Friday, January 25, 2013

Jonathan R. Lyon's "Princely Brothers and Sisters"

Jonathan R. Lyon is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Chicago.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Princely Brothers and Sisters: The Sibling Bond in German Politics, 1100–1250, and reported the following:
If you open Princely Brothers and Sisters to page 99, you will find yourself in the middle of one of the pivotal chapters in the book. Here, the two main themes of the book—sibling relationships and the practice of politics—are combined for the first time. I argue in this chapter that sets of brothers within the German upper aristocracy worked closely together to exert influence over political developments at the court of Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa (reigned 1152-1190). Three points are central to this argument and my broader thesis. First, contrary to popular belief, the German aristocracy did not practice primogeniture during the Middle Ages. Instead, multiple brothers received noble titles and pieces of their father’s patrimony, giving them the wealth, power and authority to become prominent figures at the imperial court. Second, the generation of the upper aristocracy that came of age in the mid-twelfth century was an unusually large one. In the nine noble families at the center of my study, this generation included sibling groups numbering three, four, five and, in one case, even seven brothers. Page 99 begins to give the reader a sense of how these groups rose to prominence at the beginning of Barbarossa’s reign. Third, both Barbarossa and the most powerful German noble of the later twelfth century, Duke Henry the Lion of Saxony and Bavaria, did not belong to such large sets of brothers. These first cousins depended on each other for political support, but their cousinly connection was not as effective as the sibling bond in other aristocratic families. As I argue throughout the book, the bond between siblings proved to be one of the most durable and efficacious social bonds in German aristocratic society, and the middle decades of the twelfth century are the period when one can see most clearly how strong sibling relationships shaped events in the political arena.
Learn more about Princely Brothers and Sisters at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue