Sunday, March 3, 2024

The Roman de Fergus

Although you wouldn't suspect that the life of Fergus of Galloway (who died in 1161) would lend itself to the Arthurian Romance cycle, the tendency to latch onto an old name and use it in creative ways was common in the Middle Ages. What was even more creative was that the story seems to be a parody of Arthurian romance.

The Roman de Fergus, or "Story of Fergus" is written in Old French by someone who claims to be Guillaume le Clerc (William the Clerk). A recent idea links the author to a royal clerk, William of Malveisin, who was born in France but became a royal clerk in Scotland. The name and the language make him a likely candidate to write the Roman to entertain the court of William I of Scotland, who would not mind the implied mockery of a lord of Galloway.

Unlike most Arthurian Romance, this Roman has very specific and accurate references to geography. In it, Fergus is a farmer, son of a lord who can only afford a fortress made of wood, not stone. Fergus observes Arthur and his knights on a stag hunt near Carlisle, and is inspired by them to become a knight himself.

He gets a suit of armor from his father, and heads to Arthur's court in Carlisle. Along the way he kills two bandits whose heads he presents to Arthur. Kay the Seneschal mocks him and challenges him to prove his worth by defeating the Black Knight. He is knighted by Arthur and receives a sword from Perceval.

At Liddel Castle along the way, he falls in love with Galiene, and promises to return to her when he has defeated the Black Knight. After doing so, he returns, but Galiene is missing. He searches for a year, and encounters a dwarf who says he will find her if he can retrieve a shield from a hag (who is also a dragon) in Dunnottar Castle. This he does, killing a few more people with whom he argues, and returns to find Galiene is now the ruler of Lothian. Unfortunately, she is in Roxburgh, besieged by a neighboring king. Heading to Roxburgh, he is attacked at Melrose by the husband of the hag he killed at Dunnottar.

Fergus eventually saves Roxburgh, and he and Galiene are reunited at a tournament held by Arthur in which Fergus defeats every one of Arthur's knights.

The Roman de Fergus was entertaining, but not considered great medieval literature except that it was an interesting parody of the Perceval-Grail story. Then something odd happened: in the mid-13th century it was translated into Middle Dutch...poorly. The first half was done well, but a second translator took over who was not as good at Old French. Perhaps the second translator just wanted to re-work the story. The resulting Roman de Ferguut is far better known as a Dutch classic than the original is known in Scotland. It even earned an English translation in 2000.

Although Fergus becomes a hero, did his humble origin qualify as mockery, and was this story a playful pursuit by William the Clerk, or did his employer William I of Scotland request it? Let's see why King William might have wanted to poke a little fun at Galloway next time.

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Fergus versus Scotland

(The illustration is a sketch of Cruggleton Castle, an important Galloway fortress which now is more accurately called a pile of rock than even an "historical ruin.")

The Lords of Galloway in southwestern Scotland seem to have looked more toward the Isles of the west and north coasts as friends and allies more than the inland kingdoms. Such seems to have been the case with Fergus of Galloway, who married his daughter Affraic to Óláfr Guðrøðarson, King of the Isles. Óláfr had seen a vicious power struggle among his brothers when their father died, and (like David I of Scotland) was taken in by Henry I of England. Sometime between 1112 and 1115, Henry established Óláfr on the throne of the Isles  (which encompassed the Isle of Mann, the Inner Hebrides, the Outer Hebrides, the Orkneys, and the Shetlands).

Óláfr was assassinated by three nephews, and his and Affraic's son, Guðrøðr Óláfsson, might have expected help from Guðrøðr's grandfather Fergus, but before Fergus could send any help, Galloway was attacked. Fergus had a good relationship with David I, supporting him in the (disastrous for them) Battle of the Standard, but David's grandson, Malcolm IV (David's son and Malcolm's father, Henry Earl of Huntingdon had died from illness), did not feel the same. Malcolm was born in 1141, and so was only 19 when he launched three campaigns against Galloway. Had Fergus been encroaching on Scottish territory, or did Malcolm simply want to expand? We'll never know.

Fergus was forced to retire to Holyrood Abbey in Edinburgh, founded in 1128 by David I and the recipient of largesse from Fergus himself in happier days. Fergus died 12 May 1161, and was interred at Holyrood. His lordship was divided between his sons, Uhtred and Gille Brigte (after they fought each other, as often happens among royal siblings).

As I mentioned yesterday, Fergus "lived on" in a different way. His name seems to have become unexpectedly attached to the Arthurian Cycle. Even more unexpectedly, a bad translation of it is considered a Dutch classic. Tomorrow we take a literary trip into the Roman de Fergus.

Friday, March 1, 2024

Fergus of Galloway

In yesterday's post about St. Ninian, I suggested that the biography of him written 700 years later by Aelred of Rievaulx may have had a political origin. To explain that, we have to talk about Fergus of Galloway.

An 1136 charter by King David I of Scotland includes as a witness Fergus of Galloway. This is our first reference to him. In the early Middle Ages, Galloway would have been a "sub-kingdom" in southwest Scotland, and a king of Scotland like David would have been seen as a "first among equals" like the high-king in Ireland. Over time, these sub-kings were designated as hereditary lords. The dynasty of Fergus lasted from his time until 1234.

Digging into contemporary documents, it appears that he may have been married to an illegitimate daughter of King Henry I of England, Elizabeth Fitzroy. (By some counts, Henry had two dozen illegitimate children.) Fergus had three children: Uhtred, Gilla Brigte, and a daughter Affraic. The chronicler Roger de Hoveden refers to Uhtred as a cousin of Henry's son Henry II. Fergus' second son, Gilla Brigte, had a son who was referred to as a kinsman of Henry II and his son, King John. In other marriage news, Fergus married Affraic to with Óláfr Guðrøðarson, King of the Isles (the Isle of Mann, the Inner Hebrides, the Outer Hebrides, the Orkneys and the Shetlands). Their son, Guðrøðr Óláfsson, became King of Dublin and the Isles. A 12th-century monk and chronicler, Robert de Torigni, claimed that Guðrøðr was related to Henry II.

The Fergus dynasty was very supportive of Augustinians, Benedictines, Cistercians, and Premonstratensians (a strict order founded by a friend of Bernard of Clairvaux, Norbert of Xanten). In one case, records state that Fergus founded a Premonstratensian house at Whithorn. Supposedly, St. Ninian had started the diocese of Whithorn, but it had lapsed, to be revived in 1128. Other records suggest that Fergus founded an Augustinian house that was later converted to Premonstratensian by Christian, the second bishop of the revived Whithorn diocese.

Fergus' extensive support of monasteries and orders has caused some head-scratching to determine the cause. Did he simply want to mirror what other, more-powerful lords did in their realms? Or was there some other underlying purpose. As it turns out, the greatest atrocities during the Battle of the Standard in 1138 were (according to chroniclers) committed by Gallovidian soldiers supporting King David's attempt to capture more territory. It seems likely that Fergus's religious generosity may have had a penitential flavor. Is it possible that the Life of Saint Ninian by Aelred of Rievaulx was a royal request in exchange for a gift to Rievaulx Abbey? Royal patronage is not an unlikely answer. The fact that a biography of a saint who originally founded Whithorn and performed miracles would bring attention and fame to a location within the bounds of Fergus' realm was simply a happy bonus.

