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A New Charter from the Fourth Crusade

Paris, Archives nationales, S 5150A, no 16

Almost ten years ago, during my doctoral research, I was rifling through boxes at the Archives nationales in Paris for the first time. Guided by preliminary references I had found in notes kindly provided by Prof. Nicholas Vincent, I was mining a very rich seam through the Ordre de Malte section of the S series. It was there that I stumbled across an undated and unpublished charter that seemed to have inspired no comment in any of my secondary reading (pictured above). Its anonymity may seem natural enough: it records a donation to the Knights Templar made by a father and son—Hugh and Odo of Essonne, otherwise unknown—of the census from some vague ‘land of ours closest and nearest to [the order’s] mills’ on the island of Saussay (between modern Itteville and Ballancourt, Essonne).

The rather flashy red silk cords and surviving green wax seal caught my eye, however, and I froze upon reading the witness list. As a first-year doctoral student, the novelty of handling medieval parchment was still quite fresh, and that electric feeling of connexion with the past found in archives has never left me. But this scrap of skin and ink promised to be particularly special. In addition to Simon of Montfort, the subject of my doctoral thesis, those present at the grant included the Cistercian abbots of Vaux-de-Cernay and Cercanceaux, Robert Mauvoisin, Gerard of Fournival, and the Templars William of Chartres and Robert of Chamville. The abbots had not only been among those white monks deputed to recruit and accompany the Fourth Crusade (1198-1204), but, along with Simon of Montfort and Robert Mauvoisin, opposed the crusade’s diversion to attack Christian cities such as Zara on the Dalmatian coast, finally leaving together for Syria in 1203 while most of the army sailed to its infamous destiny at Constantinople. Gerard of Fournival had no connexion with this group, but was a Third Crusade veteran and Plantagenet courtier who made an independent second voyage to Outremer in 1204. William of Chartres would become master of the Temple in 1210, while Robert of Chamville is noted in the charter as ‘commander of the Temple of Acre’, a position he held until sometime before 1207.

Here was, then, an original charter that had almost certainly been drafted in the Holy Land during the Fourth Crusade, between mid-1204 (the arrival of Gerard of Fournival) and autumn 1205 (the latest possible departure of Simon of Montfort). Subsequent searching on my part yielded only four other such surviving charters. This fifth example was brought to the commandery of Chalou-la-Reine (modern Chalou-Moulineaux, Essonne), either by the donors or by Templars returning to France from business or service in Acre. After the suppression of the order in 1312, the Knights Hospitaller took over the commandery, and the charter was eventually deposited in the archives of the commandery of Le Saussay itself, erected in 1356. It would remain there until the suppression of all religious orders during the French Revolution and the national confiscation of their possessions, at which point the document was introduced to its present home in the Archives nationales.

In addition to its rarity, this charter also reveals a good deal about diplomatic practices among the Templars in Acre at the turn of the thirteenth century, as well as the history of the dissenters from the Fourth Crusade. Among the first things to note are the physical elements of the charter that first arrested my attention: the red cords and green wax.

Seal of Abbot Guy of Vaux-de-Cernay

Seals were ordinarily attached with simple parchment or leather queues and cast in uncoloured brown wax. Cords made of dyed fibres such as those attached to the Essonne charter (left) or to a contemporary confirmation by papal legates of a dying crusader’s grant to the Templars (right) demonstrate status, while green wax emphasises the importance and perpetual significance of the document it seals.

Seal of Soffred of Pistoia, cardinal-priest of Santa Prassede (Paris, Archives nationales, S 5223, no 2)

These materials, likely along with the professional scribe who so neatly composed the charter, were almost certainly provided to Hugh and Odo by the Templars in Acre, suggesting a ‘luxury service’ for those crusaders who wished to extend the benefits of their experience in Outremer by endowing the order with property in the West. That the Templars in Acre were willing to lay out the red carpet even for donations as modest as that of the Essonnes is indicative not only of the Knights’ wealth, but also of an indiscriminate approach to property acquisition.

Closer inspection of the text, particularly of the witness list, yields a number of other conclusions. A distinction made between the witnesses—the abbot of Cercanceaux, Simon of Montfort, and Gerard of Fournival—and the Templars ‘in [whose] presence’ the grant was made sheds light on the purpose of such observers. While the witnesses are described as such in the present tense (testes sunt), the attendance of William of Chartres and Robert of Chamville is in the perfect (fuit factum); Robert’s office as commander is furthermore given an imperfect qualifier (tunc erat). A nearly identical diplomatic formula in a Champenois charter of 1201 (surviving in a vidimus, below) attests the presence of Templars at a grant made in Acre but only recorded once the crusader donor returned home.

