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Henry A. Myers, in co-operation with Herwig Wolfram, Mediaeval Kingship, Chicago, Nelson-Hall, 1982, pp. ix and 467. The dust-cover subtitles this book helpfully as "The origins and development of Western monarchy in all stages from the fall of Rome to the Fifteenth Century". It also makes it clear that the principal author is from the fields of "political science and history" and "social science research" at James Madison University, while his collaborator is a Viennese medievalist. Hence come the twin thrusts of this considerable work - an investigation of kingship, of "how and why it came to dominate politics and culture for a thousand years", and the contention that mediaeval kingship had its origins in the royal traditions of the Germanic tribes of northern Europe, "but owed much of its development to the largely rational concept of monarchy derived from later Roman civilization, (p. 2) Thus it is that the writers go beyond familiar kings to the living institutions which could, as appropriate, keep the peace and render justice to their subjects, defend the results against foreign invaders, or, later, maintain and strengthen the faith. And so, after an over-view, the treatment follows through, sequentially the dual origin of mediaeval kingshp; monarchy becoming "God's own form of government"; early mediaeval kingship as "the art of stabilizing and balancing"; problems of regna and the imperium for Carolingian kingshp; the "feudal pyramid" and the right of resistance; the influential theories of kingship of John of Salisbury, Thomas Aquinas, Dante, Marsiglio of Padua and Sir John Fortescue; and the withering of the feudal nobility, with a consequent "symbiotic relationship" with the middle class as the newer types of monarchy emerged at the end of the Middle Ages. In all of this, the concern is ever with the mechanisms of order; with trusts and responsibilities; with the operation of law; with the facts and myths of a given period (e.g. Attila and his Hun hordes as opposed to the personal magnetism and magnificence accorded him by the much later writer of the Nibelungenlied); and with making intriguing parallels with later ages, as between the claims of the mediaeval Church to direct kings and those of the present-day Communist parties in power to direct the government over Marxist-Leninist doctrine; or the concept of the twentieth century Fascist leaders as "caricatures of mediaeval kingship" (p. 351). While these last observations may seem less than weighty scholarship, or the occasional cast of expression to be of a Germantype of English, these are scarcely flaws in such a weighty treatment of an institution which may be held to be at the heart of (European) history, legend and mythology, idiom, imagery and fantasy. For, it must be stressed, the text is interspersed with progressive semantic illuminations, - of Heil, cyning, thiudans, nobilitas, imperator and "emperor", the Thing, De Regno, the move from Aristotle to Thomist nuances in concepts like "politics", regimen populi, or the Dantean ideals of universal peace through 202 secular absolute monarchy. For those whose medieval studies are largely English or Western European, the whole continental treatment will appeal especially, as will the approach to the progressive developments from Roman law. For the notion of a hierarchy of law types links our world, through Thomas Aquinas, to the true deeper meaning of Aristotle's Politics. Thus there are teased out the variations from the immutable to the variable - (i) eternal law (divine guidance of created things); (ii) natural law (man's perception of a "sharing in" the eternal law by virtue of the right reason in his nature); and (iii) positive law (laws of a type generally encountered among different peoples, the ius gentium, as well as the body of laws for special contingencies, the ius civile). Related to this sphere is the set of associations derived from Aristotle's assumption that the normal political unit which people will want to discuss is a citystate . It is, indeed,this notion of limited monarchy which increasingly comes under threat from: political change; the ever larger medieval kingdoms; the passing of the concept of tribe; the rise of the middle-class; and the restraining yet divisive functions of the Church as representative of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1832-8334
Print ISSN
0313-6221
Pages
pp. 201-203
Launched on MUSE
2013-04-03
Open Access
No
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