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19.11.13 McCarthy, The Continuations of Frutolf of Michelsberg's Chronicle

19.11.13 McCarthy, The Continuations of Frutolf of Michelsberg's Chronicle

In a number of respects, the volume under review marks a new departure. It is the first detailed consideration of the manuscripts and textual transmission of the twelfth-century continuations to Frutolf of Michelberg's Chronicle; it is the first Anglophone discussion of historical writing under the last Salian emperor, Henry V (r. 1106–25); and it is the first English-language publication sponsored by the Monumenta Germaniae Historica, that bastion of medieval historical studies in Germany, presently based at the Bavarian State Library in Munich. It is thus symbolic of the growing contribution of Anglophone scholars to the study of medieval Germany and of the bridges built between them and their Germanophone colleagues.

It would be hard to think of a better choice to inaugurate this new direction than McCarthy's fine monograph. It is a product of the author's work towards a collaborative new edition of the continuations of Frutolf, and he gratefully (and graciously) acknowledges the input of his German colleagues and forebears throughout. Indeed, few speakers of any language have heeded the Monumentists' call 'ad fontes' as assiduously as McCarthy, and the resulting volume is a worthy addition to the highly regarded Schriften-series. Yet if this is in some senses a very 'German' (and very 'Monumentist') book, in others it is not. Simply by virtue of being in English, it will draw a wider international audience than it would otherwise. Moreover, McCarthy is keenly attuned to trends in manuscript studies and historical writing outside Germany, in a manner uncommon amongst this Germanophone counterparts.

McCarthy's main findings may be summarized as follows. Of the many different continuations of Frutolf's Chronicle traditionally ascribed to Ekkehard, only one--produced between 1113 and 1117--can actually be ascribed to the abbot of Aura. It has long been known that another, the Anonymous Imperial Chronicle (c. 1114), belongs to a different author; it is McCarthy's achievement to demonstrate that the same holds true of what he calls the '1101 Continuation', '1106 Continuation' and '1125 Continuation'. What is more, by means of meticulous textual investigation, he is able to demonstrate the existence of a lost continuation of 1113/14 (α), which lies behind both the Anonymous Imperial Chronicle and Ekkehard's work. The result is to cut both of these figures considerably down to size. Much of what we thought we knew of Ekkehard is to be ascribed to various anonymous annalists, probably working at Michelsberg; likewise, many of the distinctive features of the Anonymous Imperial Chronicler more properly belong to the shared source (α) on which he and Ekkehard drew. Perhaps most intriguingly, there are signs that the '1106 Continuation', α and the Anonymous are the same individual, pointing to a degree of continuity in historical writing at Michelsberg.

Yet McCarthy's findings are not merely textual. Many of his observations derive from close autopsies of the relevant manuscripts, and he is able to shed considerable light on scribal culture in twelfth-century Bamberg and beyond. Of particular significance for those acquainted with the subject will be the confirmation that one of the main hands of the J and C manuscripts (in Jena and Cambridge) are indeed identical, but that neither manuscript is an autograph (let alone Ekkehard's autograph, as once thought). Similarly arresting is the discovery that K's annals for 1098–1101 are not in Frutolf's own hand, but rather constitute the first anonymous continuation of his work (McCarthy's '1101 Continuation'), a discovery achieved by new methods of multi-spectral imaging.

These may seem like rather niche findings, and in a sense they are. Nevertheless, they have important implications for how we treat these sources. For a start, they serve to place Michelsberg (and Bamberg) firmly on the map of early twelfth-century historical writing. They also revise old ideas about Ekkehard, who was thought to have begun his career as a moderate supporter of the imperial cause, then slowly became disillusioned. We now know that Ekkehard simply inherited a series of broadly – but by no means universally – pro-imperial narratives, which he revised to suit his own needs and views. Such findings will need to be taken into account by historians of early twelfth-century Germany, for whom these are our main narrative sources. For non-Germanists, the most important observations doubtless concern the significant body of crusading material within the continuations. The bulk of this is to be ascribed to the '1106 Continuator', who was a crusader himself. However, no less interesting are the various adjustments to this material by later editors; as McCarthy notes, these figures were involved in what Tom Smith aptly terms 'scribal crusading.' [1]

This may be quite a conservative book, but it is anything but conservative in its findings. Many of McCarthy's discoveries are achieved by the tried and tested methods of source criticism (Quellenkritik) developed by the nineteenth-century Monumentists, but this does not make him Waitz redivivus. Indeed, the crucial distinction between McCarthy and his forebears is that he is more willing to give attention – and accord authority – to the surviving manuscript witnesses of these works. The result is, therefore, more than excellent introduction to work at the editorial coalface; it also contributes to the large and growing number of publications on scribal practices and manuscript culture in the central Middle Ages.

As should by now be abundantly clear, this is a truly superb book. Given its tight focus and the complexity of the subject matter, it will probably only reach a small audience of fellow specialists, but they will be immensely grateful to McCarthy for his efforts. This is a work of lasting value, which will continue to be cited long after its author – and this reviewer – have ceased to be. I cannot commend it more highly.



T.W. Smith, "Scribal Crusading: Three New Manuscript Witnesses to the Regional Reception and Transmission of First Crusade Letters," Traditio 72 (2017): 133–69.