The Discourse of Law and Justice in Medieval Europe
24th Annual Medieval Studies Conference
Saturday, March 27, 2004
Banishment in the Thirteenth-century French Nord: The Letter, Law, and the Street
Francesca Canadé Sautman, Hunter and Graduate Center, CUNY

The cities and towns of 13th-century Northern France were not unique in resorting to banishment as a punitive measure. However, their particular treatment of the practice is imbedded in the upheavals of local and regional history, and raises many intriguing questions about the Law. Local powers enacted this form of punishment against individuals, and sometimes groups, for a variety of offenses, from the mundame to the serious. They did so on the basis of a complex interaction between forms of exclusion—popular, customary, and sometimes, spontaneous—and official legislation, emanating from the echevins or the counts—formalized, historically founded, and precise. For banishment to be effective, both of these centers of power had to be involved and bolster each other. At once, there were tensions between these two poles. This paradox indicates that, in these locations, banishment was at once and as much a matter of textualizing exclusion as of ritualizing containment. Those targeted could be denizens of the town or “foreigners,” but the status of being “foreign,” expressed in the OF forain, meaning, literally, outsider, from outside the walls, could be suddenly and brutally conferred on citizens. These fluctuations between the notion of Lawfulness, local laws, local practices, and power plays between urban elites and the masses became particularly noteworthy during the civil wars that opposed the inhabitants of Douai and Lille in the last decade of the 13th century. This paper moves from positing the variety of centers of power that could operate in a given locale around the practice of banishment, to asking who were the various interpreters of these multiple texts, written (the edits of the counts and municipal rules) or performed (the discourse of the street), and the impact of these interpretations on regional identities.

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