Soldiers, Villagers and Politics: Military Violence and the Jacquerie of 1358
By Justine Firnhaber-Baker
Routiers et mercenaires pendant la guerre de Cent ans, edited by Guilhem Pépin, Françoise Lainé, and Frédéric Boutoulle (Ausonius, Bordeaux: 2016)
Introduction: The Jacquerie of 1358, in which the rural inhabitants of the Île-de-France, Picardy, Champagne, and parts of Normandy rose up and attacked the nobility, remains a hotly contested incident, but the importance of soldiers as a cause of the revolt is one of the few things on which scholars agree.
Siméon Luce, whose book remains the only scholarly monograph on the event, argued that the Jacquerie was a pre-emptive effort, coordinated with anti-royal rebels in Paris, to destroy castles that had been recently slated for garrisoning by soldiers, who would brutalize the countryside’s inhabitants and threaten the rebels’ position in Paris. Jules Flammermont – who agreed with Luce on hardly anything about the Jacquerie – also thought that soldiers were at the root of it, though he imagined the matter more simply: the Jacquerie was an unplanned rising, accidentally set off by a fight between soldiers and peasants, which gave an outlet to the peasants’ centuries of accumulated hatred against the nobility.
More recent historians continue to be divided as to whether the Jacquerie was coordinated with or even directed by Paris or a spontaneous uprising organic to the countryside. But all hold that the presence of soldiers created intolerable insecurity for rural inhabitants who were moved, whether by calculated self-interest, outside manipulation, or drunken bloodlust, to oppose the pillagers with violence. As Nicholas Wright concludes, ‘there can be little doubt that it was the presence of large numbers of soldiers … which was the spark of the revolt’.