Notable absences and their importance

Most people are aware of what is meant by the phrase “fashionably late”. For those unaware, the Oxford Dictionary defines the phrase as “Deliberately arriving after an event has started, especially in order to prove one’s social status”.[1] Thus if I were late to my friends birthday, and explained that my tardiness was due to some other social function, this would convey the impression that I had so many social commitments that my time needed to be rationed. This would imply I was of a high social status. Medieval Lords seem to have had a similar system, except rather than simply being “fashionably late”, a superior Lord would often be “fashionably absent”, and this shall be explored below.

In 1189 Lord Rhys, Prince of Deheubarth, travelled to Oxford to treat with Richard I, King of England.[2] However, rather than appear himself, Richard sent his brother, John, to negotiate with the Welsh prince. This was deemed so insulting by Lord Rhys that, rather than make do with the King’s brother, he stormed off.[3] Clearly this was seen as quite insulting by Lord Rhys, most likely due to what Richard’s absence implied. An absent regent seems to reveal two things. The first revelation seems to be that the absentee was a very busy individual, and that their time was a precious commodity. The second, and arguably more insulting, revelation, is that meeting with an inferior ruler was not worth their precious time. This further reinforced that the inferior ruler was just that, an inferior. Just as being fashionably late may enhance one’s social status, being fashionably absent seems to highlight a regent’s superiority over an inferior. This somewhat explains Rhys’ reaction, in that Rhys had been a surprisingly aggressive neighbour, and had considerable success in raiding English held territory.[4] For this success to be simply dismissed, by Richard not appearing at all, must have been quite a blow to his ego. Regardless, this certainly implies that the absence of a regent showed the relationship dynamic between two powers.

Some might say this is not a typical occasion, but whilst Rhys’ reaction is certainly quite exceptional, there are many documented instances of inferior powers meeting a superior power, with the superior regent being absent. Another, earlier, example is that of William the Lion meeting the Bishop of Durham in 1174 at Reddunburn river to secure peace. A later example would include Llewellyn the Great’s meeting with representatives of King John in 1201.[5] Few would dispute that the realms of Scotland or Gwynedd were inferior to that of England, in either economic prowess or in terms of raw military might. In fact, William the Lion would become vassal to Henry II just two years after the aforementioned meeting, and Llewelyn was arranging to become the vassal of King John in this particular meeting.[6] The principality of Deheubarth was also a minor power when compared to the English juggernaut and these examples show the meeting at Oxford in 1189 was not an exceptional occurrence.

This certainly seems to indicate that the absence of a superior regent was used to highlight their superiority at the expense of the inferiors’ dignity. However, it might be argued that this was simply a practical arrangement. After all, the Kings of England during this period had many territories overseas, and it can’t be expected of them to appear in more than one place at a time. This is certainly a valid point, but again it is reflective of the superior/inferior relationship that these polities had, and this is further showcased in the following example. In 1192 Richard I treated with Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn. However, Richard had fallen ill, so negotiations between these two powerful Lords occurred via a series of messengers from one regent to the other.[7] This clearly shows that if two equal powers were to treat together, but complications arose, then both would send messengers. This is certainly not the case with the Scottish King and Welsh princes mentioned above, and that seems to be primarily due to the aforementioned powers being treated as inferiors. Whilst it is clear that impractical circumstances could force a regent to be absent from negotiations, it is also clear that this could be overcome without implying either power was an inferior.

The absence of a regent was clearly an important factor in medieval diplomacy. It both highlighted and solidified the superior/inferior relationship of the powers involved, and clearly had very real complications, as seen in Lord Rhys’ case. It seems to have been a fairly common tool of showing the dynamic of an inter-polity relationship, as evidenced by the meetings in 1174 and 1201, and something which could be avoided if involving two equal powers, as shown by Richard I negotiations with Ṣalāḥ ad-Dīn. The impression conveyed by a regent being absent was not only that the regent was busy with the affairs of their domain, but that these affairs were more important than meeting the Lord of an inferior foreign power, and thus further cemented the status quo.

