Interview with Brendan Cook and Jennifer Mara DeSilva
Princely Ambiguity: A Translation of Nikolaus of Modruš’ Funeral Oration for Cardinal Pietro Riario: Oratio in funere Petri Cardinalis Sancti Sixti (1474)
Brendan Cook is a Senior Instructor in Humanities and Cultural Studies at the University of South Florida who wrote his PhD on Thomas More’s Utopia and Lorenzo Valla’s On Pleasure. Working on Renaissance texts, especially neo-Latin literature, is one of his research foci. His translation of the correspondence of the Roman humanist Lorenzo Valla was published in 2014 by Harvard University Press.
Jennifer Mara DeSilva is well known to the readers of this blog and of the Royal Studies Journal thanks to her work on ceremonial entries and on cardinals. She is an Associate Professor of History at Ball State University (Indiana, USA), and has written several articles about the papal Masters of Ceremonies and edited collections examining the reformist behaviour of early modern bishops and the coercive process of sacralizing of space in the premodern world.
RSJ Blog: Hi Brendan and Jennifer, it’s great to talk with you about your recent article in the Royal Studies Journal which constitutes also somewhat of a first for the journal: it’s a source edition. More specifically, you have translated the funeral oration for Cardinal Pietro Riario by Nikolaus of Modruš in 1474, and compared this also to the Latin transcription. Can you tell us a bit more about this source?
Brendan & Jennifer: A translation seemed especially valuable to us because this text is interesting from more than one perspective. Obviously, there is the insight it provides into the institutional culture of the fifteenth-century Catholic Church. We have a summary of the life and achievements of one of the most important figures in Rome, a cardinal and a nephew of the pope. And this story is presented by someone who is also an important part of that same institutional structure, and who is sets out very deliberately to celebrate his virtues and apologize for his perceived shortcomings. So we see how the elites in this particular organization want to present themselves. But even apart from this, the oration is fascinating as an example of how humanist rhetoric is becoming established within the Catholic hierarchy. Modruš is making remarkable use of the different elements of humanist Latin, be it diction, syntax, or rhetorical tropes. And in that sense, the text belongs to the history of Neo-Latin literature as much as to the history of the papacy. That is why we included a Latin transcription as well as the English translation. We hope that the English version can serve as a sort of commentary on the Latin for those who want to study it, giving a sense not just of Modruš’ meaning, but his style. It is a translation that tries to reproduce the effect of the original, even it sometimes employs different means.
RSJ Blog: The oration was given by the Croatian bishop Nikolaus of Modruš for the funeral of the cardinal Pietro Riario. First of all, who were these men, and why did a Croatian bishop give an oration for an Italian cardinal? What was their connection? And second, was this oration ever really given, probably at the funeral, or was it “just” written and published? What was the purpose of this speech or text?
Brendan & Jennifer: Great questions! Nikolaus of Modruš (c.1425/7-1480) was one of many educated European men, who moved from regional diplomacy to Roman curial administration over the course of his career. Through the early modern period well-traveled, educated, and intelligent royal or noble agents often found that their skills and energy suited working as a papal governor, in the court of the Rota, or in the College of Cardinals. Like many other successful humanists, lawyers, and ambassadors, he took clerical vows in order to be of further use to the pope, whose interests spanned Eurasia, and receive income streams under papal control. Although Nikolaus ended up as the bishop of Senj and then Modruš, he lived and worked in the Italian peninsula, as a familiar of both Pope Sixtus IV and his nephew Cardinal Pietro Riario, remaining close to the centre of power.
Pietro Riario’s wall tomb in the church of SS. Dodici Apostoli in Rome
Source: Wikimedia Commons
As with many publications, this oration had several purposes: memorialization of a generous patron, encouragement of future patrons, and identity-building. Undoubtedly, these three purposes were interconnected and functioned on behalf of, and were directed towards, far more people than just Pietro Riario and Nikolaus of Modruš. While the author was a witness to spectacular diplomacy and a mourner of great men, he was also a campaigner on behalf of educated men who needed income and depended on large curial households. We know that Niccolò Perotti, the bishop of Siponto and another member of Riario’s household, also wrote a eulogy that he performed during the obsequies. As there is no similar evidence for this text, we suspect that Nikolaus’ oration was meant to be a public statement, rather than a printed account of an act.
