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Priests and maces

Posted: Tue Dec 23, 2008 2:29 pm
by Chris, yclept John Barber
I don't know how many times I've heard re-enactors telling MOPS (and I've done it plenty of times myself :oops: ) that the priestly orders used maces in battle because the Pope had forbidden them the use of weapons which draw blood, which meant anything with a sharp blade.

Now, I did read in a barber-surgeon research context that priests and monks were forbidden to draw blood in a medical sense in the mid-13th century, which was a great boost for barber-surgeons because it meant that they had to be called in for a lot of medical procedures which otherwise would have been done by the infirmerer in a monastery.

But was there ever an edict which applied to weapons, or was it just an interpretation of the strictures about drawing blood medically being extended to "If you're going to smite the ungodly in a pitched battle, don't use a sword"?

Or perhaps just a fashion thing? I know Bishop Odo is shown with a mace in the Bayeaux Comic-Strip. And it seems like the sort of image the clergy might want to project - nothing so obviously warlike as a sword, but still a deadly weapon despite the innocuous appearance.

Anyone have any idea whether this is just another re-enactorism which should be put to bed?

Posted: Tue Dec 23, 2008 3:33 pm
by Phil the Grips
Odo's club is a baculum- a symbol of office as a leader descended from the Romans and still present in the form of the mace that can be seen in Parliament today and in the Monarch's Regalia.

While it would make an excellent weapon if pressed to do so it is not its primary aim. I think that the story is a misreading of a hodge-podge of ideas and actually horlicks.

Especially when you look into ideals of Public War, whereby those in Holy Orders could be excused their military actions (and remember that most clergy of that seniority will be of military backgrounds due to social status anyway) with a bit of absolution and confession.

The Bishop of Hereford got his chasuble and immediately went off on campaign in the Marches, IIRC, so the idea of not drawing blood was certainly not universal, or even extent, especially when you look at the martial code of the day (none of your niminypiminy high medieval romantic ideals of Chivalry in that era- as proven by Bill the Conk's deathbed speech) which was basically " if you turn up then you can expect to be munched" since there was some ideal of ransom, look at Harold being taken on his visit to Normandy, but it certainly wasn't the goal.

Posted: Wed Dec 24, 2008 1:50 am
by Malvoisin
The none spilling of blood thing may have some thing to do with the Treuga Dei - Truce of God or Pax Dei - Peace of God movements, a general clamp down, by the church, on violence in feudal societies that began in the 10thC.
Clergy had to show an example after all, and the "spilling of blood" thing could well have ment "don't kill at all". Inevitably these things get miss-interpreted for ill gotten gains. Does a mace draw blood? I think it might.

Regards restictions onthe medical side of things. That may come fromthe 2nd Lateran Council of 1139.
Canon 9 states:-
9. Moreover, the evil and detestable practice has grown, so we understand, whereby monks and canons regular, after receiving the habit and making their profession, are learning civil law and medicine with a view to temporal gain, in scornful disregard of the rules of their blessed teachers Benedict and Augustine. In fact, burning with the fire of avarice, they make themselves the advocates of suits; and since they have to neglect the psalmody and hymns, placing their trust in the power of fine rhetoric instead, they confuse what is right and what is wrong, justice and iniquity, by reason of the variety of their arguments. But the imperial constitutions testify that it is truly absurd and reprehensible for clerics to want to be experts in the disputes of law courts. We decree by apostolic authority that lawbreakers of this kind are to be severely punished. There are also those who, neglecting the care of souls, completely ignore their state in life, promise health in return for hateful money and make themselves healers of human bodies. And since an immodest eye manifests an immodest heart, religion ought to have nothing to do with those things of which virtue is ashamed to speak. Therefore, we forbid by apostolic authority this practice to continue, so that the monastic order and the order of canons may be preserved without stain in a state of life pleasing to God, in accord with their holy purpose. Furthermore, bishops, abbots and priors who consent to and fail to correct such an outrageous practice are to be deprived of their own honours and kept from the thresholds of the church.

Posted: Wed Dec 24, 2008 9:56 am
by Marcus Woodhouse
I'm sure that I have seen an image of a Benedictine monk armed with a spear from the times of Alfred the Great, which predates the Second Latean Council edict.
It did not apply if you were fighting against an "enemy of God" and there must have been occassions when swords were used by priests as St. Francis rebuked this taking place.
Daggers were used by the two priests who attempted to assassinate the Medici brothers whilst at Mass in 1477, so it was clearly ignored when it suited the clergy.
Daggers and knives were so frequently used in over heated debates by clergy and students that they were banned from carrying them in Paris, Oxford, Padua and Pisa.
So it may have been a historical "truth" that was often disobeyed or it could be another Victorian invention that is now passed off as a fact.

Posted: Wed Dec 24, 2008 10:05 am
by Marcus Woodhouse
There were also instances, at least in Italy, of monks getting tooled up to steal (or steal back) relics, rescue monks and in one case their abbot (who had been caught in bed with the wife of a leading local civic leader, beaten up and then held for ransome as the town was fed up with drunken monks coming into town, stealing stuff, raping their women, scaring kids and acting more like vikings of yore then men of God) from civil authorities or joining local militias to fend off roving mercenaries, bandits and the like. Given that one monastery had brigadinnes, glaives and awls (I have no idea what that might be but I'm sure someone else can enlighten me) and that a monk of Buckfast was sent in full harness to support the the defence of Plymouth against a feared French invasion in the 1450's, it may have been more of an "ideal" than a "rule".

Posted: Wed Dec 24, 2008 11:53 am
by Phil the Grips
Large numbers of legal accounts show priests, lay priests and lower clergy practising at sword and buckler and getting into trouble from it, as well as rowdy youth and students.

Even 1.33 has one of the main characters labelled as "Sacerdote" ("priest"- actually a lay-member).

Henry Despenser, Fighting Bishop of Norwich d.1406

Posted: Wed Dec 24, 2008 3:47 pm
by jelayemprins
1381 Battle outside of North Walsham in Peasants Revolt. Same Bishop leads *crusade* a year later in Flanders following Schism.

'This warlike Bishop being enraged at the audacity of these scoundrels, caused the trumpets to be sounded and seizing a lance in his right hand, set spurs to his horse and rushed forward with such a bravery that he reached the summit of the embankment before the arrows of his followers'.

'Proof' from Thomas of Walsingham that priests useed weapons other than maces & cudgels - unless of course it was a blunt lance!


Posted: Sun Dec 28, 2008 9:39 pm
by Colin Middleton
Marcus Woodhouse wrote:...and awls (I have no idea what that might be but I'm sure someone else can enlighten me) ...
I'd guess it's either an awl-pike (i.e. a very long spear) or an 'ahlspea' (spelling?), which is basically a long spike on a stick, about 5-6' in length. I thinkg that there's one of these in the Royal Armouries at Leeds.

Posted: Mon Dec 29, 2008 11:52 am
by Marcus Woodhouse

Posted: Tue Dec 30, 2008 9:23 am
by Chris, yclept John Barber
Malvoisin wrote:Does a mace draw blood? I think it might.
There's only one way to find out...


Posted: Tue Dec 30, 2008 7:03 pm
by Marcus Woodhouse
Not during the Octave of Christmas my child, pax vobiscum.