Middle English Word of the Moment

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Slippery stories

Stories are supple things. They are far more (in many senses) than fact: they twist into myth and retrospect and drama and allegory as occasion demands. Sometimes they evolve by deliberate choices made by retellers, but mostly by shifts in emphasis, an embroidery here and there - or an error that just seems to fit.

I'm currently working on (among other things) a small, early 14C chronicle collection from the priory of Fineshade, which Cotton bound with a few other contemporary historical works to form Cotton Cleopatra D IX. The Fineshade manuscript contains transcripts of a few letters associated with Thomas of Lancaster's 1322 rebellion against Edward II, and a short chronicle of a few thousand words, written a year or two later (so before the deposition in 1327), narrating Edward II's reign in retrospect, as a story culminating in the events of 1322. The chronicler is not always correct in his facts, especially for the early years - he's far more accurate as he approaches the rebellion. However, where he errs, he errs in favour of improving the story.

For example, this author has the date of the Earl of Gloucester's death wrong. Gloucester died in 1295 (from memory), but here he dies after Edward II's accession, in the midst of the shower of ill-advised gifts that Edward is busy bestowing on Piers Gaveston, just so that Edward can also gift him Gloucester's daughter (Edward's niece) in marriage. This fits into the carefully structured 'gift crescendo' - royal money and treasure, then money and treasure extorted by taxes, then a wife of royal blood, then the earldom of Cornwall, all capped with a proverb about what sudden accession of power and riches does to a man's head. Gloucester’s death immediately preceding the betrothal, and perhaps acting as a catalyst for it, also fits with the theme of flouting the wishes of the dead patriarch.  Just as Edward seems destined to ‘throw away’ all that his father gained, no sooner is  Gloucester’s daughter Margaret left alone by the death of her father than the man who ought to have replaced him as her protector – her uncle the king - ‘wastes’ her on an upstart Gascon. There is probably also an implied parallel here between Margaret and the treasures “safely stowed [in the Tower] by his ancestors, so long ago that memory has faded”[1], which were also (according to this writer) given carelessly away to Gaveston.

The story, in this writer's hands, becomes a cohesive piece of literature in which the flaws that concern him most in Edward II's character are evident from his early years and provide the cause of all that comes after. They are even prophesied by Edward I before his death. The figures of Gaveston and Despenser stand less as players in their own right than as reflections (or strategic deflections?) of these crucial flaws in the king's character, embodying the financial mismanagement - first by inappropriate generosity and increasingly by violence - that in the view of this writer characterised Edward's reign.
There is also a more specific and interesting example of the evolution of a story in this manuscript which I think the writer did not intend. I should mention at this point that fragments of the collection, the chronicle among them, were published in the 1930s by George Haskins in Speculum and the EHR[2], but that, in examining the microfilm, I'm finding myself correcting Haskins far more often than I would have expected for a few pages of chronicle[3]. There are, of course, some matters of opinion - but one of them, I really wish he'd commented on. Here's an image:

Full sentence, with abbreviations expanded into italics: "Quod rex ut audiuit grauiter mouebatur in animo & peticionem imporor[sic]-/tunam ferens indignanter ips?m ad terram deiecit pedibus que conculcauit dicens / totam regionem anglicanam per ipsum fore amittendam" - "And hearing that, the king was greatly moved in his soul and, taking the importunate petition, flung ? indignantly to the earth and trampled it with his feet, saying that he [his son]  would give away the whole of the realm of England.
This is early in the story, and it is what looks like a popular (and probably oft-repeated) myth of Edward II's early years. A better-known version of it is in the continuation of Walter of Guisborough's chronicle. We know that Prince Edward went to his father and asked him to grant the county of Ponthieu to Piers[4], that Edward I was rather displeased and refused, and that very soon after this, probably as a result, Piers was banished from England. Of course, we don't know Edward I's actual reaction - Walter of Guisborough's chronicle gives an extravagant account of Edward I's violent fury - he calls his son "fili meretricis male generate" (base-born son of a whore) and tears out as much of his hair as he can manage before throwing him out (ed. Harry Rothwell, Camden Society 89, 1957, pp. 382-83)[5].

And here is another version of what seems to have been a popular story circulating[5]: this chronicler has Edward I "indignantly taking the importunate petition [the physical object, presumably]" and throwing... something to the ground and stamped on it. And what that something is - the petition, or his son - depends on how you expand ipm.

Haskins writes ipsum without comment - masculine, so Edward I is physically attacking his son, as in the Guisborough version. And yes, when reading a chronicle or a series of letters dealing with politics you become accustomed to expanding abbreviated ipm as masculine, because it usually refers to a person and almost all the actors in these events are male. But there's actually no reason it can't be feminine ipsam, so far as I can see – and thus refer to the petition.  The sentence would scan rather better syntactically, not to mention logically. Why take the chronicle just so that you can kick your own son? If the writer had wanted to avoid ambiguity he could have used a little 'a' above ipm (as below over abbreviated "tractati"), but this writer is not careful about ambiguities, and tends to go with muscle habit when it comes to abbreviations - see the quote above, where he absent-mindedly writes 'importunam' in full, but also adds a horizontal stroke to the stem of the p, which is the abbreviation for 'per' or 'por' (he does something similar a few page later, writing 'opprobrium' but adding a hook behind the first 'p' so that it technically reads 'oproprobrium'). And he is more accustomed to the single horizontal stroke about ipm - he's written it many times on the last few pages. To amend it, he'd have to stop and think about possible misinterpretations. Context is usually enough - but in this case, context fails him.

And that makes it interesting. Because a story with violence displaced onto a non-human object suddenly has the potential to have the violence directed to its cause, which rather disrupts the author's otherwise stable themes of proper and proportion use of power. Because any reader who loves drama who comes to read this manuscript later, without the author around to correct them, will be more likely to read ipsum than ipsam, because it's more usual. And - well, it makes a far more interesting and dramatic story, doesn't it? Particularly if they've also read the Guisborough version, and thus have the suggestion of violence in their mind. Fling the paper, or beat the son? Experience tells us which is likely to have the greater staying power.


[1] All quotes in this post are from  f. 87r of the manuscript.  I’ll post the text of the whole – and eventually a translation – when it’s tidied up.

