Tag Archives: Paul Fouracre

What to remember from the 2018 International Medieval Congress?

Although I feel that it probably is a sign that I am catching up on my blogged past, I have to admit that I face the fact that the next thing in my blog pile is the International Medieval Congress of three-and-a-half years ago with a certain unwillingness. I mean, I’ve spent much of the last two years either trying to stay off or being told I can’t go onto the campus where it happened, for a start, so there is definitely a sense that this is deep past which doesn’t have so much to do with time as experience. But I’ve done all the rest and the format for them seems pretty well worked out now, and so I will give it a go.

Postcard advertisement for the International Medieval Congress 2018

Postcard advertisement from the IMC website

This was, I am reminded as I fish the programme off the shelf, the 25th International Medieval Congress, and the programme is the fattest of all the ones on that shelf. I can’t actually work out how many sessions there were: it says that there were 392 sessions on the conference theme of Memory, 9 keynote lectures and 394 further sessions, plus 4 lectures, so I think it’s 799, but firstly I’m not sure if that was everything and secondly, that was the programme as initially published, not the result of all the subsequent changes you find in the also-thick booklet of changes when you register. And in any case, however many sessions there are, you still can’t go to more than 17 because that’s how many slots there are in the programme, which is massively parallel, and most delegates won’t manage that because of their feeble needs for food and sleep or because of wisely placing socialising with people you otherwise never see over more direct forms of academic engagement. I do like, however, how this means that it’s probably mathematically possible for more paths through the Congress to exist than there are attendees, since there were this year 2,545 attendees and, if my GCSE maths does not fail me, 1 x 53 x 1 x 54 x 54 x 13 = 2,009,124 possible combinations of sessions just on the Monday not including any of the receptions. How would we know if it got too big? Anyway, this just means that what I have done the last few times, just listing my own path and then offering a few remarks where things still stand out for me, seems like the best approach still, because I can’t give an impression of 2 million plus possible other Congress experiences in one blog post, now can I? So mine is below the cut, day by day with brief commentary on each day to lighten the data dump. As ever, I’m happy to try and answer questions about the papers if people have them, but I will try and stay short unless you do. Here we go! Continue reading

Leeds IMC report for 2015, part 3

A weekend full of reading lists and finishing small things didn’t leave time for blog, but this week I am back on it with the third part of the report from last year’s International Medieval Congress at Leeds. A great deal of this day was connected with the retirement of Professor Ian Wood, the same circumstance which led me to be taking up a post in his absence next year, which left me feeling simultaneously as if it would be tactless of me to be at those sessions and as if it would be rude of me not to. In the end, therefore, I let reverence of the greats and relevance to my interests guide me, and so the day began like this.

1014. The Merovingian Kingdoms: sessions in honour of Ian N. Wood, I

  • Yitzhak Hen, “Introduction”
  • Danuta Shanzer, “Avitus of Vienne: onwards and upwards”
  • Régine Le Jan, “Merovingian Elite in the 7th Century: competitive and cooperative logics”
  • Paul Fouracre, “Town and Country in Merovingian and Early Carolingian Hagiography”
  • Yitzhak Hen, “Response”
  • Beginning of a text of the so-called Law of Gundobad, from Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, Cod. Guelf. 130 Blank, fo. 150r

    Beginning of a text of the so-called Law of Gundobad, from Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, Cod. Guelf. 130 Blank, fo. 150r

