[2] REIMS - Power and the Town: Lordship and Commune

Bibliography for Power and the Town: Lordship and Commune

Bloch, Marc, “Blanche de Castile et les serfs du chapitre de Paris,” Mémoires de la société de l'Histoire de Paris et de l'Île-de-France, 38 (1911): 224-72, reprinted in Marc Bloch, Mélanges historiques 2 vols. (Paris: S. E. V. P. E. N., 1963),I:463-90, esp. 471-76

Bloch, Marc, Slavery and Serfdom in the Middle Ages: Selected Papers, trans. William R. Beer (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1975), 163-78.

Branner, Robert, “Historical Aspects of the Reconstruction of Reims Cathedral, 1210-1241” Speculum 36, no. 1 (1961): 23-37.

Demaison, Louis, “Documents sur les draperies de Reims au Moyen Âge,” Bibliothèque de l’école des chartes 89 (1928): 5-39.

Desportes, Pierre, Reims et les Rémois aux XIIIe et XIVe siècles (Paris: Picard, 1979).

Peter Kurmann, “Baustelle und Barrikaden: Die Kathedrale von Reims im Spannungsfeld kirchlichen Machtanspruchs und unternehmerischer Freiheit,” in Kirche als Baustelle: Große Sakralbauten des Mittelalters, eds. Katja Schröck, Bruno Klein, and Stefan Bürger (Vienna: Böhlau, 2013), 73-87.

Lot, Ferdinand and Robert Fawtier, Histoire des Institutions françaises du Moyen Âge, III, (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1958).

Petit-Dutaillis, Charles, Les Communes françaises, caractères et évolution des origines au XVIIIe siècle (Paris: A. Michel), 1947.

Unlike Picardy (the region that housed Amiens), where communes had been established early and often without violence, the metropolitan town of Reims remained seigneurial and its lords deeply resistant to burgher efforts to gain a charter of communal liberties. The resistance to communes characteristic of the successive overlords of Reims becomes especially evident in comparison to the early granting of communal charters at Reims’s suffrage towns: Cambrai in 1077, Beauvais before 1099, Noyon in 1108, Amiens in 1113, and Soissons between 1115 and 1118. At Reims, in contrast, burghers remained enmeshed in a landlord regime from which they had attempted without success to free themselves four times over the century between the communal rebellions of 1139 and 1238. The burghers’ chief goals were to limit surtaxes, tailles, characterized by Marc Bloch as the most arbitrary and onerous of seigneurial levies, and to rein in the extent of archiepiscopal justice in civil cases. Early in 1139, a commune established at Reims during a vacancy in the See was recognized by King Louis VII in exchange for the usual bribe raised from the usual sources: “Money given by the citizens.” The canons responded with generic denunciations and threats, accusing the town of attempting to extend their liberties and complained of the “new laws” to Pope Innocent II, who responded quickly. In a letter dated 30 April 1139, the pope forbade the establishment of a commune under threat of anathema. The charter was revoked toward the end of 1139 by Louis, who accused the town of having exceeded the rights conceded to them, and of intending to extend its jurisdiction to suburban bourgs and neighboring villages despite a prohibition. He described the town as incapable of living in peace with the canons. The canons, in turn, were “implacably hostile” to the charter, and remained so. When a new archbishop was appointed, Samson de Malvoisin (April 1140-60), the new lord (and patron of the rebuilt cathedral in its twelfth-century incarnation, see Section I, pt. 1) promptly suppressed the commune upon his arrival in Reims, with the support of Count Thibaud of Champagne and his troops. 

Communal ambitions did not stay suppressed for long. Archbishop Samson was succeeded by Henry of France (1162-1175), brother to King Louis VII. In John of Salisbury’s description, Henry imposed “new and intolerable forms of servitude” on the Rémois. The Annales Cameracenses (Annals of Cambrai, a suffragan diocese) accused Henry of dishonesty, of oppressing the town and reducing it to despair. The burghers took advantage of Henry’s absence on a trip to Rome to rebel. As described by John of Salisbury in a letter to John, Bishop of Poitiers, the burghers entrenched themselves in church towers, fortified their houses, and chased the prelate’s officers and friends from the town. Three days later, burghers razed houses belonging to Henry’s allies, especially targeting his vidame (his officer in charge of temporalities) and his provost. The town was then confronted by “a thousand troops” led by Count Philip of Flanders, whom the burghers managed to preempt by so fully emptying Reims of food, that none remained. Henry, entangled in struggles with his chapter and with local petty nobles protected by the Count of Champagne, concluded a peace at the price of 450 pounds reparations for damages, four times greater than the actual damages, again according to John of Salisbury, and allowed the town its customs. 

Henry’s successor, William of Champagne (Guillaume aux Blanches-Mains, 1176-1202), adopted a conciliatory posture toward his town, likely with the goal of avoiding rebellions such as those of 1139 and 1166-1167. When in 1183 he founded a new suburb, la Couture, designed to expand his taxable jurisdictions, he apparently was compelled not to enflame animosity in the burgher quarter. William encouraged commercial expansion by granting privileges that allowed burghers to establish lodges, pavement, and wells without special authorization, and to choose from among themselves a mayor with jurisdiction over all civil pleas and criminal cases up to a set fine of 7 sous and 6 deniers. Just a year before founding la Couture (in 1182), William offered the town a limited franchise named for him, the Willelmine, which confirmed the customs claimed by the town from the time of Saint Remi. William’s grants, however extensive, fell far short of a communal charter. The Reims aldermen possessed no police and no administrative authority beyond what they exercised together with the archbishop’s provost. They were denied a sworn association, while the canons retained their francs-sergents within their familia, immune to outside jurisdiction.


  1. The details of the political struggle between the burghers and the cathedral hierarchy evoke an image of on-going hostility in the century preceding the construction of the Gothic cathedral of Reims. How does Barbara Abou-El-Haj’s account shape your understanding of images of the cathedral dominating the center of town?
  2. Do you think these details bear more directly upon the iconographic program of the Gothic cathedral or upon the overall structure or building program itself?