The Crisis of the Twelfth Century: Power, Lordship, and the Origins of European Government

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Overview

"In this persuasive work of comparative European history, Thomas Bisson overturns received ideas about change, 'Renaissance,' and 'government.' He enables us to feel almost physically the oppression of castles, the violence of horses, and all that was, even before its own crisis, the power of the lords ruling Europe. This masterpiece crowns a prolific career in history. It will stand as a great classic."--Jean-Claude Schmitt, école des Hautes études en Sciences Sociales

"Bisson's view is that power as lordship was not 'political' in this period but personal, patrimonial, self-indulgent, and above all violent. This book is a major contribution to the field, not only because it is the fullest development of Bisson's learned position, but because of the prodigious amount and varying character of the sources he commands and his deftness in deploying them."--Edward Peters, author of Europe and the Middle Ages

"This is an excellent book. In it, Bisson sums up a life's work and offers a grand narrative on major socioeconomic and sociopolitical changes in the central Middle Ages. There is no recent book that even attempts such a task as this. It is a very considerable contribution."--Chris Wickham, author of Framing the Early Middle Ages

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Editorial Reviews

New York Review of Books
Was the 'old public order' of Charlemagne and his successors so public and so ordered? Was the subsequent regime so close to anarchy? Bisson adds to this traditional account by thinking deeply about the benefits and disadvantages of government. He is very aware of the inhumanity of the past he studies. . . . Confronting this world of hunter and hunted, Bisson is inspired by attractively humane impulses. And he looks for public, accountable, official remedies for suffering and oppression.
— Robert Barlett
Times Higher Education
For some time, medievalists have associated the 12th century with 'renaissance.' . . .Thomas Bisson offers a radically different view, . . . [and] makes the case with considerable brio and insight. . . .A tremendously powerful vision of the period. Bisson's vision of a dark 12th century can be questioned [but] that does not mean it should be dismissed. The Crisis of the Twelfth Century will be essential reading for all medievalists.
— John H. Arnold
London Review of Books
The story is an old one, but so many-sided as to invite constant retelling from new angles. Bisson has found a new angle, and writes with prodigious sweep and learning.
— Alexander Murray
BBC History Magazine
The sustained argument is a fascinating one, the attractions of the book increased by sections devoted to rather different geographical areas from those that dominate most surveys of medieval Europe. [Bisson's] effort to combine the traditionally separate fields of political and cultural history in explaining the 'origins of government' is admirable.
— John Hudson
History Today
In an era when bold syntheses are still too rare, Bisson has taken on 12th-century government in the whole of western Europe, from Poland to Spain, to show with unusual clarity how the period was one of violence and exploitation and how 'government' was inseparable from the exercise of personal power. Bisson's take is controversial and will stir up opposition (it's part of the attraction of the book), but his vision, and his delight in showing patterns of real structural change, make his work refreshing; and I found his nearly 600 pages hard to put down.
— Chris Wickham
Reviews in History
This is a book which scholars of central medieval power and society will have to ponder for a long time to come. Its sheer breadth, its ambition and the lightness with which it wears its scholarship all demand attention. . . . Few other books manage to use Europe's regional variation so elegantly to elaborate on coherent pan-European themes whilst avoiding any impression that developments were inevitable. Its contribution to the debate over changes in lordship and government will be massive. It will undoubtedly serve to pull historical interest back to the centre of medieval experience.
— Theo Riches
Spartacus Educational
The Crisis of the Twelfth Century is an unparalleled cultural history of power in medieval Europe, and a monumental achievement by one of today's foremost medievalists.
H-Net Reviews
[T]he overall arc of the work's argument is impressive. . . . Bisson has provided historians with an impressive work that will hopefully spark new discussions of medieval lordship, politics, and government.
— Jonathan R. Lyon
Journal of the Review of Politics
This is a deeply learned book, not for the faint of heart or the unsophisticated reader. Bisson presumes a thorough and comprehensive knowledge of the events and close readings of a wide range of texts. However, the astute reader will be rewarded with an illuminating comparative study of a pivotal point in the history of the European Middle Ages.
— Theresa Earenfight
Speculum
Bisson's book . . . sweeps aside still-prevailing assumptions of teleology in political and constitutional history and forces historians of different areas of Europe to battle against any parochial instinct. That it raises so many questions is an indication of its considerable contribution to and departure from existing histories of governments and states of the central Middle Ages.
— Alice Taylor
Journal of Law and History Review
Bisson . . . is to be commended . . . for so effectively setting the agenda for future historians.
— William Chester Jordan
Labour
This book reinforces Thomas Bisson's position as one of the most important contemporary historians of the Middle Ages. . . . Few have the knowledge of the period enjoyed by Bisson. . . . [T]his sophisticated, nuanced and subtle book will amply reward the reader's effort.
— Peter Fleming
New York Review of Books - Robert Barlett
Was the 'old public order' of Charlemagne and his successors so public and so ordered? Was the subsequent regime so close to anarchy? Bisson adds to this traditional account by thinking deeply about the benefits and disadvantages of government. He is very aware of the inhumanity of the past he studies. . . . Confronting this world of hunter and hunted, Bisson is inspired by attractively humane impulses. And he looks for public, accountable, official remedies for suffering and oppression.
Times Higher Education - John H. Arnold
For some time, medievalists have associated the 12th century with 'renaissance.' . . .Thomas Bisson offers a radically different view, . . . [and] makes the case with considerable brio and insight. . . .A tremendously powerful vision of the period. Bisson's vision of a dark 12th century can be questioned [but] that does not mean it should be dismissed. The Crisis of the Twelfth Century will be essential reading for all medievalists.
London Review of Books - Alexander Murray
The story is an old one, but so many-sided as to invite constant retelling from new angles. Bisson has found a new angle, and writes with prodigious sweep and learning.
BBC History Magazine - John Hudson
The sustained argument is a fascinating one, the attractions of the book increased by sections devoted to rather different geographical areas from those that dominate most surveys of medieval Europe. [Bisson's] effort to combine the traditionally separate fields of political and cultural history in explaining the 'origins of government' is admirable.
History Today - Chris Wickham
In an era when bold syntheses are still too rare, Bisson has taken on 12th-century government in the whole of western Europe, from Poland to Spain, to show with unusual clarity how the period was one of violence and exploitation and how 'government' was inseparable from the exercise of personal power. Bisson's take is controversial and will stir up opposition (it's part of the attraction of the book), but his vision, and his delight in showing patterns of real structural change, make his work refreshing; and I found his nearly 600 pages hard to put down.
Reviews in History - Theo Riches
This is a book which scholars of central medieval power and society will have to ponder for a long time to come. Its sheer breadth, its ambition and the lightness with which it wears its scholarship all demand attention. . . . Few other books manage to use Europe's regional variation so elegantly to elaborate on coherent pan-European themes whilst avoiding any impression that developments were inevitable. Its contribution to the debate over changes in lordship and government will be massive. It will undoubtedly serve to pull historical interest back to the centre of medieval experience.
H-Net Reviews - Jonathan R. Lyon
[T]he overall arc of the work's argument is impressive. . . . Bisson has provided historians with an impressive work that will hopefully spark new discussions of medieval lordship, politics, and government.
Journal of the Review of Politics - Theresa Earenfight
This is a deeply learned book, not for the faint of heart or the unsophisticated reader. Bisson presumes a thorough and comprehensive knowledge of the events and close readings of a wide range of texts. However, the astute reader will be rewarded with an illuminating comparative study of a pivotal point in the history of the European Middle Ages.
Speculum - Alice Taylor
Bisson's book . . . sweeps aside still-prevailing assumptions of teleology in political and constitutional history and forces historians of different areas of Europe to battle against any parochial instinct. That it raises so many questions is an indication of its considerable contribution to and departure from existing histories of governments and states of the central Middle Ages.
Journal of Law and History Review - William Chester Jordan
Bisson . . . is to be commended . . . for so effectively setting the agenda for future historians.
Labour - Peter Fleming
This book reinforces Thomas Bisson's position as one of the most important contemporary historians of the Middle Ages. . . . Few have the knowledge of the period enjoyed by Bisson. . . . [T]his sophisticated, nuanced and subtle book will amply reward the reader's effort.
From the Publisher

