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9781445645742Darren Baker of the blog and associated newsletter ‘The Provisions‘, has a new book on Simon de Montfort, With All For All, out now* with Amberley Publishing. I posed a few questions to him in the lead up to publication, to probe how his book responds to a range of opinions about this complex character circulating in the academic world:

This is the first biography of the Earl of Leicester since J. R. Maddicott’s Simon de Montfort in 1994. What do you see as the key distinction between your characterisation of Montfort and his? Do you think interpretation has shifted in a particular direction in the last twenty years?

Maddicott gives perhaps the fullest account yet of Montfort’s life and career. He is what you might say is a biographer’s biographer, meaning his work will always be an indispensable resource for people like me. In the end, however, I feel his judgment is too harsh, that he is inclined to see him easily corrupted by his success, to be too much like his father, who incidentally I don’t think was the complete demon he is often portrayed as today. Maddicott is certainly not the first to present such a sombre view, but so thorough is his biography that it has been the prevailing opinion since it came out. I see Montfort as a much more inspiring figure, one who truly did make a lasting contribution, and at first I felt compelled to answer criticisms about him in the body of my book. I then realized that most lay readers probably couldn’t care less for any scholarly tug-of-war, they just want a great story, so I shuffled my opinions to the back of the book. Read the rest of this entry »

The Close Rolls reveal that on December 14th, 1286, while Edward I was in Gascony, his cousin Edmund, Earl of Cornwall, witnessed the enrollment of a settlement among the heirs and parceners of Stephen de Bocton, a tenant-in-chief, lately deceased.[1] Stephen was survived by his wife and three daughters, two of whom were married. There were thus six people with a direct interest in the division of Stephen’s estate. Interestingly, among the lands and income to which they were now entitled were a number of rents specifically attached to various feast days, including Christmas. Presumably such rents enabled lords to entertain their important allies and tenants at banquets to mark these important moments in the liturgical, social and political calendar. After all, we know that ostensive feasting was an integral part of alliance formation and maintenance, and by no means insignificant in maintaining the dignity of lordship that enabled land holders to command the respect of their neighbours and dependents.[2] Even those who weren’t invited may have ‘feasted’ on the news of the rich dishes and their staggering variety.

I imagine, then, that the division of the Christmas rents may have been among the articles of inheritance that were hotly contested or at least seriously debated and considered in the course of reaching the settlement, because it is far from clear that all parties got an equal share of the festive goodies:

  • 26 ½ hens and a cock to Idonea, Stephen’s eldest daughter and her husband Thomas de Gatesden.[3]
  • 25 hens and two cocks, and a hundred horse-shoes to Joan, Stephen’s second daughter and her husband Ralph de Otringden.
  • 29 hens and a cock to Isolda, Stephen’s third daughter.
  • nothing for Matilda, Stephen’s widow – or at least nothing recorded in this entry on the Close Rolls.[4]
image from wikimedia commons

Fowl, I say! Image from wikimedia commons

parergon30-1coverI’m happy to announce that my article “Words as Weapons in the Correspondence of Edward I with Llywelyn ap Gruffydd” has just appeared in the most recent edition of Parergon. You can get it through Project Muse here if your library has a subscription.1 Here’s the abstract to whet your appetite:

The correspondence exchanged by Edward I of England and Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, Prince of Wales in the late thirteenth century has traditionally been read for its legal and jurisdictional implications. However, as Rees Davies noted, language was itself a weapon in medieval Anglo-Welsh conflict. From this assumption, I examine a single letter exchange to investigate the construction and function of royal epistolary language. I suggest that traditional and formulaic elements were adapted to strategic expression of the authority and longevity of royal power, and that silences were equally intentional and rhetorically forceful weapons in the campaign to dominate Wales.

[1] I know it’s all about open access these days, but I’m a member of the august association that publishes this journal, and the income that this online access generates keeps it afloat, and able to do fabulous things like offer student essay prizes, subsidized conference registrations, professional training seminars and travel bursaries. All of these activities are things I have benefited from in my own (albeit, so far, short ) career, and are in my humble opinion Good Things. So, despite the fact that I’m all for people being able to read my work (the more the merrier!) you won’t find me putting illicit copies of this online because I think it would be genuinely counter productive and mean spirited of me to deny opportunities like this to others by diverting such an important funding stream away from the good work of the Australian and New Zealand Association for Medieval and Early Modern Studies. On the other hand, if you are an independent scholar without access or means you can contact me privately for a copy for your own use if you are interested, because I do care about information accessibility even if I don’t want it to be at the expense of small scholarly societies. End rant.

