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Super gentes et regna: Papal ‘Empire’ in the Later Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 May 2018

Benedict G. E. Wiedemann*
University College London
*7 Lenton Road, The Park, Nottingham; NG7 1DP. E-mail:


Papal relations with monarchs in the later eleventh and twelfth centuries have often been characterized as ‘feudal’, as indicative of some sort of papal dominium mundi, or as an effort to advance papal ‘empire’ over the kingdoms of Christendom. More recent scholarship has drawn a distinction between ‘protection’ and ‘feudal’ relationships with kings. However, the supposed distinction between the papacy's temporal overlordship of rulers and its spiritual protection may have obscured more than it has revealed. It was only after the disputes over lay investiture of bishops in the period 1078–1122 that a distinctive protective relationship began to emerge. Previously, rulers had been willing to ‘accept their kingdom from the pope's hand’ or to participate in ceremonies of investiture. In the twelfth century these relationships became more codified and any suggestion that the papacy actually gave kingdoms to kings faded. Thus, the nature of papal ‘empire’ – or, at least, temporal authority over kings – changed markedly during this period.

Research Article
Copyright © Ecclesiastical History Society 2018 

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17 ‘Ut contradicatur, ne aliquis accipiat investituram ecclesiarum de manu laicorum’: Greg. Reg., 2: 401 (no. 6.5b).

18 ‘[N]ullus in clericali ordine constitutus, nullus monachus, episcopatus aut abbatie aut cuiuslibet ecclesiastice dignitatis investituram de manu laici suscipere audeat’: Somerville and Kuttner, Urban II, 254.

19 ‘[I]nterdicimus ne quis investituram episcopatus abbatie, vel cuiuslibet ecclesiastice dignitatis a manu imperatoris, regis, principis, vel cuiuslibet laice persone accipiat’: Somerville, Robert, ‘The Council of Beauvais, 1114’, Traditio 24 (1968), 493503, at 503Google Scholar, reprinted in idem, Papacy, Councils and Canon Law in the 11th–12th Centuries (Aldershot, 1990), X.

20 1188 (William II), 1192 (Tancred): MGH Const. 1, 591–3 (nos 415–16). The 1212 oath of Frederick II also leaves out any mention of investiture in the final clause: MGH Const. 2, 542 (no. 411). So does the 1198 oath of Queen Constance: MGH DD 11.iii, 203–5 (no. 65).

21 Hoffman, Hartmut, ‘Langobarden, Normannen, Päpste. Zum Legitimationsproblem in Unteritalien’, Quellen und Forschungen aus italianischen Archiven und Bibliotheken 58 (1978), 137–80, at 173–6 (no. 1)Google Scholar; Roger II and the Creation of the Kingdom of Sicily, transl. Graham Loud (Manchester, 2012), 304–6.

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28 A number of sources specify that Cadalus-Honorius II was actually ‘invested’ (investiri) with the papacy by the emperor or his mother in 1061, ‘as is the custom’: ibid. 139 n. 26; or that he ‘accepted the pontifical insignia through the hand’ (accipiens . . . per manum) of the monarchs: ibid. 139–40, nn. 27, 30. Note again the interchangeability of ‘investiture’ and receiving something a / de / per manu / manum.

29 The Papal Reform of the Eleventh Century: Lives of Pope Leo IX and Pope Gregory VII, transl. Ian S. Robinson (Manchester, 2004), 5–6, 56–8, 187–8, 209–10; Stroll, Popes and Antipopes, 20.

