I’ve been working on this little project for a while now. Last night I finished and I submitted it to Amazon to be available via Kindle. Now it’s available for you to purchase! It’s only $1, or if you know someone who’s purchased it, you can borrow it for free if they’re a Prime member.
Here’s the introduction from the text:
It’s not often that one expects to make such an interesting, humanizing find in an old manuscript, written in Old French, while sitting amongst the white mountains of New Hampshire. Truth be told, I didn’t really come to appreciate what I had found in the Grim manuscript until nearly fifteen years after I had left the mountains for a suburb near Boston.
I had found myself in my early twenties at Plymouth State College (now a University) in New Hampshire, as a Medieval Studies major, mostly because at the time I had applied to colleges I loved Dungeons & Dragons, and PSC happened to accept me into their ranks. Medieval Studies seemed like a natural fit.
Towards the end of my undergraduate career I realized that I’d have to complete a capstone project, and took it upon myself to translate something of note from Old French (used in the 9th through 14th centuries in France and England).
It may surprise you as much as it did me, but there is not an abundance of original, untranslated Old French manuscripts in Plymouth, New Hampshire. Fortunately this new fangled thing called the Internet had sprung up overnight and I Gophered and Mosaiced my way into a fledgling online archive called the MOnastic Manuscript Project, or MOMP. Catchy, right?
At the time, someone in France had digitized by way of taking film pictures and then scanning them, a large number of unsorted manuscripts. Downloading these manuscripts as JPG files over what was only a slightly faster connection than dial-up was a painful and lengthy process, but I managed to grab six or seven random manuscripts.
One of them, a fairly exhaustive list of transactions for the village of Eze became my focus. Eze, a village situated on the top of a large hill or possibly small mountain, just northwest of the Mediterranean Sea is probably a charming place, full of charming people. For me though it was and always will be a place where numerous chickens were exchanged for horseshoes and drawn nails were argued over for nearly a full page. It will be defined in my brain forever as a spidery, hand written shopping list of massive proportions.
Another manuscript, the writings of an English knight called Sir Edward Grim, I looked at briefly but otherwise didn’t bother to read, much to my later chagrin. Edward wrote in a flowery style that reads fairly well but is a real bastard to translate. I opted for the chickens and horseshoes as it made my senior year at college that much easier.
It wasn’t until just recently, as I was trawling through a large foot locker that held all of my college memories that I came on the printed manuscript of Sir Edward Grim. On taking another crack at it (I am now very rusty in my Old French, working mostly with computers and the professors that abuse them) I became fascinated with the man, his life and his closeness early on with several key historical figures.
King Henry II (1133 – 1189) and Thomas Becket (1120 – 1170) were perhaps the first recorded incidence of a famous bromance gone horribly wrong. When they first became acquainted they became fast friends, partying together, hunting together and generally enjoying all that life had to offer the rich and famous of 12th century England.
Seeing as they were great friends, and that Henry was having some difficulties with bringing the church around to his way of thinking, they both thought it would be a grand idea if Thomas got a job with the church, thus making it a lot easier for Henry to get his way. Never ones to think small, Thomas ended up as Archbishop of Canterbury – the leading bishopric of England.
That’s when the trouble started. Somewhere between “Ha ha, let’s make you Archbishop” and actually become Archbishop, Thomas became a convert to the church and began to take his job as seriously as he previously had taken his partying. Rather than ease Henry’s pain with the church, Thomas became the biggest thorn in his side.
All of this has been one of my favorite areas of study when looking at Medieval England, and it eventually ended with Henry making an offhand remark out of spite, pleading with the universe at large to ‘rid him of this troubling priest’.
Henry just happened to make this comment in front of a group of his knights, who were ever eager to please the King. Taking this probably a lot more literally than Henry had intended, the rode off into the sunset and a short while later murdered Thomas in his cathedral.
For good and ill, this is how history plays out.
I had no idea that I had in my foot locker a print out of a nearly 800 year old manuscript written by a young man who was standing within shouting distance of Thomas when he was so abruptly removed from the list of Henry’s problems. Apparently MOMP didn’t know either.
As I finished translating the first few pages, I knew I had something interesting. I popped open the MOMP site to see if the manuscript was still there and to see who had translated it – for surely after 15 years someone would have found it.
In reality though, that manuscript was simply… gone. I contacted the folks at MOMP through email, and received a fairly terse reply a few days later. The manuscript had been removed from their digitized collection at the request of none other than the Vatican. They had no idea where I may be able to find other copies nor why this had been removed.
Since I’m no one in particular, and the Vatican is a big and busy place, I’ve not received any comment from them on the matter.
I’m a big proponent of openness when it comes to this sort of thing though, and I had at my hands the tools and knowledge to put together a half-decent translation. It is this, after many nights of coffee, magnifying glasses and typing, that I offer now to you.
I won’t comment more on the King and Becket – there are plenty of scholars who have written about them with far more knowledge and resources than I have. I will say this on Sir Edward Grim. To have started his adult life witnessing the murder of a saint, spent his middling years on the crusade we so often think of when we hear the word ‘Crusades’ and to have ended them in the peace of a quiet monastic life – he has surely seen more of this world than many of us ever will.