contributor.author: Rick Keyser

title.none: Evergates, ed., Littere Baronum (Rick Keyser)

identifier.other: baj9928.0408.001 04.08.01

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Rick Keyser, Western Kentucky University, rick.keyser@wku.edu

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Evergates, Theodore, ed. Littere Baronum: The Earliest Cartulary of the Counts of Champagne. Series: Medieval Academy Books, vol. 107. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003. Pp. ix, 210. $50.00 0-8020-8762-0. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.08.01

Evergates, Theodore, ed. Littere Baronum: The Earliest Cartulary of the Counts of Champagne. Series: Medieval Academy Books, vol. 107. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2003. Pp. ix, 210. $50.00 0-8020-8762-0. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Rick Keyser
Western Kentucky University
rick.keyser@wku.edu

By editing this small but important cartulary, Theodore Evergates has once again performed an invaluable service for medievalists. He has already edited, with Giles Constable, The Cartulary and Charters of Notre-Dame of Homblieres (Cambridge, 1990) and edited and translated a large sample of charters and other documents from Champagne in his Feudal Society in Medieval France: Documents from the County of Champagne (Philadelphia, 1993). But given the rarity of cartularies produced by laymen below the royalty, the present work represents a more significant contribution. As Evergates notes, the comital cartulary of 1211 belongs to the first generation of princely cartularies in western Europe and is the earliest one from northern France. It is now also the first princely cartulary from northern France to be published.

The edition is careful and thorough without the kind of editorial overkill that sometimes makes source publications cumbersome to use. Evergates introduces each of the 121 Latin texts transcribed in the cartulary with a brief English summary, and supplies relevant biographical and historical information through the judicious use of footnotes. As one would expect, the apparatus for each act lists any extant originals (which survive for almost one-third of these texts) and preceding editions, as well as mentions in the principal works that catalogue these texts. The apparatus also lists additional copies in the later comital cartularies and in the Archives Nationales, but eschews any attempt to list all later copies of these acts. Similarly, variant readings are noted when the cartulary of 1211 differs from an extant original or, when no original survives, from the later comital cartularies, which were also usually based on the originals. But variants in later copies that were themselves based on the comital cartularies are ignored. The editor's task was facilitated by the fact that there are remarkably few divergences of any kind between the surviving originals and the texts of 1211, and few significant ones among the copies in the various comital cartularies. The vaunted penchant of medieval scribes to reshape or even invent their ostensibly copied material is notable here by its absence. The concise but amply footnoted introduction (pp. 3-36) describes the cartulary's organization and contents, traces the probable circumstances of its redaction, and sets it within wider a historical context. However, this is more than a straightforward introduction to an edited text: it is a masterly synthesis by a leading scholar that demonstrates how the documents generated by and for the lay nobility can reveal how this key social group was transformed across the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries.

Evergates highlights the special character of this and the seven later cartularies produced by the Champagne comital chancery over the thirteenth century by contrasting them with earlier and contemporary lay collections of letters or charters. Whereas the French royal chancellors had begun transcribing diplomatic correspondence into books in the mid-twelfth century, their collections consisted mostly of undated reports, requests, and other missive letters, which were not usually meant to serve as legal instruments. And while Philip Augustus' first chancery register of 1205 broke new ground, its contents focused almost entirely on the chancery's own documents, including royal charters and administrative lists (of fiefs, castles, pledges, etc.).

The Champagne cartularies resemble much more closely a few earlier collections made in late-twelfth century southern France and in early-thirteenth century Catalonia, whose contents also consisted primarily of formal letters written by castle lords or others outside the central chancery office that collected and transcribed them. Indeed, as Evergates shows, the Champagne cartularies may owe their existence to direct southern influence. When Count Thibaut III (1198-1201) died prematurely, he left his pregnant wife, Blanche of Navarre, in a precarious position. While benefiting from King Philip II's protection and wardship of her son, Thibaut IV, the posthumous, Blanche was a young woman in a foreign country who had to endure repeated challenges to her regency. No doubt in need of trustworthy advisors, Blanche called on her nephew Remi of Navarre to serve as her chancellor. In October, 1211, scarcely nine months after Remi is first attested in his new office, the first comital cartulary was completed. While it is not known whether or not Remi was aware of the southern princely cartularies, the evidence clearly suggests that he played a central role in redacting the first one known from northern France.

In contrast to the southern collections, however, the Champagne cartularies consisted primarily of author-sealed letters patent, a type of written instrument that was sealed with a pendant seal so that it could be read without breaking the seal. Such letters were meant to constitute or establish formal political agreements, feudal obligations, and legal rights to property. In a few tightly argued pages, Evergates traces how, from the mid-twelfth century, the lay nobility of northern France increasingly used sealed written instruments and how, from about 1200, the counts of Champagne exploited this baronial practice to control their vassals and govern their principality. The cartulary of 1211 thus captures the beginning of the use of baronial charters as a tool of governance.

The introduction goes on to discuss the letters, authors, subject matters, and the types of acts or transactions. Here it is important to note that Evergates borrowed the evocative title, Littere baronum, from that used by the scribe for just one, albeit the best-preserved, of the four surviving quires, which contains 53 letters from such lay people as dukes, counts, and castle lords. But considering the (surviving) cartulary as a whole, almost half of the charters were authored by clerics, including popes, bishops, abbots, etc., and thus this edition's title should not be taken literally to mean a collection of letters exclusively from or by barons. Nonetheless, the title is appropriate, since even the texts emanating from clerics address or concern powerful members of the lay nobility.

The letters concern a wide variety of subjects, including castles, fiefs, marriage arrangements (dower and dowry), debts to Jewish money-lenders, control over serfs, the foundation of new villages, taxes on the sale of wine in taverns, forest regulations, and the succession crisis that dominated the political life of the county for the better part of two decades. While the diversity of topics and the predominantly lordly perspective are typical of twelfth- and thirteenth-century charters, these texts exhibit a keener interest than the more abundant ecclesiastical sources in homages, fiefs, and, more broadly, a wide range of interactions and relationships among lay nobles. The types of transaction were also quite varied, but the largest group consisted of property transfers such as grants, sales, exchanges, and mortgages. As Evergates notes, these acts reveal a striking mobility of both feudal and non-feudal properties, which circulated with ease among lay people.

In sum, this is a superbly edited, lucidly presented cartulary of great historical interest in a field that has been under-studied. Although of course it will be of the greatest service to scholars of the lay nobility and to specialists of Champagne and the neighboring regions, the richness of these texts will interest others as well. Two indices (one of proper names and one of the key Latin terms and subject matters), a bibliography, and a chronological list of the letters will help to make this edition a convenient research tool for a wide range of scholars. Moreover, its brevity and clarity also make it well suited for training graduate students. One does wonder, however, why the publishers did not include a CD-ROM with a digital version of the texts. But this is a quibble: the Medieval Academy and the University of Toronto Press are to be commended for publishing this book. My only serious regret is that there is so much more to do: the text of 1211 is just the first of eight comital cartularies that over the next 60 years would record, altogether, more than 4000 letters! At least now one can hope that this model edition will help to inspire others to follow in Evergates' footsteps.