Negotiating Space: Power, Restraint, and Privileges of Immunity in Early Medieval Europe

Negotiating Space: Power, Restraint, and Privileges of Immunity in Early Medieval Europe

by Barbara H. Rosenwein


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Why did early medieval kings declare certain properties to be immune from the judicial and fiscal encroachments of their own agents? Did weakness compel them to prohibit their agents from entering these properties, as historians have traditionally believed? In a richly detailed book that will be greeted as a landmark addition to the literature on the Middle Ages, Barbara H. Rosenwein argues that immunities were markers of power. By placing restraints on themselves and their agents, kings demonstrated their authority, affirmed their status, and manipulated the boundaries of sacred space.

Rosenwein transforms our understanding of an institution central to the political and social dynamics of medieval Europe. She reveals how immunities were used by kings and other leaders to forge alliances with the noble families and monastic centers that were central to their power. Generally viewed as unchanging juridical instruments, immunities as they appear here are as fluid and diverse as the disparate social and political conflicts that they at once embody and seek to defuse. Their legacy reverberates in the modern world, where liberal institutions, with their emphasis on state restraint, clash with others that encourage governmental intrusion. The protections against unreasonable searches and seizures provided by English common law and the U.S. Constitution developed in part out of the medieval experience of immunities and the institutions that were elaborated to breach them.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780801485213
Publisher: Cornell University Press
Publication date: 01/26/1999
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.66(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Barbara H. Rosenwein is Professor of History at Loyola University, Chicago. She is the author of To Be the Neighbor of Saint Peter: The Social Meaning of Cluny's Property, 909-1049, editor of Anger's Past: The Social Uses of an Emotion in the Middle Ages, and coeditor of Monks and Nuns, Saints and Outcasts: Religion in Medieval Society, all from Cornell.

What People are Saying About This

Patrick J. Geary

"Once more Barbara Rosenwein takes a seemingly well-understood aspect of medieval history and makes us think about it in new ways. Her book leads us to a deeper appreciation of how power was developed and shared in the first millennium."

Jean-Claude Schmitt

"Barbara Rosenwein... makes us rethink in a way entirely new, more complete and more dynamic, the power games of feudal society-and at the same time invites us to meditate on some of the 'neo-medieval' aspects of our own 'liberal' society."

Walter Goffart

"Barbara Rosenwein calls attention to an institution that has rarely been examined in such detail and over so many centuries. Her ambitious study, which also appeals to anthropological ideas, should stimulate much fruitful discussion."

Herwig Wolfram

"In her stimulating book the author challenges the narrow understanding of immunity and exemption current in diplomatic and legal historical literature. By a careful and subtle analysis of well-documented cases, Barbara Rosenwein succeeds in her attempt to see immunities and exemptions as flexible instruments of political and social life-not only in the Middle Ages but from antiquity down to... modern legal systems."

H. E. J. Cowdry

"The subject and scope of Barbara H. Rosenwein's study are somewhat understated by its title.... Useful and stimulating."

William Ian Miller

"This book is a must-read for political theorists of the public/private distinction. Medievalists who already have come to expect clarity of vision, reliable research, and an eye for the interesting will welcome another masterful performance from Barbara Rosenwein."

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Negotiating Space: Power Restraint, and Privileges of Immunity in Early Medieval Europe 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
cemanuel on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Barbara Rosenwein uses this book to discuss the use of Immunities and Exemptions in Medieval Western Europe, primarily to the 11th century, and how these changed and evolved over time.This was an informative, very readable book. Unlike some of my other reviews, I won¿t give a detailed description of its contents because, quite simply, my first paragraph pretty much sums it up. She discusses how landowners ¿ primarily but not exclusively religious landowners ¿ were granted various immunities and exceptions. Initially these immunities were largely granted by the lay rulers ¿ Kings giving a monastery an exemption from paying a tax or excluding their land from entry by a royal official. With time more of these immunities came to be granted by religious authorities, though the ruling class was never entirely excluded.Although this book is fairly short it is full of information. Rosenwein footnotes liberally and she provides numerous quotations from various charters, writs and formularies. What is different about this book from some others is that quite often an author seems to be trying to beat you into submission with the sheer weight and number of sources ¿ when a point is made, he or she cites dozens of examples. Rosenwein makes her point, uses one or two examples, then allows her footnotes and bibliography to provide the reader with a path to find additional information. I am not opposed to longer volumes with massive amounts of information thrown at the reader, however her approach works well.This book is very readable. In the acknowledgement she mentions that one of her goals is to write a book a student could read. She does this. Her writing is well paced and engaging and she rarely lapses into academic jargon.One of her most interesting arguments is that the granting of numerous immunities is not a sign of weakness in a ruler ¿ a symptom that he has to ¿pay off¿ subjects with excessive privileges. Rather she states that immunities and exceptions are signs of a strong ruler, one who is binding subjects to him by these types of social linkages. While the examples she provides are sound proof, I¿m unconvinced that this is quite as frequent as she states. There have been plenty of rulers who felt comfortable enough in their own authority to give some of it up willingly however there have been some who granted rights to subjects from positions of weakness ¿ nobody would argue that King John of England granted The Charter of Liberties (Magna Carta) from a position of strength. Nevertheless, at the very least she makes a persuasive case that granting of privileges is not always a sign of a weak ruler and that these must be weighed against many other factors.My one substantial issue with this book is her inclusion of the final chapter, ¿A Man¿s House is his Castle.¿ In one chapter she attempts to trace the evolution of immunities and exemptions from the 11th century to the present and show how these have influenced the American 4th Amendment to the Constitution¿s guaranteeing a person¿s home against unreasonable search and seizure. First of all, this is far too much ground to cover in 20 pages. Second, for the first time her discussion becomes vague ¿ it¿s hard to get a handle on exactly what she¿s proposing except that some of this right was influenced by a social construct that began in the medieval period and some was not. This chapter would best be left for someone who could devote the necessary space to this discussion.This is a very good book. It isn¿t the first book on medieval social institutions I¿d recommend someone pick up however if you¿re interesting in medieval landholding, particularly religious landholding, its evolution and how some of the rights and privileges evolved, this book will certainly add to your knowledge.