Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Like Father, Like Son

When King Edward I of England was a teenager, he chose to side with his father's critics. His father, Henry III, refused to speak to his son once the immediate crisis was over, but he needed Edward as his heir, so eventually Edward became king.

When Edward's son, Edward Caernarvon, was young, he, too, chose to oppose his father, angering the king so that he refused to speak to his son, "exiling" him away from home (but not far). Here is what happened.

The young Edward had accompanied his father on military campaigns, even negotiating with Scottish leaders on the king's behalf. When his mother died and his father re-married (to Margaret, the sister of King {Philip[p IV of France), the young man got along with his stepmother and his two half-brothers that the king had with her. (Later, as king, he even gave them titles and financial support.)

But he was profligate in his ways. Even when he was made Prince of Wales in 1301 (shown in the illustration) and granted the earldom of Chester, giving him his own source of income through taxation, he spent too lavishly. He was criticized as being too much addicted to gambling, especially "pitch and toss" (which we now call "pitching pennies," in which players toss coins at a mark; the one whose coin lands nearest the mark wins all the coins). He was also criticized for sleeping late and keeping the company of harlots (curious, considering later accusations about his behavior with his close friend, Piers Gaveston).

The prince clashed with one of his father's closest fiends and royal treasurer, Bishop Walter Langton, over his financial support. The king sided with his treasurer (he later made Langton executor of his will), and the details of the clash were so serious that the prince and his companions were banished from the court and orders were given (on 14 June 1305) to the Exchequer to refuse any requests for funds by the prince. The precise nature of the clash with Langton is unconfirmed. One record states that the prince had trespassed on lands owned by the bishop and hunted deer; when found out, he abused and insulted Langton.

Would just an insult be enough for what turned into a six-month banishment and financial deprivation? It is possible: Sir William de Braose just a few months later was accused of "contumelious words" against royal judges during a court case, and was given a sentence that was said to be "similar to the king's son." So possibly King Edward and the courts took a very dim view of verbal assaults. There are also—and no one who has learned anything about Edward II would be surprised—hints that the original trespass involved the prince's companion, Piers Gaveston.

Was Gaveston such a bad influence that his presence would make things worse? If he were in the prince's household, he must be a person himself of some standing. Let's take a look at Piers Gaveston next time, and try to separate fact from fiction.

Monday, January 30, 2023

Edward Caernarvon

Edward Caernarvon (princes were named for the location of their birth) was born 25 April 1284 to Edward I and Eleanor, Countess of Ponthieu. Although their fourth son, his older brothers John and Henry died prior to Edward's birth, and Alfonso died a few months later. Edward senior had conquered Wales in the previous year, and there is speculation that he chose Caernarvon Castle for the birth to symbolically link Wales to the English royal family, making the younger Edward "their prince." He was given the title "Prince of Wales" in 1301, the first non-Welsh ruler to be called so.

His tutor was Sir Guy Ferre, who gave him a keen interest in horses, both riding and breeding. He also enjoyed hunting, and one of the first books on hunting, The Art of Venerye, was written by Edward's royal huntsman.

Edward's household had books in French and Latin, but we can't be certain he read and wrote those languages. He would have been raised speaking French, and for his coronation he chose to take the oath in French, although a Latin version was available.

He also took a great interest in music, and was a patron of musicians and entertainers during his reign. He enjoyed the Welsh crwth, a proto-violin, and as king sent one of his people, Richard the Rhymer, to learn how to play it. Contemporary authorities did not approve of his love of buffoonery, and Edward's later appointment of Walter Reynolds as an archbishop is said to be due to Reynolds' skill as an actor.

His youth, like that of his father, made some observers question whether he would make a good king. Also, like his father, he went through a period when he took sides in a problem, causing the king to refuse to speak to his son and heir. That dispute, and why King Edward was "forced" to start speaking to his son again, will be explained tomorrow.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Curing Disease

The Royal Touch was not just for scrofula, nor was it just a simple touch.

Epilepsy was another disease that would bring folk to the king for healing; and like scrofula, it was a disease whose symptoms were irregular and could end spontaneously. It was actually King John who started the practice of blessing rings on Easter Sunday and hand them out as a cure for epilepsy.

Speaking of handing things out, Kings Edward I, II, and III of England would give a gift of alms to anyone who traveled a long distance to see them (as well as tokens as part of the Royal Touch ritual). It was not a huge sum, but also not an amount you'd stick in your pocket and forget. Because records were kept of royal expenses and alms, those reigns have accurate data on how many people received alms.

We know, therefore, that the reigns of the Edwards averaged about 500 healing rituals per year. Edward I "healed" as many as 1736 in one high-yield year, whereas Edward III only touched 136 one year. Keep in mind that the Third spent a good amount of his reign attacking France during the Hundred Years War, so he wasn't always available at home. Edward II did not spend much of his time in battles, and there was a lot of variation in his annual healing numbers.

The process was also slowed down during Edward II's reign (1307 - 1327) because it was more formalized:

The sick individual was brought before the king and then kneeled in front of the monarch. The king touched the face and cheeks of the afflicted person while a chaplain announced that "He put his hand upon them, and he healed them." The chaplain’s words referred to a passage in the Gospel of Mark 16:18 in which Jesus, speaking to his disciples after the resurrection, suggests that the disciples will have healing powers. Many people believed that the disease was brought on by sin, so prayers were central to the ceremony. [link]

The afflicted would then be given a "touch piece," a gold coin that could be worn around the neck to continue to keep them healthy. The illustration shows the touch piece given by Henry VI (reigned 1422 - 1471). The generosity of the gold coin and the Royal Touch together would enhance the reputation of the king as well as reinforce the notion of divine authority.

So if Edward II wasn't away at war, he could have endeared himself to his people with lots of healings. What was he doing with his time? That's a complicated question, but we will see what we can do about it tomorrow.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Scrofula and Magic

Scrofula, characterized by swellings on the neck, is caused when someone inhales air contaminated with mycobacterium. The bacteria infect the lymph nodes in the neck. In the Middle Ages it was called "The King's Evil" because of the belief that the Royal Touch could cure it. The word scrofula itself is a diminutive of the Latin scrōfa, "breeding sow," presumably because pigs were subject to the disease.

Treatment did not have to rely on the Royal Touch. Figwort was recommended because of the "doctrine of signatures."

The doctrine of signatures dates from antiquity; Galen and Dioscorides, who were sources of medical knowledge used for centuries afterward, describe the disease. It claims that herbs resembling parts of the body can be used to treat ailments of that body part. Figwort, when dug up, showed tubercles that resembled the swellings of the lymph nodes. Therefore, figwort was used to treat swellings such as scrofula.

Paracelsus (mentioned here) in the 1400s explained this thinking as "Nature marks each growth ... according to its curative benefit." A 17th century botanist, William Coles, justified the doctrine of signatures theologically, believing that God made 'Herbes for the use of men, and hath given them particular Signatures, whereby a man may read ... the use of them."

But back to figwort. When the urge came to carefully catalogue the natural world with scientific names, figwort became scrofularia nodosa because of its previous reputation regarding scrofula.

The Royal Touch was more than just a touch and for more than just scrofula. We'll look at some other diseases tomorrow.

Friday, January 27, 2023

"The Hands of the King...

