The Medieval Review 10.02.09

Cheney, Mary, David Smith, Christopher Brooke and Philippa Hoskin. English Episcopal Acta 33: Worcester 1062-1185. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. Pp. lxx,ii,227. $99.00 978-0-19-726418-8. .

Reviewed by:

Jonathan Herold
University of Toronto

Any addition to the British Academy's long-established series English Episcopal Acta is a welcome event for institutional and ecclesiastical historians of medieval Britain. The publication of the thirty-third volume in the EEA series is particularly auspicious, since it draws in part upon records from one of the most extensive and arguably the best-preserved Conquest-era ecclesiastical archive for all of medieval England. Increased preservation of written records during the era covered by this volume reflects profound changes in the production and use of writing in both secular and ecclesiastical administration. Worcester's store of pre-Conquest single-sheet acta and its series of eleventh-century cartularies provide a unique perspective into the production, use and preservation of documentary records in early medieval England, while the early adoption of the inspeximus at Worcester to recapitulate records preserved within its archive attests to the importance that came to be placed upon maintaining the textual integrity of recorded acta and legal memoranda over the course of the twelfth century. Perhaps nowhere other than among the early records of Worcester's archive can both continuity and change in the operation of an English episcopal chancery and the composition of its acta during this era be observed in such detail: for this, if for no other reason, EEA Volume 33 could be an important resource for anyone interested in medieval record-keeping and pragmatic literacy as well as for scholars of English ecclesiastical and institutional history.

EEA Volume 33 presents 265 records of acta from the episcopates of Worcester's bishops Wulfstan II (cons. 1062 - d. 1095), Samson (cons. 1096 - d. 1115), Theulf (cons. 1115 - d. 1123), Simon (cons. 1125 - d. 1150), John of Pagham (cons. 1151 - d. 1157), Alfred (cons. 1158 - d. 1160), Roger (cons. 1164 - d. 1179), and Baldwin (cons. 1180 - translated to Canterbury, 1184). As with earlier volumes in the series, the acta issued by each bishop (or records of lost acta attested by secondary authority) are calendared by recipient; the full text of each actum is supplied except in instances where a standard text has already been printed either in the EEA series or another modern publication. The texts and commentaries for the acta presented in this volume (along with those in the forthcoming EEA Volume 34 covering the years 1185 to 1218) were in the main edited by Mary Cheney, although ill health prevented her from completing the preparation of this volume. The general introduction, subject index and appendices in Volume 33 are the work of Christopher Brooke. Philippa Hoskins, editor of EEA 13: Worcester 1218 - 1268, supplied an introductory discussion of the diplomatic characteristics of Worcester's twelfth-century episcopal chancery and, together with David Smith, compiled the lists of manuscripts and printed books used in the edition as well as the index of persons and places mentioned in these records. Professors Brooke and Smith also revised the texts prepared by Mary Cheney for Volume 33. The result is essentially a collaborative edition of twelfth-century Worcester episcopal acta drawn to the established standards of the EEA series.

Although the team of Hoskins, Smith and Brooke provided the scholarly apparatus and much of the historical content for this edition, fundamentally Mary Cheney's 1980 study of Roger, Bishop of Worcester provides the basis for EEA 33. Cheney's work on Bishop Roger reveals him to be a fascinating and influential prelate of his age. His acta form the largest single group among those of the eight bishops whose documents are included in this edition. The notes that Cheney provides for his acta demonstrate her profound understanding of Bishop Roger's career both as an ecclesiastical administrator and jurist. An unfortunate consequence of the emphasis that Bishop Roger's career commands within this edition is that the full texts of many of his acta have already been published in Cheney's earlier study. The calendared entries that stand-in for the texts of Roger's acta are informative, but provide little more than references to the editor's earlier work. Similarly, many of the records from the relatively brief Worcester episcopate of Roger's successor, Baldwin, have also been published elsewhere and stand calendared within EEA 33: while these entries illustrate aspects of the Baldwin's administration of the see of Worcester for institutional historians, they provide little more than a useful handlist for scholars interested in the texts of the documents themselves.

The sections of EEA 33 that are devoted to the acta of Bishop Roger's generally more obscure predecessors, Samson, Theulf, Simon, John and Alfred, are perhaps the most intriguing documents in this collection for those scholars interested in the diplomatic development of Worcester's episcopal chancery. The acta of Bishop Simon, who held the see during most of King Stephen's reign, are particularly interesting, as they display both a tendency toward the standardization of diplomatic forms in the episcopal chancery and the manipulation of those emerging standards to produce acta ostensibly based on earlier records. Both of Worcester's most controversial early records, Altitonantis and the so-called 1092 charter, were likely produced during Simon's episcopate, as were most of the other texts of doubtful authenticity in this collection. Cheney presents full texts of nearly all the surviving acta from Simon's episcopate, enabling scholars to observe changes in diplomatic phraseology. The trend toward both bureaucratic and diplomatic standardization is observable in the acta of John of Pagham and Alfred as well, and the inclusion of full texts for most of these documents makes it possible to observe these developments.

