Robin Chapman Stacey

title.none: Brown and Gorecki, eds., Conflict in Medieval Europe (Robin Chapman Stacey)

identifier.other: baj9928.0411.003 04.11.03

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Robin Chapman Stacey, University of Washington,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Brown, Warren C. and Piotr Gorecki, eds. Conflict in Medieval Europe: Changing Perspectives on Society and Culture. Burlington: Ashgate, 2003. Pp. x, 334. $80.00 0-7546-0954-5. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.11.03

Brown, Warren C. and Piotr Gorecki, eds. Conflict in Medieval Europe: Changing Perspectives on Society and Culture. Burlington: Ashgate, 2003. Pp. x, 334. $80.00 0-7546-0954-5. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Robin Chapman Stacey
University of Washington

It is rare that a book reviews itself. Usually with volumes of collected essays the reader is left to work out the connections and disconnections among contributions for herself, with some, albeit usually fairly limited, assistance from the editors. Not so here, where, most exceptionally, the editors' introduction and conclusion are among the most valuable aspects of the book. To say this is not to disparage in any way the many excellent essays of which this volume is composed. Rather it is to remark on the singularity of the editors' achievement, for it is they who impose such unity as there is on the contents of their work, and they who make the case most persuasively for "conflict studies" as a field with its own historiographical past and future. Conflict is here defined in the broadest possible manner, as encompassing not merely disputing, but "threats, promises, negotiation, ritual, use of force, and the associated range of emotions, all of which may precede, accompany, follow, or indeed take the place of, disputing" (1).

The introduction, which charts the emergence and maturing of the field of "conflict studies" in the United States over the past thirty years, is insightful and sophisticated. The fact that it could probably also serve as a sort of primer of l'an mil studies for those who have not been following recent various debates over the post-Carolingian "feudal revolution" (or not), is a mark of how such issues have tended to be discussed in American circles, although the editors do contextualize this particular debate within the broader framework of earlier work on feudalism and the disputing process (much of it English and French).

But it is in the conclusion that the editors perform their most valuable service, for this is where they identify (sometimes straining visibly, it must be admitted) the broader ideas that tie these essays together. These they characterize under four rubrics: "Conflict and Power," "Conflict and Law," "Conflict and Mind," and "Conflict and Force." (This last is termed a "Coda" because it represents what the authors think ought to be done rather than what the reader has just finished making his or her way through--there's that self-reviewing quality again.)

Really one could do no better than the editors have done in isolating the commonalities among their essays, and certainly one could do much worse. A more pedestrian mind might have divided these articles in a way that obscured, rather than highlighted, their broader interest and importance. "Conflict and Power," for example, might have been reduced to a mere rehashing of the issues implicit in the "mutation féodale" debate instead of being what it is, a thoughtful reexamination of how and why we have come to think about power in particular ways in the United States, and where we might go from here. "Conflict and Law" might have pointed to the superficial links among the essays focusing on law instead of situating those works in the context of a growing interest among historians in the social and political background of legal development (e.g. the politics surrounding the Assize of Clarendon explored in the essays by Hyams and Donahue, or the article on gender and the ordeal by Tuten). And "Conflict and Mind" might not have existed at all as a category, what with its uniting of concepts as disparate as ritual (Tabuteau, Koziol), the ideological structuring of space (Rosenwein, North, Byock, Hummer), the methodological preconceptions of modern-day scholars (White, Cheyette, Koziol, Tabuteau) and the importance of the scribal imagination (the editors). Instead we might have been offered a much mundane category of "articles pertaining to church reform," which among other things would not have done justice to the truly excellent articles by Hummer and North.

It is in the conclusion, too, where we get a sense of the editors' vision for the future of "conflict studies," as well as their views on the need to move on from certain established positions and perspectives. Traditional historical narratives traced the rise and fall of the powerful as they swashed and buckled their way through the pages of history: that's what all those king lists we memorized in high school were all about. More recently, historians influenced by anthropology have tended to find warlike rulers and the brute force they wielded less interesting than the more intangible elements of power: negotiation, compromise, reconciliation, the engineering of ties with aristocratic kindred. This shift in emphasis has been all to the good. Through it we have gained an infinitely more subtle understanding of how things really "worked" in the middle ages, and enriched our appreciation considerably of things we thought we knew very well, like the Carolingians themselves. It is now clear that even the most public of power, like that traditionally (but now controversially) associated with the Carolingian "state," was ultimately vested in relationships with individuals and localities.

