Walled Towns and the Shaping of France: From


Walled Towns and the Shaping of France: From
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Walled Towns and the Shaping
of France
Michael Wolfe
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From the Medieval to the Early
Modern Era
Copyright © Michael Wolfe, 2009.
All rights reserved.
First published in 2009 by
in the United States—a division of St. Martin’s Press LLC,
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010.
Palgrave Macmillan is the global academic imprint of the above companies
and has companies and representatives throughout the world.
Palgrave® and Macmillan® are registered trademarks in the United States,
the United Kingdom, Europe and other countries.
ISBN: 978–0–230–60812–2
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Wolfe, Michael.
Walled towns and the shaping of France : from the medieval to the
early modern era / Michael Wolfe.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0–230–60812–4
1. City and town life—France—History. 2. City walls—Social
aspects—France—History. 3. Cities and towns—France—History.
4. Fortification—France—History. 5. Authority—Social aspects—
France—History. 6. France—Social life and customs. 7. France—
History—Medieval period, 987–1515. 8. France—History—16th century.
9. France—History—Bourbons, 1589–1789. I. Title.
DC33.2.W65 2009
A catalogue record of the book is available from the British Library.
Design by Newgen Imaging Systems (P) Ltd., Chennai, India.
First edition: September 2009
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Printed in the United States of America.
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Where this book is distributed in the UK, Europe and the rest of the world,
this is by Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited,
registered in England, company number 785998, of Houndmills,
Basingstoke, Hampshire RG21 6XS.
List of Maps and Illustrations
Part I
The Walls Go Up (900–1325)
1 Urban Legacies and Medieval Trends up to 1100
2 Lords and Towns (1100–1225)
3 Capetian Expansion and New Urbanism, 1225–1325
Part II
The Walls Move Outward (1325–1600)
4 Bonnes Villes and the Hundred Years’ War
5 Royal Rulers and Bastioned Towns
6 Walled Towns during the Wars of Religion
Part III The Walls Come Down (1600–1750)
7 State Building and Urban Fortifications
8 Opening Towns, Closing Frontiers
Conclusion Palimpsests and Modern Trajectories
Select Bibliography
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C on t e n t s
Cover Henri IV before Amiens, 1597. By permission of the
Bibliothèque Nationale (B.N. G151474).
Walled towns in Roman Gaul.
France, 1150–1250.
Bonnes Villes and Bastides, 1300.
Hundred Years’ War.
Wars of Religion, 1561–1629.
France, 1650–1710.
Vestiges of the Gallo-Roman theater in Poitiers.
By permission of the Bibliothèque Nationale (B.N. M74188).
Villefranche. By permission of the
Bibliothèque Nationale (B.N. M73577).
Fortifications of La Rochelle, 1573. By permission of
the Bibliothèque Nationale (B.N. 87C 131083).
Views of Calais, Guigne, and Ardres by Joachim
Du Wiert, 1611. By permission of the Bibliothèque
Nationale (B.N. Vx 23 2989).
Surrender of La Rochelle, 1628. By permission of the
Bibliothèque Nationale (B.N. 152878).
Tours in the late seventeenth century. By permission of the
Bibliothèque Nationale (B.N. M74008 B15).
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M a ps a n d I l lust r at ions
The history of France can be read on the walls of its towns, even though most of
these walls no longer exist. Towns have played a decisive, yet changing set of roles
in the country’s history. This book focuses on these urban experiences, assessing the ways in which social and political practices, military technologies, physical
geography, and shifting regional networks shaped the emergence of new forms of
public authority and civic life. Towns and territorial rulers, chief among them the
monarchy, together constituted the “state” understood as a set of mutual relationships based on agreed upon rules and shared interests. These relationships became
embodied above all in the “wall,” an image at once both intensely physical and
deeply symbolic. This study presents a synthetic analysis based on an exhaustive
study of the vast secondary literature on French urbanism in general and hundreds of individual towns. It begins with a review of medieval towns and traces
their ensuing evolution to the eighteenth century when they began to be released
from the confines of their walls. A dynamic new kind of modern urban community began to take shape in advance of the revolutionary upheavals in politics and
industry after 1789. This long-term perspective offers a new interpretive framework
centered on urban fortifications, for how they were built, the contests to control
them, and how they shaped the lives of people both inside and outside them, all tell
us a great deal about the making of France.
The book has three parts. Part one, “The Walls Go Up (900–1325),” examines
the Gallo-Roman urban legacy and the rise of walled towns from the tenth century to the onset of the Hundred Years’ War. Part two, “The Walls Move Outward
(1325–1600),” explores how that conflict, together with new forms of monarchical
state authority, gunpowder weapons, and new fortification design theories from
Italy, all shaped towns up through the Wars of Religion. Finally, part three, “The
Walls Come Down (1600–1750),” charts the impact that a now dominant royal
state had on urban forms and communities, the emergence of a royal fortification
service, new ways of envisioning urban communities, and attempts to spur town
economic life, all of which required an expanded perimeter of fortified places in
Vauban’s ceinture de fer while towns in the “interior” began to be opened up for
new modern forms and practices of civic life to emerge.
This study contends that the historical genesis of modern France was over the
last millennium a largely ongoing urban phenomenon. Networks of urban communities, in relation first with feudatory powers and then the monarchy, gradually
defined from an ever widening regional ambit much of the country’s economic,
political, and cultural life. The distinction between “urban” and “royal” begins to
collapse as towns and the crown instead stood along a continuum of nascent public
forms and statist forces that—through conflict and accommodation—created so
much of the France we see today.
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P r e fac e
P r e fac e
I wish to thank all the people and institutions whose generous support helped
me write this book. Both St. John’s University and Pennsylvania State University
provided me the generous time and resources necessary for research and writing.
The National Endowment for the Humanities gave me a summer grant years ago
that initiated this project. Another happy summer of research at the Newberry
Library, and repeated trips to the Bibliothèque Nationale and regional archives in
Amiens, Bourges, La Rochelle, Montauban, and Nîmes, as well as the Library of
Congress, the Widener Library at Harvard University, the Harlan Hatcher Graduate
Library at the University of Michigan, and the Huntingdon Library in San Marino,
California, all afforded me opportunities to delve into the rich documentary history of urban fortifications. Inter-loan librarians, especially the late Cathy Wagner
at Penn State, were tireless in tracking down all kinds of obscure French titles for
me on this town and that. And over the years, many colleagues and friends—you
know who you all are!—have read portions of this work or patiently listened to me
go on and on about my walls. My deep gratitude goes to you all. Finally, to my
family, who endured my long absences and the even longer time I spent sequestered
within the walls of my office, along with gratitude comes my love. I dedicate this
book to my lovely wife and best friend, Amy, with the promise that which Fate has
joined no walls will ever rend asunder.