"Was the 'old public order' of Charlemagne and his successors so public and so ordered? Was the subsequent regime so close to anarchy? Bisson adds to this traditional account by thinking deeply about the benefits and disadvantages of government. He is very aware of the inhumanity of the past he studies. . . . Confronting this world of hunter and hunted, Bisson is inspired by attractively humane impulses. And he looks for public, accountable, official remedies for suffering and oppression."--Robert Barlett, New York Review of Books

"For some time, medievalists have associated the 12th century with 'renaissance.' . . .Thomas Bisson offers a radically different view, . . . [and] makes the case with considerable brio and insight. . . .A tremendously powerful vision of the period. Bisson's vision of a dark 12th century can be questioned [but] that does not mean it should be dismissed. The Crisis of the Twelfth Century will be essential reading for all medievalists."--John H. Arnold, Times Higher Education

"The story is an old one, but so many-sided as to invite constant retelling from new angles. Bisson has found a new angle, and writes with prodigious sweep and learning."--Alexander Murray, London Review of Books

"The sustained argument is a fascinating one, the attractions of the book increased by sections devoted to rather different geographical areas from those that dominate most surveys of medieval Europe. [Bisson's] effort to combine the traditionally separate fields of political and cultural history in explaining the 'origins of government' is admirable."--John Hudson, BBC History Magazine

"In an era when bold syntheses are still too rare, Bisson has taken on 12th-century government in the whole of western Europe, from Poland to Spain, to show with unusual clarity how the period was one of violence and exploitation and how 'government' was inseparable from the exercise of personal power. Bisson's take is controversial and will stir up opposition (it's part of the attraction of the book), but his vision, and his delight in showing patterns of real structural change, make his work refreshing; and I found his nearly 600 pages hard to put down."--Chris Wickham, History Today

