Caste, Power, and Law: Social Conflict in Fourteenth-Century Montpellier
Dr Rogozinski has brought a welcome realism to the study of later medieval French law, government and society, soundly based on the primary sources.... His book deserves a wide audience.
Malcom Vale, Times Literary Supplement.
In 1325, a noisy riot broke out in Montpellier, a large and important city in Southern France. About a thousand persons gathered to protest a tax the counsels recently had imposed. For the next twenty years, two factions struggled to control the city. One represented the families who traditionally had served as the city's governing consuls, and the other a group of families, who called themselves the Party of the People (populares). Despite furher times of violence, ultimately the two groups were able to reconcile their difficulties. Compromise was reached through arbitration by royal officials, most of whom were natives of the region and had studied law at the University of Montpellier.
Decisions made at this time had important consequences that differentiated government and taxation in the south from that in northern France. These major differences lasted for centuries, until the Revolution of 1789 abolished the "Old Regime." In southern France, taxes were assessed by local councils. They had to be raised for a specific purpose and could be spent only for that purpose. Taxes were to be levied equally on the value of property, assesed publically. In contrast to other parts of France, land owned by members of the nobility was not automatically exempt from taxation.
Legal rulings made in Montpellier had lasting significance because Montpellier was itself an important city. It was situated on the main communications routes that ran along the Mediterranean coast from Italy westward to Spain. At Narbonne, west of Montpellier, the main road divided. One branch led north to Toulouse, Bordeaux, Poitiers, and Paris, while another went south toward Barcelona and toward the great pilgrimage site at Santiago de Compostela.
Founded about 985 by a lord named Guillem (William), Montpellier thus prospered as a center of trade and craft manufacturing, with commercial links throughout the Mediterranean world. In 1141, William VI granted its citizens a charter of liberties, and the city gained full autonomy in 1204. In the latter year, William IX's daughter married the king of Aragon, who granted citizens the right to elect twelve governing consuls annually. From 1276, lordship passed to a minor branch of the Aragonese royal line, who sold the city to France in 1349.
Montpellier was also a center of learning with distinguished schools of medicine and law, which were granted the status of a university in 1289. The law taught at the university was the Roman law, as it had been compiled, edited and published by the emperor Justinian from 529 to 534. Over time, this learned law heavily influenced local customs. Roman lawyers acted as judges in the courts of local cities as well as those of the royal government, based at the nearly city of Nimes. They also were employed as counselors and advisers by municipal and royal officials as well as by merchants, corporations, and noble landowners. Precisely because they understood Southern French society and did not try to impose royal power or alien northern customs, their decisions were accepted as binding by all parties, allowing social peace to be maintained.
This is an important book for all who wish to understand the development of southern French society during the later Middle Ages and its relationship to that found in the rest of France and in western Europe in general.... The author has shown an extensive knowledge of similar conflicts in other towns of the Midi and in the rest of France, Italy, and even Britain, so he is able to provide us with a continuous narrative which represents comparative history at its best.
Archibald R. Lewis, Speculum.
This is a thought-provoking book, which gently challenges a good many assumptions regarding public disorder, the extension of royal authority, and the development of Roman law, in late medieval France. Although historical in approach, much of the book's content has to do with political theory as well. Its consclusions certainly deserve to be considered seriously.
C. T. Allmand, English Historical Review