Thursday, July 18, 2024

Richard I of Normandy's had several children with his second wife, Gunnor, and used them to great political advantage. By making several good marriages, he allied himself with powerful people and countries.

Gunnor herself gave him a strong connection to a rival Viking group on the Cotentin peninsula. His eldest daughter Emma was married first to King Æthelred the Unready of England, and then after his defeat (by Cnut) to Cnut the Great.

He spent the last three decades of his reign avoiding getting involved in the political squabbles of the Franks and others, focusing on Normandy, despite his closeness to Hugh Capet, son of Richard's father-in-law (father of his first wife, Emma), who became King of the Franks.

Richard also made certain the Church had no argument with him by supporting monasteries in Normandy and restoring lands to churches. He rebuilt the Benedictine Abbey of the Holy Trinity at Fécamp (centuries later the birthplace of the liquor bénédictine) which had been destroyed by Vikings in 841.

Richard had been born at Fécamp, and died there on 20 November 996. He was buried there—of that we are certain. The location of his tomb has escaped discovery. Possibilities have been disinterred and opened and carbon-dated, and none have been found yet that could have been Richard's.

His eldest son Richard II succeeded him. He was called Richard the Good, but his actions created tensions with former allies, as I'll explain tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Richard and Gunnor

Richard I of Normandy was struggling to continue the dynasty begun by his father William and grandfather Rollo. His first wife, Emma of Paris, died childless, so he had to find another bride. He found her in Gunnor, (possibly) his long-time mistress.

Gunnor's origin cannot be confirmed. Robert de Torigni wrote that he father was a forester; Dudo of Saint-Quentin claimed she was of noble Danish ancestry and wealthy (about 1015 she made a grant to Mont St.-Michel, portrayed in the illustration). Her name is found on charters into the 1020s, often acting as regent for her husband.

Robert tells a story how they met. Richard I was hunting and heard of a forester's beautiful daughter nearby. The daughter was Seinfreda and already married. Richard ordered her to come to him so they could sleep together, but Seinfreda sent her unmarried sister, Gunnor. Richard appreciated that he had been prevented from committing adultery and readily married Gunnor. Originally they were married more Danico ("by Danish custom"), which essentially meant cohabiting.

In truth, Dudo's information about her being from a wealthy and powerful family is more accurate. Her sisters made political marriages on both sides of the English Channel.

They had several children, three sons and three daughters, who all obtained good positions and/or marriages. The eldest was Richard II, who succeeded his father as ruler of Normandy. The second son, Robert, was to be appointed archbishop of Rouen, but his parents' non-Christian union meant the pope would not sanction it. Richard and Gunnor then had a Christian marriage ceremony, and Robert became archbishop as well as Count of Evreux. He never lost his taste for politics, and was prominent in later events. The third son, Mauger, was married in 1012 to Germain, the daughter of the Count of Corbeil, and became Count of Corbeil himself in time. (Two other sons died very young.)

Their three daughters had advantageous marriages. The eldest, Emma, was married to more than one king of England. Hawise married Geoffrey I, Duke of Brittany, becoming a duchess. Their last daughter, Maud, married the Count of Blois, Odo II. Sadly, she died young and childless. Odo quarreled with Maud's father over the dowry, which brought the king of the Franks, Robert II, into the picture. Robert was Odo's father-in-law, and ruled on Odo's behalf, giving him the land involved.

Gunnor survived her husband. I'll return to his life, and its end, tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Richard I of Normandy

William Longsword, Count of Rouen and chieftain of Normandy, had one son, Richard, with his Breton concubine Sprota. William was assassinated in 942, after which Sprota married a wealthy landowner named Esperleng. Sprota and  Esperleng also had a son, who became the Norman nobleman Rodulf of Ivry and one of Richard's strongest supporters.

When William died, Richard was only 10 years old. William's ally, King Louis IV of West Francia, installed Richard as his father's successor to Normandy. William's enemy, Count Arnolf I of Flanders, convinced Louis to take the boy with him into Frankish territory and take back Normandy. Lower Normandy was given to Hugh the Great, a powerful duke and Count of Paris.

Supporters Bernard the Dane (a counselor to William) and Osmond de Centville, Count of Vernon, and others gathered a mob of knights and peasants and marched to Louis' palace to demand the freeing of Richard. Louis claimed he only kept Richard near him to teach him, and turned Richard over to the crowd.

Still landless, but recognized by the Normans as their rightful heir to the duchy, at the age of 14 he had support from Norman and Viking leaders in France and Harald "Bluetooth" to fight a war against Louis for the return of Normandy. Louis was captured and forced to recognize Richard as the leader of a restored Normandy. Richard and Hugh made an alliance, and Hugh promised his daughter Emma of Paris to Richard as a wife, although she was a child at the time. The marriage date was put off until 960.

Louis and Arnulf were not about to give up. They convinced Holy Roman Emperor Otto I to join them in an attack on Richard and Hugh. This was a mistake: they were defeated decisively in 947. Several years of peace followed. Louis died in 954 and his 13-year-old son was not about to start a war. Richard married Hugh's daughter, but they had no children (a trend for Norman ruler first marriages, it seems, if you've been reading the past few posts). Emma died on 19 March 968.

Hugh had offered his son, Hugh Capet, to Richard to raise. In 987, Hugh Capet became king of the Franks after the death of Louis' son Lothair. Richard now had no worries about a war with the rest of France. Richard also made alliances by marrying off his children strategically. To get these children, however, he had to remarry, and that's a story for tomorrow.

Monday, July 15, 2024

William Longsword

So the Duchy of Normandy was created when King Charles the Simple made a treaty in 911 with Rollo, a Viking who had established himself as Count of Rouen and continued to encroach on more Frankish territory. Charles allowed Rollo all of what then became Normandy in exchange for fealty and no more attacks. Rollo's son William would succeed him as the second ruler of Normandy. (The title "duke" wasn't commonly used until later; early historians used the term principes, "chieftains.")

William was born about 893 to Rollo and Poppa of Bayeux. His parents (and he) were pagans, and were married more danico ("according to Danish custom"). Part of the treaty with Charles meant converting to Christianity in 911. "William" is not a typical Danish/Viking name, and he was probably re-named at his conversion/baptism, so his birth name is lost to us.

Rollo handed over the reigns to William in 927. Rollo's exact age is unknown, but he was probably at least in his 50s; he lived another five years. Orderic Vitalis writes that, in 933, Normans who felt the William was becoming too "Frankish" rebelled against him, besieging him in Rouen. William defeated the rebellion, establishing himself more firmly as a strong leader.

In that same year, Charles' second successor in West Francia, Raoul, was fighting to maintain control over his land and fight off Viking attacks. William came to his aid, in return being granted more land in the north of France, including Breton territory, the Cotentin Peninsula (that juts towards Britain) and the Channel Islands. resistance from the Bretons was quickly defeated. 

