IMC 2012 report 2: an early medieval sandwich

My second day at the International Medieval Congress involved starting and finishing with attempts to remember that I am an early medievalist and ought to huddle together with the others, while in between I went off to listen to possibly relevant things that late medievalists were doing. On the early medieval front, Albrecht Diem had helped organised a number of sessions on monastic rules, partly to tie in with the excellent work he’s done making accessible Hildemar of Corbie’s commentary on the Rule of St Benedict. The session I went to focused on Hildemar, starting with Julian Hendrix arguing that Hildemar’s work shows that Benedict of Aniane was less important to Carolingian monasticism than sometimes been thought and that there was less uniformity around. Hildemar’s commentary shows more sympathy with Adalard of Corbie than Benedict of Aniane, and synthesizes a variety of views on the rule (as well as contributing his own authority on issues such as care for children). When you add the fact that the commentary circulated in several different versions, rather than one authoritative text, you end with rather more plurality and less unity than has sometimes been seen for ninth-century Frankish monasticism.

We then had Mariël Urbanus looking at chapter 63 of the Benedictine Rule on the order of precedence within the monastery. While the original rule had ordered the monks according to date of entry, merit of conduct and “as the abbot decides” and Smaragdus’ commentary on the rule sticks fairly closely to this, Hildemar has two different principles. One is the decision of the abbot concerning merit; the other is the needs of the monastery. This means that monks could be brought forward in the choir if they were able to sing or read, but then returned to their original place afterwards. (Implicitly, this suggests that not all monks were in the choir – or maybe the less good ones were just standing in the background and had been warned to keep quiet). An emphasis on talent rather than good conduct marks a huge deviation from Benedict’ s rule, and shows how seriously the quality of liturgy was taken in this period.

The session ended with Corinna Prior, again comparing the commentaries of Smaragdus and Hildemar. Corinna saw Smaragdus as focusing more on the inner man and being less concerned about bodily regulation (the preface of the rule and chapters 1-7 take up the first two books of Smaragdus, while the last books covers the remaining 66 chapters relatively briefly). Hildemar is more balanced in his concerns between the inner and outer monk, and also keener than Smaragdus on military metaphors.

Next up, I decided that I ought to hear something about charters, so went off to session 627 on new approaches to diplomatic. (I should say at this point that I’m mostly ignorant about old approaches to diplomatic, so this is a fairly impressionistic view). The session had four short papers, starting with Adèle Berthout doing codicological analysis of fifteenth century Cistercian archive books, followed by Isabelle Bretthauer looking at late medieval notarial documents in Normandy. She was showing that though regulations by the Norman exchequer had some effect on practice, they still left a lot of areas untouched, but that you can also see increased standardization in the documents arising from the spreading of particular practices (like dating formulae). After that we had Claire de Bigault de Cazanove using the surviving manuscripts of the Regensburg cartulary to try and get at how the monastery of St Emmeram maintained its archive (one possibility is that there was a central archive, but also outer archives in regional outposts).

The final paper was the one I found most interesting, and seemed most clearly a new approach. Jinna Smit was exploring the chancery practices of the counts of Holland in C14 and needed to identify documents written by the same scribe (to see if they were writing documents for different recipients and therefore were probably chancery-based). She was using GIWIS, a computer program developed for the forensic examination of handwriting, but which she adapted to use to look at historical documents. The result was a more objective measure of whether two hands are the same than examination by eye (although as Jinna pointed out, more objective didn’t necessarily mean more reliable). She also said that you needed a training sample of at least 100 documents for automatic matching, and therefore this wasn’t particularly useful for Carolingian documents, for example. Most of the time, early medievalists are still treating charters diplomatically like special snowflakes, and there’s a sense that we may have to. It suggested that as usual, new approaches are only transferable to another period/area if you happen to have a similar kind of source-base.

After this brief attempt at being diplomatic, I then went happily back to gender and session 717 on its “rules”. This session was down to two papers, and we started with Elena Woodacre on female succession. In a paper which ranged all over Europe, concentrating on the C12 and later, Elena was looking at the move towards laws of succession, but also showing how much rules tended to develop at times of crisis. There was a lot of variation between kingdoms in female succession. There were four successive queens of Jerusalem, for example, and they were also some in Navarre, but ruling queens were rare in Aragon. Precedent played an important role: Joan II failed to succeed her father Louis X in France after the death of her half-brother John I. There is no evidence that Salic law was used at the time to prevent her ascending the throne; Joan’s supposed illegitimacy seems to have been more of a problem. But her failure to get the throne did set a precedent for the exclusion of Philip V’s daughters from the succession in 1322.

