Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The joy of battle in the History of William Marshal

For next week's Chivalry seminar I had originally assigned a section from the History of William Marshal on the Battle of Lincoln (1217, in living memory for the author). Like the Song of Roland, our main text for next Monday, there is a lot of talking before and during battle, of an encouraging and boastful sort. Going through the History again, though, I was struck by this passage:

16321 [William Marshal] told the bowmen to make sure to

spread themselves out in a long line,

so that, when the French arrived,

16324 their horses would be killed under them.

The Marshal then asked for

two hundred soldiers and ordered them

to be ready to kill

16328 their own horses with their knives,

so as to be able to take shelter behind them,

if necessary, in an emergency.

All those who listened to the earl

16332 displayed their joy

and disported themselves as merrily

as if they were at a tournament.

William is telling his troops that they are in for a real fight. They will be killing horses instead of taking them as prizes, and they'll even slaughter their own if they need to.

The reaction? Joy.

Source for the passage: De Re Militari.

Source for the photo: A Polish reenactment event described here.



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