It’s being very hard to find time to write any substantive blog just now, though I have sufficient queued up that by the time me saying this finally emerges and you read these words this may no longer be true. Anyway, I haven’t quite finished praising Jennifer Davis and Michael McCormick’s The Long Morning of Medieval Europe yet, much though you may wish I had, and it’s time for another dose.
Part Four of the book is on government and power and this is, as Magistra observed when I started talking about this volume, one of the stronger parts of the volume. Janet Nelson, no less, spends a pellucid ten pages analysing a list of hostages and their captors who were to be brought to a royal meeting at Mainz, and produces from it a network of status and responsibility that is emblematic of the way that connection to the court brought both to those in power in the regions, and thus explains why people bothered with the whole kingdom thing one more time.1
Then Matthew Innes talks about this same process with a focus on property, and picks up Dhuoda, two sets of Carolingian officials and the letters of Einhard to show how people got, were given or tried to lay hold of property and how connection to a greater power than them would help to do that. As you will be aware I think most to all of what Matthew writes is brilliant, and this is no exception; on the other hand I had a pre-print draft of this in 2005, so I have, you might say, learned to love it. It hasn’t changed a great deal but I like to think I had a slight effect on it.2
In between these two things, rather oddly, sits Jennifer Davis’s piece arguing that all this emphasis on locality and region is all very well but we mustn’t forget the centre, and having said as much she gets pretty solidly into the capitulary legislation and what it has to say about the actual running of the kingdom. This wouldn’t be much of a new direction were it not for the fact that she is quite post-modern, or at least post-Wormald, about her reading of the laws, accepting that they weren’t meant to impose uniformity; instead she argues that they were couched so as to allow for an almost infinite variety of local circumstances to be negotiated then and there. I don’t think you can go down this road without starting to see Carolingian legislation as an expression of an ideal, rather than a practice, and to be faintly surprised when it seems to actually be in use, but Davis won’t look in that direction and prefers to see an administrative state rather than an ideological one. I’m still not sure, but she uses her evidence well.3
Lastly Stuart Airlie, as it should be wherever Carolingian power is in discussion, wraps up , emphasising the communications that held the Empire together and demanding more comparison with other empires in an attempt to challenge and refine whatever we think is ‘Carolingian’ about all of this, rather than just, well, successful.4 As he says, if we can’t identify that properly any talk of change before, after or during the Carolingian era is decidedly questionable, to which I say, indeed and don’t we know it who work on the tenth and eleventh centuries and consider Charles the Fat still fairly early? So, well, I aim to help, in the long run, with this programme he throws into the air, but these articles will all help when I do.
1. Janet L. Nelson, “Charlemagne and Empire” in Jennifer R. Davis & Michael McCormick (edd.), The Long Morning of Medieval Europe: new directions in early medieval studies (Aldershot 2008), pp. 223-234, with the key text given in translation as an appendix; if you want Jinty explaining the whole system, of course, you should read her “Kingship and Royal Government” in Rosamond McKitterick (ed.), The New Cambridge Medieval History vol. II: c. 700-c. 900 (Cambridge 1995), pp. 383-430.
2. Matthew J. Innes, “Practices of Property in the Carolingian Empire” in Davis & McCormick, Long Morning, pp. 247-266.
3. Jennifer R. Davis, “A Pattern for Power: Charlemagne’s Delegation of Judicial Responsibilities”, ibid. pp. 235-246.
4. Stuart Airlie, “The Cunning of Institutions”, ibid. pp. 267-271.