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1
Specimen exam answers.
THE MIDDLE AGES.
Answer two questions. Concision will be considered a virtue: 500 words for each
answer will suffice, and if an answer exceeds 1000 words marks may be deducted.
1. Comment on the following passage
And hence, since the marriage tie was from the beginning so constituted as - apart
from the joining of the sexes - to symbolize the mystic union of Christ and His
Church, it is undoubted that that woman has no part in matrimony, in whose case it is
shown that the mystery of marriage has not taken place. Accordingly a clergyman of
any rank who has given his daughter in marriage to a man that has a concubine, must
not be considered to have given her to a married man, unless perchance the other
woman should appear to have become free, to have been legitimately dowered and to
have been honoured by public nuptials.
(Pope Leo I to Rusticus)
Answer
General Background
Leo I was pope in the mid-fifth century. This was the age when 'barbarian' tribes had
overrun the Roman empire in the west and divided it up into separate kingdoms. The
rulers of the successor states did not regard themselves as destroyers of the empire. So
far as they were concerned, probably, it was merely continuing under devolved
management. They were not anti-Roman, and used Roman bureaucratic methods as
far as they could. The nature of the 'barbarian' settlement is much disputed: maybe it
was a matter of allocating land to the newcomers, maybe they just collected taxes in
kind: after all, the difference might not be so great in practice. The economy had not
fundamentally changed yet, to judge by coinage evidence. Some contemporaries seem
to have been actually unaware that the Roman empire had 'fallen': around this time
one nobleman teased a holy man for prophesying wrongly that it would! Still, the old
system of a centralised autocracy drawing on a massive tax system to support a
massive centrally controlled army was gone for ever.
Against that background the hierarchy of the Christian church had gone from
strength to strength, a welcome element of continuity. In cities, which still existed, the
authority of the bishop was enhanced, and in the West as a whole the pope acquired
an increasingly high profile as a religious leader.
The Document
That is presupposed by this document. A bishop from what is now southern
France had written to Pope Leo with a series of questions, expecting an authoritative
answer. Such answers were called 'decretals'. This bit of the letter comes from the
answer to just one of the questions in the bishops letter. The letter as a whole would
have been kept in the archive of the bishop who asked for it. It was common for such
papal 'decretals' to be distributed among neighbouring bishops and perhaps read out at
a provincial council and included in its minutes. A copy would also have been
available in the papal archive, which was already an old institution by this date. The
pope's reply on this point reached a much wider audience when it when it was
included in the church law collection of Dionysius Exiguus, which was put together
circa 500 and spread very widely in the West after that, especially when it was given
the backing of Charlemagne about three centuries later.
Pope and bishop
2
The character, setting in life, and transmission of any document need to be
understood before it can be properly interpreted, but sometimes these preliminaries
are also part of the interpretation. The document presupposes the division of the west
into bishoprics and the authority of the pope as legal problem-solver. The
transmission shows that archive keeping was normal even in this period of disruption
through which secular archives had little chance of surviving. The incorporation of
Leo's responses into the law compilation of Dionysius Exiguus shows how papal
authority was kept before the mind of clerics through canon law in the sixth century
and after.
The case in question
What of the problem that gave rise to the bishop's query? In one or more cases
the daughter of a priest or deacon under bishop Rusticus's authority had been heading
for marriage with a man who already had a partner. Should the partner be counted as a
wife? Pope Leo gives criteria for deciding whether this existing partner is a wife. If
she is a slave, who has not been freed, she is judged not to be a wife. Why does the
bishop not extend his question to daughters of laypeople too? Probably because his
practical authority over marriage did not extend beyond the clergy.
Marriage
One implication is almost too obvious to mention. It is taken for granted that a
man can only have one wife and that if the first partner is his wife he cannot simply
divorce her. In fact we should not take this for granted. In most societies in history,
either polygamy or easy divorce (or women by men) or both have been the norm.
Less obviously: Leo is assuming that a slave will not be a wife. Behind him
was the whole tradition of classical antiquity. It was taken for granted that slaves
could not marry. The only way to marry one was to set her free. Christianity's doctrine
of equality before God had not yet eroded this assumption. If we look forward to the
Council of Châlons-sur-Saone in 813 we see that in the long run the Church rejected
the exclusion of unfreed slaves from marriage.
To return to the text. It shows that priest and deacon's had daughters and were
presumably still married. The discipline of the Western church at this date was that a a
priest should live chastely with his wife. One may guess at the following pattern. A
man becomes a 'cleric', starts on the road to becoming a priest, relatively young. He
marries and has children. At a certain point he takes holy orders and a priest and
supposedly stops having sex with his wife.
What does the sentence about the mystic union of Christ and the Church
mean? Leo's implies that a sexual union is not itself enough to make a marriage. A
true marriage is a mirror of the union of Christ and the Church. The signs that such a
marriage has taken place are that the couple are free (freed if necessary) and that the
woman has a dowry (which she could not have if a slave and ineligible for
matrimony).
Much later the meaning of this passage was changed in an interesting way,
first in the ninth century by Hincmar of Reims, then in the twelfth by a crescendo of
canon lawyers. The phrase was slightly adapted to mean that a marriage did not fully
symbolise the union of Christ and the Church until it had been consummated by
3
sexual union. This reflects the mystical and symbolic significance increasingly
attributed to marital sex in the medieval church.
2. What was Stephen Langton's attitude to taxation and why should it matter?
Stephen Langton had two careers: first academic, then archbishop. The second also
involved being a statesman, for the Archbishop of Canterbury was one of the great
men and one of the great landowners of England. In Stephen Langton's case, he was
deeply involved in high politics, at the time of Magna Carta and again in the 1220s,
when a revised form of Magna Carta was confirmed as the law of England, which it
remained. His attitude to taxation, which we find stated clearly in his academic
lectures, is important because it helps explain his political role, which was decisive
perhaps in 1215 and certainly in 1225.
Langton was an Englishman but his academic career was set in the Paris
schools, which were already a university in all but name. He was in Paris just long
enough to see the balance of power swing from England to France, when King Philip
Augustus of France conquered Normandy and other territories on the continent from
King John of England. These dramatic events may not have much affected the life of
an English academic in the French capital.
Langton was a Master, roughly comparable to a professor at a modern
university. As in a modern university, students had to prepare for examinations. As in
a modern university, they knew their studies would enhance career prospects. Unlike
a modern university, all students would be men and probably most hoped for a career
in the Church, which would involve celibacy. That apart, student life would not be too
different from now.
Langton's teaching would take too forms: disputations and lectures on the
bible. In Disputations, he would provide over a logically rigorous debate between at
least two advanced students. Lectures on the bible would also provide an opportunity
to discuss disputed questions and questions of contemporary relevance. These lectures
survive to us through 'reportation': student notes slightly edited by the lecturer.
Some comments in a lecture on Deuteronomy (an early book of the Old
Testament) are especially relevant to this question. Langton says that the phrase
'immeasurable weights' (Deuteronomy 17: 17) is plainly, against modern kings, who
collect treasure not in order that they may sustain necessity, but to satiate their
cupidity'. He defines 'immeasurable' as 'beyond the measure of necessity: therefore,
whatever goes further, that is, beyond necessity, is from evil, that is, it is evil and a
sin.'
So which 'modern kings' did he have in mind? Perhaps not primarily the king
of France Philip Augustus, who drew a very large income from the lands he
controlled directly. Much more probably the Angevin Kings of England. In the second
half of the twelfth century first Henry II, then Richard the Lionheart, then John used
every possible means to maximise their income, for instance by selling to third parties
the right to chose a spouse for vassal's children. Sometimes great men were simply
fined 'because of the king's anger'. After losing Normandy King John experimented
with new forms of direct and indirect taxation. Some of these were normal by the end
of the thirteenth century, but Langton may have regarded them as actually immoral.
He probably defined 'beyond necessity' fairly narrowly.
King John's voracious need for money to reconquer Normandy, and his failure
to do so, brought about the crisis of 1215 and Magna Carta. Magna Carta laid it down
4
that the new style taxes could not be levied without the consent of the feudal council.
Much of Magna Carta is about restricting the ways in which the king could get money
out of his subjects. Stephen Langton may well have had a hand in drafting the original
Magna Carta but we do not know how central his role was.
However, in the 1220s and above all in 1225 his role was absolutely decisive
By this time the King was Henry III, John's son. He was advised that he was not
obliged to confirm it since it had been extorted by force. Langton threw all his weight
against this suggestion and behind Magna Carta. The clause about the feudal council's
consent to taxation had been dropped, but much of the issue was still about limiting
the king's opportunity to extract money from his subjects. Langton was concerned to
assert the Church's freedom (which Magna Carta guaranteed). However, if we take
account of his remarks about royal taxation in his academic lectures it becomes clear
that his enthusiasm for Magna Carta went further. It was an enthusiasm for limits on
the king's taxing power. This seems like a secular concern, but for Langton it was a
matter of ethics and sin. He and the bishops put a sentence of excommunication on
violators of Magna Carta, and the Charter was still backed by excommunication in the
fourteenth century, which explains why it is quoted in full in a popular priest's
manual. One could say therefore that the English constitution has an academic and a
religious origin.
THE MIDDLE AGES
For background, I give page references to a good and inexpensive textbook: C.
Warren Hollister and Judith M. Bennett, Medieval Europe. A Short History (9th
edition, 2002). Important only to use this edition, as revised by Bennett. It is much
richer on social history.
I have also provided my own brief survey, under the same headings as the
lectures. This may be found via my personal web-page.
11. From Theodosius to Charlemagne
Three dates:
378 Adrianople
597Papal mission to England
800 Coronation of Charlemagne
The political end of the Western Empire
The Roman Empire converted to Christianity. Christian theology and late classical
culture combined in the writings of the ‘Fathers of the Church’ (= theologians of late
Antiquity and the early Middle Ages like Augustine of Hippo at the end of the
century. Monasticism grew fast in the eastern half of the empire. The Roman Empire
was divided into an eastern and a western half: two emperors, one for each half.
In 378 the Goths defeated the Romans at Adrianople, which was the beginning of
the end of the West as a political unit. Theodosius became emperor in the West and
settled the Goths within the empire’s limits. Hitherto the empire had used ‘barbarian’
ethnic groups as fighting units. Now they were no longer under control.
In the early 400s, the Roman legions left Britain. The Romano-British fought wars
against Anglo-Saxon invaders with some success at first. In mainland Western
5
Europe, barbarian kingdoms took the place of imperial Roman authority, the last
emperor being deposed in 476.
Monasticism
Monasteries became common in the sixth century (500-600). They were not tied to
cities. Often they developed around the tombs of hermits and holymen. The form
which would have the greatest future was the Benedictine rule, but it was not yet the
norm. It tended to keep the impulse to punish the body in check. Monasteries became
increasingly important in the transmission of culture, as lay education declined.
The lay elite
Lay education declined because culture was no longer required for secular
government service. Military skills were more useful in the service of the barbarian
successor states. In the Roman world a rhetorical education had been needed for a
place among the elite. In the world of barbarian kingdoms, fighting skills were more
important. This meant not just leadership but personal valour. The leaders had a rather
low life expectancy. Descendants of Roman senatorial families also became warriors.
They lived off a surplus collected directly from the agricultural class. (Previously
much of their income had come from the agricultural classes only indirectly: via
imperial taxation and imperial patronage.)
The barbarian kingdoms and Justinian
The barbarian kings seem to have lacked much sense of a sharp break with the Roman
Empire (and in the middle of the fifth century a Gallo-Roman landowner could make
fun of a holyman for wrongly predicting the ruin of the empire). The new rulers tried
to keep the trappings of bureaucracy and taxation, even though these institutions had
lost their functional point.
In the sixth century the pattern of kingdoms had crystallized: Vandals in Africa;
Visigoths in Spain; multiple (pagan) kingdoms forming in England; the Franks
gaining control of what would later be France; Belgium and the western part of
Germany (Cologne area etc); Ostrogoths in Italy.
However, in Italy the Roman Empire made a surprising come-back: Justinian, the
emperor in Constantinople, re-conquered it. You remember that the empire came back
from the edge of collapse in the third century. Perhaps it might have happened again
in the sixth. Yet before long a new wave of barbarians, the Lombards, had driven back
the empire from most of the top half of Italy.
Economic collapse and ‘the manor’
By this time the economic system of the former Roman Empire was in a fairly
ruinous state, not only in England but throughout the West. Justinian’s re-conquest,
paradoxically, had done terrible economic damage, perhaps more than the original
barbarian invasions. There was also the problem of what to export to the East. The
evidence of coinage and archaeological digs shows a sharp economic downturn in the
later 500s and the 600s. The exchange element in the economy became less important.
Semi-self-contained estates became the crucial units. These can be called manors.
Implications of the Islamic conquests
Thus the seventh century (600-700) the Arab invasions cannot be blamed for ending
the Roman social and economic system. Yet it was another stage in transformation of
the old world order: the Mediterranean had been the centre of the Christian world.
Now much of it was hostile to Christianity and a threat to the western kingdoms (as
6
well as to Byzantium). Moreover, faced with the threat of expansionist Islam, the
Roman Empire in the East was unlikely to make a second come-back in the West.
They could not do much to help an institution still loyal to the Empire, the papacy in
Rome. Popes continued to feel part of the empire and to hope for protection, but were
increasingly forced to look out for themselves.
The papacy and England
At the end of the century pope Gregory the Great did so with notable success. He also
started a train of events which eventually strengthened papal prestige enormously,
sending missionaries to convert England back to Christianity. The papal mission
won its first success in Kent in 597.
The loss of Christian Africa in this period was partly balanced by the
Christianisation of England, highly successful, at least at the level of elite society. The
missionaries were from Ireland as well as from Rome. In the second half of the sixth
century the Irish monks in England came to accept that Rome made the rules (for
instance on the date of Easter). Here the critical date is the Synod of Whitby in 663.
The pope sent a monk from the East, Theodore, to organize a national church.
Monasteries of various sorts were founded and flourished. The monk known as the
Venerable Bede wrote his Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation in the early
eighth century. This classic put a stamp of identity on ‘the English Nation’, even
though there was no political unity. The identity as seen by Bede was intensely
Christian and papal.
English missionaries took their brand of Christianity to the continent. The
Englishman Boniface converted much of Germany, working closely with the papacy.
(Boniface was killed in 754.) The process of the conversion had the full muscular
support of the Franks, who were led de facto by a dynasty called the Carolingians.
(The Merovingian royal dynasty had become a façade, rather like the emperors of
Japan before the Meiji restoration in the late nineteenth century. Behind the façade the
Carolingian family ruled, calling themselves ‘Mayors .of the Palace’, just as the
Shogun’s ruled behind the façade of imperial power.) The Carolingians won success
after success. Charles Martel (died 741) drove the Arabs back from France (they had
already conquered Spain.) His son Pippin got himself made king with papal
endorsement. At the same time he helped the papacy against the Lombards who were
threatening them. This was when the popes ceased to hope for protection from the
Empire in the East.
Pippin’s son Charlemagne conquered vast tracts of territory. He also captured
massive amounts of treasure from the Avars. The only Christian monarch of
comparable importance in the West was Offa of Mercia in England. He did not rule
the whole country but he was a powerful man. He created a fine new coinage, and
persuaded the popes to set up an Archbishopric at Lichfield in his heartland territory.
(It did not last.) He negotiated with Charlemagne about trade etc.
Charlemagne ruled on an infinitely larger scale: over modern France,
Germany and Northern Italy. In this great kingdom he pursued a policy of religious
renewal and cultural revival. Latin had become corrupt. Under Charlemagne it was
revived and purified, and it became a splendid instrument for culture and government.
A new clear legible script was introduced, Carolingian minuscule. If you want to
know what it is like, look at the script you are reading: Carolingian minuscule was
taken up by Italian humanists at the end of the Middle Ages and became the basis of
modern print. He published ‘capitularies’, laws and administrative ordinances to
control his vast territories. Agents called missi dominici travelled out from his court to
7
supervise local rulers. Charlemagne himself travelled around his territory at
breakneck speed. There was a remarkable amount of literacy in Charlemagne’s great
domain and the economy began to pick up.
At the apogee of his power, Charlemagne was crowned emperor by the
pope, on Christmas day 800. This symbolically marked the West’s self-confidence
over against the Byzantine empire, and also the orientation of the papacy northwards
rather than Eastwards.
To summarise: the political structure of the empire in the West was
disappearing by the end of the fourth century, the nature of the lay elite had changed
by end of the fifth, the economic system was transformed by the end of the sixth, the
Mediterranean had ceased to be a Christian lake by the end of the seventh, and there
was a new empire in the West by the end of the eighth. These are great changes, but
the continuities of the period are also fundamental.
Continuities
The papacy was one of the institutions which survived the fall of the Empire in the
West. Western Catholic Christians increasingly looked to the papacy for strong
leadership, and popes also asserted themselves in the theological disputes in the
eastern (Byzantine) half of the empire, where most of the theologians were. However
popes showed no desire to cut loose from the eastern emperor’s authority as such:
only when they thought he was backing the wrong theological side. Eventually even
the papacy lost hope in the Roman Empire based at Constantinople, which had
unbroken continuity with the Ancient World. Even so, the solution was to create a
new empire in the West, to reproduce the old interdependence of papacy and empire.
The new emperor Charlemagne passed laws in which he quoted papal decrees.
Collections of decrees passed by popes and council had been collected and
transmitted just as the Empire in the West was falling apart. The earliest of these
decrees though go back before the political fall of the empire. The are a line of direct
continuity with the Ancient World.
The system of papal decrees was surely influenced by the model of Roman
Law. Roman emperors made law when they had to solve concrete cases. They wrote
back with a decision, a decree, and it became law.. Papal decrees and decrees by
Church councils were put together in compilations, of which the most famous is that
of Dionysius Exiguus, a monk from the East who came to live in Rome in the fifth
century (he was still alive in 526). The system of decretal law is a structure which
runs unbroken through all the changes described in the lecture.
It is one of many great cultural and religious continuities. Church councils are
one: a structure of the Christian Roman Empire of Antiquity that remained quite
central throughout the Middle Ages. The Episcopal system is another great continuity.
Monasteries are another. Yet another is the whole system of liturgical prayer: the
collective rituals that regulated the devotional and imaginative life of the medieval
West were mostly in place before the empire ended.
A good symbol of the period is the Basilica of St John Lateran in Rome. On
the surface it looks like a vast baroque Church. Scratch it, so to speak, and you find a
fourth century Roman Basilica, founded in the time of Constantine.
Note
8
Theodosius the Great: Emperor 379-395. Temporary restoration of imperial power in
the West. Tried to create a Christian state and made heresy a legal offence. Made a
public submission to a bishop of Milan after a massacre.
Leo I, died 461. Asserted authority in West in disciplinary and legal matters, and tried
to in East in doctrinal matters.
Bibliography
Hollister Bennett, chapters 2-6, especially pp. 42, 48, 234 (Leo I), and 107, 1114, 244,
246 (Donation of Constantine)
Further reading on the period
P. Heather, 'The Huns and the End of the Roman Empire in Western Europe' English
Historical Review 110 (1995), 4-41
Patrick J. Geary, Before France and Germany. The Creation and Transformation of
the Merovingian World (New York, 1988)
H. Pirenne, Mohammed and Charlemagne (transl. London, 1939)
Lester K. Little and Barbara H. Rosenwein (eds.), Debating the Middle Ages (Oxford,
1998), Part I
Documents:
(a) Pope Leo I (440-461)
Letter CLXVII . To Rusticus, Bishop of Gallia Narbonensis, with the Replies to His
Questions on Various Points.
