Medieval sources for Normandy’s (legal) history

Startscreen Norécrit (detail)

Musing about a possible goal for a holiday this summer France is bound to enter my thoughts! Thus it made me really happy to find a new portal about French regional history with an European dimension. The portal Norécrit. Aus sources de la Normandie. Pratiques de l’écrit das la Normandie médiévale is a project at the Université de Caen Normandie bringing you a tripartite online corpus with sources for legal history, ecclesiastical administration and the history of medieval archives and libraries, in particular for the abbey of Mont Saint-Michel. In earlier posts I looked here at Norman customary law and at the cultural heritage in the form of manuscripts from Mont Saint-Michel and Chartres. What kind of sources can you find at Norécrit? How does the version presented at the new portal differ from earlier (online) editions?

Familiar and unfamiliar

Logo Craham, Université de Caen Normandie / CNRS

The portal Norécrit came to my attention thanks to the Réseau des médiévistes belges de langue française (RMBLF) which offers a calendar of scholarly events concerning medieval studies in Europe, and much else, too, such as notices about new publications and online projects. Let’s first chart the institutional constellation for Norécrit. The portal is the fruit of a team at the Maison de la Recherche en Sciences Humaines (MRSH), and more specifically its unit Centre Michel de Boüard – CRAHAM (UMR 6273). Earlier on this centre launched in cooperation with numerous other institutions already the Bibliothèque virtuelle du Mont Saint-Michel. You can read more about the CRAHAM also at its blog Les Échos du Craham.

Law in medieval Normandy

The first section of Norécrit is directly concerned with medieval legal history. The équipe for this section is led by the director of CRAHAM, Laurence Jean-Marie. Under the heading Ecrits nomratif et vitalité économique. Les coutumes des villes et des ports you will find nineteen texts with customary law. Those for harbors contain regulations for tolls, they are not just tariff lists. The introduction states clearly we should not expect too much uniformity. Many texts are not official statements, but instead more privately produced text collections. Texts concerning forestry law have not been included. The Grand Coutumier de Normandie is not mentioned at all, since these texts have clearly a more local range. The Coutumes de la prévôté d’Harfleur (1387) is the first text edited at Norécrit, and the edition comes with a useful introduction and a presentation of the sources. A nineteenth-century edition used only one archival source, but here three medieval sources have been used for the new edition. You can browse the text using the sommaire or use the search function (recherche). This section brings a most valuable addition for the study of customary law in Normandy.

Viewing church life in the archdiocese Rouen

Administration par l’écrit dans l’Église du XIIIe siècle is the theme of the second section, led by Grégory Combalbert, and more specifically the development of the use of written records in the archdiocese Rouen covering the territory of Normandy. Three sources brought together here can show you church life during the thirteenth century in great detail. Apart from a pouillé, an overview of parishes in this archdiocese and episcopal acts from four archbishops the main resource here is the famous register of archiepiscopal visitations created by Eudes (Odo) Rigaud, archbishop from 1248 until 1275.

I suppose I am not the only scholar remembering reading about him in the great synthesis of medieval ecclesiastical history by the late Sir Richard William Southern, Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages (Harmondsworth 1970). The concise introduction to the visitations refers to both old and modern literature about this very active archbishop and his register. The edition by Théodose Bonnin, Regestrum visitationum archiepiscopi Rothomagensis : journal des visites pastorales d’Eude Rigaud, archevêque de Rouen 1248-1269 (Rouen 1852) can be consulted online at Gallica as can also the manuscript Paris, BnF, ms. latin 1245, alas only taken from an old but serviceable microfilm. It is wise to look at the full description of this manuscript at the website of the BnF, too, because it points you to some scholarly articles and the English translation by Sidney M. Brown with an introduction by Jeremiah F. O’Sullivan, The register of Eudes of Rigaud (New York-London 1964).

