If opposition was often expressed with a claim to legitimacy within the framework of existing political systems, the use of ‘public’ space, particularly in attempts to convey some notion of group consensus, could be a part of this process. On numerous occasions, the contestation of power within groups involved the appropriation of public space through assembly or simply the occupation of the space. The Carolingian legacy in England and France is significant here due to the Frankish expression of power in political assemblies and its influence on the conflicts which took place in the early and central Middle Ages. After discussing public notions of power and authority, opposition, and the places themselves, this chapter addresses these issues through consideration of the opposition to a place, the use of a place, and the reassertion of power in a place.
The work of Timothy Reuter has been instrumental in showing the significance of the ‘politics of assembly’ in the early and central Middle Ages. According to Reuter's model of rulership, social interactions rested on face-to-face encounters and thus, in turn, political authority – the operation of public authority – rested on a sense of personal authority that was maintained through interpersonal connections. Reuter's readings of rebellion highlight both the divisions and the blurring of these divisions between rebellion, apparently ‘open’ in nature, and feud, which was necessarily private, at least in its origins (though of course intended to draw attention to making a grievance public). In societies in which, as Barton notes, clamor played a significant role in political and social action, public airings of grievance in both feud and rebellion were logical. These could be subverted to ensure that grievances were publicly heard and that, ultimately, public authority could itself be subverted in the interests of the party which contested it.
Although, as Matthew Strickland has observed, rebellion needed planning – presumably secret planning – in its early stages and was thus treasonous in nature,5 conspiracy had its own ‘open’, even ‘declarative’ element in carrying whispers of discontent to a ruler and furthering the cause of rebellion before an act of rebellion itself took place.