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Charters as weapons. On the role played by early medieval dispute records in the disputes they record

Charters as weapons. On the role played by early medieval dispute records in the disputes they record

By Warren Brown

Journal of Medieval History, Vol. 28 (2002)

Abstract: This paper seeks to shed more light on how written records were used during the Carolingian period by examining the role played by records of property disputes in the disputes they record. In it I argue that dispute records were important tools that clerical scribes could use to further their church’s interests, to undermine the interests of their opponents, and to help their church take advantage of changes in the regional political landscape. My examples come from the Bavarian cathedral church at Freising in the first decades of the ninth century. These charters indicate that Freising’s scribes crafted their dispute records to enhance the image of their church and bishop, to undermine the image and reputation of their opponents, and to help the Freising community realise what it saw as its property rights. They also sought to take advantage of Charlemagne’s recent conquest of Bavaria by appealing as much as possible to the sympathies of Carolingian judicial authorities. In addition, the scribes used their dispute records to create useful histories for their church’s property, to mask potentially competing histories, and to reward landholding kindreds who allied themselves with Freising’s interests by guaranteeing them a positive written memory.

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