Tag Archives: Osona

Where do viscounts come from, Mummy?

Being on strike, again, I have time to write. This post has a silly title but a serious question, as became clear to me late in 2018 when, at that point still working on the book of Borrell II, I decided that I needed to know more about the viscounts of Narbonne into whose family his elder niece, with whom he may have grown up, married.1 Looking for work on them turned up a fairly recent essay volume edited by Hélène Débax, who knows a thing or two about viscounts, and with grim determination I realised I’d have to read all of it, a luxury or necessity that modern-day academia rarely allows me.2 By the look of my Zotero files, that took place over October 2018 to January 2019 – because yes, by then I needed four months to read a book on work time – and revealed several things to me. For one, I’d assumed that pretty much everywhere had viscounts, while being aware that they basically don’t occur in England; but actually, the vicecomital dignity or office was pretty constrained in both space and time, in the former being largely confined to the peripheral areas of what became the kingdom of France, including most of the Midi, and in the latter to the ninth to twelfth centuries. Both of these things mean that the viscount is, like many things, a Carolingian and post-Carolingian phenomenon. But this is one of the ways in which Catalonia and its northern-neighbouring territories were Carolingian and its western neighbours were not. That is, however, not to say that Catalan viscounts were like other viscounts, and that’s where the stub for this post came from.

Cover of H&eacutelène Débax (ed.), Vicomtes et vicomtés dans l'Occident médiéval (Toulouse 2008)

The book and the colloquium that Débax put it together from both wisely distinguished viscounts and viscounties, “vicomtes et vicomtés”, the kind of distinction I use to point out to monolingual and xenophobic students why accents count as spelling. Not everywhere had both viscounts and viscounties; several sets of viscounts existed without developing an associated territory, either because their tenures were too discontinuous or because they worked under the shadows of counts, one or two places had viscounties from earlier on which were later run by other people who didn’t use the title, and several places developed viscounts first and then they developed viscounties later.3 Catalonia, interestingly, had viscounts from really quite early, albeit perhaps not continuously, and the eventually established families mostly did get themselves viscounties but these were almost always located outside their official jurisdictions, which remained counties with counts (apart from Conflent, which we’ve already discussed and is weird).4 So Catalonia may not exactly have fitted the pattern, but Débax and colleagues thought they had a pattern, albeit one not universal and open to variation. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to any of them except Henri Dolset, speaking for my patch alongside the already-discussed Élisabeth Bille, there is a different pattern in use in the Catalan scholarship to explain the emergence of these major nobles. And then there’s me. So it seems meet to set up the two competing patterns in the scholarship first and then comment with what I can bring to the question.

So what is the ‘vicomtes et vicomtés’ pattern? For Débax herself and most of her contributors, viscounts were a symptom of comital weakness. They popped up where there were no active counts, taking over unattended jurisdictions, and some of them effectively became counts under a lesser name, with no superior officers between them and a very distant king. This was what happened at Narbonne, where I started, and at Castillon in the Dordogne among other places.5. Some viscounts who set up in such a fashion even managed to become counts, by obscure processes in most cases; we see this at Millau, whose viscounts managed to inherit the comital dignity of Rouergue, and in la Marche, where there had never been a county as far as we know until the viscounts managed to upgrade.6 Even viscounts who had a count to whom they were notionally subordinate often managed to achieve quasi-independence in parts of their territories, unaffected for the most part by their relations with their bosses at bosses’ courts; such were the viscounts of Trencavel whom Débax has made her own, Auvergne, Thouars and Marseille in its third round of vicecomitogenesis, as well as in Béarn with some special conditions.7 A strong count, however, didn’t let this happen in his core territories (best shown in these studies by the viscounts of Tursan, just too close to the biggest counts in the south at Toulouse) and even where it had, once in the general revival of civil government in twelth-century France the counts were powerful enough again, they put a stop to it (as at Bruniquel, Marsan and indeed eventually Narbonne).8 This often followed on an equally-revived Church mobilising the force of Gregorian reform to push these upstart officers out of the Church properties and revenues which were often a major prop to their standing.9 Nonetheless, it was not a universal that wherever the counts couldn’t assert themselves, viscounts sprang up; some noble families occupied what was far as we can see were positions just as powerful (and some northern viscounts, especially, were not major players in their areas) and never took such a title, prime examples in the south being the Castelnau of Cahors.10 So there remains something unusual about the title which the pattern developed in these studies doesn’t overall explain.

Map of the Catalan counties c.950, by Philip Judge and Jonathan Jarrett

Map of the Catalan counties c. 950, by Philip Judge and myself. We’ve not seen this for a while, have we? But now it helps. Of these counties, Empúries and Roussillon were usually both ruled by one count, Barcelona, Girona and Osona by another (though only after 898), Urgell by a third and Besalú, and Cerdanya by a fourth family, usually providing plural counts. Pallars and Ribagorça started with one count for both and finished up with several for each. The rest of the areas never had named counts, but did sometimes have viscounts, most obviously Conflent. But so did the counties with counts!

The Catalan scholarship that I know best on these matters kind of comes at the question of origins from the other direction, which the more voluminous but also locally-specific evidence from the area partly explains, but not as much as the good old feudal transformation narrative does.11 Under that rubric, of course, we’re supposed to move from a fully-functional public system via a period of upheaval to an exploitative one of private jurisdiction which everyone’s happy to call ‘feudal’ that is slowly brought under control by the powers-that-were over the eleventh or twelfth centuries but which remains the new basis for power till the Age of Revolutions. Accordingly, the Catalan scholarship points at ninth-century viscounts who appear sporadically, but sometimes with counts, as being the public system working and the viscounts as official delegates of the counts, and mostly argues this for the tenth-century ones as well, though as we’ve seen I have my doubts.12 The delegation was necessary because there were more counties than counts: a count of Barcelona, Girona and Osona couldn’t be everywhere at once, so someone had to hold the fort or forts while he was elsewhere. This idea is echoed in the Débax volume in a few places, for Rouergue before the Millau swallowed it, for example, but in general they have too many viscounties springing up out of nowhere for the idea of delegation to look normal.13

That suits me fine, because I’ve never liked the delegation argument, which goes back to Ramon d’Abadal but wasn’t up to his usual standard of analysis.14 In the first place, the plurality of comital holdings really doesn’t reach back to the ninth century, when one county per count was much more normal, but there were viscounts already then. In the second place, a count couldn’t be everywhere in a county either, so what makes those quite big units the natural level at which jurisdiction does not need dividing or delegating? And in the third place, to which I’ll come in a bit, other than sometimes presiding over courts, which was a thing that many sorts of person could do, viscounts don’t seem to have done the same jobs as counts in many ways. The only place where we arguably do see viscounts behaving like delegates of the counts is in Osona, a county that was created ex novo by a count in the 880s; the best example is the rights given to Viscount Ermemir II over Cardona in its franchise of 986, but we see older members of the family doing things at comital bidding too.15 That’s harder to find where the jurisdiction was older; there, the counts don’t seem to have had this kind of systematic direction of their viscounts. There is also some echo of this in the Débax volume: in Marseille and the Limousin the counts of Toulouse acquired these areas as new concerns and then set up viscounts there, and in Poitou a different family did, because they had no immediate local basis of power themselves and other places they needed to be, so they had to. But it’s clearly not where the idea of viscounts comes from.

My own copy of my book, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power

Cover of Jonathan Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), available from at least some good booksellers!