    Professor Shanzer brought to the feast some findings from the work of the ninth-century bishop Agobard of Lyons, who was one of the very few people to use the work of Professor Shanzer’s and Professor Wood’s shared interest, the sixth-century Bishop Avitus of Vienne. Specifically, he uses a dialogue between Avitus and King Gundobad of Burgundy (473-516), a heretic (as Agobard saw it) for his Arian Christianity, and he uses it as part of an argument against the provisions of Burgundian law still being used in court in his day but it obviously existed, and would be fascinating to rediscover.1 Professor Le Jan used Dado of Rouen’s Life of Eligius to show what happened when seventh-century Frankish court politics booted people out to the provinces, where the oppositions often continued under the cladding of Church disputes.2 Eligius, a ‘Roman’, contended with the local Irish monastic Church supported by the Mayor of the Palace, but unlike some he was a good enough middleman to be able to maintain relations with the Mayor anyway, and Professor Le Jan suggested that people like this who could use friendship to bridge political gaps might be the ones to study to understand why the faction-riven Merovingian kingdoms didn’t just disintegrate in the seventh century. Lastly Paul drew attention to what he saw as a shift in the scenes of action in these very politicised Merovingian saints’ lives, in the early ones of which most significant things happen in towns and it’s when bishops leave the towns that they are vulnerable without their loyal flock, like so many mitred Red Riding Hoods except that the woodcutter is the one to watch out for, but in the later ones of which we move to an inhabitation of the landscape, with foundations in the wilderness, driving off of wild beasts (always male) and rural devils (often female), whether in South-West Germany, West Germany or Frisia.3 Christianity moved out to the countryside in the seventh century, if these texts are to be taken as reflective. I might also note that it apparently starts ignoring bishops in favour of monks, and obviously the phenomena are complex; Paul suggested they were the roots of a colonizing culture, but the old one that the Irish penitential exiles change the face of the early medieval Church could still emerge from this unbeaten, I think.4 Lastly, in his response Professor Hen went back to Professor Shanzer’s paper and noted firstly that Avitus doesn’t seem actually to call Gundobad himself an Arian, whether or not Agobard does, and secondly that unlike with most heretics, the Church almost always responded to Arians with debate, not suppression, which might be worth exploring.

After this, whether from embarrassment or not I don’t know, I reverted to my numismatic background for a session.

1143. Conceptualizing Value in Early Medieval Europe

  • Dagfinn Skre, “To Value and To Trade: two sides of the same coin”
  • Alessia Rovelli, “La monnaie comme mesure de la valeur et moyen d’échange dans l’Italie du haut moyen âge”, with “Summary” by Chris Wickham
  • Rory Naismith, “Pecuniary Profanities? Money, Ritual, and Value in the Early Middle Ages”
  • This was probably something I had to go to anyway, wasn’t it? The value systems that support early medieval coinage are increasingly something I worry about, since it is used so differently to modern money that assumptions are too easily transported. Here were three other people worrying about it too. There is a sort of orthodoxy that money came into being as a means to make trade easier; Dr Skre had lately met the work of David Graeber that questions this and suggests that pre-monetary societies work differently, with exchange structured by obligations, not by value; as soon as you have value as an independent concept, as a quantity that can be owed, a line has been crossed that the introduction of money doesn’t alter.5 I’ve been agnostic about this so far but Dr Skre’s looking at the earliest Norwegian lawcodes for compensation tariffs, measured in coin-terms but obviously untradeable (since you can’t pass on someone’s eye, etc.) had me readier to believe it than I had been before. Dr Rovelli looked at late-eighth-century Italy, where a system based on Lombard gold was rapidly (as far as documents mentioning the things indicate) replaced by a system based on Carolingian silver but where, as she explained, finds of Carolingian coinage are really very rare compared to silver of other periods. Of the finds that there are, only Milan’s and Venice’s coinages seem to have travelled very far but even then there’s not much.6 As Chris Wickham put it in summary, this makes it seem like the Carolingian denier was much more a unit of account than anything people actually used. Rory then followed this up by looking at the question of hoards of coins used as ritual deposits, not just in pagan contexts but specifically as Christian alms in the context of the Forum Hoard which he and others have been investigating.7 Obviously these are not a priori economic uses, and Rory matched this with XRF analysis of the contemporary papal silver, whose content is pretty unvarying and often higher than its contemporaries. There’s no sign that stuff given to the Holy See was being melted down to make more coin, therefore, the spheres were kept separate. I have my reservations about XRF for trace elements even when done really well, to which we’ll return in a few posts’ time, but this had been done well and by this time what Rory was suggesting seemed to make sense anyway.

