- L’abbaye cistercienne de Bégard des origines à 1476: histoire et chartes ed. by Claude Evans
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a little-known abbey in possession of a wealth of charters must be in want of an edition. The Breton monastery of the Blessed Mary in Bégard (dép. Côtes d’Armor) now happily makes its diplomatic debut, thanks to Claude Evans’s meticulous and detailed labour in identifying, compiling, describing, and editing its 272 widely dispersed charters and related documents. More precisely, the edition accounts for 272 texts, of which a number are no longer extant but are partially preserved in subsequent histories (for example, no. 1), are referenced in later charters (for example, no. 108), or are reconstructed from seventeenth-century summaries in the abbey’s legal inventory, the Droits de l’abbaye de Begare (for example, no. 116). These chronologically ordered texts range from the twelfth century to 1476, with the bulk (220) dating from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Evans thus largely limits her commentary to the later medieval history of Bégard in her substantial introduction, which fills the first 100 pages of the edition.
Until now Bégard has been best known from Hervé LeGoff’s Bégard: le petit Cîteaux d’Armorique, de l’abbaye à la commune (1980),11 which identified the abbey as founded in 1130 by Ermengard of Anjou and her son, [End Page 475] Duke Conan III of Brittany. According to LeGoff, Bégard quickly expanded its influence as a Cistercian house, incorporating six houses under itself by 1142 and thus earning the title of “little Cîteaux.” In the following centuries, Bégard continued to attract extensive donations in Brittany and England, becoming one of the largest landowners in Brittany by the fourteenth century. Evans’s edition lays out the diplomatic evidence for this period of growth and concludes at 1476 with the final testament of abbot Vincent de Kerleau, the first of many commendatory abbots appointed by French kings seeking to exert power in the semi-autonomous duchy of Brittany.
The first text in the collection, dated 1130, well illustrates the difficulty of Evans’s endeavour. It ostensibly provides an account of the foundation of Bégard by four monks from the Cistercian abbey of Notre Dame in Aumône. They are permitted by Archbishop Baudri of Dol, Bishop Raoul of Tréguier and Geoffrey, the son of Count Stephen, to found a new monastic community on lands where an English hermit was already established. This hermit, Radulphus (Raoul), popularly known as “the beggar,” gave his name to the foundation, francophonized as “Bégard.” At this point in the account, the narrative breaks off, and the remainder of the foundation story is lost. What little is extant, in fact, is preserved only in the seventeenth-century Chronique de Bégard. This text, about which I would have liked to learn more, incorporates this and other juridical texts to illustrate the early history of the abbey. The distance between original and copy thus makes the dating of the account very difficult. Evans assigns the date of 1130—which is the date given in the Chronique— though, as is recorded in the notes, it originally had the date of 1167, later erased and replaced with 1130. Her notes support the 1130 dating by validating the reign of Raoul, bishop of Tréguier, as from 1110 to 1134. Her introduction, however, has already rejected this dating and shows this text to be potentially much more problematic. She notes that the use of an English word, beggar, for a hermit or mendicant is quite unlikely before the thirteenth century and that the name of the monastery likely derives instead from the Breton root beg-, meaning “summit.” Citing a Cistercian statute from 1207 that refers to Bégard as newly assimilated to the order (“abbas de Begardo qui de novo incorporatus est Ordini”), Evans suggests that...