Tag Archives: Simon Barton

Name in Print XXVI: in honour of Simon Barton (and Mark Whittow)

We interrupt my usual programme of backlog for a current announcement, though it is one that necessarily has lots of my past in it, which is that I have another new publication out, the first of 2020 though hopefully not the last. I arrived in my current job with this chapter forthcoming some day, and couldn’t then tell my bosses when it might actually arrive. Now it has all come together rather suddenly, not because of the pandemic but by complete coincidence, and so I should tell you all about it.

Dr Mark Whittow at Corpus Christi College, Oxford

Dr Mark Whittow at Corpus Christi College, Oxford

This is also, as the title implies, a story relating to two late and much lamented scholar patrons of mine, whose untimely deaths I had to announce here some time back. The first of these was Mark Whittow, who in late 2010 when I arrived in post in Oxford, as I told you more-or-less then, asked if I could give a paper to the Medieval History Seminar there. I offered him a choice between something actually researched two terms distant or something made out of bits and string three weeks distant; he cheerfully took the latter, I wrote the thing cursing my own goodwill and it actually turned out to be one of my better pieces of work. So in a sense I wrote the paper for Mark, and it is a great shame that he never got to see it, though I suppose he did at least hear the first version and then entertain me to dinner for it afterwards. Anyway, it is partly for Mark now.

Professor Simon Barton of Central Florida University

Professor Simon Barton, of Central Florida University and previously of Exeter University, photographed by James d’Emilio in 2017 and borrowed from Professor D’Emilio’s Twitter stream

But the person who actually decided to publish it was the other scholar whose death I reported with Mark’s, Simon Barton. As I said when he died, Simon had invited me to conferences from an early stage in my career, and in 2013 did so for what turned out to be the last time, in a fun gathering of basically all the active UK scholars of medieval Iberian history. What I then gave was a part of my long-running project on Sant Pere de Casserres, but when the decision was made between Simon and Rob Portass to produce a volume of essays out of the conference, it seemed to me that my Casserres paper firstly couldn’t be finished in time, secondly it would be too long and thirdly it wouldn’t really fit the theme, and so I offered them the Oxford paper, for which no home had by then appeared. And I sent it to them, lightly revised, in the absolute last days of 2014.

After that point things moved slowly. Rob was finding his way in a new job and, unbeknowsnt to me at least, Simon was getting ready to leave his old one for a new life in the USA; some contributors dropped out and others had to be found; and although correspondence continued, when I arrived in Leeds, as said, I had no idea when this volume might really emerge. But I owed Simon and, increasingly, Rob for their various efforts on my behalf at one time or another and didn’t want to make the same mistake I’d made the last time I withdrew something, and so it rested with them. Things got going again in 2017: a revised version was solicited and sent in June and was further revised by both editors in October, and then of course Simon died. Rob might at this point reasonably have abandoned the project, but instead he decided that we owed it to Simon to complete it and so he has seen it the rest of the way, and the result, finally, now dedicated to Simon’s memory, looks like this.

Cover of Simon Barton† & Robert Portass (edd.), Beyond the Reconquista: New Directions in the History of Medieval Iberia (711–1085) (Leiden 2020)

Cover of Simon Barton† & Robert Portass (edd.), Beyond the Reconquista: New Directions in the History of Medieval Iberia (711–1085) (Leiden 2020)

As it has emerged this is quite the volume and I’m very glad not to be paying Brill prices for it, as it’s one I would have to read. Not only does it contain, as presaged two posts ago, Eduardo Manzano Moreno, aided by Alberto Canto, saying what he thinks was going on with the monetary economy in the post-Visigothic peninsula, it also contains Jeffrey Bowman‘s Exeter paper on élite women in the Iberian Peninsula, so often apparently a special case but never before actually examined comparatively, a paper by Wendy Davies on what counts actually did in the non-Catalan areas of northern Iberia, a new piece by Nicola Clarke on Islamic masculinity in al-Andalus, one by Lucy Pick on veiled references to Islam in Beatus’s Commentary on the Apocalypse (which I’d always figured there must be some of but the scholarship hasn’t previously found), Graham Barrett with a long-term study of the use and meaning of the word Hispania, and starting the whole thing off, after two sensitive pieces by Rob about Simon and the project, a shibboleth-destroying paper by Julio Escalona and Iñaki Martín Viso dealing at last with the 1960s idea of the depopulation and repopulation of the frontier space between Christianity and Islam in the Peninsula.1 And, of course, there is also me, and in case you haven’t gone back to the 2010 blog post my paper is about what the function of narratives is in charter material, and the short answer would be, almost always to hide the fact of a problematic and abnormal transaction’s problems and abnormality.2 I think this paper actually has something to tell anyone who deals with transaction records, court depositions and functional documents of any kind, but especially charters, whose basis is normally so formula-driven: when people abandoned or expanded upon the formulae, it was because a normal document wasn’t going to work here.

