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The Vie Seinte Osith: hagiography and politics in Anglo-Norman England.

The Vie Seinte Osith is a little-known Anglo-Norman verse life of an early English virgin martyr. The saint commemorated in this life is a pseudo-historical composite made up of three Anglo-Saxon holy women connected to the seventh and tenth centuries. (1) Little is known about the pre-Conquest history of this saint's cult, (2) but a church dedicated to Osyth, dependent on the See of London and served by a small community of chaplains, existed at Chich in Essex at the time of the Conquest. The cult of St. Osyth rose to prominence under the Norman encouragement of Anglo-Saxon saints. In 1076, her relics were translated by Bishop Hugh, and again in 1186 by Maurice, but the real promotion of Osyth came under Bishop Richard Belmeis I of London, who founded a house of black canons there whom he endowed with the manor of Chich and other churches. The canons who settled at Chich came from the house of the Holy Trinity Aldgate in London, which had been founded about 1107 by Queen Matilda on the advice of St. Anselm. (3) The house, richly gifted by Bishop Richard, an intimate of Henry I, as well as by the king himself and the Archbishop of Canterbury, early achieved a reputation as a center of learning in the social and intellectual milieu of the Anglo-Norman royalty. William of Malmesbury mentions its reputation for letters in his Gesta Pontificum: "There were and there are there clerks distinguished in letters, so that it may be said that the countryside blossoms with their happy example." (4) At least four lives of Osyth were composed in the twelfth century. One of these, now lost, was written by William de Vere, who grew up in the court of Henry I and his second wife, Adelaide of Louvain, and who was the patron of Walter Map, Gerald of Wales, and Robert Grosseteste. (5) In the reign of Henry II, John of Salisbury was an ardent advocate of the house, defending its rights against the attempts to expropriate certain of its churches by Richard II of Belmeis, Bishop of London (1152-62). The prominence of the cult of St. Osyth at the heart of the intellectual circles close to the Norman and Angevin kings makes her Anglo-Norman life, by far the longest and most complete of the extant lives, especially important to a study of the development of vernacular literature in the twelfth century.

On both the secular and the ecclesiastical level, Anglo-Norman England was marked by a struggle between an institutional hierarchy and a subject population that was struggling for independence and self-determination, a struggle inscribed in secular and ecclesiastical writings alike. Political and ecclesiastical interests expressed through well-recognized genres such as history, law, and hagiography created expectations that could be manipulated by authors, sometimes transgressively. In the context of a complex network of colliding interests, authors with different institutional allegiances and social purposes exploited genre conventions to present their audiences with different constructions of the role institutional authority played in the realization of individuals' goals. (6) Official histories written for Norman and Angevin monarchs in the first two generations after the Conquest promote the belief that submission and obedience to an idealized monarch result in a transfer of his qualities--noble origins, natural superiority, and divinely favored success--from the ruler to the subject almost in the same way that hereditary traits are passed from father to son. (7) They offer obedient subjects a subsumed participation in the national authority from which they would otherwise be excluded. (8) Likewise, from the twelfth century, but especially from the thirteenth, competition with an increasingly hegemonic and centralized monarchy led the church to encourage the reorientation of devotional practices away from the direct and personal spirituality advocated by an Anselm or a Bernard, and towards a piety contained within the liturgy. The religious didactic literature that promotes a sacramental program of salvation, in which the church plays an indispensable role in mediating the relationship between God and individual, views the relationship between institution and individual in much the same way as the official histories: these works teach patience and obedient submission to the institutional church, of which the submission and obedience the individual owes to secular authority is an analogue. (9)

At the same time, emerging classes sought literary forms that would legitimize their own aspirations. The Anglo-Norman Brut translations of Geoffrey of Monmouth's famous chronicle, in vogue during the twelfth century, translate down the social scale the authorizing value of the Latin histories, but in adapting Geoffrey's grandiose and imperializing vision of British destiny to promote the interests of the lesser nobility, they shift the emphasis from the obedience owed by subjects to the gratitude owed by rulers. (10) Romances of English heroes, which began to appear towards the end of the twelfth century, appropriate the authorizing strategies of the histories, but they do so to subvert, not to legitimize, the absolute power of monarchy. As Susan Crane has shown, the romances of English heroes reflect the aspirations of the tenurial class for a social order in which access to land and power is based on justice, law, and merit rather than rank. (11) They challenge the devaluation of the individual that characterizes the court histories and promote an ideal of personal merit as the quality on which the legitimacy of lordship depends. A genre that is potentially remarkably similar to romance in its hostility to institutional authority and in the radical claims it makes for the legitimacy of individual actions--even when these threaten the hierarchical ordering of society--is the virgin martyr story. (12) It is not hard to see in these stories, which pit a spotless virgin against a comic-book tyrant, the subtext of an ecclesiastical polemic against secular government. But stories in which an obtuse, brutal, and ignorant secular ruler is successfully challenged by a young girl question not only the authority of the secular ruler; potentially, they question all hierarchical social ordering, even that of the church. (13) The Vie Seinte Osith is a particularly striking example of a saint's life that employs the authorizing conventions of the virgin martyr story to offer a strong criticism of the abuse of power by the episcopal hierarchy and give voice to the aspirations of the ecclesiastical menus gents for self-determination and autonomy. (14)

English religious houses faced a variety of threats to their lands and wealth after the Norman Conquest: despoliation of church treasures by the Conqueror, the imposition of punitive gelds and taxes, the requirement of knight service, and lay magnates' seizure of the estates belonging to churches if they were strong enough to do so. An additional danger to the wealth and independence of monasteries came from episcopal encroachments, since bishops could significantly augment their own finances by annexing a wealthy monastic house. The establishment of an episcopal see in an abbey threatened not only the wealth of the community, which had to be divided to provide for the bishop and his familia, but also the independence and the status of its head, and it is not surprising that communities so threatened resisted vigorously. (15) Tension between religious houses and bishops is a dominant theme in post-Conquest ecclesiastical histories. By the early twelfth century, the number of monastic cathedrals had more than doubled, increasing from the pre-Conquest number of four to nine out of a total of seventeen. (16) It is important to realize that the struggle for the survival of the English churches cannot be reduced to a Norman-English conflict or even to a church-state conflict. Norman abbots energetically fought off the encroachments from Norman lay and ecclesiastical lords alike on the wealth and patrimony of the houses on which the abbots' own fates depended. (17)

The first line of defense for an abbey whose wealth and independence were threatened by lay magnates or by episcopal usurpation lay in the production--often the forgery--of documents, especially royal charters, attesting to the ancient privileges and exemptions the house enjoyed. In seeking the king's protection on the basis of supposedly Anglo-Saxon royal charters, the Norman abbots were exploiting the Norman myth of continuity with the English past. (18) In addition to forged charters, religious houses promoted their political interests by seeking to increase the prestige of the abbey's founding saint through elaborately staged ceremonies celebrating the translations of his or her relics and the production of written lives. Religious biographies of Anglo-Saxon saints not only continued, but increased under Norman rule. (19) Saints' lives of English founding saints written to vindicate the independence of the houses on which their cults centered stressed the antiquity of the cults, the personal nature of the associations between the religious houses and the founding saints, and their establishment by royal or sometimes papal dispensation.

