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13.06.32, Eldevik, Episcopal Power and Ecclesiastical Reform

13.06.32, Eldevik, Episcopal Power and Ecclesiastical Reform

The last thirty years have seen a significant scholarly debate about the nature of royal government in early medieval Europe. Up through the early 1980s, it generally was accepted, building upon the foundational studies of the prolific Carolingian scholar F. L. Ganshof, that Charlemagne's empire was one in which officials exercised public power that had been delegated to them by the king. These officials, it commonly was agreed, functioned within a set of public institutions that together could be characterized accurately as the royal government.

According to this model, the violent division of the Carolingian empire among Charlemagne's grandsons in the mid-ninth century coupled with sustained assaults by Vikings, Muslims, and Magyars, led to the break down of public order. The result was the devolution of power and authority, west of the Rhine, to lower level magnates. Depending upon one's viewpoint, the late ninth and tenth century either saw the rise of a castellan revolution and "feudalism" or conversely the development of largely autonomous counties and duchies whose rulers exercised public authority in a manner reminiscent of and consistent with the Carolingian rulers whom they largely replaced.

East of the Rhine, it generally was accepted by Carolingian specialists and those who focused on the early East Frankish/German kingdom, that public institutions had only a tentative foothold and quickly disappeared after the death of Louis the Pious in 840. In their place, the Ottonian and early Salian kings in the tenth and eleventh century relied upon the administrative expertise of the church to manage their kingdom for them.

From the mid-1980s through the 1990s, however, the broad outlines of this model underwent sustained criticism from the British scholar Timothy Reuter. It was Reuter's contention that the public governmental institutions of Charlemagne's empire were an optical illusion. Instead of an empire administered by royal officials, who served at the pleasure of the king, he contended that the Carolingian empire should be understood as a congeries of local political entities whose rulers were local lords only loosely held together by their common desire for glory and particularly booty, which they obtained in the wars of conquest launched by Carolingian kings.

Reuter's emphasis on local lordship, in competition with royal power, was based upon a German historiographical school known as the New Constitutional History, which developed in the 1930s. Adherents of the New Constitutional school rejected an earlier constitutional historical approach to the German kingdom that had posited that a Carolingian-style administrative system was operative in the early German kingdom. In its place they asserted that free Germans never accepted Roman and hence Carolingian forms of royal government with its concomitant institutions. Rather, these free Germans, they maintained, had always kept the idea that every free man exercised rule over his own household (Hausherrschaft). At the crux of this model in political and constitutional terms was a conflict between a self-conscious aristocracy that sought to preserve their own lordship against the impositions of royal authority and power.

The New Constitutional History posited a fundamental dichotomy between Carolingian institutional government with public power under a king and a reversion to old Germanic patterns of conflict between an aristocracy and king in the Ottonian kingdom east of the Rhine during the tenth century. Reuter's radical departure from the historiographical tradition was to import the model of the New Constitutional History in the Carolingian empire of the eighth and early ninth century.

Reuter's views have been echoed by some scholars, including Matthew Innes, Marios Costembeys, Hans Hummer, and to a lesser extent Simon MacLean. However, they have faced significant opposition from many of the leading specialists in Carolingian history, including Janet Nelson, Rosamond McKitterick, Bernard Bachrach, Eric Goldberg, and Stuart Airlie. These latter scholars have demonstrated in considerable detail that Ganshof's model of an institutionally based Carolingian government best explains the political and governmental organization of the empire.

In addition, a relatively new tradition has developed that challenges the heuristic value of the model espoused by the New Constitutional History east of the Rhine as well. Eric Goldberg's biography of Louis the German makes clear that public institutions of Carolingian royal government were firmly implanted east of the Rhine during the mid-ninth century. The current reviewer has made the case for the continuity of these same institutions under the Ottonian kings of the tenth century.

John Eldevik plunges into this historiographical debate with a study that focuses on episcopal authority in the Carolingian and German empires through the lens of the ecclesiastical tithe. This tithe is a broad-based tax equivalent to one-tenth of the production or revenues of all properties and other sources of income that was to be paid to the parish church where one received communion or other sacraments. Eldevick's case studies of the three dioceses of Salzburg, Mainz, and Lucca, which form the heart of his book, are concerned with the period from the mid-tenth to the mid-twelfth century. However, Eldevick casts his glance to the late Roman empire, the Merovingian kingdom, and the Carolingian empire to provide context both for the nature of the ecclesiastical tithe, and the shaping of the political offices and episcopal authority in these three dioceses. Eldevick's thesis is that by examining the efforts of bishops to control the possession and disposition of the revenues derived from the ecclesiastical tithe, it is possible to illuminate the multivalent position of bishops between the king and local magnates, including secular aristocrats, monasteries, and the clergy of cathedral chapters.

