelfth-century Renaissance, I have always made sure as recent a dose of Constable as I could find was in there. That’s mostly because of reading bits of his work as an undergraduate myself, and finding that it carefully and clearly opened window after window on my understanding of the world he described.2 But what I still mainly cite him for is a short and brilliant article that did a similar thing for my understanding of the motivation of medieval monastic forgers, and sometimes for his work on monasteries’ claims to Church tithes, both of which are in that category of things which people still cite from decades ago because no-one has written a better thing on the subject.3 He seems to still have been working up to about 2016, at which point he’d have been 85 or so; may we all hope for so much…

Ronnie Ellenblum

Ronnie Ellenblum, from his Academia.edu page, which of course, does not record his death

Not active for as long, because only 68 when struck by a fatal heart attack, was Professor Ronnie Ellenblum. A more controversial figure, whom again I never met, every one of Ellenblum’s books seemed to upset a consensus, on how involved Frankish settlers were in the landscapes of the Holy Land where the Crusades brought some of them, on how much those Crusaders were willing to learn from their Muslim opponents in terms of fortifications and strategy (rather than the other way round), and more recently and noticeably, on the power of climate change to tip societies’ survivability over the edge.4 All of this, as you can probably tell, was born out of a deep acquaintance and close contact with the land in his native Israel. He also taught at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which by itself put him beyond some people’s pales. I did not know about that issue when, as was recorded here, I read a short piece of his that was effectively the entire impetus of my Rethinking the Medieval Frontier project, but that was, in a more direct way than usual, his fault; from my wrangling with that book chapter came all the conversations that brought the agenda for that project into being.5 If I had ever met him, I’d have thanked him for that, as well as being embarrassed about how little the project yet had to show for itself; now I will never be able to.

Cyril Mango at the American School at Athens

Cyril Mango at the American School at Athens

Then we reach the ones I did in fact know, at least a bit. The death whose news sparked off the exchange I reported above was that of the one I knew less well, Professor Cyril Mango. I met him twice, I think, at the Medieval History Seminar at All Soul’s College Oxford both times, and when I say met, I mean sat at a table while he talked, or while his wife Marlia Mundell Mango talked for him because, even then, he was very ill. Farflung Byzantinist colleagues would ask me if Cyril Mango was still alive when they were in contact with me for completely other reasons, so widely known was this, but the news was important because he truly was a ‘giant in the field‘, who had been responsible perhaps more than any other single scholar—and there really weren’t many in this competition when he began—for bringing the history and culture of the Byzantine Empire into a wider Anglophone awareness. This was not because he was a populariser, though I don’t think he had any shame about writing for a public, but because despite being extremely learned in his subject matter he remained able to communicate it to outsiders whilst still being recognised by insiders. The result was that, if someone in the UK owned one book not by John Julius Norwich about Byzantium, Mango was probably either the author or a contributor, but also that if one went on to study Byzantium, he was in all the experts’ references too.6 The field has been oddly quiet about his departure from it, perhaps because it had been expected for so long, and I’m sure there are people from his 92-year-long life who could give him a better write-up than I can—indeed, several already have—but for now I hope this does him at least some justice.

[The only pictures of Professor Michael Clanchy I can find which show him as I remember him are attached to things written by his daughter about his death, which was apparently preceded very narrowly by his wife’s, and they’re painful reading and I would feel bad stealing the pictures. The obituaries linked below have pictures of him in happier times.]

