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

By Webb, Diana | The Catholic Historical Review, October 2006 | Go to article overview

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


Webb, Diana, The Catholic Historical Review


The Hanged Man: A Story of Miracle, Memory, and Colonialism in the Middle Ages. By Robert Bartlett. (Princeton: Princeton University Press. 2004. Pp. xiv, 168. $14.95 paperback.)

Robert Bartlett has previously devoted scholarly attention to medieval legal procedure (trial by ordeal) and to English (and European) expansionism and attitudes to peoples regarded as subject or inferior. These interests meet in this compact study of one of the many stories included in the canonization dossier of Thomas Cantilupe, bishop of Hereford. In November 1290 William Cragh, a Welshman variously described as brigand and rebel, was sentenced to be hanged by William de Briouze, lord of Swansea Castle; for some reason he attracted the compassionate interest of the lord's wife, Mary, and, although to all appearances satisfactorily dead, was "measured" to St. Thomas and resuscitated.The story was first reported by the canons of Hereford Cathedral in their compilation of Cantilupe's miracles, and in 1307 it was painstakingly investigated by the papal commissioners appointed to conduct the official enquiry into his sanctity. Their inquisitorial procedure is in itself an important part of Bartlett's story. The testimonies they elicited from witnesses conflicted both with one another and with the story previously told by the Hereford canons, but Bartlett does not attempt to resolve all these contradictions in order to achieve an impossibly authoritative version of events. He is more interested in letting the dead speak. How did the witnesses (including the Hanged Man himself) remember and date past events, and what did they reveal under questioning about their own beliefs and behavior? A wealth of context (for example, about the late thirteenth-century Welsh background) and discussion (for example of concepts of time and space) is contained in the book's succinct chapters. We are told what can be known from other sources about William and Mary de Briouze and the other actors in the story; we learn about death by hanging and about current devotional practices. …

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