William expanded his territory further when he married Luitgarde of Vermandois, daughter of Count Herbert II of Vermandois. He also married his sister Adela (born Gerloc before converting to Christianity) to William, Count of Poitou. William now had powerful allies in Vermandois, Poitou, and of course West Francia. When Raoul of West Francia died in 936, his son Louis IV had an extremely difficult time establishing himself, both against the Bretons who were still upset about losing land, and from his own barons. William supported him, getting excommunicated for his troubles because of battles with the Count Arnulf of Flanders. William pledged loyalty to Louis, however, and was confirmed in all the lands Rollo and William had been given.

William's destruction of some of Arnulf's estates needed resolution, however, and a date was chosen for a peace summit. While the two and their people met on an island on the Somme, on 17 December 942 William was ambushed and killed by some of Arnulf's followers.

William had no children by Luitgard. He had, however, like his father, a more danico wife, Sprota, with whom he had a son, Richard. At the time of William's death, Richard was 10, but he became Count of Rouen and the ruler of the Normans. Tomorrow we will continue examining the dynasty that led to the true Duchy of Normandy and William the Conqueror.

Sunday, July 14, 2024

The Wife Who Wasn't

The Duchy of Normandy was created in 911 by the Treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte, an agreement between King Charles III ("the Simple") of West Francia and Rollo, a Viking leader who gained a foothold in Rouen years earlier and styled himself Count of Rouen. After Rollo was defeated by Charles at the Siege of Chartres, Charles decided that he would cede Rollo a chunk of the continent if Rollo would pledge fealty to Charles and protect the land from any further Viking incursions.

Another condition was that Rollo and his people would convert, and that Rollo would marry Gisela of France, the daughter of Charles (illustrated is Charles handing her over in a 14th century depiction). Rollo would be the first Duke of Normandy, and his and Gisela's children would create a dynasty. When Rollo died in 933, he was succeeded by William Longsword, whose parents were Rollo and Poppa of Bayeux. So what happened to Gisela?

Gisela's marriage to Rollo is mentioned by Orderic Vitalis in his history of the Church. William of Jumièges, writing a history of Norman dukes, tells us that Rollo had two marriages. He was married (or simply took as concubine) a slave named Poppa of Bayeux in  more danico ("according to Norse custom"). When the treaty was made with Charles, Poppa was put aside and he married Gisela more Cristiano ("according to Christian custom"). Around 917, Gisela dies and Rollo reunites with Poppa.

Is it possible that, in the five or six years between the Treaty and Gisela's "death," that the two never produced a son, even though that was the best way for Rollo to ensure that his family would retain power? Well, it is believable, if Gisela did not exist in the first place.

The fact is, Gisela's name does not show up in any Frankish sources or genealogies. She is only mentioned in Norman sources after the events and conveniently helps legitimize Rollo's "Normandization." The Christian Franks under Charles would never have accepted a child outside of Christian marriage if there were a son of Gisela available. On the other hand, Gisela's father married in 907, so a daughter offered in marriage in 911 could not have been more than a few years old, unless she was illegitimate.

Rollo himself does not appear in any official documents until 918, when he is listed in a charter as the leader of Viking settlers reigning over Normandy. There is no real evidence that Gisela existed outside of later stories.

A dynasty did begin, but it was a son of Rollo and Poppa. Let's look at that son's career tomorrow.

Saturday, July 13, 2024

Who Were the Normans?

The Duchy of Normandy was an enormous section of the European continent that we consider part of France. The name for the duchy ultimately coms from Old Franconian Nortman, meaning "Northman." This is because the original inhabitants came from the North.

Well, that's not true. The original inhabitants were what we'd call French. The "North men" that gave their name to the duchy were Vikings who first appeared up the Seine in 820. Over the next century there were several raids and a growing presence of "Norse men" settlements. Charles the Fat, great-grandson of Charlemagne, paid off the vikings as a way to deal with the raids. He was deposed, and the throne (eventually: Ode of Paris got it for a few years) went to his cousin Charles the Simple, who made a more permanent solution.

Charles negotiated peace in exchange for lands, and offered his daughter Gisela to the viking leader Rollo, who would be named a duke and swear fealty to King Charles. Rollo's children would be the ruling dynasty in the new duchy named Normandy. (The illustration is a late 19th-century idea of what Normans looked like.) An 11th century Benedictine monk, Goffredo Malaterra, writing about the Normans inroads into Italy and Sicily, described them:

Specially marked by cunning, despising their own inheritance in the hope of winning a greater, eager after both gain and dominion, given to imitation of all kinds, holding a certain mean between lavishness and greediness, that is, perhaps uniting, as they certainly did, these two seemingly opposite qualities. Their chief men were specially lavish through their desire of good report. They were, moreover, a race skillful in flattery, given to the study of eloquence, so that the very boys were orators, a race altogether unbridled unless held firmly down by the yoke of justice. They were enduring of toil, hunger, and cold whenever fortune laid it on them, given to hunting and hawking, delighting in the pleasure of horses, and of all the weapons and garb of war.

The first sentence suggests a culture that would fight internally for a better position, which supports William of Poitiers's comments about rebellions in Normandy. Of course, in the 1060s, a Duke of Normandy would decide that England owed him their crown, but that's another story.

Sticking with the beginning of Normandy, we should look at Rollo and Gisela and their children; except that they had no children. The reason why they had no children is likely because Charles' daughter Gisela did not exist. I'll explain tomorrow.

Friday, July 12, 2024

William on William

William of Poitiers (c.1020 - 1090) was born into a family of knights, and trained as a knight himself until his late 20s when he decided to turn to the priesthood. He studied in Poitiers and returned home "more learned than all his friends and neighbors" according to Orderic Vitalis. Orderic also says that William was made archdeacon of Lisieux, but his name does not appear in any official documents related to Lisieux, so Orderic's source was likely faulty. Orderic also says that William became chaplain to Duke William of Normandy (aka William the Conqueror), and that is how William of Poitiers is usually described.

Sometime after 1066 (probably in the 1070s), William started writing an account of the deeds of his patron. It is called Gesta Guillelmi ducis Normannorum et regis Anglorum ("The Deeds of William, Duke of the Normans and King of the English"). It is the earliest biography of a decent length of any Norman duke, and gives details on the Battle of Hastings. As a chaplain attached to the duke's household and a trained knight, William was in a unique position to relate the events of the duke's preparations for and execution of the war to conquer England.

To be fair, there are several passages that disproportionately praise or favor the duke' actions. When Orderic used the Gesta Guillelmi as a source for his own history, he left out those sections. William also follows medieval literary tradition by describing Duke William as the perfect embodiment of knighthood, with exploits such as the duke and 50 knights besting 1000 of the enemy. He also compares the duke's conquest of Britain to another famous conquest of Britain, that of Julius Caesar.

There are comments made by William that are unique to his account of the times that modern historians feel are accurate statements. Some are the notion that Harold had abundant treasure, and that a Danish raiding party gained "great booty"; this all suggests why England was such a target for raids in the 10th through early 11th centuries.

William also provides an account of early pre-conquest Norman society, with several rebellions in Normandy, as contrasted with the relative stability of England, where William says the English all showed love of their country and a stronger national identity and unity.

