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  • Lordship, Reform, and the Development of Civil Society in Medieval Italy: The Bishopric of Orvieto, 1100-1250
  • Valerie Ramseyer
Lordship, Reform, and the Development of Civil Society in Medieval Italy: The Bishopric of Orvieto, 1100-1250. By David Foote. [Publications in Medieval Studies.] (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press. 2004. Pp. xiv, 254. $14.95 paperback.)

In a well-researched and richly-detailed study of the commune of Orvieto in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, David Foote traces the role of the bishopric in the development of civil society and the establishment of communal government. Rather than viewing the formation of communes as a strictly secular [End Page 274] process, the author demonstrates well the central role played by bishops and the cathedral church in Orvieto, as well as the interpenetration of religious and political interests.

In the first part of the book, the author traces the emergence of the bishopric as a powerful political office in the eleventh century, at the center of a coalition of urban elites who filled the power vacuum left by absentee kings. Bishoprics at this time functioned as substitutes for comital authority, and their dioceses were the only remaining institution that preserved the unity of city and countryside. As a result, the diocese of Orvieto served both as a tool of conquest for the city as well as an ideological justification for it. In addition, the papacy in the twelfth century participated actively in the politics of Orvieto and its contado. In 1157, Pope Hadrian IV and the citizens of Orvieto made a pact of mutual legitimization for communal and papal state-building, with Orvieto recognizing papal claims in central Italy and the pope allowing Orvieto to establish a self-governing city-state under papal overlordship. According to the author, this papal-Orvietan alliance provided the framework for several decades of Orvietan expansion into the countryside. Thus, in this early stage of communal development in Orvieto, communal, episcopal, and papal interests all coincided.

The schism between pope and emperor during the second half of the twelfth century led to the emergence of local factionalism in Orvieto, pitting the bishopric and commune of Orvieto against the powerful count Ildebrando Novello, who allied with the bishop of Sovana. As a result, the bishop was forced to seek alliances with powerful rural lords, which plunged the cathedral church into an economic crisis since it required the bishop to pledge episcopal property to these lords in exchange for their military support. At the same time, popular support for the bishopric began to wane due to the growing impression that bishops spent more time on political activities than on the spiritual needs of the laity. In addition, a dispute between the commune and Pope Innocent III over territory in Orvieto's contado led to the loss of popular support for the papacy. As a result, the harmony between the city's political and religious interests characteristic of the earlier period now disappeared and bishops needed to find a way to reduce the tension between their ambitions and those of the laity.

According to Foote, bishops solved the crisis through the development of a more efficient episcopal administration and an alliance with the popolani, who emerged in the thirteenth century as a powerful force in communal politics. Bishops began to look to legal professionals to craft bureaucratic solutions to the economic crisis of the episcopate, using new record-keeping techniques designed to guard the integrity of episcopal property and stop the diversion of episcopal wealth to noble families. This new episcopal administration, in turn, served as a model for the popolani, who used similar techniques to hinder the growing gravitation of communal property toward noble families. Thus, notaries provided a means for the commune's political and religious cultures to readjust to one another in the early thirteenth century. As a result, bishops did [End Page 275] not become marginalized at this stage of communal development due to the increasingly secular nature of communal government. Rather, bishops and citizens together renegotiated the relationship between political and religious interests.

Here I have had space only to trace the most important themes and arguments of Foote's book...


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