Tag Archives: preservation

Preservation not by neglect

Long-term readers will know that one of the things that concerns me in my researches is why we come to have the documents that we have. If we remember that almost all documents of the early Middle Ages that we have survive via Church archives, we have a perpetual issue about whether we have any means to get at what laymen did between themselves by way of property transfer, management and all the other things I talk about, or whether we’re stuck with the Church’s-eye view of the era. In some areas, and Catalonia is perhaps the most important of these cases, we have plenty of documents which are solely lay transactions but still surviving via a Church archive, so the problem is less bad but we could still use knowing who selected the documentation and what else there might have been out there.

Vic, Arxiu Capitular, Calaix 6 no. 554

A genuine lay transaction in a Church archive, Vic, Arxiu Capitular, Calaix 6 no. 554 in which Sabrosa sold some land in Folgueroles to two couples in 915 (edited as Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. no. 142).

Until the 1990s there was really only one answer to this anywhere, which is that property involved in those transactions must have subsequently come to the Church and the charters just never sorted; this we can suppose partly because of things like documents that were marked for weeding and never disposed of and also because of the many places where, when such an effort was made to sort the charters, it was so as to make a cartulary that removed the need for the original documents and as a result of which we no longer have them.1 This is what I have called ‘preservation by neglect’. In this formulation, if there is a cartulary there would be no originals and indeed we very rarely have both, even in Catalonia.2 But in areas like Catalonia where the survival of originals is generally high, and people have either supposed much higher production of documents and what Julia Smith has called ‘document-mindedness’ or else much lower losses here than elsewhere, depending on their views of early medieval literacy, it has been easier to form other opinions, such as that somehow Church archives came to preserve dossiers of lay documents that people had initially maintained outside the Church, or that churches and monasteries were actually fulfilling a rôle as archival institutions for their patrons.3 Last year this line of thought culminated in the volume that finally came out of the Lay Archives project, which has added a lot of complexities to the modalities of this but more or less concludes that, yes, people did keep documents at home and all these things could probably have happened to such documents eventually if they happen to have survived.4

Cover of Warren Brown, Marios Costambeys, Matthew Innes & Adam Kosto (edd.), Documentary Culture and the Laity in the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge 2013)

Cover of Warren Brown, Marios Costambeys, Matthew Innes & Adam Kosto (edd.), Documentary Culture and the Laity in the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge 2013)

Cover of Josep María Salrach's Justícia i poder en Catalunya abans de l'any mil (Vic 2013)

Cover of Josep María Salrach’s Justícia i poder en Catalunya abans de l’any mil (Vic 2013)

Oblivious to all this as far as can be told (and obviously of the last given the timing), in Catalonia last year Josep María Salrach published a book I’ve now mentioned quite a lot and, as I said in my review of it, he happens all the same to mention things that bear directly on a number of heated debates in the historiography outside Catalonia, of which this is one. Something that we generally lack in this question is any evidence of charters that existed already actually coming to the archive of a church. It can sometimes be deduced that this must have happened, but it’s never usually explicit. But Salrach has a case of it, which he throws in while discussing something slightly different, the process in early medieval Catalonia for replacing lost documents.5 The date is 29th January 879, the place is Sant Esteve d’Estoer in Conflent and the occasion is a large hearing convened by the monks of Sant Andreu d’Eixalada as had been till the previous year, when a devastating flood of the Riu Tet washed their new community away along with its archive.6

Saint-Michel de Cuxa

Saint-Michel de Cuxa, as it now is. By Babsy (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

On their way to re-establishing themselves as Sant Miquel de Cuixà, with what was obviously considerable success, they held a large number of hearings in which they invoked the bit of the Visigothic Law known now as reparatio scripturae, repair of a document, by which one could get a lost document replaced by bringing witnesses to its content to swear a solemn oath, whose record then became your new charter.7 At this one, the monks produced their witnesses, Ató, Guisind, Sió, Quixilà, Espanla, Guisad and Llop, and the first thing to which they swore was a donation by Count Miró I of Conflent and Rosselló, of whom we heard last post but one. What they were recorded as saying is as follows:

“We swear first of all by God, the Omnipotent Father, and by Jesus Christ, His Son, and the Holy Spirit, who is in Trinity the One True God, or also by the relics of Saint Stephen, martyr of Christ, whose basilica is known to be founded in the villa of Estoer, on whose sacrosanct altar we placed these conditions with our hands or touched them together while swearing, that we the already-said witnesses known and well recall in truth, saw with our eyes and heard with our ears and were present in the villa of Escaró when Count Miró commended his documents of purchase and royal precept to Abbot Baró and the monk Protasi, and we saw the selfsame documents reading and re-reading and we know the whole series of those documents.”

And they went on to give abstracts of four charters, usually including the scribes’ name and always the date, and all were in favour not of the monastery but of the count.8 One of them was in fact a transaction in which the monastery-as-was had sold the property in question to him!9 (Another was a court case which his representative Sesnan, whom we met last post but one, actually won.10) Nonetheless, it was Abbot Baró and Protasi who had called for the ceremony and provided the witnesses, and the count was not present, the hearing unusually being chaired only by a group of seven judges.

Saint-Étienne d'Estoher

The modern state of Sant Esteve de’Estoer, now better known as Saint-Étienne d’Estoher, where the hearing was being held

So what do we have here? There’s no clue that any of these properties then went to Eixalada in the five-or-less years since they had been recorded there, nor is that what the document they came away from this hearing with claimed. It looks awfully as if Miró had in fact been using the monastery as an archive and they then felt obligated to replace his lost documents as well as their own. But can there only have been four? Well, probably not because apart from anything else they did not recall and replace the royal precept that they initially mention (which indeed, if they were genuinely reading the texts, may have been beyond them given its chancery script), so there could be several more documents than are actually recalled here.11 That’s a pretty meagre archive all the same, even less than we might have expected. But at least we know why we would have it, if of course it had only survived…

1. Simon D. Keynes, “Royal government and the written word in late Anglo-Saxon England” in Rosamond McKitterick (ed.), The Uses of Literacy in Early Mediaeval Europe (Cambridge 1990), pp. 226-257; Patrick J. Geary, Phantoms of Remembrance: remembering and forgetting in the tenth and eleventh centuries (Princeton 1994).