For all his publicly expressed piety, however Fergus did not have a happy end. I'll tell you about that tomorrow. The next time after that, however, we will see how the facts of your life don't matter if someone decides afterward that you'd make a good story. See you soon.

Thursday, February 29, 2024

St. Ninian, Apostle to the Southern Picts

Aelred of Rievaulx (c.1110-1167) wrote several works, including biographies, one of which was about a saint from several centuries earlier, Ninian. The Vita Sancti Niniani ("Life of Saint Ninian") exists in two early manuscripts.

Our first reference in history to Ninian (c.360 - c.432), is from the 8th century when Bede mentions him as the first Christian missionary among the Picts in Scotland. Supposedly he was a son of a Briton chieftain who made a pilgrimage to Rome, was made a bishop, and then headed home through Gaul where he met Martin of Tours. Modern scholarship supports the idea that in 397 he built a whitewashed stone church at what is now called Whithorn ("White House"; in Latin it was called Candida Casa) in Caledonia, which became a leading Anglo-Saxon monastic center.

He was considered a miracle worker. In one instance, sitting to dine with the monks, he remarked that there were no vegetables on the table and called the monk in charge of the gardens, who informed Ninian that he had just planted the garden that morning and nothing had yet grown. Ninian sent him to the garden, whereupon the monk found that there were plenty of full-grown leeks and other herbs. In another anecdote, the traveling Ninian blesses a herd of cows and draws a circle in the field with his staff to keep them contained and safe for the night. Thieves who attempt to steal the herd find their leader gored to death by the bull and the rest made mad. Ninian in the morning prays to God to restore the dead man and restore the others. Ninian's prayer is successful.

St. Patrick, whose missionary work followed Ninian's by a few decades, refers to the Picts in his "Letter to Coroticus" as "apostates" (people who revert from their faith), suggesting that Ninian's seeds did not take permanent root:

Soldiers whom I no longer call my fellow citizens, or citizens of the Roman saints, but fellow citizens of the devils, in consequence of their evil deeds; who live in death, after the hostile rite of the barbarians; associates of the Scots and Apostate Picts; desirous of glutting themselves with the blood of innocent Christians, multitudes of whom I have begotten in God and confirmed in Christ.

The northern Picts were converted by St. Columba, and Christianity was still strong there. The "apostate" label would have to apply to the southern Picts, so Patrick clearly was aware that there had been missionary attempts there before him. 

He may have got the name wrong, however. Archeology and anthropology suggest that the story of Ninian by Bede and others may actually be the story of Finnian of Clonard, or Finbarr of Cork, or Finnian of Movilla. The fact that Ninian is referred to as Ringan in Scotland and Trynnian in Northern England also suggests that exact identification of a bishop who built the first stone church at Whithorn has its difficulties. Aelred's source for the name "Ninian" is actually a scribal error from "Ninia," which (according to one modern scholar) was itself a scribal error from early records of St. Finnian (of Movilla) spelled Uinniau.

You can read Aelred's Life of Ninian in English here. Ninian's image appears in stained glass in a church in Galloway (see illustration).

But why was Aelred so interested in this obscure saint from seven centuries earlier? During Aelred's life, Whithorn was revived as a bishopric. Did he have a reason to draw attention to the newly resurrected bishopric? It may have been a political favor. I'll explain that tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Aelred's Later Life

Aelred of Rievaulx took a successful abbey and made it even more grand (although the illustration will show that its fortunes have fallen somewhat, thanks of course to Henry VIII).

Rievaulx was intended at its founding by Bernard of Clairvaux to spread Cistercian reform ideas across the north. By the time Aelred became abbot (1147), the abbey was only about 15 years old, but already had five daughter houses in England and Scotland. Residents had to accept a life of physical deprivation in exchange for spiritual rewards. Aelred wrote a guide for novices called Speculum caritatis ("The Mirror of Charity"), warning them:

Our food is scanty, our garments rough; our drink is from the stream and our sleep upon our book. Under our tired limbs there is a hard mat; when sleep is sweetest we must rise at a bell’s bidding … self-will has no scope; there is no moment for idleness or dissipation … Everywhere peace, everywhere serenity, and a marvellous freedom from the tumult of the world.

Despite these conditions, by the end of Aelred's term as abbot, the abbey had doubled to 140 monks and 500 lay brothers.

He wrote extensively. He wrote biographies of King David I of Scotland, Saint Ninian (mentioned here), and Edward the Confessor. He also produced treatises on the life of Jesus at the age of 12, anchoresses, spiritual friendship, and other topics. There are several sermons that have survived, and histories of Genealogia regum Anglorum ("Genealogy of the Kings of the English"), Relatio de Standardo ("On the Account of the Standard"), and De bello standardii ("On the Battle of the Standard"), about the Battle of the Standard, and a couple on miracles, specially those connected to the Church of Hexham where Aelred was born. His treatise De spirituali amicitiâ ("Spiritual Friendship"), has prompted modern scholars to suggest that he was homosexual.

His job as abbot was to travel to the daughter houses regularly, and visit the general chapter of the Cistercians at Cîteaux in France once each year. This was difficult for him as he got older, especially since it appears he suffered from arthritis and kidney stones. His biographer, the Rievaulx monk Walter Daniel, reports that in 1157 he got permission to sleep in the infirmary rather than his own cell. He died in the winter of 1166-67, aged about 57. He is venerated as a saint by both the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. He is considered the patron saint of bladder problems; more recently LGBTQ Christians have embraced him as well.

Was there something particular about St. Ninian that made Aelred feel motivated to write his biography? And was Ninian even his name? Let's figure that out next time.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Aelred of Rievaulx

In 1134, a man in his 20s entered Rievaulx, a Cistercian abbey in North Yorkshire. A sentence like this has been written many times in this blog, but it usually refers to a younger son of a family who had no prospects in life other than the church. In this case, however, the young man had already had a significant career that could have lasted his whole lifetime, and he gave it all up. A monk at Rievaulx who knew Aelred, Walter Daniel, wrote a biography of Aelred, giving us more biographical detail than we usually have on anyone from this time period.

Aelred of Rievaulx was born c.1110 in Hexham in Northumberland, one of three sons of a priest named Eilaf. (Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury's prohibition against clerical marriage was very recent.) Although priests still had sons, a 1095 order from the Council of Claremont forbade the sons of priests to become priests (the idea was to prevent inheritance of benefices, since a bishop or higher-ranking prelate should decide where a benefice goes when a priest dies).

He would have been educated at the cathedral school at Durham. We know he spent several years at the court of King David I of Scotland, and was there long enough to rise to the title echonomus, a word related to "economy" and indicating that he was a steward or seneschal, possible the steward of the king's household, managing all of the "below stairs" members of staff. While in this role, Walter Daniel tells us of an incident where a knight harassed him and used a degrading sexual slur. Daniel uses this anecdote as an example of Aelred's capacity for forgiveness, but the incident seems to have made Aelred depressed and disillusioned with court life.

