Leeds 2013 report 3: charters and non-charters

My time at the International Medieval Congress at Leeds this year was a slightly strange one, alternating between thinking about the work I do in the day job (as research associate on the Making of Charlemagne’s Europe charters project) and going to papers about all the other things in which I’m still interested (gender and religion and culture and shiny stuff). And also a lot of meeting friends and making new ones. I forgot to mention in my first report on the IMC that I finished Monday evening with the bloggers’ meet-up, in which, according to Leeds tradition, some old-hand Leeds bloggers turned up (myself, Jonathan Jarrett and L’historien errant), others didn’t (Gesta, Another Damned mMdievalist and Kathleen Neal) and we met some new bloggers: Karen Schousboe of Medieval Histories magazine and the Victorian Librarian (going medieval with a dash of pre-Raphaelite). I had to be reasonably restrained during the evening, however, since I was speaking on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, I started with one of my regular forays into what I am prone to call “Not My Millennium”, i.e. anything happening after the Year 1000. Technically, part of the session was my millennium, since Session 506 on “Law, Violence, and Social Bonds, I: Power, Conflict and Dispute Settlement had one Carolingian paper. The speakers were:

Matthew McHaffie, Lordship and Authority in Anjou, c. 1000 – c. 1150

Kim Esmark, Power and Pressure: The Micropolitics of 11th-Century Aristocratic Networks

Warren C. Brown, Conflict and the Laity in Carolingian Europe

The first two papers were “things to do with charters” ones, but taking very different approaches. Matthew’s was a trawl through nearly 3000 charters from Anjou to find around 120 that dealt with warranty, and he was then focusing on what those could tell us about legal practice. Paul Hyams has argued that warranty provides protection against outside challenge to a donation and also compensation if this protection failed. Looking at the charters, Matthew found very variable diplomatic (probably relating to the oral context in which such warranties were originally given) and evidence that suggested that it wasn’t just legal protection that could be provided. It could be handier just to have someone show up at the court with an intimidating posse. But warrantors weren’t always useful for churches (we don’t have grants to laymen before 1150): some were ineffective, and they might even backfire. For example, Hubert de Tabal gave land to Marmoutier, which was then taken by St Urban. Since Hubert was unable to warrant his gift, he ended up seizing the land back himself.

From a more general point of view, Matthew’s paper was interesting in suggesting something about the frequency of events required to make a large-scale charter trawl worthwhile. In a PhD (lasting presumably 3 years), he’s found 120 warranty clauses out of nearly 3000 charters, a hit-rate of around 4%. He also said he’s found 3 out of 120 in which women act as warrantors and around 10% of the warranty clauses are for exchanges. When you’re getting down to that level of rarity of an event/type (less than 1% of your sources), it’s really not feasible to trawl just for them; it has to be done as an offshoot of other research. One of the questions in using charters is how we can more effectively find such rare but not unique events.

In contrast to this wide-range focus on a particular type of charter, Kim Esmark’s paper was using charters to look narrowly but deeply, carrying out a prosopographical study of Odo of Blaison, a lord in Anjou. He appears in around 70 charters, both as part of the entourage of the counts of Anjou and with his own entourage, settling disputes or consenting to their alienation of property. Kim was mapping Odo’s social networks and arguing that a lay lord like Odo couldn’t easily dominate an area even during the notoriously weak reign of Fulk IV of Anjou. Odo had to provide for his own dependants and this was sometimes tricky: Kim quoted a placitum from the mid 1080s settling a long dispute with the church of St Lezin in Angers. In this, Odo had to give up some revenues from land held by his own men to the canons of St Lezin; Rotaldus, one of his vavassors , refused to consent to the charter and was excommunicated. It took a year before he agreed to the charter. Kim thought we needed to pay more attention to charter witnesses and to look at constraints to lordly power from below as well as above.

