|receipt roll for tallage of Issac fil Jurnet in Norwich, 1233. E 401/1565|
Today I am continuing to blog Stories of Blood, the original version of the project that became Hybridity, Identity and Monstrosity in Medieval Britain: On Difficult Middles. You will find part one, the introduction, here and a downloadable bibliography to 2004 (!) here. This chapter may be the creakiest, since so much good work on medieval race that stresses its corporeality has been accomplished in the last decade.
The Blood of Race
Ten races, twelfth-century readers were told, participated in the long history of the British Isles: the Romans, Welsh, Picts, Scots, Irish, English, Danes, Normans, Jews and Saracens. Three of these peoples could have been imagined to be related by common descent, since the Romans, Welsh and Normans had proclaimed themselves at one time or another the offspring of refugees from fallen Troy. Yet this hypothetically communal ancestry was seldom invoked. Three of the twelve races (Romans, Picts, Danes) had already vanished from Britain, eradicated or absorbed into other bloodlines. The Normans were destined to join them, beginning to lose their differentiating name within a few decades of the century's start and relinquishing shortly thereafter much of their hold on a language, culture, and history separate from the English. The Irish, Scots and Welsh were meanwhile finding themselves described by this newly amalgamated England as barbarians, scarcely risen above the level of animals. The two non-Christian races, Jews and Saracens, were coming to inhabit widening fantasy spaces, gaining an energetic existence as monsters inimical to Christian community. The Jews were for the English an enemy within, a disturbingly alien people who plotted the destruction of their neighbors. Saracens were geographically distant but imaginatively proximate: almost every English history written at this time, for example, found it de rigeur to include a narrative of Christian martial exploits in the Holy Land; Saracens were frequently depicted in contemporary art as well. Crusading polemic represented the followers of Mohammed as bellicose and perverse idolaters. Real Muslims paid a price for this demonization every time an inhabitant from the British Isles was convinced to take ship for the east. The Jews became by the century's close frequent targets for a similar kind of violence, with the year 1190 witnessing a first eruption of pogroms.
As this brief narration suggests, race in twelfth-century Britain was a paradoxical category, at once mutable (the Normans vanish into Englishness) and refractory (the Welsh and the Jews find themselves locked into monsterizing depictions as the category "English" ceases to demonstrate the permeability that allowed it to absorb the Normans). This chapter examines the twinned fluidity and substantiality of medieval race, the bodies and bodily performances that gave race forms that proved either enduring or ephemeral. The currents of history that flowed through the British archipelago at this time enabled some groups to congeal into self-nominated collectives, while others found themselves rigidly defined in terms they had never dreamed. This flow of history was also a flow of blood: blood left in the path of unrelenting conquest; the blood of feud, rebellion, resistance, of innocent slaughter and of gleeful shedding; blood that brought into being new island mythologies, new ways of imagining community; blood that circulated through denigrated bodies and rendered them forever set apart. Most visible in the body of the ostracized, medieval race is an intimate of that figure never far from a flow of blood, the monster.
A Vision of Blood, 1230
Jurnepin of Norwich sat by the river Wensum, crying. The swaying of the ships at dock, the gurgle of the silty water helped him think of something, anything, besides the ache. His leg was wet with blood. Yesterday the little boy had been a Christian named Odard, skipping rocks off muddy puddles in the streets of Norwich. That name, given by the followers of the Hanged One, had been blotted out forever. He was now Jurnepin, a circumcised Jew. You must never eat pork again, Senioret told him as he prepared the knife. The stroke that had cut his foreskin had also excised his Christianity. The gates of heaven slammed shut, and left him in tears and blood among the Jews.
Benedict, Jurnepin's father, was a Christian convert. A high price, his friends had sneered, to belong to a community that hates us. Jurnepin had known their faces long before, had seen them glaring at his father as he made his physician's rounds. As a captive in Jacob's house, he caught their names in the flow of their familiar French: Leo, Deudone, Joppe, Elias, Mosse, Simon, Sampson, Isaac le Petit, Diaia le Cat. These men had their revenge on Benedict when Jacob and Senioret reclaimed his son. Once a Jew, always a Jew, they said. It was funny, Jurnepin had often heard the Christians repeating the same phrase, even when he and his dad were together in the cathedral. Were there some lines that just couldn't be crossed? Can a Breton ever become French, or a Welshman English? Can the leopard change its spots, or the Ethiopian his skin? Might a boy growing up in Yorkshire ever become as English as a Londoner? Must a Jew always remain a Jew?
Benedict had learned to praise in Latin the son of a God who was not supposed to have any sons. He had mastered all the local customs and assimilated to Norwich with a convert's zeal. Yet there was something in him and in his son that perhaps could not be changed, something that even now Jurnepin felt trickling along his cheeks, felt congealed along his thigh. At the age of five Jurnepin the Jew knew that race is born of trauma, race is born of blood.
The Ethiopian's Skin
The fabulation that opens this chapter is based upon an incident imperfectly known from the historical record.[i] In 1230 a five-year-old boy was found wandering the riverbank in the East Anglian city of Norwich. He tearfully announced that he was a Jew. After a woman named Matilda de Burnham brought him to her house, some Jewish men arrived and demanded the surrender of the boy, whom they called Jurnepin. When Matilda refused, they enjoined her not to feed him pork and set off for the royal castle in search of the sheriff. The boy's father, Benedict, was summoned by a woman who thought she recognized the child. Meanwhile the Jews complained to the sheriff and the bailiffs, demanding custody. Although he at first insisted that he was indeed Jurnepin, when his father arrived the boy admitted to being Benedict's son, Odard. Abducted by a man named Jacob while playing in the streets and held captive in his house, Odard/Jurnepin had been involuntarily circumcised. Senioret, "Jew of Norwich," was outlawed for performing the act, while thirteen others were called to trial for their crimes. A series of legal starts and stops beset the case, so that it was heard in turn by the citizens and church in Norwich, by the king and the archbishop of Canterbury, by a mixed jury of Jews and Christians. In the end three Jews were hanged: Isaac le Petit, Daia, and Mosse cum Naso ["Nosey Moses"]. The remainder either died awaiting trial or fled abroad and became fugitives, taking their families with them. Benedict's name and occupation of physician strongly suggest that he was a converted Jew. His former coreligionists seem to have been reclaiming his son, an act that they conducted fairly openly and with confidence in royal protection through the sheriff and bailiffs, officers of the crown.[ii]
Si mutare potest Aethiops pellem suam? As the Book of Jeremiah asks (13:23) in a formulation that medieval writers were fond of quoting, can the leopard change its spots, can the Ethiopian change his skin? The identity of the little boy found crying by the river Wensum evokes profound uncertainties about the interconnection of race, blood, and community. Behind these questions lay an unsettled history, not just in Norwich or in England but throughout the British archipelago. The conquistadors of varied ancestry who had shared the spoils of William of Normandy's newly acquired realm originally collected themselves under the umbrella designation Franci, differentiating themselves from the subaltern English over whom they exerted power.[iii] Yet the victors at Hastings assimilated to the racial identity of their subjects, not vice versa. English saints, traditions, laws, and history were adopted by the kingdom's new elite, engendering a tumultuously hybrid culture that preoccupied itself with trying to imagine an unbroken past. Despite the startling plasticity that the early years of the twelfth century witnessed, moreover, the century closed with its racial categories hardened into the most resistant of cultural cement. A nearly unbreachable gulf yawned between the English and the other inhabitants of the island, making it difficult to assimilate a Jew who had embraced the very faith supposed to differentiate England not only from its Jews but also the barbaric peoples who limned borders of the realm. The people of Scotland, Ireland and Wales were held to be Christian in name alone, as contemptible as pagans in the degenerate practice of their creed.[iv]
The racial categories that have divided the British Isles for centuries solidified during the twelfth century, with England aggressively declaring its paninsular superiority. Four non-anglophone groups were lastingly relegated to subaltern status, three finding themselves inhabiting the fringe of England's center and the fourth expelled wholesale in 1290. Yet an incident like the forced circumcision of a five-year-old boy in 1230 could shake English confidence that island identities had been permanently reordered. Is the child a Christian or a Jew, free citizen of Norwich or property of the crown, redeemed from ignorance or captive to an alien mode of being, Odard or Jurnepin? To which people will he be returned, the francophone Jews who demand that he not eat pig flesh, or the English-speaking Christians who claim he belongs to Norwich in a way no Jew could? Whose blood runs through his veins? Does he take his identity from his father, from the people his father rebuked and who have ritually reclaimed him, from the community in which he is being raised, from the community of the realm, from the universal church? The movement of the trial from local to royal to ecclesiastical arenas suggests the widening gyre of these questions, and their potential irresolvability. Did Christ's blood wipe the boy clean at baptism? Did the sacrament eradicate the Jewishness of his father? Whose blood must be shed in payment for the boy's physical transformation? Has the blood spilled at his circumcision changed the sanguineous flow in his body, or was that ritual of Jewish belonging a reincorporation of blood that baptism failed to alter?
Despite the incomplete nature of the archival evidence, the controversy surrounding the circumcision of Odard/Jurnepin vividly illustrates the complicated connections between identity and blood in the Middle Ages. To speak about blood is to speak of human corporeality, of our existence as embodied creatures. The very essence of life, blood's pulsation through the veins sustains the flesh. As a substance and as a metonymy for bodiliness itself, blood gives being its solidity, binding identity to corporeality. Yet blood is never individual. It is always shared, always a figure in the Middle Ages for community. Ancestral blood binds individuals to collective histories, and thereby to corporate identities. Medieval conceptions of race are thus often familial in their vocabulary, especially as origins are traced back to founding fathers. Hengist and Horsa, great-great grandsons of Odin himself, were said by the English historian Bede to be the primal leaders of the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Britain (Ecclesiastical History 1.15). Just as Aeneas engendered the Romans, according to British tradition his grandson Brutus bestowed cultural and corporeal heritage upon the Britons. By the twelfth century these Britones, Cymry or Welsh might have been uninterested in anything but affiliations we would today call regional. They might have fought for no single ruler, allying themselves with petty princes engaged in internecine wars. They might not even have conceptualized Wales as a geopolitical entity in the same way that the colonizing English and Normans did. Yet the trauma of vigorously renewed invasion in the twelfth century provided a rallying point. The knowledge of shared Trojan descent allowed the scattered Welsh to gather themselves into a single race. Such a community of blood could not coalesce, moreover, without related processes of disidentification.[v] The Welsh became the Welsh relationally, through the fact that they held themselves to be different from the nearby English, Flemish, Normans, Irish, Jews.[vi] These other races were imagined to have their own distinguishing blood, their own individuating histories.
Consaguinitas, "communal blood," connects the individual to the group, shared identity to single body. Yet despite the fact that it is integral to stabilizing and substantiating identities, blood is not solid matter but restless liquid. Inherited yet susceptible to environmental influence, sustaining the body yet eager to flow from it, blood cannot solidify immutable forms. Peoples change profoundly over time. Blood's protean energy, its unceasing movement toward connection, ensures that it will commingle previously disparate categories, will confuse what it was supposed to keep discrete. Blood congeals, providing a possible stability; and blood flows, seeking any egress it can find from circumscription. As coagulant blood is that which materializes identity and makes it real, an anchor for history in the body. But as fluctuant blood is constant movement, a promiscuous violator of boundary. Possessed of a dual nature, acting as both inertial force and catalyst to unexpected change, blood is no mere symbol or metaphor for race. Blood is race made flesh.
Alive with a detritus of inherited forms, blood is bound by history. Exploding with novelty, inexhaustible in its combinatory vitality, blood is perpetually forming new admixtures, new hybrids, new monsters.
The Matter of Race
That race continues to be a controversial term among medievalists owes much to the fact that, although etymologically related to Latin and romance terms describing descent, the word has no exact medieval equivalent. Natio, gens, genus, stirps (and to a lesser extent populus, nomen, sanguis, and lingua) are the most frequently encountered Latin nouns today translated as "race." In many instances these terms could more neutrally be rendered nation, people, ethnic identity, linguistic community, family or kin group. Yet even a word as seemingly familiar as natio, destined to become the modern English word nation, implies in a medieval context not a geopolitical entity like the United States, with its idea of a shared geography whose diverse population nonetheless forms a single community. A medieval natio need be nothing more than a group of people linked by their common descent (consaguinitas), since natio and its vernacular equivalents derive ultimately from the Latin verb nasci, "to be born." The word thereby carries implications that we would today describe as biological.[vii] Race, as we saw in the introduction to this book, may be culturally constructed, but race is almost always involved in questions of blood.