The fractured nature of the Norman culture was explained by a Benedictine monk in the 11th century. Tomorrow we'll look at the origins of Normandy, and why this land south of England was named for "North Men."

Thursday, July 11, 2024

A History of the Church

Orderic Vitalis was given the job of writing a history of the Church. Like most medieval authors, however, he did not start with a blank page. He drew on other sources, one of which was the Ecclesiastical History of the English People written by Bede c.731CE. Orderic's version can be divided into three sections.

The first section follows Bede from the birth of Christ. He then added a list of popes.

The second section is a history of the Abbey of Saint-Evroul, where he became a monk and did his work. It also includes stories of William the Conqueror, which he based on the Gesta Normannorum Ducum of William of Jumièges (and others). He also used the Gesta Guillelmi of William of Poitiers. As an English-born man of Norman descent, living in Normandy, he considers the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 with a balanced perspective, seeing both sides of the conflict. The years immediately following the Conquest, 1067-1071, match William of Poitiers. After 1071 Orderic's comments on political events seem to be his own.

The third section talks less about the church and more about the history of France under the Carolingians and Capetians. He has a lot of opinions about the papacy, Normans in Sicily, and the First Crusade. For the Crusade he draws on Fulcher of Chartres and Baldric of Dol. He focuses mainly on the three sons of William the Conqueror: Robert Curthose, William Rufus, and Henry I. He ends with the capture of Stephen of Blois in Lincoln in 1141 during the Anarchy.

Ordericus realized that he was limited in his writing:

I shall search out and give to the world the modern history of Christendom, venturing to call my unpretending work An Ecclesiastical History.

Confined to my cloister by the vows which have voluntarily bound me to the strict observance of the monastic rule, I am unable to make researches into the affairs of Alexandria, Greece, or Rome, and others worthy to be related; but I labour, by God's help, to unfold with truth contemporary events for the instruction of posterity—both such as have passed under my own observation, and those which, occurring in neighbouring countries, have come to my knowledge. I firmly believe, however, from observation of the past, that someone will arise with far more penetration than myself, and more capable of examining the course of worldly affairs, who will perhaps extract from my pages, and from those of others of the same class, what he thinks worthy of being inserted in his chronicle or history for the information of posterity. [source]

His interest in leaving a foundation for future historians reminds me of the "last words" of Friar Clynn

He did go well beyond his chosen topic, however: one incident related in the Ecclesiastical History was the first written European ghost story, which I shared here.

The last few posts have had a mention of William of Poitiers, who wrote a biography of William the Conqueror. We don't know much about William himself except what Orderic says, but William's work gives us more detail on Norman and Anglo-Saxon life. I'll go in to that tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Orderic Vitalis

At a time when Christian priests could marry, a French priest named Odelerius of Orléans came to England following his patron, who became the first Earl of Shrewsbury. The earl gave Odelerius a chapel to manage. Odelerius had three sons, the eldest of whom was named Orderic. Their mother was English, and so Orderic grew up considering himself English rather than French.

Orderic (16 February 1075 - c.1142) was given at the age of five over to Siward, a monk at the Abbey of Saints Peter and Paul at Shrewsbury. (There is an assumption by historians that his mother must have died, and Odelerius not being able to raise the boys looked for other placements for them.) Orderic was with Siward until he was ten, at which time he was handed to the Abbey of Saint-Evroul in Normandy.

The Benedictine monks at Saint-Evroul had a difficult time pronouncing the name "Orderic," and so they called him "Vitalis" after an early Christian martyr. Orderic, in turn, did not know any French when he first entered Saint-Evroul, and had to learn it along with the practices of monastic life. In an autobiographical note, he says that Orderic was the name of the priest who baptized him. At the beginning of one of his historical works, he signs himself Ordericus Vitalis Angligena ("English-born").

He turned out to have skill as a copyist, earning the position of master scribe in the scriptorium, and his handwriting can be detected in at least 20 manuscripts that still exist. His first literary work was a continuation of the Gesta Normannorum Ducum ("Deeds of the Norman Dukes") started by William of Jumièges, and after Orderic continued further by Robert de Torigni.

Orderic was responsible for the greatest English social history produced in the Middle Ages, the Historia Ecclesiastica ("History of the Church"). This needs its own entry, so we will continue this tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Group Projects

Taking sole credit for a written work was not always as important as it is to some authors today. 

William of Jumièges (c.1000 – post-1070) was a monk of Jumièges, a Bénédictine monastery. In the 1050s, he decided to take an earlier historical account to update and extend it. That work was De moribus et actis primorum Normannorum ducum (“Concerning the Customs and Deeds of the First Dukes of the Normans”) by Dudo of Saint-Quentin, completed between 1015 and 1026. As a recording of some of the earliest Norman nobles and their emerging dynasty, it is interesting, albeit inaccurate and interlaced with legend.

William of Jumièges tried to fill in the gaps between Dudo's time and his, and was able to write about William of Normandy invading England in 1066. His work becoming known to others, it is believed that William the Conqueror himself asked that William keep writing a history of his time and deeds. This new version, Gesta Normannorum Ducum ("Deeds of the Norman Dukes"), ends around 1070-71. (The illustration shows William presenting the work to William.)

A few decades later, another took up William's writing and decided to extend it. This was Orderic Vitalis. Orderic was but in Shropshire in 1075 to a priest at a time when clerical marriage was slowly being restricted. He became a Benedictine monk at the Abbey of Saint-Evroul in Normandy, becoming a script master and librarian. He is best known for writing a history of the Church.

His first attempt at writing was picking up the Gesta Normannorum Ducum and filling in the gaps between William and Orderic's own time. He also filled in more from earlier times, borrowing from something called the Gesta Guillelmi ("Deeds of William") by William of Poitiers. (William of Poitiers was a chaplain to William the Conqueror.) Orderic's section of the expanded Gesta is fairly balanced, since he could see things from both the Norman and English perspective.

A third author came along in Robert de Torigni, the abbot of Mont Saint-Michel. Robert was enamored of English kings—descendants of the Norman William, after all—and added much about William after the Conquest, the Abbey of Bec, and an entire volume on Henry I of England. He also borrowed from Henry of Huntingdon's historical work, who was not just an author but also an acquaintance of Robert.

The Gesta Normannorum Ducum was popular in the Middle Ages, being copied and distributed among many monasteries. There are 47 known manuscript copies of it known today. It was an important source for other writes such as Benoît de Sainte-Maure, a historian best known for the 40,000-line poem about the Trojan War. 

I've mentioned Orderic Vitalis before, and I'd like to talk more about him, especially his commissioned work on the history of the Church. See you tomorrow.

Monday, July 8, 2024

The Great Librarian of the Mont

In 1876, in the nave of the chapel of Mont Saint-Michel, a grave was opened to reveal the remains of a former abbot. With the remains was a lead disc inscribed with the epitaph "Here lies Robert Torigni, abbot of this place, who ruled the monastery 32 years, and lived 80 years."