Paris, Archives nationales, S 4956, no 6

Here, however, a distinction is made between the witnesses of the ‘fact’ or ‘matter’ (res) of the donation, and the ‘gift’ (donum) itself. By contrast, both the witnesses of the Essonne charter and the Templars are associated with the actual donum of the grant. But while both the crusaders and the Templars attended the Essonne grant, they did not all serve as witnesses. Quite apart from the fact that, as beneficiaries, William and Robert were interested parties, the substance of the gift—the census on the Essonnes’ land—was in France, and neither Templar could be relied upon to return from his active service in Outremer. The true witnesses, however, all expected to make the voyage home, where they could vouch for the authenticity of the Essonnes’ act. The Templars in both Syria and France therefore distinguished between the persistent identity of the witnesses and the temporally limited role of the representatives of the order, who were too distant to be consulted or easily verified.

More indirectly, the conjunction of the abbots of Vaux-de-Cernay and Cercanceaux, Robert Mauvoisin, and Simon of Montfort testifies to the continued cohesion of the group that abandoned the main crusade army over a point of principle in 1203. The continued affinity between Simon, Guy of Vaux-de-Cernay (who had long been a friend of the Montforts), and Robert Mauvoisin through the Albigensian Crusade (1208-1218, Simon’s death) has been much discussed elsewhere; the inclusion of Hugh of Cercanceaux, who, unlike the others, had no connections with the forest of Yveline (south-west of Paris), shows that this association was not derived solely from regional identity. Indeed, the presence of an outsider such as Gerard of Fournival among the witnesses may confirm the importance of shared ideals. Before sailing east, Gerard petitioned for a royal licence to move a weekly market in his Norman lands from Sunday to Thursday, in line with the reforms preached by the Parisian schoolmen linked to Guy of Vaux-de-Cernay and enacted in 1212 by Simon of Montfort in the Statutes of Pamiers, a constitution for his conquests in the Albigensian Crusade. In contrast with the recriminations of Fourth Crusade apologist Geoffrey of Villehardouin, who accused them of wishing ‘to disperse the host’ at their departure from Zara, Simon, Guy, and their companions remained physically and morally united throughout their expedition to the Holy Land.

A decade ago when I discovered this charter, I was principally interested in this last dimension: its value as an independent documentary testimony to Simon of Montfort’s pilgrimage to Outremer. I have, however, continued to come back to this remarkable, if brief, bit of parchment over the years and tried to tease out some of the light it can shed through its peculiarities. I hope these musings have demonstrated its importance, not only as an uncommon survival but also as a window into medieval approaches to documents, particularly in the context of crusading, at the turn of the thirteenth century.


Gregory Lippiatt, Lecturer in Medieval History

Thietmar of Merseburg – Archforger or Anachronist?

One of the most striking discoveries of modern scholarship on medieval documentary traditions has been just how widespread forgery was. Almost every major religious house was involved in falsifying documents at some point; and many witnessed multiple waves of forgery. Those responsible were not backstreet rogues, but leading members of the ecclesiastical establishment – abbots and bishops, scholars and schoolmasters.


Thietmar, as depicted at Merseburg Cathedral

A case in point is Thietmar, bishop of Merseburg between 1009 and 1018. Thietmar is best known to modern students as the author of a chatty chronicle, which furnishes our most detailed narrative of socio-political developments within Germany in these years. Yet Thietmar was not simply a historian; he was also a forger. To modern eyes, these may seem like very different activities: the historian seeks to illuminate the past, the forger to obscure it. In the Middle Ages, however, they went hand-in-hand. One of the main purposes of narrative history was to secure the rights and reputation of the family or (more often) religious house in question; and so it was with Thietmar. His bishopric had been dissolved in 981 and refounded in 1004, only five years before his own appointment. In writing his Chronicle, Thietmar sought to justify the act of refoundation and lay claim to episcopal rights lost in the intervening years.