The Vie Seinte Osith, an Anglo-Norman re-writing of a Latin original, is one of these lives. Osyth was the patron saint of the house of Augustinian canons at Chich in Essex, and the life was written most probably in response to a series of crises in the mid-twelfth century when several of the churches belonging to St. Osyth's came under attack by the See of London. In the late eleventh century, Bishop Maurice of London split up the property of the small college of priests at St. Osyth's into prebends, constituting for each "the necessities of life, 60 acres of land, as well as tithes and altar offerings." (20) His successor, Richard I, who was Bishop of London from 1109 to 1127, seized the lands at Chich for inclusion in his hunting park at Clactonon-Sea, but he repented after suffering a stroke in 1118 or 1119 and founded a house of canons regular at St. Osyth's in 1121. According to notes taken by the sixteenth-century antiquarian John Leland from a now-lost late twelfth-century life of St. Osyth, Richard gave St. Osyth's the vill of Chich, twenty pounds a year from the farm at Clacton, the churches of Southminster and Althore, the churches of Clacton (St. James and St. Nicholas), and the churches of Pelham, Aldbury, and "the other Pelham" (i.e., Pelham Furneaux and Brent Pelham). (21) But in the years between 1141 and 1151, Bishop Robert of London made a grant of the churches of Southminster, Aldbury, and both Pelhams to the treasureship of St. Paul's. In the years between 1154 and 1159, Bishop Richard II attempted to confirm the grant and distressed Abel, prior of St. Osyth's, for the disputed churches (all of which in Domesday were on the demesne lands of the bishop of London). John of Salisbury intervened in the dispute and wrote to Pope Adrian IV on behalf of the canons of St. Osyth's. The matter seems to have been resolved under Bishop Gilbert Foliot of London (1163-67) in a lost settlement by which St. Osyth's got the churches of Clacton, Mayland, Southminster, and Althorne while St. Paul's retained the churches of the two Pelhams and Aldbury. (22) Since the date of composition of the Vie Seinte Osith is probably the mid- to late twelfth century, it seems highly likely that this dispute provided the impetus for a new redaction of the life of the patron saint. (23)

Most scholars believe that the earliest extant life of Osyth is the Latin vita found in MS. Bodley 285, written probably shortly after 1127. (24) This life begins by the genealogy of the virtuous pagan king Penda, who, although a pagan himself, allowed his family members to receive Christianity, thus connecting Osyth with the origins of English Christianity. Next come Osyth's marriage to Siher, king of the East Saxons, her avoidance of sexual relations, and her decision, made while her husband is absent pursuing a mysterious white deer, to receive the veil from the priests Ecca and Bedewin, a decision to which they gladly assent. On his return, her husband, though saddened, quickly accepts her decision and endows her with his vill of Chich for a monastery. After her martyrdom by pirates who try to convince her to renounce her faith, and the story of Osyth carrying her head into the church which had been dedicated to the apostles Peter and Paul, the life records several historical events: the translation of her relics by Bishop Maurice and the founding of the monastery by Bishop Richard, several miracles that took place near her tomb, and one conventional miracle regarding the saint's revenge for the theft of a small piece of marble. The gist of this life, written not long after the founding of the house by Bishop Richard, is to stress the role of the See of London in the promotion and protection of the cult of Osyth, a symbol of the venerability of English Christianity, whose continuators the Normans claimed to be.

The Anglo-Norman Vie Seinte Osith survives in a single manuscript of the thirteenth century, Welbeck Abbey MS. I C. I. It was edited in 1911-12 by A. T. Baker, who theorized, on both linguistic and historical grounds, that the poem was a composite work by three different authors. Baker considered the Modwenna episode to be an interpolation dating from the mid-thirteenth century and the Bishop Richard episode to be a late twelfth-century or early thirteenth-century addition to the original poem, which, in Baker's view, consisted of the story of Osyth's marriage, martyrdom, and two miracles, and which he dated to the second half of the twelfth century. (25) M. Dominica Legge, Morgan J. Desmond, D. W. Russell, and Jocelyn Wogan-Browne have accepted Baker's hypothesis without further consideration. Although a detailed examination of the linguistic arguments is not possible here, I suggest that Baker's theory of a composite work should be revised. It is evident from his own introduction that he was disturbed by the difference between the Anglo-Norman text and the earliest Latin text found in Bodley 285 and particularly by the Anglo-Norman conflation of several different hagiographic traditions in the Modwenna episode. Baker's theory of an original poem, roughly similar to that of the Bodley text, that was corrupted by later additions does remove these difficulties. However, his linguistic analysis is dated. Much new work on the Anglo-Norman dialect has been done since Baker's edition, including the completion of the Anglo-Norman Dictionary, and newer work on the use of linguistic criteria for the dating of Anglo-Norman works has invalidated some of the criteria that Baker used. (26) In addition, Baker's assumption that the Bishop Richard section must have been added after circa 1200 derives from his misidentification of the Bishop Richard in question, whom Baker took to be Richard FitzNeal (d. 1198). More recent work by Denis Bethell has shown conclusively that the bishop in question was Richard I Belmeis, intimate of Henry I, who died in 1127. Moreover, at least part of Baker's reason for considering the Modwenna episode to be an addition dating from the mid-thirteenth century derives from a misidentification of the "Albericus Verus" mentioned in Leland's notes, whom Baker took to be a canon at Chich in 1250 and whom Denis Bethell has identified as William de Vere. (27) Since the "objective" criteria that Baker claimed cannot stand, there is no reason not to conclude that the poem is the work of a single poet working in the second half of the twelfth century.

The changes made in the Anglo-Norman life are numerous, radical, and striking, and they clearly indicate the Latin vita's adaptation to a new purpose: to stress the independence of the house and its lands from the authority of the See of London. The poet achieves this aim by transforming the life into a comprehensive and complex examination of lordship. The Vie Seinte Osith portrays the relationship between Christian, saint, and God on the analogy of an ideal of lordship that makes the free consent of the contracting parties the essential validating factor, and which also makes the rights of lord and vassal equal. (28) The poem offers a complex and comprehensive analysis of the rights, obligations, and limits of lordship by examining the relationship between Osyth (who is both an individual and an institutional representative) and God, between Osyth and her feudal superiors (including her father, husband, and king), between Osyth and the religious hierarchy, and between the saint and her Christian petitioners. From this scheme, which arrays Osyth against every important social, political, and religious institution of the time, emerges a strong affirmation of the principle of the individual's rights to self-determination, to just compensation for services faithfully tendered, and to freedom of person and property from abuse of power. This poem posits a theory of political, social, and religious institutions organized not according to a concept of hierocratic domination, but according to a principle of rights. (29)

The first change the poet makes to the structure of the poem is the insertion of the Modwenna episode borrowed from one of the versions of that saint's life, which he alters to inscribe a different relationship between individual, the individual's property, the institutional church, and God. In the Vie Seinte Osith, the Modwenna episode emphasizes God's protection not only of the virtuous individual, but also of his or her property, and makes that protection the result of the individual's own merit unmediated by the church. (30) Like St. Osyth, St. Modwenna is a composite made from different traditions. The earliest known life of St. Modwenna, written in the early eleventh century by an Irishman named Conchubranus, conflated Monnina, founder of Killeavy (d. 517), and the English Modwenna, founder of many churches in England and Scotland in the late seventh century. (31) In the twelfth century Geoffrey of Burton rewrote Conchubranus, and the tale received vernacular treatment in an Anglo-Norman life based on Geoffrey and dated by its editor, Alexander Bell, at about 1230. (32)

The basics of the story are the same in all three versions of the life of Modwenna and in the Modwenna episode of the Vie Seinte Osith. Osyth, sent by Edith to take a book to Modwenna, falls in a river and drowns along the way. After three or four days have passed and Osyth has not returned, Edith sets out to find her and encounters Modwenna. Feeling certain that Osyth has fallen into the water, Modwenna prays for her safe return, and on the completion of the prayer, Osyth issues safe and sound from the water. The similarity between the name of Modwenna's maid, Osid, and that of Osyth, together with the similarity of the name of Penda's daughter Edburga, Osyth's aunt, with that of St. Edith of Polesworth, who is connected to St. Modwenna, inspired the linking of the drowning episode to the life of Osyth. In the Anglo-Norman poem, Fredewald [N.B.: This name was given incorrectly as Siher when this essay first appeared. Ed.] entrusts Osyth to his sister and to St. Modwenna in order for her to receive a Christian education.

In all three versions of this episode from the lives of Modwenna, the emphasis is on Modwenna's humility and her faith in the intervention of an ecclesiastical hierarchy, represented by the saints. In Conchubranus, Modwenna utters her prayer in the name of Mary, of the apostles Peter, Paul, and Andrew, and of the whole communion of saints. Geoffrey adds an appeal to the Holy Trinity as well. In both of these, Modwenna's humble appeal to the saints is rewarded with the resurrection of Osyth. All versions mediate access to God through the saints, and the Anglo-Norman life inserts an extra link in the hierarchical chain by emphasizing the role of Edith's humility and acquiescence to her ecclesiastical superior, Modwenna, in the miraculous restoration of Osyth. (33) In his comment on the significance of the episode, the poet tells us that Edith's obedience not just to God and the saints, but also to her immediate superior Modwenna, is responsible for the miracle:
   En la vertu ad mult uvre
   La fei Edith e l'umblete
   Ensemblement od la bunte
   De ceste dame dunt ai parle
   En sa bunte rien ne se fie--
   Pur ceo est de melz oie--
   Mais a la dame requert aie,
   Ki l'aveit en sa baillie. (2729-36)


[In this miracle the faith and humility of Edith, together with the goodness of this woman of whom I have spoken, worked strongly. She did not trust in her own goodness at all--and because of that she was better heard--but she asked for help from her mistress, who had governance over her.]

In the Modwenna lives, Osyth's book plays no role other than offering the excuse for the journey that furnishes the occasion for Osyth's accidental drowning. In Conchubranus, no particular reason is given for Osyth's fall, while in Geoffrey, it is caused by Osyth's fear of the swirling waters. In the Anglo-Norman life, the violent wind causes her to fall, but the value of the book motivates every event in the plot. Its particular value is the reason Edith wishes to share it with Modwenna and also the reason she chooses Osyth for the journey: "[Edith] did not want to entrust it to a careless person who might easily damage it" (239-40). In fact, the special emphasis given to the value of the book causes the poet to feel obliged to specify that no amount of money would have caused Edith to send Osyth on such a mission if she had had any idea what would happen to her. In the greatly ampli.ed and highly realistic account of Osyth's fall given in the Vie Seinte Osith, Osyth is so upset by the accidental loss of the book that she loses her own life in an attempt to recover it. Just as she reaches the middle of the bridge, a gust of wind blows up the skirts of her cloak:
   Et par lens gerrons a sei (le) prist
   Son mantel ke le livre obli,
   Ke de ses meins en l'ewe chai;
   De cele perte fu esbai,
   Al prendre s'abessa si le suivi;
   (Bien) cuida son livre aver receu,
   Mes amdeuz l'ewe had reteneu. (282-88)


[She pulled the skirts of her cloak around her, and in doing so, she forgot about her book, which fell out of her hands into the water. She was dismayed by that loss; she bent down to get it and followed it into the water. She thought she could rescue her book, but the water took them both.]

The book, which suffers the same fate as Osyth, serves as a metonym for Osyth herself, a highly prized object of great value that is lost and restored thanks to God's grace.

Here, in contrast to the Modwenna lives in which Osyth plays no role herself in bringing about the miracle but depends for her salvation on Modwenna's prayer and saintly intercession, the restoration of Osyth as well as the book result from Osyth's purity, of which her miraculous salvation is a sign:
   A peine out Modwen sa voiz fini
   Ke do l'ewe Osith ne issi
   Neste e secke son livre aussi,
   Et dist: "dame veez mo ci."
   Si cum del tut fu virgine pure,
   Son livre e li sunt sanz muilliure. (351-56)


[Modwenna had barely finished her prayer when Osyth emerged from the water clean and dry, and her book also, and said, "Madame, see me here." Since she was in every way a pure virgin, she and her book were without any dampness.]

The changes the Vie Seinte Osith poet made from the account of Osith's drowning in the Modwenna lives both legitimize the individual's concern with property, treated as an extension of the self, and emphasize the independence of Osyth from her institutional superiors for the protection of her life and property. This protection comes instead from a direct relationship with God. Unlike the Modwenna lives, the Vie Seinte Osith shows divine aid to be a sign of God's grace bestowed on the deserving individual, unmediated by saintly intercession or institutional obedience.

The importance and dignity given to property in this poem reflect the church's increasing interest in secular matters in the twelfth century, as competition with the monarchy led theologians to modify somewhat the traditional view of secular life and worldly possessions as vanitas. (34) From the twelfth century, God became an interested party in such legal affairs as guaranteeing charters, protecting property rights, and punishing extortion. Deathbed confessions show that lords not only recognized in principle the rights of tenants and the limits of lordship, but also saw God in the role of justiciar in the redress of these wrongs. As a result of God's concern in matters of worldly justice, God's forgiveness required, in addition to confession to him, confession and restitution to the offended parties. (35) Charter language frequently invokes spiritual penalties against any parties who should violate their provisions. (36) Andrew of St. Victor, Abbot of Wigmore, compares God's right to claim possession of persons from sin and death to the rights of property owners to protect their belongings from theft:

When our belongings have been taken from us by theft, or lost in any way, and we find them in the possession of others, we vindicate them as our own, and so to speak, put in our claim. But if those against whom we claim have bought or in some other way received the goods from others, these latter must stand for the possessors and warrant what they sold or granted. Lord, vindicate and reclaim me, your servant, whom sickness and death have almost abducted, guard and protect me as your own possession. (37)

The changes the poet makes in the Latin narrative of Osyth's marriage and martyrdom show that higher morality sometimes requires resistance to legitimate social and religious hierarchies. In most virgin martyr stories, the anti-authoritarian undertones are subdued by making the civil authority a pagan tyrant instead of a Christian king, by transferring the story to a time and place remote from current reality, and by making the moral intransigence of the saint incompatible not only with life in the world, but with life itself. It is all the more striking, then, that Osyth's defense of her virginity does not feature a Christian-pagan conflict, nor does it involve an ideological confrontation between secular, aristocratic values of land, lineage, and wealth (a la Alexis or Giles) and religious values of celibacy and asceticism. Instead, the Vie Seinte Osith rescripts the virgin martyr story as a contemporary tale of domestic conflict between a husband and his strong-minded wife. In so doing, it shifts the ideological focus away from a conflict between religious and secular values in order to examine the aspiration of the individual, represented here by a young girl, to the right to economic and social self-determination in opposition to the social authorities of father, husband, church, and king.

The poem presents Osyth's religious vocation as a power struggle from which Osyth emerges as the victor despite the fact that she stands alone against every social, familial, political, and religious authority. But instead of a saint who confronts an obvious tyrant in a temporally and geographically remote setting, this poem presents a recognizably contemporary situation in which the opponents to the saint's virginity are behaving according to custom and law. Osyth's father, like any responsible aristocrat, consults his barons and arranges a suitable marriage for his daughter in accordance with their advice. Unaware of her vow of virginity, he brushes aside her objections: "Whatever she might feel about it, either good or ill, there was no excuse. She had to do it, willingly or not" (390-91). Rather than condemning Osyth's father, however, the poet slyly tells us that he acted "according to the custom that existed at that time in their country."