    Silver denaro of Pope Benedict IV with Emperor Louis the Blind, struck in Rome between 901 and 903, NAC Numismatica SpA auction, 18 December 2010

    Silver denaro of Pope Benedict IV with Emperor Louis the Blind, struck in Rome between 901 and 903, NAC Numismatica SpA auction, 18 December 2010, a very special coin not just because of the price it made but because it is also an early medieval rebus. Can anyone see it?

    There was lots of discussion in this session. To my delight this included an orthodox Marxist (Señor de Carvalho Pachá of the previous day) insisting that value was capitalist and that Marx himself showed that Graeber is wrong, to which Dr Skre replied that in his materials value was created by comparison, not production, and when you’re dealing with compensation for offences against the person, that is a strong position I think. I suggested that precious-metal coin was all too high-value for us to talk about monetisation in any market sense anyway and that it must have all been ‘special’ in some way, to which Dr Skre again reasonably replied that coin is a lot lower-value than the masses of bullion people in his research area sometimes stashed or transacted. Morn Capper argued with Rory about whether the Forum Hoard could really be part of the English annual donation to the Holy See known as Peter’s Pence, since there isn’t that much of it from that point of view, and I don’t think this got settled. I then wound up arguing privately with Morn about the use of bronze coin; as she said, it does sometimes happen in Northern Europe, such as eighth-century Northumbria, but as I said it also happens anywhere Byzantine but, importantly, that doesn’t lead to the non-Byzantine areas in contact with those ones seeing low-value coin as solving a trade problem they’ve always had and adopting it straight away. The utility argument for money actually falls over badly when you place it in the early Middle Ages. This is one of the reasons I now contend for the value of the study of this period; it often breaks other people’s general theories quite badly!

So that was all really useful and left me with much to discuss with people over lunch, but for the rest of the day I was called back to the Rupert Beckett Lecture Theatre and the lauding and magnification of Ian Wood. The first of these sessions combined several loyalties, though, and I might have had to go anyway.

1214. Material Culture and Early Medieval History: sessions in honour of Ian N. Wood, III

  • Leslie Brubaker, “The Earliest Images of the Virgin Mary, East and West”
  • Helmut Reimitz, “Between Past and Future: Roman History in the Merovingian Kingdoms”
  • Richard Morris, “Landscape, Archaeology and the Coming of Christianity to Northern England”
  • Alan Thacker, “Response”
  • Leslie, at this point still in my chain of command, detected a difference between the way that the Virgin Mary was depicted in the early Christian world between Rome, where the popes were her biggest champions and between the fifth and eighth centuries settled into depicting her as the Queen of Heaven, in full golden royal attire. Perhaps naturally, in the East the emperors did not do this; Mary appeared enthroned with the Son, yes, but the royal attire stayed firmly on the imperial patrons. Helmut’s paper, despite his title, was more about the use of Roman law in the Merovingian kingdoms, focusing especially on the trial of Bishop Praetextatus by King Chilperic, because Chilperic condemned him according to the canon law of the Roman Church.8 Admittedly, Gregory of Tours claims that the king had added these laws to the canons himself, but the relevant law is in eleven manuscripts of the Theodosian Code and copied into five of the Breviary of Alaric and one of the Salic Law. The Roman past was still in use here, but not always by its self-appointed custodians. Richard Morris, picking up on another strand of Professor Wood’s work, looked at a group of Northumbrian monasteries of which several are only known through archæology, arguing that they were usually on previously-sacred sites but also represent a fair degree of royal initiative to establish Christianity so widely across a landscape so fast.9 The identity of the founders seems to me hard to demonstrate from archæology alone and the group didn’t seem to me to be too unified on a map, but the pagan precursors were well demonstrated. Lastly Alan drew the papers together with the thread of the Empire, one of the papal Marian churches being an imperial foundation in origin and these churches being the inspiration for at least some of the Northumbrian foundations like the (non-royal) Wearmouth-Jarrow. This session also achieved its purpose to an extent in that it provoked Professor Wood to draw further links between the papers, because as Alan had said, his work had enabled the spread of the session and its range of comparison in the first place.

