Reform and the Welsh Cistercian Houses: Colonialism and Postcolonialism–By Frank Lacopo

Historians have previously suggested that the cultures and institutions of continental Western Europe colonized the continent’s fringes during the High Middle Ages (c.950–c.1350). As a part of that phenomenon, Welsh Cistercian houses from the foundation of Whitland monastery in 1140 evince colonial characteristics that adhere to postcolonial models. The Cistercian monasteries of Whitland’s family economically exploited the Welsh land that they occupied, modified colonized peoples’ social hierarchies, and attempted to “improve” local Welsh people according to continental Latin Christian standards. The Cistercians benefitted from spiritually zealous and politically opportunistic lords – native and newly introduced – for funds and other support. In this way, the Cistercians positioned themselves as recipients of funding from powerful members of native and imported continental society and thus embedded themselves in Welsh political and monetary economies. The reformed monasteries also acted as fiscally productive satellite establishments of the continental church. The yields from Cistercian granges entered the church’s financial apparatus and funded other ecclesiastical expansionary campaigns such as the Near Eastern crusades. Moreover, the Welsh Cistercian houses became loci of cultural and spiritual syncretism, though their hegemony ultimately proved deleterious to Welsh culture as the Cistercians attempted to “improve” Welsh spirituality. This article also briefly considers contemporaneous Eastern European and Iberian comparative studies and finds that Eastern Europe – like Wales – experienced ecclesiastical colonization. The article concludes with a call for more research on postcolonial theory’s utility for understanding medieval ecclesiastical colonization.

Reform and the Welsh Cistercian Houses: Colonialism and Postcolonialism[1]

Gerald of Wales (c.1146 – c.1223) found the Welsh church of Llanbadarn Fawr “robbed of its head” in 1188. In the place of an abbot reigned a local layman who had “usurped all [the church’s] lands, leaving to the clergy only the altars.”[2]This layman, named Ethenoweyn, impoverished the church and rendered its predominantly Welsh congregation without access to salvation. While horrific, these circumstances were not irreversible. Gerald affirmed that, “in the time of King Henry I, English authority flourished throughout Wales…but after the death of that king, the English were expelled. The monks were likewise ejected.”[3]In the absence of reformed Christian administration, Wales descended into what Gerald perceived as spiritual and cultural wantonness. The solution, to Gerald, lay in the re-establishment of continental reformist Christianity’s dominion, endorsed and enforced by the Anglo-Norman kings. The Welsh, evidently incapable of conducting their own moral and institutional affairs, were better off dominated by outsiders who could. Their appropriate role was – from the Anglo-Norman and continental Latin Christian perspective – that of a colonized group.

John France shows how reformed monasticism on the Western European continent acted as a component of Western continental expansion into the “Catholic fringe” of Eastern Europe, Celtic Britain, and Scandinavia during the High Middle Ages (c.950–c.1350).[4]However, the extent to which expansionary Cistercian monasticism shaped and changed outlying regions remains to be fully explored. As a comprehensive analysis goes well beyond the limits of this article, I focus on the Cistercian order in Wales as the primary case study.[5] While other continental reformers engaged in colonial activities, the Cistercians illustrate medieval ecclesiastical colonial strategies best due to the existence of extensive and relevant documentary evidence and the order’s well-articulated expansionist ideology.

I define the Cistercians’ colonialism in the most fundamental of ways: as the movement of institutions and individuals from one region to another and the real and imagined domination of one group – the colonized – by another group – the colonizers. Postcolonial theory stemming from the work of Edward Said is central in this analysis. Said holds that a colonial context, as a fundamental feature, contains a stronger or more organized contingent dominating a weaker or less organized one. Under these circumstances, the colonial power is able not only to exploit the colonized politically and economically, but even to produce an identity for the colonized that becomes more meaningful than the colonized group’s self-ascribed identity in literature and history.[6] A dominant power, such as a continental clerical group, conceives of itself as part of a binary relationship in which it is culturally and morally superior to a colonized “other,” who, according to colonizers’ rhetoric, must be “improved” morally and institutionally through active policy.[7] This article finds that Cistercian discourse toward Welsh Christianity constitutes what Said defined as the colonial frameworks and that by recognizing those this framework, we can better understand the history of Cistercian expansion in Britain.

Colonizers view themselves as “correct” in their behavior, while the colonized are childlike, depraved, and in need of guidance and correction.[8] The differences between self-ascribed superiority and the imagined inferiority of “others” is often articulated in abstract, cosmological terms (i.e., the premise that reformed Latin Christianity was better than unreformed iterations of Christianity) as well as in more concrete “imaginative geographies,” in which the very space occupied by “others” is seen as inferior and thus subject to domination and colonization. Said calls this notion of a binary relationship in which the colonizer sees itself as fundamentally superior “positional superiority,” a term to which I will return frequently.[9]

From the outset, it is important to address potential historiographical problems with using postcolonial theory as an analytical tool outside the context for which Said originally intended it, namely, the nineteenth- and twentieth-century Near East. While it is impossible to argue for direct contextual equivalence between the modern Near East and medieval Europe, historical anthropologists including Peter Van Dommelen have demonstrated the productive potential for cross-cultural and comparative colonial study using Said’s work as a loose model.[10] As Van Dommelen suggests, colonialism is characterized by migratory groups who see themselves in binary and superior relationships to indigenous peoples with whom they make contact. Positional superiority, as a product of migration, constitutes “a broad phenomenon or dynamic set of relationships that recurs frequently in human history in one way or another; the wide range of contexts concerned means that specific instances may be different from each other.”[11] From this view, Said’s perspectives are among the most robust available to historians in that they describe common cross-contextual phenomena while remaining flexible enough to tolerate what Fernand Braudel called conjuncture – the subtlety of particular, local circumstances.[12]

The seemingly problematic conjuncture that postcolonial theory encounters in Welsh Cistercian contexts is the gradual integration of monastic houses into local hierarchies and traditions. Whereas the Cistercians – especially the earliest migrants from England and the continent – imagined themselves in the superior portion of a binary relationship with local Welsh traditions, their behavior exhibited, in practice, a degree of toleration and integration as continental and Welsh people influenced each other. The relationship between the Cistercians’ imagined superiority over the Welsh and their gradual integration into those cultures is an important dynamic with which this article repeatedly deals. A fuller picture is achieved by placing social and economic historical methodologies oriented toward the reality of integration alongside postcolonialism’s sensitivity to cultural idealism – in this case that of positional superiority.

Postcolonial theory acknowledges the centrality of economic and political exploitation of subordinated, colonized groups for the benefit of colonialist hegemons. Though this colonial phenomenon does not necessarily require the employment of military force on the part of the colonizer, military activity often coincides with colonial domination. The failure to uncouple violent militarism from colonialism may be why historians often relegate monasticism to the margins while conceptualizing medieval colonization.[13] The Cistercians sought to subjugate Welsh culture and spirituality to continental ecclesiastical centers of power (or “metropoles”) such as Rome and Cîteaux for economic benefit, political expediency, and – most importantly in Cistercian ideology – the aggrandizement of reformed continental spirituality.[14] In Said’s words, colonial powers adopt a “style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over” colonized people and institutions. This is what the continental Latin church did in Wales as it colonized Welsh ecclesiastical institutions.[15]

The reformed church’s colonial domination was not unique to Wales. The relatively widespread nature of the Cistercian Order’s – and the broader reformed Latin Church’s – expansionism and colonization is easily comprehensible using the framework of medieval borderlands. Medieval borderlands have enjoyed extensive historiographical attention since the 1989 publication of an essay collection entitled Medieval Frontier Societies, edited by Robert Bartlett and Angus MacKay.[16] Indeed, the study of borderlands is subject to postcolonial theory and offers a variety of case studies for testing the limits of postcolonialism’s applicability for the Middle Ages. Bartlett and MacKay’s keynote of medieval frontier scholarship isolates three distinct border zones: the Celtic Fringe, Eastern Europe, and Iberia. Palestine is conspicuously absent from Bartlett and MacKay’s volume. Similarly, in the effort to refrain from over-complication, the present discussion will not include a discussion of the crusades.

