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236 Reviews Mason, E m m a , Westminster Abbey and its People, C.1050-C.1216 (Studie in the History of Medieval Religion 9), Woodbridge, The Boydell Press, 1996; cloth; pp. xU, 395; R.R.P. £55.00, US$81.00. The first four chapters of this thorough and painstakingly researched book trace the history of Westminster Abbey from its origins to 1222. Westminster has a great wealth and variety of documentation avaUable to the historian, and Mason's focus is on the people of the abbey: those known by name such as the abbots and priors and the nobility and royalty they interacted with; and those w h o exist more as classes than individuals, the monks, scribes and clerks, and the tenants and neighbours of Westminster. The review of the abbey's history covers its purported R o m a n foundation, promoted by John Flete in the fifteenth century; its more probable East Saxon foundation and subsequent transformation from a minster to a monastic church in the late tenth century; the unstable political climate during the reign of Cnut and his heirs; Edward the Confessor's programme of rebuilding; and the fortunes of the church after the Norman Conquest. The book is densely written and filled with detail, yet Mason keeps the reader's attention, and several of the character portraits she gives of the abbots are vivid and memorable. There is detective work aplenty in her discussion of the abbacy of Gervase de Blois (c.l138c .1157), iUegitimate son of King Stephen. Deposed after twenty years, Gervase had a bad reputation from the tune of his successor onward. Recent scholarship, chiefly by Barbara Harvey, suggests that the one papal buU which rebukes him is a forgery, and that the complaints of John Flete about grants of land in fee-farm aUegedly made by Gervase are grossly exaggerated. Chapter 3, 'The Abbots, c. 1138-1173', ably demonstrates the intimate relationship between religion and poUtics in the twelfth century, and the deposition of Gervase in 1157 is seen against the backdrop of the change of power after Stephen's death. Henry II was engaged in a programme to confirm his authority as king, and this involved the deposition of a number of senior churchmen. Gervase, as Stephen's son, was not acceptable to the new king; and Flete's allegations of economic mismanagement leveUed against Gervase are seen to be a misperception of the fact that Reviews 237 Westminster did suffer territorial losses. ... in consequence of [Gervase's] deposition' (p. 51). Several other abbots are investigated in similar detail, and Mason demonstrates particular interest in the abiUties of the abbots to procure royal charters and to enhance the territorial holdings of the abbey. Chapters 5 and 6, 'The Visible Monks' and 'Scribes and Clerks of Westminster Abbey', focus on the monastic community. Several priors are known from the records and their activities reviewed; and the more generaUy anonymous scribes and clerks are surprisingly interesting subject matter, as the career of the notorious forger Prior Osbert de Clare is uncovered. Charters were vital to religious establishments in the Middle Ages, as they usuaUy confirmed grants of land or other income. Mason's discussion of the Westminster forgeries interestingly paraUels that of GUes Constable in Culture and Spirituality in Medieval Europe, in that she describes Osbert as a 'man with a mission', and notes his 'zealous promotion of the cult of Saint Edward, and of the privUeged status of his great church' (p. 102). It is understood that the medieval notion of authenticity varies from the modem: forgery in support of such a great cause m a y not only be excusable, but actuaUy necessary. Chapters 7 through 9 explore the relationships between Westminster Abbey and the ecclesiastical hierarchy, the royal court, and the courts of the legal system. The prevailing theme is the efforts of the officials of the abbey to gain further and greater privileges: the royal grants were generaUy of a traditional nature and form; but the growing city of London offered commercial rewards which required careful thought. The abbey was formally exempt from the jurisdiction of the courts of the City, but a series of able...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1832-8334
Print ISSN
0313-6221
Pages
pp. 236-238
Launched on MUSE
2013-04-03
Open Access
No
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