The Peace of God and the Truce of God

views updated

The Peace of God and the Truce of God


Outlaws. As the Viking and Magyar raids began to lessen in the tenth century, Europe found itself confronted with a new problem. For so long the people had faced the uncertainty of their safety. In response many of the more capable men had taken up the profession of soldier, their employment secured as a result of the continuing invasions. Yet, with the impending end of the raids, these martial skills became less and less necessary, and soon, it seems, many unemployed soldiers were roaming the countryside. Finding peace a burden and unwilling to return to agricultural work, these men tried to eke out a living by doing exactly what they had been paid to defend against: terrorizing the local inhabitants. They became violent outlaws who thought little about participating in the crimes of theft and murder.

Solution. Something needed to be done, especially since these lawless and unethical men often perpetrated their crimes against the defenseless: the poor, the clergy, and women. As one of the principles of the Catholic Church was to protect the unfortunate and defenseless, the matter became an issue for the ecclesiastical leaders who, in turn, chose to work with the legal authorities, the nobles, to curtail this violence. The answer was to develop the “Peace of God.” The Peace of God began to be proclaimed everywhere throughout Europe in the last half of the tenth century. Although varying in detail depending on who was proclaiming it (the ecclesiastic) and who was enforcing it (the noble), the basic tenets of the Peace of God were the protection of those who could not protect themselves, as well as the protection of certain types of material things, such as church buildings, church property, and the means of livelihood for the poor. An example of this type of decree can be seen in the following record of the Peace of God proclaimed in the Synod of Charroux in southern France:

We assembled there in the name of God, made the following decrees:

1. Anathema [an ecclesiastical punishment] against those who break into churches. If anyone breaks into or robs a church, he shall be anathema unless he makes satisfaction.

2. Anathema against those who rob the poor. If anyone robs a peasant or any poor person of a sheep, ox, ass, cow, goat, or pig, he shall be anathema unless he makes satisfaction.

3. Anathema against those who injure clergymen. If anyone attacks, seizes, or beats a priest, deacon, or any other clergyman, who is not bearing arms (shield, sword, coat of mail, or helmet), but is going along peacefully or staying in the house, the sacrilegious person shall be excommunicated and cut off from the church, unless he makes satisfaction, or unless the bishop discovers that the clergyman brought it upon himself by his own fault.

Effectiveness. As no crime statistics remain from this period, it is difficult to know whether the Peace of God was effective. Evidence that it did not bring complete peace, however, comes from the need for the Catholic Church, again in concert with noble lawmakers, to introduce a similar proclamation, known as the “Truce of God,” soon afterward. The Truce of God varied from its predecessor in that it focused less on protecting certain peoples and more on the banning of military activity at certain times of the year and the week. Military activity was prohibited during Lent and also from Thursday sunset until Monday sunrise. Generally more detailed and more legalistic than the Peace of God, the Truce of God tried to protect everyone at least some of the time, as an example proclaimed in 1063 in the Bishopric of Terouanne, in the southern Low Countries, shows:

Drogo, the bishop of Terouanne, and Count Baldwin [of Hainault] have established this peace with the cooperation of the clergy and the people of the land.

Dearest brothers in the Lord, these are the conditions which you must observe during the time of the peace which is commonly called the Truce of God, and which begins with sunset on Wednesday and lasts until sunrise on Monday.

1. During those four days and five nights no man shall assault, wound, or slay another, or attack, seize, or destroy a castle, burg, or villa, by craft or by violence.

2. If anyone violates this peace and disobeys these commands of ours, he shall be exiled for thirty years as a penance, and before he leaves the bishopric he shall make compensation for the injury which he committed. Otherwise he shall be excommunicated by the Lord God and excluded from all Christian fellowship . . .

5. In addition, brethren you should observe the peace in regard to lands and animals and all things that can be possessed. If anyone takes from another an animal, a coin, or a garment, during the days of the truce, he shall be excommunicated unless he makes satisfaction. If he desires to make satisfaction for his crime he shall first restore the thing which he stole or its value in money, and shall do penance for seven years within the bishopric . . .

6. During the days of peace, no one shall make a hostile expedition on horseback, except when summoned by the count; and all who go with the count shall take for their support only as much as is necessary for themselves and tionon horseback,

7. All merchants and other men who pass through your territory from other lands shall have peace from you.

8. You shall also keep this peace every day of the week from the beginning of Advent to the octave of Epiphany and from the beginning of Lent to the octave of Easter, and from the feast of Rogations [the Monday before Ascension Day] to the octave of Pentecost.

9. We command all priests on feast days and Sundays to pray for all who keep the peace, and to curse all who violate it or support its violators.

Failure. Had it ever been fully effective, the Truce of God would have completely eliminated warfare for the rest of the Middle Ages. Of course, it did not do that; nor does it seem to have had much effect on the warriors to whom it was directed. Again, there is no evidence to support this claim—although the fact that Robert Guiscard and William the Conqueror did most of their fighting in the Truce of God period certainly seems to indicate its ineffectiveness—but the notion of bringing peace to Europe would persist, and it was not too long before an ecclesiastical leader came up with a solution that would bring peace to the European people: send all of the warriors on a crusade to the Middle East.


Christopher Brooke, Europe in the Central Middle Ages, 962-1154, third edition (Harlow, U.K. & New York: Longman, 2000).

R. H. C. Davis, A History of Medieval Europe: From Constantine to Saint Louis (London & New York: Longmans, Green, 1957).

Thomas Head and Richard Landes, eds., The Peace of God: Social Violence and Religious Response in France Around the Year 1000 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1992).

Brian Tierney, ed. and trans., The Middle Ages, volume I, Sources of Medieval History, fourth edition (New York: Knopf, 1983).

About this article

The Peace of God and the Truce of God

Updated About content Print Article


The Peace of God and the Truce of God