According to Bartlett and MacKay, “an…essential and distinctive feature of [medieval frontier] societies is that they were areas of cultural contact and cultural clash.”[17] Under this loose definition, virtually every region in which reformed Latin Christendom met unreformed Christians or non-Christians qualifies as a frontier society. David Abulafia has recognized and challenged Bartlett and MacKay’s liberality with the consummately simple observation that “no two cases [of medieval frontiers] are alike.”[18] Economic, political, and social dynamics indeed varied widely across frontier contexts. The presence of borderlands between reformed Latin Christians and other groups certainly existed, but ambiguity regarding those borderlands’ exact definition has remained problematic. This article shows that one way of describing some, if not all, medieval borderlands hinges on situations in which Latin Christians were challenged by and sought to dominate other groups to some extent, and with varying success.[19] While Abulafia has identified ambiguity in the search for a definition for “medieval frontier,” he cannot avoid the ubiquitous reformed Christian desire to impose itself on others, a central paradigm for and characteristic of colonialism in postcolonial theory.[20]

A few years before Abulafia’s essay, Daniel Power had already complicated the issue of medieval and other borderlands as a concept by identifying broad cultural differences regarding their interpretation. Whereas contemporary European historians, the medievalists Bartlett and MacKay among them, have tended to see borderlands as zones of militarized conflict, their American counterparts prefer the image of borderlands as areas for expansion and attendant opportunity.[21] Each of these models foregrounds different aspects of modern colonialism and the domination and exploitation that it entails. Medieval borderlands, including eleventh to thirteenth century Wales, possessed both characteristics to some degree, and constituted colonial or potentially colonial areas for continental Latin Christianity. In order to paint a concrete picture of medieval borderland colonialism, this article somewhat unconventionally begins with a comparative section that aims to clearly define colonialism within medieval ecclesiastical contexts and to distinguish its specific criteria from more general expansionary activity across medieval frontiers.

Two categories of colonial activity visible in the Welsh case – expansion into new territories and production of wealth for continental church institutions – are evident in Eastern Europe. Latin churchmen, including Cistercians, deemed aggressive reform rather than limited toleration the best method for bringing this predominantly Pagan region into its fold, since any syncretism with inferior and “incorrect” Pagan traditions was unacceptable.[22] While monastic colonialism did not take place in Iberia, a brief analysis of that region is crucial for understanding the Western Church’s expansionist mentality as a whole as well as the forces that could potentially hinder monastic colonization. The general framework of “positional superiority” as described by Edward Said and other postcolonial theorists is useful for describing the expansion of Cistercian monasticism during the High Middle Ages. In the process, Said’s model supports the broad applicability of postcolonial analysis across historical contexts and suggests the wider human phenomenon of dominance and exploitation that often – though not inevitably – occurs within circumstances of cultural and institutional migration and settlement.[23]

The Limits of Postcolonialism and Expansion as a Broader Phenomenon

The Latin Church of the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries underwent dramatic administrative and ideological transformations, largely characterized by a dynamic relationship between monasticism and an increasingly vigorous Roman See. As early as 1024, Pope John XIX (r.1024–1032) declared the papacy the exclusive authority over the abbey of Cluny, rather than the local bishop. Thus, the Roman See and reform-minded monastics began cultivating a special relationship with one another against what they perceived as the corruptions of the profane world.[24] Pope Gregory VII (r.1073–1085) later sought to secure authority over the appointment of bishops from lay lords and, in the process, strengthened the political relevance and spiritual eminence of the papacy.[25] In the generations that followed, monastic leaders undertook reforms within existing orders (Hugh of Cluny, 1024–1109 and Peter the Venerable, c.1092–1156, both abbots of Cluny, for example).[26] Some innovators founded entirely new orders aimed at revitalizing enthusiasm for faith and refocusing religious life on austerity and strict adherence to the Benedictine Rule. One of these individuals, Robert of Molesme, founded a new order at Cîteaux (Cistercium, from which derives the name Cistercian), Burgundy, in 1098. In order to fulfill their mission, the Cistercians both established authority in areas already firmly under the sway of reformed Latin Christianity and expanded into new areas.

While, as Constance Hoffman Berman shows, the order sometimes incorporated existing houses rather than establishing new ones in the process of expansion across Francia in the early and mid-twelfth century, Wales saw the construction of entirely new houses that bear the characteristics of colonial institutions.[27] The Cistercians received funds and support from politically opportunistic lords. In turn, these lords allowed the reformers first to impose themselves on Wales and then to gradually embed themselves in Welsh culture as important political and economic actors. This phenomenon both adheres to and goes beyond Said’s focus on discourses of dominance. The reformed monasteries demonstrated their value to the Roman See as fiscally productive allied establishments. They proved beneficial sources of funds for the papacy’s expansionary interests in the Holy Land and acted to some extent as satellites of the Roman metropole, though not always without resistance to Roman levies. The reformed monasteries in Wales adopted roles as loci of cultural and religious hybridization across the twelfth and thirteenth centuries as they replaced native Welsh centers of learning, often occupying the same geographical space and laying atop old Welsh sites in visible displays of dominance. Cistercian monasteries became ideal centers for the translation and storage of religious and historical Welsh texts and thus established credibility with local populations from which they drew monastic recruits.

The reformed church hierarchy that Anglo-Norman expansionists brought with them imposed harsh, but not absolute, domination on existing Welsh ecclesiastical systems. Much like the construction of new reformed churches and monasteries atop old Welsh structures, reformed Anglo-Norman churchmen placed themselves on top of existing, often intensely local, Welsh ecclesiastical and governmental hierarchies. This subtler form of domination facilitated a programmatic and official subordination of local Welsh saints including St. Llawddog and St. Tathan to saints whom the reformed church favored including St. Lawrence and St. Stephen.[28] Local saints, however, were not commonly outlawed as subjects of veneration, and the widely popular St. David (Dewi in Welsh) was elevated to high status among the reformed church’s great saints through papal canonization in 1191.[29] Such ameliorating concessions are understandable given the real and jarring changes that new, reformed, and foreign bishops brought to Wales.

The most significant of these changes was the re-organization of parishes and the impoverishment of local clergy. The long-standing and royally-sanctioned disparity between Anglo-Norman parish clergy in England and their ethnic Welsh counterparts is clear in the provisions of the 1222 Council of Oxford: secular clergy received an annual wage of five marks, while Welshmen were “vicars…content with less.”[30] Under the Anglo-Norman church’s outright displays of domination, the Cistercian houses’ attraction for Welsh ecclesiastical talent is understandable in that the White Monks offered an alternative to the Welsh secular clergy’s poverty. The Cistercians, even as agents of reformed Latin Christianity’s positional authority, also actively embedded themselves into Welsh culture and proved sympathetic to Welsh people by absorbing local Welshmen seeking religious lives.

As opposed to the largely nonviolent pattern of domination in Wales, Eastern Europe witnessed intense, though intermittent, violence stemming from religious strife. A mixture of nobles and church personnel from the Western continent came to occupy the land east of the River Elbe as a part of what medievalists call the Drang nach Osten, or Drive to the East.[31] As in Wales, church activities operated in concert with secular lordly expansion and in many cases led the way for settlement in Eastern Europe.[32] Lay and ecclesiastic Latin Christians encountered tribes such as the Prussians and Lithuanians who were, in Robert Bartlett’s evaluation, both “fiercely committed to their [Pagan] religion” and in control of “highly defensible terrain.”[33] Despite the associated danger, as early as 1120, Benedictine monks from the western German abbey of Corvey advanced deep into Slavic territory, setting the stage for colonial tensions.[34]

The Cistercians across the Elbe faced a more difficult task than did their counterparts in the British Isles, where, despite distinct differences from continental practices, Christianity had existed for centuries. The Irish, for instance, were what Bernard of Clairvaux described as “Christians in name, yet Pagans at heart.”[35] The Rani and other Slavic tribes, on the other hand, were militant, self-ascribed pagans who did not hesitate to defend their cultures and animistic spiritualties with force. Reformed writers, in turn, had no reservations about calling them barbarians.[36] Nevertheless, the Cistercians and other reformers on the Latin frontiers sought to bring their version of Christianity to the top of social hierarchies. This necessitated frontier monasteries’ nominal subordination to Rome and Cîteaux through displays of positional superiority.

Efforts to bring reformed monasticism to Eastern Europe yielded mixed results for reformers. The Cistercians were so successful in Prussia that their order gained control of the region’s bishopric by 1215.[37] The Lithuanians, on the other hand, opposed zealous Latin Christian crusaders long enough to deploy firearms against them.[38] The order of Knights Hospitaller made significant incursions into Transylvania in 1211 after securing the patronage of King Andrew of Hungary. In a dramatic turn of events, the warrior-monks attempted to break from their patron and establish a territorial ecclesiastical colony in 1225.[39] While the Hospitallers’ attempt at colonization failed, it brings militant monastic aspirations into sharp focus. Where nonbelievers resisted church reform and thereby challenged the reformed church’s self-ascribed positional superiority, they validated the use of force and even fully-fledged military campaigns. After their plantation and replacement of local spiritual centers, monastic orders’ colonial functions in Eastern Europe resembled their Welsh counterparts. Their similarities can be demonstrated through a Polish case study.

In the Kingdom of Poland, a count named Bronisz entrusted the management of his estate to two secular lords in turn. After both beneficiaries failed owing to their lack of manpower and inability to maintain adequate operating funds, Bronisz resorted to the Cistercians.[40] Here, a spiritually reformed marcher lord with an intent to develop Eastern European territory for agriculture on the three-field system could “improve” the land further through the introduction of a reformed Latin Christian spiritual center. The Cistercians offered both ends in one package. The reformers’ grange-based agricultural techniques, efficient labor organization, and connection to networks of church finance provided insurance that secular lords on the borderland – usually younger sons with no inheritance and little start-up capital – could not. The Cistercians shared with secular lords the intent to develop land for lucrative agricultural production. In 1219, bishop Brunward of Schwerin sent a contingent of Cistercians to “the land of the Sun”, modern-day Neukloster, Germany, where they established Sonnenkamp and its associated granges.[41] There all things with “yield and utility” for agricultural production were found.[42] The non-Christian land – and its inhabitants – could now be “improved.”

As Said has shown, one of the principal ways in which positional superiority is articulated is through colonizing hegemons’ “imaginative geographical and [culturally specific] historical knowledge.”[43] In a broad review of Orientalist literature and scholarship from across the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Said found the common perception that objects of colonization are in a fundamental way disorganized, incorrect, or even “imposters” in relation to the colonizing culture. One example of this is the ubiquitous trope of Muhammad as an “imposter” of Christ in medieval and modern literature. “Imagined geographies” also informed geographical expansion on the Eastern European and Welsh frontiers.[44] Expansion and domination were deemed appropriate since, as Gerald of Wales insisted in the case of Llanbadarn Fawr, unreformed Christian practices were incorrect, scandalous, and against the proper cosmological order. The dichotomy between reformed Latin Christian areas – Rome, England, and the Île-de-France – and other regions provided a comprehensible venue for colonization in the reformed Latin Christian imagination.

While a brief examination of monastic expansion in Eastern Europe reveals a model of settlement involving the (often unsuccessful) subjugation of native spiritualties and subsequent economic domination oriented around grange agriculture, Iberia provides an example of Latin Christian expansionism within which monastic interests were themselves subjugated. Joseph F. O’Callaghan argues that “[t]he ideas of [secular] territorial aggrandizement and religious expansion were coupled in the late eleventh century [Iberian Peninsula], just before the first crusade.”[45] The Reconquista was, in its ideals and practice, principally a secular military and settlement event, even though papal documents show efforts at indirect influence from the Roman See. Pope Gregory VII, reflecting his reform ideology, endorsed Count Evulus of Roucy’s reconquest campaigns so long as the Count recognized the ultimate sovereignty of the Roman Church over the peninsula: “[H]e [Count Evulus] should hold in the name of St. Peter those lands from which he could drive the pagans [Muslims] by his own exertions and with the help of others, under the conditions of an agreement made between us.”[46]

Secular Iberian nobles acted in the place of monastic houses as the forward vanguards of Christendom. They generally recognized no tribute-taking or administrative authority above their immediate lords. Since the conquistadores were not intimately connected to long-range organizational structures, their settlement practices and patterns of domination do not constitute examples of ecclesiastical colonization, even though the conquistadores’ rhetoric was intensely religious. Although the term “feudal” has been contested as an appropriate term in recent scholarship, its connotation of disorganization beyond the immediate bonds of lordship and vassalage is useful for describing the Christian forces of the Reconquista. While most Iberian expansionists recognized a king, they had nothing comparable to the Cistercian general chapter or strong, long-range institutional ties to Rome.

When international orders such as the Cistercians and the warrior-monks like the Hospitallers did not satisfy the needs of the Reconquista’s leadership, members of that aristocracy evinced little hesitation in creating and promoting their own militant orders.[47] Homegrown orders such as those of Évora and Santiago rose up under the support of Iberian patrons and eventually expanded into the rest of Europe.[48] The Reconquista was a military and social movement of expansionism that pitted powerful secular polities against one another. The aristocratic and royal arms of power in Reconquest Iberia proved their economic independence from Rome by channeling funds from their own militant monastic orders through their coffers before sending those funds to overseas ecclesiastical endeavors such as the crusades in Palestine. Only in 1215, by a canon of the Fourth Lateran Council, did the Roman Church begin demanding tribute from all ecclesiastical institutions in Iberia. However, tribute payments only came through sporadically since lords and locally-oriented churchmen commonly rerouted funds for Iberian purposes.[49] Iberian church institutions were generally more beholden to secular kingdoms than to the Roman Church or any general chapter that played the role of an administrative and economic metropole. The Cistercian Order in Wales reveals a much more organized system of ties to central, continental centers of power as well as close relations to the exceptionally centralized Anglo-Norman monarchy.

The Cistercian Colonization of Wales

The Cistercians’ expansion into Wales marked a broadly consequential change for the region’s politics and society, which can only be appreciated with an understanding of monastic culture and the broader context that surrounded it. High medieval monastics understood the expansion of their orders as a process of filial proliferation. When an established, wealthy mother abbey became too large or sought opportunities for growth, she sent forth a contingent of monks to found a daughter house. This daughter might eventually become large and powerful enough to beget her own daughters.[50] Cistercian administrators at the continental houses of Clairvaux and Cîteaux approached Wales as a colonial project distinct from Cistercian expansion into England. Despite the institutional distinction between Welsh and English Cistercian houses, Anglo-Norman authorities benefitted from the Cistercians’ presence in Wales. Continental monastic institutions were easier to oversee than, and served as vectors for oversight of, diffuse Welsh and Norman political actors. All major Welsh Cistercian monasteries, save Tintern and Neath, descended from Whitland (founded 1140), which was itself a direct establishment of Clairvaux, rather than, as one might expect, of an English house.[51]

Whitland’s growth benefitted from the placement of wealthy Anglo-Norman lords on the borderlands, the presence of Welsh aristocrats seeking to capitalize on changing power structures in their homeland, and a degree of local acceptance of reformed monasticism, allowing them to found eight thriving Welsh houses between 1140 and 1201 (see Figure 1). Acceptance on the part of subject peoples – especially in the interest of gaining education and emulating hegemonic manners and hierarchies – is indeed common within colonial contexts. Like Oxford-trained Indian and South African professionals in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, elite Welsh men “belong[ed] to a stratum of people who…try to find a place for themselves within the cultural framework they share[ed] with the [colonizers].”[52] The Cistercian custom of admitting lay brothers, men of smaller means who took the habit as laborers in a monastic plantation’s fields, brought opportunity across class lines and thereby made Cistercian domination even more palatable.[53] Whitland housed more than one hundred monks of both elite and poor backgrounds by the late twelfth century.[54]

Along with local monastic recruits’ support, the Cistercians’ success in embedding themselves within Welsh society was linked to Anglo-Norman elites’ endorsement and general desire to express their continental culture and religion’s positional superiority within Welsh contexts. A royal charter of the period 1128–1133 attests that King Henry I of England (r.1100–1135) invited the Cistercians to occupy all the lands he claimed, which included a majority of Wales.[55] While this charter’s recognition of the Cistercians as a cohesive entity is early and probably should be dated to the reign of King Henry II (r.1154–1189), the document nevertheless demonstrates Anglo-Norman elites’ preference for the Cistercians by the mid-twelfth century.[56] Both the Welsh lord Rhys ap Gruffydd and Anglo-Norman Robert FitzStephen contributed to the protracted foundation of Strata Florida Abbey (1165–1182) and fought to be its patron.[57] As Jemma Bezant argues, “Rhys was influenced by modern political development but his political agenda purposely sought associations with a Welsh antecedence,” namely the placement of a new monastery within existing Welsh power structures and territorial units.[58]

Rhys’ simultaneous endorsement of a Cistercian house – a symbol of continental positional superiority – and the continental system’s acceptance of his participation provides an excellent example of the Welsh colonial context’s complexity. Making a Cistercian foundation an affair for both Welsh and Anglo-Norman contingents fits into a pattern as old as Whitland’s foundation. Bishop Bernard of St. David’s, an Anglo-Norman appointed to the Welsh diocese under Henry II, is credited as Whitland’s principal founder since he ceded his lands to monks from Clairvaux.[59] However, William fitz Hay, whose father was Norman and whose mother was the Welsh princess Nest ferch Rhys, is often cited as a co-founder, and by the 1160s principal patronage of the house fell to Strata Florida’s Rhys ap Gruffydd.[60]

 While Welsh lords sought expedient relationships within Angevin power networks, the Anglo-Normans perceived tools for territorial control in the patronage of monasteries near to and across the Welsh border.[61] An unpublished 1199 grant of lands and liberties housed at Harvard University’s Houghton Library reveals the common royal practice of employing reformed monasteries as agents of territorial occupation. John of England granted the Gilbertines – an order or canons regular with close associations with and similar goals as insular Cistercian houses – various forests, mill-houses, and productive bodies of water across his domains while dictating that “[The monks’] forests should in no way be seized for the…works of any others.”[62] This rather mundane and standard legal terminology should not detract from this and similar monastic charters’ social and political functions. The monastic beneficiaries of this grant resided near the border with Wales. From the Anglo-Norman kings’ perspective, monasteries’ occupation of the borderlands between England and Wales was a method for expressing continental culture’s power and presence. As a reformed order very similar to the Cistercians established in England, the Gilbertines demonstrate the institutional advance of reformed religion from its continental heartland. Non-continental people both benefitted from and became objects of domination as the relationship between continental monasticism and colonial populations developed.

