The volume under review originated in a conference held in Manchester in 2005 to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Max Gluckman’s influential ‘Peace in the Feud’. Though only one of the constituent chapters was originally presented at the conference, the contributors seek to further the themes discussed there, probing our understanding of western (or ‘Latin’) Europe between Late Antiquity and the central Middle Ages. As Conrad Leyser explains in the introduction, the volume aims to move discussion of the period beyond the traditional fetishisation of the state and central authority (which is alternatively held to have collapsed in Late Antiquity or the years straddling the first millennium) and on to matters of religion and society. The inspiration here comes from recent work on the late Roman and Carolingian empires, which emphasises that neither was a monolith—and that daily life was generally dictated by social (rather than political) forces. Put playfully, as Leyser states, the modern British political mantra, ‘Small State–Big Society’ (associated with David Cameron’s Conservatives), is used to explore the years between 300 and 1200. In particular, the aim is to use the Church and social conflict as alternative prisms through which to construct an understanding of developments over these years. Thankfully, ‘Big Society’ proves a rather less vacuous (and elusive) concept when applied historically than in modern politics. Opening the volume, Kate Cooper is able to show how informal episcopal office was (and remained) through much of the fourth century, only slowly (and fitfully) taking on more institutional guises. In a similar vein, David Natal and Jamie Wood then examine conflicts within the episcopate in Late Antique Spain and Gaul, suggesting that these served to structure the Church, both by creating new institutional frameworks locally and by opening the way for external influence from the pope. It was thus out of a complex interplay between ‘centre’ and ‘periphery’ (terms which the authors carefully avoid, it should be noted) that the institutional Church gradually emerged. Helmut Reimitz thereafter takes us into the sixth century, examining Gregory of Tours’ fraught relationship with ‘Frankish’ identity, which was starting to gain currency at this point. There follows a detailed consideration of the Venerable Bede’s thoughts on Church and society by Martin Ryan, adding profitably to more politicised readings of the homilist’s œuvre. Taking us more firmly into the world of secular politics, Paul Fouracre next asks why rebellion (rather than simply revolt) was so uncommon in the early Middle Ages, suggesting that the manner in which courts and regnal politics were constructed left little room for direct challenges to authority. Along somewhat similar lines, Marios Costambeys provides a thoughtful reflection on how not only conflict, but the documents this generated, helped shape society in early- to central-medieval Italy. The focus thereafter turns back to the Church. In perhaps the most original contribution to the volume, Riccardo Bof and Conrad Leyser provide a detailed examination of how divorce and remarriage regulations evolved across Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages, with a particular eye to the later cause célèbre of Lothar II and Theutberga. This neatly sets the stage for Leyser’s own consideration of how the legacy of Gregory the Great influenced the evolution of the Church in the Carolingian and post-Carolingian age, arguing that the memory of the venerable pope informed developments every step of the way. The implications of this perspective are wide-ranging, though it would have been nice to see it developed in greater detail, particularly where the tenth century is concerned (and note that ‘Reccared’ should read ‘Recemund’ at p. 200). Rounding out the volume, R.I. Moore and Stephen White take us into the central Middle Ages, the former tackling the thorny question of popular involvement within the Church between the tenth and twelfth centuries, and the latter providing a critical tour d’horizon of how medievalists have used (and not used) the work of Gluckman on the ‘Peace in the Feud’. Both illustrate the problems of certain revisionist tendencies in scholarship—though precisely where Moore and White themselves stand could have been clearer. Overall, the contributors do a good job of shifting debate away from the state and on to society (and, in particular, the Church) in these years, providing a number of thoughtful new ways of framing developments. As is often the case with edited volumes, the focus is tighter in some contributions than others (those of Natal and Wood, on the one hand, and Bof and Leyser, on the other, stand out). Indeed, the contributions feel rather disparate at times, jumping swiftly and unexpectedly between periods and regions. Thus England only figures prominently in Ryan’s contribution (with occasional asides in Moore’s), while Spain only takes centre stage (briefly) in Natal and Wood’s chapter; one might be forgiven then for thinking that these regions are of little interest—an impression I am sure the editors would not wish to create. Likewise, the twin themes of conflict and the Church are more prominent at some points than others, with many contributions only tackling one of the two. Still, there is much important food for thought furnished by this book, which will repay careful reading (and re-reading). What it may lack in coherency and coverage, it more than makes up for in the timely and searching questions it asks. © Oxford University Press 2018. All rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
The English Historical Review – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 15, 2018
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