And then lastly, and for me saddest because I knew him best, there was Michael Clanchy. Since he worked mostly in the same kind of fields as Giles Constable, and especially on the intellectual ferment around the creation of the first university in Paris and one of that ferment’s principal products, the philosopher, theologian and leading candidate for history’s worst boyfriend Peter Abelard, you might wonder why I knew Michael Clanchy at all, and then be surprised at how many papers of his, including one (before the blog) which was both his inaugural and retirement lecture, I’d been to. But, investigating, you would quickly then discover that that lecture was given at the Institute of Historical Research in London, one of my academic homes, and although he really only tuned in the eleventh century in terms of his own work, he was a regular at the Earlier Middle Ages Seminar, because he found everything interesting as far as I can see. Consequently, because kindness returns kindness, people used to go to his stuff as well, but this was also because he made it all so interesting. His biography of Abelard may still be the only work that manages to make the man interesting personally as well as significant intellectually, as well as at least halfway comprehensible to the non-expert, not least because as its title suggests it is about far more than just Abelard.7 But as far as I know, excellent though that book is, especially if accompanied by his revision of the Penguin translation of Abelard’s and Héloïse’s letters, it only had the one edition, unlike the one that most people had heard of Michael Clanchy for, From Memory to Written Record, which argued for a fundamental shift in the way people used and stored information over the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and in which by the third edition, under pressure from those who knew England before the Conquest better than after (and better than he did), he was beginning to extend that thinking backwards into a new way of thinking about how writing was being used then that I’m not sure anyone has really picked up.8 And there’s an article of Michael’s from 1970, even, that still gets cited, another of those things that are just too good to replace.9 But it is his kindness for which he might deserve to be remembered best. I don’t know how many conversations I had with him in the IHR tea-room in which he not just professed but maintained an interest in what I did, even once or twice asking very junior me for advice on early medieval archives, none of which, since he could never teach me and our periods barely even met at the edges, he needed to do. I will of course remember him for his work, but I will also remember those conversations and be thankful for him. I can picture him trying bashfully to shrug off the praise, and of course, again, I shan’t ever get to deliver it, but also again, I hope this is something.

I need to rethink what I am doing with this blog, again, since the backlog and the available time obviously don’t work together. I will try and do some of that rethinking for the next post, but even if that doesn’t sound thrilling, at least it more or less must be more cheerful than this one. Thanks for still reading and I hope to write more soon.


1. For Martin, the work for which he was famous beyond Apulia was probably his first book, which made that area well-known to a wider audience, J.-M. Martin, La Pouille du VIe au XIIe siècle, Collection de l’École française de Rome 179 (Rome 1993), but I confess, it is one of those I know I ought to have read, and actually what I know him for most is his contribution to Pierre Bonnassie’s Festschrift, “Quelques réflexions sur l’évolution des droits banaux en Italie méridionale (XIe-XIIIe siècle)” in Hélène Débax (ed.), Les sociétés méridionales à l’âge féodal (l’Espagne, Italie et sud de France Xe-XIIIe s.). Hommage à Pierre Bonnassie, Méridiennes 8 (Toulouse 1999), pp. 339–344. Richard is easily most famous for The Crusades, c. 1071–c. 1291, transl. Jean Birrell (Cambridge 1999), one of the only textbook histories of the Crusades that gets beyond the Fourth one.

2. Embarrassingly, I now can’t work out what work it was that I was then reading; I apparently didn’t make notes on it, and several of the obvious things came out too late. It could, just about, have been, G. Constable, Three Studies in Medieval Religious and Social Thought: The Interpretation of Mary and Martha; The Ideal of the Imitation of Christ; The Orders of Society (Cambridge 1995), then very new, and may more likely have been idem, “Renewal and Reform in Religious Life: Concepts and Realities” in Robert L. Benson (ed.), Renaissance and Renewal in the Twelfth Century(Cambridge MA 1982), pp. 37–67, but one could also mention Constable, The Reformation of the Twelfth Century (Cambridge 1996) or idem, The Abbey of Cluny: A Collection of Essays to Mark the Eleventh-Hundredth Anniversary of its Foundation, Abhandlungen Vita Regularis: Ordnungen und Deutungen religiosen Lebens im Mittelalter, 43 (Münster 2010), as only two. For me especially, there’s also the quite out-of-area Constable, “Frontiers in the Middle Ages” in O. Merisalo (ed.), Frontiers in the Middle Ages, Textes et études du Moyen Âge 35 (Turnhout 2006), pp. 3–28.

3. Constable, “Forgery and Plagiarism in the Middle Ages” in Archiv für Diplomatik Vol. 39 (München 1983), pp. 1–41; idem, Monastic Tithes from their Origins to the Twelfth Century, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought 2nd Series 10 (Cambridge 1964).

4. Respectively, Ellenblum, Frankish Rural Settlement in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (Cambridge 2003); idem, Crusader Castles and Modern Histories (Cambridge 2007) and idem, The Collapse of the Eastern Mediterranean: Climate Change and the Decline of the East, 950–1072 (Cambridge 2012).

5. Ronnie Ellenblum, “Were there Borders and Borderlines in the Middle Ages? The Example of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem” in David Abulafia and Nora Berend (edd.), Medieval Frontiers: concepts and practices (Aldershot 2002), pp. 105–118.

