Tag Archives: witnessing

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.

‘We saw with our eyes and heard with our ears…’

I’m sorry for the unintended hiatus here over the last few days. It turns out that a week in which you start teaching a new hitherto-unfamiliar primary text in two volumes and initiate work on two separate projects outside your main job as well as going to three seminars and a football match (but a football match with medievalists, I should insist) just isn’t very compatible with blogging. Who knew? You will, of course, hear about not just the projects but also the primary text and what I read round it at least a little bit, but the post I have been meaning to finish, and now do, is one more about the gift that keeps on giving, Josep María Salrach’s Justícia i poder a Catalunya abans de l’any mil.1

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

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

The last one of these posts, you may recall, involved the process for replacing lost documents under Visigothic law, reparatio scripturae, as applied in Catalonia. As I said then, the documents that record such events involve quite detailed reprises of documents sometimes from many years before, and this has led to scepticism that such details could in fact have been genuinely present in the old documents, rather than recovered from the contemporary situation and artifically gilded with the antiquity of presumed memory.2 But as with other such questions, while he doesn’t obviously know that it’s being asked, Salrach has an answer to this, at least potentially. Picking up on the Cuixà hearing I quoted last time and the way its witnesses say that they had read and re-read the missing documents when they existed (quite recently), he argues that probably anyone who had charters got them read out to audiences every now and then so that they would be remembered.3

The volumes of Calaixs 6 & 9 of the Arxiu Episcopal de Vic

I don’t have a picture of the actual document so that you can read it, alas, but it is physically within one of these volumes

Now this obviously makes sense in some ways: it would explain the level of recall that Bowman finds implausible, and certainly this is not the only place where witnesses say such a thing, though the usual phrase is less literate, “we saw with our eyes and heard with our ears”. And there is, as you may just recall, one case where this process is actually documented, at the cathedral of Vic in the year 898. There, one Boso himself took an oath as to the content of several charters he’d lost involving land sold him by two couples, Ermoarí and Farelda and Domènec and Guisilda, and then got five witnesses to testify under oath that they had seen this done. And so they duly say:

“We the above-written witnesses know, and well recall in truth, and saw with our eyes and our ears heard, or we were also present at that hour while those two people, by name the late Domènec and his wife Guisilda and Ermoarí and his wife Farelda, were in the county of Osona, in the term of Taradell, in the hamlet of Gaudilà. And thus made the late Domènec a little charter or sale to the man by the name of Boso, of all his heredity which he had in the county of Osona within the limits of the castle of Taradell or in the hamlet of Gaudilà, and Ermoarí with his wife Farelda sold all their lands or a house, all their heredity in Gaudilà’s hamlet to that same Boso. And we witnesses saw the selfsame documents confirmed and impressed with the sign of the man by the name of Domènec and his wife…”

… and it goes on into what I tend to call non-exclusion clauses, in which every sort of property that the estates concerned might have included is named so that nothing can be claimed as omitted.4 But what’s interesting here is where it goes next, which is to what happened to the documents:

“And we witnesses were signatories making marks in the little charter of Ermoarí, and there was recorded there the notary Joan the priest. We witnesses saw the selfsame documents confirmed and corroborated and impressed with the sign of the sellers, Domènec and his wife and of Ermoarí and his wife, and of the audience and of the chancellor just as is inserted above. And we saw the selfsame documents handed over into the power of that same Boso and I the already-said Domènec and his wife and Ermoarí and his wife handed them over of their own spontaneous will into the power of the selfsame Boso. And we witnesses saw and heard the selfsame documents read and re-read one and another and a third time in the hamlet of Gaudilà. And that same Boso had the selfsame lost documents, and it was evident.”

What Salrach of course picks up on is the reference to a repeated reading. Again this makes perfect sense as a way that things could have been done, and as I’ve said elsewhere it’s a real pity that we can’t trust it…5 The reason that we can’t is the notary and the chancellor; these are the only documents in the whole of Carolingian Catalonia as far as I know, and certainly in this county, that mention such officers. Obviously the documents had a scribe, but neither of these is likely to be a title they used. That means that the scribe of these documents, a priest by the name of Ademir, had another model in use from somewhere, and that no procedural detail included in these documents can be proven to come from life rather than the model. And this is the only text we have that mentions this re-reading on site…

