1. We have added a Gift Upgrades feature that allows you to gift an account upgrade to another member, just in time for the holiday season. You can see the gift option when going to the Account Upgrades screen, or on any user profile screen.
    Dismiss Notice

Were the middle ages more democratic than modern times?

Discussion in 'World History' started by Mouthwash, Nov 20, 2018.

  1. Mouthwash

    Mouthwash Escaped Lunatic

    Joined:
    Sep 26, 2011
    Messages:
    8,884
    Location:
    Hiding
    Found this translation on Twitter of a French book Démocratie: Histoire politique d’un mot aux États-Unis et en France (he says his translation is 'poor', so anything objectionable might not be the author's fault).






    Would like some input from historians here, especially @Traitorfish, @Owen Glyndwr, and @Dachs.
     
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2018
  2. Owen Glyndwr

    Owen Glyndwr La Femme Moderne

    Joined:
    Jun 9, 2008
    Messages:
    15,586
    Location:
    Chicago, IL
    Any chance you can dig up the original French? I'd rather withhold judgment before seeing the original of a text whose translation you freely admit is "poor".

    Just as a quick point of emphasis: towns operated in different ways at different times in different places. Generally speaking I don't think it's helpful to discuss Medieval and Renaissance towns as a singular unit, nor to discuss an abstracted ideal of a Medieval/Renaissance town or village representing the whole of Europe.

    Even within the topic of my Thesis research: the social category of "dishonorable" (Unehrlich) operated very differently in the Rhineland vs Swabia/Bavaria/Franconia vs the lower Elbe/Oder vs the Low Countries, to say nothing of how it might have operated in other regions with different juridical histories which I haven't examined nearly as closely, i.e. in the various regions of France or England (or Italy or Spain). And even in the narrow region which I examined (mostly Swabia, Bavaria, and the upper Rhineland), my research mostly focused on how the political and geographic context in the late-15th and early-16th centuries changed the social realities in those regions.

    Also also, of course, at least in the parts and eras of German History which I have studied, the notion of characterizing the Rat as a benign, broad-sweeping (or even narrowly applied) democratic system is a fairly laughable one.
     
    Last edited: Nov 20, 2018
    altayrneto likes this.
  3. Sickening

    Sickening Chieftain

    Joined:
    Sep 21, 2015
    Messages:
    52
    No, the status of women as human being was basically still non existent during middle ages.
     
  4. innonimatu

    innonimatu Warlord

    Joined:
    Dec 4, 2006
    Messages:
    11,026
    Eleanor of Aquitaine might have a few things to say about that.
     
  5. Valka D'Ur

    Valka D'Ur Hosting Iron Pen in A&E Retired Moderator

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2005
    Messages:
    22,095
    Gender:
    Female
    Location:
    Red Deer, Alberta, Canada
    Eleanor of Aquitaine wasn't a commoner, though, was she.
     
  6. innonimatu

    innonimatu Warlord

    Joined:
    Dec 4, 2006
    Messages:
    11,026
    I'm not partial to nobility, but they were human. :lol:

    The problem with giving you commoners as examples is that, one, their stories were seldom recorded, and two, you won't have heard of them and won't value that evidence. I could give you a a Jeanne d'Arc, she was born a commoner and got famous trashing a lot of people as much as man of the time, but you'd discount that also? I could give you instead a Brites de Almeida, but you'll ask who the hell was she. I could give you any one of numerous women or records of sales contracts and inheritances, but again who would those be? At least in the Iberian Peninsula women had equal rights concerting inheritance and contracts. They could join some corporations and and rise from apprentices to masters. Men usually had more exclusive professions but women also had some, and many accepted both.
    Medieval history is so misrepresented... Europe was large and diverse, women might have very low status in some regions but that was not at all usual. The church was, and remains, the one big thing where women very much were locked in a lower status. There could be masters, duchesses or ruling queens, but there could not be bishops or popes.
     
  7. Valka D'Ur

    Valka D'Ur Hosting Iron Pen in A&E Retired Moderator

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2005
    Messages:
    22,095
    Gender:
    Female
    Location:
    Red Deer, Alberta, Canada
    I do know who Jeanne d'Arc was, thankyouverymuch. I'm also aware that she was burned at the stake and one of the "crimes" she was accused of was wearing men's clothes.

    Somehow that doesn't sound very democratic.

    And fine: Who the hell was Brites de Almeida? Never heard of her.
     
  8. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

    Joined:
    Nov 14, 2003
    Messages:
    16,810
    Location:
    Somerset
    It may be misogynistic to regard the wearing of men's clothes by a woman as a crime, but I don't see what makes it undemocratic, unless you have evidence that most people thought it should be allowed and their opinion was overridden by unelected autocrats.
     
