Tag Archives: Simon Doubleday

Society for the Medieval Mediterranean 2015 (in Lincoln), part 1

Medieval depiction of the city of Genoa

Masthead image from the conference website, a medieval depiction of Genoa whose source I can’t track down

We’re back into term and there’s even less time available for blogging than usual, but there is a huge backlog still, and so I suppose it behoves me to slog onwards. I went to a lot of conferences the summer before last, and it’s the, er, fourth of them that’s up next, which was the 2015 meeting of the Society for the Medieval Mediterranean, held at the University of Lincoln over the 13th to 15th of July. The title of the conference was Law, Custom and Ritual in the Medieval Mediterranean. Despite this, I hadn’t straight away wanted to go, mainly because it fell straight after the International Medieval Congress and I rightly expected to be exhausted, but Lincoln is nice and the conference programme was also full of people from Spain I wanted to meet or be met by. Also, in retrospect, since of the fifty-four papers five, at a stretch, mentioned Catalonia, and one of those only Catalunya Nova, I almost had to speak just to show the flag… So I was there, and this was a good decision.

West front of Lincoln Cathedral

The cathedral is at least five good reasons to go to Lincoln, but I seem not to have taken a camera with me, so you’ll have to make do with this one by Anthony Shreeve, public domain via Wikimedia Commons

We began at a civilised hour on the 13th, which is to say after lunch, and then I made what will immediately seem an obvious decision for those who know me, which was to go and hear Wendy Davies. The session broke down like this.

Judicial Practices in Early Medieval Northwestern Iberia (1)

  • Wendy Davies, “Partial (? and Impartial) Records of Judicial Practice in Northern Iberia pre-1000”
  • Isabel Alfonso, José M. Andrade and André Evangelista Marques, “Recording Judicial Information: a comparative approach”
  • Wendy set up a distinction between full records of court proceedings, which in her tenth-century north-western area as in my tenth-century north-eastern one tend to be full-size formal records redacted by the winners with an often extensive narrative explaining how the winner was right (sometimes not so extensive, but…) and, on the other hand, informal notes of process which we find, when we look, quoted in other texts or jotted in the margins or on the dorses of our more formal charters, less constructed but sometimes more formulaic, sometimes being verbatim copies of oaths, agreements to come to a further hearing and so on. I seem to have asserted, as per usual, that we could find this in Catalonia too, but looking back now (at a point when I am running unusually dull of brain, I should admit) I struggle to think of some and it sounds as if Wendy has more. All good reasons to read her new book, anyway!1

    A marriage pact of 951 witnessed by the newly-succeded King Ordoño II in 951, Madrid, Archivo Historical Nacional, Carp. 1430 N.16

    This is not a charter of the right sort, but it is at least a charter from the right monastery, Celanova, and the right period, being a marriage pact of 951 witnessed by the newly-succeded King Ordoño II in 951, Madrid, Archivo Historical Nacional, Carp. 1430 N.16. and what a charter it is!

    The second paper I was keen on seeing just because I have used José Andrade’s work, had occasional second-hand encouragement from him and wanted to meet the man, and he and his colleagues turned out to be presenting a new database, which should now be live though I can’t find it I’m afraid, and this had meant them having to think very hard about categories (which is, of course, one of the problems with that otherwise noble endeavour). They wound up with nine categories of which one was ‘mixed records’, which is how that usually works; it turns out that what people did doesn’t fit what we want to see… The database, anyway, includes the documents from the monastery of Sahagún as was and the much smaller but in some ways more interesting one of Otero de las Dueñas; Otero’s sample is much smaller (including physically) but far more of their records are judicial, and show a generally lower social level of action, local courts with decisions made by local worthies whereas Sahagún increasingly went to the king for its resolutions. Other components of the sample are the monasteries of Samos and Celanova, where the situation is partly inverse in as much as royally-founded Samos has much less information for us. Again, however, the smaller house preserved a greater proportion of lawsuits, including ones where they lost. The final components are the gathered samples from what is now Portugal, handled by André Evangelista, who compared the monasteries of Moreira and Guimaraes to a very similar effect: Guimaraes has less stuff but 40% of it is judicial records, all admittedly after the event, formal records as Wendy would have it. A short conclusion might be: if as a monastery you didn’t have wealth, you held power more aggressively.2

