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The traditional—and still popular—image of the ‘feudal’ political order of the Middle Ages is one of anarchic knights and overmighty barons pursuing selfish ends to the detriment of peace and justice. Our teleological narrative thus explains the emergence of the modern state by the rise of centralised monarchies which abolished private conflict and introduced ‘commonweal’. The medieval aristocracy, in this telling, is a negative force, a symptom of the collapse of the Roman imperium and an impediment to human flourishing.
However, recent work has questioned this characterisation of the baron’s role in government, as well as the benevolence of centralised governments themselves. Is the vilification of medieval lords not another case of history written by the victors? ‘Noblesse oblige? II’ intends to build on the foundation laid last year by hosting a further discussion and reevaluation of baronial government in the Middle Ages, focussing particularly on the ways in which nobles created, practised, and participated in government throughout Europe.
The two-day conference will be held at the University of Exeter on the 30th of April and 1st of May 2020. Papers of twenty minutes in length are welcome from both emerging and established scholars of baronial political culture, with special reference to questions surrounding their role in government. Examples within this theme might include the political nature of a baro, connexions between the governmental and religious reform at the aristocratic level, images of good governance in vernacular texts, noble opposition to tyranny or cooperation with royal initiatives, or the place of aristocratic women in government. We aim to incorporate a broad chronological range of papers, and especially invite explorations of change over time. We also welcome points of comparison with aristocratic political culture from outside Europe or Christendom.
Please submit abstracts of no more than 300 words to the conference organisers, Dr Gregory Lippiatt and Mr Sebastian Rider-Bezerra, at , along with the applicant’s name, affiliation (including independent scholar), and a 150-word biography. We hope to have bursaries available to assist postgraduate, unwaged, and international participants. We eagerly look forward to receiving and reading all submissions.
The deadline for submissions is 20 December 2019.
Dr Gregory Lippiatt
Leverhulme Early Career Fellow and
Lecturer in Medieval History
Society for Medieval Archaeology Annual Student Colloquium, University of Exeter, 27th-29th November
This year’s annual student colloquium for the Society for Medieval Archaeology is being organised by a group of our CMS PGRs and will be held here at the University of Exeter, 27th-29th November. The conference is interdisciplinary – medievalists of all interests all are welcome!
The deadline for submission of abstracts has been extended to Friday 11th October 2019.
This event aims to provide students and early career researchers with an opportunity to share and discuss their research in a friendly and supportive environment.
We welcome papers from across the medieval period (5th-16th centuries) and from all geographical areas. Papers from subjects outside archaeology but with a broader medieval significance will also be considered. We are particularly keen to encourage those adopting an interdisciplinary approach.
Abstracts of 150-250 words should be emailed to:
Please include ‘Student Colloquium Abstract’ in the subject line and add up to 5 keywords alongside the abstract. Papers will be 15 mins in length with additional time for questions.
We have 4x £50 travel bursaries to award students presenting at the conference, sponsored by Prof. James Clark, Associate Dean for Research for the College of Humanities at the University of Exeter, and prizes kindly donated by our sponsors will be awarded for the best student presentations!
Programme: There will be two days of student presentations plus:
- A keynote presentation delivered by Dr Duncan Wright (BGU) entitled: ‘Crafters of Kingship: Smiths, elite power, and gender in early medieval Europe’
- A ‘Getting Published’ workshop and Q&A panel delivered by current SMA journal editor Dr Aleks McClain (University of York) and previous editor Prof. Oliver Creighton (University of Exeter)
- An optional conference dinner at ASK Italian (£14.95 for 2 courses or £17.95 for 3 courses)
- And a free tour of medieval Exeter on the third and final day, delivered by John Allan, Exeter Cathedral Archaeologist.
Registration: Registration is FREE for all members of the Society and £20 for all non-members. Membership of the Society is the same as the cost of registration – so you could always just join instead! For further information, please see the Society webpages.
Registration is now open: click here to register
Members of the Society will require a code to secure their free ticket. This will be emailed to all members of the society but if there are any issues please do not hesitate to get in touch by emailing:
Please note, registration for the conference will close on 13th November 2019.
Travel to the conference: If you are travelling to the conference by train we have secured you a great discount on your travel with our partners at Great Western Rail when you purchase your tickets through this link.
- The outbound leg of the journey is fixed and is non changeable
- The return leg is fully flexible
- The ticket is not refundable outside of normal conditions of carriage
- The delegate must present proof of conference attendance. A delegate may be asked to provide this proof by the train manager and failure to do so may result in having to pay the difference on a full price anytime ticket. Proof can be in the form of acceptance letter or email to the relevant email.
- If the fare is not available check the station you are departing from. It must be a GWR station on the GWR network. Certain station near to the venue station may not applicable to receive the Conference fare.
Ellie March, Phd Student in Archaeology and History
Movement and Mobility in the Medieval Mediterranean (6th-15th centuries): Society for the Medieval Mediterranean 6th Biennial Conference in Memory of Simon Barton
Alun Williams reports on the Society for the Medieval Mediterranean conference, held in the Institut d’Estudis Catalans (IEC), Barcelona.
