Rebels in the 13th century

We know how successful the Captians were throughout the XIIIe century, acquire a reputation for holiness and use it to make the royal function sacred. But this historiography rarely intersects with that of feminine spirituality, which then experiences a parenthesis of freedom.

Since his 2002 thesis on Isabella of France (1225-1270), on Louis IX (1214-1270) and founder of the monastery of the Franciscan sisters of Longchamp, Sean L. Field never ceased to study the “holy women” of XIIIe century. The book Court saint whose editions of theEHESS offer us an elegant translation (entrusted to another eminent specialist in female religious life in the Middle Ages, Jacques Dalarun) is therefore the culmination of numerous rudimentary studies. From these, he preserved the results without necessarily repeating the details, so that his work has the clarity and sharpness of someone who, with great erudition and perfect mastery of his subject, no longer needs to flaunt it. and can now go to the results and propose a reading that gives meaning to its subject.

Holy women: six files in the form of true stories

In this case, Sean Field wanted to cross two historiographies which have little dialogue with each other, that of the political history of the Captian kings of France of the XIIIe century and that of mulieres sanctae of all types, increasingly visible in this same century. He thus supports the idea that holy women, starting with Isabella of France, had a major and little-known role in building the reputation of holiness of the Captian line before this same power came, from the reign of Philip III (1270-1285) and especially Philip IV le Bel (1285-1314), be wary of them and then fight them. S. Field thus leads his reader with great clarity through the political history of XIIIe Captian century by showing the place of these women and especially the reactions (sometimes contrasts) of the men of power at each significant stage of its history.

The reader will thus be able to follow step by step the story that the author offers throughout the work. But other readings are also possible. The argument is essentially based on six female figures (Isabelle de France, Douceline de Digne, Lisabeth de Spalbeek, Paupertas de Metz, Margueronne de Bellevilette and Marguerite Porete): although the same figure appears in different chapters throughout the medieval rewritings of his life, the author gives enough elements for us to be interested in each of them separately.

We can also be sensitive to the historiographical reflection that runs through the work. This is in fact based on a series of files in which the author follows in detail a specific document (including archival documents where historians often stop at narrative sources) of which he offers a critical analysis, which is an opportunity to question the possibilities of history and in particular on the work of medieval chroniclers and hagiographers. In a way that would seem almost naive if it were not so visibly thought out and the evidence anchored in current political reflections around fake news S. Field affirms the truth from the historical statement: It is, I hope, despite the inevitable imperfections, a true story, in the sense that it is based on the most irrefutable evidence that can be produced. (p. 27). The establishment of these evidence (a word which is reminiscent of the vocabulary of methodical history) leads to constructive criticism of the work of chroniclers and hagiographers of whom S. Field regularly wonders if they have invent their words.

The truth in question

The fact that it is sometimes possible to cross several types of sources as well as the survival of a court archive which attests that Charles of Anjou appointed an officer to Marseille at the request of his like Douceline de Digne allows us to examine more closely the work of these medieval writers and to conclude that, if they manipulate the facts in the service of a precise objective (to ignore the tensions between Isabella of France and the ecclesiastical authorities, for Agns dHarcourt; show that Douceline was clairvoyant, for Felipa de Piglet; erase the accusations which could blacken the Captians, for the chroniclers of Saint-Denis), if they embroider around juicy stories, if they allow themselves to be influenced by all kinds of prejudices and stereotypes, they do not show no particular propensity to invent stories from scratch (p. 193). From then on, the task of the current historian is to sorting out facts from nonsense (p. 193) and elucidate writing strategies in order to establish these evidence what are the different chapters of the book around different cases.

S. Field thus seems to be part of the continuity of Carlo Ginzburg. However, he does not cite the Italian thinker but one of his opponents, holding linguistic turn, Hayden White. Because if he hopes that his story is trueS. Field clarifies his point: But it is certainly only one of the many true stories that could be written from this corpus. () Another historian would have told another story, proposed a different plot and made his own choices on the facts to be retained and the way of relating them (pp. 27-28). And since it invites, in this perspective, continue the dialogue (p. 28), let us say in conclusion that one of the interests of this work is to make very accessible material from the “proofs”? which allows this dialogue. The plot he proposes does not seem indisputable: it is ultimately based on only a handful of examples and one could easily retort that ultimately the moment when the Captians used feminine sainthood was very short and that, from 1270, the Captian sovereigns made much more effort and obtained much greater results to promote the sainthood of Louis IX then that of Louis of Anjou (or of Toulouse), obtained in 1297 and 1317, which they did not demonstrate to support the canonizations of Isabella of France (bathified in 1521) or of Douceline de Digne.

From holiness to marginalization

On the other hand, why not propose another meaning to the story, that of a empowerment feminine (which contemporaries would certainly not have called or lived as such), a time tolerated or even exploited, but which ended up worrying the ecclesiastical and then political authorities to the point of leading to the coercive measures that we know? Indeed, Isabelle of France appears as a female mistress who refuses the prestigious marriages offered to her, an equal dialogue with the masters in theology, uses all her connections to extract from the Pope the name for the sisters of Longchamp de minor sisters and finally refuses to enter the monastery she founded, thus maintaining a laconic status which guarantees her greater independence (p. 73). Douceline did not have the same social capital but her reputation for holiness as well as her hard-proven mystical ecstasies allowed her to integrate the spiritual family of Charles of Anjou by becoming his co-mother (in this case the godmother of one of his daughters) and, from there, to acquire a ability to act politically, by influencing the king and obtaining appointments in the county of Provence.

The visions of Elizabeth de Spalbeek (a holy woman from the diocese of Liges made famous in the 1260s for her prophecies and because she bore stigmata, authenticated by a Cistercian abbot) were clearly exploited by men as a means of political action, this which supposed recognizing the authority of such a person. Paupertas de Metz, even less known, was clearly able for a time to use its reputation for holiness to play the role of mediator between the army of Philip the Fair and that of the Flemings. Finally, Marguerite Porete is described as a woman who possessed intellectual mastery, a bguine clergy (p. 285), a rebellious (p. 258).

And one could argue that it is precisely this elevation of feminine status through the reputation of holiness or through knowledge and this quest for independence (His “heresy”, says S. Field of Marguerite Porete, consisted in the refusal to obey ecclesiastical authority., p. 256) which first provoked reluctance then condemnations, which sometimes led to the burning then the ecclesiastical condemnation of the beguines at the Council of Vienna in 1311. It is this significant title that two of these women were qualified as pseudo mulier (fake woman): leaving the framework of expected submission, they change gender, so to speak, a fluidity that is possible in certain monastic cases, but scandalous when the woman remains in the lay world. This is one of the avenues on which this work provides solid scientific and scholarly support.