Paul Freedman

title.none: Kagay and Vann, eds., On the Social Origins of Medieval Institutions (Freedman)

identifier.other: baj9928.9907.002 99.07.02

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Paul Freedman, Yale Universtiy,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1999

identifier.citation: Kagay, Donald and Theresa Vann, eds. On the Social Origins of Medieval Institutions: Essays in honor of Joseph F. O'Callaghan. The Medieval Mediterranean. Leiden: Brill, 1998. Pp. xxiv, 345. $128.00. ISBN: 9-004-11096-8.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 99.07.02

Kagay, Donald and Theresa Vann, eds. On the Social Origins of Medieval Institutions: Essays in honor of Joseph F. O'Callaghan. The Medieval Mediterranean. Leiden: Brill, 1998. Pp. xxiv, 345. $128.00. ISBN: 9-004-11096-8.

Reviewed by:

Paul Freedman
Yale Universtiy

In this tribute to one of the founders of the study of medieval Spain in America from his students and friends, most of the fourteen essays are concerned with the Iberian peninsula. Two deal with Anglo-Norman England while the longest (on the evolution of the trebuchet) crosses not only European borders but considers China and the Islamic world.

Professor O'Callaghan has studied many aspects of medieval Iberian history but three themes seem to stand out in his works (usefully listed in this book): the Spanish military orders (especially that of Calatrava); the Spanish (especially Castilian) Reconquista generally; and the state, in particular the relations among monarchy, law, and representative institutions. Six articles--those by Theresa Vann, Lawrence McCrank, Nicholas Agrait, Father Robert Burns, S.J., Donald Kagay, and Paulette Pepin--closely reflect these interests of Professor O'Callaghan.

In "A New Look at the Foundation of the Order of Calatrava," Theresa Vann defends and expands upon O'Callaghan's position regarding the religious and institutional origins of the Order. He had argued against the supposed link between the Islamic frontier fortress (ribat) and the establishment of Spanish orders of chivalry, a position maintained most recently by Elena Lourie. The influence of the Cistercians, O'Callaghan pointed out, was explicit and provable as opposed to the merely speculative theory of Islamic origin. Vann supports O'Callaghan by showing that although the reliability of Rodrigo Jimenez de Rada's De rebus hispaniae has now been undermined by Peter Linehan, this does not vitiate its utility as the main source for the origins of Calatrava as Jimenez de Rada's statements can be confirmed independently. Vann adds information about an urban militia in Toledo that constituted in effect a local military confraternity long before Calatrava was recognized by the papacy in 1164.

Lawrence McCrank describes the uneven progress of the Christian conquest of Tarragona and its dependencies in "The Lost Kingdom of Siurana: Highland Resistance by Muslims to Christian Reconquest and Assimilation in the Twelfth Century." It's a little hard to say what this essay is about. On the one hand it is a complicated (especially in the absence of maps) geo- political description of a highland redoubt that stood for a time in the way of assimilating the Christian conquests of Tarragona and Tortosa. But many other ideas are at least introduced if not developed: the rivalry between the great Cistercian monasteries of Santes Creus and Poblet; the survival of Islamic Catalonia in folk legends; the distinct identity of the Catalan comarca of Priorat; Mudejar cultural resistance; the difference between the twelfth-century conquest of what would be known as New Catalonia and the conquest of Valencia a century later. These themes are incompletely realized in part because very little of what anyone else wrote after about 1975 is discussed, and in part because of internal inconsistencies. If the Priorat is culturally distinctive (p. 123) we never find out how so, and later (p. 146) it appears as if its Islamic past was almost completely effaced. With regard to New Catalonia versus Valencia (p. 147), McCrank responds to unnamed authorities who assert that all eastern Iberian Muslim societies were "uniform and of high culture" when in fact no one denies that Islamic Valencia was very different from Siurana.

