Blogs > Cliopatria > From the sources: your actual medieval simony

Nov 30, 2009 5:09 am


From the sources: your actual medieval simony



It's been some time since I posted here, for which I apologise; I was gifted with an unexpected course to run in a different city a week before its start date and since then keeping up has been my main occupation. Also, I've been as ever unsure what to post here that would interest the readership. But I figure that when a historian is not sure what to write about, he or she can always let the sources do the talking. So here is a little medieval source I find particularly interesting, and I hope you do too. What it is is (my translation of) an agreement between some important Catalans, Count Ermengol I of Urgell (993-1010), son of my pet magnate Count Borrell II of Barcelona (and Urgell), and Bishop Sal·la of Urgell (981-1010), who agreed by it that Sal·la's nephew, also called Ermengol, would succeed his uncle as bishop, and set out the price that Count Ermengol demanded for ensuring that this occurs. It goes like this.

I Count Ermengol, son of the late Count Borrell and the late Countess Ledgarda, swear that from this hour and hereafter to the last day of days, that Bishop Sal·la, son of the late Isarn and the late Ranló,a and I have nominated one Ermengol by this scripture, by this oath, namely, that I shall undertake to give the bishopric of the county of Urgell to Ermengol son of Viscount Bernat and of Viscountess Guisla. I Count Ermengol shall undertake to give [it] to that Ermengol, son of Bernat, and I shall perform his investiture. And from this hour in future I the above-written Count Ermengol, will not keep that Ermengol, the above-written son of Viscount Bernat, from that bishopric of Holy Mary at the See at Vic which is in Urgell.b And if Bishop Sal·la shall wish to ordain this above-written nephew Ermengol in his lifetime, I Count Ermengol as written above will be a helper to him in ordaining that Ermengol, the above-written son of Bernat, without any deception of this Ermengol, if Bishop Sal·la or his brother Bernat or any of the kinsmen or the friends of that Ermengol, the cleric named above, shall undertake to give me 100 pesas, or the value in pesetas, or a pledge of 200 pesas through another 60 pesas that they shall give me after the death of the above-written Bishop Sal·la, half of it in the first half of the year and the other in the other. And if Bishop Sal·la shall not have ordained this Ermengol his nephew in the lifetime of Bishop Sal·la, and I Count Ermengol be yet living, and that Ermengol, the above-written son of Bernat, be living, I that above-written Count Ermengol shall perform the ordination of the above-written cleric Ermengol,c if I be able, if the above-written cleric Ermengol shall wish to give me, or his kinsmen or his friends shall wish to give to me and shall have given those pesas or those pesetas or that pledge written above. And I the above-written Count Ermengol shall offer no disturbance to the above-said cleric Ermengol over his ordination to that bishopric of Urgell, not I nor any man nor any woman either by my counsel or by my stay. And I the above-written Count Ermengol shall be a helper to that Ermengol, the above-written son of Guisla, to hold and have the bishopric of Urgell just as Sal·la holds it today, against all men or women who should wish or attempt to attack him, without any deception of the above-written cleric Ermengol after the death of the above-written Bishop Sal·la or in his days, if Bishop Sal·la shall defer the episcopate to him, or give to him anything or that bishopric, if Ermengol the son of Viscount Bernat brother of Sal·la, and son of Viscountess Guisla, daughter of the late Sunifred of Lluçà,d shall wish to perform homage and fidelity to me on a dedicated altar, or on relics, and he should do [this] so that I Count Ermengol can have faith in his fidelity.

And that's all there is, no signatures, no witnesses, but there seems no reason to doubt it per se because of Ermengol's later reputation (see below), unless his viscount brother's offspring got really literary when contesting their grandmother's will with him I suppose (which they had to do).1 Unless that be the case, however, this is a real example of what your medieval survey course may have told you about under the general heading of"Church and State in the Middle Ages" or"The Investiture Controversy", people paying for positions in the Church, in defiance of the canons but with perfect regularity in terms of local custom. This kind of deal was being cut in many places.

Bishop Ermengol of Urgell mistrusting a lay magnate doing homage to him, from the Liber Feudorum Maior

Note especially, if you care to, the following things:

