Publication Spotlight: Early Medieval Hagiography

medhagiography.pngBlog written by Dr James Palmer

“How is your book… your novel going?” Angus inquired politely as he sipped at his coffee. “The one about the Scottish saints?” Antonia sighed. “Not very well, I’m afraid. My saints, I regret to say, are misbehaving”. Love over Scotland, Alexander McCall Smith

And indeed, for Antonia, they are. They get grumpy and might not even really like each other. Saints are, after all, people, and not always particularly pure. They also have to live in the same societies as everyone else, full of petty jealousies, alcohol, greed, and people with bad ideas. Or, Antonia fears, maybe she is projecting her ideas on them.

I wrote Early Medieval Hagiography with these issues firmly in mind. Saints, or at least writings about them, have long been seen as both reflections of the societies that produced them and efforts to shape those societies. Hagiographies can supply wonderful, rich data for studying the early Middle Ages, from Ireland to Byzantium and sometimes beyond. But they can also present minefields for those dealing with them, both because they were not written to tell us about the past in a straightforward manner, and because of the baggage of how we have tried to study them ourselves.

Initially, I was approached by Arc Humanities Press (an imprint of Amsterdam University Press) to write an introduction to these saintly biographies that was, apart from being introductory, provocative, different, and grounded in enough hard research to say things to a hardcore audience. And preferably with a global angle. In short: it was going to be a challenge. We needed a twenty-first century guide to the subject that captured the field and at least attempted to tilt it to an awkward angle. It also need to bring scholarship on different regions – actually, in the end, stretching from Ireland to Japan – into sight to help future comparative studies.

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Schaffhausen, Stadtbibliothek, MS Gen. 1, f. 1 – a copy of the Life of Columba, made on Iona before 713, image attrib. e-codices, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

My plan was simple: I wanted to write a study that took the reader through the process of writing about saints, from their creation to our efforts to use saints’ Lives. It needed to start with people reading old saints’ Lives, hearing oral legends, remembering and misremembering things, and then trying to make their friends look like saints. There was no process of canonisation in the early Middle Ages, no rules about ‘how to make a saint’. Of course, some saints, like the Englishman St Boniface of Mainz (d. 754), looked like a saint in life because he had read all about them. His enemies were capable of doing so too, which was inconvenient for him and his followers, but which was good (for me) for showing how people negotiate status when there are not really any rules to follow. It also allowed plenty of scope for unusual saints: married-with-children saints, bishop-murdering saints, holy fools hanging out with prostitutes, saints who had performed no miracles whatsoever but who were a bit angsty. Every time one subverts our modern expectations about what a saint should look like, we should be jolted to consider what that says about shifting social norms, then and now.

Once somebody had written an account of their favoured saint, what they did with it was important. Hagiography did not just exist as stories: they were parts of books, of libraries, of sermons and debates, with real institutional contexts and with people engaging with them. Turning to the early manuscript evidence as I did, you can see people attempting to recontextualise saints by juxtaposing the new and the old, women and men, martyrs and confessors – all to give them new meaning. People composed calendars and martyrologies as guidebooks that linked into liturgical cycles (or often, more likely, just to help to decide what stories to read out at dinner time for entertainment). Order controls meaning.

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St Gallen, Stiftsbibliothek, MS 566 – a calendar of saints that tells you in which book you could find the story about them, image attrib. e-codices, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

Having built up a sense of how people wrote hagiographies, and then one of how people used them, the third angle was no less important: how do we use them? The modern classic on the subject, Hippolyte Delehaye’s Les légendes hagiographiques (1905), came directly out of efforts to remove dubious saints by applying rigorous source criticism (much of which boils down to entirely reasonable variations on ‘don’t trust anything too much without good reason’). The development of hagiography studies in the century that followed, unsurprisingly, very much mirrored historiographical trends more generally. Ideas from philology, gender studies, anthropology, postmodernism and comparative religious studies came into play, combined, and fell out of fashion again, leaving a varied toolkit for future analysis. But always, it seems, scholars sought ways to get lost pasts to speak to present concerns, however objective and neutral they claimed to be. There is a long history of being polemical about who is right and who is wrong about how, at the end of the day, historians ought to read hagiographies. What we need to do is to be methodologically promiscuous and find questions – not answers! – from different fields. In particular, we need to get away from the surprisingly dogged insistence that we don’t need to think about method or theory if we ‘read with care’.

