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The Author of the Life of Christina of Markyate: The Case for Robert de Gorron (d. 1166)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 May 2017

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The authorship of the Life of the twelfth-century English holy woman, Christina of Markyate (c. 1096–after 1155), has inspired considerable scholarly speculation. Though the writer never once positively identifies himself in extant versions of the text, oblique references locate his activity at the Benedictine monastery of St Albans in Hertfordshire during the 1130s under the patronage of the reigning abbot, Geoffrey de Gorron (1119–46), and intimate the close connections that he enjoyed with his narrative's subjects. Building on these references, and incorporating clues from related sources from St Albans and Markyate, this article reconstructs the likeliest candidate for authorship – Robert de Gorron (d. 1166), Geoffrey's nephew, appointed sacristan and later abbatial successor – and assesses his eligibility.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2017 

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1 Paulette L'Hermite-Leclercq has argued for this new dating of the Life’s composition in her Vie de Christina de Markyate, Paris 2007, ii. 39Google Scholar, 43, 66. Her dating challenges that of Rachel Koopmans, which situates the writer's activity in the early 1140s: ‘The conclusion of Christina of Markyate's Vita’, this Journal li (2000), 663–98 at pp. 680, 694–5.

2 These events in Christina's Life have received the most scholarly attention. For a comprehensive review of the historiography see L'Hermite-Leclercq, Vie de Christina, ii. 90–164.

3 Elkins, Sharon, Holy women of twelfth-century England, Chapel Hill 1988, 27–42, 46–7Google Scholar; Thompson, Sally, Women religious: the founding of English nunneries after the Norman Conquest, Oxford 1991, 1623 Google Scholar; Hollis, Stephanie and Wogan-Browne, Jocelyn, ‘St Albans and women's monasticism: lives and their foundations in Christina's world’, in Fanous, Samuel and Leyser, Henrietta (eds), Christina of Markyate: a twelfth-century holy woman, New York 2005, 2552 Google Scholar.

4 Karras, Ruth Mazo, ‘Friendship and love in the lives of two twelfth-century English saints’, Journal of Medieval History xiv (1988), 305–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Coakley, John W., Women, men, and spiritual power: female saints and their male collaborators, New York 2006, 1922 CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Dyan Elliott, ‘Alternative intimacies: men, women, and spiritual direction in the twelfth century’, in Fanous and Leyser, Christina of Markyate, 160–83; Fiona Griffiths, Nuns’ priests’ tales: gender, authority, and apologetics in the medieval monastery, c. 4001200, Philadelphia forthcoming, ch. v; Katie Ann-Marie Bugyis, ‘Ministers of Christ: Benedictine women religious in central medieval England’, unpubl. PhD diss. University of Notre Dame 2015, 232–40.

5 Nova legenda Anglie: as collected by John of Tynemouth, John Capgrave, and others, and first printed, with new Lives by Wynkyn de Worde, ed. Horstmann, Carl, Oxford 1901, 532 Google Scholar.

6 The Life of Christina of Markyate: a twelfth-century recluse, ed. and trans. Talbot, C. H., Oxford 1959 Google Scholar, repr. Toronto 1987, 38, 78, 80, 126.

7 Ibid. 126.

8 Ibid. 82. See also p. 80.

9 Ibid. 6.

10 Ibid.

11 Ibid. 44, 68, 104, 174.

12 Ibid. 190.

13 Ibid. 34, 192.

14 Ibid. 86, 104.

15 ‘Quomodo autem hanc visionem viderit, cum ipsa bene sciret, ab ea usque presens nullo modo potuimus elicere’: ibid. 150.

16 Ibid. 144.

17 Ibid. 140–2, 144, 154.

18 ‘Respondique non parum quid esse sed mirabile posterisque memorabile’: ibid. 154.

19 Kerby-Fulton, Kathryn, ‘Skepticism, agnosticism and belief: the spectrum of attitudes toward vision in late medieval England’, in Kerby-Fulton, Kathryn (ed.), Women and the divine in literature before 1700: essays in memory of Margot Louis, Victoria, BC 2009, 1–17 at p. 14 Google Scholar.