2. Barcelona, Urgell and Vic cathedrals all have Libri of some status in which some of their documents were copied as well as sheafs of originals, but Girona cathedral and several monasteries (Poblet springs to mind) only have cartularies and some places have lost even those (Elna most obviously).

3. Janet L. Nelson, “Dispute Settlement in Carolingian West Francia” in Wendy Davies & Paul Fouracre (edd.), The Settlement of Disputes in Early Medieval Europe (Cambridge 1986), pp. 46-63 at pp. 53-55, Adam J. Kosto, “Laymen, Clerics and Documentary Practices in the Early Middle Ages: the example of Catalonia” in Speculum Vol. 80 (Cambridge MA 2005), pp. 44-74 and Matthew Innes, “Practices of Property in the Carolingian Empire” in Jennifer R. Davies & Michael McCormick (edd.), The Long Morning of Early Medieval Europe: new directions in early medieval studies (Aldershot 2008), pp. 247-266, for lay dossiers; Warren Brown, “When documents are destroyed or lost: lay people and archives in the early Middle Ages” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 11 (Oxford 2002), pp. 337-366 at pp. 351-354 for the alternative.

4. Idem, Marios Costambeys, Innes & Kosto (edd.), Documentary Culture and the Laity in the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge 2013); here see esp. eidem, “Conclusion”, pp. 363-376.

5. Salrach, Justícia i poder a Catalunya abans de l’any mil, Referències 55 (Vic 2013), here pp. 194-198.

6. Jeffrey Bowman, Shifting Landmarks: property, proof and dispute in Catalonia around the year 1000 (Ithaca 2004), pp. 152-156; for more detail see Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals, “Com neix i creix un gran monestir pirinenc abans de l’any mil: Eixalada-Cuixà” in Analecta Montserratensia Vol. 8 (Montserrat 1955), pp. 125-337, repr. in idem, Dels Visigots als Catalans, ed. Jaume Sobrequés i Callicó, Estudis i Documents XIII & XIV (Barcelona 1969, repr. 1974 & 1989), 2 vols, I pp. 377-484 without documentary appendix.

7. The classic discussion is José Rius Serra, “Reparatio Scriptura” in Anuario de Historia del Derecho Español Vol. 5 (Madrid 1928), pp. 246-253; cf. Bowman, Shifting Landmarks, pp. 151-161, who is sceptical about its possible accuracy.

8. Pierre Ponsich (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia VI: els comtats de Rosselló, Conflent, Vallespir i Fenollet, rev. Ramon Ordeig i Mata, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica LXX (Barcelona 2006), 2 vols, doc. no. 121, with the quoted documents indexed separately as nos 82, 84, 86 & 100, here 121: “Iuramus in primis per Deum, patrem omnipotentem, et per Iesum Christum, filium eius, Sanctumque Spiritum, qui est in trinitate unus et verus Deus, sive et per reliquias sancti Stephani, martyris Christi, cuius baselica in villa Astovere fundata esse dinoscitur, supra cuius sacrosancto altare has conditiones manibus nostris continemus vel iurando contangimus, quia nos iamdicti testes scimus et bene in veritate sapemus, oculis nostris vidimus et aures audivimus, et presentes eramus in villa Ascarone cuando comendabat Miro comes ad barone abbate et Protasio monacho suas scripturas emptionis et preceptum regalem, et vidimus ipsas scripturas legentes et relegentes, et cognovimus omnem seriem illarum scripturam.”

9. Ibid. no. 82.

10. Ibid. no. 86.

11. It might, admittedly, be because actually the other documents survived; Ramon d’Abadal i de Vinyals (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia I: els diplomes carolingis a Catalunya, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica 2 & 3 or 75 (Barcelona 1926-1952, repr. 2009), I pp. 80-88, thought that the precept must be that that survived into the seventeenth century to be copied and thence edited by him as ibid. Cuixà I, but that text doesn’t mention Miró at all and it’s not clear why he should ever have held it. I think the precept mentioned here was probably Miró’s own.

A threat to learning that we rarely consider

Old Scary-Go-Round `Bears Will Eat You' t-shirt artwork

I have some sort of rule about not featuring my students on this blog, as you may have observed. It’s not fair on them to be identifiable in such a fashion, I figure, and looks unprofessional and gossipy. Sometimes, however, just sometimes, the exigencies of due credit require a breach of this rule. I cannot, cannot pass up the chance to blog this gem that one of my students the term before last found in the reading, and since I hadn’t seen it myself I think she deserves credit. I have checked with her and she’s cool with that so all due praise to her and on we go. I quote no-one less than Giles Constable:

… there was an active exchange of manuscripts among religious houses in the twelfth century. Peter the Venerable wrote to the Carthusians in 1136/7 asking for a volume of the letters of St Augustine ‘because by accident a bear ate a large part of ours in one of our dependencies’.69

69 Peter the Venerable, Ep. 25, ed. Constable, I, 47; see the notes in II, 112.

This only goes to prove that Carl was right, as so often, to warn us all from Got Medieval: “When you least expect it… expect BEARS!!!” Though how one got a taste for Augustine, I guess that Peter sadly felt it unedifying to explain…

The quote from Giles Constable, The Reformation of the Twelfth Century, Trevelyan Lectures 1985 (Cambridge 1996), p. 222, cit. Jane Cahill, “Why did the monastic ideal exercise such a potent influence upon both clergy and laity before c. 1200?”, unpublished essay for the course ‘General History II: the formation of medieval Christendom, 1000-1300‘, 1st November 2011; Constable’s reference is to Constable (ed.), The Letters of Peter the Venerable, Harvard Historical Studies 78 (Cambridge 1967), 2 vols.

In Marca Hispanica XIII: more stones than parchment I (Santa Maria de Ripoll)

Santa Maria de Ripoll, photographed from a car in 2008

Santa Maria de Ripoll, photographed from a car in 2008, which is as close as I then got

The kind lift back from Vallfogona recounted in the previous one of these posts put me in the town of Ripoll, with the option either of running for a train right away, or waiting an hour and looking around. Even in the failing light, the latter seemed the wise option because last time I was here, I had to miss it out and I didn’t want to do so twice. Besides, Ripoll grew somewhat during industrialisation and its medieval heritage is now constrained to a fairly small area, which is easy to look around if, as I had, you arrive too late to get inside the monastery.