The 2019 Conference of the Society for the Medieval Mediterranean took place in the historic centre of Barcelona between 8 and 11 July in the beautiful and (mostly) neo-classical surroundings of the Casa de Convalescència, a seventeenth-century building close to the Rambla. Our friend and colleague Simon Barton had been an early enthusiast for this venue, and we were all excited that the conference would be held, for the first time, on the shores of the Mediterranean itself. Following Simon’s sad and untimely death in December 2017, the executive committee of the SMM resolved to dedicate the conference to his memory and legacy. Simon had served as society president from 2013 until his death and had been an innovative and inclusive choice, initiating society book and article prizes and student bursaries; there was, therefore, a great determination to make the event a fitting and warm celebration as well as one that reflected the debt to Simon and his work for the society.
Thirty-two panels presented papers over four days, each with the overall focus chosen by the Scientific and Organising Committee. Because the society has always welcomed contributions from History, Archaeology, Religious Studies, Art, Literature and other disciplines that comprise Medieval Studies, conference papers reflected the complexity and diversity that has characterised the medieval Mediterranean. Furthermore, many papers discussed areas where earlier ideas had received comparatively recent attention: the mobility of Muslim minorities in Iberia and Jessica Tearney-Pearce’s fascinating paper entitled “Turning the Sea into a Church: Maritime Devotion in the Medieval Mediterranean”. Despite this inevitable range in scope and discipline, the conference was coherent and stimulating. It attracted scholars from Europe, the U.S. and the Middle East, with numbers from southern and south-eastern Europe up sharply on previous conferences.
Two excellent keynote addresses were delivered by Petra Sijpesteijn (Leiden) and Amy Remensynder (Brown University). Petra has long served as a member of the editorial board on al-Masāq – the society’s house journal – and her paper was entitled “Global Networks: Mobility and Exchange in the Mediterranean (600-1000)”. This set the tone for the conference, concentrating as it did on the period following the founding and early centuries of Muslim dominance in the Mediterranean. It was chiefly concerned with the ways in which trade, the movement of people, and cultural exchange proved to be more enduring and determining influences on mobility and intellectual integration than political or religious divergence and conflict. Amy Remensynder, who knew Simon well and has an established link with Exeter, gave the second keynote speech on “The Restless Mediterranean, a Sea in Motion”. In places, it was a lyrical, almost poetic presentation, the restless sea itself and its relentless motion providing a kind of metaphor for human movement, travel and mobility in the Mediterranean Basin and its hinterland. The sea was, furthermore, part of that mobility, providing not just a backdrop but a powerful, pervasive and determining element within it.
Perhaps the most poignant moment in the conference came at the end when a special session in honour of Simon Barton, chaired by his former student Antonella Liuzzo Scorpo (Lincoln), was convened specifically to remind delegates of Simon’s work – as well as to highlight further areas of research. The session, “New Directions in Medieval Iberian Studies: Simon Barton’s Scholastic Legacy” comprised papers from a former colleague, Therese Martin (IH-CCHS, CSIC-Madrid) and two of Simon’s PhD students, Teresa Witcombe and Teresa Tinsley. Therese Martin spoke on “Once and Future Queen: Urraca Redux (1109/2019)”; Teresa Witcombe’s subject was “’Reconquista’ and Crusade in Thirteenth-Century Burgos”; and Teresa Tinsley’s paper was entitled “Reframing the ‘Reconquista’: Hernando de Baeza’s Slant on the Conquest of Granada.” As well as presenting papers of exceptional insight and originality, each speaker acknowledged, sometimes with considerable emotion, her debt to Simon’s careful, diligent and inspirational guidance. The session prompted a wide range of questions from the audience and was, certainly from the perspective of those of us who knew Simon, the highlight of the conference and a fitting denouement.
I have now retired as society secretary after twelve years in post and was awarded with an honorary fellowship at the conference. This was a wholly unexpected honour for which I record my deep gratitude. We now look forward to the society’s 2021 conference, also to be held in the Mediterranean, at Rethymno on the island of Crete – and at which I hope to play a full part.
This week we have a guest post from Sheila Sweetinburgh at Canterbury Christ Church University, who is reporting on the Fifteenth Century conference, held in Exeter last week, with a good showing of Centre staff and PhD students. The post first appeared on Canterbury Christ Church University’s Centre for Kent History and Heritage blog here and is reproduced in full here with permission and many thanks. Please consider following their blog!
This week is more of a brief note in that Professor Louise Wilkinson has been very busy writing the report on History’s impact work over the last few years, including the activities of the Centre, as well as getting matters organised for the new undergraduates, while Dr Diane Heath has also been busy working on her ‘Medieval Animals’ application. She has also been getting ready for the Canterbury Education Day where the Centre is one of the places involved. The initiative is organised by The Canterbury Tales, and St Augustine’s Abbey is another of the venues where activities take place.