The issue of Welsh abbots’ place in the Cistercian hierarchy brings the order’s simultaneous discrimination and toleration of colonized people into sharp relief. Ethnic Welshmen came to dominate the Cistercian ranks in their home territories up to the level of abbot in all but the oldest Welsh monasteries (see Table 1).[63] While Welshmen could achieve high-ranking positions in their own houses, the Cistercian hierarchy, centered at Cîteaux, relegated Welsh abbots to expressly subordinate positions. All Cistercian abbots in Wales – whether Anglo-Norman, Welsh, or otherwise – were expected to attend the annual Cistercian general chapter at Cîteaux, and with some exceptions, they fulfilled that obligation and thus tied themselves to continental hierarchies and information exchanges.[64]

One notable instance in which the Welsh abbots broke their good behavior resulted in permanent and degrading subordination for the family of Whitland. The abbots of several Welsh houses, including Whitland, missed the 1194 general chapter without excuse, an offense that elicited severe penance.[65] While the Welsh houses in the family of Whitland were founded directly by Cîteaux, a statute of the 1194 general chapter made all Welsh abbots accountable to the abbot of Savigny in matters related to attendance at the general chapters.[66] This was an unorthodox development, as Cistercian hierarchical structures were closely correlated to the system of descent from mother houses to daughter houses.[67] Under normal circumstances, daughter houses could expect visitations from their mother house, meaning that Whitland was originally entitled to visitations directly from the eminent house of Cîteaux. In addition, high-ranking members of daughter houses could position themselves to take over prestigious offices at their original house’s mother house, meaning that Welsh monks at Whitland could conceivably advance to auspicious offices at Cîteaux before the edition of Savigny into the hierarchical line.[68] Evidence on the general chapter’s subordination of Whitland is sparse, but the statute by which it was carried out strongly suggests the abbot of Savigny’s enthusiasm for taking part in placing an additional bureaucratic level between the Welsh abbots and the center of Cistercian power.[69] The 1194 statute also provides Savigny with the power to enforce a “black fast,” or moratorium on masses, at Whitland and its daughters. This provision shows a clear desire on the part of Savigny and the general chapter more broadly to demonstrate institutional and spiritual positional superiority in Wales.[70] Thus, the Welsh abbots’ relative hierarchical position fell at the general chapter – perhaps the most important Cistercian venue for the display of rank and status.

While the expression of institutional hierarchy was important for continental Cistercians and their Welsh beneficiaries, it receives less attention than the articulation of religious positional superiority in available source materials.[71]  For the reformers, the pressing task at hand was the creation of outposts of spiritual virtue among the sinful and unreformed, who were allegedly in a state of spiritual and social wantonness. Bernard of Clairvaux described adherents to native Welsh forms of Christianity as

So wanton in their way of life, so cruel in superstition, so heedless of faith, lawless, dead-set against discipline, so foul in their lifestyle; Christians in name, yet pagans at heart…they did not contract legitimate marriage nor make confession…In [their] churches there was heard neither the preacher’s voice nor the singer’s chant.[72]

By the end of the thirteenth century, Archbishop John Peckham of Canterbury deemed the Welsh church “that part of the church in [Britain] that thus far remains…against the liberties [of the church as imagined in Rome, Cîteaux, and other centers of reform]…untaught to be trampled down.”[73] The Cistercians particularly despised what they saw as corruptions of the Benedictine Rule brought on by Latin monasticism’s prolonged exposure to the “barbarian” cultures of medieval Europe. As recently as 1977, Jeremiah O’Sullivan claimed that “[the Cistercians] peeled off the layers of liturgical accretions which were the legacies bequeathed to monasticism by centuries-long development and the influence of…Teutons and Celts” – itself quite a colonial attitude within the late twentieth-century historiography.[74] Intervening in outlying territories and mending the injuries dealt to a supposedly purer ancient Christianity proved so enduringly important to reformers that Pope Innocent III (r.1198–1216) gave Bernard of Saint David’s a posthumous commendation for supporting the first Welsh Cistercian houses.[75] To discriminating continental churchmen, only those Welsh who participated in and thereby submitted to reformed religiosity were considered acceptable. The others exhibited fundamentally corrupt and incorrect behavior.

Gerald of Wales perhaps best articulates the continental reformers’ binary mentality that juxtaposed reformed Welsh religiosity and those who had not yet been touched by reform. In 1188 Gerald joined Archbishop Baldwin of Canterbury on a recruitment campaign for the Third Crusade in Wales, during which time he encountered the “headless” church of Llanbardarn Fawr.[76] He later recounted the entire trip in his Itinerarium Cambriae, written in 1191. Book II, chapter IV provides an account of his journey through the region of Lampeter where he relates, among other events, an overnight stay at the great Cistercian abbey of Strata Florida and a night at Llanbadarn Fawr. Gerald’s narrative of the whole event is structured around successive comparisons between Welsh and continental people and places. For example, Gerald describes a Welsh lord named Cynwrig as barefooted and unbothered by the thickets and thorns on the forest floor, while the Archbishop’s retinue wears the shoes and long robes of elite continental clergymen. Gerald implies the childlike ignorance of the Welsh, who would not have known of the momentous Third Crusade had not the archbishop’s retinue told them.

Gerald deploys a cursory mention of his visit to Strata Florida during his Welsh journey to indicate his satisfaction with this religious house’s disciplined spirituality and hospitality for official church travelers such as himself. This sets up a strong contrasting juxtaposition between a Cistercian house and an indigenous Welsh institution. For churchmen working under the auspices of Rome and its crusades in the Holy Land, a stay at a monastery such as Strata Florida would have been business as usual. As such, Gerald casually recounts an ordinary (and therefore orthodox along reformed continental lines) sermon that two Cistercians – presumably of Strata Florida – delivered near the Cistercian abbey on the morning before his journey from the monastery. By contrast, Gerald expresses at length his displeasure with the profanation of religious objects, the desecration of sacred space, and the necessity for continental intervention at Llanbadarn Fawr.[77] Gerald suggests, in harsh condemnatory language, that reform constituted benevolence for the colonized. Gerald’s sense of benevolent positional superiority is strikingly similar to Arthur James Balfour’s paternalistic speech on “the problems with which we have to deal in Egypt,” the first of Said’s many case studies in Orientalism.[78] In both Gerald and Balfour’s cases, the colonized and inferior “other” is framed as an appropriate target for domination in the name of reform. The moral implication of positional superiority is central in cross-contextual colonial study.

Gerald’s moral model acts as a backdrop for a colonial “imagined geography” that justified the Cistercian occupation and exploitation of Welsh land by means of the Cistercians’ agricultural granges. Gerald wrote of the Cistercian “improvement” of Wales:

Assign to these [monks] an arid desert and a thorny forest, and within a few years you will discover not only remarkable churches and [other] buildings, but truly also a surplus of holdings and many of the same opulent possessions…Thus Sallust said, “by concord small things increase [in value].[79]

The Cistercians subsisted on their own manual labor, for each house as standard practice planted extensive granges for the production of agricultural goods – ideally for the monastery’s benefit and little else.[80] The granges and lay brothers who ran them, however, often rendered the ideally austere Cistercian order extremely wealthy. The Cistercian monasteries of Margam and Neath each possessed around 5000 head of livestock, while Tintern owned more than 3000.[81] For this reason, lay benefactors of monasteries, the majority of whom were Anglo-Norman, Cambro-Norman, or Welsh nobles acculturated to continental life, saw the Cistercians as the best financial option among their monastic peers. They required little ongoing funding and often produced agricultural surpluses that brought wealth to local economies. These granges were also advantageously placed as resources for colonizing authorities at the Cistercian and Roman metropoles.

