The Aristocracy in the County of Champagne, 1100-1300

The Aristocracy in the County of Champagne, 1100-1300

The Aristocracy in the County of Champagne, 1100-1300

The Aristocracy in the County of Champagne, 1100-1300


Theodore Evergates provides the first systematic analysis of the aristocracy in the county of Champagne under the independent counts. He argues that three factors--the rise of the comital state, fiefholding, and the conjugal family--were critical to shaping a loose assortment of baronial and knightly families into an aristocracy with shared customs, institutions, and identity. Evergates mines the rich, varied, and in some respects unique collection of source materials from Champagne to provide a dynamic picture of a medieval aristocracy and its evolving symbiotic relationship with the counts.

Count Henry the Liberal (1152-81) began the process of transforming a quasi-independent baronage accustomed to collegial governance into an elite of landholding families subordinate to the count and his officials. By the time Countess Jeanne married the future King Philip IV of France in 1284, the fiefholding families of Champagne had become a distinct provincial nobility. Throughout, it was the conjugal community, rather than primogeniture or patrilineage, that remained the core familial institution determining the customs regarding community property, dowry, dower, and partible inheritance. Those customs guaranteed that every lineage would survive, but frequently through a younger son or daughter. The life courses of women and men, influenced not only by social norms but also by individual choice and circumstance, were equally unpredictable. Evergates concludes that imposed models of "the aristocratic family" fail to capture the diversity of individual lives and lineages within one of the more vibrant principalities of medieval France.


The medieval county of Champagne is well known for its court under Count Henry the Liberal and Countess Marie and for its trade fairs, which made Champagne the crossroads of international commerce and finance through most of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. But the county’s achievements in fact were much broader than that. In recent decades intense scholarly study has revealed Champagne’s contributions in the domains of art and architecture, monasticism (especially Cistercian), and intellectual life as well as literature. At the same time, a steady stream of critical editions (ecclesiastical cartularies, chancery registers, the customary) and meticulous genealogical studies of the region’s important families continues to enlarge our understanding of the county and its medieval society. Still lacking, however, is a broad study of the county’s aristocracy. This book attempts to fill that void.

This study is primarily a sociological analysis of a regional elite, its formation and evolution, and its practices. It does not attempt to provide a detailed political history of the county over two centuries or a comprehensive catalog of all the important families. Nor does it view the aristocracy primarily through its military activities. It seeks rather to understand the critical relationships within the aristocracy: between the barons and the counts, fiefholders and their lords, husbands and wives, parents and children, and between siblings. It seeks also to track the life courses of individuals, both men and women, as well as the fates of lineages. Since women are pervasively present in the sources and involved in numerous domains too often assumed to have been restricted to men, the approach here is to examine men and women together within a single social fabric. In the process, we encounter a cast of characters as captivating as the Arthurian characters invented by Chrétien de Troyes, who surely knew some of the individuals mentioned here.

Champagne is an ideal laboratory for examining a medieval aristocracy. It possesses an exceptionally rich, varied, and in some respects unique collection of source materials relating directly to aristocratic families and their practices. Moreover, since direct royal influence remained episodic and peripheral during the county’s existence as an independent principality (1152–1285), a line of counts—not kings—shaped the region’s institutions, customs, identity, and in large measure the aristocracy itself. Thus it . . .

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