By Theodore Evergates. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016.
For over four decades, Theodore Evergates has produced carefully researched and analytically sophisticated works on the political and social history of Champagne during the High Middle Ages. The present book is no exception to this record of distinguished scholarship. In many ways, the work under review here reads as a coda to Evergates’ 2007 magisterial work, The Aristocracy in the County of Champagne, 1100–1300, also by University of Pennsylvania Press. There, among other contentions, Evergates advanced the argument that it was Count Henry the Liberal (b. 1127; r. 1152–81) who initiated a century-long process of consolidating Champagne’s miscellany of baronial lordships under the direct authority of the count and his ministers, thereby helping forge by 1300 a coherent social identity for the aristocratic elite of the county. Here, Evergates focuses holistically upon the transitional reign of Henry the Liberal. Evergates argues that the very emergence of Champagne as a coherent principality of broader political, cultural, and economic significance “can be attributed largely to the interests, visions, and policies of Henry the Liberal” (viii). In arguing for Henry’s instrumentality, Evergates intervenes in scholarly literature that posits a “fundamental break” in the developmental vectors of French regional landscapes with the 1180 accession of King Philip II Augustus: the transition, at least in Champagne, came much earlier (176).
This book, therefore, rests somewhere in between political biography and temporally focused regional study. This approach is somewhat of a necessity in the case of Henry the Liberal: since there are no contemporary accounts of Henry’s life, his efforts must be reconstructed through contextualization of non-narrative documentary sources, such as his sealed letters patent and the catalog of his personal library, as well as archaeological sources, such as the material remains and extant sketches of his chapel-residence complex in Troyes. Evergates makes skillful use of these often difficult sources to yield an eminently readable narrative of Henry’s place within and contributions to the broader currents of his world. [End Page 250]
The book is divided into nine roughly chronological chapters. There are two appendices which contain useful prosopographical tables of important figures in Henry’s mouvance as well as a list of the major events of his lifetime. In the first two chapters, Evergates reconstructs formative experiences in Henry’s life from the time of Henry’s birth in 1127 to the occasion of his accession to the county of Champagne in 1152. The remaining chapters are bound together by four major narrative threads. The first thread concerns the manner in which Henry and his siblings consistently pursued throughout their lives a strategy of intertwining their own fates and fortunes with that of the Capetian crown: they married into the royal family as well as occupied important ecclesiastical and secular positions in the royal demesne, forming a virtual Champenois contingent around King Louis VII (r. 1137–80). Henry, for his own part, aided Louis in military and diplomatic affairs, in addition to marrying one of Louis’ daughters, Marie, in 1165. Having thus been bound to the crown in both blood and service, Henry and his close kin “played the great game of politics with the most important monarchs and religious leaders of western Europe” (112). Henry’s county of Champagne benefitted both politically and economically from the Capetians’ relatively favorable outcomes in such affairs.
The material performance of Henry’s rule is the second major thread which binds together multiple chapters of this book. Evergates introduces the thread by way of Chapter Two, which concerns Henry’ participation in the Second Crusade of 1147–1149. Evergates suggests that Henry’s brief stay in Norman Sicily while returning from the Holy Land had a profound impact upon the young man’s ideations of how a Christian ruler ought to enact his authority in a material sense. In particular, the advanced construction of King Roger II’s palace-chapel complex in Palermo provided for Henry a “model for the construction of an entirely new capital for a new state” (27). In Chapter Three, Evergates explores how Henry, after becoming count of Champagne...