International Medieval Congress 3

Some rather belated comments on my last (part) day at IMC. I started with two sessions on life cycles: youth and then masculinity (which I was speaking on). Unfortunately, I had to miss the third, on old age. An interesting paper by Susan Stewart on children in law courts in the thirteenth century. As always with legal cases, it’s the small anecdotes that really give the texture of the period. In inquests on children (she reckons they only happened when there were property concerns) there were several mentions of children being killed by pigs, though also some road traffic accidents (presumably carts). In the criminal courts there was one disturbing case where a boy was prosecuted for theft of some clothes by his own father. The father apparently tried to get the son to implicate his mother and his siblings in inciting the theft, so he could get his whole family hanged. Fortunately, the courts rejected this and instead the father was taken into custody. This supported her overall conclusion that the courts did tend to treat the underage less harshly in general. She also highlighted the problems of deciding the age of children in a culture with no written birth records. It tended to be done by the court seeing the children and trying to decide from their appearance how old they were. It might actually have worked quite well if jurors etc had children about the same age; I can now tell the difference between an eighteen month year old and a child of 2+ in a way I never could before I was a mother.

Another interesting paper by Nic Percivall on teenagers in Iceland, showing that there seemed legally to be some kind of transition point between 16 and 20, with some protection still in this period, even though they had new rights. She thought this may have given a useful buffer zone for them. My paper seemed to go OK, though there was a bit of overlap with papers from earlier sessions. I think it shows that there aren’t that many Carolingian sources on old age: George Minois may have a point in seeing the early Middle Ages as indifferent to age.

The final paper I heard was Theo Riches on heresy in eleventh century Chalons/Arras. He was arguing for a redating of one letter on heretics and therefore that there were only two occurrences of heresy in the period, not three. His wider point was that historians have tended to focus on heresy, rather than heresies, seeing all the occurrences as linked together, as outbreaks of wider social discontent. His model is instead of inherent tensions and contradictions in the church system itself, leading to repeated but separate opposition. He also argues that discussions of heresy tell us more about the authors than the heretics: there isn’t accurate representation of heretical beliefs. Back to the eternal problem about the gap between texts and realities…

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