Blood and Violence in Early Modern France

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The rise of civilized conduct and behaviour has long been seen as one of the major factors in the transformation from medieval to modern society. Thinkers and historians alike argue that violence progressively declined as men learned to control their emotions. The feud is a phenomenon associated with backward societies, and in the West duelling codified behaviour and channelled aggression into ritualised combats that satisfied honour without the shedding of blood. French manners and codes of civility laid the foundations of civilized Western values. But as this original work of archival research shows we continue to romanticize violence in the era of the swashbuckling swordsman. In France, thousands of men died in duels in which the rules of the game were regularly flouted. Many duels were in fact mini-battles and must be seen not as a replacement of the blood feud, but as a continuation of vengeance-taking in a much bloodier form. This book outlines the nature of feuding in France and its intensification in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, civil war and dynastic weakness, and considers the solutions proposed by thinkers from Montaigne to Hobbes. The creation of the largest standing army in Europe since the Romans was one such solution, but the militarization of society, a model adopted throughout Europe, reveals the darker side of the civilizing process.