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Intellectuals, Poverty, Self-administration

There were a number of elements in tension within secular, self-administering, endowed colleges, as we have seen. Pecham wanted Merton’s scholars to be accountable. He showed every sign of disbelieving they could be responsible for much at all. But colleges’ claim to institutional significance hangs on this premise: the Bishop of Rochester made his scholars accountable because they were responsible for the college. (The ways in which currents flow between officers’ accountability and responsibility is of course a wider concern of this study.) In many ways Merton’s (or the Sorbonne’s) solution was wholly unoriginal. It was an institutionalization of the need for bright young scholars to be trained for the sorts of responsibility they would assume on leaving those colleges. As Archbishop of Canterbury Pecham after all had to arrange for the management of things as un-Franciscan as its extensive estates.[1] The trope of learned monks’ and priests’ scorn for, evasion of, or resignation to the responsibilities of office was as old as the established Church.[2] Yet equally scholarship as a means to beneficed bursarial responsibilities was a marriage as openly disavowed as it was privately anticipated.[3] There was not a little ressentiment in the scorn we saw Gerald of Wales express for Hubert Walter (pp. 93, 135—6). In some ways, though, the intermixture of learning and administering was more problematic for colleges.

There was the question of scholars’ administrative competence to begin with. The Sorbonne’s greater and lesser procurators were appointed from its membership and the college was responsible as a whole for setting its own monthly budget.[4] But the Sorbonne also needed provisions for recovering bad debts from its own procura- tors.[5] By 1318 the greater procurators were required to account weekly, implying that less frequent accounting was a bad idea.[6] Two paid fellows kept University College’s financial and disciplinary matters in order, a procurator with the former day-to-day responsibilities and a senior fellow with responsibility for the latter and overall oversight.[7] Merton itself used some of the most up-to-date accounting methods on its estates, which, again, fellows were involved in regulating.[8]

Effective self-administration was predicated on collaboration. This need cut across the contrasting impulse towards intellectual rivalry. At least since Abelard, the ‘battle of the schools’ had encouraged ill-tempered competition.[9] That study led to community dissensionem was an argument Aquinas felt obliged to rebut when justifying peaceable religious orders’ involvement in it.[10] The violence of medieval university towns was a logical corollary (other factors contributed too). Many of the texts in Denifle and Chatelain’s Chartularium Universitatis Parisiensis are concerned with student violence and behaviour.[11] Constraining scholars to collaborate collegially might be putting cats in a sack. The same was true of the more straightforwardly self-interested Nations.[12] The Nations were there to advance the collective interests of their members. The colleges were there to advance the charitable aims of their founders. Both faced challenges ordering individual egos towards institutional interests.

Tensions between members of colleges were further exacerbated by disparities in wealth, a third problem.[13] A charitable raison d’etre for colleges was supporting poor scholars.[14] Students at the College des Bons-Enfants (f. c.1209) were instructed to add to their incomes by begging.[15] Neither Robert de Sorbon nor Walter of Merton were from wealthy backgrounds and both had raised themselves through literacy, though Walter’s learning was more modest than Robert’s.[16] A recurrent worry was the scandalous potential of dress.[17] Robert de Sorbon had himself got into a row about his vilain parentage with Jean de Joinville, when he ticked off the seneschal at court for wearing better clothes than the King.[18] The sumptuary legislation universi- tates issued simultaneously shows that there could be considerable gaps in wealth and that these caused tensions.[19] Food was another concern, particularly private dining. Hostility to private dining arose partly from the value placed on communal life.[20] But loud, lavish private dining was also a potential source of external scandal or internal resentment.[21] Other status symbols caused problems. Merton’s 1338 scrutinium minutes find one fellow complaining about the number of horses the college was burdened by (presumably belonging to fellows).[22] [23]

