2012 Henry Allen Moe Prize

Spring General Meeting
William Chester Jordan

The 2012 recipient of the Henry Allen Moe Prize is William Chester Jordan for his paper entitled "Count Robert's 'Pet' Wolf," read at the Society's meeting April 23, 2010, and published in the Society's Proceedings, December 2011.

William Chester Jordan's paper on Count Robert of Artois touches on both an unusual moment in history and the overarching themes of both physical and psychological subjugation practiced by the medieval rich and powerful.  Count Robert, a nephew of Saint Louis of France, implicitly rejected his uncle's teachings (put forth in works known as the Instructions and Teachings of Saint Louis) by indulging in the more traditional aspects of courtly life such as hunting and keeping a fool.  Among his unusual indulgences was a 'pet' wolf which the keeper often allowed to roam about the countryside, terrorizing the populace both physically (killing more than twenty of the peasants' livestock in the spring of 1302 alone) and psychologically (in an ironic twist of Aesop's famous fable of mice belling the cat).  This paper gives us a brief glimpse into the lives of both subject and subjugator in medieval Europe and the role wolves played in reality and as symbol.

Christopher Jones, Chair of the Moe Prize Selection Committee, stated while presenting the prize that: "this is a splendid and original paper on Saint Louis of France's eccentric nephew, Count Robert of Artois. Count Robert kept an unusual pet, a wolf, and amused himself by letting it terrorize his peasants.  Though he 'belled' the wolf, he did so not to warn the unwary (as the mice hoped to do in Aesop's famous fable), but to increase the beast's power to cause terror.  This elegant and concise essay considers how wolves were generally regarded in the High Middle Ages, the particular dangers created by 'lone wolves,' and (since lone wolves were sometimes rabid) the horrifying effects of rabies in a world where there was no known remedy other than cauterization.  The paper is vivid, erudite, and at the same time a timely lesson about the ways by which the medieval rich and powerful could keep the poor in psychological subjection."

William Chester Jordan received a Ph.D. at Princeton University in 1973 and has remained at Princeton throughout his career.  Professor of History since 1986 and current Chair of the Department of History, he also served as Director of the Davis Center for Historical Studies from 1994-99.  Dr. Jordan is a master medievalist. Beginning as a historian of the state, he has consistently made the development of the central political and social institutions of the great feudal monarchies the core of his work.  Thorough investigations in the French national and provincial archives have enabled him to shed new light on classic subjects as diverse as the military organization of the Crusades and the dissolution of serfdom.  At the same time, however, he has never lost sight of the many thousands of medieval people who had to forge communities and ways of living outside the central institutions of the great states, and sometimes in sharp opposition to them.  His work on the lives of serfs, Jews and women in the Middle Ages applies to new sources, new problems, and unstudied social groups the same expert craftsmanship exhibited in his work on the state.  His book on the famine of the fourteenth century is a still broader account of the social and human consequences of catastrophe.  Jordan’s wide historical sympathies, remarkable linguistic gifts, and eloquence in speech and writing have won him an international reputation, and his rigorous undergraduate and graduate teaching has led brilliant younger scholars to devote themselves to careers in the field.  Dr. Jordan was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society in 2000.

Endowed by Edith N. Moe in 1982, the prize honors Henry Allen Moe, paying particular tribute to his firm commitment to the humanities and those who pursue them. Early in his career, Dr. Moe became president of the Guggenheim Foundation, and for the next forty years shaped and ran the organization to become one of the nation’s chief benefactors of creative scholars, scientists, and artists.  Dr. Moe served as president of the American Philosophical Society from 1959 to 1970.

The selection committee consisted of Christopher Jones (chair), George Martin Lane Professor of the Classics and History, Harvard University; Louis Begley, Novelist, Retired Partner, Debevoise & Plimpton; and Elizabeth Cropper, Dean, Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, National Gallery of Art.