Old English Romanesque? Scribal choice and cultural collaboration across the political and linguistic divide in conquered England, 1066-1100
The change of regime initiated by the Norman Conquest of England of 1066 had an immediate graphic effect. England in the subsequent generation was a land of opportunity for many incomers, most obviously the newly elevated royal dynasty and its secular supporters, but also the continental clerics who replaced the English bishops over time and, not least, the army of educated clerics who came to staff episcopal secretariats and the enhanced governmental apparatus of the new Norman kings. The cultural divergence between the incomers – of extremely varied continental origin – and native literates was stark. Fundamental aspects of written communication in England — law, fiscal, cadastral and governmental administration, pastoral care, even aspects of the liturgy – relied on Old English, a language unintelligible to most Francophones. English writing was immediately evident on the page, signalled by the use of Insular minuscule for the vernacular, and a distinctively English variety of late Caroline for Latin. Scribes in this period declared their origins and education by way that they wrote as much as by the language that they spoke.
More than 60 years ago N. R. Ker, in two separate publications, offered parallel models of scribal encounter in this period: one for Latin writing and one for Old English. In both he saw regression to a Norman standard, in effect, a takeover first of Latin and then of vernacular writing. The English eleventh century has since attracted a wealth of ground-breaking palaeographical work, both on Latin and the vernacular, and, like Ker, most contributors to this field have tended to write about one or the other, rather than both simultaneously. In this paper I shall suggest some different models for understanding the palaeography of the immediate post-conquest generation, not seeking to challenge Ker’s hypotheses in the least but rather to add to a growing understanding of the diversity of the encounters which took place in this period. The increasing availability of continental comparanda in digital form, together with insights into Latin and Old English writing made in print over the last seven decades, permit one to see modifications made not only to Latin writing but also to writing in the vernacular in this period of political and cultural flux.
The Anglo-Norman realm in the late eleventh-century has long been a focus of palaeographical attention. Erik Kwakkel’s recent Turning over a New Leaf project tested and confirmed the hypothesis that the symptoms which constitute the transition from Late Caroline to Gothic cluster first there. Teresa Webber’s paper in the volume of the Sankt Gallen CIPL conference established how a truly Anglo-Norman style emerged only in the twelfth century. The present paper looks back to the generation of the conquest itself, to examine a variety of permutations of accommodation made by those writing in England in the post-Conquest generation. In doing so the proposed paper will respond to the fifth and sixth themes of the Call for Papers. It deals with mobility, language, political subordination, written tradition and cultural accommodation in a theatre of conquest. In essence it looks at evidence which is abundant but relatively little explored for scribal choices and cultural transfer, both in Latin and in vernacular writing.