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CHARACTER AND VICISSITUDES OF THE TIE OF KINSHIP

1 THE REALITIES OF FAMILY LIFE

IN spite of the power of the family to give support to its members or impose restraints upon them, it would be a grave error to picture its internal life in uniformly idyllic colours. The fact that the family groups engaged readily in blood-feuds did not always prevent the most atrocious intestine quarrels. Though Beaumanoir finds wars between kinsmen distressing, he obviously does not regard them as exceptional or even, except when waged between full brothers, as actually unlawful. To understand the prevailing attitude it is enough to consult the history of the princely houses. If, for example, we were to follow from generation to generation the destiny of the Angevins, the true Atrides of the Middle Ages, we should read of the ‘more than civil’ war which for seven years embroiled the count Fulk Nerra with his son Geoffrey Martel; of how Fulk le Réchin, after having dispossessed his brother, threw him into prison—to release him only as a madman, at the end of eighteen years; of the furious hatred of the sons of Henry II for their father; and finally of the assassination of Arthur by his uncle, King John.

In the class immediately below, there are the bloody quarrels of so many middle and lesser lords over the family castle; as for example the case of that Flemish knight who, having been turned out of his home by his two brothers and having seen them massacre his wife and child, killed one of the murderers with his own hands.1 More terrible still was the affair of the viscounts of Comborn, one of those tales for strong stomachs that lose nothing of their flavour through being set down by the tranquil pen of a monastic writer.2 At the outset, we learn of the viscount Archambaud who, to avenge his deserted mother, kills one of his half-brothers and then, many years later, buys his father’s pardon by the murder of a knight who had earlier inflicted an incurable wound on the old nobleman. The viscount leaves, in his turn, three sons. The eldest, who has inherited the viscounty, dies shortly afterwards, leaving a young boy as his only

1Miracula S. Ursmari, c. 6, in M.G.H., SS., XV, 2, p. 839.

2 Geoffroi de Vigeois, I, 25, in Labbé, Bibliotheca nova, II, p. 291.

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