Robert de Torigni (c.1106 - 1186) was born in Normandy. We don't know who his family was (Torigni was the name of the commune where he was born); he became Robert de Torigni when in 1128 he entered the Benedictine Bec Abbey (also home—though not all at the same time—of Anselm and Theobald and Lanfranc). In 1149 he was made prior, and five years later became abbot of Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy, where in 1158 he was host to Henry II of England and Louis VII of France.

King Henry traveled frequently through his Norman territories, so when he and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, where nearby in 1161 during the birth of their daughter Eleanor, Robert was one of the godfathers.

Robert had a reputation for piety and learning. He was a great collector of books, and turned Mont Saint-Michel into a such a well-known center of learning with such a large library that it was nicknamed Cité des Livres ("City of Books"). He had up to 60 monks copying manuscripts, and himself was referred to as "The Great Librarian of the Mont."

Robert also was a fan of history, and liked putting events in chronological order without commentary. That is not to say that he didn't "editorialize" in his own way: as a friend of Henry II, he barely mentioned the death of Thomas Becket and made no mention of Henry's involvement. Robert, like most, drew from other sources, such as Henry of Huntingdon, from whom we got tales of Cnut and the "Fighting Bishop." Henry and Robert knew each other; Henry had visited Bec while Robert was there and provided him information on Henry I, and Robert introduced Henry to Bec's copy of the Historia Regum Britanniae ("History of the Kings of Britain") by Geoffrey of Monmouth.

Robert was the last of three contributors to the Gesta Normannorum Ducum ("Deeds of the Norman Dukes") a history started by William of Jumièges and continued by Orderic Vitalis. Let's take a look at it and its contributors tomorrow.

Sunday, July 7, 2024

Robert de Bethune

As I mentioned yesterday, Robert de Bethune was allowed to attend the Council of Reims called by Pope Eugene III, even though King Stephen of England did not allow even his own Archbishop of Canterbury to attend.

Robert  was described by 12th century historian Robert de Torigni as Flemish, but another contemporary cleric and biographer, William of Wycombe, says he and Bethune grew up in neighboring villages in Buckinghamshire. Bethune started as a teacher before going to study theology under Anselm of Laon. He became a canon and then prior of Llanthony Priory.

In 1130, he was made Bishop of Hereford (pictured is Hereford Cathedral) by King Henry I. Henry supposedly claimed that he needed at least one "godly bishop" around. Keep in mind that many high-ranking religious positions were given as rewards, not necessarily because the recipient deserved them because of his piety. Bethune must have had a reputation for holiness.

To understand what comes next, you need to know about the White Ship incident in late November 1120. The White Ship sank off the coast of Normandy. All aboard died, including Henry's sons. Stephen of Blois was supposed to be on it, but stayed back due to illness. Henry himself was on another ship. The result was that all male heirs to the throne were gone. Henry's second marriage to Adeliza of Louvain was not likely to produce another male heir.

When Henry died, Stephen of Blois seized the throne before Henry's only remaining potential heir, his daughter Matilda, could claim it. Matilda was married to Holy Roman Emperor Henry V, and therefore an empress, and she was not going to let this slide. Her rightful opposition to Stephen led to a period of conflict between the two called The Anarchy.

But back to Robert de Bethune: he supported Stephen's actions from the start. His loyalty to Stephen and his reputation for piety made Stephen trust him. King Stephen (like other kings of England) did not like the papacy's authority over England. England had its own chief prelate, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the conflicts between kings and archbishops were numerous. But Stephen trusted Bethune to stay loyal to him; he might have had Bethune in mind as archbishop some day.

Unfortunately, Stephen could not rely on Bethune's loyalty after the Council of Reims in 1148. Bethune became ill on the third day and died a few weeks later. William of Wycombe's account of his life was an attempt to get him canonized as a saint, but it did not accomplish that result.

Robert de Torigni, who claimed Bethune was Flemish (and may have been right; Bethune's family could easily have come from Flanders and settled in Buckinghamshire), was a Norman monk who wrote about English matters. Let's take a closer look at his life and time.

Saturday, July 6, 2024

The Council of Reims is Held

Pope Eugene III (the Homeless Pope) called the Council of Reims in 1148 to discuss and ratify issues that were brought up in an earlier Council of Reims. The prelates involved approved almost everything: they did not approve a rule forbidding them from showing off in cloaks made of fur. The rule that forbade married priests was considered superfluous by those present; they felt that everyone already knew and followed that rule.

There were some more recent and specific items on the agenda for the Council.

An order was put out to arrest a Breton heretic, Éon de l'Étoile ("Eon of the Star"). He considered himself a messiah and supposedly performed miraculous acts like bi-location (appearing in more than one place at the same time), and a heavenly glow that surrounded him. He pillaged abbeys and monasteries and used the plunder to treat the poor to grand feats. He was arrested, tortured until he confessed his messiahship, and imprisoned at the Abbey of Saint-Denis until his death in 1150.

Another heretic discussed was Gilbert, the bishop of Poitiers. Gilbert was more of a gray area. He did not outwardly preach anything heretical or blasphemous, but he was a scholastic and logician who wrote in such a convoluted manner that his works could just as easily lead the faithful astray as educate them. His commentary on Boethius explained the Holy Trinity in a way that did not align with the teachings of the Church. He was brought to a trial shortly after the Council, presided by Pope Eugene. Gilbert was required to rewrite parts of his book, a happier ending than Éon.

There wasn't really a "curse" on the Council, as I said yesterday, but quite unexpectedly (in most cases), several people involved died soon after. The Archbishop of Trier, Albero de Montreuil, was so ill that he had to be carried around (he was in his 70s). He died shortly after, during a visit to Trier by Eugene. The Bishop of Angoulême died right after. On the third day of the Council, Robert de Bethune, the Bishop of Hereford, fell ill and died. Technically, he wasn't supposed to be there: he was one of only three English prelates allowed by King Stephen to attend. Maybe he would have been better off if he stayed home?

Could he have stayed home? Why did Stephen forbid any English prelates to attend—including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Theobald of Bec, putting guards on him—and yet send Robert and two others? What was going on in Stephen's mind? Let's speculate tomorrow.

Friday, July 5, 2024

Council of Reims is Called

After a few years in the papacy, Pope Eugene III thought there were some issues that needed discussing/ratifying. A letter he wrote to Abbot Suger of Saint-Denis in 1147 mentioned that Trier would be the location, and a week later Eugene officially announced the council to the world for the following March.

Unfortunately, when the papal delegation visited Trier on 30 November 1147 to prepare for the council, which was supposed to be held on 21 March 1148 (must have plenty of time to arrange things!), the citizens of Trier complained about the influx of people. The pope decided to hold the council in Reims instead, three days distant on foot. (Letters written by Eugene to the Bishop of Olmuetz and the Archbishop of Salzburg confirm the change and the reason.)