[2] “A Chronicle of the Civil Wars of Edward II”, Speculum (1939): 73-81; “The Doncaster Petition, 1321”, English Historical Review 53 (1938): 478-485; “Judicial Proceedings against a Traitor after Boroughbridge, 1322”, Speculum 4 (1937): 509-511; for the latter see also George Sayle's correction of Haskins' error in “The Formal Judgement on the Traitors of 1322,” Speculum (1941): 57-63.

[3] He frequently leaves out or inserts 'et', or (in the Anglo-Norman documents) one or the other of commonly paired words like 'lige' and 'seygnur' in 'notre seygnur lige le roy'. Twice he skips an entire line, and several times he mis-expands an abbreviation. I think he must have had little time with the ms and been mostly working from his own notes in preparing the edition, because some of the errors just look like haste. Will post more about this at some point.

[4] This chronicler actually says Cornwall, rather than Ponthieu, which is the earldom Edward II gave Piers when he became king himself "iuxta sui desiderium prius conceptum & ordinatum" ("as he had already desired and fixed upon") - another example of retrospective narration, in which the story becomes smoother and more coherent.

[5] Given Walter of Guisborough seems to have died c. 1304, and this was supposed to have taken place in early 1307, this particular story can't have been narrated by him, but his successor seems to have inherited his flare for dramatic exaggeration and putting speeches into the mouths of his characters.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Piers Gaveston's cups and Edward II's incontinence

So, yesterday I was browsing through the indices to various issues of the journal Northamptonshire, Past and Present to see if Fineshade Priory (or, failing that, Castle Hymel or John Engayne) got even a passing mention anywhere (they didn't), and I found something completely different, and rather entertaining.  The index to the 2008 issue pointed to one reference, on page 20, to a certain Piers Gaveston.  Naturally I went to investigate, and then almost embarrassed myself with laughing too loudly in the stacks.

The article was a guide to the various chronicles known as belonging to, written by, edited by, derived from or possibly misattributed to Peterborough (Nicholas Karn and Edmund King (and what a perfect name), "The Peterborough Chronicles", pp. 17-29).  And Walter of Whittlesey, writing early in the fourteenth story, includes what Karn and King call "the abbey's 'Piers Gaveston story'" (20).  Translation is mine, because I am picky:

And in the thirty-fourth year of the reign of that King Edward [I, so c. 1306]... the abbot Godfrey also received at the Borough lord Edward, son of that king, and lord Piers Gaveston, and to these he sent gifts as is here narrated: When the abbot's messenger reached lord Edward with a certain cup to the value of 50 pounds[1], he asked intemperately ('petiit idem Eduuardus incontinenti') if a gift had also been sent to lord Piers. When the messenger replied that he had not, he disdained the cup and would not receive it: the messenger then seeking out the lord Piers upon the abbot's command bearing a cup valued at 40 pounds, he was granted admission and the abbot's gift was joyfully received with thanks ('gratanter donum abbatis recepit, gratias agens quam facere'). The messenger was also sent on the abbot's behalf as if to beg the advice of lord Piers on the question of whether the other cup would now prove pleasing to the lord Edward, and he replied that it would; the messenger then revealed that he had not wished to receive it, and the lord Piers summoned his chamberlain to say to him, 'Go to the lord Edward and tell him that I would like him to receive the abbot's gift'.   Upon their returning to the said lord Edward with the said cup as directed, he received them gladly, bestowing thanks on the abbot ('gratias conferens abbati') for his gifts.  [2]

But the thing is, this isn't a Piers Gaveston story - it's an Edward story. It isn't Gaveston's behaviour that's the problem here, but that of the future king.  Not only does he insist on putting Gaveston on a similar status to himself, as a guest in his own right rather than part of the future king's train, but he sends the Abbot - the Abbot of Peterborough, no less - supplicating to an untitled knight for the favour of the prince.  The prince who is his guest.  Gaveston's reception of his gift actually shows Edward up - he 'gives thanks' to the abbot (using 'agere', which is to the best of my knowledge the usual verb coupled with 'gratias'[3]), and even has an adverb to emphasise his gratitude, while Edward, when he gets around to deigning to accept the gift, seems to give his thanks as a favour ('conferre'). The difference in Walter's word choice there could be due to the difference in their rank, but given the exasperation (and, I think, glee) of the narration, I suspect he's playing the two scenes up in deliberate contrast.

Of course, I understand what Karn and King mean when they call this "Peterborough's  'Piers Gaveston' story" - everyone had one, I'm sure, just as many later had a 'Hugh Despenser' story. He lent himself to flamboyant stories, and Edward certainly wasn't one for being diplomatic about it (although, honestly, Edward, Abbot of Peterborough + host). But Piers Gaveston is never just Piers Gaveston.  He's a metaphor for what Edward does wrong - just as the whole sodomy thing in contemporary accounts is never about sodomy, but about the imbalance of power that was perceived to be threatening the entire structure of the state[4]. The abbot is denied access to the prince who is his guest, in stark contrast to the civil visits and interactions with his father narrated immediately before this tale. The abbot is forced to almost double the value of the polite gift-giving he expected on the occasion of a royal visit.  The abbot is humiliated, via the messenger, and not only the messenger but the whole monastery are clearly destined to know about it, and probably recount it in gleeful detail.  The vividly imagined little scenes, even the snippet of direct speech from Gaveston, savour to me of repeated retellings and scandalised delight.

I'm assuming, on those grounds, that the story is at least a little exaggerated, possibly embellished with details from other similar 'Piers Gaveston stories'.  But even in its bare bones, it's interesting, firstly (and most reliably) as witness to the types of stories people were telling and relishing at this point, but also for the hazy glimpse it affords us of the actors within it.  Even if only a little of the story is true, Edward is becoming increasingly defensive about people's reactions to Gaveston at this point, and making it worse with his own behaviour.  I'd say he's 'acting out' in a teenage way by taking advantage of those times when he's away from his father to enforce his opinion of the proper order of things - and it is completely characteristic of him at this period, to be recognising only in his father any kind of restraint, or constraint, to the extent that he does not feel the need to be bound by usual codes of polite social interaction.