Leo, the bishop, to Rusticus, bishop of Gallia Narbonensis.
...
Question IV. Concerning a Presbyter or Deacon Who Has Given His Unmarried
Daughter in Marriage to a Man Who Already Had a Woman Joined to Him, by Whom
He Had Also Had Children.
Reply. Not every woman that is joined to a man is his wife, even as every son is not
his father's heir. But the marriage bond is legitimate between the freeborn and
between equals: this was laid down by the Lord long before the Roman law had its
beginning. And so a wife is different from a concubine, even as a bondwoman from a
freewoman. For which reason also the Apostle in order to show the difference of these
persons quotes from Genesis, where it is said to Abraham, "Cast out the bondwoman
and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with my son Isaac15 ."
And hence, since the marriage tie was from the beginning so constituted as - apart
from the joining of the sexes - to symbolize the mystic union of Christ and His
Church, it is undoubted that that woman has no part in matrimony, in whose case it is
shown that the mystery of marriage has not taken place. Accordingly a clergyman of
any rank who has given his daughter in marriage to a man that has a concubine, must
not be considered to have given her to a married man, unless perchance the other
woman should appear to have become free, to have been legitimately dowered and to
have been honoured by public nuptials.
9
Library of Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Series 2, vol. 12, as reproduced in:
http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/NPNF2-12/Npnf2-12-19.htm#P737_147309
(For the Latin, see Migne, Patrologia Latina, 54 col. 1204-5.)
Leo's letter to Rusticus: Questions
1) Who was Leo?
2) When was he writing?
3) Was the Roman Empire in the West still in existence? If not, who
ruled Italy? How much of the Roman way of life still went on?
4) To what kind of person is he replying? What were the structures
of government and society in Southern France (whence the letter
to which he replied was sent)?
5) In what capacity is Leo replying?
6) Is this sort of correspondence a novelty?
7) How has it survived to this day? Who kept it initially, and how?
How was it transmitted through the centuries to us?
8) What are 'presbyters' and 'deacons'?
9) Why is the question about them and their daughters, rather than
just anybody?
10) What is concubinage and what does this document tell us about
its place in post-Roman society
11) What exactly is the problem Leo is trying to solve? Can you
restate it in plain English?
12) What can you infer about attitudes to monogamy and divorce?
13) What does the document tell us about marriage and slavery in
post-Roman society?
14) Can you explain the phrase 'laid down by the Lord before the
Roman law had its beginning'?
15) Why is Leo referring to Abraham and what does this tell us
about the place of Jewish history in Christian thought?
16) When is a concubine not a concubine?
17) How much can we infer about the marriage ceremony from
this document?
18) What does 'legitimately dowered' mean and imply about postRoman marriage practices?
19) What is the reference to the 'mystic union of Christ and the
Church all about'?
20) Four centuries later, in the ninth century, Archbishop Hincmar
of Reims changed the words slightly and gave the phrase about
the 'mystic union' a different sense. How do you explain this?
21) Was his reinterpretation adopted by religious lawyers after
him?
10
22) In the 12th century the same change was incorporated into the
standard textbook of religious law (Gratian). How do you explain
this?
23) What were the long term implications for the relation between
sex and marriage?
POST-LECTURE UPDATE
In the lecture the following points were cut short.
~ The phrase 'the marriage tie was from the beginning so constituted as - apart from
the joining of the sexes - to symbolize the mystic union of Christ and His Church, it is
undoubted that that woman has no part in matrimony, in whose case it is shown that
the mystery of marriage has not taken place' originally meant this: sexual partnership
is not enough to make a marriage; a full marriage symbolizes the mystery of Christ
and the Church; symptoms that a full marriage has taken place are a public ceremony,
dowry, etc.
~ That was the meaning attached to the text in the collections of papal laws (decretals)
that circulated in the early Middle Ages
~ In the ninth century a powerful Archbishop of Reims called Hincmar slightly
changed the Latin to produce a completely different meaning: namely: until the
couple have sexual intercourse, marriage does not properly symbolize the union of
Christ and the Church.
~ He developed this new reading in the context of a real problem. A nobleman called
Stephen of Auvergne had been through a marriage ceremony with a woman when he
had slept with a close relative of hers. By the rules of the time, this made it a sin to
sleep with his wife. Hincmar was called in to decide what should be done. He said
that the marriage could be dissolved. It could not be consummated morally. Until it
was consummated it did not mirror the union of Christ and the Church, so it could be
dissolved.
~ He re-reading of the text of Leo did not have any impact until the 12th century
~ Then some books of Church Law start altering Leo's text in the same kind of way as
Hincmar had done.
~ The Law Textbook of Gratian, which became the standard reference work for
religious law, followed Hincmar's lines in interpreting the text. It was probably not a
case of direct influence of Hincmar on Gratian. But Gratian was thinking along the
same lines as Hincmar and changed the text in the same kind of way.
~ The text had made people think about the relation between marriage symbolism and
sexual intercourse. Now they were changing the meaning to foreground sexual
intercourse as crucial to the marriage symbolism.
~ Against this background, a late 12th century pope (Alexander III) decided that a
non-consummated marriage could be dissolved if one partner went into a religious
order. Thus the other could marry. Consent alone did make a genuine marriage, but
not an unbreakable marriage.
~ In the fifteenth century non-consummated marriages began to be dissolved for other
reasons too.
~ Thus the text of Leo in the fifth century started a train of thought about the relation
of sex and marriage symbolism, and the subtle modification of his words mirrors a
new emphasis on sex as the basis of the symbolism, an emphasis that went on to have
practical effects on real-life cases.
11
(b). Donation of Constantine, clause 17
Therefore, so that the summit of the priestly order should not be demeaned, but,
rather, be adorned more greatly than the dignity of the earthly empire, even in respect
of the power of glory, behold, handing over and relinquishing not only our palace, as
has been mentioned already, but also all the provinces, places and cities of Italy and
the western regions, to our father Silvester, we declare, with a firm imperial decision,
through this our sacred and godlike [command] and pragmatic decree, that these
places should be placed at the disposal of the power and control of him or of the
pontiffs his successors, and we concede that they should remain within the legal sway
of the holy roman Church
(Das Constitutum Constantini (Konstantinische Schenkung). Text, ed. H. Fuhrmann
(Fontes Iuris Germanici Antiqui in usum scholarum ex Monumentis Germaniae
Historicis separatim editi, 10; Hannover, 1968), pp. 93-4
1) Who is supposed to be giving what to whom?
2) What is the general character of the document?
3) What is the relation to the 'Acts of Silvester' (probably late 4 th
century)?`
4) When was 'Donation of Constantine' (the document from which
the extract comes) really written?
5) Why was it written? Can you explain the theory of
HUYGHEBAERT?
6) Why is the quality of the Latin relevant to that theory?
7) Why is the survival of manuscripts north of the Alps relevant to
the theory?
8) What does the theory presuppose about patterns of pilgrimage in
the eighth century?
9) Why are the 'False Decretals' of ninth-century Francia relevant
to the 'afterlife' of the Donation of Constantine?
10) Why are the church law collections of eleventh-century papal
reformers relevant to the history of the Donation?
11) What were the advantages and limitations of the Donation for
papal propaganda?
12) How was it used in the thirteenth-century conflict between
pope Innocent IV and the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II <
http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06255a.htm>?
13) In
the
fourteenth
century
William
of
Ockham
http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15636a.htm and Marsilius of Padua
<http://www.bartleby.com/65/ma/Marsiliu.html> were engaged
in a propaganda war against the papacy and dealt with the
Donation in different ways. What were the ways?
12
14) The forgery of was definitively exposed by Lorenzo Valla in
the fifteenth century. What does this tell us about humanism and
the fifteenth century papacy?
15) How should historians approach forgery?
12. From Charlemagne to Innocent III
Treaty of Verdun in 843: emergence of France & Germany
Papal election decree of 1059
At the Battle of Bouvines in 1214 John’s final attempt to recover lost ground
failed.
CAROLINGIAN EUROPE
Charlemagne and his immediate successors ruled an empire rather like the European
Community in the 1960s: he ruled territory that would become Germany, France, the
Low Countries and also much of Italy. Religion and culture helped to unify these
regions. The rule of St. Benedict became the norm throughout the region. Inside
monasteries, theological developed in ways that anticipated the ‘scholasticism’ of the
central and late Middle Ages: the application of reason to solve the problems thrown
up by Christian doctrines like the Trinity and the Incarnation. The papacy went
though a phase that anticipated the strong popes of the late eleventh century. Pope
Nicholas I for instance dealt rather aggressively with Byzantium and blocked a king’s
attempt to change wives in a way that had been usual enough in the early medieval
centuries, when Church control of marriage was minimal.
The Collapse of the Carolingian System
The structure and the culture were impressive but vulnerable. Conflicts
between Charlemagne’s grandsons led to the break up of the empire into successor
kingdoms, which foreshadowed the units still with us: France, Germany, and some
culturally ambiguous territories in between. Thus the division of the Frankish
empire at the treaty of Verdun in 843 is a date to remember.
There were more fundamental vulnerabilities. The economic base was
insecure. The exchange economy was not strong enough for the system of taxation
and state salaries that had been the basis of the Roman underpins our own political
system. The key to success was conquest, winning land and treasure to reward
followers. The state was like a bicycle, which could stay upright only as long as it was
moving forward.
Then there were assaults from outside. Just at the early Mesopotamian empires
you studied on this course were destroyed by sea raiders (probably), and just as the
Roman Empire came apart in the hands of ethnic groups from outside, so too raiders
of various origins battered the former Carolingian empire. There were Moslem
‘Saracens’ from the South, Magyars (Hungarians) from the East and Vikings from the
North. All this thrown against a weak economic and governmental infrastructure
meant that the Carolingian empire turned out to be much more transient than most of
the empires you studied earlier in this course.
13
The Vikings in England
The Vikings attacked England too, early on. They overran all the kingdoms
but Wessex. King Alfred turned them back. Leadership against the Vikings enabled
him and his sons after him to unify England. Alfred started a cultural revival, with an
emphasis on the vernacular unparalleled in Europe at that time. A strong system was
established, with local community units welded into a centralised system. (The shire
system which was systemised in the tenth century survived more or less intact until
the 1970s, and the structure of shires and boroughs which goes back to this time
became much later and remains to this day the basis of Parliament.) After winning the
first phase of the Viking wars there was a period of peace during which Benedictine
monasticism was introduced into England and there was something of a religious
revival (the ‘tenth century reformation’). Around 1000 the Vikings returned to
England and conquered it, but this time they were Christian and there was no drastic
break in continuity.
France and Germany around 1000
Germany and France (as one can now call them) also recovered from the
assaults from outside. In the tenth and eleventh centuries France power was
progressively devolved from the monarchy into smaller and smaller units which the
centre did not have the power to hold, until the basic unit of power was the castle and
the territories around it. A hierarchy of personal links still went up to the king.
Traditionally this was called vassal feudalism (to distinguish it from manorial
feudalism which bound peasants to their lords).
The word ‘FEUDALISM’ has been rejected by some good recent historians. It
can perhaps be retained, provided that one remembers the following: it was a mental
as much as a social form, a way of thinking about obligations: loyalty based on a
ritual commitment and a loan (rather than a gift) of land, which was in principle
recoverable; this was one of a quite small number of options when facing the problem
of political order without the help of taxation and salaries; it was one such way among
various others, and the notions of kingship and community probably remained more
important. It was not ‘a spirit of the age’ and it is not a key to understanding the
whole society: just one social and mental structure among many. With all these and a
few caveats the concept can be a useful tool for studying not only France in this
period but other regions and centuries as well: but if you feel tempted to use it without
thinking rigorously first, then better to avoid the word altogether.
German monarchy was less reliant on ‘feudal’ bonds, because it had other
sources of power. Otto I defeated the Magyars in 955 at the battle of the Lech,
winning prestige, wealth and power. The ‘Holy Roman Empire’ became more or less
attached to Germany. Otto and his successors and his successors activated imperial
power in Italy and exercised a sort of sporadic control over the papacy, going through
a low period in the tenth century - but retaining a disproportionate international
prestige despite its local degradation.
The German emperors also ruled through the Church. Bishops and abbots
controlled vast amounts of territory as secular local officials. This secular role became
hard to distinguish from their religious authority. The king/emperor chose bishops and
abbots and could rule through them. Unlike lay nobles they did not leave sons who
expected to succeed to their father’s powers and felt that they really owned them
outright.
14
Monastic Reform
The Church was under the thumb of emperors and other kings, but that was
not the whole story. Monastic reform movements are another part of the picture. In
the 10th and 11th centuries the Cluniac order became a powerful religious force. Its
great speciality was long and intensive liturgical prayer for the society of the living
and the dead. (The religious commemoration of the dead, a strong theme throughout
medieval history from the eighth century to the Reformation, but Cluniacs did it with
particular intensity.)
Economic Expansion
The economy was once again reviving, as the growth of markets throughout
the empire indicates. England and Italy were also undergoing an economic
resurgence. England was probably commercially well developed, and may have
exported large amounts of cloth to the continent. There were huge amounts of money
in the country, which may explain its attraction for invaders. Throughout Europe the
manor had become a powerful socio-economic machine for extracting wealth from
the land and providing a surplus for nobility and church. (On the ‘three orders’ theory
of the time, they repaid the agricultural workers by providing prayers and protection
respectively.) This strength from below combined with the spread of international
luxury trade to produce an economic revolution. The international luxury trade was
tied in to the Eastern Mediterranean through Italian cities, above all Venice. The
economic transformation of Europe was not the sole cause of the other
transformations to be discussed, but it was mixed up in one way or another with most
of them.
The Gregorian Reform
For instance, as the money economy developed, it became more usual to give
money in return for Church jobs. Church jobs like bishoprics and abbacies had been
in the gift of rulers for a long time. They had distributed them according to subtler
rules of gift exchange or return for service. This scandalised religious men and helped
provoke the Gregorian reform. Soon independence of lay power became a reforming
end in itself. A crucial step was the creation of a papal electoral college: the Cardinals
(papal election decree of 1059.) That made it harder for emperors to influence
elections of popes. In the second half of the eleventh century reforming popes
continued on the same trajectory and tried to stop emperors and kings appointing
bishops. The change to a confrontational attitude to lay authority was above all due to
the intense charismatic leader Hildebrand, who became Gregory VII (hence
‘Gregorian Reform’.) They were also against rituals by which secular rulers gave the
symbols of religious office to bishops. (Remember that symbolism is not just a means
to physical power. Read Clifford Geertz and realise that often physical power is often
a means to symbolic power.) All this threatened kings and especially the emperor who
had relied so much on bishops and abbots as his lieutenants in the provinces. The
pope’s position was strengthened by the First Crusade and capture of Jerusalem, since
a pope had launched the crusade. In the early decades of the 12th century a brilliant
solution was worked out. Bishops would be elected by the cathedral clergy but in
Germany at least they would meet in the emperor’s presence, so he could exercise
influence. The symbolic concerns of both sides were met by splitting the inauguration
ritual into two: a secular one where the king/emperor gave the bishop his secular
powers, a religious one to confer the spiritual office. The language of ritual expressed
15
the conscious and intended ‘dualism’ of Church and State which is a distinctive
feature of Western history.
Scholasticism and the forerunners of universities
As purchase was ruled out as a path to Church promotion, another way to the
top opened out. The centres of higher education known as ‘the Schools’ (hence
‘Scholasticism’) in the twelfth century (and as Universities afterwards) were
developing fast. Success in them was an alternative route to high office in the Church
or indeed in royal service. The impulse was to a great extent purely intellectual: how
to use reason to make sense of the great paradoxical dogmas of Christianity, like the
Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Eucharist; or how to reconcile conflicts between
different ecclesiastical laws. (For theology, the names to look up in an encyclopaedia
are Abelard and Peter Lombard; for church law, Gratian.) Yet career prospects
ensured that plenty of men without life-long intellectual ambitions wanted to study.
The money economy played its part in this intellectual transformation. Many teachers
were paid by their pupils and could make a good living, especially since it was the
convention north of the Alps that they had to be unmarried. These academics were not
necessarily priests but they had taken the initial ritual step (tonsure) towards
becoming a priest. Their celibacy was a special extension of the rule that priests must
not marry.
Marriage
This rule had been pushed hard by papal reformers. Eventually (1139) the marriage of
priests was declared invalid. It continued de facto but was now a thing to be ashamed
of. The popes and other reformers were not against marriage as such - far from it. In
the twelfth century the list of seven sacraments was fixed and marriage was among
them (whereas profession as a monk was not). Reformers wanted to make clerics
more distinctively clerical and laypeople more distinctively lay. It was a little like the
Hindu idea that different castes have different Dharmas or ethical obligations. These
ethical ideas were embodied in Church law (‘Canon Law’). In the second half of the
twelfth century papal case law expanded the system. More and more people engaged
in lawsuits involving the clergy or marriage appealed t the pope, and papal
government had to grow fast.
Growth of Government in England
Secular government was growing as fast or faster in some places, notable
England. The expansion of the economy meant that government could be run on a
cash basis too. Instead of a simple system of taxation and salaries, Kings like Henry
II, Richard, and John turned their rights as feudal overlords into cash by methods such
as selling heiresses, whose marriages they controlled, against the spirit of Church law
in which free consent was essential to marriage. Kings may have used this roundabout
route to get money because ordinary routine direct taxation was not regarded as
legitimate. It is worth thinking about that: an English baron in the twelfth century
could accept royal control of his daughter’s marriage but not a royal right to routine
direct tax. Mentalities were different.
Royal law in England also expanded. The instinct to take a case to the top
fuelled the royal justice system just as it was fuelling the papal justice system.
Unsurprisingly, the two systems clashed. That was perhaps the most important issue
in the conflict between Thomas Becket and Henry II of England. Henry thought he
16
should be able in principle to veto any appeal to Rome, in case it was against the royal
interests.
Germany in the later 12th century
Germany was still expanding eastwards by colonisation: a great central
European germanised zone was coming into existence. This is the culmination of a
period of expansion which goes back to the Carolingian period: settlement of
monasteries, peasants, and merchant towns in areas ever further east. The expansion
has rightly been associated with the similar expansions of Anglo-Saxons and
Normans into Scotlands and of Christian power in Spain. Only the latte can compare
with the significance of this German expansion in the east. The German diaspora
would last until the Second World War and was in a sense a cause of the Second
World War (think Sudetenland).
The German monarchy (basis of the Holy Roman Empire) had been weakened
by the struggle with the papacy, but showed its resilience under the new Hohenstaufen
dynasty. Frederick Barbarossa (ruled 1152-1190) defeated his most powerful vassal
Henry the Lion and made a serious attempt to turn imperial claims in Italy into a
reality again. Northern Italy was now a land of City States, uncannily similar in many
ways to the classical Greek city states discussed earlier in the course. At this point
they tended to be governed by prosperous citizens. In these urban elites the line
between merchants and nobles was less clear-cut than elsewhere in Europe. The
papacy also felt threatened. It had a small state in Central Italy, and regarded this as a
guarantee of independence from secular interference. Papacy and City States resisted
Barbarossa together and won.
The Conflict of England and France
About the same time when Barbarossa became King of Germany, Henry II became
king of England. As noted above, he was a pioneer in the administrative and legal
spheres, and came into conflict with Thomas Becket papacy over appeals to Rome. I
did not mention that he and his sons ruled huge areas of France, much more than the
French king did. Henry II acquired these by a mixture of inheritance, marriage (to
Eleanor of Aquitaine) and political aggression. His son Richard the Lionheart
managed to keep it. He had prestige as a crusader and military genius. King John lost
much of it in 1204. The French monarchy had been growing strong and rich
discreetly. John’s forces and allies were definitively defeated at the Battle of
Bouvines in 1214, and the French King Philip Augustus emerged as the strongest
secular ruler in Europe. At the same battle an imperial candidate was defeated,
clearing the way for Frederick II, the pope’s candidate (though he would later be an
opponent of popes). The pope in question was Innocent III, a link to the next lecture.
