Alison Williams Lewin

title.none: Wolfthal, ed., Peace and Negotiation (Alison Williams Lewin)

identifier.other: baj9928.0109.002 01.09.02

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Alison Williams Lewin, St. Joseph's University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2001

identifier.citation: Wolfthal, Diane, ed. Peace and Negotiation: Strategies for Coexistence in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Arizona Studies in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, 4. Turnhout: Brepols, under the auspices of the Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Hull, 2000. Pp. 265. ISBN: 2-503-50904-5.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 01.09.02

Wolfthal, Diane, ed. Peace and Negotiation: Strategies for Coexistence in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Arizona Studies in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, 4. Turnhout: Brepols, under the auspices of the Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Hull, 2000. Pp. 265. ISBN: 2-503-50904-5.

Reviewed by:

Alison Williams Lewin
St. Joseph's University

Why is this a book? Unless rigorously edited, collections of essays are more often exercises in frustration than useful scholarly tools. I do not wish to say, especially regarding this volume, that individual contributions are not worthwhile, even excellent; I do find it hard to understand why anyone would think that this extremely disparate group of specialized essays can promote any but the most general conversations about peace and negotiation. Stripped of overblown rhetoric and inflated ideology, the collection does in fact contain many worthwhile articles; the reader has to labor long and hard to come to this conclusion, however, while slogging through the artificially created structure of both the collection and, in many cases, the language of particular authors. The articles would better serve both author and reader if published in appropriate scholarly journals; it is difficult to think of anyone to whom one could recommend buying the book.

Much of the problem lies in the title and its exegesis, particularly in the ways 'peace' and 'negotiation' are defined in the forward. In her introduction, Diane Wolfthal emphasizes the rich and evolving connotations of the word 'peace', and seems to focus on (appropriately enough, given the series) the Medieval and Renaissance conceptions of peace. She mentions many potential topics, including the just war tradition, pacifism, and utopianism in particular. (xiii) She points out that peace was not the opposite of absence of war, but rather, to quote Baruch Spinoza, "'it is a virtue a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice,' a moral condition". (xvii) After mentioning that peace also included ideas of living together in harmony, taming aggressive impulses, and ultimately the peace of the heavenly kingdom to come, Wolfthal state that, "In this volume, peace will be broadly defined as the resolution of conflict." (xvii) Especially because she specifically acknowledges the growth and usefulness of peace studies in the present, it is most distressing to find she abandons the rich medieval, moral conceptions of 'peace', and reverts to a far simpler, modern definition. And we certainly are not rewarded in this volume with visions of "the contribution that medieval and Renaissance scholarship can make to peace studies". (xii)

'Negotiation' founders on similar shoals of vagueness. Negotiation, Wolfthal writes, "is frequently an imortant preliminary to peace". Negotiation, I would argue, is frequently an active part of war as well, often occurring as conflmct rages. Moreover, negotiation carries connotations of a discrete transaction, a defined, articulated agreement among parties towards a specific end. The essays in this volume, however, do not for the most part examine negotiation, but rather accommodation--a far lengthier, less clearly articulated process which even the participants themselves may not consciously realize or promote. Again, while the editor promises that this book "will add to the small number of publications that have explored how people in medieval and Renaissance Europe negotiated with those with whom they had differences" (xix), very few essays do, in fact, concern negotiation. I thought in agreeing to review this work that I would find myself reading a coherent set of essays exploring both the theological/philosophical meanings of 'peace', and the sorts of issues that arose when specific conflicts erupted. To my disappointmen|, neither proved the case.

The inflated promises of the introduction carry through in several essays in the collection that construct mountains out of molehills, or elaborate what are, essentially, pretty basic concepts. For example: in chapter 1, "Negotiating Settlements in Half-Christianized Societies: The case of Early Medieval Ireland", Michael W. Herren hails a set of canons from c. 700 as "one of the most important human rights documents in western history", apparently because it "is directed to eliminating violence against women, clerics, and innocent children". (11) I will pass over the anachronism of ~rojecting "human rights" back 1300 years, and simply remark that such decrees were staples of virtually every collection of canons issued by synods throughout Christian history. I can't help but be surprised that the author would be so astonished at such a common sentiment. It leads me to question the breadth of his knowledge of church history. It may indeed be extensive; but this statement does not assure the reader of its existence. Or, in chapter 3, "Towards a Political Contextualization of Peacemaking and Peace Agreements in Anglo-Saxon England", Ryan Lavelle informs us that "For the purposes of this study, an elementary view of 'politics' will be taken, with the understanding that certain groups in Anglo-Saxon society acted in order to fulfil an agenda of gaining power and maintaining their hold on power." (40) The same author also states that, "The agreement of peace could often be used strategically, perhaps as a means of temporary recovery during campaigns and in terms of political alliance" (46) and that, "If a pause in the state of war suited neither group then it simply would not happen." (ibid.) Are these really helpful elucidations of immensely complex situations or abstractions? I don't think so.