20 Brooke, Christopher, ‘St Albans, the great abbey’, in Runcie, Robert (ed.), Cathedral and the city: St Albans ancient and modern, London 1977, 44–53  at p. 60Google Scholar, and The medieval idea of marriage, Oxford 1989, 144 Google Scholar.

21 Holdsworth, Christopher, ‘Christina of Markyate’, in Baker, Derek (ed.), Medieval women (Studies in Church History, Subsidia 1, 1978), 185–204 at p. 195 Google Scholar.

22 Hanning, Robert, The individual in twelfth-century romance, New Haven 1977, 48 Google Scholar.

23 Elkins, Holy women, 28.

24 Petroff, Elizabeth, Medieval women's visionary literature, Oxford 1986, 137 Google Scholar, and Body and soul: essays on medieval women and mysticism, Oxford 1994, 10 Google Scholar.

25 Royle, Joanna, ‘Managed holiness and negotiated recollection in the Life of Christina of Markyate (c. 1098–after 1155)’, Women's History Review xx (2011), 227–44 at p. 235 Google Scholar.

26 Neil Cartlidge, ‘The unknown pilgrim: drama and romance in the Life of Christina of Markyate’, in Fanous and Leyser, Christina of Markyate, 79–98 at pp. 79, 80.

27 Samuel Fanous, ‘Christina of Markyate and the double crown’, in Fanous and Leyser, Christina of Markyate, 53.

28 Stanton, Robert, ‘Marriage, socialization, and domestic violence in the Life of Christina of Markyate ’, in Salisbury, Eve and others (eds), Domestic violence in medieval texts, Gainesville 2002, 242–71 at p. 260 Google Scholar.

29 Karras, ‘Friendship and love’, 313; Head, Thomas, ‘The marriages of Christina of Markyate’, Viator xxi (1990), 75–101 at p. 76 Google Scholar.

30 Rachel Koopmans, ‘Dining at Markyate with Lady Christina’, in Fanous and Leyser, Christina of Markyate, 143–59 at p. 143.

31 Thea Todd, ‘Christina of Markyate's biographer’, unpubl. PhD diss. University of Victoria 2004, 33.

32 Ibid. 101.

33 Koopmans, ‘Conclusion’, 663–75; L'Hermite-Leclercq, Vie de Christina, i. 9–58.

34 Life of Christina, 8–10.

35 Koopmans, ‘Conclusion’, 681–5, and ‘Dining at Markyate’, 154–7.

36 L'Hermite-Leclercq, Vie de Christina, ii. 61.

37 ‘quia te super omnes sub Christo pastores in terra fortissime diligebat sicut [iugi] experimento probasti’: Life of Christina, 126.

38 Watt, Diane, Medieval women's writing: works by and for women in England, 1100–1500, Cambridge 2007, 34 Google Scholar.

39 secundum antiquum rotulum Bartholomaei clerici, qui cum Domino Adam Cellarario diu fuerat, serviens ei, ipsum rotulum sibi retinuit, de scriptis suis hoc solum eligens’: Gesta abbatum monasterii S. Albani, a Thoma Walsingham, ed. Riley, H. T. (Rolls Series xxviii, 1867–9), i, p. xiv Google Scholar. This rotulus is no longer extant; consequently, its structure, contents and authorship, as well as the nature of Matthew Paris's dependency on it, have enjoyed considerable debate. This debate is reviewed and, I think, persuasively settled in favour of Bartholomew's (or Adam's) authorship of the rotulus and Paris's extensive borrowing from it by Hagger, Mark: ‘The Gesta abbatum monasterii Sancti Albani: litigation and history at St Albans’, Historical Research lxxxi (2008), 373–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

40 Hagger, ‘Gesta abbatum’, 375.

41 Rebecca Reading, ‘Matthew Paris and Anglo-Saxon England: a thirteenth-century vision of the distant past’, unpubl. PhD diss. Durham 1994, 86.

42 Gesta abbatum, i. 110–83 (Robert), 183–94 (Simon).

43 Vaughan, Richard, Matthew Paris, Cambridge 1958, 183 Google Scholar.

44 Hagger, ‘Gesta abbatum’, 396–8.

45 Gesta abbatum, i. 111.

46 Ibid.

47 ‘cum omnibus pertinentiis, ad ornamenta Sancti Albani, et diruta restauranda’: ibid. i. 75.

