Tag Archives: scribes

Scribal individuation around Manresa c. 1002

Some time around the end of December 2015, in the fond expectation of soon having time to advance my old project on scribes and Church structures around the Catalan city of Manresa in the tenth century, when most of those structures were still in formation, I spent a bit of time staring at my images of the relevant documents and I was freshly impressed by the efforts the scribes went to differentiate themselves from other writers. And so I stubbed a blog post to tell you all something about it, and now we’re here in the summer of 2019 and I find myself just getting to it. As you know, lots else has been going on, of which there should be more to report soon, and I can’t say I have any massive new findings to present here, but some of this stuff is just cool, and that’s always been a good enough reason for a blog post before. So, here, have a charter!

Montserrat, Arxiu Monàstic, Pergamins Sant Benet de Bages, primera sèrie, no. 57

Montserrat, Arxiu Monàstic, Pergamins Sant Benet de Bages, primera sèrie, no. 57. Click through for bigger version.

This is from 1002, and so as far as I know has never been published.1 I haven’t done a transcription of it, but it’s a sale by one Tudiscle to a deacon called Borrell (no relation, I’m pretty sure) of a set of homesteads he was once given by his ‘lady’ (domina), Eigo. I picked it because of the subscriptions before I read it that far, but as it happens, you also have some female lordship there; you’re welcome. This happens in the Iberian Peninsula here and there. But I am, really, interested in the signatures. They start on the sixteenth line with the quartered disc with dots in it, which is a very abstracted form of the word signum, ‘mark’, ‘sign’, with a cross in the middle. Half of the signatures are by the scribe, a priest called Guifré, in the same unusual right-tilted hand as the main text, and those three all have that same disc, the people concerned being the seller Tudiscle and two witnesses, Guilabert and what seems to be Bonuspars, with which I can’t do much, I admit. But the scribe didn’t use that disc for himself: this was his sign for other people. He himself uses the four-pointed star device which, lexically, is filling in for the word subscripsit, ‘signed beneath’, ‘subscribed’, but looks nothing like it. Happily, the other two autographs show you different takes on the same idea, with Uuadamirsus sac(e)r, apparently not a man to whom spelling his name (which we would modernise as Guadamir) came easily despite being a priest, being clearest: the idea that lies under that messy ruche is a set of two or three Ss looped together as an abbreviation of the Latin. The other signature, MiRone leuita, the deacon Miró, does it more graphically, and that process of abstraction is the one that goes via the four-lobed version of the apparently-plural scribe Athanagild whom we looked at here years ago to the pointed version we have here. They’re all doing the same thing, these three churchmen, but they apparently didn’t want to do it in the same way.

Montserrat, Arxiu Monàstic, Pergamins Sant Benet de Bages, primera sèrie, no. 58

Montserrat, Arxiu Monàstic, Pergamins Sant Benet de Bages, primera sèrie, no. 58. Click through for a bigger version

There were apparently times when one differentiation wasn’t enough, even. Here you have another unpublished sale from the same year written by Ermemir (trust me, that is what the dribbled-down signature says) from another Ermemir and his wife Em (presumably for Emma? But there’s no abbreviation mark…) to Isarn, who is apparently plural; it is hard to resist the belief that scribe-Ermemir’s document-Latin wasn’t very precise, though one can forgive him given his nicely-drawn dagger as an initial I at the start.2 But as well as his deliberately decorative signature, he uses a really clear SSS-type ruche, and then seems to have tried out another in the far right corner. It’s not a separate witness signature, I think, firstly because there’s no name even though there’s space and secondly because the signatures otherwise finish at the far left, but it does seem to be the same ink. It’s possible some other scribe did a training run on a spare charter, of course, but the one scribe who’s clearly here is the one who’s named…

Montserrat, Arxiu Monàstic, Pergamins Sant Benet de Bages, Segona sèrie, no. 903

Montserrat, Arxiu Monàstic, Pergamins Sant Benet de Bages, Segona sèrie, no. 903. Again, a larger version lines beneath.

And then there’s this one, which is from 1002 as well. Unlike the other two, even though the two modern editions of these documents both stop at 1000, this has been edited before, because it’s a big deal (in both literal and figurative senses).3 What you have here is the monks of Sant Benet de Bages telling a story, and as ever when people in this area tell a story in documents, it’s because something had gone wrong.4 Their erstwhile abbot, Sunifred, had died during a Muslim raid on the area (probably in 997), at which point a dispute apparently arose between the founders of the church, apparently about the succession. At the time, however, that being 999 by this time, Count Ramon Borrell of Barcelona, presumably the obvious arbitrator, was in Rome visiting the pope. So they sent word out there, and when the query reached him the pope pointed out to Ramon Borrell that, canonically, monks ought to get to choose their own abbot. This seems to have come as news to our count (who elsewhere entitled himself ‘inspector of bishops’, not that I suppose he tried that before the pope), and he didn’t know what to do, and so the document says that the pope went to the actual monastery and asked the monks what they wanted, and they all praised God and asked for one Ramio, and this document celebrates his election.5

Monastery of Sant Benet de Bages, from Wikipedia Spain

Monastery of Sant Benet de Bages, from Wikimedia Commons; not the first time I’ve used this image and I’m sure it won’t be the last

Now, this is fishy as the hold of a homebound Atlantic trawler. Most obviously, even though he had once been in Catalonia, Pope Sylvester II (for it would have been he) didn’t pop in and visit Sant Benet de Bages in 999; someone would have noticed and recorded it and in fact his own letters lament that he doesn’t have time to visit his old school province.6 Secondly, the monastery’s foundation charter does in fact say that the founders’ family should provide the abbots, but actually beyond one young retainer of Count Borrell II’s I’ve not managed to trace any of them beyond 985, and they don’t seem ever to have provided an abbot to the place, so I don’t know who could have been disputing the abbacy.7 But there was once and may still be another parchment, which I don’t think I have a picture of, which gives a quite different version of this story, and that too was in the monastery when Jaime Villanueva came visiting in the 1800s.8 So something is probably wrong about this story, but at least we can see that this was the version that the monks quite literally signed up to because, look, there they are, all differentiated. So at least they all agreed, right? But actually no, it’s not as simple as that once you stop and take a good look at the signatures. Let me break it down as far as I’ve currently got:

  1. Firstly, there is no scribal signature. The line at the bottom left in the main text hand actually translates as, “We all unanimously who proclaim and confirm this election and have asked for it to be confirmed,” and then a ruche.9 But I think the main text scribe is the priest Ansulphus, more or less dead centre among the signatures, because the first signature in textual terms is Adroarius, whose signature is mainly in the main text hand because, as it explains, he was too ill to write but dotted the cross at the end of his ‘signature’ instead, and it looks to me as if the same hand that wrote Ansulf’s name formed Adroer’s too, in a deliberately different font. So that’s your first writing stint.
  2. However, after the first eight autographs—Baldemarus (with the hatched SSS device), Orucius (who abbreviates ‘monachus’ differently to everyone else and has the vertical monogram for presbiter, ‘priest’, that we’ve seen elsewhere), Teudalecus (with a waved SSS), Ermengaudus (with the repeated double knot ruche), Auduagrius (who is sort of sharing the ruche Ansulf gave Adroer), Argericus (who has got his double knot into a fortuitous gap in Adroer’s illness clause), Willelmus (whose knot lies on its side—because he liked it that way, or just to fit?) and Wifredus, with the cross-hatch—you have a new line of signatures, Vivencius, Ansolphus (another one?), Stefanus, Miro and Sendredus, all of whom seem to be written by the same hand and it’s not Ansulf’s, even though his own signature immediately follows theirs. And there is a second Sendre[d]us, signing autograph, too, on the bottom line in a very unpractised hand that misses out his second ‘d’. So is this a second batch of signing?
  3. If so, it wasn’t the last. Two lines above that Sendred, observe the signature of Pontius the deacon. This is probably Ponç Bonfill Marc (son of the Wonder Judge!), because his hand also seems to have written the signatures of the count and his two retainers in the bottom right corner. And you see that at very bottom right there is a spare cross, and one more below Ponç’s name, as if further names were expected but never arrived? That makes it look as if they took it to court to get the comital confirmation once Ramon Borrell had come back from Rome. But you see also, where that spare cross hangs about below Ponç’s name, there is what looks like more script in the main hand’s ink? I think that’s exactly what that was. I think that when they took it to the court, there was no room to sign, so not only did Ponç unusually use the shortest version of his name, they actually scrubbed out some of the existing names to make more room. So, three separate signing occasions?
  4. No, in fact, still more, because there’s also some sign of erasure beside Sendred’s big scrawl at the bottom too, so he didn’t sign with the rest of the monks either. At least four signing occasions, then. So how many of the monks were even at the first one? There’s not really any way to be sure. The main text names only Adroer, Todalec, Baldemar and Ermengol. Did everyone else get added in later? How much later? On how many occasions? How consensual an election was this? How many other names had been washed out by the time they’d finally got it confirmed?

Anyway, that wasn’t supposed to be the point of the post. The point is, of course, that where we have got autographs, though here there is certainly a preference for the double-knot ruche, nonetheless, no one autograph is made to look like another; every one is different. This is, by now, what I have come to expect, but every now and then someone reminds me that other places don’t necessarily do this.10 In a later era, this might be authentication, but it would take a fiendish local knowledge to be able to remember who used exactly what variant of a ruche, I think, and besides we’ve seen before that it’s not always quite the same even when it’s (notionally at least) the same scribe involved.11 So I think it really is just a local sense that in a document like this every signature should be different, perhaps so that everyone could see that it genuinely was another hand, not the scribe’s. But then, why not vary the signatures when it actually is the scribe as well? Cheating? I don’t, yet, have my head round this. But I may get there yet, if I just look at a few more charters…


1. It is Montserrat, Arxiu Monàstic, Pergamins Sant Benet de Bages, primera sèrie, no. 57, as the caption says.

2. Montserrat, Arxiu Monàstic, Pergamins Sant Benet de Bages, primera sèrie, no. 58.

3. Jaime Villanueva, Viage literario a las Iglesias de España, tomo VII: Viage á la Iglesia de Vique, año 1806 (Valencia 1821), online here, ap. XIII.

4. See some day soon Jonathan Jarrett, “A Likely Story: purpose in narratives from charters of the early medieval Pyrenees”, in †Simon Barton and Robert Portass (edd.), Beyond the Reconquista: Essays on the Politics, Society and Culture of Medieval Iberia (forthcoming), but till then (and as well), Jeffrey A. Bowman, “From Written Record to Historical Memory: Narrating the Past in Iberian Charters” in Robert A. Maxwell (ed.), Representing History, 900–1300: Art, Music, History (University Park PA 2010), pp. 173–180.

5. Ramon Borrell is “inspector episcopiis dante Deo nostræ ditioni pertinentibus” in Petrus de Marca, Marca Hispanica sive Limes Hispanicus, hoc est geographica & historica descriptio cataloniæ, ruscinonis, & circumiacentium populorum, ed. Étienne Baluze (Paris 1688; repr. Barcelona 1972, 1989), ap. CLXXII.

6. Gerbert’s letters are translated in Harriet Pratt Lattin (trans.), The Letters of Gerbert, with his Papal Privileges as Sylvester II, Records of Civilization: Sources and Studies 60 (New York City NY 1961), but I confess I didn’t go and check there this time and am just running on Emília Tarracó i Planas, “Formació cultural de Gerbert d’Orlhac a la Marca Hispànica” in Imma Ollich i Castanyer (ed.), Actes del Congrés internacional Gerbert d’Orlhac i el seu temps: Catalunya i Europa a la fi del 1r. mil·leni, Vic-Ripoll, 10-13 de novembre de 1999 (Vic 1999), pp. 635–636.

7. The foundation charter is printed as Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica 53 (Barcelona 1999), doc. no. 1127; on the family, see Jonathan Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), pp. 144-151.

8. Villanueva, Viage literario VII, ap. XIV.

9. Nos om(ne)s unanimiter qui hanc electionem p(ro)-clamam(us) & firmam(us) & firmare rogauimus”, cf. ibid., ap. XIII.

10. All these issues and more are explored for French documents in the excellent Benoît-Michel Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins dans les actes privés en France (VIIe-début du XIIe siècle), ARTEM (Atelier de recherches sur les textes médiévaux 9 (Turnhout 2005), DOI: 10.1484/M.ARTEM-EB.5.105728.

11. For when it actually was done as authentication, see Alan Friedlander, “Signum mei apposui: notaries and their signs in medieval Languedoc” in Robert F. Berkhofer III, Alan Cooper & Adam Kosto (edd.), The Experience of Power in Medieval Europe, 950-1350: essays in honor of Thomas N. Bisson (Aldershot 2005), pp. 94-117.

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Tiny diplomatic details of delight

Sometimes it is the small things that make it all worthwhile, in academia and out of it. Such a one is this. Last summer I presented a paper at a conference in Lincoln, about the procedure for replacing lost documents in ninth- and tenth-century Catalonia, which I’ve written briefly about here already. I will get to the conference in due course, but in the run-up to it I decided I’d better make sure I’d actually seen all the examples I could, and there was one I’d not seen before, a hearing at Sant Segimon del Bosc in the year 930 in which no less a person than the dowager Countess Garsenda of Barcelona, widow of Count Guifré II Borrell (898-911), came to court to beg a replacement for a charter she had once had for an estate in what is now the Vall d’Aro and some properties in Vallès. She brought five witnesses led by a priest named Sesuld. They swore before four judges to the contents of the lost charter (they never say how it was lost), which among other things makes it clear that three of them had been witnesses to the lost original, Garsenda herself swore that this was a genuine suit and fifteen auditors put their names to a new document to say that it had all been done properly, with a saio and a priest signing to say that they had overseen the oath in good legal order. Two other witnesses also signed, presumably as witnesses to the actual document rather than the ceremony, although I imagine this one was probably done on the spot since the document was the point of the affair; the original is long-lost, though, so we can’t be sure.1