In contrast to these Canterbury-based activities, I have been away from Kent having been at ‘The Fifteenth Century’ conference in Exeter. Among the plenary speakers was Professor Caroline Barron, whom some of you may remember will be coming to Canterbury in April 2020 to speak at the Medieval Canterbury Weekend. Next April she will be talking about Thomas Becket as a Londoner and his legacy within his native city, for the influence of St Thomas permeated city life in medieval London until Henry VIII ordered the destruction of his shrine and the removal of his name from all liturgical books. However, for the Exeter conference, Professor Barron chose to investigate the chronicle accounts of The English Rising (Peasants’ Revolt) of 1381. She was especially keen to compare Jean Froissart’s Chronicle, which is often quoted by historians but not seen as accurate regarding the Rising, to that of the Anonimalle Chronicle, whose author is thought to have been an eyewitness of events in June 1381, regarding their descriptions of who was in the Tower of London on the night of Wednesday 12 June and who was also with the young Richard II at Mile End on the following Friday. For as she said, there is considerable correlation between the two accounts and where they differ is very informative and may include the names of those Froissart consulted for his work.
West front of Exeter Cathedral
After outlining the ways Froissart’s Chronicle has come down to us, she gave a short account of his career. In particular, she noted how he moved in aristocratic circles in Flanders and France and how he seems to have sort out information on events, especially from the various heralds, as a means to gain eyewitness accounts, albeit he is envisaged as viewing matters through a chivalric lens. Her candidates for his informants about the situation in the Tower that night are two among the four Flemish nobles that Froissart mentions as being there.
As well as proposing that Froissart’s Chronicle should be seen as more reliable than it has been given credit for in the past, Professor Barron was keen to highlight the importance for Froissart of the urban dimension, especially the role of the Londoners, but equally that he appears to have had a deep concern about the problems of serfdom in England. Thus, in terms of the theme of the conference – the British Isles and their mainland European neighbours – Froissart may be offering a more European perspective on events in 1381, as mediated in the first place through the eyes of these Flemish noblemen.
Bishop Oldham founder of Manchester Grammar School, funeral monument in Exeter Cathedral
The two other plenary lectures by Dr John Goodall (English Heritage) on Europe and the Perpendicular Style and Dr Malcolm Vale (St John’s College, Oxford) on ‘political nostalgia’ in terms of England and its continental neighbours between 1450 and 1520 were similarly fascinating. Nevertheless, I’m going to leave them aside and instead just give you a taster of one of the other sessions entitled ‘Alien Communities in England’. This was chaired by Susan Maddock (UEA) who had previously given us a great paper on the two-way relationship respecting merchants from Lynn in Danzig and vice versa. Among these exchanges, in addition to goods passing backwards and forwards between the Baltic and the North Sea, were the merchants themselves, certain apprentices and various types of craftsmen. Interestingly, there seemed to be more official structures to support the aliens in place at Danzig compared to Lynn, including a court held fortnightly. Nonetheless, those from Danzig apparently generally faced little if any hostility in Lynn, apart from the actions of a very few individuals, but in this case the town authorities were keen to stop such matters in favour of the foreigners.
This idea of how far and in what ways these aliens had a sense of belonging was important for all three papers in the session Susan chaired. Indeed, it might be said to be central to Joshua Ravenhill’s presentation. Joshua is a doctoral student at the University of York who is working on aliens in 15th-century London, and in the first part of his paper he explored why he thinks words such as integration and assimilation aren’t helpful when we are thinking about immigrant experiences. For not only was/is the situation not a binary between ‘foreigners’ and ‘natives’ but in many ways such concepts fail to take account of the ways immigrants become/wish to remain part of some ‘communities’ and not others. Such ideas may be seen in the works of social anthropologists such as Anthony Cohen and they offer a useful perspective, and one that Joshua sought to illustrate using wills made by aliens in London.
Great hall – St Nicholas’ Priory, Exeter
Paul Williams, another doctoral student and this time from the University of Exeter, gave us ideas about the alien community in Exeter in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Using various national subsidies and Exeter corporation shop fines for his analysis, among the criteria Paul investigated were the types of occupation these people engaged in, whereabouts in Exeter they seemed to congregate, whether they only took service in their countrymen’s households and were they able to become freeman and hold civic and/or parish office. In many ways the picture Paul provided was one where it would seem such markers of belonging were taken up by at least a proportion of these aliens, and issues such as office holding would have been out of reach of many Exeter men anyway. Paul felt that this generally positive scenario was predicated on Exeter’s buoyant economy during this period, and that this was certainly a significant factor.
To take us to another provincial city, I took the audience to 15th-century Canterbury. Like Paul I deployed national and local records to explore even if only tentatively the lives of those below many of Joshua’s and some of Paul’s respective (merchant) aliens. To keep this brief, I just want to give a resume of a single individual to highlight the value of bring together these records, as well as the problems of identification.
