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France in the Middle Ages: 987-1460.

Georges Duby, translated by Juliet Vale. (Oxford; Cambridge, Massachusetts: Blackwell 1991). xxviii + 331 pp.; 15 plates. ISBN 0-631-17026-x. 35.00[pounds]. If one likes it, this is |mature Duby'; if one doesn't, it is |late Duby'--in other words, this book is highly readable and very interesting, but also self-indulgent and somewhat questionable in its assertions. It forms the first volume of a new political |History of France', but starts very precisely in 987, with the accession of Hugh Capet, and, although taking the story in summary up to 1450, in effect (and by the author's own admission) gives out somewhere around the beginning of the reign of Louis IX (122-670). It is really a book on the |Rise of the Capetians', and, as Duby sees it, on the inexomble unification of France. A great deal is swept in to explain these developments (Gothic architecture, marriage customs, scholasticism, courtly love, a succession of highly competent kings, etc.), and, to its credit, this is certainly a broader book than political history within the English tradition. However, Duby's thesis, which sees political unity and a strong monarchical power growing out of cultural and economic achievement, is highly questionable. It needs him to stop the clock in the thirteenth century, before the French monarchy and French unity took a severe battering in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries at the hands of enemies from within and without, and it also requires ignoring any serious discussion of comparative and contrasting cases. Why did twelfth- and thirteenth-century Germany disintegrate as a political unit at more or less the same time as the Capetians united France? Or, why in fourteenth- and fifteenth-century Italy did remarkable cultural and economic achievement take place against a background of deep-rooted political disunity? This is an enjoyable book, containing some useful insights into Capetian kingship, but it is also a deeply infuriating one, with more than a hint of jingoistic patrotism to it: Duby may be speaking in the language of the day, but he seems to enjoy and share a vision of Capetian and French power as God-given, and it does not seem coincidence that the only late mediaeval episode he dwells on is the story of the Maid of Orleans. The book has no footnotes, even when the author is expressly discussing another scholar's ideas, except the very few added by the translator, and has only a very brief bibliography (again supplemented by the translator).
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Author:Ward-Perkins, Bryan
Publication:Medium Aevum
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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