On a mission for David to Thurstan, Archbishop of York, Aelred learned of Rievaulx Abbey, founded only two years earlier by monks from Clairvaux Abbey in northeastern France. Aelred realized that a religious life was his true calling, and joined Rievaulx. A few years later he was part of a delegation to Rome to see Pope Innocent II. The purpose was to present northern England delegates who opposed the election of Henry de Sully as Archbishop of York; although de Sully was an abbot, his main qualification was that he was a nephew of Stephen of Blois, whose seizing of the throne of England caused The Anarchy. Their delegation was successful.

After Rome, Aelred in 1143 was made abbot of Revesby Abbey in Lincolnshire, founded that year as a daughter house of Rievaulx. Not long after, in 1147, he was made abbot of Rievaulx itself. According to his biographer, Aelred "doubled everything" at Rievaulx. The buildings, the members, the resources—all increased under Aelred at what was an already flourishing complex.

Tomorrow, we'll talk more about Aelred's leadership and authorship. See you then.

Monday, February 26, 2024

David and Scotland

King David's rule over Scotland was entwined with his relationship with England. When England experienced the constitutional crisis and civil war called The Anarchy (see Parts 1, 2, and 3), David got involved. One reason was that he wanted to support the chosen heir of his friend and brother-in-law, King Henry I. Henry wanted his daughter Matilda to rule after him, but a cousin, Stephen of Blois, was able to take the throne because Matilda was on the continent. (Coincidentally, Henry had done something similar.)

Another "benefit" of supporting Matilda over Stephen was that it gave David an excuse to invade England, incidentally capturing territory along the way and expanding Scotland's borders. David brought an army into England in December 1135, right after Stephen was crowned. David quickly occupied the castles of Carlisle, Wark, Alnwick, Norham, and Newcastle. Stephen responded, but wanted to avoid a battle (possibly because he knew he would need his army to deal with the part of the country that supported Matilda), and a truce was made that left David with Carlisle and gave his son Henry the title Earl of Huntingdon and the promise of Earl of Northumberland (if that earldom was ever re-created).

David attacked again in the spring of 1137, but again a truce was made that lasted the year. In January 1138, David again invaded, demanding that his son receive Northumberland, and in July he was defeated at the Battle of the Standard. Negotiations later that year resulted in affirming David's son as Earl of Huntingdon and Northumberland, and David being allowed to keep Carlisle (seen here in an 1829 engraving) and Cumberland. This was considered a success for Scotland. Cumberland gave him access to silver mines in Alston, resulting in Scotland's first silver coinage.

He also had success with the Scottish Church. The 12th century monk Aelred of Rievaulx wrote:

...he found three or four bishops in the whole Scottish kingdom, and the others wavering without a pastor to the loss of both morals and property; when he died, he left nine, both of ancient bishoprics which he himself restored, and new ones which he erected.

Although modern scholars say there is no evidence of David increasing the church as reported, perhaps his contemporary chronicler was a little more in tune with the events. David is also given credit for establishing parties, we do know that parishes existed long before he came to power.

And, of course, he had the problem seen in recent posts of the debate between archbishops and secular lords. David did not want his bishops professing obedience to the Archbishop of York, Thurstan in this case, and that created problems. The popes supported the archbishop.

Then the worst came: his son and heir Henry died, and David was old and did not have long to live. He named as his heir Henry's son, Malcolm IV. David died 24 May 1153, aged about 70.

I want to turn now to one of the sources of Scottish history, the aforementioned Aelred of Rievaulx, an Englishman who spent significant time at David's court before becoming a Cistercian. See you next time.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

David versus Máel Coluim

King David I (pictured here) was one of many sons of Malcolm III of Scotland, several of whom had their chance on the throne after it had been usurped by their uncle, Donald. David was about 40 years old when his turn came, and he took the throne with the support of his brother-in-law, King Henry I of England. There was a problem, however: his nephew, Máel Coluim.

Máel Coluim ("Malcolm") mac Alexander was the illegitimate son of David's older brother, Alexander I. According to historian Orderic Vitalis, Malcolm "affected to snatch the kingdom from [David], and fought against him two sufficiently fierce battles; but David, who was loftier in understanding and in power and wealth, conquered him and his followers."

Malcolm escaped into more obscure parts of Scotland, surviving and gaining allies over a six-year span, after which he attempted to attack David for the throne again. One reason for his motivation might have been that David spent time in England, seeming to prefer visiting Henry's court over being among his own people.

Malcolm, with the support of Óengus of Moray (mentioned here), marched against David's army. The Annals of Ulster report that 4000 of Óengus' army and Óengus himself died, while only 1000 of the men loyal to David died that day. David's force, led by a constable, marched into the now undefended Moray and captured it. Malcolm himself escaped, and spent the next four years battling David's forces.

David was aided with a large force, including ships, from Henry. Malcolm was captured in 1134 at Roxburgh Castle, and history has no more to say about him. Moray was given to David's nephew, only son of David's oldest brother Duncan, who had held the kingship for less than six months in 1094.

David was called by William of Newburgh a "King not barbarous of a barbarous nation." He attempted to make some reforms that he felt Scotland and its church needed. I'll explain some of those tomorrow.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

King David I of Scotland

King Henry I of England changed a lot of the political atmosphere that had been damaged by his brother, William Rufus. One of his changes was forging a good relation with King David of Scotland, starting when David was very young.

Although he had an illustrious Scots heritage through his father, Malcolm III, and grandfather, Duncan I (the basis for the character of that name in Shakespeare's MacBeth), David's English mother, Margaret of Wessex, gave him a strong connection to England.

David was probably born c.1084. His father was killed while invading Northumberland in 1093, and his mother died shortly after. The throne of Scotland was seized by his uncle, Donald III, and David and his brothers were exiled. It is believed that the boys were brought safely to England by their maternal uncle, Edgar the Ætheling. This was the time of King William, who sent David's older brother Duncan into Scotland with an army to depose Donald. They were unsuccessful, and Duncan was killed. William sent David's other brother, Edgar, in 1097; this time they were successful, and Edgar became king.

When William Rufus died and Henry seized the throne, he married David's sister, Matilda, who had been kept out of the political intrigues because she was a nun—but not really (check the link at her name). David was now the brother-in-law of the king of England, and so had a privileged position at the English court, becoming Anglicized—or, more accurately, Anglo-Normanized—as he matured. King Edgar of Scotland bequeathed lands south of the River Forth to his younger brother, making David a landowner in his own right as Prince of the Cumbrians.

David married Matilda of Huntingdon, daughter of the Earl of Northumberland, a match arranged by King Henry. They had two sons; one died young, but a second named for King Henry survived.

The death of King Edgar in 1107 gave the throne of Scotland to yet another brother, Alexander I. Alexander I died in 1124, and David was the remaining brother among Malcolm III's offspring. Alexander had a son with other plans, however. That was Máel Coluim mac Alexander, who decided the throne should be his, despite his illegitimacy. He chose war as his strategy to assume the kingship of Scotland. It did not go well for him.

But that's a story for tomorrow.

Friday, February 23, 2024

Battle of the Standard

Also called the Battle of Northallerton (because it took place near Northallerton in Yorkshire), the Battle of the Standard was between a small English force against an invading force from Scotland. King David of Scotland was trying to enlarge his kingdom and support the claim of Empress Matilda to the throne of England. (See here to understand Matilda's situation.) Matilda was King David's niece.