For me, it’s actually that idea that is crucial. In 2010, in my so-far-only monograph, I had a section entitled ‘Power with a name’ that I think still bears some weight. The thing is, you see, if Duby and the other feudal transformationists demonstrated anything they demonstrated that a local magnate who was beyond the control of a higher authority did not need a title for his power; he (or indeed she) could just appropriate revenues and turn them into custom by means of threat and force.16 But to call yourself a ‘vicescomes’ was to emphasise that there was in fact an officer called a ‘comes’ who you weren’t; in fact, you stood in place of him in a way that uncomfortably suggested responsibility to him. ‘Vicarius’ was even worse, but essentially meant the same thing. As with the counts themselves, these were all claims to exercise power on behalf of someone else, not by your own hand. So there must have been substance to such a claim which made that potential liability worth
admitting.17 The old Carolingan legislation that people in all these areas, Catalan or not, occasionally copied up, give some ideas from what it forbids viscounts to do to those whom the kings had given immunities: it might have included demanding labour services from people on roads or fortifications, calling out militarily-liable people or charging them not to, taking fines and penalties at court, and a good few other things probably.18 But these rights can only have been restricted to such ‘public’ officials as long as the public power existed, so in that sense the very existence of viscounts tells us that there were rights that people still recognised as being restricted to people who had certain sorts of power only, and not others.

So in 2010 I suggested that the viscounts in Catalonia were best understood as powerful independents who had, for one reason or another, decided to engage with the effective takeover of royal powers by the counts, recognising perhaps that they could not, or could not yet, be counts themselves but could retain command in their key areas by pretending that they were comital delegates, and acting that part when required.19 Then their descendants were stuck with the legacies of that choice, which often allowed them room for powerful expansion but on someone else’s agenda. I’m not sure if that was true of all of them, but I think it works as an explanation for the ones I know best. And it also fits with some of the Débax team’s cases: Auvergne, predictably covered by Christian Lauranson-Rosaz, had viscounts whose origins he couldn’t explain as anything other than independents who coralled themselves a piece of the surviving public power, and André Constant, for all that his chapter floats what seems to me a quite unjustifiable theory that all his viscounts were also archdeacons in the Church by right till reform stopped that, sees the same thing in the bits of Catalonia I know less well.20

It seems clear that one size won’t fit all here. Even in Catalonia viscounts seem to have had diverse origins, with the Osona family who became the Cardonas presumably having some prominence that made them locally useful but then relying on comitally-driven expansion to turn that into anything substantial, whereas as far as we can see the family that emerged as viscounts of Conflent and sometimes Urgell owed nothing to the counts and were basically irremovable.21 No-one seems to be sure where the Girona viscounts who became the Cabrera developed, and the picture is complicated by the fact that it’s much easier to see them outside their county than within it because there are far fewer surviving documents from Girona than from the frontier counties where they show up as landowners.22 Barcelona has had much more work done on it, partly because it’s the capital but also because one viscount and his brother the bishop ended up besieging the count in his palace at one point, so there’s a story to explain; I haven’t read all that work yet, so I won’t try and guess how they fit.23 But if there’s a pattern there, it seems to me that it is the one of powerful independents accepting a space in a hierarchy which they could work to advantage that explains most cases, and in that case the dignity has still to have meant something that wasn’t just ‘I’m in charge now’. It’s not clear to me how far this applies north of the Pyrenees, given the even greater variety of circumstances plotted by Débax and colleagues, but as so often I wonder what happens if rather than taking France as normal and wondering why Catalonia looks weird we start by looking at Catalonia and then seeing if it explains France.


1. Her name was Riquilda, and the relationship is made clear in her will, which is printed as Eduard Junyent i Subirà (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic: segles IX-X, ed. Ramon Ordeig i Mata, Documents 1, 5 fascs (Vic 1980-1996), doc. no. 346, and also in the Catalunya Carolíngia but I haven’t internalised that reference yet and this post is already late, so the old one will have to do.

2. Hélène Débax (ed.), Vicomtes et vicomtés dans l’Occident médiéval, Tempus 37 (Toulouse 2008), Freemium version online here.

3. Viscounts who never got viscounties in Bas-Quercy and the Toulousain, as described by Didier Panfili, “Bas-Quercy et Haut-Toulousain, un kaléidoscope à vicomtes – IXe à XIIe siècles”, ibid., pp. 73–86; viscounty only developing after some time at Béziers, covered by Claudie Amado, “Les vicomtes de Béziers et d’Agde : Deploiement lignager et bipolarité du pouvoir”, ibid., pp. 21–31.

4. A point made in Roland Viader, “Conclusions”, ibid. pp. 319-333 at pp. 326-327.

5. The overall pattern is asserted in Hélène Débax, “Des vice-comtes aux vicomtes, des vicomtes aux vicomtés : Introduction”, ibid. pp. 7-19; Narbonne is covered in Jacqueline Caille, “Vicomtes et vicomté de Narbonne des origines au début du XIIIe siècle”, ibid. pp. 47–60, and Castillon by Frédéric Boutoulle, “Les vicomtes de Castillon et leur dominium (XIe–début XIIIe siècle)”, ibid. pp. 103–113.

6. Millau: Jérome Belmon, “Aux sources du pouvoir des vicomtes de Millau (XIe siècle)”, ibid. pp. 189–202; la Marche, whose viscounts began as castellans and finished up as counts, is covered by Didier Delhoume and Christian Remy, “Le phénomène vicomtal en Limousin, Xe – XVe siècles”, ibid. pp. 237–250 at Annexe p. 228.

7. For the Trencavel, see most obviously Hélène Débax, La feodalité languedocienne XI-XII siècles : serments, hommages et fiefs dans le Languedoc des Trencavel (Toulouse 2003), but if you have only the volume under discussion then an extremely brief summary is in Débax, “Des vice-comtes aux vicomtes”, p. 15, and they also come into Amado, “Vicomtes de Béziers et d’Agde” at pp. 26-30 and Pierre Chastaing, “La donation de la vicomté d’Agde (1187) ou les vicissitudes du vicecomitatus aux XIIe et XIIIe siècles” in Débax, Vicomtes et vicomtés, pp. 33–45. Auvergne is covered by, who else, Christian Lauranson-Rosaz, “Vicomtes et vicomtés en Auvergne et dans ses marges (IXe-XIe s.)”, ibid., pp. 213–222; Thouars is covered in Géraldine Damon, “Vicomtes et vicomtés dans le Poitou médiéval (IXe-XIIe siècle) : Genèse, modalités et transformations”, ibid. pp. 223–235 at pp. 224-235 and Annexe pp. 200-201; Marseille in Florian Mazel, “Du modèle comtal à la « chatelainisation » : vicomtes provençaux aux Xe–XIIIe siècles”, ibid. pp. 251–264 at pp. 253-257 & 260. For Béarn see Bénoît Cursente, “Les Centulles de Béarn (fin Xe siècle-1134)”, ibid. pp. 129–142. Their special circumstances were the availability of the counts then kings of Aragón as an alternative source of patronage, culminating in one of the line dying at Fraga next to Alfonso I the Battler, but that didn’t stop them coming to the court of the Duke of Aquitaine when summoned, it seems.

8. On that revival of governmental strength see now most easily Thomas N. Bisson, The Crisis of the Twelfth Century: Power, Lordship, and the Origins of European Government (Princeton NJ 2015), but it’s present in all the studies in the Débax volume whose viscounts survived long enough, and it’s really interesting how independent lords got squeezed between it and Church reform, without any necessary coincidence of interests between those two pressures. On the individual cases see Jeanne-Marie Fritz, “Marsan et Tursan : deux vicomtés Gasconnes”, in Débax, Vicomtes et vicomtés, pp. 115–127, Tursan at pp. 122-127 and Marsan at pp. 115-118; Bruniquel in Panfili, “Bas-Quercy et Haut-Toulosain”, pp. 75-79 & 83-84 and Laurent Macé, “Le nom de cire : Jalons pour une enquête sur les sceaux vicomtaux du Midi (XIIe-XIIIe siècles)” in Débax, Vicomtes et vicomtés, pp. 305–317 at pp. 311-312; Narbonne in Caille, “Vicomtes et vicomté”, pp. 56-59.

