Borough and Town: A Study of Urban Origins in England

By Carl Stephenson | Go to book overview

APPENDIX I
GIRY AND LUCHAIRE ON THE COMMUNE

ALTHOUGH the feudal theory of the commune has chiefly owed its popularity to the work of Luchaire, its formulation was largely due to Giry, with whom scholarly research on the mediaeval French town may be said to have begun. Giry's first book was his justly famous monograph on Saint-Omer.1 In it the author very sensibly decided that the liberties of that town were the product of a gradual evolution, and so could not be considered as the peculiar result of a sworn commune.2 The sharp distinction made by Warnkönig between communes juries and villes à loi was not, he thought, borne out by the sources. All the Flemish towns were in some fashion members of the feudal hierarchy and conducted themselves like vassals toward their count.3 It was not until he turned his attention to Normandy that Giry discovered what seemed to him a more distinctive type of commune.

After studying the history of Rouen and its filiales, he came to the conclusion that the Anglo-French communes were totally different from those made familiar by earlier writers. The English kings were not governed, as other historians had supposed, by the mere desire of earning bourgeois gratitude.

Dans l'organisation communale, ils ont surtout envisagé le côté militaire et pour ainsi dire féodal. Ils ont voulu, sans doute, s'attacher les villes, mais au sells féodal du mot, en créant entre elles et eux un lien de vassalité et en leur imposant les devoirs que comportait cet état. C'est pourquoi il leur est arrivé, non seulement d'accorder le droit de commune à toutes les villes qui le demandaient, mais encore d'enjoindre aux habitants de certaines villes de s'organiser en commune.4

The sworn communes of Normandy did not, like many in northern France, arise from insurrectionary organizations. In Normandy the communal oath was rather an oath of vassalage than of association. The town's new status was created by the king, who thereby endowed it with the rights and obligations of a baron.

Avec la fidelité, elle doit l'host et la chevauchée, c'est-à-dire le service militaire féodal complet, elle a comme un seigneur une part plus ou moins étendue de la justice, et enfin la taille est remplacée pour elle par de véritables aides féodales.5

It was consequently a mistake, said Giry, to consider the communal revolution essentially an anti-feudal movement. Although communes often fought

____________________
1
A. Giry, Histoire de la Ville de Saint-Omer et de Ses Institutions jusqu'au XIVe Siècle ( Paris, 1877).
4
Les Établissements de Rouen ( Paris, 1883), 1, 439.

-215-

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