First page of Jonathan Jarrett, "A Likely Story: Purpose in Narratives from Charters of the Early Medieval Pyrenees" in Barton and Portass, Beyond the Reconquista, pp. 123–142.

First page of Jonathan Jarrett, "A Likely Story: Purpose in Narratives from Charters of the Early Medieval Pyrenees" in Barton and Portass, Beyond the Reconquista, pp. 123–142

Several of these chapters are going straight onto my reading lists for next year and the whole thing is a volume I will not just have to, but will enjoy the time to, read from cover to cover, and I think my chapter holds its own in there too. The whole thing is a fitting tribute to Simon, and in some ways to Simon especially as patron rather than as scholar: not much of what’s in here touches closely upon Simon’s own research, mostly being earlier than his normal turf, but we can all be sure that he would have been interested and encouraging about what we have had to say, and it’s that aspect, the convenor of Historians of Medieval Iberia and the supervisor and examiner of many a doctoral student, that is commemorated here.3 For that and several other reasons I’m very happy to have this piece dedicated to his memory. But for me at least, the dedication is also to Mark Whittow, who would have pronounced the volume a ‘hoot’, or possibly even a ‘giggle’, and eagerly read it instead of whatever he was notionally supposed to be working on and then come up with something of his own for the same seminar based on whatever it had made him think about Anatolia, Italy, China or France, as his fancy then took him. I’d liked to have heard that paper, and to then try and get him and Simon into the same room, with wine, to see what resulted from that. As it is, this post is as close as I shall get, but it will have to do. To you both, gentlemen, and may it prove of interest!


1. This is the list of contents:

  1. Robert Portass, “Simon Barton† (1962–2017)” in Simon Barton and Robert Portass (edd.), Beyond the Reconquista: New Directions in the History of Medieval Iberia (711-1085): In Honour of Simon Barton, The Medieval and Early Modern Iberian World 76 (Leiden 2020), pp. X–XI, DOI: 10.1163/978900423879_001
  2. Portass, “Beyond the Reconquista: An Introductory Essay”, ibid. pp. 1–15, DOI: 10.1163/978900423879_002;
  3. Julio Escalona and Iñaki Martín Viso, “The Life and Death of an Historiographical Folly: The Early Medieval Depopulation and Repopulation of the Duero Basin”, ibid. pp. 21–51, DOI: 10.1163/978900423879_003;
  4. Graham Barrett, “Hispania at Home and Abroad”, ibid. pp. 52–119;
  5. Jonathan Jarrett, “A Likely Story: Purpose in Narratives from Charters of the Early Medieval Pyrenees”, ibid. pp. 123–142, DOI: 10.1163/978900423879_004;
  6. Wendy Davies, “Counts in Ninth- and Tenth-Century Iberia”, ibid. pp. 143–168, DOI: 10.1163/978900423879_005;
  7. Eduardo Manzano Moreno and Alberto Canto, “The Value of Wealth: Coins and Coinage in Iberian Early Medieval Documents”, ibid. pp. 169–197, DOI: 10.1163/978900423879_006;
  8. Jeffrey Bowman, “Record, Chronicle and Oblivion: Remembering and Forgetting Elite Women in Medieval Iberia”, ibid. pp. 201–231, DOI: 10.1163/978900423879_007;
  9. Nicola Clarke, “‘He lashed his mawlā with a whip, and shaved his head’: Masculinity and Hierarchy in Early Andalusi Chronicles”, ibid., pp. 232–256, DOI: 10.1163/978900423879_008;
  10. Lucy K. Pick, “Islam Concealed and Revealed: The Chronicle of 754 and Beatus of Liébana’s Commentary on the Apocalypse“, ibid., pp. 257–282, DOI: 10.1163/978900423879_009.

