Theory on Citizenship in Late Medieval France: c. 1370 – c. 1400

Theory on Citizenship in Late Medieval France: c. 1370 – c. 1400

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Theory on Citizenship in Late Medieval France: c. 1400

By Guy Lurie

Tel Aviv University: Law and History Working Papers (2011)

Introduction: Jacques Krynen describes in his magisterial study of political theory in late medieval France how in the 1370s two factions connected to the court of Charles V (r. 1364-1380) discussed the nature of the king’s political authority. On the one hand jurists wrote of the supreme rule of the king, who was “subject to no law.” They used Roman law sources and precepts. On the other hand scholars from the university who adopted Aristotle’s intellectual teachings criticized these jurists. France was a monarchy, they argued, but in the Aristotelian sense. Such a monarchy was based on justice, on the participation of free and equal citizens, and was ruled for the common good.

Scholars such as Nicole Oresme and Pierre d’Ailly held the jurists in contempt and exhibited an open animosity toward them. They believed that the jurists promoted only the positive laws of the monarchy, rather than the higher laws of the Aristotelian polity. One of these jurists was Evrart de Trémaugon. Charles V not only employed Trémaugon, but also had him redact in 1374 the constitutional ordinance fixing the age of majority of kings to fourteen. Indeed, in the ordinance, the king used as justification the Roman law principle that he is not bound by the laws. But this narrative on the straightforward quarrel and animosity presents a puzzle. Nicole Oresme was perhaps one of the most important Aristotelian scholars in the quarrel. And yet, in 1372 Charles V commissioned Oresme to translate into French Aristotle’s Politics, in which he expressed many of his Aristotelian views. Why would Charles V sponsor at the same time two opposing men promoting two opposing political ideologies? Why would Charles V wish to actively associate himself with both of these opposing views?

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