About jembenham

Medieval historian and football nut. Interested in war, peace, diplomacy and the legal history of England and Scandinavia.

The Language of Redress and the Transition from Conflict to Peace

Modern international law sets out that reparation should take the form, singly or in combination, of restitution (restoration of the situation which existed before the act was committed), compensation (reparation by equivalent), or satisfaction (‘an acknowledgment of the breach, an expression of regret, a formal apology or another appropriate modality’) (ILC Articles 2001, art. 34-7). Legal redress, in other words, is not just material but also symbolic. We know that this also applied to the Middle Ages, where the historiography has often been focused on the symbolic aspect with many good and well-known studies on deditio and penance by scholars such as Gerd Althoff, Hermann Kamp, Geoffrey Koziol, Rob Meens and Sarah Hamilton. Less ink has been spilt on this issue using the evidence from treaties, despite it being plentiful. As a start, I want to focus on the language of redress and the extent to which the evidence shows a differentiation between material and symbolic redress in the way the historiography seems to anticipate.

Some twelfth-century treaties seem to make a fairly clear distinction between the symbolic and material aspects of redress for wrongs. For instance, the Treaty of Toul, concluded in 1171, records how Frederick Barbarossa and Louis VII agreed that anyone employing mercenaries would be excommunicated until he had provided restitution according to an estimate of damage (‘ad probationem suam restituat’), and, additionally, had made fitting amends to his bishop (‘dignam faciat emendationem’). This difference in the language of redress is retained in the next line of the treaty stating that the archbishops, bishops and lords would march in arms against the wrongdoer and ravage his land until he had provided restitution (‘fuerit restitutum’) and made fitting amends (‘digne fuerit emendatum’) to the lord of the land. In both lines, the first phrasing more clearly refers to material reparations while the second plausibly referred to the symbolic aspect, with that made to the bishop meaning penance while that to the secular lord indicating deditio or one of the many other forms of providing symbolic redress including homage, fealty, clasping of hands or giving/exchanging the kiss of peace. Having said this, we know from the work of Henriette Benviste that at a local level, emendare/emendatio could be used to indicate a fine, paid to the lord or bishop, in addition to the compensation paid to a victim. It is possible that this might also have been the meaning in this treaty. Nevertheless, the last line in this section of the treaty seems to make clear that what was meant was symbolic rather than material redress when it states that he who has taken these brigands into his service cannot judge or swear in any court or in any dispute, until he has provided satisfaction for that which he has caused (‘rem emendaverit’). The use of emendare rather than restituere here shows that it was the public gesture of acknowledging the wrong which would transition a wrongdoer from conflict to peace, enabling him to be received back into the Christian community and resume his full societal duties and rights.

That the expectations in the Treaty of Toul reflect actual practice after conflict is clear. For instance, the Treaty of Milan (1158), concluded after a siege, refer both to the money the Milanese promised to pay the Emperor Frederick I in reparation for damages (‘pro emendatione iniuriarum’), and that the Emperor by the terms of the treaty received the city back into his favour (‘in gratiam suam recipiet’) and publicly absolved the citizens from the ban (‘publice a banno absolvet’) (The Deeds of Frederick Barbarossa, tr. C. C. Mierow, pp. 221-3). Similarly, in July 1189, having suffered catastrophic defeat, the English king Henry II renewed his homage to the French king (‘rex Anglie iterum fecit homagium regi Francie’), restoring Philip as his lord (‘quia ipse…reddiderat regem Francie dominum suum’), and agreed to pay him 20,000 marks of silver (‘Et rex Anglie dabit regi Franci viginti millia marcarum argenti’) (Howden, Gesta, ii, 70).

