- The Making of Medieval Forgeries: False Documents in Fifteenth-Century England
At first blush, the topic of medieval forgery would seem to be an unpromising one, because, as it says on the dust jacket to the volume, "the Middle Ages have long been famous for spectacular forgeries" that have been spectacularly easy to detect. However, Alfred Hiatt aims to take the blush off this assumption by showing that regardless of the authenticity of many medieval documents there are many important lessons to be learned from close investigation of specific instances of medieval forgery. Most importantly, this book reminds its readers about the continuity between late medieval English attitudes towards documents, authentic and inauthentic, and humanist attacks on the veracity of medieval documents, such as Lorenzo Valla's De falso credita et ementita Constantini donatione. Hiatt accomplishes this feat by reading medieval forgeries "not as quasi literary products of a single author, but as narratives that circulate within a textual community, that are validated or rejected by its members, and hence that indicate the kinds of texts that are valued or required by the community" (15). In addition, he contextualizes humanist discourse on medieval forgery by showing that Valla's viewpoint was neither unanticipated nor unchallenged, especially in late medieval and early Renaissance England.
The Making of Medieval Forgeries is organized into three main parts and a conclusion; the first two chapters of the book introduce the historiographic "problem" medieval forgery. On the one hand, a document that has been identified as a forgery has surely been compromised as a historical source since it has become in some sense false, while on the other, many medieval forgeries were made without the intention to deceive but rather with the intention of recording genuine facts that had not been committed to writing or with the intention of replacing documents that had been lost or destroyed. Furthermore, Hiatt also shows that at least in England medieval forgery was in most cases a result of local conditions of time and place.
The second part of the book, which consists of three chapters, presents three fifteenth-century case studies designed to demonstrate how specific textual communities responded to local conditions by "forging" documents that they required. The case of Crowland Abbey shows that "not only did monasteries continue to produce forgeries, they also, in many cases, had to assimilate the legacy of eleventh- and twelfth-century fabrication into their histories" (36). Historiographers at the Abbey attempted to forge new, one might say nonexistent, links in the chain of the institution's history. Another case study examines Cambridge University's audacious fifteenth-century claims to greater antiquity than Oxford and shows how these claims were consistent with the western European mythology of the Studium. The fifth chapter of the book examines the case of John Hardyng who forged a variety of documents as evidence to support the argument of his metrical chronicle [End Page 321] of English history, an argument that he adapted to the interests of both Lancastrian and Yorkist claims to overlordship of Scotland.
In the final two chapters of his book, Hiatt turns to consider the Constitutum Constantini, the target of Lorenzo Valla's attack on medieval forgery, in its medieval context. Specifically, he argues that the medieval purpose of the Constitutum Constantini was devotional rather than historical or diplomatic. This section of the book also considers some late medieval pretexts for the humanist discourse on forgery that may be found in the works of Reginald Pecock and Nicolas of Cusa among others. From this contextualization of humanist discourse on forgery Hiatt concludes that the value and importance of medieval ideas on documents endure. He argues that the "modern discourses of liberty, empowerment, and authenticity, which take as their symbol the charter, owe a debt to a discourse which articulates principles for identification of truth and the relegation of falsehood — the discourse of forgery" (187). For my part, I...