The Medieval Review 11.02.12

Skinner, Patricia. Challenging the Boundaries of Medieval History: The legacy of Timothy Reuter. Studies in the Early Middle Ages. Turnhout: Brepols, 2009. Pp. 208. $102 ISBN 978-2-503-52359-0. .

Reviewed by:

Thomas F.X. Noble
University of Notre Dame

This volume contains the first two Reuter Memorial Lectures as well as some of the papers delivered at a memorial conference for Tim held at Southampton in 2004. When Tim died in 2002 he left unfinished a massive edition of the letters of Wibald of Stavelot and his big book on bishops. Having studied in England and then worked for more than a decade at the MGH, Tim Reuter had an unparalleled command of the scholarly traditions of two lands. He was by instinct a rigorous comparatist. The range of his work and interests emerges clearly from the volume Medieval Polities and Modern Mentalities edited by Janet Nelson and published by Cambridge University Press in 2006. That volume contains unpublished work, reprints of several of Tim's best-known articles, and English translations of some of Tim's German publications. As Trish Skinner notes in her "Introduction" to the present volume, Tim Reuter was interested in broad historiographical issues, in comparisons between England and Germany, and in the editing and criticism of sources. Accordingly, Challenging the Boundaries picks up on, and pays tribute to, each of these interests. Tim's impressive corpus of work, along with these essays, make clear just how tragic a loss his early death was for scholarship and for his many friends, among whose number I can count myself.

Chris Wickham, in "Problems in Doing Comparative History" (5-28; the Reuter Lecture for 2004), insists that comparative history is essential to avoid solipsism and teleology and to test in reasonably empirical ways. Wickham himself is a foremost comparatist (see Framing the early Middle Ages [Oxford, 2005] and The Inheritance of Rome [New York, 2009]). After sketching a number of programmatic issues, Wickham looks at England and France in the long tenth century (875-1025) and focuses on patterns of royal grants of land. He concludes that the English rulers had more land to give away and avoided the intense localization of politics.

Janet L. Nelson, in "Charlemagne and the Paradoxes of Power (29-50; the Reuter Lecture for 2005), picks up on what she calls Tim's penchant for "joined-up scholarship." She means that Tim, like she herself, liked to look at issues from multiple perspectives so as to bring out nuance. She takes off from two famous Reuter articles, "Plunder and Trade" and "The End of Carolingian Military Expansion" (both in his volume of essays referenced above). He saw that war was in part a matter of material resources: how to acquire them in order to fight; what to do with them when fighting acquired them, and what happened when resources dwindled. She herself takes up on some of Charlemagne's late capitularies to show that while Charlemagne was alert to failures in military recruiting he was no less conscious that he had put in place mechanisms to address the failures. She "joins-up" military rules, the capitulary de villis, and "reform" legislation to show how Charlemagne tried to "change the culture."

Ryan Lavelle, in "The Politics of Rebellion: The Ætheling Æthelwold and the West Saxon Succession, 899-902" (51-80; from the conference), explores the tangled circumstances following the death of Alfred the Great. Æthelwold had a sense of "aggrieved legitimacy" which led to audacious actions aimed at securing the crown for good and for real. No one before Lavelle has produced such a complete picture of the difficult years after Alfred died and of the potential for violence that always lurked close to the surface of West Saxon kingship.

David A. Warner, in the finely nuanced "Reading Ottonian History: The Sonderweg and Other Myths" (81-117; from the conference), tackles a topic to which Tim devoted considerable attention. If the Salians and Staufer "failed"--in general terms and in comparison with their contemporaries in England and France"--then why did this happen and why was Germany's path to modernity so different from that of its neighbors? The story has been told many times with varying inflections. Warner takes up what he calls the "presumption of Ottonian success" to offer his own contribution. He looks at historiograhical issues, the sources, and some of the famous Ottonian women to challenge historians to clarify their own assumptions and the assumptions of the people they are studying.

Björn Weiler, in "The King as Judge: Henry II and Frederick Barbarossa as Seen by their Contemporaries" (115-40; from the conference), undertakes a fine Reuterian comparison. In particular he tracks images of justice, or of the expectations of justice, of what kings were supposed to do, through several narrative sources. He concludes that rulers in both lands were expected to be lions of justice but that political cultures were fundamentally different. Hence, in Germany the emperor was supposed to mediate feuds between members of the high aristocracy whereas in England the king was supposed to control his courtiers and advisers.

Julia Barrow, in "The Ideology of the Tenth-Century Benedictine 'Reform'" (141-54; from the conference), picks up on a theme studied several times by Tim Reuter: What, exactly, does reform mean? After the Viking period, English monasteries privileged the pastoral over the contemplative. In the time of Edgar and Æthelwold, the Benedictine pattern, based largely on its Carolingian form, came to be preferred. Drawing on Edgar's charter for New Minster (almost certainly the work of Æthelwold) and some other sources, Barrow shows that reform is not quite the right term to capture what was done, and why. The images present in the sources are of things destroyed that were being built up again, and of cleansing, healing, and rectifying. I take her point but I am not sure why this is not reform, or why that word should be reserved for the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

Patricia Skinner, in "From Pisa to the Patriarchate: Chapters in the Life of (Arch-) Bishop Daibert" (155-72; from the conference), studies the up and down career of Daibert of Pisa. He was implicated in the imperial German party, sometimes got along well with his chapter, had complex relations with the papacy, and was twice deposed as Patriarch of Jerusalem. Skinner's plausible speculations are grounded in a frank admission that the sources are few and unforthcoming. This is a nice study of a complex man in a difficult time.

Lena Wahlgren-Smith, in "Editing a Medieval Text: The Case of Nicholas of Clairvaux (173-83; from the conference), provides a refresher course in the trials of editing a text. When to emend? Which manuscripts to follow? Nicholas left two letter collections. The one under review here survives in three versions. Wahlgren-Smith relates how she makes choices in preparing her edition.

Martina Hartmann, in "Timothy Reuter and the Edition of Wibald of Stavelot's letter Collection for the MGH" (185-91; from the conference), sums up the work Tim had done--a lot of it--on the edition before his death. She acquired his Nachlass and was commissioned by the MGH to complete the edition. It has not yet appeared. Given how interesting and important a figure Wibald was, one hopes that it will appear soon.

Together these papers are a fitting tribute to Tim Reuter. And for medievalists looking for a dissertation topic, this book is exceptionally rich in suggestions