On the threshold: youth as arbiters of urban space in early modern France.
|Abstract:||Recent historical interest in early modern urban space has largely ignored the place of children and youth in the city. This study uses criminal records from seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Dijon, France to determine the triggers, locations, and contexts for disputes involving young people. The essay demonstrates that while young people articulated a field of honor similar to that of established adults in their neighbourhoods, their liminal status encouraged them to refine their concepts of honor and identity in urban areas not controlled by adults. City walls and night-time streets, for example, were common spaces where youth experimented with their identities. While historians may anticipate that the youths' activities occurred primarily within peer groups, this essay argues that the fragile identities of young men and women were strongly rooted in their households. The strategies and tactics the youth employed within the city landscape were informed by their gender and by their transitional life-stage between dependence and autonomy.|
Group identity (Analysis)
City and town life (Analysis)
Urban youth (Behavior)
Youth violence (Causes of)
Youth violence (Social aspects)
|Author:||Corley, Christopher R.|
|Publication:||Name: Journal of Social History Publisher: Journal of Social History Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: History; Sociology and social work Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 Journal of Social History ISSN: 0022-4529|
|Issue:||Date: Fall, 2009 Source Volume: 43 Source Issue: 1|
|Topic:||Event Code: 290 Public affairs Canadian Subject Form: Honour|
|Geographic:||Geographic Scope: France Geographic Code: 4EUFR France|
In early May 1700, Jean Villat, a mason in Dijon, France, brought
defamation and abuse charges against seventeen-year-old Denis Degissey,
son of a deceased tiler, for having publicly declared in a tavern that
he had sex with Villat's daughter, Louise, more than one hundred
times. In the evening, after his boasting at the bar had ended, Degissey
walked to the Villat residence and called the girl "a whore"
in the street. When Louise Villat's mother ran out to the street,
"having wanted to defend the honor of her daughter," Denis
Degissey proceeded to swear at her. After running the drunken youth away
from their home, Jean Villat returned to his house, slept on the matter,
and upon awakening went to the city court to file a complaint.
Dijon's court officers took the matter seriously; twenty witnesses
were called to testify, eleven of them aged between twelve and
twenty-five years old. The judge found the boy guilty of "atrocious
and aggravated injuries to the honor and reputation of Louise
Villat." The court then forced the young man--and his mother--to
stand on a platform before the town hall, "in the presence of Jean
Villat and his wife, and four of their friends and family members,"
to declare "that they hold Louise Villat for a fine, honorable girl
... and that they ask to be pardoned for having injured and offended the
family." Degissey and his mother were fined, including court fees,
a hefty fifty livres. (1)
This prototypical defamation proceeding illustrates well the interplay between articulations of honor and urban spaces among early modern European youth. Degissey's comments warranted a severe penalty for two reasons. On the one hand, they were proclaimed on the street. Neighbors and passersby could easily hear the coarse and provocative words. On the other hand, the seventeen-year-old challenged the sexual honor of an unmarried young woman, and thus her parents, at the threshold of their own domicile. While routine boasting and even insults at the pub might have been anticipated, replicating those words in another spatial context sparked the court proceedings. (2)
Recent historical scholarship has emphasized the importance of spatial context as a means of interpreting preindustrial popular culture and social life. (3) Urban residents used streets and public squares, markets, coffee houses, inns, and taverns to negotiate order and hierarchy, personal identities, and relationships to others. They articulated their notions of honor, work, gender, social class, and economic or political views through their clothing and gestures, through exchanges of goods, news, and rumors, and through drinking bouts, insults, altercations, and even riots. Early modern youth (defined here as unmarried young people aged between twelve and thirty) were undoubtedly present at most of these events, but they have been largely excluded from broader historical narratives about honor, identity and urban space. (4) Where, exactly, did the majority of youthful expressions of identity occur? How did the urban spatial context inform and shape these expressions? And perhaps most important, how did the youths use the urban landscape to develop their own sense of identity and honor in ways that differed from adult use of urban spaces?
This paper, a study of one hundred cases from Dijon's municipal court in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, will show that youths' use of urban space was framed by their life-stage and gender. (5) Adults in early modern cities used the marketplaces, streets, squares, and public wells as their main spaces of sociability and conflict, but Dijon's youth refined their concepts of honor and identity by occupying urban spaces that adults did not overtly control. Dijon's male youths gravitated toward Dijon's gates and walls at all hours of the day and night, where games, drinking, tests of strength, and skirmishes occasionally turned more serious. In the evening, as the markets closed, city streets and squares opened themselves to youthful expressions of companionship, including charivaris, informal dances and courting, by both genders. But the most frequent activities that lead to injurious words and violent altercations occurred not on the walls or in city squares, but rather in front of the doors and windows of homes. In these instances, female youths could be found as active participants, even belligerents, alongside the males. Simple disagreements turned into serious conflicts when youth rapped on front doors, shouted insults into rooms, and broke windows with rocks. The violation of the symbolic boundary between household and the street, even with the voice, resulted in serious consequences for both aggressors and victims. (6)
The sheer number of youth in early modern Europe obliges historians to consider their place in urban contexts. Early modern cities such as Dijon were awash with children and young people. Huge demographic disparities existed between youth and the elderly population. The "under twenty-somethings" constituted over forty per cent (42.1%) of the French population in 1740; in other words, almost half of all people who lived in eighteenth-century France were under twenty years old. (7) Dijon was representative of the French population. In 1785 and 1786, the government charged the Intendant of Burgundy, Amelot de Chaillou, with creating the most ambitious study of the population in his province to date. He divided the population by locale, sex, and then into six separate age groups (0-15, 15-30, 30-50, 50-60, 60-100 and then everyone over 100!). (8) Just over fifty per cent of the population of Dijon was under thirty years old. The census of the small villages immediately surrounding Dijon reveals an even larger percentage of young people. (9) Almost sixty per cent (59%) of the total population of eighteenth-century Burgundy was under thirty years old. (10) The overall impression we gain from the census records, in sum, is a world much different from the contemporary western world, with its large elderly population.
