Parisian Scholars in the Early Fourteenth Century: A Social Portrait

By Spatz, Nancy | The Catholic Historical Review, April 2001 | Go to article overview

Parisian Scholars in the Early Fourteenth Century: A Social Portrait


Spatz, Nancy, The Catholic Historical Review


Parisian Scholars in the Early Fourteenth Century: A Social Portrait. By William J. Courtenay. [Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought, Fourth Series, 41.1 (New York: Cambridge University Press. 1999. Pp. xix, 284. $64.95.)

This is William J. Courtenay's third book on medieval universities, students, and masters. It is definitely his most unusual; in its mix of urban topography, prosopography, university financial records, and a criminal law case, it is even a path-breaking book.

The genesis of the book came about with Courtenay's recovery or re-discovery of a document from the University of Paris, a computus (financial record) from 1329-30. Written on the last quire of the oldest surviving register of the proctors of the English-German nation at Paris, it is a list of university faculty and students who contributed money for a special legal fund for the defense of a student accused of rape.

Part I consists of three chapters describing the computes (its text is contained in App. 1), how such collections were made, and the precipitating event: the rape of a woman named Symonette. The quire containing the computes had been folded incorrectly when it was inserted into its codex; by rearranging it Courtenay could, for the first time, ascertain its meaning and significance. It is a document that lists students, faculty, and university associates residing near the university who contributed between December 29, 1329, and March, 1330, to a legal defense fund for the appeal of the case of Jean le Fourbeur. It begins with a street-by-street survey of the Latin quarter. As an individual contributed to the fund, his name and the amount of the donation were noted. Later sections of the document simply record names and amounts donated, with no location. Courtenay surmises these might be individuals missed during the house-tohouse collection.

Symonette, a jongleuse (singer/entertainer), accused Jean le Fourbeur (John the Rascal) of raping her in the summer of 1329 somewhere in the diocese of Meaux, to the east of Paris. A student at Paris, Jean had since returned to Paris, where he was arrested and imprisoned by the Bishop of Paris, Hugh of Besanqon, who released him into the custody of his master. Although Jean denied the charges, he was re-imprisoned until he could pay a substantial fine of 400 pounds.

After Jean paid the fine and was released, he pointed out that the fine was actually illegal because the university and its members enjoyed papal immunity from monetary fees. …

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