Everything old is new again. Genealogy, royal succession, papal-imperial relations, political rituals: such well-worn subjects as these are, at first glance, surprising ones to find at the center of a new volume involving so many leading European scholars. Several of the medieval sources used in this collection--including Matthew Paris, Godfrey of Viterbo and Wolfram of Eschenbach--are also quite traditional ones with deep historiographical roots. Look beneath this surface of traditionalism, however, and one quickly discovers here a series of articles making significant new contributions to the study of royalty and nobility in the Middle Ages.
At the heart of this project is the unusual opening word of the volume's title, Idoneität, derived from the Latin idoneitas and best-translated into English as "suitability" (Björn Weiler's 2008 article on imperial succession practices, "Suitability and Right," is the best introduction in English to the way the term is used today in the study of medieval politics).  In the collection under review here, suitability forms a triad with genealogy and legitimation to frame a series of articles that look beyond stale conceptions of royal and noble dynasties based on father-to-son patterns of succession. Although some scholars still cling to the old theory that primogeniture was the rule for inheritance and succession in pre-modern Europe, medieval historians have mostly abandoned this argument in favor of more dynamic explanations for the transmission of power and property. This volume follows this trend. It focuses on the language of the primary sources and explores how medieval authors defined and described the suitability and legitimacy of heirs and successors--especially in the many cases where a straightforward father-to-son transfer of power was not possible or taken for granted.
The volume includes nineteen articles in addition to an introduction and conclusion. The articles are divided into four groups. The first concerns the suitability and legitimation of individual rulers (Peltzer, Auge, Weiss, Rexroth and Münkler); the second concerns the suitability and legitimation of dynasties (Weinfurter, Foerster, Burkhardt, Andenna, Bagge, Gaffuri); the third concerns the relationship between genealogy and legitimation in genealogical thought (Melville, Hering, Norbye, Donne); and the fourth concerns genealogy, legitimation and space (Vercamer, Studt, Butz, Tanneberger). There are too many articles to attempt to summarize all of them here. Instead, I will organize them around three main themes in order to highlight some of the many strengths of the whole collection, strengths that cut across all four groups of articles.
First, one of the best aspects of this volume is the breadth of its geographical coverage. Medieval Germany, with its elective form of kingship, is an obvious place to look for sources that discuss the suitability of candidates for the throne, and several contributions do indeed focus on this region. But other articles look beyond the German-speaking lands. France, Byzantium, the kingdom of Sicily under its early rulers, England during the upheavals of the mid-twelfth century, high medieval Norway and Poland, and late medieval Savoy are only some of the places examined here. As a result, what emerges from this collection is a clear sense that the issues of suitability and legitimation were always in flux, from one end of Europe to the other. Questions surrounding female succession and regency, physical disability, political upheaval, and/or changes in dynastic ideology routinely forced court propagandists and other authors to craft new arguments about who was (and was not) qualified to rule a kingdom or principality.
Second, the volume's editors have done an excellent job of providing readers with a mixture of broad, theoretical articles and more focused case studies. This balance is also a testament to the fact that there is a proper mix of senior and junior scholars among the contributors. For example, Frank Rexroth opens his piece with a broad historiographical overview before addressing the issue of late medieval royal depositions as an inversion of rituals of royal enthronement. Jörg Peltzer looks in general terms at the relationship between suitability and social rank and describes how the circle of appropriate candidates for the German throne gradually shrank over the course of the later Middle Ages. And Gert Melville discusses a variety of different medieval examples of royal genealogies, showing in the process how important it was to craft these genealogies in specific ways in order to make specific types of claims about dynastic legitimation. These broad studies can be contrasted with several excellent articles that delve into more detail on individual texts, including Kai Hering's study of Godfrey of Viterbo, Miriam Weiss's article about Matthew Paris, and Reinhardt Butz's work on the early sixteenth-century court historian Georg Spalatin.
Finally, the articles in this collection work with an eclectic, and fascinating, set of both well-known and more obscure sources. Marina Münkler uses one of the great works of medieval German literature, Wolfram of Eschenbach's Parzival, to offer an especially insightful analysis of the volume's main subject; according to the rules of succession, Parzival is unquestionably next in line to become the Grail king, yet he must nevertheless prove his suitability before he can obtain that position. And Thomas Foerster relies on several well-known narrative sources for twelfth-century England to discuss the problematic issue of Stephen's legitimacy as king. Laura Gaffuri, on the other hand, turns to unpublished, late medieval archival sources in her article about female regency in the duchy of Savoy. And Tobias Tanneberger explores an unpublished, late fifteenth-century history of the ruling family of Brabant in his study. All of the volume's articles are therefore worth perusing, because they include both new perspectives on well-known sources and introductory studies of texts that have never before been part of the scholarly conversation about medieval royalty and nobility.
The volume reviewed here certainly suffers from many of the usual shortcomings of this type of collection. Some of the articles are more polished and well argued than others, and some stay closer to the main themes of the collection than others do. Such flaws are to be expected in a thick volume containing so many contributions. Nevertheless, this is an important set of articles. It offers a wealth of new perspectives on royalty and nobility by focusing on the language of suitability, genealogy and legitimation that medieval authors used. The systems of succession and inheritance in effect during the Middle Ages were not as rigid as earlier generations of scholars believed; genealogy, long the focus of research in this field, is now recognized as only one component of a ruler or dynasty's claims to legitimacy. As these articles demonstrate, medieval writers did not hesitate to address the other qualities that specific rulers and dynasties needed to govern effectively--and to criticize rulers and dynasties who lacked these qualities. Political history looks interesting and innovative again when viewed through the lenses offered by this volume.
1. Björn Weiler, "Suitability and Right: Imperial Succession and the Norms of Politics in Early Staufen Germany," in Making and Breaking the Rules: Succession in Medieval Europe, c. 1000-c. 1600, eds. Frédérique Lachaud and Michael Penman (Turnhout: Brepols, 2008), 71-86.