6. While it doesn’t cover his whole œuvre by any means, I guess one has to mention Mango, Byzantium: The Empire of New Rome (New York City, NY, 1980), idem, Le développement urbain de Constantinople, IVe-VIIe siècles, Travaux et Mémoires du Centre de recherche d’histoire et civilisation de Byzance, Collège de France, Monographies, 2, 2nd edn (Paris 2004) and idem (ed.), The Oxford History of Byzantium (Oxford 2002). Even that omits a number of critical source translations and a vital textual anthology of sources for Byzantine art, idem (ed.), The Art of Byzantine Empire (New York City NY 1972), and I could go on.

7. M. T. Clanchy, Abelard: a medieval life (Oxford 1999).

8. Clanchy, From Memory to Written Record: England, 1066-1307, 3rd edn (Chichester 2013); one should probably also mention his England and its Rulers, 1066–1307, 3rd edn (Oxford 2006).

9. Clanchy, “Remembering the Past and the Good Old Law” in History Vol. 55 (London 1970), pp. 165–176.

Leeds report 3 (Wednesday 15th July)

By Wednesday I’d managed to get my alarm going again (“have you tried switching it off and switching it on again?”) and thus set out in relatively good order for the following excellent session, albeit conforming to type by opting for Texts and Identities:

1006. Texts and Identities, VIII: Carolingian priests in action

  • Carine van Rhijn, “Local Priests, Local Manuscripts: Correctio in action”
  • Marco Stoffella, “Carolingian Reform and Local Priests in Early Medieval Tuscany”
  • Bernhard Zeller, “Local Priests in Early Medieval Alemannia: the Charter Evidence”
  • Attentive readers will see here a theme that has interested me both in and of itself and because of the cool things Wendy Davies keeps finding in the kingdoms next door, that of what priests actually did for their communities in the early Middle Ages and how they got the wherewithal, both material and intellectual, to do it. Carine had found some texts that appeared to be lists of exam questions for `priest inspectors’, preserved perhaps as revision aids, ranging from the simply administrative to the tangly Trinitarian; her area is very much the Carolingian heartland, so if you were going to see this anywhere it might be there, but it was still fascinating. Marco was looking at the process of Carolingian takeover in Lombardy, where a network of baptismal churches of mostly private origins was gathered up by rich bishops in the name of hierarchy. Bernhard, who is one of ‘my people’, meanwhile, was looking at the education and employment of the clerics visible in the St Gall evidence, and had some interesting observations about script regions that opened up questions of education outside schools, presumably by forebears.

An original St Gallen transaction charter of 786

An original St Gallen transaction charter of 786

I think I will come to look back on this session as the start of a big thing. Wendy Davies and I were talking avidly with Carine and Bernhard for some time afterwards because we felt that, together, we probably had enough evidence (in terms of documents in local priests’ hands over time) to say some genuinely useful things about where these people got their training, what the structures of priestly education were and how they changed. This is a question, in other words, that we may genuinely be able to answer, and I hope some collaboration comes of it. This is one important thing the big conferences can do for one.

Now, next, I probably should have gone to the session in which our occasional commentator Theo was speaking, and looking back at it now I’m not quite sure why that didn’t leap out at me as a necessity given that and the other contents. Sorry Theo! Instead I dithered and finally decided that what I needed more than anything was a rest, so went back to the flat and flopped with a novel for half an hour before going and prowling the book stalls. I bought far too much that I will take years to get round to reading—this is almost pathological and makes me feel guilty every time I see the books so I should stop it—but I also found time that I hadn’t thought I would have to meet up with my publisher and settle a few outstanding questions, and furthermore felt vastly less stressed for not trying to run across campus and keep up with someone else’s thought for a few hours. I possibly should have found the time to do this earlier and not missed Theo’s session but I’m not sure what I would have dropped to do this. Anyway, after lunch, things resumed with a small spot of hero-worship.

1210. The Boundaries of Free Speech, II: silencing the voice, restraining the pen

  • Paul Edward Dutton, “Voice over Writing in Eriugena”
  • Professor Dutton is a hero of mine in a small way, partly for his Carolingian Civilization reader which manages to make a vast range of sources not just accessible but interesting, and partly for the enthusiasm and amusement with which he writes; this was very much in evidence as he in turn dealt with one of his heroes, and perhaps the only Carolingian intellectual I’d like to drink with, John the Scot or Eriugena, asking why, given that he seems to have believed that truth was diminished by writing it down rather than speaking it, he wrote so much. The conclusion was, more or less paradoxically, to stop them relying on a written truth: as Stuart Airlie observed, “Tell Derrida et al. it’s all been done!” I find Eriugena pleasantly modern in this respect, and it’s largely due to Professor Dutton that I ever bothered. Have a go yourself!

