HomeThe court escapes the city.The countryside as political asset from the Middle Ages to the early modern period

HomeThe court escapes the city.The countryside as political asset from the Middle Ages to the early modern period

The court escapes the city.The countryside as political asset from the Middle Ages to the early modern period

La cour se met au vert. Mises en valeur et usages politiques des campagnes entre Moyen Âge et Pré-Modernité

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Published on Friday, July 22, 2022


The idea of heading off to the countryside is associated nowadays with a wish to get away from a stressful, noisy, and at times oppressive and foul-smelling urban environment, to rest in peace and quiet, in healthy surroundings, in close contact with the bounties of the natural world and animals in their “natural” habitat. Far from any anachronistic intent, applying this expression to court studies is a call to scholars to adopt interdisciplinary approaches to examine the many ways in which aristocratic circles related to and interacted with their rural environment.



The idea of heading off to the countryside is associated nowadays with a wish to get away from a stressful, noisy, and at times oppressive and foul-smelling urban environment, to rest in peace and quiet, in healthy surroundings, in close contact with the bounties of the natural world and animals in their “natural” habitat. Far from any anachronistic intent, applying this expression to court studies is a call to scholars to adopt interdisciplinary approaches to examine the many ways in which aristocratic circles related to and interacted with their rural environment.

The idea behind this conference issues from the desire to synthesize scattered information that we wish to re-examine with the help of interdisciplinarity : although environmental and ecological questions are currently under scrutiny in the humanities and social sciences–to the point that the environmental humanities are an emergent research field– we wish to connect them with the history of courts and their integration into natural milieus from the late Middle Ages through to the beginning of the early modern period.

A rapid literature review shows that research into European court societies has explored very many different subjects, including studies of individuals, representations, practices, and even castles as spaces for living; but for the moment, scholarship has often neglected the environment. Courts nevertheless altered their environment, as exemplified by the hunting activities associated with the aristocratic ideal, by animal rearing, and by the many human- animal interactions characteristic of gardens and open-air entertainments. For researchers in diverse fields, issues relating to supplying the many buildings with raw materials is illustrative of how men both adapted to and transformed nature. While the court’s presence in the countryside varied from one region to another in Europe, where urbanisation levels likewise varied, ways of relating to the rural environment offer many lessons relating to the strictly material aspects of appropriating and taming the natural world, seen as less and less hostile, as well as to more cultural aspects of scientific knowledge about the countryside and its political usages.

As an initial approach to a vast topic, and taking care not to separate nature from culture, this conference invites participants to apprehend the motivations of micro-societies “heading off to the countryside”. This entails gauging, both spatially and chronologically, the impact aristocratic activities had on the environment, and so tackling the themes of innovations, adaptations, techniques, and logistical, economic, and financial means, while also addressing the environment via the issue of power and its representations.

When a court goes to the countryside, it may travel a certain distance, of varying length, or move around from one spot to another, yet the itinerant group never relinquishes its codes or its rites. This gives rise to a series of questions. When the court changes air and scenery, does it thereby change its practices and habits? In concrete terms, is daily life transformed in terms of food, entertainment, dress, and so on? For aristocrats wielding authority and power, does heading off for pastures new mean a break from administering and managing the land and men who live there? Is the aristocratic milieu, by its creation and way of using nature, solely a disruptive agent on ecosystems marginal to the farming system? And how did the relationship evolve from the end of the Middle Ages through to the early modern period?

There is a host of questions, and this conference will tackle them through overviews relating to various regions, localities, princes, chronologies, and so on, as well as by detecting emerging trends, evolutions, and hence innovations. It also calls for a high degree of interdisciplinarity since it will be attended by scholars working in the fields of history, the history of art, literature, and the archaeological sciences.

