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The Three Orders: Feudal Society Imagined (1978)

by Georges Duby

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265199,035 (3.61)None
"In The Three Orders, George Duby--one of the most influential French historians of his time--examines the origins of an 'imaginary' tripartite division of society in medieval France, a division that endured for a millennium. This construct is the image of a society in which men separate themselves into three hierarchical orders--those who pray, those who fight, and those who work. Duby explains why this schema, supported by the general movement of the economy and the political and cultural organization, became entrenched in the north of France during the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The book begins with a brief examination of a popular early seventh-century treatise on the 'three estates' of France. Duby then jumps abruptly back to the period in which the notion that French society was divided into three estates was born. It was the bishops of a tottering Capetian state who drew upon older imaginings of hierarchical order to project a new rationale for royal power and peasant subservience; their ternary scheme collapsed with the monarchy itself, to be resuscitated in the twelfth century, when the maturing of feudal-vassalic institutions and the conflict between Capetians and Plantagenets contributed to a definitive restoration of monarchical trifunctionality. In tracing the fortunes of the three orders, Duby shows how the tripartite schema came to occupy a central position in social thought and clarifies the manner in which feudal society viewed itself."… (more)
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A fascinating study of the origins of the model of the three orders / estates which later become not only commonplace but structural in both France and England (consider not only the Estates-General in France but the structure of Parliament / Houses of Convocation in England). Duby shows how the emergence of the model is intertwined with the changes in society between the Carolingian state and the later feudalism of the high middle ages. ( )
1 vote jsburbidge | Nov 24, 2017 |
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"In The Three Orders, George Duby--one of the most influential French historians of his time--examines the origins of an 'imaginary' tripartite division of society in medieval France, a division that endured for a millennium. This construct is the image of a society in which men separate themselves into three hierarchical orders--those who pray, those who fight, and those who work. Duby explains why this schema, supported by the general movement of the economy and the political and cultural organization, became entrenched in the north of France during the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The book begins with a brief examination of a popular early seventh-century treatise on the 'three estates' of France. Duby then jumps abruptly back to the period in which the notion that French society was divided into three estates was born. It was the bishops of a tottering Capetian state who drew upon older imaginings of hierarchical order to project a new rationale for royal power and peasant subservience; their ternary scheme collapsed with the monarchy itself, to be resuscitated in the twelfth century, when the maturing of feudal-vassalic institutions and the conflict between Capetians and Plantagenets contributed to a definitive restoration of monarchical trifunctionality. In tracing the fortunes of the three orders, Duby shows how the tripartite schema came to occupy a central position in social thought and clarifies the manner in which feudal society viewed itself."

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Pour se situer eux-mêmes et pour situer les autres dans la complexité des relations sociales, les hommes se réfèrent à des schémas classificatoires simples qui constituent l'armature maîtresse d'une formation idéologique. Ces figures imaginaires s'accordent au concret des rapports de société. Elles tendent évidemment à fixer ceux-ci. Encore doivent-elles s'ajuster à l'inéluctable évolution de ces rapports.
L'une de ces figures a tenu dans l'histoire française un rôle déterminant puisqu'elle a fini par prendre corps dans des institutions et que l'«Ancien Régime» s'est construit sur elle : c'est l'image d'une société où les hommes se répartiraient en trois ordres hiérarchisés, ceux qui prient, ceux qui combattent, ceux qui travaillent. Se gardant bien de l'isoler du système global où il s'insère, Georges Duby s'efforce de comprendre pourquoi le schéma trifonctionnel, porté par le mouvement d'ensemble de l'économie, de l'organisation politique et de la culture, parvint à s'imposer dans le nord de la France durant le XIe et le XIIe siècle. Il fait apparaître ainsi la manière dont la société féodale s'est elle-même pensée.
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