Many other such obvious truths or pretentious announcements pop up periodically. Rather than extend my list indefinitely, I will warn readers to deflate and eliminate such passages as they occur, and plow on through, or at least sample, what is overall a collection of thought-provoking essays. The above- mentioned Lavelle does, ammost in spite of himself, offer a fascinating glimpse into the Anglo-Saxon world, its dynamics, and the nature of the frid. In this last section especially he approaches the editor's goal of exploring the different and complex meanings of peace in different medieval societies. His essay nicely introduces the next, John Edward Damon's "Advisors for Peace in the Reign of Aethelred Unraed", which untangles the several agendas promoted by various members of the witan during the reign of this 'ill-counseled' king. After raising the intriguing question of whether Christians of the first millennium could, on principle, shrink from war, and of ways in which paying tribute might fit into a scheme for peace, he concludes that only with conversion of the Danes to Christianity could Aethelred and his advisors consider making o true peace with them. (76). "Tribute was only useful when it aided conversion." (77) Damon, like Lavelle, expands our understanding of medieval nuances of peace. One final Anglo-Saxon contribution, "The St. Brice's Day Massacre and Archbishop Wulfstan", by Jonathan Wilcox, further elaborates on the question of peace making with pagans: whether it was possible, permissible, or desirable. Were the Danes the embodiment of evil, Satan's spawn, or unenlightened brethren whose conversion is every Christian's duty? By explicating the writings of Wulfstan, Archbishop of York from 1002-23, Wilcox reveals the difficulty contemporaries had in characterizing non-Christians, and what actions towards them were appropriate. Though Wulfstan promotes peace and reconciliation within a specifically Christian community the realities of his day required acknowledgment of others as well. Though Vi Aethelred, c. 1008, mandated justice and required "that peace and goodwill shall be duly maintained with this land in matters both religious and secular", (88) Wulfstan's earlier writings provide "a predictably harsh voice against pagans". By 1008, however, Wulfstan hints that he "desired to include any assimilated Danish people into the protective net of an ordered Christian community".(90) Wilcox thus posits the evolution of a leading prelate from a probable advocate of massacring pagans to a proponent of peaceful assimilation.

Several essays address other nuances of accommodation with equal delicacy. L.S.B. Maccoull's "The Rite of the Jar: Apostasy and Reconciliation in the Medieval Coptic Orthodox Church", presents a brief clear overview of Muslim/Coptic relations, and then explores the circumstances and problems facing one who had converted to Islam, and then wished to deny that conversion. The author also places the particular text describing the reconciliation ceremony in its political and social context, drawing our attention in particular to an outbreak of plague in the 1370s that doubtless pushed many Christians to convert, for fear of being blamed for causing or spreading the disease. Stephen H. Rapp Jr.'s "Christian Caucasian Dialogues", likewise draws us out of the familiar Western European realm to the large, and largely ignored, kingdom of Georgia, showing through the evolution of tgxts the ways in which Armenian and K'art'velian cultures and doctrines interacted with and incosporated one another. In an exposition so clear that even a complete stranger to the cultures could follow his argument effortlessly, Rapp positions monophysite, Chalcedonians, Armenians, K'art'velians, and various strains of Jewish and Byzantine influence so that in the end we understand why two brothers of a fairly new Armenian family could become the rulers of all Georgia, perhaps even deliberately each choosing to follow one of the two Christian doctrines. His is a masterful narrative and analysis of religious, ethnic, and cultural history. "Common Goods: Jewish and Christian Householder Cultures in Early Modern Prague", by Noah J. Efron, similarly pushes us eastward, and illustrates what he calls a "more homely" variety of cultural accommodation the stretched beyond the cosmopolitan court of Rudolph II. Scholars have focused on the highly intellectualized irenic humanism welcomed and promoted in late sixteenth century Prague; Efron looks at ways in which Jews and Christians built and decorated their houses, and finds there are similarities striking enough that members of one community would truly feel "at home" in the house of "the other". In many ways the few highly privileged Jews at Rudolph's court acted as bridges between the two cultures, dressing like their Christian counterparts and even giving money to build not only a synagogue but The Church of the Savior as well. Prague was thus materially as well as intellectually cosmopolitan, enough so that an English observer noted the "strange amity and peace" of the city, even while marveling at its great "confusion of Religions". (243)