The 1201 entry within Annales Cambriae contains one of the more striking examples of this metropolitan phenomenon: “Pope Innocent [III] vehemently exacted funds from the order of the Cistercians to the relief of the Holy Land.”[82] It is implied here that Innocent III sought to extract resources forcibly from the Welsh economy. While full-account books of the Welsh Cistercian monasteries would be ideal in showing the extent of papal exactions, no such complete records survive, a situation that leaves investigators with only indirect evidence.[83] Along with the evidence from the Annales Cambriae, statutes of the Cistercian general chapters of 1200 and 1201 indicate that the order was reeling from the pope’s demands across Europe. Statute 65 of the 1200 chapter indicates that, while the order was pitifully unequipped as an institution to collect levies from its continental houses, let alone its far-flung establishments in Wales, the papacy and its allies in the Cistercian administration envisioned monasteries as obedient outposts. The same statute argued that the Roman See should refrain from sending emissaries to Cistercian houses with unrealistic expectations for those levies’ success.[84] The general chapter of the next year, contemporaneous with the record of papal levy in the Annales Cambriae, repeats the plea to the papacy to cease clamoring for finances.[85] Clearly, tensions between metropole and outpost existed in a colonial ecclesiastical system that called for absolute obedience. In these ways, the ideal of metropolitan domination from the continent is complicated by Welsh interests. Positional superiority could exist in theory but not in practice.

Native Welsh culture experienced the exploitation of the reformed church’s colonialism in other ways. As Said shows, positional superiority implies justification for economic and territorial exploitation since it is predicated on legitimate domination.[86] Exploitation thus becomes a common aspect of the colonial act. In his Speculum Ecclesiae (1216), Gerald of Wales mentions that the Cistercians “were wont to occupy the wombs and baptisteries of the [native Welsh] churches.”[87] Walter Map echoes Bernard’s assessment of the acquisitive Cistercians: “the land was filled with their possessions,” which they used for their enrichment and preferred to the gospel.[88] These reports of the Cistercians’ and other reformed orders’ physical uprooting and replacement of native churches are supported and complicated by archaeological evidence across the Celtic areas of the British Isles.[89]

The extensive archaeological findings by Geraldine Carville suggest that the Cistercians and other reformed orders such as the Augustinian canons acquiesced and occupied spiritually significant Irish sites, both abandoned and active, as common practice.[90] In Wales, the occupation of native religious sites could result in cultural productivity as well as suppression.[91] Archaeologist David Austin affirms that Strata Florida’s location “clearly had some significance before the Cistercians arrived.”[92] These findings suggest an explanation for the monastery’s deep-seated importance in Welsh culture, which it holds to this day, as well as the fact that it hosted hybridized literary and legal genres that blended Welsh and Latinate characteristics.[93] The Brut y Tywysogion (The Chronicle of the Princes), generally considered to be the quintessential medieval Welsh historical source, was housed at Strata Florida during the later Middle Ages.[94] The surviving Welsh edition of the Brut is a translation from a lost Latin manuscript that probably originated at Strata Florida.[95]

The continental curation of texts and their contents is extremely important to consider when assessing traditional sources for pre-Cistercian activity at Strata Florida and other monastic sites. While Austin’s archaeological research clearly shows ritual activity in strata under – and therefore earlier than – Strata Florida’s traditional foundation date of 1164, the Brut itself somewhat inauspiciously records that “in that year, by the inspiration of God and the Holy Spirit, came a convent of monks first to Strata Florida.”[96] The versions of the Brut that come down to twenty-first century historians underwent transcriptions and translations within Strata Florida’s scriptorium and thus are suspect as partisan documents on the side of continental reform. Unsurprisingly, then, the Brut forms a part of what recent historians sensitive to colonial discourses have called the Cistercian “myth of pioneers.”[97] Commonly, Cistercian accounts of their houses’ foundations, especially in peripheral areas, claim that the houses were founded in unsettled, forested territories as new institutions. As Emelia Jamroziak shows, this practice created a colonialist illusion of bringing “‘civilisation’ to ‘undeveloped’ parts of Europe.”[98] Archaeological research has only recently exposed the colonial narrative of new settlement as a mask for the more abusive practice of replacing native Welsh versions of Christianity and the limited cultural compromises that often ensued.

Reformed monastic orders’ building activities in the British Isles demonstrate Cistercian participation in a more widespread phenomenon of cultural mixing. Recent archaeological research reported by Karen Stöber and David Austin suggests that the transition from Welsh ascetic traditions to the continental Augustinian rule in the early twelfth century entailed cultural syntheses. Early Augustinian architecture in Wales departs dramatically from conventional orientation around an open cloister, a continental hallmark dating at least to the early 800s, for characteristically Welsh clusters of individual cell enclosures.[99] Like the Cistercians, the Augustinian canons purposefully built their houses atop native Welsh monastic sites, which both implied recognition of Welsh traditions and simultaneously expressed reform’s domination of those older practices.[100]

Exploitative behavior occurred in the geographical spaces as well as within the new hierarchies that monastic colonialism produced. Similar to modern colonialist thinkers, the Cistercians in Wales expressed the will to “control, manipulate, even to incorporate” Welsh subordinates, in Said’s terminology.[101] The Cistercians successfully transformed the Welsh landscape with their grange plantations thanks to lower-class lay brothers drawn from the Welsh population. These brothers exchanged their labor for no remuneration except lodging and food, and while the Institute of the Cistercian General Chapter declared lay brothers and full monks equal, the former’s labor and initial social standing rendered egalitarianism an empty ideal.[102] The dictates of the general chapter were indeed often ignored in favor of local socioeconomic and status precedents.[103] Due to the increasing exploitation of their labor, locally-recruited lay brothers grew unhappy with their lot toward the end of the twelfth century across the “Catholic fringe,” and the order saw one revolt about every two years from 1190 to the late 1200s.[104]

The family of Whitland did not escape the wave of lay brother revolts. In 1190 Margam experienced disobedience in the lay brotherhood after the Cistercian general chapter’s ban on giving lay brothers beer while working in the granges.[105] Several members of the house, including the abbot, were reprimanded and two lay brothers were ordered to Clairvaux to be severely disciplined for the enormity of their transgressions against central Cistercian authority.[106] The 1190 events were followed by a more dramatic episode at Margam in 1206, when the lay brothers appropriated the monastery’s foodstuffs and denied provisions to the higher–ranking monks.[107] Cwmhir and Strata Florida hosted additional revolts in 1195 and 1196 respectively.[108] After a period of similar uprisings in Wales and other areas of the “Catholic fringe,” the Cistercians began to phase out lay brotherhood entirely.[109] In the Cistercian conception of positional superiority, the lowly lay brothers in outlying colonial territory turned the world upside-down and thus deserved expurgation from the order.

The fundamental intellectual, social, and economic frameworks surrounding reformed monasticism in Wales were in several respects colonial. While the Roman Church was not involved in mercantilist competition with contemporary polities – a later hallmark of colonialism – social pressure existed for secular leaders to channel wealth into monasteries that then provided pecuniary resources for other expensive Church affairs such as waging war in Palestine.[110] While Rome did not garrison its newfound territories with armed soldiers, the Cistercians on the Welsh frontier spiritually and physically occupied Wales as metaphorical milites Christi, or soldiers of Christ.[111] The reformed medieval Church’s hybridization mostly combined sacred spaces and non-religious literary traditions, though some spiritual accommodation was tolerated. In 1191, the papacy recognized David, the most important saint in Welsh tradition, thanks to the hagiographical efforts of Bernard, the Anglo-Norman bishop of St. David’s and founder of Whitland.[112] Bernard placed the center of his new metropolitan see atop an important native church site, a common practice for Cistercians both within and outside of Wales.[113] Like other examples of monastic occupation of older Welsh religious sites, this can be seen as both a concession to native Welsh saints and traditions and as a display of domination over those older traditions. Tension between domination and accommodation was indeed ever-present in the Welsh Cistercian project. Positional superiority articulated the inferiority of Welsh people but also implied the moral imperative for their reform. In the process, the Cistercian order could not avoid substantial integration into Welsh society.