Powderham Castle – built by Sir Philip Courtenay (d. 1406)
The man in question is Gylkyn Goodknight who, even if he wasn’t operating as an independent craftsman making caps until 1472, still may have been in Canterbury during the previous decade. The most tentative identification is from the 1463 alien list because in that year the royal clerk recorded the presence of Gilderkyn Ducheman, who was ‘Dutch’, suggesting he was from somewhere in the Low Countries. Two years later the clerk noted a Gilderkyn Goodknyght among the Canterbury aliens and he was again listed in 1466, although interestingly not in 1467 or 68. Provided this in the same man who then became an intrant (independent, licenced producer/trader), he worked as a capper for six years, residing in Newingate ward. His business appears to have been on a relatively small scale in that the Canterbury chamberlains never expected more than 10d annually, the fee having started at 6d. Whether he had married in Canterbury or the couple had come to the city together is unknown but in 1478 it was Katherine his widow who paid the licence fee of 6d, although she was unable to continue making caps after that, unless, of course, she remarried, but either way she disappears from the civic records.
Yet even these examples can only offer a partial sense of their time in Canterbury, by looking at a range of these immigrant ‘biographies’ and bringing them together, I think this approach provides a means to explore notions of longevity, a sense of belonging, social mobility, the presence/absence of ethnic/craft enclaves, as well as any evidence of hostility or opposition and their sense of place within the complex networks of ties to be found in late medieval Canterbury society.
As I hope you can tell, it was a very enjoyable and thought-provoking conference, so many thanks to the organisers and everyone who took part, and it probably resonated even more due to events that were unfolding concurrently at Westminster and beyond.
Sheila Sweetinburgh, Canterbury Christ Church University
Tuesday 16 July 2019 marks the 650th anniversary of the death of John Grandisson (1292-1369), Exeter’s longest-serving bishop. The cathedral and the diocese have been shaped by many hands over many centuries but arguably it is Grandisson, who led the diocese for forty-two years from 1327, whose imprint has proved the most enduring.
Before his tenure, Exeter was seen as something of a poor relation among the cathedrals of medieval England. When he arrived the cathedral church itself was unfinished, building work having stalled repeatedly due to the shortage of funds. By the time of his death, its appearance, and its reputation, were transformed. Exeter Cathedral had become a beacon for worship in the west of England, and the cultural and creative centre-point of the city, county and diocese.
Grandisson was born to be a leading figure in public life. His family were aristocrats from Herefordshire with blood ties to many of England’s greatest noble dynasties; they could even claim a connection with the Plantagenet royal family. His background would have ensured his rise to the top in any walk of life but as a boy John was recognised for his intellectual talents and he was sent to study at Oxford and Paris, then the most prestigious university in Latin Europe. At Paris Grandisson came under the influence of one of the leading minds of the time, Jacques Fournier, whose own career as a churchman was one of the most significant of the age, leading the battle against the notorious Cathar heretics and culminating in his election as Pope Benedict XII in 1334.
From university John moved on to the city of Avignon in southern France, then the capital of the Roman papacy. He was set fair for a career in the papal court but his talents marked him out as a potential leader of the church in England and in 1327 Pope John XII appointed him to the bishopric in Exeter. It was something of a back-handed compliment: his predecessor, Walter de Stapledon had just been murdered by a London mob leading an uprising against the government of King Edward II (1307-27). Exeter was well-known for its poverty, the poor state of its buildings, and its remote position at the outer reaches of the realm. It was a far cry from the cultivated world of princes and prelates Grandisson had known all his life. ‘I find myself not only at the ends of the earth’, he wrote, ‘but in the very end of the ends thereof’.
Grandisson’s first priority was to finish the cathedral church. Making use of materials which had been stockpiled, he oversaw the completion of the nave, including the vaulted ceiling with its bosses carved with vivid images still in situ today. He also added new features which had not been envisaged by his predecessors, probably the Minstrels’ Gallery on the nave’s north wall, and a chantry chapel which he intended for his own tomb.
Grandisson not only completed the cathedral church but also invested in a dramatic re-development of the church of St Mary at Ottery, turning it into a collegiate church. Just about a dozen miles east of Exeter, Grandisson made Ottery St Mary a grand gateway to his diocese. His mitred head can still be seen on a corbel stone at one end of a nave arch.
Grandisson also invested in the working life of the cathedral. He provided books for the use of the cathedral canons, liturgy and music to assist them in their worship and learned texts of theology, canon law and science to ensure they could meet the demands of their ministry in the city and diocese. The books were placed in a purpose-built library, the first in the cathedral’s history, and perhaps the first in the west of England – it was another hundred years before there was a library at Wells Cathedral in Somerset.
Grandisson’s cosmopolitan early years had given him a love of stylish furnishings and during his career at Exeter he commissioned many remarkable artworks. An ivory diptych now in the collection of the British Museum depicts a finely carved images of the crucified Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary.
An exceptional set of Mass vestments were made for him: an orphrey, an ornamental border cloth, now in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and a chasuble, now kept in the museum of the church of St Sebastian at Ponta Delgada in the Azores display some of the very finest embroidery in gold and silver-gilt thread, known as Opus Anglicanum or English work because the skill was unmatched anywhere in Europe.
