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History in Focus

the guide to historical resources • Issue 13: The City •

The City

Book cover: Family, Commerce and Religion in London and Cologne: Anglo-German Immigrants, c.1000-c.1300

Author's response


Family, Commerce and Religion in London and Cologne: Anglo-German Immigrants, c.1000-c.1300

by Joseph P. Huffman
Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1998
ISBN-13: 978-0-52-163292-8; 296 pages, price £55.00

Bjorn Weiler

University of Swansea

Clearly Bjorn Weiler has problems with the interpretative aspects of my book, since he reviews little of the actual content of the book itself and has minimal difficulty with the original archival research done. Professor Weiler rejects my thesis out of hand. Through "grandiloquent claims" and "exaggeratedly ambitious rhetoric" I am said "all too often" to "protest a degree of novelty for [my] contribution which is not always justified." He asserts that the book "rarely goes beyond the established framework" and "certainly is not the major new contribution, which would encourage historians to reconsider their basic assumptions as to what constituted 'medieval Europe.' That, however, is what Professor Huffman all too frequently proclaims his book to be."

Leaving aside the issue of who employs ambitious rhetoric, we need first to clarify the "historians" to whom the book was addressed. Cambridge University Press did not sanction a monograph solely directed to the dozen or so Anglophone historians of medieval Germany (though I surely hope they will read it). Rather, the book speaks to the wider community of Anglophone medievalists and asks them to question why medieval Germany remains on the margins of our historiography. The relevance of medieval Germany may be obvious to Professor Weiler, whose recently completed dissertation work has immersed him in the subject, but it is patently obvious to the wider Anglophone academic world that Germany has been peripheral in the definition of "medieval Europe," in favor of the predominant Anglo-French political paradigm. It is this vision of Europe that I was calling into question, which has in particular ignored the fruitful contacts between England and Germany during the High Middle Ages.

Professor Weiler's senior colleague at the University of Wales, Swansea, has understood this. In his recent review of my book, published in the American Historical Review (December 1999, pp. 1729-1730), John France asserts "In fact, this is a book that ought to interest a wide range of students of medieval history. As Joseph P. Huffman rightly observes, in discussing the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, historians have been mesmerized by the Anglo-French and German-Italian axes. This is, in part, because these connections are clearly political and thus fit into even the simplest approach to the medieval world. In this perspective, Germany has been seen as markedly removed from the Anglo-Norman world, and, indeed, even from the mainstream of Western European development. As Huffman says, we tend to place German development in the later Middle Ages and to see it in connection with the Hanse. What he seeks to demonstrate is that there were very substantial trading connections between England and Cologne in the period 1000-1300." I shall leave it to other readers to determine whether my research findings support this call to reassess the place of medieval Germany in Anglophone historiography, but at least now you have the thesis clearly articulated. Here is Professor France's judgement of how justified and novel my thesis is: "Huffman has certainly demonstrated the particular importance of Cologne in the period in question. In effect, he has laid a basis for a new Anglo-German perspective modifying our very Anglo-Norman perceptions." This contrasts sharply with Professor Weiler's assertion that the book "confirms what most historians have held to be the case already" and does not "go beyond what historians have been doing for the last 120 years."

Next, Professor Weiler complains that the book has "a general lack of interpretation and analysis . . . there is very little in terms of interpretation in this book." This conclusion is most puzzling, given that he critiques my interpretative/analytical approach, just mentioned above, as grandiloquent and exaggeratedly ambitious rhetoric. Again, John France read the book otherwise: "This careful collection of material shows just how important Germans, and especially the men of Cologne, were during the twelfth and thirteen centuries in the economic, social, and political life of England. There is much fascinating material, but above all the analysis [emphasis mine] provides a much sharper perspective on the whole gamut of Anglo-German relations. One of the most compelling themes of this book, sustained throughout its chapters, is the interaction between economic and political relationships."

It quickly becomes clear that when Professor Weiler refers to "analysis" he means more discussion of the wider political context. He writes: "At the same time, an awareness of the political context within which the protagonists of Professor Huffman's study acted would have been helpful and could have provided some of the analysis which the book as a whole is often lacking." A political study was not the purpose of this book, but is the subject of my forthcoming book, as Professor Weiler well knows.

