Pohl, Benjamin, Dudo of Saint-Quentin’s Historia Normannorum: Tradition, Innovation and Memory

Pohl, Benjamin. Dudo of Saint-Quentin’s Historia Normannorum: Tradition, Innovation and Memory. York: York Medieval Press, 2015. Pp. xii, 313. $115.00. ISBN: 978-1-903-15354-3.

Deux comptes rendus / Two reviews

Reviewed by Felice Lifshitz, University of Alberta
In The Medieval review

This study of Dudo’s Historia Normannorum (hereafter HN) will become a touchstone for all future work on the text and its significance. Commissioned by Duke Richard I of Normandy (r. 942-996) and completed under the patronage of his son and successor Richard II (r. 996-1026), Dudo’s prosimetrical narrative was presented to the ducal court at Rouen in or around 1015. We still possess no modern critical edition of the HN. Pohl provides the first full assessment of the entire manuscript tradition of the text: an appendix to the introduction contains descriptions of the manuscripts of the HN (18-33), while appendices 1 and 2 (262-263) contain summary tables of the manuscripts in (respectively) alphabetical and chronological order. However, instead of exploring the contexts of production of the various eleventh- and twelfth-century witnesses to the HN, Pohl generally draws on those manuscripts to shed light on the original intentions of Dudo and his patrons. This casts doubt on whether he has achieved his “foremost objective” to “investigate the crucial functions of early Norman historiography as a medium of cultural memory” (6) beyond the moment of the HN’s initial dissemination.

Pohl is surely correct when he writes that the intended function of the HN was “to promote the Norman dynasty as equivalent in status to the powerful families which ruled the neighboring kingdoms and principalities…[and to glorify] the Norman rulers and their achievements in creating from scratch a powerful Christian state, and ruling it in accordance with divine providence” (44). Richard I’s grandfather Rollo had begun his career as a pagan Viking marauder before being “granted sovereignty over vast parts of Neustria by Charles the Simple in 911” (192). Tenth-century Frankish historians such as Richer of Reims kept the memory of these ignoble beginnings alive, for instance by calling Richard I a “leader of pirates” (117). Thus the position of the Norman ducal dynasty was still potentially open to question when Dudo brought together a mosaic of historiographic themes (including styling the Norman dukes as heirs to the Roman and Carolingian emperors within a discourse of translatio et imitatio imperii) to create “a vibrant manifesto of the Normans’ claim for acceptance as legitimate Christian rulers” (129).

Pohl’s discussion helps us understand how effectively monumental Dudo’s history of the Norman dukes must have been as a status symbol at the time of its publication. He has done this by demonstrating conclusively that HN was, from the beginning, an integrated prosimetrical text, rather than a prose work to which verses were subsequently added (84-108, 131-155). The sophisticated poems are clearly “essential semantic elements in the work’s overall structure…essential for the reader’s understanding of the text” (133). Dudo’s showy imitation of the great Latin poets and rhetoricians such as Boethius, Martianus Capella and Fulgentius endowed HN “with a distinct aura of stylistic and intertextual authority” (146). This means that when “Richard I first commissioned Dudo to record the history of Normandy and its rulers, he essentially requested an unprecedented dynastic history, whose publication could rival the historiographical traditions of his peers and neighbors” (106).

Pohl also suggests that the work was “designed, from the outset, as an illustrated chronicle” (252) and “conceptualized as an illustrated history from the very beginning” (254). There can be no doubt that Rouen, Bibliothèque Municipale 1173/Y11 (Pohl’s MS R), produced by the monks of Jumièges, was intended to contain a full program of illuminations, something Pohl demonstrates through a careful, nuanced and insightful analysis of the many blank spaces in the codex, one of which (on fol. 8r) contains a partial sketch for a (never completed) miniature. Pohl’s reconstruction of the intended program of illumination (see especially Figure 5 on pages 184-185) is nothing short of brilliant, above all in his perception of the functional reciprocity between Dudo’s text and the Jumièges images. The images “interrupt the HN’s main text precisely at points which feature dialogue, occurring directly before, after or sometimes halfway through the respective speeches” and were therefore “most likely depictions of the characters who deliver the speeches” (181). Pohl then determines that the individuals most likely to have been depicted in MS R making important speeches were not the Norman dukes themselves, but rather their political allies and political enemies, such as Louis IV (one of the last Carolingian kings of West Francia) and Hugh the Great (father of the first Capetian king of France, Hugh Capet). Finally, Pohl reconstructs the key historical moments in Dudo’s narrative that would have been graphically depicted for viewers of MS R, had its illuminator fulfilled his commission, and argues that the “renewal of Louis IV’s oath [to honor Richard I’s rightful inheritance of the Norman duchy] is the climax of the narrative cycle, and perhaps one of the most vital scenes of the whole text…Having the defeated Louis IV swear his loyalty to Richard I…effectively serves to render the Norman prince independent of the French king…Renewing the solemn oath which he took but broke the first time around, the French king…forever forfeit[ed] his rights over Normandy” (191-192).

