- Rievaulx Abbey and its Social Context, 1132-1300: Memory, Locality, and Networks
Emilia Jamroziak's book has a narrow focus. It looks at the relationships between the personnel of Rievaulx Abbey and other people and organizations, using as its principal source the manuscript of the Rievaulx Abbey cartulary (British Library, Cotton Julius D. i). Numerous additional primary and secondary sources are used, always in an auxiliary role, either to corroborate the information given in the cartulary, or to supply theories which are then tested against the cartulary.
The documents in the cartulary record grants of land and confirmations, disputes over the ownership of land and the location of boundaries, and disputes over whether Abbey properties were obliged to pay tithes or were exempt. From these Jamroziak teases out conclusions about the relationships of the Abbey personnel with benefactors, neighbours, other parts of the Cistercian order and other monasteries, and other parts of the Church. Jamroziak argues that in addition to the contents, the selection and ordering of documents has significance as it can be used to show the relationships between groups of benefactors, and the relative importance of various parties. The bulk of the book is descriptive and conclusions are of a general nature, for example, that in the twelfth century disputes were generally settled by mediation, whereas with the increasing demand for, and shortage of, land in the thirteenth century, disputes were taken to the courts of law.
It is useful to consider what Jamroziak's book is not. In the first place it does not deal with the physical fabric of the Abbey. Jamroziak makes the point that much [End Page 141] architectural and art history has treated the English monasteries exclusively as objects. That is a fair point, and Jamroziak's attempt to privilege people and their relationships is an understandable corrective. She does not talk about the style of the buildings or even what they are made from. However there is a reason for historians to remain connected to the physical, to which we will return below. Nor does Jamroziak provide a general description or history of Rievaulx Abbey. For that the reader is better directed to the English Heritage guide (1994) and to the writings of Janet Burton. From Jamroziak we cannot learn the extent of Abbey lands, the nature of agricultural activities, or even the number of monks, except for the atypical figure on dissolution (twenty-one plus the abbot). Nor is this book a transcription or translation of the cartulary, although that is the principal source used by Jamroziak, and although she makes substantial criticisms of the only printed version, the 1889 edition of James Atkinson.
Therefore, this book is in the position of being of use to someone who already has a good knowledge of the Abbey and its history and has independent access to the primary sources. Yet I cannot imagine that any such person would require somebody else's description and explanation of what is in those sources. They would prefer to go to the sources and think for themselves. The idea that Jamroziak is aiming her book at a specialist readership breaks down when she provides potted definitions for concepts such as confraternities, surely already understood. Yet she does not discuss or explain other concepts more central to her argument, such as tithing, or cartularies.
Given the importance Jamroziak attaches to the cartulary, she needs to provide information or at least theorise about its creation. For example, we need to understand who and how many people wrote it, how its organization was determined, what its status was in relation to the Abbey authorities, how it was stored and used, and its relationship to the original documents. In this sense we return to the importance of assessing the physical object. If for example the cartulary was written by a rogue or marginalised monk, if it was created late in the day and rarely consulted, then its status as evidence of 'what the monastery thought' would...