20 August 2008


Not nearly done. Will edit as I go. Comments welcome, of course.

The Etiquette of Violence in Early Modern France

Themes to explore (August 20, 2008)

In my thesis, I will explore how the shift in ideas about power influenced the perception and etiquette surrounding violent acts in Early Modern France. I will discuss how this shift occurred primarily as the result of philosophical and technological advances, and how it influenced social identity and values.

Violence itself is a tricky subject. For the purposes of this thesis, I will focus on three particular manifestations, though they are by no means exclusive to each other:

  1. Personal: The sort of violence that takes place on an individual level, but that has no broader social rammifications attached to the outcome. For the purposes of this discussion, it will refer only to violence occurring between members of similar social and economic status, as the dimension cast by such interactions between classes might be considered a far better expression of social violence.
  2. Social: The sort of violence occuring as the result of social factors, or for social change/benefit. While most sorts of crime might be classed as personal violence, the social punishments attached to the act would fall under this purview. Similarly, religious conflict could be classed as social violence, saving only that undertaken directly by, or at the orders of, the state. In general, this might be considered to be the sort of violence undertaken by otherwise unorganised groups of individuals, with the intent of defending or attacking established convention.
  3. Political: Violence undertaken in the name of, or for the benefit of, the state. Assassination, war, and the state-sponsored religious conflicts that occurred through this period might all be considered prime examples of political violence.

Approaches (August 21, 2008)

Outside Influences: Castiglione and Machiavelli

The Italian Wars (1494-1559) resulted in a great deal of cultural exchange between France and Italy. I will explore how the introduction to Italian thought, culture and technology began to influence French ideas about the concept of power -- and how several factors encouraged a change in the expression of power, both social and political, from a function of strength to one of flexibility and adaptation. This idea is echoed not only in politics, but also in the change in popular weapons (the heavier broadsword to the lighter, more flexible epee and, eventually, that great equaliser, the pistol); the development of faster, more flexible troop types (dragoons, hussars, and light field artillery), organisation and tactics; and even to a gradual redefinition of the concept of "honneur" itself, from a measure of title and wealth to an assessment of personal morality and quality. All in all, the continual reinforcement of the idea that focus, subtlety, position and speed are of greater importance and merit than overt displays of bulk and might dramatically changed the way that violence was viewed.

The Development of the Modern Army

It is during this period that the idea of a modern army is developed in France. The transition between a military as a company of individuals ranked by prowess and social status, to a military based on an internal hierarchy characterised by conformity and order was fundamental to the gradual redefinition of military etiquette and expectation. This shift was further influenced by the wide-scale implementation of consistent uniforms, drill, and merit-based rank -- and evolved into an understanding of (and expectations for) violence that gradually was emulated by the civilian classes.

With the dramatic increase in military size through the period, the political etiquette of force also bears examination. Expectations of behaviour -- both within and without one's own borders -- changed as a result of scale through this period. An examination of the enforcement of policies on looting, foraging, and behaviour to the civilian populace within occupied territory (whether domestic, foreign or colonial) offer insight into how the idea of the civilised army developed.

The potential for social advancement through this adoption of military etiquette and fierceness ought not be underestimated. Within the paradigm of the early modern army -- unnecessarily regimented and overly uniform, by previous standards -- the ability to follow commands and execute orders became more valued than personal feats of military prowess. As more and more men from the lower classes were integrated into the structure of the new army, the concept of rank became superimposed over the existing social differences -- early modern tactics depended more on the ability of its soldiers to work together as a cohesive unit, than as an exemplary group of individuals working to distinguish themselves. The military became at once less personal, and more social -- and, just as the currency of early modern warfare became adaptability and position, so too did the currency of the men within the military become the reputation they carried with each other, and their ability to correctly establish and defend their place within the internal order.

