restricted access 1. Nobles and Knights in Twelfth-Century France
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Theodore Evergates i. Nobles and Knights in Twelfth-Century France Marc Bloch could not have imagined the long shadow his discursive essays entitled Feudal Society (1939-40) would cast over the historiography of medieval France.1 Seeking to capture the essence of medieval society for a general audience, he framed a paradigm of social organization that has served as referent ever since. For the period after ca. 1050—what he called the "second feudal age" and preciselythe "long"twelfth century of this conference —he adopted two seemingly incongruent propositions from Paul Guilhiermoz's massive study on the French nobility: nobles and knights constituted a single "social class,55 yet nobility existed in France only when it was recognized by law in the thirteenth century.2 Although the weight of evidence accumulated during the past thirty years fails to support either proposition, Alessandro Barbero has recently reopened the debate, reasserting Bloch's formulation and challenging both the findings and methodologies of the regional monographs.3 We should recall, however, that Feudal Society represented only one panel of a triptych on medieval Europe that was to include separate volumes on the economy and government.4 Moreover, Bloch would certainly have written a 1. Marc Bloch, La societefeodale (L'evolution de 1'humanite, 34-34 bis, ed. Henri Berr), 2 vols. (Paris, 1939-1940), tr. L. A. Manyon, Feudal Society (Chicago: 1961). Bloch's appropriation of "feudal" for his volume on medieval society disturbed the series editor, Henri Berr (La societefeodale, i: vii—viii). 2. Paul Guilhiermoz, Essai sur Vorigim de la noblesse en France au moyen age (Paris, 1902). 3. Alessandro Barbero, Uaristocrazia nella societa francese del medioevo. Analisi dellefonti lettemrie (secoli X-XIII) (Bologna, 1987). Barbero's study was foreshadowed by Giovanni Tabacco, "Su nobilita e cavalleria nel medioevo. Un ritorno a Marc Bloch?" Rivista Storica Italians 91 (1979), 5-25, and in Studi di storia medievale e moderno per Ernesto Sestan, 2 vols. (Florence, 1980), i: 31-55, which fails, however, to account for the regional studies since the 19605. Critical reviews of Barbero are Jean Flori, "Chevalerie, noblesse et lutte de classes au moyen age d'apres un ouvrage recent,"Moyen Age 94 (1988), 157-79, and Leopold Genicot, "Noblesse ou aristocratic? Des questions de methode,"JRnw d'HistoireEcclesiastique 85 (1990), 334-434 - Bloch himself intended to write two volumes on the economy, a subject that preoccupied him in the 1930$; they were announced asvolumes 43-44 of the series "L'evolution 12 Theodore Evergates different Feudal Society had the regional studies, which he long advocated, been available to him: their genealogical and prosopographical approach to social history, which Georges Duby pioneered in La societe maconnaise (1953), has become the foundation upon which all generalization must be based.5 At this juncture, rather than reviewing a voluminous bibliography on a large and complex subject, I think it would be useful to pose three questions about the nobility in the twelfth century.6 First, how did contemporaries understand nobility? Second, how did family structure, or lineage organization, account for the circulation of cadets? And third, was the nobility an open elite, accessibleto non-nobles? The Language of Nobility Modern historians have been reluctant to speakof nobles and nobility for a period in which those terms were seldom employed. Robert Fossier argues that in the twelfth century "noble" was simply "a term of the Church, a learned word that laymen never used to speak of themselves."7 And in the vernacular imaginative literature, claims Barbero, "noble" neither referred to birth nor designated a social class.8 It is of course true that when kings, dukes, and counts were quoted directly by their scribes,they did not speak of their nobles but rather of their barons, that is, those who shared in governance ; nor did their chanceries characterizetheir vassals as "noble."9 Yet de I'humanite": Les origines de Veconomic europeenne (Ve-XIIe siecles) andZte I3 economic urbaine et seigneuriale au capitalisme financier (XIIIe-XVe siecles). The political volumes were by Louis Halphen, Charlemagne et Vempire carolingien (Paris, 1947: written in 1939) and Charles PetitDutaillis , La monarchic feodale en France et enAngleterre (Xe—XIIIe siecle) (Paris, 1933), tr. E. D. Hunt, The Feudal Monarchy in France and England from the Tenth to the Thirteenth Century (London, 1936). 5. Georges Duby, La societe auxXIe etXIIe siecles dans la region maconnaise (Paris, 1953), and articles reprinted inHommes et structures du moyen age (Paris, 1973) [most are translated by Cynthia Postan as The Chivalrous Society...


Subject Headings

  • Aristocracy (Social class) -- Europe -- History -- Congresses.
  • Nobility -- Europe -- History -- Congresses.
  • Elite (Social sciences) -- Europe -- History -- Congresses.
  • Power (Social sciences) -- Congresses.
  • Social history -- Medieval, 500-1500 -- Congresses.
  • Upper class -- Europe -- History -- Congresses.
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