I am completely persuaded, based on the text of the HN alone, that external recognition of Norman ducal legitimacy by Frankish potentates during the reigns of Richard I and Richard II was a crucial concern for Dudo. However, there is no trace of illumination or of the intention to include illustration in any of the other extant manuscripts of the HN. Finally, nothing in Dudo’s extremely prolix and self-referential text, which almost obsessively comments upon the very process of composition itself, points to any awareness of a potential visual dimension to historiography (whether for the HN in particular or for historical representation in general). I fail to see on what basis Pohl suggests that MS R indicates a 996 plan by Dudo and Richard I to produce an illustrated history, rather than a plan by someone contemporary with MS R to do so.

Pohl avoids referring to the date of production of MS R throughout his entire discussion of the subject (165-197), contenting himself with vague statements such as that a full program of illuminations was “unparalleled in Norman manuscript culture at the time” (182) or that “[a]nother possibility is that manuscript R was originally intended as a display copy, commissioned by the Norman rulers on their behalf” (194). One must refer to Pohl’s three appendices concerning the manuscripts to discover that he dates the production of MS R to the years 1050-1075. Pohl writes that MS R was “written in Normandy (Jumièges) during the second half of the eleventh century” (32), yet gives no fuller explanation for narrowing the dates of production to the years 1050-1075 (262-263). What makes the decision to date (the extremely consequential) MS R to before 1075 so odd, is that “the feet on the minims are already turning to the right” (32); yet this very same characteristic leads Pohl to date Berlin, Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Cod. Phillips 1854 (Pohl’s MS Be, heretofore considered to be an eleventh-century manuscript) to after 1100 (22-23). Whether MS R was produced before or after 1075, it was not produced during the lifetimes of Dudo or his original patrons. Yet, there is not a single mention of the dukes ruling Normandy during the relevant time frame (namely William the Conqueror, r. 1035-1087, or his son William Rufus, r. 1087-1100) or of any other contemporary figure or event (such as the Norman Conquest of 1066) that might have had some impact on the decision to produce an elaborate, illuminated display copy of the HN (with its claims to Norman independence from France) late in the eleventh century.

If Pohl makes too much of the possibility that the HN was intended from the beginning to be illustrated, he makes too little of a much more solidly-documented insight: that the HN was likely intended for (and for many decades was almost certainly experienced by) audiences that actively participated in a culture of “aurality.” (“Aurality” is distinct from “orality” because in the former a fixed written text serves for public reading, and there is less room for the creative story-telling of an individual bard or performer.) More than half of the surviving medieval manuscripts of Dudo’s prosimetrical work contain an “elaborate system of positurae used to punctuate the HN’s metrical poetry” (18- 19) to facilitate oral performance. This is true for all the poems in Antwerp, Museum Plantin-Moretus/Prentenkabinet, 17.2 (Pohl’s MS A) and in London, British Library, MS Royal 13 B xiv (Pohl’s Lr) both from late twelfth-century England, and for some of the poems in MS R, in MS Be (whose dating will be discussed below), in Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 276 (Pohl’s Cc) from early twelfth-century England, and in London, British Library, MS Cotton Nero D viii (Pohl’s Ln) from late twelfth-century England. The tremendously important point that the HN might have regularly figured in public readings or staged performances is made (some might say buried) in the description of one of the manuscripts (18-20) and then is effectively dropped for the remainder of the book. Neither performativity nor aurality features in Pohl’s explorations of the audiences for and reception of the HN (his discussion of literacy on 156-165 notwithstanding), although both suddenly resurface in the conclusion (255). This point should be added to the list of valuable insights Pohl has brought to our understanding of the composition, reception and continued relevance of the HN, and will hopefully be taken up by future researchers.

