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Paperback The Knight, the Lady and the Priest: The Making of Modern Marriage in Medieval France Book

ISBN: 0226167682

ISBN13: 9780226167688

The Knight, the Lady and the Priest: The Making of Modern Marriage in Medieval France

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Book Overview

This ambitious study sets out to discover what marriage meant in the daily lives of the nobles of the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth centuries. Through entertaining anecdotes, family dramas, and striking quotations, Duby succeeds in bringing his subjects to life, making us feel as if we understand the motives and conflicts of those who inhabited the distant past.

"It is typical of Duby's modest spirit and his book-long concern with the ancient...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

A fascinating study

Medieval legend conjures exotic images of high-walled castles, tournament fields choked with blazons, armored champions vying for the favor of chaste damsels, and courtly love celebrated by troubadours - not necessarily a pragmatic view if one seeks an accurate portrait of domestic relationships. This work ably exposes the realities of 10-12C marriage (arrangement, dowry, property and inheritance rights, infidelity, grounds for dissolution, spousal obligations, etc), as well as prelates who (not without self-interest) elevate it to a sacramental institution. Though some may lament romantic fantasy, the anecdotal account advanced by the author is even more appealing (the enumeration of penance is especially interesting). Also recommended: the author's `France in the Middle Ages 987-1460' (Hachette 1987; Blackwell 1991). Those seeking historical fiction may also want to try the work of Zoé Oldenbourg (`The World is not Enough,' `The Cornerstone,' `Destiny of Fire').

A fair and intriguing account of a very paradoxical era...

The author has done an excellent work on the concept of marriage during the medieval period in France. While one of the other reviewers noted that the women's perspective is not entirely known, this very point is made known by the author himself - in fact he ends the book with that point in mind. Duby is not biased - it is simply an account based upon the materials that are available without too much speculation beyond that. The reasons for a limited viewpoint are due to the majority of the available records being from monasteries, thus the material being mainly gathered from male and upper class (literate) society. That said, Duby makes ample use of primary sources: biblical references, literature, monastic journals, papal dictation, clergy laws, ect...using even pre-medieval sources such as St Augustine to trace the evolution of perspectives on marriage. The evidence follows an increasing influence of papal authority upon legal marriage by the post-millennial reforms. The attitudes towards women, incest, concubinage, procreation, and divorce are all considered in light of the political and religious views of the day. The power struggle between the religious and secular authorites is a central theme in the book. Interestingly, societies values and the catholic church's doctrines both shifted and varied dramatically during this era to accomadate or justify various motives. The practices and attitudes may seem paradoxical and may be quite shocking - and that is the brilliance in what Duby has achieved. He clearly outlines the confusion and political manipulation involved with early marriage policies and how it reflects a problem that was present in the broad scope of medieval life. Anyone interested in medieval studies or philosophy should give this a read. RECOMMENDATION: To accompany this study it would be helpful to read some of the contemporary literature of the time period that dealt with courtly love. 'The Lais of Marie de France' and Chretien de Troyes 'Arthurian Romances' would be a great additional read.

Still the best introduction for the nonspecialist on marriage in France during the High Middle Ages

Studies on medieval marriage have become a cottage industry of sorts--with no small thanks to Georges Duby and, particularly, "The Knight, the Lady, and the Priest," along with its predecessor, "Medieval Marriage." Duby was not the first to explore the topic (and he notes that research was "not nearly so advanced in France as in the English-speaking countries"), but his studies were valuable for launching a parallel investigation on the Continent. Duby traces the development of marriage as an institution, from its (to us) primitive precedents in the tenth and eleventh century--when a marriage could be the result of an abduction as much as of an arrangement--to the increasing role of the church in defining (and controlling) marriage as a sacrament. But Duby doesn't discuss this transition alone. Along the way, and in several "case studies" of royal and aristocratic marriages, he examines the lasting prevalence of concubinage, both among the laity and the clergy; divorce and remarriage; dowery and inheritance; and attitudes towards adultery. Furthermore, and in much greater detail, he analyzes the use and misuse of prohibitions regarding consanguinity--that is, blood kinship, which initially was considered to the seventh degree. "When spread out over seven generations and linked to the notion of incest, the field of consanguinity was literally beyond measure, with so many people excluded from availability that it was impossible to observe the prohibition." So, more often than not, it used as a matter of convenience for every aristocrat seeking to annul his marriage. Most of the material--and of its analysis--are from the point of view of aristocratic and royal men, both because of the dearth of documents and because they were all written by men (the goldmine of Christine de Pisan and her contemporaries wouldn't exist until 300 years after the period under investigation). Duby acknowledges this shortcoming at the outset: "my study of medieval marriage brought me to the frontiers of an unknown realm: the world of women," and he hoped a new generation of scholars would help him in his subsequent investigations. That so little has been published for the nonscholar during the 25 years since Duby published this work testifies to the dearth of material, the difficulties in the exploration of this topic, and the enduring importance of his contribution.

It tells the male side of the story better than the female!

This book is a classic in the field and certainly brings out a lot of issues into the arena of discussion. Duby had a blind spot, however, in that he frequently saw women simply as objects of exchange among men rather than as active participants in and shapers of the concepts of marriage and family that he's describing. Still a fascinating read and probably still essentially correct.


First of all, this is a scholarly book. However, just because it is academic does not mean it is dull. Far from it. Georges Duby was one of the leading historians/social theorists of the 20th century. Most of his career was spent in the south of France but when he was finally lured to Paris, his lectures were so popular that people waited in line to obtain tickets to hear the good professor. Professor Duby's was a long a fruitful career. His concerns were with the economics of the early Middle Ages and the records of the Counts of Guise in northern France. From the patterns of marriage of these ambitious men, Duby found the beginnings of the marriage practices of today. Duby shows how these ambitious men manipulated pedigrees and married and discarded wives in order to increase their wealth and power. Love had nothing to do with it. Like many French histories, this one is not burdened with footnotes. It originated in a series of lectures that Duby gave in this country, which probably accounts for the streamlined presentation of material. I think it is an important book for legal historians, but its value would not be lost on feminists or Francophiles and people who love the Middle Ages.
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