Siher, likewise, is no stock tyrant. The poet is careful to point out that all of the claims against which Osyth rebels are normal and legitimate. Not only is the would-be despoiler of this maid's virginity her own legitimate husband, but unlike a Cecilia or an Alexis or a real-life Christina of Markyate, Osyth does not try to convert him to a lifestyle of celibacy. Instead, she uses cajolery, deception, and sexual manipulation to trick him out of consummating the marriage. Siher behaves like any newly married man:
   Si tost cum li rois l'ad veue
   Mut la coveite mut la desire
   Et seinte Osith li dist, "beau sire,
   Pur Deu merci, kar m'entendez,
   (Et) aukes de respit me donez;
   De ceste assemble[e] entre nus
   Dunt vus estes tant desirus,
   Respit vus requer sire rey,
   Si ja voilliez joir de mey." (444-52)


[As soon as the king saw her, he greatly lusted for her and desired her, and St. Osyth said to him: "Dear sir, for the love of God, listen to me and give me some respite. I ask you for a small delay from this union between us which you desire so much, sire King, if you ever wish to enjoy me."]

Osyth implies that if he will just delay a little, she will eventually give in. She never tells him the true reason that she is avoiding sexual relations, but manipulates and teases him into granting what she wants for three and a half years:
   Cele pur rien ke sace dire,
   Par boneirte plus ke pur ire,
   Ne vout faire ne consentir
   A son talent n'a son pleisir. (455-58)


[She, by anything that she could think of to say, but more in playfulness than in anger, would not consent to his desire or his pleasure.]

Her husband reacts with a very human mixture of anger and acquiescence:
   Li reis comence a losenger,
   E tel oure est, a coroucer;
   Mes tant a purchase et quis
   E tant feit entre giu e ris,
   De jur en jur est purloinie. (475-79)


[The king began first to flatter, and then to become angry. But so much she exerted herself, and pleaded, and did so much between game and laughter, that from day to day he was put off.]

Siher finally resolves to force himself on his wife after an elaborate birthday celebration during which he has drunk heavily. Once he has made that decision, the woman's resistance only inflames his desire and hardens his determination. The hunt of a mysterious white deer, whose sudden appearance deflects the king and gives Osyth the opportunity to take the veil, also gives the opportunity for further clarification of the king's psychology. What has incited the king's determination to rape his wife has been the realization that she is afraid of him. He is aroused at the idea of his own power:
   Tant cum li reis vait demorant,
   E ou ses chiens le cerf siwant,
   Seinte Osith n'ad pas oblie
   En quel pour aveit este.
   Ainz dist ke mes ne targera
   De ceo k'out empense pec a. (627-32)


[The whole time that the king had been following the deer with his dogs, he had never forgotten St. Osyth, and how afraid she had been. In fact he said that he would not put off any longer what he had made up his mind to do a little while before.]

Contrary to his expectations, however, he returns home to find that his wife has taken the veil, a shock that is intensified by coming just after the unsuccessful hunt of the deer. Once again the poet makes an acute observation on Siher's psychology as he confronts the limits of his power:
   Le rei revient ja de chascer
   U gueres ne put espleiter,
   Corus e plein de maltalent;
   A l'us de la sale descent
   Car custume est, bien le savez,
   Ke riche home coruce asez,
   Kant sa beste aver a failli,
   E il refist tut autresi. (679-86)


[The king returns from the hunt, where he had not been successful, angry and in a full bad humor. He goes to the door of the hall, because it is the custom--you know it well--for a powerful man to get very angry when he fails to capture his quarry, and just so did the king.]

The king's first reaction at the sight of his wife in her black veil is sheer horror:
   Al rei en fremist chacun peil
   L'alme del cors pur poi s'en ist. (689-90)


[Every hair of the king stood up. His soul nearly fled from his body from fear, so great was his dismay, so great was his fear.]

Then comes an angry confrontation. Siher shouts, insults, threatens, and finally begs his wife to change her mind. When he realizes that he can neither bully nor wheedle her into submission, he falls into despair. He shuts himself up in his room, stops eating and drinking, and refuses to speak to anyone. Finally grief also runs its course, and he resigns himself to his wife's decision:
   Quant sa dolur a fet asez
   Ke tut put estre alessez,
   Purpense sey a chef de tur
   Ke rien ne vaut sa dolur
   Kant veit ne puet estre muee
   A seinte Osith a gr[a]antee,
   Ke remaine tut autresi
   En cel abit k'ele ad choisi. (719-26)


[When he had mourned enough, so that everything was relieved, he thought finally that his grief was useless. When he saw that nothing could be changed, he gave his permission to St. Osyth to remain as she was, in the habit which she had chosen.]

Siher ultimately does not merely accept his wife's decision; he endows her with land, buildings, and the second daughter of each of his counts and barons for her convent. Unlike St. Audrey, whose husband passively accepts his wife's career choice, Osyth's husband plays the dual role of opponent to her virginity and the founder of her house, which can claim ancient royal privileges as well as divine consecration.

The model for Osyth's relationship to God and her husband is the precedence that a vassal's obligation to the king would take over his loyalty to his immediate lord. (38) Osyth appeals to God to protect her virginity in the same way that an aggrieved tenant, claiming the king as his overlord, could appeal to the Crown to protect himself against unjust vexation for service. (39) She claims God's protection from the demands of her husband on the basis of her freely given vow to God, the terms of which she has faithfully fulfilled:
   The Vie Seinte Osith PLL 329
   A Dieu ceo dist: "la vostre ancele
   Pur vostre nun or defendez,
   Le vostre poer i mestez
   Si i mestrai trestut le mien
   Ke ne seie pur nule rien
   Hunye a nuit ne violee.
   E quant me sui a vous donee
   Defendez moy cum vostre amye
   ke ne seie a nuit honye." (434-42)


[To God she said, "Now defend your handmaiden for the sake of your name. Show your power so that if I use all my power, grant that in no way shall I be shamed or violated this night. And since I have given myself to you, defend me as your lover, that I may not be shamed this night."]

Osyth recognizes that her right to divine aid depends on her faithful fulfillment of her own obligations. On the occasion of Siher's fateful birthday party, she promises that if God will help her just one more time, she will take action herself so that he will never have to come to her aid again. Osyth's taking of the veil is part of the fulfillment of her vow to God: "Seinte Osith ad cest oure en pris / Ke sur son chief le veil ad mis" ("He took St. Osyth at that hour because she had placed the veil on her head," 677-78).

Osyth rebels not only against the king, but also against the bishops Ecca and Bedewin. Although the church considered freely given consent essential to a valid marriage, and although coercion was sufficient cause for the annulment of marriages, obedience to parental wishes was the norm, and the degree of force required to invalidate a marriage was generally considerable--most often a threat to life. (40) Likewise, as Jocelyn Wogan-Browne has noted, Osyth's religious vow would not have entitled her to repudiate the obligations of her marriage since it was not a publicly taken solemn vow, but only a votum simplex. (41) When Osyth asks the bishops Ecca and Bedewin to grant her the veil and they refuse, they are behaving according to the dictates of canon law, which required that a married person obtain the consent of his or her spouse before taking holy orders. (42) By having Osyth defy Ecca and Bedewin and place the veil on her own head, the poet has deliberately complicated Osyth's career choice from his Latin source (in which the bishops gladly give Osyth the veil) in such a way as to suggest that the individual is justified in disobeying both secular and religious authorities if these conflict with an inner conviction of moral right. The poet makes the validity of holy orders depend on a direct relationship between God and the individual, thus placing consecrated virginity under the control of the individual without any institutional mediation.

Osyth's martyrdom represents the consummation of her sworn obligation to God and entitles her to God's protection as a bride of Christ. Generally the virgin's martyrdom involves a test of faith, but that is not true in this case. Osyth's death, as Morgan J. Desmond has commented, is actually a murder rather than a martyrdom, no different from those of the four girls who are murdered with her. (43) In the Latin life, the Danish pirates try to force her to renounce her faith, as is usual in virgin martyr stories, but if the version of Osyth's life that was the source for this poet contained such an element, he has removed it. Instead, her martyrdom affirms her control and indeed her possession of her own sexuality: the act of picking up her severed head, carrying it into the church, marking the church doors with her bloodied hands, and triumphantly placing her head on the altar establishes her severed head as a metonym for her maidenhead and represents both the consummation of the vow she made to God to die a virgin and the authoring of her own "life." As a text, Osyth's bloody hand-writing serves as a foundation charter that establishes the nature of the church's consecration, deriving from a direct relationship between the saint and God without the mediation of the ecclesiastical hierarchy. By marking the door, Osyth writes the church's history on the church itself, which becomes in effect a document of its special privileges and exemptions.

The miracle of the paralytic woman, another addition by the Anglo-Norman poet, looks at the lordship relationship from the point of view of the obligations of service. In its treatment of repentant sinners, this poem reflects a Ciceronian concept of iustitia, defined by Cicero as "rendering each man his due deserts," in contrast to a later, sacramentalist view of justice that derives from Augustine and opposes the quid pro quo morality of human justice to divine justice, rooted in the divine nature itself and illustrated by Augustine through the parable of the workers in the vineyard. (44) The development of the sacramentalist view of penance, leading finally to the doctrine that the sacrament of penance was essential to the remittance of sin, without which no one could be saved, was a development of the thirteenth century, especially following the imposition of frequent penance by Lateran IV. It contrasted with an earlier, contritionist doctrine of penance according to which absolution was the result of a direct relationship between an individual and God, dependent on the quality of the individual's penitence, in which the intervention of the priest served merely as a confirmation of absolution that came from God. The sacramentalist conception of penance removed from individuals any role in their own salvation and made them dependent on the sacraments of the church and the intervention of the priest for their salvation. The vernacular didactic literature designed to teach the post-Lateran IV educational program, including miracles of the virgin and saints' lives, repetitively shows that the way to salvation lies through the sacraments of the church and not through the individual's own efforts. A constant feature is the unmerited forgiveness of the repentant sinner through the intervention of the church. This pattern places the individual on the lowest link of a chain of authority stretching from him or her, up through the church hierarchy, and all the way to God. Such a view, in which the individual has no claim by right or merit to salvation, contrasts strikingly with the miracles of St. Osyth, which reflect the twelfth-century distrust of the doctrine of salvation by grace and model the relationship between God and individual on the contractual model that was emerging throughout the twelfth century as the ideal of good lordship.

The story tells of a crippled woman who, after journeying all over England in search of a cure, is at last instructed in a dream by a vision of St. Edmund that she can receive a cure only from St. Osyth. After objecting that she has never heard of Osyth and does not know where to find her, the woman finally takes Edmund's advice and seeks her out. Just as Edmund promised, she is cured. In gratitude for her cure, she asks permission to be allowed to stay and serve St. Osyth, which she does faithfully for many years until she is seduced by a scullion named Godwin. In punishment for this offense, Osyth fixes her feet together in the form of a cross, returning her to the state of paralysis from which she had freed her. Despite the woman's repentance and pleas for forgiveness, and despite the prayers of her canons to show the woman mercy, Osyth refuses to relent until many years later when the scullion finally dies. (45) This episode makes it plain that the model for the relationship between Christian and saint is a contractual one in which the benefits depend on the scrupulous fulfillment of the obligations that have been freely accepted. The woman has, in effect, violated her oath of fealty and given faith to another master, which causes her to forfeit the rewards she had received from the relationship. Osyth's long-delayed release of the woman has nothing to do with the length of the woman's punishment, but rather with the death of the scullion, Osyth's rival for the woman's fealty. Osyth's canons protest her intransigence, but she is entitled to ignore them because she has suffered a default of service. (46)

The disseisin of Chich represents the culminating episode in the career of a lone woman who has successfully defied the authority of the most important social, religious, and political institutions of the time. In its denunciation of unlawful disseisin and its mixture of fiction with historical figures and real events, this episode is reminiscent of Fouke Le FitzWaryn. The episode recounts an historical event: the expropriation of the lands, rents, and tithes of the canons at Chich by Richard I, followed by his stroke and change of heart. The poem names as Richard's emissaries William of Wokindon and Rad' Patin, both of whom are known from other documents. Charter evidence shows that William of Ockendon was Richard's steward and Ranulfus Patin was his clerk and a canon of St. Paul's, and Leland's notes confirm that they were sent by Richard to Chich to oust the canons from their lands. The poem splits the figure of the historical Richard into two persons. This is possibly because the poet confused Richard I with Richard II, but it is also possible that for literary, didactic purposes, he divided the character of Richard I into two: the "good" Richard, who endowed St. Osyth's, and the later, "bad" Richard, who was punished for trying to expropriate its lands. (47)

The episode treats two different aspects of the behavior characteristic of proper lordship: the obligation not to seize the lands of one's tenants unlawfully and the obligation, as a donor, to protect the lands of one's gift. This last, in fact, was one of the obligations of warranty which, as Paul Hyams has shown, approximates what could be called tenants' rights and required lords to protect their gifts to vassals against third party claims, or if they were unable to do so, to grant in exchange an equal piece of land. In other words, not only must a lord take care that he himself had full rights to any gift he made, but he must also come to the aid of his vassal in the case of outside aggression. According to Hyams, a lord "committed himself in this way to aiding against all outside challenge a tenant with as full right against the world as he could guarantee." (48)

The poet tells how Bishop Richard, uncaring of the good example set by his predecessor who had established the canons at St. Osyth's, sent his ministers to Chich in order to expel the canons from their lands and seize their emoluments for himself. The first part of this episode describes the reaction of Osyth's canons to this aggression after the departure of Richard's agents. In stark contrast to the humble supplication that characterizes the appeals to saintly protection against injustice in a poem like La Vie de Sainte Modwenne, Osyth's canons rebel not against their bishop but against Osyth! When she appears to have deserted her obligation to protect them and their property despite their long and faithful service, they do not hesitate to repudiate and revile her and remove her shrine from the church:
   K'ele deust bien a lur avis
   Defendre les de lur enemis,
   A sa fiertre vienent errant
   L'ymage ostent tres estant
   Hors l'us l'eglise l'unt pose
   Cume pur prendre son cunge.
   Le fiertre covrent d'une here,
   Ceo signe ke de joie volent trere,
   Ne volent (seinte) Osith plus loer
   Kar par semblant la hu n'ad cher,
   Ou lermes e ou plaintes funt
   Asez saver ke il au quer unt,
   [E] seinte Osith vunt chalengant
   K'en cest surfet est si suffrant. (1489-1502)


[Because she should certainly, in their opinion, defend them from their enemies, they came quickly to her tomb, immediately picked up the shrine, and placed it outside the church as if to take her leave. They covered the shrine with a cloth. That signified that they wanted to withdraw from happiness. They didn't want to praise St. Osyth any more, because it seemed that she did not hold that place dear. With tears and weeping they made it plain what they had in their hearts, and they protested against St. Osyth, who was so tolerant of this outrage.]