The hermitage of Sant Segimon del Bosc as it now stands

The hermitage of Sant Segimon del Bosc as it now stands, which is to say in a mainly-sixteenth-century state on an eleventh-century footprint

There are lots of things that strike me about this document and the ceremony it records, and many of them are small. Not the the least of these small things is the church itself: Sant Segimon del Bosc, intriguingly dedicated to the sixth-century supposed martyr King Sigismund of Burgundy who is supposed by some to have retired to this area to die, is tiny even now, and what little is known of it does not suggest it being any bigger earlier on. The gathering of twenty-five people (“and many other men who were there present”) must have filled it pretty full.2 It is also, again even now, somewhat off the beaten track, between Sacalm, Arbúcies and Farners, all of which were fairly small places themselves in the early tenth century. It is also, importantly, a good way from any of the estates concerned; the Vall d’Aro is just back from the coast, and Google thinks you could now walk it in half a day. So why were they meeting here? I also note that the scribe was a firm legitimist: the document is dated by “the first year that King Charles was dead, who was after King Odo”, which would also be to say in the seventh year of King Raoul’s reign after Charles’s humiliating deposition and imprisonment, but that is exactly what the scribe is not saying.3

It’s also really interesting, however, for the level of recall involved, and this is what I was talking about at Lincoln. There is nothing less than a full text of the lost charter incorporated in this oath.4 Granted it had only been nine years but that’s still quite impressive, and is probably down to the priest Sesuld, who swore that he had “read and reread it many times” whereas the other witnesses only swore that they had heard it being read and re-read, presumably by Sesuld.5 In any case, he knew the lost document inside out; the transcript even goes to the extent of specifying that the signatures were in a different hand, alia manus, including, somewhat bewilderingly, that of the scribe. But there is one of these tiny details that really catches the charter geek in me. With the original text concluded, the new document goes on:

“Nos vero suprascripti testes vidimus ipsa scriptura in potestatem de dicta Gersindes comesa. Et ego Sesuldus presbiter eam legi et relegi plures vices et erat firmata legibus signum impressionis de predicto venditore et de predictos firmatores et clusa de predicto scriba. Et omnem testum firmitatis ipsius scripture firmiter novi oculis meis videndo.”

A quick Englishing, save only one word:

“We indeed the above-written witnesses saw the selfsame document in the possession of the said Countess Garsinda. And I Sesuld, priest, read and re-read it many times and the mark of impression of the aforesaid seller and of the aforesaid witnesses and the clusa of the aforesaid scribe were signed according to the laws.”

All as you might hope, really, but what of this word clusa, apparently something closed up that could belong to a scribe? Well, it must be one of these, mustn’t it?

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, no. 1297

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, no. 1297

I refer, of course, to the various complex grid or loop devices at the bottom among the signatures, which could (later?) be used to distinguish scribes like signatures and which now we would usually call ruches, lacking a decent word in English.6 The thing is, I think we also lack a decent word for it in contemporary Latin, or at least I’ve never heard of one; we don’t usually have scribes writing about their work and even the ever-helpful judge Bonhom doesn’t cover this as far as I’ve so far found. So here is the word, I think, and I’m not sure we knew about it before. Du Cange has many meanings for the word clusa, a mountain pass, a field bounded by water or a fishery or even a monastic cell, but not this one.7 I shall adopt it forthwith!


1. The document is printed as Santiago Sobrequ&eacutels i Vidal, Sebastià Riera i Viader & Manuel Rovira i Solà (edd.), Catalunya Carolíngia V: els comtats de Girona, Besalú, Peralada i Vallespir, rev. Ramon Ordeig i Mata, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica 61 (Barcelona 2009), 2 vols, doc. no. 218.

2. Ibid.: “et aliorum multorum hominum qui ibidem aderant.”. As for the church, I don’t have access to the Catalunya Romànica right now, but the web tells me that it’s discussed in there, in Antoni Pladevall (ed.), Catalunya Romànica V: el Gironès, la Selva, Pla d’Estany, ed. María-Lluïsa Ramos i Martínez (Barcelona 1991), p. 325; I don’t know who the author is, sorry.

3. Sobrequés, Riera & Rovira, Catalunya Carolíngia V, doc. no. 218: “Late condiciones VI idus aprilis, anno primo qui obiit Karulus rex, qui fuit post Oddoni regi.”

4. Printed ibid. doc. no. 173, under its original date of 921.

5. Ibid. doc. no. 218: “Ego vero Sesuldus presbiter ean legi et relegi plures vices et legibus erat firmata de manu de condam Senderedo signum impressione facto et de alios firmatores signum impressionis facientes et scripsit eam Genesius presbiter et omnem testum firmitatis ipsius scripture firmiter novi videndo et relegendo. Et nos Teudalecus at Addaulfus, Hichila et Gudisclo eam audivimus legentem et relegentem plures vices…”

6. Discussion in Benoît-Michel Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins dans les actes privés en France (VIIe – début XIIe siècle, Atelier de Recherches sur les Textes Médiévaux 9 (Turnhout 2006), pp. 155-160.

7. Carolus du Fresne Du Cange (ed.), Glossarium mediae et infimae latinitatis, rev. Pierre Carpentier, Auguste Firmin-Didot, Hyacinthe Firmin-Didot, G. A. Louis Henschel & Johann Christoph Adelung (Paris 1840-1850), 7 vols, II pp. 404-405. I like these things to be complete.

In Marca Hispanica XXXIII: my questions answered

Entrance to the Arxiu i Biblioteca de Vic

The entrance to the Arxiu Capitular i Biblioteca de Vic

Resuming the recounting of my last trip to Catalonia, we left the story at the amazing Santa Maria del Mar in Barcelona but finished that day back in Vic, where we had an excellent dinner at la Creperia and then the next day fell to something alarmingly like work. Admittedly, that work started with a visit to the Museu Episcopal de Vic, because you have to, but they don’t like photography and more and more of their collections are online now, even if still not the bits I would like most. But after that, while my companion went a-touristing, I went to an archive like a real historian. This was something of a flying visit, made more effective as ever by the tremendous help of Dr Rafel Ginebra and the great knowledge of Monsignor Miquel dels Sants Gros i Pujol, exemplary archivists if ever such there were. But I had come in with a hit-list of charters intended to answer certain questions, and apart from a very few that were away for conservation, I came out with all the answers I’d wanted. And since some of the relevant questions are ones I’ve raised here, I may as well tell you the answers!

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, núm. 547

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, núm. 547

For example, I have many times used this document in my work, because it recounts a meeting at Taradell in which two charters were replaced after having been lost, and it does so in terms that sound utterly realistic but actually must derive from a written model.1 (Joan, if you’re reading, this is our testimony for the Vilar de Gaudila…) I’ve written about it so much that it was clear I would at some point need to illustrate it, so this was me making sure I could. But there are two documents deriving from that meeting, and I had always wondered what the relationship between them was. It turns out it’s physical; they’re both written on the same parchment, as you see, and if you click through to a slightly bigger version you’ll see that several of the same witnesses signed both bits autograph. There’s more questions this raises about how the ceremony actually went, but now I have all the evidence there is with which to answer them.