Solidus of Prince Sikenolf of Salerno

In the Treaty of Toul the language of redress then seems to make a distinction between symbolic and material redress, and this seemingly reflected actual practices. However, many treaties use less precise language of redress and in some treaties the language of redress had a slightly different legal (and procedural) context. For instance, the Partition of Benevento, concluded between two Lombard princes in southern Italy in the mid-ninth century, has a clause stipulating that those of Prince Radelchis’ men who had committed homicide in the part belonging to Prince Sikenolf would be handed over to the latter. If they were unwilling to give satisfaction (‘si satisfacere non fuerint ausae’), they would pay (‘componam’) Sikenolf three thousand gold byzants for ‘nobilibus’ and for ‘rusticis’ they would ‘pay according to the law (fiat compositio secundum legem).’ That the latter part of this clause referred to material redress is evident, but the ‘satisfaction’ in the first part of the sentence may at first glance appear to refer to more symbolic redress. This is, for instance, how scholars dealing with dispute resolution at the lower levels of society have frequently viewed this particular word and its derivatives. A careful reading, however, reveals that the expectation here was that if the person killed was ‘nobilibus’ satisfaction would be made with three people (‘satisfaciant illud tres personae’), whosoever Sikenolf would choose, and if the killed was ‘rusticis’, with three people from the location where the killing had taken place (‘tres personae de ipso loco, ubi homicidum fuit perpetratu’). This is unlikely to refer to making satisfaction in the sense of symbolic or material redress for committing a wrongful act, but rather it refers to the procedure of defending the accusation of having committed a wrong. In other words, the treaty anticipated that anyone accused of homicide would defend themselves with three compurgators, and if they could not, or dared not, then material redress would be made. Using the word satisfacere in this sense clearly follows usage in the Lombard laws, where, as an example, ‘satisfaciat ad Evangelia’ referred to offering an oath on the Gospels (The Laws of King Liutprand, c. 43).

Clearly then, while satisfaction has long been acknowledged as an important feature of symbolic redress at different levels of medieval society, the Partition of Benevento shows that it is difficult to use the language and terminology in treaties to make a distinction between material and symbolic redress. Perhaps more importantly, the evidence from treaties and the language of redress show that the distinction between material and symbolic redress – frequently espoused in the historiography as the difference between the ‘ritual’ and ‘legal’ aspects of conflict resolution – is artificial. Both formed an essential part of the process of how individuals and communities transitioned from conflict to peace and can be seen in a much wider context of what has become known as transitional justice in the modern period.

More on that anon.


Redress and amnesty clauses in early medieval treaties

In the medieval period, nearly every treaty sets out some sort of framework whereby redress would be made for damages, injuries and losses incurred during or as a result of violence or conflict, either that which had already taken place or that which might occur in the future. However, that there was an expectation that redress for legal wrongs could be sought is perhaps most evident from those times that treaties did not set this out. Clauses that wiped the slate clean, as it were – stipulating that all violence, damage and injury done by one party to another during conflict would be forgotten – are known as amnesty clauses, and have become a hotly debated topic in the contemporary world because they can pit different sources of international law against each other. For instance, amnesty clauses in treaties suspending legal proceedings against individuals, such as military leaders, for crimes which might otherwise be sought under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Randall Lesaffer has argued that such clauses can be seen from the twelfth century onwards and became particularly common during the Early Modern period. Yet, one of the best examples of a medieval treaty with an amnesty clause can be found in the tenth century in the reign of Æthelred II.

The treaty, concluded in 994 with three viking leaders and their army, often counted as the second of the king’s laws and therefore known as II Æthelred, decrees that ‘all the slaughter and all the harrying and all the injuries which were committed before the peace was established, all of them are to be dismissed, and no one is to avenge it or ask for compensation’ (II Æthelred, c. 6.1: ‘Æt eallum slyht 7 æt ealre ðære hergunge 7 æt eallum ðam hearmum, ðe ær ðam gedon wære, ær ðæt frið geset wære, man eall onweig læte 7 nan man þæt ne rece ne bote ne bidde.’; Engl. translation in English Historical Documents. Vol. 1, ed. D. Whitelock (London, 1979, repr. 2004), 401). With this clause then, Æthelred and the three leaders of the army denied their subjects the right to claim compensation for any damage incurred during the conflict.

There are a host of similar clauses in other treaties from the period 700-1200. For instance, the first clause of the second Treaty of Meerssen, concluded in 851 between the three royal brothers Lothar I, Louis (‘the German’) and Charles (‘the Bald’) sets out: ‘That between us we blot out (‘abolitio’) the evildoing that existed before, and all perpetrators of discords and of rebellions and evil plottings and injurious acts against each other’ (Treaty of Meerssen (851), c. 1; Engl. translation in The Annals of St-Bertin, ed. J. L. Nelson (Manchester, 1991), p. 70).

