Charters, did you say?
Charters, did you say?
I’ve been thinking about my book project, which keeps getting pushed around for things like conference papers and now possibly an abstract for an extended version of my Leeds paper to see if it can be published. In many ways, this project, the paper/article, and the next project are all pretty closely linked, which is a good thing. Even better is that they don’t overlap too much, so I won’t be covering lots of the same ground over and over, and citing myself ad nauseam.
But I’m having to do a fairly heavy-duty re-think about the projects, largely because a knowledgeable manuscript person offered me tons of advice, but also some very public questions, about why I was wasting my time with an edited collection from the 19th C., and one that has its failings, when the larger cartulary from which this collection and another are drawn. Because, you see, apparently there are now facsimile mss available. And of course this sort of freaks me out, because I’m supposed to be a medievalist and all, and I am now senior faculty (although a junior member of senior faculty!), and I have never dealt with real manuscripts because … everybody uses this edition. It’s been pretty standard for lots of us for a very long time. And I have a sort of contract to work specifically with that bunch of documents. I think that will not be so much of a problem, in that I can add caveats about the documents and their edited version to the final product, and then people can go and check the mss in the cartulary if they choose.
But there is another issue. Much of what I work on depends on witness lists as much as anything else in the charters. I’m not, nor have I ever claimed to be, an expert in charters — just someone very familiar with this particular collection. And I’ve done a fair bit of reading in Personennamenkunde and Verfassungs- und Verwaltungsgeschichte, where witness lists are generally used as evidence. If I could (or better, if one of you could) remember, I could even cite a couple of places where I’ve read that witness lists are important, and that the order that the names appear is also important. Even without that, I’m pretty sure that’s something people agree on. But one of the things I didn’t know is that witness lists were often added at times and places other than where documents were drawn up. That’s awkward. But I’m also not sure how important it is. That is, even if the names were added later, the names were added for a reason, and so we can use the evidence for either what was true, or to show what someone intended, and maybe even what people were thought to have been important to a particular case. And this is one of the cases where going to the original (for values of original) ms and checking to see if the witness list was part of the original document makes a lot of sense.
A second question is whether or not people signed themselves or whether they made a mark next to their names, or whether their names were just listed by the scribe or notary. Again, at this remove, I’m not sure how important it is. I’d have to look at a charter with a witness list made up of signatures to see if they are all in different hands — but would I be able to tell? Also, is the lack of actual signatures evidence of anything other than local custom and/or a population that may not have written very much? Again, I’m not sure.
My final question is probably the toughest: my colleague claimed that in later versions of many cartularies, and probably mine, the compilers often discarded the witness lists on purpose. This may even have been especially true when the names of women appeared in the witness lists. Hmmm. First, I have a big bunch of charters, many of which have witness lists, and I have no way of knowing whether or not these documents ever had such an element. I think Wendy Davies said in her presentation (or someone at Leeds did) that often donations by people who weren’t all that important didn’t warren witness lists, because the stakes were pretty low and the power to prove a document was often weighed in favour of the receiving ecclesiastical institution. Now, many of these charters are definitely short and don’t have witness lists, and don’t list much in the way of donations. So I expect that we can make a reasonable assumption, other things being equal, that the donors were probably not all that important in the world of Carolingian politics.
Here’s the real clicker, though. If something doesn’t exist in many cases, does the lack of existence prove that documents were deliberately edited to remove the lists, or does it merely prove that there is a probably lack of evidence? And if we know that there is evidence missing, does it negate our ability to use the evidence we *do* have, as long as we use accepted forms of caveats to frame our conclusions? And where do things like notitia, when there are no supporting documents, fit in?
I’m just asking because these seem to be questions that are really important, and yet I am not sure they are so vital that we should all stop using specific source collections just because they are problematic, rather than false.
Oh. this was going to be longer, but I seem to have fallen asleep while writing. Carry on. I’ll be back to re-read this and edit later!