RSJ Blog: This oration was one of the earliest prints, officially still counting as incunabulum since it was printed before 1501. Can you tell us a bit more about the genre of the source, e.g. how it relates to the later funeral sermons; and about the circumstances of its publication? Italy was one of the earliest printing centres – of course after Mainz in Germany where Cathleen’s university is – but was it still somewhat unusual that the papacy took to print so quickly? In some ways, the new printing technology was a rival to traditional text production in the church.
Brendan & Jennifer: Rome has always been interested in activities that could increase authority and reputation, be it print, lavish spending, public ceremonies, or art. As you know, from the late fifteenth century the printing press played an important role in facilitating knowledge and cultural dissemination in Rome. With both a large resident population and a large transient population, print offered a way to inform and affect people whose attention was dispersed across many areas, factions, and national or institutional identities. Print could condemn schismatic cardinals, mourn a papal nephew, and encourage a new saint’s cult. While this did not entirely replace manual copyists or more expensive illuminators, it could spread a variety of information faster and farther than before.
Unfortunately, little is known about the circumstances surrounding the publication of Pietro Riario’s funeral sermon. As our introduction shows, Nikolaus of Modruš’ work was part of a larger interest in memorializing Roman elites in the late fifteenth century. However, since there are so few studies or catalogues of Roman printers’ output it is difficult to be certain about the impact of this type of text, or even its popularity among print shop customers. Nevertheless, at this time there were enough elite households with fledgling libraries and literate individuals with an interest in either Riario, Sixtus, or Nikolaus, that we might expect this sort of cultural memorialization.
RSJ Blog: Just out of curiosity – do you have any idea who read these eulogies?
Brendan & Jennifer: The oration was published seven times in twenty-five years: in Rome (five times, 1474-1500), in Padua (once, 1482), and in Rostock (once, 1476). While Rome was a diplomatic and curial hub, both Padua and Rostock were university towns and centres of regional administration. A quick internet search turns up two dozen copies preserved in libraries across Europe, the Americas, and Australia. Stefan Plannck’s reprinting in the 1480s is especially well represented. This suggests that the oration’s subject and its author had a much larger attraction than we imagine. Moreover, the fact that comparatively many copies of the text have survived, leads us to believe that the type of text (both oration and biography) and the quarto format (cheap and portable) appealed to contemporaries.
RSJ Blog: Pietro Riario was a nephew of Pope Sixtus IV (r. 1471-1484). Can you introduce us to this system of papal relatives as counsellors during the Renaissance? Why did popes choose to surround themselves with family instead of with people from within the church?
Brendan & Jennifer: Worldwide right now the topic of family support in leadership, and nepotism more broadly, is experiencing a revival of interest, but for scholars of the early modern Catholic Church it has always been a talking point. Although taking clerical vows was considered to cut one off from blood relatives, the reality was that reciprocal familial support was the bedrock of early modern society, both secular and ecclesiastical. The election of a new pope, roughly once a decade, could herald a change of leadership, strategy, and personnel. This administrative disruption coupled with an increase in wide responsibility demanded a cohort of unquestionably loyal counsellors and agents who could implement and oversee the pope’s agenda. While kinsmen attract the greatest attention, new popes depended heavily on members of their former household to fill offices, and raised up relatives to form households of their own that could recruit reliable men, who in turn would form similar bonds of loyalty that could work on the pope’s behalf. In the end, as this oration shows us, the family rose and fell together, which is why the household that supported the pope or cardinal is described as a familia (“family”) in Latin.
RSJ Blog: Editing a source, especially when translation is also part of this edition, means getting really close to it – doing a close reading, if you will. Was there anything you were surprised by, or is this oration a typical case of its genre?