    East wall of Santa Maria Antiqua, Rome

    East wall of Santa Maria Antiqua, Rome, showing where Leslie’s materials are coming from

Then tea and back to the theatre once more for the papers in this group which, for me at least, had promised the most fun of all.

1314. The Transformation of the Roman World: sessions in honour of Ian N. Wood, IV

  • Ralph Mathisen, “Pacu and his Brother: a Romano-Alamannic family from post-Roman Heidelberg”
  • Chris Wickham, “Information Exchange on the Papal Estates of Sicily, c. 600″
  • Ann Christys, “Was Spain Different in the Eighth Century?”
  • Stuart Airlie, “Response”
  • Detail from a replica of the seventh-century Alemannic scabbard from Gutenstein

    Detail from a replica of the seventh-century Alemannic scabbard from Gutenstein, not showing a great deal of Roman influence but of course also rather later than we’re talking about. Photo by Schristian Bickel – Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 2.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3078209

    Professor Mathisen focused on a single monument from the Agri Decumates, an area supposedly utterly lost to Roman control thanks to the Alemans in the third-century crisis; the names on the monument seem to show an Aleman with Roman children and invokes Roman gods but does so in a way that no other monument Professor Mathisen knew does, with a double field across which the text runs in continuous lines. I remember this and it looks weird—sadly I can’t find an image [Edit: but Mark H. can, as witness his comment, thankyou!]—but it’s obviously not a rejection of Rome, and there are apparently plenty of other signs of continuity in this area once one accepts that as possible. Conquest obviously wasn’t simple here. Chris then looked at the letters of Pope Gregory I, and I will probably remember nothing from this conference as warmly as his five-minute précis of the kinds of things Gregory was writing to his distant estate managers on Sicily about (“Give me back the onyx vase I lent you”), but the point was the level of micro-management Gregory was attempting by letter, chasing up cases and missed payments, making appointments, policing rent levels and answering pleas from his people against his own officials. It seems difficult to believe that this could have worked, given his removal from actual events, but he obviously thought it could, and this should perhaps make us think about other people whose letters didn’t happen to be preserved because of being pope.10 Ann Christys then reminded us of the awkwardly large gap we have between the conquest of al-Andalus by Muslim forces in 711 and the first texts that talk about it, from the ninth and tenth centuries; the archæology doesn’t show very much break until then either, but the texts are very uninterested in the Spanish past except as it had led to their conquest, even though it was still the environment in which their co-religionists and even they lived.11 Stuart Airlie, in closing, firstly wished that Bede could have done the response instead of him, secondly wondered why we even still try to divide the medieval from the ancient worlds and thirdly pointed out quite how many different agents we have to envisage in the transformation of the session’s title, working perhaps not as disconnectedly as is often imagined but all in their own local contexts and to purposes that cannot have been very much aligned. Whether the detail can ever be resynthesized is an open question but he encouraged everybody to keep working on it anyway. In discussion, it was Chris’s paper that drew the most questions, not least Professor Wood sagely pointing out that for some reason Gregory doesn’t try to manage his estates in Provence the same way, and Chris pointing out to someone else I didn’t know that tax can’t have been be the supporting infrastructure because it wasn’t to Rome that tax went any more. There was certainly a lot to think about now that we had been presented with a mechanic of governance in such detail.

