Passionate Politics: Emotion and Identity Formation Among the Menu Peuple in Early Fifteenth Century France
The extant political records from the first decades of fifteenth century France are paradoxical when it comes to how they narrate the emotions of the menu peuple. This was the period when the feud between the Houses of Burgundy and of Orleans escalated into full-scale civil war (by October 1411), and the realm was torn apart by violent factionalism. Typically condemnatory in nature, the documents recorded the menu peuple’s involvement in the conflict and emphasized the weakness of the menu peuple in allowing themselves to be led by their emotions. Because of their perceived frailty and volatility, clear attempts were made to control their emotions by limiting the opportunities for provocation, namely by restricting assemblies and the publication of letters. However, the royal mandates and political maneuverings of the ruling elite also suggest that they recognized that urban political affect was an important force to be taken seriously, not least because it could challenge their own power. Collective emotional expressions gave the menu peuple voice, and the affective bonds urban groups formed, particularly when expressing shared emotions like joy or anger, constructed important political identities. Therefore, rather than seeking only to prevent or reduce the emotion of diverse urban bodies, ruling elites were interested in cooperating with this strong political force. I argue that the collective emotions of the menu peuple contributed directly to local and broader political formations and they were critical constitutive actants in the political landscape of early fifteenth century France.