The attack on a lamp lighter and his wife was merely one short scene in a longer, drawn-out struggle over control of urban spaces traditionally dominated by youth. (15) Between 1550 and 1750, Dijon's town officers instituted laws to limit such youth criminal activity and unruliness. They did so, in part, by attempting to control the city's public spaces, and cities throughout Europe joined the effort. The post-1550 counter-reformation cultural emphasis on patriarchy and household order fostered the surveillance and disciplining of activities previously considered acceptable. (16) City authorities and their constituents across Europe, Edward Muir explained, "became less tolerant of popular rites that led to disorder. Spaces and times that were once the privileged place for the illicit gradually came under public regulation." (17) In Dijon, for example, the city closed all bath houses in 1560; in 1563 the city council closed municipal brothels. Although youths weren't identified specifically as a problematic group in the regulations of the 1560s, city councilors knew well that the young men were the primary customers in the brothels. Regulations explicitly referring to youth developed in the seventeenth century, along with orders that the new laws be read in the churches and posted in the streets so that no one could claim ignorance of their existence. (18) Servants, too, were increasingly identified as suspect. (19) In 1626 the city council of Dijon collaborated with the Burgundian Parlement (the highest appellate court in Burgundy) to prohibit any sales of gunpowder or weapons to youth, specifically "minors, clerks, students, and footmen." Four years later, the council banned the "youth abbeys" and charivaris because they were getting out of hand. (20)
In an attempt to gain some control over the dark urban streets, the city established curfews based upon age, life-stage, and social status. The town council and the Parlement expressly forbade "minors, clerks, apprentices, journeymen, footmen [and] servants" from going out into the streets after nine at night (seven p.m. in the winter). (21) Physical monitoring of youth became important as well. By the eighteenth century, the city made sure that the adolescent orphans, the enfants aux bonnets rouges, wore their red hats in town so merchants and tavern owners would know exactly who they were when they came upon them. The council and courts incessantly tried to keep the youth away from gambling in the city taverns. (22) City officers also demanded that youths' parents or guardians be held responsible for their charges' activities. The parents of twelve-year-old Nicolas Boiteaux, for example, paid fifty livres in fines and watched their son sit in prison for a month after he rook another child's eye out with a rock thrown from a city wall. (23)
These types of ordinances, repeated periodically throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, were designed to create order over the young people who roamed Dijon's streets, especially in the evening, through a form of spatial discipline. Most likely, the ordinances were individual responses to significant events that raised the hackles of Dijon's prominent citizens for a short while. (24) But viewed over time, the evidence is important for two reasons. First, it is hut one tiny example of a much larger historical transformation, as James, Jenks, and Prout have suggested, whereby the "history of the city [has been] marked by a developing segregation of space in terms of class, gender, and ... age." (25) Secondly, and most important for this essay, the evidence also suggests that the city's streets and other public spaces must have been experienced and used differently by the city's young people than they were by the adults.
Youthful conflicts on walls, city streets, and around homes, whether as individuals or in small groups of two or three, are a timeless part of growing up--of negotiating the difficult period of life between dependence and autonomy. But the characteristics of the period of life between dependence and autonomy shift over time, along with economic, cultural, or political changes. Youth activity in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries can be read contextually as responses to social and economic pressures that Dijon's leaders only dimly comprehended. Thus, the city ordinances sometimes overlapped with stagnating economies and rising populations, particularly an influx of young male migrants from the rural areas. (26) In response to these conditions, artisan guilds attempted to protect their economic interests by limiting masterships, making it expensive and difficult for journeymen to advance. The number of skilled journeymen increased, which pushed wages down over the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries while reducing the number of economically-independent, marriageable men. These changes must have hit many young people especially hard. By the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, young men and women were marrying later, lengthening the period of premarital sexuality and forming a demographic pattern that would continue until the advent of industrialization. The inability to access a profession or to successfully navigate the marriage market framed the youths' sense of their own honor and identity, since these rites-of-passage provided social recognition of status within their neighborhoods.
For both youth and adults, honor was a kind of commodity, something that could be gained or lost. (27) One gained honor through combinations of kin networks and economic status, and one displayed it through visible signs in clothing, weapons, hats, or other external symbols of one's family or trade. The maintenance of honor was a daily fact of life exclusive neither to elites nor to adults, but since youths did not yet have independent access to their own households. marriages, and professions, their strategies for articulating their honor differed significantly from that of the adults in their communities.
Scholars have shown that attacks against honor and reputation for established adults in the early modern community were gendered and centered on two main fields. (28) Insults against men frequently called into question their honesty and ability to carry out their professions. In a preindustrial world without banks or credit bureaus, one's reputation within a neighborhood influenced access to personal credit, business transactions, and honorific positions. Insults against women, on the other hand, were almost exclusively directed to their sexual honor and fidelity. Calling a married woman a whore attacked not only her personal honor but also that of her husband and family. The insult called into question the woman's fidelity, her husband's authority, and her children's legitimacy. Although insults were gendered, they reflect a common underlying theme of an individual's trustworthiness within a community. As David Garrioch has explained, "[b]ehind people's preoccupation with reputation ... lay an awareness of belonging to a community which could through recognition and respect it accorded offer an individual security and comfort." (29)
Like the adults in their communities, youth were the focus of gendered insults that focused on their trustworthiness, their ability to maintain an honorable profession, and their sexuality. Old enough to experiment with their own sexuality, to work, and to contribute to their own family economies, yet unable to access marriage or the professions on their own, youths living with their parents, relatives, or masters during this "liminal" or "threshold" phase of their lives could find the recognition of their own honor within a neighborhood quite precarious. (30) Young women's prospects for marriage rested on their good reputation as potential wives and mothers, and so young women faced the similar onslaught of injurious words about their sexual honor as did the adult women in their communities. Contemporaries noted, however, that these insults hit even harder, since the youths had not yet established themselves in marriage. A poor reputation for an unmarried young woman might mean an eventual marriage to a lower-status man, or perhaps a life as a spinster. Young men, on the other hand, were often the focus of verbal assaults that reinforced their tenuous ties to the community. Not yet heads of households, these youths frequently were labeled beggars, rogues, or villains. In sum, insults likened the young men and women to the masses of poor, non-established, itinerant people who would never find their proper places within a community.
