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Pater Sanctissime: Petitions to the Pope in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries

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Wiedemann, Benedict 


Whether the medieval popes heard petitions after they had ‘drunk wine plentifully’ is probably something we can never answer – although sometimes decisions made in insobriety do shine through in our sources2. Fortunately – and regrettably – papal alcoholism is not the topic of this article. We are interested in petitions. A sceptic might claim that studying petitions to the pope – especially from a period when few survive – is a niche topic. In terms of source material that is correct. But for those in any way interested in the practice of government, whether modern or pre-modern, and in the fields which surround government – politics, the state, law – the study of petitions to rulers should be central3. Responding to petitions from subjects was constituitive of pre-modern government. Responding to petitions was not a part of pre-modern government; it was not a necessary but annoying aspect of the ruler’s job; responding to petitions was what pre-modern government was. The other things rulers did – making war; favouring relatives – were undeniably important. But replying to petitions – ‘the ceaseless petty round of business and litigation’ – was government; ‘the arena where lordship was to be won’, in the still summative words of Richard Southern.



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Archiv fur Diplomatik, Schriftgeschichte, Siegel- und Wappenkunde

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Walter de Gruyter

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