The attitudes of college members towards poverty itself in all this are hard to sift. That scholars should be needy was a given for founders, and so poverty is a desideratum in their statutes. Sumptuary legislation implies scholars might not feel the same way. One suggestion of how scholars themselves felt can be obtained from John of Garland’s 1241 poem Moralescolarium.190 Garland, an English grammarian who had studied at Oxford, Paris, and Toulouse provides in the poem a cynical-cum-realist portrait of a scholar’s difficulties. His attitude to poverty may be contradictory rather than nuanced, but that may also point towards contradictions in wider university life.[24] On the one hand poverty is a virtuous challenge to be overcome. ‘The victor over poverty is a recruit to probity, a soldier of honesty, a prince of peace, a man of piety.’[25] But poverty is also a hazard: ‘Poverty will root up many and fling them from their home.’[26] It is not bad to be poor, but the poor are treated badly.[27] Garland knows, resentfully, that only lucrative scholarship is its own reward.[28] Poverty seems to run in tandem with Garland’s theme of rustici- tas which is treated as both the virtuous accent of the inverse snob[29] and the shibboleth that the successful scholar must quash.[30] So Garland lists the ‘seven signs of a peasant according to Thales’, justifying their removal, ‘Even were you Socrates, you’ll just be a ditch-digger if you can’t curb your crudity.’[31]

The question of rusticity returns us to the relationship between social standing, collegial administration, and self-government. A fourth and final question is suggested. Was there anything infra dignitatem of a scholar who undertook an administrative job? The obligation of such office-holders to give an account of their tenure has been well-stressed. Yet the phrase’s Gospel derivation and connotations (see e.g. pp. 26—9, 42—3, 160, 203) are subservient and/or rural: hardly an edifying comparator for an upwardly mobile scholar.[32] It is a interesting question whether self-governing colleges had to struggle to persuade their members to undertake such offices.[33] This may well have been the case at the Sorbonne, finding expression in financial penalties imposed for evading office-holding.[34] On the other hand ecclesiastical office provided a constant link between administration, financial security, status, and some intellectual competence. This was the self-made route of Walter of Merton; he would hardly despise it. It was the Church in some shape or form that would provide livings for many scholars. Scholars can’t be choosers. With all his contradictions, John of Garland can be cited to make that point too. He rounds on an imagined nepotistic prelate he knew at the schools: ‘O prelate, you’ve given not a thing to your naked old friend. But why should you care unless you have proved him worthy through witnesses; if you did so you could loosen your right hand and give out a gift.’[35]

There was no insurmountable contradiction between being a scholar and desiring a post; nor of being a scholar of distinction and a serious administrator—as the careers of Pecham or Kilwardby show. Yet questions of status, the standing of collegial administrative offices, poverty, and intellectuals’ self-regard must show, again, that historians should not take collegial self-governance as a self-evident given: the ingredients were a potentially volatile combination. Pecham at Merton exemplifies it.