Eldevik presents his study in six chapters that are bracketed by a lengthy introduction and a relatively brief conclusion. In his introduction, Eldevik provides a valuable overview of the historiographical traditions concerning royal power, and episcopal authority in which he affirms not only the considerable influence of the Carolingian kings at the local level, but also points to important continuities from the Carolingian empire to the Ottonian kingdom. In this vein, Eldevik properly characterizes Innes, and those who make similar arguments, as "Carolingian minimalists" (22). Eldevik presents his own work as an effort to find a middle ground between the models of a highly centralized government and the extreme localism postulated by Innes, among others (23). In the remainder of the introduction, Eldevik offers an extensive and convincing justification of using the history of control over ecclesiastical tithes as a means of gaining insight regarding broader social, religious, institutional, and political relationships. He also offers a useful survey of the genres of sources that are available for a study of control and dispute over tithe revenues, which include both a wide range of narrative texts as well as ecclesiastical and royal charters.

Chapter one provides a history of tithing and the gradual development of the ecclesiastical tithe from the late Roman empire up through the systematic imposition of the tithe across the Carolingian empire under Charlemagne. Although illuminating, one does miss here the important work by Walter Goffart on late Roman taxation that would have strengthened the institutional models set out by Eldevick. In addition, the conceptualization and effective imposition of an ecclesiastical tithe regime across the entire Carolingian empire, which was maintained into the twelfth century, would appear ipso facto to support the argument of those scholars arguing for a powerful central government under the Carolingians and their successors, a point that could use greater emphasis in this chapter.

In Chapter two, Eldevik describes how tithing actually developed in the Carolingian empire, and the struggle among a range of agents who sought to control the revenues that were derived from tithes. Among these actors were bishops, abbots, the secular possessors of private churches, and kings. In the second half of the chapter, Eldevik illustrates the efforts made by both Carolingian and Ottonian kings to facilitate increased episcopal control over tithes across the empire and the subsequent German kingdom.

Chapter three provides a relatively brief historical overview of each of the three dioceses that provide case studies of episcopal efforts to assert their authority over the collection of tithe revenues. Eldevik concludes that in addition to being a territorial unit, broadly conceived, each of the bishoprics is to be understood as a cauldron of competing forces. In addition, each of the bishops in these dioceses operated within a congeries of political and social relationships that included the royal government, regionally important magnates, and myriad local magnates.

In Chapters four through six, Eldevik offers case studies of the bishoprics of Lucca, Salzburg, and finally Mainz. Lucca is considered from the ninth-twelfth century, and Salzburg from the ninth-eleventh century. Mainz is treated largely in the decade of the 1070s, although Eldevik does provide some background dating to the 1020s. In these three chapters, Eldevik effectively demonstrates that although major social and ideological developments, such as the conflict over lay investiture, impinged upon each diocese, local politics were far more important in determining how and whether bishops were able to assert their control over tithes. As Eldevik properly emphasizes, it was often the case that kings (and popes) set the parameters within which local magnates, including bishops, operated. However, each diocese was sui generis in how events actually played out. In his brief conclusion, Eldevik ties together the major strands of his argument.

The text is equipped with a substantial scholarly apparatus of notes. The bibliography also is quite thorough. Eldevik draws upon a very broad range of sources and an impressive array of unpublished manuscripts. He also utilizes an extensive scholarly literature, including numerous studies in German and Italian. The volume is rounded out with four maps, two genealogical tables, and an index.

In sum, Eldevik succeeds in his goal of illuminating the multivalent role of bishops in the late Carolingian and German empires by working through the prism of the struggle to control tithes. He effectively demonstrates that in addition to the role that they played in royal affairs, bishops also had an essential connection to their individual dioceses and the actors within them, both secular and ecclesiastical. In short, if not all, much politics was local. However, at times Eldevik seems to go too far in stressing the local nature of episcopal authority at the expense of royal oversight and even occasional direct intervention. In some cases (112), Eldevik presents the delegation of royal authority, such as the holding of a public court (mallum) or other comital duties, as evidence for the development of episcopal lordship. One might better understand this situation as the king choosing to employ a bishop instead of a count as a royal official.

This criticism should not, however, be understood as detracting from Eldevik's successful effort to show that institutional issues such as the development and organization of the ecclesiastical tithe can be opened up further to permit social and therefore political analyses that further enhance our understanding of how authority and, indeed, government operated. This book will be of considerable value not only to specialists in episcopal and imperial history, but also to graduate students seeking new ways to think about old questions.