The Treaty of Adrianople, concluded between the two emperors Frederick I and Isaac II Angelos in February 1190 during Frederick’s crusade to the Holy Land, similarly stipulated that ‘the Emperor of Constantinople willingly remitted (‘voluntarie pureque remisit’) in full all claims for damages with regard to the theft of property, the destruction of towns, the deaths of men and every [other] injury unexpectedly inflicted upon him’ (Treaty of Adrianople, c. 1; Engl. translation in The Crusade of Frederick Barbarossa. The History of the Expedition of the Emperor Frederick and Related Texts, tr. G. A. Loud (Farnham, 2010), p. 90). The 1201 treaty between Llywelyn, prince of Gwynedd (north Wales), and the representatives of King John likewise set out that the king would pardon (‘condonabit’) all offences (‘forisfacta’) committed before the peace was concluded (The Acts of Welsh Rulers 1120-1283, ed. Huw Pryce (Cardiff, 2005), no. 221, c. 4). One of the things that the terminology of these amnesty clauses indicate is that the focus was, as noted also by Lesaffer for the later period, on forgiving and forgetting – concepts that by themselves were forms of symbolic redress.

Redress for legal wrongs could be a particularly tricky issue in conflicts which we might think of as civil wars or those which had no clear winner, and it is no coincidence that we more frequently meet amnesty clauses in treaties concluded in such contexts. Both the Treaty of Meerssen and that between King Æthelred and the three viking leaders are examples of this. One reason why amnesty clauses more frequently occur in such contexts is that redress for legal wrongs was often a divisive, if crucial, issue in transitioning from conflict to peace. Indeed, failure to obtain redress could be a conflict driver in that it provided an obvious justification for future conflicts. That this, coupled with lots of young men whose training and function in life was martial, was a recognised danger is evident from the fact that there are examples of attempts to maintain peace and to divert hostility and violence away from the focal point and location of dissatisfaction with compensation. One of the best examples of this can be found in Norway in the midst of what is known as the civil wars period, stretching from 1130 to 1240. The contemporary Baglar saga describes how, in 1208, a reconciliation was effected and the Norwegian kingdom divided into three between the two rival kings Philip and Inge, and the latter’s right-hand man, Håkon – likely the real power broker in the proceedings. However, the author of the Baglarsaga reports that their supporters were unhappy, because many had been left without money or property. The solution, the men agreed, would be to raid the Orkneys and the Scottish isles to recuperate some of the losses incurred from the partition. The year after, in the summer of 1209, some men from both sides duly took twelve ships and set sail for the joint raid. The plan may have been a good one, but it soon went awry. According to the author of the saga, the men disagreed, were beaten soundly, and returned to Norway in disarray, only to be severely chastised by the bishops for their raiding and violence (Magerøy 1988, 117-20).

Amnesty clauses are interesting for lots of reasons. Perhaps most specifically because they have been very hotly debated from the later medieval period onwards and tell us something important about both ‘just’ and ‘legal’ war theories, yet appear frequently in treaties in a period before the development of these theories. Exactly what this might tell us about the existence of international law before 1200, I am still thinking about!



How Many Texts in a Medieval Treaty?

This is not a trick question. As some of you will know, I am currently finalising the manuscript for my second monograph, Law, Treaties and International Relations, c.700-1200, and I have been pondering for a while whether I am using the modern English word ‘treaty’ in a misleading way if what I am actually talking about has more than a single text.

The majority of treaties from the earlier medieval period have no surviving text at all: just in the few sources I have investigated there are more than 600 such instances between 700 and 1200. Then there are those instances where there is a text preserved as a single document, which can take lots of different forms: oaths, laws, partitions, notifications and so on. In a few cases, however, historians of diplomacy have seemingly hit the jackpot and find that there are several documents recording not different versions but rather different aspects of the same agreement.

Louis the German’s oath in the Treaty of Koblenz, 860, from BNF, MS Lat. 9654, f. 81.

One example of this is the Treaty of Koblenz, concluded in 860 between Charles the Bald (k. of west Frankia), Louis the German (k. of East Frankia) and Lothar II (k. of the middle Frankish kingdom later known as Lotharingia). This particular treaty seems to have had five parts – the oath of Louis the German, a short adnuntiatio (announcement) of the peace by Charles the Bald, a longer announcement by Louis the German, and the terms of the agreement. The originals of these various parts do not survive but there are early (by which I mean pre-twelfth century) copies, for instance in the large tenth- or eleventh-century collection of legal materials MS Lat. 9654 preserved at the BNF, Paris (for a good description of content, see http://capitularia.uni-koeln.de/en/mss/paris-bn-lat-9654/). Only very late manuscripts, such as the Vatican Library’s MS Lat. 4982, preserves all five parts of the treaty, with earlier ones often only preserving one or two. For instance, MS Lat. 9654 records only the twelve clauses of the agreement, the witness list, and the oath of Louis the German, while manuscripts containing the treaty as recorded in the Annals of Fulda preserve only the oath of Louis the German.

Announcement of peace concluded at Koblenz by Charles the Bald from MS Vat. Lat. 4982, f. 122.