[1]‘Fashionably late’, Oxford Dictionary, accessed 24/09/2016, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/fashionably_late

[2]Gesta Regis Henrici Secundi Benedicti Abbatis, 2 vols, ed. W. Stubbs, Rolls Series, 49 (London, 1867), ii, p87-88

[3]Gesta Regis Henrici Secundi Benedicti Abbatis, ii, p97; Chronica Magistri Rogeri de Hovedene, 4vols, ed. W. Stubbs, Rolls Series, 51 (London 1868-71), iii, p23

[4] Kari Maund, The Welsh Kings: Warriors, Warlords and Princes, (Stroud, 2006), p177-178

[5] Chronica Magistri Rogeri de Hovedene, ii, p56-57; Rotuli Litterarum Patentium in Turri Londiniensi Asservati, ed. T. Duffus Hardy, (London, 1835), 8b-9a

[6] Gesta Regis Henrici Secundi Benedicti Abbatis, I, p95-97, p111; Rotuli Litterarum Patentium in Turri Londiniensi Asservati, 8b-9a

[7] Itinerarium Peregrinorum et Gesta Regis Ricardi, 6, tr. H, Nicholson, (Aldarshot, 1997), p27-28, p371-372.

The Anglo-Norman treaty of 991

The Anglo-Norman treaty of 991 refers to a letter made in the name of Pope John XV who played a major role in initiating peace negotiations between King Æthelred II of England and Richard I, duke of Normandy. Unlike many other treaties we know of from this period it is a near contemporary document, having been copied in the early 11th century.[1]  Whilst this may seem like a fairly straight forward source Chaplais has argued that the author was likely one of the clerical representatives from either parties, by showing that there is significant deviation from standard Papal written norms.[2]   The Pope is most likely attributed as the author as it was the Pope who acted as a neutral third party for this treaty.[3]  The source itself is simply meant to act as a record of the events described from the Church’s point of view.[4]  Regardless, it is still important that we have a good knowledge of the background of Pope John XV, as not only will this provide information on the attributed author, it will also provide the political context in which the Pope urged these diplomatic talks.

Pope John XV is often overlooked by academic historians but is an interesting case as, unlike later Popes, he had significant support from the Holy Roman Emperor during his reign, as shown by Otto III’s willingness to come to John’s aid in 996.[5]   Thus the early Papacy had an excellent reputation, being untouched by the later conflicts between the Church and various secular powers. Though this may seem somewhat irrelevant it does provide insight into how and why the Pope, whose base of residence was no short distance in relation to Northern Europe, was still able to convince these rulers to make peace. This shows that this source is particularly useful in understanding Papal diplomatic intervention early on in the period.

One of the major points of interest in this source is that the Papacy seems to take the initiative in opening diplomatic dialogue. Lines four to seven from the source support this, saying that Pope John took the initiative after hearing about the conflict between these two ‘spiritual sons’. This seems unusual, particularly when later diplomatic conferences which involve third parties normally consist of the two conflicting powers inviting the third party to take up the role, as Gerald of Wales shows when recording the Kings of Castille and Navarre asking Henry II to act as an independent third party in 1177.[6]  It is clear that these Iberian Kings requested the English monarch’s assistance. Although it could be argued the Pope was invited to intervene, after potentially hearing of it from the Archbishop Sigeric in the later part of 989 or early 990 when Sigeric met the Pope in order to receive his Pallium giving him an opportunity to ask for Papal intervention, it is unlikely that this constitutes a formal invitation from King Æthelred II himself. Thus this source could be said to show that the Papacy had exceptional authority as a mediator in the middle ages. In fact, Ullman goes so far as to say that the Papacy had the power to deny the autonomy of the rulers involved in diplomatic processes which the Papacy was involved in.[7]  However, there are clearly examples which lead one to suspect this was less true later in the period, such as the Papal mediation between Henry II and Philip Augustus in 1189, mentioned by Benham, which did not have its desired effect.[8]  This may have been in part due to the later Papacies reputation being somewhat damaged by conflicts with other powers, particularly with the Holy Roman Empire. Despite this it can certainly be argued that this may have been a reality in the early period when the Papacy’s reputation was bolstered by good relations with the ‘German’ Emperor.