Just when we might expect to hear "O ye of little faith" uttered in reproach of the materialistic concerns of these faithless ecclesiastics who are behaving as if their patron saint had sold them a fake Rolex, Osyth validates their protests by striking Bishop Richard with a paralysis. This poet justifies Osyth's canons in expecting the saint to fulfill her obligations to them in the same way that he justified Osyth for withdrawing the miraculous cure from the woman who failed to live up to her commitment to Osyth. The relationship between Osyth and her canons is based on a model of lordship in which the vassal can expect maintenance and protection against his enemies in exchange for faithful service.

At the same time, lords, even ecclesiastical lords, who unjustly dispossess their vassals can expect punishment from a higher authority. From the twelfth century, the king's interest in having subjects more directly tied to him than to their immediate overlord led to a series of innovations, especially in the reign of Henry II, by which aggrieved tenants could appeal their lord to the Crown. The assize of novel disseisin gave anyone who had been dispossessed the chance to recover his lands just by proving that he had once held them; this established a class of landholders who held their lands thanks to royal intervention, even in spite of the lord from whom they held them. (49) Osyth's punishment of Bishop Richard for dispossessing the canons at Chich reflects the developments in England in the twelfth century, when lordship became increasingly a legal rather than a personal relationship whose terms were considered binding on both parties. (50) Upon returning to London and finding that his lord has been struck with paralysis, the bishop's steward explains the meaning of that event:
   "Beau sire cher, tres bien savez
   Vers Dampnedeu mespris avez.
   Vers seinte Osith nomeement
   Ke nus avum si folement
   Ja desaisie de sa terre;
   Empris avum mut fole guerre;
   Quei k'en apres seit fet de nus
   La peine chiet primes sur vus." (1561-68)


["My fine dear lord, you very well know that you have committed a wrong against God, and namely against St. Osyth whom we have so foolishly disseised of her land. We have undertaken a very foolish quarrel: whatever should become of us afterwards, the consequences fall first on you."]

As the poet tells us in the prologue and again in the epilogue, the superior value of saints' lives in comparison to secular literature resides in the better advantages of the former. The appeal of this life lies in offering the menus gents, whether ecclesiastical or lay, an imaginative retaliation for a use of force that in practice was far from uncommon. (51) As the poet tells us in the epilogue,
   Bien resavurn la verite
   Seinte Osith ad grant pouste
   Ke Dampnedeu li ad done,
   Asez veu et bien muste
   De sey venger e de ses enemis
   Ke li mesfunt en son pais.
   E pouste read ensement,
   De mut valer a tute gent,
   Ke Deu voudrunt e li servir,
   Mut bien purrat trestut merir
   Quanque hum frat pur li de bien,
   Ne puet estre perdeu pur rien. (1664-75)


[We well know the truth. St. Osyth has great power that God has given her, as it has been seen and shown abundantly, to avenge herself on her enemies who wronged her in her country, and likewise the power to be of great value to all people, those who love God and serve her. Very well she can reward whatever good people do for her. It can't be lost for anything.]

Like so many other works, this poem shows an awareness of literature as a means of imaginative self-determination. Osyth is a passionate and vengeful protectress who vehemently defends the material interests of herself and her faithful, holding out to the audience the prospect of celestial help in the redress of terrestrial wrongs. Osyth is the advocate of the weak against the powerful, and in order to make this point the more strongly, the poem draws the authority of Osyth exactly from the things that require her subjection. By insisting that God's saints are made up "not just of males only, but also of women in the same way, saints and true handmaidens of God and quite tender maids" (47-48), the text aligns Osyth's gendered identity, her Englishness, and her textual obscurity in order to inscribe a saintly democracy in which the authority of Osyth is equal to that of England's premier king-saint, St. Edmund himself. In so doing, however, this poem constructs and justifies a woman who vindicates her right to self-determination and freedom from the authority of king, father, husband, and priest not in the extreme and inimitable ways of a Catherine or a Cecilia, but by using strategies available to any stubbornly willful twelfth-century noblewoman: pretended acquiescence, deceit, cajolery, sexual manipulation, and disobedience. It may be that such a strong-willed and successful woman was a literary creation, the unintentional by-product of other purposes, long before she was ever a fact. But once created, the literary figure offers a model for real women.

From Studies in Philology, Volume 96. Copyright [c] 1999 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher.

I would like to thank Roy Harris for very helpful suggestions and comments.

(1) The women are Osgytha, granddaughter of Penda and wife of Sighere, King of Essex, a seventh-century king mentioned by Bede; Edith, a composite figure, connected in the Anglo-Norman life to a sister of Athelstan of the late tenth century and to St. Monenna, foundress of Killeavy (d. 517); and Modwenna, of the mid-seventh century, who is said to have cured Prince Alfred of a sore disease. For the relationship of Osyth, Edith, and Modwenna, see Christopher Hohler, "St. Osyth and Aylesbury," Records of Buckinghamshire 18 (1966): 61-72; and A. I Baker, "An Anglo-French Life of St. Osith," Modern Language Review 6 (1911): 476-502 and 7 (1912): 74-93, 157-92.

(2) The Ramsey Abbey chronicler records that in 1144, Bishop Aelfward was struck with leprosy for having committed the sacrilege of robbing Osyth's tomb. See Denis Bethell, "Richard of Belmeis and the Foundation of St. Osyth's," Transactions of the Essex Archaeological Society 2 (1970): 301.

(3) See Bethell, "Richard of Belmeis," for an account of the early history of St. Osyth's.

(4) From the Gesta Pontificum, cited by Bethell, "Richard of Belmeis," 306.

(5) Both the textual and cultic tradition of this saint are complex. The extant medieval lives are the following: 1. MS. Bodley 285, a Latin life surviving in a manuscript of the mid- to late twelfth century, probably from Ramsey Abbey, written certainly after 1107 and probably after 1127. 2. MS. Landsdowne 436, a Latin life surviving in a fourteenth-century manuscript from the nunnery at Romsey in Hampshire; Bethell considers this an abbreviation of Bodley 285, as does A. I Baker, but Morgan J. Desmond believes Landsdowne to be the earlier. 3. The Anglo-Norman life, surviving in a single manuscript, Welbeck Abbey MS. I C. 1, which in the fourteenth century belonged to the nunnery at Campsey in Suffolk, where it was used for readings at mealtimes. 4. A life embedded in a series of lessons for St. Osyth's feast day, Oct. 7, surviving in a fourteenth-century compilation of saints' lives made at Bury St. Edmund's abbey in Suffolk, now MS. Bodley 240. 5. A series of notes composed by the sixteenth-century antiquarian John Leland, taken from a lost life composed by William de Vere in the late twelfth century.

For one reconstruction of the relationships among the lives, see Denis Bethell, "The Lives of St. Osyth of Essex and St. Osyth of Aylesbury," Analecta Bollandiana 88 (1970): 75-127. For a discussion of the relationship between the Aylesbury and Essex traditions, see Hohler, "St. Osyth and Aylesbury"; and R. P. Hagerty, "The Buckinghamshire Saints Reconsidered, 2: St. Osyth and St. Edith of Aylesbury," Records of Buckinghamshire 29 (1987): 125-32.

(6) In some cases institutional authority is portrayed as enabling that fulfillment; in others it is an obstacle that the individual must overcome.

(7) See, for example, Henry of Huntingdon in the prologue to the Historia Anglorum: "And we pray you, Bishop Alexander, father of the fatherland, prince second to the king, that anything we have written well may be brightened by your praise, and that you will better what is less good." Henry, Archdeacon of Huntingdon, Historia Anglorum (History of the English People), ed. and trans. Diana Greenway (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), 7.