Eugene mandated attendance by all bishops; failing to show meant suspension. Estimates of attendance range wildly from 400 to 1100 (each bishop would also have had an entourage). Some were forgiven due to illness, and the Italian bishops were excused because Eugene would meet with them after Reims in Cremona to share the results of the council. Stephen of Blois, King of England, forbade any of England's bishops to go except three (Hereford, Norwich and Chichester). The Archbishop of Canterbury, Theobald of Bec, argued with Stephen about the necessity to be there. Stephen disagreed and put guards on him, but Theobald evaded the guards and crossed the English Channel on a rented fishing boat.

Reims had been the site of several religious councils, and this one was discussing some canons announced at Reims in 1131 by Pope Lucius II. It was convened at the cathedral (see illustration). The canons were largely approved, but there was one the prelates did not approve: apparently, they refused to give up wearing cloaks made of fur.

Tomorrow we'll talk about some of the canons they did approve, as well as the curse of the council.

Thursday, July 4, 2024

The World Theater & Tyrannicide

When Shakespeare wrote "All the world’s a stage/And all the men and women merely players"* he probably knew that the metaphor was not original. The world as a theater where human beings' actions are part of a drama authored by God was toyed with by Greek philosophers as well as Christian thinkers.

Although the idea was expressed by Classical authors, it was John of Salisbury (c.1110 - 1180) who actually coined the term theatrum mundi, "theater of the world," in his Policraticus. The context of the phrase is when he says saints "despise the theater of this world from the heights of their virtue."

The Policraticus (the title is a mix of Greek and Latin words and is sometimes translated as "The Statesman's Book" is a moral encyclopedia in which John lays out his political theory in a vein similar to the Mirrors for Princes. Its subtitle is more revealing: De nugis curialium et vestigiis philosophorum, "On the Frivolities of Courtiers and the Footprints of Philosophers."

His chapters are laid out thusly:

  • Book I: Hunting, theatre, and magic
  • Book II: Omens, dreams, and occult sciences
  • Book III: Self-interest and flattery
  • Book IV: The duties of the 'prince'
  • Book V and VI: The body politic
  • Book VII: Three Epicurean tendencies (according to Boethius)
  • Book VIII: Another two Epicurean tendencies; Tyranny

John felt that, since a monarch on earth was the image of God, acts against the ruler were to have strict punishments; however, the monarch's power was delegated by the spiritual power of the Church. John became secretary to Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Becket and supported Becket in his dispute with Henry II.

In the final book of the Policraticus, John advocated for tyrannicide. A prince would obey and support the laws of his country, and all would be well so long as he keeps religion inviolate. A tyrant on the other hand does not recognize his proper rôle in the drama of the theatrum mundi and resists divine law, and in such a case death is appropriate. Julian the Apostate, for example, who tried to return Rome to the pagan religion from Christianity, was deserving of death according to John.

John's career took off when he was introduced to Archbishop of Canterbury Theobald of Bec (Becket's predecessor) and became his secretary. This took place at the Council of Reims, called by Pope Eugene III to deal with a variety of issues. We'll check out these issues tomorrow.

*from As You Like It

Wednesday, July 3, 2024

John of Salisbury on Skepticism & Medicine

John of Salisbury liked the idea of academic skepticism, which ultimately came from Plato's Academy. Let me explain. The head of Plato's Academy post-Plato was Philo of Larissa, who fled Athens for political reasons and landed in Rome. While there, Cicero (106 - 43 BCE) attended some of his lectures and learned "academic skepticism." This started with Socrates' method of posing a series of questions to someone that could undermine their firmly held beliefs. Cicero's writings were known to John of Salisbury's time, but the Greek influences not so much.

John's approach was one of "moderate skepticism": although some things could be proven "definitively" there was still room to question them. He prized the use of Rhetoric and Grammar to challenge ideas, which put him at odds with some scholars who rejected the Trivium because Grammar and Rhetoric (they felt) clashed with the third part of the Trivium, Logic.

John considered the Trivium crucial to human beings because he felt philosophical thought was the dividing line between human beings and wild animals (and human beings and less intellectually gifted human beings). The arts of the Trivium were what enabled philosophical and critical thought to contribute to the ability to socialize, to create a community, and they therefore enabled human well-being.

He had very strong opinions on the state of medicine, believing that doctors had become more interested in making money than researching the best way to care for patients. Some physicians focused on the state of the soul and its relationship to bodily health. John thought this was ridiculous since there was no way to test or prove anything involving the soul. It also "trespassed on religious belief" which he was not keen to support. He expressed that doctors should spend their time divided evenly between research and practice, because the two pursuits were currently separated and leading to two separate practices that did not support each other. He proposed what he called regularum compendium: figure out what caused the illness, figure out how to cure the illness, figure out appropriate aftercare, then figure out how to avoid the illness in the future.

There was another Latin phrase that John of Salisbury coined that influenced later times, theatrum mundi, and we'll look this topic tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 2, 2024

"On the Shoulders of Giants"

A 1675 letter by Isaac Newton has the line: "if I have seen further [than others], it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." This has become a saying for doing work that builds on earlier (and more fundamental) work. It was not the first time that metaphor was seen in print.

John of Salisbury in 1159 wrote:

Bernard of Chartres used to compare us to dwarfs perched on the shoulders of giants. He pointed out that we see more and farther than our predecessors, not because we have keener vision or greater height, but because we are lifted up and borne aloft on their gigantic stature.

This was in his work called Metalogicon. The Metalogicon was about the value of the Trivium (Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic). It consists of four sections that defend the Trivium against those felt that Grammar and Rhetoric were not important to the study of Logic. John would not have known Bernard, who died in the 1120s (John was a child then, going to grammar school in England). He did, however, study Rhetoric and Logic at Chartres under one of Bernard's disciples, Richard l'Evêque.

Although John attributes this to Bernard of Chartres, while John was at Chartres he also studied under William of Conches. John should have been unaware that William, in his 1123 commentary on the Institutiones grammaticae of Priscian, wrote:

The ancients had only the books which they themselves wrote, but we have all their books and moreover all those which have been written from the beginning until our time.… Hence we are like a dwarf perched on the shoulders of a giant. The former sees further than the giant, not because of his own stature, but because of the stature of his bearer. Similarly, we see more than the ancients, because our writings, modest as they are, are added to their great works.

John of Salisbury referred to himself as Johannes Parvus, "John the Little"; parvus can mean "little" or "small." he does not indicate in his writings that he was physically sort. Perhaps this was a humble moment in which he claimed to be not a giant.

A commentator on the Talmud, the Jewish Isaiah di Trans (c.1180 - c.1250) wrote:

For I heard the following from the philosophers, The wisest of the philosophers was asked: "We admit that our predecessors were wiser than we. At the same time we criticize their comments, often rejecting them and claiming that the truth rests with us. How is this possible?" The wise philosopher responded: "Who sees further a dwarf or a giant? Surely a giant for his eyes are situated at a higher level than those of the dwarf. But if the dwarf is placed on the shoulders of the giant who sees further? ... So too we are dwarfs astride the shoulders of giants.

