The Axe and the Oath: Ordinary Life in the Middle Ages

Princeton University Press
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In The Axe and the Oath, one of the world's leading medieval historians presents a compelling picture of daily life in the Middle Ages as it was experienced by ordinary people. Writing for general readers, Robert Fossier vividly describes how these vulnerable people confronted life, from birth to death, including childhood, marriage, work, sex, food, illness, religion, and the natural world. While most histories of the period focus on the ideas and actions of the few who wielded power and stress how different medieval people were from us, Fossier concentrates on the other nine-tenths of humanity in the period and concludes that "medieval man is us.?

Drawing on a broad range of evidence, Fossier describes how medieval men and women encountered, coped with, and understood the basic material facts of their lives. We learn how people related to agriculture, animals, the weather, the forest, and the sea; how they used alcohol and drugs; and how they buried their dead. But The Axe and the Oath is about much more than simply the material demands of life. We also learn how ordinary people experienced the social, cultural, intellectual, and spiritual aspects of medieval life, from memory and imagination to writing and the Church. The result is a sweeping new vision of the Middle Ages that will entertain and enlighten readers.

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About the author

Robert Fossier is professor emeritus of medieval history at the Sorbonne. He is the author of many books on medieval history and the editor of The Cambridge History of the Middle Ages.
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Princeton University Press
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Published on
Aug 2, 2010
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History / Europe / Medieval
History / Social History
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Barbara W. Tuchman—the acclaimed author of the Pulitzer Prize–winning classic The Guns of August—once again marshals her gift for character, history, and sparkling prose to compose an astonishing portrait of medieval Europe.
The fourteenth century reflects two contradictory images: on the one hand, a glittering age of crusades, cathedrals, and chivalry; on the other, a world plunged into chaos and spiritual agony. In this revelatory work, Barbara W. Tuchman examines not only the great rhythms of history but the grain and texture of domestic life: what childhood was like; what marriage meant; how money, taxes, and war dominated the lives of serf, noble, and clergy alike. Granting her subjects their loyalties, treacheries, and guilty passions, Tuchman re-creates the lives of proud cardinals, university scholars, grocers and clerks, saints and mystics, lawyers and mercenaries, and, dominating all, the knight—in all his valor and “furious follies,” a “terrible worm in an iron cocoon.”
Praise for A Distant Mirror
“Beautifully written, careful and thorough in its scholarship . . . What Ms. Tuchman does superbly is to tell how it was. . . . No one has ever done this better.”—The New York Review of Books
“A beautiful, extraordinary book . . . Tuchman at the top of her powers . . . She has done nothing finer.”—The Wall Street Journal
“Wise, witty, and wonderful . . . a great book, in a great historical tradition.”—Commentary

NOTE: This edition does not include color images.
A renowned scholar brings to life medieval England’s most celebrated knight, William Marshal—providing an unprecedented and intimate view of this age and the legendary warrior class that shaped it.

Caught on the wrong side of an English civil war and condemned by his father to the gallows at age five, William Marshal defied all odds to become one of England’s most celebrated knights. Thomas Asbridge’s rousing narrative chronicles William’s rise, using his life as a prism to view the origins, experiences, and influence of the knight in British history.

In William’s day, the brutish realities of war and politics collided with romanticized myths about an Arthurian “golden age,” giving rise to a new chivalric ideal. Asbridge details the training rituals, weaponry, and battle tactics of knighthood, and explores the codes of chivalry and courtliness that shaped their daily lives. These skills were essential to survive one of the most turbulent periods in English history—an era of striking transformation, as the West emerged from the Dark Ages.

A leading retainer of five English kings, Marshal served the great figures of this age, from Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine to Richard the Lionheart and his infamous brother John, and was involved in some of the most critical phases of medieval history, from the Magna Carta to the survival of the Angevin/Plantagenet dynasty. Asbridge introduces this storied knight to modern readers and places him firmly in the context of the majesty, passion, and bloody intrigue of the Middle Ages.

The Greatest Knight features 16 pages of black-and-white and color illustrations.