9. Reform as the enemy in Mazel, “Du modèle comtal à la « chatelainisation »”, pp. 258-261;, Jacques Péricard, “Les vicomtes de Bourges (IXsup>e-XIIe siècle) : une éphemère émancipation” in Débax, Vicomtes et vicomtés, pp. 279–289 at p. 288, and Viader, “Conclusions”, pp. 329-330, and also in André Constant, “Entre Elne et Gérone : Essor des chapitres et stratégies vicomtales (IXe-XIe siècle)” in Débax, Vicomtes et vicomtés, pp. 169–187 at pp. 178-186, but that goes to heroically unsustainable lengths to associate the viscounts with Church office in the first place, which for the period I know I’m pretty sure are faulty, and admits that the viscounts managed the Augustinian reform very well, so in general I have doubts about this as a case.

10. On viscounts in the north see Jean-François Nieus, “Vicomtes et vicomtés dans le nord de la France (XIe-XIIIe siècles) : Un monde d’officiers au service du pouvoir princier”, in Débax, Vicomtes et vicomtés, pp. 291–303; on Castelnau see Florent Hautefeuille, “Une vicomté sans vicomte : les Gausbert de Castelnau”, ibid. pp. 61–72.

11. The people who’ve been following me a while will know the classic references by now, but they are Pierre Bonnassie, La Catalogne du milieu du Xe à la fin du XIe siècle : Croissance et mutations d’une société, Publications de l’Université de Toulouse-Le Mirail, Sèrie A, 23 & 29 (Toulouse 1975-1976), 2 vols, and Josep M. Salrach, El procés de feudalització (segles III-XII), Història de Catalunya 2 (Barcelona 1987), now updated somewhat by the lighter but no less interesting Salrach, Catalunya a la fi del primer mil·lenni, Biblioteca de Història de Catalunya 4 (Lleida 2005).

12. Here I principally mean Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals, “La institució comtal carolíngia en la pre-Catalunya del segle IX” in Anuario de Estudios Medievales Vol. 1 (Barcelona 1964), pp. 29–75, reprinted in Abadal, Dels Visigots als Catalans, ed. Jaume Sobrequés i Callicó, Estudis i Documents 13 & 14 (Barcelona 1969), 2 vols, I pp. 181–226, and reprised and updated in Abadal and José María Font i Rius, “El regímen político carolingio” in José Manuel Jover Zamora (ed.), La España cristiana de los siglos VIII al XI, volumen II: Los nucleos pirenaicos (718-1035): Navarra, Aragón, Cataluña, ed. Manuel Riu i Riu, Historia de España Menéndez Pidal 7 (Madrid 1999), pp. 427–577. The Catalan perspective in the Débax volume comes from Henri Dolset, “Vicomtes et vicomtés en Catalogne frontalière aux Xe-XIIe siècles (Barcelone, Gérone, Osona, Tarragone) : territoire et pouvoir” in Débax, Vicomtes et vicomtés, pp. 157–168 and Constant, “Entre Elne et Gérone”, as well as Élisabeth Bille, “Des vicomtes dans le comté de Cerdagne : du fidèle du comte au seigneur féodal (IXe-XIIe siècle)” in Débax, Vicomtes et vicomtés, pp. 143–155, which was discussed in a previous post.

13. Belmon, “Aux sources du pouvoir des vicomtes”, Annexe pp. 179-181.

14. Abadal, “La institució comtal carolíngia”.

15. The Cardona franchise is printed in 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 – again, it’s in the Catalunya Carolíngia but I don’t right now have the space to look it up. On the creation of the county see Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals, La Plana de Vich en els segles VIII i IX (717 – 886), Estudis d’història vigatana (Vich 1954), reprinted as “La reconquesta d’una regió interior de Catalunya: la plana de Vic (717-886)” in Abadal, Dels Visigots als Catalans (Barcelona 1969), I pp. 309–321. An earlier instance of the family’s cooperation with the counts is Viscount Ermemir I’s attendance at Count Sunyer’s marriage, seen in Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: Estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18 (Barcelona 1951), doc. no. 9; again, it will be in the Catalunya Carolíngia too but I haven’t looked on this occasion.

16. The locus classicus here obviously Georges Duby, La société aux XIe et XIIe siècles dans le région mâconnais, Bibliothèque de l’École Pratique des Hautes Études, VIe Section (Paris 1971), but, as with the Nestorians, the founder of the doctrine has been surpassed by his followers, by whom in this instance I mainly mean Jean-Pierre Poly and Éric Bournazel, The Feudal Transformation: 900-1200, trans. Caroline Higgitt, Europe Past and Present (New York City NY 1991). In both cases I cite the editions I’ve used, but there are updated ones.

17. Jonathan Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power, Studies in History: New Series (Woodbridge 2010), pp. 129-133.

18. For example, see Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals (ed.), Catalunya carolíngia volum II: Els diplomes carolingis a Catalunya, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica 1 & 2 (Barcelona 1926-1952, repr. 2007), 2 vols, Particulars VII: “Et nullus comes, nec vicarius, nec juniores eorum, nec ullus iudex publicus illorum homines, qui super illorum aprisione habitant, distringere nec iudicare presumant.” Thus spoke Emperor Louis the Pious to Joan of Fontjoncouse in 815. It doesn’t specifically mention viscounts, I admit – in fact none of the royal legislation for the area does even though they were sporadically there – but it would be hard for one to argue they weren’t included in the ban, I reckon.

19. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled, pp. 133-135.

20. See nn. 7 and 9 above respectively.

21. M. Rovira i Solà, “Noves dades sobre els vescomtes d’Osona-Cardona” in Ausa Vol. 9 no. 98 (Vic 1981), pp. 249–260, online here, covers both families, and I add some details on Conflent in Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled, pp. 136-141; cf. Bille, “Des vicomtes dans le comté de Cerdagne”.

22. Three pretty much incompatible views of the membership and relationships of this family can be found between Jaume Coll i Castanyer, “Els vescomtes de Girona” in Annals de l’Institut d’Estudis Gironins Vol. 30 (Girona 1989), pp. 39–98, online here, Dolset, “Vicomtes et vicomtés en Catalogne frontalière”, and Constant, “Entre Elne et Gérone”.

23. Obviously I have read Dolset, “Vicomtes et vicomtés en Catalogne frontalière”, but behind him there’re Francesc Carreras y Candi, “Lo Montjuích de Barcelona” in Memorias de la Real Academia de Buenas Letras de Barcelona Vol. 8 (Barcelona 1902), pp. 195–451, and now José Enrique Ruiz-Domènec, Quan els vescomtes de Barcelona eren: història, crònica i documents d'una familia catalana dels segles X, XI i XII, Textos y documents 39 (Barcelona 2006), both of which have had exciting differences from my views wherever I’ve dipped into them and so need proper treatment some time in a mythical future.

The Three Orders’ Houses: a model on the ground

Somehow I was out doing things yesterday and forgot to write a blog post, sorry, but for once I do have time in the week, so I will make it up now.

