The Battle Conference, which travels periodically away from its home at Pyke House in Sussex, was held in Wales in 2007. In addition to a strong concentration of Welsh topics, the collection contains an interesting array of other subjects. The publisher's brief forward to the volume offers a breakdown of the contents whose pattern I have cheerfully appropriated for this review: five articles on Wales; four articles on England; and four articles with larger Anglo-Norman geographical or chronological scope. The following summaries should enable readers to determine which papers may speak to their particular interests.
Five of the essays focus on Wales, largely from a political standpoint, and mostly within the long twelfth century.
The first is Huw Price's sweeping historiographical survey, "The Normans in Welsh History" (1-18), which was given as the R. Allen Brown memorial lecture. Price traces how Welsh historiography addressed questions of national identity and Norman influence from the Elizabethan era to the present. Although Price feels that Norman influence was ignored, or even deliberately excluded, in earlier Welsh historiography, he believes that the "diversification of the historiographical agenda" (17) and a broadening of the definition of Welsh history has made room for a better recognition of how the Normans influenced Wales.
In "Aspects of Church Reform in Wales, c. 1093-c. 1223" (85-99), John Reuben Davies traces the gradual establishment of a Norman-controlled Welsh church, beginning with the death of Rhys ap Tewdwr in 1093. Davies concentrates in particular on how the Welsh church became allied with Rome and was gradually obliged to adopt such eleventh- century reform tenets as clerical celibacy.
In "Kings, Lords, Charters, and the Political Culture of Twelfth- Century Wales" (133-153), Charles Insley suggests that it is simple to map the conquest of Wales, but far more difficult to map where real political influences arose in the "hazy frontier" (134) of the twelfth century. To get at this problem, Insley explores how native Welsh rulers expressed their power through vocabulary in charters and narrative sources, explaining how Anglo-Norman diplomatic forms could be adapted for Welsh use, but also arguing that "most Welsh rulers did not seek to exploit [the charter's] capacity for advancing particular political claims or agendas" (147). He includes a detailed appendix showing the ways rulers were entitled in twelfth-century charters and in the Brut y Tywysogon.
David Stephenson and Frederick Suppe both explore Powys in the long twelfth century. In "The 'Resurgence' of Powys in the Late Eleventh and Early Twelfth Centuries" (182-195), Stephenson seeks to problematize the traditional understanding of the history of Powys by looking closely at the sources: Latin chronicles, Welsh chronicles and the biography of Gruffudd ap Cynan. The argument that Powys experienced a boom in the late eleventh century and a decline afterward is partly predicated on the reading of the Welsh chronicle the Brutiau (whose author, Stephenson suggests, may have been Daniel ap Sulien, who appears as having died the year the most detailed and stylistically cohesive section of the Brutiau ends). As often happens in cases in which the sources are problematic, Stephenson suggests that historians have perceived Powys's resurgence and decline in part because of the sudden change of style of the Brutiau; "the more closely the alleged supremacy of Powys in the late eleventh century is scrutinized, the more elusive it becomes" (193). However, Stephenson does see a resurgence of Powys in the 1130s, when "a polity characterized by a significant degree of territorial, governmental, and dynastic cohesion" emerged (195).
Frederick Suppe's interesting article "Interpreter Families and Anglo- Welsh Relations in the Shropshire-Powys Marches in the Twelfth Century" (196-212) traces two families through an exhaustive prosopography to explore the experiences of Welsh aristocratic families in contested areas. The Rhys Sais/Roger of Powys family and the Iorwerth Goch family managed to intermarry with local Anglo-Norman families, develop "bi-cultural connections" (212), and forge an identity that enabled them to deal profitably with both Powysian overlords and Anglo-Norman ones. Suppe's assertion that the marches were "not really a linear border, but rather a bi-cultural region" is provocative and worth fuller discussion.
Four essays in the collection deal with eleventh and twelfth-century England from various standpoints.
In "William Marshal, Lancelot, and Arthur: Chivalry and Kingship" (19- 40), Laura Ashe takes on the thorny question of whether chivalric literature ever reflected reality. Comparing the History of William Marshal with La Mort le roi Artu and other romances in French and English, Ashe asserts that rather than simply portraying a romantic ideal or recording a historical moment, "the History offers interesting evidence of ideals working in history; [and] that historic individuals can be glimpsed playing out the patterns of their literature in their lives, or invoking literary formulae in order to justify their pragmatic decisions" (21). Ashe also sees a gradual adaptation of French ideals and literary formulae into a distinctly English identity, shaped in part by the ideals of Anglo-Saxon kingship.
