Monday, March 01, 2010

Military ordinances in St. Louis's army in Egypt, 1250

I am currently writing a book about Charny's Questions on War, which are concerned with resolving conflicts between men at arms according to the laws of arms. One thing that I have learned in the process of researching this book is that the law of arms as Charny saw it, and not just him either, was not the same as the rules for disciplining and managing an army. These rules were called ordinances, and they concerned such things as discouraging theft and fights within the army.

Today I was reading Matthew Paris's English History, an abbreviation of his Chronica Majora, and found a perfect example of the scope of ordinances. It also illustrates very nicely the potential for conflicts within armies, especially when high-ranking men from a variety of countries were in the same host.

This example comes from Paris's account of the crusade of St. Louis, King Louis IX of France, and it can be found in Matthew Paris's English History translated by J. A. Giles 2: 354-5. It concerns an English nobleman named William Longuespee who is campaigning with the French crusading force in Egypt, in 1250. He learns that merchants are passing near the crusading force, carrying luxury goods and necessities of life, which the Crusaders are short of. William attacks and successfully brings home the goodies. But the French (whom Matthew Paris famously despised) are not exactly overjoyed.

The French, who had remained inactive, and were in great want, stimulated by feelings of envy and avarice, met him, on his arrival, in a hostile way, and, like daring robbers, forcibly took from him all that he had gained, and imputing it to him as a sufficient fault, that, in his rash presumption, contrary to the King's order, and the ordinances of the chiefs of the army, and also to military discipline, he had proudly and foolishly separated from the whole body of the army.

Later William Longuespee goes to complain to King Louis of France; before they are done speaking the King's brother, the Count of Artois who "was the head and chief of this violent transgression and robbery," came in ranting about the evil actions of William. Among his complaints was this passage:

This man, in contempt of you and the whole army, urged by his own impetuosity, has of his own accord clandestinely carried off booty by night, contrary to our decrees; and owing to this, the fame of him alone, and not of the French King or his people, has spread to all the provinces of the East; he has obscured all our names and titles.

The end of the episode is interesting. King Louis refuses to do anything about the situation, excusing himself to William by saying "thus easily can a quarrel be originated, which God forbid should occur in this army. It is necessary at such a critical time to endure such things with equanimity, and even worse things than these." William, in contempt of Louis's supine (sensible?) attitude, leaves the army and goes off to Acre.

Image: Matthew Paris praying, as drawn by himself.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

Jousting break (Oz variety)

I'm tired of rewriting and revising -- let's have a jousting break!



Thanks to all concerned in making the video. It's great!

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A truly worthy teaching from Geoffroi de Charny

There's much to dislike about medieval chivalry, but every once in a while...

From Charny's Book of Chivalry:

...those who have the will to achieve great worth [who] because of their great desire to reach and attain that high honor … do not care what suffering they have to endure, but turn everything into great enjoyment. Indeed, it is a fine thing to perform great deeds, for those who rise to great achievement cannot rightly grow tired or sated with it; so the more they achieve, the less they feel they have achieved; this stems from the delight they take in striving constantly to reach greater heights. And great good comes from performing these deeds, for the more one does, the less one is proud of oneself, and it always seems that there is so much left to do.


A lot of Olympians understand this.

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Hawley and Shakell hit the stage

I have a bad feeling that someone told me about this (Will McLean?) and I can't remember who. But it's not in my blog, or his, as far as I can tell so here goes.

A few of you may remember that back at the end of the year I said that there was a story waiting to be told about , who captured a Spanish count in the 14th century wars and spent decades trying to cash in on their "good fortune." Hawley ended up being murdered in Westminster Abbey (I recall being told it was during high mass) by thugs working for a royal duke, who wanted control of the captive to promote his diplomatic schemes. I said I would make a good medieval murder mystery or maybe a movie...

...little dreaming that there is a stage play from the 1840s online here. I haven't had a chance to read it yet so I can't tell you whether it is any good. But I bet John of Gaunt is the bad guy.

Next: the lost Broadway musical about Hawley-Smoot.

Update: The play Count de Denia, or the Spaniard's Ransom, is pretty dreadful pseudo-Shakespeare. John of Gaunt is the bad guy; otherwise great liberties are taken with history.

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Scrope v. Grosvenor

The English lawsuit, Scrope v. Grosvenor has a prominent place in the history of heraldry, since a record of the case before the court of chivalry has been preserved. I am going to be lazy and reproduce part of the Wikipedia entry, mainly because I couldn't do better myself:

In 1385, King Richard II of England invaded Scotland with his army. During this invasion, two of the king’s knights realized that they were using the same coat of arms. Richard Scrope, 1st Baron Scrope of Bolton from Bolton in Yorkshire and Sir Robert Grosvenor from Cheshire were both bearing arms blazoned Azure a Bend Or. When Scrope brought an action, Grosvenor maintained that his ancestor had come to England with William the Conqueror bearing these arms and that the family had borne them since. The case was brought before a military court and presided over by the constable of England. Several hundred witnesses were heard and these included John of Gaunt, King of Castile and Duke of Lancaster and Geoffrey Chaucer and a then-little known Welshman called Owain Glyndŵr. It was not until 1389 that the case was finally decided in Scrope’s favor. Grosvenor was allowed to continue bearing the arms within a bordure argent for difference. Neither party was happy with the decision, so when King Richard II gave his personal verdict on 27 May 1390 he confirmed that Grosvenor could not bear the differenced arms. His opinion was that these two shields were too similar for unrelated families in the same country to bear.