Four other essays use art and literature to analyze the creation or upholding of peace. Lori Eshleman's "Weavers of Peace, Weavers of War" provides an interesting analysis of the role of women in creating both peace and war. Beyond the more usual image of women as bringers of peace, creating tapestries illustrating the peace, and weaving families together through marriage, Eshleman offers myths and several striking illustrations of women as inciters of conflict. The description of the valkyries who "weave a 'web of war' from the entrails of men, with human headw as warp weights" (23) is particularly striking. I only regret that she could not have elaborated the idea mentioned in her last sentence, that this alternation of roles is appropriate when "peace is not necessarily conceived of as lasting, but as a cyclical episode between bouts of conflict". (30) Here was an opportunity to explore more of the book's promise, in leading us to a greater understanding of the rich and varied meanings of 'peace'. Carol Stamtic Pendergast's essay, "Outside the walls: Jurisdiction and Justice on a Gateway at Anzy-le-Duc", stumbles initially, struggling to present some general ideas of justice, relying on vague notions of "collective responsibility", "the force of public opinion" and, in one particularly infelicitous phrase, claiming, "The Anzy hanging capital objectifies the cultural mindset by this reference". (109) Once she engages directly with her immediate subject, however, she uses vivid and vigorous prose to contextualize images within jurisdictional and local settings, arguing that the particular images at this juncture of sacred and secular space served to uphold the priory's rights of immunity.

Two truly elegant essays, Cynthia Skenazi's " Dispositio as an Art of Peace in Ronsard's Poetry", and Sheila ffolliott's "Make Love, Not War: Imaging Peace through Marriage in Renaissance France", succeed in presenting intricate subjects in eminently clear and elegant prose. Even one unfamiliar with the particulars of their subjects can easily identify them, understand the problems each presents, and follow the niceties of analysis that each author uses to reach solid conclusions. In her essay, Skenazi argues that Ronsard deliberately ordered his works to present an agenda in which ultimately poetry, and by extension all art, become the only possible means of creating peace in war-torn France. Peace may ultimately be "as fragile and artificial as its artistic representations" (211), but it also may be the best we human beings can manage. Ffoll}ot, by contrast, explores the idea of the wrong kind of peace: that made by women. After presenting examples of the role that marriage played in arranging and guaranteeing peace between nations, she then refers to images and fetes from the sixteenth century and uses them to articulate the conflict in cultural values that gendered ideas of peace created. On one hand, peace was a universal good, in both material and moral terms; on the other, its frequent personification as Venus, triumphing over the god of war, Mars, subverted the normal order of patriarchal society. Her best-known subject, Catherine de'Medici, was originally portrayed as Iris, sign of calm after storm, messenger of gods (thus a go-between). Catherine's impresa also bore a Greek motto, which read, "she" who carries peace before her, with the double entendre of both girl or rainbow intended as the subject. Catherine'shearly irenic image, however, faded. As queen-regent, Catherine had to take much more active role in creating rather than simply heralding peace. She staged fetes "to effect symbolic reconciliation between opposing Catholics and Protestants" (219), most conspicuously in the 1572 celebration of the marriage between Marguerite de Valois and Henri of Navarre. She offered first a tournament, followed with a speech byvMercury and Cupid on virtues of love, and ended with all parties, warring sides, men and women dancing a complex hour- long ballet "illustrating the pacifying power of love to produce harmony". (222) The next day, however, the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre undid all hopes of love and harmony, and led many to wonder whether this too had been arranged by Catherine, who cleverly and duplicitously (as befitted a woman) had concealed her true intentions. A later harangue transformed Catherine's earlier image of Iris into Eris, goddess of strife, who had thrown the golden apple into banquet of the gods, which action ultimately led to the Trojan War. Even Catherine's family symbol, the Medici palle, was linked to fruit in Garden of Hesperides (223).

Less disastrous but equally unsettling to French society was the fate of Francis I, hom contemporaries could have seen treated as a woman or child in "The Ladies' Peace" of 1529. By the terms of this accord he, i grown man and a monarcm, was goven in marriage to his conqueror's sister. To support her contention that the peace did threaten societal norms, ffolliot analyzes two contemporary portraits, each of which subtly shows him unmanned and made ridiculous. In the first, Francis is being dragwed, naked and reluctant, to his marriage bed by female attendants; and in the second his wedding portrait also includes a fool, a topos to indicate an inappropriate match. As neither age nor rank made the marriage unfitting, the logical conclusion is that the circumstances behind the marriage made it so. (225) ffolliot also speculates on significance of the artichoke held by Francks's new wife, Eleanora, "a recent and novel southern import (like the queen herself?)--recognizod...for its aphrodisiac powers"o(226) The vegetable too might hint at Francis's lack of virility. Employing both textual and ar~istic evidence with great deftness, ffolliot succeeds in creating a strong case for the ways in which female peace-makers appeared to contemporaries.

