Middle English Word of the Moment

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Jaunts of Sirs Thomas and Thomas

The following is adapted from a few paragraphs of chapter 3 of my thesis - the story, so far as it can be deduced from a few records here and there, of one member of the family whose movements in the 1320s I've been piecing together. And his friend.  I thought it might be fun!

In the first three months of 1322, the forces of Edward II and the rebel barons fought out a brief civil war, ending at the Battle of Boroughbridge in the middle of March. In the king’s army were a minor baron called Sir John Engayne and (most likely) his brother Sir Nicholas. In the barons’ army, however, was one Sir Thomas Engayne, actively fighting against his king and, therefore, against his relatives. According to the Boroughbridge Roll – the list of those killed or taken in arms against the king – he escaped after the battle and he fled over the sea, as did several other knights, for refuge in France (CPW II App. 201). Among these knights was one Sir Thomas Roscelyn of Norfolk, son and heir of Sir Peter Roscelyn.

Early in the following year, Thomas must have returned to England. A warrant was issued from Newark for his arrest, and for several others in his company: “Jakemin de Darynton, John de Hereford, parson of the church of Depeden, Robert de la Lee, Walter de Brawode, John de Goldynton, knight, Thomas Rocelyn, knight, Robert de Burer, John de Rothyng and Thomas de Engayne” (CPR EII IV p. 238). Of these men, Sirs Thomas Roscelyn and John Goldynton were at Boroughbridge, and the latter is recorded as being imprisoned as a result, although, in view of this arrest warrant, that may be a mistake (CPW II App. pp. 200-01, MS BL Cotton Cleopatra D IX [Fineshade manuscript] f. 88r).

The hunt was on – but it met with no success. Another warrant was January 6 of 1324, the men still at large. According to this warrant, Sir Thomas Engayne, Sir Thomas Roscelyn and James Darynton spent December and January 1322-23 safely ensconced in the priory of Bermondsey, Surrey, at which Darynton was a canon. Consequently, this warrant demands the arrest of the prior Walter de Lutz and “his fellow monk” Bartholomew de Whytsand, together with both knights, Darynton, Darynton’s brother Percival and one Peter de Mountmartyn, identified as the brother of Sir Ponsard de Mountmartyn. According to the warrant, the canons “received the said Jacominus, Percival, Peter and other persons adherents of the rebels, and especially of Thomas Rosselyn and Thomas Dengayne, knights, in the priory of Bermundsey, co. Surrey, and aided them from the feast of St Nicholas 16 Edward II [6 December 1322] until Shrovetide [8 February 1323], when they permitted them to go away at the expense and mounting of the said prior” (CPR EII IV 358).

No further warrants were issued for Thomas Engayne or Roscelyn. They were never caught - it is likely that they left England and, as many knights were to do, joined those exiles on the continent who were later to join Queen Isabella and Mortimer in their invasion.[1] The Westminster parliament following Edward III’s coronation would have restored them their lands, as it did all those who had lost them in 1322. But we do hear of them again.

In 1329, Henry of Lancaster assumed his executed brother’s mantle and capitalised on his popularity as a martyr to royal oppression, emerging as leader of the baronial opposition to Isabella and Mortimer. In January of that year, Thomases Roscelyn and Engayne were among this Lancaster’s armed forces when he marched into Bedford in open resistance, as were Sir John Goldynton and several other names familiar from the Roll of Boroughbridge. Roscelyn, being one of Lancaster’s four chief adherents, personally arrested and detained the sheriff for the duration of their occupation (CIMisc 274-75). And this time, Sir Thomas did not fight against his family: Sir John Engayne, who had inherited the estate from his uncle John in 1323, was also in Bedford with Lancaster’s party. On February 9, after Henry of Lancaster’s surrender, John Engayne acknowledged a fine of 1200 marks against his Essex lands for his participation in the uprising, and his lands were restored to him on those terms two days later (CClR X pp. 529 and 437).

Roscelyn, however, did not get off with a fine. He and Henry’s other three chief supporters were banished, partly for their part in this uprising and their general trouble-making status, but officially for the murder of Sir Robert Holland the previous October (ODNB “Henry of Lancaster”, CClR X p. 425).[2] The same four men, together with Henry, were pardoned by Edward III on 4 December 1330, following his coup against Mortimer and assumption of personal power. Although the charges against them are mentioned, they are tempered by the addition of “as was surmised by Roger Mortimer, our late enemy” (op. cit. p. 530-31, misfiled under December 1329). Finally, while in exile, Roscelyn was involved or implicated in the Earl of Kent’s attempt to rescue and restore Edward II to the throne (Murimuth 254).

It's interesting (although, lacking data, rather fruitless) to speculate on a hypothetical family dinner around this time, and what turns a conversation on Politics and the State of the Land might have taken.  Nicholas and the older John, whatever their sympathies may have been, held to their legal obligations, while the younger John, although quiet during Edward II’s reign, was later to espouse a similar cause during the queen’s regency. Thomas felt strongly enough (or, of course, was in sufficient financial or legal trouble) to take a stand on the other side, both in 1322 and 1329. Between these years, and possibly earlier, Thomas kept company with Thomas Roscelyn, a man who was a close adherent of Mortimer, and who was later to aid Henry of Lancaster. In each case – Thomas of Lancaster, Roger Mortimer, Henry of Lancaster, even Edmund Earl of Kent – Roscelyn was quick to align himself with the man who presented himself as a force for change in the country. The frequent appearance of Thomas Engayne’s name in conjunction with his may suggest either a man easily influenced by a charismatic personality, or one inspired by a similar desire for change. Roscelyn and his opinions may therefore also have made themselves heard around the family estate at Blatherwycke, if only at second hand.

I’m not sure how close a relative Thomas Engayne was to the centre of the family – another brother to John and Nicholas, another of Nicholas’ sons and thus brother to the younger John, a cousin – but he was close enough to be known and significant to a canon writing at the priory of Fineshade, adjacent to Blatherwycke, of which the Engayne family were patrons.

The Fineshade manuscript (MS BL Cotton Cleopatra D IX, ff. 84-90) includes a version the Boroughbridge Roll, it includes neither the name of Sir Thomas Engayne, nor of Sir Thomas Roscelyn. It can hardly be an accidental omission, or an omission in the exemplar. A Fineshade canon could not fail to notice the name of Engayne above all others in such a list, nor would the exemplar be necessary to make that information known to the priory. That the same accident should extend to the knight who fought with him against the crown and accompanied him in his exile is altogether too much of a coincidence. Whether it is intended as rejection or protection of the exiled knights, the omission must surely be deliberate. Sirs Thomas and Thomas are carefully written out of the event.

This omission throws other silences on the chronicler’s part into interesting relief, illuminating the effort to which he has gone to render the chronicle an impersonal account. One or both of Sirs John and Nicholas Engayne must have been present at the battle and the following parliament, but they are not mentioned. Sir Thomas Engayne and a friend to whose name the chronicler was not indifferent were present in a very different capacity, but the chronicler of the priory carefully deletes them from precisely the point where he ought to have recorded their names. The events most closely detailed by the chronicler are precisely the events which these men experienced, but though that they must have been in his thoughts as he wrote, he who prayed regularly for the Engaynes’ souls mentions none of them. Their presence is systematically erased.


[1] Mortimer was a logical connection for Roscelyn to seek out, as they seem to have had a substantial prior acquaintance. Roscelyn had aided Mortimer in the Marcher rebellion, and had earlier been one of the “closest circle of Mortimer adherents” who witnessed his son’s wedding in 1316 (Ian Mortimer 79).
[2] Holland had been perceived by Lancastrians as a traitor, as his desertion of that earl on the brink of the Battle of Boroughbridge had been instrumental in his defeat. He had been murdered the previous October, and his head sent to Henry of Lancaster.


MS British Library Cotton Cleopatra D IX ff. 84-90 [Fineshade manuscript].

Murimuth, Adam. Continuatio Chronicarum. In Adae Murimuth Continuatio Chronicarum et Robert de Avesbury De Gestis Mirabilibus Regis Edwardi Tertii. Ed. Edward Maunde Thompson. Rolls Series 93. London: Longman, 1889. 1-276.

Calendar of the Close Rolls [CClR]. 21 vols. London: Public Record Office, 1902-27.
Calendar of Inquisitions Miscellaneous (Chancery) [CIMisc]. 3 vols. London: Public Record Office, 1916-2003.
Calendar of Patent Rolls [CPR]. 49 vols. London: Public Record Office, 1891-1986.
Palgrave, Francis, ed. [CPW] The Parliamentary Writs and Writs of Military Summons. 3 vols. London: Eyre, 1827-34.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online) [ODNB].

