Yvonne Seale

Making Women Matter, One Medieval Manuscript at a Time

Category: Research

Mapping Hugo’s “Annales”

For historians, one of the most useful things about new digital mapping technologies are the new ways in which they let us approach our body of sources. As someone who wrote her doctoral dissertation on the Premonstratensian Order in medieval France, I’ve spent much of the last few years immersed in the works of one man: Charles-Louis Hugo. His books—particularly the magisterial but uncompleted Sacri et Canonici Ordinis Praemonstratensis annales—preserved the text of many medieval documents which are otherwise lost to us. Without the Annales, my doctoral work—and the work of other people interested in the Premonstratensian Order over the years—would have been much more difficult, if not impossible.

However, when I mapped out the Annales—visualising the places from where Hugo got his information—it was very clear to me that it’s a work shaped by the particular moment in history when it was produced. The Annales has been shaped by the fact that it was produced in post-Reformation Europe, and we need to keep that in mind when using it as a source for the history of the order in the Middle Ages.

Who was Hugo?

The abbey church of Pont à Mousson. [Source]

The abbey church of Pont à Mousson. [Source]

Born in 1667 into a middle-class family into a small town in eastern France that had been profoundly affected by conflicts between Catholics and Protestants, Hugo took his religious vows while still a teenager. He did so in the Premonstratensian abbey of Pont à Mousson, the mother house of the reform branch of the order. Hugo spent time at the abbeys of Jovilliers, Jandeures, and Étival, before becoming prior of Saint-Joseph de Nancy in 1700. There he helped to reconstruct the priory and establish its library.

In 1713, Hugo moved to the abbey of Étival, one of the largest religious institutions in Lorraine. There he undertook his greatest works, the two-volume Sacræ Antiquitatis (1725) and the Annales (1734). His involvement in ecclesiastical in-fighting saw him sent away from Étival for a while, but papal and ducal favour allowed him to eventually return to the abbey. He died there in 1739 at the age of 71, having been a Premonstratensian for 54 years.

The Annales

Hugo acquired the material for the Annales by corresponding with people across Europe—much more material than was ever published, in fact, owing to Hugo’s death. (His notebooks containing a wealth of still-to-be-mined transcriptions and observations are now held at the municipal library in the French town of Nancy.)

Title page of the first volume of Charles-Louis Hugo's Annales.

Title page of the first volume of Charles-Louis Hugo’s Annales.

The first two volumes of the Annales are a kind of gazetteer of the order’s houses, with each entry consisting of a historical notice, together with a list of abbots or abbesses where known. Entries vary in length from a paragraph or two to several pages. The second two volumes are the probationes, the evidence—in other words, they contain the text of the charters, papal bulls, privileges, letters, and other documents on which Hugo drew. Publishing transcriptions of these documents was a substantial undertaking. As you can see from the index which I compiled of the two probationes volumes, there are 767 documents transcribed in the first volume, and 792 in the second. Some of these sources survive in the original, or in other medieval or early modern copies. Others are known to us only from Hugo’s transcriptions.

Mapping the Sources

Each circle on the map below represents a Premonstratensian community which was the subject of a document contained in the probationes volumes. The circles are sized proportionately: the larger they are, the more documents about that house. (In instances where a document is an agreement between, say, Abbey A and B, I counted that towards the total of both abbeys since Hugo could have potentially obtained a copy from either institution and he rarely states how he specifically came across a document. In instances where the document concerns the order as a whole, as with some papal bulls, I omitted it from the count.)

You can see straight away that there are regions which are home to clusters: where many Premonstratensian houses produced documents transcribed by Hugo and in large numbers. Unsurprisingly, these are in places like northern France and the Rhineland—where the order got its start—and in Magdeburg, where the order’s founding figure ended his days. Yet there are also some anomalies which appear when you compare this map with the distribution of the order’s houses as a whole. There were Premonstratensian houses in Ireland, Scotland, Scandinavia, Cyprus, the Holy Land, but you would never know that from looking at this distribution.

