When opening the book, Suppliques et requêtes: le gouvernement par la grâce en occident (XIIe-XVe siècle), one might find oneself longing to return to the Middle Ages when the command of Latin was sufficient for the reading of texts related to the Papacy--regardless of their geographical provenance in Western Christendom. In this modern book from the French School in Rome, the reader should be armed with knowledge in French, English, Italian, and Spanish in order to master the challenge of marching through the whole book. But when embarking on the task, it is definitely worth the tour.
The book contains a collection of articles by twenty scholars summoned at an international workshop in Rome in 1998 with the aim, as the editor Hèléne Millet puts it, "pour l'organisation d'une rencontre internationale destinéè à comparer suppliques présentées aux papes et requêtes soumises à d'autres pouvoir" (13). The very focal point of the project, thus, is the phenomenon of the medieval supplication as such--which, in the skilled hands of the contributors, is being analyzed and explicated from an interesting variety of different angles.
Among the medieval holdings of the Vatican Archives (ASV), the source unit of the registers of supplications with its 1169 volumes and innumerable petitions from the years 1342-1503, is doubtless one of the most prominent. But this text unit does, of course, not exist in a historical vacuum; it has a long prehistory and a complex contemporary context.
The particular fields put in focus as comparative settings in this book, are the bills of the English Chancery, the requêtes to the French kings and petitions to other units of the papal administration such as the Apostolic Penitentiary.
The book is organised in five sections under thematical headlines. In a short review like this it is impossible to reflect the richness of perspectives and findings of the many articles. In the following we have to confine ourselves to a brief presentation of the main topics and observations rendered in each section by references to the actual articles.
Section 1) Formes et prémices de la supplication
The four articles in the first section are dedicated to different aspects of the historical and formal background of this particular type of diplomatic writing. Geoffrey Koziol outlines in his article how the the medieval supplication developed from the Carolingian world when petitioners adopted "the language and gestures of religious prayer to adress kings," and the "kings replied in the language of grace and beneficence." Charles Vulliez looks into the long lines back to Antiquity and locates one of the roots of the medieval supplication in the rhetoric, the ars dictaminis. Gradually, however, the format became more streamlined and the emphasis on pointing out relevant legal issues to ease the concrete decision process became more articulate. In the two contributions by Jean-Marie Moeglin and Jean-Claude Schmitt the perspective is directed towards visual representations of supplicants when presenting their petitions: The former makes a deeper look into an early 11th century Monte Cassino miniature of Pandolphe IV seeking reprieve with Henry II, the latter gives a reflection on the topic based on illuminated manuscripts of Decretum Gratianum, and both pointing out standardized characteristics of a fixed "rituel de supplication."
Section 2) Présenter une supplique
The second section contains studies on four different categories of supplications presented to the Avignon Papacy and deriving from the French lands; from powerful groups of people seeking to secure and extend their benefices. By exploiting the collections of Louis Carolus-Barré, Élisabeth Lalou investigates how different quarters of the royal house of Philippe VI de Valois tried to obtain benefices from the pontif during the years 1342-66. Anne-Marie Hayez focuses on pope Urban V, and the 20,408 supplications addressed to him in the years 1362-66. Nathalie Gorochov and Charles Vulliez (in his second contribution to this book) looks into three selected rotuli of supplications to the Pope from the University of Paris.
Section 3) La grâce: Pratiques et principes de gestion
Also the third section is concerned basically with the inner room of the Church, by placing their points of departure either in the institution of the Church or in her theology. Patrick Zutshi explains in his article why and how the papal curia in the early 14th century started the practice of enregistering supplications by pointing to the reforms of the papal chancery as the main historical cause. Javier Serra Estellés gives a more detailed examination of selected sections of the supplications to the Avignon pope Clement VI. In his article Ludwig Schmugge, the nestor on the study of the Papal Penitentiary, shows how individuals from all Western Christendom turned to the Pope for grace in the form of absolutions, dispensations, and licences in cases that the popes reserved for themselves to decide. These penitentiary supplications form a separate source unit in the papal archival holdings, and has been opened to research only in later times and only by special permission. The next two articles are thematically interconnected: Antonio García y García deals with the notion of God's grace as a source of power for secular authorities in the 12th-13th centuries with special reference to Canon Law aspects, whereas Christian Trottmann looks into the question how divine and human government by grace was motivated differently in different theological and philosophicals schools.
Section 4) Les requêtes: Présentation et gestion
In the three articles of the next section the scope is on the supplication as practiced in three different secular contexts. Andrea Barlucchi focuses on the city of Siena, and the relations between its city council and the communities of the adjacent countryside as expressed through petitions on fiscal matters from the latter to the former. Olivier Mattéoni looks into the field of the supplicatory material of French officials to their kings and princes in the late Middle Ages. And in Timothy Haskett's communication the reader will find a detailed analysis of the role of the English Court of Chancery as a well-functioning administrative unit for the manifestation of government by grace, especially for people from the middle rank of English society.
Section 5) Gouverner par la grâce
In the last section of the book the focus turns to the act of government by grace. The first of these articles by Pascal Montaubin renders an illustrative study of how papal government by grace was developed and refined throughout the 13th century. José Manuel Nieto Soria shows how the 15th century relations between the kings of Castille and the Papacy were mainly effectuated through supplications from the former to the latter, and how absolute monarchy developed from the kings' experiences from their contacts with the Pope. In his communication Jean Hilaire gives a presentation of how the royal grace during the late 13th and early 14th centuries changed from a personnel prerogative of the King into a formalized and bureaucratized affair of the state administration. The very last article of this book by Claude Gauvard is a study of how government by grace developed in France in the late Middle Ages; from the narrow zone of relations between royalty and nobility into the sphere of the whole kingdom, and with the three entities of King, Chancery and Parliament as crucial factors.
As one will see from the above outline the twenty articles of this book draw a most variegated and useful picture of the phenomenon of the medieval supplication. But the articles also render a clear demonstration of the richness and complexity of this topic. It is definitely a field in which further research is necessary. This certainly applies to the numerous petitions treated by the Papacy itself, which merely in the case of the Chancery for the years 1471-1527 have been counted to 900,000 texts. But, as some of the above described articles have shown, together with the supplicatory material related to the many secular courts around in Europe, these texts present an immensely fruitful ground both for special topical studies and for comparative research.
To "govern by grace," and not only by force and justice, was a characteristic of medieval lordship, which from the 12th century onwards assumed more and more formalised and institutional forms. And in this process the Papacy, the only pan-European institution of the time, stood out as both an example and a counterpart.
Although old titulars as "Your Grace" and "Your Lordship" have become or seem to become outdated in most European countries today the formulations bear witness of a tradition with roots in the dialectic of interests between ruler and subject as shown in the articles of this book and which have been vital to European governmental systems throughout the ages.