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16.11.26, Cable, “Cum essem in Constantie…”

16.11.26, Cable, “Cum essem in Constantie…”

I am going to be candid. Based on its title I was expecting a book on the Great Western Schism (1378-1417) when two and eventually three popes and their respective obedience ruled Christianity. A perusal of the bibliography shows that this is not the case. While on the one hand the bibliography is abundant, it is specific on narrowly defined topics and it only offers a limited engagement with the historiography. Missing are some important, recent volumes, some ironically published by Brill. [1] The choice made by the author to limit his engagement with the larger historiography of the Schism minimizes the impact of his enormous effort at reconstructing the world, activities, and train of thought of Raffaele Fulgosio. Thus from the start there should be no misunderstanding. This is not a book on the Schism per se, but a book that discusses one man and specific moments of the Council of Constance that ended the Schism.

In his preface the author rationalizes his choice of topic. His original interest was on the lawyer and judge Gimignano Inghirami of Prato and on litigations between the various obediences, and the "legal legacy of the Schism" (ix). The author soon realized that advocates rather than judges offered a more fertile ground for his study, and one in particular, Fulgosio, whose collection of commentaria (ad-hoc remarks made during his lectures at the University of Padua) and consilia (legal opinions) was somewhat readily available. The author's stated aim is "to attempt a book-length recreation of Fulgosio's time as an advocate at the council [of Constance] and provide an insight in to his life before and after it as a jurist, university lecturer and working lawyer" (x). The author frames his study within the realm of legal and intellectual history, with a dose of real world. But there is more. The various "opinions" that Fulgosio rendered added to the extraneous, spontaneous remarks that note takers recorded from Fulgosio's lectures project us directly into conversations between a teacher and his students on topics of great social and cultural significance--of which, gambling, dowries, slave ownership, and dissimulations are only a few examples. What Cable offers us here is the equivalent of the analysis of a recording of a "living" medieval classroom. Fulgosio's commentaries are often vocational and a far cry from the dry scholastic utterances that we often expect from medieval jurists. This is remarkable.

The introduction offers little on the history of the Schism regardless of the subtitle "Historical Overview: The Schism until the Council of Constance" (see 6-11). But it drives home an important politico-legal consequence of the Schism. Rarely during the medieval period was the reality of power so separated from a title. For each pope, power was mitigated and sustained by obedience. If the obedience vanished so did power and title. "Both papal contenders claimed that they alone held the title of pope; neither of them, however, was able to enjoy the automatic obedience which that title ought rightly to have bestowed upon them. The formal processes by which the Law customarily policed definitive and rightful access to power were therefore divorced from the reality of power" (7). Cable uses the introduction to draw information on the life and personality of the affable Fulgosio within the constraints of the typology and availability of sources.

In his first chapter, "Podcasts from the Past", Cable thoroughly analyzes the provenance of his sources and dates them--they range from the 1410s to 1420s, as the historian "listens" to Fulgosio's voice during his lectures, often interrupting his flow to offer personal anecdotes. We hear of cases Fulgosio was familiar with, of officials coercing citizens for the hands of their daughters (dowries are indeed a key to success), merchants' lawsuits, and inheritances with illegitimate and legitimate children. In short, through Fulgosio, Cable opens for us a window into the urban life and preoccupations of the well-to-do citizenry of late medieval Italy. But Fulgosio extemporaneous remarks also enrich knowledge of his life experience. Born in the Guelph nobility of Piacenza in 1367, Fulgosio initiated his studies in law at fourteen in Pavia. He received his Licence in Civil Law in 1387, practicing then at his university without remuneration. His studies ended in 1391 with his doctorate in both civil and canon law. Fulgosio remained at Pavia for some fifteen years before transferring to Padua in 1408 where he remained until the end of his life. In Padua, Fulgosio taught and practiced law, invested in merchants and real-estate ventures, and gambled during his off-time. His second wife Giovanina Beccaria often served as figurehead in his business ventures but Cable finds evidence that she also transacted on her own and administered her estate efficiently after Fulgosio's death. Cable appends Fulgosio's Last Will and Testament (1427), Giovannina's Last Will (1437), and an inventory of her possessions in Padua (1439) at the end of the volume.

The book's second chapter will be of special interest to students of medieval education, offering details on teaching methods, classroom mechanics, and teacher-students relations. Here the traditional picture of a medieval lecturer perched on his lectern is somewhat revisited, showing an educator that talked rather than lectured to his students, advised them, and offered the best of his own experiences. Fulgosio questioned, discussed, and told personal anecdotes to catch the attention of his audience. He seems quite likable, open, unpretentious, amusing and friendly. The second half of this chapter is dedicated to Fulgosio's legal expertise (consilia). As Cable highlights, "The consilia were therefore profoundly connected to the day-to-day reality and detail of legal processes before the courts" (109). This mundane character transports us at the center of legal practice, civil suits, dispute settlements and arbitrations. It is to the author's credit to have researched and verified many of the cases discussed by Fulgosio. Cable concludes that Fulgosio was before anything else concerned with due process, and did not shy away from discussing head-on legal fictions created by imperial power. Fulgosio was also hired by Venice to review the language of various treaties' negotiations, offered advice on criminal cases, and served as arbitrator.

The next eight chapters enter the meat of the subject by focusing on specific moments of the Council of Constance--namely, the question of obedience, the arrival of Sigismund and the Christmas Day Controversy, suffrage and representation at the council, the legal legacy of the Schism, the defense of John XXIII, the discussion at Constance of the Donation of Constantine, and the legal repercussions of some of the council's discussions. Even though a layman and civil law specialist, Fulgosio was selected by the Venetian authorities in 1414 to represent their interests--but not as one of the city's formal representative. Obviously well-considered by John XXIII, Fulgosio was named one of the council's four official advocates with Pietro Ancharano, Simon of Perugia and Ardicino della Porta, to officiate mostly on important questions and disputes brought to the council.

