ICM 2016 Session 1704

Honour, Social Differenciation, and Gender in Early Ireland and Francia

Thursday 07 July 14.15-15.45

Session Abstract: This session forms part of the project ‘Religious Landscapes in the 8th Century: Ireland and Northern Francia in Comparison’, funded by the Irish Research Council. It proposes to examine canon-law texts and penitentials from both Ireland and Francia as sources for understanding ecclesiastical conceptions of legal status, social status, gender relations, economic activities, and dispute settlement within the church and outside it. By playing attention to the reception and modification of insular texts in Francia, the papers in this session will investigate patterns of change and continuity in both the formation and application of ideas about social order and the church’s place within it.

Sponsor: Irish Research Council (IRC)

Keywords:  Canon Law, Gender Studies, Law, Social History

Organizer: Elaine Pereira Farrell (University of Utrecht)

Moderator: Sven Meeder (Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen)

Paper a: Changing Perceptions of Legal Status and Rank in Early Irish Ecclesiastical Thought
Speaker 1:  Roy Flechner (University College Dublin)

Abstract: Early medieval Ireland boasts one of the more complex European taxonomies of legal status and rank which owes much to preChristian vernacular tradition, but also draws on ecclesiastical teachings. The primary division between free and servile as well as the more nuanced divisions within either group seems to have been formed independently of such divisions in the Roman Empire or its successor states. Ireland can therefore offer an important comparative measure for the pattern of changing conceptions of legal status in Continental Europe following the demise of the Roman Empire in the west. Nevertheless, it can be shown that within Ireland itself different schools of thought held opposed views on the criteria by which freedom ought to be assessed as well as the privileges that ought to be given to individuals of different legal status and social rank. The present paper will concentrate on the vicissitudes of the concept of wergild (Old Irish lóg nenech) in Ireland and  especially on an attempt by some ecclesiastics to abolish it altogether and expand the definition of what and who counted as ‘free’.

Paper b: Wergild and Penance: A Complex Interaction
Speaker 2:  Rob Meens (University of Utrecht)

Abstract: In handbooks for penance written in Ireland in the sixth and seventh centuries ample provision is made for laymen committing serious offenses against their neighbours. Their penance almost always contains references to paying wergild or to another form of compensation, particularly in cases of violence and adultery. These insular penitential books were known on the European mainland from the late sixth century onwards, mainly in Francia, and used for the composition of other works of this nature. Although some early continental penitentials adopt these sentences referring to paying compensation from their insular sources, they tend to receive less emphasis and in some cases disappear altogether. This paper investigates when and where these clauses do appear and will try to explain the reasons for their disappearance from the genre of penitential literature in the early Carolingian period, thereby shedding light on the complex relation between wergild and penance and thus on patterns of conflict resolution in the period between the sixth and the ninth century.

Paper c: Gender, Sexuality, and Female Penance in the Insular and Frankish Penitentials
Speaker 3: Elaine Pereira Farrell (University of Utrecht)

Abstract: The aim of this paper is to analyse the gendering of sin in the Early Medieval Penitentials. The earliest texts of this genre were produced in the British Isles in the sixth century, and by the end of this century and in the subsequent one the Irish ecclesiastical leaders wrote influential books for penance which were used on the continent as basis for the production of more penitential books. This paper aims to observe in a range of penitentials from the Insular and Frankish worlds which sins were associated with women and the level of attention each individual penitential writer devoted to female sin and confession. As by the eighth century there is an increase of attention to female sin in the penitentials, this paper will argue that this is resultant of the intensification of the writers’ focus on lay sin.