HomeLa cour se met au vert. Mises en valeur et usages politiques des campagnes entre Moyen Âge et pré-modernité

HomeLa cour se met au vert. Mises en valeur et usages politiques des campagnes entre Moyen Âge et pré-modernité

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

The Court escapes from Town. The countryside as political asset from the Middle Ages to the early Modern Period

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Published on Monday, January 03, 2022 by Céline Guilleux

Summary

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.

Announcement

Lille 15-16-17 September 2022, IRHiS (UMR 8529)

Argument

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 a blind spot in research: 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–there are very few studies on how courts related to 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 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.

Submission guidelines

Communication proposals, written in French or English of approximatively half page should be sent by email to the organisers,

  • Elodie Lecuppre-Desjardin (U Lille, IRHiS, IUF) elodie.lecuppre@univ-lille.fr
  • Mathieu Vivas (U Lille, IRHiS, IUF) mathieu.vivas@univ-lille.fr
  • François Duceppe-Lamarre (IRHiS) François.duceppe-lamarre@univ-lille.fr

before 1st February2022.

Scientific Committee

  • Elodie Lecuppre-Desjardin (ULille, IHIS, IUF),
  • Mathieu Vivas (ULille, IRHiS, IUF),
  • François Duceppe-Lamarre (IRHiS),
  • Thomas Byhet (DRAC, Hauts-de-France, SRA, IRHiS),
  • Marjorie Meiss (ULille, IRHiS),
  • Bertrand Schnerb (ULille, IRHiS).

Places

  • Université de Lille, site du Pont de Bois
    Villeneuve-d'Ascq, France (59)
  • Abbaye de Notre-Dame de Vaucelles
    Les Rues-des-Vignes, France (59)

Event format

Hybrid event (on site and online)


Date(s)

  • Tuesday, February 01, 2022

Keywords

  • cour, campagne, Moyen Âge, résidence, parc, jardin, diplomatie, innovation, pouvoir

Contact(s)

  • Elodie Lecuppre-Desjardin
    courriel : elodie [dot] lecuppre [at] univ-lille [dot] fr
  • Mathieu Vivas
    courriel : mathieu [dot] vivas [at] univ-lille [dot] fr

Information source

  • Élodie Lecuppre-Desjardins
    courriel : elodie [dot] lecuppre [at] univ-lille [dot] fr

To cite this announcement

« La cour se met au vert. Mises en valeur et usages politiques des campagnes entre Moyen Âge et pré-modernité », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Monday, January 03, 2022, https://calenda.org/947802

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