More important than building work or the furnishings, Bishop John applied his genius to the practice of worship in the cathedral. He was fascinated by the long history of the church and the lives of the saints whose feast-days filled the calendar. He made his own collection of these histories to be used in the cathedral, finely copied in a folio manuscript which is still kept in the Library & Archives. The life-story that fascinated him most was that of Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury under Henry II (1162-70), whose determination to keep the church independent from the king and his government led to a long dispute, exile and finally roused four of Henry’s knights to murder him in his cathedral. Becket had turned his back on his career as a courtier, its privilege and political influence, and committed himself to his church and the people it served. For Grandisson he was the perfect role model.
Grandisson was also interested in the sight and sound of worship. He created a new Ordinal for the Cathedral, that is the manual that set out how the clergy were to process, where they were to stand, and what parts of the liturgy were to be spoken and sung. Today, the Cathedral Choir still turns to Grandisson’s guidance for the Christmas Eve service that carries his name.
At 5.30pm on 16 July Exeter Cathedral will perform a requiem mass in honour of their great bishop. In the following months further events will recall his contributions in different dimensions of church life including decorative art, the customs of worship in liturgy and music and education, learning and the making of books. Related exhibits will display some of the artefacts connected with him still held in the Cathedral Library & Archives.
May is an exciting month for Exeter’s Anglo-Saxon manuscripts. As a part of Dr Levi Roach’s AHRC funded grant ‘Forging Memory: Falsified Documents and Institutional History in Europe, c.970-1020’, a series of events will be held across the University, and the Cathedral and its Library & Archives exploring Exeter’s genuine and fake medieval documents.
In the 1060s, shortly before the Norman Conquest, the canons at Exeter Cathedral produced a series of fake royal charters. These forgeries claimed that King Æthelstan of England (924-39) had granted the church multiple pieces of land along the Exe valley. These fakes tell us little about the reign of Æthelstan, but they do provide a fascinating snapshot into the concerns of the eleventh-century cathedral community and its leader, Bishop Leofric.
Medieval charters were created to record a transaction between two parties, such as a king and a church. As such, they capture the interests of both the donor and the recipient. In contrast, a fraudulent charter only represents the concerns of those who later forged it. Medieval forgeries can therefore provide us with a privileged view into the thoughts and concerns of the clerics who produced them. In the case of Exeter Cathedral, the forgeries in the name of Æthelstan were created to try and enhance the church’s properties: none of the lands ‘Æthelstan’ supposedly granted in the charters were held by the Cathedral in the eleventh-century. Through these forgeries, the canons tried to provide proof of their ancient right to things which did not belong to them.
Forgeries can tell us about more than just a community’s nefarious ambitions, however. The ways they were composed reveal how medieval people thought about their past. Often, when completing fake documents, forgers would try and copy the style or handwriting of other ancient documents; they were aware that fakes had to look the part. In turn, the authorities invoked in forgeries reveal what parts of the past were most important to a community. At eleventh-century Exeter, it seems that King Æthelstan was a foundational figure.
Including the Æthelstan forgeries, Exeter Cathedral’s Library & Archives hold sixteen pre-Conquest charters – an exceptionally large number for a regional archive.
Between 13-31 May 2019 some of these charters, both forged and genuine, will be displayed in an exhibition held at Exeter Cathedral’s Library & Archives, titled Forging the Past in Medieval Exeter. The exhibition explores how and why the canons at the eleventh-century cathedral produced forgeries, placing their production in the context of changes within the bishopric and Viking invasions. Also displayed throughout the exhibition is the so-called ‘Golden Charter’ – a charter issued by King Æthelred ‘the Unready’ in 994 to the Bishop of Cornwall, in which the see’s privileges are defined and secured. While the contents of this charter are significant in themselves, the charter’s epithet comes from the fact that all its capital letters are covered in gold leaf. The charter is the oldest surviving golden single sheet charter from Anglo-Saxon England. This unique status led to the ‘Golden Charter’ being loaned to the British Library for the internationally acclaimed exhibition Anglo Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War, held from October 2018 to February 2019.
Running alongside the exhibition are a series of public tours on Saturday 25, Monday 27 and Tuesday 28 May. These tours provide a unique opportunity to see some of the Archive’s Anglo-Saxon charters up close. They will explore the motivations of specific Exeter forgeries, as well as the dynamic life of these documents in the 1,000 years after they were written. These tours are free, but numbers are limited so booking is essential – please sign up for tickets here.
The month of forgery events is rounded off by Levi Roach’s public talk, ‘Fake founders and counterfeit claims: the forged documents of medieval Exeter’, held in the Cathedral Chapter House at 19.00 on Thursday 30 May. In this talk, as well as discussing the forgeries produced at Exeter during Bishop Leofric’s episcopacy, Levi will place these fake documents in their broader British and European contexts. Again, this event is free, but please do book your seat in advance here.