  1. The form of document they are using here is a convenientia, an agreement, and it is basically a feudal one; that 'without any deception' riff is straight out of feudal pacts of the era and because of that is almost one of the first phrases we have in written Catalan, 'sin engany', though this document is entirely Latin. And, in that form, we would not expect signatures, witnesses or indeed a date, as the text is apparently more part of the act than a record for the future. Yes, it's arguable, but it has been argued and certainly this is what such oaths look like except for the Latinity.2
  2. Sal·la was already Count Ermengol's sworn vassal (and yes, we are allowed to use that word in this context dammit), but ironically, his son, Ermengol II, would eventually swear fidelity to Bishop Ermengol...3
  3. You could probably just about argue that this is not simony, but insurance; Ermengol comes doesn't say that he will oppose Ermengol archileuita (as he is at this time) as bishop if the money isn't paid, just that he won't help him or perform the investiture. Technically he's being paid to ensure that Ermengol does become bishop, not to allow him to do so. However, I don't think many canon lawyers in Rome of 1056 would have seen it that way. I also don't think anyone in X1003 Catalonia cared, however.
  4. It should be noted that what we are reading here is an agreement about the ordination of a man who is now recognised as a saint, albeit largely for his war-leadership against the Muslims; so subsequent papacies have also forgiven him this unfortunate slip.4
  5. Sal·la did in fact ordain Ermengol in his own lifetime, as coadjutor, and Count Ermengol I was still alive to insist at that time—he died on campaign in Córdoba in 1010, fighting Castilians who had been hired by the other contendor for the Caliphate—so the money must have been forthcoming.5 Of course, a bishop ordaining his own successor is quite uncanonical too but SAINT okay SAINT d'you hear me? Heros de la reconquesta, homes!
  6. We don't, sadly know how much was actually being paid because we don't know what a pesa was at this time. It's clearly a weight of bullion—Urgell is not minting coin at this time, though it does later—but how much is unclear. Gaspar Feliu once reckoned it was an ounce of gold or a pound of silver, reckoned as equivalents, but he's since decided it's more complicated than that.6 Of that order, anyway, so, a lot. And a peseta is not a coin, but the equivalent in kind, a pesa-worth. So, it's 100 pesas now, or their equivalent, or else 200 later of which 60 to be paid now. He drives a hard bargain (which may be why Sal·la took the low price...).
  7. Also, just a small point but observe that the women mentioned are political agents. Count Ermengol disclaims that he might use a woman to upset the agreement; mothers are named for all participants (in fact, for a Catalan feudal agreement, it's rather unusual for fathers to be named, but this is very early and that form's not yet established) and Guisla's parentage, which was powerful as was she, is also mentioned. They're not actually here but then they're not bishop or count; doesn't stop them being important.

So there you are, perhaps it's useful, I certainly think it's interesting, and I had it typed up already... If you like I'll do some more of these when time permits.

(Cross-posted with revisions for context at A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe.)


a Isarn was Viscount of Conflent and possibly also of Urgell from perhaps 954 until 974; Ranló was his wife and Viscountess, there is no problem with that title for scribes of the time.

b Vic, as Anglo-Saxonists may be more aware than many, is based on a Germanic word for trading-place. This is why both Urgell and, well, Vic, have Vics, but this is Vic de la Seu d'Urgell and that's Vic d'Osona and because Vic got big and commercial and Seu d'Urgell mainly stayed a bishop's fortress town Vic has basically got to own the name in Catalonia and no-one uses the full form anymore.

c I love the trouble the scribe took to keep the Ermengols distinct. Given that it is finally comprehensible in a way that many such documents are not I will happily forgive him making it nearly the opposite in achieving that.

d Sunifred was Vicar of Lluçà, which was at the time one of the richest frontier castles there was in Osona. Bernat had married down but well, and Guisla was a tough customer also.

1. The text is printed in Cebrià Baraut (ed.),"Els documents, dels anys 981-1010, de l'Arxiu Capitular de la Seu d'Urgell" in Urgellia Vol. 3 (Montserrat 1980), pp. 7-166, doc. no. 276. On the dispute between Ermengol and his relatives later on see Jeffrey Bowman, Shifting Landmarks: Property, Proof, and Dispute in Catalonia around the Year 1000, Conjunctions of Religion and Power in the Medieval Past (Ithaca 2004), pp. 1-6.

2. On these documents and other Latin precursors you should see Adam Kosto, Making Agreements in Medieval Catalonia: power, order and the written word, 1000-1200, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought 4th Series 51 (Cambridge 2001).

3. Baraut,"Els documents, dels anys 1010-1035, de l'Arxiu Capitular de le Seu d'Urgell" in Urgellia Vol. 4 (1981), pp. 7-178, docs no. 486 & 487.

4. For more on him see Jeffrey A. Bowman,"The Bishop Builds a Bridge: sanctity and power in the medieval Pyrenees" in Catholic Historical Review Vol. 88 (Washington DC 2002), pp. 1-16.

5. Uncle and nephew appear together at the union of the monastery of Sant Pere del Burgal with the reforming house of Notre Dame de la Grasse in 1007 (and if you need a better proof of how what a later age saw as Church corruption was fine with the first wave of reformers if it got the job done, I don't know where you'd find it). The document is edited in E. Magnou-Nortier & A.-M. Magnou (edd.), Recueil des Chartes de l'Abbaye de la Grasse tome I: 779-1119, Collection des documents inédits sur l'histoire de France : section d'histoire médiévale et de philologie, Série in 8vo 24 (Paris 1996), as doc. no. 91.

6. References gathered, if that sort of thing interests you, in Jonathan Jarrett,"Currency change in pre-millennial Catalonia: coinage, counts and economics" in Numismatic Chronicle Vol. 169 (London forthcoming), p. 00 n. 40.




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Jonathan Dresner - 11/30/2009

It's very much like a modern contract in attitude: the payment schedule and penalty clauses are the most important part.