Brendan & Jennifer: In some ways, it is surprising just how typical this oration is. It is surprising how completely a bishop, and a Croatian at that, has mastered so many elements of humanist rhetoric. And this is not just a matter of the presence of many familiar tropes, but even of the texture of the language itself. On a word-by-word and on a sentence-by-sentence level, this is a great example of the kind of classicizing prose that had become the standard in Rome at this time. And in one sense, we could expect that Modruš would make an effort to produce an oration like this. When you belong to an institution like the Curia, you take your cues from those above you, and Sixtus IV embraced the humanist agenda like no pope before him. But it is still a surprise to see how widely accepted certain ways of thinking and speaking have become. Modruš seems to take it for granted that this oration is partly an exercise in impressing his audience through his mastery of what would have been called the elegantiae, the graces of good Latin style. In other words, he treats elegant writing as an end in itself. He takes great care in balancing his periods in a variety of ways, and he leans on devices, such as chiasmus, that feel very natural in Latin, even if they are often hard to reproduce in a language such as English. And he calls attention to what he’s doing. All throughout the oration, he communicates his awareness of the conventions of the form with these metatextual references to the choices he has made in shaping his structure. So it is clear, on internal evidence alone, that his readers are also immersed in these conventions. This oration is the product of a culture where the conventions of humanist oratory are accepted to the point of being taken for granted.
RSJ Blog: Thank you again for you time and participation! What is next for you?
Brendan: As a full-time instructor, I publish very little. I have translated a very interesting epistle, sort of a long, autoapologetic oration by the Roman orator Lorenzo Valla (1407-57), and I would like to publish that. It would make sense to include the kind of lengthy introduction/commentary that we’ve included here.
Jennifer: My current work focuses on another papal family, the Borgia, which provided Popes Calixtus III and Alexander VI to the throne of St. Peter (1455-1458 and 1492-1503). Issues of support network and public positioning were integral to the family’s rise and continue to play a role in how we understand the Borgia today. This work expands the research that I presented at the Royal Studies Network’s Kings & Queens 7 conference in Winchester (UK) last summer.
RSJ Blog: Both projects sound very interesting and promising to uncover more about Renaissance culture. Hopefully, we get to read some of these results soon! Let us know when it’s published, and we’ll announce it in our Facebook group!
Interview with Stephen Lucey
The Royal Chapel at Pyrga: Art, Agency, and Appropriation in Fourteenth-Century Cyprus
Dr. Stephen Lucey is a professor of art history at Keene State College (New Hampshire, US), and teaches premodern as well as non-Western art history. His research focuses on the medieval Mediterranean world. His recent article in the Royal Studies Journal The Royal Chapel at Pyrga: Art, Agency, and Appropriation in Fourteenth Century Cyprus is an example of this.
RSJ Blog: Thank you for giving us this interview. In your article for the Royal Studies Journal, you write about the royal chapel at Pyrga on Cyprus – an architectural relic from the Lusignan rule over the island (1192-1474). Can you please introduce us (and our readers) to the problem connected with the dating of this chapel?
Stephen: I was first introduced to the chapel in a seminar at Princeton many years ago. At that time, there was very little bibliography associated with the monument and most was quite outdated. So too, I had only limited access to photographs, so it was difficult to get a sense of the fresco program as a whole. I slogged through writing a research paper upholding the 1421 date that was based on a now missing foundation inscription (recorded by a single source in the late nineteenth century) and “authoritative” stylistic studies that framed the chapel’s decoration as a “outsider” unrelated to better known and earlier examples of Cypriot painting.
Still, it was clear to me back then that there was a funerary context involved (see my argument in the article), but it was (is!) difficult to connect that with the death of Queen Charlotte de Bourbon (1388-1421/2). Though the date of her death might seem to support a connection, she is shown very much alive in the frescoes on the east wall. The dating was only one of the many unsatisfying “facts” about the chapel that appeared in the literature (and continued to be perpetrated for years to come). I am happy that I remained both vexed and tenacious – it has certainly been a long road but worth the endeavor.
RSJ Blog: So, even as a student, something about the historiographical work on this chapel struck you as somehow wrong! What struck us as most peculiar was how the mis-dating of the chapel to the early fifteenth century resulted in a completely different interpretation and assessment of the chapel’s art historical “worth” than the dating to the mid-fourteenth century. This also shows in many ways how subjective – despite all attempts otherwise – our interpretations can be, and the problem of objective judgement. Could you please expand a bit on this historiographical debate, and its meaning?