The yard at Embsay station on 27th June 2021

What your blogger was looking at yesterday instead of his computer

Here is something about as delayed as even my various crazy backlogs can make something. This was prompted by reading something in the British Library in 2012, back when we could do that thing, and in my notes on it I even then made a note to blog about it; but I didn’t in the end process those notes until late 2017. At that point I laid down a stub to complete later, and now, four years on, here we go. All of this is ironic, because in 2012 I was for once reading something pretty new from Catalonia, an intriguing piece of settlement archaeology discussion by the medieval archaeologist to whom perhaps I owe the most favours in the world, Professora Imma Ollich i Castanyer, about the Catalan monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes.1

Monastery of Sant Pere de Rodes

Sant Pere de Rodes from its most impressive side, which is to say, the one that’s mostly there; image by Pixel – own work, Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Now, that is an inaccurate over-simplification that I should immediately correct. The article, like much of Professor Ollich’s work, is mostly about my favourite study area, the comarc of Osona, and it is a fairly major argument with a basic paradigm of the social history of the tenth and eleventh centuries. This holds that, however you like to explain it, rural settlement in Catalonia was mostly dispersed and only loosely territorialised in the tenth century but by the end of the eleventh had nucleated into reasonably-defined villages. The favourite explanation hitherto has been feudalism, of course, working either through violence compelling people to group together for safety or through aggressive lordship pressing people together to intensify their farming, around either churches or castles depending on the agency, and no, neither of those are completely logical chains of events as I’ve laid them out but for some people they make sense, even now the proponents of those ideas are dead.2 This process is usually referred to as incastellamento, as coined by Pierre Toubert who first observed it in Lazio, is not yet dead and has in recent years suggested that he was probably partly wrong, or encellulement, as coined by Robert Fossier so as to get away from a dependence on castles, and it has been very widely played with, debated, contested and challenged, at least outside Catalonia.3

But this is the scenario on which Professor Ollich’s observations land like a series of well-mannered munitions. She argues that, once you have a decent picture of this area’s, and therefore quite possibly any nearby area’s, settlement patterns, it’s way more diverse than just dispersed or nucleated. She winds up developing a typology that has seven categories, including settlements around churches, settlements around castles, settlements with both (like Tona, where I have of course been and been photographed) and settlements around neither, the first three of which can be split into ones where the settlement predated the supposed focal point or points and ones where it didn’t. Only two or three of these seven types conform to the dominant paradigm, so even if it turns out still to have been numerically dominant, which Professor Ollich doesn’t think it was in Osona, that paradigm at least needs to give up some room to alternatives. It’s one of those arguments that makes such clear sense that once you’ve read it it’s hard to go back, and is a welcome attempt to provide something in place of the theory one’s out to demolish.

Sant Andreu de Tona and the Castell de Tona

Sant Andreu de Tona and the Castell de Tona, as made a tiny bit more famous by my book

But, despite its importance, that isn’t the thing that I thought, nine years ago, I should blog about. That was Professor Ollich’s final example, which is, as promised, Sant Pere de Rodes, out in coastal Empúries way to the north-east. She picks on Sant Pere because it gives her several of her types of settlement in close proximity and shows how an obvious focal point doesn’t necessarily do what the paradigm expects to settlement development. The monastery was first here, and its tangled history is more than we can go into here; suffice to say that there is an argument about whether, as its documents claim, it was founded in a wasteland location or if it was deliberately sited on Roman remains instead, and of course it could probably be both and curious treasures have allegedly been found there that might provide more esoteric explanations and we could go on. But right now I shan’t; you just need to know that in the ninth century someone started a monastery there, in the tenth century some of the local counts decided to make it their pet monastery and by the eleventh century it was, as they say ‘kind of a big deal’.4 But it didn’t ever pull a village round itself. Instead, a village that was almost certainly related grew up somewhere quite close by, at Santa Creu. It was then fortified in the eleventh century, so looks like an independent effort, but its major market and lord must still have been the monastery. Furthermore, there was also a local castle, eventually, at Verders, and that had its own church so could in theory also have gone it alone. But because they were all here they perhaps prevented each other from becoming the major force in the locality. The Google Map below sows them in relation to each other. In the end, the monastery, the oldest, was also the longest lasting, but then it was also way rich, at least for a while, so perhaps that isn’t surprising.

Now, apart from the neat demonstration that the basic model just isn’t complex enough to handle the actual variation of human activity, and the encouraging thought that nonetheless we might still be able to build an adequate one (this is a big mantra of mine these days), the obvious thing that struck me here is that it’s a settlement archaeology demonstration of that old eleventh-century trope about medieval society being divided into three orders, those who fight, those who work and those who pray. Because, look, here’s where they all lived: a castle, a village and a monastery! It should have been the perfect arrangement, at least for someone like Adalbero of Laon. As it is, I imagine they actually disputed with each other like cats and dogs, and that our records would (if Sant Pere’s charters hadn’t mostly been lost) show that the Church mostly won even if it actually didn’t, but the point is, here they all are, almost as if it was real. That is very definitely not the theory Professor Ollich set out to address, and I don’t mean to make any claim that my observation actually, you know, means anything, but once I’d thought it I had to say it, even if I do so nine years (and one day) late…


1. Imma Ollich i Castanyer, “Arqueologia de la Catalunya feudal i prefeudal: Poblament i territori. El model teòric de la Comarca d’Osona” in Jordi Bolòs (ed.), La caracterització del paisatge històric, Territori i societat: el paisatge històric. Història, arqueologia, documentació 5 (Lleida 2010), pp. 399–465.

2. The most obvious progenitors of this idea locally would be Manuel Riu, “Hipòtesi entorn dels orígens del feudalisme a Catalunya” in Quaderns d’Estudis Medievals Vol. 2 (Barcelona 1981), pp. 195–208, and, of course, Pierre Bonnassie, La Catalogne du milieu du Xe à la fin du XIe siècle : Croissance et mutations d’une société, Publications de l’Université de Toulouse-Le Mirail, Sèrie A, 23 & 29 (Toulouse 1975-1976), 2 vols. A fairly recent acceptance of it can be found in Juan Antonio Quirós Castillo, “Early and High Medieval ‘Incastellamento’ in Northern Iberia: Fortified Settlements in the Basque Country and Upper Ebro Valley (9th–12th Centuries)” in Neil Christie and Hajnalka Herold (edd.), Fortified Settlements in Early Medieval Europe: defended communities of the 8th-10th centuries (Oxford 2016), pp. 192–204.

3. Some later takes on the idea, led indeed by Toubert, in Miguel Barceló and Pierre Toubert (edd.), L’incastellamento: actes des recontres de Gérone (26-27 novembre 1992) et de Rome (5-7 mai 1994), Collection de l’École française de Rome 241 (Rome 1998); Toubert’s most recent re-evaluation in “L’incastellamento: Problèmes de définition et d’actualisation du concept” in Sandra Pujadas i Mitjà (ed.), Actes del Congrés Els Castells Medievals a la Mediterrània Nord-Occidental celebrat a Arbúcies, els dies 5, 6, i 7 de març de 2003 (La Gabella 2003), pp. 21–35. For Fossier still doing his thing, see Robert Fossier, “The Rural Economy and Demographic Growth” in David Luscombe and Jonathan Riley-Smith (edd.), The New Cambridge Medieval History, volume IV, c. 1024–c. 1198 (Cambridge 2004), 2 vols, I, pp. 11–46. More recent demolition efforts in †Riccardo Francovich, “The Beginnings of Hilltop Villages in Early Medieval Tuscany” in Jennifer R. Davis and Michael McCormick (edd.), The long morning of medieval Europe: new directions in early medieval studies (Aldershot 2008), pp. 55–82.

4. For the monastery’s early history, at least, see Montserrat Mataró i Pladelasala and Eduard Riu-Barrera, “Sant Pere de Rodes: un monasterio condal en la periferia del extinguido imperio carolingia (siglos X y XI)” in Jordi Camps (ed.), Cataluña en la época carolingia: arte y cultura antes del románico (siglos IX y X): 16 diciembre 1999 – 27 febrero 2000, Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Palau Nacional-Parc de Montjuïc (Barcelona 1999), pp. 236–242, transl. as “Sant Pere de Rodes: a large monastery under the countship on the edge of the Carolingian empire (10th – 11th centuries)”, ibid., pp. 536-539.

