The Medieval Review 14.03.03

Jordan, William Chester. Men at the Center: Redemptive Governance under Louis IX. The Natalie Zemon Davis Annual Lecture Series, vol. 6. Budapest: Central European University Press, 2012. Pp. 140. $22.95. ISBN: 978-615-5225-12-3.

Reviewed by:

Elizabeth A. R. Brown
The City Univeristy of New York (Brooklyn College, Graduate School, and University Center), Emerita

Since its foundation in 1991, Central European University in Budapest has become an important center of medieval and historical studies thanks to the dedicated efforts of Janós Bak, Gábor Klaniczay, and enthusiastic supporters around the world. There Natalie Zemon Davis is fittingly honored by an annual lecture series, graced since its inception in 2006 by a roster of eminent speakers. In 2011 the three lectures were given by William Chester Jordan, Davis's friend and colleague at Princeton, before an audience that included Natalie Davis herself. Jordan is a masterful speaker, and it would have been a pleasure to hear his three lectures, now published in this beautifully produced volume. In their written form, the three essays spring to life, informed as they are by Jordan's vivid vocabulary, colorful images, dramatic anecdotes, and interesting hypotheses.

Entitled Men at the Center in homage to Natalie Davis's Women on the Margins, the book explores the careers of three men who were closely involved in the government of Louis IX of France (1214-70, r. 1228-70): the cleric and scholar Robert of Sorbon, the bourgeois administrator Étienne Boileau, and the aristocratic councilor and regent Simon de Nesle. In the case of each man, Jordan could draw on exemplary biographical studies by renowned scholars: for Robert of Sorbon, preacher and teacher--Palémon Glorieux; for Étienne Boileau, prévôt of Orléans and then Paris--Léopold Delisle and others; for Simon de Nesle, royal adviser and diplomat--William Mendel Newman and Louis Carolus-Barré. Building on the research of these scholars, Jordan discusses how Robert of Sorbon, Étienne Boileau, and Simon de Nesle participated in and reacted to the "genuinely repressive regime" that Louis IX instituted, "based on a narrow sense of what was morally permissible" (101). Far more than "redemptive" (the word Jordan employs in his title, with its arguably positive connotations), the word "repressive" aptly describes the sort of rulership Jordan associates with Louis IX. Acknowledging that "empathy is a terribly risky business in writing history," Jordan masterfully leads his readers to relate to Louis's subjects on a human level by recounting the uncompromising and merciless decisions and prosecutions for which the king is famous (63).

Not only was I moved by Jordan's essays, I learned much from them. The best books are those that lead readers to ponder, question, and further investigate what they have read. In this respect, as in others, Jordan's volume is commendable. The praise he accords to Tanya Suella Stabler Miller's work on Parisian béguines, for example, drew my attention to her useful thesis, articles, and forthcoming book (30- 33).

The pages Jordan devotes to the irascible Colonel Léon-Louis Borrelli de Serres (1836-1913; spelled "Borelli" in the bibliography) are particularly compelling and challenging (46-51). Sympathetic as one may be towards the colonel, who was desperately eager to have his conclusions accepted by the academic establishment, his caustic dismissiveness and belligerence are unsettling and his cryptic references frustrating. Thus I was particularly interested in Jordan's stinging criticism of Borrelli's treatment of Jean de Joinville's comments on Étienne Boileau and the prévôté of Paris. However, having gone back to Borrelli, I am not as convinced as Jordan that in this instance Borrelli was wrong-headed. As Jordan reminds us (91), Joinville, writing at a ripe old age, sometimes relied on a history book in French (romant) to bolster and augment his recollections, and long ago Natalis de Wailly identified what must have been the precise version of the history of Louis's reign composed at Saint-Denis on which Joinville relied for what he said about Boileau and the prévôté . [2] No expert on historiography, Borrelli misguidedly attempted to link the recension in question to Pierre de la Croix (a famed musician from Amiens) and the other experts who created a splendid liturgical office for Louis in the summer of 1298. [3] Still, Borrelli did well to stress the intricacies of historical writing at Paris and Saint-Denis at the turn of the fourteenth century. Similarly, he was right to emphasize the importance of establishing the source and veracity of the information about Boileau and the prévôté of Paris that suddenly appeared in one version of the life of Louis written at Saint-Denis at the end of the thirteenth century, which was subsequently incorporated into the canonical recension of the Grandes Chroniques.