Recently on the MedFem Listserv, the valuable online forum of the Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship, discussion was piqued by the question of whether we’re ‘done’ with the history of medieval queenship by now. I think most people ended by agreeing that the answer is ‘no’, even if some individual queens sometimes seem to be getting all the attention;[1] the usefulness of studying exceptional individuals for understanding the role of women generally in society at large may be small; and the value of looking at less well-known queens, not to mention non-royal women, certainly shouldn’t be denied. Theresa Earenfight has begun to address this through her recently established blog, Queens in the Middle Ages, which will be a great place to watch for more developments if you’re interested. Theresa recently posted:

royal women were highly visible to their contemporaries. Their lives were recounted in chronicles, the management of their estates and households recorded in fiscal documents, their letters collected in archives, and their religious and artistic patronage remembered in the books, buildings, and works of art they sponsored and treasured. Yet later scholars put kings at the center of the history of medieval Europe and ignored most queens, dismissed them as unimportant, forgot their actions, and obscured their lives…

This is certainly the case for a particular episode of English, French and indeed wider European history from the late thirteenth century. I’ve talked briefly about this before, and I’ll be waxing eloquent on the topic in Winchester in July, since my paper has just been accepted for the Kings & Queens conference, so I won’t go into loads of detail here. But suffice to say, the more I looked into the contextual background of three letters from Edward I to queens of France, the more horrified I became at the almost complete silence of historians on the involvement of these women in diplomatic efforts to avoid an Anglo-French war in the 1290s. They are almost completely invisible in the diplomatic historiography. Some works mention the presence of Marie of Brabant and Jeanne of Navarre at a meeting with Edward’s brother, Edmund of Lancaster, at which (depending on whose account you read) Edmund was duped into agreeing to a ‘secret’ peace pact with Philip IV, or did some duping of his own which resulted in Philip’s animosity. And that’s about it. No further comment or analysis. Not even a flicker of a pause in which to wonder why these queens were involved in negotiations, how they may have been involved in setting up or facilitating the occasion, or what their response to its failure might have been. No reflection on what the royal men considered to be the role of these women in diplomacy, or whether they sought it, or expected it, or resented it. No curiosity over how normal or extraordinary this kind of activity was. No mention of the subsequent correspondence from Edward to Marie, Jeanne, and Marguerite of Provence, even though two of these letters have been in print since Champollion-Figeac’s two-volume collection Lettres des Rois, Reines et Autres Personages des Cours de France et d’Angleterre depuis Louis VII jusqu’à Henri IV, Tirées des Archives de Londres appeared in 1839, and all three are noted in the Calendar of the Close Rolls, Edward I, Vol. III: 1288—1296, first printed in 1904.[2] What this means is that despite having had the resources to hand for at least one hundred and seventy-four years it simply hadn’t occurred to anyone to ask these questions, even though the presence and influence of the three queens was not invisible to their contemporaries. I’d say that shows we aren’t done yet.

On the upside, it means there are still plenty of opportunities to add to the story of thirteenth-century diplomacy. That, at least, makes me smile.

[1] Eleanor of Aquitaine, I’m looking at YOU!
[1] J. J. Champollion-Figeac, ed., Lettres des Rois, Reines et Autres Personages des Cours de France et d’Angleterre Depuis Louis VII Jusqu’à Henri IV, Tirées des Archives de Londres. 2 vols, Collection de Documents Inédits de l’Histoire de France (Paris: Imprimerie Royale, 1839-47); Calendar of the Close Rolls Preserved in the Public Record Office. 61 vols (London: HMSO, 1900-1963). Point of trivia – Jacques Joseph Champollion-Figeac was the elder brother of Jean-François Champollion, famous for translating the Rosetta Stone, one of the other iconic British Museum posters of my childhood previously discussed here. I guess I was always doomed to be an Egyptologist or a Medievalist…!

I’ve held off noting these reports beginning to emerge, because I wanted to put them all together in one post, but it seems like they’re going to trickle in over a relatively longish period, and I’m impatient. Here, I therefore point you, dear reader, in the direction of the admirable Magistra et Mater, who has begun compiling reports on sessions from the 2012 Leeds IMC:

IMC 2012 report 1: rules, filth and gender

IMC 2012 report 2: an early medieval sandwich

IMC 2012 report 3: Hincmar and the rest

Further reports will be linked back to this post as they appear.

Bodington Hall is for sale. Some may not be sad, others will miss it with the kind of nostalgia that only comes from having adapted to crummy conditions and found it a bonding experience...

Bodington Hall is for sale. Some may not be sad, others will miss it with the kind of nostalgia that only comes from having adapted to crummy conditions and found it to be a bonding experience… Photo by Particulations.

