Hey all. There’ll be a proper blog post tomorrow, but today I wanted to ask for some help. A little while back, I conceived of doing an English translation of the complete works of Folcuin of Lobbes. Folcuin is one of the most important historians of the tenth century, writing histories of the abbeys of Saint-Bertin and Lobbes as well as a biography of St. Folcuin, bishop of Thérouanne; but so far there is only one translation of his works into a modern language, a version of the history of Lobbes in French.
This project has now progressed reasonably far; so I’d like to ask if anyone would be interested in checking some of the translation? I’d be grateful for any help, from a short paragraph to a long prologue (maybe there are some truly hardcore people out there who might want to check the whole thing, who knows). In return, I can offer gratitude and the promise of reciprocal proofreading…
If anyone’s interested, e-mail or message me or leave a comment here – all offers will be very appreciatively received.
As promised, last week I went and saw the new Guy Ritchie film King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword, with the intention to review it for this blog. And how appropriate it was that I saw it just after posting something which had as a major point the mash-up pop culture makes of medieval history!
First things first, is the film any good? Well, no, not really. It’s honestly rather inept on a technical and characterisation level. Arthur himself is very evidently supposed to be a loveably cheeky rogue (what with this being a Guy Ritchie movie and all), but he comes across as just a little bit of an asshole, and the bits of the film which are lightly-medievalised versions of your standard Guy Ritchie protagonists sit rather uncomfortably with the more straight-faced and sombre Arthuriana. This may be because the film’s tone changed part-way through the production process, from something more serious to something more stereotypically Ritchie-esque. Jude Law’s Vortigern, equally, was clearly at one point supposed to be a more textured and nuanced villain, what with his love for his family and conflict over doing Bad Things to Certain People; but the only motivation he’s given is that he loves people being terrified of him. On a technical level, the action scenes are shot in that choppy, modern, Michael-Bay-ish way that critics have been decrying for years. It’s not the worst thing ever, but it’s definitely pushing the lower boundaries of mediocre. Were it not for some – I don’t think deliberate but nonetheless uncomfortable – unfortunate political overtones in the last five minutes, it would be a worthy contender to the 2004 Arthur movie for Bad Medieval Movie evenings.
I’m a bit hesitant to call it a ‘medieval’ movie per se, mind. The first shot of the film is a text scroll telling us how ‘man and mage used to live in harmony’, and then we see Camelot under attack by monstrously large magical elephants, so criticising its historical accuracy is a mug’s game (unlike the 2004 film, which wore its pretentions to accuracy on its sleeve). It is nonetheless clearly supposed to bear some relation to reality: Arthur comes from Londinium and is very specifically king of England (yes, England, I’ll get to that), so this isn’t just the Warcraft movie with the names changed.
(It does feel that way at times, though, although I’d argue the Warcraft movie is better. Mind you, that film’s fairly underrated anyway – not to say it’s great, but it’s perfectly OK.)
In that regard, it’s a good example of the mixing-up of the past I was talking about last week. Vortigern and Arthur share a movie with characters called William and Jack, they live in the city of Londinium (not modern London or Anglo-Saxon Lundenburh), Vortigern’s evil secret police are clearly Ivan the Terrible’s Oprichniki but with evil Roman centurion uniforms that are most reminiscent of 2000’s Jesus Christ Superstar remake; Vortigern’s throne room looks very like Charlemagne’s cathedral in Aachen…
(I tried Googling to find an image of the Roman uniforms in the Jesus Christ Superstar remake, but all I got was an unnerving amount of Pontius Pilate fan-art, which is a sentence I never thought I’d say…)
Like I said, criticising its historical accuracy is self-evidently silly. What’s more interesting is that this must have been done deliberately, because at least someone on the crew knows what they’re doing: Vortigern’s big plot is to build a tower, which is straight out of Nennius’ Historia Brittonum, one of the few sources mentioning Arthur written within five hundred years of his life; and there’s just enough post-Roman window dressing to put us in roughly the right time. The mashing-up of the past above, then, is a useful example of how this kind of historical melange isn’t necessarily bad. By mixing everything up in this way, the film passes from real history into a vague and legendary past – appropriately enough for a movie about King Arthur – letting us know not to think too closely about the details and go with the flow, setting the audience up reasonably well for such a silly film.