...are the hands of a healer." This line from The Lord of the Rings sounds fantastical, but as a first-rate historian and medievalist, J.R.R.Tolkien knew well the idea that the laying on of hands by a king (or queen: that's Mary I of England in the illustration) could heal illness. This was supposedly possible because of their "divine right" as anointed kings.

The King's Touch, or Royal Touch, was the practice of laying on of hands by English and French monarchs that was believed to cure diseases, particularly the King's Evil, scrofula. Hippocrates thought scrofula was a disproportionate accumulation of phlegm.

Scrofula, a disease of the lymph nodes, is now called mycobacterial cervical lymphadenitis, and is associated with tuberculosis. It usually manifests as a painless swelling in the lymph nodes of the neck caused by infection. It almost disappeared in the second half of the 20th century, but the appearance of HIV/AIDS has caused a small resurgence.

Where did the Royal Touch start? A 16th-century physician thought it began with Clovis I (reigned 481 - 511) after he accepted Christianity. Many other origins are offered. King Philip I of France (1052 - 1108) was perhaps the first time a king's touch was requested to heal a stubborn disease, so the French say. King Henry I of England (1068 - 1135) was appealed to for the same reason, although some scholars believe Edward the Confessor (reigned until 1066) was the first. The French denied this, and claimed that it started with Henry in England only because he was imitating Philip. What we can say is that records under Edward I show the practice of a penny given to sufferers afterward was established by 1276, two years after Edward's arrival back in England as king. Some say this means it was probably introduced by Edward's father, the pious Henry III, who was also a huge fan of Edward the Confessor and might have patterned his behavior after that monarch and therefore—but let's just stop there because there's too much speculation to reconcile all the conflicting theories. The record of tokens handed out suggests that Edward "touched" about a thousand people a year.

Scrofula became known as the "King's Evil" because an appeal to the king was considered the best recourse. John Gaddesden (1280 - 1361) recommends it as treatment for scrofula and other skin diseases. Eventually, a special gold-plated coin would be given by the king to the sufferer to be worn around the neck to ward off the disease. The truth is, the disease rarely was associated with death, and often went into remission on its own, supporting the notion that the king's touch cured the patient.

The Royal Touch persisted into the Renaissance, even though there was plenty of evidence that it did not inevitably lead to a cure. The formula in France added the line Le roi te touche, Dieu te guérisse ("The King touches you, may God heal you"), taking the burden of healing off the king's shoulders (or hands) and placing the possible healing on God. Louis XIV of France touched 1600 people on Easter 1680. Voltaire wrote that a mistress of Louis XIV died of scrofula despite "being very well touched by the king." Louis XV stopped the practice by not calling sufferers to be touched at Easter 1739. Louis XVI touched 2400 at his coronation in 1775, and Charles X touched 121 at his coronation in 1825, but there are no records of the Royal Touch being used after that date.

But where does the word scrofula come from? That's a slightly trickier question that will lead us into sympathetic magic and the Doctrine of Signatures. That's for another day.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Edward I - King

Lord Edward returned from the Ninth Crusade to a country that had not had a king in residence for a couple years. His father, Henry III, had died 16 November 1272. Word reached Edward in Sicily while he was recuperating from an assassination attempt in the Holy Land. Instead of traveling directly to England, however, Edward made a "good will" tour.

He went through Italy, visiting Pope Gregory X, whom he had known as Teobaldi Visconti on Crusade. He visited his uncle, Philip I, to receive homage from him. He in turn traveled through France and paid homage to Philip III for Edward's domains there. He spent time in the Duchy of Gascony, suppressing a rebellion and taking stock of his feudal possessions.

He arrived in England on 2 August 1274, almost two years after Henry's death. He had already been proclaimed king upon his father's death, so the coronation on 19 August was a formality. Once he was officially crowned, he removed the crown, announcing his intention not to don it again until he had reclaimed all the lands that his father had lost.

As in Shakespeare's Henry V, "the courses of his youth promised it not." The stories of a callow teen gave way to an able administrator and a devoted and gentle family man, though not without bouts of temper and intimidating behavior. He was a good and chivalrous soldier, and a pious churchgoer with particular devotion to the Virgin Mary and Saint Thomas Becket. Despite his piety, however, he still clashed with the archbishops of Canterbury and with the popes over the question of taxing the churches.

He had a particular interest in the legend of King Arthur, visiting the "grave" of Arthur and Guinevere at Glastonbury Abbey to underscore to the Welsh that Arthur was not returning to lead them. He held two Round Table events with feasting and tournaments.

He maintained correspondence with the Mongol Empire—still smarting from their overthrow in the Middle East by the Mamluks—promising to go on Crusade again with them if the pope approved. Further Crusades were also inhibited by potential wars on the continent, in which Edward took a hand in negotiating truces. When a Tenth Crusade might have been implemented, news came of the fall of Acre in 1291, and crusading fever abated.

Mindful of the unrest during his father's reign that led to rebellions and the Second Barons' War, he undertook an overhaul of the administrative systems, and ordered an inquest of the entire country, inviting complaints about abuse by royal officials. The resulting records, called the Hundred Rolls, were like a second Domesday Book, and became a foundation for deterring what rights and possessions were held by others, and which should revert to the Crown. (This was not without controversy, since it seemed to be done largely to increase Edward's possessions.)

Because these posts are supposed to be short and digestible snacks rather than feats, things like a constitutional crisis, war with Wales, disputes with Scotland, expelling the Jews, and overhauling the coinage can all be left for their own self-contained posts. To wrap up this drawn-out biography of Edward I, I will tell you that on 6 July 1307, suffering from dysentery while traveling northward to deal with Robert the Bruce, he was awakened by his servants to rise for the day, and died in their arms. He was 68 years old.

If only he had someone who could have used the royal touch on him, he might have been healed. I will explain that reference tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Edward I - Crusader

In 1271, Edward, Duke of Gascony, went on a continuation of the Eighth Crusade that is sometimes called the Ninth Crusade and sometimes Lord Edward's Crusade. The Eighth had been started in 1270 by King Louis IX of France, but Louis died of dysentery when he reached Tunisia in Northern Africa. The Treaty of Tunis that followed resulted in freedom of Christians to preach and build churches in Tunisia, and the Crusaders went home.

To the east, the Mamluk sultan of Egypt, Baibars, defeated the Mongols and began attacking Christian crusaders, who appealed to Europe for aid. Edward and his brother Edmund were going to join Louis at Tunis, but were delayed because of their father's uncertainty whether he wanted to join (he was 63 at the time; I can personally understand his reluctance). The brothers reached Tunis mere days after the signing of the treaty, and opted to stay in Sicily at the invitations of Charles of Anjou, Louis' younger brother, while deciding what to do next.

Other crusaders went home, but Edward chose to continue, arriving at Acre on 9 May 1271 with a mere 1000 men, 225 of whom were knights. It was currently under siege by Baibars, who abandoned the siege rather than have the European military surround him. Baibars chose other goals, such as capturing Montfort Castle. Edward wrote to Abaqa Khan, current ruler of the Mongols, to promote a Franco-Mongol Alliance. Abaqa replied in the affirmative, asking for a date when they could jointly attack Baibars and the Mamluks.

