Women in revolt in medieval and early modern Europe

Authored by: Samuel Cohn

The Routledge History Handbook of Medieval Revolt

Print publication date:  November  2016
Online publication date:  November  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138952225
eBook ISBN: 9781315542423
Adobe ISBN: 9781134878871


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The modern history of ‘pre-modern’ popular resistance must begin with George Rudé’s classic works on crowds in history, which focused on the French Revolution. In reaction to scholars of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, especially Gustave Le Bon and his psychological study of the crowd of the ‘popular mind’ (1895), Rudé disputed timeless generalisations on crowd psychology. As with so much else, the French Revolution demarcated here the start of modernity. With armed protests such as the Champs de Mars in July 1791, Rudé found a watershed. Before, he argued, riots and revolts bore a close relationship with the price of bread, matters of the hearth, the economics of subsistence. From this fact, Rudé and others following in his footsteps created and elaborated on models of popular insurrection in history, which divide by two vague temporal categories: modern and pre-modern types, forms, and ‘repertoires’ of revolt. For these, assumptions about women’s roles in them have been pivotal. Because of the correlation of bread prices and the appearance of food riots early in the French Revolution, Rudé argued that women were often the mainstay of ‘pre-modern’ revolts as with the march on Versailles of 5 October 1789 that was spawned by the scarcity of bread. These matters of the hearth, according to Rudé, struck women and their children first and were principally the concerns of women. In the later stages of the French Revolution and thereafter, Rudé showed from his samples that riots became less sensitive to food prices and included fewer women. In their place, strikes arose as the characteristic form of ‘modern’ popular protest, which he argued were men’s business. 1

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