It’s here that forgery came in handy. A chronicle might set out a programmatic case for restoring rights, but such arguments were unlikely to gain traction without documentary proof. And so it was that Thietmar came to produce a diploma in the name of Otto II (r. 973-82), claiming to grant the forest of Zweckau to Merseburg. A real document to this effect may once have existed. But this is not it – it’s clearly a fake, modelled on an authentic diploma of 974 (also in favour of Merseburg).

Thietmar’s forgery: Merseburg, Domstiftsarchiv, Urk. 1 (= D O II 90)

That this document is a forgery has long been known, as has Thietmar’s involvement in its production (he writes about the diploma at length in his Chronicle). What has escaped notice is one of the more subtle signs of falsification. When recounting the grant of Zweckau, Thietmar lays great store the fact that Emperor Otto II confirmed the diploma ‘with his own hand’ (manu propria: see image below).

Thietmar’s account of the grant of Zweckau, from the (lost) autograph of his Chronicle; relevant section highlighted

This is an allusion to the process by which the royal/imperial monogram at the bottom of the diploma came into being. Alongside the seal, the monogram was the main means of authenticating a document. And particular importance was accorded to the so-called completion stroke (German: Vollziehungsstrich) here, the final cross-stroke, which would only be drawn once the grant had been approved by the ruler. Some kings took on the duty of drawing this final stroke themselves, as Thietmar’s account suggests. But this was not a universal practice, as modern scholarship has noted. Within the Ottonian period, Otto III (r. 983-1002) seems to have been the first to do so regularly, starting in the mid-990s; thereafter Henry II (r. 1002-24) also periodically did so. Earlier, there are few if any signs of such autograph completion; then the norm was for the scribe responsible for the closing elements of the diploma (the eschatocol) to produce the entire monogram.


Thietmar’s monogram, with pseudo-autograph completion stroke

Why does this matter? Because Thietmar’s forgery creates the impression of autograph completion (as mentioed in his Chronicle): the cross-stroke on the monogram is notably thinner than the other vertical and horizontal strokes, suggesting that it has been added in a separate stage. Yet here Thietmar has been too clever by half. In aiming for verisimilitude, he has fallen into subtle anachronism, presuming that the documentary practices of his own day were prevalent in the 970s. His contemporaries may have been fooled, but Otto II wouldn’t have been.

Dr Levi Roach, Associate Professor of Medieval History


Starting an Inquisition Database Project

Mdina, Malta. Why wouldn’t you want to do research here…?

I’m at the beginning of a new project on ‘Popular Healing: Christian and Islamic Practices and the Roman Inquisition in Early Modern Malta’ (not medieval, but you can’t have everything), funded by a British Academy Small Grant.  It’s a joint project, conducted by me and Dionisius Agius, in the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at Exeter, as co-investigators. It also builds on Dionisius’s earlier ‘Magic in Malta, 1605’ project, on which I was co-investigator. I’ve written about ‘Magic in Malta’ on the blog before here and here but to sum up that earlier project examined in depth one unusual, and interesting, trial held by the Roman Inquisition in Malta. In this trial a Muslim slave, Sellem bin al-Sheikh Mansur, was tried for several counts of doing magic and divination for Christians.  The project book should be out next year.

This time round, we’re hoping to answer some of the questions which the ‘Magic in Malta’ project raised for us by looking at a wider range of inquisitorial cases.  In particular, it became clear that Sellem’s case was part of a much wider world of interactions taking place on Malta between the Christian majority and the substantial minority of Muslim slaves living on the islands.  Many of these interactions seemed to be related to illness and healing. In particular, some Muslim slaves, like Sellem, were being accused of offering what the inquisitors deemed ‘superstitious’ or ‘magical’ ‘remedies’ to Christians – practices designed to cure illnesses, diagnose and counter witchcraft, and create or strengthen sexual relationships through love magic. Often this was a way for the slaves to earn some extra income.  It was not only Muslim slaves who offered these services, however. Christian healers, both men and women, were also being accused of using magical or superstitious practices.

Our plan for the project is to compile a simple database of cases, in order to investigate this world of popular remedies in more detail. How many cases do we see, and what are the patterns of change over time?  Are there differences in the services that were said to have been offered by these different healers – Christian or Muslim, male or female? How were these different healers perceived by clients, and how did the Inquisition treat them?  Did clients seek out ‘magical’ remedies for particular types of illness or problem?  Why did they seek out particular healers?  Inquisition records are not unproblematic windows onto these questions, of course. Witnesses rarely came forward spontaneously (often they were sent by their parish priests after mentioning superstitious practices in confession), and they were often keen to present their actions in the least incriminating light. Moreover, as many scholars have shown, witness testimonies in inquisitorial records were shaped in numerous ways by what witnesses believed the inquisitors were expecting to hear, as well as by the (sometimes leading) questions asked of them.   Nonetheless, the wealth of circumstantial detail in the records allows us to explore perceptions of superstitious remedies and the interactions between healers and their clients.