Well, why should he.  He's the prince.  And people just keep slighting his Piers.  They deserve a little tetchiness.

[1] Karn and King say 100, but Sparke's Latin clearly reads L, not C.  They may have silently corrected this in consultation with manuscript sources; but I am translating Sparke's edition.  In light of the value of Gaveston's cup, it's not an insignificant question - is the knight worth 4/5 or 2/5 of the prince?
[2] Walter of Whittlesey's continuation of the Peterborough Chronicle; ed. Joseph Sparke, Historiae Coenobii Burgensis Scriptores Varii, London 1723, 171-72.
[3] Cf the Latin of the Gloria in the mass - 'Gratias agimus tibi propter magnam propter magnam gloriam tuam'.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Thesis proposal

“Res audita perit, litera scripta manet”: Temporal Identity in Early Fourteenth-Century History Writing.
Proposal for Masters Thesis: Hannah Kilpatrick
Conceptual Framework and Introduction.
1. Ego, Adam Murimuth: Naming, anonymity, and authority.
2. Writing the institution: Ramsey Abbey
3. Composition and compilation: the chronicle collections of Lichfield Cathedral and Fineshade Priory    
Bibliography / Works cited.

Considerable academic ink has been spent debating how individuals and institutions conceive their identity relative to concepts such as nation, religion, sexuality, or gender. Less discussed, however, is self-construction in terms of historical time. Examining several English chronicles of the first half of the fourteenth century, I will question how writers relate to time as a social construct and define themselves relative to it. A. J. Minnis’ well-known discussion of the mediaeval concept of ‘author’ and the ways in which authorial identity was constructed will provide the framework for my discussion of how the chronicler understands the act of writing the past and present, of making ‘history’ for the future. Assimilating recent scholarship on memory and uses of the past, the composition and purposes of history writing, and studies of different forms of identity, I will examine these chronicles for their sense of temporal identity: self-construction of the individual or institution in terms of the relationship of the present to the past and the future.

Of three main chapters or sections, my first chapter will analyse the relation of authorial self to historical time in the work of a single author (canon and diplomat Adam Murimuth); the second chapter will focus on the writings (composition and compilation) of one powerful religious institution – Ramsey Abbey – and particularly one manuscript which contains Ramsey’s copy of Murimuth’s chronicle. The third chapter will conduct a similar investigation into two shorter chronicle collections of much the same period and with interests in common. They originate respectively from a secular cathedral (Lichfield) and a small priory of regular canons (Fineshade), and, as do Ramsey’s writings, contain a mixture of assembled and original material. This selection offers a range of perspectives and styles which I believe will engender more fruitful discussion of the question of temporal identity than would a study which considered only the large-scale, well-known, ‘authoritative’ histories of the period.

Conceptual Framework and Introduction.
My introduction will establish the key terms ‘author’ and ‘temporal identity’, discussing them in relation to theological and philosophical attitudes to auctoritas and time inherited by the early fourteenth century. Contextualising the theoretical with reference to the (usually) more work-a-day attitudes of the chronicles under consideration, I will use this discussion to provide the groundwork for the terminology on which the remainder of the thesis will rely.

My concept of ‘author’ will draw heavily on the work of A. J. Minnis (Theory of Authorship), according to whom exegetes of the late thirteenth century were beginning to develop an awareness of (and interest in) the idea of the author as an individual with human qualities, rather than as simply the effector of the authoritative text (5). Concurrent with this change in focus came terms for defining more precisely the role of any given writer: Minnis follows Bonaventura in using ‘scribe’, ‘compiler’, ‘commentator’, and ‘author’, in that order (94-95). These terms (while necessarily simplified) will allow for a nuanced discussion of the roles potentially involved in the production of any given text. By including the ‘scribe’ (who theoretically, according to Bonaventura, writes the words of others “nihil mutando,” qtd. Minnis 94), my discussion can encompass not only abstract and original composition, but the decision to reproduce an existing text, possibly with certain alterations, and the physical practicalities of doing so.

I will differ from Minnis in two ways: by adding the term ‘writer’ to refer less specifically to any of these four roles; and by applying the concept not only to an individual man but to a community – particularly, for my discussion, a regular religious institution. I will consider both individual and institutional identity as important mediaeval social constructs, and contend that, while they may not be entirely analogous, they do reflect usefully on each other, are in many cases inextricable, and cannot be considered entirely in isolation one from the other.

Minnis’ account of a rising awareness of “the human qualities” of the individual author by the end of the thirteenth century is a useful one here (5), in distinguishing between the writer who composes as an individual and the writer who represents the institution. Speaking in terms of biblical exegesis (as the major centre for the development and replication of literary theories in the late Middle Ages), Minnis argues that the emphasis on divine inspiration of texts had previously hampered recognition of human authorship. By the end of the thirteenth century, a new type of exegesis was fashionable, emphasising human creativity, in which the author appeared as an agent, not a vessel (4-5). This movement towards what Minnis calls a “more literary” interest in texts (ibid) need not imply that all writing suddenly became individualised and autonomous. Those engaged in more traditional, more work-a-day, or less personally engaging writing might well have continued to follow the older model which remained available to them: a well-established, respectable mode of writing and thinking in which the author remained subordinate to the text that he received, interpreted and transmitted. A similar case might be made for the conceptual difference between a writer who works pro se and one who conceives his work as a product of the community in which he lives. Minnis’ work can, therefore, form the groundwork of a model of identity as well as a model of authorship.

The arrangement of my material allows me to focus first on the individual self, then the institutional, then to make a comparative analysis between them. My first chapter will consider a writer, Adam Murimuth, who seems to write almost entirely pro se, and about whom much may be said as an individual. In my second chapter, it is almost impossible to discern any individual, and the compositional tradition and inspiration belongs to one monastic community. However, the chronicles of Fineshade and Lichfield, which I will discuss in my third chapter, appear each to be a project overseen by one man writing as a member of the community he inhabits. Both individual and institution appear in an authorial role, and the relationship between these two authorial impulses will therefore be more capable of discussion in these chronicles than it could be in my first two chapters.