In "The Reconquest during the Reign of Alfonso XI (1312-1350)," Nicholas Agrait elucidates the contributions of this supposedly neglected monarch to the Reconquista, here seen as a grand strategy over many centuries. During the crucial years between 1344 and 1349, Alfonso XI captured Algeciras after a long siege and defeated the Marinids at Salado. Agrait argues that these accomplishments are crucial even though the territorial gains were small. Alfonso's campaigns ended the threat that invaders from north Africa might again rescue their beleaguered co- religionists in Spain.

Father Burns, who along with O'Callaghan and Charles Julian Bishko effectively established an American school of medieval Spanish historiography, briefly reasserts his long-standing view that the James I's conquest of Valencian is to be described as a crusade. "The Many Crusades of Valencia's Conquest (1225-1280): An Historiographical Labyrinth," identifies the wars to conquer Valencia as a series of crusades and so takes issue with those (such as Pierre Guichard and Antonio Ubieto Arteta) who avoid or hesitate using the term "crusade" and see the conquest as a more purely secular, local or national effort.

In "The Emergence of 'Parliament' in the Thirteenth-Century Crown of Aragon: A View from the Gallery," Donald Kagay discusses a lawsuit involving the count of Urgell that contains recollections dictated in 1271 by several men of relatively modest status who had been delegates to the corts of Barcelona in 1228. The witnesses well recalled the proposal to seize the Balearic islands as well as the elaborate ceremony of the gathering, but they also remembered not being able to understand King James' opening exhortation, either because of the acoustics or because of its being delivered in Latin.

As was the case for Theresa Vann, Paulette Pepin responds to the work of the Cambridge historian Peter Linehan, here in his role as critic of the woeful state of the Spanish episcopacy rather than as scourge of medieval and contemporary historiography. As its title suggests, "The Council of Penafiel--1302: The Castilian Church's Reassertion of its Libertas ecclesiastica" finds at least one occasion when the often corrupt and supine Castilian church did attempt to resist royal exploitation and to effect some timid reforms (notably that no cleric should have a mistress publicly). The author at times assumes that resistance to royal greed was motivated by a desire to restore the liberty of the church when in fact it was something closer to a quarrel among great lords over spoils. As Pepin points out (p. 257), it is their rights and prerogatives that the bishops were worried about during the six-week meeting. Pepin may be correct in wanting to modify Linehan's jaundiced view of the prelates' motives, but she backs up her assertion merely by referring to Jose Manuel Nieto Soria whose opinions of the Castilian church tend to be as universally favorable as Linehan's are negative.

The articles discussed so far fit into the pattern of Joseph O'Callaghan's interests and accomplishments. The remainder are on a wider array of themes, some of them having to do with social history which, despite the title of the volume, has not been among O'Callaghan major concerns. In an analysis of wills of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries from Old Castile, Teofilo Ruiz portrays the ideology and expectations of testators in their charitable bequests ("The Business of Salvation: Castilian Wills in the late Middle Ages, 1200- 1400"). Organized around commemoration and intercessory prayers, such bequests endowed programs to feed and clothe the poor but not in ways designed substantially to alleviate suffering. Not only were the amounts involved rather small (whatever the bombastic language of the donation might imply), but the ceremonial of the donation reinforced the lowly status of the poor, assuring that they would receive sustenance of the most obviously modest sort (sackcloth; rye or other non-wheaten bread). The purpose of the bequests was not what we would understand as charitable but rather to negotiate salvation while dramatizing the permanent distance between rich and poor.

In "Force and Fear: A Marriage Case from Eleventh-Century Aragon," James Brundage discusses the context of a letter of Pope Urban II against the attempt of King Sancho I of Aragon to marry off his niece against her will to a knight to whom he had promised her. Urban did not say whether or not a coerced marriage under these circumstances was valid, a question that preoccupied later canonists. Rather he was more interested in the pastoral implications of a marriage entered into unwillingly and of the guilt appertaining to those forcing the reluctant bride. Although the pope's letter was used in Gratian's Decretum, it did not become widely commented on or cited because, as Brundage convincingly reasons, it was too much in the nature of advice, warning of possible moral consequences, rather than a legal ruling on the tricky question of what constitutes a valid marriage.