  • [1] Survey of Archbishop Pechams Kentish Manors 1283—85, ed. Kenneth Witney, Kent Records 28(Maidstone, 2000); Douie, Archbishop Pecham, 85—94.
  • [2] R. A. Markus, Gregory the Great and His World (Cambridge, 1997), 12—14, 17—26; CaroleStraw, Gregory the Great: Perfection in Imperfection (Berkeley, Calif., 1988), 188—93.
  • [3] 17° Murray, Reason and Society, ch. 9.
  • [4] Glorieux, Origines de la Sorbonne, i. #2 at 199.
  • [5] Glorieux, Origines de la Sorbonne, i. #2 at 199—200.
  • [6] Glorieux, Origines de la Sorbonne, i. #17.
  • [7] Munimenta Academica, i. 57 (1292); ii 782 (1280/1281).
  • [8] Manorial Records of Cuxham, 32 , 30. 176 Murray, Reason and Society, 234—7.
  • [9] 177 Summa Theologiae, Ila—IIae q. 188 a. 5 obj. 2.
  • [10] 178 See further, Skoda, Medieval Violence, 119—58.
  • [11] 179 For a 1345—8 Bolognese example, Statuta Nationis Germanicae Bononiae, 101—23 esp. caps. 24
  • [12] on discord, 25 on exclusion, 29 on infamy, reputation, and purgation. The earlier 1292 statutes arefar briefer (95—7).
  • [13] Oxford Colleges’ policies on poverty summarized by Highfield, ‘Early Colleges’, 252—4. Generalremarks on poverty in universities, Miri Rubin, Charity and Community in Medieval Cambridge(Cambridge, 1987), 269-71, 275-8.
  • [14] Though Tuilier, Histoire de CUniversite de Paris, i. 119 wonders whether Sorbon’s original intention was charitable. See Gorochov, ‘Notion de pauvrete’ for her reservations about whether ‘poorscholars’ was meant literally.
  • [15] Murray, ‘1249’, 60-1, citing J. M. Reitzel, ‘The Founding of the Earliest Secular Collegeswithin the Universities of Paris and Oxford’ (Ph.D. thesis, Brown University, 1971), 130. I have beenunable to consult this.
  • [16] 183 Robert’s background is stressed in William Chester Jordan, Men at the Center: RedemptiveGovernance under Louis IX (Budapest, 2012), 1-22.
  • [17] 184 Glorieux, Origines de la Sorbonne, i. #1 at 194. The need for personal marks sewn into clothingwas a corollary of having an identical ‘uniform’ (195).
  • [18] Joinville, Histoire de Saint Louis, ed. M. Natalis de Wailly, 9th edn. (Paris, 1921), ch. 6.
  • [19] 186 Oxford Deeds of Balliol, #564 at 278 (1282), ‘Et ut melius prouideatur sustentacioni pauperumad quorum utilitatem intendimus laborare, uolumus quod diciores in societate scolarium nostrorumita temperate studeant uiuere ut pauperiores nullo modo grauentur propter expensas onerosas.’ ForBolognese rules on livery, Marti, Spanish College, 216-18. The requirement to have one’s name sewninto (identical) clothing in colleges was obviously a corollary of such parity.
  • [20] Glorieux, Origines de la Sorbonne, i. #1 at 193.
  • [21] Glorieux, Origines de la Sorbonne, i. #1 at 194; Statutes of Autun (1345 statutes), cap. 15 at86-7, passage beginning, ‘Rursus ad evitandum turpia et indecentia, murmurationes, contentiones’.The Merton 1339 minuted complaint ‘de tumultu sociorum in cameris’ of Simon of Westcombe waspresumably of a similar nature (Merton Muniments, #15 at 35 (fo. 3v l. 204)). On scandal see herepp. 214-20.
  • [22] 189 Merton Muniments, #14 at 34 (fo. 3 l. 154), William of Humberstons complaint.
  • [23] Traugott Lawler, ‘Garland, John of (b. c.1195, d. in or after 1258)’, ODNB.
  • [24] Murray, Reason and Society, 231, 237—44, is again suggestive on this theme and rusticitas.
  • [25] Morale scolarium, cap. 10 p. 207 ll. 209—10.
  • [26] Morale scolarium, cap. 26 p. 238 l. 515.
  • [27] ‘Pauper deprimitur, teritur, pauper quia scitur; | Nudus despicitur baculo ferroque feritur’,Morale scolarium, cap. 6 p. 197 ll. 109—10.
  • [28] ‘. . .Sapiens, procul eicieris. | Si nichil attuleris, demens eris, indignus eris. | Que lucrative suntartes sunt modo vive, | Ut causative, specierum compositive, | Et celeres misse que posssunt es habui-sse, | Resque foro misse que possunt lucra dedisse’, Morale scolarium, cap. 1 p. 189 ll. 20—4.
  • [29] 196 ‘Natum rure chorum presignit mente decorum’, Morale scolarium, cap. 10 p. 208 l. 220.
  • [30] ‘Hanc modo defendo [i.e. curialitas], sunt rustica que reprehendo’ (on table manners), Moralescolarium, cap. 9 p. 202 l. 164.
  • [31] 198 Morale scolarium, cap. 21 p. 232 l. 453.
  • [32] Niermeyer, Mediae Latinitatis Lexicon Minus, ii. 1439-40. On upwardly mobile scholars seeMurray, Reason and Society, esp. chs. 9-12. See further Olga Weijers, Terminologie des Universites auXIIIe Siecle, Lessico Intellettuale Europeo 39 (Rome 1987), 73-9.
  • [33] Murray’s Reason and Society does not frame precisely this question, but 237-9 provide foodfor thought. I address aspects in ‘Regulating Community and Society at the Sorbonne in the LateThirteenth Century’.
  • [34] Glorieux, Origines de la Sorbonne, i. #2 at 197-8.
  • [35] Morale scolarium, cap. 8 p. 202 ll. 160—2. Compare the description of the student fromChaucer, The Canterbury Tales, Prologue, ll. 285—308.
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