The earliest acta collected in EEA 33 are those of St. Wulfstan, the last of the pre-Conquest English bishops to retain his office under the Norman regime. Wulfstan is perhaps the best known of Worcester's early bishops: he was the subject of a biography written soon after his death in 1095 (later revised and translated from English into Latin by William of Malmesbury), and his interest in the cathedral's early records was attested by Worcester's subprior, Hemming. Hemming wrote a brief narrative (recorded among the texts in the "cartulary" that now bears his name, BL MS Cotton Tiberius A. xiii-b, fos. 131v - 133r) which describes the measures that Wulfstan instituted to preserve Worcester's early archive. EEA 33 contains full texts of ten of the thirteen surviving acta attributed to Wulfstan's episcopate: they are a varied group that includes a formal letter addressed to Archbishop Anselm, two confraternity agreements (one in English), a confirmation of the resolution of a dispute with the abbot of Evesham, and several grants and retrospective records of grants. Although the diplomatic form of Wulfstan's acta are far from standardized, two (texts 8 and 11) borrow from the diplomatic rhetoric of some of Worcester's earlier episcopal acta in a manner that reflects his familiarity with the cathedral's archive.

Philippa Hoskins' introduction to the diplomatic characteristics of Worcester's episcopal acta (lxiii - lxxi) is a useful guide to all the documents included in EEA 33, and her detailed observations of the changing formulaic composition of the extant documents produced up to the last third of the twelfth century are particularly illuminating. Christopher Brooke's general introduction provides a succinct yet detailed summary of the history of the diocese of Worcester to the late twelfth century and an overview of the careers of each of the bishops whose acta are included in Volume 33 and the composition of their households. The appendices that he contributes to the volume also provide perspective on developments in the office of archdeacon from the late eleventh century, the reckoning of time in early Worcester documents and the itineraries of the Bishops of Worcester from 1062 to 1185. These additions clearly illustrate the characteristics of the collected documents and contexts under which the acta included in this collection were produced.

One may take issue, however, with repeated references in Brooke's introduction to a "tradition of forgery" at Worcester Cathedral extending to its early history (i, xxxv - xxxvi, xli, et al.). In the absence of a specific definition of the term "forgery," these references do not appear to distinguish between the production of false documents and instances of textual revision commonly introduced by medieval record-keepers prior to the mid-twelfth century. According to Cheney's and Hoskins' analysis, only ten of the 265 acta included in this volume are generally accepted as falsified documents, and most of these were evidently not produced earlier than the episcopate of Bishop Simon (lxxiii). The authority most often cited in EEA 33 for an earlier "tradition of forgery" at Worcester is an article that misidentifies, mischaracterizes and generally ignores the witness of a fragmentary Worcester cartulary that most likely had been compiled at the direction of St. Wulfstan himself. [1] For years, diplomatists have regarded this collection of documentary texts as "useless" because of the extensive textual revisions introduced to the texts by Worcester's record-keepers. [2] The revised versions of forty Worcester acta recorded among the fragments of the Nero-Middleton Cartulary generally support the observations of a generation of scholarship regarding the composition of early cartularies that has largely disposed of the notion that early medieval record-keepers functioned merely as copyists. [3] Modern diplomatic analysis is predicated on the assumption that accurate transmission of nominally "authentic" textual characteristics can be used to determine whether or not the act represented by a given document actually happened: by those criteria, a diplomatist could label virtually any cartulary copy of an early medieval document as a "forgery." Although textual modifications were evidently made to many of Worcester's early records by the end of the eleventh century, and given the fact that such modifications appear to have been commonly made as the contexts of documentary preservation changed, it is doubtful that the deliberate falsification of records was any more "traditional" at Worcester than it was anywhere else in early medieval Europe or that the presence of such modifications was regarded as detrimental to the authority of a given record. [4]

