Katherine L Jansen

title.none: Kelly, The New Solomon (Katherine L Jansen)

identifier.other: baj9928.0411.016 04.11.16

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Katherine L Jansen, Catholic University of America,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Kelly, Samantha. The New Solomon: Robert of Naples (1309-1343) and Fourteenth-Century Kingship. Series: The Medieval Mediterranean, vol. 48. Leiden: Brill, 2003. Pp. xviii, 339. $104.00 900412945-6. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.11.16

Kelly, Samantha. The New Solomon: Robert of Naples (1309-1343) and Fourteenth-Century Kingship. Series: The Medieval Mediterranean, vol. 48. Leiden: Brill, 2003. Pp. xviii, 339. $104.00 900412945-6. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Katherine L Jansen
Catholic University of America

Writing the history of Angevin Naples poses two formidable challenges for scholars. The first problem is one of evidence: the Angevin registers have been lost, destroyed in 1943 by the retreating German army. Incinerated in the flames outside Nola were 375 vellum registers, all of the administrative records of the Angevin kingdom. After the war, a project directed by Riccardo Filangieri, with the cooperation of the State Archives of Naples, began the painstaking task of reconstructing that archive from antiquarian transcriptions, published articles, microfilms, scholarly notes, and extant documents produced by the royal chancery but housed safely outside of Naples. The project continues: since 1948 the reign of Charles I has been reconstructed and that of Charles II is underway, the project having reached 1293, the fourth year of his rule. Thus, to work on any Angevin topic one must be prepared to enter the regno not head-on through the administrative documents generated by the monarchy, but sideways through more discursive literary and visual evidence.

The second challenge posed by the subject is the historiographical tradition. Just as the Angevin dynasty was never particularly popular with its Italian subjects, always viewed with suspicion as foreign interlopers, it has never really been favored by Italian historiography either, for much the same reasons. On the whole and until recently, Italian scholars have either studiously ignored the Angevins as a historical subject, leaving monographic studies of the kingdom to their French, German, and British counterparts, or, with Croce, they have idealized the achievements of the Normans and Frederick II and viewed the Angevin conquest of the South as the fons et origo of all the problems which still today plague the Mezzogiorno. But this situation is changing: a new generation of international scholars, often brought together under the auspices of the L'Ecole de France in Rome, has begun to shake off old historical paradigms in order to view the Angevin realm afresh. The recent works of Peter Herde, Andreas Kiesewetter, David Abulafia and Jean Dunbabin now serve as touchstones for understanding the political and economic matrix of Angevin Naples. But their work has barely scratched the surface of Robert's reign; indeed, not since the publication of the second volume of Romolo Caggese's biography of Robert in 1930 has there been an in-depth study of King Robert, though certain aspects of his reign--notably his preaching--have recently drawn the attention of scholars such as Jean-Paul Boyer and Darleen Pryds. Therefore, Samantha Kelly's The New Solomon is a particularly welcome and needed contribution to the field. Her study is very much an au courant cultural history in that it looks with an unflinching eye at questions of royal patronage, the ideological construction of kingship and its public reception. But the book also blows a breath of fresh air into the field of royal administrative history, a genre of historical writing (along with institutional history) whose moribundity William C. Jordan has recently lamented in these pages. Kelly is as much interested in understanding how Robert's kingdom functioned on the administrative level as she is in his ideology of kingship. In a sense, then, her innovative study of the kingship of Robert of Naples fuses together two venerable yet distinct historical traditions of scholarship on monarchy best exemplified by Ernst Kantorowicz and Joseph Strayer.