Two cases from 1700 illustrate the importance of age as a central component of the early modern field of honor. On 1 January, Benigne Marchand brought defamation charges against Claude Bizot. Evidently, Marchand's son was returning from the nearby village of Chenove on horseback when Bizot insulted him on the road, calling him a "beggar" and "rogue." Marchand filed a complaint because his son was "an honorable boy [un garcon d'honneur] and ... he had nothing negative to say about his [son's] conduct." (31) In July of the same year Jean Pagin filed a defamation suit on behalf of his sixteen-year-old daughter, Marguerite Pagin, against the wife of a local barrel maker. Pagin came to court because the artisan's wife "publicized everywhere that [his daughter] engaged in criminal behavior with the boys, and that she was pregnant." Pagin pleaded with the judge, explaining that "it is unjust that the plaintiff, who is only sixteen years old, from a good family, and able to establish herself, should ... be obliged to run to court" to defend her honor. (32) In a demographic system with a shortage of marriageable males among the artisans and a significant rise in the age of first marriage, and where kin and friendship networks fostered future hopes of economic stability, honor was a tenuous but crucial lubricant for social relationships among the young in the neighborhoods of Dijon.
Although youths and adults defended similar fields of honor centered on their trustworthiness, their ability to maintain an honorable profession, and their sexuality, the youths' ambivalent status in their neighborhoods meant that they did not use urban space in the same way as adults. Spatial configurations allowed all of Dijon's residents to know where they stood within the community's legal and social hierarchy. Early modern maps frequently highlight significant political and sacred spaces while blurring other areas of the town. Likewise, early modern mental maps of physical space were defined by political and religious institutions as well as the homes, shops and streets frequented by Dijon's citizens. Court testimonies show how mere places were lived spaces tinged with moral status. (33) Conflicts among adults typically occurred in or nearby public wells, shops, marketplaces, and taverns, and usually during the day time hours, or at "heightened times of social interchange." (34) Julius Ruff's data on violence in rural villages showed that seventy-one percent of all violent crimes occurred during the day, and David Garrioch found a similar pattern for Paris. This is because many adult conflicts were designed to bring the highest publicity to the dispute. If an argument broke out in a room, Garrioch argued, the combatants would inevitably end up in the street, where the maximum number of people could witness the shaming of a neighbor. Garrioch argues that "the aim in the dispute was not usually to punish or to injure one's opponent so much as to force him or her to give way by drawing public attention to one's grievance and if possible by publically humiliating him or her." (35)
Court cases also reveal the adult patterns of gendered spaces in the city. Married women, established in their communities, engaged in conflicts in the marketplace and around or just outside the home. More than a center of production and consumption, the home had a moral sphere that extended into stairwells, courtyards, alleys, and streets, and its various thresholds and walls helped to define the line between legitimate and illegitimate behavior, and honor from shame. (36) While men obviously frequented the home and the markets, spaces exclusive to men tended to include the tavern or cabaret, where they engaged in business, exchanged news, and cemented friendships. Respectable women rarely frequented the taverns, and if they did so, they were almost always with their husbands or other male relatives.
The records for Dijon do not show urban youths developing their honor and identities at the markets, public wells, and taverns during the day. These were places and times where established people did their business. Instead, Dijon's young people were most frequently found defending their honor in the gray areas of the city where they felt most comfortable: around the home, in the streets and in public squares after the markets had closed for the day and sometimes well into the evening, and on the city walls at all times of the day and night. Like the adults, the youths' use of space also appears to have been gendered. While young men could be found in the streets, squares, and city walls, youths of both genders used the home as a privileged space for their identity construction. Young women, on the other hand, tended to congregate in areas immediately around the home. It is in the early teens that we see a gendered use of space for the youth, where the boys had access to areas further removed from the household, while the girls remained in closer proximity to it. (37)
As an example, we might point to court cases involving sex and sexual crimes. The plaintiffs and defendants, almost always youth in their late teens and early twenties, invariably focused their narratives on activities occurring in and a-round the home. In paternity suits, plaintiffs focused on the activities that led to promises of marriage and the resulting pregnancy. Everyone in the home knew the young men, the young female plaintiffs generally recalled, because they had frequently paid visits to the young women and their families. (38) These visits openly crossed the threshold of the home, at all times of the day. These narratives served to legitimate the initial relationship that led to sex and pregnancy. They implied that a marriage had been imminent while stressing the public nature of the relationship. (39) Conversely, male defendants often accused the female plaintiffs of loose morals by pointing out that the plaintiffs frequently slept outside of their homes. (40) In accusations of violent rape, the female plaintiffs generally emphasized the secrecy of the crime with specific reference to the spatial context. For example, one plaintiff stressed that the defendant took her forcibly into her home and "closed the door," a clear spatial sign for an illegal, malicious, and secret encounter for a helpless and innocent young woman. (41)
Similarly, in other violent situations, plaintiffs stressed the spatial surroundings of the conflicts in order to make themselves the honorable party. Signal phrases, such as "devant leur parte," "sur le pas de sa porte," "au devant de leur maison," or "proche de la maison de la dame sa mere," all set up the spatial dimension of the conflicts and the parties' moral relationship to them. In one case from 1680, a father defended his son who had been in a fight with some other youths because his son had attempted to "walk on the other side of the street" from his enemies." (42) Parties frequently referenced their space and area around the home as a way of illustrating their honor and their innocence, with their space having a moral quality. In July of 1730, for example, a young student claimed that he was simply "returning to his father's house" when he was attacked by a dog and then his master, a painter. (43) Another young lad was attacked at ten in the evening while he was walking "near his mother's house." (44) Despite the boy's spatial narrative indicating his innocence, the judge must have wondered why he was again attacked later that evening in a public square, the Place Saint Michel. In 1700, a group of eleven and twelve-year-old girls found themselves dancing in the Dijon streets on a May evening. One was assaulted by a twenty-two year old male. In testifying to her innocence, the girls stressed that they had been with "the other girls of the neighborhood." A friend emphasized that although she had been in the street, she was also "in front of the door of her father's house." (45) In all of the phrases, the threshold of the home is the common theme. (46)
It would have been natural for a youth of an early modern city to identify with the spaces immediately around his or her home, and to pay close attention to thresholds and liminal spaces in the city landscape. There simply wasn't much space in an early modern home, so children spent lots of time just outside it. Many families lived in a single room, and few had more than three rooms. Rooms served different purposes; they functioned simultaneously as kitchens, dining rooms, bedrooms, and workplaces. They were dimly lit, and often had only one window facing either the street or a courtyard, since buildings were so close together. (47) In light of these conditions, "[s]mall boys and girls spent a lot of their early lives playing in the semi-public areas of the stairs or courtyard and in the street outside the house where the parents and neighbors could to some extent survey them." (48) Garrioch argued that, "It was in the street and from neighbours, as much as the home, that children picked up values and social skills. Parents provided only one model of adult behavior, whereas neighbours and passers-by furnished myriad others." (49)
Clearly, youth identities were influenced by the social spaces they occupied since early childhood, and as they aged, the youths themselves gave meaning to these spaces. In so doing, they physically and psychologically prepared themselves to navigate the urban spaces they would eventually claim as adults. For many children, this preparation was slow in coming, and Amanda Flather argues that "the low status of servants (and children), reflected and reinforced by their lack of spatial autonomy, meant that they often experienced their own domestic spaces as arenas of direct power." (50) It should not surprise us, then, to see the city's thruways, boundaries and thresholds emerge as integral sites for the articulation of honor and identity for the city's youth. (51) Unlike the homes themselves, the spaces around homes, the streets and the walls were all places adults could not claim as their own. They were "areas where few people lived and where the force of community presence and public opinion was largely absent." (52) These were the areas that Dijon's youth could claim as their own, at least until marriage, family, occupation and their own domicile allowed them a more secure footing in their neighborhoods.