King Stephen of England was fighting in the south, but upon hearing of David's progress through Northumberland he sent a force of mostly mercenaries to meet the Scots. On 22 August 1138, the two armies met near York.

It is called the Battle of the Standard because the Archbishop of York, Thurstan of Bayeaux, created the standard that was carried in battle. Thurstan supported King Stephen over Matilda, and he gathered a fighting force from the north to join with Stephen's mercenaries. Mounting a ship's mast on a cart, Thurstan attached to it the banners of Saint Peter of York, Saint John of Beverley, and Saint Wilfrid of Ripon. The cart also carried a pyx, a container containing a consecrated Host to provide spiritual support. (In the above illustration, by John Gilbert, you see Thurstan standing on the cart with the standard, blessing the troops.)

Divine support was hardly needed, as the unarmed Scots were up against an armed (and often mounted) opponent who also had archers. The attacking Scots failed to make any progress and within three hours had descended into chaos except for small groups still protecting David and his son. The English force did not bother to pursue the retreating enemy, certain that they would go back to their borders. But David's army regrouped in Carlisle.

Thurstan negotiated a truce, which left David at Carlisle so long as he did not expand his aggression. He was allowed to retain some of the territory he had conquered. Later, however, once Henry II came to power, Henry re-took all the territory that had been granted to David from David's successor, Malcolm IV.

Was King David an enemy of England? Not really. He was quite loyal to Henry I and owed Henry for helping him achieve the throne, and even wanted to model Scotland's government after what he saw in England. I'll talk more about David I next time.

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Thurstan of Bayeaux

Thurstan (or Turstin) of Bayeaux (c.1070 - 1140) was the son of a priest (this was before Anselm disallowed priests in England to marry). Born at Bayeaux, his father became a canon at St. Paul's in London by 1104.

Thurstan was a clerk under Kings William Rufus and Henry I. For a time he was Henry's almoner, responsible for distributing alms to the poor.* Henry selected Thurstan as the next Archbishop of York after the death of Thomas II of York. Thomas had refused to recognize Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury as his superior, and got his pallium from a papal legate and not bestowed on him by Canterbury. This was part of the Canterbury-York dispute.

In Thurstan's case, Anselm had been succeeded by Ralph d'Escures, who likewise would not support Thurstan's elevation to archbishop unless Thurstan professed obedience to Canterbury. This Thurstan would not do.

To be clear, he did not need to. Henry decided to quash the Canterbury-York controversy at the 1116 Council of Salisbury by ordering Thurstan to submit to d'Escures. Thurstan resigned the archbishopric instead of submitting. Meanwhile, however, Pope Paschal had sent him and the king letters that supported Thurstan against Canterbury. Thurstan's resignation was ignored. The next two popes repeated Paschal's orders, and in October 1119 Thurstan was in Reims being consecrated by Pope Calixtus II, even though Calixtus had earlier told King Henry that he would not consecrate Thurstan until the king gave his consent.

Henry was outraged, and vowed that Archbishop Thurstan would not set foot in England. Thurstan stayed on the continent with Calixtus. He also visited Henry's favorite sibling, his sister Adela of Normandy. Adela helped convince Henry to reconcile with Thurstan. Calixtus had also threatened interdict on England (no sacraments could be administered to the faithful) if Henry did not comply. When Adela retired from active life and entered the monastery of Marcigny at Easter 1120, Thurstan escorted her. A year later he ws recalled to England. (I can't help thinking Adela had a large hand in changing her brother's mind.)

One of Thurstan's more controversial moves was to make a bishop out of a man who was obscure of birth, boastful of his (fictitious) parentage, haughty and materialistic. Thurstan wanted to create more bishops to oversee more dioceses in northern England. One of these was Wimund, who was made Bishop of the Isles, including the Hebrides and the Isle of Mann. When Thurstan created a bishop for galloway, Wimund objected because he felt he had jurisdiction over Galloway. Wimund did more than object: he decided to compensate for the loss of revenue by losing Galloway that he became essentially a pirate, a story I told here.

Thurstan eventually resigned his position on 21 January 1140 in order to fulfill a lifelong goal of becoming a Cluniac monk at Pontefract. He died there on 6 February, after a two-week retirement.

Two years earlier, he had been essential in raising an army against the Scots. For the story of the Battle of the Standard, you'll have to come back tomorrow.

*The United Kingdom still has a Lord High Almoner.

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Ralph d'Escures

While Anselm was still abbot of Bec and avoiding the journey to England to become Archbishop of Canterbury because of William II's authoritarian attitude, he attended the installation of his friend Ralph d'Escures as abbot of St. Martin at Séez (northwestern France). d'Escures had been at Bec with Anselm.

Orderic Vitalis, a contemporary chronicler, said he was well-educated and loved by all. The critical-of-clergy William of Malmesbury even said good things about him, although William says that d'Escures occasionally lapsed into inappropriate behavior.

Not long after becoming abbot of St. Martin, d'Escures was in England, visiting St. Martin's daughter house, Shrewsbury Abbey.* Henry I was having trouble with Robert, Earl of Shrewsbury, and some chroniclers say it was Ralph who mediated in Robert's surrender. Robert demanded homage from d'Escures, because Shrewsbury Abbey was in Robert's domain, but d'Escures refused. Pope Urban II had declared that clergy should not owe homage to secular lords, and d'Escures was willing to fight that fight.

d'Escures remained in England, and was one of the clergy who examined the body of St. Cuthbert when it was disinterred for travel, declaring it to be uncorrupted. In August 1108, he was made Bishop of Rochester at the death of Gundulf, and less than a year later attended Anselm's deathbed. He was chosen to succeed Anselm, but not appointed until April 1114. Henry I tried to appoint Faricius, the Abbot of Abingdon. The bishops and secular nobles objected, however, because Faricius was Italian and they wanted a Norman for the position.

It was now up to Pope Paschal II to grant the pallium, without which an archbishop could not be properly consecrated. Paschal was reluctant, however: just as Anselm had fought for the autonomy of the English Church from secular authority, the pope noticed an alarming amount of independence of the English Church from papal authority. England was naming bishops to dioceses without consulting with or getting approval from the pope.

d'Escures also refused to confirm a new Archbishop of York, because the candidate, Thurstan, would not profess obedience to Canterbury. Paschal supported Thurstan, but d'Escures still refused. After Paschal's death, d'Escures held out on Thurstan through two other popes, Gelasius II and Calixtus II (who finally settled the Investiture Controversy).

In July 1119, as he finished Mass and was removing his vestments, he suffered a stroke, becoming unable to speak clearly and partially paralyzed. He insisted on still being involved in important affairs, however. When King Henry I married Adeliza of Louvain (his first wife, Matilda of Scotland, had died a year earlier), d'Escures wanted to officiate. Unable to perform himself, however, he stubbornly forced his own choice of officiant on the ceremony rather than the king's choice.

Ralph d'Escures died on 20 October 1122, and was buried in the nave of Canterbury Cathedral three days later.

Thurstan was still not installed as Archbishop of York, so with Ralph gone, one would expect that the York-Canterbury controversy would end. Not quite. Tomorrow I'll tell you about the ups and downs of Thurstan's journey to York, and how he inadvertently created a pirate.

