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About this book

A fresh introduction to the political history of late medieval France duing the turbulent period of the Hundred Years' War, taking into account the social, economic and religious contexts. Graeme Small considers not just the monarchy but also prelates, noble networks and the emerging municipalities in this new analysis.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
Most histories of France begin with a reflexion on the themes of unity and diversity, and sadly this one is no different. Diversity is ever-present in the late medieval kingdom, in landscape and language, climate or custom — so much so that most scholars of the period would align themselves with Hervé Le Bras and Emmanuel Todd, whose study of a vast number of features in French life in later times concluded that ‘by rights, France should not exist’: it had to be ‘invented’.1 If so, the ‘invention of France’ was most likely to occur around the function and dignity of the king (or, as some were already putting it in the thirteenth century, the status regis, the king’s state). After all, the monarchy was ultimately ‘the sole symbol of unity in the kingdom, far above the many communities it ruled.’2
Graeme Small

Chapter 1. Ruling the French in the Late Middle Ages

Abstract
Kings naturally sought to stand above all other forms of public authority in their realm, and in doing so the monarchy succeeded in establishing itself as a focal point of loyalty and identity among its subjects. In earlier centuries, churchmen such as Abbot Suger of Saint Denis (1081–1151) had played a key role in promoting the king’s primacy by means of a ‘royal religion’ which claimed heavenly protection of the ruling line, and a special standing manifested, among other things, in the coronation ritual. Churchmen continued to have a close relationship with royal authority in the late Middle Ages as we shall see, despite the once-prevalent view that our period witnessed the birth of a ‘lay spirit’ and a declining role for the church in public life.
Graeme Small

Chapter 2. Rural France, c. 1300–c. 1500

Abstract
The impression left by an English visitor to the French countryside towards the end of our period, Sir John Fortescue, is one of considerable poverty and hardship, with peasants reduced to eating apples, rough bread and offal in contrast to their better-fed English counterparts who ate meat and fish to their heart’s content. But Fortescue’s testimony is open to question on a number of grounds, not least his desire to show the French as a less happy people than the English because some of them lived under Roman law. The great many regional studies of the rural history of late medieval France which have appeared in recent generations paint a different picture of peasant fortunes. These same studies also consider afresh the supposed decline of the lay aristocracy and the church as landowners, and the reported rise of the bourgoisie as landowners, with their supposed interest in farming for profit.
Graeme Small

Chapter 3. Royal France, c. 1328–c. 1380

Abstract
A narrative of events in late medieval France necessarily takes as its central focus individual rulers and the fate of the monarchy. But around the ruler, as we have seen, there was a plurality of powers. An extended royal familial community with its own hierarchy, rights and expectations contained the most important of these elements, and linked to that community were the great fief-holders of the realm. The king and the leading figures around him expressed their authority through administrative structures and a bureaucracy which were becoming more significant in public life, mainly because they provided a forum for interaction with the plurality of powers that existed abroad in the realm. Foremost among this last group, despite frequent reports of their demise, were the nobles of the kingdom, whose revenues, local authority, military training and networks made them a force to be reckoned with.
Graeme Small

Chapter 4. Royal France, c. 1380–c. 1461

Abstract
Charles VI came to the throne aged 11 and remained under the control of his uncles until late in 1388, during which time the senior members of the royal familial community grew more accustomed to the powers (and dependent upon the resources) acquired under Charles V. The end of the king’s tutelage was followed by three and a half years of personal rule under the influence of the Marmousets, led by Olivier V of Clisson, Bureau of La Rivière and Jean Le Mercier, and supported by members of that north-western military aristocracy which had played such a key role under Charles V. Under the new king, the Marmousets pursued policies which had been effective in the 1370s, notably the avoidance of open battle with the English and the preservation of the king’s domaine and financial reserves.
Graeme Small

Chapter 5. Municipal France, c. 1300–c. 1500

Abstract
At several points in earlier chapters, we have had cause to signal the importance of towns and townsmen in late medieval France. Urban communities were the destination of many rural emigrants, and urban wealth was invested in land, sometimes for profit, often for social status. The walls which many towns began to construct after the battle of Crécy were the most obvious (but not the only) manifestation of growing distinctions between life in rural and urban France. We have also seen that urban defences contributed to the developing role of towns in the political life of the realm. Municipal authorities entered into contact more frequently with elements of the royal administration, sometimes employing specialists to help them (legal advisers, for instance, or bilingual clerks in the south). Townsmen were sent as representatives to the estates, locally, within the region, more rarely at the level of the kingdom. Others raised taxes as élus. The widespread acceptance of the term bonne ville was an acknowledgment of the importance of municipalities to the monarchy, even if revolts against taxes were a peculiarly urban phenomenon, and urban communities could become embroiled in factional struggles.
Graeme Small

Epilogue

Abstract
The accession of Louis XI in 1461 offered the prospect of a return to power in the Kingdom of France for the men of the east under Philip the Good. Despite accompanying Louis to Paris in great ceremony and placing the crown upon the new king’s head, the duke of Burgundy was to be disappointed. Those of his men who did attain royal office were few in number, and were soon suspected of putting the king’s interests above the duke’s, particularly when Louis XI succeeded in repurchasing the strategically important Somme towns from a declining Philip the Good (1463). It turned out that just like the future king John during his time in Normandy, Louis had not closely integrated with the regional elite which he lived among before coming to the throne. Just as few Normans followed John into power in 1350, so few Burgundians formed part of Louis’s ruling group in the early years of his reign.
Graeme Small
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