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13.09.29, Baudin, Les sceaux des comtes de Champagne et de leur entourage

13.09.29, Baudin, Les sceaux des comtes de Champagne et de leur entourage

Arnaud Baudin's study of seals and seal usage in the county of Champagne ranges far beyond the seals of twenty counts and countesses of Champagne and their aulic and local officials. It is, in essence, a rich regional prosopography of seal usage in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. An accompanying CD-ROM provides an inventory with full descriptions and photographs of 273 different seals, references to 712 extant or fragmentary seals, and basic biographical information on their possessors. Most of the seals or fragments come from the departmental archives of the Aube, Marne, and Haute-Marne, and the Archives Nationales in Paris, and as might be expected 70% are from the thirteenth century. Baudin has classified and analyzed every conceivable aspect of the seals, from size, color, iconography, legend, and method of application, to the age of the sealer at the first use of a seal. He has produced an invaluable work of reference, and a model for comparable studies in other regions.

The study is composed of two roughly equal parts. The first deals with the counts and countesses and their close relatives, including the counts of Blois and Sancerre. As with the age at knighting, the age at which the counts first acquired seals was determined by circumstance and varied from as early as thirteen (1214) to as late as twenty-one (1187), but usually occurred between sixteen and eighteen. Baudin notes that the size of comital seals gradually increased through the two centuries, and their color changed from colorless to red and brown and then, in the thirteenth century, primarily to green or red, but he finds no correlation between the color of the seal (or of the silk threads) and the substance of the document. A seal's legend, by contrast, could carry a distinct message. Henry the Liberal adopted the title "count palatine of Troyes" (1152) rather than "count of Champagne" for both his seal and his letters patent in order to signal a new political order based in his new capital in Troyes. His grandson's seal, reading "count of Champagne and Brie" (1214), was equally inventive but more accurate for describing the same political entity. Countess Marie's seal affirmed her royal roots as "daughter of the king of the Franks, countess of Troyes" (1165), although her letters patent drawn up by the chancery identify her only as "countess of Troyes." Countess Blanche, who as regent for twenty-one years faced unique challenges in preserving the county for her son, displayed her feistiness in adopting the old Champenois war cry, "Passavant le meillor," on her counterseal (1202), the earliest example of vernacular on a seal in Champagne.

Yet a seal was only partially a declaration of personal identity. As Baudin points out, the equestrian seal, with the horse galloping to the right and the rider holding a raised sword, was the standard iconography of aristocratic men's seals after 1150, with modifications after Count Thierry of Flanders set a new fashion with his "seal of 1163." Why did the count of Champagne adopt the new model with his heraldic device in 1176? And why did his successors change seals two, three, or four times? We do not know with certainty in each case, and Baudin is cautious here as in other matters. Lost or worn out seals were replaced, fashions changed, and owners died. Baudin has found only one extant seal matrix (of a thirteenth-century provost of Provins) and no evidence that seals were buried with the counts or reused by their successors. It is possible, as Michel Pastoureau has suggested, that standardized seal matrices were made in advance by itinerant goldsmiths who inscribed them, as needed, on the spot. But that might not have been the case for someone sporting a new iconography with a new office. Archbishop William of Sens devised a new seal on becoming archbishop of Reims (1176), and Count Thibaut IV adopted new icons on his comital seal after becoming king of Navarre (1234). One of Baudin's more interesting observations concerns Bishop Henry of Winchester, brother of King Stephen of England and uncle of Count Henry the Liberal. Baudin notes the similarity between the seal's portrait of the bearded prelate and the same bearded bishop engraved on his exquisite enamelled bronze plaques, suggesting that the same craftsman or atelier made both the seal and the plaques.

The second part of the study deals with aulic officers, who acquired equestrian seals after the Second Crusade, and local comital officials (bailiffs, provosts, mayors, wardens of the fairs), who in the thirteenth century used mostly small, round seals engraved with shields. As with the comital family, Baudin provides genealogical tables and detailed analyses of the most prominent lineages, notably the Châtillon, Dampierre, Joinville, Rethel, and Villehardouin, in what is a major contribution to the history of the regional aristocracy. Although he assumes a basic familiarity with the county's history, Baudin provides ample chronological guideposts in reviewing each family's history, alliances, and sealing practices. It is at this level that one appreciates the full force of the shift to written records in the decades after 1150, as letters patent authenticated with the pendant seals of great lords and knights became normative transactional records. The decretal of Pope Alexander III (1159-1181) declaring that only documents validated by seals had probatory value after the deaths of witnesses spurred the general adoption of seals (and created a new business model for matrix makers). This study makes amply clear how the extension of seal usage with the proliferation of written records among laymen must rank among the most important cultural developments of the twelfth century. A comprehensive, up to date bibliography, and a detailed index of persons and places make this study easy to consult. It is an impressive piece of research.