*Inciodentally, the site of the Brother Cadfael mysteries.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Anselm's Legacy

One of Anselm's last challenges was dealing with a challenge to his authority, but this time not from a secular source. England had two archbishops, Canterbury and York (seen here in 2023). Traditionally, the Archbishop of Canterbury was the primate of England with authority over the English Church. The Archbishop of York was secondary, but this was not acceptable to many of the men who sat in that seat.

In 1108, the Archbishop of York was Thomas II of York. Thomas refused to profess obedience to the Archbishop of Canterbury. The cathedral chapters of each place supported their archbishops. The lay investiture debate—whether secular lords like the king could determine religious titles—was raging, and it would have been against the church's best interests to appeal to the king for help in resolving their primacy issue.

The question had already been resolved in 1071 when Anselm's predecessor, Lanfranc, and the Archbishop of York, Thomas of Bayeaux, appealed to Pope Alexander II, who sided with Canterbury (although he refused to resolve a different dispute between the two, leaving it to the king's council).

Thomas of York's point was that he had received his pallium directly from Pope Paschal II (he had sent the dean of York Cathedral to Rome to fetch it). He therefore felt he did not owe anything to Canterbury.

An old and ill Anselm, from his sickbed, declared anathema any who failed to recognize the superiority of Canterbury. This was a sign that excommunication was on the table, and Henry stepped in, ordering Thomas to profess obedience to Canterbury. Anselm, hearing this, declared himself content. He died 21 April 1109, and was interred near Lanfranc at Canterbury Cathedral in what is now St. Thomas's Chapel. His current remains are unknown, having been relocated after a fire in the 1170s.

Anselm left a body of writing that is considered some of the sharpest intellectual discussions of Christianity in the Middle Ages. They were copied and spread far and wide, and influenced many including Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, and William of Ockham. He also spoke out strongly against slavery, although his declarations did not bring about any changes.

His lifelong battle to separate church authority from lay investiture had an unintended consequence, that put Pope Paschal at odds with Anselm's successor. I'll explain the Pope's problem with England and the next Archbishop of Canterbury tomorrow.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Adela of Normandy

Recent posts have mentioned three of William of Normandy's sons who had claims (some of them realized) to the throne of England. The Conqueror had several children with his wife, Matilda of Flanders. One of his daughters was known as Adela of Normandy, named for her maternal grandfather.

She has been called Henry I's favorite sister. She was born c.1067, a year before Henry, and so was close to him growing up, receiving a similar education. She was probably educated at the Abbey of Sainte-Trinité, a Benedictine nunnery in Caen founded by her father. (Her mother would be buried there after her death in 1083.) Although she would not be in a position to inherit anything from her father, her parentage made her a valuable political asset as a bride.

About her 15th birthday, therefore, she was married at Chartres Cathedral to the son and heir to Count Theobald III of Blois, Stephen-Henry. Stephen-Henry was well into his 30s at the time. The marriage linked two powerful families of northern France. They had several children, a few of whom (William, Theobald, and Philip) are seen in the above illustration with their mother.

Stephen became Count of Blois at his father's death in 1089. When the First Crusade was announced, Stephen became one of tis leaders, using money from Adela. He was present at the Siege of Nicaea, writing letters to Adela about the events. His later actions were less than noble, a fact that disturbed his wife deeply and caused her to mock him.

Adela was regent whenever he was away, showing his trust in her and her administrative ability. She made grants to build new churches, and worked with St. Ivo, Bishop of Chartres, concerning misbehavior of nuns. She made sure her children were educated, since they were likely to have illustrious political careers—except, of course, for the ones she wanted to see enter Holy Orders, like her youngest, Henry, whom she dedicated to a religious life.

She became ill in 1105, and was visited by Anselm, the Archbishop of Canterbury, currently exiled to the continent because of disputes with Adela's brother, Henry. In their conversations, Anselm made clear that excommunication of Henry was a possible next step to force Henry to comply with Anselm's demands for church autonomy. It is believed that she had a large part in convincing Henry to work with Anselm instead of against him.

She retired in 1120 to a prestigious convent at Marcigny near Cluny Abbey, where her son Henry was living. She died in 1137. Her financial support of churches and her devotion caused her to be named a saint.

Her persuasion of her brother to work with Anselm was a continuation of her support for the Church. Let us return to Anselm's story tomorrow.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Anselm and Henry Working Together

As mentioned here, the relationship between Archbishop of Canterbury Anselm and King Henry I of England was not completely adversarial. Henry wanted desperately to rule England, even if his elder brother Robert Curthose had a valid claim, and Henry wanted allies. He even apologized in a letter to Anselm (who was on the continent, having been exiled by Henry's other brother, King William II) for being crowned by Bishop Maurice of London, rather than waiting for the archbishop, as was traditional.

Anselm also approved the marriage of Henry to Matilda of Scotland, after convening a council to decide if Matilda, although she had been living in a convent as a nun for many years, had actually become a nun. Anselm helped Henry deal with some of his enemies: he supported Henry deposing Ranulph Flambard, the Bishop of Durham who had been loyal to William II but not to Henry; Anselm also threatened Robert Curthose with excommunication, when Robert (then as Duke of Normandy) wanted to invade England and take the throne from Henry. Anselm was involved in persuading Robert to accept the Treaty of Alton.

There was one crucial item where Anselm and Henry did not see eye-to-eye, and that was the question of authority between church and king. Henry still wanted approval of clerical positions (lay investiture), including that of archbishop. Anselm had to pull out his "big gun" if he was to resolve this: he made clear that Henry was facing excommunication, also sending the message obliquely through Henry's sister, Adela. For Henry, not being seen as a faithful member of the Catholic Church would undermine his attempt to be seen as a "good king" after the corruption of his predecessor.

Henry had to compromise. Henry was willing to leave investing of bishops and priests to the Church, but if those positions held lands, they needed to acknowledge that the lands were held in trust from the king and do him homage as landowners. (Anselm and Pope Paschal both agreed to this, but still hoped to eliminate this homage in the future.) Henry also asked that the excommunication of his advisors (see the first link above) be lifted. This Anselm did himself (though later Paschal criticized him for "overturning" the pope's decision without consulting him.)

Anselm was not satisfied, however, and would not return to Canterbury until the king met with him. Henry traveled to Bec in August 1106. Anselm demanded the return of all lands once belonging to Canterbury that William had confiscated. Henry had taxed married clergy, but after Anselm had forbidden clerical marriage, Henry made up for the loss of revenue by taxing all clergy. Anselm forced Henry to make clergy exempt for three years from tax. These changes were enough to satisfy Anselm, who returned. He lived two more years, attending to the duties of Archbishop of Canterbury.

Before concluding Anselm's life, we are going on a side quest. I (and far more consequential historians) have written much about William the Conqueror's sons Robert, William, and Henry. He had other children, and they also had influence. I want to introduce you Henry's older sister, Adela, who was very likely instrumental in convincing him to accept Anselm's demands. See you tomorrow.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Anselm and Henry I

I have written before of how William II of England died unexpectedly, and how his younger brother Henry quickly assumed control of England in spite of the elder brother Robert's claim (sibling rivalry among princes is especially consequential, but Robert was far away on the First Crusade), and how Henry was accepted by the nobles probably because he offered to undo the corrupt practices of William in his Charter of Liberties.

