Medieval -- Itinerant Kingship and Royal Monasteries in Early Medieval Germany, C. 936-1075 by John W. Bernhardt

By Nelson, Janet L. | The Catholic Historical Review, October 1995 | Go to article overview

Medieval -- Itinerant Kingship and Royal Monasteries in Early Medieval Germany, C. 936-1075 by John W. Bernhardt


Nelson, Janet L., The Catholic Historical Review


Itinerant Kingship and Royal Monasteries in Early Medieval Germany, c. 936-1075. By John W. Bernhardt.

Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought, fourth series, 21.

(New York: Cambridge University Press. 1993. Pp. xix, 376. $69.95.)

Ottonian and Salian power was no foregone conclusion. Where recent studies of the tenth and eleventh centuries have emphasized German monarchy's ideological strength and reliance on episcopal support, John Bernhardt's prime focus is on the painstaking construction and maintenance of royal power through the control of monasteries. And since monastic life, unlike episcopacy, never has been for men only, Bernhardt reveals (without quite accenting) the immense contribution of women to the working of monarchy. Itinerancy as a method of government imposes its own requirements. Before they staged representations of monarchy, sacral kings (and queens?) needed bed and breakfast. Though Bernhardt does not side-line ideology, he puts center-field the management of economic and military resources. His book, drawing discriminatingly on a vast historiography largely in German, will be as welcome to empiricists, and not least to anglophone students, as to exponents of conceptual history. Its organization is rock-solid: three chapters on the kingdom's political, ideological, and economic structures; four chapters on regional case studies.

What did monasteries do for German monarchy? Rather than attempting a legalistic formula, Bernhardt maps the relationship onto the political contours of the realm. Royal monasteries were situated in the base-zones of royal power, but, still more often, in the regions of the transit between those zones (excellent maps demonstrate this regions therefore "militarily and politically strategic," and regions in which by definition few royal lands were located. First and foremost, monastic servitium meant hospitality. Using methodology developed by E. Mueller-Mertens, supplemented where possible by archaeological evidence, Bernhardt can show that the number of royal stays at certain major monasteries, Quedlinburg, Hersfeld, and Fulda, for instance, was much greater than hitherto thought. A further kind of service, selectively required, was military, performed by warriors endowed with monastic lands. Bernhardt argues persuasively that, following Carolingian precedents, monastic property was divided between abbot/abbess and community and that the royal servitium fell only on the abbatial portion. But abbots/abbesses were often driven by royal demands to encroach on conventual resources.

The relationship between monarchs and monasteries, inherited from the Carolingian Empire, developed in the tenth-century east on similar lines to the ninth-century west. Henry II, like Carolingian rulers, aimed at the twin goals of better monastic conduct and improved economic management because both served the realm. Bernhardt's emphasis here is a welcome corrective to the misconception entertained by some modern historians (though not by modern ecclesiastical managers) that religious reform and efficient financial arrangements are somehow mutually exclusive. …

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