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Pa r t I
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Th e Wa l l s G o Up (9 0 0 – 1 3 2 5)
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Ch apter 1
Gallo-Roman and Early Medieval
Urban Legacies
The contradictory impulse to be apart from yet also connected to the outside
world shaped the first Neolithic fortified settlements in what became France five
thousand years ago. This ambivalence became more pronounced in the timbered
stockades around later Celtic villages, described first by Julius Caesar. Roman
military encampments laid out by priests with the intersecting lines of the cardo
and decumanus defined a central enclosed space yet pointed to the world at large.
These fortified sites evolved after the second century CE into walled towns known
as oppida.1 Situated on rivers for trade and defense, Gallo-Roman oppida began
as simple quadrilateral enclosures pierced by gated ways. The massive brick walls
and towers that later ringed them arose as Roman power weakened in the third
century CE.2
Over one hundred oppida existed across greater Gaul, along with smaller walled
places known as castrums (castra; see map 1.1). Later Germanic invaders often
maintained and even bolstered these fortified places.3 In the fifth century, Visigoths
transformed the Roman amphitheater in Nîmes into a little town by closing off the
entrances and using the stadium’s upper tiers as ramparts. Shops, churches, and
residences for some two thousand people eventually went up inside the arena. The
amphitheaters in Poitiers and Arles underwent similar alterations that lasted into
the nineteenth century (see figure 1.1). Roman temples sometimes became converted into fortified redoubts known as castellums.4 Gallo-Roman fortifications
often disappeared because they served as stone quarries for later medieval building
projects.5 Traces of oppida abound in French towns today or in street names while
their distinctive roseate walls still stand in Le Mans and Valence.6
Late Antique walls fell into disrepair as towns shrank under Frankish rule
in the early Middle Ages. As a result, the Frankish nobility gradually assumed
more direct control of walled towns and fortified places. The Catholic Church
also played a pivotal role in shaping early urban enceintes to shield God’s people. Thick-walled Romanesque churches, often built by monasteries, offered refuge in towns as well as the countryside. Episcopal sees also established protective
zones in cathedral precincts. Church buildings provided a place to store food and
munitions as churchmen assumed local military authority. In 898, for example,
King Charles the Simple granted permission to the bishop of Noyon to rebuild the
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U rban L egacies and Medieval
Trends u p to 1100
Wa l l e d Tow ns a n d t h e Sh a p i ng of F r a nc e
Map 1.1 Walled towns in Roman Gaul.
old fortifications of Tournai. Concessions of authority to local nobility and clergy
surged as Carolingian power waned in the ninth and tenth centuries.7
While Gallo-Roman brick enceintes persisted in many places, new proto-urban
defensive works after the ninth century were mainly wooden stockades similar to
the rudimentary moat and bailey structures found in the countryside. Historians
must rely on archaeology to understand these sites, which usually consisted of a
circular enceinte composed of deep ditches fronting earthen walls topped with
a wooden palisade. Vestiges of these defenses still subsist in some street plans.8
After 900, rising commercial activity along rivers and coastlines renewed interest in
building fortifications in burgs from the Seine basin north to the Scheldt estuary.
Viking raids also stimulated fortification construction in places that then evolved
into trading centers. While Gallo-Roman continuities held sway in some areas,
the seeds of a new, expanded urbanism took root after 900.9 Gallo-Roman walled
towns had developed primarily as political and military centers, whereas medieval
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Vestiges of the Gallo-Roman theater in Poitiers. By permission of the Bibliothèque Nationale (B.N. M74188).
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Figure 1.1
Wa l l e d Tow ns a n d t h e Sh a p i ng of F r a nc e
towns began as marketplaces and manufacturing centers. Another difference was
that Gallo-Roman walled towns diminished in number as one moved north, while
urban growth in the Middle Ages began most intensely in the north and generally
lessened as one moved south.
The partition of the Carolingian Empire in the ninth century into different
rulerships separated Aquitaine and Gascony from Neustria to the north. It fostered
in each area over time a sense of distinctive identity as a natio or gens sharing a
common descent but still belonging to a larger kingdom. This heritage of historic
connectedness survived as real public authority disintegrated among local feudatories, including the newly elected dynasty of Hugh Capet. Defensive relationships
and forms adapted to these new conditions. Indeed, notions of public authority, if
they survived at all, did so in arguments over control of fortifications. Local lords
known as castellans asserted their rights by building simple quadriangular castles
(châteaux-forts) over these incipient towns to manifest their military and administrative authority as seigneur.10 Ensconced in this redoubt, a lord and his retainers
offered protection to residents over whom they also exerted domination.11 Waves
of castle-building occurred with the collapse of Neustria as the Normans used
stone towers and rubble-filled walls as instruments to claim and dominate territory. These practices followed them into England after 1066 and eventually the
Mediterranean and Holy Land.12 Usually situated on higher ground, the châteaufort frequently spurred urban growth beneath its base as a lower town (basse ville)
developed as a residential quarters and market and manufacturing district.
Nascent urban communities after 900 arose in response to commercial opportunities, the emergence of local feudatory powers, and an abiding need for refuge.
These factors shaped their ensuing morphology as new towns appeared across what
later became France, with the heaviest urbanizing zones in the flatlands of Picardy
and Flanders, Normandy, and the Loire valley. These early towns went by a variety
of names. In the southwest, such a new settlement became called a castelnau. The
settlement of merchants and workers seeking a lord’s protection became known as
a faubourg or portus just beyond the castle or abbey gate; a self-contained community outside the castle was sometimes called the urbs mercatorum.13 Abbeys and
monasteries also prompted urban development by building fortified church complexes known as sauvetés to provide sanctuary to passing pilgrims.14 Last, fortified
farm houses in the wheat-growing region north of the Loire and the flatlands of
Champagne further testified to prevailing insecurities and the localization of selfdefense in the ninth and tenth centuries.15
The seigniorial authority of feudal nobles and churchmen over early towns
slowly waned after 1000 as population growth, a more dynamic economy, and new
sense of security emerged. Accelerating urbanization fueled the desire for more
communal autonomy. The château-fort or abbey church compound soon became
sites of tension between seigneur and local community groups. Seigneurial rivalries also played out in urban areas, particularly in southern France where noble
families often erected private towers to stake a claim over neighborhoods. Spatial
distance between the lord’s keep and the burg sometimes rendered the château-fort
a threat rather than a boon to local residents.16 While fortified churches and castles
consisted of stone, earthen ramparts topped by wooden palisades mainly protected
early towns after 1000. These modest enceintes, together with the nascent tissue
of streets, stone gates, marketplaces, and other public spaces, created a new kind of
civic space in medieval Europe.