48 Ibid.

49 Ibid. i. 108, 110, 111.

50 Ibid. i. 111–12.

51 The Gesta abbatum details Robert's journey to Benevento and his audiences with Adrian iv: ibid. i. 125–9. Adrian iv, formerly Nicholas Breakspear, had very close ties with St Albans, which have been detailed by Bolton, Brenda: ‘St Albans’ loyal son’, in Bolton, Brenda and Duggan, Anne (eds), Adrian IV, the English pope, 1154–1159: studies and texts, Aldershot 2003, 75–103 at pp. 84–5Google Scholar.

52 ‘nos ab omni episcoporum subiectione, tam in corpore monasterii degentes, quam in cellis seu in custodiis villarum habitantes, ita liberos effecit, ut nullum episcopum, praeter romanum pontificem, in posterum habeamus, et praeter hoc, privilegia nobilia alia plura, adeo ut non sit aliud coenobium in Anglia ipsi ecclesiae Sancti Albani in privilegiis comparabile’: Gesta abbatum, i. 128; cf. Papsturkunden in England, ed. Walther Holtzmann,  Göttingen 1952, iii, no. 100. On St Albans’ twelfth-century papal privileges see Sayers, Jane, ‘Papal privileges for St Albans Abbey and its dependencies’, in Bullough, D. A. and Storey, R. L. (eds), The study of medieval records: essays in honour of Kathleen Major, Oxford 1971, 5784 Google Scholar.

53 Gesta abbatum, i. 132; cf. Papsturkunden in England, iii, no. 118.

54 Gesta abbatum, i. 110.

55 ‘plumbo pro majori parte cooperuit, interius et exterius decenter dealbavit, et quaedam vetustate consumpta reparavit’: ibid. i. 112. See also i. 111.

56 ‘liberarum litterarum studiis animum propensius adhibuit’: ibid.

57 ‘Inter quos venerabilis Abbas Robertus, de quo sermo continuandus est, vir, inquam, eloquentissimus, humanis divinisque legibus eruditus, affuit’: ibid. i. 177. See also i. 127, 173.

58 Ibid. i. 113–20, 122–4, 129–31, 133–58, 159–66, 173–5.

59 ‘Fecit etiam scribi libros plurimos, quos longum esset enarrare’: ibid. i. 179.

60 The question of the psalter's production and intended ownership has enjoyed lively debate since Otto Pächt, Dodwell, C. R. and Francis Wormald claimed Christina as the psalter's intended recipient: The St Albans Psalter (Albani Psalter), London 1960 Google Scholar. For a recent detailed account of the scholarly arguments both for and against assigning a Markyate provenance to the psalter see Bugyis, Katie Ann-Marie, ‘Envisioning episcopal exemption: the Life of Christina of Markyate’, Church History lxxxiv (2015), 32–63 at p. 48 n. 71Google Scholar. I am persuaded by the arguments in favour of a Markyate provenance.

61 Kidd, Peter, ‘Contents and codicology’, in Bepler, Jochen, Kidd, Peter and Geddes, Jane (eds), The St Albans Psalter (Albani Psalter), Simbach am Inn 2008, 41155 at p. 120Google Scholar.

62 BL, ms Cotton Charter xi.8. See also Pächt, Dodwell and Wormald, St Albans Psalter, plate 169.

63 Kidd, ‘Contents and codicology’, 119–20; Thomson, Rodney, Manuscripts from St Albans Abbey, 1066–1235, Woodbridge 1982, i. 29 Google Scholar.

64 Thomson, Manuscripts from St Albans, i. 28–31; Gullick, Michael, ‘A twelfth-century royal charter for St Albans and a local scribe’, Hertfordshire Archaeology xiii (1997–2003), 127–31Google Scholar; Matthew Ward, ‘The ordinary trope repertory of St Albans Abbey in the twelfth century’, unpubl. PhD diss. Cambridge 2012, 30–58.

65 Kidd, ‘Contents and codicology’, 119–20. Thomson also highlights Scribe B's habit of ‘whipping’ the descenders and feet of certain letters leftward at roughly a forty-five degree angle, as well as his distinctive formation of F with ‘a much elongated head-stroke’: Manuscripts from St Albans, i. 29.