The final part of Early Medieval Hagiography seeks to apply lessons from the other themes of the book, and to reassess what difference studying hagiographies has made to early medieval studies. Here, I turned to the big issues: How ‘dark’ were the Middle Ages? How important were ethnic and religious identities? Did people really not have any sense of the world beyond the horizon? And, of course, for every example that confirms our worst prejudices about the period, there is at least one saint whose story has unsettled them. In fact, more often than not, hagiography forces us to see the early Middle Ages as a much more complex time than even many working on them like to admit, and forces us to see more of society in action than just a few rich white men at the top. The challenge the book ends with, then, is how we can take these kinds of observations to build new histories that are both methodologically rigorous and which speak to our needs. Antonia could rest easy: we have been projecting our concerns onto saints for two millennia and we are not going to stop now.

Publication Spotlight: The Politics of Counsel in England and Scotland, 1286–1707

Blog written by Dr Jacqueline Rose

politicsofcounselIs it true that behind every successful ruler there is an exhausted adviser? It has certainly often been the case that ‘evil counsellors’ have been blamed for bad government. But if grumbling about special advisers looks like a distinctly modern phenomenon, think again.  Such figures have often operated in the shadowy world of political manoeuvring, whether characterised as benign mentors or cunning manipulators—or both.

For much of history, the role of the adviser was idealised. This was the case in much of the period covered by the contributors to the recent volume on The Politics of Counsel in England and Scotland, 1286–1707. This was an era in which good counsel was seen as the way to foster good rule; that is, where a monarch governed for the common interest and common good, and not tyrannically, for their own private benefit or wilful pleasure. Counsel evolved to meet the needs of this age of Anglo-Scottish warfare and unions, dynastic and religious upheavals, and developments in local, national, and colonial government—not forgetting the adaptations in advisory practices required to fit each new monarch’s personality.

Using the poetry, drama, government records, and political treatises of the period, contributors to the volume examine ideas about advice and the role it played. Some instances of political failure come up—James III of Scotland, killed during a rebellion in 1488, and Charles I, executed in 1649—are the most prominent. But there are also signs that rulers could be open to advice, at least on some points, some of the time.

Appropriately, contributors to this volume benefited from each other’s counsel through a workshop held in St Andrews in May 2014, which was made possible by the British Academy’s award of a grant from the Browning Fund and a British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grant; and by support from the School of History and the Institutes of Scottish Historical Research, Intellectual History, and Reformation Studies. Alongside the editor, the volume features chapters by St Andrews-based authors Michael Brown and Roger Mason, and one by Claire Hawes, at the time a PhD student here and now based in Aberdeen. This reflects how suitable a base St Andrews is for the larger Politics of Counsel research project from which the workshop and volume derived.

While substantial in its own right, the volume aims to create a framework for future research on political advice—past, present, and future. It provocatively suggests ways in which even ‘failed’ advice might actually contribute to political life. So the next time you hear on the news that the power and influence of ‘spads’ has been criticised, don’t assume it’s a symptom of the decline of modern politics. Bad advice may just be an age-old excuse: easy to make, but deserving of sharper analysis.

Publication Spotlight: Royal Heirs and the Uses of Soft Power in Nineteenth-Century Europe

coverBlog written by Professor Frank Lorenz Müller

In 1877 Archduke Rudolf, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, reached his majority. To mark this happy day, Field Marshall Archduke Albrecht, the stern Éminence grise of the Habsburg family, sent the young man a set of “aphorisms”, which contained a whole list of strict injunctions and dire warnings. Above all, Rudolf should make sure to eschew the “softening” (Verweichlichung) Albrecht was observing at other courts. For that way lay dishonour and loss of prestige. For the old field marshal, the princely profession was all about the splendour of majesty, about sticking rigidly to court and dynastic rules and about distance from the banal normality of human life.

For Albrecht, our new volume Royal Heirs and the Uses of Soft Power in Nineteenth-Century Europe would probably have been as unedifying a choice of bedtime reading as his austere aphorisms were for the wayward Rudolf. For the historians contributing first to our conference in 2015 and then to the volume which grew out of it, however, the phenomenon of royal power “going soft” – or at least adding a “soft” string to the bow of monarchical power – in the nineteenth century is not a cause for despair.

Rather than seeing the increasing attempts made by Europe’s dynasties to win over politically relevant audiences, to attract, cajole and persuade instead of forcing or coercing them, was a central component of monarchical survival. That these old dynastic dogs learned a whole bag of new tricks as they journeyed from commanding hard power to exercising influence is a sign of their resourcefulness and astuteness and not, as Archduke Albrecht would have argued, a symptom of a flaccid loss or moral fibre.