Edward launched some raids with little effect, but the arrival of his brother Edmund with reinforcements emboldened him to larger attacks, especially when joined by local Templar, Hospitaller, and Teutonic Knights as well as 10,000 horsemen sent by Abaqa. The Mongol forces, however, after some victories and successful looting, retreated back across the Euphrates and left the Europeans to their own devices.

(Side note: during this time, Teobaldi Visconti, papal legate who had been to England to aid Henry in the Second Barons' War and had chosen to accompany Edward on Crusade, received word that he had been elected Pope; he returned to Rome as Gregory X. He also reached out to Abaqa Khan.)

In December 1271, lacking the Mongols, Edward and his forces took Acre after repelling another Mamluk siege. Edward realized the forces needed to maintain Christian occupation in the Holy Land were too meager. Understanding that peaceful negotiation was the only way forward, he managed a truce with Baibars of 10 years, 10 months, and 10 days. One month later, there was an assassination attempt on Edward, wounding him and delaying his return to England.

Edward went to Sicily in September 1272 to further recuperate.

There was never another Crusade to the Holy Land, despite discussions and requests in that direction. The Mamluks continued to re-take the areas that the Europeans had occupied. In 1275, Abaqa wrote to Edward, asking him for help against the Mamluks. Edward said he would consider it if the pope called for a Crusade, and thanked Abaqa for his earlier help. Abaqa wrote with the same request, apologizing for not providing more aid in 1271.

In 1291, pilgrims from Acre killed 19 Muslim merchants after being attacked by brigands. This was used as a pretext to attack Acre, the last Crusader state. With Acre out of Christian hands, the era of Crusades and a political presence in the Holy Land was over. The illustration is an 1835 oil painting titled "The Return of the Crusader" but often called "The Last Crusader," by Karl Friedrich Lessing.

But that was all in Edward's future. While resting in Sicily, he received news that his father had died. He began his journey back to England, where he was crowned King Edward I on 19 August 1274. We will see what kind of king he was next time.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Edward I — Civil Warrior

The future King Edward I (pictured here with his wife Eleanor and showing his reported blepharoptosis, drooping left eye) did not always support his father, the current King Henry III. Henry's barons were looking for a restoration and extension of Magna Carta, reducing the powers of the Crown.

Edward was sympathetic to some of the barons' desires for reform; at least, he sided with them for a time, possibly just looking to accelerate his accession to the throne. Henry prevailed against them, however, and his statements at the time show that he felt Edward had come under bad influence, and father and son were eventually reconciled.

When Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester, led the barons in open rebellion, the Second Barons' War* (1264 - 1267) saw father and son working together. The barons wanted a council of barons to make decisions, not the king's favorites; not an awful idea, and Montfort did intend to broaden Parliament to include commoners, but their other "needs" were questionable. For one thing, Montfort's sons and supporters massacred hundreds of Jews in Worcester, Winchester, Lincoln, Cambridge, and Canterbury in order to eliminate debts owed to them.

Grievances against Henry were not without merit, given his increasing demand for taxes. Some of these demands had nothing to do with running England: for instance, he needed funds to attack Sicily on behalf of Pope Innocent IV.

Reformers versus royalists met at the Battle of Lewes in May 1264, at which Henry III was captured by Montfort's forces when Edward left his father's side to pursue some retreaters. Montfort took charge of government for about a year, but his governmental changes did not sit well with all of his followers: the nobles with him did not approve of his attempt to give power to commoners in Parliament. Loyalties shifted, and a year after Lewes, Edward's now superior forces defeated and killed Montfort at the Battle of Evesham.

Edward acquitted himself well as a leader of the royal forces to win his father's freedom, and although his earlier empathy with the reformers and Montfort could easily have led him to accept Montfort's reforms and become the next king (although with less executive and legislative power), he stayed true to his father's rule.

With order restored and the relationship between father and son on firm footing, it was time for Edward to prove himself in other ways. When he was 29 years old, he pledged to go on Crusade. This Ninth Crusade (1271 - 1272, sometimes called "Lord Edward's Crusade") is known not only as an extension of the Eighth Crusade, but also as the last Crusade ever actually to reach the Holy Land. But that's a topic for next time.

*The First Barons' War was alluded to here.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Edward I — The Leopard

When Alfonso X of Castile looked northward over the Pyrenees and cast his eye on Gascony, Henry III of England decided he needed to do something. He took his son, Edward, and a retinue, and traveled south and made Alfonso an offer: marry your half-sister Eleanor to my 15-year-old son who will be King of England when I'm dead. Alfonso decided that was a good reason to abandon any claims on Gascony.

So on 1 November 1254, Edward and Eleanor of Castile were wed in the Abbey of Santa Maria la Real de Las Huelgas in Castile, to great fanfare. They moved to Gascony, which had been granted to Edward, at the end of the month, where they were warmly received. Edward styled himself "prince and lord" although he did not receive any revenue from the Duchy, since Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester, had been made lieutenant of the place by Henry.

For the first few years of his marriage, Edward was close to the Savoyards, his bride's family. Starting in 1257, he became close to the Lusignans, his father's half-brothers, who were disliked by the ducal houses of Gloucester and Leicester. Neither group of foreigners was considered a welcome influence on the future King of England, and back home there was a growing hostility to Henry's policies and Edward's choice of mentors.

Moreover, according to chronicler Matthew Paris, Edward's youthful behavior was entirely unsuitable to a future king. He tells stories of Edward's retinue (remember, we are talking about a teenager raised to be ruler over a country) attacking a young man whose ear was cut off and eye gouged out at Edward's command. The Song of Lewes, celebrating Simon de Montfort's victory at Lewes, describes Edward as a leopard: a leo, a proud and fierce lion, but also a pard, unreliable. He is painted as changeable, frivolous, and known to get rowdy with his peers and trash places.

He also tended to take sides in disputes, rather than follow his father's policy of trying to mediate between factions. When the Provisions of Oxford were drawn up in defiance of his father's wants and threatening the influence of the Lusignans, Edward spoke out against the Provisions, but when the same Barons rebelled against Henry a few years later, Edward sided with their leader, Simon de Montfort, seeing de Montfort's influence as his best chance to keep Gascony under control.

In November of 1259, Henry went to France to negotiate peace with France over disputed territory, and Edward started [putting his own people in positions of power, siding with the Barons and planning with them to put his father in captivity when he returned. When Henry, forewarned of the events back home, returned many months later, he sent messages to his loyalists to meet him in London with the military force they were obligated to provide him. He came to London and met with the barons' leaders, but refused to see his son.

1264-1267 saw civil water in England, specifically the Second Barons' War against Henry. What did Edward do? I'll tell you tomorrow.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Edward I — The Child

When Henry III's eldest son was born on 18 June 1239, he gave him an unusual name. Edward was an Anglo-Saxon name, in a court that spoke Norman French. Henry, however, was a great fan of the reputation of Edward the Confessor and celebrated his feast day (Edward had been canonized in 1161) lavishly.

Medieval biographer Matthew Paris reports that the joy at the heir's birth turned sour for some, as Henry made it clear that the messengers sent throughout the realm to announce the birth were supposed to return laden with gifts for the occasion.

