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"Those of My Blood": Constructing Noble Families in Medieval Francia.

"Those of My Blood": Constructing Noble Families in Medieval Francia. By Constance Brittain Bouchard. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001. Pp. ix, 248. $55.00.)

In his influential Feudal Society, Marc Bloch signalled the importance of family for understanding the structure of medieval aristocratic society. Following this suggestion, Sidney Painter was prepared to approach the baronial politics in England through the prism of family, but untimely death cut the project short. In France, it was Georges Duby who brought family to the center of attention, and a decade later Constance Brittain Bouchard began publishing articles on the French family that soon added up to a veritable oeuvre on the subject. (Of particular note were the articles of 1981 in Speculum and the American Historical Review.) In the present volume, she has collected and revised eight of these pieces to offer a coherent discussion of the aristocratic family in Francia from the ninth through the eleventh centuries. Her treatment includes the royal lineages of the Carolingians, Robertians/Capetians, Welfs, and Ottonians; a selection of countal houses, particularly from the Burgundian region with which she is most familiar; as well as another selection of Castellan families. To these a new chapter is included on the counts of Autun and Chalon-sur-Saone. Her procedure is to alternate general analytical arguments with precise and detailed examples that are amply furnished with genealogical tables. One proceeds from the generalizations of "family consciousness" to the intricacies of the family tree of the Bosonids.

From this selection of material certain themes dominate. As seen from the Capetians and the counts of Burgundy, Vermandois, and Nevers before 1100, aristocratic families were careful to respect the Church's rules on consanguinity. Throughout the period, Bouchard argues for the predominance of patrilineal interests, even before 1000, so that, unlike Duby, she resists the notion of a "revolution" of "mutation" at that point in time. Most noteworthy, Bouchard pays particular attention to the agency of women in family strategies. Emphasizing the evident, she analyzes the consequences of a wife entering as an outsider to her husband's family but becoming an insider to her son's. At every generation, therefore, matrilineal interests were converted into patrilineal. Of great value are the numerous matrilineal genealogies that reveal the naming patterns among women, showing both patrilineal tendencies and the flexibility to choose. In the end, Bouchard concludes that aristocratic families were conservative, safeguarding patrilineal interests, but supple enough to permit no fixed rules. As each generation was free to construct its own strategy, the family remains difficult to define. These conclusions pertain only to the period before 1100. The one chapter devoted to the twelfth-century fortunes of the Seignelay family is only suggestive as to what might follow.

"Those of My Blood" is welcome because it focuses Bouchard's scattered work into a single volume where her important conclusions can be discussed and judged on their own merits. A work of original scholarship, this book will also hopefully attract notice from Francophone readers for whom it is ultimately destined.

John W. Baldwin

Johns Hopkins University

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Author:Baldwin, John W.
Publication:The Historian
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 2003
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