Semester One 2018/19 Office Hours: Thursdays 09:00-11:00
After an MPhil in Birmingham and a PhD in Cambridge, which included a spell at the University of Paris (Panthéon-Sorbonne) as a visiting student, Charles spent a year as a research fellow at Hertford College in Oxford, before joining the Department in 2008. During research leave in 2014-16, Charles was a Humboldt Fellow at the University of Tübingen and a Visiting Scholar at the University of Edinburgh.
Charles’s research concentrates on earlier medieval European history, with a particular interest in the dynamics of change. His research has been supported by grants from the AHRC and the Humboldt Foundation.
Studies in the Early Middle Ages (Brepols): editorial board
Early Medieval Europe: editorial board
Charles’s research concentrates on earlier medieval Europe. His work is shaped by three enduring interests.
The first of these concerns the role played by early medieval Europe, and especially Carolingian Francia, as a filter or pivot between the ancient past and the later Middle Ages, both culturally and in the socially-embedded exercise of power. Charles’s first book, published in 2013, re-examined the ‘Feudal Revolution’ from this perspective, and he has subsequently begun research into the development of ideas of clerical exemption, with a focus on the ninth century but stretching back to Late Antiquity and forward to the twelfth century. Charles is also interested in how global and comparative perspectives provide new framings for established knowledge about the early Middle Ages.
A second interest relates to evidence. Charles is fascinated by the challenges of interpreting the notoriously enigmatic sources of the early Middle Ages, and in his work has sought to provide the richest readings possible to them across a range of textual genres: restoring authorial agendas, reading against the grain, and attempting to harness this evidence where possible to an early medieval history from below that is sensitive to political and social context.
Finally, Charles is passionate about communicating earlier medieval history to the widest possible audience, both within academic contexts and beyond them. He has collaborated in publishing translations of key Latin texts into English both in print and online, and writes about medieval history on a range of national and social media. You can follow his latest research on his blog, http://turbulentpriests.group.shef.ac.uk/.
Charles’s research has been supported by an AHRC Leadership Fellowship and a Humboldt-Stiftung Fellowship, held at the Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen in Germany.
Charles welcomes proposals for research projects in the field of early medieval European history. Current and recent PhD students:
Far from the oral society it was once assumed to have been, early medieval Europe was fundamentally shaped by the written word. This book offers a pioneering collection of fresh and innovative studies on a wide range of topics, each one representing cutting-edge scholarship, and collectively setting the field on a new footing. Concentrating on the role of writing in mediating early medieval knowledge of the past, on the importance of surviving manuscripts as clues to the circulation of ideas and political and cultural creativity, and on the role that texts of different kinds played both in supporting and in subverting established power relations, these essays represent a milestone in studies of the early medieval written word.
The Divorce of King Lothar and Queen Theutberga: Hincmar of Rheims’s De Divortio, tr. and annotated with Rachel Stone (Manchester, 2016)
In the mid-ninth century, Francia was rocked by the first royal divorce scandal of the Middle Ages: the attempt by King Lothar II of Lotharingia to rid himself of his queen, Theutberga and remarry. This key source offers eye-opening insight both on the political wrangling of the time and on early medieval attitudes towards magic, penance, gender, the ordeal, marriage, sodomy, the role of bishops, and kingship.
Hincmar of Rheims, Life and Work, ed. with Rachel Stone (Manchester, 2015)
This book offers a three-dimensional examination of a figure whose actions and writings in different fields are often studied in isolation. It brings together the latest international research across the spectrum of Hincmar's varied activities, as history-writer, estate administrator, hagiographer, canonist, pastorally-engaged bishop, and politically-minded royal advisor.
Reframing the Feudal Revolution. Social and political transformation between Marne and Moselle, c.800-1100
The profound changes that took place between 800 and 1100 in the transition from Carolingian to post-Carolingian Europe have long been the subject of vigorous historical controversy.
Looking beyond the notion of a 'Feudal Revolution', this book suggests that a radical shift in the patterns of social organisation did occur in this period, but as a continuation of processes unleashed by Carolingian reform, rather than Carolingian political failure.
Journal Articles (selected)
‘Monks, Aristocrats and Justice: Twelfth-Century Monastic Advocacy in a European Perspective’, Speculum 92.2 (2017), 372–404
Monastic advocacy presents a puzzle not yet fully appreciated, let alone resolved: why this particular relationship between aristocrats and monasteries was common in certain parts of the Latin West, notably the Holy Roman Empire north of the Alps, and not in others. This article examines the question from a comparative perspective, concentrating on the former Frankish lands, England and northern Italy in the decades around 1100.
’Visions in a Ninth-Century Village: an Early Medieval Microhistory’, History Workshop Journal 81 (2016), 1-16 (open access).
Microhistory is an approach that has largely passed the study of the early Middle Ages by, chiefly for lack of suitable evidence. This article however suggests that an account of a ninth-century peasant’s vision can be read to recover a microhistory of a rural priest in northern Francia, and draws out the implications for how the local societies of the period might be viewed.