Kings and queens did not raised their own children, and Edward was ensconced in his own chamber at Windsor before the end of that summer, and put in the care of Sybil de Cormeilles, who had been Queen Eleanor's midwife and her husband, Hugh Giffard. He also had two wet nurses, Alica and Sarah; the "staff" for the royal babe was rounded out by Walter de Day, a clerk appointed to assist Giffard.

Because it is good for children to have playmates, Edward was joined by a cousin (whose mother died in 1240), two sons of a crossbowman in the king's service, and the son of one of Henry III's knights, Nicholas de Molis.

In October 1242, when Edward was three years old, his father ordered the constable of Windsor to provide two tuns* of good wine for the children, because he had heard that they had no good wine to drink. Also that year the sheriff of Gloucester was ordered to procure 15 lampreys to be sent one by one to the prince's "household." Scarlet robes with fur trim followed for Edward and his one-year-younger sister Margaret, and saddles made with two seats, so they could be taken on rides.

Edward grew tall and athletic, ultimately reaching 6'2" and earning the nickname "Longshanks"; nevertheless, he was frequently ill in his youth. In 1246 he was so ill while the whole family was traveling that his mother stayed with him for three weeks at the abbey where they were housed. The following year Henry asked all religious houses to pray for his health when he fell ill yet again.

We know nothing of his education, but he of course spoke French. He had some knowledge of Latin and could speak at least some English. Whether he could read or write is unknown; he would have had scribes for all his thoughts and proclamations. It was more important that he learn martial skills and knowledge of politics. He was armored and weaponed at the age of 17 for his first tournament in 1256, and remained unscathed despite reports of many injuries. It is uncertain whether his skill or his opponents' respect for his status won that day.

His first years were financed by the Exchequer, but eventually he would be granted the revenues from lands the king held. One of his first grants was the Duchy of Gascony, although he gained no revenue because the 6th Earl of Leicester, Simon de Montfort, had been made its governor.

The Song of Lewes, a Latin poem celebrating Simon de Montfort's victory against Henry and Edward at the Battle of Lewes, refers to Edward as a leopard. It was not meant to be complimentary, which I will explain in the next post.

*A tun was the equivalent of four hogsheads; a hogshead equalled 63 gallons.

Saturday, January 21, 2023


North of the Pyrenees in what we now think of as southwestern France is an area the Romans called Aquitania from the Latin aqua, "water," because of the many rivers flowing from the Pyrenees. We think. The people living there were the Ausci, mentioned by Caesar (whose men conquered it in the 50s BCE), and so the name of the land might have come about to mean "the land of the Ausci."

Skipping a few centuries and some Roman name and border changes, we find the Royal Frankish Annals refer to the "Wascones" in the area. The w=g linguistic link (William=Guillaume, warranty=guarantee, warden=guardian) that we find suggests that the Wascones turned into Gascons; hence the name Gascony.

In 1152, Henry II married Eleanor of Aquitaine. Aquitaine was by this time a much larger area that included the Duchy of Gascony, and was now in the hands of the kings of England. Henry's grandson, Henry III, personally went to the Duchy of Gascony to look into mismanagement by the not-always-faithful-to-Henry Simon de Montfort. While in the area, Henry arranged the marriage of his son Edward (later King Edward I) to Eleanor of Castile, daughter of Alfonso X who had been making claims on Gascony, since it was adjacent to his own territory. Alfonso renounced his claims as part of the marriage contract, and aided Henry in dealing with rebels living in the Pyrenees.

Even today Gascony is France's most rural area; then it was so little populated that Edward I decided it needed peopling, and he sent his men to create villages called bastides so that the land was not going to waste.

In 1328, when King Charles IV of France died, his nearest male relative was the son of his sister Isabella, King Edward III of England. Having the English king inherit the throne of France—although perfectly legal according to Salic Law—did not sit well with France, and so they ruled against it. Edward objected, the Hundred Years War began, and in 1453 Gascony became permanently French.

I want to offer a brief biography of Edward I next.

Friday, January 20, 2023

Medieval Mercenaries

Although we associate the feudal system in the European Middle Ages with a way in which knights and soldiers were provided for the king's army, over time mercenaries became a more efficient manner to maintain a military force.

The benefit for the country was that villages did not have to send their men and boys away and miss their labor on the farms or risk them not returning from war.

Those who made a living as mercenaries did not do so because they just answered an advertisement. Their evolution was organic and initially unwelcome, because they were not faithful to a lord or land and often took what they wanted from the locals. The Third lateran Council of 1179 condemned mercenary bands. King John's use of mercenaries led to their banishment in Magna Carta. They continued to exist on the continent, however, and the problem grew in the 1300s.

Shortly after the start of the Hundred Years War, bands of soldiers left in Brittany started harassing the countryside. With immediate battle over and no financial support from the crown, they began living off the land, which started as hunting and using up natural resources, but also turned to ransacking villages for supplies. Villages began paying soldiers "protection" money to leave them alone. The captain of a company could become quite wealthy, and maintain "control" over a large area. The most famous was John Hawkwood, whose career as a mercenary made him a celebrity in Italy. (The city-states of Italy preferred to hire soldiers from outside their territory, so that no powerful military force had any familial ties in the city-state that would challenge the political structure.)

These companies came to be known as routiers (German Rotten "gangs"; French routes "road"), and were foot soldiers such as archers, spearmen, and crossbowmen rather than mounted knights. They were often referred to as "Englishmen" in France because they were part of England's forces in the Hundred Years War, but the first groups of routiers were actually Gascons from the southwest part of France that had been in English hands for generations. (To be fair, they could also include English, Spaniards, and Germans.)

Even when a company of routiers was being paid to fight, however, their loyalty was to a paycheck, not the lord, and so their willingness to lay down their lives in battle was questionable. Nor did they have any loyalty to a particular country: the captain would move them to wherever they could be paid to fight or be paid to not pillage. Roving bands of routiers generally disappear from the landscape by 1400.

Those Gascons, however, and the Duchy of Gascony had a long history that is worth looking at next.

Thursday, January 19, 2023


The feudal system could include military duties in exchange for tenancy on the land; forty days was a typical obligation. This might be simply guarding the castle or being an escort, but could also mean going to war. The term for this was "knight-service." A knight in this case refers to a mounted soldier.

The idea was brought to England by William the Conqueror when the value of mounted (and therefore expensive) knights became clear. When William parceled out England to his nobles, who then parceled out their states to their vassals, the smallest unit was kept large enough to furnish the taxes/funds for one knight's fees.

This same system of dividing and sub-dividing the land, called "subinfeudation," was established in Ireland when it was conquered by Henry II. If land was subdivided "too far" then each smaller parcel had to provide the appropriate fraction of a knight's fee to go toward furnishing a knight.

There were other variations over time. In England, only the king was due knight-service, whereas in France other lords could invoke it from those to whom they granted land (giving them opportunities to create their own armies). In the 1100s terms of service were extended, but could also be avoided by scutage, paying a tax to the lord. Scutage made it easier to gather an army, because one could simply collect the money and then hire mercenaries. By 1300, mercenaries were becoming the chief manner of maintaining a military force.

The term for this was routier, and I'll tell you more about them tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023


Simply put, possession of land equalled power. The laws of primogeniture and ultimogeniture existed to keep estates together. There were places, however, in which these laws did not apply and entirely different practices took place.

