Monday, 3 March 2008

The Normans in Normandy: Recent Historiography 1

The millennium of the reforms begun by William of Volpiano in the early years of the eleventh century provided an opportunity to reappraise the place held by the monastery of Fécamp in the creation of materials from which historians have been able to reconstruct the history of the duchy of Normandy from the earliest stages of its development. The monastery at Fécamp was the centre of a revival of written materials in the eleventh century. One expression of this is the foundation charter of the collegiate church at Fécamp in 990. It is also important to remember that the oldest ducal known was granted during the reign of Richard II in favour of the abbey of Fécamp dated 30th May 1006 and preserved in the Musée de la Bénédictine[1]. Meanwhile, from the end of the tenth century, the basis of a historiographical tradition appears to have been established at Fécamp. This material considers the renaissance of research on Normandy between the tenth and thirteenth century that has occurred in recent years and especially since 1990. An overview of this period and some of the historiographical developments can be found in two recent works[2].

Looking again at the chronicles

One of the most fertile areas in recent research has without doubt been a re-evaluation of the historiography of the ducal period in Normandy. The recent studies by Leah Shopkow[3], Elisabeth Van Houts[4] and Emily Albu[5] each illustrate the importance of new interpretations of the sources, the necessity of examining both their function and significance in the history of Normandy in the eleventh and twelfth centuries and the part women played, alongside men in the transmission of the facts of the past. Women’s ‘remembrance of the past’ continued to be embodied in both histories and hagiographies in this period. Dudo of St Quentin in his De moribus et actis primorum Normanniae ducum praises the ‘capricious memory’ of countess Gunnor, whose husband and son had commissioned Dudo to write. Edward the Confessor’s widow Edith was surely a major source of oral evidence for the author of Edward’s life. Elisabeth Van Houts notes that Constance fitzGilbert was the patron of the historian Gaimar and surmises the impact on the historians Orderic Vitalis and William of Malmesbury of their Anglo-Saxon mothers. Thus histories incorporated women’s as well as men’s memories.

This broadening of the boundaries of historiographical research has greatly profited from the ‘grand narrative’ left by the chroniclers of the duchy. New editions of the central texts have proliferated in the thirty years since the publication of a modern edition of Orderic Vitalis’ history[6]. The last decade has seen new editions of Gesta Normannorum Ducum by Guillaume de Jumièges, Orderic Vital and Robert de Torigni[7], the Gesta Guillelmi of Guillaume de Poitiers[8] and of Carmen de Hastingae Proelio by Guy d’Amiens[9]. There have also been new critical editions, some in translation, of the French chroniclers (Adémar de Chabannes[10] and Ralph Glaber[11]), English chroniclers[12] (William of Malmesbury[13], Henry of Huntingdon[14] and John of Worcester[15]) and the Italian chronicler Geoffrey Malaterra[16], all of whom included valuable information on the history of the duchy and its inhabitants in their writings. In addition to new editions of chronicles, there has been important new work in Orderic Vitalis[17] and William of Jumièges[18].

For the De moribus et actis primorum Normanniae ducum of Dudo of Saint-Quentin, historians still rely on the nineteenth century edition by Jules Lair[19], though there is an English translation by Eric Christiansen published in 1998 and a version on the Internet edited by Felice Lifshitz, based on the Berlin manuscript[20]. A significant number of studies have been published in the late two decades showing that a fundamental reappraisal of this seminal source is essential. Henri Prentout’s[21] influential study is in need of revision after almost a century. Pierre Bouet is currently working on a new edition of the canon of Saint-Quentin’s magnum opus.[22]

The chronicle of Robert de Torigni has not been the subject of such intense attention but the genealogies inserted by the chronicler in the Gesta Normannorum ducum have been reassessed[23]. The Roman de Rou, available in an English translation[24], has been re-examined from the perspective of the importance and validity of the oral traditions recorded by Wace[25]. The work of these two authors and of their contemporary Benoît de Sainte-Maure[26] have been placed in a different perspective as a result of work concentrating on the court and political culture of the Plantagenet world[27]. The political and ideological motives[28] of the writing or the rewriting of history aimed at raising the status of the maternal ancestors of Henry II to establish links between the Plantagenets with Normandy and to justify their right to the English throne. However, this had the effect of reviving the old antagonism between the Normans and the Angevins and providing the dynasty with a Norman memory[29]. The willingness to reconcile an impartial narrative of contemporary history with effective support for the Plantagenet king led Robert de Torigni to use an annalistic genre in the redaction of his universal chronicle.