(8) Thus William of Malmesbury writes in his dedication to Robert, Earl of Gloucester:
   The virtue of celebrated men holds forth as its greatest excellence,
   its tendency to excite the love of persons even far removed from it:
   hence the lower classes make the virtues of their superiors their
   own, by venerating those great actions, to the practice of which
   they cannot themselves aspire.


William of Malmesbury's Chronicle of the Kings of England, ed. and trans. J. A. Giles (London, 1847), 1.

(9) A characteristic example is Robert Grosseteste's Chasteau d'Amour, a sermon in the post-Lateran IV tradition of educational programs promoting essential church doctrine, which shows the advantages of the sacramental program of salvation by an extended comparison between the characteristics of feudal allegiance and those of Christian obedience. And in the Myrour of Lewed Men, a fourteenth-century translation of Grosseteste's Chasteau d'Amour adapted as part of the same program of basic doctrinal instruction, the Monk of Sawley explains the fifth commandment by telling his reader that just as he owes "buxumnes and hounour" to his father and mother, so too does he to his spiritual mother, Holy Church, and to his lord and king: "And who so is thi warldly lord or thy kyng / Is taken for thi fadir in this byddyng" (ll. 105-06). Cited from Kari Sajavaara, ed., The Middle English Translations of Robert Grosseteste's "Chateau D'Amour" (Helsinki: Societe Neophilologique, 1967), 36.

(10) See Jane Zatta, "Translating the Historia: The Ideological Transformation of the Historia regum Britannie in Twelfth-Century Vernacular Chronicles," Arthuriana 8.4 (1998): 148-61.

(11) See Susan Crane, Insular Romance: Politics, Faith, and Culture in Anglo-Norman and Middle English Literature (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986).

(12) See Georges Duby, The Knight, The Lady, and the Priest: The Making of Modern Marriage in Medieval France, trans. Barbara Bray (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), for his discussion of the role of literature in presenting the same models, and for his view that marriage is the perfect image of the hierarchical organization that allows both religious and political control of the individual.

(13) Thomas Heffernan notes the potentially provocative nature of the virgin martyr lives' exaltation of a young girl who successfully defies the authority structures of the secular state; he concludes that "the liturgical context supplied by the church makes it easier to see how these lives might also allow women and men to indulge in a type of ritualized emancipation from their rigidly appointed roles, free from the personal stigma of sin and guilt" (Sacred Biography: Saints and Their Biographers in the Middle Ages [New York: Oxford University Press, 1988], 299).

(14) The little critical attention given to this poem has focused on its relationship to romance. M. D. Legge first called attention to the resemblance of the hoaxed husband episode to that in Cliges (Anglo-Norman Literature and its Background [Oxford: Clarendon, 1963; reprint, 1971], 259-61). D. W. Russell ("The Secularization of Hagiography in the Anglo-Norman Vie Ste. Osith," Allegorica 12 [1991]: 3-16) has also discussed the "romance" features of the poem, a fact which he treats as symptomatic of the desire on the part of hagiographers to imitate romance in order to attract an audience: "Modern readers have historically been more attracted to the secular genres such as the epic or the romance. And indeed, the mediaeval writers of hagiography also seemed to feel that their audiences were more drawn to the secular genres than to hagiography" (3). For a different view, see Jocelyn Wogan-Browne, who argues that the romance features of Osith serve to unmask the strategies of containment of female volition which inscribe the values of family and inheritance ("'Clerc u lai, muine u dame': Women and Anglo-Norman Hagiography in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries," in Women and Literature in Britain, 1150-1500, 2nd ed., ed. Carol M. Meale [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996], 61-85).

(15) Lanfranc's account of the complaints against Peter, Bishop of Lichfield, for his attempts to remove the See of Chester to Coventry details what the community endured at Peter's hands. He forced entry into their dormitory, broke into their strongboxes, robbed them of their horses and goods, pulled down their houses to have the building materials taken to his own residences, and remained in the monastery with his retinue for eight days, consuming all the monks' provisions. See Ann Williams, The English and the Norman Conquest (Woodbridge: Boydell, 1995), 136.

(16) Williams, The English and the Norman Conquest, 136.

(17) Thus when Theodwine, a monk of Jumieges, succeeded to Ely in 1072, he refused to take up his office until the king had restored the treasures which had previously been seized (Williams, The English and the Norman Conquest, 140). See also Susan Ridyard ("Condigna Veneratio: Post-Conquest Attitudes to the Saints of the Anglo-Saxons," Anglo-Norman Studies 9 [1987]: 180-206) for the role of the Norman adaptation of the life of St. Ethelthreda, inserted into the Liber Eliensis, in preserving the rights of Ely: "The Norman abbots, it seems, regarded themselves primarily as abbots of Ely, only secondarily as Norman conquerors. Their reputations depended upon their effectiveness in defending and enhancing the position of the church committed to their care, and in pursuit of that priority they were prepared to utilise any tool which came to hand" (184).

(18) From the time of William, all Norman rulers claimed to uphold the laws of Edward the Confessor (Williams, The English and the Norman Conquest, 155-58). Thus the abbot of Battle appealed to Henry II to enforce the supposed indemnities and exemptions of Battle Abbey against the pretenses of Hilary, Bishop of Chichester, by presenting forged royal charters in the king's court. See Marjorie Chibnall, Anglo-Norman England: 1066-1166 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986; reprint, 1995), 203.

(19) For example, Osbert of Clare, Prior at Westminster under the abbacy of Gervase of Blois, helped to defend the independence of Westminster Abbey from the See of London by forging charters supposedly issued by the chancery of Edward I and by composing a Vita Beati Eadwardi, which prominently featured a legend that Westminster had first been consecrated by St. Peter himself in the days when Mellitis was Bishop of London. See Kathryn Young Wallace's introduction to Matthew Paris, La Estoire de Seint Aedward le Rei, ed. Kathryn Young Wallace (London: Anglo-Norman Text Society, 1983), x-xii. In the same way, the independence of Bury St. Edmund from the grasp of the Bishop of Lincoln was also defended by updating the saint's legend, including the production of a collection of miracula, commissioned by Abbot Baldwin, that showed the saint's punitive assaults on a variety of invaders and pretenders, including Bishop Arfast. The church at Ely also attempted to defend its lands from Norman depredations by promoting the cult of its patron saint, Etheldreda, who appeared as a vindicator of the property rights of the monks of Ely by punishing with death the agent of a Norman sheriff who had attempted to expropriate their lands; and, in the hands of a later historian, as the defender of the monks against Bishop Nigel (1131-69) and his associates (Ridyard, "Condigna Veneratio," 183-85).

(20) Bethell, "Richard of Belmeis," 301-02.

(21) See Bethell, "Richard of Belmeis," 304. For a reconstruction of the William de Vere life of St. Osyth, see Bethell, "The Lives of St. Osyth."

(22) See Bethell, "Richard of Belmeis," 299-304.

(23) It is interesting that a canon of St. Osyth's and prior of St. Bartholomew's, Smithfield London (1144-74), was described as having "the power of readily uttering metrically whatsoever he attempted" (Bethell, "Richard of Belmeis," 306-07).

(24) See note 5 above.

(25) See Baker, "An Anglo-French Life of St. Osith." All quotations from the Vie Seinte Osith will be taken from this edition. Translations are my own.