Bibliography
Hollister and Bennett chapters 7-13, especially pp. 269-71, 138, 207 (document (a),
and 273-6, 308-9 (document (b)
Further reading on the period
Keen, The Penguin History of Medieval Europe, ch. 6
R. McKitterick, The Frankish Kingdoms under the Carolingians 751-987 (London,
1983)
17
R. Bartlett, The Making of Europe. Conquest, Colonisation, and Cultural Change,
950-1350 (London, 1993)
William Chester Jordan, Europe in the High Middle Ages (London, 2001)
DOCUMENTS
Document (a) A minor chronicle of the Abbey of Ely
Harold the King began to be a patron of churches, and to destroy evil laws. He gave to
Thurstan the abbey of Ely which Stigand had held. 1064
Harold the King, for the crime of perjury, was conquered in war by the duke of the
Normans, William, who obtained the kingdom as victor. 1066.
King William approached the island of Ely and besieged it, because certain men,
refusing his tyranny, had fled there and put up a powerful resistance to him.1072.
Thurstan of Ely went to Warwick with 14 monks, with the rebels having been first
expelled from the island, and thus won the kings favour, giving him £1000.
Thurstan the abbot of Ely, who lived from his early youth in holy innocence, passed
away, and the King seized the abbey, taking much money and a chasuble of great
price.
Hildebrand the archdeacon, elected as pope, himself banned clerics, apart from the
ones to whom the canons permitted it, from living with women. He decreed also
under pain [of excommunication] that not only the seller and buyer of a bishopric,
abbey, office of provost, or of dean, or the tithes of a church, but also the one who
conferred it on them should be excommunicated.
Count Roger and Ralph hatched a most evil conspiracy against King William; then
queen Edgida died and is buried at London. Heodwin abbot of Ely dies and Godfrey
assumed the management of the place.
There was an investigation of the privilege ['liberty'] of the abbey of Ely, which for 14
years, neglected, harshly oppressed, seemed on the point of collapse; but through the
grace of divine mercy and the command of King William it was renewed and grew
strong, strengthened by his edicts and with the protection of charters.
...
King William had all of England surveyed: how much land or what each person
possessed, and then he ordered our possessions of the abbey of Ely to be described, at
the request of Simon the abbot.
King William came to France with an army and burned many churches, and from
there he returned to Normandy and died; then William his son came to England fast
and was consecrated as king by Archbishop Lanfranc.
(MS British Library Cotton Domitian A. XV, fos. 6va-b)
18
Doc. (a): Questions to structure an analysis of this Chronicle.
GENERAL CONTEXT
 What is the general political situation in England in the period it covers?
 Since when had it been a unified kingdom?
 Who are Harold and William?
 What was the big attraction of England as a country to conquer?
 Who was Hildebrand?
 Who ruled 'France at this time?
 The source is produced by an abbey, so: what kind of institution was an
abbey, what did the monks do all day, what was its relation to king and
nobility, how long had that kind of relation been going on? (For its economic
base see below.)
THE CHARACTER AND SETTING OF THE DOCUMENT
 What genre of document is it?
 Who would have written it?
 Why would they have written it?
 Do you think it was written at one time?
 Would you regard it as objective?
 If not, what are its particular perspectives?
ATTITUDES TO THE NORMAN CONQUEST
 Does the Chronicle present the conquest as legitimate?
 Does it suggest that the victory was easily accepted?
 What does it imply about the role of monasteries in the integration of the two
peoples (Norman and Saxon)?
POWER AND WEALTH
 What does it tell us about the role of money in economy and government?
 What does it presuppose about the economic basis of the abbey?
 What is the survey to which the chronicle refers?
 What was the survey for?
RELIGIOUS HISTORY: HILDEBRAND ENTRY
Draw out the implications for the history of the clergy and sex
Explain the backgound of Church - State relations.
(b) Stephen Langton on Kings and Taxes (probably late 12th century)
immeasurable weights (Deuteronomy 17: 17): here avarice is attacked. This is,
plainly, against modern kings, who collect treasure not in order that they may sustain
necessity, but to satiate their cupidity. And note that temporal possession of riches is
well called a weight, because it is more of a burden to man than a support or help.
And so it is good that riches are signified by the name 'weight', because they are
heavy, and drag down the man who carries them, that is, their possessor, to the lowest
point of hell. Therefore if that which pulls something down to the ground is said to be
heavy, much more should something which drags down to the depths of hell be called
19
heavy. Therefore it is said in 1 Timothy, final chapter (verse 9), that those who want
to be rich fall into the net of the devil and into temptations and desires which plunge
man into perdition etc; against whom the Lord says (Matth. 6: 19): Do not lay up
treasure. And note that he says: immeasurable, that is, beyond the measure of
necessity: therefore, whatever goes further, that is, beyond necessity, is from evil, that
is, it is evil and a sin.
(Stephen Langton's Commentary on Deuteronomy 17: 17)
QUESTIONS TO PUT TO DOCUMENT (b)
GENERAL CONTEXT
Who was Stephen Langton, and what course did his career take?
What is the general political situation in England and France in the period it
covers?
What is the position of the papacy in this period?
What kind of intellectual culture existed in this period?
CHARACTER AND SETTING OF THE DOCUMENT
What genre of document is it?
What kind of institution did it emerge from?
How would it have survived?
ATTITUDES TO TAXATION
What does it tell us about Stephan Langton's attitude to royal taxation?
Why is this relevant to the long-term development of English (and indeed
American) government?
13. From Innocent III to Luther
FROM INNOCENT III TO LUTHER (1200+ - 1500+)
1215: Fourth Lateran Council and Magna Carta
1215
This year is famous for Magna Carta, which would become a symbol of
limited monarchy in England. Interestingly, the English bishops repeatedly threw their
weight behind this symbol in the thirteenth century. Issues like taxation had a
theological dimension. In 1215 resistance to the king had a feudal aspect. The great
council envisaged by the barons consisted of tenants in chief, men who held land
directly from the king; the king’s feudal rights over the marriage of his vassals
children were controlled but not abolished, presumably because barons wanted to go
on using such rights over their own vassals’ children. However, the constitutional
struggles broadened out in the course of the century. In the period of ‘Barons Wars’
(1258-65) the ‘Community of the Realm’ came to mean much more than the feudal
tenants. In the reign of Edward I (1272-1307) the monarchy was strengthened by
drawing the Community of the Realm into politics in the form of assemblies of
representatives from counties and boroughs, together with the great men. The essence
of parliament is present in some of these assemblies (though other assemblies also
called ‘parliaments’ had different functions. The link between taxation and
20
representation was in place. It enabled the king to tap the countries wealth for wars,
but monarchy was much less absolute than it had been. More or less constitutional
resistance to the crown became a periodic feature of English politics, and the conflicts
of the seventeenth centuries look in many ways like a rerun of medieval series (with
religious complications thrown in).
The other great meeting of 1215 was the Fourth Lateran Council, called by
pope Innocent III. This was part of a massive movement of pastoral reform. The
obligation of annual confession of sins to one’s priest was introduced, for instance.
Heresy
Innocent III’s support for the new orders of Franciscan and Domincan Friars
(or Mendicants) are part of the same pattern: a drive to reach the laity. Competition
from dissident religious movements made the task more urgent. Previous popes had
cracked down on these religious dissidents, but Innocent tried to turn them into
religious orders. In fact the similar ideas about apostolic poverty and preaching lay
behind heresies like the Waldensians and the Franciscan order. Francis of Assisi had
always been orthodox, but the Waldensians had split off and in fact still exist as a
Church today. However Innocent brought back a section of them to the Church. He
did much the same with the movement called the Humiliati, who became a religious
order.
With the Cathar or Albigensian heretics the differences of belief were too far
reaching for reconciliation. They believed that the whole material world was evil, sex
expecially, with marital sex being if anything worse and procreative sex worst of all.
This ran clean counter to Church doctrines of Incarnation, Real Presence of Christ’s
body and blood in the Eucharist, Resurrection of the body, and Marriage.
The Cathars were put down by a Crusade in Southern France, and after that by
Dominican preaching and Inquisitions. Their defeat was not inevitable. Their history
and that of other heresies shows that dissident doctrines could be spread by preaching
over vast areas in a short space of time. If a powerful state had supported one of these
heresies firmly and consistently the Catholic Church’s monopoly could have been
broken long before the Reformation. The idea that the Reformation was made
possible by preaching is in my view just a mistake.
The Cathars survived longer in Italy than in Southern France because they did
not present such a monolithic target. They lasted throughout the thirteenth century and
into the fourteenth. We know quite a lot about them and their internal divisions
because of the survival of a Cathar text, the Book of Two Principles. This shows us
how many divisions there were within the heresy. That in turn reminds us of a
principle of religious sociology: wherever doctrines are thought important, their will
be doctrinal divisions and religious splits. This goes a long way towards explaining
why heresies started in the first place.
Italy and the Empire
Religious divisions are part of the sociology of intense belief, and political divisions
part of the sociology of City States. I won’t pursue the parallels with classical Greece,
but they are extremely striking. Italian city-states were torn by conflicts between
different noble clans and between different strata of the prosperous elite. There was
much talk of ‘the people’, though this tended to mean an élite out of power. From
these struggle there often emerged a ‘Despot’, perhaps the leader of one of the great
noble factions. That was the normal pattern by the late Middle Ages. Florence
21
remained a Republic in name, though the Medici were rather like informal despots.
The cities fought among themselves and by the fifteenth century large power blocks
had emerged. As with Classical Greece, a subject city was never incorporated into any
kind of ‘national unity’: in each block there was the victorious city and its subject
territory, which might include many other cities.
Conflicts within Italian cities got mixed up with a new conflict between
Empire and Papacy. Frederick II of Hohenstaufen had started as a protégé of pope
Innocent III, but later popes ceased to trust him: he had promised not to unite
Southern and Northern Italy but changed his mind about that. Popes Gregory IX and
Innocent IV feared that he would control papal elections and policy, and indeed, the
experience of the rest of Europe suggests that the ruler did like to keep his thumb on
local prelates.
Open conflict broke out more than once. The papacy would have had no
chance, but for allies among the Italian cities who also felt threatened by Frederick II.
Like Frederick Barbarossa before him, Frederick II failed to achieve his goals. This is
generally taken to be the last great period of the Holy Roman Empire, but as I will
argue in the next lecture this is a misleading perspective. The papacy brought in a
French prince, Charles of Anjou, to fight the successors of Frederick II for the crown
of Southern Italy (technically ‘Sicily’, but it included much more.) He became King
of Sicily and promptly started to try to control the papacy. The revolt and secession of
Sicily clipped his wings, and his successors Charles II and Robert of Naples on the
whole worked well with popes.
Frederick II’s all-out efforts in Italy went with a willingness to let the secular
and ecclesiastical princes in Germany enjoy a lot of independence. After his death, the
imperial power looked even less substantial. Rival claimants attempt to gain general
recognition. In the early 14th century Henry VII of Luxembourg made a mark on the
Italian scene and raised Dante’s hopes of a revived universal Empire at the apex of
temporal power, but it came to nothing. In the 1320s Ludwig of Bavaria and Pope
John XXII fought a papal-imperial fight in the old style, and Ludwig for a brief while
controlled Rome and appointed an ‘anti-pope’, but had to retreat. The emperor
Charles IV (d. 1378) put the institution of a more stable footing, creating the electoral
college of three secular and 4 ecclesiastical princes. He had a strong power base in his
kingdom of Bohemia, then part of the empire, but not much effective force outside it.
In fact the situation in late medieval Germany was far from anarchic, though
it does not fit modern models of the state. Power devolved to the principalities and
free cities, but ultimate legitimacy remained with the emperor, who could thus
perform a role a little like that of the United Nations Secretary General today. It is
arguable that the splitting off of ideological authority from money and power in
Germany made it a less violent place to live in than late medieval France, where the
monarchy combined the two in an aggressive nation state. There was private war, but
it was a regulated legal system with rules, a perfectly reasonable political institution.
Trade flourished, notably in the South (Augsburg) and the Hanseatic North. This
makes an interesting contrast with the commerce of the Italian merchants. The
Hanseatic merchants were comparatively primitive in their commercial techniques,
yet the volume of trade and the prosperity were immense. The Italians by contrast
achieved a degree of refinement in techniques of merchant banking that puts some of
their firms in the same kind of league as Rothschilds or Barings.
The Papacy from the defeat of the Hohenstaufen to the Great Schism (1378)
22
Such was the skill and prestige of Italian merchant banking firms that the
papacy handed over their finances to three of them (three presumably so that they
could keep a check on each other). Until about the end of the thirteenth century, papal
finance had been astonishingly primitive. So was papal administration in many ways.
It is often presented as a bureaucracy, yet it lacked many of the features one takes for
granted in a bureaucracy - such as an office, or salaries for its clerks, who were paid
by the piece of work instead. On the other hand, the papacy managed to combine local
knowledge with central authority in a way unparalleled in world history before recent
times, except oddly enough in England, where Henry II had developed another means
to the same end. The papal method was the use of ‘Judges Delegate’, a system whose
ingenuity becomes clearer the more one understands the rationale of its technicalities.
The papacy enjoyed tremendous prestige. The great indulgence issued for the
year 1300 by Boniface VIII was not in fact a papal initiative. A rumour started, people
started arriving, and the indulgence had to be issued to meet this unsolicited demand.
The same pope stood up fiercely to Edward I of England and Philip the Fair of
France, kings of the emergent nation states, when they wanted to tax the clergy in
their lands to finance war against each other.
Yet Boniface was forced to back down, and after another slightly later
confrontation with the king of France he was captured and humiliated by the latter’s
Italian allies (the so-called ‘outrage of Anagni, 1302). The papacy’s prestige was
eclipsed. From then on popes were wary of offending the English and French kings. A
symptom of this new attitude was a change of emphasis in processes for the
canonisation of saints: resistance to secular authority was no longer stressed. Boniface
died soon afterwards and his successor was forced by Philip the Fair of France to
abolish the Order of Knights Templar. (The French king or his ministers were
interested in the Order’s vast wealth.)
By this time the papal states had become politically unmanageable, and the
papacy moved to Avignon under Pope John XXII, mentioned above in the context of
papal imperial conflict. Under John and his successors the papacy recovered most of
its prestige and was more rationally and efficiently governed than ever before. A
system of taxing church jobs (‘benefices’) proved an efficient way of raising money.
John XXII was responsible for much of this. He was also a brilliant intellectual, much
underestimated by scholars until recently. His theological originality was nearly his
downfall. Twice it encouraged him to stir up theological debates, once about
Franciscan poverty and then about the state of blessedness between death and the Last
Judgement. Opponents like Ludwig of Bavaria were able to use this against him and
call him a heretic, but somehow he survived it all. The other Avignon popes continued
his system. Gregory XI (influenced by the charismatic mystic Catherine of Siena)
finally brought the papacy back to Rome. The Avignon popes have the reputation of
being in a Babylonian captivity to France, but in fact their territory was not in the then
kingdom of France, and only one of them showed a perceptible French bias: Clement
VI
French and English
France was the great power of Europe, not only politically. Its vernacular romances
were imitated in translations all over the continent, including England. The University
of Paris was the intellectual centre of Christendom (though Bologna was better for
Law, Oxford becomes significant in the early fourteenth century, and important
universities proliferated towards the end of the period). No doubt this cultural preeminence owed something to France’s economic and political strength.
23
Philip Augustus’s son added to his vast domains thanks to the crusades against
the Cathars. The County of Toulouse was brought into the Capetian sphere of
influence, was granted out to a younger son but eventually reverted to the crown. This
was a pattern: the Capetians and their Valois successors were prepared to alienate
acquired lands to younger sons but they came back in the long run. This may have
been accident rather than planning: the rationale of the policy may have been dynastic
rather than nationalistic.
Crusading rather than nationalistic expansion was the central preoccupation of
St. Louis, the grandson of Philip Augustus. Both his crusades were unsuccessful but
he epitomised Christian kingship to many contemporaries. He also dealt easily with
the English King Henry III’s efforts to recover the lost lands in France. His prestige
was so great that he was brought in to mediate between Henry III and his rebellious
barons.
Henry III and Louis IX got on well enough, but ultimately England and France
were on a collision course. The King of England was still Duke of Gascony, and held
it from the French crown. French monarchs could use this feudal overlordship as a
stepping stone to direct authority. Philip the Fair did it to Edward I, who was lucky
that the Flemish cities wars with France provided a diversion. (There was some poetic
justice in Edward’s difficulties, since he had done similar things to Wales and
Scotland.) Another crisis came in the late 1330s: war broke out in 1337. Edward III
legitimated his resistance to the French monarchy’s high-handed overlordship in
Gascony by claiming with some technical justice that he was the rightful genealogical
heir to the throne of France (so his own overlord).
For much of Edward III’s reign the English dominated the war: a tribute to
their archers and also to the efficient system of taxation and representation, which
created a political ‘public sphere’ in England: county society had to be convinced that
the war was worth paying for.
For some time the balance of power in the war was held by the Valois Duchy
of Burgundy. It was originally granted by the French king to a younger son on the
field of battle. It turned into an independent political power and and its court was the
centre of a glittering chivalric culture. There was cash to pay for the culture. An
industrial power base in Flanders had been acquired by marriage. An orgy of
unsuccessful military adventure under its last duke Charles the Bold would later
destroy this developing state, but for a while in the early fifteenth century Burgundy
sided with England and the combination was dangerous for France. The battle of
Agincourt marked the high water of English power.. Eventually Burgundy switched
allegiance. Furthermore Joan of Arc led a national French come-back. England was
by this time ruled by a weak and periodically mad king, and was bound to lose.
By the time the war was over both England and France were nation states by
any intelligent definition. (Modern historians who date nationalism to much late
periods would seem to be seriously under-informed about the Middle Ages.). The
need to gain consent from the national community for taxation had fostered
nationalism in England even from before this particular war began. In France the
hostility to the English was intense. The monarchy (helped of course by Joan of Arc)
was the focus of national feeling. In return for successful leadership people were
prepared to pay a price: taxation without consent and a standing army.
The Black Death and the late Medieval Economy
A curious thing about the 100 Years War is that the Black Death in 1348 does
not seem to have made much difference to its course either way.
24
The Black Death was an overwhelming catastrophe in its own right. It is medically
puzzling: it is no longer clear that it was ‘the Plague’.1 Its historical impact is also
hard to assess. It drastically reduced the population, but was the population declining
already? The soil had been overexploited, and famines had resulted. Still the sudden
drop may have created a labour shortage in England. If so the war with France would
have become a drain on scarce labour resources, instead of a safety valve. But it is all
guesswork.
Historians cannot agree whether the late medieval economy was in good shape
or not. Some areas and places declined, others (S. Germany, Antwerp) flourished as
never before. Was the ‘Renaissance’ a fruit of prosperity or did rulers invest in culture
in the midst of a depression. Did the rise of English cloth production compensate for
the decline of wool exports? The questions are harder to answer than ask. Even if
there was a decline, was it because of the Black Death, or due to the drying up for a
time of silver mines in Eastern Europe. When production resumed in the fifteenth
century the international economy seems to have picked up. Perhaps one can conclude
that there was an economic crisis in the later fourteenth century but that the Black
Death did not necessarily cause it.