Interior view of the cloister at the Pousada Mosteiro de Guimaraes

The current state of the monastery of Guimaraes, which is to say, a rather expensive hotel

In discussion, however, the speakers were all keen to stress that the situation they had depicted changed a great deal in the eleventh century, not least because of King Alfonso VI. Here again, I feel sympathy; there is a divide between the societies I study and those of 1100 onwards that is, I think, why I find some kind of feudal transformation narrative compelling even as I disbelieve it in detail. People did things differently thereafter… Anyway, then after coffee from the mundane to the eternal, in subject matter at least.

Orthodoxy and Deviance

  • Elena Nonveiller, “‘Paganism’ in the 7th Century in Byzantium: the dynamics of exclusion and inclusion that defined Orthodoxy”
  • Laura Carlson, “Written & Oral Forms of Public Penitence during the Adoptionist Controversy”
  • Ms Nonveiller gave us a close analysis of the Council of Trullo of 692, in which Emperor Justinian II (of whom we have heard) tried to do a general regulation of belief that included, among other things, measures against Judaism and pagan practices. The word used for pagan in the council acts (which never got actually cited, so I can’t tell you where to find them) is apparently ‘hellenikos’, i. e. Classical Greek, but many of the usages they sought to ban were not Classical as far as we can tell, things like leaping over a fire at your door for the new year. Ms Nonveiler sought to reimpose the separation of origins that syncretism had, for her, by this time erased, and suggested that this custom was probably Jewish or Slavic; I saw no reason why it shouldn’t be local to wherever the relevant churchmen had found it, myself, and in general thought that tracking this stuff through texts was unlikely to relate much to what the people doing it actually thought. Ironically perhaps, Ms Nonveiller closed by noting that many of these provisions had to be repeated in the next council, and so were perhaps too theoretical to affect practice! But, warned by Carolingian precedent, I asked whether much of the council’s condemnations were themselves repeated from earlier texts, and of course it turned out that many of them were. A Western perspective would probably see this much less as active legislation and much more as an imperial performance of orthodoxy, speaking out against well-recognised bad things whether they were still happening since their first condemnation three centuries before or not, and I’m not sure that Westerner would be wrong.3

    Bibliothèque Carnegie de Reims, MS 385, fo. 134r

    The beginning of the profession of faith of Bishop Felix of Urgell, in Reims, Bibliothèque Carnegie de Reims, MS 385, fo. 134r

    Laura, meanwhile, had found in a single Reims manuscript apparently (of course, constructed for Archbishop Hincmar) a copy of Bishop Felix of Urgell’s final profession of faith.4 For those who don’t know him, Felix had been both the Carolingians’ main bishop in Catalonia when they took it over and, as they saw it, a dangerous heretic, being part of the Adoptionist movement that had grown up in the peninsular Church. He was repeatedly made to disavow this belief but somehow remained in office with it until 799, which is the date of this letter. And it is a letter, to his canons (who are listed, very exciting for me), assuming the state of a penitent and thus demitting his office. Laura proposed that this was effectively a public penance by letter, making it known through to all that he was defeated and that he admitted Adoptionism was wrong, effectively pouring poison into his network but also, as I argued in discussion, opening the way for a Carolingian-approved election at Urgell. By contrast, his previous two confessions could have been considered ‘private’, a compromise intended to allow him to stay in office as the Carolingians’ agent. In 799 that was apparently decided insufficient and he was made to take this step of self-removal, but as Laura also pointed out, since the Carolingians were then reforming the practice of penance, by 800 it would have been impossible.5 Nonetheless, the situation and the fact that Felix quotes the profession of faith of none other than Patriarch Nestorius of Constantinople, as condemned before Emperor Theodosius II at Ephesus in 431, made this council of 799 a kind of mirror of that one in which Charlemagne got to play Theodosius ending the divisive heresy in his lands. Again, I wonder how much Felix’s real practices mattered here against the possibility of the soon-to-be-imperial performance of orthodoxy…

