Charter Top Tens: The Sunny South


Those of you who follow me on Twitter (@ralphtorta *winks*) probably already know that, this week, I’ve been listing my Top 10 charters. This has provoked a little response, because, as one might expect, my favourite charters (almost) all come from my research period and area, that is, tenth-century northern France. However, the world of charters is vast and endlessly fascinating, and as evidence of that Thomas Lecaque (@tlecaque) posted his own list of documents from Languedoc. So this week’s blog will be something of the text equivalent of a response video*, as I talk about what struck me about these documents as an outsider to the area. I won’t respond to them all, but I will list them all – let’s get started.


10: ARTEM no. 3960, Bernard of Peyrolles to the Holy Sepulchre, 1060:

What struck me is that Bernard doesn’t give directly to Jerusalem, but to Rodez cathedral, instructing Dieudonné Bordet, the sacristan, to send the Holy Sepulchre itself a cash sum each year. This might not be a banking network, but at the least it’s an indication that people think you can move money over long distances reliably enough for it to be worth doing.

9. Cartulaire de Saint-Sernin no. 133, a notice of the end of the quarrel between the canons of Saint-Sernin and Saint-Etienne de Toulouse, 1076/7:

Here, the elderly bishop of Lectoure, Raymond Ebo, wants to go to Jerusalem on pilgrimage, but has to resolve a dispute over some land he holds: in addition to being bishop, he is prior of Saint-Etienne, but holds the land from Saint-Sernin, so both sets of canons claim the land. I have to say I don’t agree with one element of Thomas’ comments here:

I’m not sure Raymond Ebo’s role here is much of a problem… As the cartulary of Saint-Florent de Saumur amongst many others could show, reformed monks are no strangers to petty litigiousness, and Raymond Ebo’s links within Toulouse do actually have enough pull to get a settlement to stick, at least temporarily. Which, as an old man wanting the kids to shut up long enough to go on pilgrimage, is presumably all he wanted…

8. Cartulaire de Saint-Sernin, no. 546, Count William IV of Toulouse and Bishop Isarn of Toulouse permitting Peter Benedict to set up a hospital, 1075-1078:

7. Cartualire de Saint-Sernin, no. 291, Count William IX of Poitou and his wife Philippa to Saint-Sernin, 1098:

I have nothing to add to this, but it’s great.

6. BNF MS Lat. 9189 fol. 25v, Raymond of Saint-Gilles to Lezat, c. 1058:

Thomas highlights the apocalyptic rhetoric here, and the introductory phrase ‘appropinquante etenim mundi termino et ruinis crescentibus’ (For the end of the world draws nigh, and desolation groweth) in the context of the apocalypticism of Raymond of Saint-Gilles’ Crusade army. I’m more interested by his implication this formula is rare in the Languedoc, because it’s incredibly common in the north – this implies, at the very least, something about the transmission of documentary forms southwards…

5. ARTEM no. 2676, Pons, Geoffrey and Bertrand to Raymond of Saint-Gilles, 1103:

Ooh, vernacular text!

4. ARTEM no. 3841, Roger II of Foix to Fredelas, 1111:

Again, I’m not sure about the interpretation of reform here. By comparison, Robert of Neustria makes a similar restoration of property to Saint-Martin in 900, but it’s presented as his own initiative; that Roger highlights the papal role in the restoration indicates how far the papacy has managed to infiltrate discourse by the early twelfth century.

(Also, I like how the ‘comes Fuxensis’ gives no Fux.)

3. ARTEM no. 2443, Gerard I of Roussillon makes his will:

2. Arles, BM 1242, f. 55v, no. lx, Prior Peter of Arles exchanges lands with two Jews, 1008:

There are some royal diplomas in favour of early tenth-century Narbonne which repeat each time the same phrase about how the Jews aren’t paying their taxes to the archbishop’s men, which implies either a scribe wasn’t paying attention or that he had the least efficient tax collectors in the world. (Or, y’know, that the text of these things doesn’t alwaysnecessarily matter; but that’s another argument.)

1. HGL no. 365/CCXCVII, Peter of Melgueil donates his entire county to the papacy, 1085:

Wow. This is indeed a great one to finish on – to me, whose ideas of ‘normal’ political behaviour are based on the mid-tenth century, by the point someone’s donating a whole county to the Pope, there’s definitely been a discursive shift, and this is fascinating evidence of that; as well as the shift from the position of count being an office to being a possession – I don’t think a late Carolingian count would even have conceived of their county as being something they could give to anyone, let alone the pope!

