How would one quantify a medieval ruler's religious credentials?

#1
I will start by saying exactly what this is about, because it's quite specific - a friend and I are devising a pack of top trumps on medieval rulers.

Naturally we want the scores on the cards to reflect what was considered important and virtuous for the rulers of the time, so we are looking at categories such as the size of their territory to reflect their power(?), their annual income to reflect their wealth, the number of their offspring to reflect their success in continuing their dynasty, battles fought (or won) to reflect their military prowess, and so on. But clearly, for medieval rulers, we need to have some kind of religious category, and we were struggling to settle on a good one. And so we thought perhaps the good citizens of the internet might have some ideas?

The ideal category would be something that is statistically objective (so not "marks out of ten", assessed by us). Ideally it has to get to the heart of a ruler's religious achievements, so that the more pious a ruler is the better they are in the category, but this isn't in fact as important as statistical objectivity. (There were rulers with small territories who were powerful, for example, but this doesn't really matter too much for top trumps - the size of the territory is interesting regardless.) It is also better if we can be accurate, but it isn't necessary to be 100% sure of the numbers - if they come from the same reasonably good source, for example, even if it could be disputed, that is fine for this purpose.

One idea that we have is the number of monasteries (or other religious institutions) founded by the monarch. The problem we've had with this is that we can't find the data in one place (and it might go without saying that the primary research - researching numbers for 100 European monarchs - would be some way beyond us.)

So how might people quantify the religious credentials of a medieval ruler? It could be a measure of their religious devotion, or their religious achievements, or their religious legacy - anything that is interesting. Any idea would be gratefully received.

Alternatively - does anyone know a good statistical source for the founding of religious institutions by medieval monarchs? Because if we could find a source for that, it would probably work quite well.

Just to be clear, this is not a commercial endeavour. We're just a bit geeky, and I have children to amuse.

Thanks all.
 
Apr 2014
161
Liverpool, England
#2
The problem seems to be finding a reliable source of statistical evidence that covers a wide range, and I have no answer to this. As a general rule, monkish chroniclers approved of rulers who favoured the church, so there might be something there. One problem might be to allow for rulers who endowed numerous chantry chapels on account of having murdered an archbishop in their youth, which might count against them. On the other hand, a highly religious ruler might make himself unpopular by trying to raise standards in religious houses that had become lax in enforcing the appropriate rule. It looks like being subjective whatever you do.
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
26,606
Italy, Lago Maggiore
#3
In Middle Ages there was a kind of religious thermometer for rulers: cathedrals.

The construction of a cathedral meant a lasting and wide business for all the society surrounding the clergy, but sure it meant that the local lord was reliable for the Papal court [we are considering a historical period before of the Reform, obviously].

But Cathedrals were suitable public works for great Lords [with capital L] or great municipalities [like Milan with the "Duomo"].

So, my suggestion is ... count the cathedrals.
 
#4
The problem seems to be finding a reliable source of statistical evidence that covers a wide range, and I have no answer to this. As a general rule, monkish chroniclers approved of rulers who favoured the church, so there might be something there. One problem might be to allow for rulers who endowed numerous chantry chapels on account of having murdered an archbishop in their youth, which might count against them. On the other hand, a highly religious ruler might make himself unpopular by trying to raise standards in religious houses that had become lax in enforcing the appropriate rule. It looks like being subjective whatever you do.
Yes, the choice is always going to be objective one way or another. I think this is why it's more important to have accurate statistics than to be trying to really rank the rulers fairly. If a ruler has an archbishop murdered and as a result endows many chapels, then it's a big number on top trumps - but statistics are very often best seen as just the prompt to an interesting question, and that's as much as you would aim for from top trumps. So if we could get the statistics, I think it would be interesting - but you're absolutely right that finding the numbers is the problem. Unless someone has done a lot of comparative work on the subject (and we could find nothing in the London Library), then it's probably not going to happen.

In Middle Ages there was a kind of religious thermometer for rulers: cathedrals.

The construction of a cathedral meant a lasting and wide business for all the society surrounding the clergy, but sure it meant that the local lord was reliable for the Papal court [we are considering a historical period before of the Reform, obviously].

But Cathedrals were suitable public works for great Lords [with capital L] or great municipalities [like Milan with the "Duomo"].

So, my suggestion is ... count the cathedrals.
I like this idea, because counting the cathedrals at any one time is obviously quite doable. The numbers would be smaller than monasteries, or religious institutions generally, and that might mean more ties (and more zeroes), but it could well be viable, at least in England, France and the HRE. (It would have to be "cathedrals started", or else you'd just be giving high scores to later rulers - and "cathedrals completed" is probably a bit of a lottery.)

Thanks to you both.
 

Ichon

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
3,618
#5
There are records of Kings who did public penance as well those that took Crusader vows and along with Cathedrals could probably round out fairly well a list of the publicly pious.
 

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