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Ur b a n L e g ac i e s a n d M e di e va l Tr e n d s
Regional Patterns and Shifting
Frontiers, 950–1150
In the tenth and eleventh centuries, the lands of northern and western Francia
came to be dominated by rival feudatory lords who through dynastic marriage,
warfare, and the accidents of succession vied for power. These families included the
counts, dukes, and barons of lordships that stretched from Flanders and Brabant to
Picardy, Normandy, and the Ile-de-France and on to the Loire valley, Brittany, and
Champagne and then the vast Midi, greater Aquitaine, and, finally, Provence. The
evolving relationships between lords and their towns settled into enduring regional
patterns. Their success in dealing with unruly barons and castellans hinged in large
part on any aid they received from these early urban communities. Except for places
where Gallo-Roman walls remained intact, most urban settlements after the tenth
century possessed, at most, simple but effective earthen ramparts, wooden stockades, and perhaps a few stone towers and fortified gates. Yet even these modest
defenses represented a substantial investment of scarce resources and a strong measure of communal consensus. Control of fortified burgs, like castles, was decisive in
the quest to command a territory and its people. As towns developed, they articulated their own aspirations for greater independence. A three-cornered competition
for influence in both old and newly established towns after the tenth century pitted
burghers, nobles, and clergymen against each other, though with differing outcomes. Tempestuous communal movements in Flanders and parts of Picardy contrasted with the more orderly emergence of consular regimes in the Midi and the
gradual emancipation of towns in the Ile-de-France, Loire, and Berry, while urban
communities remained embryonic in Brittany until the late fourteenth century.18
While open conflict between seigneurial and urban interests certainly occurred,
less dramatic pragmatic negotiations more usually led lay and ecclesiastical lords to
shift more responsibility over self-governance to urban residents in their domains.
Magnates, particularly the Capetians, encouraged this process wherever possible
through devising courts of law for appeals and arbitration. The patterns of contest
and cooperation set in motion among early towns and aspiring feudatory rulers
proved of enduring significance.
Nowhere was urban development more precocious than in the areas comprising the extensive system of navigable rivers from the Scheldt, whose tributaries
connected the Rhine and Meuse, southward to the Somme and Seine basins. A
highly productive agricultural economy in these regions fueled population growth
and urbanization after the tenth century. However, few documentary descriptions
exist of early urban defenses in these areas before the thirteenth century. Feudatory
rulers initially benefited from urban growth, none more so than those in Flanders,
Brabant, Hainault, and Artois. In the tenth century, burgs in greater Flanders and
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Urban growth after 1000 posed new challenges of governance and defense that
eventually led to the rise of communes. Aspiring municipal leaders discovered a new
rhetoric of the “public good” to justify authority over markets, public events, and
local health and safety, including defense against outside aggressors. The ensuing
“reconquest” of public space proceeded in a piecemeal, sometimes violent manner
but in time resulted in greater community control over urban life.17 The patterns
and relationships between these early towns and territorial rulers set the framework
for the subsequent development of Francia into France.
Wa l l e d Tow ns a n d t h e Sh a p i ng of F r a nc e
Picardy burgeoned along these waterways that connected the hinterland to the sea.
Artisans and merchants chose defensible sites, often close to a castellan’s tower,
from which to manufacture and sell their goods. In the second half of the tenth
century, the counts of Flanders authorized certain towns to hold fairs to encourage commerce. Bruges, Ghent, Ypres, and Tournai soon became bustling urban
centers dominated by reinforced citadels built by the twelfth-century counts of
Flanders, Thierry d’Alsace and Philippe d’Alsace. Especially impressive were the
piles in Ghent and Douai. A massive oval wall and gate encircled the castle keep at
Ghent. Its one-acre enclosure contained residences for the count, his servants, and
guards, and a central three-story tower (donjon), the oldest of its kind in western
Europe.19 The town proper of Ghent remained without walls until the thirteenth
century but did enjoy intricate water defenses in its canals. By contrast, Douai’s
first enceinte dated from the late tenth century and enclosed an area of one hundred acres that proved able to accommodate much of this early dynamic growth.
Tensions with the counts rose as Douai prospered. Almost certainly under Philip
of Alsace, the comtal château-fort underwent significant renovation and reinforcement, including a moat to protect it against attack from both inside and outside
the burg.20 Other towns subject to the counts of Flanders, such as Cambrai and
Lille, underwent much the same experience.21 The counts of Flanders also initiated in the twelfth century the construction of new ports at Damme and NieuwPort (Gravelines), while along the Meuse river the towns of Huy, Namur, Dinant,
and Liège soon grew beyond their original Carolingian settlements.22 Enceintes
largely remained secondary to commercial pursuits in towns in the domains of the
counts of Flanders until the thirteenth century when dynamic urban growth and
the intrusive, grasping ambition of the counts became a volatile combination.
More inland areas in the duchy of Brabant, such as Brussels, Louvain, and
Malines, urbanized only toward the end of the tenth century, with Nivelles as a
notable exception. The dukes of Brabant also founded new towns to secure control
of rivers in their territories to supplement the already established Walloon burgs
of Mons, Binche, and Fosses-la-Ville.23 As these towns flourished, the dukes of
Brabant and regional magnates began to bestow upon them privileges and obligations, including the shared responsibility of local defense, in charters. The earliest
such charter in the region was granted by the bishop-count of Liège to the town of
Huy in 1066. By 1100, most of these towns began to construct their first permanent enceintes of earthen ramparts topped by wooden palisades.
Commerce and more robust forms of feudatory lordship also shaped towns and
their defenses in Hainault and Artois. Towns in Hainault were among the first
anywhere to begin the shift from earthen ramparts to soaring stone walls in the
twelfth century under Count Baudouin IV, known as “the Builder” (le Bâtisseur).24
The towns of Binche and Le Quesnoy typified Baudouin’s approach as he added a
tower to the comtal château-fort and erected a crenellated curtain wall with fronting ditches around the burg.25 Urban growth in area towns, such as Valenciennes,
required regular expansion of the enceinte.26 Landrecies grew up around a ninthcentury tower built by the counts of Avesnes and received more permanent defenses
only after the count sacked the town in 1185 for failure to acknowledge his suzerainty.27 Much the same pattern occurred in the Artois. An exception was the important port of Calais, which received its first enceinte in the eleventh century thanks
to episcopal leadership.28 A short distance south was the port of Boulogne-sur-Mer,
an important Gallo-Roman oppidium from which Julius Caesar had launched his
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invasion of Britain, whose solid and high fourth-century walls still stood 900 years
later. Thus by 1200, dynamic urban growth across Flanders, Brabant, Hainault,
and Artois fueled the rise of feudatory rulers whose power rested in large part on
controlling towns to tap into their wealth. They did so through a mix of coercion,
bluster, and occasional compromise. The most impressive fortified place continued
to be the comtal or ducal château-fort, which stood as a potent symbol of these
ambitions. Urban defenses, where they existed, mainly consisted of earthen ramparts with stone towers and fortified gates for protection. Investment in stone and
brick curtain walls, indicators of rising wealth and insecurities, remained highly
exceptional until 1200.
