Ines Weber


'Let's hang the episcopal Dignity up the Wall.' Comparisons of Self-Makings of Late Medieval Bishops in the Holy Roman Empire


In seinem Auftreten, seinen Worten und Taten war er wahrhaftig, beständig und immer ernst. Doch in der Zeit seiner Jugend, die dem Frohsinn zugetan ist, sprach er privat mit seinen Rittern, Kaplänen, Kämmerern und Junker wie der Geringste von ihnen: »Hängen wir die bischöfliche Würde an die Wand« - und war, bald überlegen, bald unterlegen, der heiterste Gefährte beim Sprung, leichtfüßig beim Lauf; er warf den Stein weiter als die übrigen und übertraf sie an Körperkräften.   “In his demeanour, his words and gestures, he was truthful, firm and always serious. But in his youth, a time devoted to cheerfulness, he spoke privately to his knights, chaplains, chamberlains and donzels as if he were the most inferior amongst them: »Let's hang the episcopal dignity up the wall' – sometimes, he was winning, sometimes losing, the most cheerful companion in jumping, light-footed in running; he threw the stone further that the others and excelled in physical strength.”
(Die Taten der Trierer. Gesta Treverorum, hrsg. Emil Zenz, Bd. V: Balduin von Luxemburg 1307-1354, Trier 1961, Kapitel CCXVIII S. 22.)

Medieval historiography transmits several images of rulers like this one of Balduin von Luxemburg (1307-1354), the archbishop of Trier. Depending on the client's intentions, the person portraied appeared in a positive or negative light. Accordingly, research into Medieval Times attempts to reconstruct the true circumstances and to understand the ruler's position within the political framework of power. In this case, however, a new perspective on the passed-on image of a ruler seems appropriate. In these words about Bishop Balduin, we can “observe” how he does it; how he “makes himself a bishop”. Balduin knows very well, which actions are incommensurable with the “post's dignity” and which are not. “Sportive” activities, accordingly, are not part of a bishop's way of life. Hence, he intentionally (but symbolically) discards his post's dignity for a short period, in order to pursue his amusements. Of course, this action has to be understood politically: To a certain extend, Balduin turns himself into a “primus inter pares”, who, in spite of his “great dignity”, still belongs to his circle of (doubtless subordinate) friends. For us, the way in which he does it, is interesting.

In order to be “recognised” as a bishop, he apparently considered certain behaviours as connected to his office. In his way of life and his outward appearance, he embodied these behaviours. His clothes, his spatial environment, but also his handling of people and his speeches are practices of embodiment. This form of embodiment is self-referential, but also and predominantly for others. Depending on the social environment the bishop moved in – e.g. in the aforementioned example amongst his local companions, but also in the Curia or at the King's Court – he adopts attitudes, he considers as compatible with his office. At the same time, he is confronted with societal expectations and requirements, to which he has to react. Becoming a bishop in late medieval times depended on elections, in which the pope, the chapter and parts of the local gentry participated. A further particularity of bishops in the Holy Roman Empire was their double role: they were the diocese's spiritual leaders as well as profane sovereign. Thus, they acted within a particular “field of tension”, since they had to fulfil layman and clerical duties.

This PhD-project will concretely inquire about the ways in which individuals made themselves to bishops (that is: to the subject-form “bishop”). How did they embody it practically or in the practices of their office? How did they maybe change the office or its priorities? The multitude of medieval sources (written sources, such as deeds and official letters, the 'narrative' sources, such as gesta, chronics and vitae, but also material and visual sources) will be investigated on synchronous and diachronous levels, compared and related to each other, in order to make practices of subjectivation visible. If we execute this change of perspective on the practices of subjectivation, the sources of medieval times, which have been read so often, we can gain new insights and knowledge about social and political imaginations of the medieval times.

(Changed: 20 Apr 2022)