On the Ovine Origins of the Modern State: Some Reflections on Sheep, Sovereignty, and the Aftermath of the Albigensian Crusade

Thursday, January 5, 2012: 4:20 PM
McHenry Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Ted Blanton, College of Charleston
The Albigensian Crusade, called by Pope Innocent III in 1209 as a religious war against heretics in what is today the south of France, concluded in 1229 with the Capetian monarchy extending its authority to the shores of the Mediterranean for the first time. Among the crusaders’ targets was King Peter II of Aragon, who, although himself a crusader against the Muslims in Spain, was willing to defend vassals and kinsmen of dubious orthodoxy. In a recent article in the journal Annales du Midi, an international trio of scholars proposed that Peter conceived of the lands under attack by the crusaders as part of a “Greater Crown of Aragon” under his sovereignty, based on a 1213 charter in which the king and his targeted vassals promised protection to the sheep of the monastery of Poblet on either side of the Pyrenees.

The writers of the article treat the territorial basis of sovereignty as a largely unproblematic concept at this point in history, a position that bears more critical examination. This paper will place Peter’s actions in the context of his family’s long presence in the area, arguing that he did not conceive of his role there as defending sovereign territory, but instead as safeguarding a kinship network constructed through ties of marriage and wardship that were renewed with every succeeding generation. Later chroniclers making the case for the territorial authority of the French crown, however, framed Peter’s authority pre-crusade in essentially territorial terms, coloring later interpretations. Ultimately, this paper aims to question whether traditional historical narratives linking territorial government with sovereignty can hold up in the light of recent works such as Kathleen Davis’s Periodization and Sovereignty and Michael Mitterauer's Why Europe?, which suggest that the dimensions of time and family structure need to be taken into account as well.

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