00.02.10, Reyerson and Drendel, eds., Urban and Rural communities in Medieval France

Main Article Content

David M. Nicholas

The Medieval Review baj9928.0002.010


Reyerson, Kathryn and John Drendel, eds.. Urban and Rural communities in Medieval France: Provence and Languedoc, 1000-1500. The Medieval Mediterranean.. Leiden: Bril l, 1998. Pp. xi, 333. ISBN: 9-004-10850-5.

Reviewed by:
David M. Nicholas
Clemson University

This is a collaborative work of thirteen American, Canadian, and French scholars. Several of the papers were presented initially in 1995 and 1996 at the 30th and 31st International Congresses on Medieval Studies. Part I, entitled "Creating Communities," contains five articles on the topic "In the Town" and four "In the Village." Part II, "Communities at the Intersection of Village and Town," contains four articles. The editors discuss and link the papers in an extended Introduction. An Index is provided.

A central theme of these articles is the linkage of consulates in this region to the revival of Roman law and the expansion of notarial practice. Maite Lesné-Ferret, "The Notariate in the Consular Towns of Septimanian Languedoc (late twelfth-thirteenth centuries)," pp. 3-21 notes that notaries were first used in the twelfth century by lords who gave them authority to make binding instruments, in effect linking them to their communities. A further stage is found at Beziers in 1174, when the bishop as temporal lord of the community sold to one man the right to make charters in the entire town in exchange for a fee. Lesné-Ferret is vague on the transition between town lords naming notaries and town consuls doing so in a corporate capacity, but she recognizes its critical importance, since the power to invest a notary implied that a town was independent. The consuls of Montpellier were regulating the forms of notarial contract itself by 1205, evidently because the acts were in Latin, which most of the notaries' clients did not understand. The consuls of Montpellier required the notary to be a layman and a native, or at least a ten-year resident of the town where he would practice. Somewhat later they required moral character, maturity, and eventually knowledge of Roman law. Notaries could only draw up instruments within the geographical area of competence of the public authority to which they swore an oath, but once drawn up, the act was valid everywhere. She thus argues that in the thirteenth century authorities, including local lords, royal officials, and town governments, used the notaries as a means of extending their power.

While most previous historians have used notarial records for economic information, Daniel Lord Smail's extremely suggestive article, "Notaries, courts, and the legal culture of late medieval Marseille," pp. 23-50, concentrates on their legal implications. He discusses the parallel spread of Roman law and the expansion of money and commercial contracts in connection with the increased use of notaries' services. The bullion shortage in the late Middle Ages meant more use of credit, which also furthered notarial activity. Since notaries could not enforce the agreements that they recorded, their activity generated more court actions, since only the government could enforce obligations. Playing off the law courts of Marseille against the notarial records, Smail finds both similarities and divergences. The core of the article is a section is entitled "Notaries and Courts of Law: Parallel Institutions?" When plotted on the same graph, the activity revealed by the surviving notarial casebooks and court records shows a moderate and parallel increase between 1248 and 1374. The later registers of both sources show more cases and greater complexity of legal issues and information than the earlier. Smail's discussion concentrates on this period. He does not address the divergence of the curves that began in 1375 and became very sharp after 1400, with a great increase of notarial acts and a decline of court registers. He finds that the largest single category of notarial acts, more than one-third in the mid-fourteenth century, concern debt actions; the figure rises to nearly three-quarters when other acts involving money and credit are included. This leads Smail to speak of a "culture of debt created by notaries and their clients" (p. 39). Countering modern presuppositions that the courts are usually instruments of the powerful, he argues that women, Jews, and other marginals invariably used the courts to obtain redress, while Christian males sometimes preferred self-help. The figure for court-imposed mandaments for payment (about 500 per year) is roughly the same as the number of criminal sentences, suggesting to Smail "the extent to which the private interest in credit and debt joined with the public interest in violence and crime to create a caseload for the emerging judicial system" (p. 40). Well into the fifteenth century most court actions were brought by private citizens seeking redress, including in criminal cases, than were brought through ex officio prosecutions by courts. Thus the interest of subjects in enforcement of debt was as significant in the growth of courts as the interest of rulers in regulating violence. Smail also notes areas of possible rivalry between the notaries and the courts, particularly since notaries were often involved in acts of reconciliation (compromissum, pactum, arbitratio, instrumentum pacis that impinged on conflict settlements that otherwise would have gone to court. Although the judges normally accepted notarial evidence as binding, they sometimes questioned the authenticity of a hand, and they still used considerable oral testimony.