No scholar has explored the complexities of medieval race more thoroughly than the historian Robert Bartlett. Conflict and change, Bartlett argues, ensured that race would be a perpetually unsettled category: "Medieval terminology may have allowed a biological or genetic construal of race, but it also allowed a picture of races as changing cultural communities, often in competition, often forming and reforming, overflowing and cutting across political boundaries, providing identities and claims for their members" ("Concepts of Race and Ethnicity" 54). In delineating the components of medieval race Bartlett takes as his point of departure the canonist Regino of Prüm (d. 915), who stated that races [nationes] are distinct in descent, customs, language, and laws.[viii] These distinctions are seldom as clear-cut as Regino's confident articulation makes them seem. Customs, language and law are subject to rapid change and might be shared across cultural boundaries or not uniformly distributed within them. Descent might be traced differently according to which tradition is being invoked by at a particular time. Multiple and mutually exclusive myths of origin could coexist without causing much dissonance. What matters, however, is that customs, language, law and descent were the criteria most frequently invoked when medieval peoples thought about their own collective identities as well as those carried by their neighbors. When Bernard, the bishop of St David's in Wales, was arguing to the pope for the primacy of his seat and its independence from English Canterbury, he invoked the distinctiveness of the Welsh race in exactly these terms.[ix]
Only descent explicitly anchors race to body. Yet all four of the components propounded by Regino are inextricably somatic in their expression and effects. When dryly enumerated in the lists of ethnographers, customs [mores] might at first glance seem insubstantial, abstract. Yet customs are practices that render communal belonging visible in the flesh. They include such embodied phenomena as comportment, table manners, bathing habits, bodily modification, clothing, armor, self-adornment, hairstyle and grooming. Customs were, in the words of R. R. Davies, "powerful and visible cultural and ethnic identifiers" that medieval people seldom took lightly.[x] In the eighth century, the lack of the round Petrine tonsure among Welsh and Irish monks was held by the English historian Bede to be a mark of their inferiority, while the fact that they kept Easter according to the outdated Julian calendar further proved that they were a people quite literally locked in a more primitive time. When the English met the Normans at the Battle of Hastings, before a single word left either army's mouth it was obvious who belonged to which side by coiffure. Insular natives had flowing locks and moustaches, invaders wore short hair and were freshly shaved.[xi] William of Malmesbury recounts that spies sent by King Harold to reconnoiter the enemy camp reported that the Norman army was composed of priests because of their relative hairlessness:
After enlarging at great length on the leader's superb self-confidence, they added in all seriousness that almost every man in William's army seemed to be a priest, all their faces including both lips being clean-shaven; for the English leave the upper lip, with its unceasing growth of hair, unshorn, which Julius Caesar describes as a national custom of the ancient Britons too in his book on the Gallic War. (History of the Kings of England 3.239)
In dwelling upon physical difference between the two peoples the passage accomplishes a dual purpose. First, the sly intimation that the Normans are priestly will be echoed a bit later in the text when William of Normandy's army spends the night before battle in the laudable ritual of confessing their sins, taking communion at daybreak (3.242). The dissolute English meanwhile spend a sleepless evening singing, drinking, and carousing (3.241). Second, the suggestion that the English are a latter day version of the Britons on the eve of Roman conquest prepares the way for the changing of the guard that William of Normandy will effect: just as the Britons fell to the Romans, so the English will fall to the Normans. Although William of Malmesbury's clean-cut portrait of Norman and English difference is undoubtedly simplified, Mathew Paris maintained that Englishmen hostile to the Normans were growing their beards defiantly long even as the twelfth century was coming to a close.[xii]
William of Malmesbury provides another illuminating anecdote about hair and race in his Life of Wulfstan. William was eager to demonstrate that Wulfstan, a former supporter of Harold and the most notable English bishop to survive the Norman purge of the episcopate, was (like William of Malmesbury himself) something of an English-Norman hybrid. Thus the bishop is said to carry a small knife with him for personal grooming and for scraping manuscripts. Should he happen to espy an English cleric with the long locks typical of the day, this knife would fly out to snip away some hair. Wulfstan would then enjoin his victim
by their vow of obedience to return the rest of their hair to the same level plane. Anyone who thought it worth objecting he would charge with effeminacy [mollitiem], and openly threaten with ill: men who blushed to be what they had been born, and let their hair flow like women, would be no more use than women in the defense of their country against the foreigner [gentas transmarinas, lit. "the race from across the sea"]. No one would deny that this was shown to be true that same year when the Normans came.[xiii]
Hair demarcates in Wulfstan's harangue a racial line masquerading as a gender division. When the English clerics resemble women, the Normans arrive to give a lesson not just in proper coiffure but in masculine identity. If only the long-tressed English had resembled the gentes transmarinae in hair and (therefore, it seems) character, they would not have required conquering. What the bishop-turned-guerilla-barber could not have predicted, however, was that the dandies of William Rufus's court would adore the native hairstyles and grow their own locks in emulation.[xiv] Anselm, the revered Archbishop of Canterbury, took the regularization of hair length so seriously that his Council of Westminster (1102) issued a canon against priests wearing their hair long.[xv]
Flowing hair and an unkempt body tend to signify wildness, while impeccable grooming seems civilization incarnate. Gerald of Wales allied Irish degeneracy with their long hair and uncut beards (History and Topography of Ireland 3.93), allowing him a groaner of a Latin pun on beards and barbarity. Welsh civility, on the other hand, was underscored by Gerald's reference to their careful shaving and scrupulous dental hygiene (their teeth "shine like ivory," Description of Wales 1.11). By the time the boy Odard found himself a captive in Jacob's house, beards might have distinguished the Jews from other citizens of Norwich, a distinction probably emphasized further through clothing. Although it is difficult to ascertain how well the injunction was enforced, the Lateran council of 1215 had commanded that Jews living among Christians wear differentiating sartorial marks. Contemporary manuscript illustrations record numerous versions of the pileum cornutum, the "horned hat," on Jewish heads. Clothing likewise separated the civil from the wild. Barbarians (from the English point of view) wore vestments too coarse or unrefined, like the Irish in their rough mantles. Or they might eschew proper garb entirely, such as the Scots with their visible buttocks or the Welsh with their shockingly bare feet and legs.
Clothing is a strategy of distinction that makes identity visible through combinations of bodily accentuation, concealment, exaggeration, and revelation. Other customs like tattooing inscribe identity on the skin itself. Circumcision is a ritual practice that spectacularly binds custom to body through corporeal modification. Muslims and Jews circumcised their male children; Christians did not, and were therefore fascinated by the practice. Its assumed power to differentiate Christians from Jews is seen vividly in the Odard/Jurnepin episode, especially as the boy believes so strongly that to be circumcised is to be transformed permanently in one's flesh. As Joe Hillaby points out, Christians whose experience of Jews living in their midst was still young and who had never witnessed the eight days of prayers, feasting and ritual that attended the circumcision of a medieval Jew might have found the event "outlandish and puzzling," perhaps even "full of menace."[xvi] An accusation of ritual murder made at Gloucester in 1168 arose during just such a celebration, when Jews from all over England were in attendance. That a connection between circumcision and race was firmly in place by the early twelfth century is suggested by the hyperbolic descriptions of forced circumcision found in crusade propaganda. A forged letter from the Byzantine emperor that circulated widely throughout the west declared that the Turks invading the Holy Land seized Christians, cut their foreskins over baptismal fonts, and forced them to urinate into this unholy mixture.[xvii] For Christian polemicists such scenes were an ultimate horror, the bloody transformation of unwilling Christians into Saracens. The anxiety underwriting such fantasies is that the racial other will come too close, will break the tenuous boundary that differentiates the self from all it must not be.[xviii]
Rituals of submission and homage likewise involve their participants bodily, and connect custom to the bearing of particular weapons and to martial codes such as chivalry. When the pirate Rollo, founder of the Norman race, decides for his own security to hold his newly annexed lands in fealty from the king of France, he must perform a formalized submission. The prerequisite to this ritual is baptism, a gesture that the politically astute Rollo is happy to render. When, however, he is asked to make his public declaration of dependence, the following scene unfolds:
[When] the bystanders suggested that Rollo should kiss the foot of his benefactor, he scorned the idea of approaching the king on his knees, and seizing the king's foot put it to his mouth as he stood there. The king fell backward, and the Northmen roared with laughter. When the Franks protested, Rollo excused his impertinence by appealing to the custom of his own country. (William of Malmesbury, Deeds of the Kings of the English 2.127)
Baptism clearly has not changed Rollo's inner being, for William writes of his post-christening "innate and uncontrollable barbarity." The ruined ritual of submission, meanwhile, allows Rollo to assert his dominance even in a supposedly subordinate position, and to excuse the humiliation of the king by appealing to his own (unchanged) racial customs.
Sexual practice was also integral to medieval race. Gerald of Wales famously asserted that the Welsh had inherited a sodomite identity from their Trojan forebears, even if they did not in fact engage in same-sex copulation anymore.[xix] The same writer was unable to comprehend Irish marital customs because, at the advent of the English, they allowed for polygamy. Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair took six concurrent wives to solidify his political supremacy. An outraged Gerald declared the Irish an "adulterous race, an incestuous race, a race illegitimately born and begotten."[xx] Sexual difference was frequently linked to racial difference. By the thirteenth century, it was sometimes argued among Christians that Jewish men bled once a month. Some connected the curse of Jewish menstruation to the Jews in the New Testament who declare of the death of Christ "His blood be on us, and on our children" (Matthew 27:25). Others argued that Jews, like women, suffered a humoral imbalance that rendered them melancholic and therefore susceptible to periodic bleeding. Medical texts argued that this bloody flux was caused by the detrimental changes Jewish diets wrought on their bodies. Most authorities tended to combine theological and medical explanations, and agreed that this bleeding made Jews as a race more like women than men.[xxi] Similarly for Muslims, who were long accused of sharing with Christian women an inordinate lust and a defective ability to reason. Like the Jewish and the feminine body, Saracen corporeal imperfection was often attributed to an unbalanced inner chemistry, in this case a humoral system that had been permanently overheated by the torrid eastern sun.
Diet offers a similarly corporeal racial dividing line. You are what you eat is a modern proverb with immense applicability to the Middle Ages. Christians, Muslims and Jews all developed ascetic traditions that argued that the regulation of what goes into a body has a profound impact on identity. Although Ireland was more ancient in its Christianity than England, and although Ireland in the twelfth century was possessed of some stunning artistic and cultural achievements, Gerald of Wales depicted the island as a primitive place in order to justify its ongoing colonization. In one particularly vivid passage he writes of hide-clad pagans from an island in the sea of Connacht. When some sailors blown off course by a storm arrive near their home, two men from the isle sail out to greet them and are taken aboard the lost ship. These men speak the Irish language and wear their hair long, making it clear to what race they belong. They are also overawed by their first encounter with cheese and bread. Such labor-intensive staples of advanced civilizations are as unknown to them as the Christian religion. When last seen the ignorant pagans are gratefully departing with a loaf of bread and a chunk of cheese to bring to their people as a wonder; it is unclear if they will devour these foods or worship them (History and Topography of Ireland 3.103).
Fascinated by the fact that Muslims did not drink the sacramental staple of the western diet, wine, some Christian writers imagined that Mohammed must have been a drunkard who had committed murder while inebriated.[xxii] Pig flesh provided a convenient boundary for Christians to separate themselves from both Muslims and Jews, who followed biblical prohibitions against its consumption. Gerald of Wales relates that a demon in Italy once confessed that he liked inhabiting the bodies of heathens and Jews because they do not eat pork, rendering that ubiquitous Christian food a strange metonymy for the Eucharist (Jewel of the Church 1.18). In the Odard/Junepin case, the Jewish plea that the boy not be fed pork is clearly a demand that his Jewish identity be admitted. Jewish minorities were set apart from the Christians among whom they dwelled by their nonparticipation in the alimentary rhythms that structured majority life. They fasted at strange times; they ate meat during Lent; they rejected certain foods (cheese, wine, meat) not prepared at Jewish hands in accordance with their own ritual requirements; they did not celebrate the holy days that anchored the Christian calendar and gave occasional license to communal feasting and intoxication.
The romance Richard Coeur de Lion imagines the English king enthusiastically devouring roasted Saracen, thinking that his cook has prepared an especially tasty pig. As Geraldine Heng has demonstrated, the episode differentiates the two races in an unforgettably visual way (Empire of Magic 63-113). Later in the same work Richard tricks Saracen nobles into devouring a similarly cannibalistic meal, forcing them to become like him through the forbidden flesh they consume. Dietary lines and their transgression could work similarly, if less dramatically, in history. When in 1171 Henry II arrived in Ireland to receive the submission of the princes of the north of the country, he arranged an extravagant English-style feast prepared (Anglicane mense – a terminology which nicely draws attention to the fact that the Irish did not at this time eat at tables). The formal dinner was an act of aggression, meant to overawe the Irish royals by the copiousness of the food as well as its elegant delivery. The Irish were forcibly Anglicized in the process, not just because to sit at Henry's English table was to acknowledge the superiority of his court but because the chieftains had to eat the foreign dishes served. Among these was the flesh of crane (carne gruina), a bird that the Irish loathed as a food.[xxiii] Crane in their bellies and a new taste implanted on their tongues, the princes make their submission both verbally and gustatorily, exiting the repast substantially less Irish than when they entered.