Dr Jennie England, researcher on AHRC-funded ‘Forging Memory’ project
The Centre for Medieval Studies here at Exeter is well-known for its sense of community, and for the value it places on the exchange of ideas in an informal and relaxed setting. One of the key events in our research year, the annual Orme Day, aims to achieve exactly that with a postgraduate symposium followed by the Nicholas Orme lecture, a public lecture on medieval studies by a visiting speaker. This year’s event – affectionately known as the ‘Feast of Orme’ – took place on Tuesday 12th March. After the unfortunate disruption to last year’s event caused by industrial action, we were delighted to be able to run the event in its traditional format once again.
The day began shortly after lunch, with a series of 20-minute presentations from current postgraduate students. The topics of these presentations reflected the wide range of research undertaken at the Centre. Philip Wallinder’s talk, ‘Apocryphal? Who, Me?’, examined John Trevisa‘s approach to translating the Gospel of Nicodemus into Middle English and was informed by both translation theory and the close-reading of Latin and Middle English texts. Trevisa’s concordance of several distinct calendar systems and his use of intertextuality offered fruitful topics for discussion, as Philip drew on texts from St. Jerome’s Chronicon to recent editions of the Latin Nicodemus to illustrate the relationship between the Middle English ‘Nicodemus’ and its sources.
By contrast, Ekaterina Novokhatko, a visiting PhD student and member of the HERA After Empire project, focused on more geographical questions in her presentation. She outlined her attempts to map the spread of martyrological texts (and their attendant communication networks) in eleventh-century Europe. Her talk showed how Catalonia functioned as a zone of contact, within which French interest in the life of St. Gerald met the northern Italian focus on St. Alexius; using mapping tools, she neatly illustrated how these two ‘models of the layman saint’ circulated together in the area in which a contemporary pope, Silvester II, had studied in his youth.
There was a similar saintly focus to Henry Marsh‘s talk, albeit in a less conventional sense: Henry explored the Gesta Henrici Quinti (1413-16), a text that has typically been interpreted as a paean to his namesake’s celebrated martial prowess. Henry, however, focused squarely on those readings that emphasise the almost-hagiographic elements of the text, arguing that in order to grasp the anonymous author’s full understanding of the king, it is necessary to acknowledge those readings that look beyond the commonly-cited sources of chivalric texts and to consider the Gesta as a response to challenges posed both by France and by Lollardy. The text, Henry noted, frames the King’s physical struggles as spiritual struggles, down-playing traditional ‘hack-and-slash’ romance-inspired elements and aligning the monarch, perhaps counterintuitively, with saints who had faced off against temporal power. While the Gesta might be useful for analysing myth-making, Henry suggested, it is equally important to ask precisely which myths its author was attempting to create.
Following a short break, the gaggle of medievalists reassembled in the plush surroundings of the Business School for the keynote Orme Lecture, delivered by the inimitable Miri Rubin. Prof. Rubin’s talk concerned urban societies in the Middle Ages and was entitled ‘(Italian) Cities of Strangers: Some Ways Medieval Cities Thought About Their Diversity’. As she explained, this topic was just one of many that would have paid tribute to the work of Nicholas Orme, but it was probably the most effective in allowing the assembled audience to engage with the ‘search for the human’ that has been at the heart of his research.
Over the course of her lecture, Prof. Rubin examined attitudes to ‘strangers’ and ‘foreigners’ in medieval Italy and beyond, charting how the ‘Great Transformation’ of the fourteenth century led to a shift in views on non-locals. Thinkers and legal theorists, she stressed, increasingly moved away from ‘pathways to citizenship’ and embraced a ‘rhetoric of exclusion’. Her startling final slide – showing a post-Black-Death ‘ideal’ city as one that appeared to be empty – left us all with plenty to think about. It was a talk that talk invited comparisons with contemporary attitudes towards immigration and integration, and stressed the complex relationship between medieval and modern attitudes to the ‘other’.
It certainly was a fascinating and stimulating day for all involved, and a reminder of the vitality and vision that characterise the Centre for Medieval Studies’ research community. The Centre would like to thank all of those involved in planning, organising and contributing to the event, from postgraduates to our keynote speaker; in particular, however, we would like to show our appreciation for Nicholas Orme, whose generous funding of the lecture series allows us to invite many of the leading lights of contemporary medieval studies to challenge, inspire, and invigorate us all.
Ed Mills, PhD student
Exeter will be hosting the Fifteenth Century Conference this September, an annual conference for anyone with interests in the Fifteenth Century. This has come about mainly because of the hard work of PhD student Des Atkinson, assisted by me, James Clark, Eddie Jones and our Hon Research Fellow Jonathan Hughes. The theme will be ‘England and Mainland Europe in the Fifteenth Century’, which we’re interpreting very broadly to include a range of topics and disciplines. I’ve posted the call for papers below. If you have fifteenth-century interest please consider sending in an abstract, and please also draw other people’s attention to it.
