Yes, yes, the conference was in July and now it’s October, and yes, I’ve been to several conferences since Leeds and no, I haven’t written those up either. A combination of circumstances has meant that my feet have barely touched the floor since Leeds and so not only am I dreadfully behind on blogging, but on just about everything else in life too. Anyway, here is the much promised third installment of this year’s Leeds conference.*
My favourite session of this year’s Leeds, if not of all time, was ‘Wanting more and wanting it fast: rebels and rebellion in England and Normandy from the tenth to the twelfth centuries, organised by Joanna Huntington at Lincoln. It was introduced by Chris Lewis thus: ‘I’ve always wanted to chair a rebellion. On my signal, break up the furniture and march on the bar’. The panel was certainly notable for its allusion to song lyrics, but chiefly for the quality of its papers and discussion. First up was Ryan Lavelle talking about ‘Places of rebellion in England and Normandy’ in which he considered the memory of locations in later sources as well as the idea that there were actually such things as ‘places of rebellion’ that had very real meaning and resonance for contemporaries. As Ryan said, if you have a grievance, you want that grievance to be heard so you don’t pick a marginal location. This may sound obvious, but the role of geography and place in the writing of Norman and allied histories has not been studied extensively as readers of this blog know. Ryan’s main example was the battle of Val-ès-Dunes of 1047 in which Duke William II in alliance with Henry I of France defeated a disparate group of rebels and, as tradition tells us, asserted his authority in western Normandy.
Next up, and following smoothly from Ryan’s paper, was Mark Hagger talking about ‘Duke William and the rebellion of 1046-47’. Mark took us through the historiography of the events surrounding Val-ès-Dunes in which historians have previously focused on William as a foreign ruler, the battle as a Scandinavian last stand, its nature as a family quarrel and about a hundred other interpretations.** What Mark showed was the participants all had very different reasons for joining in the rebellion – self-interest, hurt pride, legitimate grievance – and had little in common. The sharp ones among you will therefore be wondering how this fits in with Ryan’s idea of a central place of rebellion and I did ask the question. Unfortunately I didn’t jot down the answer.
The final paper was given by Joanna Huntington with her customary aplomb who used rebellion as a starting point to talk about miracles and rebellion in the context of Orderic Vitalis’s Ecclesiastical History (now, you were thinking ‘we haven’t heard much of Orderic recently’ weren’t you). What I particularly liked about Joanna’s paper was that she considered the Historia as a whole, thinking about how the different sections link up and relate to each other. Too many people still dismiss Orderic as a gossipy old monk,*** but everything he wrote for a purpose and with intent. Joanna pointed out that, for example, the miracles in book VIII come before and after examples of lay men rebelling and in book III with the spiritual maturation of the monastery of St-Evroult. As such, they reflect Orderic’s shifting priorities and preoccupations (correct monastic behaviour, expectations of lay masculine conduct).
On the Wednesday of Leeds, I also dipped my toe into the world of charters. I have a colleague who finds my attitude to charters baffling, but the couple of sessions I went to in the strand organised by Charles Insley, did make me appreciate them if not in a new light, then in a light that had been shining dimly in the darker recesses of my brain. I shan’t embarrass charter scholars out there by stating the blindingly obvious, though I will admit to being totally lost in the labyrinthine world of administrative history.
On the Thursday morning I listened to a very interesting session on bishops which I would write about, except I can’t decipher my notes. This may have something to do with going to most of the dance (to the 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, but not much beyond that.
Although Leeds was superb this year and I got a lot out of it, both socially and intellectually, I am not going next year. It may be the last year it is in Boddington, there may be lots of interesting Norman related sessions in the offing, but I am so, so tired and need an end of academic year when I am not running around trying to write (and too often) research a wing and a prayer paper.
*The fact that Dr Jarrett hasn’t got to Leeds yet is a small comfort, but at least he’s managed more interesting posts in the meantime.
** I exaggerate, but not by much and anyway, this is a post about rebellions
*** Sweeping generalisation number 7,324