The production quality of the book is generally good, although I noted a couple of misprinted dates: for example, on page xxxv the date of the death of Abbot AEthelwig of Evesham is given as "1107 × 8" [recte 1077 × 8]; on page l, note 92 there is a reference to the discussion of "the episcopal use of the inspeximus in the 1770s [recte 1170s] in EAA 2, lxvii." I also noticed some typesetting oddities related to punctuation, such as a superfluous m-rule on page lxii, and a missing period at the end of the first sentence of Hopkins' diplomatic introduction on page lxxiii. A simple proofreading error caught my attention on page xlvi: "Godfrey was to resume office when William died--as he did sooner [sic] after--[...]." Perhaps there were similar mistakes that I failed to notice in the introduction, but generally the texts of the acta were represented in the high editorial standard expected from a volume in the EEA series. My reservations concerning the application of the phrase "tradition of forgery" in the historical commentary of this volume and the few lapses in copyediting that I have detected should do little to diminish the usefulness of this book or the accomplishment of Mary Cheney and her colleagues in compiling this important collection of episcopal acta. The English Episcopal Acta series was inaugurated with the purpose of exploring the development of administrative and legal practices within the English church through examination of the documents through which it was governed. EEA 33 admirably fulfills this goal, illuminating the development of a standardized episcopal bureaucracy in the see of Worcester during a particularly dynamic era of its history.



1. Julia S. Barrow, "Forgery Production at Worcester", in St. Wulfstan and his World, ed. Julia S. Barrow and N. P. Brooks (Aldershot, Hants.: Ashgate, 2005), 107: Barrow describes this fragmentary cartulary as "merely a copy of Liber Wigorniensis [that] survives in only two tiny fragments," incorrectly referencing the manuscript as "BL Cotton MS Nero E. I, pt. ii, fos. 181 - 2; BL Additional MS 46204, fos. 1 - 2." She restricts her subsequent analysis of Worcester documents to texts recorded in the eleventh-century cartularies contained in BL MS Cotton Tiberius A. xiii and the thirteenth-century Worcester cartulary, Worcester, Cathedral Library MS A4. The correct references for the Nero-Middleton fragments are BL Cotton MS Nero E. I, pt. ii, fos. 181 - 4, and BL Additional MS 46204, fos. 1 - 2: combined, these remnants record versions (or fragments of versions) of forty Worcester acta, thirty-nine of which are based on documents recorded in the earliest of the Worcester cartularies, Liber Wigorniensis (BL MS Cotton Tiberius A. xiii, fos. 1 –109, 111 - 118). The texts recorded among the remnants of the Nero-Middleton Cartulary represent approximately one quarter of the total texts recorded in LW, and the presence of a text not recorded in the earlier cartulary suggests that the complete Nero-Middleton Cartulary was something other--or even something more--than "merely a copy of Liber Wigorniensis." A comparison of the corresponding texts and manuscript images from both the Nero-Middleton/St. Wulfstan Cartulary and LW are available on my website, See also Francesca Tinti, "Si litterali memoriae commendaretur: Memory and Cartularies in Eleventh-century Worcester", in Early Medieval Studies in Memory of Patrick Wormald, ed. S. Baxter, C. Karkov, et al. (Aldershot, Hants.: Ashgate, 2009), 478 - 491.

2. "The texts in Nero-Middleton are useless. They are not merely abbreviated, but abbreviated very carelessly." N. R. Ker, "Hemming's Cartulary: a Description of the Two Worcester Cartularies in Cotton Tiberius A. xiii", in Studies in Medieval History Presented to Frederick Maurice Powicke (Oxford: Oxford U. P., 1948), 66. Francesca Tinti does not dismiss the Nero-Middleton records as Ker does, although she maintains that they are "worthless for establishing the text of the charters": "Memory and Cartularies", 491.

3. Studies of the modus operandi of medieval record-keepers include Patrick Geary, "Auctor et Auctoritas dans les cartulaires du haut moyen âge", in Auctor et Auctoritas: Invention et conformisme dans l'écriture médiévale, Actes du colloque de Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines (14 - 16 juin 1999), ed. Michel Zimmermann (Paris, 2001), 61 - 71; Pierre Chastang, Lire, écrire, transcribe: La travail des redacteurs de cartulaires en Bas-Languedoc (XIe-XIIIe siècles) (Paris, Editions du Comite des travaux historiques et scientifiques, 2001); and R. F. Berkhofer, Day of Reckoning: Power and Accountability in Medieval France (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004).

4. For a recent discussion of conceptions of forgery and the introduction of "innovations" to medieval documentary texts, see Marco Mostert, "Forgery and Trust", in Strategies of Writing: Studies on Text and Trust in the Middle Ages, ed. Petra Schulte, Marco Mostert and Irene van Renswoude (Turnhout: Brepols, 2008), 35 - 59.