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September 21, 2016

The Peace of God and Truce of God

The Peace of God was a medieval religious movement that aimed to keep the constantly warring nobles of Europe in check.1 The Peace of God movement originated in France during the 10th century, but as time went on, it grew to encompass most of Western Europe. The movement began as a result of the constant infighting between nobles and “independent warlords.”2 The rulers in Western France lacked enough power to police the nobles properly. Because of this, the nobles and their armies could more or less do whatever they wanted, including attacking whomever or wherever they wanted. As one can imagine, this did not bode well for those who lacked their own personal army to defend themselves.3

"Two Angels Displaying the Cross." originates from France circa 1410 /Courtesy of Getty Search Gateway
“Two Angels Displaying the Cross,” France circa 1410 | Courtesy of Getty Gateway Images

The beginnings of the Peace of God movement lay in Peace assemblies, which were religious gatherings usually held in open fields. At these assemblies, the relics of saints would be displayed, and crowds of believers would come both to see the relics and to try to witness any miracles that may be caused by the relics. The local nobles and religious authorities would then publicly state laws regulating the soldiers’ actions, in order to prevent harm to non-combatants during battles. The soldiers would then publicly swear to abide by the laws.4 In a way, the Peace assemblies bear a resemblance to the American Temperance movement rallies of the late 1800s.

Under the Peace of God, combatants were prohibited from causing injury to members of the clergy, prohibited from attacking religiously “consecrated places,” such as monasteries and churches, and prohibited from fighting on Sundays and feast days.5 As the Catholic Church was a major political power in medieval Europe, and Catholicism was an important part of the lives of many people, the aforementioned checks on the nobility were religious in nature. Those who violated the Peace of God were punished with excommunication, meaning that they would no longer be considered part of the Christian community.6

Related to the Peace of God movement was the Truce of God. The Truce of God expanded on the Peace of God by restricting when fighting could occur.7 Under the Council of Toulouges of 1027, fighting was prohibited from Saturday evening to Monday morning.8 Later, the prohibited days were expanded to include Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and holy days during the week.9

One of the events that led to the decline of the Peace of God and Truce of God was the Council of Clermont in 1096, where Pope Urban II proclaimed “peace among Christians,” which, combined with the start of the Crusades a few years later, caused the nobles to battle a common enemy in the form of Islam instead of each other.10

  1. Richard Landes, “Peace of God: Pax Dei,” Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University., (accessed August 28, 2016).
  2. Landes, “Peace of God: Pax Dei.”
  3. Landes, “Peace of God: Pax Dei.”
  4. Landes, “Peace of God: Pax Dei.”
  5. The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1912, s.v. “Truce of God,” by Charles Moeller.
  6.  Landes, “Peace of God: Pax Dei.”
  7. H. E. J. Cowdrey, “The Peace and the Truce of God in the Eleventh Century,” Past and Present, no. 46 (February 1970): 44.
  8. Cowdrey, “The Peace and the Truce of God in the Eleventh Century,” p. 44.
  9. The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1912, s.v. “Truce of God,” by Charles Moeller.
  10.  Landes, “Peace of God: Pax Dei.”

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