Mortimer, Ian. The Greatest Traitor: The Life of Sir Roger Mortimer, Ruler of England 1327-30. London: Jonathan Cape, 2003.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The Mediaeval Kangaroo

In place of actual content, I have written a bestiary entry for a kangaroo, as it could have been understood had mediaeval Europe been aware of it.

This is for the class on the mediaeval bestiary that I am teaching to a bunch of year 10 students tomorrow - I will give them this description, without telling them the animal, and have them draw it. The results should go some way to explaining why the crocodile in bestiaries variously resembles a dog, a fish, a large bird and a snake.  And the point is also, of course, that the bestiary entry is really about the meaning of the animal, not (what we would consider) the animal itself.  A large part of the aim of this lesson is to teach them about allegory as a basic tool of mediaeval thought.

They are a very good group - they guessed today what animal 'vellum' was made from based on the name, argued about whether Henry VIII was a Protestant or a Catholic, volunteered the printing press as a possible date/event to mark the end of the Middle Ages then (as a group) came up with good reasons as to why that might be so significant a cultural shift (then one pointed out that we're in the middle of a similar revolution at the moment, re. internet and digital information, completely pre-empting me!), asked spontaneously about several myths of the Middle Ages (how real was King Arthur, did they think the world was flat) and managed to volunteer all of the languages spoken in mediaeval England without prompting.  And when you have the answers "Middle English?" "No, OLD English." "French!"  "No, they spoke French in France," and "Latin", it is very satisfying to be able to say "you are all absolutely correct, here's why".

Kangaroo follows.

Of course, there ought to be a few fanciful etymologies for the name, but firstly that would give it away, and secondly I think even Isidore would be stretched to come up with a Greek+Latin derivation for a word that derives from an English misinterpretation of an Aboriginal phrase.

This creature has the face of a sheep and the ears and fur of a rabbit.  Its tail is still like a log, and it is stiff so that the animal can stand upon it.

Its back is hunched like a hill, and it has hands like a child's, but black.

Its eyelashes are long and thick like a camel's, to keep out sand and dust.   When it is hot, it licks itself like a cat.

The ape gives birth to two children at once, and it loves one while it hates the other; but this creature has always one child older than the other, and loves both equally.  For it feeds each according to its needs, giving the elder one kind of milk from one teat, even while it feeds the younger another milk from a second teat. By this we understand that each man should be taught the Word of God according to his capacity to understand them.  He who is young and innocent is best taught with simple fables and allegories of beasts, but he who knows more of the Lord and can better understand his ways may be nourished on the words of the Fathers of the Church.

When this creature bends its head to eat, it stands upon four legs, and, its head being low to the ground, can see nothing about it, for its eyes are covered by the grasses.  But when it stands tall it can see for many miles, and no predator may take it by surprise.  Thus the devil creeps upon those who bury their heads in gluttony and desire, but those who stand tall and see clearly he cannot surprise.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Judgement and Death of Roger d’Amory (part 2 of 2)

Below are three copies of the Judgement after Boroughbridge (for the context of which, see the previous post).  The first is that passed against Roger d'Amory, the second is an amalgamation of those passed against two different men, the third the generic one from the last folio of the Fineshade manuscript. Following all three is a translation for the Fineshade version - all three are very similar, and the interest lies mostly in the comparison.  The first two are transcribed by me from the Parliamentary Writs (Record Commission, 1830), II, ii, Appendix, pp. 261-267.  The third is my transcription from the manuscript, but I differ little from Haskins' edition (Speculum 4 (1937): 509-511).

The judgement against d'Amory
The judgements against Francis de Aldham and Bartholomew de Ashburnham
The Fineshade version

1. Roger d’Amory (PW p. 261).
Square brackets are editorial insertions in the Writs; underlining is my expansion of their abbreviations, which follow the manuscripts. Note that d'Amory's judgement uniquely contains a small addendum in which his execution is postponed - see yesterday's post.

Tenor judicii super Rogerum Damory redditi patet in sequenti.

Pur ceo qe vous Roger Damory homme lige notre Seignour le Roy countre votre fay homage & ligeaunce, faucement & traitorousement alastes en Gales ove banner desplye, Chastels & Villes robastes & preiastes, & preistes sa Ville & soun Chastel de Gloucestre & ylumastes sa Ville de Briggenorth & ileok tuastes ses gentz & robastes ses liges gentz & preyastes le pays par my la terre ou vous estes aleez a feer de gwerre en estruaunt soun pople taunqe vous venistes al Chastel notre Seignour le Roi a Tykehalle & ileoqes asigeastes le dit Chastel ove baner desplie com enemy notre Seignor le Roi & du Realme, & la tuastes & nauverastes ses liges gentz, & de illeoqes alastes en la cumpaignye des traytours atteyntz Thomas jadys Counte de Lancastre & Umfrey jadis Counte de Hereford tauntqe a Burtone sour Trente & illeoqes arestutes le gentz notre Seignour le Roi qil ne poient le pount passer, vous armez ove baner displie come tretour & enemy encountre votre lige Seignour & encountre votre fey homage & ligeaunce, & la tuastes & nauverastes ses liges gentz. Et puis [vous] com traytour & enemy notre Seignour le Roi aperceivaunt la venue le Roi forciblement alumastes la Ville de Bourtone, et vous meistes en chaump en batailles ove vos baners desplies attendaunt votre liege Seignour davoir combatoutz ove lui si vous & les autres traytours ussez eou power. Et quant vois veistes la sarraye & forcible venue votre Seignour le Roi lige & des [ses] altres batailles, les quels vous ne osietz attendre ne ne poiez arester e puys tournastes le dos & fuistes dever le North derobeaunt le pays devaunt vous com traytour & robeour tauntqe vous venistes a Tuttebiri.  Et si vous Roger ussez eou a ceo la force & le power le quels traysons, arsons, homicides & roberies chyvaches ove baner desplye & sount notories a Countes Barouns & a altres gentz petiz & grauntz de soen Realme ; agarde notre Seignour le Roi de soun real power & recorde, par quei ceste Court agarde qe pur la traysoun soiez traynez & pur les homicides arsons & roberies pendutz; mes Roger pur ceo qe notre Seignour le Roi vous ad en temps moult amez & fuistes de sa meygne & prives de lui & avez sa nyece esposee, notre dit Seignour le Roi de sa grace & de sa Realte met en respit execucioun de cel jugement a sa volunte.

2. a: Fraunceys de Aldeham & Bartholomeu de Assheburneham. b: Bartholomeu de Assheborneham alone (PW 266-67).
Single square brackets [a|b] indicate differences between the two versions. Double square brackets [[]] are square brackets present in PW. Differences of spelling and abbreviation not noted - where there is a difference, b is used.

NB: there are copies also for Henry de Wilyngtonne & Henry de Mounfort (262); another against B. de Ashburnham (263); Henry Tyeys (264); and Bart. de Badlesmere (265), which adds that his head will be “mys outre la porte de la Ville de Caunterburez pur doner ensaumple as autres qe il nenpreignent tieles traysouns & mauvestes come vous avetz faitz” (“set outside the gates of the City of Canterbury to give example to others that they may not be infected by such treasons and evil as you have done”).

