‘Comparisons are odorous’. Modern historians, far from sharing Dogberry’s repugnance, have found the scent of the comparative method irresistible. ‘Perhaps even the future of our discipline’ depended on its pursuit, wrote Marc Bloch in 1928. Since then, comparison has become fashionable enough, and hardly remarkable in our contemporaries’ work. Remarkable it certainly is, however, in the ninth century. I would like to begin by quoting a passage written in 857 or 858 by Archbishop Hincmar of Rheims:
In the regions [of the English] the bishoprics and monasteries are not so endowed with ecclesiastical property as they are in these Gallic regions; and for this reason, military services are not rendered from the bishoprics of those [English] regions, but [instead] the costs of rewarding those who fight (stipendia militiae) are allocated from public resources (ex roga publica). Here, on the other hand, in our regions, our clergy, instead of being given a fourth part of the bishopric’s income from renders and offerings, have an appropriate share (pars congrua) assigned them; then another share is assigned for lighting of churches, and another share goes to the hospices for the poor; but then a share goes to the fighting-men who are listed under the name of ‘housed ones’ (casati); and finally a share goes to the bishop and those who are under his direct command. Thus, at the dictate of necessity and the urging of reason, the rulers of provinces and churches have established customary arrangements appropriate to the respective qualities of provinces and quantities of church property.