15.10.40, Jansen, Geltner, and Lester, eds., Center and Periphery

Main Article Content

Paul Freedman

The Medieval Review 15.10.40

Jansen, Katherine L., G. Geltner, and Anne E. Lester, eds. Center and Periphery: Studies on Power in the Medieval World in Honor of William Chester Jordan. Later Medieval Europe, 11. Leiden: Brill, 2013. pp. xxvi, 304. ISBN: 978-90-04-24359-0 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Paul Freedman
Yale University

A pioneering and distinguished scholar of the Middle Ages, the author of ten monographs and nearly a hundred articles, William Chester Jordan of Princeton University has trained an outstanding group of students who have put together this intellectually stimulating volume. Why university presses in North America dislike festschriften is a mystery to me since there is little basis for the notion that authors dust-off abandoned or marginal work when asked to contribute to such a project. Fortunately European scholarly publishers do not share this misconception. The book is rewarding, thought-provoking, and also nicely designed and put together.

A "Historiographical Introduction" by the late John W. Baldwin summarizes Jordan's books, praising in rather opaque terms their range of subject matter and Jordan's versatility. A forward by the late Jacques Le Goff adopts a more enthusiastic tone, the great French historian deeming Jordan's insights and research "brilliant," "sparkling," and "wonderful." An afterword by the very much alive Teófilo Ruiz is a lively testimony of friendship and admiration.

The seventeen articles are grouped into five parts reflecting Professor Jordan's major interests: the Jews and royal authority, peacemaking, religious institutions, crusades, and law. These do not exhaust Jordan's research themes (there is nothing on peasant serfdom or famine, for example), but effectively demonstrate his influence on how medieval history is studied today. In a brief essay David Nirenberg looks at privados, favored Iberian royal courtiers, who were contemptuously likened to Jews in contemporary propaganda. The fact that actual Jews might be confidants of the kings does not mean that the negative rhetoric surrounding privados was based on the real power of Jewish court figures, but rather anti-Jewish language served to structure and manipulate political critique.

Maya Soifer Irish considers the ways in which the Castilian kings, far from jealously guarding control over their Jewish population as is usually assumed, shared out revenues and jurisdiction with lay and church magnates. Theoretical and rhetorical rule over the Jews as an exclusively royal treasure was not matched by the realities of fragmented jurisdiction and rewards to magnates.

E. M. Rose revises assumptions about the first European royal expulsion of Jews, that ordered by the young Philip II of France in 1179. Far from being the result of youthful impulse, the expulsion was a considered act designed to enhance revenue and bolster royal influence. Huge funds cynically confiscated were used to rebuild Paris and to intimidate the nobility. Accusations of ritual murder preceding and justifying the persecution did not reflect popular hysteria but served as a financial and institutional strategy.

The final contribution to this group of articles is by Hussein Fancy, an account of the career of the physician and diplomat Samuel Abenmenassé, servant of King Pere II of Aragon-Catalonia. The exceptional status of this and other prominent court Jews was not only dangerous, but a manifestation of what Fancy has identified as the duality of Aragonese royal imagery derived from Hohenstaufen and Almohad sources, masking the rickety foundations of such claims to authority. Lavish and exceptional privilege was associated with the grandiosity, whims and yet instability of a monarchy conceived according to imperial ideas.

The first of three articles on peacemaking is by Richard Landes, restating his view of the Peace of God as a millenarian protest movement marking a foundational point in the history of democratic agitation. Plaintively yet contemptuously Landes takes other historians to task for not agreeing with him: for their inability to see the proverbial forest for the trees, specifically lack of attention to a people's movement so powerful as to make the church itself tremble (the long article title begins "Can the Church Be Desperate?"). Apocalyptic and rebellious elements of the Peace of God are energetically but not especially convincingly identified.

Katherine L. Jansen's example of peacemaking comes from the notoriously feud-prone town of San Gimignano. In the mid-thirteenth century, the powerful Salvucci family was forced by the less-imposing Mangeri lineage to sign a peace agreement requiring them to dismantle the top part of their fortified tower and perform penitential acts such as wearing black clothes and letting their hair and beards grow. Such conspicuous shaming, Jansen demonstrates, goes beyond the conventional understanding of peace terms. In this example a document type normally considered a compromise formulation amounts rather to an enforcement mechanism against the losers in a dispute.

Recent work, such as a book on hostage-taking by Adam Kosto, has shown that acts commonly deemed outgrowths of war or terrorism functioned in the Middle Ages as means of dispute settlement. Jarbel Rodriguez similarly approaches captivity resulting from raids and wars on the Islamic-Christian frontier of the Crown of Aragon as an aspect of negotiations between fundamentally but not consistently hostile rulers, not a sign of barbarism. Taking captives did not mean the breakdown of discussions; rather it constituted a form of diplomatic maneuver. What is particularly intriguing is that liberating captives served as a legitimate excuse for Christian rulers to obtain papal consent to their sending emissaries to Muslim princes. The purpose of such missions was not primarily to obtain the captives' liberty but rather to discuss temporary peace terms, trade, tribute, de facto alliances and other larger issues. Captives were part of the bargaining, not the urgent or overwhelming motive for the mission except insofar as a purpose or justification was presented to the church.

An article by Adam J. Davis on the hospital of Provins begins the third section, devoted to religious institutions and society. While hospitals have received considerable attention as pious foundations and for their social outreach, their wealth and property are less studied. The case of Provins shows the wealth and economic activity of this charitable beneficiary of the commercial boom in one of the great Champagne fair towns.