For a more traditional view of Beatus’s apparent lack of care about Islam, see John W. Williams, “Purpose and Imagery in the Apocalypse Commentary of Beatus of Liébana”, in R. K. Emmerson and Bernard McGinn (edd.), The Apocalypse in the Middle Ages (Ithaca NY 1992), pp. 217–233.

2. It being Jarrett, “A Likely Story”, as above.

3. Simon’s normal sphere would be occupied by, among other signal works, Simon Barton, The Aristocracy in Twelfth-Century León and Castile, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought 4th Series 34 (Cambridge 1997); Barton and Richard Fletcher (edd. & transl.), The World of El Cid: chronicles of the Spanish reconquest (Manchester 2000); Barton, “Traitors to the Faith? Christian Mercenaries in al-Andalus and the Maghreb, c.1100–1300″ in Roger Collins and Anthony Goodman (edd.), Medieval Spain: culture, conflict, and coexistence. Studies in honour of Angus MacKay (Basingstoke 2002), pp. 23–45; Barton, “El Cid, Cluny and the Medieval Spanish Reconquista” in English Historical Review Vol. 126 (Oxford 2011), pp. 517–543; or Barton, Conquerors, Brides, and Concubines: Interfaith Relations and Social Power in Medieval Iberia (Philadelphia PA 2015).

Two More Greats Gone: Simon Barton and Mark Whittow

This is a kind of repetition I really hope stops arising. The pressure is not off my life in such a way that blogging as we knew it, or anything like, can yet be resumed, but the one thing that I can’t justly not write about is people I wish hadn’t just died, and just a bit more than a year since I last posted it is, awfully, that that once more brings me out of hiding. I’m sorry if anyone was hoping for better, and I’m sorry that the news I have is so terrible, but I owe both these men a lot and have to say something in their honours.

Professor Simon Barton of Central Florida University

Professor Simon Barton, of Central Florida University and previously of Exeter University, photographed by James d’Emilio in 2017 and borrowed from Professor D’Emilio’s Twitter stream

I still don’t know what happened to Simon Barton. There is nothing on the web about his death anywhere that doesn’t apparently go back to a tweet by Simon Doubleday on 17th December publicising an announcement on the Facebook page of the Sociedad Española de Estudios Medievales, and for a while that seemed like such an odd place for the news to crop up, and it so odd that it was not repeated, that I was very much hoping that an obituary notice had been prematurely posted and that it would soon be contradicted. But that contradiction has not come and other places have begun to post tributes, and I guess it must be true. I first ran into Simon Barton because when still at Exeter, long ago in I think 2003, he accepted a paper I’d offered to the Second Conference of the Historians of Medieval Iberia. That was a good and very friendly conference, and while the paper never actually got finished I apparently did well enough to be invited back in 2005, and that paper became my infamous Aprisio article. Basically, Simon kept inviting me back to things, even at times when surely unbeknownst to him I felt as if I would have to be leaving the profession soon and was no kind of real scholar. His cheerful encouragement whenever I had contact with him has been a reliable constant for quite a lot of my academic career, all the more valuable because there was no reason he needed to provide it. It was a recent pleasure for me in the previous academic year to start using his work more thoroughly in my teaching by way of repayment, and it was only getting more interesting as he went on; his most recent, and now I guess last, book, really transcends the institutional and political sort of history in the tradition of which he had begun. And now there will be no more, and of course there are also all the ruptured personal ties and grief that death leaves behind it about which I really can’t say anything meaningful except how sorry I am.