My second key term, ‘temporal identity’, can be broadly defined as self-construction (by an individual or a community) in terms of one’s place in historical time; that is, one’s sense of existing in a particular historical moment, defined against the centuries that come before it and one’s idea of what is to come. This necessitates considering not only the typical fourteenth-century conception of the time from Creation until Judgement Day (if indeed there is such a thing), but how one particular age, lifetime or year may be considered by one of its inhabitant to relate to that grand whole. The concepts of long-term, impersonal time necessarily intersects with short-term subjective time – occasionally quite literally. Adam Murimuth, for example, dates each year of his chronicle by giving the number of years since the birth of Christ and the regnal years of king and pope, thus positioning his narrative relative to the broad arc of God’s plan for the universe and the immediate, finite span of secular politics. However, in later years, he also inserts his own age as a counter – whether as a boast, personal note, or proof of the extensive reach of his own memory, he does not say.

I intend to investigate not how the entire span of Creation is perceived by the writers I study, but how they position themselves – as individuals, as institutions, as members of a particular century or year – within that span. I find that the turbulent first half of the fourteenth century provides a particularly interesting period for such a study, for its qualities both representative and unique. While it inherits the philosophies, attitudes and literary styles of previous centuries, I will argue that it is possible to trace a change in attitudes to society’s position in time and a chronicler’s individual duty to past, present, and future. While the perception of the broad span of earthly time remains more or less constant – one long story shaped by an eternal hand, bounded by the Creation and the Last Judgement, subordinate to heavenly time which exists for eternity – the chroniclers’ ideas of the role of a generation within that time seem to change with the social, political, and economic crises of early fourteenth century.

Adam Murimuth, when he began writing his chronicle in (probably) the late 1320s, opened it by quoting the famous maxim of Horace: Res audita perit, litera scripta manet (“The event that is heard perishes, the word that is written remains”, 3). The maxim – the inclusion of which he justifies on the grounds that it derives from “antiqu[i]s” - draws a sharp contrast not only between audita and scripta, between perit and manet, but between res and litera. Murimuth begins his formidable task by asserting that an event has no permanency, no lasting form of its own, until changed, shaped, formed into the lasting, tangible letter. He highlights from the first the tension between the heard and the written, hearsay and auctoritas, the transitory and the stable, the temporal and the eternal.

These contrasting pairs, though strongly felt and well-rooted in contemporary scholastic understanding of earthly time and the relation between the created and the divine, must become problematic when applied to the composition of ‘history’. The wielder of the quill is human and mortal – like the res audita, he will perish. In writing of events of his own time, presumably he must rely at least a little on the spoken word, where no written history yet exists. Yet he fulfils a role that necessitates standing outside of time, giving form (and meaning) to the past and consciously delivering it to the future. In a society so accustomed to thinking in figures and allegory, such a role must be at least potentially analogous to that of the only being who is not subject to time at all, who shapes history to his will.

Writers such as Adam Murimuth – and he is not alone, though neither is he typical – who write their name and intentions firmly into the opening of their histories, often seem conscious of the historical moment – in both senses – of the task they undertake. Murimuth speaks to the future and seems hardly to write for his present audience – an audience for whom he cannot have the auctoritas of those historians who are already dead.[1] Other writers whom I will consider in my thesis did not take such a stance, preferring to deflect authority back onto the materials they copy rather than their own compositions, or onto the historical genre itself, or onto the weighty reputation of their abbey or cathedral. Whether the historian as an individual has a place within the history to which he contributes (and for which he writes) seems uncertain, but there could be no doubt that (for example) Ramsey Abbey was as fixed and stable an historical object as anything could be.

[1: Minnis argues that only the works of an established author, whose life is firmly in the past, could possess genuine auctoritas, pointing out the common practice of attributing popular contemporary texts to older auctores to strengthen their appeal, value and legitimacy (9-12). He also quotes at some length the complaint of Walter Map, a late twelfth-century writer who felt that the only fault in his work is “that I am alive... each age from the beginning has preferred the past to itself” (qtd. Minnis 11-12).]

The idea of not only the individual but the community or institution possessing an identity within time raises the question of the etymology of ‘temporal’ and ‘secular’,[2] terms which define the unprivileged bulk of humanity by its subjection to the unstoppable progression of the years. This terminology implicitly positions monasteries (being regular, rather than ‘secular’) outside the world, aspirant to the atemporality of the divine. This privileged position may both justify and render problematic their literary function as conduits of memory and voices of the past. In considering these questions, I will draw on significant recent critical work on the important and uses of memory, both individual and social.[3]

[2: Derived from the Latin noun saeculum, a generation or an age. In later Christian Latin, however, it acquired the concurrent meaning of ‘the world’, as opposed either to the church or to monastic retirement.
3: See particularly the work in Medieval Concepts of the Past (ed. Althoff, Fried and Geary) in 2002 and McKitterick’s Perceptions of the Past in the Early Middle Ages (2004). Frederick and Jennifer Paxton have (variously) published similar work applying directly to twelfth-century English chronicle writing in 2004-5. Paul Strohm’s observations in England’s Empty Throne (1998) on the power and political use of prophecy make an interesting corollary to the use of memory: potentially, canny use of prophecies could control the present by means of a past view of the future, and justify the past actions of the present speaker in order to make secure future power.]

I will complete the introduction by describing the kinds of questions I intend to ask of the sources in the subsequent chapters; in particular, whether we can detect a sense in contemporary chronicle-writing that this period is in some way momentous or definitive, and whether the relationship between history and historian changes from 1307 (the beginning of Edward II’s dramatic and ill-fated reign) until 1348 and the arrival of the Black Death. I will then briefly introduce the main chronicles and manuscripts that I intend to discuss in the remainder of my thesis.

Chapter 1: Ego, Adam Murimuth: Naming, Anonymity, and Authority.
In my first section I will work from a single published text, Adam Murimuth’s chronicle of the first half of the fourteenth century. Murimuth chronicles his own time, from 1303 until his death in 1347, and he emphasises the role of experience and personal memory in the process of composition (“ex visu et auditu mei temporis” (4)). In this chapter, my focus will be primarily on literary analysis of Murimuth’s style, priorities and choices, rather than questions of textual transmission and manuscript history.