Gavelkind was a system of partible inheritance; that is, estates were not kept together at the holder's death but distributed among the heirs—excuse me, among the male heirs. It was used in Kent, even after the Norman Invasion (through special arrangement), although the aforementioned other methods of inheritance applied elsewhere in England.

The holder of the land, if he were 15 years old or older, had authority to pass on part (or all) of his land and create his own mini-fiefdom. He could divide it any way he liked in his will. If he died intestate, however, other rules applied:

  • His widow, if they had no children, got half the estate (the other half went to the crown); if she remarried, she lived with her new husband's estate and lost her deceased husband's land.
  • In the case of existing children, the land was divided equally among the male heirs. If a son had died and left grandsons, they would divide their deceased father's share.

Gavelkind existed in Ireland and Wales, and this may explain the name. Traditional Irish law divided the father's land among all the sons. Best guess is that it is from the Old Irish phrase Gavail-kinne, "family settlement." In Wales this was called cyfran, an ancient tradition passed down orally until Hywel Dda, a king who ruled most of Wales by the time of his death around 950, codified the legal system. Cyfran stated that all sons would inherit equally, even those who were illegitimate. This was great for the heirs, but bad for the land. It diluted wealth and power, which some might consider good and democratic, but it also increased competition among siblings whose estate was a fraction of the one on which they grew up. In 1535, the Laws in Wales Acts replaced gavelkind with primogeniture. Actions replacing gavelkind are referred to as "disgavelling."

I said I'd discuss Knight-service as well, but it deserves its own entry, so...next time?

Tuesday, January 17, 2023


Recent posts discussed practices of inheritance such as primogeniture and ultimogeniture. There was also, evolving from the feudal system, a practice that could pre-determine how real estate was passed from one person to another independent of genealogy.

Copyhold was a form of land ownership that lasted into modern times in England. Its name is simply derived from giving the landholder a copy of the land title, rather than the original deed. The legal owner was called the copyholder (even though the copy was physically held by his tenant).

Copyhold existed until the Law of Property Act of 1925, even though feudalism had disappeared by the early 1500s. As in feudalism, the tenant in a copyhold had responsibilities. These varied and could include maintenance of the land, service to the lord, or rent paid in money or goods. The tenant could have rights to natural resources such as gathering wood, or hunting on the land, and could be granted a certain number of animals allowed to graze on the common areas.

Copyhold could be passed on in two ways (of course the tenant could simply give the copy back to the lord and move away). The tenant could include the tenancy in a will, but the lord could recall the copyhold if he felt the inheritor could not fulfill the responsibilities involved. The holder, however, had opportunities to ask to "sell" it to another by arranging with the lord to return it and have it granted to another of the original holder's choosing.

There was also "Copyhold for lives." In this arrangement, the copyhold was actually granted with more than one person attached to the deed. A primary tenant would have the expected rights and duties, and upon his death it would automatically be passed on to the next in line. This created ahead of time a queue for how the land would be passed along. It was possible to change names in the succession by paying a fine to the lord, but this method made it more difficult for the original tenant to change his mind about his successor.

There were a few different systems to the west, in Ireland and Wales. Tomorrow I'll talk about gavelkind and knight-service, and then we'll move on.

Monday, January 16, 2023

Inheritance by the Youngest

We are accustomed to linking inheritance with a preference for the eldest, even without strict primogeniture involved. In New York State in 2021, if one dies intestate, their possessions are distributed equally among all members of the immediate family. Someone in the family, however, needs to be designated as executor, and the law offers the job to the siblings according to age.

There have been situations in the past, however, when the youngest member of the family had preference. The technical term is ultimogeniture, and was also known as junior right or postremogeniture.

The Bible notes that Isaac, Jacob, and David were youngest sons, as was Joseph with his coat of many colors. Hesiod's Theogony describes both Cronus and Zeus as the youngest of their respective families. There is nothing in Hebrew or Greek law that suggests ultimogeniture was practiced, but they saw some significance in being the youngest.

More recently, in Medieval England, ancient English boroughs sometimes practiced ultimogeniture. It was found in rural areas with Saxon citizens as opposed to Norman French-oriented areas where primogeniture was practiced.

No legal writing exists that explains the benefit of ultimogeniture, but we can conjecture, and that leads me to the picture I've included here. The Amish practice ultimogeniture. As each son reaches an age where he wants to start his own family and farm, the question arises of what he should do. His father, however, is still hale enough to farm, and is not going to turn his own farm over to one of his children. Arrangements are made to find land for the son. Elder sons might even go work for someone else or take on another trade. By the time the youngest son is ready to have a family and farm, the father is likely now old enough to retire and turn the farm over. (Handled properly, this can also avoid estate taxes.)

That might explain some of the historical reasoning for ultimogeniture: the simple fact that the father maintains the estate for as long as he can, the elder sons cannot wait around for him to die, and so they go off to find their own careers, and ultimately the youngest is still around when the father is ready to retire. In my own family history, a house that was owned from 1837 until the 1960s was taken over by the youngest person in each succeeding generation once the father died; the widow stayed in the home while the youngest son raised his own family there.

Ultimogeniture—which was all about transferring property from one generation to the next—did not preclude partible inheritance, the dividing of the land (making sure that elder sons got something as well). Partible inheritance was not welcome in the feudal system, where the lord wanted to maintain control over an intact estate. There was a practice, however, that allowed transfer of land rights that was not quite feudal and was not based on genealogy. Next time, I'll explain copyhold.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Who Should Inherit?

Primogeniture is actually a "generic" term for different systems of inheritance. The desire by human beings to create a system that determines where a deceased person's possessions goes produced a few options.

The commonly held understanding is that it means the first-born male heir—or eldest male descendant living—inherits. This was called agnatic or patrilineal primogeniture.  One variation on this—agnatic seniority—was used by the later Ottoman Empire, in which the eldest male sibling of the deceased ruler had the right to take over. The Ottomans and the Kievan Rus followed this, where succession passed through the siblings first and then back to the eldest son of the deceased.

What about females in the line of succession? Absolute primogeniture (also called equal or lineal) recognizes the eldest child regardless of sex, and did not exist until 1980, when Sweden amended its Act of Succession. Several monarchies (Netherlands, Norway, Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg) have since changed their laws to allow inheritance from the eldest child, no matter their sex.

Queens Mary and Elizabeth from England's history existed because there were no male heirs; had there been any, those women would not have been chosen. This is now referred to as "male-preference" primogeniture. England changed to absolute primogeniture in 2013, a change that was simultaneously adopted in all related Commonwealth countries.

Matrilineal primogeniture exists, though it is rare. The Balobedu nation of South Africa are ruled by the Rain Queen, and succession passes to eldest daughter; males were completely excluded until 2021, when the late queen's son became the Rain King.

Male-centered primogeniture most likely arose from the need early on for a leader to be a military leader and to fight other tribes while females raised children. Also, a law that created a clear line of succession would help to prevent sibling arguments that could end in civil war. Younger sons went into military service or the Church. Also, the Bible offered the example of Isaac's son Esau being owed the birthright as elder over Jacob (and foolishly selling it to his younger sibling). In the Middle Ages, possession of land was a crucial part of the feudal system. Keeping large tracts of land intact was beneficial to the person at the top, and primogeniture (and entail, keeping the land together) was efficient.

