When a monk of the monastery of Andres asked his abbot for new underwear, "the abbot responded to [him] that he would not do it at this time, [the monk] impudently turned his rear end toward the abbot and demonstrated that he was clearly not wearing underwear" (81).  Episodes of mooning do not often populate the pages of medieval chronicles and this example serves to show the rich details, and wonderful vignettes, that William of Andres' composite history contains. This text, which includes both chronicle and monastic charters, was penned sometime between 1200 and 1235 by a monk of the house of Andres named William. Leah Shopkow's vivid translation animates these events as she eschews a literal translation of the chronicle for "what I think Williammeant..." (29). She is careful, however, to follow William's authorial style as closely as possible.
In the introduction, Shopkow provides the reader with important information by placing the chronicle within its literary and historical context. The Chronicle of Andres is made up of William's adaptation of another chronicle, Historia succincta de gestis et successione regum Francorum by Andrew of Marchiennes, and he depends on Andrew's account of earlier events (21). Shopkow is careful to indicate where the narrative is Andrew's rather than William's. About midway through the chronicle, the narrative switches to William's singular voice, and his personality--as well as his opinion on specific events and individuals--shines through. The chronicle ends somewhat abruptly, likely due to William's death around 1235. As a result, Shopkow suggests the chronicle should be considered a "work in progress" rather than a finished text (20). Intriguingly, William's chronicle is not influenced by that of Lambert of Ardres, his contemporary and neighbor. Shopkow indicates that William knew Lambert's chronicle--and likely Lambert himself--but did not weave episodes from this chronicle into his own text. William of Andres' history was heavily influenced by that of Thomas of Marlborough and his incorporation of first-person passages in the chronicle may be the result of Thomas' influence. Shopkow also hints that William may have known Thomas, although she is unable to establish this conclusively.
This first-person perspective is one of the strengths of this chronicle. William's voice comes through in his description of kings, popes, counts, countesses and his fellow abbots. The thirteenth century saw many a dispute over the elections of abbots, archbishops and popes. The Chronicle of Andres is unique in that it provides a first-hand account of a disputed abbatial election: that of William of Andres himself. The community of Andres was founded as a daughter house of the monastery of Charroux in 1084. As such, tradition had held that the abbot of Andres should be selected by the Charroux monks and he was usually Poitevin. By William's time, the small monastery located in the modern Pas-de-Calais bristled under this restraint and sought to elect one of its own as abbot. The monks reasonably argued that an abbot from distant Poitou could not have the expertise or background needed for an ecclesiastical leader confronted by the complex politics of the northern territories of Flanders, Artois, and Boulogne. In 1207, when William was elected abbot by the community at Andres, the abbot of Charroux objected. The dispute over who should have the right to appoint the abbot of Andres lasted years and was discussed, debated and aired in many different places--including Rome and Paris. William narrates a personalized and detailed account of these events, giving scholars interested in legal processes a rich source of information.
In addition to William's personalized view of events, this chronicle is also noteworthy in that it includes charters that are relevant to his narrative. These documents are a treasure trove for scholars interested in just about any aspect of medieval life. The juxtaposition of documents of practice alongside the narrative of the chronicle reveals much about the management of medieval monasteries as well as the relationship between the monks and the secular world. While historians have discovered the wonders of charters, these documents often go untranslated and thus inaccessible to students. Shopkow's translation of these sources is a welcome addition to a growing corpus of translated charters and cartularies.
The charters also led Shopkow to make an editorial choice in her editing of William's composite chronicle. In the original text, the charters were included in the narrative at the relevant points to provide background information to a gift or dispute. Rather than leaving the documents embedded in the text, Shopkow choses to "dismember William's text" by separating the charters from the narrative and placing them at the end of the chronicle (31). Shopkow recognizes this is a "controversial" decision and acknowledges that the charters were integral to William's narrative and vision for his chronicle. Yet to make her translation more accessible to lay readers and students, who she believes will be more drawn to the chronicle, she repeats the choice made by earlier translators and editors of this composite chronicle to expunge the charters from the narrative. She does, however, indicate in the text where a charter was placed in William's account so the reader can flip to the section on the charters to find the relevant document. Additionally, Shopkow also moves the table of contents from its original placement in the chronicle.