Catherine Rider, Director, Centre for Medieval Studies
Call For Papers: Fifteenth Century Conference, University of Exeter, 5th-7th September, 2019
England and mainland Europe in the fifteenth century
Poggio Bracciolini, the Tuscan Papal Secretary, after meeting Henry Beaufort at the Council of Constance, followed the bishop of Winchester to England to serve as his Latin secretary between 1419 and February 1423. Poggio was critical of the English climate and the preoccupation of English bishops with politics at the expense of learning, and during this period he offered the following assessment of this country in a letter to the Florentine humanist Niccolo de Niccoli:
‘I began travelling with my lord; but there was no great pleasure in the travelling, since I could find no books. Monasteries here are very rich but of new foundation; they have been built no more than four hundred years ago. If older ones survive they have no secular books, but are full of the most recent works of the doctors of the church and especially the ecclesiastics. I also saw carefully compiled inventories in which there was nothing of worth of humanist studies. And nothing interesting indeed.’
Poggio Bracciolini, Lettere, vol. I, ed. H. Harth (Firenze, Olschki, 1984), translated in A. Petrina, Cultural Politics in Fifteenth-Century England: The Case of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester (2004), p. 62.
Poggio’s dismissal of English intellectual culture points to a wide range of interactions between fifteenth-century England and its neighbours in continental Europe, and it raises many questions that have interested scholars in recent years. What was the nature of interaction between England and continental Europe? What kinds of exchange (political, economic, cultural) took place, when, and how? What was the role of courts, cities, and the Church, as well as individuals, in this process? How was England perceived elsewhere in Europe, and how did the English perceive Europe and the wider world in their turn? How did cultural and intellectual exchange with continental Europe interact with the growing body of vernacular writing, in many genres, being produced in England, and with local and national senses of identity?
At a time when this country’s relationship with Europe is once again uncertain it seems appropriate to use Poggio’s comments to host a conference that considers this same question during another period of doubt and transition. This conference aims to address, however broadly, the different ways in which the late medieval kingdom of England could be considered in religious, political, social, economic and cultural terms as either a part of Europe, or apart from Europe – a nation with a separate identity.
This year’s Fifteenth Century Conference will be hosted by the University of Exeter, which is home to a community of late medievalists across several disciplines. We welcome papers from scholars at all career stages from PhD students to established academics, on any theme connected to this subject, from any discipline working on the fifteenth century. This may include, but is not limited to, papers on local, national and European identities and myths; cultural exchange; the transmission of knowledge (including vernacular culture); political, social and intellectual networks; trade; the Church; heresy; social unrest; travel and perceptions of the wider world.
Please submit abstracts of up to 200 words, and a short biography, to Professor Catherine Rider (Director, Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Exeter) at firstname.lastname@example.org by 28th February 2019.
In my previous post for the Centre for Medieval Studies blog, I promised a much-needed follow-up to my interview with the storyteller Rachel Rose Reid, whose retelling of the medieval French Roman de Silence is currently touring around the country. This week, we’ll be talking about some of the more challenging questions raised by the text, and their impact on how she has interpreted the text and devised her own piece.
Returning to your interpretation of Silence, I was struck by the way in which you begin Part 1 of the story. Why did you start your retelling of Silence by recounting your own story — that is, the story of how you came across this wonderful text?
There were a couple of reasons: firstly, Heldris (the narrator-figure in Silence) doesn’t ‘start the story with the story’ either! Instead, we have this intriguing prologue that offers an invective against avarice. While I don’t begin my retelling in quite the same way, I do think that my own introduction serves a similar purpose — that is, to involve the audience in my storytelling, and to begin ‘weaving’, together with them, the world of the story. Immersion isn’t everything: whenever I come back to moments of honesty like this one, where I tell my own story, I’m being authentically present with the audience. There’s something in that interaction which means that people follow you: they trust you, and you’re able to ‘catch’ them if you feel that they need to be brought back into the story.
… and, of course, Heldris does this throughout their own story, interacting — or at least presenting an interaction — with his own audience. There are points where he’s very direct about this: just before he reaches Silence’s birth, Heldris promises the audience (in the English translation) ‘a lively tale without any further fuss or ado’!
… and this itself raises a fascinating question: why does the story (as Heldris tells it) start so far beforehand? Heldris could easily have started the story with the birth of Silence, but chooses not to: instead, there’s a focus on this question of inheritance, which makes up a large part of the first part of Silence. On a personal level, the inheritance question — which of course ‘sets up’ the motive for Silence to present as a different gender later in the story — is something that I’m very interested in. I’m part of a collective called Three Acres and a Cow, which has really opened my eyes to the different relationships that people have had to land over the centuries; it seems that, although we’re many generations down the line from the world of Silence, there’s still very much a legacy there, and the attitudes towards land and inheritance that Silence documents are still evident in the present day. A few years ago, I visited several Cornish towns with a story about suffrage, and people told us that their own aunts had missed out on inheritances for this same reason: it had gone to particular male relatives, in this case just before changes were made to inheritance law. I’m fascinated by the cultural landscape that informs tales such as Silence, by what it would mean to hear about changes to the law such as these; and by whether Evan’s actions would have been considered provocative or commonplace.