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, núm. 649

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, núm. 649

Most of what I was doing, however, was hunting scribes. For example, I have become interested in a particular scribe called Joan who wrote charters for Bishop Guisad II of Urgell but only in various areas of Osona, and doesn’t seem to have been linked to the cathedral which actually covered that county, Vic, although it’s there where his documents largely survive.2 Obviously one question that therefore arises is whether all the documents are by the same Joan. Well, there’s one above…3

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, núm. 2097

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, núm. 2097

… and here’s another and immediately, you see that the simple answer is the correct one; although I did find others by this guy, there is at least one other, the scribe of the above, and one of my new tasks is therefore to go through the list and group the charters according to what I can now see of who is writing them.4 But wait: there is something even more interesting here. Do you remember when I was working through the excellent book of Benoît-Michel Tock about signatures in charters that he had cases where signatures might have been made on and then actually cut off from the formal version of the charter that went into the archive.5 Well, look along that lower margin above there and tell me that isn’t what’s happened here; that mark is the top of someone else’s ruche, isn’t it? We’ll never know whose but it’s educational just to know it could happen.

Arxiu Episcopal de Vic, calaix VIII, núm. 135

Arxiu Episcopal de Vic, calaix VIII, núm. 135

Likewise with scribe-hunting: do you remember me writing about a scribe named Ermemir, based at Santa Eulàlia de Riuprimer, who seemed to have been keeping the charters he wrote in his own church? Here’s one of them.6

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, núm. 1302

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, núm. 1302

This, on the other hand, is pretty clearly by a different Ermemir, who actually turns up in a small group of his own.7 Now I can separate the two (or, as it may be, more).

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, núm. 1300

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, núm. 1300

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, núm. 1300, verso

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, núm. 1300, verso

This is the Riuprimer guy again, but this one has its own interest, because you will observe if you look closely that the actual charter text, the paler ink, sat a few centimetres clear of the left-hand margin. Accordingly, someone very short of parchment later wrote an inventory in the margin (the darker ink). This runs onto the reverse, as well. The edition gives one only the tiniest hint of this; Ordeig just says, “Al marge esquerre i al dors hi ha escrits uns capbreus (s. XI)”.8 I’m sure he’s gone on to edit in its proper place in the eleventh-century series but I don’t have access to that, so can’t answer questions like whether this is the same lands that are being inventoried, and whether this therefore counts as a sort of update, or if this was just random parchment reuse.9 Well, now, in theory I can, if I can only read it. And having a high-resolution photograph makes that a lot easier! Now, one last one.

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, núm. 973

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, núm. 973

You will probably remember my long long series of posts arguing with Michel Zimmermann, and you may remember that a certain trend in his scholarship emerged as a theme in these posts to the extent that I was very surprised to find him writing towards the end of his massive work about an eleventh-century female scribe, called Alba ‘femina’.10 Unfortunately, I had my doubts about whether that scribe was really writing the charter, because there was clearly another one on the same parchment by a very similar-looking hand. Well, now I have seen the parchment, and the other hand is not in fact the same. You have to look very carefully, they are very similar, but they form their loops differently and, perhaps most clearly, the capital N in their signatures is differently constructed. She may have learnt from him, may even have been working wth him and that be why they wound up writing documents on the same parchment, but I’m now fairly sure she did do her own writing, or at least that he did not do hers. And this is the kind of question you can only answer when you can see the original, or at least get a decent picture of it. So my thanks go again to the Arxiu i Biblioteca de Vic, to Rafel Ginebra and to Miquel dels Sants; I will be back when I have more questions!


1. My writing for now at Jonathan Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, unpublished Ph. D. thesis (University of London 2005), online here, pp. 49-53, though actual publication of these thoughts is even now under review. The charters are most recently edited as Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-Arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. nos 33 & 34.

2. Although as this post makes clear they are not all by the same scribe, if you only have the edition ibid. doc. nos. 668, 670, 674, 675, 837, 840, 849, 863, 896, 899 & 1499 are all contendors for his authorship.

3. Printed as ibid. doc. no. 674.

4. This one printed as ibid. doc. no. 840.

5. B.-M. Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins dans les actes privés en France (VIIe – début XIIe siècle, Atelier de Recherches sur les Textes Médiévaux 9 (Turnhout 2006), pp. 392-397.

6. Printed as Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, doc. no. 1792.

7. This one is too late for the Catalunya Carolíngia; it must be printed in Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Diplomatari del Catedral de Vic (segle XI) (Vic 2000-2010), 6 fascicules, but nowhere in Britain has more than the first two volumes of that and I’d have to be in London, Oxford or Cambridge even for those.

8. Ordeig, Catalunya Carolíngia IV, III p. 1292 (doc. no. 1822).

9. Again, this must be edited in Ordeig, Diplomatari de la Catedral de Vic (segle XI), but this one won’t even be in one of the sections that is in the country. I am looking into buying a copy…

10. Michel Zimmermann, Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIIe siècles), Bibliothèque de la Casa de Velázquez 23 (Madrid 2003), 2 vols, II p. 1250, fig. 4.

Seminar CCXII: scribal dialects explored digitally

Some of the sticky posts are unstuck and the seminar report backlog is back under a year again, this all seems like progress. For lo, we now reach Armistice Day 2014, on which day Birmingham’s Centre for the Study of the Middle Ages had its Seminar addressed by Birmingham’s own Wendy Scase, with the title “The Simeon Manuscript and its Scribes”.

London, British Library Additional MS 22283, here showing the lower part of fo. 142v

End and beginning of two of the texts in the Simeon Manuscript, otherwise known as London, British Library Additional MS 22283, here showing the lower part of fo. 142v

This was the early part of an enquiry that had begun with a different manuscript, Oxford, Bodleian Library, Eng. poet a.1, otherwise known as the Vernon Manuscript, of which you can find details here. This is a huge, 700-page and 22 kilo, compilation of Middle English literature, totalling 370 texts including things familiar from many an English syllabus like The Prik of Conscience, The Ancrene Riwle and Piers Plowman as well as, obviously, quite a lot more, and lavishly decorated to boot. But it is not alone: the Simeon manuscript is, or rather was since apparently many of its illustrations have gone and it’s probably only about fifty per cent present now, another one like it, not quite as lavishly decorated but not far off and sharing one (we thought, till this paper) of the same scribes. (Its details are here.) Both of these manuscripts seem, from what can be said about palæography and provenance as well as about scribal language, to be West Midlands productions and so of what you might call local concern.

Oxford, Bodleian Library, Eng. poet. a.1, fo. 265r

A page of the Vernon Manuscript in the Bodleian’s online exhibition about it, to wit fo. 265r

But scribal dialect was where Professor Scase had got interested, because it raises many kinds of question about copying. If a text is not in local dialect, but the scribe speaks it, does he translate, adapt or ignore the pressures of his own normal language? If it is in local dialect, do they usually translate out of it into something more like a standardised written English? How local is local anyway? Do we have several written Englishes with their own local variation? Do individual scribes change their ways of writing over their careers, and if so towards or away from the local vernacular? And most immediately for Professor Scase, what happens when several scribes collaborate: are they distinguishable by dialect even where they might not be by script?