A final point should be briefly touched upon, the fact that representatives are employed by both leaders. The source states that King Æthelred dispatched three emissaries, Bishop Æthelsige, Leofstan and Æthelnoth, whilst the Norman Duke reciprocated this act somewhat, by asking three members of his court, Bishop Roger, Rodulf and Tursten, to swear the oath that finalised the treaty on his behalf. It is likely that that this combination of emissaries, being one bishop and two noblemen, was due to diplomatic practice involving representatives being highly symbolic, with a format known to both parties.  What is particularly peculiar about this is that emissaries swearing any sort of oath on behalf of the rulers, rather than acting as messengers. This dips into an ongoing debate between Chaplais and Queller, both of whom argue that there were two types of medieval envoy, nuncii and procuratores. However, they disagree over what defines these two types of envoy. Chaplais argues that nuncii acted primarily as messengers, only being able to recite an oral request on behalf of their lord and bring an answer back.[9] Queller on the other hand believes that nuncii were indeed able to take oaths on behalf of those who they represented, but this was in no way binding to that person.[10] Any oaths or treaties negotiated by a nuncii would have to undergo review by their Lord before it could be made binding. Both of these historians agree upon the limited role of nuncii, and also see them as being the prominent envoy prior to the 12th century.  They both have a similar  view of procuratores, both arguing that they were able to negotiate and conclude binding agreements on behalf of those they represented, although Chaplais adds that this depended on the strength of the documents appointing them to the role.[11] Both agree that procuratores become prominent in the 12th and 13th centuries, Chaplais even arguing that the diplomatic negotiations involving procuratores simply are not documented until the aforementioned period. [12] However, clearly the envoys in the Anglo-Norman treaty of 991 are acting as procuratores, as both parties envoys swear binding oaths on behalf of their Lord. Clearly this shows that diplomatic practises of this time had already adapted a structure and routine which we have little knowledge of, particularly when most of the academic work surrounding the subject of Medieval diplomacy focuses on the later part of the period.

The Anglo-Norman treaty is certainly a useful source. Not only does it shed light upon the exceptional powers of the Papacy early on in the period as an intervening third party, it can also be said to help us understand why these Papal powers faded later in the period, i.e. due to secular conflicts. Although this source is useful primarily as an example of Papal diplomacy in the Middle Ages, it also reveals information regarding the importance of diplomatic structure and just how little we know regarding emissaries and diplomacy in the early period.

[1] Chaplais, P (2003). English Diplomatic Practice in the Middle Ages. London: Hambledon Press, 2003. p36.

[2] Chaplais, P (2003). English Diplomatic Practice in the Middle Ages. London: Hambledon Press, 2003. p39.

[3] Chaplais, P (2003). English Diplomatic Practice in the Middle Ages. London: Hambledon Press, 2003. P40.

[4] This is supported by the second sentence of the source, which says all Christians throughout the world should know of this event, implying that this is the reason it is recorded.

[5] Kelly, J.N.D. Walsh, M.J. (2010) A Dictionary of Popes. Oxford University Press. Oxford Reference. John XV. Available: http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780199295814.001.0001/acref-9780199295814-e-153?rskey=Ci5edW&result=1. Last accessed 24/10/15.

[6] Breeze, A. (1996). “Gerald of Wales’ ‘Expugnatio Hibernica’ and Pedro of Cardona (d. 1183), Archbishop of Toledo”. National Liberary of Wales Journal. 29 (3), p337-339.

[7] Ulmann, The medieval Papal Court as an International tribunal, p361 Medieval Papal Court as an International Tribunal, The International Court of Justice  available: http://heinonline.org/HOL/Page?handle=hein.journals/vajint11&div=37&g_sent=1&collection=journals

[8] Benham, J (2011). Peacemaking in the Middle Ages. Manchester: Manchester University Press. p186.

[9] Chaplais, P (1971). English Diplomatic Documents to the End of Edward III’s Reign. Oxford: D.A. Bullough and R.L. Story. p39.

[10] Queller, D. (1960). Thirteenth-century Diplomatic Envoys: Nuncii and Procuratores. Speculum. 35 (2), p200-201.

[11] Queller, D. (1960). Thirteenth-century Diplomatic Envoys: Nuncii and Procuratores. Speculum. 35 (2), p202-203;

Chaplais, P (2003). English Diplomatic Practice in the Middle Ages. London: Hambledon Press, 2003. P41

[12] Chaplais, P (2003). English Diplomatic Practice in the Middle Ages. London: Hambledon Press, 2003. p18