Old railway shed, with locomotive still therein, now cut off from the railway at Ripoll

Old railway shed, with locomotive still therein, now cut off from the railway at Ripoll

The industrial nature of the town is still fairly clear when you come in; at a distance the monastery’s tower shares the skyline with cranes, silos and chimneys. Things are still not what they once were here, though; the station used to have seven tracks through it and was now making do with two out of a notional four. The Estació Nova, a handsome nineteenth-century building, stands derelict and a new concrete bungalow does for the job of the old Estació that was presumably once insufficient. The railway apparently died back so quickly here that it wasn’t even worth recovering the shunter (switcher, if you’re speaking US English) that lurks still in that disconnected shed. There is a preserved post-war electric locomotive parked on the station verge (visible in the photo linked for Estació Nova above) as a sign of what so recently was; the town has been amassing history recently as well as in my period.1

West front of Santa Maria de Ripoll in evening sunshine

West front of Santa Maria de Ripoll in evening sunshine

If you are a medievalist, however, you’re here for the monastery of Santa Maria, which I have often mentioned here before but for which I now have my own pictures. Even this is more nineteenth-century history than you might expect, though, because as has also been mentioned here this place was burnt down in 1835, with the loss of its entire archive. What you see here is a careful and painstaking 1880s reconstruction. It’s a tremendous job, but there is therefore a reason why it appears so well-preserved.

Arcades around the central apse and most northerly apsidiole at Santa Maria de Ripoll

Arcades around the central apse and most northerly apsidiole at Santa Maria de Ripoll

Santa Maria was big, really big. I mean, you may think Sant Joan de les Abadesses or Sant Benet de Bages were big but that’s just peanuts… well, no, OK, but it is fairly substantial. One good example of the intent of the builder, who was none other than that metal bishop we’ve seen here before and will again, Oliba of Vic, also Abbot of this and several other monasteries, ex-count and an originator of the Peace of God, already, is that he had already had Sant Miquel de Cuixà’s church rebuilt with five apses rather than the usual three (one for the nave, one for each aisle). Somehow Santa Maria, which obviously needed to defend its premier status, wound up with seven.2

The apse and apsidioles, transept and two of the three towers  of Santa Maria de Ripoll

The apse and apsidioles, transept and two of the three towers of Santa Maria de Ripoll

Santa Maria is now very much embedded in the town, but it probably always was since the actual parish church, Sant Pere de Ripoll, which like Santa Maria and Sant Joan have been here a long time in some form or other, is hardly any distance away at all, and as early as we can tell this sort of thing about it (908, to the best of my knowledge) it was being staffed by the monks.3 So Benedictine though it might have been, this monastery was in direct contact with the people it ruled.

The tower of Sant Pere de Ripoll, with Santa Maria beyond

The tower of Sant Pere de Ripoll, with Santa Maria beyond

The loss of records is still immensely frustrating though. Santa Maria was a sufficiently large landholder that it had property in every county of Catalonia, it may have been the largest landholder in the region (albeit probably second to the counts of Barcelona). I mean, it says something that they had four cartularies, even if one of them substantially duplicated another.4 The counts managed to get Sant Joan, similarly privileged but not as wealthy, shut down; Santa Maria they could only take over from the inside.5 And we have almost nothing to go on in reconstructing that importance. We don’t have nothing: one of the place’s archivists, a chap called Roc d’Olzinelles, wrote a manuscript inventory of the most important donations by nobles and others with extended abstracts of the texts, and that survives.6 Also, Santa Maria, like many religious establishments in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, divided its revenues up into shares that were assigned to individuals at one point, and one of these, the Pabordia de Palau, later came under the control of the Bishop of Vic somehow, which meant that in the eighteenth century Vic got abstracts made of all the documents relating to property serving that Pabordia, which also survive. So we have, if you like, the icing and decoration and one slice out of Santa Maria’s overall patrimonial cake, but we can’t tell how much of the cake the slice is and since both sets of abstracts omit witnesses, neighbours and in extreme cases the names of the donors, and very rarely record sales which other archives suggest should have been the majority of documents preserved, these are portions from which all the fruit, nuts and silver balls have been removed already to make it easier to digest.7 Pah. Certainly, I can’t do my sort of stuff with this sample in any useful way, which leaves me continually struggling to estimate what the dark matter of Santa Maria’s influence in any given area I study might have been, especially at smaller but better-preserved Sant Joan, which had once been run by Santa Maria’s abbot and where people might easily play the two monasteries off against each other, but I can only very rarely see that happening.8

The two western towers of Santa Maria de Ripoll in slanting evening sunlight

The two western towers of Santa Maria de Ripoll in slanting evening sunlight. Weirdly, it's the smaller and less Romanesque one that is original; the original of the other one came down in an earthquake in 1428, and had never been replaced when the nineteeth-century rebuild here was done, so they used models from elsewhere. (Linked to details; the picture is mine though.)

That impossibility of putting the place to work for me is one of the reasons why I’ve never made the effort to get here for the place itself; instead I have tended to be here because it’s the railhead for exploration of the Ripollès more widely. Nonetheless, it is very much worth seeing: as a learned correspondent said of it in an exchange at the time, “comme c’est beau!”.

The western portal at Santa Maria de Ripoll

The western portal at Santa Maria de Ripoll, from Wikimedia Commons, whose photographer had better light than did I; this is your actual authentic Romanesque.

1. And, obviously, at all points in between; it’s just that it’s substantially the eleventh and twentieth centuries they’ve chosen to memorialise in the parts of the town where I went.

2. There’s a number of dedicated studies of Santa Maria, largely from an architectural point of view, but I’m here working off Antoni Pladevall i Font, Joan-Albert Adell i Gisbert and Xavier Barral i Altet, “Santa Maria de Ripoll” in Pladevall (ed.), Catalunya Romànica X: el Ripollès, ed. Jordi Vigué (Barcelona 1987), pp. 206-334. On the metal bishop geezer, see n. 5 below.

