The Medieval Review 11.04.09

Tuten, Belle S. and Tracey L. Billado. Feud, Violence and Practice: Essays in Medieval Studies in Honor of Stephen D. White. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2010. Pp. 336. $124.85 ISBN 978-0-7546-6411-6. .

Reviewed by:

Constance Berman
University of Iowa

The fifteen articles contained in this volume are solid ones that will be of considerable worth to scholars of the medieval world. Indeed its contents are illuminating my own lectures and have been recommended to my students.

The editors have divided the volume into three parts: "Feud and Violence," "Legal Culture and Feudalism," and "Reading, Rereading, and Practice," but these are artificial and the contents cut across those divisions; my comments here concentrate on how different articles engage one another.

In the opening article, the first in the section on "Feud and Violence," William Ian Miller's "Threat" pp. 9-27, addresses his topic from the viewpoint of game and bargaining theory, but using examples from Old Norse sagas, Anglo-Saxon poetry, Norman historians, and Orderic Vitalis. Who would have thought that "burning one's boats behind oneself" is a threatening behavior? But then one must begin by seeing determination as threat--which Miller makes clear. It leads me to ask whether we could know more about how women members of powerful families act as threat. This is suggested in Annette B. Parks, "Rescuing the Maidens from the Tower: Recovering the Stories of Two Female Political Hostages," pp. 279-91, which examines Eleanor of Brittany, daughter of Geoffrey the son of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, and who was a hostage for first King Richard and then King John from 1194 until her death sometime after 1214. Eleanor was next in line for inheriting Brittany after the "disappeared" Arthur and as such holding her prisoner rather than allowing (for instance) retirement to a monastic community, meant that she was a constant threat in being available to be married off to a contender for Brittany. Like her, Beatrice, damsel of Cyprus, the other "Maiden in the Tower," could be considered threat as well as hostage.

John G.H. Hudson, "Feud, Vengeance and Violence in England from the Tenth to the Twelfth Centuries," pp. 29-53, argues that there was little feuding in the medieval England of those centuries, and then asks whether this distinguishes it from the continent, and if so why. Whether formal or informal procedures were more important to this is the question. One could set this against Richard E. Barton, "Making a Clamor to the Lord: Noise, Justice and Power in Eleventh– and Twelfth-Century France," pp. 213-35, where the proper procedure of making a clamor to the appropriate lord was the first step in resolving disputes--in France to omit that procedure, taking it to some sort of powerful procedure, became the expected way of getting justice.

Part II of the volume, "Legal Culture and Feudalism," begins with a classic pair, Fredric L. Cheyette's "'Feudalism': A Memoire and an Assessment," pp. 119-33, which suggests that the old standard narrative of feudalism has finally been put to rest, and Elizabeth A. R. Brown, "Reflections of Feudalism: Thomas Madox and the Origins of the Feudal System in England," pp. 135-55, which takes her dear friend Stephen White to task for not quite agreeing to ban the "f" word and then goes on to a history of the introduction of that terminology.

Under Part II: "Legal Culture and Feudalism," Isabelle Alfonso Antơn's "The Language and Practice of Negotiation in Medieval Conflict Resolution (Castille-Léon, Eleventh-Thirteenth Centuries)," pp. 157-74, might be seen as having bearing on the next piece in the volume, Paul Hyams', "Thinking English Law in French: The Angevins and the Common Law," pp. 175-96. In fact Anton's discussion is really about practice not language, and it complements best the article by Karen Bosnos, "Treason and Politics in Anglo-Norman Histories," pp. 293-306. Both are about the negotiation between what law says and how it was implemented. Anton on page 164, asserts that "It is therefore possible to infer that the negotiation process performed a series of unrelated functions that were at least as important as the final settlement," while Bosnos on p. 305 contends that "treason and treason trials were contestable events subject to the influence of any number of social or political factors and open to a variety of contrasting interpretations." In contrast Hyams article on the French words that are incorporated into English common law really does examine the meaning of words. In that it is similar to the close reading of late medieval devotional texts by Caroline W. Bynum in "Violence Occluded: The Wound in Christ's Side in Late Medieval Devotion," pp. 95-116. Bynum considers both textual images and manuscript depictions of Christ's Wound, contending that the wound in Christ's side loses it violent imagery to become a portal to contemplation.

This is most like Elizabeth Carson Paston's work, "Dating the Medieval Work: The Case of the Miracles of Saint Andrew Window from Troyes Cathedral," pp. 239-57, which opens part Three: "Reading, Re-reading and Practice." She has persuaded me of the patronage of the counts of Champagne for the Saint-Andrew window by tying that window in the cathedral to their Saint Andrew relics found elsewhere in Troyes. This makes a case for a mid thirteenth century dating.

The expulsion of devils or demons from that window reminds us of the analysis of devils in Dominique Barthelme's "Devils in the Sanctuary, Violence in The Miracles of Saint-Benedict," pp. 71-94, which examines a text associated with Fleury or Saint-Benoit-sur-Loire which relishes the curing of mental illness by the relics of Benedict that cause sufferers to disgorge dark beasts or otherwise overcome the Evil one.

One may compare the treatment of male anger in histories by Kate McGrath, "The Politics of Chivalry: The Function of Anger and Shame in Eleventh- and Twelfth-Century Anglo-Norman Historical Narratives," pp. 55-70, to that of female anger in Cynthia J. Johnson, "Kinship, Disputing, and Ira: A Mother-Daughter Quarrel in Southern France," pp. 259-78, which treats women patrons found in the charters of the Hospital of Saint Thomas of la Trinquetaille in Arles.

Leaving my favorite piece to last, Robert Bartlett's "Mortal Enmities': The Legal Aspect of Hostility in the Middle Ages," pp. 197-212, reflects on the development of the Peace of God and on who can and who cannot be the subject of your enmity--and on which days of the week or year. This is a striking counterpoint to the recent day of violence with camels and horses in the streets of Cairo.

Finally one must not fail to comment on how delighted Stephen White must be by the students, friends, and colleagues who put together this beautiful collection that has so much bearing on his own work. This is a fine book. One worth consulting again and again.