Shopkow's efforts to make the text more accessible to students and a general audience is to be commended. However, the decision to detach the charters from the text is problematic. Clearly William himself saw the charters as essential to his text and the point he was trying to make or record. Rearranging of his text hence causes some discomfort as it may distort William's own authorial voice. The charters are included for those who want to see them (as well as a charter of Hugh of Cluny in Appendix Two) but paging back to the charters disrupts the reader's engagement with the text. Leaving the charters where William had placed them, where readers could simply skip over them, might have been less distracting. Moreover, detaching the charters and placing them in the back of the book implies that they are somehow secondary or superfluous to the narrative, which is contrary to William's own understanding of these documents--not to mention something of a disservice to these vital sources of the medieval past.
As a composite chronicle, The Chronicle of Andres is a window into medieval events ranging from the mundane to the globally significant. The region around Andres was one of the political hot spots of twelfth and thirteenth centuries and the chronicle captures this. Descriptions of many military incursions of Philip II Augustus of France, local battles and rebellions, are provided. The trials and triumphs of other monarchs are also included. The troubles of John I of England are laid out, including the French invasion of England and the dispute over the election of the archbishop of Canterbury. Not surprising, William provides considerable information on popes and church councils. He is also rather candid in his assessment of his fellow clergy, referring to one of the monks of Charroux as a "subtle vagrant" and recounting that one of the early abbots of Andres (a Poitevin) was "accused before the bishop of slipping his hand into the bosom of a certain matron in a lascivious and sexual manner" (84). The chronicle also criticized this same abbot for "ice-skating in wintertime like lay people after dinner" (84). While the important events of the day are captured in the chronicle, like the election of John of Brienne as Emperor of Constantinople or the failure of crusade, it is vignettes like these that add unique personality--and perspective--to William's chronicle.
Another remarkable feature of this chronicle is the information provided about the people and the land of Flanders and northern France. A map would have been very useful, especially since many readers would be unfamiliar with the geography of the region. The chronicle is particularly rich in detail about the rebuilding of the monastic church undertaken by one of William's predecessors. The medieval landscape is also brought to life. William provides a wonderful description about the building of the bridge at Nordausques (115-116). The vibrant and burgeoning economy of the region is also apparent in the varied gifts of dues and revenues made to the monastery and recorded in the charters. For example, the tithes on linen donated to the monks reflect the production of cloth so central to the prosperity of this region (231). The narrative and the charters also allow insight into the development of the monastic patrimony. Individual abbots had a vision for their monastery and were proactive in seeking out resources and negotiating with their secular neighbors. The issue of debt and tension over finances within the monastic community also come to light. In this regard, the abbey of Andres had much in common with their brethren at Bury St. Edmunds, whose financial trials and tribulations were recorded by another monastic chronicler.
Perhaps not surprisingly the counts of region figure prominently in the narrative--both in the chronicle and charters. For example, a genealogical account of the origins of the counts of Hainaut is provided in the chronicle (147). The Poem on the Counts of Guînes, included as Appendix I, includes nuggets of detail useful to understanding the personalities that made up this family of counts (407-408). Charters recording gifts and disputes of the counts of Flanders, Boulogne, and Guînes are also useful in reconstructing the history of these comital families. Surprisingly, genealogical charts of these families are not included, which makes it difficult to follow the ebb and flow of the individuals of these families. The narrative of the death and burial of Count Baldwin of Guînes, for instance, contains useful insights into aristocratic life. Baldwin's death recounts the trials of aging. His illness also galvanized "that famous Beatrice, the chatelaine of Bourbourg," who was "more feared than her lord," into action to claim the county. (168-170) William narrates the funeral: "with sobs and cries and with tearful chant he is brought into the monastery of Andres. Every entrance lies open; no one is denied hospitality. From the hour of vespers to the middle of the night, there is feasting under every roof by the knights and ladies, by the burghers and other person...up to the burial hour"(170). It is here that William learns about Baldwin's prodigious progeny--legitimate and natural--who numbered thirty-three. After the funeral, Baldwin's heir made a gift to the monastery (which is recorded in one of the charters).
The Chronicle of Andres is a rich and wonderful text. William of Andres is a lively and compelling narrator of the events of his day and before. Shopkow's translation has much to offer the specialist in medieval history, but also the undergraduate and general reader. A paperback edition of this chronicle could be easily adopted for classroom use; hopefully with the inclusion of a map and genealogical charts to make the events more accessible to students.
1. For analysis of this rather unusual episode, see Leah Shopkow, "Mooning the Abbot: A Tale of Disorder, Vulgarity, Ethnicity, and Underwear in the Monastery," in Prowess, Piety, and Public Order in Medieval Society: Studies in Honor of Richard W. Kaeuper, ed. Craig M. Nakashian and Daniel P. Franke (Leiden: Brill, 2017), 179-98.