    Alfonso X of Castile and his court, as shown in the 12th-century Libro de los Juegos

    Alfonso X of Castile and his court, as shown in the 12th-century Libro de los Juegos; from Wikimedia Commons

    Finally that day, we were treated to a keynote address by Professor Simon Doubleday, entitled “Illegitimate Concerns”. This was a lecture about bastardy, with specific reference to King Alfonso X of Castile, the Wise. Although his father Fernando I reportedly advised him to remain chaste, this seems to be something Alfonso had trouble with; as well as being betrothed to Yolanda, daughter of King Jaume of Aragón in 1246, marrying her in 1248 and starting to have children soon after, he was by then already father of one Beatriz by a long-term partner. At the point of Alfonso and Yolanda’s marriage, therefore, poor Beatriz, aged 8, was shipped off to Portugal to marry King Afonso III, despite him already being married. It’s complicated, as they say. But the point of the lecture lay in the relationship that King Alfonso and Beatriz maintained, especially after the coup that temporarily deposed him, during which time she came to live with him (although one may suspect that the 300 troops she apparently brought with her gladdened the king’s heart nearly as much). It doesn’t seem to have been a problem for the king to recognise that tie, nurture it with gifts of lands along the Portuguese border or exploit it in time of trouble, even though the law, to which of course Alfonso added, was pretty clear that children born out of wedlock had no real rights in the face of those legitimately born. Professor Doubleday wondered, therefore, where we’d lost this relative generosity to the illegitimate, and with those musings we wound up the day and headed for the wine reception, with brains pleasantly full.

    1. You didn’t know Wendy had a new book out? She does, and it is W. Davies, Windows on Justice in Northern Iberia, 800-1000 (London 2016). I need to read it before the end of term somehow, too…

    2. This must also be cyclical, and relate to Jinty Nelson’s long-ago point about how it takes time for monasteries to grow roots in the community, so they start by buying lands and only then go on to receiving donations and fighting people for their rights; see Janet L. Nelson, “Women and the Word in the Earlier Middle Ages” in W. J. Sheils & Diana Wood (edd.), Women in the Church: papers read at the 1989 summer meeting and the 1990 winter meeting of the Ecclesiastical History Society, Studies in Church History Vol. 27 (Oxford 1990), pp. 53-78, and indeed for early medieval Iberia Jonathan Jarrett, “Power over Past and Future: Abbess Emma and the Nunnery of Sant Joan de les Abadesses” in Early Medieval Europe Vol. 12 (Oxford 2005 for 2003), pp. 229-258.

    3. That Westerner would only have had to read Patrick Wormald, “Lex scripta and Verbum regis: legislation and Germanic kingship, from Euric to Cnut” in Peter Sawyer & Ian N. Wood (edd.), Early Medieval Kingship (Leeds 1977), pp. 105-138, but let’s remember how long it took me to do so I suppose…

    4. As in the caption above, this is Reims, Bibliothèque Carnegie de Reims, MS 385, fos 134r-138r and followed by a letter of his fos 138r-140r. If you care about such things, Archbishop Hincmar of Reims signed the bottom of fo. 136r…

    5. See Rob Meens, “The Frequency and Nature of Early Medieval Penance” in Peter Biller & A. J. Minnis (edd.), Handling Sin: Confession in the Middle Ages (Woodbridge 1998), pp. 35-61, and on the controversy over Felix and his beliefs, John C. Cavadini, The Last Christology of the West: Adoptionism in Spain and Gaul, 785-820 (Philadelphia 1993), a book I wish Pennsylvania University Press would reprint as there is so little else in English on this and it’s really expensive to get now.