Por ceo qe vous [Fraunceys de Aldeham & vous Bartholomeu de Assheburneham| Bartholomeu de Assheborneham] homme lige nostre Seignur le Roi [ |,] [countre|encountre] vostre foi, homage & ligeaunce [ |,] faussement & tretrousement preistes sa Ville & son Chastel de Gloucestre [ |,] & allumastes sa Ville de Breggenorth & illuqes tuastes [ces|ses] gentz [ |,] & robbastes [ces|ses] liges gentz & preyastes le paiis parmy la terre [ |,] ou vous estes alez a foer de guerre[,| ] tancqe vous venistes au Chastel le Roi a Tikehill[ |,] & illuqes assegeastes le Chastel, ove banere desplye, come enemy du Roi & du Roialme [ |,] & naufrastes & tuastes les liges gentz nostre Seignur le Roi[, &|.  Et] [de illoqes|dilluqes] alastes en la compaignie des treitres atteyntz Thomas jadis Counte de Lancastre & Humfrei jadis Counte de Hereforde , tancqe a Burtonne sur Trente [ |,] & illuqes arrestustes les gentz le Roi[ |,] les queux ne poeynt le pount passer, ove bannere desplaie come tretour & enemy encontre vostre lige Seignur le Roi, vostre foi, homage & ligeaunce, & naufrastes & tuastes illuqes ses liges gentz[, et|.  Et] puis vous & les autres tretours & enemys le Roi apparceyvaunt la venue le Roi afforcement allumastes la Ville de Bourtonne, & vous meistes en chaump en batailles[ |,] ove banneres desplayez[ |,] attendant vostre Seignur lige[ |,] davoir combatuz ove luy, si vous & les autres tretours eussez eu le poer[, &|.  Et] quant vous veistes la forcible venue vostre lige Seignur [,| ] & [de ces|ses] batailles [le queux| ] vous ne [ |les] osiez attendre[,| ] ne ne poiez arrester; tournastes le dos & fuystes vers le Northe[ |,] derobbaunt le paiis devant vous come [treitours & robbours,|tretour] tancqe vous venistes au Pount de Burghe, ou vous [trovastes|tournastes] les liges gentz le Roi[,| ] eanz son pleyn poer [,| ] a lever le poeple [ |,] & de arester les treitours & les enemys [,|.] [&|Et] vous & les autres enemys & treitres illuqes assemblastes a eux [,| ] ove banneres desplaiez [ |,] & aucuns des gentz le Roi tuastes [,| ] & aucuns naufrastes [,| ] ou vous & les autres traitors de vostre faus acord & covyne feustes desconfitz & aucuns tuez [,| ] & vous aucuns [autres| ] des enemys pris, & les autres senfuyrent, issint qe en vous ne demorra poynt [ |,] qe vous ne eussez outree vostre Seignur lige a Bourtonne & pris ses liges gentz eyauntz son pleyn poer a Pount de Borghe, si vous eussez [eu|a ceo] la force [les|& le poer.  Les] queux treisouns, arsouns, homicides [ |,] robberies, chevaucheez ove bannere desplaie sont notoires as Countes [,|& as] Barouns & [ |a] autres grauntz & petitz de son Roiaume. Et nostre Seignur le Roi [&|de] son real poer le record[,|;] pur quoi agarde ceste Court, qe pur la traisoun soiez traynez & pur les robberies & homicides penduz.

3. Fineshade manuscript version: edited transcript
The Fineshade manuscript is a single quire, being one of the booklets contained within BL Cotton Cleopatra D IX - the third of five. Cotton appears to have bound those five together in the 1610s. This is, properly speaking, another manuscript, added a few years after the composition of the rest of the quire – a single leaf, written lengthways and attached to the main Fineshade manuscript along the spine. It is written in an official hand, and appears to be one of the many copies of the 1322 judgement that were re-issued in 1325, as a warning to those who were, by that time, becoming restless again. For this theory George Sayles, “The Formal Judgement on the Traitors of 1322”, Speculum 16 (1941), 57-63.
Paragraph breaks are mine. Line breaks in the ms are indicated with /.

Pur ceo qe vous . j . homme lige nostre seignur le Roi , contre vostre foi homage , e ligeaunce , fausement e treiturousement / pristes sa ville e son chastel de Gloucestre , e aluminastes sa ville de Briggenorthe, e illuqes tuastes ses gentz e robastes / ses liges gentz , e preiastes le pais parmi la terre ou vous estoiez alez a faire de guere , tant que vous venistes au chastel / le Roi de Tykille, e illoqes assegastes le chastel oue baner desplere comme enemi du Roi e du Roialme , e naufrastes e / tuastes les liges gentz nostre seignur le Roi , e de illoqes alastes en la compaignie des treiturs atteintz , Thomas , iadis / Counte de Lancastre , e Umfrei , iadis Counte de Hereforde, tant qe a Burtonne sur Trente , e illuqes arestutes les / gentz le Roi , qils ne poeint le pount passer ; armes oue baner desplere comme treitours e enemis contre vostre lige / seignur le Roi , vostre foie , vos homages , e ligeaunces , e naufrastes e tuastes ses liges gentz illoqes , e puis vous e les / autres treitours enemis le Roi aperceiuaunt la venue le Roi aforceement , aluminastes la ville de Burton , e vous / meistes en chaumpe en batailles oue baners despleres attendants vostre lige seignur dauoir combatu oue luy . Si vous / e les autres treitours eussez eu a ceo le pouer , e quant vous veissez la sarre e forciable venue vostre seignur lige e de ses batails , / les queux vous ne osiez attendre , neue poer aresteer ; tournastes le dos , e fuistes deuers le Northe enrobaunt le pays de/ uante vous. come treitours e robeours tanqe vous venistes au Pount de Burghe, ou vous trouastes les gentz le Roi / eant son poer a leuer le poeple , e de aresteer les treitours e les enemis le Roi , Et vous e les autres treitours e / enemis illoqes assemblastes a eaux oue baner desplere , e ascuns gentz le Roi tuastes , e ascuns naufrastes , Ou vous e / les autres treitours de vostre faux accorde e coueigne feustes descomfiz. e ascuns tues , e vous e ascuns autres des / enemis pris , e les autres senfuirent issint qen vous ne demura point , qe vous ne eussez encontree vostre seignur lige / a Byrtonne e puis ses liges gentz eant son poer a Pount de Burghe, si vous eussez en a ceo la force e pouer. Les / queux treisons , arzons , homicides , Roberies , cheuauchees oue baners desplerez ; sount notoirs as Conts , Barons , e / altres grantz e petitz de son Roialme. Et nostre seignur le Roi de son Roial pouer le recorde , Par qei ceste Courte / agarde qe pur la treisone serez treine , e pur les Roberies e homicides ; pendu. /

4. Fineshade manuscript version: translation

For that you, a liegeman of our lord the King, contrary to your faith, homage and allegiance falsely and traitorously took his castle of Gloucester, and burnt his city of Bridgenorth; and there you slew his people and robbed his liegemen and plundered the country throughout the land where you had gone to make war, until you came unto the King’s castle at Tykille.

And there you beseiged the castle with banners unfurled as enemies of the King and of the realm, and wounded and slew the liegemen of our lord the King; and you went from that place in the company of the attainted traitors Thomas, sometime Earl of Lancaster, and Humphrey, sometime Earl of Hereford, unto Burton-upon-Trent; and there you impeded the King’s men that they might not cross the bridge, armed and with banners unfurled as traitors and enemies against your liege lord the King, your faith, your homage, and alliegance, and wounded and slew his people there.

And then you and the other enemy traitors of the King, perceiving him approaching with great strength, burned the city of Burton and took to the field of battle with banners unfurled, awaiting your liege lord to fight against him, if you and the other traitors should have the strength thereto.

And when you saw the well-armed and mighty approach of your liege lord and his batallions, which you dared not meet and could not hinder, you turned your backs and fled towards the North, plundering the country before you, like cowards and thieves, until you arrived at Boroughbridge, where you found the King’s men, bearing his power to raise men and to arrest traitors and enemies to the King.

And you and the other traitors and enemies assembled there, with banners unfurled, and slew some of the King’s men, and wounded others; and there you and the other traitors of your false accord and covenant were defeated, and some were slain, and you and certain others of the enemies taken, and the others fled so that not one remained for you, that would not have met with your liege lord at Burton and then with his liegemen bearing his power at Boroughbridge, if you had had the force and power to avoid it.

And these treasons, arsons, murders, robberies, and raids with banners unfurled, are notorious to the Earls, Barons and other greater and lesser men of the realm. And our lord the King by his royal power records it. For which this court finds that for the treason you should be drawn, and for the robberies and murders, hanged.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Judgement and Death of Roger d’Amory (part 1 of 2)

This post was actually written a couple of weeks ago, but given the proximity of the date, I figured I might as well save it for an anniversary post!

On the 13th or 14th of March, 1322, Roger d’Amory died – ‘obiit morte propria’ – at Tutbury Priory, Burton-upon-Trent, Staffordshire[1].  As the remaining rebel barons fled north, their numbers greatly depleted, d’Amory was left at Tutbury to await the arrival of King Edward II, who had completely routed the rebel forces at Burton-upon-Trent on the 10th.  The castle was surrendered to him immediately, and with it d’Amory.

The phrase above, ‘obiit morte propria’, is from the Fineshade chronicle’s list of the slain, exiled, imprisoned and executed barons and knights after the denouement of the rebellion at Boroughbridge (16 March) [2].  Literally ‘died his own death’, it seems to refer to death from wounds sustained in the battle (not, eg, ‘natural death’), standing in contrast to the death in battle (as Hereford and others) or execution (as Lancaster and most others). It must have been a severe incapacitation to prevent him fleeing north with the other rebels, given the reception he could expect; and, given he captured Worcester for the rebels in January, and seems to have participated actively in the battle of Burton-upon-Trent, it can hardly have been a lingering illness. [3]

What is clear is that he was not executed.  In Edward’s eyes, d’Amory was a traitor, and he passed on him the same sentence that he passed on the others.  The sentence was largely the same for each of the traitors, differing usually only in details about which specific treacherous activities they were involved in – eg, some were not present at the burning of Bridgnorth, and for obvious reasons d’Amory’s sentence omits the usual itinerary after Burton-upon-Trent. I will include the usual text and d’Amory’s judgement in the following blog post. The sentence was sufficiently standardised that it was possible, some years later, when Edward needed to quash rising murmurs of rebellion again, to re-issue generic versions of it with no name attached at all.  One of these is the final folio of the Fineshade manuscript. [4]  There is, however, one moment in which the judgement on d’Amory departs dramatically – and, for me, rather movingly – from this standard.