Nearest neighbours in the pre-Catalan foothills

Cover of Guy Bois's Transformation of the Year 1000

Cover of Guy Bois’s Transformation of the Year 1000

Another thing that Guy Bois’s book The Transformation of the Year 1000 has made me think about is the coherence of the village community in my area. For him, the villages of the area of the Mâconnais in Burgundy about which he wrote were quite discrete entities, outside of which hardly anyone lived, except in a few relatively-substantial grange-like affairs run by a small staff of slaves or other dependants.1 He gets some quite heavy theory out of this (and apparently only from this), that this is the natural state of a relatively flat social hierarchy in a time of light lordship, they will band together for mutual support whereas dispersal presupposes some kind of structure to which to connect.2

The church and the centre of modern-day Lournand, Burgundy. By Ludovic Péron

The church and the centre of modern-day Lournand, Burgundy. By Ludovic Péron (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

There is so much literature on the formation and structure of villages, most of which I haven’t read, that the only way I can really come at this idea, which you may guess sits wrongly with me, is to test it in the context of the society I know best, tenth-century Catalonia. Here, of course, there was a fairly strong political authority: it may not be exactly clear what the counts could actually do, but they turn up almost everywhere as landholders, transactors, or judgement-givers. Very occasionally, too, we see signs of their ability to coordinate military power, though when the main source is land charters that just doesn’t come up much. Nonetheless, most theories about the development of this area hang on the idea that this lordship was less burdensome than the more local castle-based one that would come to replace it by, say, 1050.3 I have also mentioned before that the tenth-century documents frequently mention what appears to be an allotment of public land near castles, probably dedicated to their upkeep, identifiable because of not having an owner, being referred to as just ‘the benefice’ or similar. In that case it’s hard to guess what exactly the local castle asked from its supposed subjects, and one has to wonder what exactly drew these communities together.

Probably Sant Llorenç prop Baga in Osona

Sometimes the castle is more local than at other times… I think this is Sant Llorenç prop Baga in Osona, but could easily be wrong and would welcome any better suggestions

This is an issue because it is definitely my sense that these communities didn’t have very distinct boundaries. There were certain areas on the edges of castle jurisdictions where the scribes seem to have been uncertain in which jurisdiction to put it.4 If it were under obligations of some kind to that castle, I don’t see how this could happen, at least not if that were geographically determined which Jerusalem, as ever, reminds us it need not be.5 Nonetheless, this was not an intensely-divided zone, it seems to me. People usually knew where their estates and properties ended, but even that could be open-ended (“on the margin”, “on wasteland”).6

Sant Vicenç de Malla

Sant Vicenç de Malla, in the tenth century in the term of Orsal or that of Taradell depending on which scribe was writing your charter (NB this building is later)

It’s also quite hard to point at centres of communities, in the tenth century at least. The church is an obvious one, but not everywhere had one; my favourite example from my territory is a village called Montells, which has at least two bits (Upper and Lower) and also some settlement in between. Their nearest church, as far as I can tell, was the cathedral at Vic or Sant Vicenç d’Orsal in the under-managed term of Malla, but they did not live in either of those places as far as the scribes who wrote their documents were concerned.7 Then, to the north in Vallfogona the unusually rich documentation shows us a community that got a church put in by the nunnery of Sant Joan de Ripoll over the ridge to the north, which was obviously therefore acting as a kind of focus in itself, and yes, that church is more or less in the middle of the valley, but the settlement wasn’t; the church went where it went because the main mover in the affair, a chap called Arigo, lived there. But there were about fifteen other hamlets in tenth-century Vallfogona and when the counts moved in on the area towards the end of the century one of the things that they did was to put another church up at the east end of the valley and scrounge half its parish away from the older one, showing us that those hamlets looked to a further centre, not one of their own. And the Vall de Sant Joan itself, as we know in almost-unique detail, had at least twenty-three settlements in by 913, of which some were groups of fifteen to twenty families but others basically a homestead.8 Their centre was obviously the nunnery, but that area was, as I’ve suggested, organised much more obviously in dependence. Does this mean that Bois is right and dispersal follows lordship, and that other areas should be more centred?

Portal of the church of Sant Pol, in Sant Joan de les Abadesses

Portal of the old parish church of Sant Pol, in Sant Joan de les Abadesses

I certainly don’t think that there was ordinarily no village community as such, not least because we have reason to expect there to have been some common land in most places, which means a group that could decide who was entitled to use it and who wasn’t.9 There was also a reasonably distinct body of people who turn up in court hearings for a given area as boni homines, ‘worthy men’, a term only used in this context but often correlating to a certain landed importance in the transaction record.10 Such a status presupposes, I think, other fora in which it could be reckoned by the person’s fellows before it could be definite enough for a scribe to record; I don’t see how it could really be the scribe’s decision. But it does make one wonder, when if ever was this community together to make such decisions? If the hamlet is the basic unit, church is not the answer: we don’t, in any case, know how often people went to church in this period, but it seems that it would always have involved the people of many (small) settlements. Unless we imagine that each church meeting dissolved into a bunch of small board meetings, some more local setting seems likely. (Churches are more common than castles, so it wouldn’t be the castle either.)

Castell de Sant Llorenç del Munt, Osona

Of course, sometimes church and castle later got hard to separate… The Castell de Sant Llorenç del Munt, Osona

Beyond imagining the local ‘big men’ having more or less formal meetings at each other homes, for which there is no evidence at all, I don’t have an answer to this, which is frustrating because, Guy Bois or no Guy Bois, this is the level at which change would have been recognised, discussed, met and contended with, and it is invisible even though it must have been there. The invisibility of the informal is probably the biggest single problem with which the early medieval social historian reckons, and though I may not like the way Guy Bois imagines it (for an area that he knows vastly better than do I, of course; I merely don’t like it for my area) it’s very hard to do better than imagination.11


1. G. Bois, La mutation de l’an mil (Paris 1989), transl. Jean Birrell as The Transformation of the Year 1000: the village of Lournand from Antiquity to feudalism (Manchester 1992), p. 117-120.

2. Ibid., pp. 119-120:

“Peasant dispersal was no doubt a possibility wherever a strong political authority, inherited from Rome, had been maintained. Where this was lacking, the hamlet became the structural framework which no peasant would think of leaving. The basic reality consisted of a network of hamlets, each binding the conjugal units into a cohesive group. The more society lost any central power, the stronger the knots in the mesh became….”

3. Most obviously Pierre Bonnassie, La Catalogne du milieu du Xe à la fin du XIe siècle : croissance et mutations d’une société, Publications de l’Université Toulouse-le Mirail, Sèrie A, 23 & 29 (Toulouse 1975-1976), 2 vols; Josep María Salrach i Marés, El procés de feudalització (segles III-XII), Història de Catalunya 2 (Barcelona 1987).

4. See J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), pp. 90-91, for the example of l’Esquerda.

5. Ronnie Ellenblum, “Were there borders and borderlines in the Middle Ages? The example of the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem” in David Abulafia & Nora Berend (edd.), Medieval Frontiers: concepts and practices (Aldershot 2002), pp. 105-118.

6. In Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. nos 158, 496, 941, 1111, 1128, 1184, 1218, 1236, 1243, 1367, 1595 & 1870 feature boundaries “in ipsa limite” or some other form of the word limes, whereas nos 760, 910, 960, 1128, 1381, 1402, 1428, 1435, 1504, 1547, 1664, 1683, 1710, 1821, 1852 & 1854 have “in ipsa margine” or similar. This seems to suggest either some shift in fashion from the former to the latter, or else that the limes was fixed somehow and that the edge of settlement had moved beyond it after the 970s. Interesting, isn’t it?

7. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled, pp. 75-77.

8. Ibid., pp. 30-42.

9. Gaspar Feliu, “La pagesia i els béns comunals” in J. Farré and Flocel Sabaté (edd.), Els grans espais baronials a l’edat mitjana: desenvolupament socioeconòmic. Reunió científica: I Curs d’Estiu Comtat d’Urgell (Balaguer, 10, 11 i 12 de juliol de 1996) (Lleida 2002), pp. 23-40.

10. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled, pp. 35-36 & n. 55 with ref.; more widely, see Karin Nehlsen-von Stryck, Die boni homines des frühen Mittelalters unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der fränkischen Quellen, Freiburger rechtsgeschichtliche Abhandlungen Neue Fassung 2 (Berlin 1981).

11. One person who may do better than me (or Bois) on this is Elisabet Bonilla Sitja, whose Masters thesis, “Aproximación al estudio de la vida y mentalidad altomedieval: la Plana de Vic, 872-936”, unpublished Master’s thesis (Universitat de Lleida 2011), for a copy of which to read I must thank her, touches on such issues and whose doctoral work now completing may carry it further. She looks at the documents in a different way from mine and this is one enquiry where that probably helps!

Rebel without a pension: the mystery of Aizó

On the way to a really great meeting in Oxford a few days ago, about which I’ll write separately, I took with me Jordi Camps’s Cataluña en la época carolingia and re-read a couple of articles in it by Immaculada Ollich that I’d skimmed for book purposes a while before but not, apparently, fully absorbed. Both of them heavily featured this one figure who seemed good material for a blog post, a man who threw back Carolingian rule in part of Spain for nearly sixty years, or so it is said, and about whom we know almost nothing. So I thought I’d do an exposé in the style of Carla Nayland or Judith Weingarten, complete with headings. But over the several days of on-and-off construction it’s turned into a four-thousand word monster (I am having real trouble typing that instead of `monastery’ these days you know) which closely resembles genuine scholarship and I thought perhaps it belonged behind a cut. I’d be delighted if you can find the time to read it but if not, don’t worry, there’ll be time later for other things. Continue reading

Picture = 1000 words, map = at least 250*

This has taken quite a bit of work:

Map of central Osona and the Ripollès, Catalunya, <i>c. </i>950

Map of central Osona and the Ripollès, Catalunya, c. 950

Most of the maps for the upcoming book were done for me by a contact of my editor, although I had to finish them off in Photoshop because he didn’t know Catalan and struggled with accents and so on. This one however he had trouble with and I had to do it myself. I had wanted to include an eight hundred meter contour line which would make the Castell de Gurb really stick out from its surroundings as it does if you’re there, but though Google Earth includes such contour lines it only does so at certain zooms and I found it much too hard to apply data points that close to something this much smaller-scale, which in any case is already using all the shades of grey that a printing process can sensibly discriminate. The abandonment of that aim however has meant that I was able to include far more range, including getting Sant Joan de les Abadesses and Vic onto the same map, meaning that this map essentially details the core study area of the book and will be useful to me again and again. And, as I’m sure you may know, but people who do it will be happy to tell you lots more, the actual working out where things are in relation to each other can constitute a kind of historical revelation in itself, though not so much as going there and seeing of course. Explaining why it’s so interesting how Corcó fits into the landscape as it does and that there’s no castle at its centre would be a very abstruse digression, but trust me it matters and if you read the eventual book you’ll see why. And the fact that some places (Taradell for example) are very decentralised—the label covers the castle and both churches—whereas others (Orsal, Tona, Roda) are basically confined to a hill and its shadow is something that probably actually contains the seeds for future work.

We are, for reference, talking about here:


(Did I tell you all I have a contract now, by the way? I don’t believe I did. I have a contract for the book.)

Anyway, I thought it might be interesting to you to explain roughly how I did it. There are thankfully decent historical maps of this area, as a commentator here has pointed out, but none of their maps had everything on that I wanted to include: heights, castles and churches, mainly. So I (I admit) scanned several of those maps and then manipulated them in Photoshop, at 50% opacity so they could all be seen through each other, till they were the same scale, largely by lining up the complicated river patterns. Interesting to note that they didn’t all agree about where the rivers went… Anyway. What I should then have done is about half of what I did, which was print the resulting mess out, put a transparency sheet over it, and then simply trace on that with a Sharpie ™ all the lines I wanted to use, and distinctive marks for the castle locations. I actually should have done the contours and rivers and points on three separate overlays, because what I did afterwards was to use imaging tools to fill in all the areas in appropriate shades of grey and this would have been far easier if I’d done it before I put in the rivers. Anyway, I scanned the transparency at high resolution on our best scanner at work, which has gear to do transparencies, and then filled in the greys in software, and with that done then added, by reference to a different map from any of my sources, the cities, the castles and then the churches, and then labelled everything. That was actually the most frustrating part of the process, because again my sources were the wrong scale and I had to keep flipping pages and finding I’d put wrong labels on things which then had to have the colour replaced around them and so on, in software so ‘heavily featured’ that the foreground/background values it requires for adding shading, shapes and text are all different. But after, I suppose, four or five hours’ work total, which had, given my life, to be spread over two weeks, the result is as you see above, except at 600 dpi, much large and in TIFF format. And, you know, I drew it, which for the kid who was useless at art and can only draw anything in profile or one quarter rotated and then only if it’s square, is a small achievement. Granted, I have fortunate access to a very high-end scanner in a workplace where people don’t mind me occasionally using their tech to my own fiendish purposes, but there is behind this a basic process that most if not all of you can probably manage if you ever need to. And you may find it helps.


* because if you’ve done it right a map should admit far less exegesis…

Let me tell you a tale… of intrigue, incense and assassination!

I have no fresh content for you today, I’m afraid, I’m still busy normalising Cluny’s charters’ names and writing bits of book, though not right now obviously because of being at work (and on lunch). But seeing an unexpected commentator on the previous post has put me in mind of popes—you know who you are—and so I draw on my stock of fabulous medieval tales from charters for you.

The three Bulls of John XIII to Vic of 970

The charter in question is now displayed, just to the right of that image (dammit), and you may be able to tell from that that it is not yer usual parchment, but a Bull, awarded to the Bishop of Osona in Catalonia by Pope Gregory V in 998. This would ordinarily have been simple enough, except for the bishop and his entourage actually making the journey halfway across the Mediterranean for it. But on this occasion Gregory had a bit of a problem: two bishops of Osona turned up. Gregory’s reaction is depicted below:

Gregory V rolling his eyes (not contemporary, or even related)

For some time, you see, in fact ever since the last time but one a Bishop of Osona had come out to Rome for approval, the succession to that see had been disputed. Ató, who may have been made an archbishop, even (he wasn’t—but I haven’t managed to get that published yet), in 970, was murdered almost as soon as he arrived home, and after a long and troubled rule so was his successor Fruià, at the behest of one Guadall, a member of the Viscounts of Osona’s family, who then took the episcopal throne for himself. He had the backing of Count Ermengol I of Urgell (whose business it was precisely none of) but not of the Count of Osona, and also of Barcelona and Girona, Ermengol’s brother Ramon Borrell. (You see, this is what happens when a father isn’t around to keep an eye on his kids…) Ramon Borrell favoured one Arnulf, also a member of that same family, but previously Abbot of Sant Feliu de Girona and generally in Ramon Borrell’s following. So, cousin versus cousin backed by brother versus brother: with unusual maturity, they all sailed to Rome in 998 and made it Gregory’s job to decide. Arnulf called Guadall a murderer; Guadall denied it and called Arnulf a usurper. One count on each side. No immediately obvious solution…

How we know Gregory V was a wise man: he didn’t even try to find out who was right and who was wrong by going into the tangled and messy history of the case. Instead, he organised a near-solid day of prayer in the Lateran palace (the popes not yet being in the Vatican), at the end of which, with everyone giddy with incense and overwhelming ceremony, he then declared the whole embassy excommunicate till they could decide who was bishop. Thus cut off from food and their beds (because if there’s one place where you can expect a papal excommunication to be enforced, it’s the pope’s palace, right?) it wasn’t long before the gathering all pointed the fingers of accusation at Guadall, who was duly degraded, his robes being ceremonially torn off him by papal attendants, leaving Arnulf bishop in a way that no-one was going to be able to deny later.