London, British Library, Additional MS 22283, fo. 130v

The start of another text in the Simeon Manuscript, complete with fancy initials, this time at fo. 130v

The answer to this last, at least, would seem to be yes. It is, I learned, now possible to plot these things to an implausible level of precision using two big databases online, the Linguistic Atlas of Early Mediaeval English and the Linguistic Atlas of Late Mediaeval English, which among other things did allow Professor Scase to justify her suspicion that the hand known as Scribe A in this manuscript, which is also present in the Vernon one, was in fact two people, only one of whom wrote with dialectical symptoms, which we can sometimes be sure he was introducing because of being able to identify the exemplar from which he and the other scribe were copying. But his dialect is more pronounced in the Vernon Manuscript, some spellings from which he doesn’t repeat in the Simeon (‘w3uch’ for ‘which’, for example), so what’s going on? Either he had driven this habit out between the two, which their apparent closeness of date makes unlikely, or as Professor Scase suggested, he was aiming not so much for an outside standard of language as consistency within the manuscript. And there will probably—may by now already—be other such details that emerge as the study progresses. I, as long-term readers will probably know, really love these little windows into how someone centuries ago went about a complex task that detailed manuscript work can give you. These two are fairly lovely manuscripts, in terms of pure colour and artifice, but it’s great to be able to see through them to the sweat and thought that went into their making.

Link

An array of interesting links

I tend to store up interesting links against a day when I have no content to post, but the backlog situation has meant that not only does that never occur any more but that the links themselves get very old. I thought it was about time to clear some out! I had so many that categories seem necessary, even. So let me humbly suggest that you may wish to click to learn more about the following:

    Things from out of the ground

    A Celtic disc brooch looted by Vikings and now in the British Museum

    A Celtic disc brooch looted by Vikings and now in the British Museum, see below

  1. In no particular order, a previously-undiscovered Viking fortress, at Vallø in Denmark, located in mid-2014 by laser imaging and ground-penetrating radar;
  2. I have been known, in my cynical past, to say that the best way to hide an archæological discovery you wish to keep secret is to give it to the British Museum, due to their cataloguing backlog, but I was not wholly serious obviously, whereas this is a bit ridiculous (but has that brooch in it);
  3. further stuff has also been found, as is now de rigeur for all credible archæology in the UK, under a car-park, in Haddenham in Cambridgeshire where they hit what seems to have been a small sixth-century Anglo-Saxon cemetery during development work in February 2014;
  4. some eighth- to -tenth-century bodies found stuffed in a well Entrains-sur-Nohain in Burgundy provoke the writer of that post to several equally hypothetical Carolingian-history explanations
  5. an Iron Age hillfort at Broxmouth in East Lothian, Scotaland (just), has revealed what seems to be evidence of fifth-century BC steel-making;
  6. and there has been an array of hoards discovered that need their own subsection:
    A silver lidded vessel of Carolingian date recovered in a hoard from Dumfries in 2014

    A silver lidded vessel of Carolingian date recovered in a hoard from Dumfries described below

    1. a hoard of Viking silver loot, including what was once a really nice Carolingian lidded ewer or similar, found near Dumfries in south-west Scotland in late 2014;
    2. “one of the largest Roman coin hoards ever discovered in Britain”, 22,000 or so third-century coins found in Devon in November 2013 but only breaking into the news in September last year; I think Georgia Michael told me about this one so hat tip to her;
    3. and although 5,000 coins suddenly seems like not so big a deal, nonetheless, for the Anglo-Saxon period it is; I’m pretty sure this find nearly doubles the amount of King Cnut’s coinage known to exist in the UK, for example, and this one I definitely do owe to Georgia so off that hat comes once again;
    4. Posed photograph of some gold dinars from a hoard found off the coast of Israal

      I would not let someone do this with a gold find even before it had been catalogued, myself, but I am not the Israel Antiquities Authority, in whose care this hoard of Fatimid gold dinars ended up (see left)

    5. and two thousand is hardly trying, but firstly these ones were gold and secondly they were off the coast of Israel, dating to the reigns of the tenth- and eleventh-century Fatimid caliphs Al-Ḥākim and Al-Ẓāhir, and possibly coming from a sunken tax shipment, which I bet has caused a lot more diving since the news came out and which news I owe, once more, to Georgia Michael, who must have got the idea that I like coins or something…

    Things afoot in the research world (including those parts of it that blog)

  7. A new(-ish) project running out of Oxford to map all the various hillforts of the British Isles, presumably including that of Broxmouth above…
  8. … out of which project came the following endeavours from my native land, with lots to read if hillforts are of interest to you;
  9. a thorough and useful set of suggestions about what was wrong with the UK’s Research Excellence Framework exercise, not including its terrible name but with many other good points, from the self-appointed but persuasive Council for the Defence of British Universities (and here I owe a tip of the hat to Professor Naomi Standen);
  10. more light-heartedly, here is a reason for scribal errors that I had never considered, and still rather wish I hadn’t given some of the suggested remedies;
  11. a suggestion from a doctoral researcher at Sheffield that the current male fashion for extreme facial hair has medieval precedents, and plenty of modern ones too (a tip of the hat here to one of the Australian Medievalists);
  12. Things from out of the archive

    Fragments of a mid-seventh-century manuscript of the Qu'ran in the Mingana Collection, Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham

    Fragments of a mid-seventh-century manuscript of the Qu’ran in the Mingana Collection, Cadbury Research Library, University of Birmingham, see below

  13. Some extra fragments of illustration from the Catalan comital cartulary known as the Liber Feudorum Maior have been rediscovered!
  14. Following our theme of materials for the study of Anglo-Saxon England feared forever lost to scholarship, you may not necessarily be aware that after much deliberation about what to do with it, Professors Stephen Baxter and John Hudson have published the unfinished second volume of Patrick Wormald’s The Making of English Law on the Early English Laws website as Patrick Wormald, Papers Preparatory to the Making of English Law, vol. II, for which many people may be very grateful;
  15. the Vatican Library’s digitisation project has a new website and a much more searchable catalogue, though it does admittedly appear to be broken just now;
  16. and, to end with something at least that is very new and exciting, we have a lot of people coming to the Barber Institute just now because they have not read far enough down this story to realise that the very very early Qu’ran manuscript it describes is not yet on display here, but it is still extremely exciting!

