A Tale of Two Monasteries takes an unprecedented look at one of the great rivalries of the Middle Ages and offers it as a revealing lens through which to view the intertwined histories of medieval England and France. This is the first book to systematically compare Westminster Abbey and the abbey of Saint-Denis--two of the most important ecclesiastical institutions of the thirteenth century--and to do so through the lives and competing careers of the two men who ruled them, Richard de Ware of Westminster and Mathieu de Vendme of Saint-Denis.
Esteemed historian William Jordan weaves a breathtaking narrative of the social, cultural, and political history of the period. It was an age of rebellion and crusades, of artistic and architectural innovation, of unprecedented political reform, and of frustrating international diplomacy--and Richard and Mathieu, in one way or another, played important roles in all these developments. Jordan traces their rise from obscure backgrounds to the highest ranks of political authority, Abbot Richard becoming royal treasurer of England, and Abbot Mathieu twice serving as a regent of France during the crusades. By enabling us to understand the complex relationships the abbots and their rival institutions shared with each other and with the kings and social networks that supported and exploited them, A Tale of Two Monasteries paints a vivid portrait of medieval society and politics, and of the ambitious men who influenced them so profoundly.
Jordan, a Princeton professor and a much-lauded medievalist, knows a good coincidence when he sees one. He has set about comparing and contrasting the tenures of the two abbots (which both lasted for a quarter of a century) and, along the way, he manages to provide some fascinating insights into the turbulent thirteenth-century relationship between France and England. This is a spectacularly accomplished book: learned, witty and very important. The shock is that no one has undertaken such a study before...I've said it once, and I'm told that repetition is a useful rhetorical device, so here we go again: this book is superb.
-Jonathan Wright, The Tablet
[T]his is a work that could only be written by a scholar who has spent a career examining the intricacies of medieval government in the often turbulent years of the thirteenth century. As such, the reader is well served by Professor Jordan's excellent book.
-Leonie Hicks, Church History
In this tidy comparative study of two of the most important ecclesiastical institutions of the Middle Ages, Jordan uses the monasteries and the men chosen to govern them in 1258 as an entry into relations between 13th-century England and France.
William Chester Jordan's...meticulous research, lively mind, and unburdened prose...A Tale of Two Monasteries is a closely researched and energetic cameo.
Catholic Historical Review
Jordan's comparative approach and expert insights make this book an important study for scholars in the field. Its lucid style, engaging narrative, compact synthesis, and clear explanations, however, open up the political and ecclesiastical world of the thirteenth century to a wider audience and it is likely to become a favourite textbook and a model for historical writing.
-Marc B. Cels,
Canadian Journal of History
Jordan enlists these two monasteries, their abbots, and especially their documents to trace a new and privileged path through the political history of later thirteenth-century England and France. Jordan has given us another of his own classics, a refreshing account of a well-known era.
-David C. Mengel,
Journal of World History