Dr Mark Whittow at Corpus Christi College, Oxford

Dr Mark Whittow at Corpus Christi College, Oxford

That inarticulacy in the face of death hurts all the more for the other victim of the season, Dr Mark Whittow. Here, horribly, there is no doubt: Mark was driving home from Banbury on the 23rd December, there was a collision and he was killed. Why this is a blow for the subject, others have already put far better than I ever could—the article on the website of St Peter’s College, where he was a fellow for many years, has him perfectly written up—but here, what I can’t say of Simon, I can picture the house that will now be emptier and the people who must grieve and it’s awful. I’ve sat round that breakfast table and on those sofas, with Mark being controversial because the conversation was more fun that way, and again I was made welcome there when that mattered a good deal. Within days of my arrival in Oxford, indeed, Mark had made himself known to me and roped me into giving a paper at short notice (a paper which, by a horrible irony, until very recently rested with none other than Simon Barton, who was editing a book in which it was finally to appear), but he made up for it with dinner and that famous welcome, and for the remaining years I was in Oxford we plied each other with college and other hospitality and made grand plans whose minuscule chance of realisation, given how busy we both were with other things, didn’t make them any less entertaining. He also enjoyed the blog, and it seems especially perverse, however obvious, that he can’t comment on this post. He would have been pleased at least, I imagine, to know that his death would make both the Times and the Telegraph, but there’s no question that he’d rather have been around still having fun, and he had, perhaps more than anyone else I know, worked out how to have it. The timing and the family he leaves behind make this all seem very cruel already, but so does the sheer vivacity with which Mark lived and of which he and we would all have enjoyed so much more. I shall miss him and Simon both and I wish they weren’t dead.

Expressions of Hispanist medevalist community, in Exeter

We seem now to be firmly into June 2013 in my never-decreasing backlog of reporting, and next up in it was a day out to Exeter, somewhere I hadn’t been for a long time but which called me now for the same reason as it often has before, a gathering of the intermittent organisation known as Historians of Medieval Iberia. The main reason this had occurred was the presence in the UK of a man much cited here, Professor Jeffrey Bowman, visiting Exeter, because of which Professor Simon Barton thereof had wanted to organise a day symposium, and so being called we variously went. Due to the uselessnesses of First Great Western trains, I was only just in time for the first paper, but in time I was, and the running order was as follows, in pairs of papers.

  • Jeffrey A. Bowman, “Lordship and Gender in Medieval Catalonia”
  • Jonathan Jarrett, “Per multa curricula ex parte destructa: membership of a Church community in Catalonia c. 1000″
  • Robert Portass, “Doing Business: was there a land market in tenth-century Galicia?”
  • Teresa Tinsley, “Hernando de Baeza and the End of Multicultural Iberia”
  • Graham Barrett, “Beyond the Mozarabic Migration: frontier society in early medieval Spain”
  • Simon Barton, “The Image of Aristocracy in Christian Iberia, c. 1000-c. 1300: towards a new history”

Professor Bowman’s paper is now out as an article, but some brief account may be of interest anyway.1 The way it worked was to do what I love doing, standing Catalonia up as a better-evidenced counter-example to a broader theory, in this case that of Georges Duby that female lordship as early as the tenth century was an incredibly rare occurrence seen as a pale imitation of masculinity. To do this involved setting up some kind of definition of lordship, which Professor Barton suggested should at least include fighting, doing justice, controlling castles, diplomacy and ‘special projects’. Women with military rôles are not unknown in the Catalan records (wait for a future post here, as I think the phenomenon goes down lower than Professor Bowman had time to look), countesses in the eleventh century at least certainly presided over courts alone, a good few held castles in fief (or by other arrangements2), we have various Arabic testimonies to the countesses of Barcelona being conduits for diplomatic communication and under ‘special projects’, if we mean things like land clearance, Abbess Emma is an obvious example.3

Seal of Countess Ermessenda of Barcelona, Girona and Osona in the Museu Diocesà de Girona

Seal of Countess Ermessenda of Barcelona, Girona and Osona, a woman who would not give up government till there was no choice, in the Museu Diocesà de Girona

So that case looks pretty much made: in this area, for that definition of lordship (and it does occur to me now that it is a very tenth-century-and-later one because of the inclusion of castles, though one could still say the same of Dhuoda I guess), it’s hard to see anything odd about female participation in lordship here and we should stop thinking it odd. And I suppose I’d agree with that, and not necessarily just here (another future post) but there does still seem to me to be a difference, in the Languedoc at least where the ninth century gives enough to compare with, between the rôles in and frequency with which women appear in charters, especially as far as their titles go, to suggest that even if this situation wasn’t odd, it might still be new. It did, however, last: Professor Bowman was keen to stress in questions that those who have looked for a shift towards a lineage system here have found it hard to locate over any timeframe much shorter than a century.4

