John France

title.none: Bernhardt, Itinerant Kingship and Royal Monasteries

identifier.other: baj9928.9505.001 95.05.01

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: John France, University of Swansea

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1995

identifier.citation: Bernhardt, John W. Itinerant kingship and royal monasteries in early medieval Germany c. 936-1075. Series: Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought, 21. Cambridge, 1993. Pp. xix + 376. $69.95 on boards. ISBN: ISBN 0521394899.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: Bryn Mawr Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 95.05.01

Bernhardt, John W. Itinerant kingship and royal monasteries in early medieval Germany c. 936-1075. Series: Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought, 21. Cambridge, 1993. Pp. xix + 376. $69.95 on boards. ISBN: ISBN 0521394899.

Reviewed by:

John France
University of Swansea

This is a very important and valuable book whose publication will sustain the reputation of the distinguished series in which it appears. The author shows a real grasp of often difficult source material and expounds fairly and clearly a great mass of modern material bearing upon his subject. There is an impressive bibliography and a thorough and useful index.

The main thrust of the argument is deceptively narrow. It is a demonstration of the continuing importance of monasteries and nunneries to the Ottonians and Salians in the face of a well-established assumption that they were tending to move away from dependence upon them in favour of bishops and episcopal cities. The proponents of this view must now take into account the formidable body of evidence that Bernhardt has assembled in the central chapters of this work which suggests a continuing dependence on abbeys in the Saxon heartlands of the dynasty and on the key routes, the Central and Westphalian transit zones, between them and the Rhine valley and western Germany. This builds on the work of Müller-Mertens and develops the argument that ideas about a shift to royal bishoprics are a result of an undue emphasis upon the Nahzonen, new areas of royal power where it is possible, pending further research, that a different pattern established itself. The chapter on Hersfeld and Fulda is a particularly fascinating and well-articulated analysis of why these houses were so important, above all in a strategic sense, and how their landed possessions developed to safeguard the Central transit zone which was so vital to the monarchy. For those with a specialist interest in German development these are important arguments and here the weight of evidence adduced is impressive. The connection between court and monastery, especially where an abbey and a Pfalz actually shared a site, was so intimate that the records really make it impossible to establish where one began and the other ended. For the Ottonians and Salians monasteries formed convenient development corporations, to the degree that reformers felt the conventual life might be threatened by the pressures o f the servitium regis in all its forms. Indeed the division of monastic lands between those of the community and those of the abbot became a mechanism to defend the integrity of the institution and even the German kings specified that gifts were to be use d for the purposes of the community when it was a matter of prayer for their souls and those of their royal and noble dead. However the discussion is carefully balanced, showing that divisions of the monastic lands were not simply the outcome of royal demands.

But if this specialised argument is the core of the book, it must not be thought that its treatment is so narrow as to preclude the reader with more general interests. Quite the opposite is true, for this is a rich discursive discussion, though never irrelevant or straying from its main focus, to the degree that it gives us a good view of the way in which the Ottonian and Salian monarchy supported itself. The introductory chapter on German kingship in this period is a remarkably clear exposition of the nature of itinerant kingship, and it shows a real knowledge of the extensive literature on the subject. If there is a criticism here it is that despite the period in the title, the discussion seems to bear less upon the reigns of Conrad and Henry III than upon those of their predecessors. However for clarity and sharpness it cannot be faulted and it leads the reader into the much denser analysis of the nature of the servitium regis and the problems it presented to monasteries. In the chapters which follow the sources for the history of the monasteries of the Saxon heartland and their complex relationship with the crown are analysed. In the process Bernhardt throws considerable light on a number of important topics, most notably the way in which the German monarchs fostered the economic development of their heartlands through patronage of monasteries and especially by founding markets. The monastic estates of Saxony exhibit examples of both the 'classic demesne organisation' and one based on rent collecti on, with every possible variation between. The discussion of roads is interesting in this connection and one can hope that this will be expanded in some future publication. But perhaps most surprising is the revelation of the role of women in the infrastructure of German monarchy. Karl Leyser drew attention to the prominence of Saxon nunneries in his Rule and Conflict in an early medieval society (1979) but this theme is sharply articulated here. It forms a fascinating study of the active female role in the high politics of an early medieval monarchy and deserves comparison with Janet Nelson's 'Women at the court of Charlemagne: a case of a monstrous Regiment?' in J.C. Parsons' Medieval Queenship (1993). If the context of these two discussions is differ ent, their conclusion is much the same - that royal women could be very useful and highly influential.

This is a very valuable study of the German monarchy before the Investiture Contest. Its title is modest and its main intention specialised, but the treatment adds greatly to our knowledge of how the Ottonians and Salians sustained themselves and touches upon many topics of interest to historians working in a number of fields.