Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Matthew Paris really did not like the papal court

The great English chronicler and illustrator Matthew Paris is famous for his dislike of foreigners. Among the worst of foreigners were the Romans, the term he used primarily to mean members of the papal court, who used their positions to enrich themselves. In the 1250s, King Henry III of England and the Pope made an agreement which obliged Henry to conquer the kingdom of Sicily at his own expense; which would eliminate the Pope's most dangerous enemies. No one in England thought this was a good idea, except perhaps the King and the son that he was going to put on the Sicilian throne. Matthew Paris's reaction is a great example of his scathing anti-foreigner rhetoric.

In consequence of this [agreement], the Pope's messengers vied with one another, as it were, in coming to England to the king, for the purpose of carrying off his rich presents; for they smelled the sweet savor of his money from afar.

A few pages later, Paris illustrates "Roman" greed:
Master Berard de Nympha, native of the suburbs of Rome, died suddenly about the same time. He was a crafty and wealthy man, had been a clerk of Richard Earl of Cornwall, and had extorted money from the Crusaders on various specious pretexts. Amongst his goods was found in a coffer choose one of blank sheets sealed with the bull [the most important papal seal], which might be filled up at pleasure and applied to any misuse, such as fraudulently extorting money from the poor as if by authority of the Pope.

At first, Matthew's Chronicle struck me as pretty tedious, but it got better as it went along. There's a rhythm to these things, and it eventually caught me. Peres could write almost as well as he could draw.

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A Matthew Paris illustration, mid-13th century


Just for the heck of it -- the French defeat at Gaza.

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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Some of Matthew Paris's favorite words


Extortions, oppressions, legate.

There's always a bad papal legate practicing extortions and oppressions.

Image: A legate at work, drawn by Matthew Paris.

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