Jordan's hypothesis that Michel Felibien (d. 1719) knew a now lost "report registering contemporary concern about how Étienne Boileau needed to be represented to the Parisian élite and other administrators" (60) led me back to that estimable early modern historian of Paris and his statement that "S. Louis allant an chastelet, faisoit asseoir auprès de lui le mesme Boileau, pour l'encourager à donner l'exemple aux autres juges du roi." [4] Felibien's marginal reference to "MS. bibliot. du roy, n. 714, p. 58," roused memories of a stunning late-fifteenth-century manuscript, the Livre des faits de monseigneur saint Louis, Bibliothèque nationale de France, fr. 2829, commissioned by Charles II de Bourbon (1433-88, archbishop of Lyon and cardinal, known as the Cardinal de Bourbon) and in 1488 owned by Charles VIII. [5] Although the former shelfmark now recorded in the manuscript is "472-8405," this is certainly the source on which Felibien drew. The text on fol. lviij (also paginated 60) does not fully support his conclusion. Still, if it is trustworthy, the long passage sheds welcome light on Louis's relations with Boileau and seems worth quoting in full. According to the anonymous author:

Depuis le retour & arriuee dudit roy saint Loys en son royaume, considerant que principaulement les royaumes sont entretenus & maintenuz en paix pour y garder iustice, il assembla plusieurs de ses prelatz, barons, & de notables clercs de tous estatz et des gens de son conseil pour aduiser se la iustice estoit bien maintenue, sil y auoit aucuns plaintifz, & saucune chose il y auoit a reformer, que on aduisast a le faire par si bon ordre que doresenauant vn chascun peust viure paisiblement soubz iustice, aussi pour la police, qui sensuit & diriue [sic] de iustice, que on aduisast ce qui y estoit a faire. Surquoy furent faictes tant sur la iustice comme sur la police plusieurs belles constitucions & ordonnances, lesquelles le roy approuua et conferma, les fist enregistrer & publier en la court & auditoyre de son chastellet de Paris & es autres auditoyres des bailliages & seneschaucies de son royaume. Et pour presider en la court & auditoyre dudit Chastellet, il institua vng bourgoys de Paris bien renomme, de la preudommye duquel il eut bonne et honorable relation, nomme Estienne Boyleaue. Et pour faire entretenir & garder lesdittes ordonnances, le roy mesmes aloyt souuent en lauditoyre dudit Chastellet et se seoit a ses piez ledit Estienne Boyleaue, auquel lieu il oyroit les complaintes dun chascun, & faisoit iustice sans quelzconques [sic] dissimulation, & nauoit regard ne au poure ne au riche, et cecy donnoit exemple audit Boyleaue & aux autre iuges [sic] du royaume, comme chascun en sa charge deuroit faire & entretenement [sic] & gardant lesdictes ordonnances. Et le plus souuent tres communement, se le roy nauoit autre grandes occupations, il venoit audit Chastellet, au moins donnoit il en sa maison audience publique deux foys la sepmainne pour terminer les causes des poures & indigens.

After the king, Saint Louis, had returned to and arrived in his kingdom, considering that kingdoms are principally supported and maintained in peace so that justice may be preserved, he assembled many of his prelates, barons, and notable clerks of all estates, and men of his council, to find out if justice was well maintained [and] if there were any who were suffering, and [so] that if there was anything that needed reform, it should be carried out so well that in future that every person could live peacefully under justice, and he also sought advice about la police [maintenance of order], which follows and derives from justice. As to both justice and maintenance of order, many fine provisions and ordonnances were made, which the king approved and confirmed, and had registered and published in the court and assembly of his Châtelet in Paris and in the other courts of the bailliages and sénéchaussées of his realm. And to preside at the court and assembly of the Châtelet, he appointed a bougeois of Paris, of good renown for his preudommie [integrity], for which he was well and honorably known, named Étienne Boileau. And to uphold and enforce the ordonnances, the king himself often went to the court of the Châtelet, and Étienne Boileau sat at his feet, and there he [Louis] heard all the grievances that were presented and administered justice without dissimulation, showing no special favor to poor or rich, and this provided an example to Boileau and the other judges of the realm of how each one in his office should act in maintaining and enforcing the ordonnances. And very often, indeed regularly, if the king had no other pressing obligations, he came to the Châtelet, or at least held public audience in his residence twice a week to settle the cases of the poor and indigent. [6]

