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  • Chapter 1Peace and Power in France Around the Year 1000
  • Thomas Head

During the difficult dynastic and social dislocations of the late tenth and early eleventh centuries, members of the ecclesiastical and secular hierarchies in France tried to balance a desire for God's peace with the harsh reality of the exactions of lordship, both lay and clerical, in their society. The "peace" in question here is the Peace of God. It was a movement, or perhaps better a group of associated regional movements, begun by bishops and other churchmen to curb violence, particularly that directed against the church and its property. These movements began in the 980s and continued through the 1040s, when they were transformed into a more formal legal institution known as the "Truce of God," which was adopted far more widely than the original Peace movements. Those had flourished within the so-called "hexagon" of modern France, as well as in Catalonia, although these regions had varying forms of allegiance to the Capetian kings of the west Franks during the period under discussion. The "power" in question is most simply lordship, or in contemporary terms the bannum, that is the right to coerce.1 And let me hastily add that the juxtaposition of "simply" and "lordship" is an act of almost unforgivable scholarly hubris. Lordship was the exercise of power at its most fundamental and practical level. Lordship was far from monolithic in form or function, but varied according to local circumstances and was continually contested.

This subject is at the center of an historiographical minefield. Over the past two decades the scholarly consensus on my chosen topic has changed from an orthodoxy built upon the work of Marc Bloch, Georges Duby, and Jean-François Lemarignier to a cacophony of questions. The older orthodoxy was that, under the rule of Hugh Capet and his successors in the new Capetian dynasty, their west Frankish realm and its neighbors (that is roughly modern France and Catalonia) witnessed radical social change. Power had devolved from the royal center to the local principes or "leading men," fundamentally altering the exercise of lordship. [End Page 1] These changes created that peculiar "regime-without-a-state" known as feudalism. The most convenient, if somewhat extreme, summary of this orthodoxy was published by Jean-Pierre Poly and Eric Bournazel under the title La mutation féodale.2 It was against this historiographical context that Richard Landes and myself edited a volume of essays on the Peace of God, published in 1992.3 That same year, a review by Dominique Barthélemy of the second edition of Poly and Bournazel's work signaled the beginning of furious scholarly contest over various aspects of this inherited scholarly orthodoxy.4 These debates have been largely phrased in binary terms: social change was revolutionary or merely slow evolution; violence wrenched society to an unprecedented degree or it was greatly exaggerated in the surviving sources by clerical rhetoric voiced against unsympathetic lay lords; apocalyptic expectations enlivened religious fervor in anticipation of the millennial anniversaries of the events of Christ's life or such apocalypticism was virtually nowhere to be found.5 The extremes of the new orthodoxies, and the place of the Peace of God in them, are currently defined, on the one hand, by the work of Dominique Barthélemy, who sees the Peace of God as a novel but in the end ephemeral development in a period of socio-political continuity, and, on the other hand, by R. I. Moore who sees it as a crucial element of The First European Revolution.6

What then did peace have to do with rulership or lordship in the decades around the year 1000? Gerd Althoff has argued that, "[The king] was primarily responsible for peace (pax) and justice (iustitia)."7 This is hardly unusual and has been quoted simply as an example of a scholarly trope: many other historians of early medieval monarchy have made similar claims. Such statements, however, elide historical developments. Carolingian authors frequently exploited the language of the Old Testament Books of Kings ("the Lord . . . hath appointed thee king, to do judgment and justice") to emphasize that the provision of justice was the...


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