Salic law, laid down in 500 and the basis of Frankish law, forbade women from inheriting, but also allowed partible inheritance, which meant estates could be divided to keep everyone happy. By Salic law, Edward III, as the eldest son of Isabella, the sister of King Charles IV of France, should have inherited the throne of France upon Charles' death in 1328. Nobles and prelates of France decided that inheritance through the mother was no longer appropriate, and denied Edward his right to the throne, providing the catalyst for the Hundred Years War. Semi-Salic law allowed women to inherit in the absence of any males. Quasi-Salic law refers to allowing inheritance—in the absence of appropriate males—not by a woman, but through her to her son.

Curiously, there was also something called ultimogeniture, or junior right, which is a tradition that allows inheritance by the youngest. Why would that be? I'll explain next time.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

The Kingdom of Jerusalem

The Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem (sometimes called the Frankish Kingdom of Jerusalem) was a Western European creation established after the First Crusade (1099 CE) and lasting for about two centuries.

Its first king was Godfrey of Bouillon, and the title passed through different European dynasties, including that of the Hohenstaufens from 1228 until 1268 and the death of young Conradin, the Duke of Swabia.

Conradin inherited the title when he was two years old, though Pope Alexander IV felt he was too young to assume the role. At his death, he had no heirs, having spent his "productive" years in war and getting beheaded at the age of 16.

Conradin's death raised the question of legitimate inheritance of the title. The most appropriate link went back to the descendants of his great-great-grandmother, Isabella I of Jerusalem (1172 - 1205). There were enough descendants that disagreements arose, however. Hugh of Brienne was the technical heir due to the laws of primogeniture. Hugh III of Cyprus, however, had actually been managing the kingdom as regent for Conradin and made a sensible claim that he was the appropriate next King of Jerusalem. A third candidate, Maria of Antioch, said that she was the closest blood relation to Conradin (as his grandmother's first cousin) and had the right to the title. She received nominal support from the Knights Templar (unusual choice, but there is speculation that the Knights wanted her to be a weak ruler so they could manage more of the territory), but everyone else rejected her claim; she moved to Europe and "sold" her claim to none other than Charles of Anjou, the man who beheaded Conradin!

Hugh of Brienne and Hugh of Cyprus were cousins, and had been raised together, but their competing goals to be named King of Jerusalem damaged their relationship. The High Court of Jerusalem noted that their relationship to Conradin had been genealogically identical; the decision was to choose the elder of the two, and that was Hugh of Cyprus, who was about five years older (born about 1235). The Kingdom of Jerusalem was now in the hands of the Lusignan dynasty, who managed it until its final dissolution in 1291 with the fall of its capital, Acre, to the Mamluks.

While writing this post, I have discovered that in 1,111 posts since May of 2012, I have never mentioned "primogeniture" before or explained it. I will correct that omission on the morrow.

Friday, January 13, 2023


The Hohenstaufen family came from unknown origins to be Holy Roman Emperors from 1138 to 1254 (with a break of four years between 1208 and 1212). Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV made Frederick of Hohenstaufen a Duke of Swabia from 1079 until his death in 1105. Duke Frederick married Henry's daughter Agnes; their sons were heirs to the Empire when Henry's son Henry V died childless in 1125.

On 25 March 1252, Conrad IV of Germany and Elizabeth of Bavaria had a son, Conrad. When his father died two years later, the child became Duke of Swabia, King of Sicily, and King of Jerusalem.

Regents held Swabia for him. Jerusalem was managed by a relative in Cyprus. Sicily was handled by his father's half-brother Manfred, who usurped the throne for himself in 1258. The child, being raised by his uncle the Duke of Bavaria and called by the diminutive Conradin, didn't have the resources to hang onto Sicily.

Because of his tender age, Pope Alexander IV forbade him becoming Holy Roman Emperor—even though Hohenstaufens were Guelphs, supporting the authority of the pope over that of the Holy Roman Emperors—giving it instead to Alfonso X of Castile. His other royal titles were respected, however. The Guelphs of Florence invited him to come and re-take Sicily from Manfred, but his uncle refused the invitation since his ward was still a child. Manfred was killed by Charles I of Anjou, who then tried inserting himself further into Italian politics. Envoys from Italy were sent to Conradin, asking for his help against the Angevin incursion. Having just become a teenager, Conradin accepted the offer, crossed the Alps, and declared his intention to reclaim Sicily.

He received moral and military support from many quarters, and in July 1268 his fleet defeated that of Charles. In August, however, at the Battle of Tagliacozzo in central Italy, Charles proved a more clever commander and defeated Conradin's army of Italian, Spanish, Roman, Arab, and German troops. Conradin escaped capture, fleeing first to Rome and then to Astura, where the lord of Astura, Giovanni Frangipani, offered him refuge. Giovanni was not his friend, however; he turned Conradin over to Charles, who had him beheaded on 29 October 1268. He was the last Hohenstaufen, so with his death the dynasty ended.

What happened to his titles, since he left no heirs? Sicily was gone. Swabia was claimed by Frederick, the son of Conradin's Aunt Margaret on his father's side. (Frederick also "claimed" Sicily, but that was not going to achieve anything.)

The "Kingdom of Jerusalem" was a more complicated situation—as it always had been. Let's go there next time.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

The Frangipani Family

There are a number of families in the 21st century who have become wealthy through commerce and use that wealth to exert their influence on politicians through massive donations. The Middle Ages was no different, except that some times they simply eliminated the middle man and managed things directly.

The Frangipani family in Rome, for instance, possessed the Colosseum from 1200 and fortified it as a castle, using it to control approaches to the Lateran Palace, and therefore could protect (or imprison) the pope and papal offices. They lost control of it to the growing Annibaldi family in the mid-13th century (who had popes Gregory IX and Alexander IV on their side). When the papacy moved to Avignon (1309 - 1377), access to the Lateran wasn't so important, Roman population declined, and the Colosseum was abandoned.

The Frangipani were Guelphs, more interested in supporting the pope's power, rather than Ghibellines, who supported more authority for the Holy Roman Emperor. They claimed ancient roots, but they do not appear in records prior to 1014. They involved themselves in many papal conflicts, such as the Investiture Controversy between Gregory VII and Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV. They reached their peak of influence when they got Pope Honorius II elected.

There were many branches of the family—such as in Friuli and Dalmatia—but the Roman branch ended in 1654 with the death of Mario Frangipani.

One of the least admirable actions by a Frangipani was in 1268 when Giovanni Frangipane betrayed the last of the Hohenstaufen dynasty, the teenage Duke of Swabia. I'll tell you about poor Conradin tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Reviving the Roman Senate

After the Ostrogoths took Rome in 476 under Odoacer, the Senate continued managing affairs; after all, the "barbarians" didn't want to destroy Rome and its institutions: they wanted to own them and be part of a great empire. Times changed, however, and the power of the Roman Senate faded; Pope Gregory I noted its lack of power in 593. After 603, when records show the Senate arranging some statues to be erected, there are no more references to acts of the Senate.

Rome plugged along with noble families and popes asserting control over politics and public affairs, but after the schism following the death of Pope Honorius II and almost a decade of chaos created by the conflict between Pope Innocent II and antipope Anacletus II, Rome wanted a change. It was actually the brother of Anacletus, Giordano Pierleoni, who promoted the creation of the Commune of Rome in 1143 to curtail the authority of the pope over Rome, no doubt out of revenge for Anacletus.