3. Sant Pere turns up in a donation of that year from the lost Ripoll archive that we have in regestum, a donation made by one Francolino, who was the person who by failing to provide proof that backed up their claim lost Guimarà and Bonita their case against Abbess Emma in 918 that I mentioned in the Vallfogona post, in fact; this was a small world. The document is printed in Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i de Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), doc. no. 156, which explains: “Abbates enim et Monachi servientes domum S. Petri presentes et futuri ita obtineant sicut ceteris alodibus S. Petro pertinentibus”, ‘for the abbots and monks, present and future, serving the house of Saint Peter may obtain it just like the other alods belonging to Sant Pere’. Sant Pere doesn’t have an abbot or monks of its own, so they must be coming from the monastery next door. For more on Francolino, see n. 8 below; for more on Sant Pere, see Antoni Pladevall i Font, Joan-Albert Adell i Gisbert, R, Bastardes i Parera and J. Bracons i Clapés, “Sant Pere de Ripoll” in Pladevall, Catalunya Romànica X, pp. 335-343.

4. The old archive is discussed pithily by Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, I pp. 36-39.

5. This they did by putting Oliba, son of a Marquis of Cerdanya and brother of the count whose son became bishop on the back of Sant Joan’s endowment after it was shut down, in as a monk who soon became abbot. It was really a very handy monastic conversion, although I don’t mean to suggest it wasn’t sincere; Oliba was quite the churchman over his life, and probably well suited to the vocation. For the details behind my cynical take on the episode, see J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power (London 2010), pp. 70-71 and references there; for a nicer account that leaves Oliba creditable motives, see

Cover of Ramon d'Abadal i de Vinyals's L'Abat Oliba, Bisbe de Vic, i la seva època, 3rd edn.

Cover of Ramon d'Abadal i de Vinyals's L'Abat Oliba, Bisbe de Vic, i la seva època, 3rd edn.

Ramon d’Abadal de Vinyals, L’Abat Oliba, Bisbe de Vic, i la seva època 3rd edn. (Barcelona 1962), repr. as “L’Abat Oliba, Bisbe de Vic, i la seva època” in Abadal, Dels Visigots als Catalans, ed. Jaume Sobrequés i Callicó, Estudis i documents XIII & XIV (Barcelona 1969, repr. 1974, 1989), II pp. 141-277, at pp. 83-111 of the original, which I cite because I bought it the next day from Costa Llibreter in Vic, a lovely bookshop stacked with things they can only just find just aa proper bookshop should be—it doesn’t come over the same way on the Internet but they are there—and here is my copy! That all said, a quick English-language introduction to the man and his career can be found in Adam J. Kosto, “Oliba, Peacemaker”, in Immaculada 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, but you may actually find Abadal’s book easier to get hold of…

6. Roc d’Olzinelles, “Índex de les donacions de comtes i reis i de les butlles pontifícies existents a l’arxiu de Ripoll”, Biblioteca de Catalunya, MS 430. Not on loan when I wrote this, you’ll be glad to know!

7. Quite a lot of this material is in Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, and presumably lots more is in other volumes of the Catalunya Carolíngia, but it’s still quite hard to know how much we do have that was copied by various people for various purposes and is now scattered from Madrid to Paris. A reasonable dissertation project for someone close to the area might be to try and assemble a kind of Diplomatari de Ripoll and see if we can work out what survives, how much there might originally have been and what areas we’ve obviously not got. I did inquire about getting a grant to do this from the Generalitat at one point but it never got further than informal enquiries because those never got answered. Oh well.

8. One instance being Francolino, seen in n. 3 above, who had land in many places around Sant Joan apparently but whom we only see give to Sant Pere de Ripoll, and another being a chap called Anno, who at one point is working as saio, a kind of Visigothic constable, in Vallfogona, but is seen before that representing the Abbot of Santa Maria in court. On these guys see Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled, pp. 62-64 & 42-43 respectively. For the phase before Abbess Emma’s majority when Santa Maria’s abbot, Dagui, ran Sant Joan, see R. d’Abadal i de Vinyals, “La fundació del Monestir de Ripoll” in Miscel·lània Anselm M. Albareda Vol. I, Analecta Montserratensia Vol. 9 (Montserrat 1962), pp. 187-197, repr. in idem, Dels Visigots als Catalans Vol. I, pp. 485-494, though be aware that this is one of many cases where they fitted the reprint into its swollen double volume by leaving out the useful documentary appendix.

Seminar LXXXIV: going to law in post-Visigothic Spain

On the 2nd February I had a great quandary. In London, at the Institute of Historical Research, the estimable Rosemary Morris was presenting what I understand was an excellent paper featuring charters and shouty peasants; you’d think I’d have been there. But at the same time in Oxford, which is after all where I live now, Graham Barrett was presenting to the Oxford Medieval Church and Culture Seminar about surprisingly similar matters, and his charters and peasants were Spanish not Byzantine. Because of this ability to actually read the documents in question, and the matter of the train fare and late night, and also because Graham is one of two or three people who I’m perpetually glad aren’t working on Catalonia, because if they were I’d have nothing left to say, I opted in the end to stay in town for his paper. It is possible that Professor Morris’s paper will be covered by someone else, and I’ll mention it if that happens; I certainly hope it will. But Graham’s paper was entitled “Visigothic Law after the Visigoths” and it was certainly jolly interesting. It was also rather a while ago, but Graham said afterwards that he was disappointed to see that I wasn’t podcasting it live to the web, so I feel that a slight delay is only just revenge for his taking the mickey…

Title page of a 1058 León codex including a copy of the Liber Iudicorum

Title page of a 1058 León codex including a copy of the Liber Iudicorum, from the Biblioteca Digital Hispanica, seriously would you look at this manuscript isn't it great?

If you don’t know, and why would you etc., after the Muslims toppled the Visigothic kingdom in what is now Spain over the period 711-714, both the parts of it now under Muslim dominion and those not continued to use the lawcode of the Visigothic kings, the Forum Iudicum, Forum of the Judges or Book of Judges (as mentioned just the other day in fact) to regulate their affairs, at least the Christian populations did. This applies as much to Catalonia, and indeed the old Visigothic province in Gaul, Septimania, as it does to Aragón, Castile, León and Asturias (ironically, in the latter case, given how much time it had spent fending off the Visigothic kings when they were around), and argh 25 years ago already now Roger Collins wrote a neat article about this for the English Historical Review which is still an excellent place to start with this stuff.1 (There’s also a bucketload of work in Castilian and Catalan of course, which I don’t know as well as I know I should.2) Since then there has been some work on these matters for Catalonia, but rather less in English than one might wish, and Graham is now moving in to close that gap.3 The Visigothic Code, as it’s also known (and as it’s online in translation), remains important because it is a a weird mixture of the archaic, four- to six-hundred year old rulings being cited in courts, and the current: in Castile and León we have eighteen manuscripts of the code dating to before the twelfth century, mostly from shortly before then, because it was still being copied. These copies are not all complete, and all vary in details, selecting what is useful and adapting accordingly. A detailed comparison of the manuscripts therefore gives a kind of index into what people in any given area were worried about coming up in court, at least it does if we can plausibly locate the manuscripts’ place of use (and Wendy Davies, present, suggested that trying to map usage and citation of the Code around the known manuscripts would be informative, which indeed it would).

