Policing Violence: Royal and Community Perspectives in Medieval France
By Allison Bailey
Honours Bachelor of Arts Thesis, Mount Royal University, 2016
Abstract: Violence is, and was, a destructive interpersonal act that occurs both on the large scale through wars, and small scale between two or several people. In medieval France, under the right circumstances, violence was simultaneously policed, and used to police society, especially at the interpersonal level. Men, women, the young, and old were all victims and perpetrators of violence. However, gender and age were significant factors in the legitimization of violence. Men would engage in interpersonal disputes in self-defense, to maintain their honour and reputation, as well as to maintain social order. Women were more likely to be the victims of sexual assault perpetrated by men, but the severity of their attacks was dependent on their age and sexual maturity. These distinctions illustrate that there were some women who were more valued in society than others, for example virgins were pure and had value for marriages.
It is the purpose of this thesis to demonstrate that there were legitimate and acceptable forms of violence that could be used to police society. While murder/homicide and sexual violence were deemed to be capital offences, among local communities, where dominant cultural norms superseded “the law”, violence was sometimes considered a productive social force. It could be used to reinforce social values and maintain power structures, especially patriarchy.
Introduction: Violence permeated late medieval society at all socioeconomic levels and involved all genders; no one was excluded. However, violence was not a static or universal act of wrongdoing. In some societies – past and present – violence could be a useful tool for maintaining social relationships and balancing power, and more generally for maintaining the status quo. Medieval Europe was certainly a violent place and France was no exception.
In the medieval context, violence had a specific social function and was therefore not necessarily considered to be an egregious act to those involved or to potential witnesses. Primary source evidence surrounding the use of violence, especially at the interpersonal level, suggested that those who resided in cities and towns across the realm actually used violence to police each other’s behaviours. Community and royal policing exemplified the significance of maintaining social order and enforcing moralities. Because violence could be used to reinforce moral codes, social order, and the status quo, it was highly structured among those who resided in the cities and towns by a series of cultural and social norms.