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Viking Normandy

Dudo of St. Quentin's Gesta Normannorum


Felice Lifshitz

Translator's Prefatory Statement

The primary aim of this translation is to make available to students a primary source to serve as an introduction to a period in European history, namely the tenth century, which is very poorly supplied at present with material suitable for classroom use. If my own experience in classrooms can be taken as a guide, introductions to translations for teaching purposes can often be venerated by students out of all proportion to their value, and tend to remain influential for much longer than their orientations can be said to match the mood of the professoriate utilizing the texts. In hopes of avoiding encouraging such a development, I will confine myself in this introduction to explaining the rationale behind the translation, while providing only minimal "guidance" concerning the author, his period or his project.

The Date of Composition of the Text

If we can believe Dudo himself, writing in the dedicatory letter to bishop Adalbero of Laon (note 1), which serves as a preface to the work, duke Richard I of Normandy commissioned a history from the cleric of St. Quentin and, after Richard's death, other members of the Norman ducal house continued to patronize the author in the hopes that he would complete the task. Dudo writes that the commission was delivered two years before the death of Richard I. According to the oldest manuscript copies of Dudo's narrative, that doleful event took place either in 996 or 1002. The former year, 996, is the one that is usually deemed acceptable by scholars; however, it is symptomatic of the difficulties involved in studying the period in question that the later date, 1002, was both preferred by the scribes of the oldest extant manuscript copies of the text (Bern, Bürgerbibliothek, Bongars 390 of the early eleventh century and Berlin, Staatsbibliothek - Preußischer Kulterbesitz, Philipps 1854 of the late eleventh century) and was left "uncorrected" by the owners of the Berlin manuscript, namely the monks of the Norman monastery of Fécamp, the very place where duke Richard died and was buried.

If determining the date at which Dudo began to write is difficult, determing the date at which he finished writing is even more problematic. Returning to the author's dedicatory epistle to bishop Adalbero, we find that Dudo there possesses, in the salutation, the title "decanus" (dean) of the community of canons of St. Quentin in the Vermandois. Because this same Dudo is called simply a "canonicus" (canon) of St. Quentin in a charter of duke Richard II which dates from 1015, (note 2). it is usually concluded that Dudo completed his Norman history late in 1015, after receiving a promotion to "decanus." (note 3). Because the charter itself survives in the original, and not in some later copy, its own authenticity is not in doubt. (note 4). Nevertheless, the reasoning behind this particular terminus post quem ("limit after which") is not iron clad.

Let us consider the charter of 1015. Dudo himself wrote the first four lines of the 1015 charter, calling himself the "capellanus" (chaplain) of duke Richard II. (note 5) Another scribe wrote the rest of the charter and called Dudo a "canonicus." The appellation does not, therefore, have the kind of authority which it would have had had it come from Dudo's own pen. Yet, even if Dudo did use the title "canonicus" in 1015, that would not in and of itself preclude his already having become the "decanus" of the congregation. When a canon became dean of St. Quentin, he did not thereby cease to be a canon of the community; witness the following verbal construction from a typical charter in the cartulary (collection of charters) of St. Quentin, which refers to "the dean and the other canons of the church of blessed Quintinus." (note 6). The 1015 charter represents, in a sense, Dudo's will, whereby he is guaranteed by Richard II that he may bequeath to his monastic family certain benefices which he had been given by Richard I; at this moment, it is understandable that Dudo would have emphasized his status as a member of the familia or community of the monastery, rather than his official position over it. Finally, if Dudo was not the dean of the community at the time of the 1015 charter, there is no reason to assume that he necessarily became dean after drawing up the charter rather than that he had been dean before drawing up the charter. The deanship of a canonry is not a lifetime position from which one cannot abdicate; indeed, it is precisely the sort of position from which one might resign in order to become the "capellanus" of Richard II, the position which Dudo describes himself as holding in the charters of 1011 and 1015.

To complicate matters even more, let us add to the evidentiary calculus materials beyond the dedicatory epistle and the two ducal charters. Can we be certain that we ought to trust the salutation of the dedicatory epistle when it refers to Dudo as the "decanus" of St. Quentin, whether in 1015 or at any other time? The dedicatory epistle does appear in a number of the earlier manuscript copies of the text; however, none of those is separated from the date of Dudo's own writing by fewer than several decades. On the other hand, the Annals of St. Quentin, written in a ninth-century manuscript from St. Quentin and then updated by tenth- and eleventh-century hands contemporary with the events recorded, describe the rule of "abbates" (abbots) and "custodes" (guardians) throughout the period in question, with no reference to anyone named Dudo, or indeed to any "decani." (note 7) Against a background of such uncertainty, it is difficult to see how we can assert anything more specific than that Dudo wrote the history which is translated here during the late tenth and/or early eleventh centuries, while associated in a variety of ways with the ruling family of ducal Normandy.