Roger d’Amory was not just any traitor to Edward.  Edward II’s reign was characterised by his intense emotional attachments to a few favourites – Piers Gaveston in his early years, Hugh Despenser from about 1319 until the deaths of both men in 1327.  But in the years between the murder of Gaveston in 1312 and the emergence of Despenser as clear favourite, Edward had instead a group of men who were close to him and influential, d’Amory among them.  In 1317 Edward even arranged d’Amory’s marriage to Edward’s widowed niece, Lady Elizabeth de Clare / de Burgh. [5]  Edward tends to leave unambiguous traces of personal attachments on the historical record, and d’Amory was without question one of the ‘in’ crowd for those years.

Just why Roger d’Amory joined the movement against Edward that became a rebellion is, of course, unknown and unknowable. Politically, broad guesses might be made: Despenser had ousted him and the other ‘group’ favourites; Despenser and his father were dangerous and greedy and both sides were becoming increasingly litigious and violent; d’Amory and Despenser were both married to sisters of Gilbert de Clare, Earl of Gloucester and Hertford, who had died without issue in 1314, leaving his vast estates to be divided (and debated) among the husbands of his sisters. [6]  Logical reasons may be sought for one course of action or another, but the deciding emotions in the case – on the part of either man – are not a matter for historical inquiry. In the usual way of things I’d leave them be, but there are moments when they strike me forcibly.  Speculation aside, here is a man who had been very close to the king, who joined a movement against him that Edward took very personally (not to mention his fierce grudge against Lancaster, who gradually assumed the mantle of leader), and whom Edward found dying in Tutbury of wounds sustained in his first major engagement with the rebels’ troops.

In most of the copies of the judgement I’ve read, the conclusion reads as follows, with only the usual differences of spelling and punctuation:

Les queux treisouns, arsouns, homicides, robberies, chevaucheez ove bannere desplaie sont notoires as Countes & as Barouns & a autres grauntz & petitz de son Roiaume. Et nostre Seignur le Roi de son real poer le record; pur quoi agarde ceste Court, qe pur la traisoun soiez traynez & pur les robberies & homicides penduz. [See following post for citation.]
The which treasons, arsons, murders, robberies, and raids with banners unfurled, are well-known to the Earls, Barons and other greater and lesser men of the realm.  And our lord the King by his royal power records it.  For which this court finds that for the treason you should be drawn, and for the robberies and murders, hanged.

So the sentences passed on Bartholomew of Ashburnham and Francis d’Aldham; so the general sentence preserved in the Fineshade manuscript; so, up to a point, the judgement on d’Amory.

But d’Amory’s, uniquely, continues:

& pur les homicides arsons & roberies pendutz; mes Roger pur ceo qe notre Seignour le Roi vous ad en temps moult amez & fuistes de sa meygne & prives de lui & avez sa nyece esposee, notre dit Seignour le Roi de sa grace & de sa Realte met en respit execucioun de cel jugement a sa volunte.
and for the robberies and murders, hanged; but Roger, because our Lord the King did at one time love you greatly and you were of his company and close to him and did marry his niece, our said Lord the King, by his grace and his royalty, defers the execution of the said judgement according to his will.

I found this at a moment when I was looking for something else.  I wasn’t prepared for it, wasn’t thinking about these two men and their relationship, was not particularly invested in its termination.  But I found it suddenly and deeply touching. D’Amory would die: that much was clear.  It was necessary to pass the sentence of death, but it was not necessary to kill him.  He was dying already; and perhaps if Edward had been feeling particularly vindictive he might have dragged him out to the gallows.  But he didn’t: he deferred the punishment and let him die ‘morte propria’, not the death of a thief.
Edward, however, was not there to see it.  Roger d’Amory died on the 13th or 14th of March, 1322, and on the 11th Edward had left, pushing north in pursuit of the fleeing Lancaster.

Sometimes, in reading these documents – particularly in manuscript form – these moments just happen, moments in which I find I have to pause and sit back for a moment to allow myself to realise the weight of centuries-past human emotion behind the tiny glimpse afforded by the words on the page.  It is necessary to sit back because distance is, of course, necessary. Emotion is a difficult and potentially highly subjective field of study, and I’ve not the courage nor the background to go there yet. Even if I did, the question is irrelevant to my present studies, and in engaging my own emotions too far could potentially jeopardise my discussions of (particularly) Edward’s actions in these few months.  But I think it is also necessary to have that realisation.  Just from time to time.

[1] Here and elsewhere, for specific (and occasionally debateable) details as to people’s lives – particularly dates – I have preferred to follow their biographies in the online Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed 7 February this year.

[2]  BL Cotton Cleopatra D IX, mss. 3 and 3a within the codex, f. 88r l. 8, published by George L. Haskins as “A Chronicle of the Civil Wars of Edward II,” Speculum (1939): 73-81.  I will include my edition of this chronicle and the documents attached to it as an appendix to my Masters thesis, and will publish it if I can.  The only other extant copy of this list, in MS Egerton 2850, calls itself “Les nouns des grauntz mortz a Borghbrigge le Marsdy  & le Mekerdy apres la feste Saint Gregoire”, and says of d’Amory merely that he “fust mort un poy devaunt a Tottebury”.  The Egerton list is transcribed in Parliamentary Writs and Writs of Military Summons, 2.2.ii, Appendix pp. 200-01, but I couldn’t get hold of it without actually going to the British Library anyway, so I just read both!  That was the first roll I ever handled.  It was rather nerve-wracking.

[3] See also Kathryn’s post on the latter part of his career on her Edward II blog, where she includes (among other details) other contemporary theories about his death.

[4] For this argument see George Sayles, “The Formal Judgement on the Traitors of 1322”, Speculum 16 (1941), 57-63.  He writes in response to Haskins’ publication of the Fineshade judgement, in which Haskins attempts to identify it as passed upon a single condemned (“Judicial Proceedings against a Traitor after Boroughbridge, 1322,” Speculum 4 (1937): 509-511).

[5] While in London last October I transcribed, on Kathryn’s request, a letter from Edward to Elizabeth on the matter, written 10 September 1316.  I’m sure I remember Kathryn writing a blog post based on it, but I can’t find it now – sorry Kathryn!  I may do something on it myself, as it’s rather interesting on its own terms – there are three clear stages of revision to it, in three different hands, and each revision sounds sterner than the last.  Edward clearly had second (and third) thoughts about Elizabeth’s biddability – and given she’d run away with and married Lord Verdon early in 1316, he probably had good reason.

[6] The third sister was Margaret, widow of Piers Gaveston and remarried in 1317 to Hugh d’Audley, another of Edward’s then-favourites.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Jottings on Beowulf and fragmentation of the body/nation

As I've not posted anything in a while, here's a note-form version of something I'm working on at the moment. This is the seminar paper I delivered a couple of weeks ago, and which I am currently working on expanding into a full-length paper (c. 20-22 pages, if I can keep it down to that length!). I'm keeping it in note form, because I am, sadly, beginning to get a little chary of copyright on the internet.

Not that I expect to publish this. I am not going to make my first major analytical publication on Beowulf.

A - General outline: Fragmentation or unity of the body as reflective of (and a site for exploring anxieties about) that of the nation.

- Lerer calls beowulf ‘a poem of the body’ (723). [1] Poem’s focus on the physical deeds and prowess of the warrior body often excludes the use of ornamentation, weaponry or armour. Every conflict with a monstrous opponent results in not merely the death of one party but in the fragmentation or destruction of their body: Grendel rends and eats his victims, Beowulf relies on muscle rather than weapon and tears off Grendel’s arm, Grendel’s mother tears off Aeschere’s head and discards it far from civilisation, Beowulf kills Grendel’s mother and cuts off Grendel’s head then displays head and arm as tokens of his victory. He cleaves the dragon in two; the sea monsters try to make a feast of him, but he scatters their bodies on the shore. All of the most dramatic moments of conflict with an outside force, Lerer concludes, draw attention to the maintenance of the intact body of the victor over the broken body of the defeated.

