I’ve now had the time to read Geoff Koziol’s new book on the Peace of God (called, with agreeable straightforwardness, The Peace of God) a couple of times, and spend a week thinking it over. I only got hold of it about a fortnight or so ago so this isn’t my final, definitive opinion or anything; but I reckon I can put together a coherent-enough first impression.
It’s a bit of a disappointing book. That’s a bit of an unfair opinion, because it’s not like it’s bad or anything, but the last two books Koziol wrote were game-changers, even if you don’t agree with them, so simply putting out a book that’s perfectly fine is a bit deflating. It must also be said that the book is literally lightweight as well – here’s a photo of all three of Geoff’s books to show you what I mean.
Anyway, it’s divided into three chapters, ‘Before the Peace of God’, ‘The Peace of God’, and ‘Institutionalising the Peace and Truce’. The first covers previous ideas of peace in Late Antiquity and the Carolingian empire and the Aquitanian context in which the Peace emerged. The second looks at what the Peace of God said, how it changed region by region, how the Peace of God worked, and how it was enforced. The third (which might in fact be a game changer if you work on twelfth-century law, I dunno) largely looks at late eleventh and twelfth-century institutionalisation of the Peace, and I’m basically going to ignore it in what follows because I don’t have much to say about it.
There are – for me at least – three big takeaway arguments from the first two chapters. First, the Peace of God genuinely was something new and different to the way the Carolingians talked about peace and violence. Second, it worked by regulating the lordships which proliferated alongside castles in a way which worked because it relied on the self-interest of lords. Third, although it was a consistent approach, it was very adaptable and needs to be approached in each region in that region’s own context.
Many of these points are very well made. Point one, for instance, is largely a response to Elisabeth Magnou-Nortier’s argument that the way the Church talked about its enemies didn’t change much from Late Antiquity onwards, and it’s able to express convincingly the point that, yes, there was actually something which had changed between 500 and 1100. Equally, Point 2 seems reasonable, at least in part.
However, there’s a lot in here which is dealt with oddly, where his actual argument doesn’t match his admirable statements about approach, or which are arguably wrong.
The context is a big one. Yes, every iteration of the Peace of God needs to be looked at from its specific context – it’s a great point; but a lot of the time he either doesn’t do this, or does and doesn’t get it quite right. In the latter case, his description of Aquitaine immediately before the Peace of God emerged, in the second half of the tenth century, relies heavily on the work of Christian Lauranson-Rosaz, and so reproduces much that Lauranson-Rosaz got wrong as well as some of his peculiar biases. In particular, Bishop Stephen II of Clermont doesn’t count as regional supremo because he’s just a bishop and not a ‘real’ lay ruler. The opposite view is quite findable out there in print – Anne-Hélène Brunterc’h published an article about this thirteen years ago, for instance. So what we have is a Peace of God emerging in a fragmented political vacuum which may in fact be illusory. In the former case, Koziol deals with lordship in chapter 2 as basically undifferentiated; but (as you can read in the last blog post, actually) even ‘a southern Aquitanian region with lots of castles’ has lots of different ways of being locally in charge depending on whether you’re in the Limousin or Quercy. Some more contextualisation of what ‘lordship’ meant would have put words into practice; and, sure, it would have meant a bigger book, but this book may be too small for its topic anyway.
Equally, Koziol is, quite simply, wrong when he talks about how there were very few aristocratic assemblies in tenth-century Gaul, and the Auvergne was unusual for the number it had. What is true is that aristocratic assemblies in tenth-century France – or immediately thereafter, actually – have never been studied. (As such, anyway; there’s a literature about local courts, especially in the Mâconnais, but not on political assemblies, with maybe one honourable exception) They are, though, there to find, even if no-one’s done it systematically yet – my own familiarity with the evidence from, in particular, Neustria and Poitou, suggests that princely assemblies existed and persisted during the tenth century. An examination of the Peace of God in the context of assembly politics in tenth-century regions, then, needs to actually be done rather than assumed.
Third and finally, I’ve noticed before that Koziol has an overt anti-Carolingian bias and here it’s on full display. A major part of what is called his second point above is that, unlike Carolingian capitularies (‘fervent, ideological, and utterly unpragmatic’ (p. 131)), the Peace of God was good legislation, because it’s ‘crisp, clear, to the point, and eminently practical’ (p. 65); and I don’t know what documents he’s reading, because it’s clearly not the same ones I am. In fact, immediately after saying this, he quotes the Peace of Narbonne (1054):
Let no Christian harm any other Christian or presume to mistreat him or despoil him of property.
Practical, huh? ‘Don’t be nasty’ is about as practical as the diatribes of Archbishop Hincmar which Koziol rails against. Equally, on the other side, Koziol uses the 884 Capitulary of Ver as an example of ‘unpragmatic’ Carolingian legislation. Here’s the second heading of that capitulary, just as an example:
We therefore decree that everyone who lives in Our palace or visits it from any place should live in peace. If anyone breaks the peace and commits robbery let them by Our royal authority and the command of Our representative be brought to a hearing in the palace, and, in accordance with what is contained in the capitularies of Our ancestors, by a legal judgement be punished with a threefold fine and the royal ban.
How’s that for fervent, otherworldly lawmaking? It’s longer, sure, but it’s just as enforceable as any Peace of God clause. Koziol is right that Peace of God legislation tends to forego some of the sermonising found in Carolingian legislation, but only by focussing narrowly on the texts: on the day, as it were, given these things were issued at large assemblies with lots of major clerics present, there would have been all the preaching you could eat. (Equally, we know from manuscripts that Carolingian capitularies were used as guidebooks for legal practice – some manuscript comparison would have been useful, because I don’t think Peace of God legislation tends to get written down much at all, which suggests Koziol is comparing apples and oranges here…) So I think Koziol’s dislike of the Carolingians has led him into an unsupportable binary distinction between Carolingian and Peace of God legislation which in turn means that his ideas about how different the Peace of God was from the Carolingian peace start to look a lot shakier.
Now, I’ve spent 1200 words – gosh, really? This was supposed to be short… – criticising it, but like I said, it’s not bad. I suspect it’ll go down as a footnote in the Koziol oeuvre, but it offers useful precepts for people looking the Peace of God in the future, even if it puts them into practice imperfectly. Personally, I think the call to contextual analysis is key. No staggering new insight on the Peace of God is going to emerge unless we have a much better idea than we currently do about political formations, assembly practices, and local, regional, and regnal communities both in Aquitaine and elsewhere before the Peace of God emerged.