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About this book

Between 1095 and 1229, Western Europe confronted a series of alternative cultural possibilities that would fundamentally transform its social structures, its intellectual life, and its very identity. It was a period of difficult decisions and anxiety rather than a triumphant 'renaissance'.

In this fresh reassessment of the twelfth century, John D. Cotts:
• shows how new social, economic and religious options challenged Europeans to re-imagine their place in the world
• provides an overview of political life and detailed examples of the original thought and religious enthusiasm of the time
• presents the Crusades as the century's defining movement.

Ideal for students and scholars alike, this is an essential overview of a pivotal era in medieval history that arguably paved the way for a united Europe.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Approaches to the Twelfth Century and Its ‘Renaissance’

Abstract
‘You are divided in your attentions’, wrote the nun Hildegard of Bingen to Pope Eugenius III, probably in the early 1150s. ‘On the one hand your soul is renewed in the mystic flower that is the companion of virginity; on the other, you are the branch of the Church’. The pope, the leader of Latin Christendom, found himself caught between his love of contemplation, the ‘mystic flower’, and his role as defender of the Church in a turbulent political climate. The citizens of Rome had revolted against him, and he always had to beware the encroachments of the king of Germany on Italy. ‘Choose for yourself the better part’, Hildegard urged, quoting the Gospel of Luke.1 Eugenius, she argued, had to make the difficult choice to forego contemplation and intervene in the messy world of politics for the good of the faithful. Anxiety over difficult choices emerges from a rich variety of other texts from the long twelfth century. In the late 1180s, the cleric Peter of Blois told an educated young man in search of a job that ‘you are conflicted, and your heart is pulled in opposite directions. Seized by a wavering fluctuation, you hesitate as to whether you will turn to the knowledge of the laws or the pursuit of the sacred page’.
John D. Cotts

Chapter 1. Varieties of Political Order in the Latin West

Abstract
On November 27, 1095, according to several contemporaries, Pope Urban II addressed a Church council at the French town of Clermont. The historian Fulcher of Chartres insisted that a grim spiritual climate prevailed across Christendom: ‘With Henry reigning as so-called emperor, and with Philip as king in France, manifold evils were growing in all parts of Europe because of wavering faith’. Christianity in the west lay in disarray, unscrupulous knights pillaged at will, and ‘no one was spared of any suffering’.1 Violence, disorder, and slack piety threatened the physical and spiritual well-being of everyone—other chroniclers share at least the perception that the carnage had reached unprecedented levels.2 Having already held several synods throughout France, Urban II convened this council to deal with some immediate problems, including disputes between local bishops, the recent, scandalous marriage of the king of France to the wife of the count of Anjou, the moral reform of the clergy, and the need to free bishops from the control of secular rulers.3 Unfortunately, his speech survives only in second-hand (at best) accounts, and the various chroniclers who recorded it differed on many details; they reconstructed his words according to what happened next, which shaped what they thought he ought to have said. During the two decades that the speech percolated in the minds of assorted writers, it took on new layers of meaning, but there can be no doubt that whatever Urban II said, it struck a chord and reveals a great deal about the Christian world order as he and his contemporaries conceived of it.
John D. Cotts

Chapter 2. People, Economy, and Social Relations

Abstract
Medieval chroniclers usually described political life as the experience of great men subject to a divine plan, but they also saw that the policies of the elites could have disastrous consequences for the rest of society. In his autobiography, Guibert of Nogent wrote that King Louis VI ‘had unjustly thrown the people into turmoil’ when he accepted a bribe from a faction of nobles around Laon, and as a result he had to sleep in guarded accommodations for fear of his life.1 Documentary sources, such as the ‘memorials of complaint’ that record the grievances of peasants against violent and unscrupulous lords, preserved in a Barcelona archive, tell a similar story.2 Some clergy noted disturbing trends: toward the end of the century the aging Peter of Blois excoriated aristocratic hunting parties that trampled the gardens of peasants with impunity, while the peasants themselves were punished with genital mutilation for daring to hunt in the royal forest. ‘Certain princes of the earth’, he wrote, ‘think only about the immunity of their beasts, and as men groan under the anguish of servitude, stags, wild goats, hinds and hares exult in the right to total freedom.’3
John D. Cotts

Chapter 3. Spirituality and Its Discontents

Abstract
In 1226, a ten-year-old Flemish girl named Margaret noticed a crucifix hanging in a church and realized that she had not done enough to repay the sacrifice Jesus made for her on the cross. She then ‘wept most bitterly and at once went alone into the forest and, stripping naked, wounded herself with thorns even to the shedding of blood’.1 Margaret would continue to scourge her body, observe absolute poverty, and receive visits from Jesus—he showed her a vision of her heart as an immaculate chapel at one point—until her death at age 21. She never joined an organized religious foundation, but shared her spirituality with the lay world. While her stories seem extraordinary, they were not unheard of, and reflect a general proliferation of dynamic and emotional piety in the High Middle Ages. In some respects, Margaret (known by the toponym ‘of Ypres’) experienced something similar to what the monk Anselm of Canterbury had pleaded for in the 1090s when he begged Christ: ‘will you not make it up to me for not […] having kissed the place of the wounds where the nails pierced, for not having sprinkled with tears of joy the scars that prove the truth of your body?’2
John D. Cotts

Chapter 4. Intellectual Syntheses

Abstract
Over the course of the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries, Icelanders circulated stories, in both oral and written form, about the Vikings who had sailed to North America, to a place they called Vinland, around the year 1000. In the early or mid-thirteenth cen­tury, an anonymous scribe drew on this tradition and wrote it down in Old Norse prose; it was re-written later as Eirik’s Saga, which included the following story of an unfortunate cultural encounter across the Atlantic Ridge:
John D. Cotts

Chapter 5. The Crusades and the Idea of Christendom

Abstract
In the early 1150s, shortly after the Second Crusade failed, an Icelandic abbot named Nikulás of Munkathvera visited the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. ‘The center of the earth is there’, he later wrote, ‘where the sun shines directly down from the sky on the feast of St. John’.1 The contemporary artists who created the world maps known asmappae mundi certainly agreed, for they invariably placed Jerusalem in the precise center of the world, surrounded by the three known continents of Asia, Africa, and Europe. By the second third of the thirteenth century at the latest, people and places from the Bible and from classical literature populated these maps, while monsters, including some like the uniped that killed the Viking Karlsefni in Eirik’s Saga, populated the fringe areas.2 Despite its distance from Rome or London or even Iceland, Jerusalem represented that which was known absolutely; the further one travelled from Jerusalem, the less the rules of an ordered cosmos applied. Gerald of Wales (c. 1146–1223) introduced his book on the alleged wonders of Ireland by observing that ‘sometimes tired, as it were, of the true and the serious, [nature] draws aside and goes away, and in these remote parts indulges herself in these secret and distant freaks’.3
John D. Cotts
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