Urban notaries were used by peasants as well as townspeople and contributed thus to a town-countryside integration in the late medieval "debt culture." Jacqueline Caille, "Urban Expansion in the Region of Languedoc from the Eleventh to the Fourteenth Century: The Examples of Narbonne and Montpellier," pp. 51-72, approaches urban-rural symbiosis from a demographic and topographic rather than economic or legal perspective. She finds strong parallels in the evolution of Narbonne, which had Roman antecedents, and that of Montpellier, which originated in the late tenth century around a fortification. The Roman civitas of Narbonne was on a man-made branch of the Aude. A bridge of Roman origin crossed the river, linking the fort to a Roman road, a market at the river crossing, and to six settlements that developed around sanctuaries and were consolidated into a single Bourg which received a common wall at the turn of the twelfth century. City and Bourg were of comparable size each adding a parish in the 1120s, and Caille thus concludes that (p. 56) "the original urban site demonstrated as much vitality as the medieval burgi. Although the Bourg had separate settlements, Narbonne was thus a classic binuclear town. Montpellier's name first appears in 985 to refer to a villa on a hill between two tributaries of the Lez river. A castle was on the site, south of which the Condamine settlement developed in the eleventh century. An ecclesiastical quarter also developed west of the castle. After a new residence was laid out northwest of the castle Bourg, the separate nuclei were brought into a single wall by the count in 1139-40, but new suburbs were already outside them, including the villa nova south of Condamine and artisan sectors on the north.

Montpellier began far behind Narbonne, but the two were at a comparable stage of development around 1200. The area within Montpellier's new wall of the early thirteenth century, the Commune Clôture, was larger than Narbonne's Bourg and Cité, but other fortified suburbs brought Narbonne's total size close to Montpellier's. Montpellier surpassed Narbonne during the thirteenth century, with a population of some 40,000 at the outbreak of the Hundred Years War against 30,000 for Narbonne, but both were among the thirty largest cities of Europe. Caille compares the intellectual and hospital and religious "infrastructures" of the two cities (tabulating the latter two in Appendix 1) and concludes that Montpellier succeeded because its site was better for both overland and seaborne trade, had more links with Italian traders, and became more independent of its lords than Narbonne.

Joelle Rollo-Koster, "Mercator Florentinensis and Others: Immigration in Papal Avignon," pp. 73-100, provides important correlations between the geography of mobility and professional structure. The population of Avignon consisted of citizens of long standing, but also of many recent immigrants and transients. The paper is based on her analysis of two documents, the Liber Divisionis and the entries in the matriculation lists of the prestigious confraternity of Nôtre-Dame-la-Majour. Her discussion of the circumstances requiring a determination of status of citizen and [papal] courtier (the departure of Pope Urban V in 1367 followed by his return in 1370) significantly revises Bernard Guillemain, La cour pontificale d'Avignon (1309-1376): étude d'une société (Paris: Boccard, 1966) in arguing that the Liber Divisionis dates from 1371 rather than 1378.

Courtiers outnumbered citizens in all parishes, but nuclei of citizens were largest in three peripheral parishes, while the central area of the old city was lost to them and was dominated by the wealthier courtiers. The newly arrived courtiers, who could not afford the more expensive central parishes, clustered in the west. Professions of enough heads of households are listed to permit a reconstruction of the social geography of Avignon. Immigrants tended to settle in clusters with others from their home areas, regardless of occupation or level of wealth. Not surprisingly, the Italians, almost half of them from Florence, were mainly in the central parishes and were among the wealthiest and most highly skilled, attracted to Avignon by the financial and consumer needs of the papal court. "These data suggest that Avignon was characterized by what we would call ethnic neighborhoods (p. 85)," who would seek solidarity, given their rootlessness, with those with whom they shared a culture. The documents also provide information about occupations and residence patterns of women, who accounted for about 15 per cent of the entries for each parish. Most were single or widowed, and three-quarters of them did not list occupation and were probably farm workers. The region from which a person immigrated had a strong correlation with occupation. The mountains and northeastern France sent the largest total numbers of immigrants to Avignon, most of them unskilled; they had much excess manpower, which could not be supported locally, and high fertility rates. Italians, however, dominated moneychanging and the spice trade, constituting 43 per cent of the merchants and 31 per cent of the innkeepers, and were strongly represented in other skilled occupations.