It’s early days yet. Our first research trip to the Cathedral Archives in Mdina is a couple of weeks away. We’re currently setting up our database, with the advice of Exeter’s Digital Humanities team, which is a bit of a learning curve for two academics without much prior experience of Microsoft Access.  It’s a smallish project, with a more restricted focus than, say, the Dissident Networks Project recently begun at the Masaryk University in the Czech Republic, which also makes use of databases for Inquisition records, among other things – but we think the results will be interesting.

More at a later date on how it goes.

Catherine Rider, Associate Professor in Medieval 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.

Retaule de la Trinitat (1489), Museu Rigau Perpinyà – from the Society’s 2019 call for papers

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.

 Alun Williams

Research Postcard: An Exeter Life of Thomas Becket

John Grandisson, the bishop who presided at Exeter in the turbulent middle years of the fourteenth century – the age of the papacy’s Avignon exile, the Black Death and the bloodiest battles of the Hundred Years War – has long been celebrated as a man of learning whose love of books brought some of the finest illuminated manuscripts into the Cathedral Library. He left his mark – that is to say, his ownership inscription and many marginal notes, underlines, comments and corrections – on a wide variety of books, including those still at Exeter.

Grandisson’s family arms as the frontispiece to his psalter

Yet surprisingly there is only one text that is attributed to him as his own work. Oxford, Bodleian Library MS 493 (fos. 1r-50v) contains a Latin life of Thomas Becket which is described in its original red-ink rubric as having been curated usefully and historically (compendiose et historice…collette) by John de Grandisson, bishop of Exon. Arranged in four parts, the text narrates the martyr’s progress from birth to death and canonisation, from the city of London which he honoured (decoravit) as his family home, to his final reward from Pope Alexander III of his name being added to the catalogue of martyrs (martyrum cathologo addendum decrevit), after which his feast was always celebrated. As the colophon acknowledges, the life is not an original composition. The text is founded on the Quadrilogus, the composite life of the archbishop first compiled by Brother E – his name may have been Elias – a monk of the Benedictine abbey of Evesham, which attempted at a synthesis of the accounts of Becket’s chapter colleagues at Canterbury, William and Alan of Tewkesbury, and his friends, Herbert of Bosham and John of Salisbury.

Becket’s murder as depicted in a ceiling boss at Exeter Cathedral

The cult of saints was the meeting-point of Grandisson’s interests as a prelate and a scholar: it was a means of stability and spiritual nourishment for the faithful facing the uncertainty of present times; for church and clergy it was a link with an illustrious past and a source of inspiration. Perhaps his greatest gift to his cathedral was a vast, two-volume Legendary which drew together the narratives for the feasts celebrated throughout the year. His Becket life appears to have been an early step towards this project, possibly compiled in his first decade at Exeter, or even before. He made reference to it in an exchange with his old master and mentor, Jacques Fournier, who ended his career as the Avignon Pope Benedict XII and died in 1342.

The tomb of Pope Benedict XII, Grandisson’s mentor
William de Tracy’s grant of Doccombe to Canterbury, dated after 21 February 1173

It is conceivable that his compilation passed into Curial circles: a Vatican manuscript of the fifteenth century (BAV Lat. 1221, fos. 1r-27v) contains an anonymous account of Becket’s life that opens with the same incipit. There was a confirmed copy in Italy in 1492, recorded in the inventory of the library of the English College at Rome. Surely Grandisson first turned his attention to Becket because of his place in the history of the church in England but at Exeter he can scarcely have been unaware of the special resonance of the story in the western diocese. William de Tracy, one of the four assassins of the archbishop, was baron of Bradninch and lord of the manor of Moretonhampstead. His Devon lands were the focus of his penitential gift to the monks of Christ Church, Canterbury: Doccombe and adjoining lands to the value of 100s were presented to the Cathedral Priory in c. 1173. He requested commemorative masses for himself and for the new saint he had inadvertently created.

James Clark

Research Postcard: Erasing the Past in Medieval Worms?