Beyond the ‘grand narratives’

A further positive effect of the re-evaluation of the major chroniclers has been the discovery, and in some cases rediscovery of sources on the margins of the ‘grand’ Norman historiography. Jacques Le Maho has drawn our attention to a source that reports the arrival of the first settlers at Asiniaca (probably Isigny-sur-Mer) on the site of a ruined ancient monastery at Fécamp[30]. The text, attributed to a churchman, perhaps Henry, bishop of Bayeux is well informed about the traditions of Fécamp[31] and is the oldest piece of writing composed in the duchy dating from the beginning of the 930s. The development of this first Fécamp historiography appears to prepare the ground for later and better known works like the chronicle contained in ‘manuscript 128’ at Rouen that reports the foundation of the abbey and was probably composed a little before 1001[32]. Elisabeth Van Houts has discovered a document, invaluable for understanding the organisation and logistics of the Norman Conquest of England containing a list of the major players in the expedition with an indication of the number of ships they provided[33]. The text, probably drawn up at Fécamp based on information received in the months before the Norman fleet sailed, shows not simply the role played by Fécamp in organising the Conquest but also the preservation and transmission of a written or oral memory of the events. Between 1160 and 1170, Wace drew on Fécamp for part of his information on the conquest at the same time as the ship list was being copied into the Chronicle of Battle Abbey. This monastery, founded by William I on the site of his victory over Harold, probably assembled some historiographical traditions that had come from the continent and which can be seen in the Brevis relatio de Guillelmo nobilissimo comite Normannorum[34].


[1] Fécamp, Musée de la Bénédictine, n° 1 printed in Marie Fauroux (ed.) Recueil des actes des ducs de Normandie (911-1066), Mémoires de la Société des Antiquaires de Normandie, volume xxxvi, Caen, 1961, n° 9, pages 79-91.

[2] François de Beaurepaire et Jean-Pierre Chaline (eds.) La Normandie vers l’an mil, Rouen, Société de l’Histoire de Normandie, 2000 is a useful collection of short papers on Normandy c.1000 and Elisabeth M. C Van Houts The Normans in Europe, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2000 provides selective translation and commentary of some of the major sources.

[3] Leah Shopkow, History and Community: Norman Writing in the Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries, Washington D. C., Catholic University of America Press, 1997.

[4] For Elisabeth M. C. Van Houts, see Memory and Gender in Medieval Europe 900-1200, Basingstoke, Macmillan Press, 1999 and History and Family Traditions in England and the Continent, 1000-1200, Aldershot, Ashgate (Variorum Collected Studies Series), 1999. There is a valuable review of Memory and Gender in Pauline Stafford and Anneke B. Mulder-Bakker (eds.) Gendering the Middle Ages, Oxford, Blackwell, 2001, pages 192-196.

[5] Emily Albu, The Normans in their Histories: Propaganda, Myth and Subversion, Woodbridge, Boydell Press, 2001.

[6] The Ecclesiastical History of Orderic Vitalis, edited and translated by M. Chibnall, six volumes, Oxford, Clarendon Press (Oxford Medieval Texts), 1969-1980.

[7] The Gesta Normannorum Ducum of William of Jumièges, Orderic Vitalis and Robert of Torigni, edited and translated by Elisabeth M. C. Van Houts, two volumes, Oxford, Clarendon Press (Oxford Medieval Texts), 1992-1995.

[8] The Gesta Guillelmi of William of Poitiers, edited and translated by Ralph H. C. Davis and Marjorie Chibnall, Oxford, Clarendon Press (Oxford Medieval Texts), 1998.