A Leonese royal charter of 860

A Leonese royal charter of 860; it doesn't cite the Law, but I haven't got an image of one that does I'm afraid

It’s not just the copies of the law itself that tell us about its use, though, it is cited in dozens of charters, often actually cited with book, title and chapter, and very often these citations are correct. This is impressive, but it’s perhaps more interesting when they’re wrong, or the relevant law doesn’t even exist; here we are presumably seeing a mis-learnt citation or a strong belief that something is such old custom that it just gosh-durn must be in the law; but in the latter case, it’s that it’s in the law that they feel will validate it, not that it’s old custom. (It’s possible, of course, that these citations are intentionally false, since not many people are actually going to be in a position to look this stuff up and in any given assembly the people who are are probably writing the charter…) Not all these uses are even identified, however, which goes to show that to some extent the law genuinely had shaped the way some things were done, or at least the words in which those things were written about. (Graham’s handout has a number of examples of this choice of an otherwise unparalleled phrase to talk about, for example, adultery or homicide.4) These words, Graham hazarded, were probably not usually passing from person to person in the context of full copies of the Code, but just single sheets of the most useful cites perhaps, tucked into a folder of example charters and scraps of formulary that the average scribe might have had to work from, rather than anything as grand as a book. That copying without context could explain a lot of the apparent deviations, though again one would expect practice to dictate which way they deviated.

Folio 64r of the 1058 Leonese copy of the Liber Iudicorum

Folio 64r of the 1058 Leonese copy of the Liber Iudicorum, showing Book IV Title 2 law 20

It has to be said that sometimes, when the laws were invoked, they were deliberately bent or mutilated. I think Graham used this example too, but I can’t pin it down in my notes so I’ll import it from Catalonia: there is a particular law in the code (IV.2.20, as shown above), which protects the rights of the heirs of a property-owner, as follows:

Every freeborn man and woman, whether belonging to the nobility, or of inferior rank, who has no children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren, has the unquestionable right to dispose of his or her estate at will; nor can any arrangement that either may make, be set aside by any relatives of theirs….

This turns up a lot in donation charters, but when it does, crucially, pretty much everything between ‘whether’ and ‘great-grandchildren’ inclusive is usually left out, so that it becomes a law guaranteeing the right of unrestricted alienation of property when its framer (the glorious Flavius Chindasuinthus, King, no less, as you see above in red) had intended precisely the opposite. Not everyone citing the Code knew this, most likely, but some certainly did because they’d copied it themselves.5 Here we’re nudging at questions about authority and written norms and what you could do with them in the Middle Ages that have troubled many of us and will trouble many more, but the kind of work that Graham is doing here certainly add to the detail we can try and answer such questions from.

Title page of a 1600 edition of the Castilian version of the Book of Judges

Title page of a 1600 edition of the Castilian version of the Book of Judges, from Wikimedia Commons

The way that Graham wound up framing the way these texts were used, then, was as a point of departure. Often, the law would be invoked to set a penalty for a certain thing, but then the document in question records that with that out in the open, a compromise was then reached that was more agreeable to all parties. (Of course, there is a preservation factor operating here, because one of the compromises we see most often was to give some land instead of paying an impossible fine or becoming a slave—those of you who have heard Wendy Davies speak on such matters, or indeed Graham himself in Kalamazoo last year, will recall this practice no doubt—and charters in which land was transferred are tremendously more likely to survive than those in which fines were paid, because land remains relevant long after a person’s criminal reputation or lack of one has disappeared into generational memory loss. On the other hand, we don’t have very many charters at all in which someone sells land to raise money to pay a fine, at least not in which they tell us that’s what they were doing, and precious few where they are actually enslaved (although I could find you one in which such a person was then freed, which may be more likely to be preserved since he would need it to prove he could alienate property legally and that, in turn, would lead to it being preserved with the property charters, etc.6) so it may yet be that the compromise was much more common than the actual sentence being imposed. If I remember rightly, Graham said he knew of one document only out of the thousands surviving (albeit that only hundreds are court cases) where a sentence seems to have actually been carried out as in the law. Even there, I might caution, we’re still just assuming, as other cases where verdicts were subsequently abandoned show. In either case, the law is the framework that the parties start with, but even though the verdict is pronounced by judges, as in the Code, and carried out by an official called the saió just as in the Code, it is very rarely with the Code that people finished. It shaped their world, yes, but they made their own shapes out of it. Authority may not be the word we want: due process may be. The Code determined what was due about the process, and the actual hearing hopefully determined what was fair and equitable. It’s not a bad model for law in a society where enforcement is hard to find.

King Vermudo II of León and Galicia, as depicted in the 12th-century Libro de las Estampas

King Vermudo II of León and Galicia, as depicted in the 12th-century Libro de las Estampas, from Wikimedia Commons

The other thing that interested me especially was a coda in which Graham returned to a throwaway remark with which he’d begun about a note in the Chronicle of Sampiro that records that King Vermudo II of León (985-999) confirmed the ‘Laws of King Wamba’ at some point during his reign. Wamba’s contribution to the Code was very small, and where it occurs lengthy and pompous and making me think more of Patrick Wormald’s warnings about what kings really wanted out of legislation (i. e. to look like real royalty, rather than to improve the affairs of the realm) than almost anything else in the thing, but he was certainly the last king to add to it and therefore the final version was in some sense his; it must be the Code referred to here.7 If so, that’s really interesting because it’s at almost exactly that time that over in Barcelona a certain count called Borrell II whom you’ve heard me mention before started recruiting a new cadre of highly-trained judges to run his courts, one of whom indeed copied a text of the Forum Iudicum that we still have. Why did both of these Iberian potentates at either end of the peninsula decide to revive this juristic form of status-building? For Vermudo, of course, the claim was implicitly to stand in succession to Wamba, as the Code itself says that only the prince may issue laws. To issue the old laws therefore made him a king in that same old style. For Borrell, it was more subtle I suspect: as with much of his policy, his new stress on law and the Code emphasised that his authority stood on ancient foundations that no-one now in power had the authority to deny. The Code was older than the caliphs of Córdoba to whom he sometimes pledged allegiance, older than the Carolingians who’d installed his grandfather, and certainly older than those upstarts in León whom he may once, all the same, have got to consecrate him an anti-Carolingian archbishop.8 I’m pretty sure about all the ways in which, for Borrell, the Code was old. But after hearing Graham’s paper I know that I also need to pay some more attention to the ways in which it was also being made anew.

