Piotr Górecki: ‘Use of the Past for Peasant Servitude’

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

In the final paper of the workshop, Piotr Górecki presented a close reading of a deed issued by Duke Conrad of Masovia, in 1222, demonstrating the use of history in a legal document. In this text the Duke confirmed the unfree status of the peasant Miłoszka who had requested to be liberated from his overlords.

Carefully analyzing the document’s structure and argumentation, Górecki identified several levels of engagement with the past. Besides references to historical figures and the Duke’s predecessors, the document contained the narrative of the conflict, referring to a previous attempt made by Miłoszka to gain his freedom several years earlier. More strikingly, however, time and history also played a central role in the structure and argument of the Duke’s decision – in the form of a genealogical list of the peasant’s ancestry. Thus, the document stated the intent to dissuade Miłoszka from arguing that the ‘passage of time’ granted him claims to his freedom. Instead, the legal status of the peasant’s family in the past – presented as a list stretching over approximately five generations – should justify the Duke’s decision to maintain this unfree status in the future. [....]

Continue readingComment

Daniel L. Smail: 'History in conflict: notarial and court records'

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

The penultimate contribution to our History in Conflict meeting came from Daniel Lord Smail. In his presentation, Smail reflected on how the various kinds of sources he has encountered during his many years studying medieval Marseilles might shed light on historical conflicts and the strategies used to manage them.

Smail classified the sources he has worked with into three groups, each identified according to how overtly they enter into historical discussions when they frame a conflict. The first of these groups, notarial sources, are doggedly persistent in avoiding historical references. The second group, account books, mention history only occasionally. But the last group, court records, are saturated with historical reference and make the past a central feature of the way in which they explain conflicts to their audience. [....]

Continue readingComment

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz: ‘War, money, language'

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

The paper of Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz ‘War, money, language: History as a versatile argument in conflicts in premodern Danzig’ showed that this argument was present in conflicts on various levels (state, city, individual), and in various forms. Both personal history and ‘big(ger)’ history played a role in conflicts, namely when parties framed the past and presented it as meaningful for them and as a factor in how the conflicts were to unfold.

The use of the historical argument in conflicts was clearly oriented towards the future of the relations. Also avoidance of the historical argument in favour of others, e.g. appeal to Christianity, could be a conscious choice. The past could thus be remembered or forgotten, with specific goals in mind. This places the topic in an interesting relation to memory studies, something we have also seen in the papers of Jackson Armstrong or Jenny Benham.[....]

Continue readingComment

Jenny Benham: ‘Treaties as a strategy of conflict management – a snapshot of Sardinia in the 1180s'

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

From the previously discussed gravemounds of Borre Jenny Benham takes us to the Judicate of Arborea in Sardinia and the quite unique 1186 Treaty of Hyères that was concluded between Arenborga, queen of Arborea, and the city of Genoa. This primary source is an interesting snapshot of conflict management and international law before 1200 and demonstrates the ambiguities one may find in such sources. The Treaty of Hyères was part of a longstanding conflict in and over Sardinia and, thus, part of a complicated web of treaties that could start, pause, or prevent a conflict at various points and levels.

Issues such as Arborea’s succession and the rivalry between Genoa and Pisa played important roles during the overall conflict and required overlapping and complementing strategies to manage and resolve them. While the use of history in conflicts and international law tends to be a justification of actions (and can be found in the other related treaties), the Treaty of Hyères has a surprising lack of references to history. There is no mention of any marriage, previous alliances, financial commitment, and not even a reference to the recent unjust seizure of the throne of Arborea, making this treaty quite a mystery.[....]

Continue readingComment

Hans Jacob Orning: ‘Historical use of the past: The Borre mounds’

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

The next presentation was given by Hans Jacob Orning who introduced us not only to a different place in Europe but also went beyond the Middle Ages. With the gravemounds of Borre (Viken, near Oslo) at the centre of his presentation, Orning first brought us to 19th century Norway and the time of Norwegian nation-building. Here, in their attempts of writing a national history which preceded the recently dissolved union with Denmark, Norwegian historians used these early medieval burial mounds as a national symbol – ‘the place from where the Norwegian unification originated.’

For this claim, they relied on a narrative presented by the 13th century Icelandic historian Snorri Sturluson who had ascribed the gravesite to an ancestor of Harald Fairhair, the semi-mythical first king of Norway. However, other sagas and archaeological evidence not only place the first traces of a Norwegian kingdom to the country’s West-coast but also suggest that the region around Borre stood under a strong Danish influence. [....]

Continue readingComment

Patrick Lantschner: 'Urban space as repositories of memories and the past'

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

The goal of Patrick Lantschner’s ‘history in conflict’ presentation was to avoid written sources and, instead, to ask us to think about urban space as repositories of memories and the past. In particular, the question of how far particular urban spaces can be associated with a memory of revolt?

To start, Lantschner presented an example where the city government influenced the associations of a place. After a failed coup in 1355 by doge Marin Falier, who was subsequently executed for treason, Venice’s city government chose to control the memory of his revolt – the audacity of the doge to attempt a coup at the heart of a republic – through processions at the location. Thus, the memory of the event was controlled by the government and Lantschner observed that afterwards these large-scale revolts did not occur in the city anymore. The Venetians managed to successfully integrate the coup for their own purposes. [....]

