Wrath, robbery
and sin in the
11th century

     Wrath, robbery
and sin in the
   11th century

Révolution féodale?

The early 11th century was a time when violence and political disorder was rife – or at least, that is how chroniclers at that time described it. The monk Rodulfus Glaber lamented in the 1030s: "Wrath, robbery and sin rule the world, while the sword, pestilence and famine are rampant". Because of accounts like these, historians have long thought that this period saw the traumatic birth of the High Middle Ages. The time around 1000 was regarded as a time of “revolution”: The sovereign's power diminished, the social order was turned upside down and the feudal Middle Ages were born. Today, however, this interpretation has been criticised: after all, violence and division can themselves constitute a stable order.

Authors: Annette Grabowsky, Christoph Haack, Steffen Patzold,
Isaac Smith

New forms of domination in Catalonia and the first “convenientia”

The “convenientia”, dated 1021, was made between the Counts Berenguer Ramon I of Barcelona (c. 1006-1035) and Ermengol II of Urgell (before 1010-1039). It indicates new forms of political order in Catalonia around the year 1000: in the pact, Ermengol “commended” himself to Berenguer, that is he submitted himself to him and agreed to remain loyal. Ermengol also agreed to conquer for Berenguer a number of castles controlled by his mother, Countess Ermessenda (c. 975-1058). In return, Berenguer pledged to return the same fortresses to Ermengol as a loan, providing continued support as well as money and a sword as guarantees. The two counts could not turn to a higher authority such as a king. They had to find other solutions to secure their agreement in written form, supported by rites such as commendation, mutual oaths, guarantees and payments. It is unclear, however, whether the clauses of the pact were ever implemented, as Berenguer and Ermessenda soon reconciled.

Background: Schematic outline of Cluny Abbey II as it may have looked like around the year 1000.

What threatens us?

The academic dispute about the feudal revolution around 1000 is, to a large extent, a matter of perspective. Historians have observed that at the turn of the millennium, many of the institutions which had stabilised the social and political order since the 8th century had disappeared. In many places, kings had lost their influence as central authorities and jurisdiction had passed into the hands of local elites who made their own policies. This transformation of the social order meant that people could no longer rely on established procedures to settle disputes and create a stable social order.

However, ordinary people at the time described these developments differently than historians: their view was that, above all, their own behaviour was morally problematic and they thus feared the wrath of a punitive God. Chroniclers such as the Burgundian monk Rodulfus Glaber denounced the behaviour of the elites: in their greed, they bought and sold spiritual offices and ordinations (simony) and harassed churches!

AUDIO Rodulfus Glaber indicts!
00:00 — Rodulfus Glaber, Historiarum libri quinque, Book II, para. 6 section 12, ed. J. France 1989, p. 72 (Text repeated)

Who are we?

Today's historians have observed in retrospect how political identities became regionalised in the 10th century. While until about 900 almost all of Western and Central Europe belonged to the Frankish Empire (Regnum Francorum), by the year 1000 the word Francia only referred to the dominion of the French king in the Île-de-France region around Paris. Regions such as Aquitaine, Burgundy or Catalonia went their own way, and in those parts the king had little significance in practice. In former East Francia, which included parts of current-day Germany, an independent kingdom developed.

At the same time, monks devised a new image of the ideal society, with the so-called "tripartite order of the estates". This was in reference to previous model, which had however never been dominant until then. The monks assigned all members of society different tasks, and a fixed place within the social order, determined by God. They believed that this order consisted of three estates: those who prayed (the clergy), those who fought (the knights), and those who worked (the peasants).

Right: Map of the devided Frankish Empire after the Treaties of Verdun and Ribemonet 879/880.
Background: Emperor Otto III. (980-1002) is represented in this painting (dated around 1000) with representatives of clerical and spiritual power. Besides the order of the three estates the bisection of the political order with a spiritual and secular element stayed important.
TEXT A god-given order of things
The House of God, which seems to be one, is now divided into three parts: some pray, others fight, and others work. These three are together and endure no separation: through the service of the one, the works of the one exist, all provide mutual support
Text: Adalbero v. Laon, Carmen ad Rotbertum regem, ed. C. Carozzi, Poème au roi Robert 1979 (Translation by Annette Grabowsky)

Illustration: The figures of the priest, knight and peasant are cut-outs from a manuscript from northern France dated from the late 13th century. The idea of the three estates of 'prayers, fighters and workers' became an important model even long after the 10th century.

What do we need?

Those at the time held that the best means of restoring the God-ordained order was for as many people as possible to lead a good, God-pleasing way of life. The doctrine of the "three estates" represented vastly different realities. Many of the sources which are available today have an ecclesiastical origin, and so the best perspective we have is that of the priests, who demanded above all a stricter separation between the worldly and the spiritual. The view of the peasant population, on the other hand, mainly comes to us via their grievances: they complained about the intemperance of their masters and "bad practices" (malae consuetudines), by which they intended oppressive work and service demands.

However, the wishes of the prayers and of the workers cannot be clearly separated, as a moral way of life and a respectful attitude towards the Church also required appropriate behaviour towards the peasants. The worldly rulers, on the other hand, saw themselves as the ones who had to take care of law and order. To them, it was important for relations to be governed contractually in such a way that they could rely upon each other.

The figure with the water jug comes from a manuscript from Prüm Abbey (~1000). It is part of a depiction of the biblical story „Wedding at Cana“: Jesus turnes water into wine. The depicted pours water into an empty wine jug. The illustration symbolises righteous Christian doctrine – the transformed wine – as a guiding principle of moral reform efforts around the year 1000.

What should we do?

Just because people think they are in a threatened social order does not mean that they will actually attempt to resolve their problems. There can be a considerable gap between the identified problems, demands and actions.

So it was that, during the period around 1000, while various initiatives were taken to reform Christian life, the people on the ground mainly reacted pragmatically, not with moral exhortations. The sovereign's mediation in political and legal disputes was replaced by contracts sworn by oath, although where possible a higher body would be involved, which both parties to the dispute would recognise as a higher authority. Depending on the region, the higher body might be the king, a bishop or another powerful person. However, the ways in which disputes were fought and settled changed. Violence became an important means of making conflicts visible, which is what lead historians to believe that this was a particularly violent period.

Hintergrund: Cancelleria reial, Pergamins
Ramon Berenguer I, extra. Nr. 2001.
TEXT The "Cancelleria reial"
in Barcelona

The agreement between Counts Ramon Berenguer I of Barcelona and Ermengol II mentioned above indicates the settlement of an actual conflict in the period around 1000. The document makes little reference to contemporary ideas of large-scale, comprehensive moral reform. Instead, it points to a pragmatic reaction, which consisted of mutual assurances and engagements. Ultimately, powerful actors such as the two counts attempted to assert their own interests within certain political circles and to safeguard their own political self-interest.

Rechts: Cancelleria reial, Pergamins
Ramon Berenguer I, extra. Nr. 2001.
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