A number of other ninth-century treaties also had several parts, including the Treaty of Meersen (851), which has the terms of the agreement as well as the announcements of all three parties, and likely also the Pactum Sicardi (836), for which only the terms of the agreement has come down to us but with the headings indicating that oaths once accompanied them. By the time we get into the twelfth century, we usually only see combination of documents for a single treaty in Italy, e.g. in treaties with the Italian city states. Elsewhere, the various parts are often, but not always, compacted into a single document – a treaty, more akin to the modern sense of the word. The fact that there can be several parts, and/or several documents, to a treaty raises lots of questions: What was a treaty in the period 700-1200? Were some treaties, now surviving only as oaths or as lists of terms and conditions, once part of a bigger whole? How were treaties recorded, announced and/or preserved? And many, many more.

Of course, the basic premise of any treaty is the fundamental principle of pacta sunt servanda (‘agreements must be kept’), that an oath properly demanded and properly taken was binding, in whatever form the sworn agreement had been prepared and published. This presents a very practical problem when writing about some of these medieval treaties because when referring to “Treaty XYZ” which has, say, three parts recorded in two different sources, how can I convey to the reader which part(s) I am actually talking about? And what about if two of these parts have clearly discernible clauses and c. 3 of the “Treaty XYZ” could indicate either of these parts or both? I am so confused ☹ And if I am confused, imagine the person eventually reading the book, who has not been working with these documents for years.

Clearly, I cannot resolve all questions surrounding this issue in the book I am currently writing but it has made me pause and think again about the process of translating and editing these treaties, the manuscripts which preserve them, and the textual links between treaties of different geographical regions. Perhaps I’ll attempt the answers more fully in book number three…(Shhh, don’t tell my family!)

The Imprisonment of Erling Steinveggr: a Case Study of Exile

One of the best things about doing research is finding pieces of evidence in the most unexpected places. I am back in Norway working on the Nordic Civil Wars project, thinking about how conflicts were resolved; what worked and what did not. As part of this, I have been reading Baglarsaga – chronicling the earliest years of the thirteenth century in Norway – looking for evidence of peace agreements. It was not the place I would expect to find any evidence for my forthcoming book on international law, but only two pages in, I realised I had struck gold.

One of the versions of Baglarsaga has a story about how King Sverre of Norway (r. 1177-1202) found out that there was a man in Denmark who was calling himself Erling, son of the previous King Magnus V Erlingsson (r. 1161-84), who, at one point, had been Sverre’s main rival for the Norwegian throne. Upon hearing this, and obviously realising that a son of his rival was a significant threat to his own position, Sverre sent men to Denmark to look for Erling, who promptly fled to the province of Göta in the kingdom of Sweden. Sverre then sent a letter to the Swedish king, Knut Eriksson, to whom he was related by marriage, and told him that ‘there was a man in his realm, who was calling himself a son of King Magnus, and who likely wanted to cause ‘ofrið’ (lit. unpeace) in Norway.’ As soon as King Knut heard this, he sent men to look for Erling and put him in the stone tower in the fortress of Näs on Visingsö – an island in lake Vättern – where he remained for a while (Bǫglunga sǫgur (1988), 2: 12).

The reason why this is of interest to me in writing about international law in the period up to c. 1200 is, as explained here many times before, that expulsion of individuals who were deemed dangerous in some way or another, and how these were tracked and chased across different political entities, is one of the best ways to see that international law was practised on a daily basis in the medieval period. Containing the movements of these people was of significant concern to rulers and, in many ways, was an extension of what can be seen in domestic laws from across the medieval West. We know something about how this was attempted because several treaties set out that neither side was to receive the men of the other without some form of identification that they came on legitimate business. Lists of ‘undesirable’ individuals were kept (e.g. Treaty of Falaise 1174), and we know that in certain contexts such lists were exchanged with the other side (e.g. Treaty of Colombiers 1189). We know that rulers could also intervene directly to canvass for the return of men who had been expelled, or to ask for them to be kept away. For instance, an eighth-century letter of Charlemagne to the Archbishop of Canterbury outlines the fate of Mercian exiles, asking the archbishop to intercede with the Mercian king, Offa, on their behalf so that ‘they may be allowed to return to their native land in peace and without unjust oppression of any kind’ (EHD I, no. 197).

