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I’m the kind of reader who tends to have the OED Online open in another tab whenever I’m working through a book or article, and I try to keep a note of the interesting words I find for future reference. So it seems appropriate to instigate a series of mini posts here in which I share my most recent ‘new word’, its definition, and the context in which I encountered it.

Map of Wales c. 1200, a fissiparous entity if ever there was one. From A. G. Little’s “Mediæval Wales, Chiefly in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries” (1902).

Today’s Word of the Day is fissiparous (adj.). The OED gives:

a. Of organisms: Producing new individuals by fission.

b. Of or pertaining to the process of reproduction by fission.[1]

In other words, this is a marvellous word for describing things which have a tendency to split apart into many, fragmented units.

This interesting new piece of vocabulary came to my attention in reading Simon Meecham-Jones’ introduction to the book he co-edited with Ruth Kennedy for Palgrave Macmillan’s The New Middle Ages series: Authority and Subjugation in Writing of Medieval Wales (2008). It crops up in Meecham-Jones’ discussion of the distinction between Wales and the English Crown’s other, later, imperial projects, namely, a pre-existing textual tradition and documentary culture. He reminds us that “it was far from the truth to imagine that Wales was a land without textual resources of its own. England’s first colonial wars were aimed at subduing a people who, however fractious and fissiparous their political culture, nonetheless enjoyed both a highly developed and long-standing legal code… and a prolific and sophisticated literary culture…”[2]

Nice phrase, isn’t it? I’m reading this in the final stages of development of an essay I hope will appear somewhere or other reasonably soon which examines the particular rhetorical construction of kingship that emerged from the correspondence of Edward I with Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, Prince of Wales, between the two Welsh Wars. I’ll let you know when I’m done… Meanwhile, try to use fissiparous in a sentence at least once this week.

[1] “fissiparous, adj.” OED Online (Oxford:Oxford University Press, 2012). <; [accessed October 31, 2012].

[2] Simon Meecham-Jones, ‘Introduction’, in Authority and Subjugation in Writing of Medieval Wales, ed. by Ruth Kennedy and Simon Meecham-Jones (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), pp. 1-11 (p. 4).

I don’t think I’m really adding to knowledge here, but it always comes as rather a shock to students that Luther didn’t simply spring out of the virgin earth as the ‘inventor’ of calls for reform of the Church. It says something, I presume, about the success of post-Reformation movements in discourse, casting everything that was thought or done before about 1500 (excepting, perhaps, the composition of the Bible) into superstitious and ignorant darkness. However, this is not the time or place for me to get started on a rant about that!

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago I prepared a lovely and offensively vibrant handout for my students to illustrate, if not the entire (pre)history of reform, then at least some of the major points that should, I hope, enable them to contextualize the Reformation somewhat more securely. They hadn’t had the Schism in lectures, for instance, so reading from Nicholas of Cusa about the powers of councils to constrain popes rather flummoxed them until I did my ‘well, you know there were three popes at one point?’ gag. It’s the history tutor’s equivalent to the stand up comic’s fall-back oneliner. Always gets a reaction.

I’m putting this handout here not with any significant purpose in mind, but mostly just because I’m rather proud of my design efforts, and given how many hours it took me to construct, it may as well have an appreciative audience. Click through for the full hypercoloured glory. Enjoy!

What’s not to love about a brief history of Reformation in a multicoloured flowchart? Hint: start at the top left! Text & Design © Kathleen Neal.

I don’t know that I’ll make a habit of reblogging this kind of advertisement here, but it has come to my attention that the British Library are looking for a researcher on the Post-Medieval Legacy of Magna Carta, which sounds like a dream job for somebody, and seems pertinent to the content of this site. The 2.5 year post is in conjunction with the upcoming Magna Carta 800 exhibition which will take place in 2015, and to which I, for one, will definitely be going – possibly many times. If you want more information, look to the BL’s own manuscripts blog, and the specific job advertisement here. Applications close on 28 October. Good luck one and all!

The Call for Papers for Kings and Queens II sent me scurrying through my *large* database of potential letters for a neat little nugget I might be able to turn into a conference paper. As I have about 13,000 individual items from the SC 1 (Ancient Correspondence) series at TNA saved as photographs on my hard drive, I’m quite spoilt for choice! I’d initially considered the correspondence of Edward I with his first cousin-once removed, Philip IV of France, as a potential case study. This seemed like an appropriate and interesting proposal since their relationship started off rosily, but took a particularly nasty turn around 1294 when Philip decided to annexe Edward’s Gascon territory to the French crown, despite having given assurances in private diplomatic meetings that he wouldn’t.[1] Sadly (although perhaps, on reflection, not particularly surprisingly), none of the extant letters between the two monarchs date from this crucial period. They come from earlier (up to 1293) and later (from about 1303). There’s probably still much of interest to be had from them, but this set back put a damper on my initial idea.[2]

Kew, TNA, SC 1/13/28. Detail of a draft letter from Edward I to Marie of Brabant, dowager queen of France, 12 August 1295. Photo by Kathleen Neal.

What does survive from the crisis period, however, is a set of draft letters drawn up on a single day in the name of Edward I to no fewer than three queens of France: his aunt, Marguerite of Provence, widow of Louis IX; Marie of Brabant, widow of his cousin Philip III; and Jeanne of Navarre, queen consort of Philip IV. Interestingly, in the same breath, as it were, the king also wrote to his ally against Philip, Adolph of Nassau, the so-called King of the Romans, but this letter was the last to be drafted in the set: it’s fourth on the parchment sheet under Edward’s letters to the three queens. Is this perhaps an indicator of a hierarchy of significance in political communication in which the royal women of Edward’s network were more important to his diplomatic efforts? Possible, although perhaps not provable… Nevertheless, this tantalising find – or rather rediscovery, since I’ve passed my eyes across this letter before – has got me rather excited in the context of the conference theme. Read the rest of this entry »

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I teach and research at the Centre for Medieval & Renaissance Studies in the School of Philosophical, Historial and International Studies, Monash University (Australia). Views expressed here are my own and not representative of the CMRS, SOPHIS or Monash.

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