As a part of my AHRC-funded project on forgery, I had the singular pleasure of visiting the Hessisches Staatsarchiv in leafy Darmstadt last term. There are many reasons why archival visits are important. Some manuscripts have yet to be transcribed or digitised, while important features of those that have – ink colour, dry-point glosses, lineation – can only properly be identified and appreciated in person.

Hessisches Staatsarchiv

In my case, I was in search of an erasure. A key text for the Worms forgeries, the subject of one of my case studies (and book chapters), is a diploma now housed in the Hessisches Staatsarchiv (D O I 392). Issued from Ravenna in northern Italy in early April 970, it decides a dispute between the bishopric of Worms and the nearby monastery of Lorsch over forest rights in the Odenwald. The diploma comes down firmly in favour of Bishop Anno of Worms, and in doing so, it quotes a number of forgeries in the names of earlier Carolingian rulers (which also survive independently).

Worms Cathedral

The traditional view is that it is an authentic text of 970, which happens to cite earlier counterfeits (the latter probably commissioned by Bishop Anno himself). In 1901, however, Johann Lechner argued that the main text of the diploma was written on erasure. Someone had, in other words, taken an authentic charter of 970, methodically scraped off its contents (minus the opening line) – as is perfectly possible with parchment – and overwritten these with a new text justifying Worms’ disputed rights. This makes the diploma an outright forgery; and Lechner argued that both it and the texts it cites were produced as part of a single forgery action in the mid-980s. At this time, Anno’s successor Hildibald was simultaneously bishop of Worms and imperial chancellor (the latter role involving oversight of official diploma production) and thus well placed to commission such a text.

Despite initial objections, Lechner’s case swiftly won the day, and it remains scholarly orthodoxy. But what does the charter itself tell us? Rather more than you might think.

D O I 392, Darmstadt, Hessisches Staatsarchiv A2 251/1

As rapidly became clear upon my visit, there are no signs of erasure on the single sheet of the diploma. The parchment is quite rough and raw, but this roughness does not coincide with areas of writing. More importantly, the opening line of elongated script (litterae elongatae) is clearly in the same ink as the main text. Since medieval ink was produced manually, with each batch being subtly different from the last, this indicates that these details were written at the same time (or in very quick succession). The importance of this lies in the fact that the first line is  in a different hand from the rest of the text (dubbed ‘X’ by its editors). This same hand furnished the opening line of a diploma for Magdeburg (D O I 388b). The latter text was issued from Pavia in late January 970, less than four months before our charter, so we know this scribe was in Italy at the time. And since it is scarcely conceivable that this same – otherwise unattested – individual should have been on hand at Worms over a decade later, both diplomas are best treated as authentic products of early 970.

D O I 392, Darmstadt, Hessisches Staatsarchiv A2 251/1 (elongatae)
D O I 388b, Magdeburg, Landesarchiv Sachsen-Anhalt U 1, I 34b (elongatae)

A great deal can, therefore, hang on the presence – or absence – of an erasure. And unless we are willing to follow the medievalist’s clarion call ad fontes (‘to the sources’), we risk repeating and compounding old errors – as has happened for over a century at Worms.

Levi Roach, Senior Lecturer in Medieval History

Research Postcard: Courtesy Books and College Libraries

Emmanuel College, Cambridge

As an undergraduate, I spent quite a lot of time in and around Emmanuel College, Cambridge. One of my best friends was a student there, and in the spirit of putting inter-collegiate rivalries aside, we visited each other fairly frequently.

A not-insignificant portion of my undergraduate dissertation was written, as was his, in the throes of ‘writing sprints’ in his room, fuelled by gallons of tea and the constant reminder that the College canteen did excellent desserts. One place I barely set foot in, though, was the College library; as a member of another College, I wasn’t really supposed to be there anyway, and even the most cursory of tours felt somewhat transgressive.

