Skip to content

How the hell…

16 December, 2011

…did anyone ever decide there were rules of charter construction? Given the eschatacols (eschatacoloi?) that I’ve been dealing with, one of several things seem to be happening:

People trying to follow formulae and rule-books but not getting the underlying principles

or

People deliberately being vague

or

People assuming that everybody knows who the people involved are, so you can stick their names any old where

or

People making shit up

Or some combination thereof.

I swear, if I had money, I’d go find myself a nice medieval studies institute and fund side-by-side facsimile/edited editions of every cartulary we can get our hands on.

Back to this later, because I have questions that are either good or incredibly stupid. Like, “Given a charter that reads,

Actum in X coram testibus inferius scriptis. [Name] qui hanc kartulam donationis fieri atque firmare rogavit. ✝ [Name] matris suae ✝[Name] filie eius consentientis ✝[Name]filiae eius consentientis ✝[Name] soror eius ✝[Name] ✝[Name] nepote suo ✝[Name] ✝[Name] ✝[Name] ✝[Name] ✝ ego [Name] rogatus scripsi et notavi diem et tempus quo supra

,

how do we decide where the witness list starts?” Right away after ‘scriptis’? doesn’t make sense. After the daughters? possibly, because giving consent is not the same as being a witness. So… with the sister? But she’s a woman, and they can’t witness. So it has to be after her. But she’s not giving consent, so why put her name down at all? Who’s the guy between her and the nephew? because it’s probably not his nephew. Probably the donor’s nephew. Because of the ‘relative importance and proximity’ rule.

More importantly, how did we decide how we should decide?

I’m ridiculously tired at the moment, but when I look at this stuff, it amazes me that any of us can say with confidence that our understanding of the parts these people played, and of how they understood the meaning of these documents, are anything like the same thing.

Edited/Update

In response to H.o.t.Edge’s comment that starting after ‘scripsit’ makes sense. Yes. Yes it does, sort of. That is, it makes sense that the part that we call the witness list is everything after that. And that’s how I’ve always read them. But here’s the sticking point: if it’s a witness list, doesn’t that imply that the people on it are witnesses?

Perhaps I’m overcomplicating, but this comes after reading through a bunch of papers — papers I’ve given, and no one has ever argued about it — where I mention people witnessing their own charters. Bzuh?? I had been saying this because their names are on the witness lists. But obviously, that’s not what they are doing. They are attesting, or confirming, or something. And what about people who are giving consent? Ok, they are also probably acting sort of as witnesses, but they are also releasing claims — signing off on the charter, if you will.

So my point is, I think, that “witness list” implies, or can imply “the people who actually witnessed the document.” In a legal sense, I think this should mean “people who can be called upon to testify that this charter represents a valid agreement.” My feeling from talking to people at conferences and from reading older Rechtsgeschichte stuff is that this is a common understanding.

But from a functional standpoint (and this is where my initial reading seems to agree with H.o.t.Edge’s), many of these lists seem to be “people who were there and saw this happen.” To me, this seems to get at a central interpretive issue. I’m having problems articulating it as clearly as I like, but it’s a theory/practice thing with many layers. It’s … sort of analogous to trying to explain to my students that you can have a patriarchal society even where women seem to have a huge amount of authority within their own homes. I need to think about this.

I’m not making any particular claims to originality here, either. But what I think is going on in my pea-sized brain is that this is an example of one of the areas that rests between an understanding based on laws and formularies and even the forms of charters on the one hand, and one based on all the theories of recording and constructing ritual/performance stuff on the other. And that space is filled with the sort of social and contextual negotiation that people do in real life, so we should be asking more about what it says.

Except that I’m not sure how to really formulate the questions in ways that we can give them real historians’ answers.

Or, possibly, I’m just embarrassing myself by rambling on when over-caffeinated and medicated and under-rested. In which case, just tell me to delete this 🙂

Advertisements
11 Comments leave one →
  1. 16 December, 2011 11:56 am

    I don’t understand why ‘all those after scriptis’ doesn’t make sense. It makes sense to me.

  2. 17 December, 2011 1:48 am

    My immediate thought is that you’re using modern evidentiary rules for witnessing. What if the lists were who was present and served as a basis for who could be called up to answer to it should there be problems? That could include all parties to the agreement and people who were not technically able to formally witness. And it might not. In other words, it allows for fuzzy boundaries, which is how I read it. My second thought was of boundary walking ( a bit later than your charters) where kids were brought along and hit over the head or otherwise impressed simply so that they would *remember*. The document is partly a memory aide, in other words. If I’m right (and I have no idea if I am or not) you really would have to look for patterns in large numbers of charters to work out relative status of women .