"This is a book which scholars of central medieval power and society will have to ponder for a long time to come. Its sheer breadth, its ambition and the lightness with which it wears its scholarship all demand attention. . . . Few other books manage to use Europe's regional variation so elegantly to elaborate on coherent pan-European themes whilst avoiding any impression that developments were inevitable. Its contribution to the debate over changes in lordship and government will be massive. It will undoubtedly serve to pull historical interest back to the centre of medieval experience."--Theo Riches, Reviews in History

"The Crisis of the Twelfth Century is an unparalleled cultural history of power in medieval Europe, and a monumental achievement by one of today's foremost medievalists."--Spartacus Educational

"[T]he overall arc of the work's argument is impressive. . . . Bisson has provided historians with an impressive work that will hopefully spark new discussions of medieval lordship, politics, and government."--Jonathan R. Lyon, H-Net Reviews

"This is a deeply learned book, not for the faint of heart or the unsophisticated reader. Bisson presumes a thorough and comprehensive knowledge of the events and close readings of a wide range of texts. However, the astute reader will be rewarded with an illuminating comparative study of a pivotal point in the history of the European Middle Ages."--Theresa Earenfight, Journal of the Review of Politics

"Bisson's book . . . sweeps aside still-prevailing assumptions of teleology in political and constitutional history and forces historians of different areas of Europe to battle against any parochial instinct. That it raises so many questions is an indication of its considerable contribution to and departure from existing histories of governments and states of the central Middle Ages."--Alice Taylor, Speculum

"Bisson . . . is to be commended . . . for so effectively setting the agenda for future historians."--William Chester Jordan, Journal of Law and History Review

"This book reinforces Thomas Bisson's position as one of the most important contemporary historians of the Middle Ages. . . . Few have the knowledge of the period enjoyed by Bisson. . . . [T]his sophisticated, nuanced and subtle book will amply reward the reader's effort."--Peter Fleming, Labour

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691147956
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 7/19/2010
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 720
  • Sales rank: 796,405
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas N. Bisson is the Henry Charles Lea Professor of Medieval History (emeritus) at Harvard University. His books include "Tormented Voices: Power, Crisis, and Humanity in Rural Catalonia, 1140-1200" and "Cultures of Power: Lordship, Status, and Process in Twelfth-Century Europe".

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Table of Contents

Preface vii

List of Illustrations xvii

Usage and Conventions xix

Abbreviations xxi

I Introduction 1

II The Age of Lordship (875-1150) 22

Old Order 25

The Quest for Lordship and Nobility 31

Constraint, Violence, and Disruption 41

Cultures of Lordship 68

III Lord-Rulership (1050-1150): The Experience of Power 84

The Papacy 87

West Mediterranean Realms 95

León and Castile 95

In Sight of the Pyreness 104

Imperial Lands 111

Bavaria 116

Lombardy 120

France 128

Anjou 129

Flanders 142

Northern Kingdoms 155

Capetian France 158

Norman England 168

IV Crises of Power (1060-1150) 182

Uneasy Maturity 183

Dynastic Anxiety 183

Anxious Fulfillments 191

The Church 197

Troubled Societies 212

The Saxon Revolt and Its Consequences (1073-1125) 213

Castled France (CA. 1100-1137) 229

Troubles on the Pilgrims' Road (1109-36) 243

Flanders: The Murder of Charles the Good (1127-28) 259

England: 'When Christ and His Saints Slept' (1135-54) 269

An Age of Tyranny? 278

V Resolution: Intrusions of Government (1150-1215) 289

Great Lordship in Prosperity and Crisis 293

'Shadows of Peace' 306

Aquitaine: Princes of Ill Repute 308

Anjou: The Tyranny of Giraud Berlai 310

A Tyrannical Bishop(?): Aldebert of Mende (1151-87) 312

The Justice of Accountability 316

The Accountability of Fidelity (1075-1150) 322

Prescriptive Accountancy 325

Towards an Accountability of Office (1085-1200) 328

A Dynamic of Fiscal Growth (ca. 1090-1160) 329

Towards a New Technique (ca. 1110-75) 336

England: Pipe Rolls and Exchequer 336

Flanders: The Grote Brief and Its Origins 339

Sicily: Pluri-Cultural Conservancy? 343

Catalonia: From Exploitation to Agency 345

Constraint, Compromise, and Office 349

Charters of Franchise: Some Lessons 350

Thresholds of Office 358

In Sight of Our Lady's Towers 362

Working with Power 369

Catalonia 371

England 378

France 398

The Roman Church 415

VI Celebration and Persuasion (1160-1225) 425

Cultures of Power 430

Sung Fidelity 431

Courtly Talk 438

Learned Moralising 445

Expertise: Two Facets 456

Knowing 457

Knowing How 462

Pacification 471

The Capuchins of Velay 475

Politicised Power 484

The Crisis of Catalonia (1173-1205) 499

The Crisis of Magna Carta (1212-15) 515

States and Estates of Power 529

The States of Troubled Realms 530

The Great Lordship of Consensus 541

Towards Estates of Associative Power 548

Towards a Parliamentary Custom of Consent 556

VII Epilogue 573

Glossary 583

Bibliography 587

Index 641

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