Organising our case studies round the famous concept of “soft power” – as coined by the American political scientist Joseph S. Nye – we invited historians specialising in many different European monarchies to explore how their dynasties sought to acquire this new skills set, to consider the different means they used and to assess the success of these efforts. Both our conference and now the volume have ranged from Spain to Norway, from Greece to the UK by way of Austria, the Netherlands, Prussia and Sweden. Our authors have analysed sports and public diplomacy, good looks and sartorial style, news management and the political market – while not neglecting love and marriage, dynastic virtues and the power of the visual in imperial settings.

HeirstothethroneMarking, as it did, the high-point of the AHRC-funded project Heirs to the Throne, the volume showcases the work of three St Andrews PhD students: Maria-Christina Marchi, Richard Meyer-Forsting and Miriam Schneider. It also adds to the list of volumes already published within the “Palgrave Studies in Modern Monarchy”, a series founded alongside the project and co-edited by Heidi Mehrkens and Frank Lorenz Müller in co-operation with Axel Körner (UCL) and Heather Jones (LSE), who both contributed to last year’s conference volume “Sons and Heirs”.

As the project is drawing to its official end, we look forward to more published research and to continuing our co-operation with Palgrave Macmillan. Meanwhile, we invite everyone to get hold of a copy of “Royal Heirs and the Uses of Soft Power” – which, by the way, makes a terrific Christmas present – and to find out for themselves why Archduke Albrecht was wrong and “soft power” was not a bad thing for 19th-century heirs.

Publication Spotlight: The Royal Timeline

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CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0, attrib. Heirs to the Throne Project

The History community at the University of St Andrews will be familiar with the work and output of the Heirs to the Throne project. Under the leadership of Professor Frank Lorenz Müller and Dr Heidi Mehrkens, the personal and public lives of royal heirs in nineteenth century Europe are explored as well as their contribution to the workings of constitutional monarchical systems. In addition to conferences, lectures and books, many of these heirs have been featured in the Heirs of the Month blog posts on the project website. To celebrate the achievements of the project and its team, thirty-one heirs have now been gathered in the Royal Timeline, an interactive webtool that combines the previous Heirs of the Month essays with historical context.

 

The project ‘Heirs to the Throne in the Constitutional Monarchies of Nineteenth-Century Europe (1815-1914)’, funded by the AHRC, commenced in 2012 to investigate the role of monarchs in waiting throughout Europe. The Heir of the Month started in November 2013: its first entry was penned by PI Frank Lorenz Müller. For the past two years, new entries have been added once a month, with all members of the team and visiting researchers contributing. Austrian archdukes are followed by Bavarian princes, with both public policy and private personalities examined thoroughly.

The Heir of the Month essays, as well as the resulting Royal Timeline, aim to show the princes and princesses as human beings with a specific agenda. The nineteenth century saw the rise of the public role of the heir in a changing society. The heirs in this period faced the challenge of combining traditional royal tasks with a new set of roles. The monarchs in waiting would still need to marry advantageously and further the power of the dynasty. However, they were also expected to take on new skills, such as deal with a chosen government, take care of written and photographic communication and be at ease with a more public role. This public image also entailed new responsibilities for heirs: it would help if they were good-looking, smart and charming.

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CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0, attrib. Heirs to the Throne Project

The Heir of the Month essays allow the team to represent their questions, sources, discoveries and research in a more playful manner, and disseminate them to a larger audience. Furthermore, the monthly blog posts give meaning to these figures in history: they are given a narrative, rather than a symbolic meaning. An example is Duke Ferdinand-Philippe of Orléans, who was heir to the throne of the July Monarchy between 1830 and 1848. Ferdinand chose to face an outbreak of cholera in Paris, shaking hands with those afflicted. In doing so, he allied himself explicitly with the plight of his people and highlighted his duties as heir to the throne.

 

In the future, new Heirs of the Month will be added to the Royal Timeline. The webtool will continue to be updated with new and relevant information. The other endeavours of the Heirs to the Throne Project will also continue, bringing the monarchs in waiting of nineteenth century constitutional Europe to a wider audience.

Publication Spotlight: ‘Diverging Paths?: Power and Institutions in Medieval Islam and Christendom’

“Why did certain sorts of institutionalisation and institutional continuity characterise government and society in Christendom by the later Middle Ages, but not the Islamic world, whereas the reverse end-point might have been predicted from the early medieval situation?”
This question lies at the core of Prof. John Hudson’s new publication, co-edited with Ana Rodriguez, Diverging Paths?: Power and Institutions in Medieval Islam and Christendom. In the eighth century, government in the Islamic world featured bureaucracy in a way unimaginable in Christendom, and especially western Christendom, in the same period. By the end of the middle ages, however, the latter region was dominated by a number of highly sophisticated institutions. Diverging Paths takes a number of these institutions in the Byzantine, western and Islamic worlds, and explores their formation, in the hope of answering or revising this question.

