That little remains to them

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That they can own or obtain (with surety).

The great eat and drink up the hard-won fruits of peasant labour, turning

chivalry into faithless debauchery. Though loyal knights can be saved in their

own order of society, the evil knights who will not cooperate with Holy

Clergie, Chevalerie, and Reform 79

54 Ibid., VI, ch. viii. 55 Ibid., chs ix and xiii; quotation from the close of chapter xiii.

56 Wright, tr., Historical Works, 266.

Church, who joust and tourney and misuse the power of the sword given them

by God, should be stripped of sword and spurs and expelled.57

How did clerics respond to the important phenomenon of tournament? At

first, clerical writers universally took a censorious view of this most characteristic

and popular sport of chivalry, fulminating against what St Bernard of

Clairvaux termed ‘those accursed tournaments’.58 Chronicle, chivalric biography,

and imaginative chivalric literature all show that participation in tournament

was for knights the very affirmation of chevalerie. But in clerical eyes these

mock wars imperilled soul as well as body, encouraged pride, occasioned the

risk of homicide, and, in a more general sense, deflected martial energies better

spent on crusade. After the initial interdiction issued at the council of

Clermont in 1130, this condemnation would scarcely slacken in principle for

the better part of two centuries.

At the highest level churchmen gave ground slowly and only yielded to the

inevitable, finally, in 1316, when Pope John XXII revoked the ban on tournaments.

Local ecclesiastical authorities had probably compromised much

sooner: in 1281 Pope Martin IV had commented with resignation that sometimes

custom is stronger than law.59 He was thinking of tournaments, of

knightly custom, and papal law.

One eminent scholar has emphasized the general shift in clerical position

symbolized by the acceptance of tournament. Georges Duby has, in fact, suggested

that the clerical critique of chivalry emerged from an essentially monastic

Church and so became muted, or rather transmuted, after the crisis in

Western monasticism so evident by roughly the mid-twelfth century. The

more worldly clerks and canons who dominated the Church from the later

twelfth century were men more attuned to military activity and were even

more personally involved in it; they thus turned away from monastic hostility

to chivalry and created for knights ‘la nouvelle morale des guerriers’.60

The present chapter argues that both impulses, the hostile and the valorizing,

were actually present in a clerical ideology of reform throughout the lifespan

of chivalry, and that they both appeared not only in the cloister, but in the

papal circle, in episcopal courts, and in the schools. Both impulses continued

through the undoubted twelfth-century transformations which took place in

monasticism and its role within the Church at large. The crucial valorizing role

57 Lodge, ed., Etienne de Fougères, ll. 537–676. Translation from Switten, ‘Chevalier’. Cf. Flori,

L’Essor de chevalerie, 315–19.

58 For what follows see Barker, Tournament, 139–51; Barber and Barker, Tournaments, 139–46;

Keen, Chivalry, 83–102. For St Bernard’s comment, see Bruno Scott James, tr., Bernard of

Clairvaux, letter 405.

59 Quoted in Langlois, Philippe III, 199.

60 Duby, ‘Guerre et société’. For overviews of this monastic change, see John van Engen, ‘Crisis

of Cenobitism’, and Leclercq, ‘Monastic Crisis’.

of the Gregorians, who represent the ecclesiastical world moving beyond the

cloister, after all, stands on the early side of a mid-twelfth-century line, and the

continuing influence of stringent Cistercian critics, the most powerful and

effective monastic force of their day, was written into such powerful works as

The Quest for the Holy Grail in the early thirteenth century, on the later side of

that line. Criticism was never simply monastic, as we have seen in looking at

the ideas of schoolmen such as Alain de Lille and John of Salisbury. Clerics and

intellectuals of the later twelfth and thirteenth centuries did not simply create

a new morale for knights; most of them also continued to condemn the chief

and characteristic knightly sport of tournament, and many of them set standards

for ideal chivalry so high as to be almost unreachable by the generality

of knights.

But Duby’s argument serves as a highly useful reminder of an important

fact. If both valorization and criticism were structural elements of the clerical

stance on chivalry, over time both the tenor of the discussion and the relative

weights on the balance beam of clerical opinion shifted significantly. Stated in

its simplest form, knighthood became a given in high medieval society, an

accepted building block in the structure of civilization, imagined by Chrétien

de Troyes, for example, to be as old as civilization itself. As chivalry came to

signify the identifying set of values of the nobility in society, it became an ordo

in clerical thought. The rhetorical vitriol attributed to Urban II and that of a

certainty written by St Bernard and Alain de Lille thus gave way to a more balanced,

steady stream of didactic, reformist exhortation. Not the rightful existence

of chivalry, but its rightful practice came to be the issue. More in

knightly life and practice was understood or tactfully overlooked; more—

finally, by the fourteenth century, even tournament—was overlooked or forgiven.

