- Widows, Heirs, and Heiresses in the Late Twelfth Century: the Rotuli de Dominabus et Pueris et Puellis
This volume presents a much needed translation of one of the most interesting administrative documents of Henry II's reign, the Rotuli de Dominabuset Pueris et Puellis (sometimes referred to as the 'Ladies' Roll' but, more fully, the 'Rolls concerning Ladies and Boys and Girls') of 1185. The document comprises the partial record of a survey carried out into assets held or ultimately controlled by the Angevin monarch. The surviving rolls cover 12 eastern counties of England, from Lincoln down to Middlesex as well as East Anglia. While these assets included land and the agricultural surplus that land provided, they also included people, specifically widows, wards and heiresses whose fates were largely in the king's hands and who were available to him to use as gifts of patronage. Favoured supporters could be rewarded with an heiress bride or with the guardianship of an underage male inheritor, and could take advantage of the economic opportunities that came with those awards from 'the king's gift'. Coming almost exactly a century after Domesday Book, the rolls are one of a relatively small number of contemporary extant records which can provide a fascinating link between that earlier and most well known of medieval economic surveys and the fuller accounts that take shape from the thirteenth century onwards.
Professor Walmsley's edition is the first full translation of the Rotuli, although editions of the Latin text appeared in 1830 and 1913. The latter was edited by that pioneer of documentary scholarship, the inimitable John Horace Round. Round's edition remains important (although not always easy to find) and its introduction and extensive notes are still of use. However their focus is what we might call antiquarian in their desire to identify every last place name and personal reference in the rolls. Walmsley does not attempt to replicate this extensive detective work. His notes are more modest, often pointing the reader to useful secondary material on particular points of interest. This is entirely appropriate. As stated in the brief introduction, the major aim of this edition is to provide a translation along with the full Latin text in parallel on facing pages. Entries are numbered for ease of use and two indices provide [End Page 170] valuable opportunities for cross-referencing. All this will be especially helpful for students who lack Latin but who are interested in pursuing enquiry into the numerous areas to which intimate knowledge of the Rotuli can contribute. Walmsley points out that extensive use of the document has been made in the areas of genealogical and demographic history, but that surprisingly little reference to it exists in economic histories of the twelfth century (p. xiii).
More pertinent to the modern historical climate may be the evidence provided by the Rotuli for women's history and medieval gender relations. As recently as 1999 Elisabeth van Houts could claim that '[a] study of this fascinating document as a source of women's history remains to be written' (from her Memory and Gender in Medieval Europe (Toronto, 1999), quoted by Walmsley at p. xiii). This is no longer entirely true, as Susan Johns has devoted a chapter of her recent monograph, Noblewomen, Aristocracy and Power in the Twelfth-Century Anglo-Norman Realm (Manchester, 2003) to an assessment of the Rotuli from the perspective of the women whose property and marriage status were being assessed and recorded by Henry II's diligent surveyors. Readers interested in the Rotuli would be well advised to consult Johns's chapter in association with Walmsley's text and translation.
Several examples of the sort of information provided by the document can suffice to show its possibilities and limitations as a source. Some entries are frustratingly brief. All we are told about a certain Matilda...