The main aim of this book is to set out the case that the period from the middle of the ninth century to the middle decades of the tenth century was a formative one for canon law in Carolingian Francia and its successor states; more generally, the author also makes a stand against the viewpoint (long dead as far as specialist studies on Frankish history are concerned, but still capable of reappearing, Dracula-like, in general histories of the middle ages) that the later ninth century was a period of unremitting cultural decline caused by those usual suspects, the Vikings, the Saracens and the Hungarians.
In making his case for the contribution made by canonists in the late ninth and early tenth centuries, Wilfried Hartmann builds on many years of detailed work on manuscripts and book collections of the period carried out by, in particular, Bernhard Bischoff and Hartmut Hoffmann, together with extensive work on all aspects of Carolingian law and penitentials, by, notably, Raymund Kottje, Hubert Mordek, Rudolf Pokorny, Ludger Körntgen and Rob Meens, and, not least, by himself. The methods applied by Hartmann consist of examining manuscript production and transmission, of studying how existing canon law collections were excerpted and quoted from and how new collections were formed, as well analysing the contents of new legislation of the period to find out what was new and how much of the older legal stock was retained. The result is a massively detailed work that manages to take note of what the late ninth century did to preserve and comment on early canon law and the innovations of the early Carolingian period, as well as its own contributions, both in new collections and in church councils and penitentials; the number of manuscripts described is considerable, and perhaps nothing less than this accumulation of evidence could so forcefully make the point that the turn of the ninth and tenth centuries was an age of intellectual creativity. The book consists of six lengthy chapters broken up into subsections and sub-subsections.
Chapter 1 sets out the background to the subject, with a summary of political events in Francia (7-18), a survey of developments in the Frankish church (18-31), an account of the popes in the late ninth and the tenth centuries (pp. 32-50), an overview of Frankish cultural activity in the period after 843 (51-7) and finally a brief section on the use of the written word in Francia (57-9). In each case recent historiography is also discussed. The subsections on the Frankish church and the papacy are especially useful, especially the latter, which concentrates on papal correspondence of the period and its contribution to canon law. Nicholas I and John VIII were especially significant in this respect, and were much quoted; in addition, from the late eighth century onwards interest grew in much older papal letters, notably those of Gregory I.
Chapter 2 (60-108) looks at the circulation and use of pre-existing legal texts after c.850. For several of these, for example the Dionysio-Hadriana and the Dacheriana, transmission in the c.850-c.1000 period compares quite favourably with transmission c.750-c.850. In the case of some compilations put together between c.800 and c.850, for example Ansegis and Benedict Levita, the later ninth and the tenth centuries formed the peak period for copying. Pseudo-Isidore was copied frequently throughout the middle ages, including the later ninth and tenth centuries. The areas of Francia especially involved in copying between c.850 and c.1000 were what are now North-Eastern France, chiefly Rheims and Laon, and, to a lesser extent, Lotharingia and the Rhineland, followed at a distance by northern Italy. This geographical pattern also emerges for other forms of canon law activity later in this book (cf. 179-89).
Chapter 3 (109-90) examines new laws and their transmission, principally the decrees of the 23 Frankish synods held between 868 and 932, but also the penitentials and new canon law collections that were put together in the late ninth and early tenth centuries. Discussion of the synods concentrates on new topics of legislation, to some extent overlapping in content with the following chapter (see below); worth noting here is the discussion of synodal decrees on proprietary churches (123-5), the disciplining of whose clergy was often left to their lay patrons. Perhaps the most useful feature of this chapter is the analysis of the two main canon law collections of the period, the Italian Collectio Anselmo Dedicata, compiled for Archbishop Anselm II of Milan (882-96), and Regino of Prüm's synodal handbook. CAD made extensive use of Pseudo-Isidore, with no interest in the new areas of legal interest opening up in the later ninth century; by contrast, Regino showed himself to be up-to-date in his range of topics. His work was influential in East Francia in the tenth century, as measured by manuscript transmission and in quotations (for example in the Hohenaltheim synod of 916 and also in the Romano-German Pontifical).
Chapter 4 (191-242) identifies innovations in the content of ecclesiastical legislation. The later ninth and early tenth centuries were a fruitful time for this; new law also found its way quickly into systematic collections, something that had not been the case in the pre-850 period. Hartmann sees Ansegis' collection of capitularies as a force for change in this respect, while Pseudo-Isidore may have fired the interest in innovation more generally. The topic that inspired most innovation was incest, especially marriage within the forbidden degrees of cousinhood, which in the ninth century were increasingly fixed at the seventh degree. In other words, Carolingian families were being encouraged to create marriage alliances that were as biologically distant as possible. Another major area of innovation was homicide. Church councils had hitherto been relatively unconcerned with this, but now legislated on killings involving death by negligence (for example, parents accidentally squashing or suffocating their babies), the killing of relatives (on which secular law had little to say, since such deaths were not compensatable) and the murder of priests. Foundlings entered canon law in the ninth century too: Regino took a particular interest in unwanted children, suggesting that mothers of babies conceived in adultery should be urged not to kill them, but to bring them secretly to the church door, after which the local priest could organise their adoption.
Chapter 5 surveys the practice of church law (243-86). The most significant development in this area in the ninth century was a regularised system of episcopal visitation. Bishops had conducted visitations on an informal basis from early on, but greater regularity was urged by Charlemagne from 802/3; however, a fully evolved system, with the bishop conducting visitations in each locality, holding hearings of cases involving laity as well as clergy and questioning witnesses under oath is first visible in the diocese of Constance in about 880. An important new feature was the establishment of visitation witnesses who would report cases to the bishop on his arrival.
Finally, chapter 6 (287-316) looks at the legacy of the c.850-c.950 period on canonists of subsequent generations. This was extensive; later ninth-century synods and Regino's handbook were much cited, not least by Burchard of Worms, whose own writings had a particularly large circulation. Episcopal visitation, moreover, became an established feature of ecclesiastical administration, though in Germany by the high middle ages the bishop restricted his visits to leap years, with the archdeacon conducting visitations in other years. This is the system visible already in the tenth-century Life of Bishop Ulrich of Augsburg (923-73), and this passage, rather than reflecting behaviour specific to Ulrich (312) may in fact be yet another part of the Life that sets out appropriate norms of behaviour for bishops to follow (as Hartmann notes in commenting on Ulrich's other activities).
Overall, this book marks a milestone in our understanding of the late Carolingian church, and should encourage its readers to reflect more widely on social history as well as canon law. In particular, ecclesiastical legislation on incest must have stimulated the Carolingian aristocracy to enter into ever further-flung marriage alliances of the type surveyed by Régine Le Jan in her book Famille et pouvoir dans le monde franc. Aristocrats might also have approved the imposition of penances as a punishment for the killing of relatives, a system that marked the gravity of the crime without making the perpetrators lose face, and they would certainly have appreciated the chance to keep the clergy of their estate churches in order. Hartmann's only notable omission is a failure to look at Anglo-Saxon royal lawcodes of the tenth and eleventh centuries as an area in which Carolingian canon law was influential, but perhaps his book may inspire some reader to look into this question.