In his fourth (and by far shortest) chapter, Pohl turns to the subject of how (beginning in the 1050s) historians such as William of Jumièges, Orderic Vitalis and Robert of Torigni accepted, adapted, or rejected aspects of Dudo’s foundational history of Normandy. In the earlier (very long) chapters, Pohl exploits the extant manuscripts of the HN to shed light on the original intentions of Dudo and Richard I c. 1000, rather than to explore the contexts in which those codices were in fact produced. Yet the fact is, no extant manuscript of the HN predates the later eleventh and twelfth centuries. By ignoring the specific political contexts that presumably conditioned the production of the extant manuscripts of the HN, Pohl has actually missed the chance fully to investigate the evolving significance and function of Dudo’s HN during the decades when Normandy formed part of (what I will designate for convenience’s sake) the Anglo-Norman realm and then the Angevin Empire. Pohl addresses the matter only from a very limited and literary perspective. For instance, he argues that changing circumstances created a major shift in the way the HN was reproduced: whereas (he claims) the oldest copies were “independents” (that is, codices containing only the HN, imparting a gravitas to the narrative by paralleling it to other stand-alone histories such as Widukind’s Res gestae Saxonicae), later scribes transmitted the HN as part of larger collections of histories, and were concerned more with textual preservation than with any presentist utility the text might possess.

According to Pohl, “the long-term preservation of the HN within the literary canon which constituted Normandy’s–and to a certain extent, England’s–cultural memory” (76) became paramount. Yet, surely a narrative whose climactic moment (as noted above) demonstrated that “the French king…forever forfeit[ed] his rights over Normandy” (192) continued to have burning political relevance throughout the period. In any case, as is clear from Pohl’s “Summary Table of Manuscripts in Chronological Order” (263), fully half of the copies produced between 1125 and 1200 were still independents. MS A, for instance, was produced as a particularly elaborate independent in England between 1175 and 1200, yet discussion of this codex is confined to the subject of the layout of Dudo’s poems on its pages (243-245). This is not the place to detail the events that culminated in the loss of Normandy by the crown of England to the crown of France in 1204, but the copies of the HN produced against the backdrop of decades of dynastic wrangling over continental territories may well have been intended to contribute in material ways to those negotiations and battles. The fact that the stakes were so high could well account for the “effort and dedication which is palpable in the copying of their exemplars” (242) that Pohl noted for “Anglo-Norman scribes of the twelfth century” (242). Indeed, I see no reason to exclude from consideration the possibility that even scribes who included the HN in compilations (rather than producing the text as an independent) during the decades when Philip Augustus was challenging Henry II and his sons for control of Normandy might have envisioned some pragmatic political utility (beyond mere textual preservation) for their copies of Dudo’s history.

I must also challenge another of Pohl’s claims concerning the trajectory of engagement with Dudo’s narrative over time, namely that no copies of the text were produced between c. 1075 and 1100, when “interest in the text first began to wane in Normandy” (5). We have already seen that MS R could well date from those decades. Furthermore, Pohl describes Bern, Burgerbibliothek, Bongars 390 (his MS B) as “written in Normandy during the second half of the eleventh century” (21), but (as with MS R) never explains why he subsequently dates B more narrowly to the years 1050-1075 (262-263). Finally, I am not convinced by Pohl’s “slight” (22 n. 83) re-dating of MS Be from its traditional date of the 1080s to “shortly after 1100” (65) and “the early twelfth century” (69), in part because Pohl himself seems never to have fully come to grips with this codex. Pohl simultaneously claims that he “established” a “later twelfth-century date [for Be]…in the Introduction, above” (64) and he places MS Be (from Mont-Saint-Michel) on his summary tables with a production date of c. 1175-1200 (262-263). He also treats MS Be in the body of the analysis as a late twelfth-century witness of the text. For instance, it does not figure in any of his discussions of the oldest extant copies of the text, all said to have been produced in Normandy between c. 1000 and 1125 (45, 57 and 171). Those discussions all concern only MS B, MS R and Cambridge, University Library, Mm.5.17 (Pohl’s C), “written in Normandy during the first half of the twelfth century” (24). Finally, I should also note that Saint-Wandrille is dramatically misplaced on the map (xii); it is in fact located in the Seine Valley only fourteen kilometers from Jumièges.