It was something of a surprise, then, when I realised that I’d need to go back to ‘Emma’ in the course of my PhD research. At the moment, I’m investigating the tradition of so-called ‘courtesy books’ produced in Anglo-Norman, and specifically the text known as Urbain le courtoisUrbain survives in 11 manuscripts, ranging from the sumptuous and meticulously-produced to the altogether-less-impressive (such as MS Douce 210), but only nine of them have been edited. By the standards of many medieval texts, such comprehensive coverage would warrant a pat on the back and a sense of pride at a job well done, but in the case of Urbain, the fact that two manuscripts remain excluded from discussion becomes something of a problem. These two additional manuscripts – one of which, as you will probably have guessed by now, is at Emmanuel College – remind us that medieval manuscripts can often be characterised by what Bernard Cerquiglini has termed varianceUrbain is effectively a compilation of fairly pithy advice on how to behave at court – kneel before your superiors, don’t drink to excess, and so on – but the order in which an individual scribe presents his material, as well as the decisions that are made regarding what to include and what to leave out, can tell us a great deal about how the didactic process was imagined in Anglo-Norman texts. The two manuscripts that remain unedited could, I thought, offer valuable clues for unpicking the relationships between the various witnesses to the text of Urbain, and with this in mind, I realised that investigating the manuscript held by Emmanuel College in person would be an essential step in looking to understand the textual history of this peculiar piece.

For any manuscript to have survived to the present day is a remarkable achievement, and one that can be largely put down to the tireless work of the many Special Collections departments up and down the country. As custodians of works that are hundreds of years old, manuscript libraries are well within their rights to set their own rules about who can access their collections, and what you’re allowed to do with them during your visit. The rules at Emma are fairly standard for smaller libraries: no liquids or pens were to be brought into the room, and I was to be supervised by a member of staff at all times while consulting the manuscript. I was also asked to provide a letter of introduction, signed by my supervisor (and, in a charming throwback to an age before email, printed on University-headed paper). The only surprise came when I was told photography would not be permitted, a policy which many larger collections are increasingly relaxing in the age of ubiquitous smartphone cameras.

Before consulting any manuscript, it’s a good idea to look up its entry in the catalogue to get a sense of its layout and contents. Many medieval manuscripts, in spite of containing multiple texts, didn’t come equipped with contents pages in the way that we might expect today, and so the catalogue, whether it’s a fully searchable web database, a dusty print volume, or somewhere in between, plays a vital role in telling you where to look for the item that you’re after. In my case, the catalogue as I consulted it was an intriguing mix of the old-school and the modern, taking the form of a digital scan of the 1903 paper ‘handlist’, freely available through the wonderful Internet Archive. There are, of course, many things that a catalogue, print or otherwise, cannot help you to expect, and one of these was the remarkable dimensions of the manuscript. My eyes having somehow managed to skip over the small note on the size of the manuscript, I walked into Emma’s Special Collections reading room expecting to meet a book of similar dimensions to MS Douce 210: approximately A4 size, or possibly slightly smaller. What I didn’t expect was to be handed a book that could sit comfortably in one hand, measuring just 11cm by 7cm, into which the scribe had somehow managed to cram up to 200 words on each individual page.

This was my first time investigating a manuscript without having the luxury of a photo to fall back on later, and I have to confess that this constraint led me to interact with the manuscript in a surprisingly different way. My main task was the same as it often is when consulting manuscript versions of texts – transcribe its contents for comparison with other manuscript witnesses – but this time, I found myself transcribing in a much more conservative manner. Abbreviations were left unexpanded: for now, the question of whether qe .referred to q[e] or to q[ue] would have to wait, as I sought to record as much information as possible, as accurately as possible. In short, I realised, I was trying to create a photograph without actually taking my phone out of my pocket. This kind of ‘slow photography’, however, was in its way more useful, and more engaging, than any 5000 x 3000-pixel JPEG ever could be: correction and every decoration, I was engaging with the manuscript in a much closer fashion, treating it as far more than just a repository of folia containing potential image data. It took me approximately 90 minutes to fully transcribe two and a half folios out of the approximately 200 that make up the manuscript, and in that time I found myself realising just how intricate, and how time-consuming, the medieval scribal process could have been.

There was, however, one more task for me to complete before MS 106 was returned to its box. One curiosity of Emma’s library is its own copy of the catalogue: readers consulting Special Collections are invited to leave their mark on this unique copy, which is printed with blank leaves in between each standard page in order to allow space for readers to add notes. These usually take the form of publication announcements, with pencilled-in additions indicating that (say) item no. 36 from a given manuscript has recently been published in the 2009 edition of a major medieval studies journal. Occasionally, however, a more personal story would emerge, and as I added my own note to the catalogue, one of these presented itself to me. While I was clarifying the contents of item no. 13 in MS 106, I came across a letter on the opposite page from a certain Ruth J. Dean, informing the Librarian that she has discovered details of the context to one of the pieces in this very same manuscript. More information would be available, she noted, ‘in my forthcoming revision and updating of John Vising’s Anglo-Norman Lannguage and Literature, which I hope may be finished in the course of another year.” If the letter can be dated, as the top-left indicates, to 1983, then Ruth Dean’s optimism about the speed with which her work could be finished was somewhat misplaced, with Anglo-Norman Literature: A Guide to Texts and Manuscripts not being published until 1999. Nevertheless, it was a great pleasure for me, as someone who uses Dean’s life-work on an almost daily basis, to add my own reference to Emmanuel’s catalogue using a numbering system that she herself devised.

