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Thomas N. Bisson Introduction In 1988 the Committee on Medieval Studies at Harvard University authorized me to organize an interdisciplinary conference. I welcomed the invitation not only as an opportunity to carryon in a worthy tradition of the Committee but also as an occasion for trying out an idea well suited to collaborative exploration. I wanted to seewhat would happen ifspecialists in political, social, ecclesiastical, and cultural history addressed themselves to the human experience of power in the twelfth century.This was not to exclude government (or kingship or justice or finance) as such, merely to enlarge the contexts. Much has been written about government in the twelfth century, surprisingly little yet about power.1 Participants seemed to have no difficulty recognizing the possibility of a fresh approach to the familiar problem of institutional change by stressing the pretenses, means, sanctions, strategies, words, monuments, norms, and attributes of gender by which people influenced,controlled, or coerced one another in the great century when medieval civilization came of age. But no conceptual test was set, no theoretical agenda. Participants were invited to prepare original studies in several broad areas of substantive competence: aristocracies old and new; images, rituals, commemoration; means and techniques; cultures (literary, legal, scriptural) of power. The somewhat eclectic results, i. This assertion cannot be fully documented here. Among many other works, see for England William Stubbs, The Constitutional History of England in Its Development, 3 vols. (Oxford, 1874-78), 1 (6th ed., 1897); H. G. Richardson and G. O. Sayles, The Governance of Mediaeval England from the Conquest to Magna Carta (Edinburgh, 1963); Judith A. Green, The Government of England Under Henry I (Cambridge, 1986); and W. L. Warren, The Governance of Norman and AngevinEngland (1086-1272) (Stanford, 1987), who has some corrective remarks, pp. xvi, 1-22. For continental lands the legal histories by Paul Viollet (1890-1903), and García de Valdeavellano (1968) are characteristic.See also Heinrich Mitteis, Der Stoat des hohen Mittelalters: Grundlinien einer vergleichenden Verfassungsgeschichte des Lehenszeitalters (Weimar, 1941; 8th ed. 1968); for FranceJohn W. Baldwin,The Government of Philip Augustus: Foundations of French Royal Power in theMiddle Ages (Berkeley, 1986). Amongcomparatively few works anticipating a new approach, seeAlexander Murray,Reason and Society in the Middle Ages (Oxford, 1978); and M. T. Clanchy,From Memory to Written Record: England, 1066-1307 (Cambridge, MA, 1979; 2d ed., 1994); also Patrick Geary, "Vivre en conflit dans une France sans état: typologie des mécanismesde règlement des conflits (1050-1200)," Annales E.S.C. (1986), 1107-33- 2 Thomas N. Bisson whatever they may lack in theoretical consistency,havenonetheless a larger problematic coherence. They show how diversely power was experienced in those generations when it first assumed protostatist forms; suggest how incomplete a history of twelfth-century government must inevitably be.2 For it was arguably an age of little government. Those who corrected and coerced came in time to suppose they were fulfilling purposes externally ordained, but they were born to power and nurtured to dominate personally, affectively, unbureaucratically. The exerciseof power—of command or force—was easilyand often justified socially, but was commonly, and in lay society almost universally,a mode of self- or familial fulfillment. That is why we begin with the problem of elites.Who were these men and women born to rule in the twelfth century?The four essays in Part I deal with this problem in complementary ways. Theodore Evergates reviews the classic topic of the nature and transformationof the French nobility in light of recent research. One of his questions concerns knights and their access to nobility, which is precisely what Benjamin Arnold seeks to elucidate in German-speaking lands on the basis of an equally comprehensive review of evidence. It remains for Dominique Barthélemyto put this question to the test of a searching study of one small but well documented zone of western France, the Vendômois. The two preceding papers confirm from freshly assembled evidence the famous contrast between nobilities of service and of birth in Germany and France respectively, thereby proving (if proof were needed) that no sociology of power can adequately grasp, let alone explain, how weapons, horses, and castleswere deployed to aggrandize and distinguish medieval elites. Evergates stresses, however, the differentiation between nobles and (non- or less noble) knights, while Barthélemy finds that even in France knighthood was an attribute shared by the barones and lesser lords. Nevertheless, it was nobility more than knighthood that determined power and limited its diffusion...


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