As both the Bayeux Tapestry and the modern chess board should remind us, bishops in the Middle Ages regularly rode armed into battle. Craig Nakashian’s investigation of such warriors falls into two parts: an opening discussion of theory, derived from scripture, canon law, chronicles and romances, and thereafter a case-by-case study of individual bishops, from Odo of Bayeux to Peter des Roches. His conclusion boldly restates the long known: that, whatever the theoretical limitations on clerical violence, in practice motive mattered as much as precept. As a result (p. 157), ‘A noble cause (defending the king, pacifying the realm), fought without ostentation, would be treated very differently than fighting to expand one’s own power or unseat legitimate authority’. Likewise (p. 183), ‘Most observers were more horrified by a cleric who looked and acted like a knight during peacetime than they were by one who manfully defended his king during war’. En route, and as we would expect of a reworked Ph.D. thesis, there is much citation from the now vasty deserts of secondary literature, combined with a somewhat less confident visiting of the oases of primary source material. The most useful parts of the book are those that summarise longstanding debate—for example, on the clerical inspiration, and occasionally enforcement, of the peace movement, and on the disjunction between the verses of Matthew (10:34–6 and 26:52) alternatively enjoining or prohibiting resort to fire and the sword. There is a nuanced willingness to acknowledge osmosis between interests today segregated as either ‘secular’ or ‘sacred’. Likewise, there is a recognition that the reformist condemnation of certain behaviours was by no means reflective of real-life behaviour. This would apply to clerical violence, as indeed to nicolaitism and transactions akin to simony. All of this was well summarised, fifty years ago, by Christopher Cheney (From Becket to Langton, 1956, p. 12), warning against any attempt to divide the English bishops into mutually exclusive camps of ‘saints’ versus ‘courtiers’, ‘reformers’ versus ‘maintainers of abuse’. Nakashian is less successful in gauging change over time, and his main contribution to the debate is a finer sifting of known instances. He seems to have read neither Philippe Buc on violence nor Jehangir Malegam on peace—although both of these authors would have offered him the fruits of theory with relatively little of the attendant digestive discomfort. By ending his enquiry with a conspectus of the battling bishops of later medieval England (Anthony Bek, William Melton, Henry Despenser—with no mention here of Lewis de Beaumont or Archbishop Scrope), Nakashian misses the point that the episcopacy of thirteenth-century England danced to rather different instruments to those that played before 1200. Giles de Braose, bishop of Hereford, fought for the barons of Magna Carta, just as Peter des Roches fought for King John. Thereafter, however, in the 1250s and ’60s, and no matter how closely engaged such men as Walter de Cantilupe, bishop of Worcester, may have been in the direction of the baronial programme of reform, no bishop fought either at Lewes or at Evesham. On the contrary, from the 1230s onwards, an archbishop, such as Boniface of Savoy, accused of wearing chain-mail beneath his surplice, invited condemnation or ridicule unknown in the days of Hubert Walter or even of the Cistercian Archbishop Baldwin. Moreover, with the bone-headed exception of Bishop Despenser, most of the warrior bishops of the later Middle Ages sprang from the two northern sees of York and Durham, where violence between English and Scots was both endemic and defensible on patriotic grounds. It is perhaps unfortunate that Nakashian’s study follows so closely after Daniel Gerrard’s Ph.D. on warrior clergy (University of Glasgow, 2010) and in the wake of Lawrence Duggan’s Ph.D., now a book, on Armsbearing and the Clergy in the History and Canon Law of Western Christianity (2013; rev. ante, cxxx , 410–12). What this suggests, I fear, is that certain subjects in medieval history, especially those related to warfare and crusading, are so densely colonised as to risk not just overcrowding but pestilence. It is perhaps no coincidence that these are also fields in which Ph.D. theses rely most heavily on modern translations of medieval sources. In the present instance, the citation of Latin (a stream of examples, but cf. footnotes on pp. 174, 180, 194, 218, 221, 242) suggests less than perfect command. Primary sources are themselves sometimes cited (as with the 1924 New York translation of Walter Map or Francisque Michel’s 1840 translation of Jordan Fantosme) from editions that are far from being the latest or the best. In particular, it is alarming to discover Roger of Howden, pre-eminent chronicler of Angevin England, cited as the author of two texts: a Chronica Magistri (sic) edited by William Stubbs and a series of Annals translated by Henry Riley. It is slips such as this that lead one to question whether we should be doing rather more to train up a future generation of scholarly explorers, at present not always appropriately equipped with languages or rhetorical weaponry (either for preaching or for war). © 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: May 28, 2018
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