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Monastic exemption in France, c. 590– c. 1100

This book examines the history of monastic exemption in France. It maps an institutional story of monastic freedom and protection, which is deeply rooted in the religious, political, social, and legal culture of the early Middle Ages. Traversing many geo-political boundaries and fields of historical specialisation, this book evaluates the nature and extent of papal involvement in French monasteries between the sixth and eleventh centuries. Defining the meaning and value of exemption to medieval contemporaries during this era, it demonstrates how the papacy’s commitment, cooperation, and intervention transformed existing ecclesiastical and political structures. Charting the elaboration of monastic exemption privileges from a marginalised to centralised practice, this book asks why so many French monasteries were seeking exemption privileges directly from Rome; what significance they held for monks, bishops, secular rulers, and popes; how and why this practice developed throughout the early Middle Ages; and, ultimately, what impact monastic exemption had on the emerging identity of papal authority, the growth of early monasticism, Frankish politics and governance, church reform, and canon law.

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Kriston R. Rennie

The second half of the ninth century is a particularly cogent era for monastic exemption privileges. This chapter explains the promise and growth of papal protection during this period, when it became a defining feature of monastic exemption privileges. As a coveted ambition for many medieval monasteries, this valuable commodity introduced a physical, ideological, and rhetorical dimension into the political exchange, shaping a distinctly Roman tradition.

in Freedom and protection
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Kriston R. Rennie
in Freedom and protection
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Kriston R. Rennie

The law of monastic exemption is seldom viewed through an early medieval lens. Overcoming this historiographical problem, this chapter defines the character and growth of monastic exemption in a period comparatively lacking in legal expression and rhetoric. It examines how it operated, how it was defined, and what it meant to contemporaries. In what ways did its early practice shape later canon law? What were the precedents which framed later legal developments? To advance our understanding further, the technical form of exemption is stripped down to its constitutive elements. This methodological approach offers a richer understanding of monastic exemption in the early Middle Ages, in turn revealing its inherent value to the papacy in making concessions to the law over many subsequent centuries.

in Freedom and protection
Kriston R. Rennie

The institutional practice of exemption did not operate outside existing ecclesiastical and political structures. It required the willing participation of lay and ecclesiastical magnates, whose support reveals a confluence of contemporary factors and motivations at play. That monasteries were increasingly seeking privileges from Rome raises important questions about their rights and authority (spiritual and judicial), and the potential disruption to established norms. This chapter asks whether a monastery’s success in acquiring exemption privileges effectively undermined existing political and ecclesiastical authority. In short: did the growth of this practice in any way contribute to a process of political fragmentation? Did individual religious houses benefit, or seek to benefit, from changing political circumstances? And finally: what role did the papacy play in these wider transformations?

in Freedom and protection
Abstract only
Kriston R. Rennie
in Freedom and protection
Abstract only
Kriston R. Rennie

The history of monastic exemption in France gives witness to a rich and lively institutional story of freedom and protection. This opening chapter frames the subject, its historiographical traditions, and methodological challenges, advancing the argument for a Roman tradition whose origins and development date firmly to the early Middle Ages.

in Freedom and protection
Kriston R. Rennie

This chapter examines the historical and conciliar framework of monastic exemption, with a particular interest in tracing its formation and development between the fifth and eighth centuries. Such a focus outlines its growth during the early Middle Ages, which determined the monastery’s place within the local diocesan context. The construction, and subsequent deconstruction, of this relationship underpins this book’s ongoing investigation, which seeks ultimately to understand how and why papal protection became a coveted asset among French monasteries. To make this understanding possible, this chapter asks what came before the surge and why. It argues for an emerging pattern and character of exemption under the Franks, which proved central to developing notions of spiritual and physical protection under the popes. As a consequence of this novel mentality, a monastery’s relationship with its surrounding environment permitted greater degrees of freedom and protection than ever before. This unique transformation took time to develop, forging alliances that effectively shifted individual monasteries away from their Frankish protectorate towards the burgeoning spiritual centre in Rome.

in Freedom and protection
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Kriston R. Rennie

A monastery’s relationship with Rome raises fundamental questions about its origins and nature. Exemption privileges form an important part of this story – a connecting link between the centre in Rome and the Christian periphery. This chapter questions the monastery’s impetus for seeking special exemption from Rome by examining the practice’s development from the papal perspective. It seeks to understand the gravitational pull of ‘Rome’s orbit’, which reveals the precedent, pragmatism, and vision of early medieval popes in the organization and governance of religious life. Formulating the popes’ attitude towards, and involvement in, western monasteries, this chapter explains why the granting of monastic exemptions became so pronounced a feature of papal government in the early Middle Ages.

in Freedom and protection
Kriston R. Rennie

Monastic exemption was a product of political negotiation and re-negotiation. More than just a passive outcome of individual circumstance, monastic freedom and protection were objectives reached with direct and effective papal support and intervention. These specific rights and liberties were achievable in no small measure because of Rome’s increasing role in challenging unwanted episcopal and lay domination. Although initiated by monks in Christian provinces like France – and supported regionally by Frankish bishops, kings, and magnates – exemptions became increasingly mobilised as powerful social, political, and legal mechanisms of medieval papal governance. This concluding chapter questions this so-called ‘victory of the papacy’, asking whether this is still the most accurate and lasting impression.

in Freedom and protection