In addition to celebrating the scholarship of Robert Descimon, this book bears witness to the close interest American historians have taken in the history of early-modern France. Foremost among them is Barbara Diefendorf, its editor, who points out in her preface that Descimon’s scholarly contributions are ‘less known and widely understood than they deserve to be’. This book aims to redress this shortcoming and succeeds brilliantly. It is a tribute, not only to Descimon’s work as an historian, as exemplified by his book Qui étaient les Seize?—an in-depth study of the Parisian League in the reign of Henry III—and as to his methodology, hence the sub-title: ‘the historian’s craft’. As Diefendorf explains, ‘in contrast to many of his peers, who regard archival research as a rite of passage happily abandoned once the first major book is done’, Descimon ‘continues to dig for precious nuggets of information that only the archives can yield up’, notarial contracts being ‘a favoured source’. His work has ‘united social and political history to reveal the interdependence of social values and political change’. The essays that follow this introduction exemplify their distinct voices while illuminating the meeting points with the methods and insights that characterize Descimon’s scholarship. Jonathan Dewald credits him with reviving the practice of social history when it seemed to be in crisis, while Michael Breen argues that understanding the relationship between ‘the law’ and its uses continues to be a key issue confronting historians of early-modern France and sees in Descimon’s work ‘an excellent model for pulling off this delicate balancing act’. Drawing on a study of torture in the Ancien Régime, Sara Beam considers how Descimon’s awareness of the interaction of social and political history applies to an analysis of judicial torture in Bordeaux. She challenges the commonly held assumption that changes in early-modern criminal justice were the result of centrally initiated reforms. One of the more accessible essays in this volume for the non-specialist is that of Mack Holt, who considers the impact of Descimon’s work on his own research into the politics of sixteenth-century Dijon. Descimon, in Holt’s opinion, demonstrates that ‘you cannot really understand urban politics at all unless you are also a cultural and social historian’. Thanks to the survival of the notarial records of Claude Coujard from 1656 to 1665, James Collins has been able to piece together the elaborate ties among the seigneurial officials in and around Alligny-en-Morvan. He describes in detail a tax fraud in 1675 by members of the Quarré family, which reveals ‘the inner tension at the core of the French direct tax system’. Another American historian who is indebted to Descimon is Hilary Bernstein whose essay focuses on the work of Jean Chaunu (1559–1627) an avocat of Bourges who published works on that town’s privileges. The deputies sent by provincial synods of the Reformed churches to the court in 1661–62 are next considered by Philip Benedict who stresses the importance of their role in shaping the strategies of the Protestant cause. This essay is an important addition to our knowledge of the Huguenot movement on the eve of the religious wars. In a concluding essay, Diefendorf applies lessons drawn from Descimon’s work to the problem of poor relief in early-modern Paris. She examines the impact of the Wars of Religion on the system of public assistance, notably the role played by institutions founded in response to the Catholic revival in the 1620s and 1630s. She shows that many of the practices usually assumed to be seventeenth-century innovations have important sixteenth-century precedents. Diefendorf presents a vivid account of the creation by Francis I of the Grand Bureau des Pauvres in 1544 and of the difficulties it encountered in raising funds. The ninth essay by Mark Greengrass, Marco Penzi and Mark Critchlow focuses on a unique history of the League composed in the 1620s whose publication was undertaken in 1914 but never completed. The historian is identified as Pierre Rozée, an avocat in the Parlement whose genealogy has been reconstructed by Descimon. In a final essay, Robert Schneider takes up Descimon’s work on the historian, Jacques-Auguste de Thou, and looks at the careers of his nephews, Pierre and Jacques Dupuy, who presided over a learned community in Richelieu’s Paris. Unusually, for a festschrift, this volume ends with an essay by Robert Descimon himself in which he retraces some stages in his ‘intellectual trajectory’ and offers a typically generous portrait of all those who have accompanied him on this journey. He is especially indebted to Denis Richet who had ‘an incomparable knowledge of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Paris’. An ‘uncompromising professional’ he devoted most sessions of his seminar to a rigorous examination of materials drawn from the archives. This rich volume concludes with a bibliography of Descimon’s numerous publications between 1975 and 2016 that are mostly to be found in French learned journals. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for the Study of French History. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
French History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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