Unfortunately, it is not easy to get beyond modern summaries of this sort. The last time a record of the case was printed was 1832, and the book seems to be very rare; the University of Toronto's copy is on microfilm, with all the inconvenience and lack of readability that that implies. Today, however, it occurred to me that it might be on Google Books, a resource that is extremely useful for out of copyright materials.

At the moment, only half of the two volume work is available on preview. Maybe volume 1 (probably Stanford University's copy) was too beat up to be scanned? Volume 1, I am sad to say, has the actual transcript of the trial -- which I recall was in Latin -- but volume 2 which is a history of a family of Scrope contains a lot of information, and includes short biographies of the witnesses at the trial (who attested to where they had seen the arms borne by the two principals). Somebody out there might be very interested in this material.

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Revised thoughts on two of Charny's questions

Those of you who were interested in this post and the conversation with Will McLean in the comments and on his blog may want to know that I've revised my position. Thanks to Will for pushing me to revise and rethink. A serious, engaged critic is extraordinarily valuable.

As I once said of a very helpful senior scholar who looked over some of my unfinished material, "Even when he's wrong he's right."

Here's the current key passage on men-at-arms being dead, captured, or desconfit.
I interpret these questions to mean that the idea of being defeated, desconfit, was so unwelcome that even the dead would reject it. We can easily imagine that being called "defeated" stung, but it seems that there is more to it. Desconfit does not mean defeated in some neutral sense. One relevant but general sense means "destroyed, broken, ruined, reduced to nothingness." There is also is an old and more specific military sense in which desconfit means "routed," a concept of both moral and practical significance for horsemen. Given the existence of the different meanings for this loaded adjective, we can see that there would be room for disagreement about who could be called desconfit and how bad that label might be. Was it a state worse than death? Could running away open a man at arms to an accusation of the deepest dishonor? Desconfit certainly could conjure up a picture of a man at arms running from danger with the enthusiastic help of his horse, for which running away was the most natural response; and the picture is a disgraceful one, at least for the man.
See also Will's personal answer to another Charny question.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Two Charny questions answered?

A provisional text hot off the screen:
There was an entire lore surrounding the terminology of warfare, which was meant among other things to clarify what was honorable or at least expected behavior. One of the questions I would most like answered, were that possible, it is W37:
Since I have heard it said that one is able to leave and retreat from a battle from the defeated side, if he has acted in seven ways without being killed or taken, without being reproached. How can this be and what are the seven ways?

It would certainly be very illuminating to have Charny's list of seven mitigating circumstances, and whose comments on them, given that he was twice captured and must have twice surrendered himself, even though he did not consider this something that could be done lightly (W79). Unless Charny is disingenuously presenting a list of his own as something he heard from others, the list of seven implies serious discussion, perhaps long debate that unfortunately never found the pen to write it down. There was also debate about defeat, and when it took place, as seen in the curious questions W28 and W29:
There is a battle between two captains in which one party is defeated and many of the party are dead, concerning whom some say that some of those who are dead are not dead but defeated; and many other say of those who are dead that they are dead and defeated. How can this be?

There is a battle as above in which there are many captured, concerning whom some say that although they are captured, they do not regard them as defeated; and there are many others who consider them to be captured and defeated. How can this be?
I interpret these questions to mean that the idea of being defeated, desconfit, was so unwelcome that even the dead would reject it. We can easily imagine that being called "defeated" stung, but it seems that there is more to it. Desconfit in some Old and Middle French texts is more specific than "defeated." It means "put to rout." The answer to these two questions may be that the dead and captured members of the defeated, that is "routed," side are in the judgment of some precisely those who were not routed. They are dead or captured because they did not run away. If this is correct, we are being presented once again with the picture of a man at arms running from danger with the enthusiastic help of his horse, for which running away was the most natural response; and the picture is meant to be a disgraceful one, at least for the man.


Update:
Will McLean critiques my position; my reply to him is in the comments on his blog.

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Muhlberger speaks at the International Congress of Medieval Studies: Kalamazoo, May 15, 2010

I have been kindly asked to give this year's Journal of Medieval Military History Lecture, which I consider quite an honor. Its title, which I even think I can live up to, is Chivalry: Military Biographies and other Tales of the Later Middle Ages.
It will take place in Fetzer 1010 at 3:30. This scheduling has a lot to be said for it, since I will undoubtedly work up a good thirst, as will Kelly DeVries, who is the commentator.

If you are coming to Kalamazoo, please consider dropping in.

To see the whole Congress schedule, go here.