The fortress of Näs, surrounded on three sides by water

The story in Baglarsaga evidently fits this wider context, showing how rulers could, and did, take action on this tricky issue. Of particular interest to me personally, is the imprisonment of Erling on Visingsö. I had the opportunity to visit the island in 2016 and can confirm that it lives up to its billing as the island of kings and legends. The fortress of Näs, on the southern tip of the island, was the seat of the twelfth- and thirteenth-century kings of Sweden, and presumably intended as a location that provided great security – though ironically King Karl Sverkersson was killed there in 1167. Little of the fortress survives now, having crumbled into the sea over the centuries, but if its location is any indication, King Knut seemingly felt that Sverre’s request to apprehend and keep Erling was of some significance. The pragmatist in me, of course, wants to argue that the fact that Erling was kept alive, indicates that Knut felt that this was a good chess piece to have and to play if the opportunity arose. More importantly, for the saga author at least, while the stone tower at Näs might have been impregnable, it was, nonetheless, one from which a man could escape. This, Erling promptly did, with the help of the woman who had been feeding him, and he subsequently acquired the byname ‘Steinveggr’ (lit. stone wall) as a commemoration(!) of his incarceration.

Iron-age graves on Visingsö

Exactly what happened to Erling afterwards is disputed among the sagas, and even among the different versions of the same saga – likely the author(s) didn’t know. Nevertheless, the story has provided me with a great case study and reminded me about that beautiful summer day when I may (or may not) have fallen off my bicycle on a completely straight bit of road going towards Näs, because I was watching the surrounding scenery with iron-age graves, straight oak trees, and stunning views of the lake…

Out on a limb: International law in the earlier Middle Ages

I’m a bit nervous. Next week I’m presenting a piece from my forthcoming book at the ‘Law and Legal Agreements’ conference in Cambridge, organised by the Voices of Law international network. I will contend that there was a notion of international law in the earlier Middle Ages. It will be the first time I am presenting this idea in some detail and I know from talking to people about my research, that the idea will be contentious both in terms of theoretical framework and in terms of the evidence used.

No, I won’t discuss the meaning of the word ‘international’ or the supposed ‘universality’ of international law, nor the difficulty of applying these concepts to the medieval period. And, I won’t talk about the revival of Roman law and the contribution of Canon law to this topic either, nor about the fact that any assumption that there was no international law in the medieval period is currently not based on an examination of the two most important sources for it: treaties and custom. I feel like I’ve done that already and have nothing to add to anything I previously said!

Instead, I am following the very simple formula of Martin Dixon in his Textbook on International Law that ‘the most cogent argument for the existence of international law as a system of law is that members of the international community recognise that there exists a body of rules binding upon them as law’, and that the evidence of this can be seen through (1) its regular practise, (2) through the justification of action, and (3) through the fact that the majority of international legal rules are consistently obeyed (Dixon 2013: 4). My evidence is those treaties – or legal agreements – produced in the period c. 700 to c. 1200, as well as descriptions of customs, and their links to domestic laws and practices.

It will come as no surprise to many that I argue that one of the best ways to see (1) in the medieval period is to look at the practices surrounding displacement of people and in particular expulsion – exile, banishment, outlawry or whatever we want to call it. The expulsion of individuals who had committed reprehensible acts was one of the ways in which medieval rulers and communities dealt with law and order. As an alternative to corporal punishment, such as mutilation or death, expulsion from a political entity – whether we view this as a city, region or kingdom – was reserved for the most serious offences; those which could not be atoned for with compensation. However, while expulsion was intended to ensure law and order on a domestic level, it could result in becoming a threat to peace and security on an ‘international’ level. Primarily this was because, once expelled, such individuals often committed further reprehensible acts and/or engaged in conflict against the entity from whence they had come. The provisions for dealing with this threat in treaties, in customs, and in domestic laws and practices, show a more co-ordinated and systematic approach than medieval scholars have perhaps appreciated in the past. One could, and I will, argue similarly for other provisions, and, in my paper, I will use those for arbitration and trade to show some of the possibilities for (2) and (3).

In short, I will argue that as there were no nation states in medieval Europe, it is inevitable that traditional views of state-centred international law and institutions must give way to a different model – the one I’m presenting – which recognises the plurality of law and that the locus of political and legal power in the Middle Ages was multi-layered.

I hope to see some of you in Cambridge next week, prepared, as a very good friend and colleague told me today, with those awkward questions I often target at others. Well, I am not averse to taking risks and simply throwing myself down that ski slope that turned out to be off-piste or riding on that roller coaster that got stuck at the top for hours. Bring it on!

