Justine Firnhaber-Baker: 'Making Conflict History: France, 1373/1358.'

Justyna Wubs-Mrozewicz

Here we’ll be discussing Justine Firnhaber-Baker’s presentation on how histories of conflict were created during and after the Jacquerie, a French revolt of 1358. She has written extensively on medieval revolts and just this year published a book on the Jacquerie with Oxford University Press. The Jacquerie broke out following a period of political instability in France, after the King was captured by the English at the battle of Poitiers. There was violence and unrest throughout France during the revolt, but a significant amount came to focus on the town of Meaux, where the Queen was sheltering.

As a way into understanding the events of 1358 and their aftermath, Firnhaber-Baker introduced a single source from the French National Archives. It was issued some years after the Jacquerie and belongs to a category of legal documents known as ‘abolitions.’ The purpose of an ‘abolition’ was to expunge the guilt of a party accused of criminal action, not because they were innocent but because the authorities found their conduct permissible under the circumstances. This particular ‘abolition’ was issued after the Jacquerie on to exonerate a supporter of the monarchy for property damage he had carried out in Meaux during the revolt.
In this document, we glimpse the many levels of conflict at play during the Jacquerie, and some of the steps taken by French authorities to manage those conflicts. On the one hand, it addresses the local conflict between the property owner and the vandal, reversing the usual legal order, which would defend property, in light of what the authorities saw as the legitimate efforts of the accused to act in defence of the crown. On the other hand, this legal dispute between two individuals also reflects the conflict at large. By removing the possibility of redress for those affected by their supporters the document sought to eliminate an avenue for the perpetuation of the conflict and mark a clear end to the Jacquerie, meanwhile, by making a retrospective exception from the usual legal order, the document also communicated to future royal supporters that extra-legal action in times of crisis might be rewarded, setting the stage for the similar management of future conflicts.
Yet even a versatile detailed source like this ‘abolition’ can’t tell the whole story, so for the next part of her presentation Firnhaber-Baker turned to a second document. In the Grandes Chroniques de France, the small story of the violence in Meaux is hardly about the city itself at all, it becomes instead a story of the bodily protection of royal women, and the conflict as presented in the chronicle is less centered on political factions than on the threat of sexual violence. By adding this aspect to the story, the chronicle reveals another level of conflict playing out. Not only do we see the local conflict at Meaux, and the regional conflict of the Jacquerie with its particular political context, but also a more dispute at the highest political level about the legitimacy of the Valois monarchy, as embodied in the royal women and their role in perpetuating the dynasty through producing legitimate heirs.

In just two documents Firnhaber-Baker’s talk shows how a local property dispute was intimately linked to arguments about the legitimacy of the royal dynasty and their rule. In doing so, it eloquently speaks to the ways in which conflicts in general can not only play out at different levels but also interact and influence one another across those levels. Another theme of the presentation was the question of how much explanatory weight one case can bear. In this case, it appears a lone ‘abolition’ can bear a great deal, revealing how local conflicts presented opportunities to retell the history of the Jacquerie in the years after the revolt, and thus, how conflict management strategies can extend well beyond the period of overt struggle.

Justine Firnhaber-Baker: contact details and research

Most recent book: 'The Jacquerie of 1358' (OUP)

Twitter: @mediaevalrevolt

(Alex Collin)


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