One of the other benefits of Henry being a very different person from William is that Anselm of Bec was able to resume his position at Canterbury as archbishop. Unfortunately, although Henry asked Anselm back and was going to give him all the states connected to Canterbury, he did ask Anselm to do him homage, and wanted to invest him (again) with the ring and crozier of his station. This would have meant that the king had authority to invest an archbishop, to which Anselm immediately refused. Henry even asked permission for this from Pope Paschal II, but Paschal would not grant it for the same reason that Anselm refused it.

Not everything between Anselm and Henry was hostile. Anselm supported Henry against his brother, Robert Curthose, who asserted a claim to England. Anselm also supported Henry's deposing of the Bishop of Durham, Ranulph (Ralph) Flambard, who was responsible for some of the corruption of William's administration. (Flambard was the first person to be imprisoned in the Tower of London, as well as the first person ever to escape. I told that story here.)

Anselm also supported Henry in his desire to marry Matilda of Scotland (illustration), despite Matilda's status as a nun(!). At a different council, however, Anselm established the Gregorian reforms, prohibiting marriage, concubinage, and drunkenness among clerics. He also regulated clerical dress and condemned the British slave trade. Henry supported Anselm's reforms, but still asserted that he had authority over Anselm himself. Henry dispatched three bishops to Rome to get the pope's approval for his authority, and upon their return claimed that the pope had given it. Anselm decided to travel to Rome himself to verify this, along with William Warelwast whom he had sent to Rome earlier. Upon learning of the king's deception, Pope Paschal excommunicated the three bishops who had lied for Henry.

When word of the pope's actions reached Henry, he sent a message to Anselm, telling him not to return to England. In this second exile, Anselm decided it was time to go on the offensive. He made Henry an offer he dare not refuse. I'll explain tomorrow.

Friday, February 16, 2024

Why God Man?

The early Church fathers struggled to explain exactly how salvation worked; that is, what was the actual way that Christ's death and resurrection achieved atonement for Adam's Original Sin? There were different theories of atonement, but they were not satisfactory for various reasons.

It was Anselm of Bec (also called "of Canterbury" when he became archbishop there) who in the late 11th century provided an explanation of why God had to become a man for salvation in his treatise Cur Deus Homo (literally "Why God Man?"). His explanation came to be called the satisfaction theory of atonement.

Previous theories of atonement suggested that the souls that needed saving were out of reach because satan (who held them in hell) had some kind of right or authority to keep them because of Adam's transgression. This idea made no sense to Anselm; God could not "owe" anything to satan. Anselm's view was likely influenced by the contemporaneous feudal system. In it, loyalty and duty were owed to your lord. Transgressing against your lord was unthinkable, but in those cases where it happened, you owed restitution, the restoration of what has been taken from the lord.

Original Sin, therefore, was not an act that put man in satan's power; it was a transgression against the Lord, and restitution was owed to Him, not satan. We humans owed God a debt of honor. As Anselm writes in Chapter I of Cur Deus Homo:

This is the debt which man and angel owe to God, and no one who pays this debt commits sin; but every one who does not pay it sins. This is justice, or uprightness of will, which makes a being just or upright in heart, that is, in will; and this is the sole and complete debt of honor which we owe to God, and which God requires of us. [link to translation]

Adam had failed in "uprightness of will" and transgressed. Restitution needed to be made.

How was one to do that? Man is inadequate to make restitution to the divine; we did not have that capacity in us. What was needed for divine transgression was divine restitution. For that to happen, a man was needed who was more than a man; hence, the Incarnation.

Through the birth of Jesus, there now existed someone whose divine essence gave him the supererogatory ability to "pay back" to God more than a simple man could. His death is not the only part of the restitution, however. As Aquinas later stresses, the Passion—especially the suffering and scourging he experiences prior to Crucifixion—was especially needed to pay back the honor that was taken from God by Adam and even more.*

Anselm seems to apply this salvation universally, although some later writers suggested that it only applied to some individuals.

Anselm completed this c.1098, while in exile. Why was the Archbishop of Canterbury in exile? Well, England's King William "Rufus" was the reason. William had seized all his lands, and their differences of opinion on lay investiture and the church's independence made England unsafe for Anselm, even though he retained his title. William was about to die in a suspicious hunting accident, however, and Anselm's situation could change. Could. We'll talk about that tomorrow.

*In the film Jesus Christ Superstar (1973), immediately after the 39 lashes, the scene changes and the actor is seen all cleaned up in a radiant white robe with the triumphant strains of the title song playing. This moment reveals him truly as divine. It seems to me the director was familiar with the idea that it was this particular suffering that was the "turning point" in Christ's role in guaranteeing salvation.

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Theories of Atonement

Even during all the political troubles that Anselm of Bec was having with William Rufus because of Anselm's role as Archbishop of Canterbury, he was proving himself to be one of the sharpest minds of his century regarding theological writing. The prime example of this is the treatise he called Cur Deus Homo, or "Why God Human?" (sometimes translated for clarity sake as "Why God Became a Man). In it, he finally came up with a satisfactory explanation for the "mechanics" of how Christ's crucifixion and resurrection wiped out the effect of Adam's original sin and provided salvation for all mankind.

The early Church fathers had struggled with the topic of atonement and how it worked theologically. Since Adam, no human being could go to Heaven; they were all trapped in Hell with the Devil/Satan/Lucifer (and those were three different entities who were conflated over time, but I'm not going to get into that).

One idea was the "ransom theory of atonement." Augustine of Hippo explained it thusly:

The Redeemer came and the deceiver was overcome. What did our Redeemer do to our Captor? In payment for us He set the trap, His Cross, with His blood for bait. He [Satan] could indeed shed that blood; but he deserved not to drink it. By shedding the blood of One who was not his debtor, he was forced to release his debtors

The idea was that Satan could hold God's creations as captives and they needed ransoming, suggesting that Satan therefore had "rights" of ownership that had to be satisfied. This understandably bothered some people. Why didn't God just overpower Satan and take His people?

Irenaeus in the 1st century talked about the "recapitulation theory of atonement." In it, Jesus was a second Adam, succeeding where Adam had fallen. So Christ's life is like a "do over" of some kind, and humanity is re-set back to the ability to achieve salvation through free will, not stuck because of Adam's failure. Why didn't God just forgive the original sin, if he was going to forgive it after Christ went through those motions?

There is also the "penal substitution theory." This is a much later development, and promoted by Martin Luther during the Reformation. The penal substitution theory of atonement says that Christ, having voluntarily given himself up as a sacrifice, "took the hit" in place of sinners. This treated Christ as a "whipping boy," which was a profession historically in which a boy would be raised alongside a prince and made to suffer corporal punishment when the prince was a bad boy, because it wasn't appropriate to beat a prince. (It was hoped that the prince, seeing the harsh punishment meted out, would feel bad and reform his ways.) "He died for your sins" is oft quoted in this context, especially by Protestant groups.