In the sole contribution that explicitly discusses Jews or Muslims Nina Melechen asks why Jews in Christian Toledan records in the vernacular are redundantly "over-identified" ("Calling Names: The Identification of Jews in Christian Documents from Medieval Toledo"). Jews are mentioned using the separator "don" (which only later became the conventional term of honor, at which point Jews would be at least formally forbidden its use), their names are immediately recognizable as belonging only to Jews, and the documents add that the person in question is a Jew-- thus "don Abraham Ibn Halegua, Jew." This triple identification is in contrast to how Arabs and Christians appear and to how Jews are described in records from other parts of the Peninsula. Melechen relates this peculiar usage to the transition from Latin to Castilian and the effort to emphasize the subordination of Jews.

Another article concerning a rather specific body of evidence is James Brodman's study of Catalan leprosaria, especially the Hospital of Sant Llatzer in Barcelona ("Shelter and Segregation: Lepers in Medieval Catalonia"). Here too, as with the donations described by Ruiz, social distinctions were preserved even under circumstances that might at first glance encourage their blurring if not obliteration. Although leprosaria did not even attempt to offer medical treatment, they were a more humane alternative to mendicancy and as such various means were developed to limit their inmates to the affluent or at least the local, reasonably well-established poor.

"Peste Negra: The Fourteenth-Century Plague Epidemics in Iberia," by William Phillips, is a prolegomena to a planned book on the plague epidemics in Spain. This is a very worthwhile topic as no book on it exists. Phillips quite usefully cites an extensive bibliography of research on various localities and aspects of the onslaught both in Spain and the rest of Europe (especially notes 6 and 7 for Iberian regions). The article is most useful in telling us the sort of questions that remain unanswered for the Peninsula. What makes it distinctive is not stated nor really speculated on. The possible role of the Black Death in hindering the Christian conquest of the Kingdom of Granada after the death of Alfonso XI (of plague) before Gibraltar is raised but found unlikely.

As already stated, the article by Paul Chevedden on the "hybrid trebuchet" (a stage between a traction trebuchet powered by human labor and the counterweight machine of the late Middle Ages) is relatively long and ranges across the entire range of the diffusion of this weapon from China to Europe via the Muslim world whose role was key in improving the force of the delivery hence the weight of what could be thrown. All the illustrations in the book (other than the frontispiece) refer to this article. I can't claim any expertise to evaluate the many controversies over the development of weapons alluded to here, but I found the article fascinating if somewhat bludgeoning by reason of its detail.

Finally there are two articles on England and the troubles brought about by the death of the sole male heir of Henry I in the wreck of the White Ship in 1120. Steven Isaac in "Defeat from the Jaws of Victory: Stephen of Blois in England" argues that Stephen of Blois was at first a quite effective and resourceful monarch. His release of the Empress Matilda in 1139 after defeating her forces at Arundel is regarded as a fatal mistake. Far from impressing contemporaries with his magnanimity, Stephen let slip an opportunity to suppress opposition and created a rallying point for his disaffected and now uncowed realm. Jean Truax ("Politics Makes Uneasy Bedfellows: Henry I and Theobald of Blois") discusses the relations between Stephen's brother Theobald of Blois and King Henry I. The alliance between the count of Blois and king of England, according to Truax, became weaker after 1120 as Theobald sought a rapprochement with the king of France to further his ambitions in Champagne (successful) and Normandy (unsuccessful).

As will be evident (and as is common in Festshcriften), the contributions to this volume are quite varied and while they fall into certain categories do not have a particular common thread. Individually, however, they are often intriguing even when focused on very small or particular issues. Those that have arguments of broad import, in my opinion, and that invite comparisons are the articles by Chevedden, Ruiz and Phillips.