Continuing to Walk the Path of Medieval Inquisition

During a global pandemic may not be the most auspicious time to be researching, yet it only produced a minor change to my project plans. Finding the true direction of my research however - that's a whole different ballgame...

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Going into the second summer of my Laidlaw research project amidst a global pandemic was perhaps not the most sterling start one could have hoped for. However, as my project was focused on a series of thirteenth century inquisitorial records which had already been translated into English and were available online, my project was much less affected than I had feared.[1] I was unable to physically ‘walk’ in the places I was finding, but I was unhindered in my ability to proceed with the main aspect: MAPPING!

From last summer, I had learned a lot about how I myself worked, gotten to grips with the software I was using and the methods to map places, and how to get data and knowledge from my sources. I had a clear idea  stemming from last summer – I am aiming to map family networks present in the documents. It was going to be much smoother sailing than last summer.

Heh. Heh, Heh.

To be fair to myself, I have taken what I had learned last summer, and throughout the leadership workshops and applied it to my research. One of my main aims around leadership development has been developing confidence and belief in my own decisions and actions, questioning and challenging assumptions I hold about myself and the world around me to make sure I am leading in the best way I can – even if I am only leading myself.

However, I was again faced with dealing with how a project can evolve and move in directions which are interesting and rewarding but were completely unexpected, and go against the original path you thought you were taking.

My research is focused on mapping places mentioned in the inquisition records as a different way of presenting data. Rather than just vague mentions of this happening here, or this activity happening there – being able to see the data and activities being presented in a very visual way can help to develop alternative interpretations and ideas about what is going on and who is doing things. Last summer and the start of this summer, the data was being presented purely on maps. Last summer I was almost entirely focused on mapping people’s movements, which helped me see the way the deposed dissidents were working when fugitives, such as being heavily itinerant, staying at houses of people in both the Languedoc and Italy (Figure 1).

Figure 1: A map made through QGIS depicting the movements of Aldric and his father, described by Aldric.

However, there were also heavily local networks which worked to support, collect, and distribute support to fugitives (Figure 2). One way these worked was through familial links – through kinsmen, or marriage links allowed for easier distribution, which interested me, and I thought perhaps to focus on this more this summer.

Figure 2: A map created with QGIS depicting the places mentioned where acts deemed 'heretical' by inquisitors where mentioned in the deposition of Fabrissa and her family, all centred in the city of Toulouse. 

Nevertheless, when research started this year, despite creating family trees for those mentioned in the depositions and my best intentions, my research has once again taken another turn. I actually became much more interested in seeing what types of support actions were happening in these networks, what, if anything the dissidents denounced by the inquisition were doing in relation to this support, and the distribution of these activities across both male and female supporters and possibly heretics. This has added an extra dimension to my research this summer, forcing me to look at the contexts where these actions are happening.

One straightforward exchange was heretication for the ill or dying performed by the ‘heretic’ in return for money. This one came up often and appeared to be quite a clear exchange. However, there were often actions such as supporters providing food and wine, or clothes, and heretics performing actions of ‘blessed bread’, which are a bit less clear. This offered potential for analysis via mapping, but also through data analysis, creating charts that help compare different actions and ratio of genders (Figure 3). This was an expansion and new direction to what I had been doing previously that came up unexpectedly and was a departure from what I thought I was going to be looking at. But that didn’t make it a bad thing – it was still within the scope of my research, and actually provided more structure and more room for concrete ideas and results to jump out at me. I was able to engage with the material in a much more rooted and grounded way that enabled experimentation in my data presentation – trying out the ways of presenting this in the mapping form and in the chart form.

Figure 3: Pie Chart showing the amount of male vs female 'heretics'
dispensing blessed bread in the depositions. 

Overall, through false starts, dead ends and interesting pathways, my research has continued to unwind in new and interesting ways. Learning about research and how-to research has been invaluable and the opportunity to research an interest of mine that is beyond the scope of my degree has been amazing. Hopefully, during the last week of my research I will be able to continue analysing my data and experimenting with presentation!

I would like to thank Lord Laidlaw and the Laidlaw team for giving me the opportunity to do my research, and my Supervisor, Professor Frances Andrews for the wonderful guidance and supervision they have given me over both summers! This has been an amazing opportunity and I am immensely grateful to everyone for helping me throughout it.

[1] Peter Biller, Caterina Bruschi and Shelagh Sneddon (eds.), Inquisitors and Heretics in Thirteenth-Century Languedoc: Edition and Translation of Toulouse Inquisition Depostitions, 1273-1282, (Leidan, 2011).

All photos created by me.

Emma Porter

Student, University of St Andrews

I'm a fourth year Ancient History and Archaeology student at St Andrews University. Although archaeology is my main passion, my research was in Medieval Heresy and Inquisition, combining practical GIS and mapping skills commonly used in archaeology, textual analysis, and data analysis, to experiment with alternative ways of presenting historical research.