Stephen: I wouldn’t necessarily characterize it as an issue of art historical worth (for me at least) so much as affording it a meaningful context that can be supported by significant evidence – evidence that was simply lacking for the 1421 dating. So little artistic comparanda survives from early fifteenth-century Cyprus, and what there is is quite different in terms of artistic style. Scholarly interest in the chapel simply langoured until Jens Wollesen’s monograph of 2010 (see bibliography). He was the first to question the status quo. I attribute much of the apathy towards Pyrga to its Latin context – the key scholars working in Cyprus in the 1990s and 2000s were chiefly Byzantinists – and Wollesen was not of that ilk. So too, Pyrga’s ruinous state and the miserable assessment of its artistic merits were off putting – do recall that it is not part of the UNESCO set of Cypriot cultural heritage monuments.
It was a few years after the Princeton seminar that I was able to visit Cyprus and see the chapel firsthand. My immediate impression was that Pyrga’s frescoes were not at all as had been described though they are quite distressed. I have often felt that in art history it is the reading of style that can be the most subjective and misleading. So-called authoritative critiques of Pyrga’s frescoes began to seem both hyperbolic and dismissive. Even then, I was struck by how closely related the dominant style of Pyrga’s frescoes were to the great and earlier “warhorses” of Cypriot mural art – the churches at Asinou and Pelendri. Again, it took Wollesen’s work on style some years later to convince me that Pyrga was worth looking at yet again – and a number of years and numerous visits to familiarize myself with the artistic heritage of the island.
RSJ Blog: So, in a way, both the experience of your student-self that something didn’t really add up as well as the hands-on experience in Cyprus were essential for pushing this research forward, and to reach new insights. As an art historian, is it your experience that it is often the opportunity to see artworks “live” in their context that brings forth more questions and answers?
Stephen: There is no question that one must experience the actual object/monument in order to do serious research. As a teacher of global art, I am also impelled to travel and see artworks firsthand. Only then am I able to “recreate” through images (still and moving) and speech a vicarious experience for my students (with the hope that one day they too will seek to explore the breadth of human aesthetic achievement). Indeed, I am off to Peru this summer to garner “fresh” material for my “Indigenous America” lectures in my introductory art history course.
Stephen Lucey gathering material for research and teaching – it begs no question where he is this time 🙂
Back to the question at hand… I would also attribute my ability to reassess the Pyrga material to a growing bibliography on medieval Cyprus – in many ways the questions I was asking of Pyrga and Latin patronage were becoming au courant in the literature. And while I may be a scholar of the medieval Mediterranean, my “focus” is pre-second millenium CE. Still, I believe that my research on the early medieval church of Santa Maria Antiqua in Rome was a key factor in my interest in Cyprus. SMA’s fresco decoration is also in a poor state of preservation, and both the art and its audience bespeak a blending of Roman and Byzantine traditions.
RSJ Blog: What do the frescoes of the chapel, and the architecture of the chapel itself show us about Cyprus’ history?
Stephen: I think the chief lesson of the Pyrga chapel lies within the consideration of modes of “colonial” cultural appropriation as it applies to the late Middle Ages in the eastern Mediterranean. Early modern parallels (buzzword “colonial”) are difficult to sustain given the complexities of the history of the period and the cultures involved. Still, and beyond a doubt, the Lusignan court culture of Cyprus was acquisitive, varied in taste, but nonetheless very much aware of the import of its choices. I believe that the example of Pyrga presents some of the best information we have in that regard. Given a pan-Cypriot problem (plague), the rulers invoke both their own Latin Christianity and its ritual forms in conjunction with the intercessory power of indigenous, and ancient, prophylaxis and its visual manifestations à la maniera Cypria. We, or the social historians, still need to unpack how this can/cannot be framed in a larger “colonial” milieu of Crusader culture.
RSJ Blog: It is always great to end our interviews with a call to arms for more research! And in this case, there really seems to be much done in terms of de-constructing and re-constructing based on your new insights! Thank you for introducing us to some more of your research! As a final question, what are your new projects?
