Power over Past and Future: Abbess Emma and the nunnery of Sant Joan de les Abadesses

Power over Past and Future: Abbess Emma and the nunnery of Sant Joan de les Abadesses

By Jonathan Jarrett

Early Medieval Europe, Vol.12: 3 (2003)

Introduction: Catalonia is an area of medieval Europe that lacks narrative source material before about the twelfth century. Before then the outline of its history must be gleaned from references to the area from the Frankish or Umayyad courts (in the latter case at considerable removes)1 and by painstaking research through the area’s thousands of surviving charters. This weight of documentation can however be made to tell a story, for though more or less formulaic in their redaction many of the charters contain small narratives of their own giving what context was felt to be useful for the transaction they describe. Like any other narrative source, however, their presentation has its own agenda, and their transmission often raises the question of editorial intervention.

The historiography of Catalonia has its own more modern agendas. Direct royal involvement in the area ended with Louis the Pious’s 809 campaign against Tortosa, and the last Frankish royal presence on the March was Lothar and Pippin’s tardy and inconclusive show of force against the Muslims in 828. The history of the area thereafter has been seen as an evolution towards independence, aided substantially by the rise of a single family to power in almost all the area’s counties in 878, indigenous magnates being favoured after the rebellions of four different Frankish marquises. Most work on the area in this period has had to address itself to these issues, which has obvious importance to nationalist thinking in Catalonia, where nationality was officially suppressed for much of the last century. To a foreign scholar it sometimes appears, however, that the exact definition of the situation of the Counts of the March is more important to scholars than it was to contemporaries. Clearly they paid at least lip-service, at most times, to a Frankish royal overlordship. Equally clearly this lordship affected them little after the reign of Louis the Stammerer and then, largely, only when it was called upon to do so. What had been royal responsibilities, albeit administered by the Counts, became comital ones in reality, but these were often explicitly claimed to be the Counts’ by royal grant (though this is not demonstrably the case) and the Counts, in keeping with this stance, never claimed royal status.

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