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Vultures, Whores, and Hypocrites: Images of Lawyers in Medieval Literature

Vultures, Whores, and Hypocrites: Images of Lawyers in Medieval Literature

By James A. Brundage

Roman Legal Tradition, Vol. 1 (2002)

Introduction: I propose to examine in this paper the faults that medieval writers found with the lawyers they encountered during the high Middle Ages (by which I mean the two centuries between about 1150 and 1350) and to venture some suggestions about the reasons for them.

Extract: St.Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), ever alert to dangerous novelties, was on to them straight away. Around 1148 he complained indignantly to one of his old pupils, who had recently become Pope Eugene III (r. 1145-1153), about the lawyers who thronged the halls of the papal palace. “These men,” he thundered, ” have taught their tongues to speak lies. They are fluent against justice. They are schooled in falsehood.” He admonished the pope to put an end to lawyerly babble in the papal consistory: “Cut out their lying tongues,” he demanded, “and shut their deceitful mouths.” “The church,” he added, “is filled with ambitious men,” many of them trained in the law schools.

This, need I remind you, is a saint writing to the pope.

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