B - ‘Nation’ (for this purpose) as defined not by maps or land but as the people and culture.
- Spatial imaginaire, but not the physical boundaries on which Michelet[2] focusses. Not particularly useful for Beowulf (partly for reasons Hiatt points out, but also simply because the rest of the land is not very interesting, with the partial exception of its coast-boundaries).
- Instead, nation is centred on / symbolised by the vivid image of the hall and the bodies within - as Michelet does point out, it is the hall in each instance (whether human or monstrous) that is under the threat of invasion. The invasions into the hall (by Grendel or the dragon) lead to a breakdown in unified social function (Michelet 79).
- Within the hall, imagery is centred on the body and the cultural actions of the body, esp. re. gift-giving (and the throne, the centred position of the leader, is a particular point of threat from both Grendel and dragon). Proximity to the central figure as crucial element in ordered and functioning social space - cf movements of queen within hall bearing cup to guests, etc. (May not be spatial centre if one were to draw a floor plan, but is imagined/conceptual centre.) The absent leader provides space for his replacement with Grendel (Hroðgar leaves the hall in the night, Michelet 92). (note that the den of dragon and Grendel provide a negative image of this)
- Image of nation therefore as the body (esp. that of the leader) within the communal space.
- But centre and boundaries are defined against each other: centre implies boundaries, boundaries necessitate centre (Michelet 10, then 24). Anxiety about definition and establishment of secure boundaries, the point where in becomes out, us becomes them, at which they touch by necessity, the point farthest from centre. How do we define the boundaries? ... monsters!

C - Jeffrey Cohen’s work on the idea of the giant in Anglo-Saxon literature/mythology[3] as a starting point from which to examine the nature of the threat presented by Grendel and his mother. [Firstly: giant tears and eats, is a threat to the body, but also, in its violent exaggerated human form, a threat to unified society] Especially:
- The giant as inhabiter / transgressor of boundaries, of both society and human bodies. Cohen 1-2 re. giant as psychological and cultural delineator of boundaries - extend this to spatially, to the temporal boundaries of beginnings and endings, and also culturally taboo-boundaries like cannibalism: in each instance the physical body and its physical effects are important.
- The giant as originary or causative, particularly in their body, inhabiting some distant past on which the present is built. The broken body of the giant provides origins (cf Gog/Magog, who are thrown into the sea as the dragon is) (p. 9 for Ymir). The giants’ violent acts and boundary-breaking, the damage they visit on bodies and landscape (17), form the origin both of cultures (imaged in the body) and cultural space.

D - Fragmentation of that body
- By consumption or mutilation.
- Maintenance of the intact body = success, vs. consequences of defeat = dismembered body (Grendel, Aescere’s head, etc) - see Seth Lerer. What is at stake in the conflicts, then, is unity vs fragmentation, as conceived in terms of the body.
- He does not point out, however, that each conflict (even Beowulf vs. sea monsters) has one party transgressing the boundaries of the other’s space - one enters to the other and the result is a dismembered body within a violated space. The space itself often shows signs of this violence - the blood bubbling to the surface of the mere is an irrefutable sign of the violence within, and is read as such, although Hrodhgar’s men misread the results of that violence. Crossing the boundary is a defining moment that, like the passage of the Rubicon, commits the intruder to a battle for control of the integrity of the space and the body. Attention is thus drawn to the boundaries and the moment of breaking them.
- Therefore the body (society or the body of its leader) defined / celebrated by challenge to it.

E. Grendel and his mother inhabit and transgress the boundaries of body and nation and thus help to delineate them (Michelet 94-5). The image of the broken body of the giant + intact body of hero (alive or celebrated in his tomb) provides origin, projected back into the past?
- Cohen: fragments of Grendel’s body are elevated as symbols of “a public validation of the control and acceptance of structured society whose antitheses Grendel represents” (24). So the fragments are not only a result of victory, but a sign of it, signalling triumph over the other and a society (and heroic body) whose unity has been affirmed.
- Michelet points out that “The demon’s footsteps provide the spatial transition between the two places” (Heorot and the mere) (80) & treading the grounds defines the limited (107-08). He does not point out that Grendel’s footprints are not merely impressions in the dirt, but marked in blood, signs of the damage to his body and his consequent defeat. Cannot break the boundaries of his space until his body is broken - and once he does, Beowulf breaks his body again.
- Walkers in the wasteland: with their feet, especially the bloody footprints, they mark out and define the boundaries of civilisation.

In expanding this to a proper paper, I'd like to explore further the idea of temporal boundaries - the beginning and ending of nations / things / memory / knowledge. Beowulf and Wiglaf are the last of their people, Beowulf says, and this is signalled by the breakdown of society after Beowulf dies, as if his death and the sundering of social ties shown by the earls’ failure to help him signal the actual end of the Geats as a whole. Beowulf’s body, however, remains: he says that his cairn is to be a signal to later generations, or later ages, far into the future. But there is very little human history, only a few generations back, as if the past can only be accessed by the monsters.

Drawing again on Cohen: the hilt of the sword that Beowulf takes from the mere depicts the giants before the flood, which is where they’re usually found, in some legendary but foundational long-ago. They build, yes, and old stone ruins are often referred to semi-metaphorically in Anglo-Saxon poetry as ‘the work of giants’ (Cohen 11), but other landscape features are also attributed to them. They and their brute strength are used to explain the presence of mountains, lakes, ancient cities, broken rocks, changes wrought long ago before the human nation arrived. In Germanic cosmogonies they predate the material universe, which is fashioned from the corpse of one of them (7).

So giants are originary or causative, particularly in their body, inhabiting some distant past on which the present is built. The broken body of the giant provides origins - Gogmagog is dashed into a thousand pieces and thrown into the sea so that Brutus can found Britain. The dragon, incidentally, meets the same fate - but I don't think we can equate the dragon and the Grendelkin so easily. He seems to me to be a very different creature, especially in terms of how he relates to the beginnings and endings of human civilisations.

Grendel’s fragments possibly provide, for the poem’s audience, a similar imaginative origin in the defeat of the previous inhabitants of the land. The giants’ violent acts and boundary-breaking, the damage they visit on bodies and landscape (Cohen 17), form the origin both of cultures (imaged in the body) and cultural space, but they also demarcate a boundary in time that cannot be crossed by human knowledge: once again, they demarcate the unknowable.

[1] Seth Lerer, ‘Grendel’s Glove’, English Literary History 61 (1994): 721-751. (The glove Grendel wears – ie, the monster as symbolised by his hand and his mouth, Beowulf’s removal of these; Norse traditions of giants’ gloves; Beowulf is ‘a poem of the body’, and victory results in destruction of the body of the defeated.)
[2] Fabienne Michelet, Creation, Migration and Conquest: Imaginary Geography and Sense of Space in Old English Literature. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006. (Anglo-Saxon conceptions of space; Grendel’s mere and the dragon’s den compared and contrasted to Heorot, Beowulf’s hall, Beowulf’s cairn; demarcations of land boundaries in Beowulf.)
[3] Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, ‘Old English Literature and the Work of Giants’, Comitatus 24 (1993): 1-32. (Figure of the giant in Old English literature; debts to Germanic and Latin/Old Testament traditions; psychological function of the monster; figure of Grendel within this tradition.)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Elegies in Binary

A little cheeky of me, perhaps; but I was reading Lukacs' Theory of the Novel (trans. Anna Bostock, London: Merlin Press, 1963), and felt that his writing was best answered in a medium that can respond fully to his binary worldview. And therefore...

Mr. Lukacs,
I couldn't help but notice that your code seemed a little faulty, and was throwing up some awkward errors in unexpected places.  I have taken the liberty of extracting the source code and reading through it, and believe I have located some of its weak points.

Your first problem is a simple typo.  On line [page] 30 you have written:

if(epic = "homer")

rather than

if(epic == "homer")

["... no one has ever equalled Homer, nor even approached him - for, strictly speaking, his works alone are epics..." (30)]

As you know, of course, if(epic == "homer") reads 'if the value of the variable epic is equal to the string "homer", while epic = "homer" sets the value of epic to "homer". One considers the current value, the other defines a new one.  This holds true even within an 'if' expression, so in checking the value, you appear to have inadvertently set it to have that and always that value from that line on.  This, of course, greatly reduces the flexibility of your code later.

I do recognise that this part of your code has been copy/pasted from that of Webmeister Hegel; but even great coders can make typos, and once you incorporate them into your own work you take responsibility for them.

Secondly, in this same early stage, you seem to fall into the trap of setting up all your arrays in simple binary form, so that you end up with a series of arrays with only two elements each.  Eg, ({"world", "self"}), ({answer, question}), ({"wholeness", "fragmentation"}), ({"interior", "exterior"}), ({"Greeks", "us"}), ({epic, novel}), ({old, modern}).  There is, of course, nothing wrong with this in itself; but arrays can support more than two elements at a time, Mr Lukacs, and some of the situations you consider could do with more than a simple choice between 0 and 1.

