Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Revival of an Ancient Ecclesiastical Office (The First Part)

The Office of Vidame

In the Ninth century, Bishops and Abbots ruled important estates and lands. But the Canon Law of the Church forbade the clerics from participating in the judicial and military aspects of the administration of these estates. Therefore, it became necessary for the bishops and abbots to appoint ecclesiastical officers to serve as their secular agents.

During May and June of 813 A.D., the Council of Mainz was held at a time when the Churches of the Occident and Orient were still in full communion, i.e., before the schism of 1054. This local Council took place in Mainz, Germany in the monastery of Saint Alban. It was convoked by order of the Emperor Charlemagne in the presence of four representatives of the Emperor, the four Archbishops (of Cologne, Mainz, Salzburg and Worms), thirty bishops and twenty-five abbots and an indeterminate number of laymen. The Fathers of the Council promulgated 56 canons which were enforced first in the empire of Charlemagne. They later became part of the Church for centuries to come as elements of the Western Canon Law. One can find here notably the reminder that the bishop only manages properties of the Church, but he has to be assisted by laymen. So, in its Fiftieth Article, the Council of Mainz states: "We decree that it is good for the bishops, abbots and other clerics to have vidames (pronouned "veedaams"), employees, advocates and defenders."

In the "History of Flodoard" (10th century) we read that, “...they (The Bishops and Abbots) should have good and capable Vidames and Advocates, and where they should come, they should accomplish acts of justice...” also in "Le Carpentier" (17th century) paraphrasing: the Vidames were particularly created and chosen to the protection of the bishops and the administration of their properties, just as the Advocates were established to govern and to defend the temporal properties of the great and wealthy abbeys and churches, and the lords of the manor were established to maintain the obedience and good discipline of the towns and their peoples.”

During the Ninth century these terms are used interchangeably. However, in the 11th century one sees the term of Advocate reserved only for the protectors of abbeys while the Vidames were appointed by the bishop. Often the Advocates were powerful local lords. They added their abbatial function to their other offices, like the Count of Vexin, who was the Advocate of the abbey of Saint Denis.
Around the 13th century the institution of Advocate has virtually disappeared. On the other hand, the Vidames were not powerful lords, and exercised always their duties under the jurisdiction of their bishops. Originally ecclesiastical officers, the Vidames became hereditary like all other feudal officers (though the office of Vidame did not ennoble its' possesor: they held whatever rank they possessed before) passing to the eldest son and next to the eldest daughter. The wife or the daughter of a Vidame, as well as any woman who held the office, was titled Vidamesse.

The historian François Velde writes: “As Loyseau (Traité des Seigneuries, 1608, p.153) says, the Vidame was to the bishop what the viscount was to the count; their role was to administer, manage and protect the estates and possessions of the episcopal see, to exercise, under the bishop’s seal, the episcopal jurisdiction, to represent the bishop at the count’s court, and to lead the bishop’s troops in battle.
Gille André de la Roque writes in “Le Traité de la Noblesse” in 1678: “Pasquier (16th century) ranks the Vidames after the counts, and says that they must precede the viscounts because they represent the bishop.”

In his juridical study entitled “Les diverses espèces de noblesse... “[The diverse kinds of nobility...] Claude François Ménestrier (XVIIIth century) defines the Vidame as “...a secular lord who represented the bishop in the exercise of temporal justice and in the command of armies incompatible with the episcopal nature.” (p.498) To these judicial and military powers various powers were added, depending on the particular diocese : Collection of tax, guard of the episcopal palace and management of the estates of the bishop.
The lordship of the Vidame consisted in a house near the episcopal palace and a territorial domain in the city or nearly countryside: thus the vidamé [lordship of the Vidame in French] of Chartres consisted in a "parcel" in the city (located within the episcopal gardens, in the 17th century on the Grand Rue) and the lordship of La Ferté-Arnault, renamed La Ferté-Vidame.”

The Vidame was a direct ecclesiastical agent (a vassal) of the bishop to whom he takes an oath and pays homage. A new Vidame would be appointed by the bishop who marked this appointment to the office by the presentation of a ring to the new officer. As an Armiger, the Vidame bore a coronet on their armorial bearings; the coronet was a gold circle, decorated with pearls and precious stones, and surmounted by four crosses. These coronets of rank didn’t come into use before the Sixteenth century.

Vidames were mainly found in Northern France, though some Vidames had existed in England, Germany and in the "Low Countries" (Netherlands and Belgium).

No comments:

Post a Comment