Seminar CC: Old English administration after the Norman Conquest

Moving now toward the end of March 2014 in the seminar report backlog, on the 26th of that month I was back in London for the Earlier Middle Ages Seminar at the Institute of Historical Research, because Professor Julia Crick was speaking. My work crosses very little with Professor Crick’s but despite this she has made a point of remembering who I am, I was still teaching Anglo-Saxon stuff at this point even if from much earlier and, after all, when one sees a paper title like “Who Were the Writers and Readers of Administrative English in the Century after the Norman Conquest?” it implies that there might be an answer and I wanted to know what it was. This was not least because, as Professor Crick made clear at the outset, the answer has until quite recently been basically negative: there were effectively none after about 1070, when central government switched from Old English to Latin for its writing. She exemplified this point of view with three quotes, one of which I’ll re-use:

“After the Norman Conquest the use of English for official, civil and ecclesiastical purposes was generally abandoned in favour of French and Latin, and the status of English as a literary language rapidly declined. Consequently, works from the twelfth century composed in English are exceedingly rare.”1

But the trouble with this statement is that increasingly it looks untrue. Palæographical and prosopographical work, including computer-aided work in both cases and much of that, I have to give them their due sometimes, from KCL’s Department of Digital Humanities, has identified more than a thousand scribes writing in Old English at some time in the eleventh century, by no means all of them in the first half, and several new Old English texts from both eleventh and twelfth centuries.2 What has been counted so far has largely been literary or homilectical (preaching) work, however, and Professor Crick was interested in those bits of this corpus that could be called administrative, glosses in working texts, memoranda, notes and occasional property records. We don’t, in fact, know who most of these writers were, but by their works we can know them at least a little bit.

The so-called Ely Farming Memoranda, British Library Additional MS 61735

An obvious, if early, example of the kind of marginal writing we’re talking about, the so-called Ely Farming Memoranda, British Library Additional MS 61735, complete with bonus portrait of Christ.

Saying anything useful about the quantity of this is quite tricky, because it’s one of these things like powerful medieval women where there’s quite a lot of it but proportionally to the rest it’s still negligible (the last fact, I have to say, only becoming clear in questions). It was widespread but rare, common but unusual and these other paradoxes that dog the study of marginal behaviours in the Middle Ages (er, no pun intended). One thing it does show, however, as Professor Crick pointed out, is that the idea that written Old English entered an immediate and terminal decline as soon as the Normans took over has to be abandoned; whatever it was being used for, that didn’t stop till the twelfth century. Perhaps we should have known this: the scribes who put together the legal assemblage known as the Textus Roffensis could copy and translate Old English quite happily and, as Professor Crick pointed out, there is only one twelfth-century cartulary which doesn’t contain any Old English, even if the main text and business is in Latin in all of them.3

Fo. 59r of the twelfth-century portion of the Cartulary and Register of Evesham, London, British Library, MS Harley 3763

Fo. 59r of the twelfth-century portion of the Cartulary and Register of Evesham, London, British Library, MS Harley 3763, with glosses at top right that could be in Old English? They’re so abbreviated I find it hard to tell, but I can’t easily read the abbreviations as Latin…

So what was keeping this going, when the centre was no longer interested in Old English administration? Professor Crick suggested that it might have been the use of the vernacular in court, when witness testimony was required to confirm boundaries, when oaths were made or writs and so forth were read out, when presumably after the switch to Latin they were translated. This would not be at the royal courts, but at hundred and shire courts. This would, Professor Crick argued, keep the language in use at a legal, and thus sort of official, language, though Susan Reynolds contended in questions that the hundred and shire courts were assemblies, not law courts, so not quite that kind of officialdom.4 I don’t think that would stop this being important, however.

St Petroc or Bodmin Gospels, London, British Library Additional MS 9381, fo. 13r.

Closing page of the canon tables from the St Petroc or Bodmin Gospels, London, British Library Additional MS 9381, fo. 13r., with a manumission record (in Latin, but it’s a good image) distributed between the leftover spaces.

More debated, perhaps, were the suggestions Professor Crick made based on her observation that quite a lot of this Old English extranea is to be found in Gospel Books. She thought that this might be partly down to the better preservation of Gospel Books than estate archives, but that it still needed accounting for. The problem I saw, and raised in questions, is that it is by no means just an English practice or a post-1066 one to write documents and administrivia in Gospel books, not even in the vernacular: the earliest written Scots Gaelic is in the Book of Deer, the earliest written Welsh is supposedly that in the Lichfield Gospels that I’d seen earlier that month, we could add Bavarian examples of Old High German too…5 To this Professor Crick answered that the Old English examples are largely in books much older than the writing, so it is obviously new to the English, but that, while true and something I’d never noticed, still needs some explanation, I thought. Professor Crick also saw the Gospel books as repositories for oaths and similar because those oaths would have been sworn on altars, where the Gospels were kept, so it made sense as a way to immortalise testimony (and perhaps new precisely because the change of language at law had removed whatever previous process for this had been employed, I might subversively suggest). Professor Crick saw here a tension between legal practice, conducted in the vernacular, and the liturgy with which these books and ‘Scripture’ more generally were associated, definitively in Latin, but Chris Lewis suggested that there was probably more cross-over of capability here than we might expect. What there isn’t, at least—Stephen Baxter asked and was answered—is any sign of written French in such contexts: whatever was going on here was at least a way of involving the natives, not the incomers. My sense here is, therefore, that Professor Crick has pointed out something large, variegated and potentially quite revealing and informative, but that characterising and explaining it is going to be a work in progress for quite a while still.6


1. Patrick P. O’Neill, “The English version” in Margaret T. Gibson, T. A. Heslop & Richard W. Pfaff (edd.), The Eadwine Psalter: texts, image and monastic culture in twelfth-century Canterbury (London 1992), pp. 123-138 at p. 136.

2. Here was cited Peter A. Stokes, “The problem of Grade in English Vernacular Minuscule, c. 1060-1220″ in Elaine Treharne, Orietta Da Rold & Mary Swan (edd.), Producing and Using English Manuscripts in the Post-Conquest Period, New Medieval Literatures Vol. 13 (Turnhout 2011), pp. 23-47.

3. The stock reference for Old English in manuscripts, so stock it’s not even in Professor Crick’s otherwise comprhensive handout, is Neil R. Ker, English Manuscripts in the Century after the Norman Conquest (Oxford 1960), which is obviously the survey from which the negative picture with which the audience began largely comes but still might be all right for the cartularies. We now have to add to it, however, David A. E. Pelteret, Catalogue of English Post-Conquest Vernacular Documents (Woodbridge 1990), but as he himself freely acknowledged in questions, this is no longer adequate to cover the sample, and Donald Scragg, A Conspectus of Scribal Hands Writing English, 960-1100 (Cambridge 2012) is where most of the evidence presented in this paper could ultimately be found.

4. I would still tend to refer to Henry R. Loyn, The Governance of Anglo-Saxon England, 500-1087 (London 1984), but I should probably cite something more modern like John Hudson, “Order and Justice” in Julia Crick & Elisabeth van Houts (edd.), A Social History of England 900-1200 (Cambridge 2011), pp. 115-123; also probably worth mentioning in this connection are Elaine Treharne, “Textual Communities (vernacular)” and Julia Crick, “Learning and Training”, ibid. pp. 341-349 & 352-372.

5. Arkady Hodge, “When Is a Charter Not a Charter? Documents in Non-Conventional Contexts in Early Medieval Europe” in Jonathan Jarrett & Allan Scott McKinley (edd.), Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval Charters, International Medieval Research 19 (Turnhout 2013), pp. 127-149, DOI:  10.1484/M.IMR-EB.1.101680.

