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  • Aspects of Power and Authority in the Middle Ages
  • Pauline Stafford
Aspects of Power and Authority in the Middle Ages. Edited by Brenda Bolton and Christine Meek. International Medieval Research, 14. Turnhout: Brepols, 2007. Pp. xii + 354; 29 illustrations. EUR 70.

The theme of the 2003 Leeds International Medieval Congress was “Power and Authority.” This volume gathers papers from that congress, supplemented by (unidentified) commissioned articles. Eighteen papers are grouped under three headings. “Image-making” includes two on image making and the specific problems of authority faced by conquerors—Jean Dunbabin on Charles of Anjou in the Regno, Chris Dennis on Cnut and William I in England. Gale Owen-Crocker writes on dress and authority in the Bayeux tapestry; Claudia Bolgia on ostentation, power, and family competition expressed in the Aracoeli chapels in Rome; and Marie-Thérèse Champagne on papal claims to authority in twelfth-century Rome, involving the Old Testament and Jewish Temple relics. “Informal Influence” begins with three essays on queens: Ana Maria Rodrigues on late medieval Portugal and Patricia Dark on Matilda of Boulogne in twelfth-century England (both on queens consort) and Bethany Aram on late medieval Castile (on queens regnant). Two essays consider clerics: Walter Ysebaert on episcopal and elite clerical networks in late twelfth-century northern France and Jeremy Goldberg on knowledge as power wielded by the later medieval English parochial clergy. Rebecca Rist covers papal regulations on usury vis-à-vis Jews and Crusaders. Section 3 focuses on the “Power of words.” Jayne Carroll looks at concepts of power in Anglo-Scandinavian verse, specifically à propos the early tenth-century English king Athelstan; Alice Jorgensen concentrates on power, poetry, and violence in the late tenth-century English poem The Battle of Maldon. Anne Duggan deals with the power of a specific document, and forgery, Laudabiliter, in Anglo-Irish history, and Swen Brunsch with the use and authority of documents in early medieval Italian pleas. Ronald Finucane is primarily concerned with the arguments and processes for the authorization of miracles, with particular reference to an early fourteenth-century case; and Barbara Bombi deals with miracles in the work of Caesarius of Heisterbach, primarily with the question of their authority as sources for the modern historian. Finally Joanna Huntington places the “royal touch” in the context of other miracles in the Lives of Edward the Confessor, homing in on the presentation of a model of royal authority in the reign of Henry II.

Section 1 covers image making as competitive display, and thus as a technique of power; image making as legitimation, tapping sources of authority, is even more central. Dunbabin raises many important questions. Conquerors faced peculiar problems in securing the transition from conquest to unquestioned, legitimized power—thus authority. Specific historical context is critical, but Dunbabin also makes clear the limitations on image making and manipulation. Not all images were available or tractable for Charles; some were usable but unacceptable to specific audiences. Meanings could not be fully controlled, were often intransigent. This is a forceful reminder that image making, like all forms of persuasion, is a dialogue, where there are receivers as well as creators. Reception is touched on in later essays (Carroll), but, as part of the process of power as persuasion, it would have repaid more attention throughout the volume. Who, for example, received [End Page 229] Aelred’s images of Edward the Confessor, and how (Huntington)? Did papal adventus, Lateran mosaics, and texts speak to the same audiences in twelfth-century Rome, and with the same messages (Champagne)? Fourteenth-century Romans appear to have taken the message from the baronial chapels at the Aracoeli, asserted through height and publicly claimed through coats of arms. Bolgia’s is a fine piece of architectural detective work, which also invites consideration of topographies of power. The Aracoeli church on the Capitoline hill, the route of the papal adventus, and the significance of Toledo for Aram’s Castilian queens all draw attention to the meaning of particular sites and thus, indirectly, to the power of those who controlled them—Franciscans in the case of the Aracoeli. It may be no accident that all are urban. Towns, as significant gatherings of people...


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