Power and Border Lordship in Medieval France
(The County of the Perche, 1000-1226)

This is a book review which appeared in 2003.

....... This book by Kathleen Thompson is a fairly circumscribed study of a rather small county and its ruling dynasty, nor does it break new ground,
yet it is important for all historians interested in northern French and Anglo-Norman politics and power, and Orderic Vitalis in particular,
since many of the actors and institutions that appear in his Ecclesiastical History are central to Thompson's story. Lying between
Normandy, France, Maine, Anjou, and Blois/Chartres, the county of Perche continued no early medieval administrative unit. Rather,
it was agglomerated piecemeal beween the tenth and twelfth centuries through the union of three elements: Nogent-le-Rotrou, Mortagne,
and Bellême. André Chédeville thought that the family's power originated at Nogent in a delegation by the counts of Chartres, intended
to stabilize their forested frontier against the Normans. However, Thompson speculates that the family had long been established in the
area, one of those nearly invisible local families of power that seem to be the dark matter stabilizing localities in thc ninth and tent
centuries, and that it was later drawn into the orbit of the counts of Blois/Chartres. In any case, Geoffrey (fl. 1031), the first member of the
dynasty we know anything about, was Viscount of Châteaudun as well as lord of Nogent. His son, Rotrou I (ca. 1040-ca. 1066) gained
Mortagne and with it the title of Count. Equally important, he backed a winner by siding with William the Conqueror against Robert Curthose
and Robert of Bellême. Châteaudun and Nogent/Mortagne were divided between Rotrou's sons, Hugh and Geoffrey ll, his diminished
circumstances moving Geoffrey further into the Norman orbit (and into fiercer conflict with Robert of Bellême).

Geoffreys son, Rotrou ll (1099-1144), became one of the great figures of the age, a renowned crusader and a leader of the Frankish contingent in
the Reconquista. He also backed a winner by siding early on with King Henry I, who rewarded him with control of Bellême and a marriage to his
own daughter Matilda. Rotrou Ill (1144-1191) skillfully balanced obligations and opportunities between Louis VII and King Henry II, ending up not
only with English manors but with King Richard Il's niece as his wife. Geoffrey Ill (1191-1202) had a harder time maintaining this balance, given
the pressure John and Philip ll placed on the Anglo-Norman nobility, but remarkably he succeeded, simply because his family's prominence on
both sides of the channel made him and his brother valuable mediators. But Geoffrey III died just as King John's position was collapsing. His widow
suffered John's rapaciousness, paying 2,000 marks in 1207 for her English lands and custody of her minor son, Thomas. in the end, John still
confiscated Thomas's lands after her death in 1210. Thomas died in England, in 1217, during Louis Vlll's invasion.

This is a fascinating story, made more so by passing details revealing the counts' characters: Geoffrey lll's failed efforts to live up to his
grandfathers heroic standards (Roger of Howden singling him out for cowardice); the desperate efforts of Geoffrey's widow, Matilda, to protect
her son's inheritance and pay off her husband`s crusading debts; her son's heroism in trying to recover that inheritance. Thompson is too cautious
to bring out such color, but it is still there, lurking, as are significant aspects of aristocratic society. One learns much about women: the importance of
wives in shaping ecclesiastical patronage, their importance in marriage alliances. their difliculties during minorities. The power of crusading as an
ideal of what nobles should do also comes through, as does the expectation of living up to a great forefather's exploits. However, what Thompson
herself places in the forefront is a bare-bones skeleton of facts. such as they can be known, and findings that reiterate already well-known aspects of
the French aristocracy (indeed, it sometimes seems as though her findings are tailored to illustrating what we already know): for example, the growing
specialization of comital administration in the later twelfth century; the growing debt of the aristocracy in the same period; the increasing dependence
on kings for patronage, money, and political opportunities; and the leverage kings gained as a result. We learn how the counts protected their English
and Norman interests by dividing them between brothers. We see how densely interwoven by marriage and kinship local aristocracies were, and how
ecclesiastical prelates used their influence to protect their secular kin.

Most of all, we find an excellent case study of the way lesser noble families in a region interstitial to coalescing principalities worked with and against
each to create an advantage for themselves, the way such local rivalries ultimately brought them all into the orbits of the territorial princes, and the
way the princes needed these families as much as they were needed by them.

Geoffrey Koziol.
University of Caiifornia.

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