Two final essays remain, each problematic. Kristen M. Christensen's "The Conciliatory Rhetoric of M{sticism in the Correspondence of Heinrich von Nordlingen and Margaretha Ebner" does not break new ground, but does give another example the complexities of language and deference that arose when a female mystic and male cleric corresponded. Studies on Margaret of Cortona and Catherine of Siena reveal the same tensions and contradictions; the female is privileged by her immediate contact with God, the cleric by his gender and his calling. Each asks the other for advice and counsel in what seems to be a mutually supportive relationship. The essay's inclusion in the volume seems a stretch; the closest I can come to seeing a connection occurs in the last sentence, which states, "The structure of Nordlingen's letters thus reveals both the informative dominance of the Latin tradition and, ultimately, the extraordinary ability of mysticism to transcend politics and to transform literature." (143) I feel as if a square peg is being pushed pretty hard into a round hole; the essay is perfectly sound, but has little to do with peace or negotiation, no matter how broadly defined.

The last, "A War to End all Wars? Protestant Subversions of Henry VIII's Final Scottish and French Campaigns (1542-45)", by Ben Lowe, is by far the weakest in the collection; I am in fact frankly puzzled at its inclusion, given that the author cannot decide what his point or his positions are. Claiming first that current interpretations that characterize Henry's Scottish and French ventures as "chivalric whimsy", are misguided, Lowe argues that "Both the campaigns in Scotland and France had practical pacifistic objectives that extended well beyond revenging personal slights to honor." (180) But here, as in several other instances, the author seems to set up straw men, knock them down and then (to change images), end up embroiled in a wrestling match with a Tar Baby. If the king had larger, pacifist objectives in mind, how does the author explain the fact that Henry's own council wanted Henry to relinquish Boulogne, won in war, and present his refusal first as "royal obstinacy", which Lowe himself states destroyed an opportunity forge union with Scotland and achieve degree of amity with France? (182)cAs if this weren't confusing enough, as part of his overall conclusion to the essay, Lowe maintoins that the pacifist preacher Becon must have been disappointed "when Henry's desire for peace became corrupted through his quest for empty glory in the costly and burdensome capture of the city of Boulogne two years later".(194) Either Henry has undergone some transformation from peace-seeking protector of the commonweal to vainglorious knight, the occurrence, much less dynamic of which, is never revealed, or Lowe initially proposed a thesis he could not maintain and never realized the extent to which he contradicts himself.

Henry is not the only problem. Another theme (I think) of this long muddled essay is the attempt to grasp and interpret the ideas and realities of "the just war" in newly Protestant England. Fear of straining the reader's patience prevent me from spelling out the illogic and scant knowledge apparent in this section, and in that addressing the French situation. (Interested readers may e-mail me for particulars.) I was somehow not surprised to find that Lowe's book on English pacifism was cross-listed in Books in Print under "sociology, anthropology, and archeology" rather than under "history", for history it surely is not. Rather than continue to beat a dead horse, I can most concisely reveal Lowe's feeble conceptualization and poor use of language by allowing him to speak for himself: "Put another way, the patriotic rhetoric here is really a set of vocabulary and idioms that take on meaning when the discourse in which they are placed is identified (here it is largely a commonwealth language, an early form of political economy), and the emphasis revealed based on a familiarity with how this language utilizes such concepts." (191-2) I think this translates to: "we can understand what words mean when we grasp their context and become familiar with their usages". Is anyone surprised at this revelation? Does anyone, at this point, care?

And ultimately the weaknesses in Lowe's essay serve to highlight the weaknesses of the book as a whole: it lacks conceptual coherence and, too often, clear exposition. While Diane Wolfthal's latest book is on rape ( Images of Rape: The "Heroic" Tradition and its Alternatives, Cambridge, 2000), which might have led her into thinking about peace and negotiation, this book reminds us that we might all be more modest in setting goals for ourselves. I would not dream of editing the work of art historians; I would hope that art historians might in future hesitate to evaluate works of political, theological, and diplomatic history. While interdisciplinary work can provide great insight into complex situations, it succeeds best when specific issues are clearly defined and consistently addressed. Overall, I would encourage authors to think of what audience can best appreciate their labors, and editors to ask themselves more rigorously whether a set of essays or conference papers deserves to exist as a book.