[9] The Carmen de Hastingae Proelio of Guy Bishop of Amiens, edited Frank Barlow, Oxford, Clarendon Press (Oxford Medieval Texts), 1999.

[10] Adémar de Chabannes, Ademari Cabannensis Chronicon, edited Pascale Bourgain, Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Mediaeualis, volume cxxix, Turnhout, Brepols, 1999.

[11] Raoul Glaber, Histoires, edited and translated by Mathieu Arnoux, Turnhout, Brepols, 1996. See also Mathieu Arnoux, ‘Un observateur indulgent: Raoul le Glabre, les ducs de Normandie, leurs concubines et leurs enfants’, La Normandie vers l’An Mil, Rouen, Société de l’Histoire de Normandie, 2000, pages 88-90.

[12] Encomium Emmae Reginae, edited Alistair Campbell, Camden, 3rd series, vol. lxxii, London, 1949, reprinted with an introduction by Simon Keynes, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1998,

[13] William of Malmesbury, Gesta Regum Anglorum, edited and translated by Roger A. B. Mynors, Rodney M. Thomson, Michael Winterbottom, two volumes, Oxford, Clarendon Press (Oxford Medieval Texts), 1998-1999 and Historia novella, The contemporary history, edited Edmund King, translated K.R. Potter, Oxford, Clarendon Press (Oxford Medieval Texts), 1998.

[14] Henry of Huntingdon, Historia Anglorum (History of the English People), edited and translated by Diana Greenway, Oxford, Clarendon Press (Oxford Medieval Texts), 1996.

[15] John of Worcester: The Chronicle of John of Worcester, II, The Annals from 450 to 1066, edited and translated by Reginald Ralph Darlington and Patrick McGurk, The Chronicle of John of Worcester, III, The Annals from 1067 to 1140 with the Gloucester Interpolations and the Continuation to 1141, edited and translated by Patrick McGurk, Oxford, Clarendon Press (Oxford Medieval Texts), 1995-1998.

[16] Étude critique avec traduction et commentaire des deux premiers livres de la chronique de Geoffroi Malaterra, De rebus gestis Rogerii Calabriae e Siciliae comitis et Roberti Guiscardi ducis fratris eius, edited Maris-Agnès Lucas-Avenel, four volumes, Thèse de doctorat de Langues et littératures anciennes, Universités de Caen Basse-Normandie/Palerme, 2001.

[17] Pierre Bouet, ‘L’image des évêques normands dans l’œuvre d’Orderic Vital’, Pierre Bouet et François Neveux (eds.) Les évêques normands du XIe siècle, Actes du colloque de Cerisy-la-Salle (30 sept.-3 oct. 1993), Caen, Presses Universitaires de Caen, 1995, pages 253-275 and Marjorie Chibnall, ‘A Twelfth-Century View of the Historical Church: Orderic Vitalis’, in The Church Retrospective, R. N. Swanson (ed.), Studies in Church History, volume xxxiii, Woodbridge, Boydell, 1997, pages 115-134

[18] Elisabeth M. C Van Houts, ‘Une hypothèse sur l’identification de Willelmus notarius comme l’historien Guillaume de Jumièges’, Tabularia, http://www.unicaen.fr/mrsh/crahm/revue/tabularia/debatevha.html

[19] Dudon de Saint-Quentin, De gestis Normanniae ducum seu de moribus et actis primorum Normanniae ducum, edited Jules Lair, Mémoires de la Société des Antiquaires de Normandie, volume xxii, Caen, 1865.

[20] Dudo of Saint-Quentin, History of the Normans, translated by Eric Christiansen, Woodbridge, The Boydell Press, 1998. Felice Lifshitz’s version is on the Internet at the following location: http://orb.rhodes.edu/ORB_done/Dudo/dudintro.html

[21] Henri Prentout, Étude critique sur Dudon de Saint-Quentin et son histoire des premiers ducs normands, Paris, Picard, 1916

