Adrien Carbonnet: Louis XI et les villes en révolte. (1461-1483) (= Bibliothèque d'Histoire Médiévale; 33), Paris: Classiques Garnier 2023, 674 S., ISBN 978-2-406-14353-6, EUR 48,00
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This is an excellent book on the political conflicts in fifteenth-century France, and more specifically the urban rebellions during the reign of the French king Louis XI. It has very often been assumed in historiography that the French cities were much more accepting of the authority of the central government than other cities in Europe. Indeed, the French kings always spoke of "les bonnes villes", the good cities, which were submissive to them. This book shows that this term masks a different reality, and consequently that the historiography of French cities may be largely rewritten.
Namely, Adrien Carbonnet studies a total of 71 urban rebellions during the reign of Louis XI (1461-1483), both in cities that had long belonged to the crown domain (such as Reims, Rouen, Bourges) as well as in territories conquered by Louis XI (Dijon, Perpignan, Arras, etc.). Indeed, this monarch greatly expanded the possessions of the French crown, in about every direction of "L'Hexagone". But clearly many townspeople did not accept his policy, nor the conquest of various regions, nor the way Louis governed them. Much more than has been assumed, there was thus much protest against royal policies in medieval France.
Not only the subject matter of the book is revealing, but also the way in which Carbonnet studies the uprisings charms the reader. In particular, he rightly opts not for a chronological description of these revolts, but for a thematic analysis. He studies numerous aspects of the urban revolts: the naming of uprisings (which are rather colorful, such as is the case for the "Mutemaque" of Dijon, 1477, or the "Tricoterie" of Angers, 1461), the aspirations of the insurgents, their political strategies and mobilization, the outcome of the movements, and their eventual repression. If the sources allow him, the author also addresses some aspects of the royal repression - a phenomenon that is often underexposed in the literature. In particular, for example, a so-called "survey" (enquête) of royal reporters suppressing the Perpignan uprising of 1475 has been preserved. The report contains not only an account of the events of the conflict, but also a listing of witnesses and their account of the culprits of the revolt. It allows Carbonnet to study the uprising in incredible detail, but also the motivation of the insurgents, and the way sovereigns punished rebellions.
What is special is how the author pays attention to the use of language in the documents studied. It yields a very nice analysis of princely discourse, critical reflections on the existing historiography, and also special insights on the legitimation of the (repression of the) rebellions. As a result, Carbonnet's work is one of the first books that demonstrates in detail that the French kings (and Louis XI in particular) could count on a great deal of resistance to the territorial expansion of medieval France. The scale of protest against his conquests was very large in the annexed territories, and this has long been underestimated in historiography. For far too long, then, the king's propaganda has been mimicked by historians: the French kings hushed up the protest, or quickly nipped it in the bud. But that did not mean, therefore, that the conquests were accepted by the population. The opposite is true.
The biggest problem with this book is its size. It has 674 pages (albeit including the index and bibliography). Since the book is a slightly reworked version of the author's doctoral dissertation, it has become an integral study. There is nothing wrong with that in itself, but actually it would have been better if the author had published his work in two books. After all, the first part deals extensively with the uprisings themselves, and the second part with the repression by Louis XI. Both parts could have been published separately; that would have given the author more occasion to compare both phenomena (insurrection and repression) even more with international historiography. Indeed, many of the things studied in the book (such as the creation of the mentioned "enquêtes" by royal officers), the symbolic use of space and media by the insurgents and their opponents (such as the use of bells, collective gatherings on market squares, the sovereign-led destruction of physical parts of cities after a revolt, and the like) also take place in other parts of Europe. The author is aware of this, but comparison with other European uprisings would have allowed the author to study not only patterns of political resistance in France, but to uncover a broader pattern of European rebellion and repression. The author now wants to include too many aspects of medieval revolts in one and the same book, which is convenient for a reader who only wants to buy one book. But elaborating different pieces even more in separate publications could have generated more attention to that one facet.
This comment, of course, does not diminish the value of research done by Adrien Carbonnet, because it is outstanding. Consequently, this book has become a foundational work on political rebellions in fifteenth-century France, and an excellent catalogue for points of comparison for other researchers on French society, social revolt in general, and princely retribution for allegedly disloyal subjects. In short, this is an excellent book that deserves the full attention of medieval historians, but they will need some time to read it all!