Stephen: For me, it’s back to early medieval Rome and a consideration of narrative cycles and their import for ritual activity: an invited chapter in Anne Heath and Gillian Elliott, eds. Art, Architecture, and the Moving Viewer: Unfolding Narratives ca. 300-1500 (Art and Material Culture in Medieval and Renaissance Europe Series) Leiden: Brill, forthcoming.
RSJ Blog: This does sound exciting, although quite a bit different than what you did in Cyprus. I really like how you also include the broader context and framing into your work. Good luck with early medieval Rome, and we are looking forward to reading it!
Interview with Kyly Walker
Westminster Abbey, King Stephen, and the Failure to Canonize King Edward in 1139
Kyly Walker completed a MA (Research) at the Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Monash University in 2018, investigating how bishops asserted their authority during the reign of King Stephen of England. She is active on Twitter (@kyly_walker), especially during conferences, and enjoys baking when she gets the time! Kyly has recently written the article “Westminster Abbey, King Stephen, and the Failure to Canonize King Edward in 1139,” which you can read in the Royal Studies Journal, Volume 5, Issue 2 (2018).
RSJ Blog: Thanks for talking with us, Kyly! Many of us associate Westminster Abbey so closely with Edward the Confessor that it can be surprising to learn the house was not founded by him. Can you give us a little more information on the abbey’s early history?
Kyly: Thanks so much for having me! Well, when it comes to Westminster Abbey’s history, there’s the legend and then there are the facts. According to Sulcard, who wrote a history of Westminster in the eleventh century, a church was founded on the Abbey site by an unknown rich man—Osbert of Clare said it was King Sæberht of Essex—and his wife during the reign of King Æthelberht of Kent (reigned 589–616). Sulcard tells a fantastic tale of how St Peter came down from heaven and consecrated the church in the middle of the night, usurping the Bishop of London, with only a fisherman as witness. This episode was probably invented to assert that Westminster was exempt from the bishop’s authority.
There’s actually little evidence of Westminster in the historical record before the tenth century. King Offa of Essex allegedly restored the church in the early eighth century and King Offa of Mercia—of Offa’s Dyke fame—possibly granted some land. The monastery was founded in the 960s–70s, during the time of King Edgar (reigned 959–75) and St Dunstan, archbishop of Canterbury. Edgar sold the land to Dunstan, who founded a monastery on the site. Edgar and Æthelred Unræd—better known as Ethelred the Unready—granted and confirmed various lands to the new monastery. It looks like the Abbey became quite successful in the early eleventh century and King Harold Harefoot (reigned 1035–40) was buried there, showing that it had become important and was connected to royalty. But Harold’s corpse was later dug up, beheaded, and thrown into a fen near the Thames on the orders of his half-brother and successor Harthacnut. So, although Westminster promoted itself as an ancient house, the Abbey would have been less than 200 years old during Stephen’s reign.
RSJ Blog: Your article mentions that some of Osbert’s devotions were very Anglo-Saxon. What were some other notable differences between Anglo-Saxon and Norman religious practices at this time?
Kyly: Wow, that’s a big question! Well, William the Conqueror justified his invasion of England—at least partially—because the English Church was degenerate. What the exact problem was isn’t certain, but it probably had a lot to do with the recent renewal that the Norman Church had undergone. The Normans had abandoned some practices that the English had not. For example, pluralism—the practice of overseeing more than one diocese or monastery—was very common in England. Stigand, the archbishop of Canterbury, was also bishop of Winchester, and Abbot Leofric of Peterborough ruled four other monasteries. Stigand kept his post for a few years, but his position was precarious, and he was deposed in 1070. Leofric died soon after the Battle of Hastings, which probably prevented him suffering a similar fate.
