00.02.03, Courtenay, Parisian Scholars in the Early Fourteenth Century

Main Article Content

Andrew Traver

The Medieval Review baj9928.0002.003


Courtenay, William. Parisian Scholars in the Early Fourteenth Century: A Social Portrait. Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought, Fourth Series, No 41.. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Pp. xix, 284. ISBN: 0-521-64212-4.

Reviewed by:
Andrew Traver
South Eastern Louisiana University

In Parisian Scholars in the Early Fourteenth Century, William Courtenay unravels the mystery of a document contained amongst a collection of registers for the English-German nation at the University of Paris (Paris, Bib. de la Sorbonne, Reg. 2.1, ff. 58r-65v) and edited by Denifle and Chatelain in the Chartularium universitatis Parisiensis (II, 661-671). In so doing, Courtenay provides enthusiasts of the medieval university with a valuable service.

In its edition in the Chartularium, the document under consideration appears to be a financial account (computus) resulting from one or several different collectae (collections) of monies made by the masters and students at Paris between 1329 and 1336 to meet an unspecified cause or causes. Its fragmentary appearance had limited its usefulness and it has hitherto been utilized by scholars only to prove the presence of certain individuals at Paris during that time. Courtenay, however, is able to assess the document's true worth by proposing a new arrangement of its bifolia sheets. He explains how the sheets were incorrectly assembled before sewing and presents a new organization of the folia. With this new arrangement, Courtenay then proves that the document is in fact a computus of a single collecta at Paris; using both internal and external evidence, he dates the assessment to between 20 December 1329 and 25 March 1330.

Courtenay divides Parisian Scholars into three parts. The first section, "The Recovery and Context of the Document", reassembles the computus, examines university financing procedures, and illuminates the judicial matter which led to the 1329-30 collecta. Part Two, "A Window on a Lost World" allows Courtenay to make general observations about the academic community in Paris in 1329-30 with respect to the computus, especially with regard to space, lodging, sociology, and "nationality". Part Three contains an extremely useful biographical register of the names of the masters and students cited within the computus.

The nature of this document is unique in that is the oldest extant computus for Paris, and, in Courtney's words, "is the single richest source we have for the social composition of the university of Paris--or of any university--in the thirteenth and fourteenth century" (27). Indeed, the document itself affords much material about Parisian masters and students on the eve of The Hundred Years' War, and before the University experienced the effects of the Black Death and the Papal Schism.

After an investigation of university financing techniques, including previous collectae, Courtenay examines the direct circumstances which led to the computus of 1329- 30. By a re-examination of materials in the Register of the Chapter of Notre Dame and the Chartularium, Courtenay is able to reconstruct the specific incident which led to the university assessment. In the late summer of 1329, a Parisian student of arts, Jean le Fourbeur, was accused of raping a young woman named Symonette in the diocese of Meaux. Jean claimed to be innocent of this act, and was released into the custody of his master while Symonette's family awaited justice. Jean, however, was soon arrested and imprisoned, and the bishop of Paris forced him to pay a hefty indemnity of four hundred Parisian pounds. Jean paid this fine, and soon returned to his studies.

However, the matter did not rest there, as the university had received in its famous charter of privileges, Parens scientiarum, papal immunity from monetary fines ( Chart. I, No. 79, 138). When the academic community at Paris began to agitate and demanded restoration of the money, the bishop's perceived non-compliance forced the masters and students to take the case to Avignon. The community of masters and scholars then decreed that a collecta of one-half of a week's bursa (cost of food and incidentals) should be gathered from each non-exempt member of academic consortium to defray legal costs. This computus is therefore a register of the assessment and the collection of the portion owed by each student and master.

With this document, Courtney is then able to draw many conclusions about the university community in Paris. First, the collecta began as a door-to-door assessment, like the University's assessment of 1285, and King Philip IV's frequents tailles. The collection began in the areas of Paris which the masters and its wealthier members lived. After an initial attempt to collect the money from the houses of students and masters was made, the assessment collectors then presumably allowed those who had not yet paid the tax to come to a central location and pay it in person. The document itself notes these two methods of collecting the money; it begins as an assessment of neighborhoods in the university quarter and then becomes a list of students and masters and the amounts they paid. The evidence of the computus, however, does not provide a complete picture of the academic community at Paris in 1329-30; the mendicant orders, along with the Cistercians, were exempt from this tax. Students who had a bursa of under two solidi a week were also excluded from this measure. The canons of Notre Dame likewise claimed exemption, although this matter provoked yet another round of litigation. But the document itself records what Courtenay assesses to be about "two-thirds of the non-exempt members of the university community" (26).

Part Two begins by retracing the path the assessors took during their residential survey. In this section, Courtenay is able to offer many conclusions about the social backgrounds of those assessed based on residence, wealth, and geographical origin. Although Courtney acknowledges the existence of some "national" groupings of masters and students in Chapter Five, he argues that "linguistic and regional ties do not seem to have been an important consideration in the choice of a street or district." (90) While he can discern a relationship between residence and discipline for the masters of the higher faculties at Paris (with the exception of canon law), he notes that "no such pattern emerges for masters of arts who are scattered about the university quarter" (91).

Chapter Seven, and its survey of the geographical origins of the academic community, proves that Paris still was, in 1329- 30, an international university, drawing students from France, England, Scandinavia, the Empire, Italy, and Eastern Europe (although not from southern France). Courtenay freely admits that the computus prevents an exact quantitative analysis of geographical distribution of the academic community because 1) it does not provide a complete picture of all the university members, and 2) many of the names of academic members are recorded simply as socii. Nevertheless, about a quarter of the academic community of 1329-30 is listed by name, sometimes by patronymic, sometimes by a geographical referent. Even with this limited evidence, Courtenay is able to make many persuasive arguments about "national" identities at Paris. While Courtenay shares his conclusions about "nationality" in prose, it would be helpful if a chart accompanied the text to illustrate to his readers from where the masters and students originated.

The biographical register in Part Three is enormously helpful, and will finally let scholars place fourteenth-century Parisian masters and students into a broader perspective. The work contains two appendices: the first, a new (and reconstructed) edition of the computus; the second, an analysis of the computus. The work is also generously illustrated with maps.

One of the greatest values of this work is that it concentrates on the non-exempt members of the academic community at Paris. This group was overwhelmingly composed of secular masters and students. As much of the research on medieval universities-- and on Paris in particular--has tended to concentrate on the mendicant contingents, one is often left with the impression that the seculars were statistically unimportant. Courtenay is able to demonstrate that this is in fact not the case at all.

The prosopographical register of masters and students in Part Three, Courtney writes, "...will (it is hoped) eventually be incorporated into a more complete biographical register of the medieval university of Paris..." (124) Pending the completion of such a register, Courtenay hopes that this work will serve as a "bridge" linking it to the valuable prosopographical tools of Glorieux, Sullivan, and others. What Courtenay has published is a excellent start to such an endeavor. This work provides a brilliant window into the academic community at Paris in 1329-30.

Article Details

Author Biography

Andrew Traver

South Eastern Louisiana University