New burgs proliferated to the south in the domains of the Capetians across
Picardy and the Ile-de-France. Earthen ramparts with timbered fences were again
typical, along with stone keeps and fortified gates.29 The Capetians, like lesser lords
in these areas, devoted their limited resources to castle construction, some close
to these new burgs, but most not.30 Their main goal was to control regional transit points, not towns. Even their capital in Paris possessed but the remains of the
original Gallo-Roman enceinte. Exceptions can be found, of course. In Soissons, a
bishop in the ninth century added a new enceinte to replace the dilapidated GalloRoman one. The small burg of Crépy-en-Valois became fortified by Gautier II,
count of Vexin, in the early eleventh century, while the counts of Champagne
expanded the castle enceinte at Château-Thierry to enclose a new burg in the tenth
century. Elsewhere in Picardy, the original Gallo-Roman fortifications of Amiens,
Beauvais, and Corbie only underwent extensive repair and modification in the early
thirteenth century, as did the old Carolingian enceinte surrounding Compiègne.
Prior to 1150, Capetian territorial ambitions remained perforce modest and concentrated on asserting control in their core domains. As a result, their relations
with towns generally relied on mutual cooperation rather than confrontation,
unlike most other feudatory rulers at the time.
No starker contrast to Capetian relations with towns existed than in the vast
complex of areas to the west that came to form in the twelfth century the AngloNorman “empire” of the Angevins. Some historians have argued that vestiges of
Carolingian public authority remained strongest in ducal Normandy, as regalian
rights over fortifications and mints never became fully usurped there by castellans.
Power instead remained more territorialized than localized as dukes of Normandy
preserved the authority to regulate nobles’ construction of castles and conduct of
private warfare through their ducal courts.31 Other historians attribute the source
of ducal power in Normandy in malleable, aggressive forms of Germanic kinship.32
Kinship provided the main idiom for building political cohesion among clients
and claiming material resources for expansion. Carolingian public traditions in fact
complemented Germanic kinship practices to position the early dukes of Normandy
and their Angevin successors for expanded territorial control.
Inveterate castle builders, the Angevin dukes of Normandy invested little in
fortifying the new bustling burgs in this agriculturally rich region prior to the
1180s.33 Instead, they poured resources into massive, innovative polygonal
châteaux-forts that dominated early Norman towns as much as they protected
them. Significant among these were the castles built in the eleventh century at
Gisors and Fécamp. The original moat-and-bailey fort at Arques, protecting the
approach to the key port town of Dieppe, became replaced by Henry I Plantagenet
in the early twelfth century by a formidable new square enceinte and stone keep.
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Ur b a n L e g ac i e s a n d M e di e va l Tr e n d s
Wa l l e d Tow ns a n d t h e Sh a p i ng of F r a nc e
Together these and other castles formed an integrated defensive frontier system
known as a march.34 The major exceptions in Normandy, though for different
reasons, were Caen, Falaise, and Rouen. Around 1060, Guillaume le Bâtard built a
citadel on a stony outcropping overlooking the burg of Caen, which, together with
the newly constructed Abbaye-aux-Hommes and Abbaye-aux-Dames, defined the
general parameters within which the town later developed.35 Robert II Curthose
built both a new castle and a stone fortified enceinte around Falaise, the birthplace
of his father, William the Conqueror. The castle underwent considerable expansion
and reinforcement under Henry I, king of England, though not the enceinte. By
contrast, Rouen still possessed much of its original third-century Gallo-Roman fortifications circling the old castrum, though rapid population and economic growth
after 1100 quickly spilled over these confines. A new expanded earthen palisaded
enceinte went up after 1150 to incorporate the new outlying suburban parishes. As
a result, the size of the enclosed urban area nearly tripled before 1200.36 Urban
growth in Normandy strengthened ducal authority as it subordinated castellans
and the bishops.
Further to the west was Brittany. The Carolingians never subdued the restless Bretons who in the ninth century, under the leadership the Celtic chieftain
Nominoë, became an independent kingdom and then duchy. While the duchy
expanded briefly into Normandy and the Loire valley, its dukes later maintained
their autonomy by pitting the Capetians and Angevins against each other until the
early thirteenth century. Ducal authority in Brittany faced formidable resistance
from local baronial lords entrenched in moat-and-bailey castles throughout these
rugged lands. Starting with Alain II in the tenth century, Breton dukes concentrated
on building or securing these castles, such as the one at La Roche Goyon. They
also built ducal castles, which spawned the growth of a dozen or so small towns
across the Armorican peninsula. Baronial clans responded in kind, with the barons
of Clisson, for example, building their own strongholds in places such as Josselin
in the Morbihan region.37 The remote areas along the western coast of Finistière
proved especially hard to secure until the fifteenth century.38 In the east, towns
such as Fougères and Rennes became heavily contested by the dukes of Normandy
and Anjou.39 Breton castles and small towns possessed little more than the simple
but effective defense provided by moat-and-baileys and earthen palisaded ramparts
until replaced by stone walls and towers in the thirteenth century.40
Medieval Breton towns fell into three general categories. One set consisted
of older Gallo-Roman castrums, such as Dinan, Rennes, Carhaix, Vannes, and
Nantes. Despite recent decline, they remained under ducal control as leading
urban centers in the region.41 They usually lay along land routes, particularly at
river crossings, although maritime and fluvial conditions, with the exception of
the Loire, Vilaine, and Rance rivers, militated against easy travel and exchange.
A second set of towns sprang up around the castles and fortified abbeys along the
duchy’s frontier marches abutting Normandy, Maine, Anjou, and Poitou. The violence experienced along the Franco-Breton borderland at the time became reflected
in toponyms that included “la Bataille,” “la Terre gaste,” and “la Désertine.” A
final third category of Breton towns grew up as isolated burgs around monasteries
and seigneurial and ducal strongholds in the duchy’s rugged interior. Most such
places passed under ducal control in the eleventh century.42 As elsewhere, the countervailing impulses of separation and connection shaped the site selection of Breton
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towns, as barons and monasteries strove for the latter while ducal authorities vied
to broaden territorial rulership.
Along the coast to the south, the Saintonge and Aunis most resembled Brittany
as local castellans built moat-and-bailey redoubts. Some of these castles became
rebuilt starting in the mid-eleventh century. Little urbanization occurred in this
region during the Gallo-Roman period. New burgs, such as La Rochelle founded
in 1130, relied mainly on natural obstacles, such as salt marshes, for protection.43
Eastward in the middle Loire Basin, including the Beauce and Berry, the contrast between riverine urban settlements and hinterlands dominated by castellans
became sharper. Dozens of original Gallo-Roman castrums and oppida survived
across this region. Many places, such as Le Mans, Angers, Bourges, and Orléans,
still possessed substantial portions of their third-century brick walls nearly a millennium later. In Bourges, remains of these walls remain visible along the “Promenade
des Remparts” behind the new Hôtel-de-Ville and at the foot of Jacques Coeur’s
Palace. The streets of the upper old town still follow the arc of the Late Antique
enceinte.44 In Orléans, Gallo-Roman walls from the fourth century jut out today
near the cathedral, while the street layout retains the distinctive intersection of the
cardo and decumanus. Smaller burgs developed after the ninth century up the various tributaries of the Loire, often near the castles of local castellans and abbeys.
