Lust for Liberty challenges long-standing views of popular medieval revolts. Comparing rebellions in northern and southern Europe over two centuries, Samuel Cohn analyzes their causes and forms, their leadership, the role of women, and the suppression or success of these revolts.
Popular revolts were remarkably common--not the last resort of desperate people. Leaders were largely workers, artisans, and peasants. Over 90 percent of the uprisings pitted ordinary people against the state and were fought over political rights--regarding citizenship, governmental offices, the barriers of ancient hierarchies--rather than rents, food prices, or working conditions. After the Black Death, the connection of the word "liberty" with revolts increased fivefold, and its meaning became more closely tied with notions of equality instead of privilege.
The book offers a new interpretation of the Black Death and the increase of and change in popular revolt from the mid-1350s to the early fifteenth century. Instead of structural explanations based on economic, demographic, and political models, this book turns to the actors themselves--peasants, artisans, and bourgeois--finding that the plagues wrought a new urgency for social and political change and a new self- and class-confidence in the efficacy of collective action.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
- Harvard University Press
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