Custom is clearly corporeal in both expression and effects. Imagined to be an ancestral inheritance, part and parcel of biological descent, custom was central to what medieval writers called national character, the stereotyped personality a race was imagined as collectively possessing.[xxiv] For William of Malmesbury the Danes are barbari whose residence among the English infects the latter with the former's native propensity to overindulge in alcohol. When Alfred secures the baptism of the Danish king Guthrum as part of the submission that will create the Danelaw, William writes that "non mutabit Ethiops pellem suam" ("the Ethiopian will not change his skin"): even after accepting Christianity, the Danes remain fundamentally unaltered in their barbarous character.[xxv] Herbert de Losinga, the ambitious Norman bishop of Norwich (1091-1119), composed a letter to a renegade monk of British descent who had been attached to his cathedral monastery. Herbert seizes the opportunity to impugn all the Britons as inherently untrustworthy in their personality:
It is an awful condition, that of inability to be changed. The Ethiopian, though washed, is an Ethiopian still; nor can he, whose skin is dusky by nature, become white by Baptism. You Britons talk too much; but none of you fulfils the promises he makes. The British, methinks, are as fickle in flying as they are ardent in making an assault ... You, intoxicated with the good yield of your oats, apply yourself to copious potations ... Fickle and most deceitful of all the Britons, come home with all speed, or prepare to receive the anathema which is being got ready for you.[xxvi]
History does not record whether the truant Briton returned, though the contempt that the bishop's letter betrays does not encourage much hope. In Herbert's exasperated formulation (quite a common one for the eleventh and twelfth centuries) national character is like skin color, an inalterable biological fact. Likewise the behaviors, attitudes, and historical actions – that is, the customs -- through which this character manifests.
Whitby, c. 1110
Tostig dreamt of storms all night, tempests formed of words. When he was five years old Tostig and his father had been caught by a sudden gale, blown across a blackened sea. Now he was amid the wind and waves again, alone. In the rush of air and heave of brine he could hear his name, over and over, a taunt in a language that could barely wrap its mouth around its sounds. His name became alien syllables, blown to pieces in a tempest's change.
Tostig had been the purest melody when whispered by his mother, when breathed, even in exasperation, by his dad. Now each time he walked the cliffs to see if the fishing boats had returned, or strolled the docks to look at the goods from London and from abroad, he was sure to be jeered as Tostig Þe Dane. His friends pronounced the words as if they were fresh from Norway. They never tired of the joke.
Tostig's grandfather, his namesake, had once taken him at tide's ebb to a secret cove. Above its rocks Tostig saw the monastery, the very place where a cowherd named Cædmon once composed an English poem about the creation of the world, a poem that people in Whitby sometimes still sang. Grandfather Tostig told him that his own grandfather – also named, of all things, Tostig -- had a happy career raiding the villages along the North Sea. One night he was separated from the rest of his party. He huddled until dawn on the wet sand of the cove, wondering if he would ever find his kinsmen and their boats. He wandered into Whitby the next day, and never left. Yes, Tostig was descended from vikingar, pirates, but so were many of the families who lived hereabouts. It was just that these vikings had long ago become farmers, fishermen, ordinary.
Tostig hated his name. He begged his parents to change it, even if grandfather would be angry enough (as his father had claimed) to wake from the dead and walk. His parents had, at last, agreed. Tomorrow he would truly become Angelcynn, because tomorrow he would be known as William. It did not occur to Tostig that the name was not in fact English at all. A few decades ago Tostig was the more comfortable name to pronounce, while William was the kind of word a speaker in Whitby had to train a tongue around. None of this mattered to Tostig, never again to be Tostig Þe Dane, viking island in an Anglian sea.
William. A name as sweet as the breath of air with which it began, as melodious as the hum into which it dissolved. Hundreds of boys from every part of England were even now being christened with its sweeter sounds. So what if at the age of twelve Tostig was a little late in embracing this new destiny?
Congenital in its relation to a people's history, custom would seem to be aligned with the stabilizing power of blood.[xxvii] Yet hairstyle, dress, and the rituals surrounding the consumption of food and drink can be adopted. Racial passing could and did occur, even between Muslims and Christians. To circumvent the blockade of Acre, a group of Muslims shaved their beards, donned western clothes, and placed pigs aboard their ships, distilling the visible essence of Christianity into sartorial choice, grooming, and food consumption.[xxviii] Through acculturation both individuals and groups could change in race over time. Sometimes these changes were made wholesale and by choice. More frequently they happened slowly, piecemeal, through osmosis. Race could, in fact, be figured as infectious. William of Malmesbury noted that during the reign of Edgar, England became so international a place that the English were contaminated by the stereotypical behaviors of a host of foreigners (alienigenae): they "learnt from the Saxons unalloyed ferocity, from the Flemings a spineless physical effeminacy, and from the Danes a love of drinking."[xxix] Although William claims here that the English were previously free of such faults, he elsewhere declares that they had originally been barbaric in their appearance and comportment, bellicose in their manners, and irrational in their religion. Fortunately their embrace of Christianity ensured that their character "changed greatly with the passage of time."[xxx] Piety is for William an enduringly English trait. Even when alienigae cause the English to forget their formerly reverent ways, the beneficial Norman conquest reminds them that they are a race especially dear to God.
Two centuries later the English colonizers of Ireland would be accused by those still in England of going native, leading to the enactment of the Statutes of Kilkenny (1366). Ironically these laws were promulgated in French, an inheritance of England's own former subject status. They mandated that the English [chescun Engleys] in Ireland must speak the English language, must be named with English rather than Gaelic appellations, and must employ the "English custom, fashion, mode of riding and apparel" [la manere guise monture et appeill Engleis]. The penalty for using the Irish language was immediate dispossession of all lands.[xxxi] Rees Davies aptly writes of these statutes and similar legislation aimed at that Welsh:
When national customs become the subject of legislative enactments, we begin to realize what an important place they occupied in the framework of race relations in the past as well as the present. In the eyes of medieval Englishmen the customs and habits of the Welshman ... marked them as a different race, indeed as a lesser breed.[xxxii]
Like all legislation enacted to reverse changes long underway, however, it is unclear how effective the Statutes of Kilkenny were in separating English Ireland's hybrid culture. Like all processes of acculturation, gaelicization was probably not amenable to a legislative reversal, since it had catalyzed vigorous new identities. Through similar commingling and assimilation the race known as the Picts, a people who once had their own language, religion, and culture, had long ago been absorbed into the Scots. The ancestors of the Scandinavian raiders who had settled in that area of England known as the Danelaw vanished into the native population of places like Norwich. Their Scandinavian names, saints, and language slowly faded, and within a few generations their formerly Danish blood was unquestionably English. The Norman conquest seems to have hastened this assimilation. The fabulation that opens this section is based on a legal proceeding alluded to by Geoffrey of Durham, who gives the vivid example of a boy named Tostig, born in early twelfth-century Whitby. Tostig, like Godwin, had once been an esteemed name among the English, having been carried most famously by a brother of Harold, England's king at Hastings. Tostig of Whitby, however, was so mocked by his young friends for his suddenly overly Scandinavian appellation that, sometime around 1110, he changed his name to the newly prestigious moniker William.[xxxiii]
Language is a category that at first glance seems racially stabilizing, especially because many medieval thinkers regarded the world's tongues as aboriginal. So much power did the encyclopedist Isidore of Seville ascribe to words that he argued that the dispersal of peoples at the destruction of the Tower of Babel had created the world's linguistic groups, and from these distinct languages arose the various races: "Races arose from different languages, not languages from different races."[xxxiv] Medieval words for language were therefore frequently the same as those used to designate a people. French and English are, in both French and English, nouns that refer to a tongue and to a collective identity. The Welsh word iaith, "language," implied an array of cultural differences and was therefore "one of the touchstones of Welshness" (Rees Davies, "Race Relations in Post-Conquest Wales" 34). As the lingua franca of western Christianity, Latin enabled the Roman church to imagine itself as consisting of a single gens, a shared and communal corpus. As Bartlett points out, this articulation of religious solidarity as "race and blood … group identity" was the product of the Christian encounter with alien peoples, especially in the wake of the crusades (The Making of Europe, 254). Hebrew meanwhile set the Jews apart. For Jewish communities the sacred language was a treasured inheritance, a promise of unity to come after long diaspora. Christians in the twelfth century read their bible in Jerome's Latin; for them Hebrew locked the Jews into a temporality superseded and unredeemed. Mandeville would one day go so far as to describe Hebrew as a secret code that will allow the Jews to know each and join ranks when they bring about the apocalypse (Travels of John Mandeville, 166). In England, Jewish communities continued to employ French domestically long after the Normans had anglicized themselves. Jewish common names therefore tended to be francophone. It is no surprise that as Odard is transformed into Jurnepin, as his descent is traced differently, the etymology of his name also changes, from Anglo-Saxon to Jewish French.
Yet speech is as permeable a boundary a custom. The languages spoken by conquered peoples might recede due to assimilation or loss of prestige. A new tongue can be mastered in order to gain social advantage. Sometimes, like Arabic in Spain, Wendish in areas occupied by German speakers, or Pictish in Britain, a language would vanish entirely as its native speakers died out, were forced to leave, or were absorbed into a dominating linguistic population. Similarly with law. Those elaborate mythologies through which medieval peoples imagined their origins typically featured a primal bestowal of a law code that would forever set the group apart. In Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain, Brutus, having domesticated the island of Britain and filled it with his Trojan compatriots, formulates laws for the Britons to inherit in perpetuum. The Welsh also spoke of their cyfraith Hywel, "the law of Hywel," described as "one of the most cohesive forces of medieval Welsh society."[xxxv] This law code was supposed to have descended from the tenth century king Hywel Dda, though as R. R. Davies points out this legal tradition may not have been "discovered" until the thirteenth century.[xxxvi] The Scots found their foundational lawgivers in historical figures like Kenneth MacAlpin, Malcolm Mackenneth, and David I; the English had Alfred the Great and Edward the Confesssor. When law is imagined to have been bestowed at some primal moment and thence to have proceeded unchanged through the ages, group identity can be asserted across present and past. Law was held to be so integral to national character that the medieval assumption was that separate peoples were entitled to the practice of their own law, even when they cohabitated.
In actual practice, however, law was no less labile than custom or language. The ancient law of a people could be in reality a remembrance that extended back no more than a generation or two, adapted to fit current circumstances. A living, human institution, juridical power can be manipulated to constitute new communities, enfranchising some groups while denigrating others. When the Danish king Cnut ascended to the English throne, he quickly realized that a good means of keeping his new subjects from perceiving him as a tyrannical foreigner would be to order that "all the laws enacted by the ancient kings, and particularly by his predecessor Æthelred, should be observed in perpetuity" (William of Malmesbury, History of the Kings of England 2.183). Cnut's strategy was to emphasize continuity and promote accommodation. When William of Normandy became king several decades later, on the other hand, he passed a notorious law that clearly demarcated insular natives from new elites. William instituted what became known as the murdrum fine, the sum of money to be paid by the English of any area in which a French-speaker was found dead by unknown hands. Such a penalty was necessary to ensure the safety of an alien minority among their new subjects, and its application was a potent reminder of how dramatically control of the land's governance had shifted after 1066. A century later, however, Richard fitz Nigel could argue that the murdrum fine now applied to any unsolved homicide since intermarriage had, he claimed, rendered the English and French indistinguishable (permixte), at least at social levels higher than the peasantry. William's desire to protect his imported cohort reinforced their separateness from the country over which they now had dominion, while Richard's generalization of the law's purview envisioned a newly unified community, capable of transcending the differences engendered by the Norman conquest. To return to Jurnepin's circumcision for a moment, the reason that the Jews can ask the sheriff and bailiffs at Norwich castle to intercede on their behalf is that these men represent royal power. As the king's property, the Jews were ultimately beholden only to him, not to local civic and ecclesiastical jurisdictions.[xxxvii] This immunity set the Jews apart from the other inhabitants of Norwich, often in ways these citizens found infuriating.
