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22.08.07 Antenhofer/Mersiowsky (eds.), The Roles of Medieval Chanceries

22.08.07 Antenhofer/Mersiowsky (eds.), The Roles of Medieval Chanceries

This volume collects a series of papers presented at the International Medieval Congress in Leeds in 2012 on the theme: Rules to Follow (or Not). The volume builds on the work of the research cluster based at the University of Innsbruck since 2004 and its international collaborations, which have focused on processes of political communication and administrative writings and followed in the footsteps of the established scholarly debate on the rise of literacy across the Medieval West, especially from the twelfth century onwards. The contributions to this volume provide very insightful case studies, addressing not only the question of the growth of chanceries and administrative practices in Western Europe between the tenth and the fifteenth centuries, but most significantly the contribution of individual administrators and chancellors, who were responsible for negotiating and altering the rules of political communication in response to political circumstances. The volume is organized in three sections (“Rules within the Documents,” “Chancery Rules and Organization,” and “Platform and Exchanges”) and mostly focuses on three geographical areas (the kingdom of France, the German Empire and northern Italy). Significantly, the essays give us an insight into how different methodologies can shed new light in the field of diplomatic. This is the case of the opening essay of the volume by Sébastien Barret, who employs digital humanities analysis to investigate the use of sanctions in the tenth- and eleventh-century documentation of Cluny, showing how formulaic sanctions not only fulfilled a symbolic role in medieval charters, but above all added validity and authority to the documents. The latter alongside visual and textual devices in the production of the Cluny corpus of charters helped to endorse monastic rights and to strengthen monastic claims. Penal sanctions in the charters of Charles IV (1346-1378) are similarly the focus of Arnold Otto’s contribution. Otto provides a very useful taxonomy of monetary sanctions, fines, bans and exclusions, significantly focusing on the challenges presented by the bilingual German and Latin practices in Charles IV’s chancery. He ultimately shows how sanctions were adopted and applied to habits of the court, and implemented even a decade after the sanction was initially issued.

The second section of the volume, dedicated to “Chancery Rules,” focuses on the Empire. In her essay Ellen Widder shifts the focus from the formulaic nature of documents to the rules of Late Medieval German chanceries and the work of Matthias Ramung, a late fifteenth-century palatine chancellor and bishop of Speyer. Widder compares the ordinances of Munich (16 February 1468), and of the Electorate of Cologne (1469), and the Amberg Ordinance of 1474, concluding that these ordinances only had a minor practical impact, given their short-lived validity. They responded to circumstantial challenges, while maintaining a symbolic and representative role. Internal chancery communication and management is the topic addressed in a second essay by Julia Hörmann-Thurn und Taxis, who investigates the fourteenth-century Bavarian and Tyrolean chancery registers and their annotations, drawing attention to the role of the commissores, who acted as proxies for the territorial lord and sovereign councils and were responsible for ordering the production of documentation. Finally, Klaus Brandstätter examines the emergence of urban chanceries and town clerks as drivers for the growth of literacy and documentary production in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Germany, tracing their influence over the creation of rules and the institutionalisation of urban chanceries.

The last section of the volume focuses on chanceries as platforms of political communication, examined through the investigation of northern Italian and southern German case studies. Isabella Lazzarini offers a significant insight into the relationship between literacy, public records, structures of power, and the construction of collective memories, addressing the activity of Cicco Simonetta, chancellor of Milan, who enacted several reforms and regulations between 1453 and 1465 and organized record-keeping in registers. On the basis of this case study, Lazzarini concludes that the concept of order may be misleading for the Late Medieval period, when exceptions and disorder were often the norm. The role of secretaries in the reorganization of the chancery of Görz during the second half of the fifteenth century is also addressed by Christina Antenhofer. Antenhofer investigates the interesting example of the complex negotiations between the chancery of the Gonzaga in Mantua and the chancery of the count of Görz in settling the arrangements for the marriage of Paula Gonzaga and Leonhard of Görz in 1478, showing how different in-house styles, languages, and legal and diplomatic traditions had to be reconciled through the expert intervention of the two chanceries. Antenhofer concluded that this exchange between the two chanceries ultimately left a legacy for the modernization of the chancery of Görz, whose practices were less sophisticated than its Italian counterpart. The work of the Tyrolean chancery in the second half of the fifteenth century is finally explored in the essay of Michela Marini, who sheds new light on this territorial chancery of Tyrol under the rule of Duke Sigismund. Marini particularly focuses on the Tyrolean chancery’s interaction with the court, the council, and the territorial diet, whose records were eventually organized and managed by the Tyrolean chancery after 1487.

All in all, this volume on administrative and diplomatic practices and political communication represents an important contribution to the field. In particular, this collection of essays has to be praised for the in-depth investigation of a variety of case studies, which adds an insightful comparative perspective to the study of documentary production, literacy, construction of collective memories, and political power in Late Medieval Europe.