In her Kantorowicz mode, Kelly looks at the question of the construction of royal ideology or what she calls "propaganda" in Robert's court. She does this in a number of ways, foremost among them is her penetrating analysis of texts generated in Robert's court, including those which Robert himself is thought to have written. She finds that these texts, which include sermons, letters, theological tracts, political treatises, panegyrics and disputations served to enhance Robert''s image by highlighting a set of monarchical virtues which the king was believed to embody. These necessary characteristics of a good monarch were piety, justice, prudence and wisdom, and are those around which Kelly structures her narrative, a chapter devoted to each of them in turn. But before all else in Chapter One Kelly poses the question of patronage, as it is one of the book's pivotal arguments that "patronage produced propaganda," (25) or royal ideology, the central concern of this study. As such, Kelly reconstructs the patronage network of Robert's court. This is no easy task. In some cases it requires following the trail of the visual evidence, looking at the artistic monuments produced for the court by such well known artists as Giotto, Simone Martini and Tino di Camaino for the political meanings with which their frescoes, panel paintings, manuscript illuminations, and sculptural programs were inscribed. But the centerpiece of her work is the analysis of the discursive texts produced by Robert's entourage, the architects of his policies and public image. Toward this end she had first to construct a prosopography of the court, scrupulously documenting who was in the court's employ, their position, their relationship to the royal family, and their contribution to Robert's court culture, political and otherwise. That inner circle of familiars, who in contemporary terms filled the roles of advisors, spin-doctors, strategists, and publicists included Bartolomeo da Capua, the king's protonotary and logothete, the highest official in the court, along with a number of friars and clerics including Francois de Meyronnes, a Franciscan theologian; the Dominican preacher, Giovanni Regina da Napoli; and renowned Augustinian theologian, Agostino d'Ancona. Each of these men were prolific writers and preachers who celebrated King Robert's virtues in their learned treatises and in their public sermons, the political speeches of the day. But they were not alone in so doing; Robert too had a hand in creating and disseminating his royal image. Kelly expertly mines his letters, theological tracts, and his sermons delivered publicly on multiple and various occasions to catch a glimpse of Robert self-fashioning his public image as a pious, prudent, just and wise king.

Then as now publicity and propaganda had its limits and not everyone was an acquiescent consumer of Robert's patent self-promotion and his pontificating sermons. Dante is perhaps Robert's most celebrated and caustic critic, damning him in the Paradiso as one suited only "for sermons" (canto VIII, lines 139-48). That withering critique concludes a long denunciation of Robert, which indicts him of cowardice, treachery, and avarice, a candidate unworthy of kingship. Petrarch, however, had an entirely different view of the king. His letters describe Robert, whom he had met in 1341, in radiant terms: he was an "eminent king and famous for his culture as for his rule, and the only king of our age who was at once the friend of knowledge and of virtue" (2).

These two poles of opinion have come to shape scholarly considerations of Robert's kingship and court. The debate is epitomized in the question: medieval or renaissance? Kelly wisely navigates the perilous shoals of this discussion by arguing that Robert's monarchy was marked most notably by its transitional character. It was clearly not cast in the chivalric tradition of battlefront bravery and lordly magnanimity; nonetheless, Robert continued to administrate the realm in much the same way as had his Norman and Hohenstaufen predecessors. Moreover, royal ideology still drew from a repertoire of medieval images, particularly the image of the just king modeled after Louis IX and the wise monarch cast in the Solomonic tradition. Kelly argues, however, that Robert's royal image-makers were filling old skins with new wine. That is, in the fourteenth-century Neapolitan court the meaning of the virtue of wisdom-Robert's appellative--was inflected in a new way. At least when applied to Robert it came to signify political shrewdness, which manifested itself in prudent avoidance of warfare and clear-sighted diplomacy. Ultimately, Robert and his circle were redefining the nature of kingship for a new age. In her analysis of their political discourse and policy decisions Kelly has made an important contribution to the debate about the transitional nature of kingship and the rise of court culture in fourteenth-century western Europe.