The first step was dividing Rome into 14 districts (many of these districts had existed for centuries; as Rome grew, new adjacent districts were identified). Four representatives would be elected from each district, creating a new Roman Senate of 56 members who were (ideally) independent of the pope and the noble families who had controlled much of Rome's fate since the end of the 6th century. Their first act was to elect a "first among equals," a patrician. (Classically, this would have been a consul, but that title had noble connotations.) Their choice? Giordano Pierleoni.

The first problem facing the Senate was Pope Lucius II. Elected on 9 March 1144, he was told by the Senate that he had to relinquish his temporal authority over Rome. Lucius asked for help from Bernard of Clairvaux and from several temporal lords, such as Roger of Sicily. When Lucius attacked Rome, his small army lost, and Lucius himself was wounded, dying on 15 February 1145.

The attack was partially blamed on Pierleoni's unsuccessful attempt at negotiating a peaceful accord with Lucius, and Pierleoni was deposed. The next pope, Eugene III, I have called the Homeless Pope. He left Rome to be consecrated at a particular abbey, and was blocked from re-entering Rome by those opposed to papal temporal power.

In 1190, Pope Clement III (not the antipope mentioned here) defused the conflict between Senate and Pope by agreeing that the citizens should elect magistrates while the pope would nominate the governor.

The popes were not the only reason why some felt the need to revive a senate. Noble families with lots of money and relatives in high places asserted disproportionate power. The most powerful of these was the Frangipani family, who involved themselves in many papal choices. We'll look at them next time.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

The Second Lateran Council

When Pope Innocent II (shown here on the left, hanging out with St. Laurence) finally was able to be pope—after the rival antipope Anacletus II died in 1138, and his successor Victor IV stepped down—the Second Lateran Council was called. It had a thousand attendees in April 1139, and determined many policies and practices that are adhered to today.

There had been eight years of schism with the Innocent-Anacletus rivalry, and Innocent needed to assert his authority and replace the chaos of the prior years with some order.

Although Innocent had allowed the antipope Victor IV to resume his title as cardinal, in the Lateran Council all who had opposed Innocent were excommunicated, and especially King Roger II of Sicily, who had not supported Innocent.

Other, less dramatic, decisions by the Council included:

•Bishops and priests should dress modestly.
•Repeated First Lateran's injunction against marriage for priests, deacons, nuns, etc.
•Fixed the times of the Truce of God.
•Prohibition against tournaments and jousts that endangered life.
•Nuns and monks forbidden to sing the Divine Office together.

After this Council, Innocent's time as pope was brief (he died in 1143), and fairly uneventful. As he lay dying, however, a political movement began: the Commune of Rome decided that Roman politics being dominated by papal powers was no longer to their liking. They decided, in the Middle Ages, to revive the political system of the classical Roman Senate. How that worked is a tale for tomorrow.

Monday, January 9, 2023

Reconciling Popes and Others

When Pope Honorius II died in 1130, two popes were elected by rival factions, first Innocent II by a small contingent of cardinals, and then Anacletus II by a larger group of cardinals. Their opposing involvement with the politics of Sicily was mentioned here. Anacletus' popularity with the people of Rome helped him to drive Innocent out of Italy.

Innocent fled to France and the protection (with the convincing of Bernard of Clairvaux) of King Louis VI. He later secured, with the help of Bernard, the support of King Lothair III of Germany (whom he later crowned Holy Roman Emperor). Bernard had written to Lothair, emphasizing the fact that Anacletus' great-great-grandfather was a converted Jew, saying "It is a disgrace for Christ that a Jew sits on the throne of St. Peter's." Innocent also met Henry I of England at Chartres in January 1131 and received his support.

Louis convened a council of French bishops and asked Bernard to make a judgment about the legitimacy of the two popes. Bernard declared Innocent the pope and Anacletus an antipope. Bernard then traveled to Italy to persuade others to accept Innocent. His rhetorical skill convinced Milan to support Innocent. He also reconciled Pisa and Genoa, who had engaged in a trade rivalry for generations, establishing separate Pisan and Genoese areas of maritime influence.

Bernard also went to Aquitaine and spoke to Duke William X, eventually shifting his support from Anacletus to Innocent in 1135.

Despite all of Bernard's efforts on behalf of Innocent, and Lothair's military attempts to depose Anecletus, the papal conflict was not resolved except by the death of Anacletus in 1138. A supporter of Anacletus, Gregorio Conti, was elected Pope Victor IV, but Bernard stepped in once again. Over the course of two months, Bernard convinced Gregorio of the inappropriateness of his papal post, and he was convinced to submit to the authority of Innocent. "Victor IV" became another antipope. Innocent restored his status as cardinal.

After all that, Bernard retired to Clairvaux and devoted himself to writing the theological works that earned him the title "Doctor of the Church." He was called upon to help resolve further conflicts and battle heresy with his rhetorical gifts, and he preached the unsuccessful Second Crusade, giving what has been called "the speech of his life."

He was involved in a great many political and religious conflicts (some of which he might have caused himself) before his death on 20 August 1153. His life was so full of accomplishment that he will no doubt be mentioned in further posts. Presently, however, I want to stick with Innocent II, who convened the Second Lateran Council. It dealt with many topics, and also showed that Innocent's gracious treatment of his rival Victor was a sham.

And that's a story for another day.

Sunday, January 8, 2023

Bernard of Clairvaux

Like many well-known theologians/priests in the Middle Ages, Bernard of Clairvaux was born to a wealthy family. This was in Burgundy in 1090, in the family's manor that still exists today (with modifications) as a convent named in his honor.

One of seven children (six sons, one daughter), he was sent at the age of nine to a school miles away, where he took a special interest in rhetoric and literature. He also developed a special interest in the Virgin Mary, seeing her as the ideal human intercessor between mankind and God. Later in life he would write several works about her, although he did not accept the idea of the Immaculate Conception.

His mother's death when he was 19 years old motivated him to devote himself to a cloistered life. He joined Cîteaux Abbey, a relatively new establishment (founded 1098) for those who wished to strictly live according to the Rule of St. Benedict. When a scion of one of the noblest families of Burgundy chose the monastic life, his example prompted scores of young men to do the same. By 1115, the community had grown large enough that a new abbey was needed, and Bernard was elected to take a group of 12 monks to the Vallée d'Absinthe and found a new one. He named this the Claire Vallée ("Clear Valley"), and the name Clairvaux became attached to him.

Bernard's example was such that all male members of his immediate family ultimately joined Clairvaux, leaving only his younger sister, Humbeline in the outside world. (She eventually got permission from her husband to enter a Benedictine nunnery.) His brother Gerard, a soldier, joined after being wounded; Bernard made him the cellarer, a job at which he was so efficient that he was sought after for advice by craftsmen of all kinds. Gerard of Clairvaux also became a saint.

A rivalry arose between Clairvaux and Cluny Abbey. Cluny's reputation for monasticism and the physical size of its church made it a little proud, and the growing reputation of Cîteaux and Clairvaux rankled. While Bernard was on a trip away from Clairvaux, the Abbot of Cluny visited and persuaded one of its members, Bernard's cousin Robert of Châtillon, to join Cluny. This bothered Bernard deeply. Cluny criticized the way of life at Cîteaux, causing Bernard to write a defense of it, his Apology. The Apology was so convincing that the abbot of Cluny, Peter the Venerable, affirmed his admiration and friendship. Another person convinced by the Apology was Abbot Suger.