A Model Murder during the Nordic Civil Wars

This is greetings from Oslo! I am spending some time as a fellow at the Centre for Advanced Studies in Oslo, working on the Nordic Civil Wars project. One of the main reasons for being here in Oslo is that I am writing a chapter on the concept of ‘state’, its expectations and functions during times of civil wars. However, researching this topic has inevitably thrown up plenty of other intriguing pieces of evidence that I am also pursuing as part of the project.

One such unexpected finding relates to the killing of King Harald Gille in 1136 by his half-brother and rival for the Norwegian throne, Sigurd Slembe. The account in one of the kings’ sagas known as Morkinskinna, composed c. 1220, goes something like this:  Having discovered that Harald was staying the night with his mistress ‘Sigurd went to the lodging where the king was sleeping, and they began by first killing the guards and breaking down the door. Then they entered with swords drawn. The king had gone to bed after heavy drinking and was fast asleep. He awoke only as they attacked him…There King Harald lost his life…After that Sigurd and his men left. He summoned the men who had promised to support him if King Harald was killed. They took a ship, had the oars manned, and rowed out across the bay past the king’s residence. It was then beginning to dawn. Sigurd stood up and spoke to the men on the quay, identifying himself as Harald’s killer. He asked that they accept him as their chieftain, as his birth entitled him to be. Then large numbers arrived from the king’s residence, and they were all in agreement. They said that they would never serve a man who had murdered his brother…They all proclaimed that the killers should be outlawed and subject to death. Then the king’s trumpet was sounded, and all the district chieftains and retainers were assembled. Sigurd and his men saw that their only chance was to depart’ (Adapted from Morkinskinna, tr. T. M. Andersson and K. E. Gade (Cornell University Press, 2000), pp. 371-2).

There are lots of things in this account that is of interest. For me – no surprises – the description of an unemendable crime and the outlawing of the perpetrator was what originally caught my eye. The description in Morkinskinna has all the hallmarks of a more formal, legalised, process, with emphasis on certain elements – the breaking into the chamber, the witnesses, the consultation and agremeent, and the judgment of outlawry. The account clearly deals with the crime of treason – a hotly debated topic in twelfth- and thirteenth-century Europe and characterised in works such as John of Salisbury’s Policraticus (VI:24), following the Digest of the Emperor Justinian. But despite these exciting features, my question after reading the account in Morkinskinna, and remembering a similar description in one of the eighth-century entries of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (ASC), which I use in one of my third-year lectures as an example of how to become king in the early Anglo-Saxon period, leaned more towards: Did the Icelander writing the saga have access to the ASC?

The short answer is ‘no’. Or, not that we know of anyway. The accounts are not exactly the same, but at the core there are some very close similarities, suggesting the use of a textual model. I will be exploring some of the possibilities and problems of the origins of the account in Morkinskinna in a forthcoming paper to be given to the Graduate seminar at the Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, Cambridge on Monday 6 November. Hope to see you there!

Developing a Theoretical Framework for Medieval Diplomacy

I am suffering from research insomnia. You know, that condition that afflicts all academics once they have had enough time and space in their minds to recover from a long term and to start thinking about all those research projects they’ve been neglecting. In my case, it is coinciding with something I have been pondering for a while: how to establish the right theoretical framework for my next monograph.

The outline for the book – Law, Treaties and International Relations, 700-c.1250 – I have had for a while and have been writing chapters towards it. The main thrust up to this point has been on thinking about international law; what it is and what the possibilities and problems are for the early medieval period. However, I have had a sense for a while that I was not quite getting to the bottom of things and in the last few weeks have started working on a slightly different theoretical model that will better bring out the legal aspects of the book by focusing on known issues within diplomacy and international relations: security, displacement of people, deterrence, transitional justice and so on.

I know that this modern take on medieval diplomacy will be unpopular with many early medievalists but I think it is important to re-align the historiography on pre-modern diplomacy with its more modern counterparts for several reasons. As John Watkins noted in 2008: ‘Much IR theory may first seem irrelevant to a discussion of premodern diplomatic configurations because of its grounding in relationships between modern nation-states. But scholars writing on anything from strategic negotiations and treaty-making to the cultural impact of shifting political configurations in the premodern period could benefit from reading bodies of IR theory that explicitly challenge the state-based assumptions currently dominating the field, such as transnationalism, postinternationalism, Robert Keohane and Jospeh Nye’s complex interdependence theory, constitutive theory, and Krasner’s international regime theory’ (John Watkins, ‘Toward a New Diplomatic History of Medieval and Early Modern Europe’, Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, 38 (2008), p. 5)