Anselm was not comfortable that the ideas of "ransom" or "recapitulation" were proper solutions, and so decided he needed to offer his own explanation. He was influenced by his time, specifically (as Irenaeus and Augustine would not have been) by the by-then-well-developed feudal system. Anselm's solution is called the "satisfaction theory of atonement." I'll explain it tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Anselm versus Rufus

The professional relationship between Anselm of Canterbury and King William II of England was as rocky as any similar pairing through England's Middle Ages. The ongoing debate over lay investiture—secular lords appointing priests and bishops—was ripping apart the continent as well, leading to rival popes. Anselm, like those before and after in his position as Archbishop of Canterbury, wanted the clergy to be independent.

Even as Anselm was being invested as archbishop and it seemed he and William had reconciled their differences, William made a move that caused the first big clash. William's father, William the Conqueror, had left him England, but William Senior's original possession of Normandy on the continent went to his elder son, Robert Curthose. William Junior wanted to rule Normandy as well, so planned a takeover. Plans like this required soldiers and supplies, and those required money. The quickest way to raise cash was to tell everyone to give you some.

So William sent to Anselm, asking for £1000. Anselm offered £500. William felt he was owed money for Anselm's new position (something called annates, which maybe we'll go into someday). Anselm decided to pursue his own agenda. He asked William to fill all the vacant church positions and allow Anselm to enforce canon law. William refused. Anselm withdrew any offer of funds, saying "that he [Anselm] disdained to purchase his master's favor as he would a horse or ass." William was said to reply that he didn't want Anselm's money or blessing for the endeavor, because "I hated him before, I hate him now, and shall hate him still more hereafter."

Anselm really wanted to make his appointment official by receiving a pallium from the pope; William had refused Anselm's travel for this purpose earlier. A meeting of nobles and bishops gathered to discuss this. William ordered the bishops not to treat Anselm as their archbishop, and they caved to the king. The nobles, however (many of whom did not approve of William's rule) supported Anselm. Secretly, Anselm asked two men to travel to Pope Urban II and request the pallium. They were Bishop of Exeter William of Warelwast (uncle of Bishop of Exeter Robert Warelwast mentioned here) and Archbishop Gerard of York.

They persuaded Urban to send a papal legate with the pallium. The legate met with the Bishop of Durham, who represented the king (and had argued against allowing Anselm to go get the pallium himself). William agreed that he would support Urban (over Antipope Clement III), in exchange for the right to block papal legates and intercept any papal letters to clerics. This was unacceptable, so William tried to sell the pallium to anyone who would take it and replace Anselm. No one would take it (or the price was too high). He tried to get money from Anselm for the allium; Anselm refused. William then wanted to personally put the pallium on Anselm, but Anselm refused again: this act would suggest that the king had the authority of a pope over the archbishop.

Finally, the pallium was placed on the altar at Canterbury Cathedral, and on 10 June 1095 Anselm placed it on himself (seen above in a 20th century representation by E.M.Wilmot-Buxton).

A few months later, Urban would declare the First Crusade. William continued to deny Anselm's attempts at reform and church independence, and Anselm even had to go into exile. But it was around this time that he wrote the most consequential piece of Christian theology in the Middle Ages, an essay titled Cur Deus Homo. It's time to talk about that.

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Anselm Becomes Archbishop

Anselm of Bec was the natural successor to Lanfranc as Archbishop of Canterbury, but King William II "Rufus" left the see vacant so he could appropriate the revenues of its estates to himself. At Christmas 1092, William swore that no one would take the position at Canterbury while he was alive. Anselm decided it was not a good idea to pursue the position in opposition to the king, so he stayed away from England.

A few months later, William fell ill—so seriously ill that he feared that this was a punishment from God for his sinful ways. In order to atone, he summoned Anselm to hear his confession and administer last rites. Anselm was actually back in England, having been begged by the Earl of Chester to help establish a new monastery. (This was a Benedictine monastery dedicated to St. Werburgh; the abbey church is now Chester Cathedral.) William undid some of his horrible acts by releasing captives and promising to rule according to the law. He also nominated Anselm to take the position at Canterbury.

The monks at Canterbury were all for it—they carried him to the church and pushed the crozier into his hands (see the 19th-century illustration of the event)—but Anselm himself claimed advanced age (he was 60) as a reason to deny the position. Also, he was still officially abbot at Bec, and Bec refused to allow him to abandon that position. Negotiators were chosen to arrange the matter. Anselm in August gave William his conditions for assuming the archbishopric.

  • William had to return the church lands he had seized
  • William needed to accept the Gregorian Reforms
  • William needed to listen to Anselm in spiritual matters
  • William had to reject Antipope Clement III and support Urban II (William had not yet chosen sides)
William accepted these terms, but a few days later changed his mind and blocked Anselm's appointment. Public pressure made him relent, and he returned all the lands of Canterbury on the day Anselm was invested, 25 September 1093.

Traditionally, to become archbishop meant being given the pallium by the pope, and Anselm wanted to travel to Rome for that purpose to make it official. The Investiture Controversy (see several recent posts) made this dangerous. The Holy Roman Emperor and the pope in Rome had been at odds and were constantly each declaring the other deposed. This also led to the antipope situation mentioned above. William had not yet decided which pope he would support, so was not going to send Anselm to either one. Anselm was invested without a pallium.

So, let's sum up: Anselm was now Archbishop of Canterbury, Canterbury's lands were returned to it, William Rufus had repented and chosen to become a better king, and Rufus and Anselm were now on the same page. One of those statements is inaccurate, and we will be looking at the continued conflicts between Archbishop and King (and whether anyone was the winner) tomorrow.

Monday, February 12, 2024

Anselm of Canterbury

Anselm of Canterbury has been referred to in this blog a few times by one of his other names, Anselm of Bec. He was born 1033/34 in the Upper Burgundy (Italy) region. His parents were both from noble families. His father was a Lombard noble, Gundulph; his mother, Ermenberge, was the granddaughter of Conrad the Peaceful, one-time King of Burgundy. Unfortunately, wars in Burgundy caused partitioning and transferring of territory, and Anselm's parents lost many of their estates.

The loss of political power in the family did not matter to Anselm, who at the age of 15 decided to pursue a religious life. His father opposed this, and Anselm fell ill for a time, perhaps psychosomatically, after which he gave up on education and acted the carefree youth. When Ermenberge passed away, possibly when giving birth to Anselm's sister, Gundulph became obsessively religious himself and entered a monastery when Anselm was 23. Anselm left home with a single attendant and spent the next three years wandering through Burgundy and France.

His wandering drew him to the Benedictine Abbey of Bec, whose abbot was the renowned and learned Lanfranc. When Anselm's father died, the young man asked Lanfranc's advice: return home and use the wealth of the family's remaining estates to provide alms for the poor, or give them up altogether and become a monk? Lanfranc, feeling his advice would be a conflict of interest, sent Anselm to Archbishop Maurilius of Rouen. Maurilius told Anselm to become a novice at Bec. Anselm was 27.

Anselm threw himself into his studies at Bec, and in his first year produced his first of many writings, a fictional discussion of grammar that resolves some of the inconsistencies and paradoxes that arise from Latin nouns and adjectives. It begins:

Student. Concerning (an) expert-in-grammar I ask that you make me certain whether it is a substance or a quality, so that once I know this I will know what I ought to think about other things which in a similar way are spoken of paronymously.
Teacher. First tell me why you are in doubt.
S. Because, apparently, both alternatives—viz., that it is and is not [the one or the other]—can be proved by compelling reasons.
T. Prove them, then.
S. Do not be quick to contradict what I am going to say; but allow me to bring my speech to its conclusion, and then either approve it or improve it.
T. As you wish.
S. The premises
(i) Every/Everything expert-in-grammar is a man,
(ii) Every man is a substance,

It is heavily influenced by Boethius and his writings on Aristotle.  It is not casual reading for anyone today.

