19.06.10 Cleaver and Worm, Writing History in the Anglo-Norman World

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Alexandra Locking

The Medieval Review 19.06.10

Cleaver, Laura, and Andrea Worm, ed. Writing History in the Anglo-Norman World: Manuscripts, Makers and Readers, c.1066-c.1250. Writing History in the Middle Ages. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell & Brewer, 2018. pp. xii, 269. ISBN: 978-190-3153-802 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Alexandra Locking
University of Chicago
locking@uchicago.edu

In the introduction to their edited volume, Laura Cleaver and Andrea Worm begin with a word of caution. The field of Anglo-Norman history writing has long benefited from a large number of modern editions of twelfth- and thirteenth-century medieval narrative histories, including the historical works of William of Malmesbury, Orderic Vitalis, Symeon of Durham, and others. Yet the convenience of modern editions makes it easy to lose sight of the manuscript tradition of these same texts. This volume of essays seeks to bring attention back to manuscript studies by reconsidering "the makers, readers and functions of these documents, as well as the contexts in which copies were made at particular moments in time" (3).

All but one of the essays focus on the production and use of individual manuscripts or the transmission of certain texts. The exception is Michael Staunton's opening essay, which takes a broad approach to the question of why twelfth-century Anglo-Norman authors wrote history. Focusing on statements of purpose in medieval English historiography, Staunton argues that the purpose of history-writing changed from the beginning of the century to the end. For the earlier monastic authors, history was primarily about providing moral lessons for audiences. The genealogical histories of the mid-twelfth century, in contrast, served the clear political need to support royal Angevin identity following prolonged civil war. By the end of the century, according to Staunton, historians' circumstances had changed, along with the changing administrative and social realities of the late Angevin Empire, giving historians more freedom to pursue their own personal interests in writing history. Staunton's essay successfully highlights the fact that history could serve many purposes, and provides a useful overview of current scholarship on medieval English historiography. As the opening essay to the book, the essay provides a useful framework for some of the broader questions at stake in the more narrowly-focused studies that follow it.

The remaining essays can be split broadly into two categories, the first of which focuses on the immediate contemporary use or interpretation of individual manuscripts. Andrea Worm presents a case-study of pictorial visualization in history-telling by examining the extended version of Peter of Poitiers' Compendium historiae in genealogia Christi, found in London, British Library, Cotton MS Faustina B VII. Peter's original work, a linear graph of biblical genealogy dating back to Adam and Christ, produced in the late twelfth/early thirteenth centuries, inspired a wave of extensions that brought the biblical lineages up through the current dynasties of medieval Europe. Cotton MS Faustina B VII contains the earliest known extension. The essay focuses on the use of six genealogical lines in the manuscript to create an idea about "the inherent order of history" (52), in which, Worm maintains, the English monarchal line is presented as a single continuum of Christian royal power, with three stages representing changes in dynasty (from the Britons, to the Anglo-Saxons, to the Normans) that were nevertheless legitimate heirs of the preceding dynasty. Worm has also dated the extendedCompendium historiae to c. 1214, opening the door for further research into its political context within John's reign. Stephen Church also focuses on the use of texts during John's reign, examining a well-known but little-studied writ issued by Richard Marsh, John's clerk, to the abbot of Reading in 1208. Church uses the writ as a clear example of the immediate uses to which texts could be put, and how texts could in turn affect contemporary historical events. Church posits that the writ, which includes an acknowledgement of receipt of copies of Hugh of Saint-Victors's Sacraments, Peter Lombard's The Sentences, and selected works by Augustine of Hippo and Origen, demonstrates that John and his court were searching for a way to respond to Pope Innocent III's interdict on England and Wales, which was announced just a week before the writ was produced. According to Church, clergy and laity alike in England and Rome were confused about the effects of the interdict; the books John apparently requested from Reading could have provided the theological groundwork for arguing that the interdict would not have a detrimental spiritual effect on John's subjects.

Like Worm, Kathryn Gerry and Laura Slater approach image and text within manuscripts as a holistic whole in their respective studies of the works of Matthew Paris. Gerry uses Matthew Paris's mid thirteenth-century Gesta abbatum to discuss the motivations behind the patronage of the two earliest post-Conquest abbots of St. Albans, Paul (d. 1093) and Richard (d. 1119), whose commissioned works of art do not survive. Using Matthew's descriptions of the abbots' acts as patrons, Gerry suggests that Paul, the first Norman abbot of St. Albans, used the creation of new art and the destruction of extant Anglo-Saxon artefacts (especially tombs) to impose Norman reform on the abbey. In contrast, Gerry suggests that Paul's successor, Richard, inherited the abbatial office after the initial rough transition from Anglo-Saxon to Norman control, and instead used art and text production to recreate an image of St. Albans' ancient foundations and to incorporate the abbey more fully into a peaceful coexistence with other Anglo-Norman religious institutions. Laura Slater, in her article on Matthew Paris's Vie de Seint Auban, presents a persuasive argument for the potential ways in which Matthew shaped the text for a particular female audience, Cecilia de Sanford, tutor to Eleanor Plantagenet. Although the Vietook on a much broader institutional importance, Slater points to key similarities in the manuscript's illustrations that seem to reflect some of Cecilia's own experiences. These included, most notably, an attention to crusading images and ideas which may have spoken to both Sanford and Plantagenet participation in the Crusades, and an emphasis on the vow of chastity taken by St. Genevieve in the Vie, echoing Cecilia de Sanford's own vow once she became a widow.

