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  • The Court Book of Mende and the Secular Lordship of the Bishop: Recollecting the Past in Thirteenth-Century Gévaudan
  • Charles Donahue Jr.
The Court Book of Mende and the Secular Lordship of the Bishop: Recollecting the Past in Thirteenth-Century Gévaudan. By Jan K. Bulman. (Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 2008. Pp. xiv, 179. $50.00. ISBN 978- 0-802-09337-0.)

The oldest register of an “ecclesiastical court” yet found in France is the register of the episcopal court of Mende housed in the departmental archives in the remote, mountainous city of the same name (1268–72, A[rchives] d[épartementales de la] L[ozère] G963). The quotation marks are necessary because the exact nature of the jurisdiction reflected in the book is the subject of Bulman’s study. To place the register in context, she tells the story of the jurisdictional claims of the bishops of Mende from the earlier Middle Ages with particular focus of Aldebert III (bishop of Mende, 1151–87) and later to Guillaume Durand (nephew of the famous canonist and bishop of Mende, 1296–1330). Early in Guillaume’s pontificate (1307) and in settlement of litigation in the parlement of Paris that began in 1269, Guillaume and Philip (IV) the Fair agreed to a paréage whereby at least the secular jurisdiction in the county of Gévaudan, which was coterminous with the diocese of Mende, was to be exercised by a single court controlled jointly and roughly equally by the bishop and the king. This arrangement seems to have continued, not without tensions, at least into the fifteenth century.

At their strongest Bulman’s theses are that ADL G963 and the following series of now-lost court registers was begun by Odilon de Mercoeur (bishop of Mende, 1247–74) to bolster his claim in the parlement, that the registers were used by Guillaume Durand in what has come to known as the Mémoire relatif au paréage, and that as a result of the Mémoire Guillaume’s paréage with Philip was more favorable to Mende than was that concluded by the bishop of nearby Le Puy at approximately the same time. Bulman connects the development in Mende with the slow and painstaking transition from orality to literacy, from memory to written record, that was taking place in this period. In her view, Guillaume used the new tools of literacy to construct a memory of what had happened at Mende, a memory that was quite different from what had actually happened.

The use that Guillaume made of the court registers in his Mémoire is solidly grounded. Bulman has documented the use of the surviving register, and there is no reason to doubt that the others she cites existed at the time. That the creation of these registers in the first place is to be connected quite as directly as Bulman does with the appeal to the parlement is somewhat more problematic. [End Page 601] The surviving register begins in the year preceding that of Odilon’s appeal and that such records should be kept had been the law of the western Church since the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 (c. 38). Perhaps, as seems to be the case with the thirteenth-century ecclesiastical court records that survive at Canterbury, the jurisdictional dispute helps to explain not the making of the records in the first place but their preservation. The comparison with Le Puy invites skepticism. Bulman offers (pp. 75–76) institutional explanations for why the bishop of Le Puy was not in as a good a position as that of Mende to settle favorably with the crown, and how the bishop of Le Puy or his lawyers supported their claims is difficult to determine. That Guillaume used the new tools of literacy to construct a memory of what had happened is the most problematical claim. Tendentious documents were not an invention of the early-fourteenth century, and I think it unlikely that the sophisticated lawyers of Philip the Fair expected anything more than a selection of the truth from another sophisticated lawyer in what was, after all, a plaidoyer.

The theses of the book are...


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