This hints right away at there being regions which couldn’t answer Hugo’s requests for information. The eastern Mediterranean was largely under Muslim rule; Scotland and Scandinavia were decidedly Protestant in inclination; and while most people in Ireland were still Catholic, the English crown had ordered the dissolution of the island’s monasteries. The likely destruction of the medieval records from these regions means that there were histories which Hugo could neither write nor transmit—and so we have to be careful not to presume that the Premonstratensian Order in the Middle Ages was everywhere similar to those regions which remained politically and culturally Catholic.

Of course, this realisation raises yet another question: if the dissolution of houses in Ireland and Scotland meant that Hugo couldn’t gain access to documents from those houses, then why are English Premonstratensian monasteries represented on the map? Returning to the text of the Annales provides a possible answer. While Hugo generally copies out a medieval document in full, including preamble, date, and witness list, he doesn’t do so for the documents from English houses. They are all transcribed in a truncated format, and so my sense is that Hugo was copying from a register of charters that had been sent from England to a house on the continent at some point prior to the Reformation—most likely to the mother house at Prémontré.

If this register did exist, it has long since vanished—but mapping out the sources of Charles-Louis Hugo’s Annales lets us see the echo of it and other lost sources in the historical record.

Hugo’s Works:

  • Critique de l’histoire des Chanoines. 1700. [Read online]
  • La vie de Saint Norbert. 1704. [Read online]
  • Traité historique et critique sur l’origine et la généalogie de la maison de Lorraine. 1711. [Read online]
  • Sacræ Antiquitatis Monumenta Historica, Dogmatica, Diplomatica, Notis Illustrata, 2 vols. 1725. [Vol. 1] [Vol. 2]
  • Sacri et Canonici Ordinis Praemonstratensis annales, 4 vols. 1734. [Vol. 1] [Vol. 2] [Vol. 3] [Vol. 4]

Time for Some Thank Yous

Dissertations are read by comparatively few people, in the grand scheme of things—certainly by far fewer people than helped me towards the completion of mine. Doctoral research has deep roots; those of my own work stretch back not just through my years at the University of Iowa, but back to my time as a Master’s student in Scotland and my formative years in Ireland. The debt of gratitude I owe to so many makes me disinclined to keep the acknowledgements section between the covers of my dissertation, so I reproduce it here below.
Header image: Hortus Deliciarum, f.32


Research for this dissertation was supported in part by the Presidential Graduate Fellowship and by the Fellowship Incentive Program of the Graduate College at the University of Iowa, by a Stanley-UI Foundation Graduate Award for International Research, and by the William O. Aydelotte Dissertation Fellowship awarded by the University of Iowa’s Department of History. I am extremely grateful for the financial support which made this dissertation possible.

My dissertation advisor, Constance Hoffman Berman, has directed my work at Iowa since my earliest days in the program. Her forthright championing of scholarship by and about women has been inspirational to many, and I am so glad to be able to contribute to a tradition of amplifying women’s voices. I am grateful also to the other faculty members and staff of the University of Iowa—particularly Kathleen Kamerick, Jennifer Teitle, Raymond Mentzer, Keisha Blain, Sarah Bond, Michael E. Moore, and Katherine Tachau—for the advice, guidance, example, and encouragement which they have provided me over the years. Especial thanks must also be given to the administrative staff of the Department of History—Pat Goodwin, Sheri Sojka, Heather Roth, Jean Aikin, and Mary Strottman—whose good humor, efficiency, and photocopier skills were always invaluable. Amy Livingstone, my external committee member, was an invaluable source of good-humoured and no-nonsense critique.

There were also many people who helped to shape me as a researcher and a scholar before I came to the University of Iowa. Little did I suspect when Dolores Healy was drilling me in French grammar when I was a student at the Brigidine Convent Secondary School, Mountrath, just how valuable that careful training would one day be or how far it would take me. During my time as an undergraduate at Trinity College Dublin, Christine Meek taught me to look for the women in the sources, and Terry Barry showed me the importance of grounding history in the material world. As a Master’s student at the University of St Andrews, I gained my first experience in real historical research under the fastidious guidance of Frances Andrews.