    Modern cartoon of William of Malmesburys story about John the Scot and Charles the Bald

    Modern cartoon of William of Malmesbury's story about John the Scot and Charles the Bald

  • Irene van Renswoude, “‘Writings speak after one’s death when the writer is silent’: on the danger of publication”
  • An almost inaudible study of psychological and logical reasons why Rather of Verona didn’t dare write more than he did, and that for a very small an audience without whom, however, he couldn’t do.

  • Michael Clanchy, “The Right to Speak Out by Publishing: Abelard and his Master, Anselm of Laon”
  • Michael has, as he said, been talking about Abelard for many years now, and I’m always happy to hear him do it more; he’s a very friendly speaker, both with the audience and with the material, and makes for a very human humanism. Here the main question was why did Abelard publish so much, with such frequently awful consequences, compared to a master who was widely renowned but published one book, if that, which he denied? The quest for fame rather than students was the provisional answer, which sounds obvious if you know Abelard’s writings but Michael can always give one more depth of understanding of these texts and didn’t fail. The discussion that followed was also really lively and interesting, though I confess I remember it mainly for Stuart Airlie suggesting that we read the sources of the Carolingian Renaissance with a closer eye for what they’re not saying: “Big party, Aachen, tonight; don’t tell Theodulf!”

For the last sessions of the day I went back to Texts and Identities for the one paper by a friend I managed to catch the whole conference that I hadn’t squeezed out of them myself.

1306. Texts and Identities, XI: religious alterity and textual control

  • Clemens Gantner, “Quae enim societas luci ad tenebras: the papal charge of heresy against others in the 8th and 9th centuries”
  • A close reading of papal writings about their Arian and Iconoclast opponents shows how very rarely direct assertions of heresy were made from Rome but how frequently the power of insinuation and implication left that impression on the reader.

  • Rob Meens, “Thunder over Lyons: Agobard, the tempestarii, and Christianity”
  • There is a lovely cache of material about rural belief in the letters of Bishop Agobard of Lyons. They include, perhaps most infamously, a report of some locals who believed that weather magicians whom they called tempestarii could be employed to bring storms onto the crops of others or keep them off one’s own, an operation that they were held to perform by means of communication with people in flying ships who lifted away the destroyed crops unless paid not to attack them. That is, the tempestarii were not themselves the stormbringers, but had friends who were, and who apparently operated out of aircraft. This, as you may imagine, has been beloved of UFO conspiracy nuts for a very long time. Now Rob brought a critical eye to it and asked whether these tempestarii were, as they have often been seen, pagan cultists or whether they were Christians who claimed to have some special extra knowledge; Agobard envisages them making confession, which necessitates some rethinking of categories. I had to ask whether Agobard could afford to exclude anyone or whether he had to open his category of Christian out to include them. It seems more likely, though, that Agobard just wasn’t thinking in terms of Christian vs. pagan at all and therefore probably neither should we.1

  • Charles West, “Possessing Power: unauthorised miracles at Dijon, c. 842″
  • Crypt of St-Bénigne de Dijon

    Crypt of St-Bénigne de Dijon

    Lastly came Charles, ever bright and interesting with his material, which was in this case a very odd miracle episode in which a saint’s crypt full of people, who may have all been women, were confined inside by invisible forces that buffeted them to the ground if they tried to leave; we know of this from a letter from the local bishop to another asking for advice on how to get them out, so it’s pretty far removed from hagiography. Nonetheless, Charles showed that the account draws quite heavily on Agobard, again, and he took a very careful inventory of the power interests involved and what we could read between the lines of the text. Fascinating, and our speculations were almost certainly more fun than whatever the real situation may turn out to have been alas, but this makes for a good paper.

So that was a good wind-up for the day, and then various factors combined to leave me eating at Weetwood with Another Damned Medievalist and the In The Middle crowd in a rough repeat of the meet-up of the day before. Mary Kate Hurley was amusingly dismayed to hear I might dodge the dance, and when I did in fact turn up insisted I actually dance, which I felt a lot better for doing, though fundamentally the muscles didn’t remember how it go till `Blue Monday’ came over the rattly PA. I had fun anyway, and the music was a lot better than last year.