Thanks to Dr. H. C. Carron at the Library of Emmanuel College, Cambridge for allowing me to consult MS 106, and to all of the Library staff for their warm welcome and willingness to answer my innumerable questions.

Edward Mills, PhD Student, Modern Languages

Research Postcard: Talking about Gender and Healthcare in Cologne

At the end of January I went to a workshop at the University of Cologne, run by a.r.t.e.s. Graduate School for the Humanities and expertly organized by Eva-Maria Cersovsky and Ursula Giessmann. It focused on ‘Gender(ed) Histories of Health, Healing and the Body, 1250-1550’.

I’ve long been interested in this area, which is important for my own research on medieval infertility, although thanks to other commitments in the last few years I am not as up to date on the scholarship as I would like to be.  The workshop brought together a small group of scholars from the USA, Canada, the UK and Hungary as well as Germany, and it was good to hear about the work being done in these countries, as well as to gain feedback on some of my own work in progress on infertility, gender and old age in the Middle Ages.

The papers covered such diverse topics as hospitals, royal and aristocratic courts, saints’ cults, contraception, medicine, and pharmacology. One particular strand of discussion running through a number of the papers, which perhaps takes its cue from similar work on the early modern period, focused on how scholars can get at medieval women’s medical knowledge and the ways in which they provided healthcare.  As the American historian Monica Green showed back in the 1980s, very few medieval women are formally designated as medical practitioners in our sources, using terms such as ‘medica’, surgeon, or even midwife.  However,  the majority of medieval healthcare happened in the home, and it seems likely that much of this work was done by women.  By the end of the period we can see elite women who clearly had some expertise in medicine. Thus the keynote lecture, by Sharon Strocchia, described the medical knowledge of women at the sixteenth-century Medici court, and showed that these elite women were concerned with a variety of medical issues in their households and were clearly well informed in their dealings with court physicians. This kind of information is harder to come by for earlier centuries but papers on a range of source materials including miracle narratives, medical recipes, images of miraculous healings and hospital records suggested some possibilities.

I still need to think about how to work all of this into my own research but the conference got me thinking much harder about the role of gender in my sources: in particular, who knew what about reproductive disorders in the Middle Ages, and who offered what kinds of medical and healthcare advice relating to fertility?

Catherine Rider, Senior Lecturer in History

Visiting a PhD Crime Scene

In my PhD research, I am looking at the local pasts that were communicated through liturgy in the tenth century in a metropolitan city on the Moselle river: Trier. My main corpus of sources consists of prayers, sermons, hymns and hagiographical texts, all of which can be found in medieval manuscripts from this area. In order to study these manuscripts, I needed to visit Trier itself, as they were not digitized yet. Visiting the epicentre of my research, however, proved more fruitful than I had imagined.

Architecturally, the city of Trier is a strange mix of every period from the last two millennia. The Porta Nigra and a basilica from the time of Constantine the Great represent the Roman past, the cathedral and market square

Porta Nigra, Trier

represent the High Middle Ages, and numerous churches and monasteries in and around the city were rebuilt in the course of history. The city breathes its own past on every corner. It was very useful to be inside my ‘object of study’ for many reasons, not least for its insights into the local religious communities of tenth-century Trier.

Firstly, I could physically measure the distance between the religious centres of the city. Even though many churches and monasteries have changed considerably over the last thousand years, the location of these centres did not. Being able to walk from the (still-in-use) monastic centre of St. Eucharius to the cathedral in half an hour, and then going another ten minutes to the royal abbey of St. Maximin and the canonical centre of St. Paulin, I got a clear grasp of how close these centres were to each other. This would have made interaction between the different centres very likely.

