Yvonne Friedman

title.none: Dunbabin, Captivity and Imprisonment (Yvonne Friedman)

identifier.other: baj9928.0401.006 04.01.06

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Yvonne Friedman, Bar-Ilan University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Dunbabin, Jean. Captivity and Imprisonment in Medieval Europe 1000-1300. Series: Medieval Culture and Society. New York: Palgrave, 2002. Pp. ix, 207. ISBN: $21.95 0-333-64715-7.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.01.06

Dunbabin, Jean. Captivity and Imprisonment in Medieval Europe 1000-1300. Series: Medieval Culture and Society. New York: Palgrave, 2002. Pp. ix, 207. ISBN: $21.95 0-333-64715-7.

Reviewed by:

Yvonne Friedman
Bar-Ilan University

This book belongs to a recent upsurge of interest in the issues of captivity and ransom, until the last decade more marginal to the scrutiny of medieval society. It fills a lacuna sorely felt by this reviewer when she was writing her book Encounter between Enemies: Captivity and Ransom in the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (Leiden: Brill, 2002), providing a clear, succinct overview of the European background for the mores of the crusaders in the Latin East. Although Dunbabin's approach and emphases differ from mine, stressing imprisonment more than captivity, I found the book's treatment of these issues in the High Middle Ages rewarding. Thoroughly grounded in European social history, Dunbabin utilizes a great variety of sources-- legal texts, chronicles, miracle stories, and poetry--to create a nuanced, multidimensional picture, a prism of medieval society's conception and treatment of prisoners.

As noted, Dunbabin is more interested in imprisonment than in captivity, viewing the development of prisons as mirroring changes in law and government between 1000 and 1300. She assumes that prisoners of war were often regarded as guilty of crimes and could therefore be lumped together with criminals and debtors (8). Until 1300 no differentiation was made between prisoners and "much if not most captivity throughout the period was coercive, enjoying what was at best an oblique relationship with the processes of law" (2). The primary thrust of the book traces the development of a conceptual distinction between the different categories of detainees, a development examined from the legal, judicial, and social viewpoints, shown by Dunbabin to reflect the process by which justice devolved from the private to the public sphere. Dating such changes is a precarious task, as shifts in law and moral concepts are usually slow and often imperceptible. Nevertheless, by framing the research between 1000-1300, the author makes a definite statement, claiming that the rise of state power transformed captivity and imprisonment from a private display of power into part of the normal legal process.

The book's structure is clear and logical. After outlining the main trends in the introductory first chapter, the second chapter centers on the necessary historical background, namely, the Late Roman legacy, whose actual influence on tenth- and eleventh-century daily life was scant. Because of the expense involved imprisonment was rare and usually of short duration, and giving quarter was not yet a widespread tradition in the early Middle Ages.

The third to fifth chapters deal with the more practical aspects of imprisonment: the means of detention and the role of jailers and guards. The description demonstrates a steady development from private means of detention, whether in houses or castles, to public jails. On a parallel line (chapters six and seven) the author traces a development from mainly coercive detainment in 1100 as a means of extorting a ransom or a debt, or as an instrument of private vengeance, to custodial and punitive detentions in 1300. The link between prison and criminal law gradually became more conspicuous. Custodial detention as a means of preventing the escape of those accused of serious crimes was preliminary to, not a consequence of, legal trial and punitive imprisonment, still rare. Both, however, were part of a public legal system. In the chapter on conditions in captivity (chapter eight) the author shows that although the image of prison as a dark dungeon in some noble's castle is not unfounded, actual means of restricting liberty were more diversified. Conditions ranged from an underground hole where the captive was chained and sometimes starved to death or even tortured, to house arrest, to being allowed out on bail. The conditions of detention, however, inhered more in the prisoner's rank and economic status than in the reasons for his detention.

The author claims that, in the thirteenth century, like the right to hear criminal cases, prisons became a symbol of power and should be seen as part of the social rise of the castellancy in terms of laws and rights rather than of buildings. The entitlement to detain prisoners was a litmus test of effective political power.

Chapter nine outlines the different options for release from prison, which ranged from an early emphasis on miraculous escapes to later implementation of ransom and human intervention. Whereas the miracle stories centered on the unmerited yet unconditional mercy of the saint, the church's role in defining imprisonment as part of the inquisitorial process now placed it in a judicial capacity. Thus the church played a part in the development of the custodial and even punitive functions of imprisonment (chapter ten). After depicting the evolution of imprisonment from both its conceptual and technical aspects, the final chapter provides an overview of the literary image of the prison and prisoner. In contrast to the Latin East, Dunbabin finds very little treatment of the prisoner's fate as personal reminiscences, a lack she attributes to the basic feelings of shame connected to captivity.

