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November 2002 · Historically Speaking A Fair Field Full of Folk (But Only Beyond the Sea): The Study of the Nobilities of Latin Europe D'ArcyJonathan Dacre Boulton The field in which I work is one of the oldest in the history of historiography , and one of the most vibrant in the discipline today, attracting not only scores of active historians, but some of the best minds in the profession. Nevertheless, in North America my field has never been popular, and has become increasingly marginalized since World War II. The field I refer to is the history of those hereditary societal elites that are most commonly called "nobilities": groups distinguished by a claim to descent from ancestors who held one or more of a certain range of statuses particularly honored by their society, and by the transmission of membership to all of their legitimate children at birth. Though they have rarely included more than 1% of the population, nobilities were the dominant order not only in high barbarian societies, but in most agricultural civilizations throughout the world, and in a number of important societies (including the British Empire) in the first stages of industrial civilization. In most of Europe, and in some of the overseas colonies of France, Spain, and Portugal as well, the nobility remained the dominant order of society in the economic sphere into the 19th century, and in both the cultural and the political spheres until the early 20th century. Unfortunately, the violent overthrow between 1917 and 1919 of most of the socio-political regimes in which nobilities had been dominant cast a cloud over many aspects of European nobiliary history. This affected the study not only of the more recent periods, but of the later "medieval" periods (ca. 1000-1500) in which the nobilities in question emerged and assumed their classic form, and in which my own interests principally lie. Studies of such themes as heraldry, knighthood, knightly orders, chivalry, courts, and courtliness fell suddenly out of fashion among professional historians, and were even treated with scorn in some countries. Medieval historians did not cease to study nobiliary history altogether, but they now restricted themselves to themes that seemed politically neutral or particularly relevant to contemporary questions. Scholarly attention everywhere focused not on the nobility or its culture as such, but upon the institutions through which its members had exercised their political and military authority— especially those that had come to be associated with the artificial construct "feudalism . Since the end of World War II, however , under the influence of such distinguished historians as Georges Duby, Jacques Boussard, Pierre Feuchère, and Philippe Contamine, in France; Leopold Génicot in Belgium; Gerd Teilenbach, Karl Bosl, Karl-Ferdinand Werner, and Werner Paravicini in Germany; Claudio Sánchez-Albornoz and Salvador de ???? in Spain; Giovanni Tabacco, Gina Fasoli, and Sylvie Pollastri in Italy; and K. B. McFarlane, Maurice Keen, Malcolm Vale, Chris Given-Wilson, Peter Coss, David Crouch, and Nigel Saul in England, interest in the history of the classic nobility before the Reformation has grown steadily in most European countries. The growth in scholarly production increased slowly to 1960, but exponentially thereafter , and now exceeds 100 works a year. The expansion of studies of the later medieval nobilities in the last fifty years has involved not merely a growth in the number of books and articles published, but an increase in the number of subfields devoted to different themes. Some of these were essentially revivals. After half a century of neglect, studies of knighthood, the knightly social stratum, knightly culture (especially the ideology and mythology ofchivalry), and knightly organizations began to appear in the early 1970s, and have given rise to major works of synthesis, and to regular international colloquia in England and Portugal. Similarly, the history ofroyal and princely courts, of the great households that formed the institutional core of such courts, and of the ideology of courtliness that governed the behavior of their habitués, have become important themes of scholarship in the last twenty years. So has the history ofthe buildings in which courts and households functioned, including villas , halls, manor-houses, palaces, and castles . The new science of castellology is a particularly vital subfield...


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