Battlefields Trust Online Lecture: Medieval Peacemaking, & Spying

Thursday 7th March 2024

Espionage was essential for the very survival of all rulers and their political entities in the competitive medieval world. This is clearly highlighted in the metaphorical ‘little birds’ – e.g. ravens, jackdaws, starlings – found in Latin and vernacular literature of Europe 700-1200, denoting men, women, and children engaging in spying activities. Their historical context can be glimpsed through a range of documentary and material sources, demonstrating that spies, their networks and activities played a vital part in everyday life. By gathering, creating, exploiting and protecting intelligence and information, leaders sought to reduce risks, to mitigate threats, to influence others, and to create and use opportunities to win and preserve what they saw as their interests. Espionage therefore sits in a curious intersection between domestic and international law; between what is acceptable in war but forbidden, even if necessary, in times of peace. This talk examines the ways and means by which intelligence was acquired and shared, who was involved, and to what success, while also highlighting the cultural milieu within which medieval writers perceived of spies and espionage in the early medieval world.

Jenny Benham is Reader in Medieval History and the Co-director of the Centre for Medieval Studies at Cardiff University. Her research interests centres on the history of international law and diplomacy, with a particular focus on espionage, treaties, and legal practice. She is the author of Peacemaking in the Middle Ages (Manchester, 2011) and International Law in Europe, 700-1200 (Manchester, 2022), and a large number of articles on various aspects of law and diplomacy.



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