Moreover, I feel that you do not need quite so many arrays as you have here.  The first elements of all the arrays I have noted above are all almost synonymous with each other, defined only against the second element, their relationship to each other left barely coherent. Perhaps you could use fewer arrays if you clarified these relationships?

For example, you elide "Greeks" with "Homer", and "Homer's world" with "the Greek world", and "Homer" with "epic" (although see above).  However, you also consider "Plato" and "Greek tragedy" as an indistinguishable part of this Greek world, particularly in your opening chapter, which overloads your definition of "epic" to the point of meaninglessness, at least insofar as it may be used to define a genre.

Perhaps "epic" should be an array instead of a variable?

The same determination to reduce all your code into binary also leads you to this declaration:

if(year < modernity) { genre = "epic"; }
else { genre = "novel"; }

["... the epic had to disappear and yield its place to an entirely new form: the novel." (41)]

Now, given you have defined what precedes modernity only as "Greek", and the true epic only as "Homer", this does seem to leap somewhat precipitously over the intervening years. Dante is by no means the only tripwire between these two trees; and though you do strive to accommodate him, he cannot ultimately be fully reconciled with your argument, as you never quite redeclare the array ({"epic", "novel"}) to include a third element, "dante".

Of course, if you were to include a third element, you would be obliged to add exceptions in every other instance where you have assumed that the array has only two elements.  You would also need to master not only the if/else structure, but the if/else if/else.  For example, if we allow "dante" to stand as the name of the genre for now:

if(year < mediaeval) { genre = "epic"; }
else if(year < modernity && year > mediaeval) { genre = "dante"; }
else { genre = "novel"; }

However, this will quickly become messy if you want to add more exceptions, and is ultimately an extended form of binary. May I suggest instead the use of switch(), into which you can incorporate as many gradations along a continuum as you like?  Eg (assuming year is a number):

switch(year) {
    case ..-500:  # Less than or equal to -500
       period = "pre-classical";
    case -501..0:  # Between -501 and 0
       period = "classical";
    case 1..500: 
       genre = "late classical";
    case 501..1500: 
       genre = "mediaeval";
    case 1501..1800: 
       genre = "early modern";
    case 1801..: # Greater than or equal to 1801.
       genre = "modern";

And so forth. You might also consider using strings instead of ints, for a little more subtlety and complexity.  Instead of providing simply for -500..0, 1501..1800, and so on, you could instead consider tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable, and poem unlimited.  And of course, you may also define a default case for those works that just refuse to fit in anywhere else.

Now of course, the basic assumption and assertion behind binary is that 1 != 0 and 0 != 1.  There is a fundamental and unbridgeable gap between them.  Your "modernity" is, accordingly, defined by the fact that is is not "the age of the epic": although these never appear in the same array, they appear to be your ultimate 1 and 0. Your opening paean makes it clear that your world, your modernity, is defined not only by the separation of interior from exterior, of the world from meaning, but by a longing for a state in which this separation did not exist - in which there was only 0, not 1 - which you call the time of the epic.

It follows, therefore, that you would create this 0 if it did not already exist; that it is very likely modernity, feeling this lack in itself, would try to create it somewhere - in the past, if nowhere else.  Feeling your wholeness fragmented, you have created an inaccessible whole, and simultaneously pushed it back behind an unbridgeable gap of time.  If 0 did not exist, you would invent it, and it would tell us little about Homer and his work and a good deal about you.

Personally, I like the number 6.  It brightens the place up.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Beowulf and the intimidated critic

I confess it: I have been avoiding Beowulf.

Now, of course, as soon as I confessed this to myself, I had to jump in and volunteer to present in the first of two classes in which we will discuss Beowulf in our 'Mediaeval (As) Epic' class - ie, in two weeks, which makes me the first seminar presentation overall.  Despite my rational mind saying 'oh, you should probably go for one of the later Anglo-Norman epics, 12th or maybe 13th century, that way you can double up your theory with your thesis, which, may I remind you, you are writing this semester'.  Because Beowulf is the behemoth, the Hamlet-scale terror, at the mention of which everything in me retreats to huddle behind a defensive barrier of 'oh, I work in the late Middle Ages, no, I have no opinion on Beowulf, that would require reading reams and reams of lifetimes' works of scholarship, also I do not speak Old English, no, please, do not get me fascinated by Old English, I don't have time'.

So of course I have now put myself in the position where I have to have an opinion by next week.  Oh well.

The course is on the concept of epic, and we seem so far to be leaning towards discussion of the later appropriation of that concept, particularly for nationalistic purposes, which accords with the secondary reading for that week (largely nation and romanticism in the 19th and early 20th centuries).  And there I can double up on theory with my thesis, in terms of the opportunistic (re)construction of 'history'. I much suspect that my key terms will be not only 'nationalism' and 'alterity' but also 'borders' and 'fragmentation' - as that will be a topic of discussion later when we reach Raoul de Cambrai - and thus - Grendel!  March-reaver and literal object of fragmentation!

And this, of course, means that I have an excuse to read J. J. Cohen.  This is always a treat.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Fight those cliches, people!

This is a post of great insight and depth and moment, in which I say ‘hey, look, something interesting’.

A few points of interest in this Middle English Yorkshire (?) chronicle, from c. 1327 (it goes up to the coronation of Edward III)! Quite aside from the fact that it seems unaware of the (supposed) murder of Edward II in September of that year, I suspect an early date due to its entire failure to adhere to the expected narrative pattern for the last few years of Edward II’s reign.

(All quotes are by line number from Caroline Eckhardt’s EETS edition – Castleford’s Chronicle, or The Boke of Brut, EETS 305-6 (1996), volume 2 of 2.)

For a start, the Despensers are not mentioned once in the narration of the civil war (well, skirmishes) of 1321-22. Despite the fact that they are the main point of contention (or the symbol of it) between the barons and Edward, and that contemporary chronicles habitually just blame them for the whole. Unless they are pro-Edward, in which case it’s either all deeply unfortunate, or Lancaster’s fault. But that’s not the case here – the chronicler is not too fond of Edward, and Lancaster is referred to (at least in the rubrics, although they could be scribal rather than authorial) as “Saynt Thomas” (39320). It’s uncertain whether the author would have participated in the martyr-cult language, as there is a very inconvenient folio missing between the capture of Lancaster at Boroughbridge and the invasion of Isabella in 1326, but in the text as it stands there is no overt sanctification of Lancaster – he’s merely the leader of the barons, and his virtues are not extolled above those of any of the others.

So, no Lancaster-villain or (probably) Lancaster-martyr, and very little Despensers. Possibly the Despensers were mentioned in the height of their power between 1322 and 1326, but, missing folio. When the Despensers are mentioned... well, here’s the real surprise. They aren’t villains.

In Bristoln, Huge Spenser þe alde,
In Bristol, Hugh Despenser the elder
So noble a knight hade bene and balde,
[Who] had been a knight so noble and bold,
Wi3 horses draghen, his domes slik,
[Was sentenced to be] drawn by horses, his doom/sentence being such
And siþen his heide of to strik.
And then his head to be struck off.
And Huge Spenser, þe yonger knight,
And Hugh Despenser, the younger knight,
For he in lande bare him noght right,
Because he in the land behaved not rightly
Sum men said, wrang consail[d]e the kynge,
Some men said, counselled the king ill
Þai dampnede him to draugh [and] hyng,
They damned/sentenced him to draw and hang…
(Castleford’s Chronicle, 39376-383)

This comes in the context of the author’s account of the “ful grefe suffrede þat tim” by all the supporters of Edward II. It is, in fact, almost sympathetic. And, although the chronicler is not entirely sure whether young Hugh’s character is entirely spotless, he isn’t the evil evil villain of evil scheming doom that he so often becomes, and the chronicler even praises the knighthood of the older Hugh.

The chronicler goes on to tell, with equal sympathy, of the deaths of Edward II’s other principle pillars at this time: Arundel, Baldock and Bishop Walter Stapelton of Exeter. The first two were executed by Isabella (no mention is made in this chronicle of Mortimer, unless it is in that missing folio), but, upon the news of Edward’s capture, Stapelton was killed by a London mob before Isabella even approached the city. Doubtless he would have been executed anyway, but as it was, the queen was not directly responsible for his death. Interestingly, however, this chronicle makes no distinction between execution (however doubtful its legality) and mob violence. ‘Death came to each of these five men in these ways’, it says, rather than ‘four of these men were executed and the Londoners rose up against the fifth’. The manner of each is narrated as if all stemmed from a common cause.
Þe bishop of Excestre, Walter,
The Bishop of Exeter, Walter,
Þat was þe kynges tresorer,
Who was the king’s treasurer
In London, at þe strete of Chepe,
In London, on Cheapside
Smote of his heide, noght els to threpe,
His head [was] smote off, with no further ado,
Amanges rascaile of þe cite,
Among the rabble of the city
And oþer wele fele wi3 him to se.
And others very many with him to be seen.
(Castleford’s Chronicle, 39396-401)

And, for completion, the chronicler’s summary of Edward II’s character. Note that crop failure during his reign is entirely an aspect of his character as king. Poor Edward.

