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Concepts, Accountability, and Comparisons

A criticism of the old-style legal/constitutional/administrative history was that its default object of interest was, at least implicitly, the emergence or anticipation of (Cambridge, 2008), esp. 142—55, and chs. 4—5; Janet L. Nelson, ‘Kingship and Royal Government’, in Rosamund McKitterick (ed.), The New Cambridge Medieval History, ii. c.700—c.900 (Cambridge, 1995), 383^30 at 410—27: Jennifer R. Davis, ‘A Pattern for Power: Charlemagne’s Delegation of Judicial Responsibilities’, in Davis and Michael M. McCormick (eds.), The Long Morning of Medieval Europe: New Directions in Medieval Studies (Aldershot, 2008), 235^6. For a slightly later period, Wendy Davies’s article, ‘Judges and Judging: Truth and Justice in Northern Iberia on the Eve of the Millennium’, Journal of Medieval History 36 (2010), 193—203, esp. 194—5, 202—3, takes an interesting if sceptically functional view of the meaning of the rhetoric of ‘truth’ and ‘justice’ in dispute resolution.

  • 97 Byzantine political thinking about responsible household management (oikonomia) seems to have played a similar, transferable role as ideas of stewardship and villicatio did in European thinking. See Leonara Neville, Authority in Provincial Byzantine Society, 950—H00 (Cambridge, 2004), 99—105, and Gilbert Dagron, Emperor and Priest: The Imperial Office in Byzantium, trans. Jean Birrell (Cambridge, 2003), indexed under ‘economy’. Dimiter Angelov, Imperial Ideology and Political Thought in Byzantium, 1204—1330 (Cambridge, 2007) is also relevant, esp. chs. 7—10.
  • 98 e.g. D. R. Hainsworth, Stewards, Lords and People: The Estate Steward and his World in Later Stuart England (Cambridge, 1992); Conal Condren, Argument and Authority in Early Modern England: The Presupposition of Oaths and Offices (Cambridge, 2006); Mark Goldie, ‘The Unacknowledged Republic: Officeholding in Early Modern England’, in The Politics of the Excluded, c. 1500—1800 (Basingstoke, 2001), 153—94; Gary W. Cox, ‘War, Moral Hazard, and Ministerial Responsibility: England after the Glorious Revolution’, Journal of Economic History 71 (2011), 133—61; Jacob Soll, ‘Accounting for Government: Holland and the Rise of Political Economy in Seventeenth-Century Europe’, The Journal of Interdisciplinary History 40 (2009), 215—38; and more widely and recently, Soll, The Reckoning: Financial Accountability and the Making and Breaking of Nations (New York, 2014).
  • 99 Olivier Matteoni, ‘Verifier, corriger, juger: Les Chambres des comptes et le controle des officiers en France a la fin du Moyen Age’, Revue historique 641 (2007), 31—69.
  • 100 See e.g. Thomas A. Koelble, ‘The New Institutionalism in Political Science and Sociology’, Comparative Politics 27 (1995), 231—43. An excellent critical example is Sheila Ogilvie, ‘Whatever Is, Is Right? Economic Institutions in Pre-Industrial Europe’, Economic History Review ns 60 (2007), secular, parliamentary, sovereign states. That is, it expected to apply a relatively uniform set of institutional measures and concepts, imposing uniformity and enabling comparability. To be fair, a focus on states, or ‘princely’ regimes, still dominates the historiography. It is not the dominant optic here. If one is trying to set English medieval officers’ accountability in a comparative perspective, the question is can a more comparative approach be developed—one that is less monomaniacally focused on states?