Ce livre n’est pas un travail d’érudition, ni la poursuite d’un thème quelconque, pas davantage un survol de la société médiévale, ni de son économie, ni de son histoire culturelle ou artistique durant un millénaire. Ce n’est que l’histoire de pauvres gens, des gens ordinaires, ceux qui ont pour souci la pluie ou le chien, ce qu’il y a dans leur écuelle et ce qu’a raconté la voisine, le soulier qui vous blesse ou la partie de ballon ; et Dieu, enfin, qui sait et voit tout. On ne rencontrera donc ici ni chevaliers en armes, ni moines en prière, ni officier du roi, ni riche marchand, ni maître des écoles qui ne sont que les écumes du Moyen Age ; mais tous les autres, ceux dont on ne parle jamais parce qu’ils ne parlent pas, mais dont les peines et les joies sont toujours les nôtres.
Ce livre aura atteint son but s’il parvient à jeter bas tous les poncifs, les a priori, les rabâchages et les erreurs dont se charge le mot «moyenâgeux» quand en use le populaire qui ne sait pas, et surtout les puissants, ceux qui dominent le politique, l’économique et l’information, et qui y lisent, dans une ignorance béate et obstinée, tout ce qui relève de l’infamie, de la violence, de l’anarchie ou de l’inculture. Dans un siècle qui est en passe de battre tous les records en ces domaines, peut-être serait-il temps d’approcher le «commun» des temps médiévaux, ces neuf hommes ou femmes sur dix auxquels nous ressemblons tant.

Robert Fossier, archiviste-paléographe, professeur émérite à la Sorbonne (Paris I), est l’auteur d’une quinzaine de livres concernant dans l’ensemble la société médiévale d’Occident et a dirigé un ouvrage collectif en trois volumes, Le Moyen Age (Armand Colin).
Este libro echa abajo los tópicos, ideas preconcebidas y errores en los que se suele caer al pensar en la Edad Media. Lejos del estudio erudito de la sociedad medieval, se economía y su historia cultural o artística, Robert Fossier se centra en la gente común de la época.

El lector no encontrará en Gente de la Edad Media ricos mercaderes, monjes piadosos ni caballeros en armas, galería de personajes trillados y a menudo irreales que solo representan la parte más superficial de los rasgos de la época. La gente común, generalmente tratada como figurante, pasa a ser protagonista central de esta obra.

El autor reconstruye el mundo de la gente vulgar, preocupada por la enfermedad, que el acecha, y la muerte, que le aterra. De esos hombres y mujeres que, como nosotros, viven en familia y en sociedad, se alimentan, se emparientan, aprenden, dudan... Tendemos a asociar el Medievo con una obstinada imagen de violencia, caos e incultura de la que es muy difícil deprenderse. Sin embargo, hoy esas facetas no nos son ajenas, y por eso es un buen momento para aproximarnos a esa gente de la Edad Media, sin duda más cercana a nosotros que los caballeros, los monjes o los señores. Fossier nos deslumbra con su profundo conocimiento de un mundo que nos sigue siendo tan afín y que redescubrimos con este esclarecedor libro.

«A pesar de la convicción que manifiestan casi todos los historiadores medievalistas, estoy convencido de que el hombre medieval somos nosotros.»

La crítica ha dicho...
«Original, crítico y virtuoso. Nada resulta más revelador que tomar lo particular del hombre medieval y ensamblarlo en lo general de la condición humana. Fossier sobresale en eso. Los lectores quedarán deslumbrados ante este conocimiento profundo de un mundo redescubierto y que él nos vuelve tan cercano.»
Marc Riglet, Lire

«Este gran medievalista nos conduce por un viaje formidable. Mostrando más que demostrando, sigue a la gente de la Edad Media en sus preocupaciones cotidianas, resumibles en una palabra: sobrevivir. Un verdadero afán divulgativo, sin academicismos. La humildad del sabio al servicio de la curiosidad.»
Laurent Lemire, Le Nouvel Observateur

«Robert Fossier mantiene un discurso vigoroso, claro y preciso para defender los hechos frente a las especulaciones teóricas. De fuerte temperamento, este astuto medievalista que nunca disolvió lo social en lo cultural es uno de los últimos gigantes de la generación que tomó el relevo de Bloch y Febvre.»
Philippe-Jean Catinchi, Le Monde

«Un ensayo erudito, repleto de detalles desconocidos e información útil sobre el hombre medieval.»
Jacques de Saint Victor, Le Figaro

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