Though ecclesiastical colonialism occurred in Wales and elsewhere seven centuries before the Near Eastern events that Said uses as his principal case studies, the medieval cases that I have examined satisfy foundational postcolonial criteria. Cistercian houses in Wales (and in other contexts including Eastern Europe) engaged in acts of domination over colonized social hierarchies and exploited colonial people and spaces, but also over time integrated native people into reformed ecclesiastical hierarchies, even if that integration involved discrimination at venues like the general chapter. Postcolonialism’s principles – originally intended for modern contexts – can be used fruitfully for medieval history even though they are informed in some ways by poststructuralism, an epistemology that tends to support historical relativism. While I have briefly addressed non-Welsh instances of medieval colonialism, this research calls for more detailed cross-contextual study. Comparing the situation of other European borderlands suggests postcolonialism’s wide medieval applicability, but that impression requires further testing and qualification. Further afield, the question of how far modern colonialist mentalities might stem from an unbroken medieval tradition may be possible.

Spanish New World colonialism undoubtedly grew directly from the expansionism of the medieval Reconquista.[114] The Reconquista’s hidalgo lords merely continued their decentralized feudal expansionary activities and, after the consolidation of considerable power by the Spanish monarchy that allowed the development of a metropole, adopted decidedly colonial roles. By contrast, British New World settlers came as planters, not conquerors, and were thus similar to colonial monks in their own medieval past.[115] Nevertheless, both of these approaches to the New World were not neutral as they engaged in resource appropriation – whether that meant mining Potosí for silver or exploiting the banks of the Chesapeake for tobacco; this was indeed economically expedient for the respective metropoles. The New World conquistadores engaged in efforts to replace local spiritualties with Latin Christianity even in the first stages of Hernán Cortés’ campaigns by planting crosses within Nahua holy places along the march to Tenochtitlán.[116] Later, Spanish Dominicans, Franciscans, and Jesuits established missions that often subjugated native peoples from Paraguay to Alta California by drawing on the well-established rhetoric of moral and religious “development.” English “praying towns” played similar roles for Puritan colonization to the north and east.

The similarities between these episodes of colonialism and medieval Cistercian practices do not necessarily imply causality but do show common patterns that accompany expansion and settlement across spatial and temporal dimensions. If anything, they demonstrate the wide applicability of postcolonial principles that Van Dommelen endorses. While both the modern and medieval historiographies have acknowledged postcolonialism’s contributions to scholarship, appreciation for diachronic cross-contextual similarities is less articulated, and thus research on possible cultural continuity has not occurred as yet on a large scale. Such research would shed new light on enduring Western notions of Eurocentrism and European positional superiority. Whether or not intellectual continuity exists between the medieval Cistercians and modern colonialism remains to be seen. It is certain, however, that there are further avenues to investigate postcolonial theory’s utility.

Frank Lacopo, Penn State, State College 

Frank Lacopo is a Ph.D. student in early modern global history at Penn State University. His primary research covers the social and religious history of the early modern Mediterranean and Atlantic Worlds, though he possesses a deep interest in how the Middle Ages can shed light on the later periods that inherited their legacy. The themes he investigates include xenophobia, toleration, and the construction and permeability of boundaries between religious and ethnic groups.



Table 1: The Monastic Family of Whitland and Margam
Name of Abbey Ethnicity of Founder/

principal benefactor(s)

Welsh abbots to 1300 AngloNorman abbots to 1300 Other abbots to 1300
Aberconwy Welsh 2 0 1
Cwmhir ? 6 1 1
Cymer Welsh 2 0 1
Llantarnam Welsh 1 1 1
Margam Anglo-Norman 1 9 0
Strata Florida Welsh and Anglo-Norman 5 2 2
Strata Marcella Welsh 5 3 2
Valle Crucis Welsh 7 2 0
Whitland Anglo-Norman 5 4 0

Figure 1: The Family of Margam and Whitland

Screen Shot 2018-10-29 at 1.51.55 PM.png

[1] Audiences at the 2017 Midwest Medieval History Conference and the Ball State Early Modern History Group leant their ears to and offered feedback on this project, while James Murray and Jennifer Mara DeSilva devoted their time and energy to organizing the respective panels. Abel Alves, Jennifer Mara DeSilva, Frederick Suppe, and Nicole Etcheson of Ball State University have at various points read and commented on this research, while Felipe Fernández-Armesto of the University of Notre Dame and two anonymous reviewers at Hortulus offered valuable input. To all, my deepest gratitude.

[2]Giraldus Cambrensis, “Itinerarium Cambriae,” in Giraldi Cambrensis Opera, ed. J. S. Brewer, vol. 6 (Lessing–Druckerei Wiesbaden, Germany: Kraus, 1964), 120–121.

[3] Ibid., 121. “Tempore tamen regis Henrici primi, Anglorum potestate per Kambriam vigente…Sed post obitum regis ejusdem, Anglis expulsis [sic], monachi quoque sunt ejecti.”

[4] Robert Bartlett, The Making of Europe: Conquest, Colonization, and Cultural Change, 9501350 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993); R. R. Davies, Conquest, Coexistence, and Change: Wales 10631415 (Oxford: Clarendon Press and University of Wales Press, 1987). John France. The Crusades and the Expansion of Catholic Christendom (London: Routledge, 2005), 33-35.

[5] R. R. Davies, Conquest, Coexistence, and Change, 181.

[6] Essential to the ongoing discussion of postcolonial theory is Edward Said’s Orientalism (New York, NY: Vintage, 1979), 5–6.

[7] Ibid., 1–3.

[8] Said, Orientalism, 40.

[9] Ibid., 7.

[10] Peter Van Dommelen, “Colonialism and Migration in the Ancient Mediterranean,” Annual Review of Anthropology 41 (2012): 402-403.

[11] Ibid., 397-398.

[12] Fernand Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, trans. Siân Reynolds (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1995), 353.

[13] John France, The Crusades and the Expansion of Catholic Christendom (London: Routledge, 2005), 14 criticizes Bartlett and others’ preoccupation with continental western Europeans’ “castles, cavalry and crossbows” as the decisive factors in continental supremacy on the Catholic fringe. Indeed, Frederick Suppe, Military Institutions on the Welsh Marches: Shropshire, 10661300 (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 1994) has already provided a counterargument to the military superiority theory by pointing to superior Welsh archery and fast adoption of Anglo-Norman tactics; R. R. Davies, The Age of Conquest: Wales 10631415 (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1987), 196, describes continental abbeys and priories as “ecclesiastical accessories of foreign [secular] conquest and colonization.”

[14] The first years of the twenty-first century featured active debate over how far postcolonial theory applies to the Middle Ages, which culminated in a review article: Simon Gaunt, “Can the Middle Ages be Postcolonial?,” Comparative Literature 61 (2009): 160-176. Detractors of postcolonial analyses of the Middle Ages forward the argument that Said never intended his theory for premodern contexts. Following Van Dommelen, I do not intend to draw upon every facet of Said’s frameworks, but rather acknowledge postcolonialism’s provision of productive starting points in answering the more important question of whether the Middle Ages can be described as colonial at all. Generally, metropoles are conceived as having economic and institutional dimensions in many theories of colonialism, postcolonialism. They are the terminus for monetary and resource flows – and therefore the principle beneficiaries of colonial systems – as well as the centers for the colonial system’s planning and administration. Fundamentally, the metropole dominates the rest of the colonial system politically and economically. For a classic set of arguments in favor of and against the metropolitan framework, see John Gallagher and Ronald Robinson, “The Imperialism of Free Trade,” Economic History Review 6 (1533): 1–15 and a rebuttal, D. C. M. Platt, “The Imperialism of Free Trade: Some Reservations,” Economic History Review 21 (1968): 296–306. While neither of these articles emphasize the term “metropole,” they bring the important issues to the fore most effectively.

[15] Said, Orientalism, 3.

[16] Robert Bartlett and Angus MacKay, eds. Medieval Frontier Societies (Oxford: Clarendon, 1989). 

[17] Ibid., vi.

[18] David Abulafia, “Introduction: Seven Types of Ambiguity, c. 1100–c. 1500,” in Medieval Frontiers: Concepts and Practices, ed. David Abulafia and Nora Berend (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2002), 10.

[19] Perhaps only implicitly, Abulafia supports this position. See Abulafia, “Introduction: Seven Types of Ambiguity,” 34.

[20] Throughout his important historiographical essay “Introduction: Seven Types of Ambiguity,”, Abulafia is more concerned with military matters and the ways in which secular individuals demarcated territory than broader cultural and religious forces within Latin Christendom. This may explain his failure to recognize the broader efforts at domination among Latin Christians on the Iberian, British, Scandinavian, Eastern European, and Near Eastern frontiers. See Ibid., passim.

[21] Daniel Power, “Introduction: A. Frontiers: Terms, Concepts, and the Historians of Medieval and Early Modern Europe, in Frontiers in Question: Eurasian Borderlands, 7001700, ed. Daniel Power and Naomi Standen (Houndmills: Macmillan, 1999), 2.