Dijon's walls and gates obviously served as military and defensive fortifications, but they had other important functions as well. Walls and gates gave "the city officials some control over the flow of goods and people in and out of their community. Access to the early modern city," Christopher Freidrichs notes, "was deliberately made difficult." (53) Outside the city lay the faubourgs, the small huts and homes, generally inhabited by poorer people. In order to pass through the walls, one would usually have to face guards, several stages of entry across bridges, over moats, and through gates. According to Ineke Justitz, the gates also "represented the city's most vulnerable spaces. The gates acted as thresholds marking a liminal or ambiguous space where the city's identity could be challenged. Thus they formed inherently dangerous spaces." (54) At night, parishes organized neighborhood militias to kept watch over the fortifications. These jobs were proudly idled by master artisans who volunteered for their regular shifts. Most evenings, nothing much happened. The men simply guarded the walls and gates, played cards, and drank beer.
Dijon's court records show that the walls were among the most favorite hang outs for male children and youth. Youth created their identity, in part, through their relationships that occurred on or near the city walls. Walls provided a privileged view of the daily happenings within and outside of the city. From the walls, youths could see all types of people--the exotic foreigners and familiar Burgundians, the young and the old, the rich and the destitute--milling around the town at all hours of day and night. They could survey the merchants and artisans engaged in their daily routines, drop in on skirmishes and arguments, and view the colorful processionals that penetrated the city landscape. Young vagabonds with no other place to call home frequently slept next to the walls. But more reputable youths also frequented the walls, and one would commonly find young lovers taking strolls on them. (55)
These activities were viewed suspiciously by city officials, many of whom had likely enjoyed similar views from the walls in their younger years. The city officials forbade--to no avail apparently--the so-called "jeunes gens" from congregating on the walls on Sundays, feast days, and other days because their activities frequently resulted in fights. (56) In May 1676, the city declared that "several jeunes gens, including students, minors, and journeymen ... imprudently attackled] [one another], without consideration, [and threw] stones ... even at persons of high status who have been injured in their carriages." (57) In 1680 six or seven young men from grape-grower families met at the walls for a fight. (58) On 16 December 1683, the town officers prohibited the launching of snow balls from the town walls after hearing of a homicide committed in the southern Burgundian town of Chalon-sur-Saone (where an older woman was evidently hit in the head with an ice ball). (59) They weren't as famous as Venice's bridge battles, but Dijon's walls still provided the setting for rites of violence where young lads learned to be men, for real or mock fights and tests of strength. (60)
Projectiles launched from Dijon's walls frequently went astray from their intended targets, hitting bystanders. In October of 1742, for example, an older man lost his temper after inadvertently being hit with a rock. He proceeded to assault a fifteen year-old boy in response. Benigne Boulley, the widowed mother of the fifteen-year old boy, brought the case for her son. In order to emphasize her son's innocence, she downplayed the stone-throwing and stressed that he merely had been "descending the wall on the side of la Roulette at the gate of Saint Nicholas with other young people" when he was assaulted by the man. Two other boys and one girl were called in to testify to the incident. (61) When we see the remains of a preindustrial city wall, then, we need to imagine it as a veritable playground for children and youths, an important urban space where they defended their honor and defined themselves while learning to be adults.
While walls must have formed a significant space for the development and negotiation of early modern youth identity, a clear majority of the court cases involving youth described the parties near their families' or masters' homes, particularly in front of the doors and windows. This boundary between household and street was permeable, and like the walls, no adult appeared to control it effectively. These spatial characteristics resonated within Dijon's youth culture. Much like the streets during a charivari, or the walls and gates of the city at all hours of the day, the thresholds of homes were also policed by youth. Most of the cases involving youth were assaults of one kind or another, and in my sample, there were as many instances of assaults near the home as there were in other places around the city. Youths worked out conceptions of honor around the home, based on the intersection between family, honor, work, and marriage. Three interesting yet typical cases will illustrate the point.
On a late Sunday afternoon in 1730, a 4:00 p.m. shipment of wood to a tavern-owner's home created a dramatic outbreak of violence in which young people's honor and sense of economic viability lay at its core. In the home receiving the shipment lived the tavern-owner and his wife, their three daughters and son, and a new addition to the family. Their sixteen-year-old daughter, Jeanne, had recently married a journeyman carpenter. The new son-in-law had moved into their home and appeared close to receiving his mastership. While paying for the wood, Jeanne heard a voice from the house next door. From a second-story window, a thirteen-year-old daughter of a master carpenter yelled that "[Jeanne] was not yet the wife of a master carpenter [because] her husband had not yet paid his master's fee." The young girl confronted Jeanne further, explaining that Jeanne "fashioned herself a master's wife, but she was only a little tavern girl." Jeanne hauled the wood into her home while taking more abuse, including being called a "whore" and a "country dog". Two hours later, Jeanne, her mother, and her two sisters went over to the neighbors' house and responded to the verbal attacks. When the thirteen-year-old's mother opened the door, all four women pounced on her. Journeymen hearing the cries eventually broke up the fight, but not before fierce words had been exchanged and one of Jeanne's sisters had been hit on the head with a large pewter pot. (62)
A second, complementary example confirms the crucial roles youth performed as guardians of family honor. At 7:00 p.m. on a dark December evening in 1742, a young man from an innkeeper family named Jean Babouillard passed by the kitchen door of Rene Dechaux's inn, The Little Widow. (63) According to Dechaux, aged thirty-eight, Babouillard "hoped to see and insult him, [so he walked] back and forth several times in front of his kitchen door," armed with a "fat, big stick." After several passes, the lad finally swore at Dechaux from the street, accusing him of stealing guests from his father's inn. When Dechaux failed to open the door, the boy threw several cobblestones against it. It was at this point, according to Dechaux, that he opened his door, saw the boy's parents nearby, and pleaded with them to intervene. When the parents "did nothing to silence their son," Dechaux and the young Jean Babouillard came to blows. Twenty-two witnesses testified to the fight, including four youths aged between twelve and nineteen.
