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recognize their right of private war; a generation earlier they had pointedly
reminded clerics that the French kingdom itself had been founded ˜by the
sweat of war™.4 ˜I will be justice this day™, exults Gamelyn in the fourteenth-cen-
tury English romance; he has just recovered right and honour by violently
overwhelming the meeting of a corrupt royal court, has hanged the sheriff and
jurors, and will shortly hang the king™s justice, after cleaving his cheekbone and
breaking his arm.5 English and French judicial records can produce parallels
from life to this violent scene of autonomy imaginatively realized in literature.6
The identity of chivalry and status with proud violence will continue through-
out the medieval centuries and into those we call early modern.7

See Duby, Les Trois Ordres. His life is examined in Henneman, Olivier de Clisson.
2 3

Paris, Chronica Majora, iv, 593: ˜regnum non per jus scriptum, nec per clericorum arrogan-
4

tiam, sed per sudores bellicos fuerit adquisitum™; cited in Clanchy, ˜Law and Love™, 51.
Sands, Middle English Verse Romances, 178“81.
5

See the examples in Kaeuper, ˜Law and Order™ and War, Justice, and Public Order, 225“68.
6

See, e.g., Mervyn James, ˜English Politics and the Concept of Honour™; Billacois, Le Duel
7

dans la soci©t© fran§aise des XVIe“XVIIe siècles; Kiernan, The Duel in European History; Schalk, From
Valor to Pedigree.
Issues and Approaches 9
Of course we need no more believe that most knights were constantly out
of control, moved by sheer glandular urges to cut and thrust, than to believe
that most of them had happily experienced a complete taming of such impulses
simply by learning courtesy. The problem that distinguishes the medieval
chapter of the story of public order, however, is that (as we will see) the right
and personal practice of warlike violence has fused with honour, high status,
religious piety, and claims about love, so that those knights who are inclined,
or who see opportunity, will be likely to act with whatever force they can
muster, con¬dent in their course of action. This ethos, moreover, will
inevitably and understandably extend beyond the caste of knights to play a role
in society generally. It will be a long time, indeed, before con¬dence in the role
of heroic violence is truly shaken.
1
THE PROBLEM OF PUBLIC ORDER AND
THE KNIGHTS
ddd

The High Middle Ages and Order
The millennium of European history we call medieval has known more than
one scheme for subdivision into shorter thematic and chronological periods.
Charles Homer Haskins™s Renaissance of the Twelfth Century stands among the
most enduring, fruitful, and debated of these plans.1 However polemical its
chosen title, however excessive we may think the book™s untiring emphasis on
revived classicism as the key indicator and engine of change, Haskins™s book
was one of the key works to focus our attention on the period beginning in
roughly the mid-eleventh century (or even earlier, as many scholars would
now insist), often termed the Central or High Middle Ages. A distinguished
body of scholarship emphasizes the fundamental importance of this period of
European history: to Henri Pirenne, Roberto Lopez, M. M. Postan, it repre-
sented the transformation of economic and urban life; it was the in¬‚uential
˜second feudal age™ for Marc Bloch; for R. W. Southern the age embodied
˜medieval humanism™; for Robert Fossier it was ˜the beginnings of Europe™, for
Georges Duby it brought the ˜early growth of the European economy™ and the
˜age of the cathedrals™; for Joseph Strayer it created the ˜origins of the modern
state™; for Karl Leyser its early decades marked ˜the ascent of Latin Europe™.2
The list could be considerably extended, but the basic point remains that many
historians have argued that in so many varied and important dimensions of life
the generations between something like the eleventh and the early fourteenth
centuries saw change and accomplishment on a scale truly important for the
long course of Western history.

Hasking, The Renaissance of the Twelfth Century.
1

Pirenne, Economic and Social History of Medieval Europe; Lopez, The Commercial Revolution of
2

