In Scheherezade’s shoes
- Fiction in the Archives: Pardon Tales and their Tellers in 16th-century France by Natalie Zemon Davis
Polity, 217 pp, £22.50, March 1988, ISBN 0 7456 0531 1
Like good detective novels, the letters of remission which are the subject of Natalie Zemon Davis’s most recent book usually start with a corpse which requires to be explained. Other offences – tax riot, heresy, the defloration of a virgin – could be the occasion for the ‘pardon tales’ such letters contained, but the procedure was most often resorted to by someone who had been the cause of someone else’s death. In 16th-century France, letters of remission obtained royal mercy and circumvented the vagaries of royal justice and the revenge of the victim’s friends and kin.