‘Knowledge of the past and the judgement of history in tenth-century Trier: Regino of Prüm and the lost manuscript of Bishop Adventius of Metz’, Early Medieval Europe 24 (2016), 137-59.
Regino of Prüm’s chronicle is an invaluable source for ninth- and early tenth century Frankish history, but also for contemporary perceptions of that history. Though Regino’s motivations for writing continue to be discussed, most historians now agree that his account can be read as one of Carolingian rise and fall. This article argues that this interpretative stance should be considered as in part a product of Regino’s engagement with the surprisingly limited sources for the ninth century at his disposal. Taken together, these texts suggested a narrative for which Regino could find ample confirmation in the events of his own time.
'Lordship in ninth-century Francia: the case of Bishop Hincmar of Laon and his followers' (free access link), Past and Present 226 (2015), 3-40.
Lordship is a concept of increasing prominence for those studying power in the Middle Ages. This article asks whether it is relevant for the study of Carolingian Francia, as has recently been suggested. It argues that while there is compelling evidence for the importance of interpersonal and unequal relations in the Carolingian period, the concept of lordship may not in fact be the best way of approaching them, and it concludes with an alternative suggestion.
'Count Hugh of Troyes and the Territorial Principality in Twelfth-Century Western Europe', English Historical Review (2012), 127 (526), pp. 523-548.
This article looks at a twelfth-century French count through the evidence of the charters he issued. Count Hugh is not very well-known, even amongst medieval historians: however, my intention in writing this article was not simply to draw attention to a neglected figure, but to suggest that his activity sheds light on wider questions of the exercise of power in the period, and of political differentiation within Western Europe at the time.
'Unauthorised miracles in mid-ninth-century Dijon and the Carolingian church reforms', Journal of Medieval History (2010), 36 (4), pp. 295-311.
This article took as its point of departure a most remarkable account of strange happenings in Dijon in the 840s – relics of a mysterious saint had been brought in by shadowy monks, and were causing all kinds of unanticipated miracles, much to the local bishop's irritation. I offer a contextualisation of this event, and an interpretation of its wider significance.
'The significance of the Carolingian advocate', Early Medieval Europe (2009), 17 (2), pp. 186-206.
Early medieval advocates (advocati) were people deputed to speak on behalf of those who were not thought capable of representing themselves in secular courts. This article brings together the evidence for advocates in the ninth century, arguing that they were a Carolingian innovation.
Book Chapters (selected)
‘Competing for the Holy Spirit: Humbert of Moyenmoutier and the Question of Simony’, in F. Bougard, P. Depreux and R. Le Jan (eds.), Compétition et sacré au haut Moyen Âge: entre médiation et exclusion (Turnhout, 2015)
This chapter looks at how Humbert of Moyenmoutier’s idea of simony – the purchase of spiritual office – was a way of defining competition and competitive behaviour in the eleventh century.
'Meaning and context: Moringus the lay scribe and charter formulation in late-Carolingian Burgundy', in J. Jarrett and A. McKinley (eds.), Problems and Possibilities of Early Medieval charters (Turnhout, 2013)
In late ninth-century Burgundy, in the village of Aiserey, there lived a scribe called Moringus, several of whose charters have survived to the present day. Moringus is unremarkable in every regard except one – he was apparently not a cleric, but a laymen. This chapter considers the implications of this fact for our understanding of the role of writing in Carolingian society.
'All in the Same Boat? East Anglia, the North Sea World and the 1147 Expedition to Lisbon', in David Bates and Robert Liddiard (eds), East Anglia and its North Sea World in the Middle Ages (2013)
In 1147, a fleet of ships sailed from Dartmouth and laid siege of Lisbon. Usually considered part of the Second Crusade, this article suggests that the 'Lisbon expedition' could equally and perhaps better be seen as a product of contacts and exchanges across the North Sea.
'Dynastic Historical writing', in Sarah Foot and Chase Robinson (eds), The Oxford History of Historical Writing, 400-1100 (Oxford, 2013)
This book chapter analyses the role played by ideas of the family in three different historiographical traditions in the eleventh century – Byzantium, Western Europe and China. It uses this comparison to shed light both on different ideas about the past and how it should be recorded, and on different ideas about the place of family and dynasties in political life more widely.
Taking you from the height of the Roman Empire to the Fall of the Berlin Wall, this module is an introduction to the dominant narrative of History, from a European perspective (though the module ventures widely beyond Europe when appropriate). Each lecture looks at a particular historical 'turning point', while the weekly seminar takes a more thematic approach, tackling historical notions such as revolutions, progress, globalisation and renaissance. By the end of the module, you'll have a sense of the broad sweep of History, fascinating in itself but particularly useful for single and dual honours students as preparation for more detailed study at Levels II and III. You will also have an appreciation of the importance of periodisation (how historians divide up time), and the problematic concept of modernity. This module is explicitly intended to aid with the transition to the study of History at University.
HST116: Empire: From the Ancient World to the Middle Ages
In the mid-fourth century BC, the legendary Macedonian king Alexander the Great set out into the East, conquering Persia and reaching India by 326 BC. By the end of the 15th century AD, the ‘old’ Europe began to expand West, ‘discovering’ a ‘new world’ in the West Indies in 1492. During the intervening centuries (4th c. BC to 15th c. AD), the Near East and Europe can be seen as a world where imperial ambitions and imperial traditions reaching far back into antiquity defined politics, societies, economies and cultures.
In this module, you‘ll explore this world through the analytical lens of ‘empire’, investigating a great variety of movements and events, including: The dominance of Persia in the Ancient Near East, the legacy of Alexander the Great; Roman expansion and collapse in the Mediterranean; the impact of Hunnic, Islamic and Norman empire building on the ‘Making of Europe’; Christian ideas of time and empire; Carolingian transmission of classical knowledge; the rise of the Papacy as a political force; the Crusades; and the commercial empires in the later medieval East and West.
The module will provide you with an introduction to these different ancient and medieval types of empire, their contacts with and legacies to each other, as well as the crucial connectedness between East and West in this period. Using a wealth of primary evidence and drawing on corresponding historiographical debates, you will be able to explore what it meant to live in ancient and medieval empires, what kind of social, cultural and religious encounters they engendered, and whether there was any space for resistance
HST2023 1066 And All That, (Second Year optional module)
This document option examines the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, the most famous date in English history, looking at its causes, course, conditions, context and consequences. Through the close study of key primary sources for the topic, all readily available in modern English translation, the module explores what this conquest meant for those involved in it, both Norman and English, in terms of politics, religion, social relations, gender and historical consciousness. The module will also touch upon the impact the Conquest had upon the neighbouring countries of Wales, Scotland and Ireland.
HST 3154/3155 Breaking up (in) the Carolingian Empire
In 858, an event took place that scandalised Europe. At a public assembly, a Frankish king, Lothar II, accused his wife Theutberga of the most outrageous crimes, in order to secure a divorce so he could marry his mistress Waldrada. Yet despite his best efforts, and to everyone's surprise, Lothar failed to get his way – and so his kingdom spiralled into crisis, exacerbated by Viking attacks, interfering popes and predatory uncles. This Special Subject concentrates on this crisis, and the rich documentation it produced, to investigate the politics, society and culture of early medieval Europe under the Carolingian kings.
HST6079: Early Medieval Clerical Exemption in a Digital Age
The attempt by clerics to win exemption from public or royal law courts is perhaps most often associated today with Archbishop Thomas Becket, martyred in 1170. But by that date the issue already had a long history behind it, reaching back to the Roman Empire. This course tracks that history, from the age of Constantine the Great to Becket’s murder in Canterbury Cathedral. In doing so, it revisits a topic beloved by 19th-century historians, the supposed ‘clash’ between Church and State in the Middle Ages – and sheds fresh light on the dynamics that were really at work.
It’s not only the approach that’s fresh, though. This course situates early medieval history in a global public humanities context, because the assessment for this course revolves around editing, and improving, Wikipedia’s coverage of this scholarly topic, as well as reflecting on how resources like Wikipedia are rapidly changing how historians communicate with each other and with a global public. In the seminars, we’ll discuss questions and problems of society between the fourth and twelfth century, but we’ll also think about the 21st century. What does Wikipedia mean for the historian, and for the study of the human past – including the early Middle Ages?
Together with Andrew Heath, Charles created the oral history project Witness. This project gives second-year undergraduate historians the opportunity to conduct interviews with Sheffield residents, thereby gaining valuable experience, meeting interesting people, and helping to preserve a little bit of the city's extraordinary heritage. For an example of the Witness oral history project please listen to the clip below.
Charles has also helped Museums Sheffield to co-ordinate their exhibitions with the expertise available in the Department, resulting in public lectures given by colleagues in the Department. Topics on which the Department have provided lecturers have ranged from John Ruskin's ideas of Venice to Andy Warhol's notion of family life and the artwork of Emperor Maximilian I.
Charles helped co-ordinate Unravelling Tinsley's Rolls, an Arts Enterprise project on the manor rolls of Tinsley which begin in the 13th century. You can find more about the project on the History Matters blog.
In The Media
Charles has been interviewed on BBC Radio 4 and local radio stations, and is a regular contributor to the department's History Matters blog, where he writes on matters ranging from the Jorvik Viking centre to the commemoration of the Battle of Bannockburn. He has also written for The Conversation and History Today.
Current Administrative Duties
From September 2018, Charles will be the Department of History's Postgraduate Director. He is also a Director of the Medieval and Ancient Research Centre at the University of Sheffield (MARCUS).
Previous administrative duties
Charles has held a range of roles in the Department, including Senior Admissions Tutor, Schools Liaison and Level II Tutor.