Anyway, the phrase caught on long before Isaac Newton wrote his letter to Robert Hooke. But back to John of Salisbury. Besides defending the Trivium and the verbal arts, he had some strong opinions about things that could be proven, and some strong arguments about the medical profession of his day. I'll talk about those tomorrow.

Monday, July 1, 2024

John of Salisbury

I mentioned yesterday that John of Salisbury was one of the medieval authors who understood eclipses. He had a long career that I'll get out of the way before we look at his extensive writings.

John of Salisbury (c.1110 - 1180) was an Anglo-Saxon author and philosopher in Norman England, and so his family was not going to be particularly prominent. His writings show us that he went to a parish school as a boy. About 1136 he went to France where, like Arnold of Brescia,  he studied under Peter Abelard. He wrote about students and teachers there, giving us a view into one of the oldest universities. John also studied at Chartres under William of Conches.

About 1140 he was back in Paris, studying theology and supporting himself by tutoring the sons of nobles, sharing an apartment with Peter of Celle, who became a Benedictine and abbot of St. Rémy at Reims. While attending the Council of Reims in 1148, it is believed he was introduced by Bernard of Clairvaux to Theobald of Bec, the Archbishop of Canterbury. John became Theobald's secretary.

This position brought him back to England, where he was secretary to Theobald for seven years and where he came to know Thomas Becket. John also made trips to Rome during this time, where he got to know Nicholas Breakspear, the only Englishman to become pope (as Adrian IV).

In 1176, John was made Bishop of Chartres, a position he held until his death on 25 October 1180. His successor as bishop was his longtime friend and former roommate in college, Peter of Celle.

Now that we have some background on the man, we'll turn next to his written works.

Sunday, June 30, 2024

The Lunar Eclipse

The Annals of Clonmacnoise have an entry for 670 that reads "The Moone was turned into a sanguine collor this year." A red moon usually means a lunar eclipse. During a lunar eclipse, the Earth passes between the sun and Moon, causing the light on the Moon to appear sanguine, or blood-red.

The mechanics of eclipses were understood long ago. Babylonians over 3000 years ago had eclipses figured out, and even Isidore of Seville in the 7th century understood the process. (The illustration is a 14th century book showing the phases of eclipses.) Isidore knew that the lunar eclipse would only occur when the Moon was full.

Not everyone knew that this was a predictable and understandable phenomenon, however. A solar eclipse took place on 23 June 1191 in England, and the monk Richard of Devizes commented that those who saw it and did not know what scholars knew thought it was a sign of something ominous. Earlier, a lunar eclipse during the First Crusade showed a blood-red Moon over Jerusalem as the Crusaders approached. It was described as a sign of God's will. (This was reported later by Albert of Aachen, writing a history of an event he did not himself witness. Albert had no compunction against stating that a lunar eclipse portended a defeat for the Crusade's enemies, while a solar eclipse would have meant disaster for the Crusade.)

John of Salisbury warned against using eclipses as signs of future success or failure. Astronomy was fine, but using it to predict the future was as erroneous as soothsaying, astrology, and other such practices.

Bishop Thietmar of Merseburg also proclaimed that eclipses were not caused by evil incantations or the celestial bodies being eaten by demons or monsters. This is the only reference to the idea of the sun or Moon being "eaten" during an eclipse. We can't be sure if anyone really claimed this, or if Thietmar was just exaggerating the fears of the uneducated so that he could counter them.

An eclipse in 756 was described by Simeon of Durham in some detail:

Moreover, the Moon was covered with a blood-red color on the 8th day before the Kalends of December [i.e., November 24] when 15 days old, that is, the Full Moon; and then the darkness gradually decreased and it returned to its original brightness. And remarkably indeed, a bright star following the Moon itself passed through it, and after the return to brightness it preceded the Moon by the same distance as it had followed the Moon before it was obscured.

Simeon seems to be describing the occultation of a star during the eclipse.

John of Salisbury has been mentioned here before, but he said and did a lot that deserves attention. We'll look at him next time.

Saturday, June 29, 2024

The Annals of Clonmacnoise

Clonmacnoise Monastery was an important place in the Middle Ages. Occupying a major travel route in the center of Ireland, it grew to a community of over a thousand at its height. Besides works of art and religious scholars, it produced a history of Ireland called the Annals of Clonmacnoise (in Irish: Annála Chluain Mhic Nóis).

To be frank, there are no original manuscripts remaining, and there is no firm evidence that it was produced at Clonmacnoise; however, it does focus on the parts of the country around Clonmacnoise—which was a center of learning and production of texts in Irish—and the clans that inhabited them. The Annals contain historical data on O'Kellys, O'Rourkes, O'Molloys, O'Connors, and McDermotts that we would not otherwise have.

The Irish Gaelic of the original was translated into English in 1627 by Conall MacGeoghegan, a descendant of Niall of the Nine Hostages.

This original manuscript, as well as the source from which it came, are both lost, but later edition copies of the translation exist in British and Irish museums. The translator noted that there were sections missing from the manuscript he had found (notably the years 1182-1199 and 1290-1299).

It begins "Adam in the 130 years of his age Begatt Seth, and afterwards Adam Liued 800 yeares & in all he lived 930 yeares." The first page quickly gets to Ireland:

This year of Lamech's age came the woman called Cesarea or Keassar accompanied onely with three men and 50 Women to this land which was the first habitacion of Ireland, though others say that this land was first Discouered and found by three fisher men who were sayleing in these parts of the world, and Because they made noe Residence in the land I will make noe mention of them.

There is scholarly demand for a modern edition to make the information contained available to more researchers.

I'm going to pick one brief entry for further talk. The sole entry for 670 reads "The Moone was turned into a sanguine collor this year." This was likely just a lunar eclipse. Did I say "just"? Lunar eclipses were of special interest to Christians and pagans. Let's talk about them tomorrow.

Friday, June 28, 2024

Clonmacnoise Monastery

Clonmcnoise was founded in 544CE by St. Ciarán where a major east-west route crossed the River Shannon. Location is important in real estate, even for monasteries, and this location meant opportunities for visitors and trade, making it a major center for religion and learning for centuries. Ciarán met Diarmait Mac Cerbaill there, who became the first Christian High King of Ireland. Together they built the first wooden church on the site. The first community had about a dozen men.

It was visited by St. Columba (according to Adomnán), who while there prophesied about a future where there would be debates over the dating of Easter.

By the 9th century the place was thriving and had grown to several buildings and between one and two thousand men. Wooden structures had been replaced with stone. Ciarán had died in 549, and his body buried under the original church that was later rebuilt in stone as the Temple Ciarán (see illustration). It is the smallest church on the site at only 9x12 feet.

Excavations of Temple Ciarán have revealed no body, but did uncover a crozier. The detailed and beautiful Clonmacnoise Crozier is on display at the National Museum of Ireland. Although some like to associate it with Ciarán, the workmanship dates it to the late 11th century. It is an example of the superb craftsmanship that came out of Clonmacnoise, as its location and reputation created a thriving secular community as well as a religious one.