Despite my criticisms, I learned a lot from this book. The fact that future specialists will be able to exploit Pohl’s manuscript-based insights assures that his study will occupy a central place in scholarship on the HN for a long time to come.

Pohl, Benjamin. <i>Dudo of Saint-Quentin’s Historia Normannorum: Tradition, Innovation and Memory</i>. York: York Medieval Press, 2015. Pp. xii, 313. $115.00. ISBN: 978-1-903-15354-3.

Review by Elisabeth van Houts

In Reviews in History

Towards the end of the tenth century in the province that had recently become known as Normandy, named after the ‘North Men’ who had come from Scandinavia, the third generation leader Richard I, count of Rouen (943–96), commissioned a dynastic history. Like any third generation successful entrepreneur, Richard wished to erect a monument celebrating the exploits of his father William Longsword (928–43) and his grandfather Rollo (d. 928). Not a memorial stone decorated with a short inscription and some essential names hewn out of rock, as was common in Denmark, Norway and Sweden, but a lengthy written memorial in Latin prose and poetry on parchment in the fashion of Carolingian historiography. The nouveau riches of Rouen had left their stone carving behind and instead opted for the most sophisticated – in places over the top – language that a clerk from northern France could provide. The man in question was Dudo of Saint-Quentin, a well-trained administrator from the Vermandois. Dudo accepted the commission and in due course addressed various members of the Rouen dynasty in lavish poetry: Richard I’s sons Richard II and Archbishop Robert of Rouen, his half brother Ralph of Ivry, and his wife Gunnor. Apart from the Historia Normannorum [HN] Dudo also drafted charters for the counts, and around 1015 was rewarded with an estate. Dudo’s history of the Normans was an instantaneous success. Some 15 manuscripts have survived, most from the 11th and 12th centuries. Moreover, the text, in a revised and abbreviated form, became the basis of the Gesta Normannorum Ducum [GND](The Deeds of the Dukes of the Normans), by the monk William of Jumièges. He updated the history up to c. 1070 just after the conquest of England by William the Conqueror. Thereafter Orderic Vitalis in c. 1113 and Robert of Torigni in c. 1139 revised and updated theGND most extensively, with some minor revisions added by others somewhat earlier.

Although Dudo’s HN has been available in a scholarly edition since 1865, by Jules Lair, no thorough investigation has ever been made into the manuscript basis of the text. For Jules Lair the most important aspect of his work was making the text available to fellow historians but he was not terribly interested in the manuscripts for their own sake. He was also unfortunately responsible for the loss of one of Dudo’s manuscripts borrowed from the municipal library in Alençon. We may be grateful that at the moment his house went up in flames he had not more manuscript treasures on loan. In any case, several more manuscripts were identified as containing Dudo’s text in due course, but it was not until the 1980s that Gerda Huisman wrote a short article providing a provisional hand list and (as it turn out erroneous) classification of the manuscripts. When in 1998 Eric Christiansen published his magnificent English translation of Dudo’s history, based on Lair’s edition, he provided a wealth of text critical notes plus an impressive commentary on Dudo’s poetry. Meanwhile, my own editorial work on the GND(published by 1995) helped to shed light on some aspects of both the textual and manuscript tradition of Dudo’s work. This then was the sum total of the manuscript and textual scholarship on Dudo when Benjamin Pohl, a talented young scholar from Bamberg, began his investigations. And the results of his work are nothing short of astounding.