In 1063, when Anselm was 30, William the Conqueror asked Lanfranc to become abbot of a new abbey William built at Caen in Normandy. The monks at Bec elected Anselm to become prior, a lesser role but the person in charge in the absence of an abbot. He maintained a strict Benedictine Rule; after 15 years he was finally named abbot.

Bec attracted students from all over due to its reputation for learning during Anselm's time in charge. He continued to write, and he fought for the abbey's independence from secular influence, as well as from religious influence from people such as the archbishop of Rouen. Bec was enhanced by being granted lands in England after 1066. Anselm would sometimes visit England to check on the abbey's estates, to appear before his secular lord, William, and to visit Lanfranc, who by now was Archbishop of Canterbury. Anselm impressed William, and he was probably by then on a "short list" of candidates for Archbishop of Canterbury to succeed Lanfranc.

When Lanfranc died in 1089, however, William was gone and the throne was held by his son, William II "Rufus." Rufus had other plans. I'll tell you about Anselm's rocky path to archbishop next time.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Matilda's End

Matilda of Tuscany had become a powerful woman with a great deal of influence in northern Italy. She had a big concern, however: she was the last of the House of Canossa, and there was no one to whom to leave her position and possessions. She needed an heir. A daughter born of her first marriage to Godfrey the Hunchback, Beatrice, died within a few weeks. She also wanted allies in her ongoing hostility with Hole Roman Emperor Henry IV, and political marriages were a traditional way to make allies.

In 1089, she married Welf (the illustration is their marriage from a 14th century history by Giovanni Villani), who in 1101 would become Duke of Bavaria. Matilda was in her 40s by now, and Welf was a teenager. Cosmas of Prague in his Chronicle of Bohemians records a letter from Matilda to Welf:

Not for feminine lightness or recklessness, but for the good of all my kingdom, I send you this letter: agreeing to it, you take with it myself and the rule over the whole of Lombardy. I'll give you so many cities, so many castles and noble palaces, so much gold and silver, that you will have a famous name, if you endear yourself to me; do not reproof me for boldness because I first address you with the proposal. It's reason for both male and female to desire a legitimate union, and it makes no difference whether the man or the woman broaches the first line of love, sofar as an indissoluble marriage is sought. Goodbye.

This "letter" is now considered fictional, but it is a clue from a contemporary historian regarding what he thought the motivations would be for the teen to marry Matilda. There were 120 days of wedding festivities. Cosmas also suggests that Welf was reluctant to act the proper husband; whatever the reason, the two separated by the spring of 1095. There was no annulment or divorce, but the two were no longer together. Matilda had another idea for an heir, however.

Around 1099, she turned to her allies in Florence, the Guidi Family, adopting one member of the family, Guido Guerra. He appears in records as adoptivus filius domine comitisse Matilde ("her adoptive son accompanied count Matilda"). Unfortunately for Guido, she donated all her possessions to the Apostolic See at Canossa in 1102. Guido, realizing he had nothing to inherit, left her side. If she had not adopted Guido or made the donation, Welf would have inherited, since there is no record of the marriage being dissolved. She cut them both out of the picture with what is called the Matildine Donation.

That seems to be another story, however. Scholars now believe the Matildine Donation is a faked document from the 1130s, long after her death. The pope did not want Canossa's ownership to go outside of Italy to Bavaria, which it would have done because of the marriage to Welf. So the Church faked the Donation.

In reality, references to the Matildine Donation are only found in religious documents, not in any other secular collection of records. In her later years, Matilda had better relations with Henry IV's heir, Henry V. In May of 1111, Henry V visited her, and from that visit apparently came an inheritance agreement that Henry V would be her heir and all hostilities and penalties that had been imposed upon her by her opposition to Henry IV would be dropped.

Matilda's life became quieter in her final years. Donizo of Canossa, a monk, wrote a history of the House of Canossa, part of it especially focusing on Matilda. She continued to promote the arts and literature, especially religious literature. One work dedicated to her was the Orationes sive meditationes ("Prayers and Meditations") by Anselm of Canterbury.

She died on 24 July 1115, but her prominence in life led to legendary status in death. She became known (erroneously) as the sole benefactor of several churches and monasteries in northern Italy. She can be seen at night at the Savignano Castle, riding a white horse during the full moon. A fountain she asked the pope to bless can get a woman pregnant with a single drink from it. Scholars looking at the Investiture Controversy give her plenty of attention.

Anselm of Canterbury (also known as Anselm of Bec), who dedicated a work to her, was not an ordinary figure. Despite being Italian by birth, he rose to the highest clerical position in England, Archbishop of Canterbury. He also wrote what was probably the most significant work of theology in the history of Roman Catholicism. Let's look at him tomorrow.

Saturday, February 10, 2024

La Gran Contessa

After Matilda of Tuscany's mother and husband died (from old age and assassination, respectively), Matilda became the sole Margravaine of Tuscany. There was suspicion about the "convenient" death of her husband and whether she had somehow engineered the assassination. There was also a rumor that she had been having an affair with an "old family friend," Pope Gregory VII.

She increased the animosity against herself by going to Lorraine to claim her dead husband's lands in Verdun. Godfrey the Hunchback, however, had willed it to his nephew, Godfrey of Bouillon. Godfrey was understandably opposed to this, and also argued that she should not have the estates that had been given by Godfrey's father when he married Matilda's mother. The debate went before Bishop Theodoric of Verdun, who pleased himself and the pope by ruling in Matilda's favor. (Godfrey went on to became historically famous in other ways.)

Her first large-scale political event was providing military protection for Pope Gregory when he traveled north to meet with Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV during their conflict—as Margravaine of Tuscany and heir to Canossa she technically controlled all the passes across the Apennines. Henry decided to travel south, however, and meet Gregory on Henry's terms. Gregory had excommunicated Henry and placed Germany under Interdict (so no one in Germany could receive any Sacraments). German nobles had told Henry he had to submit to the pope within a year or be deposed.

Learning of Henry's approach, Matilda told Gregory to come to Castle Canossa for safety. There was no danger, however: it turns out that Henry was coming to do penance. At the end of January 1077, Henry stood outside the gates of Canossa, barefoot in the snow, for a few days to show his sincerity. He had his wife and son and some others with him. The pope finally forgave him.

Matilda likely had a significant role in the negotiations that followed, given her political position as well as her role as host at Canossa. She continued to make waves, fighting later with Henry. Her court became a center of art and culture in northern Italy, and she became known as la Gran Contessa. She encouraged scholars to publish their works. We have a psalter written at her request by Bishop Anselm of Lucca. Johannes of Mantua made a commentary in the Song of Songs. Several works were also dedicated to her, which she had copied and distributed.

As the years went by, she became mindful of the fact that she was the last heir to the House of Canossa. Her search for an heir led to a second marriage to a man 20 years younger. That didn't work out, but she thought of another option. I'll tell you about those tomorrow.