    • 17 December, 2011 5:40 am

      I think that’s exactly the problem, Gillian. It’s akin to what H.o.t.Edge is dealing wrt gifts: the implications of the word in current usage make it hard to find a way to convey what’s actually happening.

      i want to take it a step further though: if the boundaries are that fuzzy, then why?

      • 17 December, 2011 7:08 am

        The names are there because of the use to which th document is supposed to be put. You’ve aleady established that the names aren’t being used in a precisely modern way. I’d suggest three routes will lead to you what they *are* doing (and you’re already following these routes). The cultural context of the documents (the legal system, for instance, the status of people from other evidence), the use of the words surrounding the names (hermeneutics, really) and the pattern of names across a wide range of documents. Given that these are big issues maybe all you can do in this case is tease out the issues and break down previous assumptions. It’s rahter exciting, though.

  3. 19 December, 2011 1:45 am

    I swear, if I had money, I’d go find myself a nice medieval studies institute and fund side-by-side facsimile/edited editions of every cartulary we can get our hands on.

    The bad news from Catalonia is that that might not help. I could point you at a number of charters where the signatures are just all over the place, and the choice of what order they go in in edition, and indeed in cartulary, is more or less down to the copyist. No neat columns or lines like the Anglo-Saxon stuff! But that seems less likely with your area because it kind of presupposes autograph signatures which presumably would be rarer in Germany?

    More importantly, how did we decide how we should decide?

    Aye well there’s the rub. I’m conscious that I’m too prone to answer these kinds of questions by yelling “Rechtsgeschichte!” and running away without actually considering how that’s messed with people’s thinking.

    I mention people witnessing their own charters. Bzuh?? I had been saying this because their names are on the witness lists. But obviously, that’s not what they are doing. They are attesting, or confirming, or something.

    That Härtel book I’m reviewing because of that person who runs H-Net, you know the one, has this section described as a Rogatio and seems to think that in his Idealurkunde this is where the donors would sign to confirm and state that they’ve asked witnesses to confirm. And in the Catalan docs that’s pretty much what you’d get, “Ego ille qui hand dotationem feci et testes firmare rogavi“. I do think, though, that the categories of witness that you’re hitting against in the historiography here are over-schematised and it is exactly because of this tendency of the old historiography to try and reconstruct law from practice. I think the witness signatures one gets where the clause is hic presens fui are telling us the heart of what’s going on really. But the choice of such people is still really intriguing and under-studied.

    • 19 December, 2011 1:46 am

      s/hand/hanc, sorry.

    • 19 December, 2011 1:50 am

      So I suppose that my answer to your question is: I think the witness lists starts after rogavit because I don’t see how someone who’s asking for witnesses can himself be a witness, because that fits the documents I know most well and because the limited literature I know on this stuff backs up that idea. But I think that the donor’s signature is supposed to witness in a way, to witness that this document is in fact his correctly-expressed will. Are the others witnessing the document, the transfer or the investiture though? Can we even separate them?

  4. 20 December, 2011 3:36 pm

    I must be being very dim, here. That or there are many advantages in not being as well-read in the 2ndary literature as you all. Because it all seems straightforward to me.

    Actum in X coram testibus inferius scriptis. [Name] qui hanc kartulam donationis fieri atque firmare rogavit. ✝ [Name] matris suae ✝[Name] filie eius consentientis ✝[Name]filiae eius consentientis ✝[Name] soror eius ✝[Name] ✝[Name] nepote suo ✝[Name] ✝[Name] ✝[Name] ✝[Name] ✝ ego [Name] rogatus scripsi et notavi diem et tempus quo supra

    Enacted in X before the witnesses written below:
    N who asked for this donation to be made and confirmed
    N her mother
    N her daughter, agreeing
    N her son, agreeing
    N her sister
    N
    N her nephew
    N
    N
    N
    I, N, wrote this [having been] asked, and I noted the day and time as above.

    In my ignorance, I thought it was normal (as Dr J implies) for people to witness their own gifts – otherwise . well … couldn’t you argue it was a forgery?
    I wonder if the choice of witnesses is made according to the people with most to lose by this alienation (as the choice of relatives who receive reipus etc is in the PLS) and thence I wonder if it is land that descended in the female line (though I’m not sure why), or otherwise land that is not of the hereditas aviatica (in the words of Lex Ribvaria) – hence, on reflection the number of women in the list. Salic or Ripuarian Law might actually give a clue.

Trackbacks

  1. On Witnesses and Gifts — a very quick thought « Blogenspiel
  2. Conferring in Naples, II: papers in the p. m. « A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: