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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Hanged Man, 22 Jun 2006
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This review is from: The Hanged Man: A Story of Miracle, Memory, and Colonialism in the Middle Ages (Paperback)
What a wonderful book; but I should have expected that after reading Bartlett's The Making of Europe and his England under the Norman and Angevin Kings; 1075-1225. It tells the story of William Cragh, a Welshman, hung for homicide at Swansea in around 1290. He had been sentenced by his feudal lord, William de Briouze, Lord of the Marcher lordship of Gower. Briouze's young wife, Mary, had pleaded unsuccessfully for mercy but, after the hanging, William allowed her to have the body. She prayed for assistance to Thomas de Cantilupe, the Bishop of Hereford, who died in 1282. William was then restored to life and made a pilgrimage with Mary to Hereford cathedral to give thanks. We know of the case because in 1307, after much prompting from Cantilupe's successor, Richard Swinfield, a papal commission considered evidence prior to deciding whether to recommend whether the late bishop should be canonised.

In a beautifully structured, scholarly tour de force Bartlett brings the story to life with great understanding. He peels away layer after layer revealing more and more of the detail. We find out that Cragh was not an ordinary murderer but a supporter of one of the last Welsh rebellions against the English. We learn of the two Williams de Briouze, father and son, and their hostile attitude to Cragh as well as the softer Mary, step mother of the younger William. We hear the words of the soldier who was in charge of the execution squad and the men present when Cragh showed signs of life. The story links the quiet Sussex villages of Wiston and Findon to Swansea to Hereford to Gascony to Avignon to Cyprus. He are told of the men who gave their evidence in London and at Hereford and the foreigners who provided most of the Commissioners. Bartlett tells us a great deal about the nastiness of medieval execution practices, and how medieval man remembered events and dates as well as how they measured time. The well organised inquisitorial papal inquiry system becomes understandable. The sweep of Bartlett's story also encompasses the fate of the Knight Templars, Anglo-Welsh relations in the crucial thirteenth century and the phenomen of the comfortable, upper class widow of the period. The development of the notorial system in England adds more interest. The complications of conducting business in a multi-lingual society are shown, the witnesses gave evidence in three different languages and the record was kept in Latin. And we learn about the `little people' too. The story of Roger of Conway, a little boy who was saved from harm through Cantilupe's saintly intervention when he fell into the moat of Conway castle as a little boy, so touched one of the Commissioners, Bishop Ralph Baldock of London, that he provided for his future.

To tell this story, Bartlett has used brilliantly not only Latin, English, French, German and Welsh printed sources but manuscripts now at the Vatican, Oxford, Hereford, the British Library and The National Archives at Kew. He even manages to trace Mary's lady-in-waiting, in an eyre roll. A book to recommend thoroughly.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A diverting mediaeval mystery tale, 14 Jun 2004
DL (Gower, Wales) - See all my reviews
Gower farmer William 'the Scabby' Crach let himself in for much, much more than he bargained for when he took part in a bit of routine insurgence against his Norman overlord. Hounded down, hanged three times in one day (the first two attempts were botched), revived through the intercessions of a dead bishop, frogmarched by the neck to Hereford to give thanks for his salvation, he was finally allowed to return to his subsistence existence. Then, two decades later, along came a summons to give evidence about his private miracle to a papal commission investigating whether or not to recommend the Bishop for canonisation.
Professor Bartlett traces this charming medieval mystery tale through the remarkably detailed papal records, and sets the people and events they reveal against the wider social and political scene of thirteenth- and fourteenth-century England, Wales, France and the Vatican. It raises some intriguing paradoxes. So while the Popes and their commisioners pondered the sanctity of Scabby William's saviour, they were organising the dissolution of the Knights Templar (who coincidentally held estates neighbouring William's village)and watching them burn at the stake.
Only one thing mars this elegant little volume - the illustrations. The US publishers have been unforgivably unimaginative in choosing pictures; and the Welsh placenames in the maps obviously defeated the best efforts of their proofreaders. Otherwise this coat-pocket sized work provides a diverting, thought-provoking and fulfilling read for historians and general readers alike. I highly recommend it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Hanged Man: A Story of Miracle, Memory & Colonialism in the Middle Ages, 29 July 2011
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Superb, only bought it recently and have read it three times already - Professor Bartlett has written an academic study in a style easily accessible to the amateur and with a suprising amount of humour given the topic - whets one's apetite for more of his writings -
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4.0 out of 5 stars More than what can be inferred from the title and subtitle, 20 Jun 2014
This review is from: The Hanged Man: A Story of Miracle, Memory, and Colonialism in the Middle Ages (Paperback)
The book's subtitle reads "A story of Miracle, Memory, and Colonialism in the Middle Ages", but I find it too limited since it doesn't indicate that the book also deals--though indirectly--with historical research, the historian's work. Starting from the investigation by papal commissioners into one of the miracles a candidate saint would have performed, Mr Bartlett actually exemplifies with this book the way historians question their written sources and confront them with what is already known about the context from other sources.

What was a canonisation process about in the early 14th century (and who could be officially considered a saint?) What was the investigators' goal and how did this affect the very questionnaire and the witnesses' answers? How were the linguistic issues addressed since some witnesses spoke English, others French, the surviving hanged man spoke only Welsh and Latin was the written language in which the answers were registered?
What do we know about the candidate saint, a dead bishop of Hereford, from other sources?
What do we know about the witnesses? Do their answers converge and can some of the differences (see discrepancies) in their accounts be explained?
What do we know about death by hanging (from texts and from iconographic sources)?
Since the investigated "miracle" took place in the Welsh Marches at a time the English were gradually conquering and colonising the region, how did the two legal and judicial systems relate to each other?

Let's be clear: those questions (among others) are not dealt with in any dry, systematic way: they underlie a book pleasantly fleshed out with more general information on the society at the time, the political and judicial situation. Valuable details are also given about some religious customs such as the practice of "measuring someone to a saint" (p.8) or about the notaries' manual marks (a stage between wax seals and our present signatures), for instance. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on the way time and space were commonly expressed in the early 14th century. It even leads to an unexpected few lines on weapons and city guards when some of the witnesses estimate a distance in terms of crossbow shots.

Some chapters such as that on "Colonial Wales" can feel a trifle longish and too local, particularly to non-British readers. The same is true with what concerns the papal investigators if you are not particularly interested in biographies of medieval ecclesiastics. However, those subjects clearly are relevant to the historical enquiry that underlies "The Hanged Man". The book is pleasantly uncluttered, free from notes: the many references to the sources are given in final notes, clearly gathered by chapters and pages.
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