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Response to Review of The Benefits of Peace: Private Peacemaking in Late Medieval Italy

I am very grateful to Alexandra Lee for her thorough summary and assessment of my book. Lee captures well my attempt to cross regional and disciplinary boundaries to explore the diversity of peacemaking and peace.

Lee is also accurate with her assessment of the burgeoning field of peacemaking studies. When I first entered the archives in Siena 20 years ago to study peacemaking and mentioned that I was looking for peace agreements, a fellow researcher responded with ‘Those things are everywhere; they are always getting in my way.’ The frequency of peacemaking and the formulaic nature of the documents created a significant barrier to their study. Since then, a number of scholars have delved into this mass in archives across northern and central Italy, some from a background in legal studies, others in preaching, art, social history or medieval Italian dialects. Without their work, the comparative aspect of my book and attempt to weave these threads together into a comprehensive picture of peace would have been impossible. One of my goals has been to make peace agreements and peacemaking more accessible. As Lee says, it is the lively individual ‘examples of medieval personal interaction’ that hide behind what can be a dry document. Criminal justice documents appeal to researchers and readers because the people one encounters there often appear nowhere else in the written record. Peace agreements are no different. They provide rare avenues to examine social interaction, ritual, kinship, friendship and practical religion among those who rarely had need of a notary.

There are no major points with Lee’s review that I would contest, though one point needs clarification. While women’s agency in committing the most heinous crimes was often attributed partly to men, women were sometimes denounced singly for homicides. They also frequently made peace, including over homicides they committed, as individuals, with no mention of consent by husbands, fathers or other male relatives.

I would also emphasize that within legal history peace agreements are fundamental to understanding the move from accusatorial to inquisitorial procedure. As cities began to launch inquests through their own officials, this advance was mitigated by retaining the ability of private parties to end the legal process by making peace, as they had done in the accusatorial system. These governments, however, did slowly encroach upon that option, limiting the time parties had to make peace, gradually disallowing peace for more and more crimes, and then requiring partial payments of fines with peace. Thus, the vast majority of peacemaking in medieval Italy had nothing to do with ending active feuds. Instead, peace was a daily mechanism to deal with conflict and crime, one that drew heavily on the penitential aspect of reconciliation to inflict humiliation, and occasionally physical punishment, on an offender in order to satisfy a victim.

I want to express my gratitude to Alexandra Lee and to Reviews in History for this review and the opportunity to respond. I hope that my book will help other scholars of medieval society and law and that it will make readers think more broadly about community involvement in conflict resolution and the importance of satisfying victims within criminal justice systems.