Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Death of a Medievalist

Tolkien in his study
Time to break one of my rules and discuss a 20th century event.

Today is the 41st anniversary of the death of J.R.R.Tolkien. Born 3 January 1892, he learned to read and write by the time he was four, even learning a little Latin from his mother. Among his literary preferences were the fairy stories of Andrew Lang and the fantasy of George MacDonald. In his teens he added the Anglo-Saxon language to his Latin studies. He and his cousins played with inventing languages of their own, a pursuit that would help him lend artistic verisimilitude to his literary masterpiece The Lord of the Rings.

A career in World War I brought him home as an invalid, after coming down with trench fever. In 1920 he became the youngest professor at the University of Leeds, on the strength of his linguistic knowledge. His first academic publication was a Middle English Vocabulary in 1922. A few years later, this was followed by an edition/translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight that is still in print.

Although his focus was more on language than literature, he produced two scholarly works in the 1930s that bridged (what some would call) the gap between the two. His 1934 article "Chaucer as a Philologist: The Reeve's Tale" showed that Chaucer was well aware of dialects and deliberately gave some of his characters a different dialect to make their status plain to the audience

Then, in 1937, he published a lecture (given the year before) called Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics. In it, he argued successfully that the poem Beowulf had value not just as a repository of Anglo-Saxon language and northern European history that could be used to cross-reference other references to history It was also a poem of literary merit. This essay continues to be fundamental to any modern study of the poem. His own translation of the poem was published a few months ago.

Current culture equates his name with a series of blockbuster adventure movies, but long after those have fallen out of favor, his academic work will still be fundamental to future scholarly endeavors.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Getting Titles, Taking Wives

This is the story of a man who got everything he wanted...and possibly more than he deserved.

Ralph de Stafford was born 24 September 1301, eldest son of the first Baron Stafford, Edmund. Edmund died in 1308, and Ralph went to live with his mother and her new husband, joining the retinue of his maternal grandfather (for whom he was named, Ralph, 2nd Lord Bassett.

Sometime around 1326 he had married Katherine Hastings, a knight's daughter. With her he had two daughters, both of whom lived long enough to get married to knights.

At the age of 26 (in 1327) he was made a knight banneret* and fought in the wars against Scotland. He later helped to free Edward III from the control of his regents, his mother and her lover Roger Mortimer. Earning Edward III's gratitude for this and for later distinguished military service, he was made Lord Stafford by 1336 and served in Parliament. He was later (1341) made Steward of the Royal Household, and even later (1345) Seneschal of Aquitaine. These honors are indicative of the king's favor later in his life, but far earlier he had earned the friendship of Edward. The proof of this is seen in episodes involving his second wife.

We do not know when Katherine died, but it must have been prior to July 1336, because he was remarried by that time—despite opposition from his second bride's parents. Margaret Audley, daughter of Hugh de Audley, the 1st Baron Audley, was born about 1318. She was abducted by Ralph for the purposes of marriage—or perhaps for the purposes of financial gain, since she was worth £2314 per year. Ralph's estates were worth less than one-tenth of his new wife's. Her parents brought their objections to the king, who forgave Stafford's actions, approved the marriage, and appeased Margaret's father by making him an earl, the 1st Earl of Gloucester.**

In 1350, Edward decided to grant several new titles to reward military service. He created an earldom for Ralph, making him the 1st Earl Stafford, and granted an annual payment to him of 1000 marks (a mark was 2/3 of a pound).

Because of his and his wife's wealth and titles, their children (two sons and four daughters) were prime candidates for marriage in the eyes of others. They all married well, none of them having to abduct their spouses. Ralph died 31 August 1372.

*A knight banneret was a knight who had the right to lead troops under his own banner; Ralph's inheritance gave him that right.
**Technically, there had been Earls of Gloucester before this, but the line had been extinguished.

Friday, August 29, 2014

The Burghers of Calais

The Burghers of Calais, by Rodin
The story of the Burghers of Calais is one of those that "everyone knows" and no one bothers to examine critically. Reported first by Jean le Bel (c.1290 - c.1370) and most famously by Jean Froissart (c.1333 - c.1400; he lived a short time at the court of Edward and Philippa and spoke highly of them both), it tells of the result of a siege in Calais during the early stages of the Hundred Years War.

Edward, right after the Battle of Crécy, laid siege to Calais. Philip VI of France could not help, and Calais had to capitulate to avoid starvation. Edward said he would refrain from punishing the city for holding out against him if six of their leaders would sacrifice themselves to him, appearing before him with nooses around their necks. The story gores that Edward was in his rights to hang them, and that no one could persuade him otherwise. No one, that is, until his wife, Queen Philippa of Hainault, spoke to him. She entreated him to mercy, and he relented and set the six burghers free.

The legacy of this anecdote is that the six burghers (whose names are known; they were led by Eustache de Saint-Pierre) were strong and steadfast patriots, that Edward was within his rights to execute them, and that only his love and admiration for his wife's feelings turned his heart and inspired him to mercy.

Rather sweet, actually.

But likely a misinterpretation of the facts of the case, caused by propaganda created by the original chroniclers. Appearing with nooses already around their necks was a common form of public penance, and such a public ceremony took place once the outcome were already complete. Exchequer records of the time show that Eustache de Saint-Pierre received money from Edward, suggesting that there were behind-the-scenes negotiations designed to make everyone feel better about moving forward after this incident. In this regard, the burghers were not brave souls standing up to the King of England; they were beaten men who were agreeing in public that he had won and they were now promising to be subservient.*

History loves seeing brave and defiant underdogs, however, and the reputation of these "common men" standing up to Edward is not likely to be changed in any history books. In Calais now you can find a famous statue of the Burghers of Calais by Auguste Rodin, created in 1899, the commemorates the incident.

*For more, see Les Bourgeois de Calais: Essai sur un Mythe Historique ["The Burghers Of Calais: An Essay On A Historical Myth"], by Jean-Marie Moeglin of the Sorbonne. It is a very detailed analysis of the history and legacy of this story (I, personally, however, still want to believe that Philippa had some part in softening Edward's heart—even though her intervention was likely superfluous. I guess I'm a romantic.)

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Philippa of Hainault

Philippa of Hainault,
finally becoming Queen of England
Philippa of Hainault has been mentioned as a minor part of the story of the Battle of Cassel, and as the person who introduced the herb rosemary to England. She was born on 24 June 1314, the daughter of Count William I of Hainault and Joan of Valois.

When she was only 12 years old, she was promised in marriage to Edward, Duke of Guyenne. This was an important betrothal, because Edward would one day become King Edward III of England. The marriage took place in 1327—sort of—when Edward sent the Bishop of Coventry to marry her by proxy and cement the relationship. Edward became king on 1 February 1327, and the second ("actual") marriage was celebrated on 24 January 1328. She was not crowned a Queen right away, however. The country was still in the hands of Edward III's regents, his mother Queen Dowager Isabella and Roger Mortimer, the lover she had taken. Isabella was not keen to have another queen in England, so Philippa's coronation did not take place until March 1330 when she was already six months pregnant with Edward, the Black Prince.

Philippa's gentle ways were much loved by the English citizenry; rather than bring a retinue of servants, she maintained only a few of her countrymen and embraced the English in the palace. She urged Edward to focus on England's commercial opportunities, especially the textile industry (which she knew something about because of Hainault's success in this area).

She also fulfilled one of the main functions of a queen admirably: she bore Edward 14 children, nine of whom died before she did, including her eldest, Edward the Black Prince. The descendants of her children would ultimately contest the throne in generations to come, creating the 30-year period of hostility known as the Wars of the Roses.

She and Edward were married for 40 years and held up as an exemplary couple as well as exemplary individuals. (True, Edward had an affair with one of Philippa's ladies-in-waiting, but this seems to have caused no public difficulty between him and his queen.) She died on 15 August 1369

Philippa is especially known for an episode involving problems between Edward and the Burghers of Calais. I'll tell you about that tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Occupy Cassel

Lower classes revolting against taxation and economic unfairness is as old as taxation itself. In 14th century France, a situation arose that brought most of the country into conflict, and involved a pope and England as well.

Battle of Cassel, from a manuscript in the
Bibliothèque Nationale of France
In the 1320s, the Count of Flanders was collecting taxes for the King of France, Charles IV. Residents of several communes, including Cassel, gathered under the leadership of a Flemish farmer, Nicholas Zannekin, and refused to pay. Under Zannekin, a coalition of farmers and peasants captured several towns, including Ypres and Kortrijk, in which they found and captured the Count of Flanders himself. At this point, Charles IV had to intervene; in February 1326, the Count was released and the Peace of Arques was agreed upon.

That, however, was not to last. Revolts resumed. Charles asked Pope John XXII to place Flanders (except for the aristocracy) under Interdict, denying sacraments to the rebels. The clergy of Flanders were divided: do they follow the dictates of their pope? Is it fair to do so, since some felt the pope in Avignon had become a puppet of the king? Or do they not  enforce the Interdict because, if they did, the peasants might turn on them and imprison or kill them?

In 1328, realizing how precarious his position was, the Count fled from Flanders to France, where he appealed to the new king, Philip VI (Charles having died on 1 February), for military aid. Of course, Philip's claim to the throne had been disputed by King Edward III of England (for reasons too complicated to discuss here). Edward having been rejected by the French aristocracy in favor of Philip, it was feared that he would ally himself with the Flemish rebels. When Edward was betrothed to Philippa of Hainault, whose father was an ally of King Charles, the fear of an English-Flemish alliance was put to rest.

In fact, Philippa's father, Count William I of Hainault, was on of the leaders of the French army that was sent to quell the Flemish rebels once and for all. The French army, with military support from several dukes, Austria, and the King of Navarre, brought 12,000 troops and 2500 mounted knights to Cassel where Zannekin and 15,000 men had taken over. On 23 August 1328, Zannekin himself was killed in the Battle of Cassel and the uprising was finished for good.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Pirate Monk

The defeat of Eustace the Black at the Battle of Sandwich,
from Matthew Paris
Eustace Busket was born about 1170 near Boulogne on the northwestern coast of France, in a high-ranking family. A younger son with few prospects of inheriting, he went to Toledo in Spain where he studied magical least, that was his reputation, and it served him well in his later career.

After Spain he went home and became a Benedictine monk. By 1202, he had become seneschal and bailiff for Count Renaud de Dammartin of Boulogne. In 1204, accused of improper conduct, Eustace fled Boulogne and became an outlaw.

He turned to piracy, and terrorized the English Channel for his won gain and sometimes in the employ of others. He was hired by King John of England to command 30 ships in order to harass Philip II of France. John had to outlaw Eustace when Eustace started raiding English villages, but soon pardoned him because he needed his help.

His biography* tells us that Count Renaud allied himself with John against Philip and poisoned John's mind against Eustace, who then offered his service to Philip in 1212. John was having plenty of trouble in his own country, and when the barons rose up against John, Eustace supported them, even bringing Philip across the Channel to join them in their revolt.

Eustace took part in many sea battles, his final one being the Battle of Sandwich on 24 August 1217, when the ships of Philip d'Aubigny's English fleet surrounded and captured him. He tried to buy his way out of danger, but they were having none of it. Matthew Paris tells of his beheading at sea (pictured above).

*You can check it out here.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Patron Saint of Comedians

Icon of St. Genesius, commissioned
by the Fraternity of St. Genesius
There are several saints named Genesius in early Christian history: Genesius of Alvernia, Genesius of Béziers, Genesius of Rome, Genesius of Cordoba, Genesius Sciarensis (also known as Ginés de la Jara). They are likely to be made-up names, springing from misunderstandings and the desire to have a local version of the original Genesius, a very early and popular martyr.

The earliest story we have about Genesius is in the Acta Sanctorum ["Acts of the Saints"], attributed to St. Paulinus of Nola:
Genesius, native of Arles, at first a soldier became known for his proficiency in writing, and was made secretary to the magistrate of Arles. While performing the duties of his office the decree of persecution against the Christians was read in his presence. Outraged in his ideas of justice, the young catechumen cast his tablets at the feet of the magistrate and fled. He was captured and executed, and thus received baptism in his own blood.
He is believed to have been beheaded (the quickest and surest way to execute someone). This would have happened in 303 CE, in Arles in southern France. He is often referred to as Genesius of Arles (which distinguishes him from all the "copycat" saints). Later, a church was built for him in Rome, after which he became also known as Genesius of Rome, on the assumption that he was a Roman martyr.

How did he come to be the patron saint of comedians (and actors and entertainers in general)? Through fiction. A 6th-century legend of Genesius Sciarensis (who likely had no independent existence and is merely a literary duplication of the original Genesius) tells that Genesius was a comedian who, in the middle of performing an anti-Christian satire, became moved by the material and converted to Christianity; he was beheaded for this conversion.

Ginés de la Jara (mentioned above) is the Spanish version of Genesius; scholars analyzing the origins of his cult recognize the likelihood that he is synonymous with the earlier Genesius, partially because the two saints have the same feast day, 25 August.

A Fraternity of St. Genesius works toward the "renewal of culture" and its importance in the modern world.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Gisela of Hungary

Window at Cathedral of St. Michael
in Veszprém, Hungary, where Gisela is buried
Gisela (985 - 1065) was mentioned as the wife of King (later Saint) Stephen I, founder of Hungary. She was an important person in the christianization of Hungary and, as the daughter of Duke Henry II  of Bavaria, she was a link to Western Europe, becoming a part of which was one of Stephen's political goals.

She also had an interesting connection to England. When Edmund Ironside was defeated by King Cnut, his sons were sent abroad for safety and wound up in Hungary under the protection of Gisela. One of the sons died young, but the other, Edward Ætheling, was considered a rightful heir to the throne of England. (Known in England as Edward the Exile, he was recalled to England by the childless Edward the Confessor, who hoped to have in him a clear successor; within days of his arrival in 1057, he was dead, possibly killed by the powerful Godwins, who wanted their Harold to take the throne.)

When Stephen died in 1038, Gisela was forced to leave Hungary in the civil strife that followed. She became the abbess of a convent in Passau, in southern Bavaria in Germany. She lived there until her death in 1065.

She was buried in St. Michael's in Veszprém, Hungary, and venerated as a saint. An attempt at canonization failed in the 1700s, but she was labeled Beatus, Blessed Gisela. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Geert Groote

A 19th century depiction of Geert Groote's Brethren of the Common Life
In Latin he was called Gerardus Magnus, but when he was born (in October 1340) in the Dutch city of Deventer, he was called Geert Groote. He was sent away to study, first at Aachen, then at the University of Paris where he studied theology, nominalism, canon law, medicine, astronomy, and even a little magic.

In 1362 he became a teacher in Deventer, where his success and reputation encouraged him to adopt a lavish lifestyle, until a fellow student, Henry de Calcar, made him see the inappropriateness of this. Groote started to change in the early 1370s, inclining toward mysticism and a more humble life. In fact, he gave his worldly goods to the monastic Carthusians and started preaching a life of repentance.

He gathered a small band of followers who called themselves Broeders des gemeenen levens [Dutch: "Brethren of the Common Life"]. The Brethren did not take vows, but merely gave up their possessions to live in a community where they devoted their waking hours to mass, religious reading and preaching, and manual labor. Meals were eaten as a group, with Scripture read aloud. It had all the hallmarks of a monastic life without the need to be clergy. They founded schools; Nicholas of Cusa attended one.

Before he died (20 August 1384), he organized some of the Brethren who wanted a more "regular" life into Augustinians; he died before this plan was complete, but his disciple Florens Radewyns established a monastery at Windesheim that became the center of up to 100 monastic houses called the Windesheim Congregation.

Groote promoted a style of piety now referred to as Devotio Moderna ["Modern Devotion"]. It was a search for inner peace based on self-deprivation and silent meditation on Christ's Passion. One of the students in his school, Thomas à Kempis, was inspired to write The Imitation of Christ, a work that (I believe) has never been out of circulation since the 15th century.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Two Dates for Hungary

St. Stephen I, King of Hungary
Today's date is important in the history of medieval Hungary for two separate events decades apart.

First, it is the anniversary of the founding of Hungary as a kingdom in 1000 CE.

Originally it was just a principality in the Carpathian Basin of Central Europe, established just prior to 900 CE. The Hungarians were semi-nomadic, pushing westward in their search for more territory. The westward push was halted by Holy Roman Emperor Otto I at the Battle of Lechfeld* on 10 August 955. This convinced the Hungarians to settle down where they were.

There was internal strife in Hungary, however. When the ruling probe of Hungary, Géza, died, his brother Prince Koppány claimed the right to rule.  This claim was challenged by Géza's son, Vajk, who had been baptized a Christian and taken the name István (Stephen). Stephen wanted to turn Hungary into a European Christian kingdom. Koppány wanted to adhere to the traditional tribal ways. Forces loyal to each clashed in 998 where Stephen, whose Christian connection brought him the support of Bavaria, prevailed. Koppány was cut into 4 pieces and the parts sent throughout the kingdom as a sign of how troublemakers could expect to end up.

On Christmas Day 1000, Stephen I was crowned King of Hungary with a crown sent to him by Pope Sylvester II, establishing Hungary as a kingdom and country in its own right. Stephen turned out to be a great friend to the Roman Catholic Church, which leads us to the second reason this date is important for Hungary.

In 1083, Stephen I of Hungary was canonized as St. Stephen. He established the presence of the church in Hungary very throughly, with six bishoprics and three monasteries and penalties for not following Christianity. Hungary became a safe route for pilgrims traveling from Western Europe to the Holy Land.

Sadly, no children by him and his queen, Gisela of Bavaria (also known as Gisela of Hungary), survived, and upon his death there was civil war. His reign was a time of peace and a golden age for the spread of Christianity in Central Europe. His feast day, 20 August, is also a holiday in Hungary celebrating the founding of the country.

*Curiously, this was the second Battle pif Lechfeld; in the first, fought in 910, Hungarians defeated a Frankish army, but failed to establish dominance in the region.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Alphonso Psalter

Page from the Alphonso Psalter (BL 24686)
depicting King David playing his harp; at the
bottom are David (left)  preparing to sling a
stone at Goliath (right)
King Edward I had 16 children by Eleanor of Castile (and three by Margaret of France after that). His ninth child was Alphonso, made the Earl of Chester. Alphonso was named for his godfather and uncle on his mother's side, King Alfonso X of Castile. Despite being the third son, Alphonso was named as his father's heir because of the early death of his older brothers.

Alphonso, who was born 24 November 1273, was engaged to marry Margaret of Holland, daughter of Count Floris V. In preparation for the wedding, a beautiful psalter (an illuminated copy of the Book of Psalms) was being prepared as a wedding gift. Unfortunately, Alphonso died on 19 August 1284,* and the psalter was left unfinished, only to be completed 10 years later for the wedding of his sister Elizabeth to Margaret's brother, Count John I of Holland.

The Alphonso Psalter is 9.5 inches tall and 6.5 inches wide, and it sits in the British Library today (designated 24686). It is considered the first major work of the "East Anglian style" of gothic illumination. The East Anglian style is what we often picture today when we think of illuminated gothic manuscripts: filled with border illustrations that are entertaining and distracting rather than directly enhancing the text.

Besides the psalms, it includes obituary information for many members of King Edward's family, the Athanasian Creed, and the litany of the saints (a prayer that invokes all the saints).

*730 years ago today. Alphonso's younger brother, Edward, was the only surviving son of Edward, and became Edward II.

Monday, August 18, 2014


Diagram of the layout of a bastide. [source]
Say you are a king who has conquered a wide territory. Most of it is uncultivated, unused, and therefore is not generating income for anyone from whom you can demand taxes. It is wilderness, home to wild animals and lawless men. How do you turn this to an advantage?

That was the situation faced by King Edward I in southwest France when he controlled Gascony: hundreds and hundreds of square miles with no one in sight. His solution was bastides. A bastide was, quite simply, a village.

Villages don't just spring up from nowhere. Over time they spontaneously develop at sites where it was advantageous to be: where two roads crossed, or at a ford in a river, or a natural harbor on the coast, etc. But if you wanted to fill the wilderness with villages, you had to spend money. Edward created one bastide, Baa (now vanished, but named at the time for the Bishop of Bath), by buying the land from the lord of Blaye for £547 in 1286.

Edward would assign one of his trusted men to oversee the building and layout of a bastide. They were generally built around a central marketplace, constructed with sturdy and attractive arcades. The town surrounding the market was laid out to form a square. Defenses were not necessarily a part of the initial architecture, although Edward II and Edward III added defenses to some later.

The creation of bastides had several benefits. Not only did settlers create the opportunity for rents and taxes, but also the town was a local administrative centers where laws could be disseminated and enforced. Not all bastides were initially welcome, however: one called Sauveterre de Guyenne was delayed because other towns nearby feared the loss of revenue caused by a new town generating its own market supply and demand.

Friday, August 15, 2014

The Gardener Monk

Walafrid Strabo (c.808 - 849) was born in Swabia to a poor family. He studied under Hrabanus Maurus, and became a monk. He entered the court of Louis the Pious as teacher to his son Prince Charles (the Bald). When the sons of Louis warred with each other, however, Walafird sided with Lothair (the losing side). He had to flee to Speyer, but was later reconciled with the winning side, Louis the German.

Once all that was over, he settled down and did a lot of writing, both theological works and on secular subjects. He wrote the definitive Vita Sanctus Galli ["Life of St. Gall"], even though it was 200 years after St. Gall lived. One of the secular poems was Hortulus ["Little garden"] in which he discusses the pleasures of gardening
If you do not let laziness clog
Your labor, if you do not insult with misguided efforts
The gardener’s multifarious wealth and if you do not
Refuse to harden or dirty your hands in the open air
Or to spread whole baskets of dung on the sun-parched soil--
Then, you may rest assured, your soil will not fail you.
Layout of Walafrid's garden
He also described the layout of the garden.

He also revised Einhard's Life of Charlemagne in such a way that it is considered one of the outstanding biographies of the Middle Ages.

As for his theological works, one of the most famous (and useful) has the unwieldy title of Liber de exordiis et incrementis quarundam in observationibus ecclesiasticis rerum ["Book on the Origins and Development of Certain Matters in Church Practice"]. In 32 chapters, he deals with several sacraments and the accoutrements of church services, and church buildings. Along the way, he uses some of the less formal German terms for ecclesiastical subjects. He apologizes for his use of two sets of terms by comparing it to King Solomon's practice of keeping not only peacocks at his court, but also monkeys.

Walafrid died on 18 August.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Three Sacred Treasures

These are often passed off as the Three Sacred Treasures,
the Imperial Regalia of Japan, but they are a collection
of items brought together to represent the Three. The Three
have never been so blatantly exposed to the public eye.
In 1183, when Henry II of England's son, Henry the Young King, died (and the events of a great movie took place), Saladin conquered Syria, and halfway around the world, a sword and a mirror and a jewel were being lost. Loss happened all the time, whether in Europe or Asia, but these items were the Three Sacred Treasures of Japan.

The Three had been used since at least 690 CE for investing the Japanese emperor with the symbols of his authority. They came to represent three virtues: valor (the sword), wisdom (the mirror), and benevolence (the jewel). They continue to be treated that way, although they are not part of a public ceremony: the emperor is invested with these privately, and no definitive pictures exist of the items. The jewel and sword were used in 1989 and 1993 in the ceremony for Emperor Akihito, but they were wrapped and not seen.

They are a symbol of the divinity of the emperor, because they were not made on earth; rather, they were sent here by Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun, with her grandson Ninigi-no-Mikoto, who united Japan and founded the Japanese line of emperors. Unfortunately, the uniting of Japan was not constant. In 1183, the Minamoto clan fought the Taira clan. The Taira clan and Emperor Antoku fled with the Three Sacred Treasures. And then this happened...

Emperor Antoku was only eight years old. His grandmother, as his guardian, tried to prevent capture by throwing herself, and the emperor, and the sword and jewel into the sea. Divers found the jewel, but not the sword. The mirror was captured, but the story goes that a soldier who opened its box was struck blind.

With the loss of the sword, how would any emperor be properly invested? That's when the stories start: that a replica was made, or that the original is in the hands of the authorities, and it was a replica that was thrown into the sea. Perhaps this is why the regalia were shrouded when used for Akihito's ceremony.

Whether what exists is truly the original set is immaterial to historians. During the 14th century, Japan was divided into a Northern and a Southern Dynasty, with each dynasty claiming an emperor. Since the Southern Dynasty possessed what was claimed to be the Three Sacred Treasures, historians award them the legitimacy of government, and count those emperors as the "real" emperors.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Problems of Pope Paschal

Pope Paschal II speaking to Anselm of Canterbury
On 13 August 1099, a Cluniac monk from northwest of Rome named Ranierius was named Pope Paschal II, following Pope Urban II. He sat the chair of Peter until 21 January 1118—a long stretch compared to many popes.

Like other popes, he had to deal with the controversy over investiture; in his case, specifically, he weighed in on England's trouble between King Henry I and Archbishop Anselm of Canterbury, finding the same solution later settled in the Concordat of Worms: agree that the pope names clergy and confers religious titles, but the king of England can confer secular titles and grant land.

As for the relations between Paschal and the Holy Roman Emperor: Henry V proved to be more difficult in some ways than his father had been, even marching an army into Italy against Paschal over the Investiture Controversy. Paschal had to agree to give up all properties and possessions it had received since the days of Charlemagne. Only for this would Henry give up his "rights" of investiture.  The agreement was to take place in February 1111, but the Romans objected very strongly to a German army trying to change the status quo: they revolted, and Henry retreated, but not before capturing Paschal and 16 cardinals! The pope was imprisoned for two months; a rescue mission by Robert I of Capua with 300 men failed. Paschal was released after agreeing to allow Henry to invest priests and bishops. (Months later, with Henry safely back across the alps, a council and Paschal would excommunicate him for his actions.)

Paschal also had the opportunity during his reign to unite the Catholic (Western) and Orthodox (Eastern) churches; Emperor Alexios I was willing. Paschal, however, laid down the condition that the pope be seen as the ultimate ruler of all churches throughout the world, and this the Patriarch of Constantinople would not agree to.

One of Paschal's appointments in 1112 was of a priest named Erik Gnúpsson to be Episcopus Groenlandia regionnumque finitimarum ["Bishop of Greenland and nearby regions"]. Norseman had settled Greenland in the 10th century, and there was another land to the west called "Vinland," which was almost certainly Newfoundland. This gives Paschal the privilege of having appointed the first bishop of the Americas. (Gnúpsson left for Vinland in 1121 and never returned, alas.)*

*Vatican and Icelandic records both mention this; see These Stones Bear Witness, by Richard White for more on the Norse presence in North America.

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