1. R. Collins, “‘Sicut lex Gothorum continet‘: law and charters in ninth- and tenth-century León and Catalonia” in English Historical Review Vol. 100 (London 1985), pp. 489-512; you could also see his “Visigothic Law and Regional Diversity in Disputes in Early Medieval Spain” in Wendy Davies & Paul Fouracre (edd.), The Settlement of Disputes in Early Medieval Europe (Cambridge 1986), pp. 85-104; both are reprinted in Collins, Law, Culture and Regionalism in Early Medieval Spain, Variorium Collected Studies 356 (Aldershot 1992), V & VI respectively.

2. The things I can most obviously think of are all by Aquilino Iglesia Ferreirós, specifically his “La creación del derecho en Cataluña” in Anuario de Historia del Derecho Español Vol. 47 (Madrid 1977), pp. 99-424 and more recently La Creación del derecho: una historia de la formación de un derecho estatal español : manual (Barcelona 1992) and (I gather from Dialnet) Max Turull, Aquilino Iglesia Ferreirós, Oriol Oleart Piquet, Mònica González Fernández, Historia del derecho español (Barcelona 2001).

3. For Catalonia, I can go no further without mentioning the excellent Jeffrey Bowman, Shifting Landmarks: Property, Proof, and Dispute in Catalonia around the Year 1000, Conjunctions of Religion and Power in the Medieval Past (Ithaca 2004), of which pp. 33-55 cover this stuff.

4. And since there has so far been no late Latin in this post at all, let me take one of his examples here: the Law says, “If a freeborn woman mixes herself up in adultery with her own slave or freedman, or else wishes to have him as her husband, and she is convicted of this by clear proof, she should be put to death”, “Si ingenua mulier servo suo vel proprio liberto se in adulterio miscuerit aut forsitan eum maritum habere voluerit et ex hoc manigesta probatione convincitur occidatur”, text from Karl Zeumer (ed.), Leges Visigothorum, Monumenta Germaniae Historica (Leges Nationum Germanicum) I (Hannover 1902, repr. 2005), transl. S. P. Scott as The Visigothic Code (Boston 1922), Book III Chapter 2 Title 2, emphasis Barrett’s. Then, we find in a charter preserved by the nunnery of Sobrado from 858 the confession, “I mixed myself up in adultery with the slave of Hermegildo named Ataulfo”, Commiscui me in adulterio cum servo Hermegildi nomine Ataulfo”, ed. P. Loscertales & G. de Valdeavellano in their (edd.) Tumbos del Monasterio de Sobrado de los Monjes (Madrid 1976), doc. no. 75, emphasis and transl. Barrett. Note, of course that firstly, that was not the woman’s slave but someone else’s, and secondly, that she was not put to death as the law prescribes. More on that below…

5. Here I run shamelessly off the back of Bowman, Shifting Landmarks, pp. 39-43. One of the people we know knew this stuff was my official favourite scribe, the judge Bonhom (or Bonsom, often, in the literature), whom Bowman discusses ibid. 84-99 along with his fellows. We know Bonhom knew it because we still have his own, heavily-glossed, copy of the Law, it being Biblioteca del Monasterio del Escorial, MS z.II.2, and recently fully edited as Jesús Alturo i Perucho, Joan Bellès, Josep M. Font Rius, Yolanda García & Anscarí Mundó (edd.), Liber iudicum popularis. Ordenat pel jutge Bonsom de Barcelona (Barcelona 2003). And, now that I look at Graham’s handout more closely, I see he has an example of just this kind of misuse of the same clause from Emilio Sáez (ed.), Colección documental de la Catedral de León (775-1230), vol. I (775-952), Fuentes y estudios de historia leonesa 41 (León 1987), doc. no. 256.

6. In fact, I will: it’s Eduard Junyent i Subirà (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic (segles IX i X), ed. Ramon Ordeig i Mata (Vic 1980-1996), doc. no. 161, also ed. in Ordeig (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i de Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), doc. no. 392, in which a priest called Nectar buys someone out of penal slavery enjoined upon him for homicide. The relevance of this example is that the priest, whose name was Nectar, yet, already, says in the document that one sentenced to slavery cannot redeem himself, which looks like a legal citation but is actually not in the Law.

7. The chronicle reference is J. Pérez de Urbel, Sampiro: su crónica y la monarquía leonesa en el siglo X (Madrid 1968), cap. 30, Silense redaction, and when I invoke Patrick Wormald I mean his “Lex Scripta and Verbum Regis: legislation and Germanic kingship, from Euric to Cnut” in Peter Sawyer & Ian Wood, (edd.) Early Medieval Kingship (Leeds 1977), pp. 105-138.

8. On Borrell’s management of the past I hope you will soon be able to see J. Jarrett, “Caliph, King or Grandfather: strategies of legitimisation on the Spanish March in the reign of Lothar III” in The Mediaeval Journal Vol. 1 (Turnhout forthcoming); on the archbishop, meanwhile, see idem, “Archbishop Ató of Osona: false metropolitans on the Marca Hispanica” in Archiv für Diplomatik Vol. 56 (München 2010), pp. 1-41 at pp. 13-16, and refs there.