Þis Edwarde, als anens his lede,
This Edward, as regards his rule,
Was wis of worde ande fole in dede.
Was wise in word and fool in deed.
Ek he was ful vngraciouse man,
Also he was a full ungracious man, [lit. lacking God’s grace; possible connotations ‘unnatural’, ‘wretched’, ‘wicked’]
Wel ner in alle þinges he bigan;
Well near in all things he undertook;
He gaf him, þof it semede no3 wele,
He devoted himself, though it did not appear well,
To al kins werke manuele.
To all kinds of manual work.
Durande alle his daise wel ner
During almost all his days [as king]
Chepinge of al kins corn was dere,
Purchase of all kinds of grain was expensive,
Feldes failede, vngre was grete,
Fields failed, hunger was great,
Poueraile diede for defaute of mete,
The poor died for lack of food,
Morin of men, of bestes alsua,
[There was] widespread death among mean, and beasts also,
Alle Englande in contek and wa,
All England [was] in discord and woe,
Alle Englande in contek and strife,
All England [was] in discord and strife,
Na pes stabliste durande his lif.
He established no peace during his life.
(Castleford’s Chronicle, 39412-425)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Modes of perception or stylistic conventions?

My supervisor recommended me last week a book that he finds has received less attention than it deserves, partly because it is awkwardly titled for its contents: William Brandt’s The Shape of Medieval History: Studies in Modes of Perception (London: Yale UP, 1966). I have found myself alternately fascinated and frustrated by it.

Brandt argues that mediaeval clerical writers lacked any concept of causal correlation, that a basic characteristic of mediaeval modes of perception was that events or objects stood in isolation as entities in themselves. Consequently events, not processes, are the basic units of mediaeval history writing. Rather than a chronicles being true narratives, or even continua, they were ‘written as collections of incidents or events... the clerical chronicler simply did not see a basic continuity of action’ (85-6). In Brandt’s analysis, the events that form the basic units of the chronicle are included as if no context existed, unrelated either by the chronicler’s awareness of an underlying process or cause, or by any kind of ‘temporal dimensions’: each stands alone, ‘one particular instant in time’ (66).

Brandt’s ideas are fascinating and thought-provoking, and some of them I find very productive. In particular, given my area of study, I am happily toying with his conclusion that the world perceived by mediaeval clerical writers [Footnote: Or, as I prefer to restrict it, the world as it is organised in the chronicles of said writers.] was ‘non-temporal... Our modern feeling for time is a function of our feeling for process; time is the means of continual change. The discrete and self-contained character of action as perceived by the medieval clerk meant that the world could not be perceived as process’ (171). There are some productive ideas here. I do agree with him that the mediaeval concept of time does seem to involve a fundamental division into discrete units, although I’d add that all of these seem to bear the same relationship to each other, and can therefore function as proximate examples (for example, an incident from antiquity may be used as an example that reflects on an incident in 1274).

Where I quibble with Brandt is not over his analyses of mediaeval historical writing, but in his insistence that the results of his analysis reveal some basic mediaeval ‘mode of perception’. Brandt sets out to find some kind of mindset or perceptive frame that he might characterise as recognisably mediaeval, and he believes he finds it in certain structural characteristics of some of the most typical late-mediaeval chronicles. While the search itself may be a worthy one, it seems to have led him to exaggerate the significance of his findings. He applies the phrase ‘fundamentally antitemporal’ not to a particular style of writing, but to the mind that produces it (93).

Brandt attributes the wide variety of material and the resulting lack of narrative flow in universalising chronicles to this inability to perceive causal relationships between situations. While acknowledging that Matthew Paris seems to have been aware of the irrelevance (impertinentia) of certain of his material to what Brandt interprets as his main subject, Brandt denies that, for Matthew or his contemporaries, it could have been a major criterion in selecting that material:

When we say that something is relevant to something else, we ordinarily mean that there is a causal relationship between them. Lacking in great measure the perception of relationships, the medieval chronicler who took his work seriously, as Matthew certainly did, was hard put to know what was relevant and what was not. (47)
Although it may be a result of unfortunate phrasing, Brandt seems to imply that Matthew was conscious of a debilitating lack in his perceptual tool box which complicated his task. This seems unlikely, as a recognised intellectual lack is easily remedied. In any case, the supposition that the mediaeval mind was so hampered by its inability to recognise causal correlations as to be unable to distinguish between relevance and irrelevance is easily disproved: think genres as diverse as analyses of vices and virtues, legal treatises, mirrors for princes, and many chronicles whose scope is more specific than Matthew’s.

Brandt seems himself to be hampered by a particular mode of perception, at least as it relates to the purpose of historical writing. This is illustrated by the falsity of his supposition in comparing Matthew’s perception of relevance to the conceptual decisions that a modern historian might make in planning out a work. An historian nowadays has the luxury of selection: any material omitted may reasonably be expected to exist elsewhere in easily accessible form. We have the luxury of structuring our work around a process or an argument. We may choose a process, argue it and select the events to fit. Matthew Paris, however, is not telling a story or arguing a process, but recording events. From his point of view it is probably better that any particular event be given the benefit of the doubt in the question of inclusion – who knows whether it will be recorded elsewhere? And if it is, there is no guarantee that it will ever be available to any of his particular readers. Once such a wide variety of material is admitted, a chronological structure is likely to be more coherent than any attempt at narrative ordered by topic (as Brandt himself points out, 46). This does not mean that Matthew (or his contemporaries) was not capable of telling a story, shaping the narrative and the events to fit. The Fineshade chronicler, for example, does exactly that. [Footnote: Granted, the Fineshade chronicle is what Brandt would call an occasional chronicle, as opposed to the universalising chronicles of Matthew Paris; but if this ‘mode of perception’ were indeed as fundamental to the structure of mediaeval thinking and writing as Brandt claims, that would make no difference.]

Brandt seems throughout to view the work of the mediaeval historian through his ideas of what a modern one ought to write, which reveal themselves from time to time as condescension, fascination or mild frustration. For example, in discussing the aristocratic chronicle, he remarks as if wonderingly that ‘it aims to celebrate, not to explain, the actions with which it is concerned. An explanation that may occur along the way is never the point of the narrative’ (88). There is no reason, outside of Brandt’s expectations, why Matthew Paris, or Jean le Bel, or Sir Thomas Gray, should make explanation the ‘point’ of their writing. The mediaeval chronicle, after all, is descended from (and existed concurrently with) simple annalistic lists of events, with no commentary or expansion at all.

I would prefer to account for the lack of explanatory context in another way. Although I agree that mediaeval modes of perception doubtless differed widely from ours, in ways that still call for exploration, I would rather pin this particular difference not to authorial perception, but to modes of reading.

The mediaeval intellectual mind was well-accustomed to glossing, to extrapolating larger meaning from single points, to reading significance in juxtaposition or similarity. There is literal glossing, of course, in which the bare text of (say) a work of Augustine’s was expected to travel with one or more levels of interpretive gloss, which leant it several layers of (sometimes mutually contradictory) reading. The Bible was expected to be accompanied by the Glossa Ordinaria. Images, too, could provide a kind of gloss. An image on a page, though not directly illustrating the text, may on reflection emphasise or alter one’s reading of that same text. Texts were intended to be considered and re-considered, each page to be contemplated. A reader is, then, in the habit of taking on a certain burden of interpretation. The interpretation is naturally guided by the reader’s own cultural paraphernalia. If his (or occasionally her) copy of Mark’s Gospel lacked the Glossa, he would nevertheless have the intellectual apparatus to, say, produce a reasonable allegorical reading of a given passage, or read the appearance of a certain animal in terms of its usual symbolic significance.

In a similar fashion, in a chronicle – especially a local one – a list of events may perhaps be expected to function effectively as an aide-memoire. Exact sequences of events and dates may be forgotten, and so are recorded as the basic skeletal structure of memory. Memory’s flesh, however, the emotional weight and drama behind a certain event, or its significance to a given community – the shared cultural heart of it, in short – may be expected to come to mind far more easily, especially when prompted by the bone-like facts. Writing in Ramsey Abbey, where the death toll included the abbot, it may not be necessary to say more of 1349 than ‘hoc anno fuit magna pestilencia hominum’: anyone reading it knows what that means, fundamentally, in human terms. The year may slip one’s mind, but not its horror, whether one lived through it or not.