Now, this was the night of the dance, but as is sadly becoming a tradition I didn’t go; I don’t like the Students Union’s club space in which it is held, or the drink they are willing to supply to help you endure it. I hope I’m not just too old now. I think I reverted instead to an ancient Leeds tradition of drinking beer in the bar with every intent of going along to the dance ‘to look’ until it was late enough that it made no sense to do so. After all, the next day was show-time, as I will report in a couple of posts’ time.

1. The text is his Adversus legem Gundobadi, printed in L. van Acker (ed.), Agobardi Lugdunensis opera omnia Corpus Christianorum Continuatio mediaevalis 52 (Leuven 1981), pp. 19-28 (no. 2). As far as I know there’s no translation yet.

2. Here the text is the Vita Eligii episcopi Noviomagensis, ed. by Wilhelm Levison in Bruno Krusch (ed.), Passiones vitaeque sanctorum aevi Merovingici (II), Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Scriptores rerum merovingicarum) IV (Hannover 1902), pp. 663-742, transl. JoAnn McNamara in Paul Halsall (ed.), Internet Medieval Sourcebook, http://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/basis/eligius.asp, last modified October 1998 as of 1 September 2016.

3. Paul’s examples were the Passio Praeecti, well-known to him of course and full of buildings, the Lives of the Jura Fathers, with the landscape out to get the exiles, Jonas’s Vita Columbani, where the rustics are the saint’s biggest fans, and the Vita Sturmi, Vita Galli and Gesta Abbati Sancti Wandregisili for clearance and colonisation. You can find these respectively as Bruno Krusch (ed.), “Passio Praeiecti episcopi et martyris Arverni”, in Krusch & Wilhelm Levison (edd.), Passiones vitaeque sanctorum aevi Merovingici (III), Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Scriptores rerum merovingicarum) V (Hannover 1910), pp. 225-248, transl. in Paul Fouracre & Richad Gerberding (transl.), Late Merovingian France: history and hagiography 640-720 (Manchester 1996), pp. 254-300; François Martine (ed./transl.), Vita patrum jurensium : Vie des Pères du Jura. Introduction, texte critique, lexique, traduction et notes, Sources chrétiennes 142 (Paris 1968), English in Tim Vivian, Kim Vivian, Jeffrey Burton Russell and Charles Cummings (edd./transl.), The Lives of the Jura Fathers: The Life and Rule of the Holy Fathers Romanus, Lupicinus, and Eugendus, Abbots of the Monasteries in the Jura Mountains, with appendices, Avitus of Vienne, Letter XVIII to Viventiolus, and Eucherius of Lyon, The Passion of the Martyrs of Agaune, Saint Maurice and His Companions, and In Praise of the Desert, Cistercian Studies 178 (Kalamazoo 1999) or as Vivian, Vivian & Russell (transl.), Lives of the Jura Fathers (Collegeville MN 2000); Krusch (ed.), “Vitae Columbani abbatus et discipulorumque eius libri duo auctore Iona” in idem (ed.), Passiones vitaeque sanctorum aevi Merovingici (I), Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Scriptores rerum merovingicarum) III (Hannover 1902), pp. 1-156 at pp. 64-108, English in Dana C. Munro (transl.). “Life of St Columban, by the Monk Jonas” in Translations and Reprints from the Original Sources of European History Vol. II no. 7 (Philadelphia PA 1895); Eigil, Vita Sancti Sturmi, in Goegr Heinrich Pertz (ed.), Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Scriptores in folio) II (Hannover 1829), pp. 365-377, transl. C. H. Talbot in idem, The Anglo-Saxon Missionaries in Germany (London 1954), pp. 181-204, repr. in Thomas F. X. Noble and Thomas Head (edd.), Soldiers of Christ: saints and saints’ lives from late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages (University Park 1995), pp. 165-188; Maud Joynt (ed./transl.), The Life of St Gall (Burnham-on-Sea 1927); and F. Lohier & Jean Laporte (edd.), Gesta sanctorum patrum Fontanellensis coenobii (Rouen 1931), as far as I know no English version.