Andrée Courtemanche, "Women, Family, and Immigration in Fifteenth-Century Manosque: The Case of the Dodi Family of Barcelonnette," pp. 101-127, uses notarial acts to consider the migration of villagers to small towns and their assimilation into the society of the host locality through business transactions and particularly marriage. Her focus is on a single family, starting with a Guillaume Dodi of Barcelonnette, who was living in Manosque by 1455. The second marriage of Dodi's daughter Rostagne, to a notary, shows that the family already had standing in the community, while her third, to a wealthy man in his sixties who with his wife had made themselves adoptive parents of Rostagne and her second husband at the time of their marriage, provided still more property, prestige, and heirs. Rostagne's case does not further Courtemanche's stated goal of showing immigration patterns of rural women, but it does show their assimilation in the second generation. Rostagne's rise facilitated marriages for her siblings and also for her father; by 1479 the Manosque sources no longer mentioned the Dodis' origin in Barcelonnette. Nonetheless, the family continued to make marriages and business arrangements with people from their ancestral home. In her zeal to magnify Rostagne's contribution to the family fortune, Courtemanche hypothesizes that she was acting independently in choice of husbands, but her second marriage contract, which the author prints as Appendix 4, says that she acted with her father's consent. Much of this paper tries to appear theoretical in providing a conceptual framework that merely belabors the obvious, and it is replete with jargon of dubious applicability. Her paper would also have been strengthened with an explanation of Appendix I, "Marriage, Women, and Immigration (1390-1480)," which surveys immigrant marriage generally in Manosque but receives only cursory mention on p. 108.

The next group of four articles concerns village communities. Monique Bourin, "Village Communities of the Plain and the Mountain in Langueduc ca. 1300," pp. 131-162, uses massive archival documentation to probe the strong evidence of collective village consciousness that emerged between 1270 and 1350 in the western part of lower Languedoc. The area permits comparison of community organization in a fertile coastal plain, with numerous large, fortified villages, with the a mountainous and less productive zone around the Mediterranean. The major variables were natural environment, size of the individual village, and proximity to a town, which exposed villages of the plain to the precocity of urban culture, law, and economy. Not surprisingly, the general results of Bourin's inquiry include numerous exceptions. Communities in eastern Languedoc and in the plain more often had consuls appointed by the community, while lords appointed them in the west and the mountains. Syndics had vaguer powers than consuls and were often appointed to deal with specific problems rather than constituting a standing village government, but consuls implied a permanent organization and "election" by a village community. The larger villages everywhere, however, were more likely than the smaller to have consuls, but the local power of the village lord was another variable. A case of 1331 from the mountain village of Villeseque shows syndics and procurators stating a long litany of grievances, whose sophistication Bourin attributes to the proximity of Narbonne. Jurists and notaries were active almost everywhere by 1300, but she argues that the correlation between appearance of the notariate and consulates is stronger in the early thirteenth century than by 1270. She thus reiterates more precisely Lesné-Ferret's suggestion that notarial expansion, which spread Roman law, in the early thirteenth century gave rise to municipal liberties, while later the notaries and the authorities who employed them used state law to defeat efforts of communities to get their own governments, even if they were not able completely to stop the growth of consulates.