Cathedral of Sant Pere de vic seen from the Riu Gurri

The cathedral of Sant Pere de Vic, from the Riu Gurri, where with a rather different and presumably smaller building on site this all took place. By Enfo (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Of course this doesn’t take away Salrach’s point. If the recall (which sometimes goes well beyond the likely: we have the name of one of the Muslim governors operating in Catalonia before the Muslim conquest from one of the Cuixà document replacements, whose forty-year-old original had apparently recorded a century of tenure history!6) is to be accepted, it needs explaining; here is a perfectly good explanation, even if it probably isn’t what actually happened here. So when would this hypothetical reading have taken place? There is a contention made by people who work on monastic cartularies that these, functioning as memorials of donors, would have been read out on solemn occasions in the monastery, such as particular feast days, and the same could just about be true of secular churches, if they picked a day when a good crowd would be there.7 But should we imagine similar opportunities being taken in the lay world? There would be no fixed points of the calendar outwith the liturgy for the lay population, so the occasion would have to be generated, either by the agricultural year or by one-off events, which it seems odd to picture being co-opted for this purpose. Everyone’s here for the wedding or whatever, let’s quickly get the charters out and run through ’em? And who could run through formulaic Latin documents for such an audience anyway? There is, most likely, an evidentially silent practice of public land-speaking here that these procedures imply, but do not prove. The case is not made by Salrach, but it seems to me that the combination of these various cases does make it stronger. I would have liked more from him on this!


1. J. M. Salrach, Justícia i poder a Catalunya abans de l’any mil, Referències 55 (Vic 2013).

2. Jeffrey Bowman, Shifting Landmarks: property, proof and dispute in Catalonia around the year 1000 (Ithaca 2004), pp. 151-161.

3. Salrach, Justícia i poder, p. 195, referring to Pierre Ponsich (ed.), Catalunya Carolíngia VI: els comtats de Rosselló, Conflent, Vallespir i Fenollet, rev. Ramon Ordeig i Mata, Memòries de la Secció històrico-arqueològica LXX (Barcelona 2006), 2 vols, doc. no. 121.

4. The two documents from the hearing are 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, the latter here quoted in my translation. The cataloguic property listings are discussed by Michel Zimmermann, Écrire et lire en Catalogne (IXe-XIIe siècle), Bibliothèque de la Casa de Velázquez 23 (Madrid 2003), 2 vols, I pp. 208-217.

5. J. Jarrett, “Pathways of Power in late-Carolingian Catalonia”, unpublished Ph. D. thesis (University of London 2005), online here, pp. 49-53.

6. Salrach, Justícia i poder, 195, without further reference, but the document is Ponsich, Catalunya Carolíngia VI, doc. no. 120, with the actual content here referred to printed as its own entry as no. 23.

7. Patrick Geary, “Entre gestion et gesta” in Olivier Guyotjeannin, Laurent Morelle & Michel Parisse (edd.), Les Cartulaires : Actes de la Table Ronde organisée par l’École Nationale des Chartes et le G. D. R. 121 du C. N. R. S. (Paris, 5-7 décembre 1991), Mémoires et Documents de l’École des Chartes 39 (Paris 1993), pp. 13-26; see also Geary, “Land, Language and Memory in Europe 700-1100” in Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6th Series Vol. 9 (Cambridge 1999), pp. 169-184.

Who witnessed early medieval charters?

This apparently simple question has been bugging me a long time, and it was in the hope of answering it that I originally bought the book of Benoit-Michel Tock mentioned a post or two ago. Having got to the chapters where he addresses this question directly, I was delighted to find this:

Quels sont les tiers qui souscrivent des actes du Haut Moyen Age ? Il ne s’agit pas d’établir ici un index de ces actes, ni de constituer un Bottin Mondain. Souvent d’ailleurs, les indications des actes sont elliptiques, et nécessitent l’intervention de nombreuses hypothèses pour arriver à un esquisse de solution…. La question, c’est de savoir si les tiers sont des proches de l’auteur et/ou du disposant, s’ils sont au contraire des proches du bénéficiaire, s’ils sont neutres, et choisis précisements parce qu’ils ne sont proches d’aucune des parties en présence, ou enfin (mais cela ne les empêche pas d’appartenir à une des catégories ci-dessus) s’ils sont détenteurs d’une certaine autorité et souscrivent précisement parce qu’on leur demande de garantir la transaction par la force de leur autorité.