To Regino's list of the cultural components of medieval race could be added some additional constituents. Social and racial identity can be unevenly distributed within a society that was otherwise united in language and culture. When Bede wrote of the gens Anglorum, for example, he may only have intended to encompass the aristocracy, not the unfree or rural dwellers.[xxxviii] The poor might be imagined as having descended exclusively from a subordinate group, and might even be represented with darkened skin and other features that visually set them apart from the elites who thought of themselves as the only true bearers of a dominant racial identity.[xxxix] Because conquest frequently led to a bifurcated society in which the powerful were of one culture and the subalterns of another, social status and economic class were frequently demarcated along sharply racial lines. Long after the descendents of the Normans in England had begun to identify themselves as English, "a tendency persisted in popular writings to describe all oppressive or wealthy rulers and administrators as Norman, and all poor and oppressed people as English."[xl] The Irish and the Welsh seldom enjoyed the same standard of living as the English settlers who had built towns and castles in their midst. Gerald of Wales, perpetually hostile to the non-Norman descended English, sneeringly wrote that
the English people [are] the most worthless of all peoples under heaven … In their own land the English are slaves of the Normans, the most abject slaves. In our own land [the Welsh March] there are none but Englishmen in the jobs of ploughman, shepherd, cobbler, skinner, artisan, and cleaner of the sewers.[xli]
For Gerald the English are a race set apart for their worthlessness and servility, a historically triggered transformation in status that has become innate. The bodily expression of this now genetic inferiority is the English association with dirt, animals, hides, and excrement. Inner deficiency is inseparable from physical abjectness; low economic status equals in Gerald's calculus low racial status, which in turn manifests itself in filthy bodies.[xlii] Gerald is not alone in making these equivalences. It would be fair to say that medieval texts, authored by a literate elite, tend to represent the disenfranchised, the illiterate, and the subaltern as more embodied (and often, therefore, more racialized) than their supposed superiors.
Associating a race with piss, shit, and other bodily effluvia is an act of abjection. Its agent attempts to erect and maintain a vivid line of division between two groups that may in fact be uncomfortably close. Thus Lanfranc, appointed archbishop of Canterbury by William the Conqueror and overseer of the realm in the monarch's absence, declared of the defeat of Ralph Guader that the land had been cleansed of its spurcicia Britonum, "Breton dung."[xliii] Although Ralph's mother and grandmother were English, Lanfranc uses an excremental metaphor to demonize as alien a race that had in fact been instrumental to William's conquest but now troubled the archbishop with rebellion and resistance to clerical reform.[xliv] Lanfranc's denigration of Ralph and his allies is therefore rather similar to Gerald's scatological vision of English laborers toiling as cleaners of latrines and as skinners (who used urine and manure to cure hides into leather). All three have a counterpart in the frequent Christian association of Jews with defecation. In his Chronica Majora Matthew Paris narrated a famous story in which the Jewish moneylender Abraham of Berkhamsted places a statue of a nursing Mary at the bottom of his latrine so that he can daily dishonor the image. When his wife eventually rescues and cleans the Virgin, her angry husband suffocates her. Matthew reports this as contemporary history, not as rumor or uncertain myth. Abraham was a real person, jailed for strangling his wife, not some invented character.[xlv] Chaucer's "Prioress's Tale" and its thirteenth century analogues are likewise fascinated by the communal Jewish latrine as a place of defilement for Christian victims.
Race nearly always involves gender boundaries, especially because racialized others are so frequently disparaged in the same terms that clerical writers used against women. A favorite medieval slander was to label an enemy effeminate, as in Wulfstan's insistence that long-haired priests are girlish. Such a charge betrays the fact that a dominant racial identity and proper masculinity were often assumed to be one and the same. Although denigrated races were often feminized, outside of the mythic Amazons, women themselves tended not to be as vividly racialized as men -- perhaps because they already carried the burden of a profound bodily differentiation, gender. When twelfth-century authors discussed the English, the Welsh, the Irish and the Normans they were for the most part speaking of men. There are, of course, notable exceptions, such as the alluring Saracen princesses who so often become a trophy bride (and a happy convert to Christianity) in romances and chansons de geste, or the monstrous figure of the Sultaness in Chaucer's Man of Law's Tale and its analogues. This woman who acts like a man (Chaucer call her a virago) oversteps the boundaries of gender to illustrate how perversely distorted are the norms of her Saracen world. A similar monstrous inversion propels the "misfoundation" myth (as Lesley Johnson calls it) of the Greek or Syrian princesses who were supposed to have arrived on British shores long before Brutus and his originary Trojans.[xlvi] Led by the imperious Albina, a female version of Brutus, this group of exiles attempts to found a matriarchical nation. Instead through intercourse with devils they bestow upon Britain its aboriginal population, a race of monsters that the Trojans under Brutus will one day exterminate. For the most part, however, when medieval writers discuss race they are unthinkingly speaking of a masculine mode of identity.
Medieval race was inseparable from religion.[xlvii] Creed was frequently imagined as being total and homogenous, making it especially effective at neutralizing the differences among groups of practitioners, and allowing unity to be assumed in the face of internal diversity. Jews, Muslims, and Christians each experienced a great deal of heterogeneity in the practice of their faiths. The twelfth century saw the birth of the Hasidic movement, with its repudiation of more secular Jews as "the Wicked."[xlviii] Muslims had long been split into Sunnis and Shi‘is. Christians had from their earliest days been routinely riven by heretical factions, such as Britain's home-grown Pelagianism. Yet despite these inner differences Jews, Muslims and Christians alike were confident that they possessed the only true knowledge of the divine, and this uniquely privileged relation, they held, set them apart. The imagined community of each religion offered a potent ideological tool. That all Christians could be supposed to constitute a single race was a sentiment useful in promulgating crusade. Internal nuance also tended to vanish whenever one of these three groups attempted to represent the others. Latin Christians classified as Saracens a diverse array of peoples who included Turks, Arabs, and non-Western Christians such as the Nestorians; the noun might even be generalized to include pagan Westerners. The Arab chroniclers who recorded the invasion of their lands during the crusades typically referred to the polyglot and multiethnic invaders from Europe as the Franj, mainly because a majority of their leaders could converse in French. Sephardim, Ashkenazim, Hasidim were all one and the same to those who referred to them simply as "Jews."
Communalization through common creed had its limits, as the history of Christianity in Britain demonstrates. Bede never hid his antipathy for the differences in calendar and custom evident among British and Irish Christians. For him the only acceptable Christianity was oriented toward the Mediterranean and directly connected to the papacy. Even in times of supposed unity ecclesiastical structures often reflected a racial hierarchy. William the Conqueror, for example, decreed that "no member of the English race" (nullum eius gentis) would be promoted to the high offices of the church.[xlix] It could even be argued that the assertion of Canterbury's primacy over the whole of the island of Britain was part of William the Conqueror's program of extending his dominance far beyond the borders of England, attempting "to create one unified centralised kingdom in the British Isles on a scale which had never been realised before."[l] Archbishop Lanfranc may have been happy to oblige in this interpenetration of ecclesiastical and secular power, but this assertion of insular hegemony was challenged not just by Scotland, Ireland, and Wales but also York.
Though fairly rare, voluntary conversions might allow a Christian to become a Muslim, a Jew to become Christian. In the thirteenth century the cleric William le Convers was assaulted by the Jews of Oxford when he attempted to collect from them a poll tax that funded the Domus Conversorum (House of Converts) in London. William's attempt to extract this money in support of further conversions from people who until recently had been his neighbors and coreligionists was, to say the least, ill advised.[li] Gerald of Wales wrote of a Cistercian who left his order and had himself circumcised so that he could marry a Jewish woman, an act that Gerald labeled "phrenetic madness" and "fleeing to the synagogue of Satan." Conversion was equated by him with being a traitor in an eternal war against the enemies of God: "this most vile apostate joined himself to his damnation to the enemies of the cross of Christ."[lii] In the 1270s Robert of Reading, a Hebrew scholar and Dominican friar, fell in love with a Jewish woman and had himself circumcised. He died in prison after even King Edward I himself was unable to convince him to return to Christianity.[liii] In theory baptism could transform an unbeliever completely, soul and body. In the romance The King of Tars, a Saracen's dark flesh is whitened through the sacrament's transformative power. Outside of fantasy spaces like romance, however, converts were regarded with a great deal of suspicion by both their former community and their new coreligionists.[liv] The massacre of Saracens converted to Christianity in Chaucer's Man of Law's Tale leads Carolyn Dinshaw to observe that their spilled "blood is the remainder, unconverted and materially resistant, of the converted Saracens, something where the imprint of Christianity didn't take" ("Pale Faces" 26).
A historical episode involving forced conversion and its aftermath illustrates well the permanent alienation from community this unwilled change of identity could bring. When a group of prominent Jews were refused admission to the coronation of Richard I in 1189, a wave of antisemitic violence swept London.[lv] Jews were attacked, their homes burnt. A prominent Jew from the York community named Benedict was badly wounded. He accepted baptism rather than face death at the hands of the rioters. Although newly christened William , when summoned before the king he announced "I am Benedict, the Jew, from York." In a moment of disgust the Archbishop of Canterbury allowed him to return to his coreligionists. When Benedict died shortly thereafter, the Jews among whom he had hoped to find welcome refused his corpse burial. Richard of Hovedon, the medieval narrator of the episode, insisted on referring to the post-baptism Benedict as William, even after he renounced the faith forced upon him. Richard wrote that the archbishop erred in allowing Benedict to return to his people: "He ought to have replied, 'We demand Christian judgment on him, since he became a Christian and now denies it."[lvi] Benedict/William is baptized under duress, recants, and, neither a Christian or a Jew, loses any possibility of community. Who knows, therefore, whether Benedict of Norwich and his son Odard/Jurnepin ever found a secure place to belong?
Gerald of Wales tells another interesting story that suggests why religion was often the dominant medieval mode for thinking about race. Although they are in fact heterogeneous and mutable categories, both religion and race pass themselves off as self-evident, unchanging, unified. The knowledge that such fundamental categories of identity are fragile is anxiety-producing, a point that Gerald drives home with his narrative of Jewish skepticism and rebuke. During the translation of the body of the virgin saint Frideswide (an event which Gerald himself may have witnessed at Oxford in 1180), many miracles were reported. A Jew tied cords around his feet and arms, pretending to be paralyzed. He made a great show of crying upon Frideswide for help and "would pretend that he had been miraculously cured and would leap about the streets shouting: 'Behold, what great miracles the holy Frideswide can work!'" (Jewel of the Church, 1.51). God avenges his beloved saint by having the Jew tie the cord around his own neck and hang himself. The Jews of Oxford are shamed by the event, but the Christians experience "great joy and rejoicing. " What are they so happy about? Partly their glee comes from having witnessed the hand of God in the world, and partly (we might guess) the death is a source of relief. The blaspheming Jew performs a specious miracle to make the point that neither the translated saint nor the Christian God himself possess efficacy. What if all the miracles surrounding the burgeoning cult of Frideswide are likewise dubious? The death of the Jew arrives just in time to prevent that line of questioning to proceed, as definitive proof that there is a God in heaven specially inclined toward the Christians of the world. The Jew of Oxford suggests that Christianity can neither grant nor possess the stability it claims; his forced suicide proves that his words – like those of the "filthy mouthed" Jew who dies in the episode preceding this one – have been rendered impotent in advance.