The Schism and the Late Medieval Church
There was something of a general crisis in Europe around 1400, but the
different problems may not have been closely connected. Thus there is no obvious
connection between the economic crisis and the Great Schism: disputed claims to the
papal office from 1378-1417. It followed the move to Avignon. A large set of
cardinals claimed that they had elected a pope under pressure from the Roman crowd.
They moved back to Avignon, electing their own pope. In actual fact they may have
been reacting against an attempt by the pope elected first to cut the cardinals down to
size. The College of Cardinals had developed an extreme sense of its own importance.
The results of the Schism were far reaching: many of the financial abuses associated
with the later medieval papacy started at this time. Europe was supporting two papal
courts not one. Both were short of cash and cut corners.
This was also the age of Conciliarism. The superiority of a general council
over a pope seemed to offer a solution to the crisis. Some old canon law theories
provided a basis for a new idea of Church authority. A council was held at Pisa to end
the Schism by deposing both popes and appointing a new one. The result was three
claimants to the papal throne rather than two.
The crisis of the Church was aggravated by the challenge of popular heresy in
England (Lollardy) and Bohemia (the Hussites). Lollardy was more or less suppressed
eventually. The Hussites on the other hand fought a successful war of offence and
defence for decades – despite internal divisions. The history of these heresies
reinforces the conviction that a Reformation could have happened without printing.
With initial political tolerance, a dissident movement could gain ground fast. In both
cases, political force was eventually brought to bear on the heresy. In England it was
effective against the Lollards, in Bohemia it produced a stalemate.
Slowly, the Church seemed to move out of crisis mode. The Schism ended
thanks to the intervention of the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund at the Council of
Constance. Conciliarism continued to challenge the papacy but a succession of popes
kept their nerve and sense of Church sovereignty and the Conciliar theory lost
support. By the later fifteenth century the papacy had beaten off the challenge (just as
1
See the recent studies by Sam Cohn.
25
kings and princes had mostly gained he upper hand over he representative institutions
- ‘Estates’ – that had been assertive in the later fourteenth and early fifteenth
centuries). Interestingly, the institution of the papacy was explained and defended by
preachers to the laity much more in the fifteenth century than in the thirteenth,
conventionally regarded as the high point of its power. Heresy seemed contained.
There were disquieting signs. Mass witch persecutions, unknown in the central
Middle Ages, were perhaps a symptom of deep anxieties. Financial scandals that had
started in the Schism did not disappear. The papacy introduced a system of sale of
offices that generated short-term cash but inflated the administration and left longterm debt. Furthermore the papacy may have failed to explain the rationality of some
of its practices to the intelligentsia of Europe. Luther’s comments on marriage betray
a deep misunderstanding of the rationale of Church marriage law. He was a highly
educated theologian. How must it have been for laypeople with some education and
great interest in religion? The scandalous lives of some individuals at the centre of the
papal court did not help the images institution. In principle, person and office were
regarded as sacred. Nevertheless pope Alexander VI’s strong paternal concern for the
career advancement of his illegitimate children, and his generally free sexual mores,
sent all the wrong signals.
Education and Culture
In the field of education the most famous development of the later Middle
Ages is Humanism. ‘Renaissance Humanism’ was indeed not so much a new world
view as a new educational syllabus: teaching how to translate in and out of classical
Latin and Greek, verse as well as prose. All the rest, appreciation of pagan antiquity,
optimism about human nature, was a continuation of some strands of medieval
thought. It should be noted that there was nothing specifically secular about
renaissance humanism, any more than there was about Renaissance Art. Renaissance
humanists studied the Christian writers of the ancient world as well as the pagan ones,
and the new educational syllabus would be adopted with enthusiasm for instance by
Jesuit schools in the period following this one; similarly, religious themes
predominate in much of the most famous renaissance art. On these subjects it is safe
to start from the assumption that most of what you have learned in school or picked
up as ‘general knowledge’ is more wrong than right.
The humanist syllabus spread from Italy as an educational curriculum for the
lay elite (for clerics too). There had been plenty of lay literacy long before this,
needless to say. Above all in Italy large numbers of laymen had a legal education as
far back as the twelfth century. This development was linked to the spread of Roman
Law as a model. In the fifteenth century Roman Law spread to Germany, the so-called
‘Reception’. It was taught in the universities that sprung up in most sizeable
principalities and which produced an elite of lay administrators. England had only two
universities, but the Inns of Court produced a lay elite trained in Common Law, from
the thirteenth century on.
Peripheries
One convenient ending for this period would be the discovery of America.
That can be viewed as a culmination of the West’s tendency to expand in all
directions, though the movement had slowed in the last two medieval centuries. The
Crusades had continued throughout the period, still attracting idealism though rather
unsuccessful. The great expansion into Central Europe came to a halt around the end
of the thirteenth century. The Kingdoms of Eastern Europe became an integral part of
26
Christendom and this course gives too little attention to them. Christian kingdoms in
Spain had already won all of the peninsula but the kingdom of Granada in the South
by the end of the thirteenth century. After that conflicts within and between the
kingdoms dominate Spanish political history until the unification of Castile and
Aragon under Isabella and Ferdinand, who overcame Granada. There was no more of
Spain to conquer and shortly afterwards Columbus set sail.
Bibliography
Hollister and Bennet, chapters 14-16, and especially 141-3, 275-7, for document (a)
and 339 (for document (b).
Further Reading on the Period
S. Ozment, The Age of Reform, 1250-1550. An Intellectual and Religious History of
Late Medieval and Reformation Europe (New Haven, 1980)
D. Waley and Peter Denley, Later Medieval Europe
M. Lambert, Medieval Heresy. Popular Movements from the Gregorian Reform to the
Reformation (Oxford, 1992)
Document (a)
British Library Cotton Charter XXIII.3
[Note: Distinguish Anabilla from her grandmother Amabilla.]
To all the faithful of Christ whom the present letter has reached, Ralph Basset, son
and heir of Simon Basset of Sapecote, deceased, sends greeting in the Lord. Know
that I have given, conceded, and through this present document confirmed to Master
Peter of Leicester, cleric, custody of all the lands holdings, including the advowson [=
right to appoint the parish priest] of the Church of Rokeby, which are held in chief [=
without intermediary] from me from the inheritance of Ranulph of Rokeby, the son
and heir of Lord Henry de Rokeby, and also the 'marriage' of Anabilla, the daughter
and heir of the aforesaid Ranulph, for forty marks which the aforesaid Peter gave into
my hands in such a way that the same Lord Peter can marry off the aforesaid Anabilla
to whomsoever he wants, according to the free choice of his will, having and holding
from me and my heirs for himself and his assignees the aforesaid advowson and right
to marry off, up to the full and legal age of majority of the same Anabilla. And if it
should happen that the lady Amabilla of Rokeby, who was the wife of the late
aforesaid Henry of Rokeby, should pass away before the legal age of majority of the
aforesaid Anabilla, which God forbid, I wish and I concede on my own behalf and
that of my heirs and assignees that the same Peter may have all the lands, holdings,
and revenues with their appurtenances that the aforesaid Amabilla held as her dowry,
up until the legal age of majority of the aforesaid Anabilla, rendering to me annually,
up until that same age, the half the value of all the lands, tenements and revenues that
the aforesaid Amabilla teld as her dowry, as was said above, to be ascertained by a
fair valuation, on the dates set for paying revenues in the village of Rokeby. And I,
the aforesaid Ralph, my heirs and my assignees, will guarantee and acquit and defend
against everybody the custody of all the aforesaid holdings, together with the
advowson of the aforesaid church and the right to marry off the aforesaid heiress, up
to the completion of the [legal] age of the aforesaid Anabilla. In testimony of this the
present charter, made in the form of a chirograph, is validated both by my seal and
that of the aforesaid Peter. These are the witnesses: the lords Robert of Chaumpayne,
Robert Burdet, Thomas Basset the son of Ralph Basset . . . [other names follow] . . .
27
Given at Leicester on Palm Sunday, in the twenty-fourth year of the reign of king
Edward, son of king Henry. [1296]
QUESTIONS
GENERAL CONTEXT AND TERMINOLOGY
 What does the king of England rule at this time and what was going on
politically?
 What kind of economy did it have?
 What class of people are we dealing with here: upper-class, townsmen,
peasants?
 What is a 'cleric'?
CHARACTER AND SETTING OF THE DOCUMENT
 What is a 'chirograph'?
 What was the function of the seals mentioned at the end?
 What parts of the document are formulaic (i.e. common form shared by other
similar documents)?
 Who would keep the document?
 What had been the relation of Ralph Basset and Ranulph of Rokeby?
 Amabilla is Ranulph's widowed mother: why does she come into the picture?
 Is Peter of Leicester a relative?
 What is Peter of Leicester getting out of it?
SECULAR AND RELIGIOUS: APPOINTMENT OF PARISH PRIESTS
 What is an 'advowson'?
 How does Ralph Basset come control the appointment of a parish priest?
 Why did the Church allow this?
'FEUDALISM'
 Explain the assumptions behind the powers that Ralph Basset is selling to
Peter of Leicester?
 Can you explain the origin of those assumptions in England?
 Can you explain their origins in continental Europe?
MARRIAGE AND FEUDALISM
 Why is Anabilla's choice of husband being determined by Ralph Basset or
Peter of Leicester?
 What would the family have thought about that?
 What would the Church have thought about that?
 Could she have said 'no' to the man chosen for her?
Extra information.

The coronation charter of Henry I (1100) says that ‘If any of my barons or of my tenants
shall wish to give in marriage his daughter [etc.]...he shall consult me... but I will neither
28

seek payment for my consent, nor will I refuse permission, unless he wishes to give her in
marriage to one of my enemies...’.
Magna Carta (1215 version): clause 6: 'Heirs shall be married without disparagement
[i.e. to social equals], yet so that before the marriage is contracted those nearest in blood
to the heir shall have notice.
POSITION OF WOMEN
 What does this tell us about the property rights of heiresses?
 And of widows?
29
Document (b)
(P.R.O. JUST 3/41/1)
‘Newgate gaol deliveries by Henry Spigurnel and fellows, 10-14 Edward II (1316 1320). Plea Roll.’
Translation
John of Worcester, captured at the suit of John of Weston, knight, for a certain
robbery which he committed at Newcastle on Tyne of fifteen pounds sterling, in
sterling pennies in ready money, in rings and in gold brooches,silver cups, and other
jewels and goods and chattels to the value of a hundred pounds. And for burgling the
house of Robert of Kesteven in (?)Distaplane in the ward of Breadstreet in London,
and for a certain robbery feloniously committed at night in the same place of the
goods and chattels of N. Bishop of Bath and Wells, to the value of a hundred pounds.
And also a buglary of the house of Hervic of Staunton, the Chancellor of the
Exchequer of the Lord King within Aldredesgate, and a robbery feloniously done to
the same Hervic of goods and chattels to the value of forty pounds. And he was
indicted, etc. He came and when asked how he wished to clear himself of aforesaid
felonies, he said that he is a cleric, etc., and cannot on that account answer here. And
with regard to that the objection was made to the same John that he should not enjoy
clerical privilege, because he is a ‘bigamist’, because he married a certain widow
named Alice, who had previously been the wife of a certain William of Thuriton, who
died in the prison of the lord King in the Tower of London, etc. And the aforesaid
John says that he is not a bigamist, and that he never had any wife, etc. And with
regard to that, Robert of Ware, John of Waleden, William the (?)Maderman,
Gilbertus le Sherman, William the Skinner, John of Kent, dier, Simon or Tournam,
Henry of Somerset, William le Hastere, Thomas Acte Romme, Simon the Taylor, and
William of Noctele, sworn in as a jury of the Ward of Castle Baynard and of the
neighbourhood of the (...?) of St. Paul, where the aforesaid John and the aforesaid
Alice have already lived for five years, said on their oath that the aforesaid John of
Worcester, after the death of a certain William of Thurston, the first husband of the
aforesaid Alice, the man who died in the prison of the Tower of London, married the
same widow Alice, and kept her as his wife in their neighbourhood. And they say
specifically that the aforesaid John is a bigamist, etc. Therefore the same John
answered for the aforesaid felonies. And when asked how he wished to clear himself
of the aforesaid robberies, burglaries and felonies, he specifically refused to put
himself to any jury, etc. Therefore, as one refusing the common law, he was
committed to gaol for peine [forte et dure]. Afterwards, in the presence of the same
justices and in the presence of John of Sherbourn, standing in for Stephen of
Abingdon, coroner of the lord King of the City of London, the aforesaid John of
Worceser admitted the robberies, burglaries and felonies attributed to him, and that he
is a thief, and he became an ‘approver’, etc. And he made an appeal, etc. Afterwards,
in the presence of the same justices, on the Saturday after the feast of the translation
of the Martyr, now in the fourteenth regnal year,2 the same John [withdrew] himself
from his aforesaid appeal. Therefore he was hanged, etc.
QUESTIONS ABOUT DOCUMENT (b)
2
1320
30
GENERAL CONTEXT
 What is the general political setting in England at the time?
Edward II is king. He is less successful than his father, losing in Scotland. He is also
unpopular with the nobility because he rules through favourites. A few years later he
is deposed and killed. But by this time the functioning of government does not depend
too much on the personality of the king.
 What kind of economy is implied by theft of this type and on this scale?
Large sums of money are being stolen. It is of course by now a sophisticated money
economy.
CHARACTER AND SETTING OF THE DOCUMENT
 What kind of document is this?
It is a record of legal cases. They were written on huge rolls, sheepskins sewn
together, a distinctively English way of record keeping.
 How and where has it survived?
It is in Public Record Office, together with a colossal number of other similar records
of late medieval government. By this time the instinct of the royal government was to
write down everythning it did and to keep it.
 Are such documents rare?
As the preceding comment suggests, not rare in the least.
VOLUME OF SURVIVING RECORDS
 Is the volume of surviving records a significant fact?
Yes: in the early Middle Ages most of what was done by or in the name of the royal
government was never written down, though some transactions were recorded on
stand-alone charters, which might be kept by the person who benefitted from them
rather than by the person or institution that issued them. The transformation of
English government 'from memory to written record' has been studied in a classic
book by Michael Clanchy. The twelfth century is the watershed. By the fourteenth
century, government records are so voluminous that they will never all be printed, let
alone translated. Modern historians do not always realise that medievalists too have to
cope with the problem of an overwhelming volume of source material: but the fact
that it was generated and kept is in important fact about the character of government.
The English royal government probably generated more records than any other in the
Middle Ages.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
 What is the general legal system? Is this royal justice, and what other kinds
of justice were available?
For crimes like this, justice was royal justice, though criminal justice was in private
hands in some areas like the territory ruled by the bishop of Durham. Note that clerics
came under Church courts not royal courts: an outcome of the conflict between
Thomas Becket and King Henry II in the twelftyh century.
 What does 'at the suit of' imply?
The case was brought by a private individual.
 What is the role of gaols?
Once indicted, the suspect is kept in gaol until a royal justice comes to here the cases
of everyone in gaol in that place (in this case, Newgate).
31
 What is the punishment for substantial theft?
Hanging
 Does the document tell us anything about the use of juries?
Often they were in effect local witnesses rather than just a random set of people. Here
they do indeed seem to be witnesses with local knowledge.
 What is peine forte et dure?
Pressure, literally, brought to bear to make someone plead.
 What is an 'approver' and what does an 'appeal' mean in this context (trick
question)?
You could at least delay execution by turning an informer against your accomplice,
but then you had to fight a judicial duel with your accomplice. Weird or what? A
survival from an age when judicial duels were normal. The idea was that God would
decide. It was a sort of ordeal. The Church did not approve of ordeals, and in 1215
abolished those where priests were required, but no priest was needed for judicial
duels so the Church didn't have power to stop them.
'BIGAMY' AND THE EFFECTS OF MARRIAGE SYMBOLISM
 Why does he claim to be a cleric?
Clerics were removed from the royal court to a church court, and church courts did
not have capital punishment.
 Why is it relevant that his wife was a widow before he married her?
Clerics who were on the bottom rungs of the latter towards becoming a priest could be
married, but they lost their clerical status if they married a widow. That made them
bigami, because their marriage was no longer 'one to one'. They were also bigami if
they remarried after their wife's death, for the same reason. Remarriage of widows
and widowers was morally quite acceptable but thought symbolically detrimental to
the symbolism of marriage as an analogue of Christ's union with the Church. A
symbolically detrimental marriage was enough to lose a man his clerical status and
exemption from secular justice: this from 1274, when the Second Council of Lyons
ruled that bigami should heceforth be denied the status of clergy. At one level of
causation, pressure from the French king probably explains the Council’s decisions.
The fewer the clerics with exemptions, the better, from a secular monarch’s point of
view. However, royal influence is an insufficient explanation, because married
clergy who were not classifiable as bigami kept their privilege
Edward I of England rapidly passed the Statute De bigamis, so taking benefit
of clergy away from the sub-class of married men. This sequence is an interesting
instance of how Church and State worked together in the thirteenth century, but that is
another story. The statute De Bigamis seems to have been well publicised, to judge
by manuscript diffusion. It could make the difference between life and death, as is
clear here.
14. The Holy Roman Empire
The ‘Transfer of Empire’ (translation imperii)
After the collapse of the Roman Empire in the West, the ‘Roman Emperor’
continued for a long time to be the Emperor at Constantinople. Popes in particular
32
continued to look to the Byzantine Emperor for protection, and conflicts arose only
during doctrinal disputes when popes thought the Emperor had picked the wrong side.
Eventually however it became clear that the Byzantine Emperor in the East could not
offer the papacy proper protection against the Lombards, a new wave of invaders who
ruled Northern Italy. In the mid-eighth century therefore the papacy forged an alliance
with the new Carolingian dynasty north of the Alps. The first stage was to legitimate
their replacement of the Merovingian dynasty as the royal line of Francia: at first just
kings, not emperors.
On Christmas Day, 800 the pope crowned Charlemagne Emperor. Since the
Roman Empire continued in the Eastern Mediterranean, with Constantinople as its
capital, the ritual was full of significance. Historians do not agree about the precise
significance, but it presumably suggested that the papacy had given up on the Eastern
Empire and wanted the king of the Franks to take on the role of ally and protector.
Charlemagne got status out of it and extra legitimation for his enormous power. He
and his successor ruled the lands which would become France, Germany, and
Northern Italy.
The Revived Holy Roman Empire from Otto the Great
In 962 the Western Empire was renewed in a different form when Otto I of
Germany was crowned by the pope. A few years earlier he had established a firm
power base in Germany by defeating the Hungarians at the Battle of the Lech. His
empire did not include France, but he and his successors were the nearest thing to a
legitimate central authority in Northern Italy. He and his successors relied much on
their power to appoint bishops and abbots, who tended to be the local secular
government as well as exercising their religious offices: and the two functions tended
to blend. (The foregoing theory can still be defended though Timothy Reuter
intelligently cut it down to size.)
The Empire and the Investiture Contest
Thus the attack on the emperor’s power to appoint prelates by the reformed
papacy in the second half of the twelfth century was therefore a serious threat. A
compromise came out of the Concordat of Worms in 1122: the emperor was allowed
much of the substance of his power over the Church in Germany, though his grip on it
was now weaker; he lost it altogether in Italy. New rituals made it clear that secular
and religious power were two different things even if combined in the same person.