Adam Murimuth is a particularly interesting subject for a study of an individual’s beliefs and assertions about his own personal role in writing history. He opens his chronicle with a statement of self, intent, and method; before 1328, he takes part (as a diplomat and a bureaucrat) in the action he narrates; in the later years of his chronicle he regularly inserts his own age as a counter, equivalent with the papal year, regnal year and years since Christ’s birth; yet he draws as far as possible back from narrating those events in which he participated directly, refers to himself in the third person whenever he cannot avoid mentioning his involvement, and the years in which he was most actively involved in politics are the years for which his narrative is most sparse and uninformative. For example, although he was an important international emissary during the latter half of Edward II’s reign, we hear very little of the negotiations in which he was directly involved. He also maintains an uncharacteristic silence on the major events and developments in the bishopric of Exeter, despite – or perhaps because of - his own managerial role there for several years after the murder of Bishop Stapleton (1327).[4]

[4: Documented in the letter book of John de Grandisson, bishop of Exeter 1327-1369. To date these letters have received little attention relative to Murimuth.]

As I have already mentioned, the maxim with which Murimuth opens his chronicle (and indeed the whole of his introduction) simultaneously invokes the transitory nature of mortal existence and positions himself, as author, outside it. The same curious balance between humility and pride, between the vanity of worldly striving and the (literal) ego of one who means to outlive it, reappear with each use of the first person. This, together with his omissions and emphases throughout, suggests a strong conceptual distinction between Murimuth the author of history and Murimuth the actor within it – if, indeed, he considers the latter to exist. Given his minute interest in the appointments and troubles of other English dioceses, these silences and inconsistencies beg investigation.

Chapter 2: Writing the Institution: Ramsey Abbey.
My second chapter will shift my focus from an individual’s conception of his own historical writing within time, to that of a single monastery. From a discussion of Murimuth’s text, I will move on to a case study of one of its manuscript witnesses, British Library MS Additional 54184 (formerly Deene Park), and the institutional and local history that gave rise to its production. My focus will be on how the institution itself is conceived to relate to time, particularly the less passive moments in which the writer(s) deliberately emphasise their institution’s place within history, reshaping time around it.

Ramsey Abbey inherits a particularly assertive tradition in this regard, a legacy of the civil wars of the twelfth century and the depredations suffered by several of the powerful Benedictine monasteries of the English Fenlands during Stephen’s reign.[5] Add. 54184 is an adaptation of the chronicles of Henry of Huntingdon, Nicholas Trevet, and Adam Murimuth into one continuous history, compiled by the venerable Fenlands monastery at a crucial moment in its history. According to the British Library catalogue entry for this manuscript, there has been a certain amount of rewriting and editing of all three chronicles (particularly Murimuth’s), but the paucity of work conducted on this manuscript leaves the extent and nature of this work uncertain. I intend to examine these changes in particular, but also the manuscript as a complete project, to investigate Ramsey’s aims and priorities in creating this book at this time.

[5: In 1142, Geoffrey of Mandeville, first earl of Essex, invaded and sacked the abbey and evicted the monks, garrisoning the premises as a fortress in his rebellion against Stephen. The civil wars took their toll on Ramsey’s neighbouring monasteries as well: in that and the next year, the earl looted the Isle of Ely and terrorised much of the Fenlands. The trauma to the collective imagination of communities accustomed to think of themselves as permanent and inviolable is, as Jennifer Paxton demonstrates, amply witnessed in the house histories written by several of these monasteries over the next few decades.]

In conjunction with this manuscript, in which Ramsey Abbey appears more as compilator than author, I will examine a text more properly the Abbey’s own: its Liber Benefactorum. Superficially a rather disjointed house history which inherits its most noticeable stylistic traits from the old charters and grants it compiles (and perhaps occasionally fabricates), it is, upon closer examination, a powerful assertion of the Abbey’s rights, identity, and power (political and miraculous).[6] It was composed in direct response to the trauma of the civil wars of Stephen’s reign, a physical object that could embody and encompass what had been abruptly proven too insubstantial: not only legal ownership but the idea of Ramsey Abbey, the community’s sense of self. The two extant manuscripts, however, date from the end of the thirteenth century or opening of the fourteenth, within a decade or two of the commencement of the volume that we know today as Add. 54184.[7]

[6: See particularly Jennifer Paxton’s demonstration of such a reading of this and other comparable local histories of its generation in “Lords and Monks” and “Textual Communities.”
7: Neil Ker dates Add. 54184 to the beginning of the fourteenth century, but only notes the first chronicle by name. The British Library catalogue dates it to the middle of the fourteenth century. As all three entries are in different hands (there are four main hands in total), and the text of Murimuth’s chronicle continues through to 1334, both may be correct, giving up to four distinct stages of compilation marked by time as well as hand. ]

The fact that the Liber was re-copied at least twice at the close of the thirteenth century may suggest that, at the beginning of the period under inquiry, Ramsey was feeling the need to reassert its ability to yoke the past to present privilege, as it had done in crisis before. That the economic downturn, famines, crop failures, and civil wars of the first three decades of the fourteenth century were sorely felt by the abbey once known as Ramsey the Rich is witnessed by certain of the documents appended to manuscripts of the Liber Benefactorum (and included in the appendices by Macray).[8] The social status, and political power of monastic institutions were also suffering a decline more sustained and widespread than that to which Ramsey Abbey responded in composing the Liber in the twelfth century. In light of the new physical form given to the text of the Liber at the close of the thirteenth century, the presence and contents of Add. 54184 – particularly the presence of the chronicle of their close neighbour and advocate, Henry of Huntingdon – offer intriguing possibilities as a sustained project of historical restatement and reassertion on a similar (if broader) scale.

[8: Particularly revealing are the letter books of abbots John de Sawtrey (1285-1316) and Simon de Eye (1316-42), and a short account of the abbacy of the latter entitled “De obitu Simonis Eye quondam Abbatis, et de diversis notabilibus per ipsum factis in vita sua” (“Of the death of Simon Eye, formerly the Abbot, and of the many notable deeds done by him in his lifetime”, 349-53). The “notabiles” that the composer saw fit to record are obsessively, almost exclusively, concerned with money.]

