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The Military Activities of Bishops, Abbots and other Clergy in England c.900-1200

The Military Activities of Bishops, Abbots and other Clergy in England c.900-1200

Gerrard, Daniel M.G.

PhD Dissertation, University of Glasgow, (2010)

bishop at war

Abstract: This thesis examines the evidence for the involvement in warfare of clerks and religious in England between the beginning of the tenth century and the end of the twelfth. It focuses on bishops and abbots, whose military activities were recorded more frequently than lesser clergy, though these too are considered where appropriate.

From the era of Christian conversion until long after the close of the middle ages, clergy were involved in the prosecution of warfare. In this period, they built fortresses and organised communities of warriors in time of peace and war. Some were slain in battle, while others were given promotion or lands for their martial exploits. A series of canonical pronouncements aimed to forbid or restrict the involvement of Christian clergy in organised bloodshed, and some writers branded militant clergy as corrupted by the lure of earthly power or even as having surrendered their sacerdotal status.

This study therefore approaches the military practices of clergy alongside the legal and narrative treatments, and treats the latter as reactions to, not the background of, the former. This requires consideration of a wide range of narrative, diplomatic and legal source material. A broad approach shows that clerics’ military activities cannot be separated from their spiritual powers, that canonical treatment was more fragmented and less influential than has been assumed, and that the condemnations of some authors existed alongside others’ praise for clerics’ valour, loyalty, or commitment to defending their flocks. In consequence, the extended study of clerical participation in warfare is shown to have significant consequences for our conception of the bounds of military history, the construction of the licit and the illicit, and the nature of clerical identity itself.

Click here to read this thesis from the University of Glasgow

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