Plague was always an issue in the Middle Ages. Ciarán died from the plague, and a plague in the late 7th century killed many of the students and teachers. In the 12th century, Clonmacnoise began to decline. Raids reaching far inland from Vikings (one of the authors of the Clonmacnoise Book of the Dun Cow was killed in 1106 by Vikings) and Normans (who had taken over England in 1066) contributed, but so did simple economic factors. Not far to the north the town of Athlone was growing and drawing talent and commerce. There were also competing religious sites as other orders started to move into Ireland to spread their own versions of monasticism.

One Clonmacnoise survival is the Annals of Clonmacnoise, chronicling Ireland from prehistory to 1408. I'll tell you a little about it next time.

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Finding the Author

The scholar R.I.Best examined the penmanship of the Lebor na hUidre, the early Irish Book of the Dun Cow, and determined that there were three different writers involved. He labeled them A (for the first), and H (for one who added Homilies), and M. 

Rarely did early authors or historians sign their names to works, but Best believed he could definitively state the identity of M as as Máel Muire mac Céilechair meic Cuinn na mBocht. Máel Muire (Old Irish: "Servant of Mary") was a cleric at the monastery of Clonmacnoise, part of a family of clerics that had been connected to Clonmacnoise for centuries.

How was the identification made? Well, a marginal note written much later than the Lebor claims that Máel Muire was the person who wrote and compiled this book from diverse books. But notes that are added are not always reliable. In this case, however, there is also the evidence of the probationes pennae (Latin for "pen tests"; singular probatio pennae). When cutting a new quill pen, the scribe would test the point by scribbling something, maybe in the margin, maybe on a scrap of blotting paper. (Paper/parchment wasn't cheap, so it would be saved for use, perhaps as a binding.) There are two probationes pennae at Clonmacnoise where Máel Muire wrote his name, and Best said the penmanship in the autographical pen test was the same as the writer M in the Lebor.

One of the benefits of this identification is that, since we know Máel Muire's death, we know a date prior to which the Lebor was being written. The Annála na gCeithre Máistrí (Middle Irish: "Annals of the Four Masters"), covering Irish history from Noah's Deluge to 1616CE, claim Máel Muire was killed by Vikings at Clonmacnoise in 1106.

Poor Clonmacnoise! It suffered extensively, with attacks from the Irish, the Vikings, and the Normans. Let's look at its history tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

The Book of the Dun Cow

I'm not referencing the novel based on the "Nun's Priest's Tale" from The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer written by Walter Wangerin. I'm talking about Lebor na hUidre (Middle Irish: "Book of the Dun Cow") which is MS 23 E25 in the Royal Irish Academy. To be fair, it isn't about the legendary Dun Cow; it is called by that title because the tradition says it was made from the hide of the Dun Cow (or simply of a dun cow).

Lebor na hUidre is the oldest manuscript in existence that is written entirely in the Irish language. It contains some of the earliest versions we have of Irish legends such as the Táin Bó Cuailnge. The manuscript is much damaged, with only 67 leaves remaining, many of which are difficult to read. Many of the 38 items in it are incomplete. Some of the complete texts are:

  • The Eulogy of Columba
  • The Vision of Adomnán
  • The Expulsion of the Déisi
  • Cúchulainn's Phantom Chariot (a tale about St. Patrick)
  • The prophesy of Art mac Cuinn and his faith (the 2nd century Art Mac Cuinn foresees Christianity)
  • The adventure of Connla the Beautiful, son of Conn of the Hundred Battles
  • The conception of Cúchulainn
  • The story of Mongán
  • The Cause of the Vision of Mongán
  • The places where the heads of the heroes of Ulster are
  • ...and others added later by a second scribe
  • (Incomplete works outnumber completed ones)
An early 20th century Irish scholar, R.I.Best, determined that there were three different sets of handwriting in the Lebor. He labels them A, M, and H. He claimed that A and M were contemporaries; H is so-called because he added homilies. Best helped date the manuscript by identifying M with a real person who was killed by Vikings in 1106. How he was able to do that will be the subject for tomorrow.

In the meantime, you can listen to the Lebor na hUidre here.

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

What Was the Dun Cow?

In the legends of Guy of Warwick, he fights wild boars, dragons, giants, and the Dun Cow. Three of those four are familiar to modern readers, but the last bears explanation. The Dun Cow was supposedly a giant beast that roamed Dunsmore Heath in Warwickshire.

A related story tells that the dun-colored cow was owned by a giant. Its supply of milk never ran out, and anyone could come and milk it to get what they needed. One day, however, a witch came along. After filling her pail with milk, she wanted the cow to fill her sieve (called a "riddle"); its attempts to fill what could not hold milk killed it.

The origin of Guy's encounter with the Dun Cow is unknown. One 19th century philologist suggested that "Dun Cow" was a corruption of Dena Gau, Germanic for "Danish region"; in his explanation, the character of Guy was instrumental in defeating the Danes. Since one version of Guy's legend has him returning from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land to help King Æthelstan against northern attacks (Danes), this makes some sense.

But the legend gave rise to stories about actual beasts, and so we have to look at non-Danish options. There are actually "souvenirs" of the Dun Cow in England. At Warwick Castle, where you can see items reported to be from Guy's life and adventures, there is one item that is said to be the rib of the Dun Cow. It is, in fact, a narwhal tusk. In Lancashire there is a Dun Cow Rib Farm where a giant rib bone is embedded in a wall, said to come from a giant cow. That rib is assumed to have come from a giant bovine, the auroch that roamed Britain during the Bronze Age.

There is a modern novel called The Book of the Dun Cow, adapted from "The Nun's Priest's Tale" from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. There was also a 12th century Book of the Dun Cow that is a lot more relevant to this blog, and I'll tell you about it next time.

Monday, June 24, 2024

The Legendary Guy of Warwick

The figure of Guy of Warwick (pictured here at Cliffe Hill, Warwick) has spawned as much of a "cottage industry" in literature and tourism as any other non-real figure (see Robin Hood).

It started (so far as we know) with Peter of Langtoft, an Augustinian canon and historian at Bridlington Priory who wrote a verse history called Langtoft's Chronicle, covering in Anglo-Norman 9000 verses the history of England from its founding by Brutus to the death of Edward I.

In it he tells the story of Guy, a page at the court of the Earl of Warwick, who falls in love with Felice, the earl's daughter. Well aware that she is far above his station, he sets out to prove his worth, ridding the countryside of dangers. These include dragons, giants, boars, and the Dun Cow. This is sufficient to win the hand of Felice.

Afterward, however, he is filled with remorse for his violent past. The solution is to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, but his time there motivates him to live a more humble life. He returns to England in secret and inhabits a cave overlooking the River Avon, living out his life as a hermit.

There's more, however, as the tendency of medieval writers to embellish meant there were many revisions and retellings. In one expanded version, he returns from the Holy Land after several years away in time to help King Æthelstan against invading northern kings. Winchester has traditions of this fighting. He then goes to Warwick in disguise where he takes the humble position of Felice's beadsman (a servant position whose duty is to pray for the souls of the deceased of the family). He eventually becomes a hermit and only reveals his true identity when he is about to die.