the Middle Ages; Postan, Medieval Trade and Finance and Medieval Society and Economy; Marc
Bloch, Soci©t© F©odale; Southern, Medieval Humanism and Other Studies; Fossier, Enfance de
l™Europe; Duby, Early Growth of the European Economy and Age of the Cathedrals: Strayer, Medieval
Origins; Leyser, Ascent of Latin Europe .
Issues and Approaches
12
Change on this scale inevitably produces tensions, many of which have been
explored by medievalists. The uneasy coexistence of spirituality and commer-
cial expansion is an excellent case in point.3 Yet in all of the discussion of this
central period of medieval history one of the most signi¬cant issues has
attracted less close analysis than it deserves. This basic issue is public order. We
have studied ecclesiastical and lay government in detail, we have analysed war,
and, more recently, crime; chivalry as an ideal has long attracted scholars, and
some have even descended to consider it in daily life; but we cannot truly
understand public order by studying any one of these topics in isolation.
Working to create and sustain the order, the regularity, the acceptable
degree of peacefulness that make civilized life possible is, of course, a funda-
mental need of all societies. The effort will always raise signi¬cant questions.
What violence is licit or even sancti¬ed? What violence is considered destruc-
tive of necessary order? Who has the power to decide these questions and how
are such decisions actually secured?
If these questions are universal, however, Western Europeans in the High
Middle Ages confronted the issues with particular urgency; they had quite
speci¬c and compelling reasons to concern themselves with issues of violence
and order. How do we know this?
We can be certain of their concerns because they so clearly uttered them and
because they effected broad changes in the institutions and ideas by which they
lived. Looking at the views of several twelfth-century historical writers can
give us an initial sense of this evidence; then, after brie¬‚y considering some
well-known evidence about social and institutional change, we will turn to the
rich ¬eld of imaginative literature.4


Three Witnesses
The ¬rst of our three historians, Orderic Vitalis, though born in England,
spent his life as a Norman monk at Saint-Évroul. His wide-ranging chronicle,
The Ecclesiastical History5 shows that monastic walls formed no impenetrable
Little, ˜Pride Goes Before Avarice™, 16“49; Southern, Western Society .
3

This is, of course, not the only evidence that could be used. The books of miracle stories of St
4

Benedict which were compiled in the eleventh and twelfth centuries ˜are very much concerned
with men who appear to be knights and are almost invariably represented as agents of violence™:
Rollason, ˜The Miracles of St Benedict™, 82“7. Though the topic is little investigated, Europeans
of this period may even have painted their concerns; see Raynaud™s study of the portrayal of vio-
lence in manuscript illuminations, La Violence au Moyen ‚ge. Canon law also re¬‚ects a concern
over violence: Gaudemet, ˜Les collections canoniques™; Richard M. Fraher, ˜Theoretical
Justi¬cation™ and ˜Preventing Crime in the High Middle Ages™.
Chibnall, ed., Ecclesiastical History. For general discussion of this work in context, see
5

Chibnall™s introduction, and her article, ˜Feudal Society in Orderic Vitalis™; Holdsworth, ˜Ideas
and Reality™; Strickland, War and Chivalry, especially 12“16.
Public Order and the Knights 13
barrier to a genuine understanding of the outside world or to writing an
account of its major features; in roughly 1123“37 Orderic, in fact, wrote one of
our most useful accounts of the society taking shape around him.6 In the sec-
tions of his history dealing with northwestern Europe, as opposed to his deriv-
ative accounts of the ¬rst crusade, Orderic reveals an almost obsessive concern
for order and the elusive goal of a more peaceful society. As a monk, he shows
a thoroughly professional distaste for sexual laxity in any form, as we might
expect; but a more consistent and urgent leitmotiv in his history, highly
signi¬cant for our purposes, is the need for ¬rm, authoritative action against
the violence, disorder, and constant warfare that so characterized his world.7
Orderic is no paci¬st. Violence in the right cause, carried out by the proper
people, can cause him to wax eloquent, as, for example, he does frequently
when narrating the crusade.8 Violence of Christian against Christian troubles
him more, but even here he can show approval if the goal and end result seem
to be a more orderly society. His language describing even the monastic life
can take on the martial tonality not uncommon for religious writers of his
time: monks are ˜soldiers of Christ™ battling demons; they use the ˜weapon of
prayer™. But looking out over monastic walls at the violence in his own society,
he repeatedly laments the impulse to war in such terms as: ˜The turbulent are
chafed by peace and general tranquillity and, while they attempt to destroy the
pride of others, are themselves through God™s just judgement very often slain
by their own weapons. How blind and foolish are the men who desire war in
times of peace.™ When a marriage alliance ended one of these local wars, he is
relieved ˜that multiple crime did not proliferate from the root of evil and put
out new and worse shoots continually in future generations™.9
He is certain that the cure for such disorder rests with proper authorities
who can at least attempt to restrict the practice of major acts of violence to
their own capable hands. In an ideal world there would perhaps be no need for
violence at all, but in a speech he puts into the mouth of Count Helias at the
time Henry I is establishing his rule in Normandy, Orderic says, ˜as the popu-
lar saying goes, “wrong must be done to put an end to a worse thing.” This