A page of the pouillé for Rouen, 1236-1306 - Paris, BNF, ms. Latin 11052, fol, 5v - image source: Paris, BnF
A page of the pouillé for Rouen, 1236-1306 – Paris, BnF, ms. Latin 11052, fol, 5v – image source: Paris, BnF

The document with an overview of parishes in the archdiocese Rouen between 1236 and 1306, too, is preserved in a manuscript held at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (Ms. Latin 11052). Léopold Delisle published an edition of the text in 1894. The manuscript has been digitized in full color at Gallica, and you can find a succinct description in the online Archives et manuscrits catalog of the BnF.

Acts of four archbishops of Rouen between 1231 and 1275 form the third and last element in this section. Currently only acts up to 1257 are presented in the online edition. For some acts of Eudes Rigaud copies are found in his register. The edition contains both the texts of original charters and of later copies. The critical apparatus and annotation are all you can desire. It has to be noted that some seventy acts of the 154 acts stem from Eudes Rigaud. This Franciscan scholar and archbishop was clearly in many ways exceptional, but even when you acknowledge the bias caused by his zealous personality he remains most remarkable.

The archives and libraries of monasteries

The third axe of the project at the Université de Caen is led by Marie Bisson and focuses on one particular and very singular abbey, the Benedictine abbey under royal protection of the Mont Saint-Michel. The projected corpus of texts at Norécrit has not yet been completed. As for now you will find liturgical texts, followed by De abbatibus, the chronicle written by abbot Robert de Torigni about earlier abbots, and a subsection with sources concerning miracles happening at or touching Mont Saint-Michel. In a later phase of the project a corpus of texts written and reunited by Dom Thomas Le Roy in 1647 and 1648 will be published, and also the Constitutiones abbatiae Sancti Michaelis (1258) and statutes issued by pope Gregory IX. The constitutions will be edited from the manuscript Avranches, BM, 214, f. 9-16, and the papal statutes are at fol. 8-9 of this manuscript which you can view online in the Bibliothèque virtuelle du Mont Saint-Michel. In fact you will find there a description of this manuscript and already the incipits and explicits. It would be helpful if the French team provides this link at Norécrit, too. As an excuse for not doing this they can point to the online journal Tabularia. Sources écrits des mondes normands médiévaux with in the 2019 issue a critical edition of De abbatibus with translations in English and Italian by Pierre Bouet, Marie Bisson and others [‘Écrire l’histoire des abbés du Mont Saint-Michel 3. Édition critique et traduction’]. As a bonus they can point to the blog Mondes nordidiques et normands médiévaux.

Three windows on medieval Normandy

After creating the Bibliothèque virtuell du Mont Saint-Michel with numerous digitized manuscripts, most of them held at Avranches, it is not by coincidence this abbey figures large, too, at the new Norécrit portal. Its preeminence simply cannot be denied, but the portal helps to create a more balanced view in the two other sections. It is is splendid to see customary law at a local and municipal level, thus helping to place the Grand Coutumier de Normandie in its original context. In the Bibliothèque David Hoüard, Bibliothèque numérique de droit normand you can find numerous digitized resources concerning law in Normandy from the Middle Ages onwards. You might want to look also at the blog for the project RIN CONDÉ  (Constitution d’un Droit européen : six siècles de coutumiers normands). By the way, Gallica has among its Essentiels du droit a fine section with books and medieval manuscripts around the Coutume de Normandie. The second section of Norécrit brings together precious and interesting sources on medieval church administration and canon law. When searching for synodal statutes from Rouen you can find fourteen texts from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries in the Corpus synodalium created at Stanford University.

The connections between Normandy and England, and the position of this duchy within France are obvious reasons for looking at Normandy as a region with European importance already in the medieval period. Hopefully my brief introduction to Norécrit and references to some accompanying projects and blogs helps you to put Normandy into perspective as more than just a lovely region for a summer holiday in France!

A postscript

At the CRAHAM Grégory Combalbert has created an online edition for acts of the bishops of Évreux from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Actes des évêques d’Évreux (xie siècle-1223), surely worth mentioning here, too. You can view also images of these charters and acts.

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