1066 and the other papal banner

In 1066, the Norman Duke William persuaded Pope Alexander II to send him a papal banner, signifying his approval of William’s cross-Channel enterprise (this banner may even be depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry, in the image above).

But the fall of Anglo-Saxon England wasn’t the only major upheaval taking place in western Europe that year, and nor was William the only person to be sent such a banner. For the pope sent another one to a man named Erembald, who was involved in a conflict of arguably equal importance in European history to that of the Norman Conquest.

That conflict was taking place in what was probably by this date the largest city in the Latin west, many times larger than London: Milan. Defining precisely what it was about isn’t entirely straightforward, not for lack of sources but because it was complicated. What is clear is that a large group of Milanese inhabitants, led by two minor clerics called Ariald and Landulf Cotta, and later the layman Erembald, were attempting to impose a stricter lifestyle on the wider Milanese clergy, against the Milanese archbishop’s wishes: a ban on marriage, above all.

The emergence of this group, known as the Pataria, led to large-scale civil unrest in Milan – this is the period when the ‘crowd’ starts to make its appearance in western history after a long hiatus, and perhaps the first time when the authorities really lost control of a major political centre. For months – years – no one really controlled this city, with its tens of thousands of inhabitants, at all.

The Patarine movement enjoyed intermittent support from the papacy, which is why Alexander sent Erlembald the banner. After all, one of the objectives of popes in this period was to separate out clergy from the laity more sharply, which was what the Pataria were trying to do too, so the Pataria and the popes had a shared interest. But in 1067, Pope Alexander sent two legates to Milan to try to calm things down, and it’s the edict or Costituzioni (full Latin text available here) they jointly produced that interested me in the episode. That’s because two central clauses concerned legal clerical exemption:

But we set out how one of these [corrupt clerics] should lose his office and benefice for inequity of his order, or variety of sin: we wish every ecclesiastical office to remain in the dignity of its status, and we permit no cleric for the sin of whatever offense of his office in some way offensive to God to come before the judgement of laymen, but rather we prohibit this in every way.


[Let the archbishop] have the power of canonically judging and punishing all his clergy, both in the city and outside it, in all parish churches and chapels, so that safe from secular judgment, they may stand quietly in divine service and the authority of the canons, and devoutly obey their archbishop.

In this respect, then, the views of Pataria and Papacy diverged: the former prioritised moral standing, and saw clerical privilege as potentially protecting sinful clerics; the latter was determined to confer some institutional rigour on the separation between clerics and laity (in fact a Roman council of 1059 had previously made a similar decree). Erlembald seems to have taken it upon himself to pass judgement on clerics; banner or not, for the papacy this was a step too far.

Admittedly, the papal banner had as much or as little impact in Milan as it did at Hastings, and it’s safe to say that the Pataria paid little if any attention to the Costituzioni of 1067: their battles were fought on the streets as much as through pages of solemn canon law. But it’s a reminder – if reminder were needed – that ‘reform’ in the 11th century was a coalition of interests, much like William’s Norman expedition.

It’s a reminder too that not every element of church reform was new – for (as is becoming clearer to me) the legal dimension of a separation between clerics and laymen, crucial to the reforming papacy, was a late antique theme that had been already been revived anew in the 9th century.  To what extent should we think about the Gregorian Reform as a messy culmination of thinking and attitudes developed in the ninth century?

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5 thoughts on “1066 and the other papal banner”

  1. Another interesting post, Charles.

    I think you’re right to see the Gregorian Reform as a ‘messy culmination of thinking and attitudes’. One of its more fascinating facets, to me, was the way in which the progress of (specific) reform seemed to drive (general) reform itself – that is, it became less and less about a specific set of goals and more about a general attitudinal stance.