Chibnall, ed., Ecclesiastical History, I, 32. Duby says that Orderic has given us ˜du premier XIIe
6

siècle la meilleure vision, sans doute™: ˜Guerre et soci©t©™, 474. Orderic comments on the frequent
conversations between monks and visiting knights: see, e.g., Chibnall, Ecclesiastical History, III,
206“7, and Chibnall™s helpful comments in I, 36“8; also see her article, ˜Feudal Society in Orderic
Vitalis™. Cf. Flori, L™Essor de chevalerie, 271“4.
7 Orderic, for example, praises Henry I to the skies for his role as a provider of peace, despite

the king™s record number of illegitimate offspring. William Rufus and Robert Curthose, much less
successful kings, are scorched by Orderic for their sexual laxity: Chibnall, Ecclesiastical History, V,
286“7, 300“1. For general comments on Orderic™s concerns, see sources cited in note 5.
8 See, e.g., ibid., V, 68“9. Examples abound throughout all Orderic™s crusade accounts.
9 E.g. ibid., III, 260“1, 292“3; VI, 328“9; IV, 200“3.
Issues and Approaches
14
indeed I repeat as a common proverb, I do not claim divine authority for it.™
Orderic imagines his hero Henry I speaking in similar terms: ˜I saw with sor-
row the af¬‚iction of my ancestral inheritance, but could bring no help to the
needy except by force of arms.™10
Believing in right order secured, if necessary, by the coercive violence of the
right authorities, Orderic speaks high praise for the stern governance of both
William I and Henry I as dukes of Normandy. A deathbed speech he puts into
the mouth of William the Conqueror has the king confess: ˜I was brought up
in arms from childhood, and am deeply stained with all the blood I have shed™,
but he pictures the king going on to justify his action on the grounds that his
Norman subjects ˜need to be restrained by the severe penalties of law, and
forced by the curb of discipline to keep to the path of justice™.11 Praising this
¬rm and just rule of William, Orderic provides at one point a wonderfully con-
cise statement of his belief. The king/duke, he tells us, ˜forbade disorders, mur-
der and plunder, restraining the people by arms and the arms by laws™.
Narrating one of William™s visit to Normandy, he elaborates on this capsule
assertion of one of his major themes:
At the news of the king™s coming peace-lovers everywhere rejoiced, but trouble-makers
and criminals trembled in their evil hearts and quailed before the coming avenger. He
assembled all the nobles of Normandy and Maine and used all his royal powers of per-
suasion to move them to peace and just government.12

Vivid accounts of disorder after William™s death and again after Henry™s death
underscore the importance of authoritative curbs on lordly violence.13 Orderic
has no kind words for Robert, William™s eldest son and heir in Normandy,
who was unable to suppress local warfare and brigandage. In a speech which
Orderic creates for Henry, Robert™s brother and supplanter, Henry tells Pope
Calixtus that he actually wrested Normandy not from Robert but from the
robbers and evildoers who effectively controlled it. Orderic™s blessing on this
work is clear: Henry has ˜calmed the tempests of war by his royal might™.14

Chibnall, ed., Ecclesiastical History, VI, 96“7; ibid., VI, 284“7. Henry continues: ˜I did not
10

wish to refuse my service to holy mother Church, but endeavoured to use the of¬ce laid on me by
heaven for the general good. So by taking up arms to ¬ght and spreading ¬re I . . . recovered the
inheritance of my father . . . and strove to uphold my father™s laws according to God™s will for the
peace of his people.™
Ibid., IV, 80“1. Compare the deathbed speech of Robert Bruce, thanking God he has been
11

given time to repent for all of his bloodshed, quoted in McDiarmid and Stevenson, eds, Barbour™s
Bruce, book XX, ll. 169“81.
Chibnall, Ecclesiastical History, IV, 192“3, 284“5.
12

See the opening of ibid., IV, bk. viii, and ibid., VI, bk. xiii. On Henry™s death, Orderic, writ-
13

ing of the local lords, laments ˜now they imagine no law will constrain them.™ Ibid., VI, 450“3.
Quotation at ibid., IV, 138“9. For his attitude towards Robert and Henry as peacekeepers see
14

the opening of IV, bk. viii, and VI, bk. xi, passim, especially 32“3, 58“65, 92“3, 98“9, 146“9.
Public Order and the Knights 15
Philip I of France, on the other hand, proved himself unable to restrain ˜proud
and turbulent men™ and so ˜allowed his princely power to decline™, with the
consequence that ˜the royal justice had become too lax to punish tyrants™.15
The agent of order may be other than a king/duke. Count Geoffrey Martel
of Anjou merits Orderic™s praise as a punisher of robbers and enforcer of just-
ice; his father, Orderic complains, had by contrast spared such men and shared
the loot with them. A ruler at any level, he argues, had to offer God the ˜fruit
of justice™ in order to escape the charge of barren governance. Tyrants, in his
view, were thus not hard-driving and ef¬cient kings or dukes but, rather, the
feuding local lords who escaped any royal restraints.16 Robert of Bellême is the
classic type; driven from England, he continued his career of disruption and
devastation in Normandy. Orderic describes him as
a renowned knight of great enterprise in the ¬eld . . . endowed with quick wits and a
ready tongue as well as courage; but everything was marred by his excessive pride and
cruelty and he hid the talents with which Heaven had endowed him under a sombre
mass of evil deeds. He engaged in many wars against his neighbours.17