Another advantage of being at the ‘crime scene’ of my research is the availability of material culture. Studying liturgical sources, I was delighted to go into the Dom Schatzkammer, where golden reliquaries just sat there, waiting to be studied. Another obligatory visit was, of course, to the Stadtbibliothek, a modern building where the medieval manuscripts are kept. After having had a look at the beautifully illuminated Ottonian manuscripts – a local guide was very keen on explaining their greatness – I got to see my original incentive for visiting Trier.

Schatzkammer, Stadtbibliothek

Not only the artefacts and manuscripts, but also the lay-out of churches and monasteries were enlightening. Most of the time that is… Most bizarre was my visit to the royal abbey of St. Maximin. This monastery had been enormous and thriving in the tenth century. Now, however, most of the monastic buildings are gone, and the church itself – rebuilt in the seventeenth century – functions as a gym for the local secondary school. Gym mattresses were protecting the students from painfully bumping into the massive columns of the nave, and a basketball net had replaced a statue of Christ in front of the apse.

The sarcophagi of Eucharius and Valerius, patron saints of Trier. In the background the relics of Apostle Matthias

Although in some cases, time had completely ruined the medieval ambiance, other places seem to have survived the test of time brilliantly. A large component of my research comprises the study of local patron saints, as hagiographical texts and prayers for these saints can tell us about the importance of that local saint and the role he or she played in local society. Visiting the burial places – the centres of local cults – was an important element of my stay in Trier. Entering the crypt of St. Matthias’s Abbey, and sitting down in front of the late antique sarcophagi of the first archbishop of Trier, Eucharius, and his successor, Valerius, I could not help feeling connected with all those monks and pilgrims who have been visiting this crypt to pray to the local patron for the past sixteen centuries. The feast of St. Eucharius is still celebrated by the local Benedictine community every December: continuity in its highest form.

Studying medieval history is not only studying primary sources and reading literature. Most importantly, it is an attempt at imagining a past society. This society is best understood, I believe, if you have a chance to be part of it. When I returned from my visit to Trier, I did not only bring home notes on the studied manuscripts and reliquaries, but also about the physical distance between different centres, and the ambiance of local cult sites. And, in the spirit of traveling medieval monks, I brought back the thought that – if nothing else – I will have saint Eucharius of Trier at my side on the rest of my intellectual journey.

Lenneke van Raajj, PhD Student on the HERA-funded After Empire project

Research Postcard – More Magical Activities in Malta

Appropriately – given that it was Halloween – I spent part of reading week in the archives researching the history of magic.  Dr Alex Mallett (formerly of Exeter, now based in Leiden) and I were doing some of the final research for an AHRC-funded project led by Professor Dionisius Agius, Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies on ‘Magic in Malta, 1605: Sellem bin al-Sheikh Mansur and the Roman Inquisition’ (see here for more details).  I’ve written about this project on the blog before, when we were at a much earlier stage.  To recap, it studies the case of Sellem, a Muslim slave who was accused of offering a variety of magical services to Christians.  The case gives us a fascinating insight into many magical beliefs, Christian-Muslim relations, and many other aspects of life in early modern Malta and, with the help of a team of other British, Maltese and French scholars, we’ll be exploring these in the book we’re producing as the main outcome of the project.

Alex and I were researching in the Cathedral Archive in Mdina, which holds the inquisition records and, once again, gave us a friendly welcome.

Entrance to the Cathedral Archives in Mdina

Now we’re in the finishing stages of the project the kind of research we were undertaking was rather different from what I described back in 2014 when the project team first visited Malta together.  Then we were searching for other references to Sellem in the archives, as well as exploring some of the other magic cases in the records for comparative material and planning the project’s Malta-based public engagement activities.  This time, it was more a case of satisfying ourselves that we hadn’t missed anything crucial: making sure we really had checked all the files for the early years of the seventeenth century; tracking down some last supporting documents; finalising the last tricky bits of translation from Latin and Italian; and checking references.

Vital Refreshments for the Project Meeting

It was also a good chance to catch up with some of the Maltese scholars who had contributed their expertise to the project.  Just in case you might be tempted to think it was all work, there were also project meetings involving excellent Maltese cakes.

The visit to the archive – my first in 2 ½ years – also reminded me how much interesting material it contains for a scholar who, like me, is interested in magic and particularly in popular magical beliefs and how the Church tried to categorize and discourage them.  Even though the seventeenth century is rather later than my usual area of expertise, I will definitely try to go back!

Catherine Rider, Senior Lecturer in History

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