Bourin also discusses the types of action that villages took collectively through consuls or syndics. There was little agitation against village lords except over lords' restrictions on use of common areas; since only innovations, not customary rights, could be protested legally, there was little agitation over tithes. Common to both consular and non-consular regimes was concern over the violation of the community's perceived rights by outsiders, such as incursions into the community's common grazing areas. Tax liability was a recurrent problem and is one point of comparison between the two regions. As levels of taxation rose from the late thirteenth century, the plain "was undergoing a transition from a system of personal taxation to one of property taxation, not by head but in proportion to the value of the land parcels (p. 154)," but this change was not yet affecting the mountains. In the consular villages of the plain, but not in the mountains, efforts were made to force foreign proprietors to pay taxes with the communities in which they held land.

While the villages of the plain more often had permanent organizations and dealt with a wider range of public issues, village assemblies or parlements of all inhabitants, usually including women, were stronger as signs of community identity in the mountains than in the plain. They usually met on the communal square, or before the house of one of village lords, or at a gate or in church. Although most lists of villagers suggest that the community was perceived as a union of individuals rather than families, in some villages, particularly unfree communities in the mountains, family solidarities were reflected in the grouping of kinspeople together in the lists.

David R. Blanks, "Mountain Society: Village and Town in Medieval Foix," pp. 163-192, argues that the traditional dichotomy of village and town is still useful, despite modern deconstructions. His study ostensibly deals with relations between people who lived in the mountain hamlets of Upper Foix and those who lived in larger settlements in the valleys of Lower Foix, nearly all of whom would be considered peasants by standard definitions, but in fact he deals almost entirely with the "closed economic system" (p. 182) of Upper Foix, which had only two market towns of significance (Tarascon and Ax) and a political capital (Foix), which guarded the pass of Labarre into the mountains. He describes an essentially pastoral, hunting-and-gathering economy in Upper Foix, which could still support itself through forest and river products.

Blanks then links the poverty of Upper Foix to the freedom of its peasantry. Noting recent studies showing that in southern France lords rather than peasants were often the chief beneficiaries of the growth of trade from the eleventh century, and indeed might use the profits of trade and of the sale of charters of emancipation, together with their judicial powers, to subject the peasants economically even as they freed them legally, he in effect says that Upper Foix was too poor to make it feasible for the counts of Foix to behave in this way. The peasants also had no motive to clear land to get freedom, because they were already free proprietors of small holdings. When wealth increased, the burdens of the lords fell mainly on Lower Foix. Blanks thus finds an inverse correlation between economic prosperity and freedom.

Jean-Claude Helas, "Emphyteusis tenure: its role in the economy and in the rural society of eastern Languedoc," pp. 193-208, discusses the development and character of the emphyteutic perpetual lease. In Provence earlier forms of perpetual tenure were grafted onto emphyteusis, which was Roman and similar to them, from the twelfth century onwards, but not in eastern Languedoc until the second half of the thirteenth century. The emphyteutic leases always listed the rights that the lord retained over the land, particularly his right of first refusal if the land was sold, the approval fee (usually 1/12 of the value of the land being sold and thus very valuable), and rights of justice. The peasant remained liable to annual censive (usually in money, but payments in kind were still common in the fifteenth century in these areas), and less invariably labor services and tallage, together with moral obligations of a general nature toward his lord, guaranteed by this property and sometimes by his other property. Emphyteusis reinforced the legal principle of double domain, but its practical impact was chiefly over the useful domain of the tenant. It made lessees increasingly likely to consider the land their own property. Although in some regions lords successfully reversed these changes, in Cevennes and Gevaudan the emphyteusis contract led to a virtual disappearance of serfdom in the fifteenth century.

John Drendel, "Notarial practice in rural Provence in the early fourteenth century," pp. 209-235, discusses the diversity of form in the numerous notarial acts surviving from the upper Arc valley, particularly the small town of Trets, between 1297 and 1347. Notarial practice had entered Provence based on Italian models, but by the thirteenth century many notaries were diverging from their classic form. Although Charles I of Anjou in 1259 ordered that only complete acts be registered, this was a dead letter in rural Provence by the early fourteenth century, and both the enregistered summaries or notae, which evolved from the Italian rogatio, and the much less numerous complete notarial instruments had legal standing. Unless the notary knew in advance that his client wanted a complete instrument, he simply provided the essential information for his register. When a later parchment instrument was made, this fact was usually noted in the register. Drendel thus questions the applicability in all cases of Roger Aubenas's classic study of notarial practice.

