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Lust for Liberty: The Politics of Social Revolt in Medieval Europe, 1200-1425 Paperback – January 14, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-0674030381 ISBN-10: 0674030389

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Editorial Reviews

Review

A magisterial work that will be recognized as the standard treatment of the subject. Samuel Cohn effectively demolishes the argument that peasant rebellions in late medieval Europe were infrequent and invariably unsuccessful. His prose is consistently lucid and his argument logical and coherent. Only a handful of medievalists in his field can match the range, depth, and originality of his contribution. (Gene A. Brucker, author of Living on the Edge in Leonardo's Florence)

The overall thrust of Cohn's argument is not difficult to summarize. Popular uprisings, he believes, were much more common in the late Middle Ages than has generally been assumed, and most of them ('over 90 per cent') took place in towns; peasant revolts, by contrast, were rare, as were revolts with primarily economic aims...Few historians of either the current generation of past generations have consistently presented such a progressive view of the later Middle Ages as Cohn does, despite working on such apparently unpromising topics as plague and mob violence. Some misgivings will surely remain about the precision of his methodology, but even so, Lust for Liberty is a highly original piece of work, a breath of fresh air on a fascinating subject, and a book that challenges historical orthodoxy. (Chris Given-Wilson Times Literary Supplement)

Samuel Cohn has long had an enviable talent for setting the terms of discussion in the field of social history. He has posed penetrating questions, offered original answers, and championed a comparative methodology against more standard approaches that derive conclusions from the evidence of single cities and states. Lust for Liberty, follows the same tradition...The book is magisterial in scope, highly original, well-argued, and sure to set the terms of future discourse on the subject. Its effectiveness is enhanced by the author's lucid writing style and ability to stay on point despite changes of geographic setting and historiographical tradition. Cohn deserves especial credit for integrating analysis with narrative, such that, in addition to his challenging interpretations, the reader is left with indelible images of the revolts themselves. Who can forget the uprising spurred by the cardinal's pretty dog or the revolt of the people without underpants? (William Caferro Renaissance Quarterly)

This is a book of the greatest importance and interest. The most far-reaching study of revolts in the late middle ages undertaken so far, it has opened a number of doors leading to yet further study. (Christopher Allmand History 2007-04-01)

In Lust for Liberty Samuel Cohn sets out to examine revolts in medieval Europe between 1200 and 1425...This book goes far beyond any individual revolt, however, by problematizing the nature and processes of revolt all across Europe in this period, and thus forcing us to re-consider the broader context of each one. It is a stimulating and insightful book, with an argument as relevant to the teacher of the medieval survey as to the specialist. (Margaret McGlynn Left History)

About the Author

Samuel K. Cohn, Jr., is Professor of Medieval History at the University of Glasgow. Among his books are The Cult of Remembrance and the Black Death and Women in the Streets: Essays on Sex and Power in the Italian Renaissance.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (December 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674030389
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674030381
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,283,928 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Brian Griffith on December 10, 2008
Format: Paperback
Weren't people in the Middle Ages subservient and incapable of resisting their superiors? Cohn investigates town chronicles, royal decrees, and court records across Flanders, France and Italy, finding descriptions of 1,012 popular revolts in the 225 years after 1200. Though ruler-sponsored record-keepers avoided mentioning the victories of peasants or town rabble over their lords, Cohn's survey of official pardons shows that in 70% of these revolts (726 out of the 1,012), the rebels won at least some of their demands, including pardon from any punishment.

With surprising detail Cohn recovers evidence of the causes, demands, tactics, and slogans of medieval popular movements. We see the "people without underpants", who threw out the corrupt administrator of Bologna in 1289, the children's anti-war marches, the collective strikes involving mass emigration away from abusive rulers, or the great revolts against papal rule which swept 1,577 walled towns and villages of central Italy in 1375. Cohn gives the conflicting contemporary views on these revolts, which sound quite familiar. As aristocratic cleric Jean de Bel explained, the rabble were driven by "uncontrolled diabolical madness" and "senseless beastly rage". Other writers reflect the views of victorious rebel leaders, as where the Milanese chronicle records: "all the cities and villages of Romagna, the Marche, the Duchy of Spoleto, the Papal States, and the Campania of Rome ... went under the flag of liberty and made themselves free".

The book is more analysis of fragmentary records than story telling. In tabulating the causes, goals, means, and results of rebellion, Cohn avoids generalization like the plague. He's well aware of the limits in his source material. But the weight of evidence shows a dramatic age, with the movements for liberty gathering steam.

--author of Correcting Jesus
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Lust for Liberty: The Politics of Social Revolt in Medieval Europe, 1200-1425
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