The Medieval Review 17.09.02

Naus, James. Constructing Kingship: The Capetian Monarchs of France and the Early Crusades. Manchester Medieval Studies. Manchester: Manchester University PRess, 2016. pp. xiii, 163. ISBN: 978-0-7190-9097-4 (hardback).

Reviewed by:

Matt Gabriele
Virginia Tech

This book does much work, and in a very economical format (not, unfortunately, true of its price). Building from his dissertation work at Saint Louis University, James Naus refocuses our attention on why the early Capetian kings of Francia decided to (or not to) go to the Holy Land. In some sense then, as Naus tacitly seems to admit at points, the work is a pre-history of Louis IX, a pre-history of the thirteenth century, when crusading seems to have become a prerogative of the kings of France specifically. The author isn't arguing that Louis IX doesn't deserve the attention but rather that there is rich texture needing to be teased out from the reigns of his twelfth-century predecessors that established the peculiar relationship between crown, monarchy, aristocracy, and Holy Land so characteristic of the late Middle Ages.

The brief Introduction to Constructing Kingship lays out the parameters of the study: although it opens with an anecdote about Louis IX, he will not be the focus. Instead, Naus is curious about how we got to 1244, when Louis IX vowed to go to the East; how Capetian self-fashioning became so enmeshed with crusading ideology; and how the seemingly organic relationship between self-fashioning and ideology was anything but. Thus, this is a story of institutions and how they change--consciously and unconsciously--in reaction to external stimuli. Thereafter, the book is in two parts: first, the "Crisis" of the Capetians until just after the death of King Philip I (1060-1108), and second, the "Response" of the dynasty led by Abbot Suger of Saint-Denis (d. 1151) continuing to just after the death of King Louis VIII (1223-1226).

The first two chapters, comprising Part I, do a lot of heavy lifting, moving between a rather standard political narrative of the early Capetians and their takeover from the Carolingians in West Francia, and the course and impact of the First Crusade. Chapter 1 moves quickly toward the reign of Philip I, briefly surveying late Carolingian precedents of kingship and honing in on the special relationship that the kings of West Francia developed with certain monasteries, namely Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire, Saint-Rémi of Reims, and Saint-Denis. Here in this last section, Naus is quite right to downplay the role of Saint-Denis before the reign of Louis VI (1108-37) but there is much more to be said about the role of monasteries in West Francia towards the end of the eleventh century. There were historically royal monasteries and there were actual royal monasteries. Not only did Saint-Denis, for instance, remain effectively outside the royal orbit until the monastic profession of Simon of Crépy, but it oftentimes looked toward Normandy, rather than the Île-de-France, for patronage in the second half of the eleventh century. [1]

Chapter 2 argues that the conquest of Jerusalem in 1099 fundamentally changed the "economy of status" in the Capetian heartland. Naus here makes a compelling point that the success of that expedition changed everything, forcing political reconfiguration upon Philip I's orbit. Those who returned from the East enjoyed tremendous boosts to their prestige, which the monarchy had to immediately contend with. Bohemond's marriage/ recruitment tour of 1105 demonstrates this quite well. The chapter also does well to (tentatively) poke holes in the stock explanation for Philip I's "non-participation" in the expedition. His excommunication was not a reason. He was deeply interested in what was going on, allowing members of his entourage, including his brother, to participate; and possibly coordinating a northern Frankish response among his local subjects, the Blésois, Flemish, and Normans. The one niggle here is a tendency--understandable given the scholarship--to overstate the "fragility" of royal power specifically as it relates to Philip I. Royal power in West Francia was always "fragile." Even Carolingian scions endured aristocratic revolts. Philip II's move to cement his grip on power by excluding regional magnates from his court (128) was what Philip I himself did once he emerged from his minority. That the former is considered "powerful" and the latter "weak" is a remnant of the historiography, not the history. In other words, it's certainly fair to say that narrative sources attempted to link the monarchy to the spectacular success of 1099, but whether that was a proactive or reactive move to a specific moment of "crisis" is perhaps more of an open question than the text here allows.

We fully enter the twelfth century with Part 2 of the book. The linchpin of the book, and subject of Chapter 3, is Suger of Saint-Denis. This story has been much told. What Naus does differently here is to show how central the idea of "crusade" was to royal and abbatial authority, which went hand-in-hand. The theme is construction. For Suger, rebuilding his new abbey church was part of a larger project to rebuild the Capetian monarchy for himself and his abbey at a critical moment between past and future, forging "an ideal image of Capetian kingship, one that embraced the 'old' of Charlemagne and the 'new' of crusading" (70). In some ways, the Dionysian program culminated with Louis VII's (1137-80) participation in the Second Crusade, the focus of Chapter 4. Here, Naus advances the argument that Odo of Deuil's account of the journey was "raw material for [Suger's] history of the reign of Louis VII" (96). If this was the case, then the expedition to the East was to be the centerpiece to that narrative, and Louis VII's interest in the abortive "crusade of 1150" a choreographed event intended to amplify that theme.

The final chapter is exclusively focused on King Philip II Augustus (1180-1223). By this time, Naus argues, papally-sanctioned warfare was at the core of the monarchy's self-understanding. This was the moment, in other words, that shows Suger had won--an understanding nowhere more evident than in Philip's departure ceremony in 1190, one that mimicked Louis VII's quite explicitly. But what is important here is how the book pulls back, away solely from a focus on expeditions to the East, to show how Philip's reign was characterized more generally by a concern to show himself a most Christian king and to ensure that the rights of the monarchy as protector of the Church were respected. This is a critically important perspective that all Crusade studies should adopt. Many fail, but Naus admirably succeeds.

Overall, Constructing Kingship is a welcome addition to a growing field that seeks to re-integrate Christian holy war into the fabric of medieval Europe. Not only the Capetians themselves, but all those linked to them, were intimately aware of what was happening in the East, and events "there" were shaped by, and in turn shaped, events "back home." Although the book can be repetitive at times, rehearsing material amply covered by previous chapters, and ends rather abruptly, without a formal conclusion, these minor quibbles don't detract from a book that will be of use to students of kingship, holy war, and the cultural tumult of the central Middle Ages. --------

Note: 1. On monasteries, see Geoffrey Koziol, "The Conquest of Burgundy, the Peace of God, and the Diplomas of Robert the Pious," French Historical Studies, 37 (2014): 173-214; on Saint-Denis and Philip I, see now Matthew Gabriele, "Frankish Kingship, Political Exegesis, and the Ghost of Charlemagne in the Diplomas of King Philip I of Francia," in The Charlemagne Legend in Medieval Latin Texts, ed. William J. Purkis and Matthew Gabriele (Woodbridge, UK: Boydell, 2016), 14-16.

Copyright (c) 2017 Matt Gabriele

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