Until recent years, one of the major differences was seen to be attitudes towards sanctity. For a long time, it was assumed that the Normans were very skeptical about the holiness of many English saints and rejected several cults. As Susan Ridyard has shown, this was far from true, and English saints’ cults were adapted to suit a monastery’s particular situation. Nationality wasn’t an issue: the new religious hierarchy would use any tool at their disposal—including an Anglo-Saxon saint’s cult—to protect and improve their church. Some churchmen were initially cautious about certain saints venerated in their churches, the most famous being Lanfranc, archbishop of Canterbury. There is a story in Eadmer’s Life of St Anselm that Lanfranc doubted that one of his predecessors, St Alphege, was a saint, and had to be convinced by another future archbishop, St Anselm, that Alphege was indeed a saint, as he’d been martyred by the Danes. Lanfranc accepted Anselm’s arguments and supported and promoted the cult of Alphege and other Anglo-Saxon saints from then on.
Other differences were organizational. Under the Normans, several sees moved from rural areas to towns. The canons who served the cathedrals were organized into formal chapters and were given particular roles to perform within the chapters, such as treasurer. Small parish churches were also established at the expense of larger churches, called minsters, which had controlled larger areas (this had already begun before 1066, but the process accelerated after the Norman Conquest).
RSJ Blog: Can you tell us a little more about the forgeries that were created to help Westminster Abbey enhance its status in the early 1100s? How many were there? How similar were Westminster’s actions to that of other medieval abbeys?
Kyly: The exact number of forgeries is difficult to pin down, as scholars disagree over whether some are genuine or not, and others appear to be based on genuine documents that have been altered at a later date. There is evidence that around 40 pre-Conquest charters—mostly in Edward’s name—were either forged or tampered with. There are definitely forgeries in the names of Kings Edgar (at least one), Edward the Confessor (at least three), William I (up to ten), Henry I (around four), and even Stephen (six). Most date to the twelfth century, but a few were forged in the 1200s. Other charters were allegedly issued by Archbishop Dunstan and Pope Paschal II, and possibly by Pope Innocent II as well. Westminster’s forgers fabricated charters for other monasteries too, such as Ramsey and Coventry Abbey, so it seems their skills were well-known in monastic circles, and it was not an unusual practice. Several monasteries, with longer histories than Westminster, also created impressive portfolios of forged documents. These included Worcester Cathedral Priory, St Augustine’s Abbey at Canterbury, and Gloucester Abbey. They all faced the same problem: many of their lands and rights had been granted in the distant past, and documents confirming the monasteries’ possession of them had either never existed or had been destroyed by the passage of time. The monasteries therefore remedied this lack through forgery. Ideas about forgery were very different in the twelfth century, and the monks didn’t see their activities as wrong. They believed they were creating documents that had or should have existed. As I mention in my article, the monks were dealing with the change from “oral to written testimony,” and they did it the only way they could, by re-creating documents.
RSJ Blog: Westminster Abbey very much wanted to be seen as the premier royal site in England at this time. Were there other avenues Osbert and the monks could have pursued to accomplish this or was getting Edward the Confessor canonized the only viable option?
Kyly: Well, to gain the position it wanted as the royal site in England, Westminster needed to obtain the undivided attention of the monarchy. The Abbey was certainly understood to be the place for royal coronations, and some other occasions. Coronations were rather infrequent though and the location of Christmas events etc. was not fixed. So, it was difficult for the Abbey to develop firm ties to the king.
Establishing the Abbey as a royal dynastic mausoleum was a path that Westminster tried to follow. The monks went to a lot of effort in 1118 to have Henry I’s first wife, Matilda of Scotland, buried at Westminster Abbey. There was a family connection, as she was Edward the Confessor’s great-great niece, and at the time her son was the heir to the throne. Linking the dynasty to Edward and Westminster probably seemed like a good idea. But according to the Augustinian Priory of Holy Trinity Aldgate in London, Westminster’s monks bribed King Henry—who was out of the country—to ensure that Matilda was buried at the Abbey, which was quite possibly against her wishes. Matilda had founded Holy Trinity and so she may have wanted to be interred there; according to the Priory’s account, her body had been moved there before Westminster took possession of it. It was quite common for royal persons to be buried in the church of monasteries they had founded: William the Conqueror was interred at his foundation of St Stephen’s Abbey at Caen in Normandy and similarly Henry I was buried at Reading Abbey. Unfortunately for Westminster, Holy Trinity told the king about what the monks had done, and he wasn’t particularly happy about it. Additionally, Matilda and Henry’s son died tragically two years later, throwing the succession into question. Any plans Westminster Abbey had had to link their fortunes to Henry’s dynasty thus came to naught, and the monks’ next plan to raise the Abbey’s status was Edward’s attempted canonization.