The Text Used on Which the Translation is Based

Dudo's history of Viking Normandy, like the vast majority of texts written before the age of the printing press, survives in a fairly large number of manuscripts, all of which differ from one another in a variety of ways, but most of which were copied during the eleventh or twelfth centuries, the hey-day of the popularity of the text. (note 8) This translation renders, for the most part, the copy produced, in the second half of the eleventh century, at Mont-St.-Michel, a monastery just off the French coast near the "border" between the regions of Normandy and Brittany. The manuscript was owned, in the twelfth century, by the Norman monastery of Fécamp, also on the Channel coast, and is listed in the twelfth-century library catalogue of that house under the title "Gesta Normannorum" or "Deeds of the Normans." (note 9) That manuscript is now Berlin, Staatsbibliothek - Preußischer Kulturbesitz Philipps ms. 1854.

I decided, in the course of making this translation, not to "re" construct and translate "the" text as it hypothetically left the pen of its author, but to make available "a" text of Dudo's history that was actually read, or which (at least) was actually present in someone's library collection. The first few drafts of the translation, made in the late 1980s, in fact did render that composite version of the various manuscripts (i.e. the "edition") created by Jules Lair and published in 1865. (note 10). The next few drafts rendered my own attempt at a "critical edition," that is yet another composite version of the various manuscripts, evolved in part through consultation with Gerda Huisman of the National Library of Groningen in The Netherlands. However, the final few drafts and ultimately the version here presented, were the result of my becoming, in approximately 1993, absolutely persuaded that "editions" of medieval texts can only be, at best, misleading.

I was first introduced to the debate over the value of so-called "critical editions" approximately ten years ago, when Joseph-Claude Poulin of the Université Laval gave me a copy of an article by Leonard Boyle. (note 11) Boyle argued that despite the enormous difficulty inherent in any attempt to "re-create" the "original" version of a pre printing-era text as it left the pen of its author, if the editor were careful and painstaking enough, taking into account every possible clue offered by the various manuscript witnesses, s/he could succeed. At the time I was persuaded by his arguments, and it was under the influence of his call for scrupulous transcriptions that I began my own attempt to establish "the" text of Dudo's narrative. However, Boyle's arguments soon came to appear, to my mind, completely beside the point. It now seems to me to be irrelevant whether we can or cannot accurately re-construct the version of a text produced by a given author at a particular moment. If, by grace of some mysterious cosmic luck, we succeed, we will still only offer to our readers a text that almost no one ever saw; if, as is more likely, we fail, we offer to our readers a text that no one ever saw, a figment of our own imaginations. Some of the more radical participants in recent literary-critical debates have attacked the very idea of an "author" for pre-printing-era texts. (note 12) I do not deny the reality or the importance of the person of Dudo of St. Quentin, but I do insist that we shift our focus, when dealing with pre-1450 texts, away from the "modern" construct of the edition and towards the pre-"modern" concrete reality of the manuscript. (note 13)

Unfortunately (perhaps), my courage has sometimes failed me. I have made concessions and compromises and have, in a number of ways, sacrificed "authenticity" for "readability." The chapter divisions, sentence divisions and intra-sentence punctuation of the translation are those of the Berlin manuscript. However, the arabic numerals assigned to the chapters are my additions. Furthermore, none of the manuscripts, including the Berlin one, contains paragraph divisions, except on the first few pages of the text, where new paragraphs are indicated by extra-large, colored initials. At one more courageous point in time, I did render each chapter as a continuous, breathless, run-on paragraph. But a reader (of a grant proposal) complained, begging for a break, a chance to get a cup of coffee. Coffee is itself a "modern" drug, introduced into Europe around the same time as the printing press and the edition. There should not be coffee breaks built into this translation, but there are, and they are totally of my own creation. Paragraph structure can play a large role in determining meaning, in determining how a given text is read; therefore I urge the reader to keep in mind the artificiality of the breaks in the translation. Likewise, it is well to be aware that neither arabic numerals in general, nor the convention of citing texts by numerical indicators, both of which are standard features of "modern" scholarship and which have caused me to number the chapters for the convenience of readers (as well as to harass the text with precise Biblical citations in the form of footnotes, another scholarly convention), have any relevance to the Frankish world around the year 1000. Finally, eleventh- and twelfth-century Latin scribes rarely capitalized anything. Therefore, the vast majority of capitalized words which do not begin new sentences (most significantly words referring to the God of the Christians) are a result of my concessions to "modern" conventions.