A first property issue regarding the Marches could have raised important questions on the legal consequence of the Schism. It touched on the rights of "schismatic" popes to alienate church property to buttress their obedience--in this case Gregory XII and the Malatesta. Fulgosio responded by removing the question from its schismatic context and issues of obediences, to reconsider what in this case "Church property," meant. It seems that for contemporaries "pope in his obedience" held legal reality and afforded a way out of the some of the Schism's legal complexity. What a pope did in his own obedience was legally binding. Cable next focuses on the arrival at Constance of Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund on Christmas Day 1414, and various issues of ceremonial precedence. When the newly crowned King of the Romans arrived in Constance he wore his imperial rather than his royal crown, even though he had yet to be invested by the pope. These discussions preoccupied many members of the early council and as such Cable reframes the historiography of the entire episode showing that it indeed had been one of the council's preoccupations.

Cable focuses next on Fulgosio's opinions concerning the council's voting: per capita (a head a vote) or by nation, as well as voting by procuration. Block voting by nation was favored but discussions still took place over representation. Cable attempts to reconstruct why Fulgosio took on the voting by procuration debate and argues quite convincingly that the matter came from the powers granted to the deposed popes' legates, Carlo Malatesta for Gregory XII for example. Without such latitude Malatesta would not have been able to resign for Gregory. Cable argues that Fulgosio's secular and legalistic approach is a new source for the history of the council. The approach taken by the lawyer is quite revealing of the way law was treated in the later Middle Ages. Personal convictions were absent, and lawyers drew from their legal knowledge to make their case. In many instances a man's conviction differed from his legal argument.

Chapter six focuses on litigation over feudal right. The suit presented by Fulgosio being somewhat secretive with unclear delineation of names and issues, Cable takes on the daunting task of identifying dates, unnamed parties and issues. What emerges from the case is the confusion that followed the council of Pisa's decision "to restore those individuals to their rights (benefices and so forth) who had been expelled from them because of their earlier loyalty to either of the deposed popes but who had subsequently transferred to the Pisan obedience" (216). In the end the issue of who was right or wrong in his allegiance was set aside. Fulgosio argued for a practical legal solution, "actions [during the Schism] even when they were intentional were innocent given the strange circumstances of the schism. This in turn would lead to a form of legal recognition for the divergent obedience communities to which those individuals had belonged...belonging to a different obedience in the schism or supporting a different pope could be considered legally valid" (221).

In his last two examples Cable focuses on Fulgosio's defense of John XXIII and discussions over the veracity of the Donation of Constantine. John was accused of simony and resisting abdication, thus preventing an end to the Schism. Fulgosio argued that John XXIII had no Schism to end since the Council of Pisa had already terminated it. According to Cable, the Donation of Constantine (Constantine's gift of central Italy to the pope) identifies Fulgosio for the historiography. Fulgosio's report that the text was discussed at Constance testifies to doubts about the document long before Lorenzo Valla's identification of it as a fake. After setting the historiography of the debate Cable suggests that authority regardless of historical veracity won the day. Dating Fulgosio's return to Padua in April 1415 rather than the historiography's accepted date of February 1415 allows Cable to suggest that Fulgosio was witness to two momentous events of the council, the flight of John XXIII and the promulgation of Haec Sancta, and maybe left dejected.

The book's last chapters focus on the "after Constance," and in a sense on what Fulgosio missed by leaving early, e.g., the discussion over Jean Petit's legitimation of tyrannicide. Still, his experience was needed and he participated in a consilium on the topic that Cable reviews in details. Fulgosio died of the plague in 1427, working it seems till his last breath. His testament, transcribed in the appendix offers a faded glimpse of the lawyer's personality. Cable concludes his study insisting on "dissimulation," a trait that Fulgosio seems to have mastered rendering access to his "true" political identity difficult. In many instances his opinions differed from what he taught his students. Usefulness primed over veracity, but most of all opinions hinged on the maintenance of status quo. To a certain extent the repute of a lawyer made the law. The number of jurists who followed and agreed with a legal interpretation validated the decision.

This volume is learned, well researched and dense. But it is overly specialized and narrowly focused. Its additions to the field of Schism's studies are overly specific and lack contextualization. The volume will catch the interest of readers attached to specific issues raised at Constance. One has to wait the end of the volume to read where the author emphasizes his significant reinterpretation of the historiography of the Council of Constance and the Great Western Schism: the impact of Sigismund's presence during the council lead to a number of secular considerations addressed by its nations.

My main criticism ties in with the author's narrowly defined focus. The book is full of conjectures and suggestions, and thus could be easily rebuked by the very few specialists that will read it. The use of the conditional tense throughout the volume may be a rhetorical artifice but it diminishes the historical value of the text. One can regret some lacunae: a discussion of "fear," for example, and its legal consequence on the entire history of the Schism. Still, while the historian of the Schism is somewhat disappointed the social historian will find in the text gems left unexploited, by virtue of the wealth of research presented. The book will also interest a targeted audience, students of the late medieval politico-legal systems, and students of medieval education. Finally one thing must be stated about the book's price: $181, which frankly, reaches the level of the ridiculous.



1. See for example, Joëlle Rollo-Koster and Thomas Izbicki, A Companion to the Great Western Schism (1378-1417) (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2009).