[22] For a detailed discussion of reform and replacement campaigns on the Eastern fringe, see Anthony Perron, “Metropolitan Might and Papal Power on the Latin-Christian Frontier: Transforming the Danish Church around the Time of the Fourth Lateran Council,” The Catholic Historical Review, 89 (2003), 182-212.

[23] While historians tend to hesitate before making cross-contextual claims such as this one, the tendency for dominance and submission to occur in nearly every interpersonal encounter is supported by the “harder” social sciences including anthropology and primatology. See, for example, Richard C. Trexler, ed., Gender Rhetorics: Postures of Dominance and Submission in History (Binghamton, NY: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1994), esp. Frans B. M. de Waal, “The Relation between Power and Sex in the Simians: Socio-Sexual Appeasement Gestures,” 15-32.

[24] David Knowles, From Pachomius to Ignatius: A Study in the Constitutional History of the Religious Orders (Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1966), 17–19.

[25] William Chester Jordan, Europe in the High Middle Ages (London, UK: Penguin, 2001), 85–87 for a concise discussion of church reform, which was sparked partially by the Holy Roman Emperors’ perceived overreach in church affairs.

[26] As is true elsewhere in high medieval Europe, the Welsh context hosted “reform,” or purposeful revisions to monastic life, as a project originating in the Francophone regions of the continent. In Wales, however, those reforms were mostly imposed from the outside through active suppression of local practice. Thus, Welsh reform was an inextricably colonial affair. In broader context, the late eleventh- and twelfth-century invigoration of monastic life – and broader religious life – in the Latin Christian world driven from Francophone areas is part of a much longer and ongoing tradition of ecclesiastical change. Recently, Steven Vanderputten has argued that the traditional conception of “cycles” of monastic stasis, decline, and reform is insufficient as an explanation for what happened in High Medieval monasticism, as the very idea of hard-and-fast points of rejuvenation overly emphasize the filter through which hagiographers of great abbots see events. Reformers of one generation – both elite abbots who were celebrated in hagiographies and the large number of normally anonymous monks – possessed strong collective memories of earlier periods of reformist activity. In this way, reform was “essentially a cumulative process.” What are normally broken into separate “Cluniac,” “Cistercian,” and “Gregorian” reforms are part of one broader trend, and the principal houses associated with those reforms (i.e. Cluny and Cîteaux) share responsibility for reform with the lesser-known peripheral houses. See Steven Vanderputten, Monastic Reform as Process: Realities and Representations in Medieval Flanders, 9001100 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2013), 3–13.

[27] Constance Hoffman Berman, “Agriculture and Economies,” in Cambridge Companion to the Cistercian Order, ed. Mette Birkedal Bruun (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 113. In her The Cistercian Evolution: The Invention of a Religious Order in Twelfth-Century Europe (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000), Berman has famously shown in this pivotal monograph that the idea of a unified “Cistercian” identity is problematic before the last third of the twelfth century. From an institutional historical standpoint, Berman’s findings are invaluable and productive. A unified, institutional Cistercian order did not exist before the production of centralized documentation at the General Chapter became formalized. There were still, however, white monks that can be labelled Cistercians for all practical purposes from the early twelfth century, even if their hierarchies were focused on charismatic leaders of particular houses and not a central administration. Since the early Cistercian houses, including those descended from Whitland, were vehicles for the expansion of hegemonic continental culture from the start, Berman’s thesis enriches rather than challenges my thesis. My perspective has already been suggested by Martha G. Newman in her essay “Text and Authority in the Formation of the Cistercian Order: Re-assessing the Early Cistercian Reform,” in Reforming the Church before Modernity: Patterns, Problems and Approaches, ed. Christopher M. Bellitto and Louis I. Hamilton (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005), 173–198. I focus on the Cistercians’ unification through their expansionary beliefs, while Newman takes a similar approach to the power of religious writings that bound an institutionally inchoate early Cistercian order in a common purpose.

[28] Davies, Conquest, Coexistence, and Change, 182.

[29] Ibid., 186.

[30] For the full council proceedings, in dated but serviceable English translation, see G. G. Perry, A History of the English Church (London: John Murray, 1881), 350-351.

[31] William Chester Jordan, Europe in the High Middle Ages, 249.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Bartlett, The Making of Europe, 17.

[34] George Henry Pertz, ed. Chronica Slavorum (Hannover Germany: Booksellers of Hannover, 1868), 23 states that the migrants from Corvey “wandered through many Slavic provinces, and arrived among those who are called the Rani or the Ruiani…Here exist[ed] the kindling of error and the seat of idolatry.” “Peragratisque multis Sclavorum provinciis, pervenerunt ad eos, qui dicuntur Rant sive Ruani et habitant in corde maris. Ibi fomes est errorum et sedes ydololatrie.

[35] Bernard of Clairvaux, The Life and Death of Saint Malachy, trans. Robert T. Meyer (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1978), 33.

[36] Pertz, Chronica Slavorum, 64.

[37] Bartlett, The Making of Europe, 18.

[38] Ibid., 312.

[39] Jordan, Europe in the High Middle Ages, 250.

[40] Bartlett, The Making of Europe, 143.

[41] Georg Christian Friedrich Lisch, ed., Mecklenburgisches Urkundenbuch (Schwerin, Mecklenburg, Germany: Stillerschen Hoffbuchhandlung, 1863), 240.

[42] Ibid., 241.

[43] Said, Orientalism, 55.

[44] Ibid., 72.

[45] Joseph F. O’Callaghan, Reconquest and Crusade in Medieval Spain (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003), 8.

[46] Gregory VII, “To the Barons of France, Who Were Preparing an Expedition against the Moors in Spain,” in The Correspondence of Pope Gregory VII: Selected Letters from the Registrum, trans. Ephraim Emerton (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1932), 6.

[47] Ibid., 54–55.

[48] Ibid., 54.

[49] Ibid., 155–156.

[50] While the familial concept of mother and daughter houses existed earlier, standard rules for the establishment of daughter houses were most significantly articulated within the constitutions of the Cluniac Order, which reached its height around the turn of the millennium in what is now France. Knowles, From Pachomius to Ignatius, 12. illustratively describes the Cluniac system as “a conflation of two ideas: the community of the [Benedictine] Rule under an abbot, and the dominion and control of a king over his tenants–in–chief and sub–vassals.”

[51] Janet Burton, “Homines Sanctitatis Eximiae, Religionis Consimmatae: The Cistercians in England and Wales,” Archaeologia Cambrensis 154 (2005): 30–37.

[52] Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (New York, NY: Vintage, 1994), 263.

[53] Constance Hoffman Berman, “Agriculture and Economies,” 113.

[54] David Knowles and R. Neville Hadcock, Medieval Religious Houses: England and Wales (London: Longman, 1971), 112-115.; Davies, Conquest, Coexistence, and Change, 199. Whitland (est. 1140) was the first Cistercian plantation in its family, while Valle Crucis (est. 1201) was the last.

[55] “Henry I in favour of the Cistercian Order (1128–33),” in Regesta Regum Anglo-Normannorum 10661154, ed. Charles Johnson and H. A. Cronne, 2 (Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1956), 381.

[56] Berman, The Cistercian Evolution, 77–79.

[57] Jemma Bezant, “The Medieval Grants to Strata Florida Abbey,” in Monastic Wales: New Approaches (Cardiff, UK: University of Wales Press, 2013), 79–82.

[58] Ibid., 75.

[59] Janet Burton and Karen Stöber, Abbeys and Priories of Medieval Wales (Cardiff, UK: University of Wales Press, 2015), 219.

[60] Ibid.

[61] Grant of lands and liberties to the Gilbertine monks, September 7, 1199, MS Typ 57, Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.

[62] Ibid. “Silue eorum ad praedicta opera uel ad alia aliqua nullo modo capiantur”

[63] Davies, Conquest, Coexistence, and Change, 199.

[64] David H. Williams, The Welsh Cistercians: Written to Commemorate the Death of Stephen William Williams (18371899) (Leominster, UK: Gracewing, 2001), 159.

[65] Chrysogonus Waddell, ed., TwelfthCentury Statutes from the Cistercian General Chapter (Brecht, Belgium: Cîteaux: Commentarii cistercienses, 2002), 301–302.

[66] Ibid.

[67] For more information on the Cistercian filiation system’s relation to visitation, see Emelia Jamroziak, “Centres and Peripheries,” in The Cambridge Companion to the Cistercian Order, ed. Mette Birkedal Bruun (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 71-72.