    I’m thinking of your ‘rigour on the separation between clerics and laity’ with regard to the phenomenon of fugitive monks. If the 1072 Council of Rouen (which ruled that every effort should be made to return fugitive and vagrant monks to their monasteries, under the penalty of excommunication) has anything to tell us, it’s that reformed houses tended to breed a great deal more restless and fugitive monks than their unreformed counterparts. Some of these fugitives, however, went on to found their own establishments (such as the eremites of NW France) with their own rules, again under the banner of reform and in alliance with reforming episcopal authorities.

    In this sense, I think we can see ‘reform’ as a very general phenomenon that in most cases as far as I can tell was used as a ‘philosophy of praxis’ much more than doxa – whatever you needed to do in order to survive the contemporary religious environment could be done under the banner of reform. It really was the ultimate get-out clause for all manner of discontented clerics.

    1. Thanks, Jamie, for a perceptive comment as always! I agree that “reform” is really hard to pin down to any particular content, and labelled all kinds of different things. And I also take your point that it was used by particular individuals to pursue their own interests. I hadn’t thought that reformed institutions might generate more fugitive monks: that’s an interesting idea. I don’t know if you’ve come across Abbot John/Jean of Fécamp? He certainly had difficulties of this kind. That said, I don’t think reform was indefinitely flexible – and there were some monks, particularly in Germany, who were by no means warmly disposed to it, and indeed thought (and said) that reformers were simply hypocrites. Lampert of Hersfeld springs to mind (a great chronicle, recently trnaslated into English too); Ekkehard of St Gallen, too.

      1. I’d heard of John of Fécamp, but never studied him in any detail. I’ve just given him a quick Google, though, and it’s interesting that he’s described as a disciplinarian as well as a reformer. The dates of reformers like him, the 1072 Rouen council against fugitive monks, and fugitives themselves definitely seem to tally.

        Having said that, if you read the vita of some of the more well-known former fugitives, the reasons given for their flight are seldom that their houses were too repressive; the motivations given are usually religious (but these are vita, after all). I get the impression that monks were running off all the time (relatively speaking) for all kinds of reasons. What’s interesting to me is that many of them had somewhere to run to. It’s at this time that we see the growth of communal eremitism and the more general explosion of ‘new orders’. In other words, my instinct is to believe that repressive ‘reformism’ and the growth of these new orders had some causal relationship, among other things.

        While my frame of reference is NW France and the founders of the eremitic orders (so my perception might be a little skewed), I think for your purposes the place of the fugitive monk might lay in revealing how the division between lay and clerical justice actually helped to divide the church itself into antagonistic blocs, since by the eleventh century the fugitives could find sanctuary among the nobility (and particularly those nobles opposed to certain clerical authorities). This might not have been so easy at an earlier time when lay and clerical justice was more synonymous. It seems to me that the phenomenon of fugitives and the new orders/houses some of them founded reveals something of the entropy that the ‘justice system’ (for lack of a better term) had endured by the eleventh century. With more fundamental divisions and more jurisdictional boundaries, the net reach of any kind of authority had been reduced (with some exceptions). I’m just thinking aloud here, you understand, but there’s probably something in it – after all, in theoretical terms (Michael Mann), you would have to say that separating religious power from the secular necessarily reduces the ‘infrastructural power’ of both (with a corresponding increase in ‘despotic power’ to compensate; but Bisson might say ‘arbitrary and affective’).

        By the way, I think the eleventh century was productive of some of the best hypocrisy. My favourite line was one of Marbode of Rennes’ in a letter to the eremitic Robert of Arbrissel: ‘It is far more praiseworthy to be humble in silk than to glory in rags’. I’m doing him a disservice quoting it out of context, but this is surely some excellent hypocrisy!

  2. Any ideas regarding why the colours and specific design was used? Do they have any meaning?
    I know green & gold are significant to the Royal House of David; as in The biblical King David, but can anyone comment further?

    1. What an interesting question – I’m afraid I’m not at all sure. There’s another possible depiction of the banner in the so-called Ramsey Benedictional, but it looks rather different (though has the same triple pennant).

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