I have always been quite impressed with Gregory V for this.


The Bull from which I fairly freely derive this, though the essentials are there, is edited in E. Junyent (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic, segles IX-X, ed. R. Ordeig i Mata (Vic 1980-1996), no 624, and Harald Zimmermann (ed.), Papsturkunden 896-1046, Veröffentlichungen der Historischen Kommission 3-5, Denkschriften (Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften. Philosophisch-Historische Klasse) 174, 177 & 198 (Wien 1984-1989), no. 357; an older edition with facsimiles is P. Kehr, Die ältesten Papsturkunden Spaniens, erläutert und reproduziert, Abhandlungen der Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Jahrgang 1926, Philosophisch-Historische Klasse, Nr. 2 (Berlin 1926), doc. VII. The Bull was taken to Rome for restoration in 1927, which made it a good deal more legible, as can be told from the resultant facsimile edition, Pontificum Romanorum Diplomata Papyracea quae Supersunt in Tabulariis Hispaniae Italiae Germaniae phototypice expressa iussu Pii PP. XI (Roma 1929), where this one is no. X. On Ató, until I manage to get my paper out, you would have to see Ramon Martí, “Delà, Cesari i Ató, primers arquebisbes dels comptes-prínceps de Barcelona (951-953/981)” in Analecta Sacra Tarraconensia Vol. 67 (Tarragona 1994), pp. 369-386, and on the murderous Guadall and family, Manuel Rovira i Solà, “Noves dades sobre els primers vescomtes d’Osona-Cardona” in Ausa Vol. 9 (Vic 1981), pp. 249-260, online here, last modified 20the November 2001 as of 30th December 2007, at pp. 151-3 & 155.

In Marca Hispanica V: Vic (charters, cathedrals, metal bishops and stone slabs)

Vic is the capital of the old Carolingian county of Osona, and a place with a long history. There’s a standing Roman temple, to which we sadly didn’t get, but that belongs to the city of the site of pre-Roman Ausa, from which we get the county name of Ausona. That area stands away from the modern city which is built on the plain closer to the river, and seems to have been put there by none other than Count Guifré the Hairy some time shortly before 880.1 The historic centre is close by, however, because the cathedral was deliberately sited to take advantage of and reclaim the Roman site. And there, with none of the Carolingian fabric left but a fascinating set of strata of rebuilding visible in its walls, it remains:

The Catedral de Vic, seen by night from the Plaça de la Catedral

The oldest standing part of the cathedral now is the bell-tower, which dates to a rebuild in 1038 by Bishop Oliba, great-grandson of Guifré the Hairy and a complex figure who had been Count of the Ripollès before abandoning the world to become a monk at Santa Maria de Ripoll, that comarc’s main focus. Since he thus wound up as abbot there and at several other places, at the same point as his half-sister took over neighbouring Sant Joan de les Abadesses, whom he subsequently appealed as a “whore of Venus” before Pope Benedict VII, I’ve been known to wonder about how sincere and unpolitical that conversion was. But as his uncle Miró, who was one of the most educated men in Catalonia in his time, had seen no problem with being both Count of Besalú and Bishop of Girona, and Oliba turned out to be a liturgical and social innovator, I suppose he may just have been pushed into all the politics.2 Anyway, he is remembered at Vic, though not in a form that one would perhaps expect. Here he is:

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

Metal! But in a nice way: the words on his chest, “Pau i Treva”, translate as ‘Peace and Truce’ and refer to his efforts to build a popular movement to limit knightly violence in his lands. That’s worth remembering him for, perhaps more so than for shopping his bastard sister for parricide and loose morals.3 So I was quite glad to see it, but again, it’s that sense I kept getting that round here the medieval history is an important explanation of political identity. I did try and get a picture of the metal bishop with the tower that he saw built as background, so as to make that connection visually again, but the strong light behind him basically made it unusable, and for a reason I don’t now recall it wasn’t possible to repeat it when I came back next day. We spent part of the evening in Vic, anyway, which is when these shots were taken, and my conclusion is that it’s a really nice city, but its liveliness is a little artificial. And it has a tremendous number of shoe-shops. I mean, a frightening and possibly apocalyptical number of shoe-shops. There is a lot of pig-farming round here, it permeated the rural atmosphere for miles around, and this may be part of an explanation, but it did seem as if Vic, like Cambridge again, was trying to drag in shoppers as an substitute for having any real purpose. (The silly thing with Cambridge being of course that it does have a purpose, and that the public transport and roads are so impassably minuscule that the number of shoppers they want could never reach the town. But moving back to the subject.)

An awful lot of what I have written about centres on Vic, if only because an awful lot of charter transactions I’ve used as evidence probably took place in that square where Oliba now glowers. The cool thing about that is that the evidence of this is also still there, in the Arxiu i Biblioteca Episcopal de Vic, and that was where I headed the next morning. It took us a little to find it in the skein of buildings around the cathedral—and the episcopal cats were uninformative:

Cats behind the Palau Episcopal de Vic, in the sun

—but soon I found the door and knocked and was welcomed. Now, most Hispanists I’ve talked to have had some real horror stories about access to archives, of the “we only open one day a week for two hours in the afternoon. What day? Well, when do you go home? Wednesday? Thursday, then. And only if you speak Galician throughout so I can mock you. And you can’t actually touch anything and whatever it is you want to see most is locked and can’t be used” kind. So although I was rather hoping things would be better than that, as the places I wanted to go had, for example, websites, I wouldn’t have minded a war-story or two. In this I was completely disappointed. They had missed the e-mail in which I’d told them of my visit, but this was in no way a problem and didn’t prevent me being allowed, having just walked in off the street and showing no identification beyond English confusion and some shelfmarks, to have practically all their tenth-century charters out at once to look at:

The volumes of Calaixs 6 & 9 of the Arxiu Episcopal de Vic

In this I principally owe thanks to Rafael Ginebra who was doing the fetching, and who had also previously done the indices for the biggest and most important charter edition I use, and has therefore saved me an incalculable amount of work.4 I also owe thanks however to the archivist, Miquel Sants i Gros, who was politely hauled out to show me the tenth-century papal papyri they also have here—in fact Vic has almost all of the surviving tenth-century papal papyri in the world—and about which I wrote something ages ago that may even some day make it to print. One of the things that a reviewer had to say about that paper was that it wasn’t at all clear I’d seen the things for real. And I hadn’t, indeed, but I’d worked from (and compared) two separate facsimile editions, one from before their restoration in 1928 and one after, the latter being far far easier to read, obviously, but also, I was concerned, perhaps too restorative.5 So working from the unaltered facsimiles actually seemed like better practice to me anyway. And seriously, what is the point of producing facsimile or even critical editions if work using them is automatically panned, eh? Calm down Jarrett, calm down. Right, yes. Anyway, so what I was doing in this archive was mainly heading off that sort of criticism…