In this analogy, chronicle would function as text and internalised cultural memory as gloss.   The gloss is an important element in correctly reading the text, although it may be implicit rather than spelt out.  Brandt, I feel, goes too far in problematising the absence of an explicit authorial interpretative presence in the chronicles he examines.  He frets over the lack of a connecting narrative in Matthew’s account of the conflicts between Henry III and the church, finding that the chronicler sees ‘only a series of events… The things that make these struggles intelligible for a modern reader – the church–state controversy, for instance – were invisible to Matthew’ (76).

Can a man of Matthew’s sense and intellectual curiosity have been blind to the tension between church and state whose manifestations he so enthusiastically records? Perhaps instead we should say that they were not only visible, but so very obvious that he had no need to explain them. 

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Page left Blank: the rest of MS BL Additional 54184.

When, probably in the late 1330s, the scribe of Ramsey Abbey finished copying what he had of Murimuth’s chronicle – up to 1334 – he had a few folios left in his quire. He, or someone with a similar hand, ruled up the remaining pages (ff 144v-146r) for an annal, assigning a year to each line – enough for very short notices. There is a broad margin to the left of the year, which became used for notices regarding the Abbey, with the main column to the right for notices on national events. It’s an impressive statement, bold in its very carelessness: he simply filled the next 4 pages with dates, down to 1478.

It seems not to have occurred to him that Ramsey might not, by that year, be using this book, or not be in a position to uphold and maintain its tradition of chronicle-keeping, for well over a hundred years into the future. Ramsey the Golden, she had been called, one of the very richest and most powerful monasteries in England once upon a time. And, if the expenses incurred by two of the early-fourteenth-century abbots, and the Great Famine and subsequent economic downturn, and the changing climate in England with regards to piety and attitudes towards monastic institutions, had perhaps tarnished her splendour a little, she was still Ramsey, one of the great Benedictine monasteries of the Fenlands, heir to a proud and ongoing tradition of scholarship.

But those pages were barely used. There are only a handful (sorry!) of hands there, jotting down – often some time after the event – those events that one always records as the turn of an age: the deaths and accessions of abbots and kings. And the very first entry written, in a mid-late 14C hand, is for 1349: “Hoc anno fuit magna pestilencia hominum”.

Looking at that entry, I was suddenly very personally moved, in a way that’s rare when I’m wearing my scholarly hat. There are notices of the changes of abbot in the left margin, but they were written later – much later, as the same hand (and the same ink) has written all the notices of the changes of abbot until that in 1395. And he got the first wrong. He puts the death of Abbot Robert Nassyngton in 1347. But he didn’t die in 1347 – he died in 1349, of the plague. Whoever wrote the notice of the plague was looking at the same page that I was – a little less faded, the leaves a little less stiff - but it was empty of entries.

All the page held, when this monk was looking at it, was the frame, the shape of the years to come optimistically marching on into the future, the ruling of the page as rigorously structured as the foundations of the Abbey itself - but blank. This monk, whoever he was, had lived through the plague. Ramsey was hit hard: I don’t have the numbers by me, but I do remember seeing a chart of their food expenses over this decade, and there is a dramatic plunge right there.

He also knew it wasn’t an isolated event. He wrote a notice for 1361: “Hoc anno fuit secunda pestilencia hominum.” Such a little phrase for something so catastrophic. The turn of an age indeed, even if not in a way that anyone might have thought to date by previously. The future was uncertain, and very different to whatever the original scribe had anticipated.

I transcribed the rest of the notices, because they were brief and easy and I had the time. For anyone who’s interested, I have included them below.

Incidentally, I find it curious that all the notices of the deaths and elections of abbots are in the left margin, while all the space in the main column is left empty except on the rare occasion of a national event worthy of recording.  And it’s not simply a matter of secular events being on one side and monastic on the other.  The left margin does function as a margin, not a narrower column – the notices are not simply written to the left of the date, but referenced with a lemma, a symbol by the date that corresponds with a symbol by the note.  Essentially, they’re like today’s footnotes.  The monastic events are literally marginalised, curious for a centre of power like Ramsey.

Transcription follows. Underlining indicates an expanded abbreviation. {text} indicates the bracketed text is faded or almost obscured by a stain. ^text^ indicates a superlinear insertion. *text* indicates that text is written over an erasure (by the same hand unless otherwise stated). I’ve only labelled the hands that recur.
f. 144v 
1342. Hoc anno Symon de / Eya obiit. Et Rober-/tus de Nassyngtonne / abbas efficitur. [“In this year Simon de Eye died, and Robert of Nassyngton was made abbot.” Added by lemma, outer margin. Similar to hand B, probably identical (B has gothic elements that appear self-conscious and not entirely consistent, which may account for the differences between this notice and the others by B).] 
1347.  Hoc anno obijt Robertus Nassyng-/tonne abbas. & Ricardus Schenyngtonne abbas / efficitur. [Lemma, outer margin. Hand B. NB: date is incorrect, should be ‘49.] 
1349. Hoc anno fuit magna pestilencia hominum. [“In this year was the great pestilence of men.” Main column. Hand A.] 

1361. Hoc anno fuit secunda pestilencia hominum. [“In this year was the second pestilence of men.” Main column. Hand A.] 

f 145r 

1377.  Hoc anno Edwardus tercius ^rex^ obijt cuit suc-/cessit Ricardus *filius eduuardi principis*. [“In this year ^King^Edward III died, to whom succeeded Richard son of Prince Edward”. Main column, two lines, both connected by a line to the date. Hand C (similarities with hand A).  The correction over the erasure is by D, a very different hand using paler ink.] 
1378.  Hoc an/no Ricardus Sche/nyngtonne ab-/bas obijt . & / Edmundus /Elyngtoni / abbas effi-/citur. [Lemma, left margin. Hand B.] 
1395. Hoc anno obijt / Edmundus / Elyngtoni ab-/bas. & Thomas / Boterwyke / abbas efficitur. [Lemma, left margin. Hand B. He (or a later hand) has also drawn a text box around these notices of abbot changes in the shape of a scroll. The ink is yellower than the text. Someone else has done similarly on the following pages.] 

1399. Hoc anno *R Ricardus rex obijt sine liberis*. / cui successit henricus quartus in regnum. [Added in the margin: per conquestum.] [“In this year King Richard died without issue.  Henry IV succeeded him to the kingdom (by conquest)”. Main column, two lines, underwritten with a single line which loops up to connect to the year. Hand C; amendments (over erasure and in margin) by D.] 

1412. *H*oc anno ob*ijt* henricus quartus rex. cui successit henricus .vtus. in regnum [Main column, in a small hand to fit on one line.] 

1415. [Lemma in margin + “hoc anno”, matching lemma by date over an erasure of three lines, but entry not completed. Possibly same hand as previous, sample too small to say.] 

f. 145v 

1419.  Hoc anno obijt Thomas /Boterwyke abb. Et E-/lectus est Johannes Tyche-/merche in abbatem. [Lemma, left margin. Small hand, E.] 
1421.  Hoc anno obijt henricus quartus rex [sic]. cui successit henricus .vj. [Main column. Possibly E – same ink. Differences may be accounted for by limited space available for previous notice.] 
1429.  xxxix / x [Probatio pennae. Main column.] 
1434. Hoc anno obijt Johannes Ty-/chemerch abbas & / Johannes Crolande / abbas efficitur. [Lemma, left margin.] 

1436.  Hoc anno o Johannes / Croyland abbas / & Johannes Stow / abbas efficitur.  [Lemma, left margin.] 

f. 146r 

1460.  Hoc anno fuit bellum apud norha{mtoniam} [Lemma in left margin, note at top of page. Edge of leaf damaged and blackened, so place name partly obscured.] 
1461.  Hoc anno Eduuardus quartus coronatur. [“In this year Edward IV was crowned”.  Note the lack of mention of Henry VI – there is absolutely no form for this! Main column.] 
1468. Hoc anno octavo decimo die augusti Dominus Johannes Stow / abbas huius locis propter inbesillitatem [sic] corporis ^suis^ resig-/nauit baculum pastoralem manus domini. Iohannes Schad-/worth episcopi Lincolniensis. Et. v. die septembris id est in die / sancti bertinis abbatis Electus fuit dominus Willelmus Wyttyl-/sey in abbatem. Et in vigilia sancti quintini / fuit stallatus [sic] littera dominicalis. v. ["In this year on the 18th day of August the Abbot of this place, lord John Stow, on account of the weakness of ^his^ body, resigned his pastoral crook into the hands of lord John Shadworth Bishop of Lincoln.  And on the 5th day of September, that is on the day of Saint Bertin the Abbot lord William Whittlesea was elected Abbot." Main column, ignoring the horizontal ruled lines – paragraph-style, with a dash from first line to year. Small hand, cursive elements. Final sentence added in different hand.]