The Church and Governing Power

‘Enforcement of the law’, as Richard M. Fraher notes, ‘stands with diplomacy,

defense, and taxation as one of the functions which modern observers associate

with the state.’61 In a famous passage, F. W. Maitland pointed to clear similarities

between the medieval Church and our contemporary idea of a state:

The medieval church was a state. Convenience may forbid us to call it a state very often,

but we ought to do so from time to time, for we can frame no acceptable definition of

a state which would not comprehend the church. What has it not that a state should

have? It has laws, lawgivers, law courts, lawyers. It uses physical force to compel men

Clergie, Chevalerie, and Reform 81

61 Fraher, ‘Theoretical Justification’, 579.

to obey its laws. It keeps prisons. In the thirteenth century, though with squeamish

phrases, it pronounces sentence of death.62

In fact, as it dealt with the chivalrous, the institutional Church lacked one characteristic

feature of a state which is crucial for our analysis. Although clerics

had articulated an ideology concerning chivalry and order, although (as

Maitland states so elegantly) they possessed an elaborate system of courts,

codes, and practitioners of law, they lacked direct means of enforcing these

ideas or even these laws.63

The clerical hierarchy was not in any position, in other words, to use physical

force to compel knights to obey its laws or to follow its more general

guidelines about licit and illicit violence. The paradoxical constitution of the

medieval Church comes sharply into focus on just such a point.64 In the broadest

conception, of course, Christian society and the Church were coterminous;

the knights were the armed force of the church, the armed force within the

Church. In the more hierarchical and strictly clerical conception of the

Church, so influential following the Gregorian reform, however, the knights

represented a somewhat more alien force, one with ideas and standards of an

independent nature; they constituted a force, moreover, with weapons which

were thoroughly physical—the only such force after the disarming of the

clergy, which had been another great goal of church reformers.

For peace, for right order in the world, churchmen turned from long-accustomed

habit to the upper reaches of the hierarchy of lay powers, to kings above

all, and to great lords. A colourful case in point appears in the early twelfthcentury

efforts of Louis VI against the castle of Crécy belonging to Thomas of

Marle, the warlord who was so disliked, as we have seen, by Abbot Suger and

characterized by Guibert of Nogent as ‘the proudest and most wicked of men’.

Having called upon the king to destroy the power of this man, the prelates

gave the king’s forces their most enthusiastic blessing. Guibert tells us that

the archbishop and the bishops, going up on high platforms, united the crowd, gave

them their instructions for the affair, absolved them from their sins, and ordered them as

an act of penitence in full assurance of the salvation of their souls to attack that castle.65

The blessing is important; but the point to note is that the armed force relied

upon was royal.

In England the reality and continuity of royal power made a peace move-

62 Maitland, Roman Canon Law, 100.

63 Useful discussions in Rodes, Ecclesiastical Administration, 99, and Helmholz, ‘Crime’.

64 See discussions in Strayer, ‘State and Religion’, and Southern, Western Society, 19, and

Smalley ‘Capetian France’, 63.

65 Quoted and discussed in Benton, Self and Society, 204–5.

ment virtually unnecessary; and, in what was becoming France, such a convergence

of the concern for public order and a belief in holy war directed by

the Church faded gradually but significantly before the advance of Capetian

royal power.

In the south, Norman Housley notes, the fusion of clerical activism with the

peace movement went from strength to strength, ‘because of the absence of

such [lay] authority, coupled with the alarming spread of mercenary violence

and, later, heresy’. But ‘[i]n northern France, the incorporation of crusading

ideas into peace-enforcement had no long term future because of the rapidity

with which Capetian authority was growing’.66

Thus no coercive ecclesiastical role regarding violence developed in northwestern

Europe. By the thirteenth century ecclesiastical authorities so generally

relied on ‘the secular arm’ that in England a specific royal writ offered a

regular means by which clerics secured the coercion of those offenders who

ignored even sentences of excommunication; the spiritual sentence was

enforced, in effect, by the king’s officer, the sheriff, when the chancery sent

him the writ de excommunicato capiendo ordering him to arrest the resisting

excommunicate.67 Relying on this writ is not the act of a competing form of

state, whatever the sophistication of its laws, however significant its treasurestore

of ideas.

The same point appears in the famous thirteenth-century French legal treatise,

The Customs of the Beauvaisis, by Philippe de Beaumanoir. He insists that

lay officials must use the secular arm to protect Holy Church, and he says why:

‘For the spiritual sword would not be much feared by wrong doers if they did

not believe that the temporal sword would get involved; this in spite of the fact

that the spiritual sword is incomparably more to be feared’.68 Evidently, ecclesiastics

recognized that the coercive force exercised by lay government was, in

fact, much more effective than spiritual censures in France, as it was in


Of course this recognition on the part of ecclesiastical authorities was not

some lamentable or reprehensible failure on their part. The Church had for

many centuries placed hope and confidence in Christian Roman emperors

and, later, pious kings or at least great Christian lords. If Gregorian radicals

had briefly considered taking the task in hand personally, even they, and certainly

their successors—while they continued to assert their leadership of

Christian society—knew that for tasks involving coercion, physical force, and

blood, they had to work through the power of kingship (sometimes in the

Clergie, Chevalerie, and Reform 83

66 Housley, ‘Crusades Against Christians’, 25. 67 Logan, Excommunication.

68 Akehurst, tr., Coutumes de Beauvaisis, 29–30; Salmon, ed., Philippe de Beaumanoir, I, 39. The

final statement is wonderfully theoretical in view of the plain words with which he begins.

hands of great lords), and finally the power of knights themselves. These lay

powers were at once necessary and dangerous, worthy of sacralization and in

need of constant correction.