The three alleged papal bulls of 971 from John XIII to Catalonia

… and also solving some of the questions that editions won’t let you answer, like, is that the same scribe Agelà who writes this other one? (It wasn’t, in any of the three cases, and a really good edition ought to tell you that clearly anyway, but there is a certain level of data you have to omit or never ever publish, of course; the relevant edition here took long enough anyway.6)

This left me flicking carefully through those volumes above, which have rows of three or four parchments stitched into a binding to make a kind of flap-book leaf, and then another set, and so on, till no more will fit. Individually, they look like this one:

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, Calaix 6, núm. 2090

Let me give you an example of the sort of question I was trying to answer. In the edition of the Vic charters, the editor warns you of his no. 246, which is a bequest, that a legacy to Bishop Radulf is added in a different ink. As I’m continually trying to problematise the idea of charter production, people messing with charters is meat and drink to me, so I wanted to see the original, and actually it’s more interesting than you would suppose:

Close-up of Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 9, episc. I, núm 50

Now the bit we’re interested in is five lines down, the gap, and the clause in the middle there which, you can take my word for it, reads (with gaps between words and the abbreviation expanded): “& ad seniori meo rodulfo ep[iscop]o ipso meo freno parato”, ‘and to my lord Bishop Radulf my selfsame embroidered bridle”. This is interesting because it’s not, as I had thought, an afterthought or even a fraud; for a start, although you can hopefully see that it is in a different ink, it’s by the same scribe, the handwriting is the same. More to the point, the bulk of that line was apparently left blank when the charter was first drawn up, as if they were expecting more to come. And where they added the first extra bit that we now see, it’s all squeezed up tight, as if there was going to be another extra clause put in after that. So three phases of redaction minimum, except that the third one never happens. Not, in any case, an on-the-spot production but something planned, worked out, agreed on and then somehow unfinished. This is the sort of problematisation I mean.

Before I emerged from the archive, Dr Sants had very kindly given me a tour round the whole thing. It’s huge. It occupies most of the old episcopal palace, and the stuff they have in there made me feel goshdarned ungrateful to be an early medievalist, because there’s so much brilliant stuff sitting there, perfectly preserved in dry cold, not being used. What could you do, for example, with a series of parish registers that runs from the Spanish Civil War back to circa 1280? With marriage registers for a town running from the fourteenth century to the present day? And quite a lot of gorgeous manuscripts too. In only wanting to use some 700 of their earliest tatty fragments, I did feel as if I was missing a trick somehow. I do recommend a trip to look if you’re in search of a project, though you will need to speak at least French and preferably Spanish, or best of all Catalan. If you must speak Spanish, at least affect a foreign accent so that they know you know no better.

The other thing that we did once I’d emerged into the light was visit the Museu Episcopal de Vic, which is on the same square in a very modern building. It sounds a little parochial, and I suppose it is but this is my parrochia, and it is actually the main museum of the surrounding area; when a local church is dug, for example, the bits wind up here. That said, they also have a small but interesting collection of Ancient and late Antique Egyptian stuff, why I don’t know, and a really good numismatic display, including the only two coins that really might come from tenth-century Catalonia. They also have, and this is what I was really after, a stone slab from the early church that preceded the monastery of Sant Pere de Casserres, which is (I have now seen and can say) covered in inscribed names in eleventh-century hands and spellings, and raises all kinds of questions I’ll solve some day about acceptance and integration of the monastery (which was founded in 1006). They also have a seemingly endless collection of wooden statues of Madonna and child but the other stuff, and the Museu bookshop, which sold me several vital things I could never have got in the UK, more than made up for this slight obsession, which didn’t really float my boat, gorgeous though some of it was. What they didn’t have, as you may by now have guessed, was permission for people to take photographs, but their website is good even if the English-language sections don’t go very deep, and I do recommend having a poke round it (requires Flash).

So that was Vic, and we left it having bought stuff to eat a peasant-style lunch with and went in search of a castle, which I’ll tell you about later.


1. The standard work on the city, if their website there isn’t enough for you, is Ramon Ordeig i Mata, Els orígens històrics de Vic (segles VIII-X) (Vic 1981), but some account is to be had in English from Paul H. Freedman, The Diocese of Vic: tradition and regeneration in medieval Catalonia (New Brunswick 1983), online at http://libro.uca.edu/vic/vic.htm, last modified 17 August 2000 as of 22 March 2008.

2. Oliba has been unusual in attracting quite a lot of attention from English-language scholars. The classic work on him is still in Catalan, Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals, L’Abat Oliba, Bisbe de Vic, i la seva època (Barcelona 1948; 2nd edn. 1948; 3rd edn. 1962), 3rd edn. repr. as “L’Abat Oliba i la seva època” in idem, Dels Visigots als Catalans, ed. J. Sobrequés i Callicó, Estudis i Documents XIII-XIV (Barcelona 1969, repr. 1974 & 1989), II pp. 141-277. However, to this one can now add Adam J. Kosto, “Oliba, Peacemaker” in I. Ollich i Castanyer (ed.), Actes del Congrés Internacional Gerbert d’Orlhac i el seu Temps: Catalunya i Europa a la fi del 1r mil·lenni, Vic-Ripoll, 10-13 de novembre de 1999 (Vic 1999), pp. 135-149, and, more obtainably, Paul H. Freedman, “A Charter of Oliba before his Entry into Religious Life” in Robert F. Berkhofer III, Alan Cooper & Adam J. Kosto (edd.), The Experience of Power in Medieval Europe, 950-1350: essays in honor of Thomas N. Bisson (Aldershot 2005), pp. 121-128. If you should want to study the metal man here, every scrap of writing that he produced or that mentions him (except that one presented by Freedman in the previous reference) is edited in Eduard Junyent i Subirà (ed.), Diplomatari i Escrits Literaris de l’Abat i Bisbe Oliba, ed. Anscari M. Mundó, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica XLIV (Barcelona 1992), and in there the papal condemnation of Abbess Ingilberga and her nuns is Diplomatari no. 49. Note that Oliba’s nephew Guillem immediately got the nunnery’s spare lands to become Bishop of Besalú with (ibid., no. 10); obviously nothing set-up about that at all! Meanwhile, on the Count-Bishop Miró, see Josep María Salrach, “El Bisbe-Comte Miró Bonfill i la seva obra de fundació i dotació de monestirs” in Eufèmia Fort i Cogul (ed.), II Col·loqui d’Història del Monaquisme Català, Sant Joan de les Abadesses 1970 vol. II, Scriptorium Populeti 9 (Poblet 1974), pp. 57-81, with English summary pp. 422-423.

3. See Kosto, “Oliba”, and more generally on the Peace of God, Thomas Head & Richard Landes (edd.), The Peace of God: social violence and religious responses in France around the year 1000 (Ithaca 1992).

4. Rafael Ginebra & Ramon Ordeig, “Índex alfabètic de noms” in Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats de Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-Arqueòlogica LIII (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, Pt. 3, pp. 1355-1563.

5. The two editions are P. Kehr, Die ältesten Papsturkunden Spaniens, erläutert und reproduziert, Abhandlungen der Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Jahrgang 1926, Philosophisch-Historische Klasse, Nr. 2 (Berlin 1926), and Pontificum Romanorum Diplomata Papyracea quae Supersunt in Tabulariis Hispaniae Italiae Germaniae phototypice expressa iussu Pii PP. XI (Roma 1929). The paper is called “Archbishop Ató of Osona: false metropolitans on the Marca Hispanica” and I hope to have it resubmitted some time in the latter part of this year.

6. That edition being E. Junyent i Subirà (ed.), El Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic, segles IX i X, ed. R. Ordeig i Mata (Vic 1980-1996), 5 fascs, in which these two charters are nos 247 & 246 respectively.