Howard B. Clarke's comparison of two Evesham Abbey manuscripts, "Evesham J and Evesham L: Two Early Twelfth-Century Manorial Surveys" (62-84), is a thorough and complex analysis of two surveys in the complex abbey manorial corpus. Clarke places the two surveys into their context with other Evesham documents, with the Domesday surveys, and with other sources of the period. He includes editions of them at the end of his article.
Judith Everard explores the question of lay charters in "Lay Charters and the Acta of Henry II" (100-116), a study which stems from the British Academy "Acta of the Plantagenets" project. Everard wishes to show that although the bulk of surviving charters and indications are for ecclesiastical beneficiaries, confirmations and concessions produced by the chancery indicate that a wealth of lay charters must have been produced during Henry II's reign. The difference, therefore, may not be that lay beneficiaries produced fewer charters, but that their charters survive in a smaller proportion to those of churches and monasteries, whose methods for preserving their documents were more reliable. In a sample of 1000 charters from the reign of Henry II, Everard discovers that around 11.5 percent of them refer to lay charters. Her exploration of the diplomatic of such charters should be of interest to all those for whom charters represent an important source.
Jeffrey West's article "A Taste for the Antique? Henry of Blois and the Arts" (213-230) deals primarily with the question of what the cosmopolitan, ambitious bishop of Winchester brought back from his trip to Rome. West explores entertainingly the possibility that John of Salisbury, who in his Historia Pontificalis complained that Henry brought back "old statues" to his diocese, was actually attempting to tar Henry with the brush of idolatry. West suggests that Henry, whose "tally shows him to have been a generous man of catholic and cosmopolitan tastes" (229), may have been trying to make Winchester into an artistic rival for Rome; this may possibly explain Bernard of Clairvaux's catty reference to Henry as a seductor-- a word that West also reads as a reference to idolatry. West examines material objects as well as texts in his analysis.
Four articles explore wider Anglo-Norman identity and the Anglo-Norman experience.
In "Grades of Ordination and Clerical Careers" (41-61), Julia Barrow provides a helpful primer on how ordination worked, as well as some interesting examples of reference in medieval literature to clerics who worked their way up the ordination ladder on the way to priesthood. She is certainly right that "all medievalists, irrespective of their interests, need to know something about how...[the clergy's] careers were structured" (41), and I was much enlightened by the information in this article. I found particularly interesting her explanation of how the grades of ordination evolved from the early church to the twelfth century.
Natasha Hodgson takes on the issue of Norman identity in "Reinventing Normans as Crusaders? Ralph of Caen's Gesta Tancredi" (117- 132). Hodgson reevaluates Ralph of Caen as a serious historian and an undervalued source for understanding Norman self-identity. Exploring both historiography and parallel primary sources to Ralph's Gesta, she identifies stereotypical Norman qualities, arguing that Ralph's work shows how Normans used "the traditional attributes of their gens to meet the new challenge of crusading" (132).
The collection takes a turn into the hagiographical in Paul Oldfield's "St Nicholas the Pilgrim and the City of Trani between Greeks and Normans, c. 1090-c. 1140" (168-181). As other scholars have done in other regions, Oldfield argues that hagiographical sources can be used to provide information when other sources are unavailable. In this case, using the Vita of St. Nicholas the Pilgrim of Trani (whose mother threw him out of the house because he would not stop chanting the kyrie eleison), Oldfield shows through a skillful reading of the text that Nicholas's vita can "reveal much about Trani in what is otherwise a hazy period" (180). Oldfield also explores the occasional rivalry between the cults of Nicholas the Pilgrim and his older and more famous counterpart at Bari.
Last in this review--but certainly not last in merit--is a strong article by Robert Jones, "Identifying the Warrior on the Pre-Heraldic Battlefield" (154-167). At issue is whether the battlefield knight before the invention of heraldry could be easily identified by his followers. One interpretation of the invention of heraldry has been that it was designed to make knights recognizable where they had not been before. Jones argues that, in fact, men on the battlefield could recognize their commanders through such variables as banners, helmet styles, horses, tack and lances. Jones singles out war cries as the "most basic form of identification on the battlefield" (159), using evidence from many different sources. Heraldry, he indicates, was the natural culmination of these pre-heraldic forms of identification.
I have one small criticism to make of this volume as a whole: it lacks a page identifying the authors by their affiliations. To those unfamiliar with the Battle Conference and its habitual denizens, such a page would be most helpful, and is standard in essay collections.