The Medieval Review 10.09.18

Jones, Anna Trumbore. Noble Lord, Good Shepherd: Episcopal Power and Piety in Aquitaine, 877-1050. Brill's Series on the Early Middle Ages, BSEM 17. Leiden: Brill, 2009. Pp. xiv, 261. 154.00 978 90 04 17786 4. .

Reviewed by:

Matthew Gabriele
Virginia Tech

Anna Jones' book, arising out of her Columbia University dissertation, seeks to re-assert the complexity of the (long) tenth-century episcopate. As she points out in her "Introduction: Chapter 1" the historiography of this period's bishops tends to categorize rather than analyze: looking to separate them out as either "French" or "German," or examining their actions as either "secular" or "religious." These are, however, anachronistic distinctions. They did not think in these categories. The bishops of tenth-century Aquitaine [1] were in a sense Carolingian, in another sense something quite different, but in no sense necessary precursors to the bishops that arose out of the papal reform movement of the later eleventh century. Adding to this complexity, Aquitainian bishops were not particularly engaged with contemporary monastic reformers nor were they subjected to any particular royal, imperial, or papal pressures as were their colleagues elsewhere in Europe. This is not to say that these bishops were not engaged with the activities and concerns of the nobility or religious houses in and around their dioceses--precisely the contrary.

Noble Lord, Good Shepherd fleshes out this complexity by radiating outwards. Chapter 2 starts nearest to the bishop, being concerned with the man, his cathedral, and its canons. The relationship among the three was never particularly straightforward in Aquitaine during the long tenth century and Jones does good, solid work to illustrate this by looking at the organization of the cathedral's lands. Bishops, individual canons, and the cathedral as a whole (in the guise of the patron saint) could independently own property. Yet, although this distinction was made at the time the gift was given, it was not a permanent one, as possessions could change hands depending on specific circumstances. All in all, Jones reveals here how previous scholars have ended up making problematic something that contemporaries thought to be less so. There were, of course, exceptions but bishops and canons generally negotiated out their differences and maintained good relations.

Chapter 3 pushes further outwards, now concerned with the bishops and the local lay nobility. These, however, were not necessarily separate categories and Jones overwhelms the reader with evidence in order to show that scholars should stop treating bishops as somehow detached from the (overwhelmingly noble) families they came from. The episcopate of tenth-century Aquitaine was composed of the brothers, uncles, and sons of all the major families of the region and were often appointed directly by their dukes. Perhaps more importantly though, no one looked at this situation askance. Indeed, it was almost always regarded positively--as a check against potential abuses and guarantee of mutual regard within the matrix of episcopate, abbacy, and lay nobility. Bishops could, and did, continue to patronize religious houses favored by their families but because their families were almost always intimately tied to that bishop's diocese in the first place, the bishop ended up carrying out his requisite pastoral duties. Here, actions we today might like to split seem better understood once lumped.

The next three chapters hone in on the bishop and the religious houses he engaged with. First, Jones takes a broad view of episcopal authority at these houses in Chapter 4 and finds a relatively untroubled relationship in the period. She even finds evidence of an "episcopal monastery," specifically Saint-Cyprien, which came under the control of the bishops of Poitiers after it was refounded by Bishop Frotier II in the 930s (122-28). This case-study complicates our picture of familial loyalty somewhat, as the bishops of Poitiers remained close to Saint-Cyprien even when successive bishops came from different lay families that had other interests tugging at them. But "[b]ishops also saw themselves as part of the lineage of their diocese, a tradition of men who had developed associations with particular communities or groups" (128). Bishops were both clerics and nobles. They acted as such.

Chapter 5 looks at the bishops' hands in founding, restoring, and reforming these religious houses; hence the chapter owes much to the work of Amy Remensnyder. [2] Caught between Carolingians fighting amongst themselves, Viking incursions, and opportunistic locals profiting off this disorder, it was left to the bishops to restore proper worship in places that had fallen into disrepair. At least, that's the story the bishops wanted told. There is a fine line to walk here and Jones does it nimbly. While not minimizing the (at times) very real violence that characterized Aquitaine in the tenth century, Jones makes the very good point that "even among religious communities, long believed to the hardest hit by the incursions...those that do emphasize destruction were often written by authors who did not witness the attacks themselves, who used language deeply influenced by Biblical sources, or who had their own agenda" (153). So, after the Vikings had left, when bishops arrived they rarely had to repopulate an abandoned location. More often than not, they undertook a process of restoration and reform--not actual refoundation. The rather weird bit in all this is that this episcopal involvement in the matters of monks was welcomed, rather than reviled.

The final chapter of the book examines donations made to religious houses. Here, bishops' charters, read to be indicators of their intentions, show that they had many of the same concerns as any other donor. All worried about the state of their souls and wanted to fortify the groups they patronized. Regarding the former, Jones suggests that bishops felt monks and canons to be equally worthy of attention; what mattered was the performance of communal prayer in a setting that had some connection to that bishop or his family. Regarding the latter, building a wall to protect a monastery was thought to be just as spiritually beneficial as it was political. In the estimation of a tenth-century Aquitainian bishop, having people pray and building a wall so they could pray in peace were two sides of the same coin.

A brief conclusion summarizes the highlights of the different chapters and then steps back to think about what he portrait of an "ideal" tenth-century Aquitainian bishop might have been like.

This is a book that will be of exceptional value to those interested in Aquitaine but will also be of some value to those interested in the tenth century more generally. Overall, the book's problems are not terribly serious. It tends to be repetitive of its points at places and can overwhelm the reader with examples at times, which are not uncommon issues of dissertations come books. In addition (though this is not Jones' fault), it is also outrageously expensive, as is unfortunately all too common for Brill's publications. But that being said, this is a rich work of serious scholarship. As Geoffrey Koziol pointed out recently, the tenth century (especially in West Francia) can seem like a "bad imitation of a bad mystery novel," scaring scholars off with its dearth of sources, chaotic politics, and seemingly degenerate clerics. [3] Jones is not scared though. She makes her bishops human--actors who made decisions based on a complicated web of loyalties to family, diocese, cathedral, and self. In doing so, she reminds all of us that sometimes grand narratives simply don't work. Tenth-century Aquitainian bishops defy all those clichés about the period that Koziol told us to challenge. Jones shows us that there was a political order (though it differed from what came before), that bishops, monks, canons, and the lay nobility could get along, and that they all were relatively comfortable in their assigned roles. Because Jones makes this last point so well, we must conclude that Noble Lord, Good Shepherd may be a regional study in the French tradition but it is also much more.

-------- NOTES

1. Jones chooses her bishops roughly by the political boundaries of Aquitaine in the tenth and eleventh centuries, so she is concerned with the archbishops of Bordeaux, and the bishops of Angoulême, Périgueux, Poitiers, Saintes, and Limoges. Although the bishops of Limoges were technically under the archbishops of Bourges, those from Limoges tended in this period to almost exclusively associate with the suffragans of Bordeaux. Likewise, Jones excludes the bishops of Agen, who gravitated towards his colleagues from Gascony (20-21).

2. Amy G. Remensnyder, Remembering Kings Past: Monastic Foundation Legends in Medieval Southern France (Ithaca, NY, 1995). Jones also draws heavily from her "Pitying the Desolation of Such a Place: Rebuilding Religious Houses and Constructing Memory in Aquitaine in the Wake of the Viking Incursions," Viator 37 (2006): 85-102.

3. Geoffrey Koziol, "Is Robert I in Hell? The Diploma for Saint-Denis and the Making of a Reel King," Early Medieval Europe 14 (2006): 233-67, especially 233-38.