Seigneurial violence in Medieval Europe

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This chapter discusses violence associated with the exercise of lordship and the culture of nobility in Europe from ca. 500-1500. For most of the twentieth century, historians argued that lordly violence rose and fell in inverse proportion to the power of ‘sovereign’ rulers, such as kings and emperors. It is now recognized that aristocrats in general and lords in particular played roles in medieval societies and polities that made their use of violence not just tolerable but also necessary. The practice of ‘feud’ has also come in for reassessment, increasingly understood not as anarchic or usurpatory, but re-envisaged as rule-based and self-limiting. Yet, if seigneurial violence now appears much more socially productive and politically intelligible to historians, it is important to realize that the exercise and experience of seigneurial violence varied a great deal according to social position and context. Aristocratic women were less likely than aristocratic men to be involved in such conflicts, and non-aristocrats, of both sexes, bore the brunt of the violence. This essay proceeds chronologically, examining changes in the ideas and practices that shaped how lords and nobles used violence in different regions.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge World History of Violence
Subtitle of host publicationVolume 2, AD 500–AD 1500
EditorsDeborah Tor, Harriet Zurndorfer, Richard W. Kaeuper
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781316661291
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2020


  • Private war
  • Feud
  • Lordship
  • State formation
  • Vengenance
  • Chivalry
  • Peace of god
  • Kingship
  • Peasants
  • Gender


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