It has been decided to focus on three main areas:

  • Area 1: Fields, gardens, and animals: contriving courtly landscapes
  • Area 2. The impact of technical innovation on country life
  • Area 3. Green: the colour of power

Area 1: Fields, gardens, and animals: contriving courtly landscapes

This first area of study questions various aspects of the rural environment where the court established itself on leaving town. If the idea of “heading off to the countryside” expresses a wish to escape from an urban world and avoid places that are saturated, this raises the question of the landscapes sought by the court world, as well as their transformations and representations. Three lines of enquiry may be adopted here:- That of rural landscapes, far from the castle of residence, maintained as part of routine estate management, such as forests, running and still water, unfarmed areas, and so on. This raises the issue of their environmental footprint. This also concerns pastures and the land needed to make hay for horses, together with wild animals in captivity or semi-freedom and game parks.- That of landscapes created for the purposes of court leisure and of aristocratic sociability. This led to the development of ars topiaria (topiary art) producing harmonious natural and/or organised landscapes (ornamental gardens, mazes, watercourses, grottos, etc.) where allegorical and cultural works were placed on display (statues, heraldic elements, etc.). Here, the selection of plants was important (flowers, shrubs, fruit trees), and the choice of plants together with their layouts and flowering/germination rhythms may be studied today using economic and didactic sources, images, and material remains (seeds and pollen, etc.).- That of how court people related to animals, both birds and furred animals. Hunting (horse paths, calendars, wild animals, etc.), aviaries, and other sorts of menageries bring to light an entire dialectic relating to material facilities, treatment, and care. Pleasures of the table may

also be included in this theme: even when in the countryside, the court was fond of banquets and dishes for which animals were used in various ways. Attention thus needs to be paid to grazing, animal rearing, pisciculture, seignorial levies, and utilitarian hunts to understand the functioning and impacts of mediaeval ecosystems.

Area 2: The impact of technical innovation on country life

This is a matter of examining the technicality and novelty of court buildings and facilities in the countryside. The purpose is to understand, for example, how the court’s desires for esbattemens were satisfied in the countryside. Specific facilities were required for hunts, dances, tournaments, jeu de paume, opulent receptions, and automata displays, or quite simply for restful repose. As buildings were erected and adapted, the interiors and exteriors of elite country residences became the site of technical experimentation, be it in stone, metal, wood, glass, or terracotta.

Building and decorating private and state reception rooms required a combination of luxury and technical address in the figurative arts, furniture, sculpture, chimney places, window frames, door frames, and so on. Residences for relaxation were also affected by the wave of clock making, meaning they were never outside time. Gayoles and mesnageries also gave court sites a natural and somewhat marvellous aspect. Their building and maintenance, together with the offices created to look after them, transpire in archival sources (letters, accounts, etc.). This textual documentation and images also throw light on the surprising constructions associated with pleasures at the court’s getaway: “palafittes”, various types of gallery, some of which were movable, heron nesting facilities, two-storey garde-robes, equipment to lift barrels of wine, and so on and so forth.

Examining a court’s capacity to innovate also encompasses studying the know-how of craftsmen, artists, and experienced workers, as well as exploring financial and natural resources. In addition to analysing building and other types of construction work, one may also enquire into how the landscape and locality was adapted and used. This raises many questions relating to microtopography, the supply of water and raw material, together with the growing of plants for food and decorations. It is an entire ecosystem which needs exploring, both in the manipulation of domesticated plants (their introduction, selection, grafting, propagation by layering, etc.) as well as of less tamed natural elements.

But the study of new techniques should not conceal the many constraints issuing from court preoccupations concerning residence, defence, and appearance. While the desire for comfort may be seen in the many adaptations relating to heating, for instance, daily and seasonal experience ran up against recurrent limits. The same applies to the centuries when plague epidemics or wars hampered court society’s desire to get away from cities, but to what extent and in what ways?

Area 3: Green: the colour of power

From the great tournaments of the twelfth century, held in various woods in which the best knights of the period participated to practice and attract attention, to the flamboyant luxury on display at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520, political and diplomatic acts did not fail to take advantage of a “less official” setting in order to bring major projects to fruition. There is nothing surprising about the fact that forests, ornamental gardens, and game parks could become the place for important negotiations when the powerful met. And yet the rare mentions of these summits and secret talks are to specify where they were held, and not for the more or less favourable context they provided for the fruitful discussion of plans. In other words, could a successful hunting party help place guests in a propitious frame of mind. Could a country festivity provide an opportunity for relaxation to elicit undertakings and promises? No doubt,

but while studies of food and banquets have, for example, made extensive use of the interaction between reason and the senses, few studies have focused on the places where discussions were held, envisaged for their own specific characteristics, or how a “natural” space may act as a vector of influence within the ritual interplay of civilities. Yet there is no shortage of such mentions, which may be examined for what they can tell us about these exchanges, and not solely for their geographical bearings.