Excellentissima et merito famosissima historica II

RM Monogramme

Back again in the Winstanley Lecture Theatre atop Blue Boar Court in Trinity College, Cambridge, I really regretted the no-caffeine resolve when I just about got to the second day of Rosamond McKitterick’s birthday celebration conference on time. Trinity is a very odd mix of styles internally, and really I think it would be fair to call it an odd mix of styles generally. It is full of odd little contradictions to its general ambience and attitude, and some of them are architectural. But anyway. We were safe away from the street, in fact from pretty much everything, so we settled into our seats and listened to the tributary scholarship.

Opening page of the St Petersburg manuscript of Bedes Historia Ecclesiastica

Opening page of the St Petersburg manuscript of Bede's Historia Ecclesiastica

Session 3. History and Memory

  • Paul Hilliard, “Bede’s Use of History”. A nice clear summation of how Bede’s programme to incorporate the Anglo-Saxons into a universal history of Salvation actually operated, logically.
  • Linda Dohmen, “History and Memory: Angilberga and the court of Louis II”. A close study of the public profile of the wife of the third Holy Roman Emperor, one of the most powerful women of the early Middle Ages, who by the twelfth century, in certain chronicles, a figure of feminine evil, Jezebel-style (and where have we heard that before?). Linda presented some extra material that showed that this discourse was not completely fictional, and found the roots in eighth-century politics that had been twisted into romance, which make it hard to discern whether the stories would have been heard as romance or as history.
  • Rob Meens, “The Rise and Fall of the Carolingians. Regino of Prüm and his conception of the Carolingian Empire”. A useful presentation of one of the Carolingian period’s gloomiest but most informative chroniclers, arguing that Regino saw the Carolingians’ fall as being brought about by their mismanagement of the proper restraint of sex and violence in due deference to Rome that had brought them to power.
  • In questions Matthew Innes made the excellent point that one of the things that the chroniclers dealing with the Vikings do is emphasise the way things have gone topsy-turvy by putting the Vikings in the narrative places of the king; instead of royal itineraries and victories you get pagan ones, and the whole world seems shaken out of joint as a result. I wonder how deliberate this would have to be but it’s very sharply observed. I wish, for various reasons, I could catch up with Matthew more often, he has a point like this for almost every discussion.

Psalter of St-Denis, also known as the Psalter of Charles the Bald, Paris BN Lat. 1152, fo 6v.

Psalter of St-Denis, also known as the Psalter of Charles the Bald, Paris BN Lat. 1152, fo 6v.

Session 4. Res italica karolina

  • Richard Pollard, “Carolingian Connexions: Reichenau and Nonantola. A new manuscript fragment of Hatto’s Visio wettini“. Seriously complex manuscript stuff trying to work out how the two different versions of this rather odd and surprisingly contemporary text about Charlemagne in Purgatory actually relate to each other, and in the process thickening the links we already knew between these two Carolingian mega-monasteries.
  • Clemens Gantner, “The Lombard Recension of the Liber pontificalis Life of Stephen II”. Posited that a part of the LP‘s assembly of papal biographies might have been sanitised of its ethnic abuse and general anti-Lombard rhetoric for the eighth-century political situation in which Lombard support started to seem desirable to the popes, again demonstrated by painstaking manuscript work. This one met with sceptical questions but Clemens was equal to them with the evidence.
  • Frances Parton, “Louis the Pious, Lothar and Gregory IV: why was the Pope at the Field of Lies?” By means of a very thorough run-through of the texts, Frances showed that there is considerable uncertainty about Pope Gregory IV’s purpose in coming from Rome to assist Emperor Louis the Pious’s sons in deposing their father, and concluded that while Gregory had seen an opportunity to restore the papal status as arbiter of the Frankish monarchy Lothar had had much smaller ideas for him and kept him from having any such rôle. This also met some tough questions, almost as many of which were answered by Charles West as were asked, if not the other way about, but one thing that was made clear to us all is that Nithard, and possibly other writers of the time, were definitely thinking of the papal approval of Pippin III’s kingship in 751 when they wrote up the doings of 833.

Then there was a really quite nice lunch, and then back to battle/s!

Sarcophagus and crypt of St-Bénigne de Dijon

Sarcophagus and crypt of St-Bénigne de Dijon

Session 5. Trouble and Trouble-Makers

  • Charles West, “Possessing Power. Unauthorised miracles and Dijon, c. 842″. Keen observers may recognise this title—I certainly lost no time in taxing Charles about it because I’m nice like that—but this was actually a markedly different paper, albeit about the same miraculous episode, largely because Charles had now been able to consult the manuscript that sources it and found it to be probably contemporary and rather out of place in its binding; though a later cover appeared to have been made for it out of a redundant notarial instrument, the actual libellus that tells of the strange events at Dijon in 842 may well be the very one that Bishop Theobald of Langres received from Archbishop Amilo of Lyons and therefore presumably travelled as a letter between the two. The other new emphasis was on the parish structures which Amilo apparently thought, even in 842, should be absorbing these people’s religious energy and piety, rather than crazy cult sites with politically-charged ownership issues. For one small text there’s a huge amount of potential here, I envy Charles the find.
  • James Palmer, “Apocalypticism, Computus and the Crisis of 809″. A series of well-aimed kicks at the idea that there was a widespread belief in the years leading up to 800 that that was going to be year 6000 anno mundi and therefore the end of everything, largely as expressed by Richard Landes. James’s position basically is that there is no conspiracy but there are a lot of people really interested in time and how you reckon it. In making this stand, however, he also dismantled in passing a number of the pro-millennial arguments which was a joy to hear. The significance of 809 is that in that year computistical experts were consulted by Charlemagne and his ecclesiastics on the age of the world, according to a council record, but that came on the back of two years’ famine and a defeat by the Slavs so the date may not have been the big issue. I think we all finished this paper remaining comfortably convinced that 800 was a Carolingian high point, not a year everyone spent waiting for the sky to fall on their heads.
  • These darn summaries are getting longer as I warm up. Let’s see if I can keep this under control.