In the specific field of medieval officers’ accountability there are two issues: conceptual comparability (Are ideas of accountability anachronistic or appropriate?); and institutionalized comparability (Are social practices used to exact that accountability from officers responsive to both similarity and difference across geography and types of officer?). I have argued elsewhere that if accountability can be taken at a high level of generality as an ‘empty shell’ concept it can only be filled with meaning when analysed with respect to specific, historical, social values and practices.101 Max Weber famously proposed a set of characteristics relating to contemporary bureaucratic officials which could be successfully used to analyse non-modern forms of bureaucracy: the specification of jurisdictional areas (duties, rules, and ability); super- and subordination within some hierarchy; management based on files and documents; training and specialization of officers; the full-time use of the officer; management following general, acquirable rules.102 A more recent longue duree analysis focusing on the Middle Ages applies a Weberian framework to the ‘essential characteristics of the concept of office’: the connection between actions and specific tasks; the provision of resources for them that do not belong to the official; the officials’ ordering in a hierarchy; the separation of roles intended to eliminate conflicts of interest between the personal and the official; the establishment of general rules for management; and the interchangeableness of officeholders in order to ensure continuity of office.103 This definition occurs within the Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe, a multi-author dictionnaire raisonnee of political-social language from antiquity onwards. The orientation of the Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe is towards a projected turning-point (Sattelzeit, lit. ‘saddle-time’) of c.1750—1850 in which Germanic Europe experienced a series of significant conceptual/social changes bound up with the precipitation of an idea of Modernity. There is a temptation to use the Grundbegriffe as the basis for a general European account, but it is a specifically German one, even though its treatment of some concepts (e.g. medieval ecclesiastical ones) may be more widely applicable.104 Weber seems more elastic here because 649—84. A different approach is set out in d’Avray, Rationalities in History, including, at pp. 29—58, a critique of the rational choice approach so influential in political science.

  • 101 Sabapathy, ‘A Medieval Officer and a Modern Mentality’, esp. 62—79.
  • 102 Max Weber, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft: Grundriss der Verstehenden Soziologie, ed. Johannes Winckelmann, 5th edn. (Tubingen, 1972), 551—2 and generally to 579.

юз Udo Wolter, ‘Verwaltung, Amt, Beamter, V—VI’, in Otto Brunner, Werner Conze, and Reinhart Koselleck (eds.), Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe: Historisches Lexikon zur politisch-sozialen Sprache in Deutschland, 8 vols. in 9 (Stuttgart, 1972—97), vii. 26-47 at 27—8 (this is the medieval portion of the article; each chronological section was written by a different specialist with Koselleck providing the introduction).

104 Wolter, in Verwaltung, Amt, Beamter, V—VI’, in Otto Brunner, Werner Conze, and Reinhart Koselleck (eds.), Geschichtliche Grundbegriffe: Historisches Lexikon zur politisch-sozialen Sprache in

of his ideal type approach (i.e. here his definition of officials), and its flexibility (as already described).105 Weber’s approach is concrete and functional, granting a role for ideas and values. A basically similar approach is taken here. Wolter’s definition above is also relatively functional, but I am not convinced that changes in conceptual use are an infallible guide to changes in practices, so the broader Grundbegriffe approach is not itself foregrounded here. Both Weber’s and Wolter’s definitions are avowedly focused on a modern idea of office, although Weber’s is arguably the more flexible. They imply but do not per se say very much concrete about accountability. Elsewhere, through reflection on Thomas Bisson’s and Jean Glenisson’s work, I have suggested a framework for thinking about officers’ accountability comparatively, and I develop this here.106 Again, ‘accountability’ is not used here in a narrow fiscal sense, but in relation to individuals’ conduct more widely.107 Partly because accountability is relational, partly because there is a risk of imposing expectations, I have not elaborated a set of ideal characteristics of officials’ accountability. One can imagine what a set might be, perhaps: (1) the official is accountable to his superiors; (2) the official’s accountability is specified in relation to his functions; (3) the official is accountable as a matter of course; (4) the official is dismissible. Other criteria could be added. I have, however, preferred to keep a loose questionnaire as a grid to guide (but not slavishly structure) my analysis of medieval officers’ accountability. Those questions are:

  • 1. ‘Kto kogo?’, ‘Who, whom?’, in the phrase attributed to Lenin.108 Who exacts what of whom? This is the question I refer back to most frequently, and the subsequent questions are to a degree simply extrapolations from it.
  • 2. What is the texture, or dynamic, of the conflict encouraged by the given institutionalization of accountability?
  • 3. Are the justifications for a given officer’s accountability specific to that officer, or do they relate to some wider, common pattern of justifying official accountability applicable to many sorts of officer? If some pattern is apparent, how is it to be explained?

