Council of Estinnes, 743

Barrie Brill

Concilia Aevi Karolini

The argument that Charles Martel exploited church lands is not supported by eighth century sources. This was a period when many bishoprics and monasteries lost control of a considerable proportion of their estates. The Anglo-Saxon missionary Boniface had complained about the standards of the Frankish Church. A church that allowed warriors into its ranks such as Savarac [see document 2 above] was indeed in a difficult position, but this was likely more due to the general political and military turmoil of the period than to the specific policies of Charles Martel. It was largely after Charles that the practice became more common under his sons and grandsons who were known to be concerned to reform the morals of the Church. Charles was presumed to have been less concerned about the falling standards that Boniface had pointed out, and, as a result, he was blamed for the ongoing loss of clerical lands. It seems that since they voiced their concerns for the church, these later rulers were able to acquire the moral authority to use church lands as if they owned them to fund the protection of the Christian community. This was first asserted by Charles Martel’s son, Carloman, at the Council of Estinnes in 743, held at the urging of Boniface.

We also decide, with the agreement of the servants of God and of the Christian people, because of imminent wars and attacks by other peoples who surround us, to keep for some time, with the indulgence of God, a portion of the properties of the church as precaria[1] owing census, on this condition that, annually, we will return to each church or monastery for each property one solidus, that is to say twelve denarii; in such a way that, if the person to whom the property was given as a precarium should die, the property shall revert to the church, and if, once again, circumstances are such as to compel the prince to order it, let the precarium be renewed and a new contract drawn up. But let extreme care be taken that the churches and monasteries whose property has been granted in precarium are not reduced to poverty and want, but if poverty requires it, let full possession be restored to the church and the house of God.

Questions for Consideration

  1. In what ways does this statement reflect both the interests of the church and of the state?
  2. What are the risks inherent in such a system?

  1. Precarium (precaria, plural): land given in usufruct in return for a symbolic tax which prevents “forgetting” the name of the owner. A system established at the beginning of the eight century for church property given as benefices to royal vassals.


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