Yet there is a more dramatic way in which I have departed from the Berlin manuscript, sacrificing (to repeat the formula) authenticity for readability. Sometimes, no matter how hard I puzzled over the text, I could not understand the version in the Berlin manuscript, whereas the substitution of the readings from some other manuscript suddenly made the passage perfectly clear. I therefore made the (extremely difficult) decision to use alternate manuscripts on certain occasions. However, I must emphasize that this has been a technique of last resort, always a reluctant concession; the occasional concessions to "readability" are not tantamount to a complete capitulation before the siren-song of the "edition." Every time I have "overridden" the readings of the Berlin manuscript, I have indicated that fact in a note; (note 14) the reader should not be able to forget the artificiality of the text at those moments. The manuscript version to which I have appealed most frequently was produced in the second half of the eleventh century at St. Augustine, Canterbury; it is now Cambridge, Corpus Christi College 276. (note 15)

The translation, therefore, is a modified version of a single manuscript of Dudo's Gesta Normannorum, representing a compromise between my desire to teach students something about tenth century Francia and my desire to teach students something about manuscript culture.

The Principles of Translation

Most of the text is in late-Carolingian Latin. A few isolated words or short phrases are in Greek; they too have been translated into English, with an indication in the notes that the original was Greek.

Most of the text is written as an alternation of rhymed prose with even more elaborately metred verse, a style known as "prosimetrum." Only a few short passages bear no clearly discernible signs of some sort of rhyme scheme or versification. The difficulty, or at least the awkwardness, of the Latin text itself is often attributable to Dudo's desire to express himself in metred verse or in rhymed prose, as for instance he veers between redundant repetitiveness to make sure a line is sufficiently long, and ambiguous elipses to make sure a line is sufficiently short. (note 16) From a very early date, certain copiests rejected the verse portions of the narrative, which are often maddeningly obscure, and reproduced only the prose sections; this is true even of the oldest surviving copy (Bern, Bürgerbibliothek Bongars 390), and of most copies made during the thirteenth century and after. Nevertheless, this translation, intended as it is to give students a feeling for one cultural sphere of Europe around the year 1000, includes (as it had to) both prose and verse. However, I have attempted to render neither the metre nor the rhyme-scheme, the latter in any case being effectively non-reproducible in a non-declined language such as English.

Despite the fact that my approach to the base text to be translated has been completely transformed over the years, my principles of translation have remained stable throughout the entire project, which I began in late 1987. I was, at the time, writing my doctoral dissertation under the direction of J.M.W. Bean, after completing a number of years of close study with him concerning every (?) medievalist's nightmare, "feudalism," the subject of the majority of his own published research. While I cannot say that he in any way endorses the tack I have taken in producing this translation, he himself initially suggested that I undertake it. Furthermore, through the numerous brain-twisting, head-cracking assignments for written and oral presentations on "feudalism" which he gave me between 1980 and 1984, he has exercised an enormous influence on the way I myself conceptualize medieval socio-political relations and structures. Therefore this translation is dedicated to him.

I undertook this translation, in 1987, with the explicit intention of providing a text which could be used in university classrooms by professors who (like me) considered "feudalism" to be a worse-than useless historiographic construct. I have long believed, and continue to believe, that "feudal tenure" (or, following the preferred phraseology of Susan Reynolds's recent study, "the law of fiefs" (note 17) has some relevance to understanding European society after the twelfth and particularly after the thirteenth century. However, "feudal relations" do not begin to offer a way to understand "medieval" Europe in general. Furthermore, for someone like myself, whose primary expertise lies in the centuries before 1100, the idea that medieval Europe was "feudal" does not in the least correspond to my understanding of the period. Yet, most it not all the sources available in translation for undergraduates seemed to be devoted to demonstrating the centrality of "feudal relations" to the "middle ages." I therefore undertook to make a translation of one of the texts which has often been seen as central to the debate over feudalism, a translation whose primary guiding principle has been not to read the characteristics of post-twelfth-century legal ideas of feudal tenure anachronistically into the tenth-century situation.

My "a-feudal" orientation aroused hostility on the part of evaluators of the translation during a series of failed attempts to acquire grant support for the project. Fortunately, the recent publication of Susan Reynolds' Fiefs and Vassals has rendered it unnecessary for me to justify this approach by discussing here, at length, the problems and confusions which have been created by historians who have translated pre-twelfth-century texts as though a whole series of words and phrases had single, well-defined, precise, legal, technical "feudal" meanings in the tenth century. Reynolds' discussion of the issue of "feudal" vocabulary is far better than anything I could ever have hoped to produce; the interested reader is therefore urged to read her treatment of the issue. Those who are less impassioned by the problem of "feudalism" can content themselves with the knowledge that this translation has been informed by the desire to avoid imposing unwarranted technical, legalistic meanings on words such as "beneficium," "fidelis," "honor," "officium," "tenere," "possessio" and the like.