Bishop Rainald of Angers was, like many of his fellow prelates, heir to a fortune. Bishop of Angers since 973, he was famous for his piety and his campaigns against simony (the practice of buying Church offices) and lay misappropriation of church property. Around the turn of the first millennium, at the end of 1001, he decided to make his biggest-yet charitable gesture: he would give all of his landed fortune to his cathedral, Saint-Maurice in Angers. This generous move, however, was not unopposed. I’ll let Rainald take over the story:
We judge that everything we want to call to mind should be written down in sacred arrangements of letters, so that it might be considered more memorable and believed more firmly by those to come.
And so I, Rainald, bishop of the Angevins, want it to be known to all the faithful of the holy Church of God, both present and future, that Count Fulk [Nerra] and his brother Maurice inflicted on me a calumny concerning my inheritance, which I had held solidly and quietly after the burial of my father, and which, for the remedy of the soul of my father and my mother and also my own, I had conceded with a devoted heart to the holy mother of God Mary and the holy martyr Maurice and the holy confessor Maurilius. They said that my father Rainald [Torench, viscount of Angers] gave it to their father Geoffrey [Grisegonelle, count of Anjou] as part of an agreement to gain the bishopric.
Since they remained obstinate about this, I released a certain serf of the same inheritance to the judgement of God, so that God might through him deign to reveal His virtue and declare the truth. By God’s grace, when he was sent for on the third day of the ordeal (as is customary), he appeared unharmed in the sight of all the onlookers.
Therefore, if anyone, filled with the Devil’s incitements (God forbid!) might from this day forth dare to do anything presumptuous or inflict any calumny concerning this matter, by the authority of God the Father Almighty and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and the holy mother of God Mary, and the prince of the apostles Peter, and all the saints of God and Our own, let them remain damned and excommunicate and sequestered from the whole company of the faithful forever.
So, Rainald had held his personal inheritance perfectly happily since his father died in the early 990s; but come the first decade of the new millennium, who should pop out of the woodwork but Fulk Nerra, count of Anjou, famous for his temper and ruthlessness; and his brother Maurice, heir to the county of Chalon, accusing Rainald of breaking an agreement between their respective fathers? There are in fact several things going on here, one to do with Angevin expansion southwards towards Aquitaine, and the other to do with comital control over the church within Angers.
Rainald of Angers’ father Rainald Torench had been a pretty big deal in western France. It is possible his family had been entrenched there for generations, although the evidence for that is based on arguments about patterns of personal names I’m fairly sceptical of in principle. More certainly, though, Rainald Torench himself had built up a pretty large fortune in land in the region around Angers, particularly in the area of the Mauges, a region south of the river Loire between Nantes and Angers, centred around the modern town of Cholet. This region, however, was strategically significant for the counts of Anjou, who were expanding south into northern Aquitaine, attempting in particular to win over the viscounts of Thouars, whose loyalties wavered back and forth between the dukes of Aquitaine and the counts of Anjou. The Mauges, as the western neighbour of the Thouarsais, was strategically important to these efforts. Consequently, Rainald’s inheritance – which, as I said, appears to have been very substantial – was also significant.
Within Anjou itself, this charter is taken as evidence that the counts of Anjou enjoyed control of appointments to the bishopric. One historian in particular, Olivier Guillot, has noted that Rainald isn’t disputing that his appointment as bishop was obtained through simony, but only what exactly the cost of the appointment was; other historians have tended to follow this. In my opinion, though, this is a complete misreading of the document. Fulk and Maurice’s accusation was clearly meant not simply to dispute the property with Rainald, but to discredit him, painting the anti-simony campaigner as a simoniac himself. Rainald isn’t saying that the calumny was that his father paid his whole inheritance for the bishopric, he’s saying that the calumny was that he obtained the bishopric illegitimately. He did not submit his case to the judgement of God to prove that his father was good at haggling!
Historians have been oddly ready to be cynical about what is clearly a politically-motivated accusation aimed at gaining control of a large inheritance in Anjou’s southern marches. In fact, this document doesn’t say nearly as much about Angevin control over the church in Angers as it does about their desire to expand into Aquitaine and their willingness to spread what we can probably be safe in calling slanderous allegations to ensure it.