Was Richer of Rheims a Cantor?

Apologies for the delay last week – I had to deal with computer annoyances which meant that blogging took a backseat. This post still isn’t really going to be on schedule either; nominally, I’ve got more from the Ghent conference pegged in, but instead I’m going to deal with a point of basically-antiquarian interest. Eh, it’s my blog – you’re probably lucky that I haven’t devoted multiple posts to Minecraft by now.

So, singing. The early eleventh century saw an awful lot of historians who were also musicians – Adhemar of Chabannes and Odorannus of Sens, to name just a couple. This has no small affect on their writings – both men wrote works filled to the brim with references to music and its effect on people. The office of cantor was prestigious within a religious community, and a cantor could reasonably be expected to be a learned and responsible member of it. So, when Jason Glenn proposed that the idiosyncratic eleventh-century historian Richer of Rheims was a cantor, it was an idea people liked.

Richer still remains, after all, a necessary but frustrating source for late-tenth and early-eleventh century France. He’s experienced something of a renaissance in recent years, with no fewer than two monographs and several articles about various aspects of his writing. It has thus become ever-more clear that Richer’s portrayal of events is filtered through a very particular rhetorical viewpoint based on classical historiography and particularly Sallust; the more we know about where he was coming from, the better we can try and tell where he was trying to go.

Glenn’s argument for Richer’s status as a cantor is based on a late eleventh-century list of the deceased, into which a twelfth-century scribe wrote a series of names, including, under the 19th May, ‘Richer, canon and cantor of this church and afterwards a monk of Saint-Remi’. Glenn goes on to say, basically, ‘there’s only so many Richers so we may as well say ours is this one’. It’s probably fair to say here that Glenn both knows and says that this argument is tenuous and he’s only making it because it allows him to talk more broadly about intellectual culture around the turn of the millennium. Still, I’ve seen other historians take it up, so it’s worth saying here: no, Richer the historian was not Richer the cantor.

In 1074 and 1076, a man named Richer shows up as a cathedral canon at Rheims witnessing archiepiscopal charters (nos. 49 & 50 in Demouy’s edition, conveniently available here). By 1084, he had apparently become cantor (no. 65) under Archbishop Manasses II, a role which he held for some twenty-plus years. He last witnesses in 1106 (no. 146), and a new cantor, Lambert, appears by 1109. Interestingly, Richer disappears around the same time that Manasses II died. Given the obituary entry says he became a monk, I wonder if the death of the archbishop spurred him to leave the world for the cloister?

In any case, this is clearly our man: first a canon, then a cantor; and who died in the early twelfth century, after the list of the dead was first written but before the twelfth-century additions. Sadly, then, there’s one more thing we don’t know about Richer the historian to add to the list. At least, though, the spectre of a camarilla of musicians directing the writing of history in eleventh-century France for their own sinister purposes can also be laid to rest…


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