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Strong of Body, Brave and Noble: Chivalry and Society in Medieval France Paperback – 2 Apr 1998
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"In straightforward narrative, Bouchard introduces the reader to a fascinating and often complex subject. . . . Written with clarity and wit, it is unencumbered with lengthy and obscure footnotes, and contains a useful bibliography of primary and secondary sources, many of which are available in English translation. A refreshing monograph, indeed. General readers; undergraduates."--Choice
"This excellent little book . . . introduces undergraduates to the nobility of high medieval France, A.D. 1000-1250, but it can also be read with profit by other medievalists, and its clear and direct style will appeal to the general reader. . . . This book is highly readable throughout, while at the same time deeply informed by the most up-to-date findings made by recent researchers. . . . Its coverage and emphasis are just right for its subject."--Arthuriana
"With Strong of Body, Brave and Noble, Constance Bouchard has produced a book that merits an enthusiastic reception from all medievalists. As the author of numerous works on the medieval aristocracy, Bouchard is ideally qualified to produce this general study of the aristocracy during the High Middle Ages. Although her primary focus is on France north of the Loire between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries, Bouchard incorporates recent scholarship on the aristocracy in England, Germany, and the Midi to provide a more balanced and complete picture of the richness and diversity of aristocratic society. This work offers the same clear, readable prose and thorough grasp of the sources and current state of scholarly debates that have distinguished Bouchard's other writing."--History
"By no means meant for specialists, Strong of Body serves as an introduction for students, with brief and well-balanced discussions of historiographical issues for teachers and more casual readers. this is her task, and she succeeds admirably. Indeed, it will become the standard text in my own medieval courses. . . . By the intelligent blending of both primary sources and secondary studies, and creative admission of the inconsistencies, ironies, and fluidities that complicate any simple attempts to characterize or define the nature and culture of medieval French nobility, Bouchard has presented an honest and very practical introduction to that world."--Joseph P. Byrne, Belmont University, Church History. March, 2000.
"In this book, the author skillfully synthesizes the results of a generation of research on the french nobility in the high Middle Ages. . . .Strong of Body, Brave and Noble offers both general readers and scholars a valuable discussion of the social history of the high Middle Ages. Bouchard's clear exposition leads the reader to a sophisticated understanding of many complex topics, while her valuable annotated bibliography outlines further reading."--Mary Alberi. The Historian
"The focus of this compelling work by a University of Akron faculty member is on the nobles of these centuries, who are shown to make up a complex and fluctuating social group that defies simple definition. Teachers and scholars of the Middle Ages will especially appreciate this work for its deft, careful, and well researched handling of these complexities, but one not need be a specialist to appreciate and understand Bouchard's fastidiously constructed and clearly presented ideas."--Roberta Millikin, Ohioana Quarterly. Summer, 2000.
"'Strong of Body, Brave and Noble' is an original and interesting synthesis of a generation's worth of scholarship on the medieval aristocracy and chivalry in France. Bouchard has a thorough command of the sources, methodology, and secondary literature. The book is well organized and a real pleasure to read."--Theodore Evergates, author of Feudal Society in the Bailliage of Troyes under the Counts of Champagne
About the Author
Constance Brittain Bouchard is Distinguished Professor of Medieval History at the University of Akron. Among her many books are "Every Valley Shall Be Exalted," "Strong of Body, Brave and Noble," Holy Entrepreneurs, and Sword, Miter, and Cloister, all from Cornell.
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The problem is that on this view, we cannot even have any rational inquiry, for it requires defining terms, explaining concepts, and seeing the unity underlying the diversity. It is thus ironic that she can't even help using these terms in the title (chivalry, noble). And when she attempts a definition of a key term (nobility), it is utterly vacuous: nobility she says is "denoted by a collection of attributes and recognized by behaviors that could differ over time or space or even in the view of different individuals." But this 'definition' tells us exactly nothing -- it could just as easily define animal husbandry or birdwatching! Bouchard is unfortunately too afraid of making generalizations lest they falsify individual differences. But the discipline of history (and all rational disciplines) would be impossible if we followed this view (imagine a biologist refusing to use the word 'human' because each person is unique and different). But even Bouchard cannot consistently do history this way -- thus for example she claims that 'the churchmen believed' that a knightly life could not be Christian -- as if there were a monolithic church position on such a controversial topic (which there was not, as Bouchard should know). Finally, one should beware historians who put the word 'reality' in quotation marks. This fashionable postmodern skepticism about objective reality is no way to do history -- or perhaps I should say "history"?
Despite these criticisms, it is still a book worth reading -- you just need to try to overlook her unfortunate and ill-founded philosophical ideas and get down to the genuine history part of the book, which you will find is quite rewarding.
I didn't really plan to read this, but I was out of other things to read, and this had been sitting on my shelf for years, so I picked it up. I was really pleased with how engaging and entertaining Bouchard managed to keep the text especially considering the other things that I've been reading as of late. It was actually a nice change of pace to be involved in something somewhat academic and straight-forward instead of trying to glean meaning from the flowery prose and intricate plotlines of the likes of Italo Calvino, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, or Jorge Luis Borges. It's impossible to delve too deeply into any one facet of Medieval society in the space allotted and given the incredibly wide range of times and topics to be discussed. So this wasn't, by any means, a comprehensive study but rather an overview of a period many of us probably think we know better than we do.
The pacing of the book and divisions of the topics worked well together to paint a picture, or perhaps create a movie, of the way in which life, society, the Church, and the ways in which individuals saw themselves changed and morphed into ever nebulous shapes throughout the Middle Ages. While managing to avoid being both dry and preachy, Bouchard clearly illustrated the ways in which relationships between individuals, the land, the Church, commerce, and the Nobility worked together to create a rich fabric of life that was much more complicated than I think most modern readers believe. I particularly enjoyed chapter 4, "Nobility and Chivalry." The discussions of Arthurian Romances (Penguin Classics) especially piqued my interest such that I think I need to read that again soon. I think I would have gotten more out of that book had I read this one first. (Likewise with William Marshal: Court, Career, and Chivalry in the Angevin Empire, 1147-1219 (Medieval World))
So that section of the book was the primary piece dealing with how the old Nobility saw themselves, their actions, and their interpersonal relationships... culminating, perhaps, in Chapter 5 with understanding their personal relationships to the Church. The rest of the book seemed much more focused on the organization of society, and the path it took to arrive at its eventual destination. It was exciting to watch the world grow from fiefdoms to castles to cities and see the evolution of societal hierarchy in the decline and then reassertion of the centralized power of kings with the ever-present shadow of the Church looming over everything.
I find it interesting that I enjoyed this as much as I did... I felt like I did when reading How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role From the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe (The Hinges of History), which was one of the driving forces behind my choice to become a history major in the first place. A feeling that, once I *was* a history major was almost completely lost. (unless I was reading about HRE Frederick II... how is there not yet a movie about that guy...) Anyway. While I'm not sure I could recommend this to a very wide range of people, I would highly recommend it to anyone with a lapsed interest in the European Middle Ages.
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