These two texts, then, appear to complement each other productively for a consideration of the social function of history writing in constructing an institution’s identity. My particular focus will be on how the community for which (and by whom) a history was written might construct its own identity through its uses of time, memory, projection, and prophecy in acts of writing (whether compository or compilatory). Omissions, additions, divisions, layout, and alterations must be considered in the light of the abbey’s own conception of the purpose of history writing and its relation to the institution.

For comparative purposes, I will engage closely with the substantial critical attention already devoted to the literary heritage of Ramsey’s close neighbour, St Albans. There is also a strong corpus of recent scholarship on the use of written (and rewritten) memory in mediaeval monastic circles, particularly the exemplarity of patron saints, divine intervention in monastic founding myths, and statements of institutional power in relation to relics or land claims. Although most critical attention has centred on the Carolingian period, works such as Amy Remensnyder’s “Topographies of Memory,” Jennifer Paxton’s “Textual Communities,” and Rosamond McKitterick’s Perceptions of the Past could be applied fruitfully to the later Middle Ages.

It should also be noted that the manuscript itself, Add. 54184, has received little critical attention. It remained in a private collection at Deene Park until 8 April 1967, when the estate of George Brudenell sold it to the British Library (BL “Add. 54184”; see also Ker and Watson). Its late addition to a public collection means that most of the critical editions of the chronicles in question do not take this manuscript into account. The exception is Diana Greenway’s 1996 edition of the Historia Anglorum of Henry of Huntingdon; however, as this manuscript is not a particularly valuable witness to the text of that chronicle, Greenway spends little time on it. A good codicological description is available on the British Library online catalogue, but the text remains unstudied. I will transcribe any variations from published editions for my own reference, and hope I may make any significant differences available to other scholars in the wake of this project.

I will consult this manuscript (as well as those for the next chapter) in microfilm. However, I also intend a visit to the British Library in October as a research assistant to Professor Taylor, which will allow me to consult the manuscripts directly.

Chapter 3: Composition and Compilation: the Chronicle Collections of Lichfield Cathedral and Fineshade Priory
My third chapter will undertake a similar exercise to the second, but examine two chronicle collections written and compiled during the 1320s in a more modest tradition than the Benedictine. The first is a project led by a member of the secular clergy – Alan of Ashbourne, vicar for Lichfield Cathedral in Staffordshire – and the second apparently by an unknown regular canon at the small Augustinian priory of Fineshade in Northamptonshire.

Although there is, on the surface, little to connect these two manuscripts beyond their approximate dating and the fact that Sir Robert Cotton bound both into one volume in the early 1610s (BL Cotton Cleopatra D IX), there are several suggestive parallels between them. Both manuscripts contain a mixture of original writing and copied material, but with a considerable difference in scope and vision. Lichfield’s, written by her vicar, Alan of Ashbourne, is a book of historical lists, annals, and stories, in Latin and Anglo-Norman, including the history of the world and closing with the vicar’s own history of Coventry and Lichfield up to his own time. The Fineshade manuscript, by contrast, consists of a short chronicle and several supporting documents, all concerned with a very narrow temporal window and a specific historical place: the civil wars of 1321-22, with an emphasis on events in the north. Both texts, however, demonstrate a drive to set local concerns in a universal context. Similarly, the contents and priorities of the chronicles seem to place their writers among the many across England who felt prompted by the civil and natural disturbances of the 1320s to impose some order on events and dignify them with the name of history, to construct a meaningful and comprehensible idea of their own time and its relation to past and future.

Sections of each manuscript have been published. George Haskins published editions of the chronicle and several of the other documents from the Fineshade manuscript in Speculum and the English Historical Review between 1937 and 1939. Georgine Brereton, in 1937, published the version of Des Grantz Geanz (an Anglo-Norman romance of the founding of Albion) to which the Lichfield manuscript is the sole witness. Alan of Ashbourne’s local history, however, around which the remainder of the manuscript he compiled must be read, has never been published.[9] This piecemeal treatment of the manuscripts obscures their internal cohesion: each, I believe, can be demonstrated to have a clear logical structure and a definite set of goals driving its assembly. The Lichfield manuscript shows a balance between dry lists and narrative chronicles, and the field of vision narrows steadily from the universal to the national to the local. The selection and arrangement of the contents of the Fineshade manuscript also suggest a careful overall design: gathered as they are, they tell a story, and rather a personal one, of the wars as witnessed either by the canon who wrote it or by Fineshade’s patron, John Engayne, to whom several of the letters are addressed.

[9: The original manuscript (or a mid-fifteenth-century copy) was, however, consulted by William Whitelocke in the late 1560s in the composition of his own history of Lichfield Cathedral.]

Given this cohesion, I think it reasonable to consider each collection as the product of one ordered purpose, and thus capable of being analysed as a whole, and interrogated as to the social function of history writing in constructing the identity of both individual and institution in relation to the past and present.

My final chapter will thus re-visit questions and concepts raised in earlier sections, but from a perspective should allow for a discussion that is simultaneously better-rounded, and more specific. As communities, Fineshade and Lichfield are in many ways very different from Ramsey Abbey – for example, their size, structure, political power, age, finances, literary tradition, even the rule (or lack of it) shaping the pace of their daily lives. Alan of Ashbourne and the anonymous Fineshade writer(s) may have been impelled in their writing by reasons very different from those of Adam Murimuth, the well-travelled diplomat who wrote himself into and out of his chronicle. The similarities and differences in these various chronicles thus allow for a certain amount of careful extrapolation from the specific to the general. This will necessarily be balanced, however, by the highly individual characteristics of the chronicles (and manuscripts) selected, as it is hardly the purpose of this study to sketch a universal rule for the entire period. The differences and similarities between the chronicles will rather be used to understand those aspects that are unique and curious in each work, the better to compare each writer’s attempts to construct or understand their own identity within their historical time.