RSJ Blog: Your article mentions that the cardinals were divided, with some supporting Matilda and some Stephen. Why did some of the cardinals support Matilda? Was it connected to her time as Empress?
Kyly: Yes, the support Matilda received from some cardinals is at least partially linked to her time as Empress in Germany. The persuasive abilities of her envoys probably had something to do with it too. Matilda’s first husband, Emperor Henry V, was involved in a huge dispute with the papacy over who had the right to appoint bishops during the 1110s–20s. The resolution of this quarrel would have involved a lot of diplomatic to-ing and fro-ing, and Matilda probably met several papal representatives at this time, whom she may have later lobbied for support against Stephen. At least two future popes—Honorius II and Innocent II—spent time in Germany as papal representatives trying to resolve the dispute. John of Salisbury’s comment that Pope Celestine II was elected with her favor suggests that Matilda kept in close contact with the papal court, to keep her hopes of ruling England alive.
RSJ Blog: Despite the failure of Edward’s canonization in 1139, did Osbert manage to increase Westminster Abbey’ status anyway?
Kyly: Yes, I think he did, but not to the extent that he planned. By linking Westminster, Edward, and the idea of a royal church, Osbert put an idea in peoples’ minds about the Abbey’s importance in London and the kingdom. Although Osbert’s actions didn’t lead to an immediate increase in the Abbey’s fortunes, they created a catalyst that later generations could capitalize on when circumstances were better.
RSJ Blog: What are you working on now?
Kyly: At the moment I’m employed outside of academia, which leaves very little time for scholarly pursuits! I’m adapting part of my MA thesis for this year’s International Medieval Congress at the University of Leeds. All going well, I’ll be starting a PhD at the University of Leeds in October, working with Professor Julia Barrow. My project looks at written expressions of authority in twelfth century bishops’ charters. I’m interested in discovering what influenced the development of this language and how it evolved throughout the century.
RSJ Blog: Thank you for talking with us!
Interview with Christopher Mielke
From Her Head to Her Toes: Gender-Bending Regalia in the Tomb of Constance of Aragon, Queen of Hungary and Sicily
Christopher Mielke is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Al-Quds Bard College for Arts and Sciences in East Jerusalem. In 2017 he was awarded a PhD in Medieval Studies from Central European University receiving a “magna cum laude” for his dissertation “Every hyacinth the garden wears: the archaeology of medieval queens of Hungary, 1000-1395.” Prior to this, he had received an MA in Medieval Archaeology from the University of Reading in 2011 and an MA in History from the University of Maryland, College Park. From 2012 to 2017, he was the host, organizer, and lead correspondent for CEU Medieval Radio (www.medievalradio.org), having interviewed over 70 guests for the biweekly program “Past Perfect!” His article “From Her Head to Her Toes: Gender Bending Regalia in the Tomb of Constance of Aragon, Queen of Hungary and Sicily,” recently appeared in the Royal Studies Journal, Volume 5, Issue 2 (2018).
RSJ Blog: Hello, Chris, and thanks for talking with us! Your article on Constance’s crown was fascinating! For those of us who don’t know much about crowns, could you give us a primer on the difference between eastern/Byzantine crowns and western European crowns?
Chris: I’ll do my best! For the medieval period, royal crowns in the west tended to consist of open circlets. These circlets were usually a metal band across the brow that could be plain, studded with gemstones, or topped with decorative devices such as crosses or lilies. There are both male and female examples of this in the west. Crowns of Byzantine emperors tended to be enclosed, by contrast – there would be a circlet as a base with two bands meeting in the center. That being said, imperial crowns do appear in the west, such as the eleventh century Reichskrone which has one band across a tall circlet. Crowns for Byzantine empresses tended to be an open band topped by triangular and circular pinnaces. These are general rules, and there are examples here and there which will contradict them no doubt, but for the thirteenth century these seem to be the main differences.