Sant Pere de Casserres, from above

Sant Pere de Casserres, from above

As for me, little enough needs saying there: in the throes of another project entirely and with no time to come up with two papers so close to each other from it, I’d offered the latest version of the now-legendary Sant Pere de Casserres paper; I ran through where the place is, what the sources are, why there’s a problem with the narrative of its foundation and what the actual story might be that would fit it; Graham Barrett suggested some modifications to my Latin and then the questions were all for Professor Bowman, which is fine as he was building a much bigger thesis. One of my problems with the Casserres paper is working out what larger point it makes; the other, of course, is non-responsive archives, but that’s a bigger problem than just here…

The monastery of San Salvador de Celanova in its modern form

The monastery of San Salvador de Celanova in its modern form

The second session put two rather less-connected papers together. Rob was out to demonstrate peasant access to the land market in his corner of early medieval Spain, which has often been overlooked because the dominant Spanish historiography interested in peasants has been more interested in how they resisted power than how they cooperated with it.5 This Marxist perspective needs rethinking, argued Rob, not least because many of these peasants did not live in the Marxist ‘peasant mode’, but operated in both vertical and horizontal networks of power and assistance. Even when those networks led to the monastery of Celanova, whence most of Rob’s material, it was not always to peasant disadvantage to cut a deal with the monks, whose rents were limited, and the land that was then sold to them had often come from other peasants previously. The problem here is of course the definition of peasant, but I think I would agree that whatever we call the free smallholders here they could happily do business with each other, and do so with an eye to their own benefit.6

The Alhambra palace in Granada

The Alhambra palace in Granada, now very keen to be widely known as a World Heritage site

Miss Tinsley’s paper came from a completely different place, sixteenth-century Granada, where one Hernando de Baeza, a Christian interpreter for the last lords of the Muslim state there, was writing a history of recent events. This man is almost exactly the author a multicultural twenty-first century reading of events at the end of Muslim rule in Spain wants: his sources included Africans and women, he spoke all the necessary languages and about the only minority group he doesn’t mention is Jews, but the work was only published in the nineteenth century, from two incomplete manuscripts and is consequently confused and disordered in structure, which with its anecdotal style has left it out of most serious historiography. There is now, however, a recently-discovered complete manuscript to work from (which a Mexican archbishop had made in 1550 to help with converting native Americans!) and this offers more details with which the author’s life can be filled out. He seems to have been an ambassador to the papal court for Queen Isabella, briefly papal chamberlain and a protector of Jews, but whom King Ferdinand however booted out of his offices and whose parents had been burnt by the Inquisition! He seems to have written his history in Rome, a disenchanted man. He may therefore have been attempting something like a dream past of late medieval inclusion, before intolerance and persecution wrecked everything for him and his family. Again, just what we might wish but correspondingly slippery to deal with! This all sounded tremendous fun and I hope Miss Tinsley can make the man’s name better-known, although it transpired in questions that she is dealing with a recalcitrant editor of the manuscript who is being very careful what details he lets her have. That sounded dreadfully familiar, alas…

A Leonese royal charter of 860

A Leonese royal charter of 860

Then came Graham Barrett, who was speaking on those curious populations in the frontier Christian polities of tenth-century Spain whose personal names were Arabic, about whom I’ve spoken myself once or twice, including at an earlier Historians of Medieval Iberia gathering, pre-blog. As that suggests, I had given up trying to get my work on this published before Graham had arrived in England to start his Ph. D., but also in the room was Professor Richard Hitchcock, who was fairly sparing about the absence of his more successful work from the presentation…7 I found it hard to rate this paper neutrally, anyway, it was much too close to my own fruitless sidetracks of yore. Graham’s take on things is always original, however, and he knows the documents far better than me, so there were new thoughts available. In particular he raised the possibility that lots of the relevant documents might be forged, although why one would then put Arabic names into them (and the same names over quite an area, I’d note) is hard to explain.8 He also correctly pointed out that migration of southerners was not necessary to explain these names and that they themselves were not evidence of ethnicity or even cultural affiliation,9 but that they might usefully be mapped against other markers of that, if any could be agreed. There’s definitely a project here, but I suspect that in fact neither of us will be the ones who do it as we both have easier things to attempt…