Many of the concepts developed within the military structure filtered out to the general population. The the demographic shift in social class within the military through the early modern period suggests that the potential for social advancement was not overlooked. Furthermore, the integration of military manners and etiquette into civilian life allowed for a blurring of the lines between the noblesse de robe and the noblesse d'epee that would not otherwise have been possible.

The Duel

The duel is the classic example of formalised personal violence. Very specific rules and expectations evolved through this time period, serving to elevated the act of personal revenge and murder to a ritualised, socially admired convention. Furthermore, despite numerous initiatives to ban (or at least limit) the pervasiveness of duelling became ingrained in French culture and identity through the period.

But why France? The social destructiveness of duelling was certainly recognised by many French polititians and philosophers through the period, yet it persisted long after the practice fell out of favour and acceptance elsewhere in the world. Attributing this phenomenon to something as wooly as national character and, as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would put it, the "blend of the many high-spirited nations which go to make up the French people" seems a bit lacking. The argument that the duel as a social expression of masculinity might well account for its acceptance, but certainly not the longevity or raging popularity it enjoyed in France long after expiring elsewhere.

Francis I - Henry IV? Investigate.

overview, but as a political form of violence -- military structure as personal/social -- integrate notes here

Crime and Punishment

not done but will likely be about :

  • assassination and murder
  • executions
  • domestic violence/rape
  • civil violence
  • change in the notion of blood as washing away sin/guilt -- a negation of any charge
  • affirmations of the courts for crimes of a husband against wife, lover or mistress

Gender roles/expectation (August 25, 2008)

That approach is certainly one I've been considering of late -- I'm noticing (in particular regarding the duel/honour branch mentioned above, it's what I've been doing the most recent reading on and is thus quite fresh in my mind) that ideas about male identity in this period are painted with a rather broad brush -- far more generalised statements seem to be implied than I would like to think many historians would make about women. I think that the way gender identity changes with socio-economic class, occupation, and identity is quite fascinating, and could certainly see focussing in on this interaction. In particular, my primary interest in this would be exploring the change in social expectation felt by the soldier and criminal classes -- as "outsiders" to regular society, their perspective (and indeed, the way they're viewed) is an interesting counterpoint to social norms, and it is, at the base, etiquette and rule that makes the actions of one socially valuable, and the other socially reprehensible. By "soldier class", I don't mean just men. The change in military organisation and size in the 17th and 18th centuries resulted in two significant changes that I can see focusing on: the recruitment of a much larger body of men drawn from the lower classes, and the drill-based training geared to make men-at-war as self-sufficient as possible. Volunteer recruitment necessitated a level of prestige associated with 'wearing the uniform' (which also underwent tremendous redesign and definition as a reflection of this change in dignity). In short, the idea of self-sufficiency seems to have taken a more prominent role in the social definition of manhood, and attempted on some levels to relegate the idea of organised violence to an exclusively masculine sphere. The adjacent identity change afforded to women (whether wives, daughters, or camp followers) would be something I would expect to see reflected in the social correspondence and memoires among the literate military populace, as well as significant comment on their behaviour from the civilian population with which they were housed. Likewise, the popularity of social and etiquette manuals of the time (there seem to be many) offers a host of potential leads. I would suspect, in fact, that part of the change in opinion surrounding the common soldier was motivated because the economic benefit outweighed the inconveniences and occasional violent behaviour military integration can sometimes bring -- the huge industry created by a large army has obvious benefit to the middle classes, and, perhaps, the presence of soldiers discourages crime that would be considered more inconvenient -- both just speculations I'll keep in mind while researching, but possible conclusions that might be drawn nonetheless. Violence and ideas of etiquette associated with the criminal classes will, I imagine, be a little more elusive -- court records, correspondence and comment about them, certainly, but as it isn't generally a class associated with a high degree of literacy, I suspect that value I'll find will be more in the change in perception regarding violent crime through these sources. Accounts and details of executions, likewise are of interest -- the notion of state-controlled violence as suitable vengeance for breaking social expectation. Sexual violence, and the way that rape is defined, punished, and viewed as both an act of violence between members of the same social class, and as an act of violence between disparate social classes would also be a possible route I could see taking. The ways that both military and criminal classes are treated in popular literature, art, and music may also open some room for speculation, as all three tend to be reflections of the social climate in which they are created.