At the Council of Troyes in 1128, Bernard was asked by Pope Honorius II to attend and made him secretary, giving him the responsibility to draw up synodal statutes. He also composed a rule for the Knights Templar. Bernard's reputation had grown to the point that he was sought after as a mediator. In the schism of 1130, when there were two popes, King Louis VI brought the French bishops together to find a way forward. The person chosen to make the final decision on which pope was authentic and which an antipope? Bernard of Clairvaux. I'll tell you more about that, and his further successes, tomorrow.

Saturday, January 7, 2023

The Immaculate Conception

The Immaculate Conception is the Roman Catholic dogma that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was free from original sin from the moment of her conception. Some early Church fathers such as Cyril of Jerusalem developed this idea when they compared Mary to Eve, who was created without sin.

The 2nd-century Gospel of James, although not chosen as an official Biblical text, introduced the notion that Mary's birth was special. It introduces Anne and Joachim, Mary's parents, who could not conceive a child. God hears their prayers, and Anne becomes pregnant without intercourse between her and her husband. James claims that, on her first birthday, Mary is blessed by priests who declare that God will bring redemption to Israel through her.

The Council of Ephesus in 431 (mentioned here) gave Mary the title Mother of God. It was difficult to accept that someone so close to Jesus was not herself special in some way, and difficult to accept that she would have engaged in sinful acts.

Mary's conception was being celebrated in the Eastern Church in the 7th century and spread to England in the 11th, promoted by the scholar Eadmer, who thought God's omnipotence meant it was possible Mary was conceived without sin. His Latin summary was Potuit, decuit, fecit, "it was possible, it was fitting, [therefore] it was done."

Bernard of Clairvaux and Thomas Aquinas objected to the reasoning, because if Mary could be born without original sin, then why did we need Jesus as Savior to free mankind from original sin? Duns Scotus argued against them, claiming that being "preserved free from original sin was a greater grace than to be set free from sin." His reasoning was that it was God's grace that "saved" her, not anything inherent in herself. This distinguishes her from the Savior who was free from sin inherently.

In 1439, the Council of Basel declared that the idea of the Immaculate Conception was an opinion consistent with faith and Scripture. The Council of Trent in the mid-1500s, while establishing a proper calendar for saints and feast days, declared that she was exempt from original sin, and shortly after the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on 8 December gained an elaborate celebration.

Despite sketchy scholarship, the idea of the Immaculate Conception of Mary was a very popular idea. In 1849, Pope Pius IX asked the bishops of the Church whether the Immaculate Conception should be enshrined in dogma. Ninety percent supported it, although some pointed out that there was no Scriptural support for the idea. It became official dogma on 8 December 1854, declared by Pope Pius IX.

Bernard of Clairvaux, despite his opposition to the concept of the Immaculate Conception, was especially devoted to Mary and wrote several works about her. He was also a saint, co-founder of the Templars, and a Doctor of the Church for his learning and efforts. I'll tell you more tomorrow.

Friday, January 6, 2023

The Death of an Inquisitor

The picture is misleading, I'm afraid, because the subject of today's post died a natural death, but it is certain that there were plenty of contemporaries who would have been glad to see him executed sooner.

Nicholas Eymerich (c.1316 - 1399) was an Inquisitor General from Catalan who made lots of enemies through his hyper-zealous search for heresy of any kind (according to his opinion). At one point he fled to Avignon and the pope's support when he had gone too far in Aragon.

He returned to Aragon in 1381 and discovered that his rival, Bernardo Ermengaudi, had been named Inquisitor General. Eymerich ignored this turn of events and continued to act as if he were the inquisitor. When he forbade the teaching of Ramon Llull in Barcelona—one of his problems with Llull was the idea of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, which Eymerich did not believe—King Peter IV found out and ordered him drowned, but was persuaded by Queen Eleanor of Sicily to exile him instead. Eymerich ignored the order of exile, because the king's son John was on his side. In 1386, Peter IV died and John succeeded him, which allowed Eymerich to act with impunity.

Remember the term "hyper-zealous"? Eymerich in 1388 declared he would interrogate the entire town of Valencia for heresy, imprisoning the chancellor of the university. This was too far for King John, who freed the chancellor and exiled Eymerich, who took sanctuary in a church for two years until he finally decided to leave and go to Avignon again.

After John's death in 1396, Eymerich returned to the Dominican monastery in Girona where he had his start. He was 80 years old at the time, and so a little less energetic. He lived in the monastery quietly until his death in 1399.

Now, about the Immaculate Conception of Mary: this is something every Roman Catholic in the 20th century grew up knowing. We assume that this concept was established long ago, and so it is a surprise that the 14th century saw it as a controversy. Many Roman Catholics are even uncertain of what it means. What is it, and what did the Middle Ages think of the idea? That's a good topic for tomorrow.

Thursday, January 5, 2023

The Life of an Inquisitor

Ramon Llull's system of philosophy was officially condemned by an Inquisitor General of the Roman Catholic Church, Nicholas Eymerich, a fellow Catalonian—though not a contemporary: Eymerich was born around the time of Llull's death.

He was born in Girona, in Catalonia, and entered he local Dominican monastery while a teenager, learning theology there before being sent to Toulouse and then Paris to further his education. He then returned home to become the theology teacher at the monastery.

His knowledge was so recognized that in 1357 he was named the Inquisitor General of Aragon. In his vigorous pursuit of heretics, he targeted many fellow clerics for small details that he considered blasphemous, earning himself many enemies in the Church. When he decided to interrogate a well-respected Franciscan, Nicholas of Calabria, King Peter IV of Aragon arranged to have him removed from his position in 1360.

The Dominican Order decided that Eymerich would be a good Vicar General, but there was opposition, notably from King Peter IV, who supported a different candidate, Bernardo Ermengaudi. The dispute required the pope to make a decision, but Urban V chose a compromise candidate, Jacopo Dominici.

Eymerich remained an Inquisitor General, further annoying the king by attacking the Ramon Llull's teachings. (One of his objections to Llull was that Llull believed in the Immaculate Conception of Mary while Eymerich did not.)  The king forbade him from preaching in Barcelona, but Eymerich became political, not only ignoring the king's command but also supporting a revolt against him in 1376. When the monastery where Eymerich was hiding was surrounded by 200 horsemen seeking him, Eymerich fled to Avignon where Pope Gregory IX was residing.

While in Avignon, he justified his approach to the position of Inquisitor by writing the Directorium Inquisitorum, the "Directory of Inquisitions" with his definitions of heresies, trial procedures, and proper jurisdiction of the inquisitor. He discusses how to find witches and the actions that are considered parts of witchcraft and therefore heretical: casting salt into a fire, burning bodies of animals and birds, baptizing images, mixing names of angels and demons, etc.

Armed with this clear explanation of why he was right in his actions, he decided to return to Aragon in 1381, only to discover that Ermengaudi had become Inquisitor General in his absence. Ignoring this turn of events, he decided to continue acting as if he were Inquisitor General. This did not work well for him. I'll explain further next time.