Charles de Miramon, The Origins of the Idea of Noble Blood and the Birth of the Princes de Sang. France and England in the 14th Century

The idea of noble blood seems to be immemorial. In ancient Rome, hereditary blood had a strong social and metaphorical connotation. However, in the Christian West the uses of the notion of hereditary blood greatly declined, to reappear only in the 14th Century, in a different context. Blood now had a moral connotation. It was either good or bad and also had a political value: le sang ne ment pas (‘blood does not lie’).

This article studies the emergence of this new concept of hereditary blood in the chanson de geste Beaudoin de Sebourc, the courtly practices of the Houses of Capet and Plantagenêt and in the laws of royal succession.The new idea of hereditary blood appeared in the 1320s. In the 1355s the Valois imagined a group of princes de sang. The special place of blood in the French royal House can be explained by dynastic conflicts, by the Hundred Years’ war and the emergence of Salic law. However, England was not immune to the idea of hereditary blood and a study of Edward III and his successors shows the influence of the French model across the Channel. Legal specialists were much more sceptical of the concept, which was not easily reconciled with the categories of learned law. It is only with Baldus that a legal theory of ius sanguinis developed, which had a tremendous effect on posterity. Hereditary blood was not restricted to the royal or noble elites. As shown by judiciary sources and college statutes, the idea was also used by commoners and clerics. At the end of the Middle Ages, blood thus started to convey new ideas of heredity.