This book is the product of a collaborative project on comparative institutionalisation across western Christendom, eastern Christendom and the Islamic world in the period c.750–1350. The collaborations began in the late 1990s, between mediaevalists at St Andrews and at the CSIC in Madrid.  Work began by exploring the legitimisation of political authority. Gradually, over time, the group expanded and started to look at broader issues of power and institutions.  In 2008, the group received a grant from the Spanish government which enabled them to focus on the processes of institutionalisation. The project was based primarily on a series of workshops. These led to a conference, which in turn resulted in Diverging Paths.

The use of a tripartite comparison between Byzantium, western Christendom and the Islamic world is central to this study. It was driven, and indeed made possible, by the strengths of the history department at St Andrews in these three areas. John believes this approach has a number of benefits. Examination of similar themes in a number of societies helps scholars to reconsider their assumptions. Furthermore, the study of a process, such as ‘institutionalisation’, is made more meaningful when it is conducted in a number of contexts and cultures.

It was this comparative approach, however, which led to most of the intellectual challenges the project faced. How broad should the comparisons be? The ‘Islamic World’ or ‘Western Christendom’ are, of course, very large categories and a lot of variety can be noticed within them: as in the present day, Iceland and Sicily were very different places in this period, but both come under the umbrella of ‘Western Christendom’. However, these comparisons needed to be broad enough to allow the group to pose the questions they did, and facilitate meaningful investigation.

More specifically for this study, both institutions and institutional processes need to be defined.  Two potential challenges presented themselves here: to get something which was not too vague, whilst at the same time not creating a definition that was too culturally specific. In response to this, the group created a working list of ten criteria, including ‘institutional memory’, ‘identification with institutions’, ‘normative nature’ and ‘self-replication’. Thus, the networks of Benedictine monasticism which came to dominate western Christendom in this period were definable as institutions. The smaller religious communities of sixth-century Francia, on the other hand, which often died out within a few decades of foundation, were less institutionalised.

PIMIC opening workshop, St Andrews

PIMIC opening workshop, St Andrews, 2013

The publication of Diverging Paths is not the end of the process, but in many ways it is the beginning. John is currently involved in a number of projects that have grown out of this one, and which also make use cross-cultural comparisons in their examination of institutionalisation. The largest of these is the EU funded project ‘Powers and Institutions in Medieval Islam and Christendom’, or PIMIC. Whilst PIMIC does still have an academic thrust, it is primarily a training network which was created to fund PhDs and postdocs. Currently two of these PhD students are working at St Andrews, Cory Hitt and Sarah Greer, and you can read more about some of PIMIC’s activities here and here.
In addition to this, John is currently planning another research project which will consider the development of law in Europe between 1050 and 1250. This project will argue that whilst the divergence between the continental civil law and English common law traditions did originate in that period, there were more similarities between English and Continental law than the traditional narrative of difference would lead us to believe. John will also continue to make use of the broader tripartite comparison between Western Christendom, Eastern Christendom and the Islamic worlds in this project: there are plans for a workshop which will bring together legal scholars working on each of these regions.

Diverging Paths does not answer to the question it poses in its introduction; indeed, unusually, there is no concluding chapter. John is keen to point out that this is deliberate. This study is a starting point: it ought to provoke further debate, rather than presenting a solution, or a final word on this topic.

Publication Spotlight: Rab Houston

The past few months have seen a new blog post series, which focuses on the many and varied publications which have recently come out of this School of History. In this post, Prof Rab Houston explores the thought patterns and connections between his three most recent monographs.

My publications in recent years are linked to an interest I have had since I did my PhD: a fascination with the similarities and differences between the three historic realms that made up early modern Britain, as well as with the significance of regional differences within England, Wales, and Scotland. My other agenda over the last thirty something years has been to realise a version of British history that gives Scotland its proper place. What I have been trying to do is not simply to add Scottish experience to the main line of English history and so create a more comprehensive British perspective, but also to open up new questions and debates within British history, using Scotland as a starting point for comparison.

I published three books about different aspects of this agenda during 2014.

The first book, Bride Ales and Penny Weddings: Recreations, reciprocity, and regions in Britain from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, looks at a single cultural form: contributory weddings.

When I first started my career as an historian I came across Scottish penny weddings in my documents. Lively, open events where guests paid for their own entertainment and gave money to the couple, they evoked a strong sense of community. That provoked my curiosity and they have been in the back of my mind ever since. Then, when researching my last book, I found similar sorts of marriage celebration in both Wales and the north of England.

Penny weddings and their English and Welsh equivalents were occasions of hospitality, sociability, and reciprocity. Good spirits and abundant food and drink often made them boisterous events. Relatives, friends, and neighbours all attended, showing their approval of the couple and helping to establish them in life.

This book asks what a common celebration tells us about shared social values, in what I call Middle Britain – Lowland Scotland, the north of England, and Wales – and how these differed from the social and cultural norms of both the so-called ‘Celtic Fringe’ and the south of England.

Read more of this post

Publication Spotlight: Churchmen and Urban Government in Late Medieval Italy

Prof Frances Andrew’s edited volume, Churchmen and Urban Government in Late Medieval Italy, c.1200–c.1450: Cases and Contexts, is an attempt to understand an intriguing phenomenon. It explores, through a number of case studies, the employment of members of monastic communities in urban government. The focus is, in particular, on paid, fixed service. These men were not involved in council, or high politics. Instead they were engaged in lower level, but equally essential, work: they might be employed in the treasury, for example, oversee building works, or make sure that all the bread sold within a city was edible.

This phenomenon raises interesting questions. How did this relationship between religious communities and urban government work? Why did it work? The answers to these questions have the potential to break down the neat categories between religious and secular spheres which continue to dominate our understanding of the medieval world.

Frances came across this phenomenon in her work on the Humiliati, an order originally dominated by lay people who committed to a religious life. She knew that there was a close relationship between these brothers, the secular clergy (priests, bishops and deacons), and urban government. Indeed, the Humiliati were well known to have been engaged in communal offices. It was during a year-long fellowship in Florence, however, that she noticed that in late medieval Siena and Florence this was also very often the case for other regular clergy (i.e. monks, canons and friars). Bearing in mind the vast number of urban governments in central and northern Italy and the abundance of extant sources, it was at this point that it became clear that on her own it would take decades to get a real sense of how this relationship worked.

The project which arose from this realisation and resulted in Churchmen and Urban Government, began with a conference Frances organised in 2007, funded by the British Academy. This enabled her to bring speakers together from Italy, the US, and closer to home, to discuss relations between regular clergy and public life. This fed directly into the creation of a major research project, ‘Religion and Public Life in Late Medieval Italy’, which was supported by AHRC funding.

The collaborative nature of the work has proved to be especially fruitful. Not only has this approach enabled urban and religious historians to work together and benefit from one another’s approaches, but it has facilitated comparison across northern Italian cities, something which is still relatively unusual. The volume contains an essay on each of a sample of thirteen cities, building on the expertise of each scholar on ‘their’ city. In the second half of the volume experts on religious life then explore the reactions of particular monastic orders, including the Camaldolese and the Cistercians. Thus, Churchmen and Urban Government shows the great variety in the relationship of monks, friars and penitents with urban governments: in Milan, being a Cistercian monk might mean spending some of your time working for the city, in Turin it did not.

So, the big question: why did cities employ monks in this way? The classic interpretation, put forth by Richard Trexler in 1978, places a lot of emphasis on the role of trust. Hypothetically, a religious superior instructed a monk to go and work in the city. The city could therefore trust this monk, because of the bond of obedience which bound the monk and abbot.

Whilst Frances believes that trust and integrity did play a role, there were a number of other reasons why monks were engaged. They possessed technical skills, such as in book keeping and the production of registers. In addition, relationships of patronage between monasteries and certain powerful families seem to have led to the greater deployment of monks in these roles.

Perhaps most importantly, Churchmen and Urban Government highlights the importance of the political context in determining the deployment of regular clergy. It demonstrates that the initial idea of employing people from religious orders or penitential brethren was something associated with the popolo, that is, the anti-magnate group in cities, a factional body closely identified with papal politics. Whilst trust was involved, the illumination of these worldly factors begins to turn Trexler’s model on its head.

What comes next? This work is, in fact, just one part of a larger project, and Frances is currently working on the second volume: a monograph intended to build on the case studies. As well as this, Frances intends to continue looking further afield for other comparisons. Churchmen and Urban Government closed with three colleagues’ case-studies on areas outside Central and Northern Italy, covering Sardinia, the southern Regno under the Hohenstaufen and, in a deeply comparative mode, England. Next year she’ll be in the Netherlands, where she plans to examine Dutch material on urban government. Unlike northern Italy, it doesn’t seem as though regular orders were employed by Dutch cities. Frances will be asking why this was the case, and who was doing these jobs, if not the regular clergy.