Even Orderic™s own monastery found it necessary to pay Robert protection
money, as did many other victims, ˜for at that time kings and dukes were
unable to restrain his ferocity and secure the peace of the Church by any
authority of theirs™.18
But if Robert of Bellême represents the classic offender, Orderic thinks the
violence is endemic within the knightly layers of society. Almost in passing he
mentions a Robert of Vitot, knight, who had nearly forty kinsmen, ˜all proud
of their knightly status, who were continually at war with one another™.19
Of course, kings could themselves create disorder through their disputes;
then the ˜war-shattered people™ could only rejoice when the ˜long-desired calm
serenity of peace™ was achieved. Orderic is at one point left marvelling how
God ˜directs his church amidst the tumults of war and the clash of arms, and
preserving and enlarging it in many ways leads it on to safety™.20 Clearly, the
peace of God was something which, in the words of the liturgy, passes human
understanding.


Ibid., VI, 154“7. Ibid., VI, 74“5; 86“7; 154“7.
15 16

Ibid., 298“9. The parallel to the description of Claudas in the opening of the Lancelot is note-
17

worthy: ˜Claudas was a king, a very ¬ne knight and clever man, but he was treacherous as well™, in
Rosenberg, tr., Lancelot Part I, 3; Elspeth Kennedy, ed., Lancelot do Lac, I, 1.
Chibnall, ed., Ecclesiastical History, IV, 298“301. Robert appears prominently in Orderic™s
18

book; cf. VI, bk. xi, especially 26“7, 32“3, 58“65. Of Robert, Orderic says, ˜he mercilessly sent out
his armed bands against all his neighbours and terrorized monks, clerks, and the defenceless pop-
ulace by his ¬erce tyranny™: IV, bk. viii, 298“9.
Ibid., II, 120“1. Ibid., II, 288“91; III, 18“19.
19 20
Issues and Approaches
16
Between 1138 and 1145, that is just a few years after Orderic wrote his informa-
tive general history, another monk, Suger, Abbot of Saint-Denis just outside
Paris, was writing a much more particular but equally informative kind of his-
tory, an admiring account of the deeds of King Louis VI of France (Louis le
Gros).21 Abbot Suger was not second to Orderic in his admiration for royal
agents of imposed peace, nor in his belief that they might act with force in the
interests of order.22 He praises Orderic™s hero Henry I as a man known
throughout the world, and pointedly quotes a prophecy of Merlin about the
coming of a Lion of Justice; after giving good justice to England as king, he
came to Normandy as duke and imposed order there by force. Suger always
refers to him approvingly, using some such phrase as ˜the illustrious king of the
English™. Peacemaking is the great quality in a leader. He even praises Pope
Calixtus for the somewhat surprising achievement of clearing brigands out of
Italy and Calabria.23
But Louis le Gros was his subject as biographer, and it is signi¬cant that the
king is lauded not only because he is Suger™s friend and the benefactor of his
monastery, but above all because he was a guarantor of order and, as such, the
imago dei, the image of God on earth. In fact, Suger tells us, Louis began to
play this role even before he came to the throne in 1108 on the death of his
father, Philip I, who had been much less active and successful as a promoter of
peace and order, a fact noted even by Orderic.24 Louis, though, as Suger
observes approvingly, had always been the proper son and had never brought
disorder in the realm ˜as is the custom of other young men™.25 A very great deal
of Suger™s account in fact consists of colourful vignettes showing Louis, either
as prince or as king, moving out into the Île de France (the central royal
demesne between Paris and Orleans) to play the policeman, leading his
knights and the parish militia against some offending lord, ¬ghting pitched
battles, or, more frequently, besieging the castles that served, in Suger™s view,
as the nodal centre for the spread of the cancer of disorder. Of one of these
local strongmen, Eudes, Count of Corbeil, Suger states that his death
strengthened the peace of the realm; he then adds, warming to the subject, that
Eudes thus transferred his battle to the depths of hell where he could carry on