Germany’s ‘Failure’ to become a unified nation state
The conflict with the papacy coupled with imperial involvement in Italy used
to get the blame for Germany’s failure to become a nation state. As long ago as 1941
Walter Schlesinger showed that centralised monarchy in Germany had never been a
safe bet. Many great lords had built up their power from below by developing the
land, rather than deriving it from the king/emperor. Thus it is misleading to think of a
centralised monarchy gradually losing its rightful powers. Much of the real power in
Germany had never come from the monarchy in the first place.
As for expeditions to Italy, Gillingham has plausibly argued that they were a
source of strength. Great lords and princes who might not care much about the
king/emperor when they were in Germany were prepared to follow him obediently on
Italian expeditions, which were a source of excitement and enrichment.
33
Frederick Barbarossa
In the second half of the twelfth century Frederick Barbarossa made a
determined effort to revive imperial power in Italy. He was helped by the revival of
Roman Law. He was regarded as the successor of the ancient Roman emperors.
Roman Law constantly brought their authority to mind, and this would reflect prestige
on his authority. However, Barbarossa faced opposition from the newly independent
Italian communes, especially Milan, and from the papacy, which feared encirclement
and subordination to the emperor. The battle of Legnano in 1177 put an end to
Barbarossa’s hopes.
Frederick II
His grandson, the emperor Frederick II, who as also king of Sicily and
Southern Italy, made a similar attempt. Again he was blocked by an alliance of the
Northern Italian cities with the papacy.
The Holy Roman Empire and Italy in the Late Middle Ages
Traditionally, the Empire after Frederick II has been presented as something of
a sham. However, historians increasingly recognize the durability of its political
significance, even where Italy is concerned.
~ Imperial authority (or that of the ‘King of the Romans’, who was emperor in
embryo) legitimated new regimes in Italy: in 1294 the Visconti lord of Milan was
granted an ‘imperial vicariate’, and in 1395 Milan became an imperial duchy.
~ In the early fourteenth century Dante seems to have taken the empire entirely
seriously as a political authority.
~ In 1327-1330 Ludwig of Bavaria dominated Italian politics
~ In 1354-5 Charles IV’s expedition to be crowned led to a change of regime in Siena.
The Holy Roman Empire and Germany in the Late Middle Ages
In Germany too the Empire continued to matter.
~ At least 17 German bishops owed their nomination to Charles IV (source: Hauck)
~ The same emperor’s ‘Golden Bull’ regulated private war in a sensible and realistic
way.
~ In General, the Emperor played a central role in the organisation of ‘Land-Peaces’,
of which the Land-Peace of 1378 (Charles IV again) is an example. These aimed for
instance, roads to be kept free for merchants, clergy, pilgrims, peasants, and Jews.
Members of the peace agreed to join together in enforcing it. An organisation would
be set up in which the princes and cities involved had representatives, and the
emperor appointed a head (Obmann) (Angermeier, Konigtum und Landfriede, 264-5).
~ An elective monarchy had great advantages, as Gillingham has argued. # It tended
to cut out the succession to the throne of boys who were not yet fit to rule. # It
avoided tension between the king and his heir. # It diminished the likelihood of an
incompetent on the throne. # It made it easier to remove an emperor/emperor elect
who became incompetent (like the drunken Wenceslaus). # It meant that the
damaging consequences of a disputed succession didn’t get passed down the
generations.
The Holy Roman Empire and the wider world in the Late Middle Ages
~ The Emperor also retained a European-wide role: in 1410-1437 Sigismund played a
major part in ending the papal schism, and lead the wars against the Hussites.
34
~ Anyone who thinks that the Holy Roman Emperor had lost his power should think
about the Emperor Charles V in the sixteenth century, who probably ruled more
territory than anyone before or since in human history.
Bibliography
Hollister and Bennett, pp. 261-2, 362-3
Further reading on the Holy Roman Empire in general
Janet Nelson, Charles the Bald (London, 1992)
T. Reuter, Germany in the Early Middle Ages (1991)
G. Barraclough, The Medieval Empire. Idea and Reality (Historical Association
Pamphlet, 1969)
M. Bloch, 'The Empire and the Idea of Empire under the Hohenstaufen', in his Land
and Work in Medieval Europe
G. Tabacco, The Struggle of Power in Medieval Italy (Cambridge, 1989), chapters 3-5
F. Du Boulay, Germany in the later Middle Ages (1983), 1-63
J. Gillingham, 'Elective Kingship and the Unity of Medieval Germany', German
History 9 (1991)124-35
Document (a)
The Holy Roman Emperor as International Lawgiver: Shipwreck.
Context: the Constitution in the Basilica of St. Peter was issued by Frederick II on
Nov. 22, 1220, 'in celebration of his imperial coronation' (Abulafia, Frederick II, p.
138)
Wherever ships go, if by chance they should be wrecked or in some other way come
to land, both the ships and the goods of those sailing them should be kept in their
entirety for those to whom they belonged before the ship ran into this danger, and
every custom, in any place, which runs counter to this law (sanctioni)is altogether
abolished; unless the ships are of the kind that carry on piracy, or hostile to Us or the
the christian name. Transgressors of this our constitution should be punished by the
confiscation of goods...'
(Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Constitutiones et Acta Publica Imperatorum, ii, ed.
L. Weiland no. 85, p. 109)
Compare the previous passage with the following one from a model funeral sermon in
memory of an emperor by Giovanni da San Gimignano, and Italian Dominican active
in the first half of the fourteenth century:
GENERAL CONTEXT
What territories did Frederick II rule?
What was their political, social, and economic character?
Why did he need to be crowned by the pope?
Why did his relationship with the papacy break down?
CHARACTER OF THE DOCUMENT
What kind of document is this?
How has it come down to us?
IMPERIAL AUTHORITY
35
What does it tell us about imperial authority in the early thirteenth century?
Document (b)
On the first point it should be noted that the dominion of the empire not only extends
to lords or rectors who exercise power on land, but also those who exercise power or
princely authority over the sea. . . . And it is from this that the emperor makes laws
about ships and shipwrecks, as is evident from the constitution of Frederick to the
adornment and honour of the empire # Navigii, a law which says that if by any chance
ships should be wrecked, both they and the goods of those who sail in them should be
kept for those to who they belonged before the ship's peril, with every contrary
custom being rendered inoperative, except if they should be carrying on piratical
tyranny or be [hostile] to the christian name.
(Sermon on the text Is qui videbatur fluctibus maris imperare, MS. Siena, Biblioteca
Comunale F.X.24, fo. 101ra)
GENERAL CONTEXT
What is happening in Italy at this time?
Who is Giovanni da San Gimignano and is he a representative figure of this time
CHARACTER OF THE DOCUMENT
To what genre does this source belong?
How has it come down to us?
THE EMPIRE AND INTERNATIONAL LAW
What does it tell us about the emperor's status in the fourteenth century?
15. Kingdoms
I will concentrate on three themes: sacrality; limited monarchy; and the rise of the
nation-state.
Sacrality
By ‘sacral kingship’ I mean monarchy with overtones of the holy and the
supernatural. Divine right of kings is only one form of it, and this really belongs to the
history of early modern England more than medieval history.
A common view is that early medieval kingship was sacral and later medieval
kingship secular. Actually, sacrality remains a central theme throughout the period,
and one compatible with the rise of administrative kingship.
Some scholars think that elements of this sacrality go back to a pre-Christian
past. If so, Christianity reinforced it. Whatever the origins of the idea, kings could be
thought to possess charismatic powers. The royal anointing ceremony emphasized
that the office was holy (though it might be taken to imply a certain inferiority in this
sphere to the priests who did the anointing). Again, some individual kings were
treated as saints after their death. These different sorts of sacrality should not be
separated too sharply by modern historians, since they were probably mixed up
together in the minds of contemporaries.
Some dates:
 751 Pippin (first monarch of the Carolingian dynasty) anointed king.
 [800 Coronation of Charlemagne as emperor]
36





869 Edmund the Martyr, king of East Anglia, killed by Danes. Cult follows
940 Otto the Great makes a monk-porter the bishop of Regensburg, because of
a dream.
Mid 10th century (940s and 950s) Otto the Great holds back from punishing a
rebellion first of a brother, then of a son, perhaps to preserve the sacrosanct
aura of the royal family (so Karl Leyser).
Late 10th century (970s) onwards, in England: special prayers for the kind and
queen in newly founded Benedictine abbeys.
Robert the Pious of France (d. 1031) credited with cures: e.g. ‘when Robert
signed the sick with a cross, the pain abated.’
It is believed by some historians that royalty was secularised in the central and later
Middle Ages (i.e. from circa 1100 onwards). They argue that the Investitute Conflict
drew a sharp line between secular and sacred, and tried to keep kings out of the latter;
also that administration of kingdoms was successively laicised; finally, that the
discovery of Aristotle’s lost writings on Politics and Ethics encouraged ideas about a
secular realm separate from the sacred.
Though the secular and sacred were more clearly distinguished from the eleventh
century, the foregoing schema neglects the fact that monarchy continued to be
‘sacred’ in the later Middle Ages.The curative powers of the English and French kings
seem to become institutionalised only in the late Middle Ages. A funeral sermon on
the Emperor Charles IV shows that all the elements of sacrality were still around in
the fourteenth century.
Conversely, it would be wrong to neglect the secular aspect of early medieval
Royalty. Beowulf may help us nderstand how a secular warrior ethos could co-exist
with Christian beliefs. Most of the actual practice of early medieval monarchs was
secular enough, without being anti-Christian, though the surviving evidence is biased
towards teir religious interests, since ecclesiastic wrote down most of it.
The real change in the central Middle Ages was the development of royal
administrations which have left massive written records of their secular activities.
They were able to do this because they used stereotyped and impersonal forms for
their written acts, which could be issued without the ruler’s personal involvement.
Novel disseisin in England (later twelfth-century on) is a famous example. It allowed
for a quick provisional settlement of land disputes and made recourse to violence to
settle them pointless. Note that ecclesiastics went on playing a part in royal
administrations for most of the period (e.g. the English Chancery was manned by
clerics). Note that the word ‘clerk’ comes from ‘clericus’.
Limited monarchy
Some of the limitations on monarch in the Middle Ages have a modern look:
 Limitation by representative assemblies
 The idea that a tyrant forfeits authority, altogether or perhaps just in
respect of a particular command.
Others are more specific to the period:
 The idea of the ‘useless king’ who might be deposed or sidelined on
papal authority, or by bishops
37

The idea of counsel and consent in government (Witan, counsel of
tenants-in-chief
 The idea of private war.
 The idea of a moral law with a specifically religious sanction. This was
one of the ideas behind the use of Magna Carta as a political symbol in
the thirteenth century, and helps explain why violators of Magna Carta
incurred excommunication.
These various limitations made a package providing checks on absolutism perhaps not
much less effective and more logically consistent than those of contemporary times.
Two special cases of limited monarchy deserve particular attention.
 In England, the feudal limitations imposed by Magna Carta were transmuted
in the course of the thirteenth century into the representation of the county and
borough communities (alongside great nobles and bishops) in Parliament,
though a system set up to extract taxation at the cost of representation: a
formula that should be regarded as thoroughly medieval.
 In Aragon the king depended heavily on consent from representative ‘estates’,
and developed a line in eloquent speech making to win over these assemblies.
Nation States
Quite a lot of modern scholars are under the impression that nation-states are a recent
phenomenon. They are in fact a late medieval development. Political
units
can
usefully be called nation-states insofar as they have physical and emotional
boundaries that include countryside as well as more than one city, and where the
sense of community is based on something more than subjection to the same
government: on common language, or shared history and memories, especially of war,
or inculcated symbols or rituals, or common laws, or a belief in common descent, or
any combination of the foregoing. Rulers may well deliberately foster anything that
creates such a sense of community because it makes subjects more compliant.
England was already developing into such a unit in the thirteenth century. In
the Barons Wars men of Peatling Magna showed hostility to some of the kings men
because the latter were going against ‘the community of the realm and the barons’
(Powicke, Henry III and the Lord Edward, index under ‘Peatling Magna’. At the start
of the fourteenth century the King of France Philip the Fair manipulated protonational feeling as a weapon in his quarrel with Boniface VIII.
The Hundred Years War was the real crucible of the two prototypical nationstates, England and France. In England, the King needed to stimulate national feeling
to keep tax money coming to pay for the war. Dramatic victories over the French
helped the process. Conversely, hatred of the English who so successfully ravaged
France was a powerful source of national feeling there. By the end of the period
England and France had highly developed national identities. The difference from the
eighteenth, nineteenth or twentieth centuries is merely one of degree.
Note: Sir John Fortescue (d. 1479)
'Lawyer of Lincoln's Inn . . . M.P. . . .Chief Justice of Kings Bench . . .as a prominent
Lancastrian . . . dismissed . . .' - exile in Scotland, captured by Yorkists, recognized
Edward I as King, and 'lived in retirement on his estates' . On the Governance of the
38
Kingdom of England 'written during his exile inthe 1460s' (From J. Gardner and N.
Wenborn, History Today Companion to British History (1995)
Bibliography
Hollister and Bennett, 277, 279 (for both documents)
Further Reading on Kingdoms
J. Strayer, On the Medieval Origins of the Modern State (Princeton, 1970)
B. Guenée, States and Rulers in Later Medieval Europe (1983)
F. M. Powicke, Henry III and the Lord Edward (Oxford, 1947)i, 509-10
R. R. Davies, 'The Peoples of Britain and Ireland 1100-1400. 1. Identities',
[Transactions of the ] Royal Historical Society (1994)
Henry A. Myers and H. Wofram, Medieval Kingship
Jean-Philippe Genet, Four English Political Tracts of the Later Middle Ages: read the
Introduction
N. B. also M. Clanchy, England and its Rulers, ch. 11: a lot of copies in the library
Document (a)
1258 The Provisions of Oxford (as set down in an informal record in the
chronicle of Burton Abbey)
So it is to be remembered that the commonalty (commun) shall elect twelve honest
men, who shall come to the parliaments and at other times when occasion shall be,
when the king or his council shall send for them, to treat of the wants of the king and
of the kingdom. And that the commonalty shall hold as established that which these
twelve shall do. And that shall be done to spare the cost of the commonalty.
W. Stubbs, Select Charters, p. 387 (his translation from the original French, which
was then the language of the nobility in England)
NOTE: The Provisions of Oxford emerged from a proto-Parliament arising from the indebtedness of
Henry III, but they have been seen as a milestone in the history of elected monarchy. They laid down
that there should be several councils elected (by the barons) rather than chosen by the king. But the
cause of the barons began to be perceived as national: Powicke, Henry III and the Lord Edward
(Oxford, 1947), pp. 509-10 discusses a case where villagers of Peatling Magna in Leicestershire were
arrested for allegedly attacking one of the kings grooms and accusing him a much more eminent royal
supporter and his men of 'going against the commonalty of the realm and the barons'. Powicke
comments that 'the most significant fact in the story is that the peasants of a village community had
grasped the idea of the community of the realm' (p. 510).
QUESTIONS
GENERAL POLITICAL BACKGROUND
Explain the background to the crisis: had Henry been a tyrant? Who were his
opponents? Was this a revolution? How important was resentment against
'aliens'? Who were these 'aliens'? What was the 'Sicilian expedition' issue? Were
constitutional arrangements like this a novelty? With what other reforms was
this constitutional reform associated? Did they represent baronial interests only?
NATURE OF THE DOCUMENT
What kind of document does this come from and how has it survived?
THE COMMUNE
39
Explain the concept of the 'commune': in England, in Italy and France, etc.?
What was the potential of the concept as a force in English history?
Document (b)
The year 1297 according to the Hagnaby chronicle.
. . . The king held a council at London where as before he asked help from the clergy,
but the archbishop replied for the clergy that he would give nothing without a special
licence of the Lord Pope. The King ordered the Sheriffs of England that no one in the
are of which they had charge should allow any religious person or ecclesiastical
person to work the land or sow unless they concede to the lord king a fifth part of all
goods . . . In this council the king ordered all the horses of the archbishop to be
detained . . . . [p. 200] Again, after Easter the King ordered all the sheriffs of England
that each in the area of which they had charge should take for his service corn and
oats wherever they had been found, cattle and pigs and cheese, and also beef and
pork, and that they should gather them together by the sea at Portsmouth for the lord
King's expedition to Gascony.
But the King made lord Reginald de Gray the guardian of England and of his
son Edward, and around the feast of St. Bartholomew he crossed to Flanders with a
small number of men, and was received there with honour by the Count, and he came
with his men to the city which is called Ghent. Meanwhile the counts and barons held
council with the son of the king, and with the lord Reginald the guardian of England,
concerning the peace and the charters [and] liberties of England. They concede on
their own behalf and confirmed it in writing.
Therefore the Scots, hearing of the crossing of the lord King [p. 201] to
Flanders, started a rising, among them a certain evil man by name of William of
Wallace, and gathering together a great multitude he invaded Northumberland, killing
and burning and devastating almost three counties. The counts and barons, hearing of
the harm which was then done in England, gathered together in a great multitude and
set off towards Scotland. . . . Meanwhile the lord Reginald sent a messenger to the
King on the part of his son and of the Community of England for the Charter of
Liberties and of the Forest, and how the Scots had again invaded England. And the
King conceded the charter . . . and sent it to England through a certain Dominican.
This Charter is the same that was conceded after a great multitude of men had been
killed at Lewes and Evesham.
(Hagnaby Chronicle, extract printed in M. Prestwich, Documents Illustrationg the
Crisis of 1297-98 in England (1980), pp. 199-201. He notes that the manuscript
containing the chronicle 'continues with a version of Magna Carta, the Charter of the
Forest, and the sentence of thirteen bishops issued in 1253 against all transgressors of
the Charters' (p. 201))
QUESTIONS
NATURE OF THE DOCUMENT
 What kind of document is this and how has it survived? Monastic chronicle.
Survives in a British Library manuscript. Note the texts associated with it in the
manuscript: see above.
MICROCOSM OF THE ENGLISH POLITICAL WORLD AT THE END OF
THE THIRTEENTH CENTURY
What does the extract imply about the following:
40





Church and State: Bishops and limited monarchy; Papacy and England; the
weapons on either side in Church - State conflict.
The Peasantry and the Demands of the Crown
England and France
Scotland and England
The tradition of resistance to the crown in England
TAXATION AND REPRESENTATION
What are the implications of the kings concession for subsequent English, British
and American History?
NOTE: The chronicle is alluding to the 'Confirmation of the Charters' by the King.
Note this key clause, which was additional to Magna Carta and the Charter of the
Forest (both by now traditional):
Confirmation of the Charters, 1297
Moreover we have granted for us and our heirs, as well as archbishops, bishops, abbots,
priors, and other folk of holy Church, as also to earls, barons, and to all the community of the
land (communaute de la terre), that for no business from henceforth will we take such manner
of aids, mises, nor prises from our realm, but by the common assent of all the realm, and for
the common profit thereof, saving the ancient prises due and accustomed.
(Stubbs, Select Charters, p. 493)
16. The Papacy
The Early Middle Ages ideology and episodic power
Papal claims to supremacy could take a startlingly precocious form even in the very
early Middle Ages: e.g. the letter of a pope to the Bishop of Alexandria, 422: ‘the
solicitude of the universal church, received by him through the decision of the Lord,
awaits the blessed apostle Peter, in fact as the gospel testifies he knows that it is
founded on him. Nor can this honour ever be empty of responsibilities, since it is
certain that the greatest business depends on his deliberation . . .’ [he doge on to say
that his responsibility extends to the East] (Mirbt, Quellen, no. 155). The papacy was
quite untypical of the Western Church in that it intervened regularly in the great
doctrinal controversies about the nature of Christ that took place in the Greek East in
this period. The papacy also kept up a higher level of bureaucracy in the early Middle
Ages than any other government. In the early Middle Ages one can find a precedent
for almost everything the papacy did in the later Middle Ages: but there is a
difference is between events and a system. These early medieval events are
interspersed with blocks of time when only local things went on. In the period before
the eleventh century it was probably easy for a Christian to go from one year’s end to
the next without even thinking about the papacy, and perhaps for a whole lifetime.