Thus far my discussion of Kelly's work has concentrated on the questions that would have interested Kantorowicz. What of the set of administrative questions that Strayer would have asked about Angevin Naples? How were taxes collected? How was justice administered? How was the peace enforced? Kelly is able to illuminate these areas as well. She is less well served by her evidence, however, since, as mentioned earlier, most of the administrative records of the regno were destroyed. Nonetheless, in her chapter entitled, "Justice," in addition to analyzing the official political discourse about Robert as a just king, she is able to recover the structure of royal administration, revealing how judicial offices functioned and who manned them. She indicates that provincial justiciars were "omnicompetent officials appointed for twelve-month terms" who were "charged with the fiscal, judicial, and military oversight of their districts" (138). They tried criminal cases and were superior to seigneurial courts. Local military captains assisted them in policing the districts, while fiscal officers called secreti collected direct and indirect taxes. Just as she showed us the familiars at court, Kelly shows us who served in Robert's provincial administration. Not surprisingly, the most powerful offices were occupied by those great noble families who had showed loyalty to the Angevin dynasty; among others, the Sanseverino dominated Basilicata, while three transplanted families from Provence dominated the newly created province called the principality of Ultra.

Of course a thorough analysis of Robert's reign must include a discussion of religion which Kelly provides in her analysis of his sermons, his theological tracts on the beatific vision and apostolic poverty, and his patronage of the cult of the saints. Especially illuminating is her discussion of the cult of Angevin dynastic saints which Robert cultivated as much for their symbolic capital as for reasons of personal piety. But the most burning question these days is whether or not he was a sympathizer of the Franciscan Spirituals as was his second wife, Queen Sancia of Mallorca. Recent scholarship has tended to view him in that light. Kelly, however, makes a convincing revisionist argument to the contrary. She argues that despite Robert's treatise defending apostolic poverty, he, like most of his advisors, was no friend to the cause of the Spirituals, particularly after they aligned with his arch-enemy Ludwig of Bavaria. Thus for the first twenty years of his reign Robert's policy toward the Spirituals was marked by hostility. But beginning in 1331 he turned a blind eye to Sancia's Spiritualist activities because it behooved him politically to do so. It was part of a diplomatic gambit played against the papacy, which that same year had betrayed Angevin interests in favor of the French and Bohemian monarchies. Therefore, in Kelly's view, Robert's failure to ally himself with the pope against the Spirituals was an example of clever diplomatic maneuvering in a tricky political situation, not an implicit endorsement of the beliefs of the heretical Spiritual Franciscans. It is a compelling and nuanced explanation, of which my abbreviated version cannot do full justice.

Clearly, then, Kelly is conversant with the complicated politics of Robert's realm, which were shaped primarily by papal and imperial politics. But it must not be forgotten that the Angevins had significant political interests elsewhere as well. Both Provence and Piedmont were part of the empire which Robert had inherited, but other areas of Italy also came into Angevin orbit in less obvious ways. In Florence Robert held the signory from 1313-1319, in the Romagna he was papal vicar from 1310-1318 and in 1313 he served as senator in Rome. Some of these political relationships are discussed but others are scarcely mentioned. The extent of Angevin influence throughout Italy beginning in the second half of the thirteenth century is of fundamental importance for understanding the Italian Middle Ages; as such, it merits further scholarly attention. Kelly has begun to map out that terrain. Someday I would like to see the publication of a book entitled Angevin Italy. Given Kelly's knowledge of the field she is ideally positioned to write it.

But that of course is merely a desideratum. The book Kelly has given us provides us with a wealth of information including two maps, a genealogical table, an annotated appendix listing all the manuscripts of political sermons used for the study, a comprehensive bibliography, and eighteen illustrations. A historical chronology of the events of Robert's reign might also have proved useful. But as it stands Samantha Kelly's The New Solomon: Robert of Naples (1309-1343) and Fourteenth-Century Kingship is a model study in that it provides us with a fresh approach and new materials with which to understand both Angevin history and the nature of kingship and court culture in the medieval and early modern periods.