Post-classical history

Peace and Truce of God

A peace movement that arose in tenth-century France; its ideas were revived by the papacy in connection with the crusades to the Holy Land.

The movement began as a response from bishops in the south and west of France to a breakdown of Carolingian authority and was manifested in two ways. The Peace of God (Lat. pax Dei), first proclaimed by Guy, bishop of Le Puy, in 975, was designed to protect noncombatants (clerics, women and children, and peasants) and their properties. The Truce of God (Lat. treuga Dei), first declared at an ecclesiastical council in Toulouges in 1027, established periods when fighting among Christians was to stop altogether (Lent, Sundays, and major feast days). As an episcopal initiative, peace and truce councils were most often called between about 1000 and 1070.

Bishops traditionally claimed responsibility for maintaining peace within their dioceses, but for much of its history the church encouraged kings to exercise their powers to impose punishment on criminals. Through the tenth century, however, Carolingian governance devolved to local nobles, many of whom could not sufficiently control lesser lords and knights whose livelihoods depended upon war. Moreover, prestige among rival families rested on the feud, which exacerbated the violence. Thus, bishops, no longer able to depend on royal justice, proclaimed the peace, but for the first time they sought to establish the means to punish the recalcitrant as well, through oaths and militias.

Monastic chroniclers such as Radulf Glaber and Adhemar of Chabannes relate how councils to proclaim the peace spread from Aquitaine and Languedoc throughout France. Councils involved large crowds of lay persons and clerics, who met in fields to accommodate their numbers. Participants swore to defend the peace over relics of saints, who were often described as witnesses to the proceedings. A notable example of such a peace association of laymen and ecclesiastics was the Peace League of Bourges, led by Archbishop Aimon in the late 1030s, whose members took an oath over the relics of St. Stephen to fight those who broke the peace. The defenders of the peace fought under the archbishop’s banner. Though the league was soon defeated, its forms clearly suggest those seen at the Council of Clermont in 1095: the preaching of controlled violence under ecclesiastical leadership, oath taking, and extensive lay participation.

Statutes concerning the peace and truce grew ever more specific and varied over time. The Council of Poitiers (1023), for example, proclaimed that disputes over property should be resolved by law and consultation, not by feuds. Other councils sometimes outlined expectations of sanctuary and hospitality. Statutes mostly sought to delimit local conflicts and to protect the unarmed, not to end the status and vocation of the knightly order. Indeed, only at the Council of Nar- bonne in 1054 was all bloodshed between Christians condemned. Although historians rightly speak of the Peace of God “movement,” one must be mindful that councils tackled regional concerns with regional solutions. Moreover, the movement was significantly different outside France: although occasionally proclaimed in England or the Holy Roman Empire, councils there met mostly after the 1050s, usually in response to specific and temporary crises, not to a disintegration of royal or imperial authority.

Participation in peace associations, and especially commitment to the truce, conveyed spiritual prestige on bellicose nobles and knights, which helped cultivate chivalric ideals of Christian knighthood. Associations also fostered embryonic notions of civic activity among the farmers and merchants who took part. The movement thus inadvertently helped reestablish lay authority, which mitigated the need for peace associations as organized by bishops. The ideals of the movement were revived by Pope Urban II, who proclaimed the peace at the Council of Clermont in 1095 before he preached the crusade, a precedent that came to be followed by his successors. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, papal declarations of peace invariably preceded calls to undertake a crusade, yet their concern was specifically to protect the families and properties left behind by crusaders. Punitive incursions against rebellious lords led by King Louis VI of France (1108-1137), concluded by his son Louis VII before the 1150s, ensured reestablishment of the idea that peace was to be proclaimed and adjudicated by the king.

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