Drendel also examines the problem of the representative character of the surviving notarial registers and the extent to which, given frequent unexplained cancellations of obligations in the registers, they are useful for social and economic research. The surviving registers can sometimes be compared to surviving rough notes, some of which were simply inserted into the notary's register. Further, since the early registers contain a diversity of subject matter, it is likely that what survives is a complete record of the notary's activity during the time that the individual register covers. This was changing by 1325, when a register survives that separates within the same register debt obligations from other forms of contract, and thenceforth some other notaries divided their registers by subject matter. Although Drendel is skeptical of the value of most of notarial registers for quantification, he does not share John Pryor's skepticism of their reliability for what they state at the moment of their creation; he argues logically that the work method of each notary must be examined for clues regarding the representative character of what survives. His paper is especially important in showing the extent to which notarial practice had penetrated the rural areas, particularly since most notaries in this area were natives of the countryside and were not trained in a city.

The last four papers concern "Communities at the Intersection of Village and Town." Drendel's optimism concerning the information provided in notarial registers is not shared by Christine Barnel, "Town and Country in Provence: Toulon, Its Notaries, and Their Clients," pp. 239-252, who supplements the incomplete picture of links between Toulon and nearby villages given in four notarial registers with other material. Toulon was the center of an agricultural region with many hilltop villages within a 20 kilometer radius. The town declined severely after the plagues. There is little direct evidence of immigration of rural folk to Toulon, and many seem to have come only briefly; there is evidence of villagers coming to Toulon, while there marrying someone from their own or a neighboring village, then leaving. Of the only nineteen people admitted to citizenship at Toulon in the 1350s, four-fifths were from fewer than 10 kilometers away. The bishopric attracted some business from rural people for the notaries, who served often as their procurators. The notariate thus linked town and countryside administratively. Notaries from Toulon did little business outside the town until the end of the fourteenth century, when declining business forced some to circulate in the villages. Two notaries from Ollioules, however, made regular circuits to nearby villages much earlier and in that sense provided a notarial regional cohesion that Toulon lacked. Although the city was a farm market and channeled imported goods to the environs, and there is some evidence of Toulon citizens owning property in the villages, Barnel concludes (p. 251) that Toulon was "less active as an urban center than we might have surmised."

Kathryn L. Reyerson, "Urban/Rural Exchange: Reflections on the Economic Relations of Town and Country in the Region of Montpellier Before 1350," pp. 253-273, also uses mainly notarial registers as explored in her numerous previous publications, with other material from municipal charters and local cartularies. While most articles in this collection except Blanks' show a blurring of the traditional town-countryside distinction, Montpellier dominated the long-distance trade and the credit market of its region, but it had a small hinterland, evidently because the territories of the original Guilhem lords of the place was so small. Most of the considerable rural land that townspeople held was within 10 kilometers of the city wall. The environs were unproductive agriculturally except for grapes, and most vineyards were owned by townspeople. The old commercial elite was investing in rural land, in some cases by foreclosure as well as purchase, in the thirteenth century, and lawyers were moving into the land market in the fourteenth century. This town-countryside imbalance dominates Reyerson's sources, most of which come from the urban sector. The grain and wine trades of Montpellier illustrate a theme that has recently been explored for large cities in other regions: a city that grew beyond the capacity of its environs to provide grain developed facilities for importing large quantities of food and other raw materials from a considerable distance, in Montpellier's case from as far away as the Black Sea, then sold these goods on the rural markets, particularly during subsistence crises.