A brief biographical evaluation of St. Louis of Anjou is the subject of Holly J. Greico's contribution. Here the atmosphere of conflict within the Franciscan Order is at issue and against the conventional assumptions, Greico argues that St. Louis, despite his admiration for Peter John Olivi, was not influenced by Spiritual Franciscan piety. A reluctant bishop, Louis was willing to accept the usus pauper argument that the high clergy must concern themselves with the temporal wealth of episcopal office and jurisdiction. His personal austerity was in keeping with the ascetic ideals of St. Bonaventure and did not require the additional Spirituals' zeal for poverty. In any case, according to Greico, Olivi and Bonaventure were not so different regarding compromises with poverty; what really would render the Spiritual Franciscans marginated revolutionaries was the dispute over obedience, especially to the papacy.

Michelle Garceau describes two examples of Catalan thirteenth-century hagiography, the cults of St. Bernat Calbó, bishop of Vic and St. Ramon of Penyafort. Bernat was promoted not according to the example of his pious life, but as a posthumous worker of healing miracles. Ramon of Penyafort had a more divided constituency, his Dominican colleagues emphasizing his pastoral and scholarly accomplishments while lay advocates came to regard him as a protector of Catalonia and of Barcelona.

In another argument against received ideas, G. Geltner argues that the Black Death really did adversely affect clerical morality because of the decline in the qualifications and character of scarce recruits. Using the unusually detailed court records of Lucca, Geltner finds many poorly controlled and lightly punished instances of clerical misbehavior. The archives are rich, but the sample discussed here is limited to 25 cases from 1347 to 1397.

William Jordan's first book on Louis IX and the crusade and his subsequent research on crusade ideology and royal authority are evoked in a section that begins with Jonathan Elukin's reconsideration of Joinville's attitude towards Louis IX. Often seen as focused on the saintly aspects of the king's behavior, Joinville emerges as more critical and ambivalent in his evaluation of Louis. Joinville shows the king as both indecisive and impulsive in command and as unwilling to take advice even when supposedly seeking it. The resolution is in favor of a hagiography, rather than an encomium to leadership.

Louis' undoubted religious devotion is presented in Ann E. Lester's account of the relics of St. Maurice at Senlis, acquired from the Alpine abbey of St. Maurice d'Agaune in return for a spine from the crown of thorns. Louis was involved in at least twelve translations of saints' relics and this one was particularly important because of the military aura surrounding Maurice, the martyred leader of the Christian Theban legion of the Roman army. The king joined together his own military sufferings in aid of Christ's mission with the cult of Maurice and the little-studied cult at Senlis confirms and elaborates on Louis' particular pious evolution.

The scene shifts to the Latin Empire of Constantinople. Erica Gilles argues that the rulers of the later period of this seemingly inglorious experiment were not unwilling to consider cultural and political "boundary crossing," against the common opinion of their inflexibility and ignorance of the people they tried to rule. Baudouin de Courtney's attempt in the early 1240s to arrange a marriage of his niece to the Turkish sultan is the main example of this attitude. The emperors appear in this study as more accepting Islam than of the Greek orthodox population, but nevertheless, not only did they undertake marriage negotiations with the Turkish rulers, they also took on the symbolic regalia of Byzantium.

The final contribution to the section on piety is Christopher MacEvitt's description of Franciscan martyrs to Islam as depicted in a fourteenth-century Cotton manuscript. Friars who sought death by publicly denouncing Mohammed in Muslim lands received little attention during the optimistic thirteenth century with its expectations of transformation. Later, when neither force nor preaching had proven able to dislodge Islam, the suicidal missions became transformed into witnesses to the world's catastrophic flaws.

The last two essays are grouped together as reconsiderations of law and history, but they are actually quite different. Emily Kadens offers a criticism of legal historians' approaches to customary law which focus on formalization of norms into what she calls "law custom" while ignoring the anthropological bases of "behavior custom" according to which rules are created and enforced by communal memory and innovation. Enacted law does more than just codify earlier practices; it looks forward, enforcing a set of enacted requirements, while custom based on communal consensus looks back at an imagined, stable past that legitimates current practices.

In the second of these two closing essays, entitled "A Cautionary Note," Mark Gregory Pegg presents a view of the current state of medieval history, particularly the lasting if largely unacknowledged effects of postmodernism beginning with Professor Jordan's 1992 talk and subsequent article on the dangers of the nihilist "faddish philistinism" (Jordan's term) that was then fashionable. Pegg argues astutely that there is a permanent and useful legacy from the emphasis on textuality, self-referentiality and inconclusiveness stemming from the application of philosophical and literary theory to historical study. Rather than implying that empirical research is worthless, postmodern tendencies have heightened appreciation of contingency, narrative and unreliability, encouraging in historians a degree of self-awareness and modesty about their conclusions. These militate against an older over-confident historiography that situated medieval institutions and culture within long arcs of achievement such as the origins of the state, the discovery of the individual, the triumph of the West, or the birth of democracy. A less favorable result of the rise and decline of theory has been a curious emphasis on the historian's personal autobiography, the historiographic equivalent of the selfie vogue. If we can neither make grand, noble-dream conclusions nor use theory to dissolve the archives, we can at least make our lives historically fascinating. Pegg aptly cautions against such obtrusive forms of historians' self-reflexivity and over-wrought methodological piety.

In his career, William Jordan has feared neither large issues nor historical turning points. The crusades of Louis IX, comparative economic behavior, or the nature of the Great Famine of 1315-1317 are among his major topics. The variety and versatility emphasized by the authors of the introductory essays present Jordan's exacting research agenda and his extraordinarily wide interests. The contributors provide a sense that history resembles detailed pictures of a changing landscape or a Heraclitean stream. The book is an appropriate tribute to a master of medieval historical scholarship.

Article Details