6. Other references that seem worth emphasising from the handout are Mark Faulkner, “Archaism, Belatedness and Modernisation: ‘Old’ English in the twelfth century” in Review of English Studies New Series Vol. 63 (Oxford 2012), pp. 179-203; Kathryn A. Lowe, “Post-Conquest Bilingual Composition in Memoranda from Bury St Edmunds” ibid. 59 (2007), pp. 52-66; and Elaine Treharne, Living Through Conquest: the politics of early English, 1020-1220 (Oxford 2012), and not from the handout, Julia Crick, “The Art of Writing: scripts and scribal production” in Clare A. Lees (ed.), The Cambridge History of Early Medieval English Literature (Cambridge 2013), pp. 50-72.

Redactions of many stages

I finished reading Professor Benoit-Michel Tock‘s book on subscriptions to charters about which I’ve been raving here lately over the month of November 2013, so those posts will shortly cease, but here’s just one more, because in the ninth chapter he hits at an issue that is kind of crucial to how we understand what medieval documents are telling us, the stories they tell about their own creation. I could go on about this for a while, and indeed have before and will again a bit below, but M. le Prof. Tock is briefer than I would be and also more stylish (though I have added emphasis to bring out things that are more ambiguous in English than in the French):

“The question is clearly important, since it concerns, in the most direct manner, the conditions in which the acts were made and, thereby, the links between the act and the judicial action. Is the narrative of the action as it appears in the act sincere? If the act was redacted before the action proper, is it not possible that last-minute changes in the action may not be reflected in the text? Most of all, if the act is prepared before the action, it can play a part in it, either as an act of title or as a symbol of the action.”1

There are lots of ways this can play out, and M. le Prof. Tock goes through most if not all of them, finding all the weird cases where we can see, or occasionally are told, what happened to get the text and names onto a parchment and into an archive. There are more possibilities covered than he mentions in that paragraph: the document may indeed be prepared before the ceremony, and then be signed at the ceremony, or at least have the actors and witnesses mark crosses next to their names, or maybe just touch where the scribe has done it for them or sign the cross in the air above the page. In a few cases, however, it seems that the crosses were put on first and then the entire text written in above them later, presumably once it was back in the recipient’s scriptorium. (And at that rate, something Tock does not consider, who could stop the scribe writing an entirely different version of events?) It has been suggested before, to resolve the paradox of documents which claim that they were placed on an altar to complete the donation, but do so in the past tense as if to indicate that this happened before the document was actually written, that blank sheets might be so deposited and then have the charter written onto them afterwards; Tock’s cases (oddly, as with much of the rest of the book, more from the relatively slight archive of Nouaillé in Poitou than elsewhere2) may be the only evidence of this actually happening I’ve ever seen. He does also raise the rather worrying possibility that once that had been done, at the very bottom of the parchment, since autograph signatures seem to have thought desirable in the ninth century but much less so as time goes and even then not judicially necessary,3 the scribe writing up the fine version of the document on a parchment daubed with out-of-place crosses (“si on ose dire, comme un cheveu dans le soupe…”) might just clip the untidy bottom edge off once he’d written up proper formal versions of the signatures…4) If that possibility makes you as uneasy as it does me, our subjects themselves destroying our evidence of them, you must be a proper charter geek, congratulations!

Lower portion of a donation to the abbey of Saint-Maixent de Poitiers from 1108

Here’s one of Tock’s two examples, ARTEM 780, otherwise known as Niort, Archive Départementale de Deux-Sèvres, H 85, edited as Cédric Giraud, Jean-Baptiste Renault & Benoît-Michel Tock (edd.), Chartes originales antérieures à 1121 conservées en France (Nancy 2010), no. 780, unprinted. It’s a donation to the abbey of Saint-Maixent de Poitiers from 1108.

Portion of a donation of vineyards to St-Junien de Nouaillé of 1091

A much clearer example albeit in a worse image (my fault), Poitiers, Archive Départementale de Vienne, Carton 10, no 126, edited as P. de Monsabert (ed.), Chartes de l’abbaye de Nouaillé : de 678 à 1200, Archives historiques du Poitou, 49 (Poitiers 1936), no. 143, and now Giraud, Renault & Tock, Chartes originales, no. 1291, online here. It’s a donation of vineyards to St-Junien de Nouaillé of 1091. You can see how that bottom half-inch was lucky to survive. What’s it telling anyone after a century? This is a formal document we’re keeping here! Snip snip…

I especially love this stuff, however, because it doesn’t surprise me at all. Round about the same time Tock must have been dealing with the proofs of his book, I was checking over the text of this:

“To take an elaborate but forceful example, let us take the act recording the consecration of Santa Maria de Ripoll’s new church in 977. This was almost certainly composed by the learned Bishop of Girona, also Count of Besalú, Miró Bonfill, and it is partly past tense and partly present. The point at which it changes is after a description of the consecration of the several separate altars, as the assembled prelates seek to impress upon the local counts that the monastery’s possession of its various goods, ‘just as the schedule already prefaced teaches’, are placed beyond secular intervention. From this, and from the slightly different final witness list, it is clear that this change of tense reflects a move from an occasion past to a different, notionally present one. The elaborate and lengthy document thus stands between the two occasions grammatically; recording one as already past, the second, the proclamation of the quasi-royal immunity, unfolds in the text. This part of the text was presumably written before the second gathering; the former, given its detail, was probably composed after the ceremony, as beforehand the final order of events could not have been known. The act as it stands is thus not from either of the ceremonies it describes, or the date which it gives, and it adopts a narrative construction of the ceremony. Especially since consecrations were formal occasions whose rules were laid down, this narrative was under a strong impulse to say the correct thing. Santa Maria’s case, with numerous altars whose different patrons made different collaborations of bishops appropriate, bent this pattern but if events had in fact broken the convention, we cannot expect that this document would record this for us.”

This is from the first chapter of my doctoral thesis, and it was one of a large number of examples I was collecting, just as does Tock in his chapter, of procedural oddities that force us to question stereotypes about how documents were produced.5 We hit many of the same concerns with our examples. I’m not trying to claim massive cleverness for myself here or anything: firstly, I wouldn’t have got far along these lines without the truly excellent palaeographical analyses of the Sant Joan de Ripoll charter material by its editor, Federico Udina i Martorell, but more basically, as that suggests, these things become unmissable when you’ve just got enough original documents that they are preserved, and this is what Tock found once he had a dataset of 3658 original documents, just as I did with slightly fewer documents more deeply studied.6 Also I have to thank some of my scribes: Tock doesn’t have anyone like the famous judge Bonhom explaining that he wrote a given charter in two stints with two different inks, apparently afraid that someone might therefore think it forged.7 And when you have something like the hearing over the Vall de Sant Joan de les Abadesses, about which I have gone on so often, but where three writing stints at least are basically visible straight away, it’s hard not to come to these conclusions, like it or not.8 I love my source base!