London. British Library MS Additional 54184 (Ramsey manuscript of Henry of Huntingdon, Trevet and Murimuth). Formerly Deene Park.
--- MS Cotton Cleopatra D IX (contains the house chronicles of Lichfield Cathedral and Fineshade).
--- MS Cotton Vespasian A XVIII (Ramsey chartulary and parts of Liber Benefactorum).
London: Public Record Office E 164/28 ff. 132-61 (Liber Benefactorum, vols. 1-3 in Macray’s edition).
Manuscript catalogues and data.
Ker, Neil R. Medieval Libraries of Great Britain: A List of Surviving Books. 1941. 2nd ed. London: Royal Historical Society, 1964.
---, ed. “Patrick Young’s Catalogue of the Manuscripts of Lichfield Cathedral.” Medieval and Renaissance Studies 2 (1950): 151-168.
Ker, Neil R. and Watson, Andrew G. Medieval Libraries of Great Britain: A List of Surviving Books. Supplement to the Second Edition. London: Royal Historical Society, 1987.

Editions of primary sources.
Grandisson, John de. The Register of John de Grandisson, Bishop of Exeter (AD 1327-1369). Ed. F. C. Hingeston-Randolph. London: George Bell, 1894.
Haskins, George L., ed. “A Chronicle of the Civil Wars of Edward II.” Speculum (1939): 73-81.
---, ed. “The Doncaster Petition, 1321.” English Historical Review 53 (1938): 478-485.
---, ed. “Judicial Proceedings against a Traitor after Boroughbridge, 1322.” Speculum 4 (1937): 509-511.
Henry, Archdeacon of Huntingdon. Henrici Archidiaconi Huntendunensis Historia Anglorum. Ed. Thomas Arnold. London: Longman, 1879. Rolls Series 74.
---. Historia Anglorum. Ed. and trans. Diana E. Greenway. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1996.
Murimuth, Adam. Continuatio Chronicarum. Adae Murimuth Continuatio Chronicarum et Robert de Avesbury De Gestis Mirabilibus Regis Edwardi Tertii. Ed. Edward Maunde Thompson. London: Longman, 1889. 1-276. Rolls Series 93.
Ramsey Abbey. Chronicon Abbatiae Rameseiensis. Ed. W. Dunn Macray. London: Longman, 1886. Rolls Series 83.
Trokelowe, John, and Henry Blaneford. Chronica Monasterii S. Albani Johannis de Trokelowe et Henry de Blaneford. Ed. Henry Thomas Riley. London: Longman, 1866. Rolls Series 28.

Secondary sources.
Burton, Janet. “Citadels of God: Monasteries, Violence and the Struggle for Power in Northern England, 1135-1154.” Anglo-Norman Studies 31 (2008): 17-30.
Carley, James P. “William Rishanger’s Chronicles and History Writing at St Albans.” A Distinct Voice: Medieval Studies in Honor of Leonard E. Boyle, O. P. Ed. Jacqueline Brown and William P. Stoneman. Notre Dame: UP Notre Dame, 1997. 71-102.
Clark, James G. “Monachi and Magistri: the Context and Culture of Learning at Late Medieval St Albans.” The Vocation of Service to God and Neighbour: Essays on the Interests, Involvements and Problems of Religious Communities and their Members in Medieval Society. Selected Proceedings of the International Medieval Congress, UP Leeds, 14-17 July 1997. Ed. Joan Greatrex. Turnhout: Brepols, 1997.
---. “Thomas of Walsingham Reconsidered: Books and Learning at Late-Medieval St Albans.” Speculum 3 (2002): 832-860.
Clarke, Catherine A. M. “Writing Civil War in Henry of Huntingdon’s Historia Anglorum.” Anglo-Norman Studies (2008): 31-48.
Coakley, John W. Women, Men and Spiritual Power: Female Saints and their Male Collaborators. 2006.
Dolnikowski, Edith Wilks. Thomas Bradwardine: A View of Time and a Vision of Eternity in Fourteenth-Century Thought. New York: E. J. Brill, 1995.
Geary, Patrick J. Living with the Dead in the Middle Ages. London: Cornell UP, 1994.
Goetz, Hans-Werner. “The Concept of Time in the Historiography of the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries.” Medieval Concepts of the Past: Ritual, Memory, Historiography. Ed. Gerd Althoff, Johannes Fried and Patrick Geary. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002. 139-166.
Greenway, Diana. “Authority, Convention and Observation in Henry of Huntingdon’s Historia Anglorum.” Anglo-Norman Studies (1995): 106-121.
Hollis, Stephanie, and Jocelyn Wogan-Browne. “St Albans and Women’s Monasticism: Lives and their Foundations in Christina’s World.” Christina of Markyate: a Twelfth-Century Holy Woman. Ed. Samuel Fanous and Henrietta Leyser. London: Routledge, 2005. 25-52.
Ker, Neil R. “Sir John Prise.” The Library (Fifth Series), 10 (1955): 1-24.
Knowles, David, and R. Neville Hadcock. Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales. London: Longman, 1953.
McKitterick, Rosamond. Perceptions of the Past in the Early Middle Ages. Notre Dame: UP Notre Dame, 2004.
Minnis, Alastair. J. Medieval Theory of Authorship. 1984. 2nd ed. Philadelphia: UP Pennsylvania, 1988.
Minnis, Alastair J. and A. B. Scott, eds., with David Wallace. Medieval Literary Theory and Criticism c. 1100 - c. 1375. The Commentary-Tradition. 1988. Rev. ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2003.
Partner, Nancy. Serious Entertainments: The Writing of History in Twelfth-Century England. Chicago: UP Chicago, 1977.
Paxton, Frederick S. “Abbas and Rex: Power and Authority in the Literature of Fleury, 987-1044.” The Experience of Power in Medieval Europe, 950-1350. Ed. Robert F. Berkhofer III, Alan Cooper, and Adam J. Kosto. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005. 197-212.
Paxton, Jennifer. “Lords and Monks: Creating an Ideal of Noble Power in Monastic Chronicles.” The Experience of Power in Medieval Europe, 950-1350. Ed. Robert F. Berkhofer III, Alan Cooper, and Adam J. Kosto. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005. 227-236.
---. “Textual Communities in the English Fenlands: A Lay Audience for Monastic Chronicles?” Anglo-Norman Studies (2004): 123-138.
Putter, Ad. “Gerald of Wales and the Prophet Merlin.” Anglo-Norman Studies (2008): 90-103.
Remensnyder, Amy G. “Topographies of Memory: Center and Periphery in High Medieval France.” Medieval Concepts of the Past: Ritual, Memory and Historiography. Ed. Gerd Althoff, Johannes Fried, and Patrick J. Geary. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2002. 193-214.
Schmidt, Paul Gerhard. “Perché tanti Anonimi nel Medioevo? Il Problema della Personalità dell’Autore nella Filologia Mediolatina.” Filologia Mediolatina: Rivista della Fondazione Ezio Franceschini (2000).
Strohm, Paul. England’s Empty Throne: Usurpation and the Language of Legitimation, 1399-1422. New Haven: Yale UP, 1998.
Wogan-Browne, Jocelyn et al., eds. The Idea of the Vernacular: An Anthology of Middle English Literary Theory, 1280-1520. Philadelphia: Pennsylvania State UP, 1999.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Murimuth Learns a New Word

