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Lust for Liberty

Lust for Liberty

The Politics of Social Revolt in Medieval Europe, 1200–1425

Samuel K. Cohn, Jr.

ISBN 9780674029675

Publication date: 07/01/2009

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.

    —Gene A. Brucker, author of Living on the Edge in Leonardo's Florence


  • 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.

Book Details

  • Harvard University Press