Just a short note to let you know that I have a new post up at Cliopatria discussing objectivity, peasants, ghosts and memory apropos of an article of Simon Doubleday’s I was reading on my way up to Leeds. Some of the themes are old ones here and some are new material. You may like to have a look

Cunning observations in recent reading, and a reconnection to the subject

It is being hard to find time or will to put much up here, partly because of imminent Leeds (a day after circulating the paper is no time to discover 23 extra charters of which you’ve taken no account, though thankfully they nuance and deepen my argument rather than wrecking it, I know now) and partly because of other attacks on my self-confidence that I won’t burden you all with. However, it seems that whatever I feel about my own writing just now, that of others remains interesting, and I wanted to just mention a couple of things I recently read that reflect and sharpen my own historical enquiry, one new and one old.

Alfonso X of Castile and his court, as shown in <a href="http://www.library.arizona.edu/exhibits/illuman/12_07.html">the 12th-century Libro de los Juegos</a>; from Wikimedia Commons

Alfonso X of Castile and his court, as shown in the 12th-century Libro de los Juegos; from Wikimedia Commons

First up, an excellent article by Cristina Jular Pérez-Alfonso, given a classy Englishing by Simon Doubleday that makes readable and intelligent what could so easily have been jargon-laden and impenetrable, in an equally excellent volume I should have finished reading long ago.1 Approaches to medieval power so often concentrate on only one side of it, the ruler and his or her government, or his opposition, or the down-trodden pheasants peasants. Sometimes the opposition is the government of course, and very occasionally it’s the peasants, but what we don’t often get is all three treated distinctly. Jular tries to provide this balance, king and his ideology and how it was propagated, officials and their practice, their reinforcement or lack of it from the king and their own local standing, and the communities they ruled and their voice in how they were governed, often substantial. She is looking at thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Castile specifically but she references the legends of William Tell and Robin Hood and generally you can use this stuff. And the article gives me a moment of unsettlement when she asks whether the officials represented a class and whether they recognised each other as peers.2 I really ought to have paid a bit more attention to that. I will in future.

(My initial sense is that actually, the people who call themselves vicars in my area come from a variety of initial backgrounds and don’t even necessarily engage with the counts to get their titles even though the titles imply delegation. I think I say this quite well, but whether the different groups of vicars, those born to wide-ranging property and influence, those raised up by the count for service and those who had used local status and mixed patronage to climb a level (could I even separate those two, except in terms of character? Would I want to? Character is powerful…) saw each other as equals or rivals or both, I don’t really touch.3 This would be worth doing to revive a paper I once started researching but gave up as something that had already been done. Next time someone asks me for a paper on high-status men this is what I should offer. Anyway.)

The church of Santa Coloma de Queralt, from a local postcard

The church of Santa Coloma de Queralt, from a local postcard

Then a tiny little volume in a Catalan series of tiny little volumes called Episodis de la Història, which like a lot of Catalan probably doesn’t need translating for the English reader. These little books (24mo, about 60 pp, card covers) take one theme and give a in-depth narrative account of it, and they’re very neat. There’s one about the abbesses of Sant Joan de Ripoll, and there’s one, which I mean here, about the Catalan reconquest of the no-man’s land between them and the Muslim city states of Lleida and Tortosa.4 At times it’s a fairly dry list of mentions of castles which the author, Josep Iglesies, was using to map the slow creep forward of the frontier, but the first few chapters where he tries to characterise the frontier areas before the conquest rolled over them is exactly the sort of writing that got me into this field and has inspired some of my own work.5 Perhaps, then, it’s not surprising that it matches my own picture well: work based on this work formed my picture, after all. But what I mainly like is the acerbic cynicism with which he greets the romantic picture of the frontier pioneers and their supposed throwing back of Saracen dominion. A quick burst of my notes will give you the idea:

