Writing The Peace of God

Depending on which historians you read, the Peace of God was either one of the most important movements of the entire middle ages … or not a movement at all, and not all that important. It may have been sparked by an expectation that the approaching Millennium of Christ’s Incarnation and Passion demanded the total reform of church and society … or its millenarian overtones were nothing but traditional ecclesiastical rhetoric. It may have signalled the entry of the “common people” onto the political stage … unless that, too, was just conventional rhetoric for an ecclesiastical ideal of social unity. It was either a response to a sudden surge of warfare and violence by members of a newly empowered local aristocracy … or there was no sudden surge of violence at all and the new aristocracy was basically the old aristocracy. It has been seen as something utterly unprecedented in European history … and as nothing but a renewed deployment of old legislation and patterns of government. 

One reason for such divergent interpretations is that most scholars who have studied the Peace of God specialize on the decades when it first appeared and most quickly developed — the late 10th and early 11th centuries, in France. And most tend to be specialists on one particular type of source or one particular aspect of society (bishops, monasticism, church canons, hagiography, political power and institutions, church reform). But my career has been a bit odd. As a graduate student I worked mostly on 12th– and 13th-century ecclesiastical and secular legal procedures in France. Yet I published my first book on 10th– and 11th-century French rituals. After twenty years of work and retooling, I published my next book on 9th– and 10th-century West Frankish (i.e., proto-French) politics, charters, and historiography. And though most people probably think of me as primarily a political historian, I think of myself as someone who works on the intersections between religion and political power, and I actually do more reading on monasticism than on any else. 

That’s why when ARC approached me about writing this book I accepted immediately. I wanted to write a book on the Peace of God that would do equal justice to its pre-history in the 9th century and its prolongation in the 12th. I wanted to understand what in the Peace was secular, what episcopal, and what monastic. I wanted a chance to study for myself what in the Peace was new and what was different. 

I tend to write for myself. I try not to care too much whether others like what I write. If it satisfies me, I’m happy. And I’m really very happy with this book, because I accomplished exactly what I set out to do. I especially love the Conclusion. 

Of course, I’ll be even happier if others also like it.

Incidentally, if you’re curious, the dedication-epigraph reads, literally: “These are small pieces of jade and pearl.” It’s from “The Rhapsody of the Goddess of the Luo River” by Cao Zhi (192–232 CE). If you knew my wife, you’d understand. I hope it applies to the book, too. 

By Geoffrey Koziol