What appears to have provoked young Jean Babouillard to use the threshold of an otherwise respectable innkeeper as the social space of choice for a public challenge? Why would he take it upon himself to use sticks, stones, and hurtful words to provoke shame and, ultimately, violence? Witness depositions and other court documents reveal that the young man's honor lay at the heart of a broader dispute between the two families of innkeepers.
The disagreements had been simmering for years. The Babouillard family had rented property from Dechaux to run their own lodging, the Saint Joseph Inn. Upon nearing the end of a nine-year lease, Babouillard pere informed Dechaux that he would be seeking alternate arrangements. Witnesses declared that for the past three years, Dechaux had tried to inhibit various carters, peddlers and merchants from staying at The Saint Joseph by claiming that The Little Widow was more inviting. Dechaux frequently mocked the Babouillard family as they passed by The Little Widow.
More importantly, Dechaux went out of his way to humiliate their son in one of the most sexually-charged times of the year: the eve of the birth of Saint John the Baptist, or midsummer night, 23 June. The time of year stretching from the beginning of May through this last week of June was long dominated by youths. In the May festivities, young women were crowned and fertility was celebrated. In the following months, youths welcomed the longer days with courting rituals, and they attended balls and dances with an intensity rivaled only by the carnival days leading up to Lent. (64) On the Eve of Saint John, youths stoked bonfires and tried to defy sleep through the short night. It was the perfect opportunity to stay up late with that special someone who had captured your heart in the previous months, and on 2.3 June 1742, the young Jean Babouillard found himself arm-in-arm with the daughter of a merchant named Mathiot, originally from nearby Morey (most likely Morey-Saint Denis, a small village just south of Dijon). Unfortunately for Babouillard and Mathiot, Dechaux found them. Taking the arm of the young girl, probably in front of their friends, Dechaux put her arm in his and declared, "I prohibit you from being f***** by that bugger." (65) The court record does not indicate what happened after that, but the descriptions of these conflicts provide the context for the young man's actions leading up to the night of 5 December, when his words at the threshold further provoked the ire of the innkeeper. Seeking to defend, and perhaps to recover, his family's economic honor and his own sexual honor, Jean Babouillard took matters into his own hands by threatening an adult male at the threshold of his own domicile.
In the evening of 17 February 1730, another typical conflict centering on youth, honor, and economic viability occurred at the threshold of another home. Two apprentice goldsmiths named I lardy and Bernard sought out. a journeyman goldsmith who resided at his master's house. The master, Pierre Machureau, claimed that the apprentices "opened the door to his shop without knocking or announcing themselves," and then proceeded to insult him and his wife. After fleeing the home, the apprentices returned a bit later, this time "swords unsheathed," but fortunately their slashes only ruined Machureau's clothing. After the skirmish, the apprentices took the master's hat and cursed him. While leaving the premises, one of the apprentices yelled "I have your hat, sir!" Not to be forgotten, the young men returned yet again later that night, this time climbing the trellis on the walls of the home. Machureau declared to the court that this behavior "from apprentices to a master was intolerable and that they should understand their status and resultant subordination to him." (66)
The multifaceted incursions over the threshold set off the master's anger. The youths knew how to get at him by invading his space, by using their voices to insult him, by raising their swords, by taking his hat, then finally by climbing up the walls of his home. These grave injuries were magnified because of the challenge to status and honor set within important spatial boundaries. The youths, aged nineteen and twenty-four, claimed innocence. They explained that they had scheduled a previous rendezvous with Machureau's journeyman at one of the city gates. (67) When he failed to show, they went looking for him. Upon arriving at the master's house, they were insulted when Machureau ripped a wig off of one of their heads and then slammed the door in their faces. In the apprentices' story, they had returned to collect their wig "as honestly as one could hope," and they pointed out that "they conducted themselves with politeness and civility." (68) Their later aggressive behavior was stimulated, they explained, when Machureau immediately complained about them to other masters in the neighborhood, potentially ruining their reputations with the very same people who served as gatekeepers to their economic futures. They were publicly dis honored, even though they "gave [Machureau] all the respect which is due from apprentices and journeymen." (69)
In light of these examples of the use of urban space by young people, let's return to the case of seventeen-year-old Denis Degissey, the young man who boasted on a late May evening that he had multiple sexual encounters with another girl in front of her parent's home. (70) In the witness depositions, we eventually learn that something deeper than an inebriated activity occurred here, and this makes the testimonies of the young witnesses at the court hearing all the more interesting. The court record tells us that the girl's father was a mason, and the boy's deceased father had been a tiler. Not a bad match. Evidently, Degissey's mother thought so as well. Rut young witnesses emphasized that when Degissey's mother had sought to arrange such a marriage with the girl's parents, they rebuffed her. The boy himself faced a similar public humiliation at a dance only a short time later. We learn through the voices of the young witnesses that the boastful remarks about having sex with a young woman were evidently preceded by a failed marriage proposal and the unfortunate event at the dance. Degissey, then, insulted Louise Villat not only as an attempt to repair bis honor, but also that of his own widowed mother. (71) When insults in the bar did not suffice, Degissey moved to the street before the threshold of Villat's home and conducted a type of world-turned-upside-down serenade, also known to eighteenth-century contemporaries as a bacchanale or tapage, where he taunted rather than lavished praise on the young girl and her family during the sexually-charged weeks of May. (72) This public challenge at the doorstep, in a skewed attempt at repairing the Degissey family honor, was too much for the Villat household to bear. This is not a simple story about a drunken youth mired in depression, but rather about a young man who was all too aware of his own sense of humiliation and failure, and who consciously used a youth's sense of the streets, timing, and of his voice, to cross urban thresholds that lay at the core of early modern identity and honor.