England and Germany
The English Church in the seventh century and after had a more highly developed
consciousness of papal authority than one finds in most regions at that time. One
example is the appeal to the pope by bishop Wilfrid in the later seventh century
(Bede, Ecclesiastical History 5.19).
English missionaries Christianised much of Germany in the eighth century, and the
missionaries workd closely with the papacy. Thus papal authority acquired quite a
higher profile in the Carolingian empire, especially since the papacy legitimated the
41
new Carolingian dynasty, and Carolingian rulers protected the papacy from the
Lombards of Northern Italy, who had been a major threat.
Nicholas I
In the ninth century, the pontificate of Nicholas I is another anticipation of the strong
papacy of the central and late Middle Ages. Note especially his intervention in highlevel marriage problems (Emperor Lothar; Count Baldwin of Flanders and Judith),
and his high-handed action towards Constantinople.
German Emperors and Roman Families
There follows a low-water of papal power from the late ninth to the mid-eleventh
century – though note that the first papal canonisation takes place in the late tenth
century.
The Gregorian Reform
The papacy became a much more independent and powerful force after the system of
election by a college of cardinals was stared in 1059. The reformers who dominated
the papacy in the later decades of the eleventh century campaigned against clerical
marriage and the buying of Church jobs, then against lay appointment of bishops, then
against the ceremony of Investiture, the ritual by which secular rulers invested
bishops with their office. A compromise was reached at the Concordat of Worms in
1122.
Growth of Papal Government
From about that time the growth of both papal and secular government provided new
causes for conflict. The papacy became a kind of ‘spiritual administration’, heavily
criticised for its judicial activity from the 12th century on.
It was not a bureaucracy the conventional modern sense, even aside from the content
of the business that it did: in some ways it was very primitive, with salaries paid in
food to take away and accounts left in different currencies; in other ways it was
ingenious, managing to combine central authority with local government in a way
hard to parallel in world history.
Innocent III
Innocent III’s policy of assimilating potentially dissident religious movements in the
early thirteenth century kept the papacy in touch with religious feeling. Heretical
movements like the Waldensians and the Humiliati were encouraged to return to the
fold. The latter did as a body. A significant group of Waldensians were also reincorporated. The Franciscans were orthodox from the beginning but otherwise they
started in much the same way as the Waldensians had done half a century earlier.
Both movements began with a member of the rich bourgeoisie who turned to a life of
poverty and preaching. The Waldensians had met little encouragement and had gone
it alone. The Franciscans on the other hand received the full backing of Innocent III.
The Schism and the Conciliar Movement
In the course of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the college of cardinals grew
more and more powerful. When a newly elected pope launched an intemperate attack
on their position they declared his election invalid because conducted under pressure.
The resulting schism lasted from 1378 to 1417.
42
In the course of the Schism there was a movement to replace papal supremacy
in the Church with representative government. This current of opinion outlasted the
Great Schism itself, but eventually lost impetus, partly because successive popes gave
no sign of losing their nerve.
Papacy and Religious Sentiment in the Late Middle Ages
It is usually assumed that the institution lost touch with religious sentiment from
about the mid-thirteenth century, but in fact the connection between papacy and
popular religious sentiment was in some ways stronger at the end of the Middle Ages
- even after the Avignon Papacy (14th century), the Schism (1378-1417) and the
Conciliar Movement (Council over Pope) – than it had been in the thirteenth when it
was supposedly at the height of its power.
Bibliography
Hollister and Bennett pp. 63, 99,208-9, 229, 238, 340 and footnote, for document (a),
and 276-7, and 210, for document (b).
Further reading on the medieval papacy
G. Barraclough, The Medieval Papacy (1968)
J. Richards, The Popes and the Papacy in the Early Middle Ages 476-752 (London,
1979)
Lynch, Medieval Church, chs. 12 and 20
D. L. d'Avray, 'Papal Authority and Religious Sentiment in the Late Middle Ages', in
Diana Wood (ed), The Church and Sovereignty, c. 590-1918 (Oxford, 1991), pp. 393408.
Document (a)
Pope Urban II: Synod of Clermont (1095)
c. 2. Whoever goes to free the church of God at Jerusalem, out of devotion alone, not
for the sake of honour or to get money, that journey will be counted for all penance.
(Mirbt, Quellen, no. 300, p. 159)
N.B.: quick background survey in Bennett and Hollister, pp. 227-9.
QUESTIONS
GENERAL RELIGIOUS, POLITICAL AND SOCIAL CONTEXT
 What kind of power and influence did the papacy possess at this time?
 What kind of people went on crusade?
 Why was the First Crusade not led by Kings?
 Why did Jewish pogroms accompany the first Crusade and did the Church
authorities connive at this?
NATURE THE DOCUMENT
 What kind of source is this?
CRUSADING
 Was the first crusade a pilgrimage?
 What does this presuppose about attitudes to Jerusalem, Islam, and just war?
 Does it tell the whole story about the motives for the crusades?
43
PENANCE AND INDULGENCES
 How does this fit into the history of Indulgences, confession, and purgatory?
Document (b)
Annulment of Henry III's 'Marriage' to Joan of Ponthieu confirmed by Innocent IV on
20 May 1254
Innocent, bishop, servant of the servants of God, to his most dear son in Christ H., the
illustrious king of England, health and apostolic benediction. It is fitting for us to
grant consent easily to the just desires of petitioners, and to ensure that the desired
effect follows wishes which do not diverge from the path of reason. Therefore, since
the world has grown old in corruption, and many people not only presume the worst
in matters of which they are ignorant, but do not even hesitate to misrepresent as evil
things which they know without doubt to be good, prudently bearing this in mind, and
desiring to make sure that calumnies of any jealous men should not in the future
become linked to your children, you, some time ago, humbly implored us to look after
your honour and that of your children by our paternal solicitude, concerning the fact
that you had sworn to marry our most dear daughter in Christ Joan the illustrious
queen of Castile - the daughter of the Count of Ponthieu at that time - who was then
single, and that you thought fit to contract a marriage with her insofar as it was in
your power, and finally, when the marriage had by no means been consummated, after
finding that you were related to her in the fourth degree of consanguinity, you joined
to yourself in matrimony in the sight of the church our most dear daughter in Christ
Eleanor, the illustrious queen of England, daughter of the count of Provence of
famous memory. But when we had entrusted by our letters in mandate form to our
venerable brothers N. the Archbishop of York and N. the bishop of Hereford that they
should inquire diligently into the truth of the matter, and make sure to declare by
apostolic authority, if this is what they decided was the right verdict, that the first
marriage and the oath which you swore to contract this first one do not hold good and
are not valid, without the possibility of appeal, and curbing by ecclesiastical censure
anyone who contradicts them: in the end, after the Archbishop had escused himself
legitimately by letter because he was unable to take part, the same bishop proceeded
with this matter alone, as our letter allowed him to do, and, when the the aforesaid
Queen of Castile replied that she was related to you in the aforesaid degree of
consanguinity, and that she would not send anyone to put up a defence in this case,
and would not come, nor involve herself in it, and finally neither appeared in person
or through a representative, he [i.e. the bishop of Hereford], in the presence of your
proctor, after learning the merits of the same case, and observing the order of law,
with the counsel of prudent men, pronounced as his sentence that the marriage
between you and the aforesaid Queen of Castile had been null, because of your
relationship of consanguinity in the fourth degree with her, and that the marriage
contracted between you and the aforesaid E. the Queen of England was legitimate,
notwithstanding the oath which you swore to contract the first one, [all this] just as is
contained more fully in the letter written at the hearing. Therefore we, after inspecting
diligently the account of the proceedings and of the sentence of the aforesaid, we
approve the same, we make good from our plenitude of power any defect, if there
should be one, we hold the same sentence to be ratified and pleasing, and, acceding to
your requests, we confirm the sentence together with the aforesaid proceedings, by
apostolic authority, and we strengthen it by the protection of the present text. ...
44
(MS. British Library Cotton Cleopatra E.1 , fo. 194v-195r)
GENERAL POLITICAL AND SOCIAL BACKGROUND
Why might Henry III have wanted to marry the Count of Ponthieu's daughter
Why did he marry someone else and what became of her?
NATURE AND TRANSMISSION OF THE DOCUMENT
What kind of document is it and how has it survived?
PAPACY AND THE MEDIEVAL MARRIAGE SYSTEM
What is unique in world history about the marriage system this document
reveals?
THE NATURE OF PAPAL JUSTICE
What is unique in world history about the governmental technique this
document reveals?
17. Slavery and Peasants
A recent theory that slavery ended circa 1000
In the late twentieth century there was a brisk controversy about when ancient slavery
ended. Some well-known historians put the end very late: around the year 1000. I am
referring in particular to the views of Duby, Bois, Bonnassie. They use slightly
Marxist terminology when they say that slavery was replaced by ‘feudalism’, by
which they mean what most historians call ‘the manor’. They think that this marked a
quite new beginning. Bonnassie argues that in Southern Europe there was even a
chronological gap between the end of slavery and the appearance of feudal serfdom.
Elsewhere, they admit a little continuity between slavery and serfdom: some ‘feudal’
serfs were descended from slaves – but this is a secondary and unimportant fact, they
think. For them the essential fact is this: from the eleventh century lords of castles
used their power to impose a new kind of subjection on peasants.
How do they explain the decline of slavery in the period before 1000?
Bonnassie invokes several factors: the influence of Christianity (especially on peasant
attitudes; technological and economic change; and finally, arising out of both,
resistance by the victims, who increasingly walked away.
This bundle of theories includes some truth. The emphasis on Christianity is a
good corrective. It can be made concrete by two of your documents: bishop Wilfrid’s
freeing of slaves and the Council of Chalons sur Saone in 813. It is also true that
landless slaves were a not insignificant part of he labour force on some estates in the
Age of Charlemagne.
Problems with the theory
Nevertheless Bonnassie glosses over a fact that had long been familiar to historians:
by Carolingian times a high proportion of slaves were settled on plots of land, so that
in practice their status would become assimilated in some degree to that of other
45
dependent cultivators. The trend in this direction actually goes back long before
Carolingian times. To historians of the Roman empire it is a familiar pattern.
Consider this: long before 1000 the kind of people described by this theory
could own slaves themselves. A slave who owns a slave is not really a slave.
The change of attitudes to slave marriage is furthermore not only a cause of
the decline of slavery: arguably, it represents in itself a transformation of the
institution from within. A ‘slave’ with the right to marry is not a slave in the same
sense as a slave in the ancient world – though it should be said that Stoicism had
begun the process of transforming the institution from within, even before Christianity
had an impact.
Theoretical Interlude
Note that there is a little theory behind the last remarks. An intelligent strand of
sociological and anthropological thought recognizes that social facts are not like the
facts of the natural world. Scientists have to worry about their own mental
dispositions and they need a theory of how they give meaning their data, but they do
not have to worry about the internal dispositions of the atoms and molecules that they
study. Historians, sociologists, and anthropologists also have to worry about the
meanings of the people they study: the inner thoughts behind the external behaviour.
This principle of method is called ‘the double hermeneutic’. That sounds mystifying,
but ‘hermeneutics’ only means serious thought about the process of interpretation.
(Hermeneutics comes from the Greek word meaning to interpret.) So the Double
Hermeneutic is the admission that historians etc. have to worry not only about how
they interpret their data but also about how the people they studied interpreted their
external actions. So if slaves are first regarded as property and then later regarded as
subjects with the right to marry, and as fellow souls equal before God, sharers in the
Eucharist along with their masters, the institution has been changed from within.
To finish the theoretical interlude: the origin of this sensible piece of
theorising is arguably the German philosopher Dilthey. Max Weber made it work for
social History and Sociology. In England, Collingwood did something rather similar,
probably independently. Peter Winch’s Idea of a Social Science is a version of this
theory. In late twentieth century Sociology, Anthony Giddens’s New Rules of Social
Method is a good statement of it – rather too abstract though. In Anthropology, the
great name from the last generation is Clifford Geertz. In the hands of the foregoing
writers, the idea that society is in a sense like a text makes a lot of sense. On the other
hand, when the phrase is used in the tradition of French Deconstruction it is an
interruption to the labours of historians (which is not to deny it some philosophical
interest). I insert this theoretical parenthesis because it is actually very relevant to the
subject in hand and to remind you that this lecture course and your seminar corecourses on Concepts and Categories should not be kept apart from each other by some
sort of intellectual apartheid.
A different chronology of slavery history
The following chronology is more traditional and less vulnerable to criticism.
~ There was a gradual evolution in the later Roman Empire and the early Middle Ages
from the concept of the slave as a thing which could be freely bought and sold.
46
~ Slaves settled on land cease to be a sharply distinct category from other poor
tenants; many of the latter were descended from free peasants who had surrendered
their land to a great landowner and received it back from him as tenants in exchange
for protection.
~ In some areas and periods, the tide runs strongly in the direction of unfreedom:
notably in 9th-10th century England, and again in the 12th and 13th centuries in
England.
~ In other areas it runs towards freedom, as in Latium and Catalonia in the 10 th
century, or in the Senonais in France in the 13th century (there is a good study of this
by W. C. Jordan); or in parts of Northern Italy.
~ In the meantime a true mass slave trade in an unequivocal sense continues, in the 9th
and 10th centuries, and again in the last three medieval centuries, but mainly on the
interfaces between Europe and the non-Christian world. In the earlier of these two
periods the main brokers are Jewish merchants, in the late of them, Italian merchants.
Though the trade is on the peripheries, one could find slaves in a town like Siena in
the late Middle Ages.
The chronology of the manor in England
The history of the manor has been particularly well studied for England, because of
astonishingly rich documentation and a dose of sensible theory injected by scholars
like Postan and Hilton.
The history of the English manor bucks the expected trend towards ever
greater monetarisation of the Economy. The ‘rise of the money economy model’
works straightforwardly enough for he twelfth century. Great landowners leased out
manors to middle-men for cash, and at a lower level, within manors, the lords or
bailiffs tended to accept rents instead of labour services, and to rent out parts of the
lords own farm.
However in the thirteenth century this trend stalled or was reversed. Labour
services were resumed. Great landowners, especially ecclesiastical landowners,
resumed direct management of manors which had been leased out.
Paradoxically, these changes were not after all unrelated to the rise of the
money economy. Great landowners realised that in an inflation economy they could
maximise their income by selling the surplus of manors to the market. If they leased
out manors the middleman would always be ahead of the game because monetary
inflation and also demand for foodstuffs to feed the expanding towns would always
outstrip the money received from leases, which could not so easily be raised in a
society which respected custom. Landlords greatly improved their techniques of estate
management, accounting, and record keeping generally: a reason why we know so
much about peasants in the period.
Similarly, rents from peasants would decline in value in an inflation economy,
whereas labour services kept their value. So the trend towards commutation of labour
services to money rent is reversed.
Landlords had the whip hand because expanding population made peasants
desperate for land. There was a surplus of people and no possibility of walking away
and getting work elsewhere if they did not like the situation on their manor.
In the fourteenth century population began to decline because of famine, etc.;
then the Black Death of 1348 (and subsequent recurrences) reduced it drastically. The
balance of power between peasants and landlords shifted. The landed classes tried to
protect their position through legislation to fix the price of agricultural labour, but in
the end the market forces were too strong.
47
In the meantime a good deal of class antagonism had developed between
peasants and landlords. This is a region and period for which a Marxisant model of
class struggle works quite well.
The foregoing developments are best explained by a combination of economic
models. The development of cities and trade explains the monetarisation of the rural
economy in the twelfth century. It also the peculiar chronology of leasing versus
direct management and of labour services, but only when one factors in the rise in
population and the successful exploitation of this demographic situation by landlords
in their own economic interests. Decline in population together with a strong desire of
peasants for legal freedom explain the eventual demise of the manor at the end of the
period.
The rural economy that emerges over the succeeding centuries in England is
very different from that of France and most other continental countries. In England
the outcome by say the seventeenth century is a pattern of very great landowners,
leasing land to prosperous farmers, who employ substantial numbers of labourers. In
France, there is a class of aristocratic rentiers supported by a mass of peasants with
smallholdings. This contrast may help explain both the Industrial Revolution and the
French Revolution.
Bibliography
Hollister and Bennett, pp. 33, 68, 109, 166-7
Further reading on medieval slavery
P. Bonnassie, From Slavery to Feudalism in South-Western Europe (1991), especially
the first essay
Dictionary of the Middle Ages, article on Slavery by Charles Verlinden
M. L. Bush (ed.), Serfdom and Slavery. Studies in Legal Bondage (London, 1996):
chapters by Wendy Davies and Robert Brenner
M. M. Postan, A Medieval Economy and Society (Harmondsworth, 1972)
F. W. Maitland, Domesday Book and Beyond (1960 edition) Essay 1, section 2
Document (a)
Council of Chalon-sur Saone on the Marriage of Slaves: Date, 813
30 It has been said to us, that certain men break up the legitimate marriages of slaves
(servorum) by a certain presumptious exercise of authority, paying no attention to the
words of the Gospel: 'What God has joined together let no man put asunder'.
Therefore it is our judgement that the marriages of slaves should not be broken up,
even if they have different lords, but that they should remain in one marriage while
serving their lords. And this is to be observed in those cases where there was a legal
union and where it was done with the assent of the lords.'
(Monumenta germaniae Historica, Concilia Aevi Karolini, i, p. 279.)
QUESTIONS
POLITICAL AND SOCIAL BACKGROUND
 This was the last year of Charlemagne's life. What territories did he rule?
 Was there a system of taxation and salaries at that time?
 Were there big towns?
 How did rural estates work: i.e., did they use paid labourers?
 Was the 'one woman one man' household the norm in this period?
48
NATURE OF THE DOCUMENT
 What sort of document is this and whose views does it represent?
SLAVERY
 Does this represent a different conception of slavery from the one current in
classical Antiquity?
 How do its assumptions compare with the assumptions about marriage in
slavery in the first document discussed in the medieval part of the course:
Lecture 11 document (a)
 Are there any limitations on the slaves freedom to marry?
 Can you see document (b) as a continuation and development of the
conception of slavery and marriage found in document (a)
Document (b)
Pope Hadrian IV to Archbishop Eberhard of Salzburg, On the marriage of slaves/serfs
(servorum) [date:1155]
. . . Indeed, according to the word of the Apostle [Paul] . . . just as in Jesus Christ
there is neither freeman, not servus, who should be removed from the sacraments of
the Church, so also marriage between slaves ought not in any way to be forbidden.
And if they should have been contracted when the lords forbid them and are
unwilling, there is no reason why they should be dissolved on this account by an
ecclesiastical judgement; however, the services which are due and established by
custom ought nonetheless to be carried out for their lords
(Decretals of Gregory IX, 4.8.1, under name Hadrian I, died 1159)
QUESTIONS
POLITICAL AND SOCIAL BACKGROUND
What was the economy like in this period: were cities and trade important?
What kind of authority did the papacy exercise in this period?
CHARACTER AND TRANSMISSION OF THE DOCUMENT
What kind of document is this?
What led the pope to write this letter?
How has the document come down to us?
Would it have been generally known in the later Middle Ages?
SLAVERY
Does it say anything different from document (a)?
