Christine de Pizan, Primat and the « noble nation françoise »
Lori J. Walters
Lori J. Walters, « Christine de Pizan, Primat, and the ’noble nation françoise’ », Cahiers de Recherches Médiévales et Humanistes, n° 9 (2002)
Language is a major determinant of national identity. If this continues to hold true today, it was even more apparent in the late Middle Ages, when the emergence of fledgling nation-states paralleled the development of their vernaculars. Historians never cease to point out that the medieval idea of nationhood was different from our modern notion.
Nonetheless, as I will show here, at least two French medieval writers employed the term ‘nation’ with a meaning approximating the one given by the OED : « an extensive aggregate of persons, so closely associated with each other by common descent, language, or history, as to form a distinct race or people, usually organized as a separate political state and occupying a definite territory ».
In part one of this study, I will treat the use of the terms ‘nation françoise’ by Christine de Pizan and ‘nation’ and ‘France’ by Primat, the original author-compiler of the late thirteenth-century Grandes Chroniques de France. These examples suggest two working hypotheses : first, that the concept of a ‘nation françoise’ originated at least as early as the thirteenth century, and second, that the concept is intimately related to the rise of French as a national vernacular.
In part two of this study, I will develop these ideas by showing how Christine and Primat, through the advice they offered to rulers in the vernacular, were furthering the French monarchy’s attempts to legitimize its power and to extend it over a greater number of people. Along with other theorists, Christine and Primat were helping formulate the idea of the French nation (...)