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St. Thomas Becket's eruditi

Who were the eruditi Santi Thomæ?

Becket’s followers or eruditi, meaning the group of scholars gravitating around the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket (1118-1170), were witty and learned men, such as John of Salisbury, one of the greatest scholars of his age, Herbert of Bosham, Benedict of Peterborough, Alain de Lille, Walter Map, Peter of Blois. Of the seventeen eruditi who were in the archbishop's service in England, only five did not go into exile with Thomas.

The personal habitus of these men was shaped by discourses of morality, ethical behavior, and religious precept that owed much to classical mores of good conduct and ethical leadership, particularly Aristotelian and Stoic teaching on utility, rhetoric, and decorum. Such ideals were preserved in the classically minded literary monasticism of the Twelfth-Century Renaissance, but they were also used to practical effect by the secular church--the university-trained bishops and their bureaucrats--to bring the universalizing precepts of papal reform to every echelon of English society, from parish organization to public governance and statehood.

Research Project: Aspects of the influence of Thomas Becket and his eruditi on the vernacular literary production in England and France (1147-1214)

One of the least studied aspects of the so-called 12th century Renaissance is the catalytic role played by Thomas Becket in the vernacular literary world on both sides of the Channel: the England of the Plantagenets and the France of the Capetians. 
For Medievalists the Becket-Henry affair presents an ideal case study: the career of Thomas Becket, culminating in his murder (1170) is undoubtedly the best documented event in the twelfth century. The dramatic martyrdom of the Archbishop generated an unusual number of biographies, letters, histories. Now, new avenues of research are opening up for Philologists, since recent studies have begun to show that Becket's eruditi wrote not only in Latin, but also in vernacular (Anglo-Norman and French). We know from Herbert de Bosham's description of the life of the household at Canterbury and from occasional later glimpses that the eruditi formed the archbishop's council and would meet with him at once a day in order to discuss all matters of concern, give technical and general advice and make plans. Letters were an essential tool of almost all their activities. The language of government and diplomacy was Latin, but we cannot doubt that these men were at home in the vernacular too (i. e. French and Anglo Norman). For Becket's circle, literature was too important to be excluded from the remoralization of the Plantagenet's life. Lay and clerical domains of worship were certainly distinct, but they were not neatly divided, either liturgically or physically. Nothing supports the polarity between a "lay piety" of "private" and "devotional" literature and a clerical art that was "public," "regulatory," and "liturgical." 

The common thread throughout the works of Becket's eruditi and Anglo-Norman vernacular authors is the attempt to redeem their Celtic and Saxon origins. These are the origins of the new ruling class in England, meaning to say the intermingling of Bretons, Normans and Saxons, comprising counts, barons, knights, bishops, treasurers of the Plantagenet court, all of whom were depositories of a heterogeneous culture for whom it was necessary to unearth new shared roots. In this regard J. Dufournet’s considerations are most interesting: “In the same way as Geoffrey of Monmouth and Gerald of Wales, Walter Map clearly represents those writers who were half Welsh and half Norman and who had never denied their own origins; in fact far from it, they taught their Celtic culture to their Norman conquerors”. Celtic culture was therefore to form a cultural glue. The remembrance of their Celtic origins, distinguished by cultural and linguistic features shared with Bretons, Welsh and Irish, was an authentic source of grievance for men of letters in Henry II’s court, committed as they were to the complex task of establishing the origins of the Plantagenet line, dating back to Arthur, who was descended from the Trojan heroes. “new public” is paradigmatically represented by those whom we could define as “new Bretons”, in the sense of “great British Bretons”; whilst Pelagius, St Patrick, Gildas, the shadowy Nennius, Asser and Peter Abelard, mentor of the majority of the eruditi Thomae, were Bretons by birth, at the Plantagenet court we find figures who were ethnically mixed, such as, first and foremost, the ex-Chancellor of the kingdom, close friend of King Henry II and then Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, who was culturally French (inter alia he had studied at Paris and Chartres) and who spoke French as his first language, a second-generation Norman, but Saxon by adoption, in the multi-ethnic Cheapside district, and who were capable of expressing themselves in perfect English, in addition to French and Latin.

Researchers will investigate the cultural program pursued by vernacular authors  and by Thomas Becket and his eruditi, whose purpose was to establish traditional, genealogical and religious foundations for courtly Anglo-Norman Society. They will analyse the complex relationship between Latin and vernacular in medieval Anglo-Norman and Old French texts produced within the Plantagenet "Empire", and the many facets of a bilingual literary culture, covering texts which incorporate both Latin and French materials, texts which are extant in both Latin and French versions, and texts which illustrate the problems and implications of translating Latin into French. Attention will be paid to the ways in which the supposed difference in status of these two languages is reflected in literary and codicological practice.

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