Does it attach religious significance to marriage?
What sort of institutions would enforce its legal findings?
What were the long-term implications of the mind-set found in documents (a)
and (b) for the history of slavery in Western history?
Supplementary:
1687 Synodal Constitutions in Venezuela denounces those who obstruct the marriages
of slaves and excommunicates them with a major excommunication. (Miguel Acosta
Saignes, Vida de los Esclavos negros en Venezuela, pp. 213-4.
49
18. Social Bonds
This lecture will deal with the vassal-fief relationship briefly but will concentrate on
some less obvious social bonds: Gilds and voluntary associations cemented by oaths;
family clans; and spiritual kinship.
THE VASSAL-FIEF BOND
The VASSAL-FIEF relationship, popularly known as ‘feudalism’, is one of
the ways of achieving political order in a society where the economy does not support
the taxation-state salary system which was the basis of the Roman Empire and
underpins the modern state. On does not set out to discover what ‘feudalism’ is. It is
an ideal type, a conceptual tool to get one’s mind around the infinite complexities of
the past by creating a crude sketch. Feudalism is a mental structure not an objective
thing: a rationale for the obedience of a landowner to another landowner higher up the
hierarchy. The thought is: My lord granted me this land, he is still the ultimate owner,
therefore I owe him loyalty, especially since I swore to give it. If the lord is the king,
this reinforces monarchy. The same effect can be achieved by other mental structures.
For instance the thought might be: I am a big landowner around here, so my position
and status demand that I administer justice to those around me. That is how the Justice
of the Peace system worked until recently. In the same way: I am the great landowner
around here, so I naturally lead the men of the locality when the king needs us to
fight. The upshot is the same as with feudalism, only the mental structure is different.
However the difference in the thoughts can make a practical difference, as the history
of upper class marriage in twelfth century England shows. The idea that the feudal
lord is the real owner of the land leads to the idea that he has a veto over who marries
into it – it would not be fair if an enemy got hold of the land that way. That is the thin
end of the wedge. By Magna Carta the king picks husbands for his vassals’ daughters
and wives for their sons. He takes money for it or sells on the right to make the
choice. Magna Carta in 1215 limits this power but does not abolish it. The reason
must be that the barons exercised it over the children of their own vassals. This in a
period where the Church stressed free consent to marriage. Feudalism in England is a
marriage structure in hidden conflict with that of the Church.
The vassal-fief relationship is a one-to-one social bond but it also had a
corporate or collective aspect. The various vassals of a lord collectively constituted
his court and council. Their meetings were a form of solidarity.
The most important thing to remember about ‘feudalism’ or the vassal-fief
bond is this: it was not the essence of the age of a key to medieval society, but only
one form of social bond among many, especially prominent from the mid tenth to the
mid-eleventh century, not very effective as a tool of social order unless combined
with other kinds of social bond, such as the mystique of monarchy. The social forms
of the vassal-fief bond continued to be used long after the social conditions which had
first encouraged them had past: i.e. long after the period when money taxes and salary
payments were impracticable. Feudal forms are found in different ways in later
medieval Italy, Germany, and to a lesser extent in England.
Thus the vassal-fief bond is a ‘longue-durée institution, but not quite as longterm as the others we will consider because they are more ancient – they go back to
the start of the medieval period if not before. We may start with Gilds.
THE GILD
GILDS are associated with later medieval cities but their origins seem to lie in guilds
of clerics in the first half of the sixth century (Oexle, in Jankuhn, Handwerk, I, 343).
Evidence for continuity back to heathen cults, or to the distant Germanic past, or to
50
the Roman world, seems very weak. Gilds seem typical of medieval Christianity in its
medieval aspect. They cut across status categories: both clerics and laypeople were
members of guilds, and both women and men (ibid., 331). They are one of the great
themes that unify medieval history: so their importance tends to be overlooked if one
studies one period only.
Nevertheless it is useful to pick on one period for purposes of illustration, and
the Carolingian era is a good one to choose, as a corrective to the late medieval urban
images that the concept calls to mind if familiar at all. The essential features of a
Carolingian gild were an oath and eating and drinking. However, they had many other
functions: prayer and religious services, charitable activity, burials and of course the
commemoration of the dead, mutual aid in the face of crises like shipwreck,
impoverishment, fire. They also probably dealt with more mundane things such as
sickness, food distribution, water supply, paths, and passing on of news. For all their
secular concerns and rather jolly atmosphere (I mean the eating and drinking) they
were permeated by religion, and have been described as a ‘voluntary parish’.
Carolingian authorities were suspicious of their autonomous character, and tried to
ban them or bring them within the framework of the real parish system, but they must
have played a part in the Christianising process characteristic of the Carolingian
period.
Study of Carolingian gilds reinforces the point that slavery changed its
character as slaves began to be regarded as fellow Christians. It seems that in the ninth
century slaves (servi) formed gilds which were tolerated by their masters, though
banned by Louis the Pious (ibid., 306). It has also been suggested that the free, the
unfree, and those with diminished freedom came together in gilds (ibid. 329 and no.
245). This indicates a change in the thought processes behind the institution of
slavery. Or rather, the new ways of thinking about the community of the free and
unfree arguably transformed the institution of classical slavery into something
different.
Gilds were rural in origin but adapted readily to urban life. Even universities,
which were essentially urban institutions in their origins, should be regarded as a form
of gild: associations of teachers and students to regulate aspects of their collective
social existence within a religious framework.
Inthe late Middle Ages Gilds were still closely bound up with the practice of
MEMORIA, the liturgical remembrance of the dead and absent living, to the point of
making them present.
MEMORIA
Memoria is one of the great unifying themes in medieval history, linking the early and
late Middle Ages, the clergy and the laity. Memoria created communities inclusive of
the dead. Many of the phenomena linked with Purgatory by historians have their real
origin in Memoria which was a coherent social form before ideas about Purgatory
firmed up properly. The chronological and perhaps logical priority of Memoria may
be inferred from the similarity between the treatment of the ordinary dead and the
saints in memorial observances and the corresponding liturgical books.
Memoria was a form of social gift exchange. Wealthy nobles gave land to
monasteries in the hope of being included in their communities of living and dead.
They were not purchasing purgatory, any more than one purchases a Christmas
present when giving one or a future drink when one buys a round. Incidentally the
idea of 'Gift Exchange' is another example of the discreet and salutary influence of
51
sensible theory. It was elaborated by the French sociologist Marcel Mauss getting on
for a century ago and has elucidated many historical problems since .
The gift exchange included the poor. When the dead were commemorated the
poor were fed. A recent doctorate in this department (by Sally Dixon-Smith) showed
that the scale of the feeding was astonishing in thirteenth century England. Henry III
was capable of feeding the poor on a six figure scale to commemorate the death of a
beloved relative. Relatives were not the only ones commemorated, but memoria can
and has been used as a clue to extended family structure. This takes us to the theme of
kinship.
THE CLAN
Another social form that cut across distinctions between rural and urban
history, early and late Middle Ages, secular and religious history was the family clan;
Jacques Heers Clan familial put this institution on the map of medieval history. He
understands clan in a loose non-technical sense, as a large group or people who are, or
who act as if they are, relate by blood. (One family could ‘adopt’ another, as the
Grimaldi adopted the Ceba at Genoa.) If one defines clan too narrowly and technically
as monolithic closed kindreds, it is easy to disprove their existence. (Alexander
Callander Murray does this for the very early medieval period). However, large
extended families in Heers’ loose and flexible sense probably go back as far as
evidence will take us. They were pyramid structures which cut across the boundaries
of class and social order.
It used to be thought that there was a great transformation of family structure
(from a large loosely defined kindred with relatives on the mother’s as well as the
father’s side counted in, to a tighter system revolving around the male line, with
succession from father to eldest son: the kinship system of the English aristocracy as
it is today. This has been tellingly criticised by Constance Bouchard in the journal
Francia, 14 (1986), p. 647. At present it looks as though the clan system does not
undergo a revolutionary change around the year 1000.
In England legal developments around 1100 may have made the extended
family a redundant social form. In late medieval England at anyrate it was apparently
the nuclear family that counted. This may have been true from relatively early on:
from the twelfth century if not earlier. On the other hand a recent study by Martin
Rady of UCL has brought out its role in Hungary. 'Until well into the fourteenth
century, it was still often the case that noble kindreds held their lands communally for
several or more generations. . . in 1389 the Mondolai kindred in Temes county split
up estates which had previously been owned collectively for at least four generations.'
The clan was especially important in Northern Italy. It was not transformed by
the commercial revolution of the last three medieval centuries. The clan system
adapted happily to advanced urban life: in fact they were closely bound up with the
most sophisticated economic institutions of the age, the Italian merchant banks and
trading companies. Looked at from another angle, these are family clans or are
dominated by them. The blood relationship no doubt had economic advantages:
creating trust, above all. The Bardi banking family are an example of a great clan,
exercising huge international influence on the economy.
Family clans play a prominent role in papal history. Popes were outrageously
generous to their relatives. Papal nepotism is a deeply rooted medieval phenomenon.
Popes showered church jobs on male relatives. It could be argued that nepotism gave
popes men in authority whom they could trust. The fallacy is that the next pope would
not have the same relation to them.
52
Care for the clan could go further than providing jobs. Pope Boniface VIII
is an important case. His efforts to build up the land holdings of his family, the
Gaetani, did much to cause the greatest humiliation in papal history. This led to a
terrible feud with another clan, the Colonna. It got mixed up with the same popes
conflict with the King of France. The upshot was the ‘outrage of Anagni’, perhaps the
most thoroughgoing humiliation of a pope in medieval history.
The Gaetani and Colonna were a little like the Montagues and Capulets in Romeo and
Juliet. However, clans could also organize peace: thus in 1342, 120 members of the
Bardi family took an oath to preserve peace with their traditional enemies, the
Buondelmonti.
In religious thought the clan was regarded as a force for peace between its members at
least. The passage from the eleventh century reformer Peter Damian shows that blood
relationship was closely connected with the virtue of Charity, a central moral concept
in medieval Christianity.
MARRIAGE
For Peter Damian, the Church’s rules against the marriage of blood relatives were a
sort of religious-sociological device to create charity between clans. MARRIAGE was
indeed a favourite way of reconciling warring families, throughout the Middle Ages.
Since it created new kinship, it should be regarded as an extension f family as a social
form. Steve Davies’ research shows that after the Angevin dynasty of Naples and the
Aragonese royal family had been reconciled by marriage, the in-laws used the
terminology f blood relationship to each other.
GODPARENTHOOD
In addition to voluntary association through oath and eating, to clan bonds, and to
marriage links, a bond of ‘spiritual kinship’ could be created through
GODPARENTHOOD. The Church used this from Carolingian times as an
opportunity to instruct the laity in basic doctrine, but the laity fastened on to the
possibility of multiple Godparenthood, and used it as a way of forging new social
bonds. Joseph Lynch studies this for the early period, and John Bossy has shown how
important it was at the end of the Middle Ages. Whenever you hear the word
‘compadre’ in a Western, you are hearing a piece of medieval social history.
Bibliography
Further reading on social bonds
J. Heers, Family Clans in the Middle Ages (transl. 1977)
J. Lynch, Godparents and Kinship in Early Medieval Europe
S. Reynolds, Kingdoms and Communities in Western Europe, 900-1300 (Oxford,
1984)
Barbara Hanawalt, The ties that bound: peasant families in medieval England (1986 )
Pauline Stafford, Janet L. Nelson, and Jane Martindale (eds.), Law, Laity and
Solidarities. Essays in Honour of Susan Reynolds (Manchester, 2001)
Documents (a)
Peter Damian (d. 1072)
For the law of matrimony is put together, under the discipline of the Church, with so
carefully designed an educative intent, for the following reason: that the bond of
53
mutual charity among men might be ineluctably maintained, viz., that so far as the
order of inheritance (successionis) is extended, the love of and care for our neighbour
is supplied from the very necessity of blood relationship. However, when [kinship]
terms are no longer found and the clan (genus cognationis) now ceases to be, the law
of matrimony steps in forthwith, and calls it [i.e., the love of one's neighbour]back
when it is already going off quite far away as if in flight, and reconstitutes among new
people the laws of an ancient love.
(Reindel, ed., Die Briefe, p. 184)
QUESTIONS
GENERAL RELIGIOUS AND SOCIAL BACKGROUND
 Who was Peter Damian and was he obsessively hostile to sex?
 What was happening to the papacy at this time?
 How important were clans/extended families in Europe at this time?
 What is Jack Goody's theory to explain the extensive 'incest taboo' in Europe
at this time, and does it work?
CHARACTER AND TRANSMISSION OF THE DOCUMENT
 What kind of document does the extract come from?
 To whom was it directed?
 How has it come down to us?
CONSANGUINITY
How does Peter Damian rationalise the so-called 'incest taboo'?
Where does his idea come from?
Did it have any relation to social reality?
How were the rules about 'forbidden degrees' used by nobles and kings in the
twelfth centuries?
When, why and by whom were they changed?
Why did the later medieval papacy grant dispensations from the forbidden
degrees more and more freely, while making it harder and harder to get an
annulment?
Document (b)
1388/9. 'Memoria' in a Gild return for a survey conducted by the English Crown
Again, it was ordained that the priest of the same fraternity should have written down
in a register all the names of the said fraternity, so that during their lifetime (de vivis)
he might be able to pray for their life and health, and, in the same register, all the
names of the dead of the fraternity, so that he might be able to pray specially for the
living and the dead in his mass and other intercessions
(Cited by J. Gerchow, 'Memoria als Norm', in D. Geuenich and O. G. Oexle, Memoria
in der Gesellschaft des Mittelalters (Goettingen, 1994), p. 233
QUESTIONS
GENERAL POLITICAL AND SOCIAL BACKGROUND
 Was England political stable at this time?
 Was government bureaucratic at the time?
 Did government rely on taxation and salaries by this time?
 Would you say it was a period of Economic prosperity of decline?
54


Was England advanced or backward economically by comparison with
regions like Flanders or Italy?
What kind of person was a member of a gild?
CHARACTER AND TRANSMISSION OF THE DOCUMENT
 What kind of source does the extract come from?
 How has it come down to us?
MEMORIA
What is 'memoria'?
What was the 'Münster' school [Key names to spell: Schmid, Oexle, Wollasch,
Borgolte]
Is Memoria a specifically late medieval concept?
If not, when did it start being important in people's lives?
What has it to do with the history of lay donations to monasteries?
Is it a tool of the clergy for manipulating the laity?
What does it have to do with the history of the Cluniac order?
Is it a product of the growing preoccupation with Purgatory?
What is the connection with devotion to the saints?
What does it have to do with charity to the poor?
Is it a devotion of the rich?
What does it have to do with burial practices, such as burying different parts of
the body in different places?
Does it have parallels in other cultures?
19. The City and Capitalism
THE DECLINE OF THE ANCIENT CITY AND OF TRADE
A useful ‘ideal-type’ of a city is a concentration of population where a significant
proportion purchase rather than produce their food. (This is a variant of a Weberian
definition. One could of course define cities differently for different purposes and
there is no need to be dogmatic about the definition.)
Defined in this way, cities will almost disappear (or at least become cities in a
quite different sense) if the money economy ceases to function. This seems to have
happened around 600. According to a leading historian of medieval coinage, ‘The
final end of the trade patterns of the ancient world might well be placed in the third
quarter of the sixth century, when the issue of silver coins ceased altogether . . .’
(Spufford). Gold lasts longer but ‘by the beginning of the eighth century the
disappearance of gold from Francia seems to have been total’ (Spufford). However,
even before that, it seems to have been used mainly for hoarding and gift exchange. If
kings took it in, they had nothing to spend it on.
It follows that trade in the conventional sense must have declined drastically
too. A remarkable amount of trade can be done without money: as in Russiain the
1990s. In fact the disappearance of money looks more like a symptom than a cause of
the decline of trade.
Charlemagne and his Anglo-Saxon imitator Offa revived coinage in the form
of a silver penny in the eighth century. ‘Around 792 Offa had increased the weight of
his new, broad pennies to bring them into line with Charlemagne’s deniers. However,
55
almost immediately afterwards Charelemagne further increased the weight of his own
deniers’ (Spufford).
As with a lot else in the Carolingian world the developments of the central
middle ages are anticipated, but then come to nothing. The metaphor of a false dawn
fits the whole period.
THE REVIVAL OF TOWNS AND TRADE
The revival of trade was surely crucial to the revival of towns, whatever other
functions they performed.
Money Supply
Here the history of money is again significant, but this time perhaps more as a
cause than as a symptom. The discovery of silver mines in Ottonian Gemany
facilitated an economic expansion in the second half of the tenth century: markets and
mints proliferate with royal encouragement. The same thing occurred in England
under the Wessex dynasty in the twelfth century. The money supply lubricated trade.
The Manor and Towns
The development of cities and the increase in buying and selling cannot be explained
in terms of the money supply alone. The rural manor had become an efficient unit of
production capable of producing a surplus. Perhaps its character had changed: a shift
from lanky multiple estate units aiming at self-sufficiency to more compact manors
specialising in one crop and relying on exchange has been proposed for England; the
rise of the ‘seigneurie’, lords with castles and a desire for wealth, may have made
peasants produce more everywhere. The surplus may have gone mostly to the lords of
manors, but peasants had their own land as well as working on the lord’s, so they had
an incentive to produce a surplus too. For lords and peasants, a surplus meant
purchasing power. The towns provided goods for purchase.
Population Growth and Towns
There is also an explanation in terms of the growth of the rural population. There may
have been a huge expansion of population in the eleventh to thirteenth centuries. In
my lecture on Slavery and Peasants I took over the standard view that there was a
population explosion, but I should note here that truly solid proof is hard to find. If
there was such an explosion (and in my heart of hearts I am with the majority that
assume there really was) that would tend to encourage efficient production. It would
also force some people off the land and into the growing towns: creating a division of
labour by which the countryside supported a growing urban population in return for
goods produced in cities.
There is a lot of speculation in the foregoing theories about what happened in the rural
economy: the further make in time, the more guesswork and the less certainty.
However, it is probably safe to say in a general way that rural and urban expansion
went hand in hand.
International Trade
Even aside from the history of rural production, there was more to the rise of cities
and capitalist commerce than an increase in the money supply. For a narrative which
emphasizes above all the role of Italian merchants without much discussion of the
Social and Economic History of Henri Pirenne and the Commercial Revolution of
Roberto Lopez. They show trade with by Venetian and other North Italian merchants
gradually ‘infecting’ the western economy.
56
Combinations of Explanations
None of these explanations are mutually incompatible. The theories about the
seigneurie, about population expansion, and about Italian merchants all fit neatly
enough together with the money supply theory. However the money supply
explanation seems to have more hard evidence behind it than the others just. It also
leads us on to one of the most significant features of the revival of trade: credit and
investment.
Credit and Investment
Spufford argues that the increase in the money supply was a precondition for the
development of banking, international credit finance, and bills of exchange. A
plentiful supply of coins was the basis for the development of credit transactions
which dispensed with them: presumably because there had to be metal money to back
up the credit.
Not only credit in the strict sense, but also investment, became easy in this period,
above all in Italy. ‘The executors of a Genoese businessman, Armano, who died . .
.1239, found that he managed to persuade twenty-six men and women to finance his
business by commending small investments to him . . . He also had a partner who put
400 Lire into the business.’ (Spufford).
The systems of credit and investment developed above all by Italian merchants lent
themselves to rational calculation.