More abstractly, and perhaps more potently, race was a matter of allegiance. For the most part the medieval denizens of Ireland, Wales and Scotland would not have considered themselves intimately related, preferring to dwell upon their differences rather than imagine some pan-"Celtic" unity; indeed, "Celtic" is for the most part an eighteeenth-century designation, as non-medieval and misleading as terms like "Anglo-Norman." By the fourteenth century, however, the Bruce dynasty was declaring common ancestry among the Scots, Irish and Welsh in order to bolster the fight for independence from England, a common enemy making for a common identity.[lvii] R. R. Davies reduces the whole of human history to a pithy sentence when he writes, "Most peoples are complex amalgams; but beneath the label of a name they become, and come to believe themselves to be, a single people."[lviii] Thus Bede assimilates various groups that once dwelled in Germany and Scandinavia into three peoples (Angles, Saxons, Jutes) and thence into one (Angli), bestowing to the Middle Ages a myth of a primal and enduring Englishness. Dudo of St Quentin performed a similar service for the Normans, though in a rather different way. Whereas most medieval races imagined , contrary to historical fact, that they had been possessed of an originary homogeneity that they still carried in their blood, the Normans acknowledged their initial variety.[lix] His great-grandfather an illustrious viking (Hrólfr, or Rollo, founder of Normandy), his grandmother a Breton concubine (Sprota of Brittany), Duke Richard II of Normandy was of obviously mixed blood. When he realized that through its strengthened ties to Denmark and England his principality was losing some of the veneer of Frankishness that his father had labored to impart, he commissioned the cleric Dudo to compose an official history of the Normans. Dudo's narrative depicted the race as an initially polymorphous collection of peoples who had over time settled into a secure Christian Frenchness, an enduring shift of identity meant to reassure the French princes that the Vikings with whom Richard was now forming alliances were not a dangerous return to the Norman's own Scandinavian past. "Whatever was 'French,'" Eric Fernie writes of this period, "constituted what for the Normans was modern, including ties of dependence based on land, fortified residences, the language, Christianity, churches, and the Romanesque style in architecture."[lx] As profound as this francophilia became, however, it did not obliterate the Norman's sense of their own separateness from other races, as "Normans descended from Normans" – this despite their language, law, hybrid customs, and a tendency to use the words Franci, Francigena and Galli as synonyms for Normanni when describing themselves.[lxi] Yet by the late 1130s the Norman conquerors of England were rapidly vanishing, "turned into Englishmen."[lxii] Lanfranc, a Lombard imported from the Norman monastery of St Stephen's to serve as the first non-English archbishop of Canterbury (1070), could speak of himself as novus Anglicus, a "new" or "novice" Englishman, in order to emphasize the transformation of identity that accompanied his transferal of residence.[lxiii]
Race and Place
To explain how the differences that set races apart could be simultaneously cultural and corporeal, environmental and astrological determinism were often invoked. Aristotle had declared in his Politics that whereas the extreme coldness of Europe had rendered its people brave but stupid, and the heat of Asia had generated smart cowards, the temperateness of Greece engendered a nearly perfect Hellenic race.[lxiv] The denizens of Europe and Asia possess race in this model in a way that the Greeks clearly do not: to be Greek like Aristotle is to have a body unblemished by extremes of difference. To be a barbarian, on the other hand, is to be somehow more embodied, because the mark of difference as deviation or exorbitance is carried in flesh and soul. Classical traditions of science argued that climate and celestial pull profoundly influenced the distribution of the four humors, the vital bodily fluids that were thought to regulate health and hold dominion over disposition and character.[lxv] When the encyclopedists Isidore of Seville and Bartholomaeus Anglicus wrote that the men of Africa suffered a solar overheating of their blood, darkening their skin and rendering them spiritless, they were stating a medieval commonplace with roots in Galenism. Ibn Sina (Avicenna) agreed: "Those who are far removed from acquiring virtues are slaves by nature like the Turks and negroes and in general people living in an unfavorable climate."[lxvi] In contrast, cold for Bartholomaeus engendered whiteness. The pale skin of northerners was supposed to be the outward sign of their innate valiance.[lxvii] Gerald of Wales wrote in his Description of Wales that the English were frigid in nature because they originated in polar regions, while the Welsh were fiery, having once been desert-dwelling Trojans. Climate is for Gerald a primal determinant of racial character, effectively inalterable once its infusive force has penetrated the flesh:
The Saxons and Germans derive their cold nature from the frozen polar regions which lie adjacent to them. In the same way the English, although they now live elsewhere, still retain their outward fairness of complexion and their inward coldness of disposition from what nature had given them earlier on. The Britons, on the contrary, transplanted from the hot and arid regions of the Trojan plain, keep their dark colouring, which reminds one of the earth itself, their natural warmth of personality and their hot temper. (Description of Wales 1.15).
Although he does not invoke climatological determinism, William of Poitiers likewise has a theory of originary impression in mind when he writes that the English are a people "by nature always ready to take up the sword, being descended from the ancient stock of Saxons."[lxviii] Latin Christian polemicists, on the other hand, fascinated and repulsed by Muslim culture, did foreground the ability of environment to mold a people's character. The intense heat of the east and the ascendancy of the planet Venus, it was declared, rendered Saracens forever bellicose and sensual.
In his version of Urban II's call for crusade at the Council of Clermont (1095), William of Malmesbury has the pope construct race both climatologically and through religion. Saracens and Turks originate in an oppressively dry climate and therefore, despite their inborn cleverness, do not possess sufficient blood in their veins [sed minus habet sanguinis]. "They flee from battle," Urban declares, "because they know that they have no blood to spare" (Gesta Regum Anglorum 4.347). Europe is bounded by frigid zones of frost-locked islands, populated by "barbarous peoples living like beasts --who could call them Christians?" (illam barbariem quae in remotis insulis glatialem frequentat oceanum, quia more beluino uictat, Christianum quis dixerit?). These "less rational" races suffer from "a generous and exuberant supply of blood." Like Aristotle's Greeks, it is the Europeans themselves, especially the Franks, who represent the mean between these monstrous extremes. Originating in "the more temperate regions of the world," they also possess sufficient blood to render them irresistible in battle.
Like geographical location and climate, religion and law were thought to imprint themselves in the flesh, becoming congenital shapers of character. Gerald of Wales assumes that conquest can transform a free race into an innately slavish people when he warns the Welsh not to allow themselves to become like the English, "long since reduced to servitude, which by now has almost become a second nature ... [Thus they] refuse to depart from their habitual state of slavery."[lxix] When Matthew Paris draws a picture of Mohammed with a banner announcing Poligamus esto ["I declare polygamy"], it is difficult to say if Venus has inspired the prophet's law or if his new law will render his people venereal.
Things Fall Apart
The historian of medieval architecture Eric Fernie once noted that a guidebook to a church in Bosham referred to an opening in the bell tower -- "clearly Norman because of its cushion capital" -- as a portal through which the English used to keep watch against the appearance of Vikings eager for pillage. The desire to see the edifice as centuries older than it actually was, Fernie observes, is fairly typical among the contemporary English, who prefer to identify with the Anglo-Saxons over the Normans: "we like to identify with a period which is ours alone and not an offshoot of another culture which has its centre elsewhere."[lxx] The past is made present in Bosham not through the building itself but by means of a story about sentries bravely scanning the horizon for foreign incursions. This narrative serves as an anchor for a present identity, allowing a continuity of both blood and history between the heroic English of the Viking days and the present celebrants at Bosham church. Naming and narrating the tower as Anglo-Saxon rather than Norman assists in defining the contours, composition, blood of a community.
William of Whitby, né Tostig, knew that names do not merely describe a pre-existent reality, but usher new realities into being. "Names are central to the identity of a people; to change a people's name is to change its identity." So writes R. R. Davies of the reality-making power of collective designation.[lxxi] It does not matter whether the name is a self-chosen appellation that unifies a once varied group (Cymru, Brytaniaid, Prydein), or a title inflicted upon a people in order to render them more easily contained (Welsh). Names are transformative. They render those whom they designate distinct. Thus Gerald of Wales could lament the infighting that sundered the Welsh into competing factions when, to his mind, they should be more cognizant of their ultimate unity:
His autem in finibus, nostrisque diebus, caeco dominandi ambitu, rupto consaguinitatis et consobrinorum foedere, fides quam enormiter in perfidiam evanuerite, diffuso per Gaulliam pravitatis exemplo, Kambria non ignorat. (Journey 1.5)
Wales knows only too well how, in this same neighborhood and in our own times, through a blind lust for conquest and through a rupture of all the ties of common blood and family connection, evil example has spread far and wide throughout the land, and good faith has disappeared, to be replaced by shameful perfidy.
Consaguinitas, "shared blood," is more than a metaphorical connection among the people of Wales; it is the fundamental and shared essence that is the base of their community. Their tragedy is not to recognize themselves as belonging to this natal solidarity.
Not only do names bestow the appearance of a long and singular history to what might formerly have been a multiplex, fluid group. They also tend to ossify identities, making them seem unchanging. By the twelfth century the races of the British Isles had for the most part acquired an aura of timeless separateness, a uniqueness "provable" by their individuating histories and self-evident in the distinctiveness of their cultures -- cultures speciously imagined to be shared and nearly homogeneous among the members of the separate races. Names collected into bounded forms the volatile particles that made up medieval race, reducing their sheer multiplicity into describable wholes. A people's name is thus inseparable from a people's history, real or imagined. A people's history, in turn, is always entwined in some foundational mythology about shared and powerful blood. Nicholas Howe has called such a myth of descent "an account of that ancestral past which, despite any evidence to the contrary, gives a group its irreducible common identity."[lxxii] The collective blood that such histories bestow could, so long as the myth was believed, solidify race and attach it to specific bodies, circumscribing the parameters of community. The next chapter will examine how such origin narratives shaped the identities of the races of the twelfth-century British Isles, attempting to give permanence and cohesion to groups that were historically recent, mutable, porous.
Yet a race's distinctiveness comes at a high price, especially when a community collects and knows itself by identifying against other groups. This price was to be paid especially by those who found themselves adrift in some middle space, belonging completely neither to the powerful group that set the terms for racial belonging, nor to those over whom it attempted to exert control. Like the blood anchoring race to body, the constituent components of race (custom, law, allegiance, language, social status, even humoral composition) are given not only to constant change but to an internal variation prone to widen over time. Custom evinced regional, class, gender differences, as did language. The dialects of English and Welsh spoken in the north differed noticeably from southern permutations. Religion never did effect the unity it had promised. When William of Malmesbury attempts to convey a crusade-inspired Christianitas that transcends national difference, he does so in unselfconsciously nationalistic terms. During the First Crusade, he writes, Christians everywhere joined the cause, even those dwelling in penitissimis insulis uel in nationibus barbaris ["on remotest islands and among barbarian nations"]. He then describes these "distant" races according to what each must abandon in order to join the cause: "The time had come for the Welshman to give up hunting in his forests, the Scotsman forsook his familiar fleas, the Dane his constant drinking, and the Norwegian left his diet of raw fish" (History of the Kings of England 4.348). This litany of stereotypes indicates how impossible it could be to think of people outside of such assumptions.[lxxiii] Christian intellectuals might speak of a Latin race, but behind such collectivizing rhetoric lay the fact that Latinity remained a minority achievement to which the vernacular-speaking masses exhibited a frustrating indifference. Nothing, however, could make the varied pieces of medieval race discohere more traumatically than the aftermath of conquest. When the heartfelt certainties that spur war and the violent annexation of territory have ebbed, in their wake long remain the uncertainties of cultural hybridity, of partial assimilations that threaten with their evident impurity to erode stabilities that had seemed for a while secure.
The process of welding dissonant heterogeneity into a harmonious collective is not necessarily easy to accomplish, and often proceeds through exclusion. It has always been far easier to point to what one is not than to embrace some essence shared equally among a newly integrating collectivity. Race is most vividly glimpsed at moments when one group attempts to differentiate itself from another, especially when that group shares cultural and historical similarities that render them uncomfortably close rather than obviously alien. Thus King Alfred of Wessex was able to rally a sense of homogeneous English identity, of a new national unity (led, of course, by him) by emphasizing the vast difference between the Angelcynn and the "Viking" Danes who had seized and were living quite comfortably in a large section of island. Because the Normans were in historical fact a mongrel collection of peoples, in order to imagine their own unity they routinely denigrated or dehumanized other peoples, especially when they wanted to subjugate them. Thus in the mid-eleventh century the Bretons and English were in their turn depicted as filthy and barbaric races, patently in need of the Normans's civilizing overlordship.[lxxiv] Composite in fact, undifferentiated in theory, the English of the twelfth century similarly began to demarcate themselves keenly from those barbaric, even monstrous races that limned the margins of their kingdom. The Welsh, Scots, and Irish had once been trading partners, fellow Christians, possible allies. Now they were thought to compose a primitive and unruly Celtic Fringe badly in need of the civilizing force of anglicization. Thus the author of the Gesta Stephani, probably a bishop of Bath who moved through the highest circles of king Stephen's court, describes the Scots as
barbarous and filthy [barbaros et impuros], neither overcome by excess of cold nor enfeebled by severe hunger, putting their trust in swiftness of foot and light equipment; in their own country they care nothing for the awful moment of the bitterness of death, among foreigners they surpass all for cruelty. (Gesta Stephani 1.26)
This demonizing description obscures the fact that the Scots were an amalgam of peoples (Picts, Danes, Scots, Britons, Angles) rather than a singular race, and that the army being described contained many English soldiers in its ranks and Anglo-Norman nobles among its leaders. David, the king of these "barbarous and filthy" people, was not just the king of Scotland but, because of the affection of his his brother-in-law, Henry I of England, had been made the earl of Huntingdon, "the apex of English nobility."[lxxv] David had been raised in educated in England. The Scottish king was famous among contemporaries for spreading francophile ways in his court, reforming the native church to make it conform to continental and English Christianity, and assigning bishoprics and lands to Anglo-Norman imports. David's wife was a daughter of Waltheof, the famous earl of Northumbria. His mother Margaret was sister to Edgar the ætheling, making him descended from England's Æthelred II and connected to the royal house of Wessex. Yet this intimacy to England also meant that David was uncle to the Empress Matilda, claimant to the throne that Stephen sat upon, and for the royalist author of the Gesta Stephani this meant that the Scottish king's name would never be mentioned in the narrative. His people meanwhile are transformed into a monstrous, degenerate race. The English -- the proper English – would recognize themselves by defeating everything the Scots embody, a disidentification that renders both the English and the Scots pure, self-contained, and utterly separate peoples. That this sharp differentiation has little basis in historical reality makes it neither less powerful nor less ideologically effective.