Deutschland, 8 vols. in 9 (Stuttgart, 1972—97), frames his discussion in terms of a ‘begriffsgeschichtli- chen Analyse die Herausbildung und Entwicklung der Elemente des modernen Amtsbegriffs im Mittelalter’ (28). Mostly Wolter stressses that the roots (Wurzeln) of modern administration are to be sought in the later Middle Ages (46), but at others (e.g. also 46) Wolter is explicit that there is no direct line of development (Entwicklungslinie) from a medieval concept of administration and office to a modern one.

  • 105 See n. 31 and associated text.
  • 106 Sabapathy, ‘Accountable rectores in comparative perspective’, 219—30.
  • 107 David d’Avray kindly provided me with Leo Cull urns New Yorker cartoon (8 November 2010) of two businessmen seated at a paper-strewn table in an office wallpapered with graphs. ‘Remember’, says the senior to his bright-eyed junior, ‘ “accounting” and “accountability”. Nothing in common’. It is worth noting that the French comptabilite and the Italian contabilita relate more narrowly to just the ‘accounting’ semantic field.
  • 108 Given its later fame, Lenin’s recorded uses of ‘Kto kogo?’ are notably late and few. See Lars T. Lih, ‘The Soviet Union and the Road to Communism’, in Ronald Grigor Suny (ed.), The Cambridge History of Russia, iii. The Twentieth Century (Cambridge, 2006), 706—31 at 718—22. On the question, Jonathan Wolff, An Introduction to Political Philosophy, rev. edn. (Oxford, 2006), 1—3; Raymond

Geuss, Philosophy and Real Politics (Princeton, NJ, 2008), 23—30.

  • 4. What is the relationship between the practice of holding officers to account and any related organizational form?
  • 5. Do processes of holding officers accountable invariably deliver judgements of justice on those being held to account—or is that a separate process?

The questions are intended to enable an analysis focused on borrowings, parallels, divergences, and similarities between different sorts of officer and different regional jurisdictions. The study is neither comparative in the sustained dialectical manner of, say, Brentano’s diptych of the English and Italian churches in the thirteenth century, nor following the multiple paired mosaics of Wickham’s socioeconomic analyses.[1] Less ambitiously, it introduces comparisons and contrasts to its core English material where this promises insights of either convergence or divergence. These points of comparison are sometimes from England’s neighbour France, but also from further afield.

The study is more systematically comparative along a different axis. Its central chapters provide analytical case studies of a sequence of officers from distinct fields not often addressed together (seigneurial, princely, ecclesiastical, clerical/educational, and, to a much lesser extent, urban). Each also focuses on these officials’ accountability through particular mechanisms of holding them to account: sindacatio (podesta, earlier), action of account (bailiff), Exchequer audit and judicial enquiry (sheriff), canonical inquisitio (bishop), audit and scrutinium (warden).

It is a basic thesis of this study that in these forms such practices are novelties of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The claim to novelty for this period is qualitative and quantitative, but not absolute in relation to the earlier medieval period. The officers and the methods for holding them to account which comprise this series are compared together in the final chapter, with an interpretation of their significance. Since I do not presume the primacy of kingdoms or polities in the development of officers’ accountability, the officers analysed here quite deliberately do not all pertain to ‘state’ institutions. The question of state innovation is addressed again in the final chapter. Behind this lie several arguments that the analysis seeks to test, and whose significance should be obvious given the historiographical agenda and analysis offered earlier. No doubt increasing the range and numbers of officers analysed would have improved the study. The officers I have analysed here have been selected because their experiences illustrate the practices of accountability developed in this period to regulate them. My approach is to take this relatively small number of detailed cases and interpret them widely through other relevant, comparable material. In the chapters on bailiffs, stewards, and bishops I have paired an earlier case with a later one. In Chapter 3, on sheriffs, the Dialogue of the Exchequer acts as my earlier focus. The chronology of collegial foundations means that it is hard to find sufficiently detailed earlier thirteenth-century sources for Chapter 5 and so the focus on Oxford from the 1260s is paired with some contemporary French, and later English and European, material. The comparisons, though, are intended to be suggestive, not exhaustive or definitive. That would have required a quite different book.

  • [1] Robert Brentano, Two Churches: England and Italy in the Thirteenth Century (Princeton, NJ.,1968); Chris Wickham, Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean 400—800(Oxford, 2005).
 
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