THE DISTINCTIVENESS OF THE WEST
The Distinctive Character of Western Capitalism
The Capitalisms of high-risk trade or of state contracts can be found in many places
and periods in world history, but the capitalism of careful systematic calculation is
especially characteristic of the west. Intelligence was applied systematically to
making money. The techniques of investment credit, and accounting developed were
intellectual breakthroughs in their way: finely tuned instruments for commercial
capitalism.
Religion and Capitalism in the Middle Ages
The ethos of the religion was not so unfriendly to these developments as one
might suppose. Theologians and Canon Lawyers faced the problems of commercial
morality in a serious-minded way. Their conclusions left merchants more room for
manoeuvre than one might suppose. Lending on the international exchange rates was
not usury because of the element of uncertainty. The usury prohibition was in practice
above all directed against loan-sharking. Again, investment for a proportionate share
of the profits of an enterprise was fine. In the course of working out what was
legitimate and what was not, a Franciscan theologian (Olivi) who was an advocate of
extreme poverty laid the foundations of economics as a serious discipline.
It was clear that merchants felt that they could be saved and did not find the
tension between their occupation and their religion excessive. The motto of the
Merchant of Prato was ‘For God and Profit’.
It is on the whole reasonable to date rational commercial capitalism back to
the thirteenth century. Industrial capitalism was a later development, post-medieval
except possibly to a limited degree in Flanders, but in other respects the capitalism of
57
careful planning and calculation was a medieval invention. It is hard to find anything
quite like it in the ancient world or in the Far East.
The Legal Explanation for the Distinctive Character of Western Capitalism
There are several explanations for its appearance in the medieval West. The money
supply and the other developments fostering trade are only part of the story. The
relatively favourable religious ethos is another part. Then again, rational law ensured
that contracts could be enforced. More generally, the law was not arbitrary. It was not
at the whim of private individuals or rulers. This holds good for regions whose law
was very different: for Italy, where Roman Law was on the ascendant, but also for
England, where the Common Law developed. Italian merchants were very active in
England and benefited from Common Law remedies.
Yet another reason for the development of modern capitalism in the medieval West
was the distinctive character of the cities of the high and Late Middle Ages.
THE MEDIEVAL CITY IN A GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE
Contrasts with the cities of China, India, and the classical world.
Max Weber argued that the western medieval City is distinctive in World History
because it has a communal character, to a greater degree than cities in other great
civilisations. The Chinese city is divided by clans. The Indian city is divided by class
divisions. The classical city-state does indeed have a more communal character than
these, but the line between slave and free runs through it. It is true that slaves and
freemen could work side by side, in Athens at least. (This was pointed out to me after
the lecture by Hans Van Wees.) However, Athens is very successful economically and
especially commercially, so it could be argued that this is an exception proving the
rule. (The argument could not be settled however since we don't have comparable data
about the working practices of slave and free in other city-states.) More to the point,
Athen's profits from tribute paying cities would tend to diminish motivation for
economic success achieved by careful rational economic calculation: there was plenty
of money coming in at least until the war with Sparta was lost.
In the city of the central and later Middle Ages the slave-free (or serf-free)
distinction did not exist. ‘City air made free.’ This presumably made the labour
market more flexible.
The Communal Character of the Medieval Western City and its implications for the
development of Capitalism
The religious ritual of the mass and the Eucharist are relevant to the history of
the Western city. People of all classes received Communion together. (Contrast the
ancient world: slaves certainly took part in the rituals of 'mystery' religions, but these
were not the core-rituals of city solidarity; they apparently did not take part in all civic
religious rituals. [Again my informant is Hans Van Wees, after the lecture.]
The communal character of the medieval Western city meant that some of the
principle obstacles to the development of capitalism were absent. In other societies
invisible social barriers made it harder for capitalist practices to take root unless
imposed from outside. Thus in India the caste system made it hard for capitalism to
develop beyond certain limits, if only because it was harder for different groups to
work together. Capitalism was imposed by the British and was just about compatible
with caste, but the two systems are not natural bedfellows. In a similar way, it was
difficult for slave and free to work together in manufacturing enterprises in classical
Greece.
58
Bibliography
Hollister and Bennett, pp. 171-6, 334-5
Also for document (a): J. Gilchrist, The Church and Economic Activity i the Middle
Ages,, pp. 187-9; D. Knowles, The Religious Orders in England, i, index under
'Debts'; G. Le Bras, in Cambridge Economic History, iii (1963), 554-75; J. Bolton,
The Medieval English Economy 1150-1500, 336 ff; Randall Collins, Weberian Social
Theory, index under 'Cistercians'.
Further Reading on Capitalism
Edwin S. Hunt & James M. Murray, A History of Business in Medieval Europe 12001550 (Cambridge, 2001)
Robert S. Lopez, The Commercial Revolution of the Middle Ages, 950-1350
(Cambridge, 1976)
R. De Roover, Money, Banking and Credit in Medieval Bruges (Cambridge, Mass.,
1948)
Randall Collins, Weberian Sociological Theory (Cambridge, 1986) part I.3
Document (a)
Pope Urban IV to the Abbot and Convent of Roche (Cistercian, Yorkshire), 1263
Urban, bishop, servant of the servants of God, to my beloved sons the abbot and
convent of Roche of the Cistercian order, of the diocese of York, greetings and
apostolic blessing. As the petition which you presented to us states, not a few laymen
of various cities and dioceses and provinces, who have extorted a great deal from you
through the evil of usury, asserting that you are bound to them with respect to many
sums of money, trouble you in many ways, asking that they be given satisfaction with
respect to the same. For this reason you have humbly implored us that we might take
care to make provision for you through our paternal solicitude in respect of these
things.
We, therefore, yielding to your supplications, grant to you by the authority of
the present letter, that from these sums of money in respect of which you are held
bound, you may subtract from the same the amounts that have been extorted in this
way, in such a manner that you may by no means be bound to satisfy them with
respect to these things, to be able to be compelled to pay them, . . . but that the said
laymen should be bound to calculate them as part of the principle, and that you might
be able to deny the promised usurious interest and demand back the usurious
payments which you have already paid out. . . . Therefore it is not permitted in any
way to any man to infringe this document of our concession or to audaciously attempt
to go against it. But if anyone presumes to attempt this, they will know that they have
incurred the anger of almighty God and of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul. Given
at Viterbo on the fifth of February in the second year of our pontificate.
(Lambeth Palace Library, Papal Bull, no. 66)
QUESTIONS
GENERAL CONTEXT
 What was happening in England in 1263?
 Who were the Cistercians?
 What was usury and what did the First Council of Lyons (1245) say about it?
NATURE AND TRANSMISSION OF THE DOCUMENT
 What kind of document is it?
59


Which bits are formulaic (stereotyped)?
What is the difference between the part ending with 'solicitude in respect of
these things' and the part beginning 'We, therefore, yielding . . .'
COMMERCIAL ECONOMY AND THE CISTERCIANS
 Explain how the Cistercians came to be major players in the international
wool market
 With whom did the Cistercians trade?
 If the Cistercians were so rich, how did this house get so much into debt?
Document (b)
'Carta mercatoria' ['Merchants Charter'], 1303
The king to the archbishops etc., greeting. With regard to the well-being of merchants
of the underwritten kingdoms, land and provinces, to wit, Almain [= Germany],
France, Spain, Portugal, Navarre, Lombardy, Tuscany, Provence, Catalonia, our
duchy of Aquitaine, Toulouse, Quercy, Flanders, Brabant, and all other foreign lands
and places, by whatsoever name they be known, coming to our realm of England and
having dealings there, we are particularly concerned how within our dominion the
benefit of tranquillity and complete security may be provided for those merchants in
days to come, so that they may be readier to serve us and our realm, and, inclining to
their petitions and ordaining in the form which follows for the fuller safeguarding of
their condition, we have decided to grant to the said merchants for ourselves and our
heirs for ever the things underwritten.
. . . Furthermore, that every contract entered into by those merchants with any
persons whatsoever, wherever they come from, touching any sort of merchandise
shall be firm and stable, so that neither of the merchants can withdraw from or go
back on that contract after God's penny has been given and received between the
principal contracting persons. And if perchance dispute arises over such a contract, let
proof of or enquiry into the matter be made in accordance with the usages and
customs of the fairs and towns where the said contract happens to have been made
and entered into.
Furthermore, we will that all bailiffs and officials of fairs, cities, boroughs and
market-towns afford the aforesaid merchants who complain before them speedy
justice from day to day without delay in accordance with the Law Merchant touching
every single thing which can be determined by that law. And if by chance any of the
aforesaid bailiffs or officials be found wanting in this, whereby those merchants or
any of them suffer or suffers the inconveniences of delay, even if the merchant
recovers in the main his losses against the (other) party, the bailiff or other official
shall be punished nonetheless as regards us as the offence demands, and that
punishment we grant as a favour to the aforesaid merchants to speed up justice for
them.
. . . Furthermore, we will and grant that a certain faithful and discreet man
resident in London be assigned as justice for the said merchants before whom they
may specially plead and recover their debts speedily, if the sheriffs and mayors do not
entirely afford them speedy justice from day to day, and that a commission granted to
the aforesaid merchant in addition to the present charter be made thereon, to wit, on
the things which are to be tried between merchants and merchants in accordance with
the law merchant.
60
Harry Rothwell (ed.), English Historical Documents, iii (London 1975), no. 91, p.
515 ff. (extracts)
QUESTIONS
GENERAL BACKGROUND
 What kind of relations obtained with Scotland and with France?
 What kind of government did England have at this time?
 In particular, what was the legal system?
 Was England involved in international trade, and if so, what trade
 Did the king get money from taxes on trade?
 Was this the first big concession by Edward I to foreign merchants?
THE DOCUMENT
What kind of document is this?
EXPORT AND TAXATION
What did the monarchy get out of the 'Merchants' Charter?
LAW AND INTERNATIONAL CAPITALISM
What did the foreign merchants get out of the 'Merchants Charter'?
How does this relate to the origins of modern capitalism?
20. Medieval Law
Regional customary law
Regional customary law is a constant in this period and after. The local rules
governed everything from fines for crimes, inheritance, who counted as a relative,
property transfer, and the use of the ordeal. Procedures for judgement were varied
(witnesses, documentary evidence, oath swearing, ordeal), but on the whole rational
granted the circumstances and the world view. The judges were seldom full-time
professionals, but amateurs with specialist knowledge and experience. Customary
laws could be written down but when that happens one needs to ask if the written
version really reflected the law in practice. For the latter, charter evidence is good,
and to find out more about that an outstanding book is Wendy Davies and Paul
Fouracre (eds.), The Settlement of Disputes in Early Medieval Europe (Cambridge,
1986).
Early medieval law codes
It is the same with royal law codes. Some think think they were detached from
reality, and served mainly to raise the consciousness of judges. That view is not
necessarily right. Many provisions in law codes are very specific and look like a royal
response to actual cases. That line of interpretation - law codes are a kind of case law
- would explain why they leave so much out. (Thus Anglo-Saxon Law codes say little
about inheritance, the main way of transferring wealth.) The law codes, on this view,
show how kings filled gaps in the unwritten law when awkward cases came up.
Jurisdiction over tenants
Throughout the period, tenants tended to come under the jurisdiction of the lord from
whom they held land, especially but not only where land disputes arose between
different tenants of the same lord. This is a natural thing. In Roy Moxham's recent
61
book on Tea, he tells how he came to be a judge in Malawi at the age of about 20. He
was recruited to run a tea estate, and the workers brought their disputes to him, for all
his inexperience. It was much simpler than going outside the estate.
There were 'manorial' or seigneurial courts throughout. Depending on time and
place, their scope might go well beyond matters to do with land. This jurisdiction is
called 'feudal' by some scholars (particularly but not only Marxist scholars), but
'manorial' avoids arguments about words.
'Honorial' Feudal courts
Arguments about words are impossible to escape when it comes to 'upper class feudal'
jurisdiction: the legal power of great landlords who fought on horseback over tenants,
who were also lesser landlords and who also fought on horseback. The current fashion
is to avoid the word 'feudal' even for this jurisdiction, partly because of the critique of
the word in a powerful and brilliant book by Susan Reynolds, Fiefs and Vassals. She
rightly attacked the idea of a 'feudal system' which was so to speak the essence of
medieval society, and argued that much of 'feudalism' was the invention of later
medieval learned lawyers. This is probably an overreaction, and does not take
sufficient account England, which was out of the reach of Roman lawyers but feudal
law governed the marriage practices of the knightly classes and where barons held
courts for their knightly tenants from the Conquest until deep in the thirteenth century.
English Common Law
'Feudal' marriage law was also part of royal law, but the latter was to some extent in
competition with the 'honorial' feudal course which great nobles held for their own
vassals and tended to draw away business from it. There are technical reasons which I
will pass over, but perhaps the most important reason for the huge success of royal
law, a.k.a. Common Law, was the system of stereotyped writs which made dispute
settlement relatively (only relatively I stress) quick and easy. It allowed for a
combination of local knowledge and royal authority. Royal authority was attractive in
disputes because it could override local vested interests which might get at, say, the
county sheriff. Royal authority could be exercised without the king knowing anything
about it because off-the-peg procedures were invented for an increasing variety of
different sorts of dispute. These were 'writs'. It is essentially the same system as today.
If you want to take someone to court, your solicitor has to find a writ which fits the
circumstances, and that starts the procedures in motion. In the medieval period the last
stage would be a verdict by a jury with local knowledge, in front of a royal justice
who was on tour in the county. The jurors were there as witnesses who knew what
had happened recently to the piece of land or rights, so their role is not quite the same
as today.
People took advantage of the writ system in large numbers. Gradually a class
of specialized judges and advocates ('serjeants') grew up. They were trained in
London or Westminster in the thirteenth century and by the middle of the next century
the modern system of Inns of Court is fully recognisable. They were like a one-faculty
university for lawyers. But two other kinds of law were taught properly at real
universities: Canon Law and Roman Law.
Canon Law
Canon Law is ecclesiastical law. Its roots like deep, before the beginning of the
Middle Ages, but the collections of decrees by church councils and popes by
Dionysius Exiguus ('little Denis') (flourished around 500 A.D.) were a very influential
62
early collection which helped spread papal authority in the West, partly because
Charlemagne (flourished around 800) quoted from it in his own legislation, listing
popes as authors of decrees.
Shortly after Charlemagne's time canon law was swollen by the addition of
many false decretals, probably forged by bishops who wanted to out-trump their
archbishops by emphasizing papal authority. Canon law in the couple of centuries
after Charlemagne was also affected by penitential literature with made it more like
the sacred law of Islam or Judaism, in that many of the rules were more for private
self-perfection than enforcement by public courts.
The papal reform movement of the later eleventh century produced new law
collections based around the reforming agenda. They were propaganda for the
movement and helped it to get a grip on practice. The real revolution in the history of
canon law however occurred in the twelfth century.
Several things happened at the same time. One was the appearance of
Gratian's Decretum, a legal textbook that swept the board and enjoyed a quasi official
authority until 1917 in the Catholic Church. Gratian collected a huge number of
decisions by popes, councils, and also theologians of the 'patristic' period (late Roman
and early medieval). More than previous compilations, he tried to weld them into a
whole. When they seemed to contradict one another, he tried to explain the
contradictions in terms of different contexts and by drawing distinctions. In all this his
procedures resembled the 'scholastic' method being developed in theology.
Such a system was coming into being in practice as well as textually: a
network of church courts serviced by experts was forming. These experts naturally
turned to Gratian.
With some difficult cases, the answer was not in Gratian. Often these cases
were carried by appeal to the pope himself. In the second half of the twelfth century
and the early thirteenth century popes made case law again and again. Their decisions
were collected and put into compilations. Eventually (in 1234) an official compilation
appeared: the Decretals of Gregory IX. Together with Gratian, it provided the core of
canon law learning, though there were further updates.
This was a real law for real courts, with the papal court at the top of the
hierarchy. Thanks to the judge delegate system, discussed in an earlier lecture, the
papacy could provide a combination of central authority and local knowledge, just as
English kings did in a different way, through the writ and jury system.
The rules and ideas behind the canon law/papal legal system owed a massive
debt to Roman Law. Here one must look back again to Gratian's Decretum. In a
second version of Decretum, the one know today, a huge amount of Roman Law is
incorporated. (This version may actually be a different person from the author for the
first version, and it is anybody's guess which of them should be called 'Gratian'. (On
all
this
see
an
important
article
by
Anders
Winroth:
http://mahan.wonkwang.ac.kr/link/med/law/canon-law/gratianus/paper.html). Roman
Law provided concepts and procedures required for a sophisticated functioning legal
system. Not long before Gratian wrote, the law of the Roman Empire as codified by
Justinian in the sixth century had been revived in Italy by a group of Italian scholars
whose work lies at the base of most European legal systems other than Englands.
Roman Law
Roman Law as synthesized by Justinian began to be widely copied and studied from
the early twelfth century. Bologna was the great centre. It was not thought to be a
dead law. Decrees of Holy Roman Emperors were added to the corpus, notably the so
63
called Books of Fiefs. The thirteenth-century decree by the Emperor Frederick on
shipwreck, discussed in an earlier lecture, is another example. However, Roman Law
was not the sole law of many, if any courts, at least until the late Middle Ages. It was
used to fill the gaps in other laws and provide them with a software for legal thinking
and for operating trials. That it did so for Canon Law has already been noted. It also
had a lot of influence on secular laws in Italian cities and the kingdom of Sicily
Naples and on Southern France. It became massively influential in Germany in the
fifteenth century, in part because of the practice of getting decisive legal opinions
from university professors, professors of Roman Law.
For Roman Law had become a flourishing university subject. Bologna was the
greatest Roman (and canon) Law university, but it was studied assiduously in
universities throughout Europe, including Oxford (but not Paris). This was partly
because of its usefulness in furnishing concepts and arguments for legal practice, but
also because it was thought an admirable training for senior administrators. The
French king came to rely heavily on Roman law trained advisors.
Ius commune
One might have expected a clash between Roman and Canon Law, as representing
secular and ecclesiastical standpoints, but in fact they blended together into what is
called 'The Common Law' or Ius Commune (not to be confused with the English
common law. Many students studied both: especially ambitious clerics. Except in
England, where the royal Common Law held its own successfully against Roman
Law, the Roman and Canon Law together, and in harmony, dominated the high
ground of legal thinking. Their basic approach and principles became deeply
ingrained in European culture and lie behind most European Law codes as well as
those of Latin America. Roman Law is the more important influence, but the
fundamental role of university professors in the understanding of the law is an
assumption derived from both Roman and Canon Law.
Implications of medieval legal developments
The three great systems of Roman, Canon, and English royal 'Common Law' are all
important for the future political and economic development of the world. They
provided a secure legal framework for commerce: something not to be taken for
granted, conspicuously lacking for instance in post-Communist Russia. They all take
seriously the idea of the law as a way of resolving disputes between private
institutions or corporations. Again we should not take this for granted: the 'private
law' parts of the great Chinese codes are very underdeveloped, with the result that
most sane people were wise to keep property rights out of the courts. Like
universities, the culture created by the legal revolutions of the twelfth centuries are so
much part of modern life that we don't realise how entirely 'medieval' it is.
Bibliography
Hollister & Bennett, 245, 250-1, 273, 278-9, 292, 310-11
Further reading on medieval law
J. H. Merryman, The Civil Law Tradition (Stanford, 1984 edn.)
F. W. Maitland, Constitutional History of England 'Period 1', section E
James A. Brundage, Medieval Canon Law (London, 1995)
64
See previous documents:
11 (a)
13 (a) & (b)
14 (a) & (b)
16 (b)
17 (a) & (b)
19 (b)
65