War, Justice, and Public Order: England and France in the Later Middle Ages

By Richard W. Kaeuper | Go to book overview

2
Royal Justice and Public Order

1. MEDIEVAL VIOLENCE

In The Waning of the Middle Ages Johan Huizinga emphasized the striking contrasts in late medieval culture in north-western Europe. Striking contrasts are no less apparent when we consider historians’ interpretations of life in this period. Certainly the range of opinion could scarcely be greater in historical estimates of ‘the violent tenor of life’, to borrow the title of the opening chapter of Huizinga’s book.1 The existence of a significant level of violence in the late Middle Ages has been, depending on the historian and the specific time and place forming his subject, emphasized, ignored, or denied. Europeans of the fourteenth century, that is, have been viewed as primitives, as forerunners of nineteenth-century gentlemen, or as happy denizens of a world we have sadly lost in achieving modernity.2

Despite these differences, we do in fact have good reasons for thinking that violence was an integral part of late medieval society. We have already examined the importance of persistent war as a force in this society. But even if any locality were happily spared the hand of war there were always other sources of violence in daily life. The act of governance itself was often accomplished through violence: public punishments and executions, often in terrifying form, were only the most obvious examples. Weapons, or ready substitutes for the real thing, were commonly carried; a staff would serve handily and everyone had a knife for table use which was easily put to other uses. The internalized restraints which we assume (sometimes incorrectly) in the modern era were generally missing. The stubborn persistence of

1 Huizinga, The Waning of the Middle Ages.

2 The flavour of this debate, and abundant citations, appear in Stone, ‘Interpersonal Violence’.

-134-

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War, Justice, and Public Order: England and France in the Later Middle Ages
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xi
  • Abbreviations xii
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - The Enterprise of War 11
  • 2 - Royal Justice and Public Order 134
  • 3 - Chivalry, the State, and Public Order 184
  • 4 - Vox Populi 269
  • 5 - Conclusion 381
  • Bibliography 393
  • Index 425
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