The monsterization of the Celtic Fringe allowed England to stake a claim to the British Isles in their entirety. These British "barbarians" were, however, not the only races which allowed the English to differentiate themselves into what was imagined as a bounded, harmonious collective. As Christians living in the midst of ongoing crusades, the English also steadfastly defined themselves against the infidel Saracens who held the distant Holy Land. This race that was thought to be wholly given over to excesses of lust and aggression, to lack the bodily control that defined not only a good Christian but a good English citizen. The crusades may have occurred in a geographically distant locale, but they were never far from contemporary minds. Meanwhile in the years following the Norman conquest a non-Christian group had taken up residence in England itself. Unlike the infidel Saracens and Celtic barbarians, the Jews lived amongst the English in their biggest cities, yet they did not practice Christian religion and therefore did not participate in the rituals that structured most contemporary lives. Considering the challenge they posed to the supposed self-evident superiority of the Christianity that unified the realm, it is perhaps not surprising that they were thought to pose a grave danger to the safety of the community – since they, at the very least, suggested in to that community its own fragility, its own lack of inevitability.
Race is a process of differentiation that produces one seemingly stable and well bounded collective by denigrating or even monsterizing others, judging them inferior in culture and body. This process of self-delineation is inevitably attended by violence, whether bluntly physical (expulsions, relocation, colonization, genocide) or more abstract and social (enforced legal disparity, systematic devaluation of culture, and so on). Thus the border regions between England and Scotland and Wales were, like much of Ireland, places of battle and blood. The same could be said for the borders of Christendom. Some English knights fought in the second crusade, especially in Portugal. Many thousands more joined the third. Among these was the elderly Archbishop of Canterbury, destined to perish among soldiers "in a state of desolation of despair," at the siege of Acre in 1190.[lxxvi] Those who did not die on distant battlefields returned with chilling stories of the toll taken by these religious wars in lives and suffering. Closer to home, late in the twelfth century the domestic tranquility of several English cities was profoundly disturbed by massacres of Jews, especially in the wake of the coronation of Richard. This plentiful violence climaxed in the shabbat ha-gadol of March 15, 1190 (the Great Sabbath of 4950), when the Jews of York who had not taken their own lives to escape forced conversion were bloodily killed, despite all the promises they had been given of their safety among the city's Christians. Even after England became Judenrein, completely emptied of Jews following the Expulsion of 1290, Englishness continued to be defined against Jewishness, an especially easy category to manipulate now that the only figures to inhabit it were ghostly remembrances.
The differentiating power of race is seen most vividly as well as bloodily during times of conquest. The taking of another people's land becomes unproblematic when that people are assumed to be not adequately in possession of the civilized culture enjoyed by the would-be conquerors. The model for this process was to be found in the Hebrew bible, when the spies sent by Moses to reconnoiter the Promised Land discover that, inconveniently enough, its fecund hills are already inhabited. The aboriginal Canaanites are imagined to be monsters, a race of giants called the Anakim. Because the lack a full humanity is so evidently written upon their grotesque bodies, the Anakim can be displaced by the migrating Israelites without worrying about the possibility that they, too, might have a claim on this territory.[lxxvii] Medieval Hebrew chronicles frequently employed a similar technique of disidentification, as in this account of the First Crusade:
For then rose up initially the arrogant, the barbaric, a fierce and impetuous people, both French and German. They set their hearts to a journey to the Holy City, which had been defiled by a ruffian people, in order to seek there the sepulcher of the crucified bastard and to drive out the Muslims who dwell in the land and to conquer the land.[lxxviii]
The passage introduces the heroic martyrdom of Jews besieged by crusaders by imagining a world without moral nuance. The Jews are timeless in both their elemental goodness and subjection to persecution; the other races might vary in their geographical origins and religion, but are homogeneous in their unrelenting animus towards these Jews.
Most medieval races liked to imagine themselves as a contemporary version of the biblical Israelites. Secure in the knowledge that they, among the manifold peoples of the world, had been singled out by God as specially chosen, these races could then explain even their own defeats as signs of divine love. Thus for British historian Gildas the Saxon subjugation of his people, praesens Israel, reveals that like their biblical counterparts they are being punished by a God who dearly loves them, despite their faults.[lxxix] For William of Malmesbury the crushing defeat of the English by the Normans was similarly a token of God's parental vigilance, a celestial reprimand for having forgotten their own holiness. The author of the Gesta Stephani, troubled that England should experience such turbulence during the reign of King Stephen (Anglia turbaretur), transforms his country into a contemporary Israel, its perturbations a signal of God's interest:
Nor can the cunning of man's heart avoid what God's providence has arranged to perform. We know that subjects are sometimes punished for their own faults, sometimes for those of their rulers, because, as is familiar, the people of Israel since it had offended God in many things, was often afflicted by many defeats in war and many tribulations of plague, and that same people for the offence of King David's adultery and likewise Solomon's, was once smitten by an angel, once terribly harassed by its enemies. (Gesta Stephani 1.39)
The divine punishment of England cannot abate usque dum completa essent peccata Amorreorum, et Æthiops mutaret pellem suam, until "the sins of the Amorites were full and the Ethiopian changed his skin" (1.40, citing Genesis 15:16 and Jeremiah 13:23). Here as elsewhere in the writings of church-trained authors the Hebrew Bible provides the palimpsest for interpreting the travails of the present. The historical Jews vanish to be replaced by a more recently chosen race. Despite their harsh words for their peoples, authors like Gildas and William were secure in the knowledge that these tribulations were temporary, like the Babylonian captivity or one of the many conquests of Jerusalem. Just as God inflicted such calamities on the Israelites to recall them to a forgotten identity as a race set apart, so likewise the Britons or the English would rise again, renewed.
Divine favor also meant, of course, that latter day Hebrews also had license to treat other races as if they were Canaanite Anakim, perilous and perhaps not fully human peoples whose lands of milk and honey might be unapologetically annexed.[lxxx] Monsters, savages, and barbarians do not possesses territorial rights. Thus the Gesta Stephani labels the Welsh "swarming savages" (barbara Walensium multitudine) who plunder and burn English lands (100). Guillaume de Poitiers, an unabashed Norman apologist, could imagine that the triumph at Hastings was all the more providential in that the English were a bellicose race descended from the Saxons, "the most savage of men."[lxxxi] Denial of sufficient civilization often meant denial of sufficient humanity. Take away the customs that order a human life, the ability to express oneself in meaningful language, the rule of law, a belief in the divine and the essence of humanity likewise vanishes. Perhaps that is why supposedly inferior races -- those whose customs, language, law, and religion are bluntly denied meaning, if not existence -- are so frequently imagined as animals.
Medieval conflations of race with species followed ample classical precedent, since civilization (willing subjection to law, the state of being a citizen) was typically portrayed as a possession demarcating Romans and Greeks from the feral barbarians at the margins of their polities. Claudius Ptolemy had described the inhabitants of India, born under the influence of Capricorn and Saturn, as dirty, ugly, and "having the character of wild beasts."[lxxxii] Gildas, the British polemicist who combined Roman and biblical modes of historiography in his De excidio, labels the Picts wolves, the Saxons dogs, his own Britons sheep, and heretics like the Arians venomous snakes.[lxxxiii] Gildas was in good company. Disparaged medieval peoples were frequently represented as bestial. Typically such denigration was general and metaphorical. Thus Richard of Hexham condemns the Scots to animality because they do not practice the same sexual restraint as the English ("those bestial men who think nothing of committing incest, adultery, and other abominations").[lxxxiv] Thus Odo of Cambrai, astounded at the fact that Jews cannot be reasoned into an acceptance of Christianity, wonders if they are not humans but senseless beasts.[lxxxv] At other times animalized representations of race were both far more specific and more bluntly physical. The Jews could be transfigured into owls, a bird thought to roost in its excrement, or hyenas, believed to be hermaphroditic corpse-eaters. The Aberdeen Bestiary betrays its author's conflation of Jewishness and animality in an illustration of a hyena with circumcised genitals.[lxxxvi] Saracens were literally depicted as dog-headed men (cynocephali), or metaphorically dismissed as canine. "The Holy Land," Gerald of Wales asserts, is "profaned by filthy dogs" (On the Instruction of Princes 2.30). The same author paints dehumanizing portraits of the Irish in the History and Topography of Ireland (1185), a text that often allows little difference between the native inhabitants of the land and the herds of cattle they prize.
Gildas mixed leonine, canine and lupine traits when he called the Saxons "a race hateful both to God and men" and described their invasion of Britain in the fifth century as "a multitude of whelps [which] came forth from the lair of a barbaric lioness" (De Excidio Brittaniae 23). Because his sympathies lay with the Britons, the Anglo-Saxon conquest is for Gildas the ruinous advent of a "brood" of "wolfish offspring" and "bastard-born comrades," fiercely devouring the land's bounty with their "doggish mouths." Gildas continued to be read throughout the Middle Ages. Whereas Bede silently dropped the inhumane adjectives for his people, Geoffrey of Monmouth was happy to restore Gildas's wolfish degradation. The Normans kept the doggish rhetoric of race in place when they as invaders claimed to be met by canine indigenes. According to Wace, the Normans at the Battle of Hastings heard in the bellicose language of the English only the agitated baying of dogs: "Normant dient qu'Engleis abaient / por la parole qu'il n'entendent."[lxxxvii] This comparison holds the weight of something more than simple simile, for a story told by Wace in his Roman de Brut helped to promulgate the idea that the native English were different in their very bodies, specifically in the caudal appendages they were said to sport. In an episode he added to the History of the Kings of Britain as he translated Geoffrey's clerical Latin text into a courtly French (c.1155), after Augustine was sent by Pope Gregory to Christianize England he found himself denounced and persecuted. Intent on humiliating the holy man, the heathen English who lived near Dorchester affixed skate tails to his cloak. The holy man prayed to God that these malefactors would be appropriately punished. God immediately responds, bestowing upon Augustine's persecutors a permanent change to their corporeality. These English and their descendants, writes Wace, were transformed into a permanently tailed people:
E il si orent veirement
E avrunt perpetuelment,
Kar trestuit cil ki l'escharnierent
E ki les cues li pendirent
Furent cué e cues orent
E unkes puis perdre nes prent;
Tuit cil unt puis esté cué
Ki vindrent d'icel parenté,
Cué furent e cué sunt,
Cues orent e cues unt,
Cues unt detriés en la char
En remembrance de l'eschar
Que il firent al deu ami
Ki des cues l'orent laidi.
[Augustine] begged our Lord that for this great dishonour and dreadful disgrace they should receive a sign and a reminder, and indeed they had one, and will have one forever, for all those who mocked him and hung tails on him got tails and were tailed and could never lose them thereafter. Everyone from this family has been tailed ever since; they were and are tailed, they had and have tails, tails hanging behind them as a reminder that they mocked God's friend by humiliating him with tails. (Roman de Brut 13731-45)
Henry II probably enjoyed Wace's vigorously narrated story about English disobedience and its lastingly embodied consequences, especially as he continued the hard work of engendering a community of consent within his realm. Its appeal to anyone not of English origin was obviously great, too, because it was swiftly generalized into a racializing narrative about English bodily difference. In his translation of Wace's poem, La3amon wrote of the shame that the English abroad felt when the insult was hurled at them (Brut 2:772). The abusive epithet of Angli caudati [tailed English] found its most unforgettable expression in the romance Richard Coeur de Lion, which depicted the French taunting their enemies for the dog-like tails they suppose them to bear. The insult endured for centuries. In 1433 Margery Kempe found herself degradingly referred to as a sterte (tailed one) while traveling through Germany.[lxxxviii]
Only the enemies of a people delimit its racial contours through such animal bodies. Because animals were considered to be reasonless bodies and therefore did not pose troubling questions of agency and autonomy, because God had given primal stewardship of beasts to Adam, because medieval peoples lived so closely with animals and trusted that the proof of human superiority lay in humanity's ability to domesticate, commodify, and profit from the world's fauna, animals were perhaps inevitable receptacles for uneven discourses of race, especially in the wake of conquest. It would be exaggerating only slightly, I think, to say that the representational matrix for race in the twelfth-century British Isles derived from and centered around a vocabulary of species rather than of human difference.
Yet the English clearly are not dogs, the Welsh are something more than grazing beasts, Jews are not simply owl-like plotters, the Irish can be represented as indistinguishable from their cattle but are not ultimately reducible to their own herds. The racialized body is a playground for animal elements, but it is still in the end a human form. Impure and hybrid flesh mingling beast and human, the body of the racial other was in the end not an animal but a chimera, a monster on whose body unresolved differences in species stood in for inassimilable differences of culture.