Political considerations were also important: the Empress Matilda was seen as a foreigner, while Henry IV first instituted and then repealed a bar to female succession, because of his own claim to the throne of France via a female line. Even sisters could have different fates: Louis I of Hungary changed the rules of succession in both Hungary and Poland to allow his daughters to succeed. Maria was deposed as ruler of Hungary, and when restored, was essentially subordinate to her husband. Jadwiga, however, was far more successful in Poland.

The smoothest transitions, like that of Blanche of Navarre benefited from a combination of factors, including a clearly defined succession law, female precedents and no wicked uncles. Blanche was also a grown woman with experience as viceroy of Sicily, had a son and her husband had been designated as a consort, all of which probably helped. Women by the later Middle Ages may have had a right to succeed, but the obstacles to them doing so in practice were still substantially bigger than for designated male successors.

After a Europe full of queens, we then had Amanda McVitty on bits of Englishmen. Amanda was looking at late medieval knights executed as traitors, and the gendered implications of this – such as how such men might have their signs of knightly status removed, and they themselves be reduced to body parts. Favourites convicted as traitors, such as Robert de Vere might be described in feminised ways or accused of being sodomites. Such men were seeing as destroying the bonds of homosociality; they raised the fearful prospect of “false knights”, men who outwardly bore marks of honour and yet were wicked inside. Knighthood as an elite form of masculinity was not a stable category: exposing those who did not live up to its standards risked undermining it even while trying to reinforce it.

For the last session of the day, I went back to being an early medievalist and went off to session 808 on political rupture in the early Middle Ages. This was another two paper session, and Lucrezia Pezzarossa from York talked about Alfredian and Carolingian war litanies, arguing that even though we don’t have specific references to Anglo-Saxon war litanies (whereas we do have references from Frankish sources) the Old English translation of the Psalms sponsored by Alfred shows parallels to Carolingian war liturgies. Among other things, it adds new references to battle and God’s protection during this in some of the translations and prefaces to the Psalms. Lucrezia also pointed out the use of Psalm 67:2 on a piece from the Staffordshire Hoard (it’s the same text as Numbers 10:35).

As Lucrezia said, all this suggests a long tradition of Anglo-Saxon liturgy of war (although from my own research, we need to be a bit careful about exactly how much we can presume that the Carolingian and Anglo-Saxon cultures of war are identical).

Lucrezia’s paper was rather over-shadowed by Geoff Koziol on justifying insurgency, who was looking at the extent to which early medieval rebellions were about claims of a ruler breaking the rules. There’s been a tendency to see early medieval kingship/politics as very “rule-based” (e.g. Gerd Althoff), but Geoff was arguing that you get a different picture if you look at rebels’ propaganda. Instead, you see little about specific faults of the king and more generalities used to unite the rebels. Geoff was quoting theories by Leda Scotchpoll (?) on how revolutions begin with splits in the ruling group, and the weaker party then appealing to a wider audience by using broad grievances.

This was an intriguing theory by Geoff that unfortunately wasn’t really sustained by the evidence. He gave examples where he felt his theory did fit the facts (such as Robert of Neustria deposing Charles the Simple in 922) and sceptics in the audience pointed out occasions such as the rebellion against Louis the Pious, which had some awfully specific comments on Louis’ failings.

I’d put Geoff’s problems down as an example of the three-two-five rule on early medieval sources: for an awful lot of theories about early medieval history, you find that all you have three pieces of evidence that support you, two that argue against your case and five bits of evidence that when you look at them closely aren’t actually relevant. I don’t think it’s impossible to make such a case, but you probably need to be a bit more precise than Geoff’s original thesis was. Still, the heated debate was an entertaining way to end the formal part of the day. After that, I went off to wine and dine the Hincmar speakers for Wednesday and Thursday, some of whom will be discussed in my final report.


4 thoughts on “IMC 2012 report 2: an early medieval sandwich

    • I would admit that I just invented that rule, but it does seem to reflect the reality of early medieval sources rather accurately. It’s depressing sometimes when you realise you *can’t* test your argument as fully as you like because of such inadequate data.


  1. Leeds 2012 Report 2My notes from last year’s International Medieval Congress seem to be pretty good, but I’m disturbed by how little of what I apparently attended I recall in any detail without them. I suppose this is why we take notes, but looking back throu…


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