Monday, October 26, 2009

An answer to a Charny Question

Some of you readers know quite a bit about Charny and his questions but let me explain to the rest why this little discovery is a thrill for me.

Geoffroi de Charny was a prominent French knight in the 1350s who wrote a book of chivalry and a series of questions on the law of arms. The questions were meant to be presented to the French chivalric Order of the Star, who were supposed to answer these puzzles of military law, concerning plunder, ransoms, what was honorable behavior on the battlefield, etc.. We don't know if this was ever done, and we have no answers to any of the questions. Except...

There is a Belgian edition of Charny's questions, and in it there is a footnote which gives an answer to one of those questions, which the editor, Rossbach, found in the Madrid manuscript of the questions, tucked away in the margin. Who put it there and when is another of those great unanswered historical questions. Here are my translations of the question and the Madrid marginal answer.
Charny says: and if the men at arms mentioned above [who went out from the city they were garrisoning to attack the enemy without their captain's permission] gain much and lose nothing, and those [men at arms] in the city who remained to guard it demand a share, and those who rode out say no. Many good arguments are made on either side. How will it be judged by the law of arms?

Answer: those in the city who remained behind don't get anything at all if the agreement before was not that all should be en butin [in the booty for shares], but this is good law and reason.
So if there wasn't a specific agreement about sharing the booty, too bad Charlie!

Image: a marginal note by Isaac Newton in a printed book, now owned by Colorado State University.

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Blogger Bavardess said...

It's always instructive to see how marginal notations can nuance and debate with the main text - something you don't often get to appreciate when you only see later printed versions rather than the original manuscript (or photos of it). In this case, it seems the annotator had a much more black and white perception of the unwritten rules of war than the manuscript's writer.

8:35 PM  
Blogger Will McLean said...

Great find! I wonder if paleography could tell us anything useful about when the answer was written.

4:10 PM  

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