Other conventions adopted by the translator include: 1) extremely familiar personal names such as William, Richard and Henry have been fully Anglicized; 2) relatively unfamiliar personal names of ninth- and tenth-century personages have only been slightly Anglicized, being kept as close to the Latin as possible (e.g. Rodulfus is Rodulf and Anstignus is Anstign); 3) names of saints already long-dead when Dudo wrote are not Anglicized at all, but are left unchanged in the Latin (e.g. Medardus, Eligius, Quintinus); 4) place names are given in their modern vernacular equivalents (e.g. St. Quentin)


1. For this and other locations referred to in the introduction and in the text itself, see the map on p. ______..

2. Recueil des chartes des ducs de Normandie, 911 - 1066 ed. Marie Fauroux (Mémoires de la Société des Antiquaires de Normandie 36; Caen, 1961) no. 18 pp. 100 - 102.

3. Leah Shopkow, "The Carolingian World of Dudo of St. Quentin" Journal of Medieval History 15 (1989).

4. Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Collection de Picardie 352 no. 1.

5 . He also wrote, as "capellanus" another extant charter of Richard II (Recueil des chartes ed. Fauroux no. 13 pp. 86 - 89), which also survives in the original (Rouen, Archives Départementales, Seine-Maritime ms. 14 H 915A).

6. "...ecclesie beati quintini decanus ceterique canonici" (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, ms. latin 11.070 no. 74 folio 86r).

7. Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica ms. latinus 645 ed. L. Bethmann, Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores XVI (Hanover, 1859) coll. 507 - 508. The Benedictines of St. Maur, in contrast, present the governance of the house to have involved lay abbots and deans throughout the period; however, they provide no source for "Vivianus," said to have been the "decanus" in the late tenth and early eleventh centuries, before Dudo (Gallia Christiana IX (Paris, 1751) coll. 1038 - 1054).

8. Gerda Huisman, "Notes on the Manuscript Tradition of Dudo of St. Quentin's Gesta Normannorum" Anglo-Norman Studies 6 (1984; Proceedings of the Battle Conference 1983, ed. R.A. Brown).

9. Huisman "Notes on the Manuscript Tradition" p. 122; J.J.G. Alexander Norman Illumination at Mont St.-Michel, 966 - 1100 (Oxford, 1970) pp. 40, 235.

10. Dudo of St. Quentin, De moribus et actis primorum Normanniae ducum ed. Jules Lairs (Mémoires de la Société des Antiquaires de Normandie 23; Caen, 1865).

11. "Optimist or...."..

12. For instance, Bernadette A. Masters Esthétique et manuscripture. Le 'Moulin à paroles' au moyen âge (Heidelberg, 1992); note, however, that Masters does not merely attack the idea of an author so much as she proposes a completely new way to conceptualize the pre-"modern" author as a collective person.

13. Two recent examples of this approach are: Libro del Buen Amor; and Pamela Gehrke Saints and Scribes: Medieval Hagiography in its Manuscript Context (Berkeley, 1994).

14. There is a single exception: because proper names were frequently added (by a "rubricator" writing in red) after the body of a text had already been written out, proper names are frequently given in the wrong grammatical case and, on occasion, an entirely inappropriate name is inserted by the rubricator. This sort of error is almost ubiquitous in the Berlin manuscript, as it is in many of the other manuscripts. To indicate every time I "corrected" the case of a proper name would be intrusive even beyond the level of potential gains made in the direction of revealing certain features of a manuscript culture. Therefore, I have only noted periodically that I am "correcting" the proper names. For detailed discussion of the problems of proper names in the manuscripts, see Felice Lifshitz, "Dudo's Historical Narrative and the Norman Succession of 996" Journal of Medieval History 20 (1994) pp. 101 - 120.

15. On one occasion, also duly noted in the apparatus, I have gone "over the heads" of all the manuscripts, where none made sense, to Dudo's evident source; see p. ___.

16. The distortions and obscurities required by the desire to stick to a metre are discussed by Jan Ziolkowski, Jezebel.....

17. Susan Reynolds, Fiefs and Vassals. The Medieval Evidence Reinterpreted (Oxford, 1994).

Copyright (C) 1996,Felice Lifshitz. This file may be copied on the condition that the entire contents,including the header and this copyright notice, remain intact.

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