Waquet, Vie de Louis VI. In their introduction to their translation, The Deeds of Louis the Fat,
21

Cusimano and Moorhead insist, with reason, that this is an account of the deeds of Louis, rather
than a biography.
His support for royal peace efforts was not merely chauvinistic. He commended Henry I of
22

England for his judicial organization and could think of him as the Lion of Justice. Ibid., 98“9.
Waquet, Vie de Louis VI, 206“7.
23

Chibnall, ed., Ecclesiastical History, VI, 154“7.
24

Waquet, Vie de Louis VI, 82“3. On the turbulence of ˜the youth™, see Duby, ˜Dans la France
25

de Nord-Ouest™.
Public Order and the Knights 17

war eternally.26 Like Orderic, he reserves the term tyrant for just such terror-
izers of some locality, men who ˜provoke wars, take pleasure in endless pillage,
trouble the poor, destroy churches™; if not restrained, these tyrants would
grow more bold still and act ˜in the manner of evil spirits™. It pertains to the
of¬ce of kingship to repress the impudence of tyrants. Against such men, he
writes, a king™s hand is very strong.27
The chief villain in Suger™s story is probably Thomas of Marle (though
Hugh of Le Puiset runs a close second). Thomas is homo perditissimus, a man
who, aided by the Devil, devoured the countryside in the region of Laon,
Reims, and Amiens ˜like a furious wolf ™, sparing neither clerics out of fear of
ecclesiastical sanctions, nor the common folk out of any sentiment for human-
ity. Louis moved against him in 1114, backed by the blessing of the Church,
which had, under the leadership of a papal legate, declared Thomas excom-
municate and un¬t to wear the cingulum militarem, the belt of knighthood.
Seizing the castles of Cr©cy and Nouvion, Louis ˜piously massacred the impi-
ous™. Captured at Marle, Thomas offered indemnities to both Church and
King, and won a pardon unwisely granted him by Louis. He quickly went back
to his old work, requiring a second royal expedition in 1130. By this time the
expedition went without the king, since Louis was too fat to mount a horse,
but Thomas was again taken, and died in captivity, being at the last, Suger
gleefully reports, unable to take the Eucharist.28
Thus, however ill Suger™s idealized portrait of Louis VI may have matched
the imperfect man, the biographer™s great concern for order, his worry about
grasping strongmen as a source of disorder, and his belief in a royal discipli-
nary role are as clearly set forth as Orderic™s. The latter would approve Suger™s
borrowing from Ovid the maxim that kings have long arms.29

For a third witness, we can turn to a different sort of historian writing a quite
different sort of history. After the murder of Charles the Good, Count of
Flanders, in 1127, Galbert of Bruges, a notary (who may have been in minor
orders but was apparently not a priest or canon), wrote a strikingly precise and
detailed history of events in Bruges and in the surrounding countryside. In The
Murder of Charles the Good (De multro, traditione, et occisione Gloriosi Karoli
Comitis Flandriarum)30 he narrates the collapse of order, the ensuing, almost

Waquet, Vie de Louis, 150“1.
26

Ibid., 172“3. He later (pp. 232“5) gives the bishop of Clermont a speech accusing the Count
27

of Auvergne of playing the tyrant against him.
Ibid. 30 ff., 174“7. Ibid., 180“1.
28 29

Ross, tr., Murder of Charles the Good; her translation is based on the Latin text edited by
30

Pirenne, Histoire du meurtre de Charles le Bon, but I will cite Rider, ed., De multro. Cf. Nicholas,
Medieval Flanders, 62“70; Dhondt, ˜Les “Solidarit©s” m©di©vales™.
Issues and Approaches
18
universal violence, and the gradual restoration of order. However much his
point of view might differ in detail from our monastic writers”he can show a
caustic anti-clericalism, for example”his account dovetails with their empha-
sis on the perils of private war and vengeance, the need for a strong authority
¬gure to repress violence and secure peace.
The murdered Count Charles had been just such a ¬gure. He had taken
˜such measures to strengthen the peace, to reaf¬rm the laws and rights of the
realm, [so] that little by little public order was restored . . . everything was
¬‚ourishing, everything was happy and joyful in the security of peace and just-
ice™. To secure these blessings of peace he had enforced arms legislation, so that
his subjects ˜should live together in quiet and security without resort to arms;
otherwise they would be punished by the very arms they bore™.31
The crisis had erupted because of two characteristics of the powerful
Erembald clan, the chief plotters of the murder, whose leader, Bertulf, was
the count™s chief of¬cial: they were vulnerable because they were technically

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