Deeds of the Bishops of Cambrai

Translation and Commentary

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Bernard S. Bachrach, David S. Bachrach, Michael Leese
  • New York, NY: 
    , September
     274 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Translated into English for the first time, the Gesta episcoporum Cameracensium “provides unique insights into the relationship between the German king and the bishops within the context of the so-called imperial system” (ii). Written by two authors roughly between 1024 and 1055 to answer bishop Gerard I of Cambrai’s commission, the deeds are recorded in three books, according to a project well established by the first author. The first book records the history of the diocese of Cambrai from the late Roman period to 1012; the second book “provides an account of the history of the individual religious foundations that were under the authority of the bishops of Cambrai” (9); and the third book intends to focus on the career of Gerard of Cambrai, although it mainly discusses the first part of his pontificate (1012-1024). While the three books have already been studied and dated by scholars (L. C. Bethmann, E. Van Mingroot, T. Riches), no complete translation has been made available in English until this one.

The task of introducing a work of this nature, which is intimately linked to political, religious, and social history, is a daunting one. The translators and authors of this edition have managed to synthetize, explain, and contextualize some ten centuries of extremely rich history to make the Deeds accessible to readers less familiar with the area of the diocese of Cambrai (located in the German Kingdom along its frontier with France). Their introduction, titled “Historical and Historiographical Background,” is clearly written, engaging, and sheds a beneficial light on the contents of the Deeds. Valuable information about the texts themselves, their authors, but also about their reception and the political background that allowed for their commission, are provided in what could almost be a stand-alone text. As a reader more familiar with English and French history, I would have liked a paragraph or two explaining how the relation between German kings and bishops differed (or not) from the one found in other kingdoms. The appointment of bishops has been a subject of constant struggle in the Middle Ages, and the introduction does not provide a very clear view of the bishop’s relation (or lack thereof) with the Pope and, more generally, with the Church as an institution of power. 

This small comment should not, however, distract potential readers from what is undoubtedly an excellent edition and translation. Generous notes appear every time the reader wonders about something and are very useful in better understanding the issues at hand, whether they are related to language, history, geography, or theological matters. At no point in this book do we feel like there are three translators or authors: their different contributions blend into one fluid and well written book. Overall, this welcomed edition and translation of the Gesta episcoporum Cameracensium is a valuable addition to any book collection.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Geneviève Piegon teaches Religious Studies at UQÀM (Montréal, Canada) and is a research associate at the Centre de recherche bretonne et celtique (Rennes, France).

Date of Review: 
August 23, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Bernard S. Bachrach is professor of history at the University of Minnesota.

David S. Bachrach is professor of history at the University of New Hampshire.

Michael Leese is assistant professor of history at the University of New Hampshire.


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