Lay Initiative in the Early Peace of God Movement

Lay Initiative in the Early Peace of God Movement

By Mary S. Skinner

Paper given at Religious Tolerance – Religious Violence – Medieval Memories: A colloquium in memory of James Powell, held at the University of Syracuse, on September 28, 2012

The Peace of God movement, which began in the late tenth-century and helped to reduce endemic violence in parts of Western Europe, has often been perceived by historians as process led by the church. Mary Skinner argues in her paper that that the laity were fully involved agents that supported the peace councils, and often took the initiative in trying to limit warfare.

One of the first examples that Skinner points to occurred around the year 980, when Guy of Anjou, Bishop of le Puy (who was also a count) gathered the local population, including nobles and peasants, and forced them to accept peace. He actually had his own private army, which he set upon the other people on the meeting. Bernard Bachrach has previously argued that Guy was acting more like the count rather than the bishop and his aims was trying to restore peace for the Carolingian monarchy. The people there swore an oath and hostages were given to ensure the peace was kept, but Skinner notes that no monks or relics were present at this meeting, and that no specific articles about protecting the poor were included in the agreement.

Charroux, near Poitiers, was the site of the first Peace Council in 989, where “a great crowd of many people (populus) gathered there from the Poitou, the Limousin, and neighboring regions.” The peace council was led by Archbishop of Gumbald of Bordeaux, who was also Duke of Gascony. Saints relics were brought here, and some miraculous healings took place, before three canons were agreed upon, which banned against attacks on the church, takeing booty from the poor or peasants, or to physically attack a member of the clergy. Those found guilty would be put under anathema. This agreement were signed by the bishops of Poitiers, Limoges, Périgueux, Saintes and Angoulême, and was also supported by the nobles, and its three canons were ratified by further peace councils.

The Council of Limoges, which was held five years later, took place under the leadership of William, Duke of Aquitaine along with the abbot and bishop of Limoges. The council took place during an epidemic/pestilence and Duke William declared a three day fast, followed by a council where the Duke and the nobles conclude a peace. Although relics and ecclesiastical officials were present at the council, Skinner points out that the Duke was clearly in charge of the event.

Many other church councils in the 11th century, eventually forming into the Truce of God movement. These peace councils were attended more and more by various nobles, and Skinner adds that many of the bishops involved were  also lay lords that had armies and experience in dealing with lay affairs. She points out that these peace councils did strengthen the role of the bishops, but it also strengthened the positions of dukes and counts, giving them sufficient reason to be enthusiastic supporters.

See also Peace and Power in France Around the Year 1000, by Thomas Head

See also The Peace of God and its legal practice in the Eleventh Century, by Thomas Gergen

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