66 K. D. Hartzell, ‘The musical repertory of St Albans, England, in the twelfth century’, unpubl. PhD diss. University of Rochester 1970, i. 45–52, 71–3. See also Gesta abbatum, i. 93.

67 Ian Short has reviewed past studies of the psalter in his recent edition: The Oxford Psalter (Bodleian MS Douce 320), Oxford 2015 Google Scholar.

68 Short, Ian, Careri, Maria and Ruby, Christine, ‘Les Psautiers d'Oxford et de St Albans: liens de parenté’, Romania cxxviii (2010), 29–45 at pp. 2932 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

69 Oxford Psalter, 8.

70 Ibid. 145.

71 Short, Careri and Ruby, ‘Les Psautiers’, 33–40.

72 Oxford Psalter, 35, 36.

73 Ibid. 37.

74 Short, Careri and Ruby, ‘Les Psautiers’, 41.

75 Oxford Psalter, 12.

76 Thomson, Manuscripts from St Albans, i. 28–31.

77 Fassler, Margot, ‘The office of cantor in early monastic rules and customaries: a preliminary investigation’, Early Music History v (1985), 2951 CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

78 Ward, ‘The ordinary trope repertory’, 51–5.

79 The monastic constitutions of Lanfranc, ed. and trans. Knowles, David and Brooke, C. N. L., Oxford 2002, 118–22Google Scholar.

80 Ibid. pp. xxxiii–xxxvii.

81 Webber, Teresa, ‘Cantor, prior or sacrist? The provision of books in Anglo-Norman England’, in Bugyis, Katie Ann-Marie, Kraebel, A. B. and Fassler, Margot E. (eds), Medieval cantors and their craft: music, liturgy and the shaping of history, York 2017 Google Scholar.

82 Dombibliothek, Hildesheim, ms St Godehard 1, p. 4.

83 An example of an obit that had to be left-justified in order to accommodate existing text is the monk Alvered's on 4 June: ibid. p. 8.

84 Henrietta Leyser, ‘Christina of Markyate: the introduction’, in Fanous and Leyser, Christina of Markyate, 1–11 at p. 11 n. 20.

85 L'Hermite-Leclercq, Vie de Christina, ii. 318.

86 ‘Interea divina disponente providencia contigit Autti ac Beatricem sumpta secum sua karissima filia Christina nostrum adire monasterium ac beati martiris Albani cuius inibi sacra venerantur ossa; sibi sueque proli flagitare patrocinium. Perscrutans ergo puella sedulo visu locum et considerans reverendam maturitatem inhabitancium monachorum pronunciavit felices et consorcii eorum optavit fieri particeps. Denique exeuntibus parentibus suis de monasterio postquam expleverant propter que venerunt illa signum crucis uno unguium suorum scripsit in porta scilicet quod in illo specialiter monasterio suum recondidisset affectum’: Life of Christina, 38.

87 ‘Receptus igitur ab Abbate Gaufrido, et a suis, cum omni veneratione, postquam viderat in Domo Sancti Albani conventualem disciplinam per omnia commendabilem, rigorem ordinis, morum observantiam, possessionum libertatem, complacuit ei in eadem domo omnino commorari, in fratrem susceptus, et conventui annumeratus’: Gesta abbatum, i. 111.

88 Sharon Elkins, Sally Thompson, Sarah Foot, and Stephanie Hollis and Jocelyn Wogan-Browne all have shed significant light on the history of women religious’ affiliations with St Albans from the ninth through the twelfth centuries: Elkins, Holy women, 46–7; Thompson, Women religious, 56–61; Sarah Foot, Veiled women, Aldershot 2000, ii. 157–8; Hollis and Wogan-Browne, ‘St Albans and women's monasticism’. Abbots Wulnoth and Paul of Caen (1079–99) are said to have established a greater degree of discipline and propriety over the lives of sanctimoniales semisaeculares associated with the abbey. Abbot Paul placed them under a rule, ordered them to wear black habits and gathered them into communities. He even housed a group of women religious in St Albans’ almonry: Gesta abbatum, i. 11, 59. It is possible that a community of women still lived at St Albans when Christina first visited the abbey, and that she wished to join their conversatio, not the monks’.

89 Monastic constitutions, 158.

90 ‘Et notandum quod erat tunc natalicium sancti Leonardi; sicut quando prius edita fuit in lucem huius seculi’: Life of Christina, 38.