RSJ Blog: Since it seems this Byzantine-style crown was Constance’s, do you think she obtained it when she was queen of Hungary? Or were crowns of this type popular throughout the Mediterranean?
Chris: Byzantine style crowns did appear in Hungary in the 11th century (for instance the Holy Crown of Hungary) but it is very doubtful that the crown Constance was buried with came from there. By the time Constance became queen of Sicily, Byzantium’s influence in the Mediterranean was considerably reduced, but traditions die hard – there are Greek influences on other royal artifacts from this time period, such as in seals and coins. Medieval crowns in general very rarely survive in their original format, but artistic depictions of crowns from the Mediterranean world (particularly Sicily) show a strong Byzantine influence.
RSJ Blog: Why was Constance exhumed in 1491? Any hints why the people who completed that exhumation might have moved her crown?
Chris: I have no idea, in all honesty! The 1491 exhumation was done at the behest of the Vice-Regent of Sicily ruling on behalf of the King, Ferdinand II of Aragon. It could have had something to do with an Aragonese connection between the current King of Sicily and Constance’s roots, or the removal of the body could have been precipitated by something more practical, like the need for a repair. It was a grand spectacle in 1491 though, with all of the leading patricians and nobles of Sicily in attendance, and upon opening the tomb, the sight of the dazzling crown could have sparked a lot of curiosity. It is a magnificent piece and very unusual and my suggestion is that after they examined the crown, they did not wish to disturb the Queen’s body, which is why they might have later placed it in the wooden box at her feet.
RSJ Blog: Your article describes Déer’s theory as romantic. Is there any evidence left offering any clues to Constance’s and Frederick II’s marriage? Would Déer have had anything to base his romantic interpretation on (other than the crown’s placement)?
Chris: The marriage between the two was unusual for a few reasons. In the first place, the bride was at least ten or fifteen years older than the groom (who would have been about fourteen) and she had already lost a husband and a son. Frederick II had lost his mother very young as well, and many secondary historians have surmised that Constance filled an almost maternal role as his wife. Constance’s strong role in the government as regent of Sicily shows that he placed a great amount of trust in her; none of Frederick’s other wives seem to be so favored. Unfortunately, most of the details about their marriage that survive relate more to either financial or political issues, but those few details show that Frederick did rely on her in a singular manner.
RSJ Blog: Your footnotes hint that Constance’s son Henry (VII) lived an interesting life. Could you tell us more about him?
Chris: I’ll try! Henry (VII) was the eldest son of Frederick II and Constance, and he has been a difficult character to analyze. When he was in his early 20s, the younger Henry became involved in a series of wars with the other German princes and eventually against his father. By 1235, Henry had been bested by his father. He was stripped of his titles and imprisoned for the next seven years. In 1242, Henry fell off his horse – some contemporary chronicles suggested that it was a suicide. He was buried with full honors and his skeleton was exhumed in the late 1990s. An osteoarchaeological analysis revealed evidence of leprosy on his face and his feet. This raises the question as to whether or not Frederick II imprisoned his son due to acts of rebellion or whether it was the result of Henry’s illness – for symptoms of leprosy to be present on his skeleton shows that it was a very severe case which required isolation.
RSJ Blog: What are you working on now?
Chris: I have a few projects that I’m finalizing at the moment. I am in the process of publishing several interviews from my time as host of CEU Medieval Radio. I am also co-editing a volume focusing primarily on medieval women involved in the sex trade in Central and Eastern Europe. This article here on Constance was originally a part of my doctoral dissertation that never made it into the final version – but at the moment I am working on a manuscript of my dissertation to be made into a book.
Regarding work projects, I was fortunate enough to spend last year at Al-Quds Bard College in Jerusalem as a CEU Global Teaching Fellow. This year I am working at a museum in West Virginia called the Beverly Heritage Center as the Head of Programming. This year I am planning a total renovation of the exhibit we have up there in the original Randolph County Courthouse.
RSJ Blog: Thank you for talking with us!