Additionally, within the art of spectacle, which is also that of power, staging the natural space in situ, or via the filter of the enduring memories provided by literature and images, paves the way to examining the behaviours, symbolic communication, and rituals fuelling political rivalry and forging reputations. Appearance is of course displaying a rank, a dignity, a superiority, be it quantitative, qualitative, or ethical. Codes existed and were perfectly known, but was the potency of ritual also rooted in its being equivocal? In this case, could “nature” also be a place for partially ignoring codes, for changes of tone? A place whose ambiguous signs and untamed elements brought to mind Arthurian legends of “hunting the white stag” and encounters with beings from the “fairy world”? A place where anything was possible, be it political pressure or games of seduction–such as in 1515 when Henry VIII, surrounded by “Robin Hood’s men” near Greenwich forest, asked the Queen and her ladies if they would follow him into the heart of the woods where the outlaw’s hideout lay? Such cultural anthropology interpretations provide a final observation point for this conference about a space apprehended in its most concrete material forms, as well as its most disparate symbolic dimensions.



Jeudi 15 septembre 2022

Villeneuve d’Ascq

13h30  Accueil

13h45  Mot d’accueil Charles MÉRIAUX, IRHiS, ULille

14h00  Introduction

  • Mathieu VIVAS, IRHiS, ULille
  • François DUCEPPE-LAMARRE, affilié IRHiS

14h30 Champs, jardins et animaux : Les paysages de l’artifice curial

Président de séance Adrien BAYARD CREHS, UArtois

  • Marie CASSET, UBretagne-Sud Lorient, Les élites de la France de l’Ouest « au vert, dans les vergers »
  • Jérôme BURIDANT et al, UPicardie Jules Verne, Le domaine de Villers-Cotterêt, structuration d’un espace de chasse (xiiie-xvie s.)
  • Gilles DOCQUIER, Musée de Mariemont, Pour le singulier plaisir et délectation de la reine Marie. Les résidences de Binche et Mariemont de Marie de Hongrie au milieu du xvie siècle
  • 15h45 Discussion

16h15 Pause

16h45 Président de séance Étienne HAMON, IRHiS, ULille

  • Auderic MARET, EHESS, René d’Anjou et sa cour au château de Gardanne dans les années 1470 : entre lieu de villégiature et lieu de retraite
  • Jean-David DESFORGES, SAI Yveline-Hauts-de-Seine, Nicolas GIRAULT, SRA Île de France Eau quotidienne et « belles eaux », un regard archéologique et historique sur les usages de l’eau dans les campagnes de Saint-Cloud entre le xive et le xviie siècle
  • Claire PICHARD, SRA Hauts-de-France, Jérôme BURIDANT, UPicardie Jules Verne, Des connils à la cour : les garennes royales de Compiègne

18h00 Discussion

18h30 Fin de la première journée du colloque  

Vendredi 16 septembre

8h45  Départ de l’Université de Lille site du Pont-de-Bois

10h15 Accueil

  • Jean-Marie DUHAMEL, Conseil départemental du Nord
  • Alexandre VITEL, Abbaye de Vaucelles

10h30 Le vert : la couleur du pouvoir

Président de séance Thomas BYHET, SRA Hauts-de-France, afilié IRHiS

  • José Éloy HORTAL, Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, Madrid, Designing Courtly Landscape, Engineering Royal Geographies: Court Space and Rural Societies in Western Europe from the Middle Ages to Early Modern Times
  • Paula ALMEIDA, UPorto, « Cours réelles », « cours idéales » : usages politiques et culturels de la campagne au Portugal dans la première modernité
  • Gijs VERSTEEGEN, Universidad Rey Juan Carlos, Madrid, A useful Exercise for Body and Soul: Working in Gardens and on the Countryside in Spanish Modern Treatises

