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v2.1 Reference

Aristocratic Life in Medieval France

The Romances of Jean Renart and Gerbert de Montreuil, 1190-1230

Modern historians have generally approached the study of medieval society through chronicles, charters, and other documents composed in Latin by members of the clergy. Although these records may be satisfactory for studying the affairs of ecclesiastics, kings, and high barons, they are inadequate for assessing the major preoccupations of the aristocracy—living extravagantly, fighting, making love, entertaining, eating and dressing ostentatiously, and, generally, earning the disapproval of the clergy. In Aristocratic Life in Medieval France, the respected medieval scholar John Baldwin undertakes a study of this segment of society using, for the first time in nearly a century, the vernacular romances written exclusively for the amusement of aristocratic audiences.

Rather than attempting to encompass all of Middle Age Europe, this study selects two writers, Jean Renart and Gerbert de Montreuil, and their four romances. It focuses with depth and specificity on the discrete area of northern France during a precise period, 1190–1230. Since Jean and Gerbert framed their fictional stories with contemporary and realistic features that could be recognized by their audiences, their works provide a wealth of detail on aristocratic living. Employing such literary techniques as "reality effects" and "horizons of expectations," Baldwin successfully discerns the historical content in these romance narratives.

About the Author

John W. Baldwin is the Charles Homer Haskins Professor of History at the Johns Hopkins University, where he has taught medieval history and culture since 1961. His books include The Government of Philip Augustus: Foundations of French Royal Power in the Middle Ages and The Language of Sex: Five Voices from Northern France around 1200. In 2002, he was awarded the Legion of Honor by the French government.


A rich field for the discussion of upper-class ideals.

- D.D.R. Owen - Times Literary Supplement

Baldwin, a noted medieval historian, makes a strong case by showing the relevance of the romances to understanding aristocratic life. As a result he brings to life the cherished aristocratic values of arms and romantic love.

- Francis X. Hartigan - History: Reviews of New Books

Baldwin is without doubt one of the leading historians of medieval France: he knows the period and place about which he writes intimately. He has written a thorough, informative book that clearly presents scholarship from historical and literary fields to a broad audience.

- Edna Yahil - Comitatus

Baldwin's basic purpose is to examine aristocratic life and culture as portrayed in four early-13th-century romances. Jean Renart and Gerbert de Montreuil each authored two works that Baldwin examines in depth and with sensitivity to literary and artistic as well as historical themes... his judgments are solid, his learning extensive.

- Choice

For having patiently and intriguingly reconstructed many important aspects of one slice of medieval life all friends and scholars of the Middle Ages owe Professor Baldwin a considerable debt.

- Hans R. Runte - Dalhousie French Studies

Professor Baldwin's microscopic examination of the romances provides a refreshingly alternative set of voices to the clerical, Latin sources from which the history of medieval France in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries has largely been written... His commanding knowledge of the full range of written sources for the period will make this work a starting point for future historical discussion of noble concerns in the opening decades of the thirteenth century.

- D. J. Power - English Historical Review

The author investigates the romances of two minor trouvères, Jean Renart and Gerbert de Montreuil, in order to explore the lives and habits of French nobles... The thoroughness and completeness with which Baldwin engages those works of fiction to tell him what their audience was doing, indeed thinking, is quite remarkable.

- Madelyn B. Dick - Canadian Journal of History

This is an important and thoughtful work from a scholar steeped in his sources, and it adds new depths to our appreciation of medieval society.

- W. Scott Jessee - American Historical Review

Scholars of both literature and history will appreciate Baldwin's study—and will be inspired to read historical documents and literary works from a new perspective.

- Kristin L. Burr - French Review
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