And this segues nicely into a glimpse forward to the IMC this year, which will be the first at the much vaunted new ‘on-campus’ locale. (For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, the IMC previously took place at the University of Leeds’ residential halls, which are (or rather, were – they’re apparently being demolished, and some may say ‘good riddance’…) about 25 mins north of the city by bus, set among some charming sports grounds and not-quite-so-charming urban ring-road roundabouts. I will admit that the first time I went to the meeting I failed to note this and booked a ‘handy’ B&B directly opposite the campus proper, which meant I missed out on lots of the late evening shin-digs as I schlepped back to my digs on the last bus home…) I’m not sure yet how I feel about the move. No – actually I am sure: I feel ambivalent. The facilities may indeed be newer, nicer, shinier and better provided with air conditioning, but the fact that we will all be much closer to town, and therefore much closer to lots of alternative options for spending ‘non-conference’ time lurks as a significant potential drawback. Read the rest of this entry »

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).

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 »

My attention tends to wander when I spend too many days in a row reading the Close Rolls. Try it. I’m sure you’ll feel the same. Hence, I was pleased to be shaken from my reverie when I came upon several entries relating to wine in the Roll for 1274; after all, this is a subject dear to my heart, as a regular visitor of several fine wineries in the greater Melbourne area, and proud owner/drinker of a cellar that’s not too bad, thank you very much, even if I do say so myself. I have a vague notion of writing the book on wine in the thirteenth century one day.[1] For now, here are some tastings.

Obviously I’m not the only one who likes to mix my -OH groups with medieval amusement…

The king had a special right to prise, in other words, a tax, on imports of wine, and it seems to me from the implications of several notes on the Rolls that this was sometimes taken in kind. There is mention, for example, of a tun of wine “of the right prise” being given “of the king’s gift” to the archbishop of Rages.[2] As the wording of this writ suggests, gifts of wine potentially represented patronage of both symbolic and functional significance.[3] Gifts of wine from the royal prise frequently seem to have been directed at religious houses, sometimes for the express purpose of celebrating the divine office. On January 27, 1275, the monks of King’s Beaulieu, where the king was staying, took the opportunity to press their rights to an annual tun for this purpose which they claimed to have been granted by a charter of Henry III. Edward ordered three tuns – one for the present year and two in arrears – to be granted to them “until he shall cause it to be ordained otherwise”, presumably involving a search of the chancery records for the aforementioned charter.[4] As a chivalrous and gracious monarch, one imagines he could hardly fail to meet the monks’ demands while he was their guest, even if he should later discover the claim to be groundless.[5]  Read the rest of this entry »

I’m in the midst of preparing a lecture on the use (and abuse) of King Arthur by twelfth- and thirteenth-century historians in Britain. This has been a real privilege, since a desire to study the ‘history’ behind the myth was one of the reasons I chose my particular undergraduate degree and institution, more years ago than is generally mentioned in polite society. As a bright-eyed eighteen year old, I envisaged my future as revolutionizing the understanding of this murky figure. Ah, the naïvety of youth! Somehow, despite being older and considerably more cynical now (if not necessarily very much wiser), being invited to take on this task feels like ‘arriving’, or at the very least, achieving a long-forgotten goal. It’s been a fair while since I considered the literature on this topic, so I thought a compilation here of what I see as the most pertinent and recent arguments would be a useful exercise for me, if not of gripping relevance to the rest of you. You have my permission to look away if you so desire.

Speaking of the abuse of history, this is *not* the King Arthur I’m going to be discussing…

My task in this guest lecture is to fill in “what happens to Arthur in (medieval) historians’ work after Geoffrey of Monmouth”, and I’m planning to adopt an essentially chronological structure on the day. In this forum, however, I’m going to begin from the other end with where Arthur and Arthurian history ended up in Edwardian times, since we’re all about the thirteenth century here.

…nor, for that matter, is this…

The pendulum of opinion concerning Edward I’s identification with Arthur has swung between two poles since the early 20th century: what we might call the romantic and pragmatic. R.S. Loomis, himself a noted Arthurian devotee, long ago took issue with what he saw as Sir Maurice Powicke’s excessively political reading of Edward’s understanding of Arthur.[1] Powicke had commented, as if in passing, that Edward’s procession to Glastonbury and the pageantry that attended his, and Queen Eleanor’s, ceremonial disinterment and reburial of the remains of Arthur and Guinevere was intended as a demonstration of the subjugation of Wales. Loomis argued that, instead, Edward was genuinely a devotee of Arthurian literature, and that, at the very least, “sentiment too was involved”.[2] I think it would be fair to call this the minority view. Rather more recently, Michael Prestwich assembled the evidence for Edward’s association with Arthur and found it to be unexceptional and unfocused: part of his general embeddedness in the culture of chivalry, but not constituting a particular dedication to an Arthurian cult.[3] Rather curiously, however, Prestwich went on to declare that it was “not clear what [Edward’s] purpose was” in going to Glastonbury in 1278.[4] 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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