Bishops at War: Part 2 of the Ghent/Bruges Conference Report

It’s going to be quick today – I’ve got an article to re-draft and papers to write – but I did want to make some more progress on the Bishops In The Century Of Iron conference I started blogging about before Christmas. After John Ott’s paper I already blogged about, we had the first full panel, the first speaker of which was in fact me, so this blog is probably not the place for an unbiased account of that; but it was in fact the third paper I wanted to talk about.

The paper in question was given by a doctoral student at Ghent, Pieter Byttebier, who was presenting on ‘The Warring Bishop’, how Lotharingian bishops used imagery of violence in their self-presentation. He was arguing, put briefly, that though bishops more-or-less always had to provide military service, even if not fight themselves, there was an increasing trend from the ninth to the eleventh century of bishops presenting themselves in militaristic shades. Violence was ambiguous, but it was an increasingly noticeable part of the toolbox of episcopal self-presentation.

This all sounded perfectly reasonable to me, and I wonder at the underlying causes behind it. The one which occurred immediately, and which I’d like to briefly mention here, is the change in the socio-economic status of warfare. I confess to not exactly being an expert on changing practises of warfare in this period, but I do vaguely remember that it’s getting more and more expensive – Æthelred the Unready, at the end of the eleventh century, raised the heriot payments (a levy of war gear due from his men after death) for a similar reason. If so, might it be that the more elite status of warfare had more to offer bishops vis-à-vis their self-presentation? I have no idea, but it’s a very interesting avenue of investigation, and I look forward to seeing where Pieter goes with it.

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