Yet More On the Origins of the Peace of God

Recently I was talking to one of my colleagues and expressed the opinion that pretty much everything written on the Peace of God is mad, including my own stuff. I think this is the fault of the material rather than the historians, but it does mean that doing anything involving the Peace can lead you to some very strange places. I say this by way of introduction for more-or-less the region you might imagine: I’ve come up with a theory of the proto-Peace of God’s origins, and it’s not what you might expect.

I’ve written on this blog before that we can’t really think of the actions of Stephen II in Auvergne and Guy of Puy in the Velay in the mid-to-late-tenth century as being ‘the Peace of God’ – that’s far too reified. Nonetheless, I’ve argued that Stephen of Clermont in particular assembled an interlocking suite of claims linking assemblies, oaths, and a discourse surrounding the word pax, peace. Where precisely Stephen got this idea from left me stumped – but something new has turned up.

So let’s turn out attention waaaay to the east, to Lotharingia in the 950s. We’ve recently become familiar with Lotharingia under Charles the Simple, possibly one of the most stable decades of its late- and post-Carolingian history. Most of the rest of the time, Lotharingia is a basket case. Otto the Great, after he came to power in 936, had to face a series of powerful dukes. He got lucky here: the most powerful, Gislebert, drowned after losing a battle in 939; but even after that Otto’s own appointee, Conrad, teamed up with Otto’s son Liudolf in a rebellion in the early 950s. After Liudolf and Conrad had been defeated, Otto appointed his own brother, Archbishop Bruno of Cologne, as duke of Lotharingia.

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A twelfth-century Ottonian genealogical table. Bruno is in the top row on the right. (source)

Bruno’s reign went… okay. There were a few more rebellions, the most noticeable being that of Reginar III in the late 950s which is often although incorrectly adduced as the context for Gerberga’s Kriegsfahne which we’ve spoken about here before. However, for the most part Bruno was able to handle the situation in Lotharingia reasonably well. Bruno’s combination of secular and religious authority had a distinctly viceregal tint: Bruno’s biographer has Otto the Great tell the archbishop and newly-appointed archduke that ‘both priestly religion and royal power swell in thee’, and Bruno does seem to have had a direct share in royal power. It is not therefore terribly surprising to find that Bruno’s first actions when he got to Lotharingia were to summon the magnates of the region to Aachen, and tell them regie maiestati et sue ipsorum fidei pollicitationes nullas preponerent – i.e., that they should not abandon their oaths to him and his brother. If they did violate the ‘peace of the Church’, he would deal with them most severely.

Our source for this is the Vita Brunonis, written by a cleric from Cologne named Ruotger. Ruotger seems to have known Bruno, and certainly to have admired him – part of the text’s mission appears to have been to defend Bruno from the people who thought that his wielding of worldly power was distinctly dubious. He wrote shortly after Bruno’s death, apparently under the patronage of his successor Folcmar, who had also been closely connected with the dead archbishop; and Henry Mayr-Harting has characterised the text as aiming at ‘some kind of official status’.  It is therefore striking that the closest work we have to Bruno’s circles, we have assemblies, oaths, and (a theme which occurs throughout the Vita, not just in the bit I’ve quoted above) a discourse of peace.

There’s no reason historians would have picked up a link between Bruno and the Peace of God. Bruno’s activity looks like (one type of) Ottonian governance in action, and the Peace is so very far away. But the fact that this was all taking place in the late 950s is important, because if ever Stephen of Clermont were going to encounter Bruno of Cologne, it would have been at exactly this point. First, Stephen and Bruno almost certainly met at the coronation of King Lothar, very shortly after the events described above. We know Bruno was there, and it’s very probable Stephen was because he appears to have interceded for a charter which was confirmed at a placitum in 955. Second, there were also ongoing links between the western Ottonians and the Auvergne during this very period. I have never been happier for hyperlinks than in the following sentence, but we have already seen both Bruno and other major Church figures with ties to the Ottonian court such as Amblard of Lyon playing a major role in negotiating peace in the Auvergne in the latter part of the 950s.

What I think is happening here, then, is that as regional supremo in his own patch, Stephen is taking Bruno as a model to be imitated. Absent the Ottonian royal context, this is a lot weirder-looking, and the Vita Amabilis implies that Stephen was as if not more controversial than Bruno in seeking to claim worldly authority. But it does mean we can, perhaps, put the proto-Peace into what we already know about tenth-century governance rather than have it spring fully-formed out of the forehead of one brilliant bishop.

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