[68] Ibid., 72 for the practice of advancement from daughter houses to mother houses through office-holding.

[69] Waddell, TwelfthCentury Statutes from the Cistercian General Chapter, 302.

[70] Ibid.

[71] The Summa Carta Caritatis, one of the central Cistercian constitutions, emphasizes “putting aside the burden of any money contribution it pursued only charity and the utility of souls in things human and divine.” “Charta Caritatis,” on, accessed March 27, 2017,

[72] Bernard of Clairvaux, The Life and Death of Saint Malachy, 33–34.

[73] John Peckham to Edward I of England, 2 November 1281, in Registrum Epistolarum Fratris Johannis Peckham, Archiepiscopi Cantuariensis, ed. Charles Trice Martin, 1 (Lessing–Druckerei, Wiesbaden, Germany: Kraus, 1964), 243. “Walliae, quae contra libertates hujusmodi non didicit conculcari.”

[74] Jeremiah F. O’Sullivan, Cistercians and Cluniacs: The Case for Cîteaux, A Dialogue between Two Monks, An Argument on Four Questions (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1977), 3.

[75] Burton, Homines Sanctitatis Eximiae, Religionis Consimmatae, 37; Giraldus Cambrensis, “De Invectionibus, Lib. IV,” in Giraldi Cambrensis Opera, ed. J. S. Brewer, 3 (Lessing–Druckerei Wiesbaden, Germany: Kraus, 1964), 63.

[76] Giraldus Cambrensis, “Itinerarium Cambriae,” 119.

[77] Ibid., 119-120. At Llanbadarn Fawr, Gerald reports that the local strongman/protector of the church is called abbot. This abbot and others like him across Wales and Ireland make a living by stripping Celtic churches of their valuable accouterments.

[78] Said, Orientalism, 31-41.

[79] Ibid., 45–46. “Illis e diverso eremum nudam, et hispidam silvam assignes: intra paucos posymodum annos, non solum ecclesias et aedes insignes, verum etiam possessionum copias, et opulentias multas ibidem invenies…ut ait Salustius, ‘Concordia parvae res crescunt, discordia [vero] maximae dilabuntur.’”

[80] Giraldus Cambrensis, “Speculum Ecclesiae,” in Giraldi Cambrensis Opera, ed. J. S. Brewer, 4 (Lessing–Druckerei Wiesbaden, Germany: Kraus, 1964), 113; R. W. Southern, Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages (London: Penguin, 1970), 258; R. A. Donkin, The Cistercians: Studies in the Geography of Medieval England and Wales (Toronto, Canada: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1978), 51–52 demonstrates through more evidence than space allows here that “The ‘grangia juxta abbatiam’ normally comprised part of the original endowment [of a house] and was sometimes named after the abbey itself.”

[81] Davies, Conquest, Coexistence, and Change, 170.

[82] John Williams ab Ithel, ed., Annales Cambriae (Lessing–Druckerei Wiesbaden, Germany: Kraus, 1965), 63. “Innocentius papa ab ordine Cisterciensium pecunias violenter exegit ad subsidium Terrae Sanctae…”

[83] See R. C. Van Caenegem, Guide to the Sources of Medieval History (Amsterdam, Netherlands: North–Holland, 1978), 106–107 for a discussion of the dearth of ecclesiastical account records from the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries.

[84] Waddell, TwelfthCentury Statutes from the Cistercian General Chapter, 476.

[85] Ibid., 493.

[86] Ibid., 13.

[87] Giraldus Cambrensis, “Speculum Ecclesiae,” 177. “Sicut enim parochias ecclesiarum matricum et baptismalium occupare solebant…”

[88] Walter Map, De Nugis Curialium, ed. Montague Rhodes James (Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1914), 41. “impleta est terra posessione sua…”

[89] Geraldine Carville, The Occupation of Celtic Sites in Medieval Ireland by the Canons Regular of St Augustine and the Cistercians (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1982), 1–3. Although Carville cites Irish evidence in this case, Cistercian policy was similar in Wales.

[90] Ibid.

[91] For a broad conceptual overview of these competing – and sometimes coexisting – conditions, see Jürgen Osterhammel, Colonialism: A Theoretical Overview, trans. Shelley L. Frisch (Princeton, NJ: Marcus Wiener, 1997), 97–100.

[92] David Austin, “The Archaeology of Monasteries in Wales and the Strata Florida Project,” in Monastic Wales: New Approaches, 13.

[93] Ibid., 12. 

[94] Ibid. 

[95] For useful information on the Brut, and a high-quality reproduction of the manuscript, see The National Library of Wales, “Chronicle of the Princes,” accessed April 23, 2018,

[96] John Williams ab Ithel, ed., Brut y Tywysogion; or, The Chronicle of the Princes (Lessing-Druckerei Wiesbaden, Germany: Kraus, 1965), 203. My emphasis.

[97]  For an outline of the “myth of pioneers,” see Jamroziak, “Centres and Peripheries,” 66–68.

[98] Ibid., 66.

[99] Karen Stöber and David Austin, “Culdees to Canons: The Augustinian Houses of North Wales,” in Monastic Wales: New Approaches, 46. The “plan of St. Gall,” probably created at the scriptorium at Reichenau and in a Carolingian hand, serves as a paradigm for continental monastic architecture and dates to the 820s or 830s. See “The plan of St. Gall,” in Codex Sangallensis 1092, on Carolingian Culture at Reichenau and St. Gall, accessed March 31, 2017,

[100] Stöber and Austin, “Culdees to Canons,” 42–44.

[101] For a fuller articulation of the ways in which these colonial activities are intertwined, see Said, Orientalism, 12.

[102] “Instituta Generalis Capituli apud Cistercium,” cap. VIII, in TwelfthCentury Statutes from the Cistercian General Chapter, 538.

[103] Emilia Jamroziak, “Centres and Peripheries,” in Cambridge Companion to the Cistercian Order, 73.

[104] James S. Donnelly, The Decline of the Medieval Cistercian Lay Brotherhood (New York, NY: Fordham University Press, 1949) is a particularly enlightening study of the lay brothers’ plight toward the end of the twelfth century.

[105] Donnelly, The Decline of the Medieval Cistercian Lay Brotherhood, 29.

[106] Joseph–Marie Canivez, ed., Statuta Capitulorum Generalium Ordinis Cisterciensis, ab Anno 1116 ad annum 1786, 1 (Louvain, France: Bureaux de la Revue, 1933), 138.

[107] Ibid., 324.

[108] Ibid., 73.

[109] Southern, Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages, 259. Rates of lay brother revolts in Wales in particular so far have not been investigated. This is an important area for further research.

[110] Immanuel Wallerstein posits that true mercantilism is not possible without the preconditions of a mature cash economy and an emerging capitalist mindset. This is, as far as my argument is concerned, largely correct. Immanuel Wallerstein, The Modern World System I: Capitalist Agriculture and the Origins of the European WorldEconomy in the Sixteenth Century (San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 1974), 146, 149. Robert B. Eckelund, Jr. and Robert D. Tollison provide the divergent point of view that mercantilism is fundamentally a premodern economic system, but still tie mercantilist practices inextricably to the modern nation–state and never ecclesiastical authority. See Eckelund and Tollison, Politicized Economies: Monarchy, Monopoly, and Mercantilism (College Station, TX: Texas A&M University Press, 1997), 5–6, passim.

[111]  Katherine Allen Smith, “Spiritual Warriors in Citadels of Faith: Martial Rhetoric and Monastic Masculinity in the Long Twelfth Century,” in Negotiating Clerical Identities: Priests, Monks and Masculinity in the Middle Ages, ed. Jennifer D. Thibodeaux (Houndmills, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 95. Gerald of Wales expounds upon a number of interesting images of the Cistercians as occupiers, including a passage in “Itinerarium Cambriae,” 68. Here, a local Welsh man attempts to reclaim land that the Cistercians of Margam have acquisitioned. Satan inspires the Welshman to violence, but he is defeated without the need for reciprocated violence.

[112] David Walker, “Bernard, Bishop of St David’s,” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2004). This was the same Bernard of St. David’s that Innocent III posthumously commended.

[113] Ibid. 

[114]  J. H. Elliot, Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America, 14921830 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006), 9. 

[115] Elliot, Empires of the Atlantic World, 9; See Patricia Seed, Ceremonies of Possession in Europes Conquest of the New World, 14921640 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 16–40, 69–99 for detailed discussions of English and Spanish settlement patterns and methods. 

[116] Elliot, Empires of the Atlantic World, 4.

[117] David Knowles and Richard Neville Hadcock, Medieval Religious Houses, 112–115.