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The Hanged Man: A Story of Miracle, Memory, and Colonialism in the Middle Ages

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The Hanged Man: A Story of Miracle, Memory, and Colonialism in the Middle Ages

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    Available in PDF Format | The Hanged Man: A Story of Miracle, Memory, and Colonialism in the Middle Ages.pdf | English
    Robert Bartlett(Author)

Seven hundred years ago, executioners led a Welsh rebel named William Cragh to a wintry hill to be hanged. They placed a noose around his neck, dropped him from the gallows, and later pronounced him dead. But was he dead? While no less than nine eyewitnesses attested to his demise, Cragh later proved to be very much alive, his resurrection attributed to the saintly entreaties of the defunct Bishop Thomas de Cantilupe.



The Hanged Man tells the story of this putative miracle--why it happened, what it meant, and how we know about it. The nine eyewitness accounts live on in the transcripts of de Cantilupe's canonization hearings, and these previously unexamined documents contribute not only to an enthralling mystery, but to an unprecedented glimpse into the day-to-day workings of medieval society.


While unraveling the haunting tale of the hanged man, Robert Bartlett leads us deeply into the world of lords, rebels, churchmen, papal inquisitors, and other individuals living at the time of conflict and conquest in Wales. In the process, he reconstructs voices that others have failed to find. We hear from the lady of the castle where the hanged man was imprisoned, the laborer who watched the execution, the French bishop charged with investigating the case, and scores of other members of the medieval citizenry. Brimming with the intrigue of a detective novel, The Hanged Man will appeal to both scholars of medieval history and general readers alike.


"A gripping, educative and quite often disquieting excursion into [an] alien land. . . . Robert Bartlett examines with verve, scholarship, and gusto the extraordinary story."--Maurice Keen, London Review of Books"Rich in drama, mystery, curiosity and coincidence. . . . [Bartlett's]performance opens for us a panoramic window into the world of the Middle Ages and encapsulates an entire culture within the context of a botched execution and a theological inquiry. It is a virtuoso display of scholarship."--Jan Morris, The Times (London)"As well as revealing the mechanics of execution, the politics of a Marcher lordship and the dynamics of miracle, the testimony in the Cragh case enables us to explore issues as intimate and elusive as how medieval people remembered distant events and how they described units of space and time. Voices of the distant past can be heard again."--History Today"A delightful book. . . . Professor Bartlett's 168 pages are . . . more readable than most thrillers. . . . [I]n The Hanged Man men and women long dead (and, in one case, resurrected) walk and talk across 800 years."--Byron Rogers, The Spectator"An absorbing book that is elegantly, lucidly and entertainingly written."--Sean McGLynn, Medieval History Magazine"It is . . . a complex look at history from the point of view of a particular, diverse set of subjects . . . that has the power to generate considerable interest in the medieval period."--Patricia Clare Ingham, American Historical Review"The Hanged Man. . . . is a fascinating and well-told tale, well worth the reading."--James Given, Speculum"The author shows that memory is flawed--as modern witnesses all too often demonstrate--and is shaped by the fullness of experience. . . . [T]he genius of this work is that . . . it is a model for teasing every bit of evidence from a brief source to reveal the mental world of medieval people."--Joyce E. Salisbury, The Historian"The Hanged Man is an outstanding introduction to the politics and culture of late thirteenth-and early fourteenth-century Britain. I recommend it unequivocally."--Michael Cichon, Canadian Journal of History"The Hanged Man is a yarn in the best tradition, all the better for its historical provenance, a satisfying, engrossing, and remarkable read."--Michael G. Cornelius, Bloomsbury Review

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Book details

  • PDF | 192 pages
  • Robert Bartlett(Author)
  • Princeton University Press (22 Feb. 2004)
  • English
  • 5
  • History
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Review Text

  • By mgir on 22 June 2006

    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.

  • By DL on 14 June 2004

    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.

  • By Maria Beds. on 29 July 2011

    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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