19.09.27 Redford (ed.), The Cartulary of Alvingham Priory

Main Article Content

Hugh Thomas

The Medieval Review 19.09.27

Redford, Jill, ed. The Cartulary of Alvingham Priory. Kathleen Major Series of Medieval Records. Woodbridge, UK: Boydell Press, 2018. pp. 580. ISBN: 979-1-910653-04-3 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Hugh Thomas
University of Miami

The work that must have gone into this edition and the PhD thesis that lay behind it! Jill Redford has transcribed and provided commentary on 1310 documents in the Cartulary of Alvingham Priory, a double house of Gilbertine nuns and canons. In the published edition the vast majority have been calendared. The criteria for deciding which have been provided in whole and which calendared is not entirely clear, but it hardly matters, since those calendared documents that one wants to read in full can be found online in Alvingham's thesis. Since the thesis appears at etheses.whiterose.ac.uk, a site that is sponsored by several universities, it is likely to have a stable future despite the vagaries of the internet. The necessity to calendar most documents is, of course, regrettable, but given the current expense of book production it is also the only sensible course of action, and indeed a creative solution to a difficult problem of providing access to a large cartulary. Even as it stands, the documents alone take up 511 pages.

The bulk of documents in the cartulary date from the mid-twelfth century to c. 1264 when the cartulary was completed, but later documents were subsequently added, as was common in such manuscripts. Charters are one of the most important sources for the period, providing information on subjects about which chronicles, royal records, and other sources reveal little. Admittedly, the greatest number of charters in the Alvingham Cartulary are of a frustrating sort common for small houses: hundreds of hard-to-date grants or confirmations of tiny pieces of property by very obscure people. It is hard to draw much useful information from such brief, routine, and formulaic documents on an individual level. Collectively, however, and with application of sufficient patience and determination, they can provide information about a range of subjects, including rural and urban economies, landscapes and village topographies, and patterns of secular and ecclesiastical landholding. That said, like any large cartulary, Alvingham's has a number of individual documents, or small groups of documents, that can shed a great deal of light on sometimes unexpected subjects. Many are charters, but Alvingham is not unusual in having miscellaneous documents as well, including brief accounts of local families, court cases, brief terriers of properties, and so on. A long list of what can be learned from individual documents or sets of documents would be tiresome, so I will note only a few example. There are several charters relating to the family and property of Roger of Asterby. Roger was a minor local knight but gained fame because he was supposedly hounded by various saints until he went to King Henry II with celestial advice about how to be a good king, including a plan to expel the Jews from England. The evidence of indebtedness by knights to Jews in other Alvingham documents provides some context to Roger's anti-Semitic views. More generally it is useful to have more information on this obscure representative of twelfth-century local society. For landscape or economic historians, several documents are informative about the building and maintenance of dykes. Some charters shed light on lay religion, including one creating a rent to provide two candles for burning at a parish church during surprisingly specific parts of the service on Sundays and feast days. This gives us a telling example of lay interest in the mass. A dispute over the advowson of a church reveals what had clearly once been a family of hereditary married priests; strikingly, their descendants tried to conceal the evidence of priestly marriage by claiming that specific ancestors had resigned the church before marrying and having children. The Welsh wars come unexpectedly into sight with Edward I's attempt in 1283 to persuade Alvingham to accept one or more of the daughters of Llewellyn ap Gruffydd or David his brother into the house.

Like all accomplished editors, Redford provides helpful guidance to the scholars using her edition. Her introduction begins with the founders and foundation date, both surprisingly hard to establish. The date was between the foundation of Sempringham, in 1131, and 1155, the last possible date for the earliest document in the collection. No one individual or family established the fortunes of the priory--instead, several minor landholding families provided sufficient land and churches to form the core of its endowment. Redford then discusses the house and its community, adding a few priors to the list of those already known. The introduction continues with a clear, concise discussion of benefactors, their families, and the spiritual benefits they received. There follows a survey of the temporal and spiritual endowments, with discussion of local economic resources. Lastly, the introduction discusses the manuscript itself and the editorial methods. In the main body of the text Redford provides useful notes and points to connections between documents. At the end she gives genealogies of eleven families.

All of this is standard for a good edition. It is also quite valuable. In her preface, Redford pays homage to such editors of Lincolnshire documents as Kathleen Major, Frank and Doris Stenton, and A. E. B. Owen. I would like to extend this homage to editors of charters and cartularies more generally. I have used dozens of cartularies in manuscript over the course of my career and thoroughly enjoyed doing so. But as a scholar based in the United States, I have inevitably relied heavily on editions of cartularies and collections of charters. Even for those living closer to the archives, the efficiency provided by printed editions and the knowledge provided by editors greatly aids scholarship. The scholarly effort put into edited works tends not to get the credit it deserves these days. I for one would like to acknowledge how much I have depended on this effort and to say how pleased I am to have Jill Redford's edition of The Cartulary of Alvingham Priory on my bookshelf.

Article Details