Hagar Barak

Hunting and elite cohesion:
Carolingians and Capetians in comparison

Royal hunting was an element of medieval elite identity, used for various political and social ends. Although it is attested fairly continuously in European monarchies, its significance and moral evaluation were more at variance than often assumed. This study has compared the descriptions of royal hunting in Carolingian and Capetian royal histories. During the reign of Louis the Pious in the ninth century the royal hunt came to signify martial prowess, stability and cohesion between the king and the nobility, at a time when the king needed their support. Histories written at this time portray royal hunting favourably and frequently.
Continuity with the Carolingians was central to the royal image that was constructed in Capetian historiography. However, the Chronicles of St. Denis in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries rarely record royal hunts, and when they do the context is not favourable. They emphasize calamities that might arise during the hunt. The Chronicles of St. Denis reflect a political reality where centralized monarchy dominated the nobility, which lost much of its privileged position at court. They monks of St. Denis also expressed their disapproval of an activity that favoured an aristocratic sense of community with the monarch. The Chronicles of St. Denis thus use hunting to emphasize the unique status of the French king vis à vis the nobility and other Christian rulers. Thus, the traditional activity of royal hunting could be regarded in rather different ways, depending on alternative modes of establishing cohesion among the elites of the kingdom.