[22] The most important recent studies on Dudo of St Quentin are: Emily Albu Hanawalt, ‘Dudo of Saint-Quentin: The Heroic Past Imagined’, Haskins Society Journal, volume vi, 1994, pages 111-118; Pierre Bouet, ‘Dudon de Saint-Quentin et Virgile: l’Enéide au service de la cause normande’, in Recueil d’études en hommage à Lucien Musset, Caen, 1990, pages 215-236 and ‘Dudon de Saint-Quentin et le martyre de Guillaume Longue Épée’, Pierre Bouet et François Neveux (eds..), Les Saints dans la Normandie médiévale, Caen, 2000, pages 237-258; Claude Carozzi, ‘Des Daces aux Normands, le mythe et l’identification d’un peuple chez Dudon de Saint-Quentin’, Claude Carozzi et Huguette Taviani-Carozzi (eds.), Peuples du Moyen Âge. Problèmes d’identification, Séminaire Société, Idéologies et Croyances au Moyen Âge, Publications de l’Université de Provence, 1996, pages 7-25; Pado Gatti et Antonella Degl’Innocenti (eds.), Dudone di San Quintino, Trente, Universita degli Studi di Trento (Labirinti, 16), 1995; Jean-Guy Gouttebroze, ‘La violence peut-elle fonder un état? Dudon de Saint-Quentin et l’établissement du duché de Normandie’, in La violence dans le monde medieval, Aix-en-Provence, 1994, pages 255-264; Victoria B. Jordan, ‘The Role of Kingship in Tenth Century Normandy: Hagiography of Dudo of Saint-Quentin’, Haskins Society Journal, volume iii, 1991, pages 53-62, Felice Lifshitz, ‘Dudo’s Historical Narrative and the Norman Succession of 996’, Journal of Medieval History, volume xx, 1994, pages 101-120 and ‘Translating “Feudal” Vocabulary: Dudo of Saint-Quentin’, Haskins Society Journal, volume ix, 1997, Woodbridge, Boydell Press, 2001, pages 39-56, Elisabeth Ridel, ‘A-t-on vraiment parlé la “langue danoise” à Bayeux vers 940? Une relecture de Dudon de Saint-Quentin’ in Mélanges Pierre Bouet, Cahiers des Annales de Normandie, n° 32, 2002, pages 135-143 and Pierre Bouet, ‘Dudon de Saint-Quentin et Fécamp’, Tabularia. Sources écrites de la Normandie médiévale, Études, n° 2, 2002, pages 57-70.

[23] Elisabeth M. C. Van Houts, ‘Robert of Torigni as Genealogist’, in Christopher Harper-Bill, Christopher Holdsworth et Janet L. Nelson (eds) Studies in Medieval History presented to R. Allen Brown, Woodbridge, The Boydell Press, 1989, pages 215-233, reprinted in Elisabeth M. C. Van Houts, History and Family Traditions in England and the Continent, 1000-1200, Ashgate (Variorum Collected Studies Series), 1999. See also, Katharine S. B. Keats-Rohan, ‘Aspects of Robert of Torigny’s Genealogies Revisited’, Nottingham Medieval Studies, volume xxxvii, 1993, pages 21-27, Elisabeth M. C. Van Houts, ‘Le roi et son historien: Henri II Plantagenêt et Robert de Torigni, abbé du Mont-Saint-Michel’, in Henri II Plantagenêt et son temps. Actes du colloque de Fontevraud, 29 septembre-1er octobre 1990, Cahiers de civilisation médiévale, 1994, pages 115-118 and Jean Béasse, ‘Au XIIe siècle... Un prestigieux abbé au Mont-Saint-Michel, Robert de Torigni (1154-1186)’, Les Annales du Mont-Saint-Michel, 126e année, 1, 2000, pages 7-12 and 3, 2000, pages 2-4.

[24] Wace, The Roman de Rou, translated by Glyn S. Burgess, Saint-Hélier, Société Jersiaise, 2002 is the most recent English translation.

