The Discourse of Law and Justice in Medieval Europe
24th Annual Medieval Studies Conference
Saturday, March 27, 2004
Judicial Ritual as Public Discourse in a Fourteenth-Century Provençal Town: The Example of Fourteenth-Century Manosque
Steven Bednarski, Center for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto

If law was indeed a discourse, and “everyone … had ideas about what it should be”, it seems important to acknowledge from the outset that this discussion worked both ways. Not only did individuals’ perceptions of the law shape their world views, but, in turn, peoples’ views impacted legal systems which were reliant upon contributions from members of the public. This paper will therefore approach the question of discourse from the point of view of how judicial ritual was open to, and, indeed, reliant upon, the ideas, words, representations, and influences of those outside the courtroom.

Recent scholarship has emphasized the importance of the public in fourteenth-century Mediterranean justice. Despite this feat, the endeavour to map the relationship between medieval trials and publicity is still evolving; aside from studies into public rituals of punishment, scholars of medieval criminal procedure are still at the stage of collating data. For this reason, if we are to gain a fuller understanding of the inter-dependant relationship between the public, those not directly attached to the court but rather those who were subject to it and who made use of it, and the judiciary, it is important to consider the information preserved from different types of legal courts.

This paper proposes comparing data from the Provencal town of Manosque with those from other prominent jurisdictions. The fourteenth-century criminal records from Manosque, a medium-sized Provençal town whose court was entirely independent of the centralized Angevine government, enhance our appreciation of the consistent public involvement in justice. Unlike certain other courts, which we know to have operated in public spaces, and for which public involvement is, therefore, observable de facto, Manosque’s tribunal may well have functioned behind closed doors. This does not, however, hinder our ability to discern public involvement and influence in criminal prosecutions. Similarly, although we know that this court abhorred corporal and capital punishments, the public contribution to sentencing and punishment was still vital. Indeed, every step of the Manosquin judicial process resonated in the public sphere and caused reverberations. Criminal prosecutions and inquisitions followed a ritual intended to exploit publicity and public opinion, and to draw in communal involvement.

This paper will explore the impact upon curial process of individuals or groups not directly attached to the criminal court. It will begin by attempting to delineate the different public elements which influenced the unfolding and enactment of justice. It will explore the manners in which some such people represented themselves before the tribunal and the effect such representations had upon judicial outcome. Beyond the question of representations, the paper will also take into account the impact of popular opinion, or rumour, upon prosecutions. The paper will further explore the extent to which the court reacted to so-called mitigating circumstances such as reputation, gender, economic standing, or faith. Finally, the paper will examine different types of prosecutions and verdicts. All of this will reveal the extent to which extra-legal concerns affected judicial process and outcome.

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