After Carolingian authority collapsed, comtal leaders initially assumed responsibility for castle and fortification construction. Ninth-century Meung-sur-Loire, for
example, received a stockade and towers. In the tenth century, Thibault III, count
of Chartres and Blois, had castles, usually stone dungeons, erected at Châteaudun,
Chinon, and Janville and enclosed the burg of Blois. However, the weakly defended
town of Chartres fell to Robert I, duke of Normandy, one of his many adversaries,
after a short siege in 963 and suffered a terrible sack as a consequence.45 Expanded
stone complexes became built in the twelfth century by Count Thibault V as he
sought to navigate the conflict between the Capetians and Angevins. The one at
Châteaudun remains standing today over one hundred feet high with the walls at
the base some thirty-five feet thick.
Among the earliest successful attempts at building up a cohesive feudatory lordship was the county of Anjou. The county of Anjou is often regarded as a model
small feudal state that preserved aspects of public authority into the eleventh century. In the late tenth century, Fulk Nerra, count of Anjou, became known as “le
grand bâtisseur” in the middle Loire valley for the some thirty major fortifications,
most stone castles, he had erected in places such as Angers, Durtal, MontreuilBellay, and Langeais.46 He also had built scores of moat-and-bailey strongholds,
most along the Breton and Norman frontiers, that formed a thick defense-in-depth
system to safeguard his domains from armed incursions. Finally, Fulk Nerra also
fielded a formidable army, for its day, of up to six thousand fighters, a third of whom
were mounted knights, which he used to vanquish his rivals, such as Breton Count
Conan of Rennes at the battle of Conquéril in 996 and Count Odo II of Blois in
1016. His military campaigns suggest an awareness of De re militari by Vegetius,
a late Roman writer who also addressed the subject of fortifications.47 The bestknown and most impressive of Fulk’s dungeons was the massive keep at Loches.
It was his principal residence and soared over one hundred feet high. Fulk Nerra’s
successors further expanded Angevin sway throughout the greater Loire valley. His
son, Count Geoffrey II, known as “The Hammer” (le Martel), waged war with his
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neighbors and secured Angevin control over Maine and, though short-lived, the
Saintonge. Geoffroy also began to replace earthen and timbered ramparts around
some burgs with more permanent stone and brick fortifications. In Saumur, for
example, he ordered a stone enceinte built to protect the town from the count of
Poitiers.48 Important towns, such as Tours and Vendôme, remained without even
simple earthen ramparts until the thirteenth century, however.49
Comtal authority quickly disintegrated after Geoffrey Martel’s death in 1060
when castellans seized castles and attributes of lordship. Angevin fortunes briefly
waned as a result of the succession struggle against Geoffrey III that eventually
brought to power Count Fulk IV. Fulk IV spent most of his long rule recovering
lost domains and positioning the Angevins to extend their holdings through warfare to the south over the unruly barons of Poitou; to the east into Touraine at the
expense of the counts of Blois; and through marriage to the north into the county
of Maine.50 His recapture of Tours, an important market town and vital communications center, consolidated Angevin control of the middle Loire, which he further
secured through significantly enhancing the great castles of Chinon, Loches, and
Fewer Gallo-Roman fortified settlements existed the further east one moved,
apart from the emplacements along the Rhine. The flatlands of ChampagneArdennes actually contained fewer than a dozen oppida. Only the Gallo-Roman
walls of Langres remained in decent condition by the eleventh century. The
fourth-century walls at Châlon-sur-Marne, for example, while still extant during the Merovingian era, were woefully dilapidated by the thirteenth century,
while Mézières was reduced to little more than a fortified wooden bridge on the
Meuse river. Rheims remained the chief town in the region in the Middle Ages
mainly as an episcopal center and site of royal coronations. Few of its Gallo-Roman
walls remained in serviceable condition by the eleventh century. In 1125, Count
Thibaut II of Blois inherited the county of Champaigne. Along with Rheims, the
towns of Bar-sur-Aube, Troyes, Lagny-sur-Marne, and Provins chosen by Count
Thibaut II to host the celebrated Fairs of Champagne possessed sufficient wealth
and importance to merit the construction of a vastly expanded fortified enceintes.51
The remaining burgs in Champagne possessed only modest defenses prior to the
thirteenth century. Until then, the counts of Champagne concentrated on castle
construction, though rarely did these consist of much more than simple moatand-bailey forts apart from exceptions at places such as Rethel, Donchéry, and
Patterns of urban development and forms of fortifications to the east in Lorraine
and Alsace, which formed part of the Empire until the seventeenth century, resembled those in Champagne. Moat-and-bailey castles and fortified farms and churches
predominated under the control of regional lords, such as the counts of Bar. Power
became even more diffuse through subinfeodation following the collapse of the
Kingdom of Lotharingia in the tenth century. The most advanced castle enceintes
were built at Bitche and Givet in the twelfth century.53 The only Gallo-Roman
urban centers of any real note in Lorraine were Metz and Verdun.54 While Verdun
became a middling ecclesiastical center, Metz remained preeminent through the
Middle Ages. Nancy was only a hamlet until the eleventh century when Gérard I,
count of Metz, erected a castle nearby that in time helped to make Nancy the ducal
capital.55 Mézières and Thionville arose as Carolingian strongholds in the ninth
century and remained behind earthen ramparts until the 1200s.56 The Capetian
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toehold in Vaucouleurs in western Lorraine received in the twelfth century a
stone enceinte with seventeen towers built by Robert de Joinville at the behest of
Louis VI of France. The only major urban fortifications in Alsace prior to the thirteenth century existed in Strasbourg, a key transit point across the Rhine. Because
of its swampy location, Strasbourg’s defenses at first largely consisted of water
defenses supplemented by earthen ramparts and fortified gates.57 Smaller burgs
slowly developed after the tenth century in and around castles and monasteries. As
a result, feudatory lordship remained quite fragmented in Lorraine and Alsace and
the overall level of urbanization low until the thirteenth century.