The Crisis in Race of the Twelfth Century
As changeable as it was constricting, race reached a crisis point in the twelfth-century British Isles. The conquest begun in 1066 was an ongoing project. In its aftermath race was riddled with differences, contradictions, complications. When martial violence ceased, subjugation continued via forced acculturation. Through the middle of the twelfth century much of England was still being Normanized, especially in its architecture and social and ecclesiastical organization, but also in language and customs. Because the cultural elites who had once been Normans were calling themselves English within two generations of the conquest, this process could just as accurately be called Anglicization. From the south and the east the imposition of linguistic, legal, and customary unity proceeded rapidly north and west. As East Anglia, Northumberland, and so forth became increasingly London-looking, assimilation began to spread through the steady agency of what Davies has called an "English diaspora," an immigration that dotted formerly Celtic landscapes with mini Englands. The progress of this secondary conquest via Anglicization was never straightforward, however, and the tempestuous reign of Stephen complicated all these processes, reversing some assimilations and leaving much of Britain wondering about historical continuity and the possibilities for future community.
The next chapter turns to a writer who was born in the middle of the twelfth century. His life provides a useful case study of not just the stormy fluidity but the constricting solidity of contemporary race. Although an international figure, Gerald of Wales was also the product of a geography at which Anglo-Norman invaders had mingled, culturally as well as biologically, with the peoples they had subjugated. His ample writings reveal some suggestive similarities to the conflicted hybridities we will meet later in this book in Norwich. Mid-century East Anglia, like the late twelfth century Welsh March, inherited a legacy of multiple racial heritages, and was attempting to reformulate the terms of communal belonging. Both locales were forced to struggle with fundamental differences of race, history, blood within a diverse population. William of Norwich, English child of a colonized city, Norwich boy with a Norman name, never lived long enough to narrate his own story, never had access to the power and privilege that would allow him to commit his own words to vellum. Gerald of Wales, caught between competing cultures and uncertain what community could ever be his own, wrote endlessly, obsessively, about himself and his turbulent world, about the agony of irresolvable difference in the wake of conquest. He felt coursing in his veins a doubled bloodline, Norman and Welsh. He ached to discover a vocabulary in which to express the ambivalences that had formed him.
Suspended between categories, fully neither one nor the other, Gerald of Wales must often have felt himself a monster.
[i] The events are reconstructed by V. D. Lipman in The Jews of Medieval Norwich 59-64. I base my discussion on the documentary evidence he assembles.
[ii] That Benedict was a convert was first proposed by Rye and is amplified by Lipman, who stresses that the entire Jewish population should not be assumed to be acting in concert here, since it is clear that not all the Norwich Jews knew the details of the event (e.g., some of the Jews paid for a coroner to examine the child, believing that the circumcision charge would be disproved, 62). On other attempts by Jewish communities to "rescue" children from parents lost to conversion see Robert C. Stacey, "The Conversion of Jews" 270. From the medieval Jewish point of view conversion to Christianity was not really possible: "Their view of the renegade was that of Rashi: 'although he has sinned, he remains a Jew'" (Paul Hyams, "The Jewish Minority in Mediaeval England" 276).
[iii] Although William's army consisted mainly of Normans, it also included a multiethnic array of allies. Citing R. L. Graeme Ritchie, Marjorie Chibnall writes that the "Norman Conquest" is really just shorthand for "'Duke William's Breton, Lotharingian, Flemish, Picard, Artesian, Cenomanian, Angevin, general-French and Norman Conquest'" ("'Racial' Minorities in the Anglo-Norman Realm" 50). On the reduction of these multiple peoples into one legal designation, Franci, see George Garnett, "'Franci et Angli'" 114.
[iv] This process is explored in much of John Gillingham's work, collected in The English in the Twelfth Century. See especially "Beginnings of English Imperialism," "Context and Purpose of Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain, "Conquering Barbarians," and "Foundations of a Disunited Kingdom." Gillingham asserts that the shift from Norman to English identity had been accomplished by the 1140s, but Hugh M. Thomas has recently argued in convincing detail that assimilation was "extremely complex and progressed in a lurching and uneven manner" until the end of the twelfth century (The English and the Normans 57). Complete assimilation, in other words, may have taken as long as a century and a quarter after the conquest -- "a long time," Thomas notes, "but given the depths of the hostility between the English and the Normans in William I's reign, the speed of assimilation between the two peoples is quite remarkable" (69).
[v] On the Welsh as a community of blood see R. R. Davies, Conquest, Coexistence, and Change 16; on the efficacy of disidentification to medieval constructions of race see Steven F. Kruger, "Medieval Christian (Dis)identifications: Muslims and Jews in Guibert of Nogent."
[vi] Again Davies gives a succinct formulation: "Ethnic identity is relational; it is otherness which often best serves to confirm and underline identities for both parties. 'The Welsh,' said one rather resigned and world-weary English official in a famous comment in 1296, 'are Welsh.' What more need be said, he clearly implied: the simple word 'Welsh' conjured a whole host of sentiments and characteristics, most of them doubtless unflattering, about this distinctive people. Isidore was at hand to provide his own pithy definition: 'a people (gens) is a multitude … distinct from another people (natio) in terms of its own aggregation (collectionem).'" In summing up the work of differentiation which hatred and violence accomplish, he notes "Demonising the enemy works wonders for people's self-identity." See "The Peoples of Britain and Ireland 1100-1400: I. Identities," 8-10. Such disidentifications can hold an enduring power of definition over those placed into the negative category. Cf. James Muldoon, Identity on the Medieval Irish Frontier: "People are not necessarily who they say they are but who others say they are. Social and cultural identity, even national identity, is therefore not simply a matter of self-definition. It is also a matter of definition by others" (x).
[vii] Thus Richard C. Hoffmann: "When medieval writers and men of action chose words and images like 'birth,' 'blood,' and 'lineage' to refer to large social groups, they exhibited a fundamentally biological explanation of how groups came to be" ("Outsiders by Birth and Blood" 1).
[viii] "Diversae nationes populorum inter se discrepant genere, moribus, lingua, legibus." The quotation is from the Epistula ad Hathonem and is examined by Bartlett in both The Making of Europe (197) and "Concepts of Race and Ethnicity" (47). Cf. the list offered by Davies for the medieval definition of a people: "language, law, life-style, dress, personal appearance (especially in respect of hair and moustaches), agricultural practices, code of social values and what can only be described as national character or temperament" ("The Peoples of Britain and Ireland 1100-1400: I. Identities," 11)
[ix] Bishop Bernard was of Norman descent, but like Gerald of Wales long argued for the autonomy of the see of St David's. Rhigyfarch, son of a Welsh bishop of St. David's, had described the eponymous founder of the seat as an archbishop (Life of St. David, c.1093-95). See Michael Richter, "Canterbury's Primacy in Wales" and the comments by Susan Reynolds, "Medieval Origines Gentium" 385.
[x] Davies is specifically speaking of differences in clothing style, table manners and horse riding: The First English Empire 129.
[xi] R. Allen Brown observes, "The longhair of the English upper classes, and their moustaches, contrasted with the clean-shaven appearance of the Norman knights, with their close-cropped hair, as shown on the Bayeux Tapestry ... In this, as in so many larger ways, two different worlds, from England and from Normandy, met in 1066" (The Normans and the Norman Conquest 163-64). Ann Williams gathers much of the material on Norman versus English hair and dress, pointing out some contradiction in the evidence, in The English and the Norman Conquest 188-90. Such differences, it goes without saying, were susceptible to strategic exaggeration or downplaying depending upon their reporter. A good general introduction to the multiple meanings of medieval hair is Robert Bartlett, "Symbolic Meanings of Hair in the Middle Ages."
[xii] Chronica majora 2.418; Robert Bartlett provides the reference in "Hair in the Middle Ages" 45.
[xiii] William of Malmesbury, Vita Wulfstani 1.16.3-4. Monika Otter explicates the complexity this text betrays in its relation to the Norman conquest in "1066: The Moment of Transition" 571-72, 578.
[xiv] Eadmer reported that the men of William Rufus's court would "grow their hair long like girls ... with locks well-combed, glancing about them and winking in an ungodly fashion." Ann Williams treats this passage from the Historia Novorum in Anglia in The English and the Norman Conquest 190.
[xv] M. Brett, The English Church Under Henry I, 76.
[xvi] Joe Hillaby, "The Ritual-Child-Murder Accusation" 80. A description of the medieval circumcision festival survives in the Mahzor Vitry of Simha ben Samuel of Vitry-le-François, Champagne.
[xvii] The lines are from the spurious late eleventh or early twelfth century "Letter of Alexius Comnenus to Count Robert of Flanders Imploring His Aid," a text that goes on to declare that noble women are being routinely raped, their daughters likewise abused while the mothers are forced to sing "lewd songs." Men and boys are being sodomized, sometimes to death. See John Boswell's translation and analysis in Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality 279-80, 367-69. Robert of Reims and Baudri of Dol envision similar scenes of violation.
[xviii] When in crusade agitprop Saracens are envisioned raping Christian women and sodomizing Christian men, they are with that very part of their body that sets them apart physically coming too close to an identity built on their exclusion. That horrible and fantasized embrace, that unholy union, is the essence of Saracen monstrosity. That the Saracen poses a sexual as well as a racial threat seems clear from these fantasies in which the feminization of Christian bodies via circumcision is paralleled by the simultaneous rape of Christian women. See especially Steven Kruger, "Racial/Religious and Sexual Queerness in the Middle Ages" 34.
[xix] Rhonda Knight explores this paradoxical assertion in "Procreative Sodomy in Gerald of Wales."
[xx] James Cain contextualizes the passage from the Topographia Hibernica in "Unnatural History" 35.
[xxi] Jewish menstruation was a popular myth throughout the later Middle Ages. Its most famous early populizer was Thomas de Cantimpré in the Miraculorum et exernplorum memorabilium sui temporis libri duo. Albert the Great linked Jewish nature and diet to their propensity for bloody hemorrhoids, Quaestiones de animalibus 9.7. The topic is well explored in Irven M. Resnick, "Medieval Roots of the Myth of Jewish Male Menses" and Willis Johnson, "The Myth of Jewish Male Menses."
[xxii] For a full discussion of the pseudo-biographies of "Mahomet," see Norman Daniel, Islam and the West 79-108.
[xxiii] Gerald of Wales narrates the scene in the Expugnatio Hibernica 1.33. Davies describes it as an episode of Anglicization in The First English Empire 170 and as "a gastronomic, and thereby cultural, coup de théâtre" in Domination and Conquest 49. John Gillingham sees it as part of a program of acculturation that saw the importation of 569 pounds of almonds along with the weapons of war that Henry brought to Ireland (The English in the Twelfth Century 104). A somewhat similar feast is recorded by William of Malmesbury, when William of Normandy catches Harold's spies poking around his camp on the eve of the battle of Hastings. William gives his captives a tour of his army, feeds them "a substantial dinner," and then sends them back to Harold to make their awed report (Gesta Regum Anglorum 3.239).
[xxiv] The best treatment of the medieval fascination with national character is Paul Meyvaert, "'Rainaldus est malus scriptor Francigenus.'"
[xxv] See the Deeds of the Kings of the English 2.165 for Danish stereotypes (and Williams' refusal to translate the barbariem linguae of the counties the Danes attack) and 2.121 for William's comment on Guthrum's unaltered character ("he was a proud tyrant oppressing the lands entrusted to him").
[xxvi] Letter LV in The Life and Letters of Hebert de Losinga 1.100-101. The translators provide their own racist support for the timeless shortcomings of the "Keltic race" in their footnote.
[xxvii] Cf. R. R. Davies: "A people's character and customs were grounded, like its law, in the distant past; like the law, they were almost immemorial and thereby congenital." ("The Peoples of Britain and Ireland 1100-1400: III. Laws and Customs," 13).
[xxviii] See Robert Bartlett, "Hair in the Middle Ages" 59.
[xxix] "a Saxonibus animorum inconditam ferocitatem, a Flandritis corporum eneruem mollitiem, a Danis potationem discerent" (History of the Kings of England 2.148)
[xxx] "Iam enim pridem moribus Anglorum insueueat, qui uarii admodum pro temporibus fuere. Nam primis aduentus sui annis uultu et gestu barbarico, usu bellico, ritu fanatico uiuebant ..." (History of the Kings of England 3.245).
[xxxi] Statutes, Ordinances and Acts of the Parliament of Ireland, 430-69. Kathleen Biddick discusses the Statutes of Kilkenny as colonial violence in The Shock of Medievalism 54.
[xxxii] "Race Relations in Post-Conquest Wales" 36.
[xxxiii] See the discussion of changing Anglo-Scandinavian names in Robert Bartlett, England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings 539-40. The name Tostig does not necessitate that its bearer was of Scandinavian descent, just as William quickly became as English as it was Norman. Cf. Tom Williamson, The Origins of Norfolk: "Scandinavian personal names were widely adopted in eastern England by the indigenous population, emulating the social elite in precisely the same way that local peasants, in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, happily gave their children such Norman names as William, Henry or Stephen" (109).