The book currently under review is a prosopographical study (thus intentionally not a political study but a socio-economic and cultural study) which documents the careers of individuals and families living as emigrants in either Cologne or London, and was to serve as a case study justifying my call for a reappraisal of medieval Germany. Neither was it intended as nor does it claim to be a survey of all of medieval Germany; indeed, one monograph can only achieve so much. At one point Professor Weiler even affirms my approach and research boundaries: "This is certainly justified in the context of a study on economic and social exchange between London and Cologne."

Yet even so I did make continual references to the larger political environment.

Professor France notes this in his review: "Political connections are explored, and they form an essential part of the context [emphasis mine]." The lack of an extended political analysis, however, makes the book repeatedly "regrettable" according to Professor Weiler. Yet he knew in advance of the nature of this book and that my forthcoming book would address Anglo-German political relations specifically, since he contacted me via email as a graduate student about a year ago to find out what I was working on. After discovering the peculiar coincidence that my forthcoming book on Anglo-German diplomacy happened to overlap with his dissertation on Anglo-German Relations in the Reign of Henry III, and that we both were awaiting publication of articles on Richard of Cornwall, email communication ceased.* Could my book be regrettable for other reasons? If so, we can expect that my forthcoming book may be considered even more regrettable.

Such an overemphasis on political expectations results in an egregious oversight of the current book's core material. The discovery of a substantial English community in Cologne during the pre-Hanse era was surely something novel and important. And I was able to document this by unlocking the riddle of these emigrants' surnames. Weiler dismisses this centrepiece of the book by concluding that "We learn very little about the families involved, beyond what is revealed in these lists of property transactions. More importantly, the fundamental methodological problem at the heart of Professor Huffman's investigation - to what extent does the name de Anglia or Anglicus denote English origins, or simply close contacts with England - seems to have defied a wholly satisfactory solution." Yet once again, John France is of a different opinion: "There is a very complicated terminological problem to overcome, in that many historians have been reluctant to accept that the name Anglicus (and its cognates), found among families in Cologne, denotes English descent. Huffman convincingly establishes that this name indicates a family that was English or of English descent, perhaps through marriage into an English family. That there were English families whose names appear in the Cologne records as early as the mid-twelfth century is deeply interesting. In fact, much of the book is a prosopographical analysis, and it has to be said that, in general, prosopography does not lend itself to exciting prose, but Huffman has a light touch and achieves clarity. English settlement in Cologne was important, and it is remarkable that families became integrated into local society while still preserving an English identity."

By relying on Professor Weiler's review, the reader would have no idea of this substantial new research nor of its significance for the book's thesis. Rather, the reader learns more detail about my leaving out one chronicle reference to a "Magister Andelmus, natione Coloniensis." This can hardly be deemed evidence of several "rather surprising lacunae" in my discussion of Anglo-German clerics. I was aware of the citation, but left mention of Andelmus out of my account simply because he was in Ireland rather than England.

In conclusion, I find it fascinating how two historians, in the same university and history department no less, could read the same book so differently. France concludes: "Huffman has produced a well-written and carefully constructed book," and Weiler concludes: "Professor Huffman promises more than he delivers, and more than he can deliver." I can only conclude from my vantage point that each reviewer understood the function and goals of the book quite differently, and this shaped their final assessment. In a word, one reviewed the book I wrote, the other the book I didn't write. Knowing what I actually intended and wrote, it is clear to me that John France understands the book better. I would encourage our readers to compare the two reviews (and the book, of course) to make up their own minds, and they might also have a look at Edward Peters' review in Central European History for a more broadly informed assessment of the book's originality and place amid Anglophone historiography on medieval Germany.

March 2000

*Joseph P. Huffman, The Social History of Medieval Diplomacy: Anglo-German Relations (1066-1307) (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999).

This book was to be available in December 1999, but the publisher is running behind schedule. It should be available within a few weeks according to my editor. Unfortunately my article remains at the mercy of the publisher, along with others, in a collection of essays on medieval Germany. Professor Weiler's essay has appeared in the English Historical Review (November 1998) 1111-1142.

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