[25] On Wace, see Elisabeth M. C. Van Houts, ‘Wace as Historian’, in Katharine Keats-Rohan (ed.), Family Trees and the Roots of Politics. The Prosopography of Britain and France from the Tenth to the Twelfth Century, Woodbridge, The Boydell Press, 1997, pages 103-132, republished in Elisabeth M. C. Van Houts, History and Family Traditions in England and the Continent, 1000-1200, Ashgate (Variorum Collected Studies Series), 1999. Two important articles are by Jean-Guy Gouttebroze, ‘Pourquoi congédier un historiographe: Henri II Plantagenêt et Wace (1155-1174)’, Romania, volume cxii, 1992, pages 289-311 and Françoise Vielliard, ‘Deux historiens normands du XIIe siècle, Guillaume de Saint-Pair et Wace’, Revue de l’Avranchin et du Pays de Granville, volume lxxviii 78, 2001, page 325-352.

[26] Emmanuèle Baumgartner, ‘Les Danois dans l’histoire des ducs de Normandie de Benoît de Sainte-Maure’, Le Moyen Âge, volume cviii, 2002, pages 481-485.

[27] Peter Damian-Grint, The New Historians of the Twelfth-Century Renaissance: inventing vernacular authority, Woodbridge, Boydell and Brewer, 1999 and Jean Blacker The Faces of Time: Portrayal of the Past in Old French and Latin Historical Narrative of the Anglo-Norman Regum, University of Texas Press, 1994 provide a critical analysis of the development of twelfth century historical writing and thinking.

[28] Amaury Chauou L’idéologie Plantagenêt: Royauté arthurienne et monarchie politique dans l’espace Plantagenêt (XIIe-XIIIe siècles), Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2001 is essential on this and for his discussion of the role of history and historians in the Plantagenet court.

[29] Martin Aurell, ‘La cour Plantagenêt (1154-1189): entoutrage, savoir et civilité’, in Martin Aurell (ed.), La cour Plantagenêt (1154-1204). Actes du colloque tenu à Thouars du 30 avril au 2 mai 1999, Poitiers, Centre d’études supérieures de civilisation médiévale, 2000, pages 9-46 and his L’Empire des Plantagenêts, Perrin, 2003, especially pages 41-94.

[30] Jacques Le Maho, ‘Un exode de reliques dans les pays de la Basse Seine à la fin du IXe siècle’, Bulletin de la Commission départementale des Antiquités de Seine-Maritime, volume xlvi, 1998, pages 174-181 and ‘Les origines de l’abbaye de Fécamp, de l’histoire à la légende’, De l’histoire à la légende. La broderie du Précieux-Sang, Catalogue de l’exposition tenue à Fécamp, avril-juin 2001, Fécamp, 2001, pages 25-26.

[31] On the historiographical traditions of Fécamp, see Mathieu Arnoux, ‘Les premières chroniques de Fécamp: de l’hagiographie à l’histoire’, Pierre Bouet and François Neveux (eds.) Les Saints dans la Normandie médiévale, Actes du colloque de Cerisy-la-Salle (26-29 septembre 1996), Presses Universitaires de Caen, 2000, pages 71-82 and ‘La fortune du Libellus de revelatione, edificatione et auctoritate Fiscannensis monasterii. Note sur la production historiographique d’une abbaye bénédictine normande’, Revue d’Histoire des Textes, volume xxi, 1991, pages 135-158.

[32] Mathieu Arnoux, ‘Before the Gesta Normannorum and beyond Dudo: some evidence on early Norman historiography’, Anglo-Norman Studies, volume xxii, 1999, pages 19-48 with the text of Chronique dite du Manuscrit Rouen 128on pages 43-46.

[33] Elisabeth M. C. Van Houts, ‘The ship list of William the Conqueror’, Anglo-Norman Studies, volume x, 1987, pages 159-183, republished in Elisabeth M. C. Van Houts, History and Family Traditions in England and the Continent, 1000-1200, Ashgate (Variorum Collected Studies Series), 1999.

[34] The Brevis relatio de Guillelmo nobilissimo comite Normannorum, edited Elisabeth M. C. Van Houts, Chronology, Conquest and Conflict in Medieval England, Camden 5th series, volume x, 1997, pages 1-48, reprinted in Elisabeth M. C. Van Houts, History and Family Traditions in England and the Continent, 1000-1200, Ashgate (Variorum Collected Studies Series), 1999.

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