However, again, the abiding memory is going to be a remark by Stuart Airlie, who was resplendent in a t-shirt reading “I Conquered the Avars and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt” among other things, and who was also giving it some on the dancefloor, but who paused briefly to be introduced to me because of this here blog, which he told me, in between flattering people and attacks of Terpsichorean enthusiasm, was an exercise in control, and suggested I was trying to control too many things with it. Now, I accept that a conversation in that forum is not to be taken entirely seriously but I’ve been trying to puzzle out what he meant ever since. The blog was of course created to try and control something, which was and is my online academic footprint, and indeed my academic footprint full stop until actual publication finally burst from the infinitely tapered pipeline, but I don’t know that it’s been very successful; the audience is big but dropping, I don’t get any extra interviews because of it and though many people seem to like it I don’t think it really sells me the way I’d intended, because I talk too much about other people, or indeed just too much. It’s made me some useful contacts but these are things that make my academic profile broader, not deeper. So I don’t know. Either way, power hunger is not, to me, a great part of my make-up or presentation and I’m slightly worried that someone whose gaze is as penetrating as Dr Airlie’s sees it under the surface of my writing. So I went to bed with many a muse on this, and as you can tell am still musing…


1. I expect you’d like some bibliography on this, or at least that somebody eventually would, and to them I say, aided by Prof Meens’s excellent handout, start with the text, which is online here in Latin and partially translated (of course) in Paul Dutton (ed.), Carolingian Civilization: a reader, 1st edn. (Peterborough ON 1993), pp. 189-191; then for scholarship one must apparently start with Monica Blöcker, “Wetterzauber: Zu einem Glaubenskomplex des frühen Mittelalters” in Francia Vol. 9 (Sigmaringen 1981), pp. 117-131; go on to Paul Dutton, “Thunder and hail over the Carolingian countryside” in idem, Charlemagne’s Mustache and Other Cultural Clusters of a Dark Age (New York 2004), pp. 169-188, and finish with the latest word by Jean Jolivet, “Agobard de Lyon et les faiseurs de pluie” in M. Chazan & G. Dahan (edd.), La méthode critique au Moyen Âge, Bibliothèque d’histoire du Moyen Âge 3 (Turnhout 2006), pp. 15-25. Presumably Rob is also working on publication about this and supporting websearches also revealed as forthcoming Mark Gregory Pegg, “Agobard of Lyon, tempestarii, and magic in early medieval Europe” in W. Wunderlich (ed.), Medieval Myths: Magicians, Seducers and Rogues (Kontanz forthcoming). Wow, and people tell me my website picture makes me look like a vampire…

Seminary LIV: excellent Spanish charter workshop in Oxford

View of Balliol College, Oxford, from the sky

View of Balliol College, Oxford, from the sky

Given the length of the previous post I will try to keep this one brief and not froth too much, but it is very rare to get to talk specialised shop with so many interested people as I did the other day. There are in the University of Oxford a variety of lively postgraduate seminars, including six, count them, six medieval ones—I’m told good things especially of the mainline Medieval History one—and among them is one called Approaches to Medieval Spain. This runs at a time when I could never plausibly attend, but the last one in the term was sufficiently important that I took time off and travelled over in the sunshine to see what happened. Wendy Davies had organised it, you see, and the title was “The Language of Iberian Charters of the Tenth Century”. So the result was that as well as a range of people I didn’t know we got (in order only of their speaking) Wendy, Roger Wright, Alice Rio, Bryan Ward-Perkins, Adam Kosto, David Howlett, me, Chris Wickham and Michael Clanchy, all dealing with the question of how to read and what significances to take from the language of these documents.