So, I have been mysteriously silent of late.  This is the silence of a) trying to finish a thesis proposal while running frantically about getting ready to go home for a month and b) stressing about finances and whether it will actually be in any way possible for me to stay in Canada for long enough to finish my Masters, with money even more not-there-at-all than it has been for the last year and c) being lazy and not thinking about anything that is not my thesis proposal[1].

I am now sitting in a very pleasant little coffee shop[2] near the beach in Adelaide, sipping GOOD coffee which has been nowhere near North America and its evil evil coffee-betraying habits (sorry, people, but it’s true), waiting for my sister’s hair appointment to finish.  She takes approximately an hour and a half longer than I do, because of the colouring.  We have had a morning of family haircuts, because A Very Special Family Event is happening on the weekend.  We will soon go home and get down to little details like cleaning out the cobwebs from behind that painting in the hall, making sure all the outdoor chairs are adequately oiled and preventing the beagles from investigating the fact that the side fence is being replaced and that their domain has therefore expanded dramatically.

Meantime, I have been looking at microfilms of the two manuscripts I’ll be working on – Cotton Cleopatra D IX and Additional 54184 – and translating Murimuth’s chronicle (well, parsing it and annotating difficult passages so that I can read it easily).  It’s rather interesting watching the pace of his narration slow dramatically with the opening of Edward III’s declaration of war against France.  [Over x of the y pages of the chronicle are devoted to the ten years Murimuth lived after the war began, leaving only z for the years from 1305-36.]  That said, a good deal of the bulk is his careful transcription of letters and proclamations related to the diplomacy of the war; but even with these excised, his own narration is far more detailed and interested – and, one feels, impassioned – than it is for the first three decades.

An interesting feature of this is the expansion of his vocabulary.  Words are appearing that are in no Latin dictionary I can find, mostly imported from the vernaculars.  His martial and naval vocabulary in particular become much more nuanced, and seek out new words for what seem to be new concepts.  Some words are simple enough.  ‘Admirallus’ may not appear in the dictionary, but in the context of the sea battle of 1340 at the [mouth of the Swinbourne?], this is hardly ambiguous:

… [comes] Huntyngdoniae, qui fuit dux et admirallus navium de Quinque Portubus, et dominus R[obertus] de Morley, qui fuit admirallus et dux navium borealium…

The Earl of Huntingdon and Robert de Morley were commander and admirallus of, respectively, the fleet of the [Five Ports] and of the north. I don’t think it’s necessary to spend too much time hunting obscure fourteenth-century Latin word usages to determine that admirallus doesn’t mean a small kind of brass teaspoon.  But I find it interesting that he still feels he must say dux et admirallus, as if admirallus lacks the cultural weight to stand up on its own[3]. 

Another term that he embraces more whole-heartedly, however, and that did confuse me slightly at its first occurrence, was galea.  The first time it appears, we are informed that fifty galeae attacked the city of Southampton on the Monday following the feast of St Michael in 1338.  Apparently a galea, in Latin, is a helmet; so I hypothesised that this may be a usage similar to ‘lance’, denoting a soldier or a particular unit of armed men.  But mark the sequel!  for the armed men carried away everything they could to their helmets.  And then they set fire to all the houses, and returned to their helmets.  Clearly, there was a flaw in this theory, unless Phillip of France had pioneered a really large make of helmet in which his men could paddle.

So I went to the OED and looked up ‘galley’.  That confirms that a mediaeval Latin galea/galeia existed, derived from ancient Greek but with the ultimate etymology unknown.  But apparently it wasn’t very common, and for Murimuth it was quite recent: there is one attribution for c. 1300, and one for c. 1330.  The Anglo-Norman dictionary has it attributed a few more times, towards the end of the 1200s.  So it seems to have been circulating as a concept only reasonably recently, suggesting (perhaps?) a new kind of warship, a new trend in ship-building, which only really forced itself on Murimuth’s notice when it suddenly became relevant with the naval battles and coastal attacks of the early years of the  Hundred Years War.  Thereafter, he uses it frequently, and seems to distinguish consistently between galeas  and naves. 

Everyone becomes an armchair strategist in times of war, I suppose – but Murimuth seems to have been sitting as close to Westminster as he could as often as he could, getting close access to all the most recent war news and letters, professionally interested in the manoeuvring of diplomacy and its subtleties as well as in the more dramatic aspects of the war.  And, of course, he’s in his sixties and seventies, and enjoying it – it was 1338 when he proudly began to insert, alongside the annus domini and the regnal year of the current king and of the pope, his own age as a counter (sixty-four, in that year). You can just see him sitting around pontificating on exactly how the war is going and correcting everyone with precision, and becoming an expert on the precise terminology and functions of everything related to war.




[1] Which I think I will post.  It may interest some people at some point in some tiny measure of its being.

[2] Which uses GOOD milk for its coffee, sells pre-made soups and sauces made on-site that actually look good, and offers cooking classes like ‘Pasta and Risotto’, ‘Vietnamese and Cambodian’, ‘Balinese’, ‘Simply Spanish’ and ‘Moroccan Spice’.  Cook’s Pantry, it’s called.

[3] No, that’s not a mixed metaphor, so long as the weight is appropriately distributed for optimum balance.