Going Medieval

Medieval adventures without a TARDIS

Power of the Bishop III: Bishop as Diplomat [2017]

Conference Report

[N.B. We sadly lost the Storify reports, but the tweets all still exist. Search for the #PoB3 tag @PotBConf]. 
The conference was a great success again this year, thanks to our wonderful, generous sponsors:
Medium Aevum
Prof. Em. Peter Coss
Angela Coss
Cardiff University School of History, Archaeology and Religion
Cardiff University School of Modern Languages
Medium Aevum, Peter Coss and Angela Coss ensured that we could offer not four but six bursaries to speakers of £100 each, and Medium Aevum paid for the catering costs. The School of History, Archaeology and Religion waived the overhead fees payable by conferences there and allowed us to book rooms in the School without charge, and the School of Modern Languages provided £200 for the keynote speaker’s travel and accommodation.
We were really pleased to have representatives from the following institutions:
Aberystwyth University
Bangor Universty
Cardiff University
Cardiff Metropolitan University
Central European University in Budapest
Elon University, North Carolina
Eotvos Lorand University, Budapest
Manchester Metropolitan University
University of Adelaide
University College, Dublin
University of East Anglia
University of Edinburgh
University of Exeter
University of Huddersfield
Université Libré de Bruxelles
University of Lincoln
University of Nottingham
University of Salerno

University of York

Our team of Undergraduate volunteers were fantastic, and made the day run smoothly. They came in and listened to the panels, asking questions and engaging with the material – it was great to have them on board and has been a privelege to get to know them in this and last academic years.

Our first day of #PoB3 drew to a close, and people braved the June showers (read: torrential downpour) to go back to their hotels/meet family and friends/go to the pub, followed by conference dinner at Bellini’s Italiano, 1 Park Place. We have covered a lot of ground, from the 11-14thCs, and from Italy, Hungary and Croatia to the Latin East and from Orleans to Canterbury and Lincoln.
One of the most interesting things to come out of today is the way the Keynote on pastoral diplomacy offset the secular diplomatic actions of bishops. The big question is whether we should rethink our assumption that diplomacy and compromise were always good things: there was to be no diplomacy in the war of good vs evil, for example, but only on an individual pastoral level where things could be negotiated with individuals. For example, penance for adultery had to be undertaken, but the form of it could be negotiated so that it would not be obvious to anyone else that such penance was being done to maintain the privacy and secrecy of the confession, and to take into account the individual’s circumstances. Meanwhile, we had many papers discussing diplomacy in a secular world of physical violence and conflict, and the bishops’ role as peacemaker and conductor of persons – hostages, or those seeking safe conduct, for example – and relationships with lay patrons, lords and kings.
Disputes in local society and in the chapter also came up, where the boundary of secular conflict or spiritual conflict was blurred. This stood out in the case of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s dispute with his chapter. Was it a case where diplomacy and tact was required (Hubert Walter’s route) or a case where the monks were sinning against the archbishop by breaking their vows of obedience, and needed to be sanctioned for the good of their souls/to be punished for their sin (Baldwin of Forde’s view)?
We also looked at secular webs of connections versus ecclesiastical contacts and the formation of new personal loyalties in attempts to gain and consolidate/strengthen positions. This was especially interesting in cases where bishops had no family standing or networks to fall back on, versus ones that did.
The AHRC project on bishops at Aberdeen is looking at Episcopal careers and networks in a more focused fashion, and have just had their first big conference about a week ago. We look forward to see if there is any crossover there!
The second and final day of #PoB3 was a fascinating one. The round table drew the threads of both days together, and there were the most attendees we have had so far at an end-of-conference round table. Everyone felt comfortable contributing and we had a great discussion in a friendly atmosphere.
Highlights of the round table, chaired by Peter Coss, Chris Dennis, Melissa Julian-Jones and Angelo Silvestri, included discussions on terminology, and a note that we had not defined ‘diplomacy’ explicitly. In earlier centuries, when you can talk about governance but not government, it was far more difficult to construct something on diplomacy as a science: it made contributors view their source material differently, and question what diplomatics actually were.
Diplomacy as a set of behaviours was something that came up – could we distinguish between diplomacy and tact on micro and macro levels? Local vs ‘national’, for example? This opened up a brief, unresolved but interesting, debate, linked to the terminology queries. What Latin words were used to describe ‘diplomacy’ and what definition of diplomacy?
There were still questions to be asked surrounding the efficacy of employing diplomacy and whether it was always a good thing. Warrior-bishops, courtier-bishops and monk-bishops were all different types or tropes of the episcopal office – what was expected behaviour of one might not be for another. What could they/could they not do? How were their reactions to stimuli limited, overstepped, or maintained? Why?
We touched on all three in the papers, and the question regarding the differences in career path and type also hit upon the notion of charisma, and how personality animated the office. This is of course something we devoted an entire volume to previously, and we are preparing Episcopal Power and Personality for Brepols, with more details coming at the end of this year.
Primarily, we returned again and again to images, or rather the visual statements that bishops made in diplomatic or undiplomatic ways. The image of Gerard, Archbishop of York, kicking over a chair in protest that he was seated lower than Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, at an assembly to discuss reforms, was a central one to the discussion that stuck in people’s minds – courtesy of Bill Aird’s paper ‘Where are you sitting?’ in the second panel today.
We came to the conclusion that next time the topic should perhaps focus on the Bishop and his role as Patron, in art, architecture, manuscript creation, and education, but we wanted to emphasise his socio-cultural role, particularly so that cathedrals as cultural space might be discussed as well.
We will chew over these thoughts and others not mentioned here, and begin our work on the volume Bishops as Diplomats (Vol 3) and planning for 2019 in due course.
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