Now, you may be wondering what it is about the language of these documents that is worth this many clever people’s attention, and the answer may lie partly in the fact that one of the questions we were asking is, “what language are they in fact in?” Let me give you a bit of transcript:

Zipriano, qui est mandatore de domna Goldregodo et adabatissa, et Belito et Kalendo, suas pesonas, et per sagionem Froilla. Gongnobimus nos in ueritatem quem aramus terra ic, Busti Gogiti, de testamento de Sancta Marina et de abatissa, de domna Goldregodo, per insapienia…1

Which translates as, more or less:

To Cipriano, who is the representative of the lady and Abbess Goldregoda, both Velito and Kalendo, her men, by means of the Saió Froila. We do acknowledge in truth that we sowed this land, Busto Gogiti, which belongs to the testament of Santa Marina and to the Abbess, the lady Goldregoda, through ignorance…

Now, you may be saying, “if you can translate it, Jon, you must know what language it is” or even, “it’s Latin, Jon, wake up”. But is it? Cicero would barely have recognised this. The agreement and use of cases is all over the place, spelling is already quite Spanish, and some words seem misspelt in the direction of a Romance pronunciation. Is this in fact just what written legal Romance looks like, using a lot of grand old words that they spell old style even though they don’t pronounce them that way (as with the Old French terms in modern heraldry, or the Anglo-Latin terms that lawyers still like today)? And if so, can we get at the spoken language through these documents? Did they think they were speaking Latin, or something different? How different was the written language to the spoken, and why was it kept so if it was? And who trained the people who wrote it, and what with?

This was the sort of thing that we were discussing. The way that the day worked was that Wendy had assembled a cache of particularly good example charters, and she gave a short introduction, then Roger spoke briefly about the language, whereafter we discussed them all together in order.2 Roger’s take is roughly the second given above, that this is what Romance looks like written down, though there was disagreement with this, including some from me on the basis of the Catalan feudal oaths that Adam has studied so well which contain what seems to be actual spoken language transcribed and which looks very different.3 Roger did admit that although he would call this Romance the writers would have called it Latin, and probably would their spoken language as well. So there’s room for a lot of debate over terms here but a more useful approach is to just treat it as one language in long-term flux and study the changes more closely.

I won’t attempt to replicate the following discussion, but some points that have been asterisked in my notes are:

  • some of the changes to Latin we noticed were regular usage in the Visigothic period, so by the time of our documents already 300 years old or more;
  • one or two of the documents showed signs of spoken language’s influence, including in one case an apparent speech defect, that implied very strongly that they’d been written at dictation by someone who didn’t know the written language very well, implying some odd edge cases or perhaps specialisations in documentary literacy; we can never have too much proof of this;
  • people might well have deliberately added in obscure Latinisms for effect; Roger’s stock phrase was, “not ignorance, but educated ingenuity misapplied”
  • scribes did do things differently just for fun, they were not robots in a wider regulating system of literacy;
  • and that working on this sort of thing gets a lot harder when editors don’t indicate where they’ve expanded abbreviations.

If any of that gets you thinking, feel free to discuss below. It has me, but I intend to write about it where people can hold it in their hands, hopefully before too very long.


1.J. A. Fernández Flórez & M. Herrero de la Fuente (edd.), Colección Documental de Otero de las Dueñas, doc. no. 43.

2. The documents in question being, if you want to have a go yourself, José María Mínguez Fernández (ed.), Colección Diplomática del Monastero de Sahagún (857-1300) I: siglos IX y X, Coleccion Fuentes y Estudios de Historia Leonesa (León 1976), doc. 151; José Miguel Andrade Cernadas (ed.), O Tombo de Celanova: estudio introductorio, edición e índices (ss. IX-XII) (Santiago de Compostela 1995), 2 vols, doc. no. 221; Emilio Sáez & Carlos Sáez (edd.), Colección documental del Archivo de la Catedral de León (775-1230) Vol. II (953-985) Coleccion Fuentes y Estudios de Historia Leonesa 42 (León 1987), doc. 442; Mínguez, Sahagún, doc. 329; Sáez & Sáez, León docs 310, 388 & 448; Mínguez, Sahagún doc. 205; Fernández & Herrero, Otero doc. 43 as above; and Alexandre Herculano de Carvalho & Joachim Jose de Silva Mendes Leal (edd.), Portugaliae Monumenta Historica, a sæculo octavo post Christum usque ad quintumdecimum, I: Diplomata et chartae, fasc. 1. Ante sæculum XII exaratae et ad origines antiquitatesque potugaliae utcumque spectantes (Lisboa 1856), doc. CLXIII (though we had a newer transcript for this one supplied by Roger).

3. For Roger’s case in detail you would be well-advised to consult his Late Latin and Early Romance in Spain and Carolingian France, ARCA, Classical and Medieval Texts, Papers and Monographs 8 (Liverpool 1982); Adam’s work referred to is Adam J. Kosto, Making Agreements in Medieval Catalonia: Power, Order, and the Written Word 1000-1200 (Cambridge 2001).