Leads to follow:

Sources mentioned that look like they might have what I'm after -- investigate and integrate as I go.
  • Masculinity and Male Codes of Honor in Modern France, by Robert A Nye
  • Denis Crouzet's "Les guerriers de Dieu" and Jean Nicolas' "La rébellion française".
  • Sport and Society in Modern France, by Richard Holt
  • The History of Manners, by Norbert Elias
  • Dueling for Equality: Masculine Honor and the Modern Politics of Dignity, by Mika LaVanque-Manty (found)
  • Pierre Brantôme
  • Duprat, Baron of Vitaux
  • Lord Herbert of Cherbury (English ambassador to the court of Louis XIII)
  • petticoated Chevalier d'Eon
  • Monsieur de Reuly
  • Caylus and D'Entragues
  • Montesquieu
  • Kant
  • code duello
  • The Duel: Its Rise and Fall in Early Modern France, by Francois Billacois
  • "The Sixteenth-Century Italian Duel" by Frank R. Bryson, 1938 - source of dueling codes. "Infanticide, Child Abandomnent and Female Honour in Nineteenth Century Corsica" by Stephen Wilson, in Compatative Studies in Society and HIstory 30, no. 4, Oct 1988 Carroll - Blood and Violence in Early Modern France
  • Kant - "the woman's honour: what the world says....her honour: what people say; not what they think." and that reputation for honour should not trump life save for soldiers and women (R,XV:481)
  • look up information on gascon manners, etiquette, and the claim that they influenced the french court
  • A seventeenth-century account of “The Female Duell, or the Maidens Combate,” attributed to Thomas Toll
  • scienza cavalleresca
  • "When Charles de Bourg found his wife Denise in bed with a certain M. de Precorbin, he killed her, and later explained to the court, 'I was like a savage beast; when someone attacks my honour, I am the sort of man who is able to defend himself'" -> acquited, with a reproach to M., who fled the scene half clothed for 'having cost Mme du Bourge her honour and then not defended her." (177, Nye)


Ceirseach said...

Under political/state violence - Don't forget executions! Lovely graphic state-sponsored violence for all.

Will comment more when I'm not trying to write.

Ceirseach said...

One trap that I'm sure you'll avoid falling into is that of saying "there was a rise in this mindset", taking that too far, and stating or implying that that mindset was not present before. Chivalric warfare wasn't entirely about personal combat, of course, otherwise there'd be no point in having all those other thousands of commoners come along except as an audience. Of course, all the chroniclers prefer to write about warfare in terms of earls and kings, as social focus is mostly on that, and I suppose it's that focus that shifted, leading gradually to the democratisation of the army (well, more or less). The desire to characterise a particular era's attitude to one thing or another tends to lead historians to overly sweeping statements, like Foucault saying that pre-20th century "homosexuality" in fact wasn't, i t was about acts, not identity. I know you know this, I merely point it out in order to say that it is clearly absolutely necessary for me to come to Canada so you have someone around who can say "No, they did this and this and this then too, only a bit differently, here, read THIS PRIMARY SOURCE, for it is fun. And also relevant."

As more and more men from the lower classes were integrated into the structure of the new army, the concept of rank became superimposed over the existing social differences -- early modern tactics depended more on the ability of its soldiers to work together as a cohesive unit, than as an exemplary group of individuals working to distinguish themselves.

You realise what this means? You're going to have to read about the Hundred Years War and decline of chivalry and THAT MEANS Edward III and vows taken on the corpse of a crane at a great feast and other fun 14th-century things like that?