The second category of essays focuses on the methods of manuscript production and dissemination and the pressures that influenced these issues. Laura Pani uses the manuscript history of the popular eighth-century Historia Langobardorum by Paul the Deacon to examine attitudes towards text production in England following the Norman Conquest. Out of the over one hundred surviving manuscripts, Pani focuses specifically on the five versions associated with English ecclesiastical centers before the end of the twelfth century, noting that it seems to have been the Conquest that introduced Paul's work widely to English audiences. Four of these manuscripts were created in England as part of larger compilations, which included a variety of texts ranging from scientific works such as Hyginus'sDe astronomia to works on Alexander the Great, including the pseudo-Alexander's letters to Aristotle. Pani concludes by suggesting that the immediate post-Conquest era witnessed a general desire to expand English libraries without "the careful organization of texts into coherent collection," and that the fairly rapid dissemination of Paul the Deacon'sHistoria was part of this expansionary effort (130).

Anne Lawrence-Mathers and Gleb Schmidt both focus on the dissemination of Robert of Hereford's exposition of the corrected Christian chronology created by the Irish monk Marianus Scotus (d. 1082). Lawrence-Mathers discusses how Marianus's work was first introduced to English writing centers by bishop Robert of Hereford (d. 1095), who helped disseminate it to his contacts at Malmesbury and Worcester, the latter of which produced an edition familiar to Orderic Vitalis from his trip to England in the early twelfth century. But Marianus's work failed to catch on beyond that, due, according to Lawrence-Mathers, to the pressures of patronage. Lawrence-Mathers concludes that Robert of Torigni, renowned for his judgement of historical writing, supported the Christian history of Sigebert of Gembloux, whose work eventually overshadowed Marianus's, especially in Normandy. Through detailed paleographical and textual analysis, Gleb Schmidt is able to suggest a new provenance for one copy of Robert of Hereford's exposition of Marianus's work. Schmidt has linked three surviving copies, including an edition from the scriptorium of William of Malmesbury produced before 1125 (Oxford Bodleian MS Auct. F 3 14) and the only known Continental copy (St. Petersburg, National Library of Russia, MS Lat. O. IV 1), to a common ancestor, based on structural and textual similarities. Schmidt suggests that it was Orderic Vitalis, who had connections both with Worcester and with William of Malmesbury, who brought Robert's text to northern France, where it would have been housed until the French Revolution.

Laura Cleaver, Charles Rozier, and Caoimhe Whelan focus on the motivation behind the production or collection of histories. Cleaver cautions against reductive approaches to manuscript studies in her examination of several so-called "autograph manuscripts" associated with major Anglo-Norman historians such as Orderic Vitalis. Rather than focusing on "autograph hands," Cleaver instead emphasizes the collaborative nature of producing a history, which could range widely in terms of available resources. One example Cleaver offers is a comparison of two texts attributed directly to Orderic Vitalis: an early edition of his Ecclesiastical History (Bibliotheque nationale de France MSS Lat. 5506 A and B), which Cleaver suggests was decorated by the same scribe who wrote the text; and Orderic's continuation of the Gesta Normannorum ducum(Rouen, Bibliotheque Municipale MS 1174, fols. 116-39), in which initials were clearly done by a different artist. Cleaver argues that such variance in the production of texts reveals patterns of assessments of a work's worth. Rozier's essay looks at the entire manuscript library collected by the monks at Durham in the twelfth century, detailed in two surviving medieval catalogues, produced c. 1096 and c. 1149 respectively. Rozier points out the rich variety of historical works composed and collected by the Durham monks, and the important roles such histories played in the identity-formation of the monastic community in the eleventh century and in its efforts to produce works with the same scope for a Christian world history as Orderic Vitalis's Ecclesiastical History. Whelan's essay moves furthest in time by examining the translation of Gerald of Wales's Expugnatio Hibernica(c. 1189) into the vernacular Hiberno-Middle English language in the fifteenth century to reveal how Gerald's text became the main historical authority for the twelfth-century English invasion of Ireland. Whelan also discusses how this later translation in turn helped to promote and reinforce the formation of a communal identity of English colonists in Ireland, whose claims to the region were coming increasingly under attack.

The majority of the essays focus predominantly on history writing in England in the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries, with the "Norman" part of the Anglo-Norman focus appearing primarily as a force for change introduced into English religious centers. The heavy emphasis on Orderic Vitalis's Ecclesiastical History throughout the essays is the main exception to this. The thematic rather than chronological focus of the volume means that some periods of Anglo-Norman history writing, most notably that of the civil war between Stephen and Matilda, are left out in favor of focusing on the more well-known periods chronicled by William of Malmesbury and others. The contributors take care to situate their works within existing scholarship, particularly with regards to the scholarship of M.T. Clanchy, Rodney Thomson, Nancy Partner, and Gabrielle Spiegel. The volume includes five color and thirty-one black and white plates that serve to illustrate key points of the essays' arguments. While several of the essays are highly specialized in focus, the methodologies employed by the contributors will prove useful to a broad range of scholars. Overall, this volume will be an important and useful addition for anyone interested in history-writing and manuscript studies during the first century of Anglo-Norman rule.

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