South in the county and duchy of Burgundy, urban fortifications as well as rural
castles were more developed before 1200 because of its growing economic prosperity.58 A number of Burgundian towns had once been important Gallo-Roman
oppida. Autun, originally named Augustodunum after the first Roman emperor,
still had substantial portions of its Gallo-Roman enceinte standing, including
numerous semi-circular towers and four fortified gates.59 Dijon was another
Gallo-Roman oppidium whose original walls and towers remained basically intact
until 1150 when Eude II, count of Champagne, ordered a new expanded enceinte
built to accommodate recent growth in Dijon. These new works included eighteen stone towers and eleven fortified gates.60 Auxerre, Mâcon, and Vienne also
adapted their old Gallo-Roman defenses to meet new needs. In twelfth-century
Auxerre, Guillaume IV, count of Mâcon, authorized an enlarged enceinte, as did
the counts of Nevers at Cosne-sur-Loire. Auxonne, by contrast, shrank so much it
built a smaller earthen ramparted area within the original Gallo-Roman walls in
the tenth century. The Gallo-Roman citadel at Besançon survived relatively intact
until Eudes II replaced it with a new castle in 1153. He also ordered defenses
built around the new burg below the castle on the right bank of the Doubs river.
Eudes II also ordered the construction of the first stone castle at Dole to secure
control of the eastern part of the duchy.61 New towns in Burgundy developed at
places such as Montbard and Chablis to include wooden stockades and earthen
ramparts. Finally, ecclesiastical authorities also sponsored the construction of fortified churches and abbeys, as at the Benedictine priory at La Charité-sur-Loire
in 1164, around which grew up burgs. Further south lay Lyons, located at the
vital confluence of the Rhône and Sâone rivers. Originally known as Lugdunum
and once of the preeminent oppida in all of Gaul, Lyons served as the chief transit
point between Burgundy and points south in Provence and Italy. Despite recent
growth, Gallo-Roman walls built in the first century remained Lyons’ principal
line of defense a millennium later. Urban development elsewhere in the upper
Rhône valley was modest. In higher elevations, as elsewhere, castles proliferated
to reflect the fragmented nature of political power.
In remote areas of the Midi such as Auvergne, castle construction flourished
while urban growth was unremarkable prior to 1200. A handful of towns, such
Moissac and Clermont, began as Gallo-Roman castra, while a few new burgs at
places such as Cusset and Montferrand emerged after the ninth century.62 The
ensemble of fortification at Aurillac typified much of the region. Its castral donjon
dated to the eleventh century and underwent substantial rebuilding in the twelfth
century, receiving new stone towers, while earthen palisaded ramparts surrounded
the burg. Apart from its episcopal castle, Clermont’s third-century walls remained
the sole line of defense for the town until the fourteenth century. The new adjoining burg of Montferrand, encouraged by the counts of Auvergne, likewise possessed
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little more than a donjon prior to the late fourteenth century. An earthen rampart
ringed Cusset by the twelfth century. Evidence indicates that Riom and Saint-Flour
only erected defenses to supplement their natural site advantages in the thirteenth
century.63 Poverty and isolation accounted for the tardy urbanism of Auvergne
prior to 1200.
Across southern France stretched the vast, complicated lands of greater
Occitania. This region comprised the duchy of Aquitaine, the county of Toulouse,
and marquisate and county of Provence, as well as an assemblage of lesser feudal
entities, especially along the northern slope of the Pyrenees. Provence technically
remained part of the Empire and a number of its towns, such as Arles, Avignon,
and Marseille, enjoyed special privileges as Imperial cities. This region had been
the mostly highly urbanized in all of Roman Gaul, especially along rivers in the
east and the Mediterranean littoral. Narbonne, Montpellier, Nîmes, and Marseille
remained fairly prosperous and regularly invested in the upkeep and expansion of
their Gallo-Roman walls to fend off Muslim raids. More modest new burgs, such
as Lorgues, Digne, and Sisteron, did the same.64 Rural villages also erected walls or
constructed dwellings to form an enclosed perimeter.65 Indeed, the state of urban
fortifications in Provence prior to 1200 well surpassed that of Flanders in scale and
sophistication. In fact, the counts of Provence expanded their territorial rulership
after 1000 largely in alliance with walled towns, whose charters—most granted in
the twelfth century—routinely confirmed municipal control over the ramparts.66
Outside Provence, Occitan towns prior to 1200 enjoyed considerable independence as local nobles, clergymen, and burghers vied for dominance. In Narbonne,
power became divided among these groups, while in Toulouse merchants dominated. In Montpellier, noble families held sway, while church prelates assumed
lordship over the towns of Mende, Viviers, Le Puy, and Rodez.67 The continuing
influence of Roman law and the practice of partible inheritance stunted the emergence of the feudal relations found north of the Loire, where comtal authority
remained potent. As a result, local noble families, such as the Trencavels, viscounts
of Béziers, routinely defied their nominal overlords, the counts of Toulouse. The
counts of Toulouse thus relied even more on assistance from local towns to check
noble ambitions and the territorial aspirations of the kings of Majorica, which
required in turn further confirmation of urban autonomy across greater Occitania.68
Inland towns, such as Toulouse and Montauban, the latter established only in the
mid-twelfth century, relied mainly on natural topography for protection.69 Claims
that towns and villages founded after 1000 across lower Occitania adhered to a
planned circular form remain controversial, though their defenses in either case
generally remained quite rudimentary.70
Southwestern France from Poitou to the Pyrenees comprised the sparsely populated remainder of the duchy of Aquitaine. Few towns of any major size existed
before 1200. Local ecclesiastical and lay lords, such as the Plantagenets, sowed the
seeds for later urbanization by building scores of castles and fortified churches.71
On the Touraine-Poitou border along La Creuse river was the castle at La Guerche,
a word that derives from the Frankish word for fortifications (werki).72 To the
north of the Dordogne river in Poitou was Poitiers, a fortified town originally
settled in the Gallo-Roman era. The Capetians rebuilt its defenses after capturing
it in the mid-twelfth century. The new burg of Thouars also possessed a fortified
enceinte in the twelfth century.73 Further south in Périgord, the town of Périgueux
became the principal residence of the counts of Poitou in the twelfth century.
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Together with the bishop, they oversaw the construction of the new comtal castle
Barrière and an enceinte for the burg with twenty-eight stone towers and four fortified gates.74 Finally there was the bustling port city of Bordeaux, founded by the
Romans in the first century as Burdigala. A quadrilateral enceinte with some one
hundred towers ringed Bordeaux by the end of the third century as the Germanic
menace mounted. Bordeaux shrank so much thereafter that in the seventh century
its residents took refuge in the old amphitheater. Its fortunes improved after 1000
even though Bordeaux did not begin to fortify its burgeoning neighborhoods until
the mid-thirteenth century. Like many other growing towns across France at the
time, dynamic growth coupled with the lack of any serious military threats militated against investments in new defenses beyond simple earthen ramparts that
threatened to obstruct expansion.75
Design innovations in castle construction became apparent around 1100. Until
then, castle towers used for both defense and as residences usually took upright
rectangular forms, as at Langeais and Loches and in the huge keep at Ghent. This
design form carried decided drawbacks because its corners created dead angles that
enemies could exploit, while the verticality of the walls made them vulnerable to
attack by improved siege engines. An early response to these problems can be found
in the huge polygonal castle tower built by the Anglo-Normans at Gisors in the
late eleventh century. The quadrifoil keep erected by Amaury II, lord of Montfort,
at Houdan and the convergent cylinders of the mid-twelfth-century donjon at
Étampes introduced more articulated fronts that mitigated these vulnerabilities.