  • Elina Screen, “Adalhard the Seneschal: troublemaker?” As one of the really important nobles of the time of the war between Louis the Pious’s sons, Adalhard has been seen as a kind of destabilising kingmaker figure. Here Elina argued the opposite, that as a kind of ‘shuttle diplomat’ he was frequently one of the few forces holding the fragile confederacy of brother monarchs together, largely because he had so very much to lose if it broke. She rightly pointed out in the course of this that an awful lot of the terminology we use to describe the politics of the mid-ninth century is straight from the Cold War: summit meetings, shuttle diplomats, and so on. I’m not sure what that does for our perspectives, because it does look like that in the sources…

At this point, what should have been the closing remarks were shunted forwards to allow the relevant speaker to make a plane connection, so we were next treated to:

  • Mayke de Jong, “Rosamond McKitterick and the Frankish Church”.
  • This was more of a personal tribute than an academic one, but one of the things Mayke noted is that in a climate of scepticism Rosamond’s early work always took religion seriously and that this is a great strength. And this is true, but more widely, one of Rosamond’s greatest strengths of character is that she takes people, generally, seriously. The fact that one of the most notable professors with whom I’ve ever had contact listens to my ideas and thoughts as if they might be interesting and insightful has helped me wrestle down the imposter syndrome more often than I can tell you, and I’m sure I can’t be the only one. This is one thing I didn’t manage to say in my personal thanks to her so I’ll put it here.

By now people were already gently and quietly making their farewells. People had come from Scotland, Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA and Israel, as well as many points of England, and there were planes and trains necessary to catch. Pity, because the last session was just as interesting as any of the others.

Roman tuba or military trumpet

Roman tuba or military trumpet

Session 6. Taxes, Trumpets and Texts

  • David Pratt, “Taxation and Origins of the Manor in England”. While this paper was not an exception to the statement I just made, because Dr Pratt’s erudition is considerable, I have friends who are a lot more sceptical about the solidity of the terms that litter Anglo-Saxon economic history for the sorts of land that were recognised in law than this, and there was also a somewhat apocalyptic rôle for knight service which didn’t seem to have heard Nicholas Brooks’s new evidence about the date of its introduction. So I’ll forebear from further comment except to say that really, the Institute of Historical Research Earlier Middle Ages Seminars are worth attending if you can, but almost all the Cambridge people only go if they’re speaking. I think exposure to Sally Harvey’s and Professor Brooks’s papers would have made this one a different shape.
  • Jesse Billett, “Theuto’s Trumpet: the cantor in the Carolingian Renaissance”. A very unusual paper, as papers on chant usually are, not least because they are usually given by people who aren’t afraid to actually sing their subject, Dr Billett being no exception. Here he focused on one particular mention of a cantor with a trumpet in Ermold the Black‘s In honorem Hludowici and concluded that the usage was probably metaphorical, associating the poem’s military victories, which both mention real trumpets, with the spiritual one of the baptism of the Danish royal Harald Klak in 826.
  • Matthew Innes, “The Carolingians and the Archival World: charters and their preservation in the ninth-century Mâconnais—and beyond”. I actually can’t say too much about this one because it was a Lay Archives paper, and I have caused trouble before by talking too much about the Lay Archives project. You can see from his title that my work overlaps with Matthew’s here and this is something that I think we would have wished to avoid, had better communication been possible. Suffice to say that half the paper was stuff I knew nothing about and was fascinating, and of the remaining fifty per cent half is not yet agreed between us… But Matthew’s stuff is as I say always fascinating so wherever this one actually comes out it will be worth the read. (The papers should be printed; but I believe this one may be spoken for already.)

Final questions were fewer, largely because there weren’t many people left to ask them. The closing remarks were given by Walter Pohl, who made the excellent point that while the gathering had been advertised as a Festschrift, that obviously didn’t make a lot of sense to a German-speaker and he proposed instead calling it a Schriftfest, which we all thought worked a lot better. He also emphasised that the sort of open comparison of perspectives in friendship that we’d been able to do these two days was the best way to advance scholarship, and replete with that assurance, we all went our separate ways. I’m very glad to have been able to be part of all this. As long as I’m still in Cambridge it’s nice to be able to join in sometimes, and this was very good to join in with.

Copied with approval

“The place of charters in social practices cannot be fully appreciated without an adequate knowledge of their production, their range and their diversity. The documents that survive, together with those known through indirect references (in scattered copies or mentions of losses), are only a residual part of what was produced. Any given charter collection has been affected by accidents of conservation: by selection–whether deliberate or not–and by differing amounts of attention being devoted to different documents, while at the same time addition of new materials was taking place. To know to what extent the visible tip of the documentary iceberg reflects the part that is invisible is an old methodological preoccupation…. The question is certainly a quantitative one but it is even more a qualitative one. Does the view conveyed by the sources simply show a reduction of what was once there, or is it a distortion? Similarly, how should we interpret the ebb and flow in the numbers of documents? What part of this is due to fluctuations in the production of writings and what is due to the vicissitudes of conservation?”1

And he goes on to do a case study using three cartularies compared to the preservation of loose documents from the same place and concludes that, at the very least, the originals were still around for a good while after the production of their first cartularies because, for example, they were used in subsequent larger cartularies. However, the cartularies are still, mostly, selective.2 This is tantamount to calling Patrick Geary wrong, which, nothing loath, he goes on to do in a footnote.3

If I don’t get on with it I shall be able to write my article on this subject entirely by quoting other scholars. It may be difficult to convince someone it deserves printing if I do, or even if I just could. Time to get some stuff finished…

1. Laurent Morelle, “The Metamorphosis of the Monastic Charter Collections in the Eleventh Century (Saint-Amand, Saint-Riquier, Montier-en-Der)” in Karl Heidecker (ed.), Charters and the Written Word in Medieval Society, Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy 5 (Turnhout 2000), pp. 171-204, quote at p. 171.

2. The one that isn’t, apparently, where he thinks the compiler was just too overwhelmed by the material to organise to an agenda (ibid. p. 191), wasn’t edited when he wrote but now is, by Constance B. Bouchard (ed.), The cartulary of Montier-en-Der, 666-1129 (Toronto 2004).

3. ‘On this point P. GEARY, Phantoms of Remembrance: Memory and Oblivion at the End of the First Millennium (Princeton, 1994; French tr. by J.-P. RICARD [sic], Mémoire et oubli à la fin du premier millénaire (Paris, 1996), is not strong enough; see my remarks on the chapter of the book concerning archives: L. MORELLE, “Histoire et archives vers l’an mil: Une nouvelled ‘mutation’?”, Histore et archives 3 (1998), pp. 119-141.’ (Morelle, “Metamorphosis”, p. 173 n. 8.)

Confused over Cluny: a pre-Leeds charters rant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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