The Princely Court: Medieval Courts and Culture in North-West Europe, 1270-1380

The Princely Court: Medieval Courts and Culture in North-West Europe, 1270-1380

The Princely Court: Medieval Courts and Culture in North-West Europe, 1270-1380

The Princely Court: Medieval Courts and Culture in North-West Europe, 1270-1380

Synopsis

In this fascinating new book, Malcolm Vale sets out to recapture the splendour of the court culture of western Europe in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Exploring the century or so between the death of St Louis and the rise of Burgundian power in the Low Countries, he illuminates aperiod in the history of princes and court life previously overshadowed by that of the courts of the dukes of Burgundy. Taking in subjects as diverse as art patronage and gambling, hunting and devotional religion, Malcolm Vale rediscovers a richness and abundance of artistic, literary, and musicallife. He shows how, despite the pressures of political fragmentation, unrest, and a nascent awareness of national identity, a common culture emerged in English, French, and Dutch court societies at this time. The result is a ground-breaking re-evaluation of the nature and role of the court in European history and a celebration of a forgotten age.

Excerpt

This book departs from conventional approaches to its subject-matter on at least two counts: first, it includes, rather than isolates, England; secondly, it attempts to treat both the material and non-material aspects of later medieval princely courts within the framework of a single study. It has been a common practice of historians to treat the unambiguously concrete and tangible aspects of the subject quite separately from the manifestations of court culture which they perceive in the visual, plastic and applied arts, and in music and literature. The court at this time was intimately and inextricably enmeshed with the ruler’s household, but studies of the household, its structure, organization, and personnel, tend—necessarily—to confine themselves to matter rather than mind. My aim has been to adopt a much broader definition of culture, which takes into account the material infrastructures upon which the arts rested and which, in part, could determine their nature and function. The memorable definition of culture formulated in 1871 by the anthropologist E. B. Tylor is still worthy of consideration: ‘culture… is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.’ Tylor’s emphasis upon the acquisition of cultural characteristics is significant: they are not innate, but have to be learned and acquired. Courts provided a context in which such habits and modes of behaviour were both acquired and perpetuated. Thus court culture is here seen from a broad viewpoint, in which, for example, habits of consumption, religious beliefs, devotional practices, modes of dress, and other markers or tokens of status and function, as well as patronage of the arts, are integral to its nature.

E. B. Tylor, Primitive Culture (London, 1871), 1. 1. The anthropological literature on culture is vast and controversial, but useful discussions of the concept are to be found in A. L. Kroeber and C. Kluckhohn, Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions (Cambridge, Mass., 1952), and C. Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (New York, 1973); see also G. W. Stocking (ed.), Malinowski, Rivers, Benedict and Others: Essays in Culture and Personality (Madison, 1986).

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