Between Brothers: Brotherhood and Masculinity in the Later Middle Ages
By Cameron Wade Bradley
PhD Dissertation, University of Minnesota, 2015
Abstract: Family relationships and responsibilities fundamentally shaped medieval life. This dissertation examines aristocratic brothers in order to understand how elite men negotiated the pressures of gender and kinship in the context of the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453).
Brothers lived in the shadow of idealized brotherhood, which entailed loyalty, support, cooperation, and love. Yet a number of structural obstacles to harmony between brothers existed in the later Middle Ages, and perhaps most critically, brothers also were men—thus implicated within masculinity. The martial elites of this study were subject to what I call “chivalric masculinity,” a version that privileged prowess, honor, courage, reputation, and the pursuit of dominance through competition. Noble and royal brothers therefore stood at the intersection of essentially incompatible paradigms: peaceful and cooperative ideal brotherhood, and violent and competitive chivalric masculinity.
Using both narrative and documentary sources, including the chronicles of Jean Froissart and Enguerrand de Monstrelet, wills, decrees, letters, legal proceedings, and accounting records, the dissertation explores case studies of brothers’ rivalries and alliances in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The primary geographical focus is France and England, but it also includes cases situated across Europe, with an in-depth analysis of the fifteenth-century Breton brothers François, Pierre, Gilles, and Tanguy.
The dissertation argues that chivalric masculinity was a significant factor in relations between elite brothers. Masculinity shaped, steered, and constrained men’s behaviors, establishing the menu for the sorts of actions brothers—as men—could or should undertake. Brothers’ quarrels thus stemmed from the competitiveness of masculinity along with obvious catalysts such as vulnerable thrones, contestable inheritances, and the lure of prestige and influence. Secondly, it argues that some of the elements that drove brothers apart also could facilitate their cooperation. Rather than signal a failure of masculinity, fraternal cooperation indicates the presence of sufficiently compelling reasons to restrain the impetus to competition. The dissertation shows, thirdly, that despite many examples of fraternal strife, ideal brotherhood remained an important and influential paradigm in later medieval society. Even brothers who fought used its rhetoric in their quarrels, reinforcing its cultural weight even as they manipulated it to their own ends.
Top Image: Battle scene in Jean Froissart’s Chroniques d’Angleterre. British Library MS Arundel 67 vol. I, f. 341v