Continue readingComment

Justine Firnhaber-Baker: 'Making Conflict History: France, 1373/1358'

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

Here we’ll be discussing Justine Firnhaber-Baker’s presentation on how histories of conflict were created during and after the Jacquerie, a French revolt of 1358. She has written extensively on medieval revolts and just this year published a book on the Jacquerie with Oxford University Press. The Jacquerie broke out following a period of political instability in France, after the King was captured by the English at the battle of Poitiers. There was violence and unrest throughout France during the revolt, but a significant amount came to focus on the town of Meaux, where the Queen was sheltering.

As a way into understanding the events of 1358 and their aftermath, Firnhaber-Baker introduced a single source from the French National Archives. It was issued some years after the Jacquerie and belongs to a category of legal documents known as ‘abolitions.’ The purpose of an ‘abolition’ was to expunge the guilt of a party accused of criminal action, not because they were innocent but because the authorities found their conduct permissible under the circumstances. This particular ‘abolition’ was issued after the Jacquerie on to exonerate a supporter of the monarchy for property damage he had carried out in Meaux during the revolt.
In this document, we glimpse the many levels of conflict at play during the Jacquerie, and some of the steps taken by French authorities to manage those conflicts. On the one hand, it addresses the local conflict between the property owner and the vandal, reversing the usual legal order, which would defend property, in light of what the authorities saw as the legitimate efforts of the accused to act in defence of the crown. On the other hand, this legal dispute between two individuals also reflects the conflict at large. By removing the possibility of redress for those affected by their supporters the document sought to eliminate an avenue for the perpetuation of the conflict and mark a clear end to the Jacquerie, meanwhile, by making a retrospective exception from the usual legal order, the document also communicated to future royal supporters that extra-legal action in times of crisis might be rewarded, setting the stage for the similar management of future conflicts.
Yet even a versatile detailed source like this ‘abolition’ can’t tell the whole story, so for the next part of her presentation Firnhaber-Baker turned to a second document. In the Grandes Chroniques de France, the small story of the violence in Meaux is hardly about the city itself at all, it becomes instead a story of the bodily protection of royal women, and the conflict as presented in the chronicle is less centered on political factions than on the threat of sexual violence. By adding this aspect to the story, the chronicle reveals another level of conflict playing out. Not only do we see the local conflict at Meaux, and the regional conflict of the Jacquerie with its particular political context, but also a more dispute at the highest political level about the legitimacy of the Valois monarchy, as embodied in the royal women and their role in perpetuating the dynasty through producing legitimate heirs. [....]

Continue readingComment

Flavio Miranda: 'Portugal's maritime trade, 1250-1500.''

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

When presented by the webinar’s question of ‘what happens when history is evoked in conflicts?’, Flavio Miranda explored history as an argument from the perspective of those involved in Portugal’s maritime trade between 1250-1500. In particular, our attention was turned towards the tumultuous trade relations between the Portuguese and English, where the escalation of conflicts was often accompanied by violence at sea. Miranda found that when primary sources in the case of Portuguese maritime trade present a reference to history, it was often used to connect the (wider) context of relations to the current situation.

The shared history between Portugal and England was linked to contemporary quarrels during political and commercial conflicts. One of the general conceptions of the late medieval period to keep in mind was that there were “God-given differences” and consequential perpetual clashes between nations due to their shared history of disputes. Continuous challenges by pirates and privateers for Portuguese merchants traversing the Channel could lead to retaliations based on past injustices. Similarly, reflections to recent history were used as a warning for the present and future of the relations between countries and their citizens involved in trade. [....]

Continue readingComment

Jackson Armstrong: ‘Recollection and reconciliation in 15th-century England’

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

Starting off our webinar was Jackson Armstrong from the University of Aberdeen who shared insights into the peace-making process among lesser landowners in late medieval Northern England and the Scottish Marches.

To avoid or end escalation of their conflicts, these actors relied heavily on courts of arbitration. Analyzing awards produced by these institutions, Jackson identified a collectively agreed upon manipulation of the past when making peace: some arbitrations not only required parties to establish friendship for the future, but also for the past. Thus, one example from 1465 called upon the parties 'to be full frends from this daie bakkwarde’. Other documents demanded exculpating oaths from the parties involved, not just to disavow responsibility but to actually deny that any violent conflict had occurred in the first place. We can, Jackson argued convincingly, regard these activities as attempts to rewrite agreed recollections – to shape an ideal, communal version of the past which no longer included the reason which had led to the arbitrated conflict and, thus, also no reason for renewing this violence in the future. Such efforts of agreeing upon an alternative past would have required oathtakers and witnesses to hold a shared view of memory in which recollection itself was valued not for factual accuracy but for its exemplary purpose and desired outcome. Armstrong’s paper, therefore, invites us to think about medieval concepts of time and of recollection. Constructing a shared narrative of events to reach a peaceful agreement and to use collective memory as a tool of reconciliation required groups to see the past in ways unfamiliar to us.[....]

Continue readingComment

Introducing a blog series on #historyinconflicts: the medieval edition

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

On 25.06.2021, a group of medievalists discussed the question ‘what happens when history is evoked in conflicts’? Specifically: did such discourse take place? – how did it happen? – why did it happen? in medieval cases and sources, ranging from the Scottish Marches to Sardinia, and from lawsuits to references to burial mounds. What functions did such historical discourse have: was it for instance a call for change or a call for preservation in a conflict?... And who used the memory of a sometimes distant past in the heat of a clash? The historical argument in conflicts was not only an interpretation of the past. Various actors within such conflict gave meaning to events and relations in the past, and made use of the historical discourse for specific ends.

It became a very thought-provoking online meeting, which we want to share here. Indeed, the goal of this blog series is to present summaries of the contributions by medievalists, and to continue the discussion with early modernists and modernists. Some highlights by way of introduction.[....]

Continue readingComment