  9. innonimatu

    innonimatu Warlord

    Joined:
    Dec 4, 2006
    Messages:
    11,026
    A plebian woman who got a place in medieval chronicles for dispatching invading soldiers, together with a fearsome reputation. That one managed her own business for sure! The wider context was what I will call an early nationalist rebellion against a queen (again, a woman inhering a crown and ruling in her own right, Like Isabella in Castile later) who was married to a foreign king and bringing in foreign nobles. The people didn't rebel against having a woman as ruler, they rebelled against her husband. And one of the heroes of the rebellion, the popular hero, was a woman.

    The Middle Ages were a long, long time. A lot happened. And Europe was also big and diverse. That is why these kinds of sweeping questions (were the middle ages more democratic) don't make sense. What middle ages, where? More democratic than what modern age and place?
     
    Owen Glyndwr likes this.
  10. Owen Glyndwr

    Owen Glyndwr La Femme Moderne

    Joined:
    Jun 9, 2008
    Messages:
    15,586
    Location:
    Chicago, IL
    Sickening's comment is, itself, made under an assumption that the experiences of certain groups of élite and wealthy women (viz: excluding dowagers, widows, abbesses and the like) are consistent with all women everywhere at all times. Marriage was a "transaction of property" only among families where exchanges of property, prestige and legitimacy actually had value (i.e. the wealthy and the genteel). For pretty much everyone else, leaving aside stronger social and juridical pressures against who you could marry, marriage and interpersonal relationships between the sexes looked mostly the same as they do today.

    It also ignores that midwifery was a thing, or that nuns and abbesses were a thing, it fails to account for what we know of the Bohemian renaissance/Hussite movement or the Spiritualist movement in Germany or the alumbrados in Spain. Women were a genuine force in the Medieval world, and to write the whole period and the whole gender off as "seen as inhuman" is to do both a) a disservice to the legacy of the very real women who lived and died and loved and lead powerful, interesting lives, and b) a disservice to yourself for failing to learn about them.
     
    Traitorfish and Mouthwash like this.
  11. Valka D'Ur

    Valka D'Ur Hosting Iron Pen in A&E Retired Moderator

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2005
    Messages:
    22,095
    Gender:
    Female
    Location:
    Red Deer, Alberta, Canada
    Thank you for this TIL moment. I'm not up on Spanish history.

    Yes, I know the Middle Ages lasted a long time, and conditions and laws were not the same everywhere.

    My point was basically that Eleanor of Aquitaine had more power than the average commoner woman simply because she was a queen.

    Odd how things come and go in the world, over the centuries. One of the reasons I regard voting as a duty is because there was a time in my province and country when women were not allowed to vote, not allowed to sign contracts in their own right, and were not even considered legal persons.

    I can't fathom why any woman would not exercise her right to vote if she has it, and leave it to mostly-male politicians to create legislation that can have such profound effects on women's issues.
     
  12. Traitorfish

    Traitorfish The Tighnahulish Kid

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2005
    Messages:
    31,717
    Location:
    Scotland
    "More or less democratic" may not be the right sort of phrasing, here, at least not without some qualification. The peasant communes of the Medieval period weren't necessarily understood a s a union of households rather than individuals, and represented shared interest rather than a claim to sovereignty. They were understood as a corporate bodies of stake-holders in a particular set of resources (land, forest, the community itself) rather than as a "people" in the sense we'd typically understand it today, which itself tends to emerge as a companion and mirror to the centralised state. (No Multitude without Leviathan, sort of thing.) An argument for proximity to modern democratic systems might be less a matter of Medieval communes anticipating modern notions of popular sovereignty, as modern democratic systems functioning to manage stake-holders.

    The most direct analogy is less to "democracy" in the big, grand, crying-eagles-and-flags sense we're used to, as it is to some combination of municipal government and workers' self-management. On account, I suppose, of that being what these communes were concerned with on a day-to-day level.

    edit: aw jeez that's some mangled sentence-structure in the first paragraph, i hope it still makes sense
     
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2018
    Estebonrober and Ajidica like this.
  13. Sickening

    Sickening Chieftain

    Joined:
    Sep 21, 2015
    Messages:
    52
    Let me ask you though, whether female being was treated as an equal human being in the middle ages such as in this day and age of democracy ? Despite all of the achievements of female leaders, their brilliance would not have been known if not discovered by modern historians. It is also a lie that marriage and interpersonal relations in middle ages is similar as today as the legal system on that era allows witch hunts, marital rape and domestic violence. Not to mention on laws allowing nobles to forced themselves on their subordinates. The full status of women as human being itself in middle ages was practically non existent.