On the other hand, it may be time now for the pendulum to swing at least a little bit back in the opposite direction. What the editors of this volume are suggesting is that the idea of public order can motivate and inspire even when attempts to realize it on the ground are flawed, and that coercion can be an interesting topic also, especially when contemplated from the perspective of those against whom it is used. For Brown and Górecki, negotiation is one model, and coercion is another; however, both are necessary ways of understanding medieval experience, and it is time to bring them closer together. It is thus time for the main protagonists in the l'an mil dispute to stop talking "past each other" (283) and turn from the issue of whether things really did change or not change with the disappearance of a (putative) Carolingian state to appreciate the contributions made by both of these perspectives to our understanding of the complexities of power in the medieval world. And it is time as well to move on from the Mâconnais to other regions and archives--not least if one accepts White's persuasive reconsideration (read: demolition) of Duby's analysis of the Mâconnais documents in this volume. For the editors, a possible way forward has been shown by the work of Bisson (who unfortunately does not have an article in this book), who summons us to consider not just the world of those who are players in the power game, but those who are the pieces with which they play. The powerless need to be our concern as much as the powerful.

Not all will agree on how successful the editors are in making their case for an essential unity among these studies, nor in identifying "conflict studies" as a field unto itself. Certainly, it is a sign of just how lengthy Duby's shadow really is that despite the editors' obviously deliberate attempt to incorporate studies from a variety of different cultures, the volume never really succeeds in separating itself from l'an mil concerns. Had Germany or Poland been represented (both areas in which the editors themselves are expert), or Ireland, or Wales, our eyes might have been opened to other approaches to conflict currently being explored in American scholarly circles. Still, the volume as it stands is very well done indeed: thoughtful, intelligent, and persuasive. Both the editors and the contributors are to be heartily congratulated.

A short précis of each article in this volume, with the exception of the introduction and conclusion, which have been discussed above, follows here.

In "Tenth-Century Courts at Mâcon and the Perils of Structuralist History: Re-reading Burgundian Judicial Institutions," Stephen White uses Duby's own documents from the county court of Mâcon to challenge his vision of a radical shift from Carolingian mallus to feudal court.

Hans Hummer's "Reform and Lordship in Alsace at the Turn of the Millennium" traces the manner in which a powerful aristocratic family redefined its identity and, particularly, its relationship to the sacral in the wake of political changes occurring in the region from the seventh through thirteenth centuries.

In "Visualizing a Dispute Resolution: Peter of Albano's Protected Zone," Barbara Rosenwein explores the manner in which geographically and spiritually defined space became an important tool in disputing in the region of Cluny.

William North, in his "The Fragmentation and Redemption of a Medieval Cathedral: Property, Conflict, and Public Piety in Eleventh-Century Arezzo" shows that (properly structured) materiality and spirituality were not antithetical to one another even in the headiest days of the reform.

Emily Zack Tabuteau's "Punishments in Eleventh-Century Normandy" examines cases that (contrary to the modern historiographical interest in compromise rather than its opposite) did end in decisive outcomes, even if the harshest provisions of the law were not always implemented.

Geoffrey Koziol's "Baldwin VII of Flanders and the Toll of Saint-Vaast (1111): Judgment as Ritual" picks up on the theme of decisive judgment by examining an instance in which a clearly ritualized judgment is used to underscore the power of a young ruler.

Belle Stoddard Tuten's "Women and Ordeals" examines documents pertaining to the use of ordeals by nuns from the women's monastery of Ronceray, arguing that gender was one factor in how ordeals were used and assigned.

In "Law and Nonmarital Sex in the Middle Ages," Henry Ansgar Kelly surveys the evidence for the prosecution of illicit sexual activity in various western European states.

Paul Hyams, in "Nastiness and Wrong, Rancor and Reconciliation," locates the emergence of the distinction between crime and tort in medieval English law in the historical circumstances surrounding the Assize of Clarendon of 1166 and in Roman law precedents.

Charles Donahue's "The Emergence of the Crime-Tort Distinction in England" takes issue with the idea of Roman law precedent, but agrees with Hyams in contextualizing this development in the politics of the age. He suggests that developments in local courts (as opposed to the much more familiar royal courts) might have been crucial in the evolution of this distinction.

Jesse Byock argues in "Feuding in Viking-Age Iceland's Great Village" for a model of village society as appropriate to an understanding of dispute and reconciliation within Icelandic society.

Fredric Cheyette's "Some Reflections on Violence, Reconciliation, and the 'Feudal Revolution'" reprises the l'an mil debate by pointing to the historiographical preconceptions that have colored the debate and examining the role played by oaths of fidelity in repairing and restoring communities.