In the 14th century there were many new versions of the story in Middle English, mentioning his wars in Germany, Lombardy, and Constantinople. Because of the designation Guy of Warwick, a tower added to Warwick Castle in 1394 was named "Guy's Tower." There one can see Guy's sword and dining fork as well as his porridge pot. The 9th Earl of Warwick named his son Guy. The legend's popularity lasted a few centuries. Shakespeare mentions Guy (and the giant Colbrand that he defeats) in Henry VIII, and Colbrand again in King John. The numerous extant versions of the story have been gathered here.

We know what giants and dragons and boars are, but what was the deal with the "Dun Cow" that he defeated? Let's look into that tomorrow.

Sunday, June 23, 2024

Guy de Beauchamp

Guy de Beauchamp (c.1272 – 12 August 1315) had an impressive pedigree. His father was the first Beauchamp to become Earl of Warwick; his mother was daughter of the Justiciar of Ireland, John Fitzgeoffrey, who was part of the group that was able to force the Provisions of Oxford on Henry III. Guy's father, William de Beauchamp, named him for the legendary hero Guy of Warwick.

Guy succeeded his father as earl in 1298, distinguishing himself in that same year by participating in the Battle of Falkirk, the first major battle in the war for Scottish Independence that saw the English defeat the Scots under William Wallace. Guy had been knighted two years earlier by King Edward I.

In 1299 he helped negotiate the treaty that was to wed Prince Edward Caernarvon (later Edward II) to the French Isabella. He was made High Sheriff of Worcestershire, and was given John Balliol's Barnard Castle  after Balliol's attempt to become King of Scotland failed.

Before Edward I's death in 1307, his son's friend Piers Gaveston had been exiled. Guy was one of the men responsible for seeing that the exile remained permanent. Edward II brought Gaveston back and made him Earl of Cornwall. Guy was the only earl who did not support the king's decision, and when Gaveston was exiled again and again brought back by Edward, Guy was the only objector. (All of that business has been discussed many times in this blog. The illustration is from a later account, with Guy standing over Gaveston's body.)

Guy, Earl of Warwick was one of the most powerful and respected men in England. Edward I left supervision of his son to Guy. The Vita Edwardi Secundi ("Life of Edward II") mentions that "Other earls did many things only after taking his opinion: in wisdom and council he had no peer."

He was also interested in education (or maybe just in collecting books?). He had a large library of saints' lives, romances about Alexander the Great, and stories of King Arthur. In his lifetime he donated 42 books to Bordesley Abbey (now only a ruin), where he was buried; his family was among its benefactors.

His namesake, Guy of Warwick, was a popular figure in English romance and worth taking a look at, which we shall do tomorrow.

Saturday, June 22, 2024

Robert Winchelsey

The relationship between Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Winchelsey and King Edward I was rocky. Edward accused Winchelsey of plotting g against him and sent a complaint to the pope, Clement V. Clement sided with Edward and suspended Winchelsey on 12 February 1306. Seeing that his continued presence in England was pointless—he had one supporter, Antony Bek, who had also been involved in temporal/spititual controversy—Winchelsey went to Bordeaux.

When Edward I died a little over a year later, in July 1307, Winchelsey was able to return to England upon the request of Edward's son and successor, Edward II. (The illustration is of Edward II's coronation.) The pope was okay with the new king wanting the old archbishop back. While everyone was willing to placate the new king, however, Winchelsey (along with one other: the 10th Earl of Warwick Guy de Beauchamp) was opposed to the return of Edward's favorite exiled companion, Piers Gaveston. (Beauchamp would ultimately be involved in Gaveston's end.)

When the barons had had enough of Edward's excesses, Winchelsey sided with them by excommunicating their enemies.

Besides his political troubles, Winchelsey was actually considered a good preacher. While a canon at St. Paul's in London, his sermons and lectures attracted large crowds. Several of his writings from his time at St. Paul's survive. They are recordings of public debates or lectures that intended to answer questions presented by the audience. This practice started at the University of Paris when theological faculty would suspend classes just before Christmas and Easter and hold public sessions that anyone could attend and ask questions. These were called quodlibeta (Latin: "whatever you like"). Recorded quodlibeta survive from many of the men mentioned in this blog, 

After his death on 11 May 1313, it was said that miracles took place at his tomb. Attempts to canonize him went nowhere, however.

The 10th Earl of Warwick, Guy de Beauchamp, is usually mentioned in a historical context as the enemy of Edward II and Piers Gaveston. He was more complex than that, however, known for an extensive library—not usual for a knight—and was highly respected by kings and fellow nobles. I'll talk about him more next time.

Friday, June 21, 2024

Kings and Archbishops

The controversy between King Henry II and his best friend, Thomas Becket, was far from the only clash between temporal and ecclesiastical power. Robert Winchelsey (c.1245 - 1313) also started being supported by his king, Edward I, but later clashed with him and his advisors. The same pattern was repeated with the king's successor, Edward II.

Winchelsey (from Winchelsea, whose seal appears here) studied at the University of Paris (where he might have met Thomas Aquinas) and at Oxford. In 1283 he was made a canon of St. Paul's in London. When the Archbishop of Canterbury, John Peckham, died in 1292, Winchelsey was elected to replace him. He could not be confirmed, however, because although he went to Rome to receive the pallium, there was no pope at the time. He could not be consecrated archbishop until after the election of Celestine V.

When he returned to England and swore an oath of loyalty to King Edward, he added his own qualifier, that he was loyal "only regarding the king's temporal decisions and power, not regarding spirituality." Edward's anger with him continued when Winchelsey refused to have the clergy give up the percentage of taxes the king demanded to finance his administration and his wars with France. Winchelsey did allow one tenth of ecclesiastical revenues to go to the king in 1295, and that if the war continued into a second year he might consider more funding.

Things changed in 1296, however, with Clericis laicos, a papal bull forbidding church taxes to secular powers. Winchelsey told his clergy that further taxes were not to be paid to the agents of the king. York, however, allowed the king one-fifth of their revenue, a precedent that made it easier for Edward to declare any clergy who did not pay taxes to be outlaws, and that their property would be seized. The outlaws would be forgiven and return to his good graces if they paid a fine of ... (wait for it) ... one-fifth of their revenues. Winchelsey told the clergy it was up to them if they wanted to pay. Slowly, the clergy gave in.

All except Winchelsey himself. Edward seized his lands, but the two were reconciled in July 1297. At that point, Winchelsey tried to mediate between the king and his earls, who also objected to so much taxation. Speaking of money, Winchelsey clashed with Edward's chief advisor, his Treasurer Walter Langton. Langton was the Bishop of Lichfield, but unlike Winchelsey he placed his loyalty to the king above his loyalty to the church.

In fact, Langton was one of two men sent by Edward to the pope to complain that Winchelsey was plotting against the king. How that turned out will be a subject for next time.