Peaceful Kings: Peace, Power, and the Early Medieval Political Imagination

By de Souza, Philip | The Historian, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

Peaceful Kings: Peace, Power, and the Early Medieval Political Imagination


de Souza, Philip, The Historian


Peaceful Kings: Peace, Power, and the Early Medieval Political Imagination. By Paul J. E. Kershaw. (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2010. Pp. xviii, 313. $120.00.)

The rulers of the Germanic and Gothic kingdoms that emerged from the wreckage of the Western Roman Empire in the sixth and seventh centuries AD belonged to warrior cultures that expected their leaders to achieve glory in endless warfare and conquest. Yet the new monarchies eagerly embraced the prestige of their Roman imperial legacy. A key element of that heritage was the concept of the Christian emperor, whose victories over "barbarian" enemies provided external security and whose piety and respect for law and order guaranteed his subjects peace and prosperity.

Paul J. E. Kershaw explains that peace was not an entirely alien concept to the earliest medieval European rulers, but his detailed and penetrating analysis of the surviving textual sources shows how it gradually achieved the status of a core value for the early medieval kings in their dealings with each other and with their most important vassals. The evidence for the development and promulgation of the political ideology of the peacemaking Christian king mostly comes from the writings of learned, ecclesiastical advisors with close links to the royal households. Hence the true protagonists of this remarkable story are not the kings themselves but men like the prolific Carolingian poet, scholar, and letter writer Alcuin of York or the anonymous Irish author(s) of the seventh-century treatise "On the Twelve Abuses of the World" (De duodecim abusivis saeculi). Through his expert discussion of their writings, Kershaw explores the growing roles of these advisers and admonishers of the often-quarrelsome kings. The coronation of Charlemagne as Holy Roman Emperor in Rome by Pope Leo III on Christmas Day 800 provides a focal point for the history of the concept of the peaceful king. …

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