These more sophisticated—and expensive—forms of castle design provided a model
when generalized later to solve problems encountered in building fortifications to
protect the bustling towns of the High Middle Ages.
Prior to 1200, fortifications in France for the new towns growing up around
the castles of local lords usually consisted of earthen ramparts topped by timbered
palisades, reinforced at most with a few square stone towers and fortified gates. The
only significant exceptions were the Gallo-Roman walls, often of indifferent condition, of older established towns. Earthen ramparts around these burgs represented
an extension of the moat-and-bailey model of early castle construction. As such,
it was highly pragmatic solution to the early needs of urban defense. For a society plagued by widespread scarcity and poverty, it was also cheap to build. Local
authorities often lacked effective means to tap, mobilize, and direct resources.
Expanding the scale and design complexity of fortifications thus required substantial economic and political changes. Increasing economic activity and population
growth after 1000 created pressures and opened opportunities for both feudatory rulers and these early medieval towns. By the eleventh century, a number of
these competing lordships from Flanders all the way to greater Occitania held sway
over unstable, yet increasingly potent coalitions of towns, castellans, and churchmen. Their spheres of influence, while fluctuating, became demarcated in terms of
hereditary holdings and riverine systems. Medieval frontiers should be thought of
not as linear boundaries but rather as a mosaic of overlapping jurisdictional zones
and competing family and feudal interests. This explains why the contest for territory consisted of endless legal wrangling, complex patterns of intermarriage, and
claims to service and fealty. Reasserting the old precept of the “rendability” of a
castle’s parapets or a town’s walls to its local lord or ratifying its concession loomed
large because castles and walled towns played the most pivotal roles in translating
claims to territory into actual control.76
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The emergence of these “good towns” (bonnes villes) as key players in regional politics found ready encouragement from French kings and feudal magnates.77 The
bonnes villes, in turn, leveraged political and fiscal concessions from these territorial
rulers to enhance their autonomy. A potent measure of the increasing power and
stature of towns lay in the quality of their walls. Most towns and burgs in 1100
possessed earthen ramparts and stockade fences. By 1300, almost all boasted crenellated stone and brick enceintes bristling with mighty towers and fortified gates.
The transition to more permanent and substantial urban defenses required if not
the permission then at least the acquiescence of local lords. It also needed a sufficient level of economic development to generate the wealth necessary for such a
huge, ongoing investment, as well as municipal institutions and communal consensus to bring about such work.78
The rise of bonnes villes coincided with the emergence after 1100 of communes
of freemen who formed partnerships with great territorial magnates expressed in
agreements called charters.79 Charters spelled out the privileges and responsibilities that made a place a free town or ville franche. That freedom also defined the
limits of authority that local churchmen and lay lords exercised over the town.
No right was more cherished than self-defense as embodied in a town’s walls and
militia. Guilds and neighborhood associations generally assumed these duties as
part of their control of municipal government.80 Municipal regimes took varying
form. Some towns elected officers to a council (échevanage); others relied on a selfselecting committee (consulat); while others became subject to appointed officials
known as provosts (prévôts).81 In practice, most towns shared features of all three
types as defined in the charter. What mattered most was the image that a town
projected to the outside world, and nothing spoke more loudly than solid, massive walls and towers.82 All that medieval writers might laud about a town flowed
from this guarantee of security. After 1100, the existence of walls so defined bonnes
villes that “closed town” (ville fermée) soon became a synonymous term for them.
Medieval gardening practices echoed this new urban culture. Like towns, gardens
began by an act of enclosure formed by a fronting ditch, an embankment of piled
soil topped by a paling fence, live hedge, or stone wall.83 Like a town’s walls, garden
boundaries demarcated legal jurisdictions and private property holdings. Above
all, towns and gardens offered sanctuaries where order and abundance prevailed
so long as inhabitants performed their duty.84 Failure to do so opened the way for
savage, wild nature to invade.
While not planned, medieval towns usually conformed to a mix of rectilinear
and radial layouts depending on topography and the disposition of anchor points,
such as a church, marketplace, or castle.85 Walls also defined a fiscal zone, with
excise taxes levied at the gates from which the main thoroughfares led to the
markets. These revenues, in turn, underwrote the construction and maintenance
of municipal defenses. Murage taxes began to appear after 1100 along with the
establishment of militias as urban defense became institutionalized.86 Medieval
towns also often had to cope with water management problems such as flood control, unstable foundations due to a high water table, and the provisioning of potable water and ridding of waste.87 The articulation of the urban enceinte shaped
the disposition of streets, marketplaces, fountains, churches, and civic buildings.
More informal means of access and egress across the defensive perimeter came in
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The Origins of the B ONNES VILLES
the form of private doors known as posterns; drainage channels and pipes also cut
through the walls to flush storm water and refuse out of town. Medieval towns
organized space into distinctive zones for occupational specialties, residential districts, university quarters, enclaves for family and clientele networks. Each town
was a complex mosaic of many pieces, some better integrated into communities
than others.88
A town’s walls established a social topography between an “inside” and “outside” world. Walls served to seal a town off from the outside world to which streets
otherwise sought connection.89 The rapport between inside and outside became
figuratively expressed in debates over who belonged to a town’s active citizenry.
Among the most visible expressions of the coveted status of bourgeois was the
privilege to enter freely through a town’s gates. In general, the rise of the communes after 1100 broadened the body of active citizens to include artisans along
with merchants and professional groups, such as lawyers and doctors.90 Political
rights went to persons whose skills and ability to produce wealth served the town.
Responsibility for self-defense made it incumbent to draw on these groups to man
walls and guard gates and organize the wherewithal to construct them. Montpellier
in late twelfth century offers an early example with the establishment of the Oeuvre
de la Commune Clôture, which took on the task of building and maintaining fortifications.91 Defending a town thus required the mobilization of substantial human
and material resources that in turn shaped the sense of civic community found in
the bonnes villes. While a royal captain or sergeant seated in the château-fort might
try to check the independent aspirations of townspeople, local feudatories usually
sought out accommodations with the towns.