Montpellier's domination of its environs was economic. Its political influence did not extend into the countryside, in striking contrast for example to Aix-en-Provence. Perhaps because of low population density in the environs, Montpellier is unusual among large cities in the small extent of immigration from the immediate hinterland. Most who did come were unskilled artisans, food preparers, and transport and farm workers, and urban agriculturalists. The skilled professions and commerce predictably drew immigrants from farther away. Reyerson notes problems in the sources in this respect, notably that non-skilled hiring would be less likely to evoke a notarial contract than skilled, and this would drive the figure from the environs down. Similarly, agricultural pursuits were almost certainly underrepresented in urban notarial records, although a chronicler in 1239 said that 6,000-7,000 persons in the city did agricultural work. Yet even the notarial records show that in relative terms, residents of Montpellier in agricultural professions were second only to merchants in frequency of contracts. Immigrants and unskilled foreign artisans tended to marry into the farm worker group at Montpellier. She discusses the location and functioning of the food markets, some of which doubled as hiring markets in the early hours of the morning, then were cleared for foodmongers' stalls. There is also evidence in the notarial registers of people in the city leaving at daybreak to do farm work. Reyerson devotes attention to the transportation sector, which she calls the best illustration of "labor recruitment and the intersection of the urban and rural worlds" (p. 266).

Francine Michaud, "The Peasant Citizens of Marseille at the Turn of the Fourteenth Century," pp. 275-289, bases her discussion of town-countryside relations from the standpoint of the agricultural laboratores of Marseille on seventy-one "family law documents," including forty dowry contracts and twenty-five testaments, from notarial and judicial records from the period 1277-1320. She finds a striking degree of occupational consciousness, if not cohesion, in this group. Of the sixty-one trades mentioned by name in the documents, the laboratores were (p. 277) "the most inclined to disclose their working status.(p. 277)." Although their sociopolitical activities are poorly documented, and they did not even have a confraternity, as a group they were not politically impotent or impoverished. Some laboratores sat on the General Council, and dowry levels suggest that some were prosperous, although as at Marseille, the city had to import vast quantities of grain from outside its environs. A street and later an entire quarter ( insula) in the Upper Town (the northern sector, away from the port) of Marseille, where most laboratores lived, bear the name of the laborator, Guillaume Pauli. The Upper Town walls opened onto the territory of Marseille, where notarial contracts and other evidence show them farming. Vineyards rather than grain agriculture predominate in the dowry contracts and wills, and some laboratores invested in urban real estate. Given the seasonal nature of farm work, it is likely that many laboratores also practiced other professions, as some craftsmen farmed part time, but there is little direct evidence. Most recorded marriages of children of laboratores were exogamous, with fishermen and sailors were among their most numerous spouses, and the dowry levels were comparable. This is a welcome study of a neglected and often misconstrued group, but the documentary sample is too small to permit sweeping conclusions.

Anne Brenon, "Catharism in the Family in Languedoc in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries: An Investigation Based on Inquisition Sources," pp. 291-314, is based largely on the author's monograph of 1992 on Cathar women. Her thesis is that Cathar doctrine and practice furthered family cohesion, contrary to the polemics of the orthodox. The belief tended to run in families, and even when both parents adopted it, they sometimes continued to live with their children in the same house. The regimen in Catharist houses for Good Men and Good Women had the same limits on personal conduct that are found in orthodox monasticism but did not impose a rigid routine or cloistering. It thus permitted the Perfect to keep stronger ties with their families than could orthodox monks and nuns. Although informative and engagingly written, the conclusions of this paper will not surprise. It is the only article in this collection that is based on religious documents rather than notarial or other official records and lacks a firm basis of geographical diffusion of influence.

Traditional historiography often saw city and countryside as distinct in kind, but these articles join the overwhelming emphasis of most research of the past three decades in linking them. Several of the papers are highly original for their methodology and develop implications that suggest cross-regional comparisons. Most use archival documentation. Despite differences of approach, they are thus more unified conceptually than most jointly authored volumes. Despite its political fragmentation, the area covered by this book was relatively unified culturally and linguistically. The editors rightly speak of a "new legal/notarial culture . . . [that] cuts across any urban/rural divide" (p. xiii) and is a conceptual leitmotiv that runs through this book. Yet different soil configurations and climates within Provence and Languedoc promoted strong diversity which in turn fostered regional economic integration, with several large cities on the Mediterranean coast and the small towns and villages in the interior developing interdependent spheres of activity. The "communities" being "created" are linked by the role of the notaries in promoting writing over oral agreement and custom and in spreading Roman law.

Article Details

Author Biography

David M. Nicholas

Clemson University