Reduced-quality facsimile of the Vall de Sant Joan hearing charter, Arxiu de la Corona d'Aragó, Pergamins, Cancilleria, Miron 3

Reduced-quality facsimile of the Vall de Sant Joan hearing charter, Arxiu de la Corona d’Aragó, Pergamins, Cancilleria, Miron 3, some enhancement applied

But it is possible that this source base means that I can answer one of Tock’s rhetorical questions. Considering the possibility that a charter might be entirely written up beforehand, he asks how a scribe could know who would turn up, and considers this a major problem with the concept. I’m not sure that it is, as that rather depends on anyone else ever noticing the charter didn’t say the right thing or people not being well aware that those people should have been there, even if in fact they weren’t, and that the document ought to say as much: this is, I assume, what explains the occasional Catalan cases where a dead man’s signature is given to emphasise that he consented to the act even if he died before it happened.9 I’m more convinced, however, by the cases where we can see that such information was available beforehand precisely because it turned out to be wrong, and the Vall de Sant Joan hearing is one of those, because both its list of those present for the oath it records and the list of those actually swearing it differ slightly from the names in the signatures. I’ve argued already that this is because the whole thing happened over maybe weeks, and there were probably two ceremonies involved, but it may also be Tock’s suggested pattern: what actually happened was not quite what had been anticipated.

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

Where have you argued this, I hear you ask? Why, in my Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), available from at least some good booksellers!

At the very least, we can see that information was collected beforehand, because as I argue in my book, there are mistakes between the two sets of oath-swearers that would be hard to explain without written exemplars in the process. A woman signing for one hamlet who is called Marcia gets recorded as Imitara in the initial list, not exactly similar in pronunciation you might think, and it’s only when one realises that she’s the second woman called Marcia in that list that one realises one’s probably looking at a mistranscription of “item Marcia”, ‘another Marcia’, perhaps abbreviated in a way that the scribe didn’t recognise because it had been done by someone else. (I hypothesize that at the signature phase of writing, the people who’d written the lists were there to tell him what they said, which implies that he did the initial drafting elsewhere.) When I worked all this out, I felt really very clever indeed—ah me, so long ago now…—but it’s not really my brainpower so much as a really fabulous source and a willingness to tabulate long lists.10 Tock didn’t have the time of scope to do that work here, but his other writing shows that he’s perfectly capable of it; this book was painting a wider picture, is all.11

St Gallen charter of 825, Stiftsarchiv St. Gallen, II 65

I cannot find any pictures of the verso of a St Gallen charter! On the other hand, some of the Vorakte are pretty nearly as fine as the recto versions… so here’s a recto image of one from 825? Stiftsarchiv St. Gallen, II 65.

Nonetheless, the conclusion, that charter scribes worked from notes, is not present in Tock’s suggestions here, despite other evidence that could be brought into play like the apparent dorsal drafts versions made on the backs of eventual charters at St Gallen in Switzerland (which fall outside Tock’s sample and weren’t then digitised and studied as they now are), and I think it probably explains a lot of the difficulties he sees with the conclusions to which the documents force him.12 They didn’t get things wrong that often because the information was being recorded elsewhere; the cases we have where things have gone wrong, as with Sant Joan or Sant Pere de Casserres or any of the others so dear to me, are where something so special or rushed was being done that it couldn’t be gone back on or was too much effort to consider rewriting. So we’re trying to reconstruct the process of charter redaction from its mistakes; not impossible, but challenging, and worth saying explicitly!


1. B.-M. Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins dans les actes privés en France (VIIe – début XIIe siècle, Atelier de Recherches sur les Textes Médiévaux 9 (Turnhout 2006), pp. 369-412, quote pp. 369-370:

“La question est évidemment importante, puisqu’elle concerne, de la manière la plus directe, les conditions d’élaboration des actes, et par là, les liens entre l’acte et l’action juridique. Le récit de l’action tel qu’il figure dans l’acte est-il sincère ? Si l’acte a été rédigé avant l’action elle-même, n’est-il pas possible que des changements intervenus en dernière minute dans l’action ne soient pas reflétés dans le texte ? Surtout, si l’acte est préparé avant l’action, il peut jouer un rôle au course de celle-ci, soit comme acte dispositif, soit comme symbole de l’action.”

2. First printed as P. de Monsabert (ed.), Chartes de l’abbaye de Nouaillé : de 678 à 1200, Archives historiques du Poitou, 49 (Poitiers 1936)

3. Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins, pp. 193-223, esp. pp. 221-223.

4. Ibid. pp. 392-397, quote at p. 394.

5. J. Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, unpublished doctoral thesis (University of London 2005), online here, pp. 35-36, some day probably to be repeated in the paper for which I was reading Tock’s book…

6. Federico Udina Martorell, El Archivo Condal de Barcelona en los siglos IX-X: estudio crítico de sus fondos, Textos 18 (Barcelona 1951).

7. Anscari Manuel Mundó i Marcet, “El jutge Bonsom de Barcelona, cal·lígraf i copista del 979 al 1024” in Emma Condello & Guiseppe De Gregorio (edd.), Scribi e colofoni: Le sottoscrizioni di copisti dalle origini all’avvento della stampa. Atti del seminario di Erice/X Colloquio del Comité international de paléographie latine (23-28 ottobre 1993), Biblioteca del «Centro per il collegamento degli studi medievali e umanistici in Umbria» 14 (Spoleto 1995) pp. 269-288; Jeffrey A. Bowman, Shifting Landmarks: Property, Proof, and Dispute in Catalonia around the Year 1000 (Ithaca 2004), pp. 84-99. The charter in question is the sacramental testament of Bishop Vives of Barcelona, printed as Àngel Fabrega i Grau (ed.), Diplomatari de la Catedral de Barcelona: documents dels anys 844-1260. Volum I: documents dels anys 844-1000, Fonts Documentals 1 (Barcelona 1995), doc. no. 265, and it’s huge, so the two-stint thing is understandable. Given it’s Bonhom I’m just faintly surprised he didn’t also tell us what he had for lunch in between times.

8. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled, pp. 37-38, which took a lot longer figuring out than those two paragraphs give away…

9. An example of this is Ramon Ordeig i Mata (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia IV: els comtats d’Osona i Manresa, Memòries de la Secció Històrico-arqueològica LIII (Barcelona 1999), 3 vols, doc. no. 1380, which is also a rule-breaker in so far as it’s the only private transaction I know that still threatens its infringers with a portion in Hell with Judas. Cf. Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins, pp. 194-197: such concerns do not apparently manifest themselves in the French documents.

10. See n. 8 above.

11. For example, B.-M. Tock, “Auteur ou impétrant ? Réflexions sur les chartes des évêques d’Arras au XIIe siècle” in Bibliothèque de l’École des Chartes Vol. 149 (Paris 1991), pp. 215-248, to name but one of many.

12. Albert Bruckner, Die Vorakte der älteren St. Galler Urkunden, Urkundenbuch der Abtei Sanct Gallen Ergänzungsheft 1 (St. Gallen 1931); see now Bernhard Zeller, “Writing Charters as a Public Activity: The Example of the Carolingian Charters of St Gall” in Marco Mostert & Paul Barnwell (edd.), Medieval Legal Process: physical, spoken and written performance in the Middle Ages, Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy 22 (Turhnout 2011), pp. 27-37.