The appearance of more permanent and formidable defenses around medieval
towns did not represent a defiance of state authority but an early manifestation of
it. The relations between towns and great feudatory lords, including the Capetians,
recognized the expertise and decision-making authority of municipal regimes for
their locales. The regulation of trade and manufactures, the provision of public services, such as water and waste management, and the maintenance of public ways and
places fell under the purview of the towns, as did the duty to uphold public order
and maintain urban defenses. The crown and great lords limited their interference
in such matters because they relied upon support from the towns to maintain and
possibly expand their domains. The evolving nexus of relations between towns and
feudatory rulers saw the towns implement broad policy mandates from the lords in
fairly autonomous ways adapted to local needs and circumstances. Fortifications,
along with militias and military supply, formed the most important and costly area
of this shared concern. As a result, new areas of legislation and legal procedures
opened up in the towns that further defined the early contours of the medieval
state that in time transformed old Francia into a new regime known as France.92
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Ch apter 2
fter 1100, municipal self-governance advanced in tandem with the great feudatories across Francia as they all pursued sustained and increasingly aggressive programs to consolidate and expand their domains. Some, such as the Angevin dukes
of Normandy and greater Anjou and the counts of Flanders, enjoyed spectacular
if fleeting success. Others, such as the dukes of Brittany and Burgundy and the
counts of Champagne and Toulouse, enjoyed modest but enduring gains. And then
there were the Capetians, whose early prudence and good stewardship set the stage
for dramatic progress in the thirteenth century. These assertions of power required
mounting military campaigns against local castellans and rival feudatories, pursuing advantageous dynastic marriages, averting or exploiting succession crises, and,
finally, knitting alliances with the emerging towns. The altered scale and makeup
of urban enceintes mirrored the reemergence of public governance. The control
of church appointments, especially to episcopal sees, was particularly decisive and
affected towns as much as it did feudatory rulers. On this score, the Capetians held
a clear advantage in the regalian sees concentrated to the north and east of Paris.
More hegemonic than territorial in its nature, medieval rulership rested upon
a core area of direct control, such as the royal demesne or patrimonial holdings,
reinforced by networks of close clients and vassals among the local nobility and
townspeople, to realize claims—ambiguous, fragmentary, and often highly contested—based on seigneurial or dynastic right. Common to all feudatory rulers was
a relentless drive to establish law and order in their domains. This goal required
articulating fuller justifications of public law and marshaling resources to enforce
it. In both respects, the relationship between feudatory rulers and walled towns
proved crucial because towns provided fixed, stable points of authority in the form
of incipient law courts and stockpiled supplies to bolster the migratory nature of
feudatory rulership and support the lord’s troops.
The Capetians held a major advantage in the realm of public law due to their
undisputed royal dignity. And under Louis VI and Louis VII, they began to exploit
it. With the able assistance of Abbot Suger, Louis VI encouraged communal movements in his domains that in turn supported his efforts to diminish the influence
of local lords in their affairs. Louis VI especially cultivated communal movements
along the outer fringes of the Ile-de-France. The charters that he granted to them
recorded and defined rights and practices in the areas of justice, finance, commerce,
governance, and defense. The Capetians thus extended their influence by fostering
urban government. Towns in the historical core of the Ile-de-France, such as Paris,
never received royal authorization to establish communal associations or received
formal charters. As a result, their municipal regimes became subject to greater
10.1057/9780230101128preview - Walled Towns and the Shaping of France, Michael Wolfe
Copyright material from www.palgraveconnect.com - licensed to npg - PalgraveConnect - 2016-09-29
L ords and Towns (1100–1225)
Wa l l e d Tow ns a n d t h e Sh a p i ng of F r a nc e
direct domination by the crown. Support from all these towns helped Louis VI to
subdue defiant castellans, such as Ebbes de Roucy in 1102, Enguerrand de Coucy
in 1117, and Thomas de Marle in 1130. The ensuing confiscations and purchases
enlarged the royal domain to include Corbeil, Montlhéry, and Mantes. Louis VII
continued these practices when he granted a charter to Lorris, located in Loire valley near Orléans. This charter became a model for others that he granted to selected
towns in Aquitaine, Poitou, Gascony, and the Auvergne as Capetian ambitions
moved south of the Loire. In granting a charter, the Capetians usually insisted
on building a tower close to but not within a town’s walled perimeter to ensure a
nearby royal presence. In 1181, for example, Louis VII prevented the commune of
Soissons from incorporating the fortress of Saint-Médard into the urban enceinte
in order to maintain the royal castle’s independence.
The expansion of Capetian power beyond the Ile-de-France can be measured
by the growth of administrative districts known as prévôtés from twenty-five to
forty by 1150. Most of these royal officials took up residence in towns, such as
Bourges, Compiègne, Étampes, Laon, Orléans, Paris, Poissy, and Sens, where they
worked with municipal officials and feudal lords to collect royal income from local
tolls, excise levies, and land rents. They also oversaw the execution of royal justice.
Louis VII began to employ new officials known as bailiffs (baillis), again based in
towns, to supervise the prévôts. As he secured his base in these towns and outlying
castles, Louis VII continued to wage campaigns to secure new territorial claims.
In 1169, the bishop of Puy appealed to him for protection from the viscount of
Polignac, who routinely harassed pilgrims and travelers making their way through
the Auvergne. Louis VII besieged the viscount’s stronghold of Nonette and later
converted it into prévôté. He also invaded the lands of Thibaud V, count of Blois,
during which his soldiers burned a church in Vitry killing several hundred persons
who had taken refuge inside. This atrocity caused problems with the papacy, for
which Louis VII atoned by undertaking the Second Crusade.
Dynastic marriages further advantaged the Capetians. Louis VI’s marriage
in 1115 to Adélaïde of Savoy forged closer ties with the papacy and brought the
French crown’s influence into the Rhône valley. The celebrated marriage in 1137 of
Louis VI’s son, the future Louis VII, to Eleanor of Aquitaine, positioned—until he
repudiated her—the Capetians to project royal influence to the southwest toward
Bordeaux and Toulouse. Louis VII mended fences with the house of Champagne
by marrying Adela of Champagne in 1160. Five years later, she bore his heir, Philip.
Louis VII then sought closer relations with the count of Flanders by arranging for
his son to marry Isabella of Hainault, the count’s niece. He also forged key diplomatic alliances, none more so than with Count Raymond V of Toulouse, who married the king’s sister Constance in 1154, to parry Angevin claims in the region.
Averting or exploiting succession crises further helped to shape regional power
alignments. Louis VI’s unsuccessful bid in 1106 to oust Henri I Beauclerc from
the Norman succession opened up a seesaw struggle with first the Angevins and
then the English that lasted until 1450. As fraught was the complex power struggle
over the southern Low Countries following the assassination of Count Charles the
Good of Flanders in 1127. To the west, the union of the House of Anjou with the
Anglo-Norman realm was brought about by the marriage of Geoffrey of Anjou and
Matilda, heiress to the English throne. Henry I’s death in 1135 set the stage for
further struggles between Matilda and Stephen of Blois over the Anglo-Norman
10.1057/9780230101128preview - Walled Towns and the Shaping of France, Michael Wolfe
Copyright material from www.palgraveconnect.com - licensed to npg - PalgraveConnect - 2016-09-29
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