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The Catholic Historical Review 88.4 (2002) 763-764

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The Scriptorium of Margam Abbey and the Scribes of Early Angevin Glamorgan: Secretarial Administration in a Welsh Marcher Barony, c. 1150-c. 1225. By Robert B. Patterson. (Woodbridge, Suffolk; Rochester, New York: The Boydell Press. 2002. Pp. xxxvi, 147; plates XXXII. $110; £60.)

During the past thirty years, Professor Patterson has been identifying, dating, arranging, and interpreting original charters and their copies relating to the earldom of Gloucester during the Norman and Angevin periods. This has taken him into the Welsh marcher lordship of Glamorgan, whose conquest was launched from Gloucester and Bristol, and it has meant attempting to reconstitute the most prominent of the monastic archives—especially of St. Peter's Abbey, Gloucester, and Margam Abbey in Glamorgan. Patterson's particular fascination is to enter the writing offices (or scriptoria) of the monasteries and the earls, even to identify the clerks who wrote the charters that are such a valuable source for the modern historian—if not by name, then at least to identify the clerks' individual collections of writings. It is difficult work, requiring advanced palaeographical and diplomatic skills, with no assurance of being able to solve all the conundrums. The present volume focuses on the rich Glamorgan abbey of Margam, whose surviving charter collection is substantial.

By this means, Patterson seeks to throw light on the secretarial administrations in Glamorgan at an early stage in the lordship's development after the Norman conquest of Welsh kingdoms in southeast Wales. His study has significance too for the evolution of marcher administrations elsewhere and of the business of writing for landlords in Norman and Angevin England. The book has two parts. The first is a discussion, in an introduction and four chapters, of the administration of Glamorgan to c. 1225 and the beginning of the Clare lordship, and of the place of Margam Abbey's clerks in it and their relationship to the earl's own secretariat. The second part, three appendices and thirty-two photographs of documents, provides some of the evidence on which the earlier discussion is based, in particular Patterson's identification of scribal hands, together with lists of the surviving original acta and rolls relating to Glamorgan for the century after 1130, the date of the foundation charter of Neath Abbey (happily recently acquired by the West Glamorgan Archive Service). It is not an easy book to absorb, but Professor Patterson's reconstructions of scriptoria and their work repay careful study and have implications beyond the history of the earldom and marcher lordship.

Of the clerks, we know next to nothing, rarely even their names; of their writings, there is little surviving apart from records of lordship and details of land tenure (and relations between English immigrants and Welsh tenants in the twelfth century are interestingly revealed). Patterson identifies more than fifty different scribes and associated personnel in Glamorgan in the employ of the marcher lord, the bishop of Llandaff, or the greater monasteries of Ewenny, Neath, and Margam, though it is Margam which seems to have developed the most sophisticated and professional secretarial office by 1150, maintaining an intimate relationship with the earl's and the bishop's own, somewhat primitive, [End Page 763] secretariats. Margam became effectively "the comital writing-office in Glamorgan" by the end of the twelfth century. The seals which its abbots used—the earliest extant is Abbot Conan's (c. 1166-1193)—were modeled on those of the abbot of Citeaux.

There is much that is concealed about Margam's clerks, despite Professor Patterson's painstaking examination—their services to other jurisdictions, their library and document-keeping office—and much more would be known about record production, preservation, and organization had the (doubtless) comparable archives of Neath, Ewenny, and the bishop survived. Yet, this is a notable study of a "well developed scriptorium" of unusual influence.


Ralph A. Griffiths
University of Wales Swansea



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