Recent studies of youth and adolescence have attempted to move beyond sources that privilege adult conceptions of youth in favor of sources that might reveal more direct access to youth behaviors. (73) Paul Griffiths, for example, has lobbied for an historical focus on the "nature of experiences of youth, the level of independence, the formative experiences, peer associations, and so on." (74) And Colin Heywood has encouraged historians to focus on work that" ... gives voice to a sample of young people from all levels of French society ... [and] ... analyses the way the individual child or adolescent reacted to the world around them, rather than the socio-political forces underlying legal and institutional developments." (75) This essay has shown that historians can use court records to see how youths navigated their urban settings. Although created by adults, the records can reveal the voices and perspectives of the youth. Dijon's court records from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries show that youth articulated aspects of honor--whether based on their family, sexuality, trustworthiness, or professional competence--that largely resembled those of the adults around them. For youths, the difference lies not in the types of honor defended, but rather in where they defended it. The strategies and tactics of the youth were informed by their own transitional life-stage between dependence and autonomy.
The court records reveal that the youths' age, life-stage, and gender caused them to utilize urban space in different ways than did adults who were already established in their neighborhoods. As they explored their identities and ventured into society, they chose negotiable spaces not occupied by adults with specific claims related to their own status as heads of households, as parents, or as people with some established claim on an economic pursuit within their neighborhood. At the same time, gender informed their use of space. Young men had more leeway in this regard, choosing city walls and nighttime streets as places to express their friendships, rivalries, and passions. Young females might have remained closer to home, but they too used the streets and squares around their homes to foster and preserve their own identities and reputations.
The evidence also shows that as they stepped out from their doorsteps, into the streets, and onto the walls, the fragile identities of both young men and women were rooted as much in their households as in their new peer groups. As much as medieval and early modern historians have stressed the mobility of youth and the importance of the peer group for identity formation, the identity of the young in these seventeenth-and eighteenth-century cases rested in some large measure on links with their families, neighbors, and masters. In his study of eighteenth-century Paris, David Garrioch argued that "family and community were in harmony, rather than rivals for the allegiance of the individual." (76) A recent study of youth in the Dutch Republic by Benjamin Roberts suggests much the same, emphasizing that while medieval youths frequently socialized outside the parental home, by the early modern period "young [urban] men were much less commonly socialized within old-style youth groups but increasingly within the family group and through their fathers in particular." (77) Early modern youth actively discovered their sense of self, and thereby moved towards the threshold of adulthood, by negotiating and challenging competing concepts of honor to some degree informed by their families and households, and their sense of urban space was crucial to their own identity development.
These findings contribute to our understanding of youth identity formation and their place in early modern urban life while also suggesting that assessing the agency of marginal groups in societies at all times and places include not only an understanding of what marginalized people have said or done, but also an understanding of where they did so, when, and why. Dijon's elites attempted to regulate urban space to reinforce social hierarchies, but theirs was just one of many competing interests acting on the shifting city landscape. The youth had their own ways of defining themselves, and their own places in which to do it.
Department of History
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Earlier versions of this essay were presented at the 2005 Annual Conference of the Society for the Study of French History in Southampton, England, and at the 2007 Biannual Conference of the Society for the History of Childhood and Youth in Norrkoping, Sweden. I thank the anonymous readers for the Journal of Social History, and also Kristin Cvancara, Jim Farr, Melanie Frappier, Kathleen Gorman, Jeremy Hayhoe, Lori Lahlum, Benjamin Roberts, and members of the Minnesota State Medieval and Early Modern Research Group for their comments and suggestions as the manuscript progressed.
(1.) Archives Departmentales de la Cote d'Or (Dijon, France, hereafter ADCO), B2 360/143, 10 May 1700.
(2.) David Garrioch, Neighbourhood and Community in Paris, 1740-1790 (Cambridge, 1986), 23; B. Ann Tlusty, Bacchus and Civic Order: The Culture of Drink in Early Modern Germany (Charlottesville, 2001), 122-133.
(3.) Peter Arnade, Martha Howell, and Walter Simons, "Fertile Spaces: The Productivity of Urban Space in Northern Europe," Journal of Interdisciplinary History 32 (2002): 515-548; Amanda Flather, Gender and Space in Early Modern England (Rochester, 2007); Barbara Hanawalt and Michael Kobialka, eds., Medieval Practices of Space (Minneapolis, 2000); Ineke Justitz, "Reforming Space, Reordering Reality: Naumburg's Herren Gasse in the 1540s," Sixteenth Century Journal 33 (2002): 625-648; and Riitta Laitinen, "Nighttime Street Fighting and the Meaning of Place: A Homicide in a Seventeenth-Century Swedish Provincial Town," Journal of Urban History 33 (2007): 602-619.
(4.) For a statement on the importance of assessing how children and youth use space, see Alison James, Chris Jenks, and Alan Prout, Theorizing Childhood (Cambridge, 1998), 37-58. Many pioneering works on early modern peer groups exist, but the use of urban space has not been a central component of the analysis until recently. For the charivari, see Natalie Zemon Davis, "The Reasons for Misrule," in Society and Culture in Early Modern France (Stanford, 1975), 97-123; Robert Muchembled, L'invention de l'homme moderne: culture et sensibilites en France du 'XVe au XVIIIe siecle (Paris, 1988), 26-27; and Norbert Schindler, "Guardians of Disorder: Rituals of Youthful Culture at the Dawn of the Modern Age," in A History of Young People in the West, Volume One: Ancient and Medieval Rites of Passage, ed. Giovanni Levi and Jean-Claude Schmitt, trans. Camille Naish (Cambridge, MA, 1997), 240-282. On the lichtstuben, see Andreas Gestrich, "Protestant Religion, the State and the Suppression of Traditional Youth Culture in Southwest Germany," History of European ideas 11 (1989): 629-635; and Gestrich, "After Dark: Girls' Leisure, Work, and Sexuality in Eighteenth-and Nineteenth-Century Rural Germany," in Secret Gardens, Satanic Mills: Placing Girls in European History, 1750-1960, ed. Mary Jo Maynes, Birgette Soland, and Christina Benninghaus (Bloomington, 2005), 54-68. On youth violence, see Philippe Aries, Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life, trans. Robert Baldick (New York, 1962), 315-328; Laitinen, "Nighttime Street Fighting and the Meaning of Place"; Frederique Pitou, "Jeunesse et desordre social: les coureurs de nuit a Laval au XVIIIe siecle," Revue d'histoire moderne et contemporaine 47 (2000): 69-92; Jacques Rossiaud, Medieval Prostitution, trans. Lydia G. Cochrane (Oxford, 1988), 12-26; and Ruth Mazo Karras, From Boys to Men: Formations of Masculinity in Late Medieval Europe (Philadelphia, 2003), 148-149.