Furthermore, currently scholars of pre-modern and modern diplomacy are often talking past each other because of the different vocabularies and terminology used to express that scholarship. For instance, medieval historians rarely discuss exile and outlawry within the context of displacement of people and its link to the crime-conflict nexus – both of which are well-known issues in IR studies. This has resulted in some curious gaps in the historiography, with most text books and longer surveys of diplomacy, international relations and international law giving the Middle Ages the heave-ho despite the fact that there are scholars working on aspects of these topics. One of the most recent examples I came across was piracy – a known threat to contemporary international shipping. Reading some of the literature on this topic, one would think that counter- and anti-piracy was a 21st-century phenomenon, even though scholars working on the Vikings, Slavs or on fourteenth-century piracy might disagree once they saw the practices that underpin these two concepts.

Adopting a more modern vocabulary and theoretical model does not mean abandoning that fundamental principle of questioning the medieval evidence or taking the evidence out of its immediate context. Yes, I frequently get asked about this. Having embarked upon this new direction for the book, it is still the case that it will be based on the evidence from medieval treaties or descriptions thereof. In fact, it is that evidence that is leading me to frame the content of the study in IR theory. If I was to discuss, say, exiles, arbitration, or compensation without this theoretical framework, I would be missing a significant point about where this material sits in our history. Most importantly, related fields within medieval history, such as violence and conflict, have gone through a similar progression of wider interdisciplinary and theoretical analysis.

To test the waters before embarking completely on producing the monograph, I am just putting the final touches to an article on ‘Peace, Security and Deterrence’ for Walter P. Simons’ collection of essays in A Cultural History of Peace in the Medieval Age. I guess this means research insomnia might continue for another week or so.

Princess Alys of France: a Twelfth-Century Patty Hearst?

A second instalment from students on my MA module ‘Medieval Diplomacy’. Hayley Bassett grapples with sexual exploitation of female hostages.

6 January 1169: King Henry II of England and King Louis VII of France ratified the Treaty of Montmirail, in an attempt to settle their long-running territorial disputes in France. Henry agreed to divide his lands between his sons with Henry the Young King receiving the kingdom of England, Duchy of Normandy and County of Anjou. Richard would receive his mother’s Duchy of Aquitaine and become betrothed to Louis’ daughter Alys and Geoffrey would receive the Duchy of Brittany upon his marriage to its heir Constance (there is no mention of the infant John at this time). At the age of nine Alys was sent to the English court as Henry’s ward in preparation for her future wedding to Richard. There is nothing unusual in these arrangements, the Empress Matilda, daughter of King Henry I, moved to the German court aged eight upon her betrothal to Henry V Holy Roman Emperor in 1110. The main issue of contention here was the absence of a wedding between the engaged couple which culminated in Alys being returned to the French court in 1195, still unmarried some twenty six years later.

Alys’ time in the Angevin court is poorly documented but embellished with scandal; most commonly she is depicted as Henry’s mistress prompting Richard to reject his father’s “conquest” as wife. The “real” Alys presents historians with a challenge but there are similarities to be drawn between her and later women in, if not identical, then certainly comparable circumstances. One such twentieth century example is Patty Hearst, granddaughter of US politician and media mogul William Randolph Hearst. In 1974, 19-year-old Patty was violently kidnapped from her apartment in Berkeley, California, and held hostage for two years during which time she was repeatedly physically, emotionally and sexually assaulted by an organisation calling itself the Symbionese Liberation Army.

Patty’s time as a hostage is well documented; her family’s position in US society and her assimilation by the SLA guaranteed large scale media attention and it’s that transparency which allows parallels to be drawn with Alys. Alys position at Henry’s court offered her little security; she awaited a marriage and a bridegroom that, although promised, never came and was locked into an arrangement beyond her control, which neither her father nor Pope Alexander could force Henry to conclude. This position of abject helplessness also applied to Patty, when it became clear whatever action her family took to secure her release would not be sufficient for her kidnappers to release their “prisoner of war”. In her trial defence Patty insisted that the unrelenting physical and psychological pressure of her situation made her agree to anything, culminating in her public declaration of support for the SLA and participation in criminal activity (Nancy Isenberg, “Will the Real Patty Hearst Please Stand Up”, in Historic U.S. Court Cases: An Encyclopedia, Volume 1, ed. John W. Johnson (New York, 2001), 142). Likewise for Alys, she had no bargaining power at the Angevin Court and self-preservation was her only option for survival, in whatever form that took.

