The French Renaissance Court 1483-1589
In this useful and wide-ranging book, Robert Knecht, the doyen of British historians of Renaissance France, presents detailed evidence of the origins and evolution of the Valois court.
Robert J. Knecht, Yale University Press 415pp £25 ISBN 978 0300 118513
Written in Knecht’s lucid, approachable style, the book offers primary evidence about the size and structure of the court, the daily pattern of court life and its ceremonies, accommodation, provisioning and regulation. Interpretive argument is illustrated with anecdotal evidence to produce a lively study of the court as the clearing house of political, artistic and literary patronage, as the cockpit of faction fighting on occasion and as the stage upon which the Valois monarchy presented itself to the ‘political nation’ of France.
The study also integrates the research of several court historians in France, especially Monique Chatenet and Nicolas Le Roux. Chatenet’s studies of the disposition of lodgings have offered new insights into how the architecture of the court functioned. Knecht brings this information into English for the first time.
The thematic approach to the material works best in the coverage of the period up to the death of Henry II in 1559 but is thereafter a little more subjected to the narrative of the years of crisis to 1589.
Connections are made with the English court and a number of Italian ones. Had room allowed, a little more on the wider European reputation and significance of the Valois court would have been welcome. The book is well illustrated, although some of the colour plates are not of ideal quality.
The French Renaissance Court brings together in one volume the fruits of Knecht’s lifetime of scholarship on the French monarchy and makes an important contribution towards French court studies, taking them well beyond the confines of Louis XIV’s Versailles.
- Glenn Richardson is the editor of The Contending Kingdoms: England and France, 1420-1700 (ed.) (Ashgate, 2008).
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