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Pope Alexander III (1159-81): The Art of Survival.

Pope Alexander III (1159-81): The Art of Survival. Edited by Peter D. Clarke and Anne J. Duggan. (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2012. Pp. xxi, 427. $134.95.)

A fair assessment of the lengthy pontificate of Alexander III [1159-1181] has proved elusive. This volume attempts, and succeeds in, a fresh investigation of what have been the traditional areas of inquiry: the schism (Alexander faced three antipopes supported by Frederick Barbarossa), the quarrel with Barbarossa, the Becket controversy, the efficacy of a papacy when the pope was almost never in Rome, and the decretals (over seven hundred of them!) issued by Alexander.

Orlando Bandinelli was born in Siena around 1100. He trained in law and held a series of important positions in the curia in the 1150s. Anne J. Duggan's sensitive assessment of Alexander's pontificate finds him to have been discreet, resolved, and patient. His circumspection and caution, she says, have made him less attractive than popes who were more flamboyant or bombastic.

The essays in this fine volume take various vantage points on Alexander's pontificate. John Doran explores the Roman context, taking his prompt from the fact that Alexander spent only about thirty-six months in Rome during a pontificate of twenty-one years. The cardinals largely supported Alexander, while the Roman clergy tipped toward the antipopes, especially the first of them, Victor IV. The laity was split. Doran also makes an important contribution to our understanding of Rome, the papacy, and twelfth-century historical writing through his assessment of Cardinal Boso's biography of the pope. Jochen Johrendt studies the empire during the schism, noting that the German church was badly divided among the supporters of Alexander and those of the antipopes and the emperor. Brenda Bolton devotes a characteristically excellent piece to an analysis of Alexander's relations with the patrimony, a subject made interesting by the pope's absence. She shows that Alexander was not paralyzed and ineffective, especially in the areas south of Rome. Katherine Christensen uses careful source criticism to show that there may have been both English and curial opposition to Becket's elevation to the archbishopric of Canterbury. Nicholas Vincent examines Alexander's relations with Becket's friend-then-foe, Henry II. He notes that king and pope interacted much more frequently with reference to the Angevin holdings in France than with reference to England.

A series of geographically structured essays follow: Myriam Soria looks at Alexander and France, Damian J. Smith at Alexander and Spain, Jonathan Harris and Dmitri Tolstoy at Alexander and Byzantium, and Thomas Madden at Alexander and Venice. Iben Fonnesberg-Schmidt discusses Alexander and the Crusades and makes an original contribution by showing that the pope stressed family legacy, recovery of the lands where Christ had walked, and spiritual rewards as incentives and motivations. In her second contribution, the longest in the book, Duggan talks about Alexander's place in the history of canon law. It was significant. She also argues that Alexander was not a legislator. Instead, his pontificate reveals three important twelfth-century trends: the rise of learned law, the professionalization of the courts, and the increasing litigiousness of Western society.

Thomas F. X. Noble

University of Notre Dame

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Author:Noble, Thomas F.X.
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 22, 2014
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