For his Livre des faits de monseigneur saint Louis, the learned author drew on many sources, but what led him to write about Boileau and Louis's attendance at the Châtelet I have not yet discovered. The chapter in which the passage is found, dedicated to Louis's "belles ordonnances" and pursuit of justice [7], offers a detailed catalogue of the policies and incidents that contributed to Louis's reputation for fearsome rectitude, as strong in the fifteenth century as it is today, a reputation that Jordan's book usefully analyzes and graphically describes.

Providing numerous challenges that will lead readers to reflect, debate, and inquire, William Chester Jordan's Men at the Center: Redemptive Governance under Louis IX is a welcome addition to the numerous valuable contributions he has made to our knowledge of Louis IX's life and reign.



1. I hope that someone who regularly frequents the Pierrefitte campus of the Archives nationales will consult the tantalizing "Notice manuscrite sur le Colonel Borelli [sic] de Serres" to which Jordan calls attention (46-47). It is located in the Archives privées with the shelfmark 289 AP (Fonds Dampierre) 15, dossier 3, 1ére partie (Armand de Dampierre, dit le comte Eric; Papiers personnels), and must be requested in advance.

2. Natalis de Wailly, "Mémoire sur le Romant ou chronique en langue vulgaire dont Joinville a reproduit plusieurs passages," Bibliotheque de l'École des chartes 35 (1874): 217-48; see also the final paragraph of Joinville's Vie de saint Louis. Borrelli's study appeared in 1895: "Une légende administrative: La réforme de la prévôté de Paris et Étienne Boileau," in the first volume of his Recherches sur divers services publics du XIIIe au XVIIe siècle (Paris: Alphonse Picard, 1895), 529-72. Neither the autograph nor presentation copy of Joinville's Vie survives, and it seems possible that the curious placement of the section on the prévôté of Paris in the Vieis the result of a misplaced quire or page(s) in one of the first copies.

3. Glenn Pierr Johnson, Aspects of Late Medieval Music at the Cathedral of Amiens, 2 vols., unpublished Ph.D. dissertation (New Haven: Yale University, 1991).

4. Michel Felibien, Histoire de la ville de Paris, ed. Guy- Alexis Lobineau, 5 vols. (Paris: Guillaume Desprez et Jean Desessartz, 1725), 1.409. Jordan cites Felibien's statement from the introduction to Boileau's Livre des métiers (xi-xii) by René de Lespinasse and François Bonnardot, who edited the work in 1879 for the Histoire générale de Paris. Both Felibien's Histoire and this edition of Boileau's Livre are available through Gallica.

5. This manuscript, now available through Gallica, deserves close study and an edition; see the essays by Marie-Thérèse Gousset, François Avril, and Jean Richard in Saint Louis, Roi de France: Livre des faits de Monseigneur saint Louis (Paris: Chêne, 1990).

6. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, fr. 2829, fol. lviij/60.

7. The chapter, on fols. lvij/59v-lxij/64 of the manuscript, is titled, "Comment le roy fist de belles ordonnances depuis son retour de Surye & print Marceille qui estoit rebellee contre son frere. Le xxxiiije chappitre" ("How the king made fine ordonnances after his return from Syria and took Marseille, which had rebelled against his brother; the 34th chapter"); see also fol. iiij/6v.

Copyright (c) 2014 Elizabeth A. R. Brown

Give Now

ISSN: 1096-746X | Administrator Login