La frontera incial a Garbí

[3] For Guifré I Manresa, Terrassa (maybe) and Barça face off against Tortosa and Lleida [4]; Tortosa protected by monastery at Segarra and Pallars/Urgell, Barça by the Penedès, Òdena and Calaf; before that however, Barça more genuinely a frontier city. Leading out, the Via Augusta [5] to Tarragona and Tortosa and the ancient road via Òdena and Segarra to Lleida. Roads imply a trade that we don’t see, but the castles and defences also provide the first seeds of repop. Valleys and ridges good ground for both [6], surely exploited. Prob. populations there already of course, fleeing settlers of C8th or even older; it is, as said, good ground. [7] Is also however the main zone of military contact: Sunyer, notably, fortifies it with e. g. Olèrdola [†SANT CUGAT] where is clearly still some pop., [8] and Queralt, conquered by Guifré I according to Borrell. Space between these bastions undocumented but actual settlement goes beyond [9] (CC2 SANT CUGAT II), though concessions here left unexploited b/of war and banditry. Line is insecure, [10] and Queralt area least safe of all. Settlement presumably fills in behind but slowly. Land clearance [11] and buildings by pioneers must go on, fugitives safe till become profitable [cynic!], or bandits part-time; equivalents on other side of no-man’s land too, enslavement t/fore a constant threat, but otherwise unusually free. Lords do establish people, however, B. of Barça most clearly at Montnell and Santa Coloma [12] [*BARCA], whose franchise terms may be typical (also in being second try!)

Hopefully my apparatus there isn’t too impenetrable. I’ve linked up where I’ve talked about people or places there mentioned on the blog before. Mainly I love the sense of realism with which he speculates; settlement must go on but it could easily go wrong, the grand concessions of frontier franchises fail to hide the danger of the place, and you’re freer than almost anywhere here, but that freedom includes freedom from protection against violent military enslavement by your peers across the terra de ningú. Partly I love this perspective because it doesn’t forget the ‘nasty brutish and short’ side of medieval frontier life; but also leaves room for the achievement, and the space for initiative, the hope of building something of one’s own and making a life for oneself, that for some people at least explains why on earth people came to these dangerous places at all, as well as remembering that some people’s families never left.6 It’s pretty rich for ten pages.

This post may seem a bit more like therapy than would be ideal, but it does help me to remember why I’m interested in this stuff. Hopefully you are too.

1. C. Jular Pérez-Alfonso, “The King’s Face on the Territory: Royal Officers, Discourse and Legitimating Practices in Thirteenth- and Fourteenth-Century Castile” in Isabel Alfonso, Hugh Kennedy & Julio Escalona (edd.), Building Legitimacy: Political Discourses and Forms of Legitimation in Medieval Societies, The Medieval Mediterranean 53 (Leiden 2004), pp. 107-137.

2. Ibid., p. 121: “Let us focus the discussion for a moment on the higher officers. Do they generate their own discourse, or are they permanently dependent of [sic] that of the monarchy?”

3. When I say I don’t, I mean in the forthcoming book. The title is again under debate so I won’t cite it just yet. Instead I shall put this token in: “before 1000”, so that I can easily find it to retrospectively update again.

4. Josep Iglesies, La Reconquesta a les Valls d’Anoia i Gaià, Episodis de la Història 67 (Barcelona 1963). The other is Esteve Albert, Les Abadesses de Sant Joan, Episodis de la Història 69 (Barcelona 1968).

5. The work that specifically inspired me was Pierre Bonnassie’s La Catalogne du milieu du IXe siècle à la fin du XIe siècle : croissance et mutations d’une sociètè (Toulouse 1975-1976), 2 vols, I pp. 106-110, and Eduardo Manzano Moreno, “Christian-Muslim Frontier in al-Andalus: idea and reality” in Dionisius Agius & Richard Hitchcock (edd.), Arab Influence upon Medieval Europe (Reading IL 1994), pp. 83-96, and the work that it has inspired is Jonathan Jarrett, “Centurions, Alcalas and Christiani perversi: organisation of society in the pre-Catalan ‘terra de ningú'” in Alan Deyermond & Martin Ryan (edd.), Early Medieval Spain: a symposium, Papers of the Medieval Hispanic Research Seminar 63 (London forthcoming), which, yes, I have been promising for eighteen months already but which is, honestly, forthcoming, but no longer in my hands to affect.