The Royal Safeguard in Medieval France

The Royal Safeguard in Medieval France

Cheyette, Fredric

Post Scripta: Studies in Honor of Gaines Post [Studia Gratiana 15], (Rome, 1972)

Introduction: These two texts present two formulae for creating a royal safeguard in France around 1300. The first is an administrative, the second a judicial form. They have been selected at random from a large number of very similar texts, often distinguishable only by the proper names inserted at the appropriate places.

Among the devices by which the lawyers of the last Capetians fastened royal government on a not always willing realm, the royal safeguard stood out. Its prominence derived in part from the antiquity of the idea of royal protection, in part from the procedures thirteenth-century lawyers invented to enforce the idea. The Prince was protector of the Church, guardian of widows, orphans, and the weak. Ritual, confirmation of ancient charters, and equally ritual repetition of ancient political cliches had maintained this notion even in the darkest days of feudal fragmentation. The fourteenth-century formulae, however, and the administrative and judicial procedures they commenced, were largely variations – subtle in form and singleminded in purpose – on a Canon Law invention of the thirteenth.

The history of the safeguard is thus first of all a history of the formulae in which it was enshrined, a tale of diplomas and charters produced by royal, papal, and princely chanceries, or forged in monastic workshops. Through many centuries these formulae led a life of their own, giving voice to the fundamental belief in royal protection, while the social institutions to which they implicitly referred disintegrated and disappeared. It is one more story of medieval attachment to archaic modes of thought, of words that remained the same while the meaning that men attached to them changed utterly. It is likewise a story of how thirteenth-century popes and kings constructed new administrative machinery to give new consequences to ancient thoughts. Because protection of the Church and of the weak figured so largely in medieval ideology of kingship, the story of this vocabulary and of the administrative devices to which it came to refer is also – in small compass – the story of how monarchic government was transformed in the thirteenth century and how it won the allegiance of those over whom it ruled. For the safeguard played a leading role because it was accepted and used by the king’s subjects, even by those who were constantly at odds with royal agents. Their acceptance of this device marked their implicit acceptance of royal sovereignty

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