30 For the thought behind lay investiture, see Chodorow, Stanley, ‘Paschal II, Henry V, and the Origins of the Crisis of 1111’, in Sweeney, James Ross and Chodorow, Stanley, eds, Popes, Teachers, and Canon Law in the Middle Ages (Ithaca, NY, 1989), 325, at 7–9, 14–15, 18Google Scholar; idem, ‘Ecclesiastical Politics and the Ending of the Investiture Contest: The Papal Election of 1119 and the Negotiations of Mouzon’, Speculum 46 (1971), 613–40, at 621–2; Tellenbach, Gerd, The Church in Western Europe from the Tenth to the Early Twelfth Century, transl. Reuter, Timothy (Cambridge, 1993), 266–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Blumenthal, Uta-Renate, The Investiture Controversy: Church and Monarchy from the Ninth to the Twelfth Century (Philadelphia, PA, 1988), 163–73Google Scholar; eadem, ‘Patrimonia and Regalia in 1111’, in Law, Church, and Society: Essays in Honor of Stephan Kuttner, ed. K. Pennington and R. Somerville (Philadelphia, PA, 1977), 9–22, reprinted in Uta-Renate Blumenthal, Papal Reform and Canon Law in the 11th and 12th Centuries (Aldershot, 1998), IX; Cowdrey, H. E. John, Pope Gregory VII, 1073–1085 (Oxford, 1998), 546–50CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Canning, Joseph, A History of Medieval Political Thought, 300–1450 (London, 1996), 82110, especially 106–7.Google Scholar

31 For similar observations, see West, Charles, Reframing the Feudal Revolution: Political and Social Revolution between Marne and Moselle, c.800–c.1100 (Cambridge, 2013), 213–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

32 ‘Ego Demetrius . . . a te . . . Gebizo ex apostolice sedis legatione . . . potestatem optinens . . . per vexillum, ensem, sceptrum et coronam investitus atque constitutus rex’: Die Kanonessammlung des Kardinals Deusdedit, ed. Victor Welf von Glanvell (Paderborn, 1905), 383–4.

33 Hoffman, ‘Langobarden, Normannen, Päpste’, 173–8.

34 Freed, John B., Frederick Barbarossa: The Prince and the Myth (New Haven, CT, 2016), 254–5.Google Scholar

35 Brittany: Sancti Gregorii VII Pontificis Romani operum pars secunda, PL 148, cols 684–5 (no. 37); Cowdrey, Gregory VII, 645. England: Greg. Reg., 2: 499–502 (no. 7.23); Epistolae diversorum ad Gregorium VII, PL 148, col. 748 (no. 11); Brooke, Zachary Nugent, ‘Pope Gregory VII's Demand for Fealty from William the Conqueror’, EHR 26 (1911), 225–38CrossRefGoogle Scholar; idem, The English Church and the Papacy: From the Conquest to the Reign of King John, new edn (Cambridge, 1989), 140–3; Cowdrey, Gregory VII, 463, 646–7.

36 ‘[E]ius regnum a rege Teutonicorum in beneficium, sicut audivimus, suscepisti . . . sceptrum regni . . . apostolice, non regie magestatis beneficium recognoscas . . . [regnum Ungarie] a rege Stephano olim beato Petro cum omni iure et potestate sua oblatum et devote traditum’: Greg. Reg. 1: 144–6 (no. 2.13; ET Register of Pope Gregory, transl. Cowdrey, 108).

37 Somerville and Kuttner, Urban II, 97–9.

38 Cowdrey, Gregory VII, 444–6.

39 Gregory's earliest surviving communication with a Hungarian was with Gesa, in March 1074: Greg. Reg., 1: 85–6 (no. 1.58).

40 As, for example, Weinfurter, ‘Die Päpste als “Lehnsherren”’, 23–4; although he only discusses the first use of it in the letter, and not Gregory's claim that the sceptre was a papal beneficium.

41 Register of Pope Gregory, transl. Cowdrey, 108.

42 Cowdrey, Gregory VII, 444.

43 Greg. Reg., 1: 218–19 (no. 2.63; ET Register of Pope Gregory, transl. Cowdrey, 157). Gregory did, in 1074, list points when, he thought, previous Hungarian kings had acknowledged that the pope was the source of royal power, but there is no reason to think that these constituted a basis for a distinct papal temporal lordship over Hungary.

44 Selected Letters of Pope Innocent III concerning England (1198–1216), ed. and transl. C. R. Cheney and W. H. Semple (London, 1953), 177–83 (no. 67).