    I'm not erasing on the achievements of the women of the middle ages, I'm only answering the question whether democracy is much better in the middle ages or not. I also aim to emphasize on the struggles that the women of the middle age has to gone through and still achieve their greatness.
     
  14. Mouthwash

    Mouthwash Escaped Lunatic

    Joined:
    Sep 26, 2011
    Messages:
    8,884
    Location:
    Hiding
    Do you think they're a useful model for building some kind of actually representative system?
     
  15. Traitorfish

    Traitorfish The Tighnahulish Kid

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2005
    Messages:
    31,717
    Location:
    Scotland
    Not in any direct way. The peasant communes were something that were developed in and for a particular time and place, they're structured around assumptions about shared political and economic interest that don't really carry over into the modern world. (At the most literal level, they assume that people live in closely clustered little villages with well-defined boundaries, which wasn't true of all European peasant-farmers.) The closest analogy would be some sort of syndicalism, and most syndicalist programs assume more than merely political reform.

    How would modern historians know about them if they weren't recorded in Medieval documents?
     
  16. Sickening

    Sickening Chieftain

    Joined:
    Sep 21, 2015
    Messages:
    52
    Word of mouth, some possible records written on rotting parchments, mostly tucked away or hidden inside an abbey, monastery or libraries. Have you ever heard about Eadgyth, the Anglo-Saxon Queen ?

    https://www.theguardian.com/science/2010/jun/17/archaeology-forensicscience
     
  17. innonimatu

    innonimatu Warlord

    Joined:
    Dec 4, 2006
    Messages:
    11,026
    We had a guy named Salazar who pretended we wanted to do a " new state" inspired on the medieval corporations model. It was a lie, of course, he only wanted a "democratic" fig leaf to maintain his power in an age where rulers cannot just claim divine right or install a long-lasting rule of terror without help. He kept the country backwards as much as possible but still crushed the remaining existing self-governing communities in the name of development: some villages where people still shared land and cattle as a community got flooded under dams, in others local landlords got office as mayors and then used control over the state's police and bureaucracy to outright steal community land (hey, it was "abandoned"!) and lands from small peasants. The co8untry's remaining medieval relics were extinguished same as everywhere else around the world during the 20th century, it was progress.

    Medieval power was not necessarily "feudal" as in french feudalism. But it was very decentralized and overlapping, corporations made sense in that context. In the context of a modern state, with the requirements of modern technology, it would be very hard to decentralize to that extent. I'm all for small sovereign states, technical efficiencies be damned. But there is no going back to the level of decentralization of medieval times. Imho going small is as good as can be done.
     
  18. Traitorfish

    Traitorfish The Tighnahulish Kid

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2005
    Messages:
    31,717
    Location:
    Scotland
    You don't think it would be strange that there would be so many of these forgotten scraps, and that so many of them should concern women?

    I mean, c'mon, dude, the article you link explicitly cites a female author, Hrotsvit of Gandersheim; is in fact the only contemporary chronicler the article's writer feels it is worth identifying by name. I'll grant that evaluating the place of women in the Medieval period has required modern historians to read beyond the literal word of the text, but how can women be so thoroughly absent from those texts if they are sometimes producing them?
     
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2018
  19. Sickening

    Sickening Chieftain

    Joined:
    Sep 21, 2015
    Messages:
    52
    It's not that strange if you just list the amount of attempts to falsify or erase the official historical records regarding powerful women. I mean, historical falsification was a standard move for kings and leaders who wished to gain legitimacy all over Europe and Asia even during renaissance era. Especially kings who would never able to compete with their mother's achievements just like Louis XIII or Emperor Gaozong of Tang who both only able to be half succeed on the attempt.
     
  20. Traitorfish

    Traitorfish The Tighnahulish Kid

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2005
    Messages:
    31,717
    Location:
    Scotland
    Well, nobody's disputing that women are under-represented in historical documents, and it's certainly plausible that this may in some instances have been deliberate falsification. But it doesn't follow from this that women went virtually un-recorded, and what we know about Medieval women has been pieced together entirely from scribbles in margins. Consider, why would unscrupulous rulers need to falsify records of women, if nobody had the intention of recording them in the first place?

    Again, we have texts written by women, and not all of them obscure fragmentary texts known only to scholars: Christine de Pizan's The Book of the City of Ladies completed around 1405, is available as a mass-market paperback from Penguin. As the title suggest, the book is very much about women, and not only di Pisan's contemporaries, but about historical and semi-historical women, further indicating that the records of these women existed for her to draw on. This book is, granted, unusual, which is partly why it is so famous, but the fact it exists isn't compatible with a version of history in which women's experiences in the pre-modern world went completely unexpressed, only pieced together from scraps by modern histories.
     

Share This Page