And yet, modern academic work on Silence – with some exceptions – really hasn’t shown the same interest in the inheritance question. One particularly dry description of the opening conflict between the counts sees it as nothing more than a ‘debate over primogeniture’, and in general, it’s the questions of gender that have dominated scholarship, with Simon Gaunt noting (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) that Silence ‘appears to engage deliberately with problems that interest modern theorists.’
Questions surrounding gender are more ‘front-and-centre’ in Part 2 of my retelling, of course, but the two ideas about inheritance and women are of course intimately connected. I’m interested in both questions: about who would have listened to this story, and how contentious the material about land ownership would have been. It’s been really satisfying to work with medievalists, including medievalists who aren’t necessarily familiar with the Roman de Silence itself, but who work on the general period during which it was produced. Even if the insights that come out of these conversations don’t make it into my retelling every night, it’s really fun talking to academics who can help to inform my telling of the story, answering some of the more esoteric questions. One question that’s intriguing me at the moment is that of what Cornwall would have meant to the audience of Silence: would it simply have been ‘somewhere far away’, or would it have had a more concrete opening?
That’s a tricky question to answer, but there has increasingly been a tendency in research to stress the ‘connectedness’ of the medieval world, so it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect the audience of Silence to be aware of Cornwall, at least in the context of a lot of the Arthurian material that locates Arthur in this area. The very fact that the manuscript of Silence has survived in Britain at all is testament to cross-Channel movement: it is, after all, written in a dialect of French that shows relatively little Anglo-Norman influence, with far more of a Picard ‘feel’ to it. One theory suggests that the manuscript was composed around the late 13th century as part of a marriage dowry, only reaching England as a piece of plunder late in the Hundred Years’ War.1 Histories of manuscript provenance are, in the end, personal stories — much like the stories that you bring alive in your retelling.
For me, Silence is very much a story about how humans — whether the characters in Silence, or the owners of the manuscript — try to structure the world. Each of us has ways in which we try to structure our world in order to make everything okay; in the case of the characters in Silence, it’s society that has trapped people into certain ways of being. That’s one of the reasons why I try to present Eufeme (King Evan’s Queen, who fulfills the ‘Potiphar’s wife’ trope) as a more rounded character. Heldris might try to give us some understanding of her motivations, but there’s more to be said here: Eufeme might seem to be terrible, but if you look at how she got to be where she is, the only place where she can enact real change is in the personal realm. Only Merlin sits apart from this, and his laughter — which I’ve always read as cosmic, not cruel — seems to me to be saying, ‘look at all these humans, who think they can control and set up these structures.’
Working with Rachel has been an absolute privilege, and it’s been wonderful to re-acquaint myself with the Roman de Silence after a few years, particularly in the form of a retelling as lively, engaging, and powerful as hers. Rachel has transformed a story whose characters are often read as ciphers — ‘Silence’, ‘Euphemie’, ‘Eupheme’ — into an intensely human tale, while preserving its focus on questions that connect the medieval and the modern.
For more information about Silence, see the show’s website.
Rachel has toured Parts 1 and 2 of Silence during 2018, supported by Arts Council England, and is currently writing the final section. She is seeking partners, hosts, and grants to make it possible for her to perform the whole of her adaptation (possibly two sets of two-hour performances, so may require an overnight experience) at various locations during 2019. Please send ideas, suggestions and offers to ; for more information, see silencespeaks.strikingly.com and rachelrosereid.com.
Edward Mills, PhD Student
1 More recent work on the manuscript, however, has argued for an earlier dating of the early 13th century, based on an analysis of paratextual features such as illustration. See Alison Stones, ‘Two French Manuscripts: WLC/LM/6 and WLC/LM/7’, in Ralph Hanna and Thorlac Turville-Petre (eds.), The Wollaton Medfieval Manuscripts: Texts, Owners and Readers (Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 2010), pp. 41-56.
Well, term has started and campus is suddenly full of students again. Here in the Centre for Medieval Studies we’re catching up with existing colleagues and students, as well as welcoming some new ones. We have several new PhD students starting in History and Archaeology and would like to welcome them to our community of postgraduates, along with new students on the MA History with medieval interests. It’s also a good time to celebrate some successes from the last year. In particular, congratulations to Tom Chadwick, who got his PhD last year. Tom has posted several times on the blog (for example, here) about his research on the Normans.
This term we have an exciting seminar programme, running every other Wednesday – details here. All staff and students with medieval interests are welcome! One highlight is at the end of term, when Roger Collins (University of Edinburgh) will be giving our first Simon Barton Memorial Lecture, on ‘Faith, Culture and Identity in Medieval Spain’. This was a topic close to Simon’s own research and we hope to make it an annual event.
We’ll also be hearing from staff and students on the blog – next week, PhD student Ed Mills.
Wishing everyone the best for the new term.
Catherine Rider, Director, Centre for Medieval Studies