I must also acknowledge the invaluable and helpful assistance of the staff of a number of institutions: the University of Iowa Library, particularly the InterLibrary Loan Department, who sourced many antiquarian articles of surpassing obscurity for me; the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris; the Archives départmentales de l’Aisne, Laon (particularly M. Jean-Christophe Dumain); the Archives nationales, Paris; the Médiathèque de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine, Paris; the library of the École nationale des chartes, Paris; the Institut de Recherche et d’Histoire des Textes, Paris; the Bibliothèque municipale, Soissons; the Société Archéologique et Historique de Soissons (particularly Mme. Monique Judas-Urschel); the Pôle archéologique du Conseil départemental de l’Aisne (particularly M. Thierry Galmiche); and the staff of the Mitchell Library, Glasgow (particularly Archie Fisher, Patricia Grant and Susan Taylor). Various aspects of this research were presented at annual conferences of the Midwest Medieval History Conference, the Haskins Society, the International Congress on Medieval Studies, and the Women and Gender Historians of the Midwest Society; at the Jakobsen Graduate Conference of the University of Iowa; and at the Forum of the Graduate History Society of the University of Iowa. I am grateful for the feedback and advice provided by the attendees of those meetings, which has proved instrumental in my work.

This dissertation would not have been possible without the numerous friends and family members who have provided unceasing emotional support, good cheer, and cups of tea over the years. I especially thank Catherine Denial (my big sister in every way that counts), Claire Conway (my partner-in-crime since childhood), and Anna Kaufman (my brain twin), for their level-headed advice and writing feedback. In Heather Wacha, I have had a knowledgeable, enthusiastic collaborator, trustworthy sounding board, and good friend—mille fois merci! I must also thank members of my graduate student writing group and pre-modernist cohort: Noaquia Callahan, Kristi DiClemente, Katherine Massoth, Marlino Mubai, Briana Smith, Rebecca Smith, Scott Sulzener, Gabe Baker, and Allison Wells. Finally, my deepest thanks to my parents, John and Pauline Seale, to my sister Lorraine, and to my wider family, particularly my beloved grandparents, aunts, and uncles. They have been extraordinarily patient about having a daughter living 6000 kilometers from home. I could not have achieved this without them.

La Rentrée

A return to Paris, though at the moment I’m working at a place that’s new to me—the Bibliothèque de l’École nationale des chartes. It’s terrifically atmospheric, with that delicious smell of old books and every floorboard creaking underfoot. I could do without that climb all the way up to the very top shelf to retrieve books, though—I’m not afraid of heights, but it’s rather difficult to trust a rickety ladder leaning up against a very old bookcase when you’re six or seven metres off the ground. These are the unexpected adrenaline rushes that come with historical research, I suppose.

De mes aventures parisiennes

Above: View of the Archives from the Rue des Francs Bourgeois

I’m now about a quarter of the way through my stay in France, carrying out preliminary research for my dissertation and regaining as much as I can of my somewhat atrophied spoken French (reading a language is such a different matter from speaking it!). It’s not been entirely without its hiccups, each day adds a little more to my store of knowledge, and Paris has to be one of the best cities in the world in which to be a slightly lost doctorante—no matter in which direction you wander, there’s bound to be something beautiful and intriguing just around the next corner. So far, I’ve primarily been working at the Archives nationales.

The staff there have all been very helpful so far, and very gracious as I fumble with remember my vocabulary. They’ve also helped to put me on the track of some things which I hope will be useful to me when I shift to using the departmental archives on my next trip here. Next week, however, I’ll be moving to work at the Bibliothèque nationale, where hopefully there will be more documents which are more directly relevant to what I’m working on—though of course a brand new system for me to get used to!

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

css.php