Religions in Conflict: From Polemics to Wars (Late Antiquity - 18th Century)
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Chasing Phantoms: Philip IV and the Fantastic

James Given, University of California, Irvine

This paper reconsiders some of the affairs in which Philip IV and his advisors used fantastic charges involving magic, sodomy, and demonolatry against their perceived enemies. It argues that an explanation for this phenomenon can be derived from the paradoxical nature of royal governance in the early fourteenth century. On the one hand, the French kings had created an impressive quasi-bureaucratic form of government and effectively asserted their position as the leaders of the realm’s political community. Much was expected from them. However, the king’s nascent “state” organs of governance enjoyed a low degree of “relative autonomy” with respect to the social structures of the kingdom. This resulted in severe constraints on the exercise of royal authority. The paper argues that a solution to this dilemma of high expectations and low real capacity to control political events was to create what was in effect a “zone of terror.” This was a space carved out of the French political system in which the normal rules did not apply. In this space coercion could be used to convict the king’s opponents of charges of fantastic wrong-doing, charges whose very fantastic nature made it nearly impossible to refute them.

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