IMC Leeds 2011 report, II: Normans and Norman historians

Tuesday’s sessions continued the Norman theme with the strand ‘Normans, Normandy and the wider Norman world: 911 from a 2011 perspective’, bookended by David Bates and me, a fact which in no small way contributed to the pre-paper jitters of the previous evening. There were four sessions in all, though the third was the subject of an annoying clash and I ducked out to take part in a rebellion or two.

The first session focused on medieval historiography, specifically Robert of Torigni, Reginald of Durham and non-Norman continental chroniclers. David Bates talked about ‘Robert of Torigni and Normannitas’, a chip from a larger piece on Robert of Torigni and Historia anglorum, in which he asked why was Robert the only Norman to write a history of England? He discussed the links between Robert and Henry of Huntingdon who met at Bec in 1139 where, famously, Robert showed Henry a manuscript of Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia. Robert also used Henry’s work extensively in his own writing and, interestingly, the authority he gives to this work exceeds the authority Robert accords to his own work. When he and Henry record the same events, Robert prefers Henry’s version as, for example, in his account of the murder of the Atheling in the Gesta Normannorum Ducum. The Normannitas aspect comes into the equation in terms of context and reasons for writing. David put in a plea to read Ailred of Rievaulx alongside Henry of Huntingdon and Robert against the rise of Henry II, the spes anglorum.

Margaret Coombe used the life of Godric of Finchale by Reginald of Durham to discuss the disputes at Durham in the twelfth century and to emphasise the need to look beyond national identity to discern the workings of self-interest in conflicts between groups like bishops and monks. Pondering this problem would go some way to answering why assimilation was so complete between Normans and English. Finally Xavier Storelli discussed ‘Le myth de la Normannitas vu par les chroniques anglais, angevins et francais au XIIe siecle’. In essence this paper considered how the Normans were viewed by their neighbours. Xavier concentrated on military concepts of Norman identity and, particularly, battle rhetoric and the geography of the Norman conquests in Baudri of Bourgueil’s poem to William the Conqueror’s daughter, Adela. Xavier’s paper also illustrated another strength of this strand and, indeed, the conference as a whole. Many people felt there were more continental Europeans at Leeds this year than there had been in previous years and it was particularly good to see the French in attendance and contributing to the Norman sessions.

The second session in the strand focused more on social structures and processes with papers on the settlement of Normandy, ducal marriages and exile. Again, we had an international feel to the panel with a French scholar and two Americans (though one of the Americans had done her doctorate in Britain). Pierre Bauduin gave us a careful consideration of the sources for the settlement of Normandy and how the social changes this brought about affected those sources. Recent archaeological work has still not uncovered a distinctive Scandinavian influence or mixed culture in the region, though Pierre did discuss recent coin finds at St-Pierre-de-Fleurs. His conclusion was that the process of assimilation still alludes us and that we have to consider the context of document production more carefully (following the work of Mathieu Arnoux and others). We then moved from a broad sweep of sources to one in particular, Dudo of St Quentin’s history of the Normans, and a consideration of the marital status of ducal women by Charlotte Cartwright (who is now teaching at a branch of  New York University). Charlotte was attempting to untangle the nature of unions between the dukes and women who have been seen in the historiography as their ‘Danish’ wives – a state more like concubinage. Much of her argument hung on the word conubium, and this certainly sparked a lively debate with Benjamin Pohl in the questions who had resorted to scanning through photos of one of the manuscripts of Dudo. Charlotte’s conclusion was that we can’t see different types in marriage in Dudo’s chronicle along the lines of ‘Christian’ and ‘Danish’, but more a process of legitimising unions to ensure stability. The final paper in this session was on exile, given by Melissa Sartore.

I deal with the rebellions in another post, but the last Norman session of the day featured two excellent talks by Greg Fedorenko (who can still be found on brass band websites) and Ben Pohl. Unfortunately, this was the session in which I was speaking and so, as is always the case, my notes on the other papers are a little sparse. The session was all about problems of translation and transmission, whether of sources, ideas or traditions. Greg considered vernacular rewriting of the Gesta Normannorum ducum and the shift from French as a language of verse chronicles to prose. Ben focused on the mother-offspring motif in the chronicles, particularly the idea of ungrateful offspring. He also did me the immeasurable service of starting with William Blake, so when I got up to talk about a load of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century antiquaries, it didn’t sound so odd. My own paper was on ways of ‘seeing’ the Norman landscape, essentially how centuries of thinking about the landscape have affected the way we understand medieval writing about it. I also questioned why there was little or no discussion of representation when authors chose to illustrate their work with antiquarian engravings. I admit to being a little cheeky and starting with some audience participation by getting participants to try to spot the modern translations of medieval chronicles and the nineteenth-century historian out of five quotes which included an eighteenth-century antiquarian and a travel writer!

Fortunately, my paper did not let the other two down and we all had a jolly time answering questions. I thoroughly enjoyed the freedom of talking around slides, rather than having a scripted paper (I recommend this – it’s extremely liberating), and it was a privilege to take part in such a wonderfully organised strand by Katy Dutton, Charles Insley, and others. Circumstances dictated that once again I missed the bloggers met-up, though I did at least managed to say ‘hello’ this time. The strand left my brain buzzing, which effectively destroyed my sleep patterns for the rest of the conference, but it was certainly worth it.

Next post: rebellions, charter geekery, bishops and a bit of dancing.

2 Responses to IMC Leeds 2011 report, II: Normans and Norman historians

  1. […] bitter end), then chatting in the bar (though not drinking) and the aforementioned disruption to my sleep. I can tell you it involved Emily Winkler, Bjorn Weiler and a great deal of William of Malmesbury, […]

  2. Matt Ward says:

    Love your blog. What motivated you to get into ancient and early medieval history?

    I am also very passionate about the Medieval history and the Middle Ages and own my own online medieval history blog .. Here I try to share some of my passion about this awesome time period with others and teach about historical figures, wars and weapons that people are interested in. I believe your audience of history buffs would appreciate my postings and I would love to be listed on your medievalists listings.

    If my site is not something you believe your readers would enjoy I completely understand. Thanks for your time.


    Matt Ward

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