Corruption at Court? Crisis and the theme of Luxuria in England and France, c. 1340-1422

Medieval CourtiersCorruption at Court? Crisis and the theme of Luxuria in England and France, c. 1340-1422

Christopher Fletcher

The Court as a Stage, (Boydell Press: Woodbridge, 2006), pp. 28-38.


Why was the behaviour of courtiers such a concern in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries? Historians often take contemporary remarks about the excesses of the court and the immorality of its members as simple observations of fact. Considering the Quadrilogue invectif of Alain Chartier alongside Piers Plowman and the remarks of French chroniclers after the disasters of Crécy and Poitiers, this article aims to replace these comments in the context of debates about taxation, the better de understand the recurrent theme of the courtiers who waste the king’s resources. This article argues that this theme serves above all to refuse fiscal demands which would have been difficult to resist by purely legal arguments, in this period when the nature and powers of representative institutions have yet to be clearly defined.


In this chapter I would like to pursue the theme of luxury, of lack of temperanceand addiction to the flesh, in criticism of the royal courts and chivalric classes of England and France. By examining this theme in comparative perspective, I hope toilluminate better what contemporaries were trying to do when they used this language, and how it related to the practice of politics. I will argue that, far frombeing a simple product of the excesses of particular courts this language was used todeal with complex fiscal, social and political issues in simple persuasive terms. Itused the image of an immoral court as a stage on which more material concerns thanthe morality of the nobility could be performed. The potential solutions thissuggested can seem quite surprising to modern observers, but we should not takethem any less seriously for that.

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