And this is, in fact, exactly the question, but it’s a question hardly anyone asks.1 For those of you not Francolexic enough to get all that, it translates more or less as:

What are the witnesses who subscribe the acts of the early Middle Ages? We are not concerned here to establish an index of these acts, or to construct a Bottin Mondain. Often, moreover, the indications of the acts are not direct, and require the construction of numerous hypotheses to come to the outline of a solution…. The question is to know if the third parties are contacts of the actor and/or person disposing of property, if on the contrary they are contacts of the beneficiary, if they are neutrals, chosen precisely because they are close to neither of the parties present, or finally (what does not prevent them also falling into one of the categories above) if they are holders of some authority and subscribe exactly because someone asks them to guarantee the transaction by the force of that authority.

I’m interested in his answers here because I think that I used absolutely all of these possibilities in my analyses of the Catalan frontier documentation in my Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia, and if there’s a general French pattern I need to consider a fair few things again before I could just decide that Catalonia is weird.2 So, what does he detect? In brief, that we move from persons close to the actors of the document to those close to the beneficiary in the mid-eleventh century, and that outside authorities are pulled on occasionally throughout. None of this is total and it rests on a relatively small number of witnesses who declare some kind of connection to other parties, but the move of emphasis is visible to him. It also ties in reasonably nicely with Stephen White’s study of the laudatio parentorum, the consent to a property transfer by the actor’s kinsfolk expressed in their signatures, which he sees as arising and then dying out towards the end of Tock’s period divide here.3 So, this must be taken seriously, and where does it leave me who has suggested quite happily that some documents were witnessed by whoever was at the cathedral or palace that day on completely different business?4

Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, no. 1297

A gift by the Archpriest Ermemir to Riculf, caput scolae of the cathedral of Vic (Arxiu Capitular de Vic, calaix 6, no. 1297: here I think it;’s probably safe to say the three clerical witnesses who sign autograph were around the cathedral, but how carefully selected were they?

Well, firstly, the great strength of Tock’s book is that it is founded on a big sample, the 3,631 original documents from before 1121 in French archives that went into the ARTEM database at Nancy, still locked in there when this book was written but now online, which means that ‘real soon now’ we’ll be able to see all the things he could see. Because this sample is the whole of France, though, it is diffuse, with clumps in some obvious places like Cluny and Marmoutier but usually very few per place per year. (By contrast, I read about that many documents for my Ph. D. research, but they came from a two-hundred year period, not a six-hundred year one, and a total of about ten archives all within a few hundred miles of each other.) He can do really impressive things with this sample, with validity not available to most previous researchers, but he can’t chase witnesses in their local context in the way that I can, constructing that Bottin Mondain… And secondly, of course, that would be years and years of micro-study; in a deliberately wide-ranging book that level of localisation just isn’t practical in the space.

Stafford, William Salt Library, 84/5/41

On the other hand, whether any of this lot even needed to be present we will never know for sure, but the names still had to be chosen… This is King Æthelred the Unready granting 8 hides in various places to his thegn Morcar in 1009, Stafford, William Salt Library, 84/5/41, Sawyer 922

So part of our difference here is likely just to be sample density; I have more people repeatedly turning up than he can find and can locate them and identify them more reliably even when they don’t say who they are. On the other hand, implicit in that is a whole vast mass of arguments from silence which the very occasional mention of family ties, and the difficulty resolving those that do get mentioned, should warn me may be false. Not all of them are: I think the analysis of the ‘nobles of the palace’ of Borrell II I did here and in my book shows that sometimes it really is just whoever was there, but when ‘there’ is a session of the comital court maybe a wide spread is not so surprising and I still need better ways to argue against the trend he sees than sheer evidential one-up-manship.5 Still: it’s better than, “well, my study area is just different….”


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 2005), quote at p. 244. Other work that does ask who witnesses are and why they’re there is limited, but notable examples would be Wendy Davies, Small Worlds: the village community in early medieval Brittany (London 1988), pp. 109-128, and Ross Balzaretti, “The Politics of Property in Ninth-Century Milan: familial motives and monastic strategies in the village of Inzago” in Mélanges de l’École de France : moyen âge Vol. 111 (Rome 1999), pp. 747-770, online here, with résumé p. 980.

2. J. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled in Frontier Catalonia 880-1010: pathways of power (Woodbridge 2010), pp. 143-144, not as substantial a discussion as I should have given it.

3. Tock, Scribes, souscripteurs et témoins, pp. 244-254; Stephen D. White, Custom, Kinship, and Gifts to Saints. The Laudatio Parentum in Western France, 1050-1150 (Chapel Hill 1988).

4. Jarrett, Rulers and Ruled, p. 104.

5. Ibid., pp. 161-164.