The Women of Papal Avignon. A new Source: The Liber Divisionis of 1371
By Joëlle Rollo-Koster
The Journal of Women’s History, Vol. 8 (1996)
Introduction: The history of southern French women during the late medieval period is still to be written. Luckily, a variety of sources such as notarial, judicial, and civil records, testaments and livres de raison, are preserved in the archives. In addition, and more specifically with an eye on Avignon, the administrative progress of the Avignonese papacy and historical fortune have preserved quantities of documents in the local departmental archives of the Vaucluse as well as the Vatican. One such document, the Vatican’s Liber Divisionis of 1371, which survived the many peregrinations of the papacy to and from Rome and the Great Schism, offers some of the best evidence regarding the composition of the Avignonese population during the late fourteenth century, and therefore, can throw light on the role that women played in this large international city.
When the papal curia settled permanently in Avignon in 1316, a mass of immigrants flooded the city. The core of the Avignonese population, some five to six thousand natives, was augmented by thousands of newcomers. By the 1370s the total population approximated 30,000 people. The arrival of the Roman court introduced the city to a new demographic reality which was reflected in the vocabulary designating the various segments of the Avignonese population. In addition to the citizens (cives) native to Avignon, contemporary documents add qualifiers such as “inhabitant”, “resident”, or “follower of the Roman court” to denote persons who were not citizens. The noncitizens belonged to a more loosely defined group, the cortisiani (courtiers). The term encompassed all persons who arrived in Avignon specifically in the wake of the pope and his entourage. But any immigrant entering the city for the first time was automatically classified as a courtier.
The different segments of the Avignonese population were allocated to different courts of justice coexisting in the city during the papal residency, based on their status. For instance, Avignonese citizens and the Jewish community depended on the temporal court, headed by a vicar. The papal court of the marshal of justice administered justice to lay courtiers and curialists, who were not members of the pope’s cardinals’, or chamberlian’s households.