(5.) For the use of early modern criminal records, see Natalie Zemon Davis, Fiction in the Archives: Pardon Tales and their Tellers in Sixteenth-Century France (Stanford, 1987); Edward Muir and Guido Ruggiero, eds., History from Crime: Selections from Quaderni Storici (Baltimore, 1994), 227-229. For examples of the use of criminal records for the history of childhood and youth, see Robin Griller and Jessica Warner, "'My Pappa is out, and my Mamma is asleep.' Minors, their Routine Activities, and Interpersonal Violence in an Early Modern Town, 1653-1781," Journal of Social History 36 (2003): 561-584; Laitinen, "Nighttime Street Fighting and the Meaning of Place"; Ottavia Niccoli, "Rituals of Youth: Love, Play, and Violence in Tridentine Bologna," in The Premodern Teenager: Youth in Society, 1150-1650, ed. Konrad Elsenbichler (Toronto, 2002), 75-94; and Pitou, "Jeunesse et desordre social."
(6.) On the use of the voice in early modern cities, see Norbert Schindler, Rebellion, Community, and Custom in Early Modern Germany, trans. Pamela E. Selwyn (Cambridge, 2002), 210-211; and A- Roger Ekirch, At Day's Close: Night in Times Past (New York, 2005), 245-246.
(7.) Jacques Dupaquier, Histoire de la population francaise. Volume 2, De la Renaissance a 1789 (Paris, 1988), 67-70.
(8.) Denombrement du Duche de Bourgogne et Pays Adjacens, et des Provinces de Bresse et Dombs, Bugey et Gex. Redige en 1786, par les soins de M. Amelot, lors Intendant deces Provinces, et imprime en 1790, sur la demande des Deputes de ces memes Provinces a l'Assemblee Nationale (Paris, 1790).
(9.) Christine Lamarre, "La population de la Bourgogne a la fin du XVIIIe siecle a travers le denombrement Amelot (1786)," Annales de Bourgogne 55 (1983): 65-99.
(10.) Benoit Garnot, Vivre en Bourgogne au XVIIIe siecle (Dijon, 1996), 22.
(11.) Schindler, Rebellion, Community, and Custom in Early Modern Germany, 210-211; Paul Griffiths, Youth and Authority: Formative Experiences in England, 1560-1640 (Oxford, 1996), 209-213.
(12.) Rossiaud, Medieval Prostitution, 12-26; Karras, From Boys to Men, 148-149; Edward Muir, Ritual in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, 1997), 27-28.
(13.) Ekirch, At Day's Close, 227, 143.
(14.) ADCO, B2 360/226, 2 December 1742.
(15.) Ekirch, At Day's Close, 227-258; Craig Koslofsky, "Court Culture and Street Lighting in Seventeenth-Century Europe," Journal of Urban History 28 (2002): 743-768; Koslofsky, "Princes of Darkness: The Night at Court, 1650-1750," Journal of Modern History 79 (2007): 235-273.
(16.) James R. Farr, Authority and Sexuality in Early Modern Burgundy (1550-1750) (Oxford, 1995); Niccoli, "Rituals of Youth: Love, Play, and Violence in Tridentine Bologna," 75.
(17.) Muir, Ritual in Early Modern Europe, 139; See also Harringron, '"Singing for His Supper,'" 27-45.
(18.) For a similar trend in the seventeenth-century Netherlands, see Benjamin Roberts, "On Not Becoming a Delinquent: Raising Adolescent Boys in the Dutch Republic, 1600-1750," in Becoming Delinquent: British and European Youth, 1650-1950, ed. Heather Shore and Pamela Cox (Burlington, 2002), 43-51.
(19.) Paul Griffiths, "Juvenile Delinquency in Time," in Becoming Delinquent: British and European Youth, 1650-1950, ed. Heather Shore and Pamela Cox (Burlington, 2002), 26.
(20.) 21 June 1630, verified 5 July 1630 by Dijon's Parlement. The city was forced to reiterate this order after two particularly harsh charivaris organized by ten masked youths in January 1663 and again in November 1665. See Jean-Benigne Lucotte, Memoires pour servir a l'histoire de la fete des foux, qui se saisoit autrefois dans plusiers Eglises (Lausanne and Geneva, 1741).
(21.) Archives Municipales de Dijon (hereafter AMD), I 106, 4 May 1654; Bibliotheque municipale de Dijon (hereafter BMD), ms. 1304, "Extraits des registres de Parlement," f. 51-53, 26 January 1696.
(22.) Ibid., 22 April 1766.
(23.) ADCO, B2 360/227, 24 December 1764.
(24.) The following court orders are examples of local responses to series of events involving youth. BMD, ms. 1304, "Extraits des registres de Parlement," f. 67v-r, 31 July 1696 and 8 August 1696, for charivari-style events, and 5 May 1700 and 12 May 1700, f. 175v-r, for prohibitions against the youth carrying "batons, canes, and any other offensive arms." For royal and local prohibitions against youth in taverns, see ms. 1305, "Extraits des registres de Parlement," 12 January 1718 and 6 August 1718, f. 119-122.
(25.) James, Jenks, and Prout, Theorizing Childhood, 49.
(26.) For example, see ADCO, B2 360/227, 31 July 1764 for interrogations of two youths, aged 16 and 17, vagabonds from Lorraine.