(26) See Peter Damian Grint, "Redating the Royal Brut Fragment," Medium Aevum 65 (1996): 280-85. Among the criteria used by Baker to posit a thirteenth-century date for the Modwenna episode and which Grint argues are well attested in the twelfth century are rhyming between ai and ie, rhyming between e and ie, and the breakdown of the declensional system. Much of Baker's linguistic data for the dating of what he considers to be the three different divisions of the poem (and which provides the rationale for his extensive emendations) derives from his theory of the prosody of octosyllabic verse. In Baker's opinion, which he verifies in a circular and self-fulfilling fashion, early Anglo-Norman saints' lives observed the caesura strictly. Therefore Baker dates different sections of the poem on the basis of the presence or absence of the caesura (and emends lines that fail to fit this criterion).

(27) See Baker, "An Anglo-French Life," 6: 478, and Bethell, "The Lives of St Osyth," 75-77. Bethell thinks that de Vere's life is the source of the Anglo-Norman life, but this is in part because he accepts Baker's dating of the poem. Leland's notes do not contain the Modwenna episode nor the miracle of the crippled woman. They do contain a detailed account of the expropriation of the lands at Chich by Richard I as well as the miracle of the German sailors whose ship was prevented from moving until one of them returned a small piece of marble.

(28) As R. W. Southern points out, "It was a characteristic of the higher forms of law, that those who submitted to them must do so by their own choice. There must be a personal act, an oath, a profession, a contract embodied in a public ceremony, renewed by each person in each generation, not descending in the blood like serfdom from some ancestral act" (The Making of the Middle Ages [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953], 109).

(29) P. R. Hyams has convincingly argued that although many jurists deny the existence of rights before there was a common law to enforce them, the concept did exist, and warranty language is one way of studying the concept of tenants' rights ("Warranty and Good Lordship in Twelfth-Century England," Law and History Review 439-503).

(30) That saint Osyth was especially connected to the question of property rights can be seen by the fact that later in the Middle Ages, she was seen as the patron saint of lost property. See John Frankis, "St. Zita, St. Sythe, and Osyth," Nottingham Medieval Studies 36 (1992): 148.

(31) See A. T. Baker and Alexander Bell, eds., St. Modwenna (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1947; reprint, New York: Johnson Reprint, 1967), xxiii.

(32) Ibid.

(33) "Dame," fait ele, "la vostre [aie], / Ke la pucele ne seit perie" ( 2643-44).

(34) The clergy always had a very close integration with secular power in Norman England. Bishops were among the barons, the tenants-in-chief of the king. The Normans preferred to use clerics in the royal administration because they could attain rank, wealth, and deference through the church at no cost to the king. According to Jean Scammell, "The clergy largely monopolized the royal financial administration and Chancery until the sixteenth century" ("The Formation of the English Social Structure: Freedom, Knights, and Gentry, 1066-1300," Speculum 68 [1993]: 610).

(35) A charter from St. Paul's records the deathbed confession of Richard I Belmeis of London (d. 1127), who returned certain lands that he had unjustly taken from the canons of St. Paul's:
   Lest, impenitent, of robbing the brethren and the mother church,
   I should rouse His not unjust anger against me, in His sight,
   with you my sons and brothers, canons of our beloved patron Paul
   the apostle, bearing witness, I return the wood of Eadulf's Naze
   (Walton-le-Soken, Essex) which I enclosed in my park at
   Clacton ... and if I did anything which I ought not to have
   done, I confess myself penitent. I return it, I say, and curse
   whosoever by force or wicked violence attempts again to take it
   away. (qtd. in Bethell, "Richard of Belmeis," 309)


See also the confession of Maurice, Bishop of London (d. 1107), who confessed to the canons of St. Paul's for having violated their rights and felt that confession must be made to them and their rights restored: "I therefore beg you to forgive me the things I have unjustly committed, on condition that henceforward you shall have, as you used to possess them, the customs of your church, and statutes, and elections, and powers in giving prebends and allotting manors, just as you did on the day on which I was placed on the bishop's throne" (as quoted in Bethell, "Richard of Belmeis," 302). See also John Hudson, Land, Law, and Lordship in Anglo-Norman England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), 62, for the confession of William d'Aubigny in similar circumstances.

(36) See Hudson, Land, Law, and Lordship, 162-63.

(37) As quoted in Hyams, "Warranty and Good Lordship," 444.

(38) Since William the Conqueror, tenants were required to swear an oath of allegiance to the king as overlord. For an example of a priest who compares a woman to an estate which a tenant (husband) holds from a king (God) who grants the tenant usage rights but not ownership, see the advice given by the abbot Adam of the Abbey of Perseigne to the Comtesse du Perche at the end of the twelfth century in Georges Duby, Love and Marriage in the Middle Ages, trans. Jane Dunnett (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 27.

(39) On the reasons why the king would have an interest in protecting those owing service, see Hudson, Land, Law, and Lordship, 41-43. He mentions the king's duty to protect the poor from tyranny, of which unjust exactions were a sign; the fact that the targets of distraint for services were often churches, the protection of which was the particular obligation of the king; and the desire to protect the peace, since distraint was often associated with violence. See also Scammell ("Formation of the English Social Structure," 602-03), who points out that Henry II's military needs made it expedient for him to promote the interests of a class of warriors who would thus owe particular allegiance to the Crown rather than to their immediate overlords.

(40) See R. H. Helmholz, Marriage Litigation in Medieval England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975; reprint, 1986), 90-94.

(41) Wogan-Browne, "Saints' Lives and the Female Reader," Forum for Modern Language Studies 27 (1991): 326.

(42) The law is Gratian, C. XXXIII. qu. v., c iii: "Mulier, si sine licentia mariti sui velum in caput miserit, si viro placuerit, recipiat eam iterum ad coniugium" (as quoted in Bethell, "The Lives of St. Osyth," 100).

(43) Morgan J. Desmond, "The Concept of Narrative among Twelfth-Century Vernacular Hagiographers: A Comparison of the Vie de Sainte Marguerite, the Vie de Saint Gilles, and the Vie de Saint Osith with Their Latin Sources" (Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1978), 123.

(44) In the twelfth century the reconciliation between divine justice and divine mercy was a matter of debate. Myrc and others viewed the Augustinian doctrine of salvation by grace as a deception of the devil and a heresy. See Andrea Hopkins, The Sinful Knights: A Study of Middle English Penitential Romance (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), 146.

(45) Russell has argued that the harshness of Osyth's behavior here in contrast to the sympathy with which Siher was treated suggests that this miracle was composed by an older and less courtly author. He is especially surprised by the fact that the scullion, who was the instigator of this crime, is not punished, in contrast to the harsh punishment suffered by the woman he seduced ("The Secularization of Hagiography," 11-14).

(46) This was in fact one of the conditions that justified the dissolution of tenurial relationship. Breaches of homage constituted felonies, and these could bring the tenurial relationship to an end. For example, in the time of King Stephen, when Robert of Meppershall stayed at Meppershall and left Biddlesden, for which he failed to render service to the earl of Leicester or send anyone else in his stead, the land escheated to the earl, who gave it to his steward, Ernald de Bosco, for his service. See Hudson, Land, Law, and Lordship, 20.

(47) If the poem was written as a response to the attempts of Richard II to expropriate the churches of St. Osyth, splitting the figure of Richard would have served to admonish him that interfering with his predecessor's gift might result in a similar fate for him.

(48) Hyams, "Warranty and Good Lordship," 453.

(49) See Scammell, "Formation of the English Social Structure," 606-09.

(50) The Leges Henrici also note the possibility of bad lordship when they state that "if a lord deprives his man of his land or his fee by virtue of which he is his man, or he deserts him without cause in his hour of mortal need, he may forfeit his lordship over him" (Hudson, Land, Law, and Lordship, 62).

(51) See Bethell, "Richard of Belmeis," 92.
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