4. On which see for example Marie-Thérèse Flanagan, “The contribution of Irish missionaries and scholars to medieval Christianity” in Brendan Bradshaw and Dáire Keogh (edd.), Christianity in Ireland: revisiting the story (Blackrock 2002), pp. 30-43 (non vidi).

5. The book of Graeber’s I was told to read, long ago, is his Toward an Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of Our Own Dreams (New York City 2001), but it seems that his Debt: the first 5000 years (Brooklyn NY 2011) is now the go-to. On this exact subject, though, compare William Ian Miller, Eye for an Eye (Cambridge 2005), pp. 160-179.

6. This kind of detail of circulation can be got from Clemens Maria Haertle, Karolingische Münzfunde aus dem 9. Jahrhundert (Wien 1997), 2 vols.

7. See already R. Naismith, “Peter’s Pence and Before: Numismatic Links between Anglo-Saxon England and Rome” in Francesca Tinti (ed.), England and Rome in the early Middle Ages: pilgrimage, art, and politics (Turnhout 2014), pp. 217-254.

8. Described in Gregory of Tours, The History of the Franks, transl. Lewis Thorpe (Harmondsworth 1968), V.18; I’m sure you can find the Latin yourselves if you are such as need it.

9. Cited, and for good reason, was Ian N. Wood, “Monasteries and the Geography Of Power in the Age of Bede” in Northern History 45 (2008), pp. 11-26.

10. The letters are translated in John Martyn (transl.), The Letters of Gregory the Great, translated with an introduction and notes (Toronto 2004), 2 vols. There’re lots!

11. See now Nicola Clarke, The Muslim Conquest of Iberia: Medieval Arabic Narratives (Abingdon: Routledge 2012).

History and hagiography (short book plaudit)

Cover of Paul Fouracre and Richard A. Gerberding, Late Merovingian France

Cover of Paul Fouracre and Richard A. Gerberding, Late Merovingian France

A luxury that we don’t often get with the early Middle Ages is being able to contrast two opposing sources. It is kind of the key of how we try to teach students, or at least I would like it to be, but nonetheless it’s rather rare in any situation from our period to be able to clearly define two or more sides to a question and then find sources from those sides. However, sanding down my mental rust patches for the QMUL teaching led me to take a rapid run through Paul Fouracre’s and Richard Gerberding’s Late Merovingian France and somewhat to my surprise that is one of the things it can offer, in the form of two saints lives, that of Leudegar and that of Præjectus, who almost through no fault of their own wound up as leaders of opposing factions at the same royal court in 675, a court which saw the arrest and blinding of one and the murder of his chief ally, a murder for which the other was then blamed and murdered by his opponents when he got home.1 This, when sewn together by the cunning of the editors’ commentary, makes quite a good thing to learn with. I am more convinced than ever that Roger Collins might have been right when, at a legendary seminar held shortly after the publication of The Da Vinci Code, he told us all that that proved what he’d known all along, that the real money was with the Merovingians.

The blinding of St. Leger, Bishop of Autun, from a French Bible of c. 1200 via Wikimedia Commons

The blinding of St. Leger, Bishop of Autun, from a French Bible of c. 1200 via Wikimedia Commons

Statue of Saint Præjectus (Saint Pry) at Saint-Prix (Val-d\'Oise), from Wikimedia Commons

Statue of Saint Præjectus (Saint Pry) at Saint-Prix (Val-d'Oise), from Wikimedia Commons

