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  • Chapter 4:Odo Rigaldus, the Norman Elite, and the Conflict over Masculine Prerogatives in the Diocese of Rouen
  • Jennifer D. Thibodeaux

Most historians who examine the theme of peace and power in medieval Europe typically focus on the ways in which people from that time sought to end conflicts and to enter into peaceful negotiations. Yet there also remains another possibility for studying peace and power: how some groups continually engaged in conflict as a mechanism for social dominance. Thirteenth-century Norman lords may not have consciously acted on this preference for conflict, but they surely benefited from their repeated participation in conflicts with the Archbishop Odo Rigaldus [1248-1275]. Conflicts, after all, allowed these men to demonstrate their power, both individually and collectively. Peaceful negotiations, truces and cooperation, in general were not their goal; without conflicts, power, especially masculine power, could not be continually demonstrated and reestablished.

Conflicts provide a useful source for the scholar to understand the self-perception and assumptions of historical actors. Scholars have studied such conflicts between Odo Rigaldus and the Norman clergy, especially the archishop's attempt to reform the ecclesiastical and moral practices of the latter.1 Yet one area of relationships not yet studied in the thirteenth-century diocese of Rouen is the tense and, at times, explosive interactions between Odo and the Norman rural elite. The thirteenth-century Norman nobility has suffered from historiographical neglect due to the extreme popularity of their eleventh-century and twelfth-century predecessors. Yet for the nobility who were left to retain their identity and their lands after the Capetian conquest of Normandy in 1204, we know comparatively little of how they reacted and interacted with French interlopers in their communities, especially during the later part of the thirteenth century. It has been well-established that the overwhelming majority of administrators (baillis) in Normandy after the Capetian conquest were not Norman in origin.2 There was a long period of adjustment as [End Page 41] the lords learned to accept and live with French domination. But the problems of the Norman aristocracy were not limited to their interactions with the French king. By the mid-thirteenth century, rural elites had to contend with another "interloper" in their communities, Odo Rigaldus, the archbishop of Rouen, newly installed in 1248. To understand these struggles in light of masculine identity and dominance, one can look to the conflicts that occurred between the ecclesiastical authorities and the Norman elite in the later part of the thirteenth century. In particular, Odo Rigaldus and his praxis of reform allow the scholar a more intimate glimpse of the interiority and exteriority of the Norman knightly self. Odo left behind a thoroughly detailed record of his travels throughout Normandy, a register containing daily entries of his business with different groups of people. The register, unique for its time and place, provides information that can be corroborated from other sources, like the census for the diocese and regional cartularies.3 A prosopographical analysis, using these sources, illuminates a social network of Norman nobles, in which they worked together to assert their masculine privileges and to oppose the archbishop's authority.

The study of conflicts in the Middle Ages is not new; what has yet to be researched is the way that conflicts express gendered conceptions of power. Recent studies on medieval masculinity have shown that, rather than a binary system of male/female, gender in medieval society was multifaceted, resulting in multiple masculinities and femininities. Building off of contemporary gender theory, medieval scholars have demonstrated that masculinities were continual contests over who or what was defined by a culture or group as hegemonic (dominant) or subordinate masculinities. Historically, hegemonic masculinities create the standard of manhood; yet, the men who participate in the hegemonic form of masculinity also struggle to maintain their position as dominant. Masculinity is never a "peaceful" standard of gender; it is continually subject to negotiation and conflict.4 Pierre Bourdieu's assertion that "manliness must be validated by other men, in its reality as actual or potential violence" describes accurately the gendered reality of medieval Norman knights.5

The conflicts between the Norman elite and the archbishop of Rouen indicate how these...


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