11h45 Discussion

12h15 Déjeuner

14h00 Président de séance Jean-Marie DUHAMEL Conseil départemental du Nord

  • Corinne et Patrice BECK, ArScAn, Nanterre, Quand Marguerite de Flandre et Philippe le Hardi ‘se mettent au vert’ : genres de plaisirs et plaisirs genrés (duché de Bourgogne – seconde moitié du xive siècle)
  • Éloïse ADDE, UCEU, Vienne, Bon chasseur et mauvais roi ? La mise au vert du souverain dans le discours politique en Bohême (fin xiiie-xive s.)
  • Victorien LEMAN, Chercheur indépendant Nature et mimétisme curial : l’exemple de Jean V de Créquy, chambellan du duc de Bourgogne, au milieu du xve siècle


15h45  Pause

16h15 Président de séance Matthieu MARCHAL

  • ALITHILA, ULille,Charlotte GUIOT, UGrenoble Alpes, « La droite flour de la pastourrie ». La cour dans la littérature pastorale
  • Julia ROUMIER, UBordeaux Montaigne, Verdure, nature et pouvoir en Castille au xve siècle
  • Élodie LECUPPRE-DESJARDIN, IRHiS, ULille, Se mettre au vert sans échapper au temps. Le prince, maître des horloges
  • 17h30 Discussion

18h00 Fin de la deuxième journée du colloque

Retour à l’Université de Lille, site du Pont-de-Bois

Samedi 17 septembre 2022

Villeneuve d’Ascq

8h30 Accueil

9h30 La campagne au rythme. Des technicités nouvelles

Président de séance François DUCEPPE-LAMARE affilié IRHiS

  • Nicolas PROUTEAU, UPoitiers, Havre de paix ou palais en miniature ? La Salle-le-Roi à Cayola (Vendée), étude inédite d’un logis et parc de chasse du xiie au xve siècle
  • Jean-Baptiste SANTAMARIA, IRHiS, ULille, Mathieur VIVAS, IRHiS, ULille, Hesdin : un château de campagne ?
  • Marie-Ange CAUSARANO, UPadoue, Du château à la résidence de campagne : nouveaux types de bâtiments seigneuriaux dans la campagne florentine au xive siècle

10h15 Discussion

10h45 Pause

11h15 Président de séance Marjorie MEISS IRHiS, ULille

  • Scott MILLER, MET, New York, Analyse du cycle de la tapisserie de la chasse à la licorne
  • François DUCEPPE-LAMARRE, Affilié IRHiS, Le « quadrilogue inventif» d’une résidence rurale : Hesdin et ses innovations singulières autour de l’animal (xiiie-xve s.)
  • Isabelle PARESYS, IRHiS, ULille, Jérémy CUNDEKOVIC, IRHiS, ULille-CNRS, À la campagne ou en campagne ? Le Camp du drap d’or de 1520
  • 12h30 Discussion

13h00 Fin du colloque


  • Bâtiment A, niveau forum, Salle de séminaire A1.152 - Université de Lille - Site du Pont-de-Bois
    Villeneuve-d'Ascq, France (59)
  • Salle de réunion - Abbaye de Vaucelles
    Les Rues-des-Vignes, France (59)

Event attendance modalities

Full on-site event


  • Thursday, September 15, 2022
  • Friday, September 16, 2022
  • Saturday, September 17, 2022


  • histoire, archéologie, histoire de l'art, la cour, campagne, nature, innovation, moyen âge, pré-modernité


  • Elodie Lecuppre-Desjardin
    courriel : elodie [dot] lecuppre [at] univ-lille [dot] fr
  • Mathieu Vivas
    courriel : mathieu [dot] vivas [at] univ-lille [dot] fr
  • François Duceppe-Lamarre
    courriel : francois [dot] duceppe-lamarre [at] univ-lille [dot] fr

Information source

  • François Duceppe-Lamarre
    courriel : francois [dot] duceppe-lamarre [at] univ-lille [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« The court escapes the city.The countryside as political asset from the Middle Ages to the early modern period », Conference, symposium, Calenda, Published on Friday, July 22, 2022, https://doi.org/10.58079/19aq

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