I hadn’t realised how political these saints’ lives could get. I rather like hagiography as a source but I’m too used to Celtic vitae which are most fun because of how crazy their miracles are. With the saints’ lives that Fouracre and Gerberding pick, though, the miracles are almost an afterthought; though the protagonists lead holy lives, they are known as saints mainly because of miracles after their deaths, and their ‘martyrdom’ is not so much explained by their faith but by their being obdurate in the face of entirely worldly opposition. This makes the texts less cult promotion and more efforts of community reconciliation, and they have lots of spiky bits that couldn’t yet be forgotten when they were written. The grit and argument is very well brought out by the editors and the things that they feel the sources show clearly explained. These sources also include a chunk (but not all, as I had somehow come to believe) of the Liber Historiae Francorum, one of the few narrative histories of the pre-royal Carolingians that actually predates their becoming royal, and a largish swathe of the Annales Mettenses priores for contrast, plus Lives of SS Balthild, Audoin, Aunemund, Leudegar, Præjectus, Geretrud and Foillan, all of whose stories touch at points, mostly through the court (e. g. Aunemund is supposedly killed by order of Balthild, Geretrud is daughter of Pippin II). These are largely sympathetically translated—Merovingian Latin is apparently less ornate than Carolingian stuff, which is partly shown by the later Annales included here—and only a few modern idioms jar. The single defect is that the book is plagued with typoes, almost all of which seem to be omitted letters; I don’t know if there was some botched transfer from hard to electronic copy that stripped line ends or something, but it seems to have been something like that. These do not, however, stop this being one of the most interesting and well-presented source volumes I’ve ever used and I only wish it covered more years.2

1. Full citation: Paul Fouracre & Richard A. Gerberding (transl.), Late Merovingian France: history and hagiography 640-720, Manchester Medieval Sources (Manchester 1996); the Passio Leudegarii and Passio Præjecti are pp. 193-300.

2. I think my favourite source-book remains Paul Dutton’s Carolingian Civilization: a reader, Readings in Medieval Civilizations and Cultures 1 (Peterborough ON 1994, repr. 2002), because of the huge range of stuff it has in it and the erudite translations, but I realise that this isn’t much use if you’re not studying the Carolingians. Well, you know, why not start?

What’s in an immunity? II

I have just been picking the brains of Paul Fouracre on this question, via the means of his 1995 paper in Davies & himself’s Property and Power. It’s a very odd piece, trying to step a very precise line between giving a specialist answer and general conclusions, but a couple of bits definitely stand out for insight: firstly pointing out that, although when a king concedes an immunity he is certainly giving away fiscal, or public as some might say, rights even if no-one can agree how much. But who’s going to enforce this privatisation of power when the new owner has trouble exercising it? The king, of course, so you’ve got public defence of a private power holding public rights and private and public and private and public and please, let’s use some different words now. The problem is still the same though, why do people get these concessions when the king can’t enforce them? What’s that connection to the royal power of yesteryear worth to my Catalan monks, eh?

Confirmation of the privileges of the Abbey of St-Denis by King Clovis II, 22 June 653, on original papyrus

The other much more important point though is one wisely made, that though immunities have long been placed at the root of the weakening of royal authority in favour of local lords, really, there are no known immunities to laymen (except actually there are, but Paul as do so many people has a footnote saying Catalonia is too weird to count—O RLY!) and no lordships of that kind that we know of built on an earlier concession of immunity. Except in Italy. Oh, and in Germany. But really only France counts for the feudal transformation scholarship, as Tim Reuter mordantly observed the same year.

Actually, that’s the third thing, I love how the Bucknell group were so cheerful about disagreeing with each other. Chris Wickham gets cited three or four times in this paper and almost every time Paul is dismissing his view as ridiculous. I’m sure Chris will have done the same in reverse in his paper later in the volume, because of course they were all at the discussions out of which the book came… Seeing Patrick Wormald arguing with Jinty Nelson at the IHR had the same thing going on; both very sharp and both completely enjoying it, because they’d been practising these arguments for years. Such a pity that he and Tim are gone, I enjoyed what little I caught of them a great deal.

Paul Fouracre, “Eternal Light and Earthly Needs: practical aspects of the development of Frankish immunities” in Wendy Davies & Paul Fouracre (edd.), Property and Power in Early Medieval Europe (Cambridge 1995), pp. 53-81.

What’s in an immunity?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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