Authority, Violence, and the Sacred at the Medieval Court
The legitimation of governing authority and of certain uses of violence was central to the life of the medieval court. Since ancient times and throughout the Middle Ages, religion played the dominant role in either authorizing or challenging the exercise of authority and violence. During the early Middle Ages, Christianity came to shape and eventually dominate more and more of the life of Europe outside of Muslim-ruled Spain and Sicily.1 While pre-Christian cultic practices often lingered among the lower classes, by roughly 1000 C.E., the rulers of Western and Northern Europe had largely embraced the Christian faith and used Christian symbols to buttress their authority. Early medieval Christian missionaries used a “trickle-down” approach to conversion, focusing attention on kings and nobles and trusting that other classes of society would follow their lead. The conversion of the early medieval courts was the gateway to establishing a Christian culture.