18.10.02, Aurell and Sassier (eds.), Autour de Philippe Auguste

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William Chester Jordan

The Medieval Review 18.10.02

Aurell, Martin et Yves Sassier, dirs. Autour de Philippe Auguste. Rencontres, n° 285, Histoire, n° 2. Paris: Classiques Barnier, 2017. pp. 220. ISBN: 978-240-6067-382 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
William Chester Jordan
Princeton University

This collection of essays explores some broad themes, relevant to King Philip II Augustus's life and reign. It opens with co-editor Yves Sassier's reassessment of the successes and failures of the reign of Philip's father, Louis VII. It is a valiant attempt to revise the prevailing portrait of Louis, without, however, brushing aside the colossal 'mistakes' of his reign, in particular the break with Eleanor of Aquitaine and her nuptial union with his Plantagenet enemy. The second and longest contribution, by the other co-editor, Martin Aurell, shows just how colossal that mistake was. In meticulous detail, Aurell traces Philip Augustus's relations with the Plantagenets from Henry II through the reign of King John, including Henry the Young King, Richard, Geoffrey and Arthur. Again, his is a valiant attempt to demonstrate that the French king cleverly played on the destabilizing family dynamics of the English royal house and from time to time did so with significant if not decisive success, at least until his opponent was his erstwhile ally (as a prince) King John. The article is a little masterpiece, the mature assessment by a splendid historian of a very complicated monarch and an equally complicated set of circumstances.

The challenge of discovering and describing how much the king had to deal with and how he did so animates the remaining essays, with one exception. Olivier Hanne takes the reader through the papal registers to show what Philip was up against in the series of bishops who occupied the see of Saint Peter during his reign--and he highlights, of course, the disastrous marriage with Ingeborg of Denmark, and the king's repudiation of her which deeply concerned the earlier popes, especially Innocent III. He also discusses what the popes regarded as the king's lukewarm efforts to combat heresy and liberate the Holy Land and his and his son's resistance to settling issues with the English amicably--on papal terms--after the death of King John. What is clear was that all these popes, despite their problems with the king's attitudes and actions were careful to cultivate a langue of friendship in their dealings with Philip and his son. They were determined not to alienate the dynasty.

Another issue that receives treatment is Philip's army. Xavier Hélary shows that there was no military revolution, like the administrative revolution alleged by John Baldwin under Philip Augustus. Nor was the king as creative with organizing or expanding the army as he was with adjusting the governance and administration of the county of Poitou, as Luc Guéraud shows in his article. Even the quality of record keeping for the army, at least the keeping of accounts, appears to have remained rather primitive. However, lists of those aristocrats owing military service were plentiful, at different times and for different regions. Here, Philip adapted some Plantagenet practices from pre-conquest Normandy. It is possible to argue from the lists and from narrative sources that Philip exploited his military resources about as effectively as he could. When he was up against John, this was more than sufficient.

Literature and learning and cultural practices related to them are the focus of the next four articles. Rigord receives treatment in a series of short notes by Élisabeth Carpentier and Georges Pon, based on the four prologues to the biographer-chronicler's text, on matters like his background, his choice of Augustusas an epithet for the king, and the inconsistent usage of christianissimus. The next article, by Catalina Girbea, allows readers to do two things: situate how Rigord's work might fit in with other contemporary literary efforts of various sorts and revise the assessment of Philip's cultural milieu as inferior to that of the Plantagenets. The rise of learned law (Roman and canon) occupies Olivier Descamps. He is interested in both the teaching of the material and the employment by princes like Philip of the young men who were being taught. This series of cultural essays ends with Thiérry Dutour, who in large part uses literary texts to get at the notion of prudhommiein the thirteenth century. He finds that vernacular writers more closely tied the quality to acts of Christian service by laymen than to any innate disposition by high aristocratic birth.

The book ends with a philosophical reflection on the "will." This is in no way a description of how medieval philosophers discussed voluntas or arbitrium. Yet, because the encounter which produced this volume is in a series (Journées d'études)devoted in a general way to how one assesses intent and structure as competing elements in historical change, this intervention evidently seemed to the co-editors useful or necessary to publish. The author, Jean-Marc Joubert, admits that philosophers sometimes have disquieting observations. They productively confuse things. Or, as American scholars often like to say about themselves when they wish to make claims to originality, they are responding to an inner desire "to complicate things." It is good for philosophers to remind us that nothing is ever really settled. (This is what, perhaps simplistically, I take to be Joubert's message.) Interpretation and re-interpretation are never-ending. Therefore, so is history.

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