For both women sexual exploitation was a factor in their confinement and was a weapon employed by the media of their respective time to denigrate them. Patty claimed she was consistently raped by William Wolfe whilst the SLA orchestrated the image of a “love affair” between them for the world’s media, who swallowed that interpretation. Similarly, Richard of Devizes and Roger of Howden, as well as the more scandalising Gerald of Wales, refer to Henry seducing Alys sometime around 1177, whereas a more accurate portrayal would suggest a powerful authority figure pressurising a dependent into a sexual encounter (Roger of Howden, Gesta, ii, 160. Richard of Devizes, Chronicon, 26. Gerald of Wales, Opera, viii: 232) For both women there would seem to be no choice in the matter and little prospect of protection from a third party. Alys and Patty did what they had to do in a difficult situation and whilst they might be divided by eight hundred years, they are testament to their own ability to endure difficult circumstances.

The king on his knees – Demonstrating humility and penance in international relations

Students on my MA module ‘Medieval Diplomacy’ have again been working on drawing comparisons between modern and medieval diplomatic practices. Here, a first example from Hanna Nüllen.

The picture of then German chancellor Willy Brandt dropping to his knees in front of the Warsaw Ghetto memorial on 7 December 1970 is often counted among the most powerful images of post-war Germany. To this day, articles dealing with this gesture are published in regular newspapers and the photograph can be found in many German schoolbooks. The intention behind this genuflection is still debated and while many see it as a simple demonstration of Brandt’s personal feelings on the matter of the atrocities committed by the Nazi Regime, some suggest, that his motives might have been more complex. At the time Brandt was in the middle of signing a treaty with Poland and later described his genuflection as a reaction to the overwhelming weight of history.

Whatever his intentions, Brandt was not the first person who might have tried to make political and diplomatic gains out of a gesture of humility and penance. We find many instances of kings and other rulers publicly showing their humility throughout the Middle Ages not only as a demonstration of their kingly virtues but also to influence the outcome of negotiations or to regain their position. One such example is Louis the Pious, who publicly paid penance twice, in 822 and in 833, in order to maintain his position as the king of Frankia, which was beginning to fall apart. In contrast to Willy Brandt, who silently dropped to his knees as an acknowledgment of the crimes committed by Nazi Germany, Louis confessed to long lists of personal wrongdoings. While his circumstances were vastly different to those of Willy Brandt, in both cases the influence their gesture might have had on their and their people’s future is discussed in much the same way. Hence, even though showing humility is sometimes perceived to be a sign of weakness, it can often work to strengthen one’s position.

What does that word mean, really?

All medieval historians engage with translation in some way to do research; whether it is simply to read primary sources or secondary literature, to write up research based on variations in translation, to edit translations already made, or to create new translations. Medievalists spend years honing their translation skills and I think it would be fair to say that translating, in its various forms, is one of the hardest parts of my job, not only because it requires significant skills but because it demands space in time and in mind – the two commodities hardest to juggle in my role as a lecturer in a busy history department.

'Oh great, this book's in cow.'

‘Oh great, this book’s in cow.’

My own experience with translation clearly began before I decided to go into research. As most of you will know, I’m a non-native speaker of English and this means that I continuously engage with translation by copying, editing and thinking about the way native speakers use English in speech and in writing. It has often been a process of trial and error – really, lots of errors (so many horror stories that are not suitable to write about here!). Nevertheless, by the time I started my postgraduate studies, this process had left me fairly confident that I could tackle any text with a good dictionary and patience. For several years, I felt that this worked like a charm – mostly – until my research took me in new directions and I had to make completely new translations of the sources I was working with. Honestly, my postgraduate training and a PhD had not prepared me for this. Even small practical things like whether to indicate variations in spellings in the word document using square or round brackets or footnotes became a matter to ponder for days, weeks and months. And, the more translations I did, the less I felt I knew.translation-is-a-puzzle It has resulted in me becoming more pedantic about words and phrases in general and those students and colleagues who know me well, can attest, with great exasperation, to the fact that I start almost every question or objection with “but what does that word mean in practice?”

Next week I, together with the Leverhulme-funded international network ‘Voices of Law: Language, Text and Practice’, will be hosting a postgraduate workshop on editing, translating and using medieval documents. I will be sharing some of the basic problems of translating (yes, maybe I’ll divulge some of those horror stories too), focusing on problems relating to purpose, time, knowing too much/too little, and logistics. I’ll be joined at the workshop by some more experienced colleagues from Cambridge, Copenhagen, Glasgow, and the Frisian Academy, who also grapple with translations. Afterwards, the papers from the workshop will be made available in an online booklet, which will, hopefully, provide postgraduates with some useful guidance on this topic.