- The Holy Bureaucrat: Eudes Rigaud and Religious Reform in Thirteenth-Century Normandy
Writing the biographies of medieval men and women is, of necessity, a hesitant and often frustrating business. So haphazard is the survival of source materials that there are entire fields of medieval life and thought, from the bedroom to the reality of religious faith, that, superficially at least, appear barred against biographical inquiry. Even when the sources exhibit an interest in personal psychological motivation, as is sometimes the case with chroniclers and certain classes of administrative record, it is very difficult to determine whether our sources are supplying specific personal details of particular men and women, or whether they are merely repeating generic principles, for the most part determined by religious and intellectual prejudices, that fit like a mask over the otherwise untidy, chaotic, and ultimately impenetrable realities of individual experience. We have a wealth of fact, but to string those facts into life stories we depend upon the imaginations, often fertile but just as often prone to anachronism or pure invention, of modern biographers.
Very occasionally, however, we gain access to sources which seem to open entirely new vistas of personal history. The Inquisition records used by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie to reconstruct the lives and thoughts of the peasants of fourteenth-century Montaillou are one such source. The register of visitations conducted by the mid thirteenth-century archbishop of Rouen, Eudes Rigaud, is another, used here by Adam Davis with consummate skill to probe [End Page 389] the reality of the lives of literally hundreds of medieval clergy, monks and nuns, priests and parishioners, whose stories would otherwise remain entirely obscure.
Of Eudes's background and early career we know very little. Sprung in all likelihood from the minor gentry of the Ile-de-France, he trained as a cleric and in due course took vows as a Franciscan friar. As one of the Franciscan regent masters teaching at the schools of Paris in the 1240s, he has left a group of sermons, shown by Davis to be remarkably lacking in personal detail. In 1247, however, Eudes was elected archbishop of Rouen, in part through his personal merits, in part one suspects through more complicated power-brokering involving the French King, Louis IX, the Pope, Innocent IV, and the masters of Paris, who may have been keen to ensure a vacancy in Eudes's professorial chair. Rouen was a rich and populous diocese, and as its archbishop, with an annual income of something approaching 12,000 livres, Eudes might well have settled into comfortable indolence.
As Davis shows, and despite Eudes's membership in the Franciscan order, the new archbishop was not slow to take up the financial management of his see, serving as a canny steward of his own material resources. Even when celebrating mass in the Franciscan convent at Rouen, Eudes dressed in pontificals rather than the simple habit prescribed by his order. Nonetheless, the very transactions by which Eudes enriched his office, his concern for his own archiepiscopal dignity, and his evident terror of debt, are quite rightly interpreted by Davis as signs of concern for the future spiritual well-being of the diocese rather than as a purely materialist seeking after profit or vainglory. Eudes's concern with the indebtedness of monasteries, which led him to sanction the liquidation of landed assets that others would have regarded as the inalienable property of the Church, can itself be read as evidence of a Franciscanism that was as flexible in dealing with relations between Church and secular society as it was unbending in its rejection of material luxury. Eudes himself was a tireless worker. Although frequently prostrated by illness, most likely by rheumatism brought on by the damp Norman air, for thirty years he traveled relentlessly around his diocese, disciplining the clergy, attempting to impose order and reform upon monks and nuns. All told, he conducted at least 1000 visitations at nearly 150 religious houses, and it is here...