Also interesting is that Peter donates the bishopric of Maguelonne (episcopatum Magalonensem). I don’t know if episcopatum has some other meaning in the south, but how’s that for ‘Church in the hands of the laity’?

Anyway, thanks to Thomas for posting that – he’s certainly illustrated the great richness of southern French charters!

I’ll be posting a list of and commentary on my own picks once the countdown is finished, over the weekend. But if you’re reading this and you have your own nominations for #top10charters, then please do put them up with the hashtag – if I can think of things to say about them, I might do this whole ‘response’ idea again…


*(Tweets copied with permission)

New Medieval Podcast, and Sexual Frustration

So, this week Twitter (@ralphtorta, ladies and gents *winks*) informed me that those good folks over at King’s College London have launched a new podcast dealing with medieval matters. So I went and had a look, and, what do you know, it was pretty interesting:

Leaving aside the inherent oddness of hearing my elders and betters having an extended discussion about dildo use and manufacture, there are a couple of things this podcast raises I thought it would be worth talking about.

The first is a question which comes up towards the end of the episode. The idea behind the show is that they answer question sent in by the audience, and this week it’s ‘did medieval people know other kinds of sex?’. That question itself is framed in a rather eyebrow-raising way (what’s the non-other kind of sex?), but it leads our erstwhile presenters to ask: why do people frame the Middle Ages as being sexually naïve?

Their answer is about Church control over lay sex lives. People think that the Middle Ages consisted of people who don’t have sex telling people who do how to have it, and thus, boom, (or indeed not boom), sexual desert. And sure, that’s probably part of it, but I think there’s a little more that can be said here.

I call it ‘Rearview Mirror Syndrome’. When dealing with stuff outside living memory (nowadays, say, before the turn of the twentieth century), everything becomes an undifferentiated ‘past’, so Victorian and Tudor and Norman pasts get mixed up and amalgamated. Sure, this might not happen at the level of the most basic aesthetics – you won’t see William the Conqueror portrayed in a top hat – but that’s about as far as it goes. Hence why people think that medieval people burned witches at the stake (it’s really an Early Modern phenomenon), for instance.

Exhibit A. (source)


This usually works backwards, because most people know (or think they know) more about the Tudor and Stuart periods than the Middle Ages and about Victorian times than the Tudors and Stuarts. Hence, you get a kind of foreshortening effect.

In this case, I think that there’s a train of thought going ‘the Victorians were unutterably prudish about sex, thus the past was as well, and thus the Middle Ages also covered up their legs and had sex through a hole in the bedsheet’: as in the case of witch burnings, people perceive all the past as being the same. Indeed, whilst it would be hard to argue that it’s the most profound job of historians in interacting with the public, one of our most basic tasks is, I would argue, just to remind people that past societies were chronologically varied. At the very least, this way we might get more interesting movies out of it…

(and yes, I will be reviewing the new King Arthur film. Stay tuned…)

The other point this podcast raised for me (wahey) was a question I’ve been asking for a long time. How did medieval people, and in my case specifically tenth- and eleventh-century people, have sex? It’s noticeable that for the most part, the presenters talk about canon law sources and what they prohibit (as memorialised in the by-now world-famous medieval sex flowchart:)


What this doesn’t tell us about, though, is quotidian sex. This is more important than it sounds, especially if you think about queens. One way a queen is supposed to be important, to have influence at court, is that she has the ear of the king during some pretty intimate moments; and it makes a fairly major difference here whether one envisages royal sex as a bit of perfunctory thrusting or a full evening of candles-and-rose-petals-and-sensual-massages.

Thietmar of Merseburg has a story about Henry the Fowler getting drunk and forcing himself upon his protesting wife St. Matilda. This is interesting for a couple of reasons, not least insofar it indicates that lack of consent to sex was seen as a real problem and a real evil (as Thietmar tells the story, the wickedness of the act allowed the Devil to enter Henry’s semen, impregnating St. Matilda with a baby who would go on to be a prominent and persistent rebel against royal authority); but also because it may, at least to my reading, indicate that this was seen as unusual, and that sex would usually be a more tender affair. Of course, there isn’t anything like enough evidence to tell, at least as far as I know; and there’s also the problem that sex is always particularly charged in medieval histories. Still, it’s one of those things that’s self-evidently sufficiently important to more than just the history of sexual practice that one would like to know…