Miter and Sword: Fighting Norman Bishops and Clergy
By Timothy R. Martin
Master’s Thesis, St. Cloud State University, 2018
Abstract: This thesis examines Norman bishops and abbots, and their involvement in warfare, either as armed combatants, or commanders of military forces in Normandy, and later in England after William the Conquerors invasion in 1066. While it focuses primarily on the roles of the secular bishops, other relevant accounts of martial feats by other Norman militant clergy are also introduced where appropriate.
The foundation for the use of justified force and later the sanctioned use of violence by these militant secular clergy is explored to better understand the rational perceived by the clergy when acting as ‘soldiers of God.’ The use of religious imagery, sacred writings and text, and the incorporation of militant metaphors, the Church prayers and hagiographies of militant saints, provided a background for a tradition of militancy that formed not only with the secular bishops, but, perhaps more importantly, monastic communities that were often the destination for repentant knights and nobles raised in a warrior society. This provided an outlet for transforming the martial spirit of warriors into spiritual weapons, thereby promoting the militant expression that was found in monastic communities.
The collapse of the Carolingian Empire and the lack thereafter of centralized authority elevated the Church to the role of peace maker, however churchmen in the former Capetian kingdoms were ill equipped to enforce the peace and turned to local secular rulers who utilized force to gain adherence to proclamations set forth by the Peace of God in the late tenth century and Truce of God movements in the early to mid-eleventh century. Normandy, under the dukes, however had no need to enact such measures due to strong centralized control and established institutions within the duchy.
Finally, the Norman secular bishops were an extension of ducal power and highlighted the domination the dukes held over the Church. While encouraging Church and monastic reforms within their lands, the dukes continued a policy of lay investiture in stark contrast to the Gregorian reforms that were being implemented. The accounts selected of Norman bishops participating in combat or leading troops as military commanders show a natural progression of a tradition that was discouraged by reformers but embraced by secular rulers and bishops.