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A Reluctant Historian and his Craft: The Scribal Work of Andreas of Marchiennes Reconsidered

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 December 2023

Stephen D. Church
Affiliation:
University of East Anglia
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Summary

As the author of a recent study on historical writing in the tenth century reminds us, ‘medieval historiography was heavily influenced by the expectations of patrons and audiences who were well informed about both distant and recent history’, meaning that its ‘authors could not simply write whatever they pleased’. These cautionary words ring just as true in the context of the Anglo-Norman world, and nowhere more so than in monastic milieux of historiographical production and publication. As I demonstrate at greater length elsewhere, historical writing in medieval monasteries depended fundamentally – and in various ways – on the authorisation, support, and provision of resources (human and material) of the monastic superior, usually the abbot or abbess.

The need for reminders like the one quoted above is shown by the pervasive-ness in Anglo-Norman scholarship of views such as that expressed by Marjorie Chibnall in respect of Saint-Évroult's famous monk-chronicler, Orderic Vitalis, whose magnum opus – the Historia ecclesiastica penned over nearly thirty years (c. 1114–41) – she and others have treated as the product of the author's own initi-ative and life-long passion for historical study with little concern for his abbatial patrons and enablers. Chibnall's claim that ‘once Abbot Warin had given Orderic his head[,] there was no holding him’ in his historiographical pursuits is incompat-ible with the fact that as a Benedictine monk, who from the age of ten (the age of his profession) was no longer master of his own time, resources, or free will, Orderic's ability to write history relied on the continuous endorsement and authorisation of no fewer than four abbots, first Roger (1091–1122) and then his successors, Warin (1123–37), Richard (1137–40), and Ranulf (1140–before 1159). In a similar vein, Antonia Gransden opined that William of Malmesbury ‘started to write history from personal choice’, whilst the editors of a recently published volume on William and his works assure us that this was a ‘self-prescribed task’, and that England's most famous monk-historian after Bede – and his self-styled successor – ‘would surely have considered himself as writing for anyone who wanted to know’. However insatiable William's thirst for historical knowledge may have been, as a monk he, just like Orderic, was not in a position to accept historiographical commissions without prior authorisation from his institutional superior(s).

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Anglo-Norman Studies XLV
Proceedings of the Battle Conference 2022
, pp. 141 - 162
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2023

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