91 Constable, Giles, ‘The ceremonies and symbolism of entering religious life and taking the monastic habit, from the fourth to the twelfth century’, in Segni e riti nella chiesa altomedievale occidentale: 11–17 aprile 1985, ii, Spoleto 1987, 771834 Google Scholar.

92 Todd, ‘Christina of Markyate's biographer’, 66.

93 ‘in inicio prelacionis sue licet in ordinis rigore et possessionum ampliatione domum sibi commissam strenue gubernaret’: Life of Christina, 134.

94 Ibid.

95 ‘convocat in partem quas familiariores in ecclesia personas habebat eisque rem ex ordine pandit propositumque spondet dissolvere’: ibid. 136.

96 See n. 47 above.

97 ‘celitus procurabat salutem aliis’: Life of Christina, 120.

98 Ibid. 118.

99 Prior to joining St Albans, Geoffrey reportedly served as a schoolmaster at the nearby town of Dunstable and attempted to stage a play there of St Katherine's miracles: Gesta abbatum, i. 73. In addition, he was ordained on the feast of St Katherine and charged Robert with organising the annual celebration of this event.

100 ‘Abbas autem, specialiter invocans auxilium Beatae Margaretae, virginis et martyris, repentinum, et, contra omnium opinionem, sensit in naufragio suffragium. Unde vovit, quod in ecclesia nomen ejus in letania poneretur, propensius honorandum’: ibid. i. 126.

101 ‘Eorum autem si qui rerum adhuc ignari de ipsius opinione animo fluctuarent, eos manifestis Deus revocabat indiciis. Quod hoc monstrari poterit exemplo’: Life of Christina, 174.

102 ‘Necnon etiam monachis de Bermondesheie decimas et omnia parochialia jura de feudo Winebaldi de Bahalun, quod habuit in Brideshorn, in perpetuum possidenda, ea tamen conditione, ut anniversarium ejus annuatim celebrarent solemniter. Et has duas ultimas conventiones fecit, importunitate sua, a conventu confirmari’: Gesta abbatum, i. 182.

103 Head, ‘Marriages of Christina’, 78; Todd, ‘Christina of Markyate's biographer’, 52, 148–81; Watt, Medieval women's writing, 34; Cartlidge, ‘The unknown pilgrim’, 79–98.

104 See Life of Christina, 34, 36, 38, 106, 108, 126, 128, 144, 146, 148, 150, 152, 184, 186.

105 Head, ‘Marriages of Christina’, 84.

106 Life of Christina, 128.

107 Bugyis, ‘Envisioning episcopal exemption’.

108 ‘Obtulit igitur Abbas Domino Papae aurum et argentum non minimi ponderis, et alia munera pretiosa; mitras etiam tres et sandalia operis mirifici, quae Domina Christina, Priorissa de Markyate, diligentissime fecerat’: Gesta abbatum, i. 127.

109 Ibid.

110 Ibid. i. 158. Although Robert received the privilege to wear the episcopal pontificalia in 1157, Robert de Chesney, the bishop of Lincoln (1148–66), contested St Albans’ exempt status, beginning shortly after Adrian iv’s death on 1 September 1159 and continuing until 8 March 1163, when King Henry ii ruled in the abbey's favour: ibid. 150–8.

111 Rodney Thomson assigns this manuscript ‘with some confidence’ to Robert's abbacy: Manuscripts from St Albans, i. 47, 105–6. See also Hartzell, ‘The musical repertory of St Albans’, i. 177–230, esp. pp. 191–2.

112 Thomson, Manuscripts from St Albans, i. 47.

113 Koopmans, ‘Conclusion’, 685–94.

114 ‘Caetera qui videre desiderat de vita et meritis hujus sanctae virginis, invenire poterit apud cellam monialium de Markyate, in libro de vita sua plenius exarata’: Gesta abbatum, i. 105.

115 Papsturkunden in England, iii, no. 148.

116 Thompson, Women religious, 59–60. The Gesta abbatum does not mention that Robert ever exercised this privilege. The first abbot reported to have done so was John de Cella (1195–1214): Gesta abbatum, i. 232.

117 Ibid. i. 183.

118 Life of Christina, 8.

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