[xxxiv] "Quia ex linguis gentes, non de gentibus linguae exortae sunt." Etymologies 9.1.14. See Bartlett, The Making of Europe 198; Davies, "The Peoples of Britain and Ireland 1100-1400: IV. Language and Historical Mythology," 9; Pohl, ""Telling the Difference" 18.
[xxxv] Brynley F. Roberts, "Writing in Wales" 183.
[xxxvi] R. R. Davies, "The Peoples of Britain and Ireland III. Laws and Customs" 8. Given that they were "a fairly recent amalgam of four or five different peoples," the supposition of an ancient code of law served an even more important cohesive function for the Scots, "bonding diverse peoples into a single nation" (Davies 9, 8).
[xxxvii] In this particular case the Jews' confidence in the king is misplaced, however. After the case is tried in his presence, the king refers it back to the local bishop as a religious matter. See Lipman, The Jews of Medieval Norwich, 60-61.
[xxxviii] N. J. Higham, An English Empire 219.
[xxxix] See Paul Freedman, Images of the Medieval Peasant.
[xl] Marjorie Chibnall, The Debate on the Norman Conquest 19.
[xli] The lines are from Gerald's Invectiones (c. 1200). Robert Bartlett observes that even as the distinction between Norman and English was failing in England itself, the "conditions of settlement in Wales" could magnify the divide, Gerald of Wales 14. Gerald has similar if less vivid condemnation of English servility in On the Instruction of Princes 3.30. See also John Gillingham, "'Slaves of the Normans'?"
[xlii] Outside of social class, denigrated races are frequently represented as inherently unclean. Cf. Gerald on the Irish: "This is a filthy people, wallowing in vice" (Topographia Hibernica 3.98).
[xliii] "regnum vestrum purgatum est spurcicia Britonum," The Letters of Lanfranc, no. 35, p. 124. Spurcitia can refer to filth in general as well as more specifically to bodily products like vomit and dung.
[xliv] Marjorie Chibanll, "'Racial' Minorities in Anglo-Norman England" 51.
[xlv] The Chronicle of Matthew of Paris 142-43; Anthony Bale, "Fictions of Judaism" 136; Colin Richmond, "Englishness and Medieval Anglo-Jewry" 217.
[xlvi] "Imagining Communities" 11. I have examined the Albina myth at greater length in Of Giants 45-60.
[xlvii] This intermixture makes medieval race uncannily similar to what Etienne calls "neo-racism," a racism based on religious difference. See "Is There a 'Neo-Racism'?"
[xlviii] A brief overview of the Hasidei Ashkenaz can be found in Leonard B. Glick, Abraham's Heirs: Jews and Christians in Medieval Europe180-83.
[xlix] The decree is reported by William of Malmesbury in the Gesta regum Anglorum, 3.254.
[l] M. Richter, "Canterbury's Primacy in Wales" 177.
[li] V. D. Lipman writes of the episode from 1289-90 in "Anatomy of Medieval Anglo-Jewry" 64. On the Domus Conversorum and the conversion of English Jews more generally, see Robert C. Stacey, "The Conversion of Jews to Christianity in Thirteenth-Century England." Stacey observes that that the royal attitude toward conversion was one of "benign neglect" until Henry III founded the Domus in 1232 (267).
[lii] Joseph Jacobs treats the episode in The Jews of Angevin England 283-84.
[liii] See D. B. Dobson, "A Minority Within a Minority" 47 and Paul Hyams, "The Jewish Minority in Mediaeval England " 275.
[liv] On the enduring suspicion which greeted converts, both by their former coreligionists and by their new communities, see Jeremy Cohen, "The Mentality of the Jewish Apostate"; Paul Hyams, "The Jewish Minority in Mediaeval England " 276-77; William Chester Jordan, "Why 'Race'?" 166; Stephen Kruger, "Conversion and Medieval Categories"; Robert Stacey, "The Conversion of Jews to Christianity in Thirteenth-Century England." Stacey writes that by the mid-thirteenth century in England, "there was clearly an irreducible element to Jewish identity in the eyes of many Christians, which no amount of baptismal water could entirely eradicate" (278).
[lv] Throughout this book I use the word antisemitic to describe hatred against Jews, even though I realize how anachronistic the term is. Medieval Jews were not thought of as "semites" (a nineteenth century racial category), but I am not certain "anti-judaism" would be any better. Violence against Jews was repeatedly condemned in the Middle Ages by various authorities, but there was no collective term for the animus that motivated it.
[lvi] Translation from Joseph Jacobs, The Jews of Angevin England 105-6. Jacob also provides accounts of the London massacre from William of Newburgh, Robert of Gloucester, and Ephraim of Bonn.
[lvii] "In such cases as these, those making the appeals calculated that there was some strength and meaning in calling up common descent and language and that a feeling of ethnic and linguistic solidarity might shape and direct political action" (Robert Bartlett, "Concepts of Race and Ethncity" 51).
[lviii] "The Peoples of Britain and Ireland II. Names, Boundaries and Regnal Solidarities," 3. Later in the same address Davies writes that names like "the English" are "treacherous," because they create the impression that the group designated by that name is unified, timeless, and immutable when in fact just the opposite is likely to be true historically (9).
[lix] On the extraordinary nature of this acknowledgement see Cassandra Potts, "'Atque unum ex diversis gentibus populum effecit'" 142.
[lx] The Architecture of Norman England 11.
[lxi] The Normans broke their long alliance with the Capetians in 1052; a movement toward assimilation had long been stalled and in some ways reversed by enduring rivalry. David Crouch treats these permutations of Norman identity well in The Normans, pp. 32-75, where he argues that by about 1050 the Normans gave up their desire to seem French, confident in their own distinctiveness.
[lxii] The phrase "turned into Englishmen" is the succinct formulation of Ralph Davis, Normans and their Myth 122, "the paradox of the Normans is that though it was in England that they reached their acme and fulfilled themselves as Normans, yet in the long run the conquest of England turned them into Englishmen." Chibnall discusses the process and surveys recent scholarship on the subject in The Debate on the Norman Conquest 128-29.
[lxiii] Ann Williams, The English and the Norman Conquest 5 and 136 n43.
[lxiv] Aristotle, Politics 7.7 (1327b 23); trans. B. Jowett (New York: Random House, 1941), 1286. Of this passage Robert Bartlett writes "Environmental thinking was rarely value-free. It usually turned out that the best environment, the one with the most desirable results, was the author's own … The history of Orientalism obviously begins here" ("Concepts of Race and Ethnicity" 46).
[lxv] Mary Floyd Wilson labels the phenomenon "geohumoralism" and provides a useful survey of classical sources for the concept in English Ethnicity and Race in Early Modern Drama 23-47.
[lxvi] The passage is quoted in a discussion of non-Christian racism in the Middle Ages by William Chester Jordan in "Why 'Race'?'" 167. Maimonides, following Miskawayh, made a similar statement; see David M. Goldenberg, "The Development of the Idea of Race" 566.
[lxvii] See Suzanne Conklin Akbari, "From Due East to True North: Orientalism and Orientation."
[lxviii] "Gens equidem illa natura semper in ferrum prompta fuit, descendens ab antiqua Saxonum origine ferocissimorum hominum" (Gesta Guillelmi 2.24).
[lxix] De iure et statu Meneuensis Ecclesiae 4, trans. H. E. Butler in The Autobiography of Gerald of Wales, p. 247.
[lxx] "Saxons, Normans and their Buildings" 3.
[lxxi] "The Peoples of Britain and Ireland 1100-1400: II. Names, Boundaries and Regnal Solidarities," 2. Cf. "Most people," observes R. R. Davies, are complex amalgams; but beneath the label of a single name they become, and come to believe themselves to be, a single people" ("The Peoples of Britain and Ireland II. Names" 3).
[lxxii] Migration and Myth-Making in Anglo-Saxon England 5. Cf. Susan Reynolds on myths of Scandinavian or north-German origin: "Yet the stories of Scandinavian origin, like all the others that I am considering, seem to assume that 'peoples' were not only enduring political and cultural communities but were biologically homogeneous too. This seems to have been an important attraction of the origin-stories during the middle ages, as well as in later centuries when "Germanist' ideas began to grow." Reynolds argues that this assumption must be wrong, although it endures in our tendency to refer to barbarians as living in self-contained tribes and to distinguish them from the Romans they lived among ("Medieval Origines Gentium" 379).
[lxxiii] Cf. G. G. Coulton, "Nationalism in the Middle Ages," 18.
[lxxiv] David Crouch makes this point at some length in The Normans 102.
[lxxv] The description is David Crouch's, The Normans 198.
[lxxvi] Gerald of Wales narrates the death of Archbishop Baldwin the Journey Through Wales 2.14.
[lxxvii] I examine this biblical episode in its relation to Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain in Of Giants 34-35.
[lxxviii] Quoted and translated in Robert Chazan, European Jewry and the First Crusade 152.
[lxxix] The biblical typology that Gildas employs and its origins have been searchingly explored by Hanning, Vision of History in Early Britain, 55-58.
[lxxx] The biblical Gog and Magog also offered another monstrous category for the subsuming of the unknown and putatively inferior. See Scott D. Westrem, "Against Gog and Magog."
[lxxxi] The description of the English appears just after Harold's death and reads, "Gens equidem illa natura semper in ferrum prompta fuit, descendens ab antiqua Saxonum origine ferocissimorum hominum" (Histoire de Guillaume le Conquérant, 202). Robert Stein discusses the passage in "The Trouble with Harold" 183.
[lxxxii] Tetrabiblos 2.2, quoted by Paul Meyvaert, "Voicing National Antipathy" p. 745.
[lxxxiii] Robert Hanning explores Gildas's use of animal imagery in Vision of History in Early Britain 54-55. Gildas's stress upon the Saxons as race that is ferocissimus ("extreme ferocity") and his penchant for turning them into "brutal carnivores" is explored by N. J. Higham, The English Conquest 37.
[lxxxiv] Chronicles of the Reigns 3.156-7, cited by John Gillingham, The English in the Twelfth Century 11.
[lxxxv] Abelard makes a similar observation. Anna Sapir Abulafia treats these and other partisans in the debates between Christians and Jews who thought of Jews in animalistic terms in "Bodies in the Jewish-Christian Debate."
[lxxxvi] For these examples and for an excellent overview of Jews as "blind beasts" see Anthony Bale, "Fictions of Judaism" 141-42. Bale writes perceptively of the bestiary tradition that it "offers us clear evidence that Jews' bodies (as well as the Jewish religion) were thought of as degraded and corrupt entities, foreshadowing later antisemitic material and a 'racial' conception of Judaism" (141).
[lxxxvii] Le Roman de Rou de Wace, ll.8067-69. This passage prompts Susan Crane to argue that "The distinction between 'French-speaking' and 'not French-speaking' was sharper than any single ethnic opposition [in post-Conquest England], and language continued to be the most salient difference between conquerors and conquered" ("Anglo-Norman Cultures in England, 1066-1460" 36). Yet Searle asks if we should really imagine that Harold Godwinson and Earl Waltheof had to rely on interpreters to speak to William: "The Normans obviously spoke French -- and used it in England to distinguish themselves from those who land they had taken. Distinguishing themselves from their prey was part of what made Normans. But we surely underestimate the multilingual nature of the restless world of the eleventh century if we imagine that they could not get along in what one might call a 'trade-route' (or invading-route) patois" (Predatory Kinship 243). Most important, then, is how language is imagined to call into being an inviolable separateness, despite the fact that linguistic hybridities and bilingualism are more likely the norm (on which see Susan Crane, Insular Romance esp.2-7).
[lxxxviii] On English tails see Arthur Langfors, "'L'Anglais qui couve' dans l'imagination populaire au Moyen Age" and Hugh M. Thomas, The English and the Normans 303. Malcolm Jones produces a picture of Edward I as a tailed Englishman in Secret Middle Ages 67. In her discussion of Richard Coeur de Lion, Geraldine Heng describes the tailed English as a racialized body, but is confused about the source of the legend (Empire of Magic 91-98). Like Bradford Broughton (Legends of King Richard 94) Heng places the first recordation of the myth in William of Malmesbury's Gesta pontificum anglorum. In fact, while this text contains an episode of aggressive fish tail hanging at the hands of irate villagers and Augustine's subsequent pique, the narrative culminates in repentance and baptism, not a vindictive curse (1.84). William borrowed the story from the "greater" (major) life of St. Augustine, composed by a Flemish monk named Goscelin whose special passion was composing lives of English saints. Wace may have taken the description of the malevolent affixing of fish-tails from William's Gesta, but the curse and its consequences come from an unknown source, oral tradition, or Wace's fertile imagination.
Post a Comment