(27.) James R. Farr, "The Death of a Judge: Performance, Honor, and Legitimacy in Seventeenth-Century France," Journal of Modern History 75 (2003): 3; Farr, Hands of Honor: Artisans and their World in Dijon, 1550-1650 (Ithaca, 1988), 177-195.
(28.) David Garrioch, Neighbourhood and Community in Paris, 37-41; Julius Ruff, Crime, Justice and Public Order in Old Regime France: The Senechausees of Libourne and. Bazas, 1696-1789 (London, 1984), 71-78.
(29.) Garrioch, Neighbourhood and Community in Paris, 40.
(30.) See Arnold van Gennep, The Rites of Passage, trans. Monika B. Vizedon and Gabriellc L. Caffee (London, 1960); Stanley Chojnacki, Women and Men in Renaissance Venice (Baltimore, 2000), 234-235, 240.
(31.) ADCO, B2 360/142, 1 January 1700.
(32.) ADCO B2 360/143, 19 July 1700.
(33.) Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendell (Berkeley, 1984), 117-128.
(34.) Ruff, Crime, Justice and Public Order in Old Regime France, 80-81.
(35.) Garrioch, Neighbourhood and Community in Paris, 43.
(36.) Laura Gowing, "'The Freedom of the Streets': Women and Social Space, 1560-1640," in Londinopolis: Essays in the Social and Cultural History of Early Modern London, ed. Paul Griffiths and Mark S.R. Jenner (Manchester, 2000), 130-151.
(37.) Garrioch, Neighbourhood and Community in Paris, 58-59.
(38.) ADCO, B2 360/223, 17 December 1740. Witnesses cited visits by the young man, in concert with late-night walks.
(39.) See, for example, ADCO 360/227, 20 May 1763, where the plaintiff and her family cited frequent visits. The court awarded damages to the young girl of an annual payment of sixty livres until the child reached majority, two hundred livres so that the child might learn a trade, and six hundred livres in damages and court costs. Sec also ADCO, B2 360/103, 26 July 1680; ADCO, B2 360/143, 18 June 1700 143; and ADCO, B2 360/144, 6 Nov 1700.
(40.) See for example, ADCO 360/142, 13 February 1700.
(41.) ADCO, B2 360/208, 30 November 1730. In this story, the defendant "ferma la porte [et] il la saisy sur le champ et par force."
(42.) ADCO, B2 360/103, 10 April 1680. In contrast, the plaintiff accused the defendant's son of going "au devant et dernier la maison du suppliant ..."
(43.) ADCO, B2 360/207, 14 July 1730.
(44.) ADCO, B2 360/143, 19 May 1700.
(45.) ADCO, B2 360/143, 9 May 1700.
(46.) ADCO, B2 360/143, 27 June 1700. In this case, a father claimed that his son entered the room of a schoolmaster "par curiosite ... [while] salue fort honnestement ...," but then was assaulted by the master.
(47.) Annik Pardailhe-Galabrun, The Birth of Intimacy: Privacy and Domestic Life in Early Modern Paris, trans. Jocelyn Phelps (Philadelphia, 1991), 42-45, 56.
(48.) Garrioch, Neighbourhood and Community in Paris, 58.
(49.) Garrioch, Neighbourhood and Community in Paris, 58.
(50.) Flather, Gender and Space in Early Modern England, 48.
(51.) Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life; Mary Douglas, "The Idea of Home: A Kind of Space," Social Research 58 (1991)": 289.
(52.) Garrioch, Neighbourhood and Community in Paris, 54.
(53.) Friedrichs, The Early Modern City, 22.
(54.) Justitz, "Reforming Space, Reordering Reality," 631-632.
(55.) ADCO, B2 360/223, 18 December 1740.
(56.) MD, I 106, 8 October 1711.
(57.) AMD, I 106, 12 May 1676.
(58.) ADCO, B2 360/103, 12 February 1680.
(59.) AMD, I 106, 16 December 1683.
(60.) Muir, Ritual in Early Modern Europe, 105.
(61.) ADCO, B2 360/226, 29 October 1742.
(62.) ADCO, B2 360/208, 30 October 1730.
(63.) ADCO, B2 360/226, 6 December 1742. The son's exact age is unknown. He is identified in the court record as a "fils mineur," so he was unmarried and under the age of majority, then twenty-five.
(64.) Peter Burke, Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe (New York, 1978), 181, 194-195.
(65.) ADCO, B2 360/226, 6 December 1742.
(66.) ADCO, B2 360/207, 18 February 1730.
(67.) See also ADCO, B2 360/103, 10 April 1680, for an example of a conflict between sons and journeymen of two competitive master clockmakers.
(68.) ADCO, B2 360/207, 18 February 1730.
(70.) ADCO, B2 360/143, 19 July 1700.
(71.) On women as powerful brokers in marriage proposals, see Jeremy Hayhoe, "Illegitimacy, Inter-generational Conflict and Legal Practice in Eighteenth-Century Northern Burgundy," Journal of Social History 38 (2005): 679-80.
(72.) Edward Muir, Ottavia Niccoli, and Norbert Schindler have suggested that youths deliberately overturned the ritual of the serenade with insults and public humiliation. See Muir, Ritual in Early Modern Europe, 101; Niccoli, "Rituals of Youth," 88-89; Schindler, Rebellion, Community, and Custom in Early Modern Germany, 210-211.
(73.) See, for example, Hugh Cunningham, "Histories of Childhood," American Historical Review 103 (1998): 1195-1208; Colin Heywood, Growing Up in France: From the Ancient Regime to the Third Republic (Cambridge, 2007), 9; James, Jenks, and Prout, Theorizing Childhood, chapter 2; and Margaret King, "Concepts of Childhood: What We Know and Where We Might Go," Renaissance Quarterly 60 (2007): 371-407.
(74.) Paul Griffiths, Youth and Authority: Formative Experiences in England, 1560-1640 (Oxford, 1996), 8.
(75.) Heywood, Growing Up in France, 9.
(76.) Garrioch, Neighbourhood and Community in Paris, 72.
(77.) Benjamin Roberts, "On Not Becoming a Delinquent," 41-42. Similarly, Joel Harrington's study of street singing in Nuremberg reveals that adults were much more likely to accompany the juvenile street singers in the eighteenth century than in the sixteenth. See Harrington, " 'Singing for His Supper,'" 37, n. 55.
By Christopher R. Corley
Minnesota State University, Mankato
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