Kim’s paper was also interesting for my own work because in theory, charter projects such as Charlemagne’s Europe should provide the possibility to locate and analyse multiple Odos quickly: important men below comital status who turn up in a number of different sources and whose dependents/connections we also want to trace. In particular, I think we need to make our database structures and schematics as openly available as possible, so that they can be reused by people working on charters for different periods. But how that could be done technically I don’t yet know.

After two papers on things to do with high medieval charters, we then had Warren Brown discuss things to do with early medieval formulae. Having found Warren’s work very useful in the past, I found this a slightly disappointing paper: it was mainly a tour of the formularies, pointing out some of the interesting topics they dealt with (and his paper made surprisingly little mention of the work of Alice Rio, who’s done ground-breaking work on these). But overall it was an enjoyable session, if in an over-crowded room.

The rest of the day was mainly giving and preparing for my own sessions. I did, however, get to Session 702 on early medieval queenship. I’ve already discussed the paper by Val Garver on textile working by queens. The other two papers were by Grzegorz Pac and Hailey La Voy. Grzergorz was talking about the C10 and C11 iconography of queenship, focusing on images of the Virgin Mary being crowned or crowning others.

His main point was that although the idea of Mary as a queen became a doctrine in the fifth-century and images of her being crowned or crowning others were common from the Ottonian period onwards, we need to be careful considering the gendered implications of this: as the images he used showed, Mary could also be used in scenes as an indication of male ecclesiastical authority (e.g. her role in Bernward of Hildesheim’s Gospels) or depicted as crowning a king:

Virgin crowning OttoVirgin Crowning Otto III (or I?), folio 160v, Cod. LXXXVI, Biblioteca Capitolare, Ivrea, c. 966-1002.

(For more details on this sacramentary, see Evan Gatti’s article in Peregrinations vol 3 (2010), from which this image was taken).

Hailey, meanwhile, was focusing on letters from popes to queens and empresses, and in particular several letters from Popes Nicholas I and John VIII to queens at the Carolingian and Byzantine courts (many of which are available in translation via Epistolae. In particular, she was suggesting the importance of the model of Esther, as a royal wife being encouraged to give good advice to her husband, and warned of the evil consequences if she did not. In contrast, the Virgin Mary isn’t mentioned as an intercessor in such letters; Hailey was arguing that the image of her as a queen intervening with her Son developed as a result of earthly models of queenship, rather than the other way round.

I was involved in two sessions on Tuesday afternoon and evening: the first was session 808, organised by Johannes Preiser-Kapeller,who also gave us a typically erudite and high-speed trip through the possibilities of combining Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network Theory, object biography, spatial analysis via the new mapping tools available on the web and social network analysis. Johannes’ presentation, “Medieval entanglements: trans-border networks in Byzantium and China in comparison (300-900 CE)” is already available on the internet. My rather more low-key and downbeat paper, “Caught in Charlemagne’s web”, will also be available online shortly: its main point is that scaling up social network analysis of charters is going to be complicated, and will need a lot of careful thought about how we generate the networks.

If I was being somewhat sceptical about the possibility of using the “Making of Charlemagne’s Europe” database for social network analysis in this session, I was a lot more enthusiastic about its other possibilities in the final session of the day (910), when we were showing off our database alongside the Nomen et Gens database. This was definitely a session for early medieval charter nerds with a good sense of direction, since we were in one of the harder-to-find seminar rooms, but we got a surprisingly large audience and a positive reaction to our demonstration. Most of the presentation was pre-prepared Power Points (which again, will be up on the new project website soon), but we even managed a brief live link, quite impressive since the prototype user interface was still being built when the conference started. All in all, it was a good end to the first couple of days of the conference.

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One thought on “Leeds 2013 report 3: charters and non-charters

  1. Leeds 2013 report part 2Sorry, this has taken a couple of days to find the time to write. But, as with the conference experience itself, the only way out of the backlog is through! Or something. So, resuming the Leeds 2013 report on Tuesday 2nd July, your blogger found himsel…

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