The continued practice of private imprisonment until the end of the period in question shows that the divide between royal, public justice and the private feud as a means of private justice was not yet clear-cut. However, by 1300, kidnapping of neighbors received less justification than in 1000, because in the intervening centuries rulers or possessors of jurisdictional powers had decreed such behavior to be a breach of the peace. Early imprisonment should be seen as coercive captivity, Dunbabin argues, motivated by need for money via ransom. The confusion between war and trial, and between crime and civil actions, that characterized the eleventh and twelfth centuries began to give way in the thirteenth. Still, power rather than authority remained the dominant factor in imposing imprisonment on other people, and absence of rank and wealth facilitated the victim's submission to power.

Dunbabin bases this framework on the works of John Gillingham ("1066 and the introduction of chivalry," in Law and Government in Medieval England and Normandy. ed. G. Garnett and J. Hudson, Cambridge 1994, 39-55) and Matthew Strickland (Warfare and Chivalry, Cambridge 1996) on the importation of chivalry to England in 1066, uncritically adopting their attribution of the emergence of ransom and chivalry to the Norman Conquest (pp. 9, 63). Accordingly, she dates the changes on the continent to "the course of the eleventh century" (9). Significantly, however, almost all the illustrative examples provided date only from the twelfth century onwards, raising doubts regarding the precise determination of the inception of chivalric mores in Europe. This leads her to question the reliability of her own sources, e.g., Orderic Vitalis and Salimbene (p. 63), in order to make them fit the preconceived dating (cf. her treatment of Robert of Torigny's description of imprisonment in 1152 to prove a change in the eleventh century on p. 87). She rightfully sees, however, the year 1300 as a watershed: "It is true that by 1300 the rules had become clearer, and the refusal to grant ransom to captive soldiers was seen as a breach of the code of conduct proper to a gentleman, even as an act of injustice" (10). Thus, while I found the determination and description of the end of the process convincing, I believe its emergence to be less clearly defined. Dunbabin overlooks the possible influence of the Muslim-Christian conflict in Spain and in the Latin East on the development of the chivalric code that led to a preference for ransom of captives as opposed to their slaughter.

No one writing about imprisonment, whether coercive, custodial, or punitive, can overlook Michel Foucault's Surveiller et punir: Naissance de la prison (Paris, 1975), even though his brilliant analysis of early modern punitive systems has little relevance to the history of the early second millennium. While Dunbabin acknowledges this debt, she elegantly skirts Foucault's somewhat tyrannical concepts and concentrates on the picture her sources yield, rather than on postmodern theory ( 80ff.). This is an important achievement in and of itself.

In her attempt to trace how the rise of state power transformed captivity and imprisonment, Dunbabin admits that in 1300 more remained of old practices and ways of thinking than is usually conceded by legal historians. Instances of private imprisonment could still be found in most places, especially for debtors. Hostages were still held in prison although the practice was declining. Conditions in jail were still determined in many cases by the prisoner's rank or income. Thus, the author does not let her conception of progress cloud a clear summation of the facts.

She claims, on the other hand, that the preoccupation with peacekeeping and punishment of those who disturbed the peace meant that in 1300 a substantial number of those incarcerated were accused of crimes. By1300 custodial imprisonment before trial had become common across Europe and imprisonment was on the way to being conceived of as a normal part of the judicial process. Local authorities therefore had to supply jails, and rooms or towers in castles were set aside for detention of prisoners. Dunbabin concludes: "As confidence in the efficacy of human justice grew, so the need for imprisonment developed" (173). But high mortality in prison did not always prove this confidence true. However, at least some of those unjustly accused of crime may have been grateful for the time spent in jail, which permitted evidence to be accumulated. In her summation, Dubabin takes a positive view of the development of imprisonment: "Where punitive imprisonment took the place of enslavement or mutilation, this was presumably an improvement" (ibid.). By the same reasoning one might argue that taking captives for ransom was a great improvement over killing them. The shift from one conduct to the other heralded a change in mores that was to improve ius in bello and emphasize a military leader's or a warring society's responsibility for his or its soldiers.

Dunbabin's important study of captivity and imprisonment in medieval Europe provides a window on the social history of Europe, on the development and employment of state power, and on the emerging concept of justice in the High Middle Ages. It makes a welcome contribution to both legal and social history.