The most important discovery Pohl made was that the oldest manuscript, dating from the second half of the 11th century from Jumièges, now Rouen BM 1173/Y11 (siglum R), had been prepared for illustrations. The layout of this manuscript, with its many blank sections, had baffled historians (including myself) not least because some of the blank space straddled two facing pages. None of the blank spaces corresponded with the revisions made by William of Jumièges, so textually they made no apparent sense, while illustrations, too, seemed out of the question due to the bizarre spacing. With the help of ultra-modern lighting techniques, however, Pohl established traces of drawing on two folios proving beyond doubt that the blanks had been prepared for illustrations. This is a sensational discovery made the more impressive because of further work, recently published in Anglo-Norman Studies 37 (2015) arguing convincingly that Dudo from the outset had planned a chronicon pictum, that is a history in Latin prose and poetry with illustrations and explanatory captions. Thus what Pohl had set out to investigate in the absence of an autograph manuscript, namely the manuscripts of a dynastic history of the dukes of Normandy, turned into a revelatory study of what such a detailed codicological and paleographical investigation of manuscripts can reveal of an author’s intention. The Jumièges manuscript had been prepared for illustrations, but apart from the two I mentioned they were never finished. The discovery is exceptionally important because illustrated chronicles are very rare in the early and central Middle Ages. Where Dudo found the inspiration to mix Latin prose and poetry with illustrations is a riddle that remains to be solved, although the unique cultural setting of the ducal court at Rouen, with its Franco-Scandinavian ties combined with close English contacts must lie at the root of the innovative forces that inspired the Vermandois clerk. To what extent the ducal family themselves were involved is another area that still requires further work. The matriarch of the family, Gunnor (Richard I’s wife) is praised for her powerful memory, while Ralph of Ivry (Richard I’s half-brother) is enigmatically called the relator. By highlighting Gunnor’s and Ralph’s oral involvement (telling stories and remembering names and places) Dudo hints at the important role the two contemporaries of the first commissioner of the text played as his informants or perhaps shapers of what they expected a chronicle to look like. Did they do more than giving information about ancestors by pressing for images? Nothing of the sort had seen the light in Western Europe, and not even the Carolingian or Ottonian court had produced anything as attractive as a chronicon pictum.

What other conclusions could be drawn from the manuscript tradition of Dudo’s text? Pohl points out that Dudo’s HN continued to be read even after the GND provided a variously updated history of Normandy by the middle of the 12th century. However, the scribes’ capacity to cope with Dudo’s Latinity, particularly in his poetry, declined enormously. In 12th-century England, for example, the version of the text, including the poetry, posed immense problems as scribes failed to recognize the many varied poetic meters and indiscriminately copied poetry and prose as one continuous prose text without making any concessions to the reader. As a result much of the poetry became completely incomprehensible. As Pohl observes, this tells us something very important about the education and scribal skills of the monks of monasteries such as St Albans and St John at Colchester where neither scribe nor scriptorium supervisor were knowledgeable enough to appreciate the complexity of Dudo’s Latin.

In the fourth and final chapter, entitled ‘Innovation’, Pohl provides a fresh analysis of the contents of theHN together with that of the GND in all its redactions against the background of modern scholarship on ‘cultural memory’. One of the most significant aspects of this chapter concerns the convincing case he makes that Dudo used, in one form or another, knowledge of the medieval stories about the conversion of first Christian emperor of the Roman Empire, Constantine. By comparing Rollo with Constantine, Dudo provided for the young Norman dynasty an imperial context, in both military and religious terms, culminating in the presentation of Rouen as a second Rome. The demand for the legitimization of the rulers of Rouen, as counts and Christians, especially in the eyes of the contemporary Franks who at Reims were still deeply skeptical about the immigrant upstarts in western Francia (to the extent that Richer of Reims famously recorded the death of Richard the first as a ‘pirate leader’ (dux pyratarum)), needs to be stressed. It was Richard II, son of Richard I, who kept Dudo by his side, and supported him to implement his father’s wishes for the family story to be penned. Not only was the family portrayed as Christian, but their conquest of Normandy was interpreted in post-Constantinian imperial terms, that is, as divinely sanctioned.

Pohl’s book, lavishly illustrated and with many helpful diagrams, is an impressive debut from a medievalist of considerable talent. I have no doubt that we will hear more from him, though I suspect it will be very hard for him to repeat the stunning discovery that Dudo was the first historian to write an illustrated Latin chronicle. The scale of intellectual innovation Dudo wrought in Rouen in collaboration with his employers and informants, second and third generation immigrants themselves, says something about the power of change migration can effect. Bristol may now count itself lucky with their new scholar from Bamberg.

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