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Response to Review no. 511

I wish to thank the reviewer for her generous and thoughtful review of my book. The second half of her critique raises two issues: the linearity of the Norman frontier, and the identity of the frontier regions’ inhabitants. I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss these a little further.

Let us consider linearity first. The book notes where the duchy’s boundaries were demarcated in linear fashion, usually along convenient rivers and streams but sometimes also through the construction of earthworks. In common with most studies of frontiers, however, it argues that these lines on a (non-existent) map can only be understood in the context of the surrounding region. In an essentially mapless society linear features served an important function, but they were just one aspect of the exercise of power and domination. In any case, in some parts of the Norman frontier, where power and justices were more devolved than elsewhere – around Gournay and Aumale, for instance – the evidence for the demarcation of the province’s limits is extremely late, postdating the absorption of the duchy into the Capetian realm in 1204. More importantly, even where boundaries were demarcated precisely, the effectiveness of ducal authority on their ‘Norman’ side varied considerably. My conclusions on this subject are complemented by the findings of Pierre Bauduin’s study of eastern Normandy in an earlier period, published more or less simultaneously with my own and reviewed elsewhere on this site. (1) Bauduin shows that the early Norman rulers long struggled to establish their authority between the centres and eastern limits of their power, despite the apparent simplicity of a border demarcated by the Rivers Epte and Eure.

Dr Grant’s second, related point concerns Norman identity, a theme which the book could not discuss in as much detail as it deserves. It is certainly true that in twelfth-century France identity was conventionally articulated in terms of province, thanks largely to the evolution of ‘territorial principalities’ over the previous two centuries; that the Normans (at least at elite level) and Normandy undoubtedly constituted, to use Benedict Anderson’s well-known phrase, an ‘imagined community’; and that Norman identity had evolved to a considerable extent in opposition to the ‘French’ and ‘France’. The duchy’s subjugation by the rex Francorum in 1204 reinforced rather than undermined both Norman identity and Norman particularism, as F. M. Powicke long ago noted. (2) But it is precisely the ambiguities and contradictions of the activities of the frontier zones’ inhabitants despite the simplicity of Norman rhetoric of identity that my book analyses. It is difficult to know the extent to which the inhabitants of the marches strongly identified with an exclusive Norman identity when their lands, ties and activities so often included them within other provincial groups as well. Living at the limits of Normandy probably strengthened rather than weakened that sense of identity for some; but for others it appears to have the reverse effect. After all, there was much less to bind the aristocracy of the Evrecin as a group with those in the distant Bessin or Cotentin than with their much closer neighbours and kinsmen in the Mantis. The intrusion of Capetian influence into eastern Normandy from the 1190s exposed these differences; in the event, however, the rapid fall of Normandy in 1203–4 allowed the duchy to pass more or less intact into the Capetian realm.

In sum, my book does not set out to discuss the general history of Norman identity; rather, it examines the articulation of power in the border regions of Normandy, during a formative phase in the duchy’s history. As Dr Grant notes, this approach inevitably leaves unanswered some broader questions that will continue to form the focus of debate amongst historians of medieval France and the ‘Anglo-Norman realm’. I warmly welcome her stimulating review as well as the opportunity to discuss the issues that she raises.

Notes

  1. Pierre Bauduin, Back to (1)
  2. F. M. Powicke, The Loss of Normandy, 1789–1204: Studies in the History of the Angevin Empire (1913; 2nd ed. Manchester, 1961). Back to (2)