Brass plate bearing the arms of the Lara family

Brass plate bearing the arms of the Lara family

Lastly our host, Simon Barton, asked whether the approximate synthesis to which historians of North-Western Europe seem now to have come about the medieval aristocracy applies in the Midi.10 Most study of the Spanish nobility has been of families, rather than of a class, but Simon argued that a class identity can be seen in formation after about 1050, with a hierarchy of aristocratic rank, heraldry and literature all developing to emphasise it. He suggested that these markers were developing not so much as spontaneous expression of ideals but as tests that helped mark people off from their imitators, which exposes the ideals in play to us in negative. This was a good wrap-up to a good day that refreshed a realisation for us that even if it’s thinly spread and uncertain of duration, nonetheless there is still a medieval Iberian scholarship in the UK and we’re all active parts of it; it’s never a bad time to be reassured that one has colleagues!


1. Jeffrey A. Bowman “Countesses in court: elite women, creativity,
and power in northern Iberia, 900–1200” in Journal of Medieval Iberian Studies Vol. 6 (London 2014), pp. 54-70, DOI: 10.1080/17546559.2014.883084.

2. J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), pp. 83-85.

3. Idem, “Power over Past and Future: Abbess Emma and the nunnery of Sant Joan de les Abadesses” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 12 (Oxford 2005), pp. 229-258, DOI: 10.1111/j.0963-9462.2004.00128.x.

4. Cited here was Theodore Evergates, “Nobles and Knights in Twelfth-Century France” in Thomas N. Bisson (ed.), Cultures of Power: lordship, status and porcess in twelfth-century Europe (Philadelphia 1995), pp. 11-35; Georges Duby, “Women and Power”, ibid. pp. 69-85, provided the basic counter-type here.

5. Classically, Reyna Pastor de Tognery, Movimientos, resistencias y luchas campesinas en Castilla y León: siglos X-XIV (Madrid 1980).

6. R. Portass, “Rethinking the «Small Worlds» of Tenth-Century Galicia” in Studia Historica: Historia medieval Vol. 31 (Salamanaca 2013), pp. 83-103, online here, contains some aspects of this paper.

7. R. Hitchcock, Mozarabs in Medieval and Early Modern Spain (Aldershot 2008), building on his “Arabic proper names in the Becerro de Celanova” in David Hook & Barrie Taylor (edd.), Cultures in Contact in Medieval Spain: Historical and Literary Essays Presented to L. P. Harvey, Kings College London Medieval Studies 3 (London 1990), pp. 111-126; references to my presentations can be found on my webpages here.

8. One example would be the apparent court notable Abolfetha ibn December (good name huh?), who certainly does appear in the forged Santos García Larragueta (ed.), Colección de Documentos de la Catedral de Oviedo (Oviedo 1962), doc. no. 22, but also in the less dubious José María Mínguez Fernández (ed.), Colección Diplomática del Monasterio de Sahagún (siglos IX y X) (León 1976), doc. no. 19 and Emilio Sáez (ed.), Colección Documental del Archivo de la Catedral de León (775-1230): I (775-952) (León 1987), doc. no. 68; at that rate, it begins to look as if the reason for putting his name in a forgery would be because it was known to belong to the period being aimed at, which is to say that at least up to three separate forgers thought he was a real historical person.

9. As also argued in Victoria Aguilar, “Onomástica de origen árabe en el reino de León (siglo X)” in al-Qantara: revista de estudios árabes 15 (1994), pp. 351-363 esp. at p. 363 and Fernando Rodríguez Mediano, “Acerca de la población arabizada del reino de León (siglos X y XI), ibid. pp. 465-72 with English abstract p. 472; they collect the Leonese evidence in Aguilar & Rodríguez, “Antroponimia de origen árabe en la documentación leonesa (siglos VIII-XIII)” in El Reino de León en la Alta Edad Media Vol. 6 (León 1994), pp. 497-633.

10. E. g. (cited) David Crouch, The Image of Aristocracy in Britain 1000-1300 (London 1992) or Constance Brittain Bouchard, “Those of my blood”: Constructing noble families in medieval Francia (Philadelphia 2001), to which cf. S. Barton, The aristocracy in twelfth century León and Castile (Cambridge 1997).