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Jean Flori's site

I became aware this week that the distinguished French historian of chivalry, Jean Flori, has a website. I am sure that I am not the only person around here who might be interested in this news. Here's the link!

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Richard W. Kaeuper, Holy Warriors: the Religious Ideology of Chivalry

Here is what I wrote about Richard Kaeuper's Holy Warriors for the online Medieval Review, a valuable electronic source for up-to-date reviews. It's free and sends the reviews right to your mailbox, and because it is electronic it allows and encourages reviewers to say more than they could in a print review. Here's where you can find subscription information, and here's where you go to search for past reviews.

Richard Kaeuper's most recent book is the product of remarkable learning. It takes a classic, well-studied topic of undoubted importance and, based on the author's wide and deep reading of both primary and secondary sources, not only sheds new and valuable light on its ostensible subject--the relationship between chivalry and religion in the Middle Ages--but also illuminates many other aspects of medieval history. Readers may well come away from this book with a whole new understanding of subjects that they thought they knew well. This reviewer, fresh from teaching a course on the Crusades, might well do things differently next time, thanks to Kaeuper's discussion of chivalry as struggle or labor.


Two decades ago, in his War, Justice, and Public Order: England and France in the Later Middle Ages (1988), Kaeuper found himself doubting that the values of chivalry as understood in the High Middle Ages were an unambiguous force for promoting civility and order: "The code of chivalry encouraged as much violence as it curbed" (7). Further research, notably extensive reading in chivalric epics and romance, led him to find unconvincing an older understanding of the relationship between Christianity and chivalry, that chivalry was a process of a more pacific clerical establishment slowly imposing its values on the warrior aristocracy. In Chivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe (1999) he traced a convincing picture of the autonomous value system of knights who though they might aspire to courtliness and piety saw the core of their social identity in their prowess, and their right and duty to use force when they judged it appropriate.

The current book is a logical extension of Chivalry and Violence in that it focuses again on the self-image of knights, specifically how knights justified their way of life religiously. It is Kaeuper's primary contention that knights (or more generally well-armed, professional soldiers) had independent religious ideas that they adopted and adapted to suit their own needs, ideas that were related to those put forward by the clergy, but not a pale reflection of clerical theories and demands. This thesis deserves some detailed exploration before we look at an important secondary theme of the book, which is Kaeuper's demonstration that some of the most important theories of salvation were shaped by the existence and self-assertion of a Christian knighthood, the members of which could be either valuable allies or dangerous enemies of clerical interests and high-minded ecclesiastical efforts to reform the world.

First, let us look at what Kaeuper says about knightly self-image and how it related to the way penance and salvation were understood in medieval culture in general. Texts written by and for knights that tackled serious issues--practically by definition religious issues--upheld warrior values such as prowess (courage, skill, the prime warrior virtue) despite the frequent disapproval of clerics, but also identified other aspects of the knightly profession with universally admitted aspects of the economy of salvation. We might, following Kaeuper and the Book of Job, consider the equation of the struggle for salvation with militia (1-2); militia in medieval usage could mean not just military service or knighthood, but hard struggle, even suffering. The struggle or labor of human life was part of the punishment derived from the sins of Adam and Eve; but submitting oneself to hard work and other kinds of suffering were also constantly praised and encouraged by sermonizers and ascetic writers, because done right, as Christ did, it was the road to salvation. Knights believed that their own way of life was labor and led to pains experienced by no other mortals (though one wonders what their mothers thought of that argument), comparable, some said, to the work and suffering of Christ. Thus knights, when thinking about their participation in the process of salvation, could point to a perfectly orthodox claim to Christian respectability (if not one that was uncontested): imitatio Christi. Indeed, there was a lively debate; when rating their own spiritually valuable ascetic achievements, knights argued that monks could not bear the burdens of military life, and vice versa. Kaeuper provides a number of stories from his wide reading which illustrate the terms of that debate, with all its gruesome and humorous aspects, as in fact he does when discussing other arguments that arose from clerical-chivalric tensions. It is one of the great virtues of this book is that Kaeuper constantly keeps the reader aware that clerics often found themselves facing arguments justifying knighthood that were difficult to answer.

Kaeuper devotes a long chapter to discussing how the effort of the twelfth-century clerical reformers to create a working theology to guide the laity intersected with the developing ideology of chivalry--this being the century when chevalerie ceased to mean "horsemen" or "skill with horses" only, and became a moral status or aspiration. Reform in the twelfth century involved among other things an organized effort to define various legitimate professions of the human community, how each contributed at its best to the Christian life, and the dangers inherent in each profession. Among the lay ordines knighthood took a leading place, because the warrior aristocracy was the chief rival of the clergy in power, wealth and respectability. It may be that as much effort was put into defining and critiquing the military ordo as was devoted to all other laypeople together. For reformers there was much about warfare to criticize, but it was impossible to simply denounce or ignore the problem of the Christian warrior. Ecclesiastical authority had already conceded, in the form of crusade theology (still evolving, still rife with contradiction), that appropriate military service could gain salvation. Clerics used violence, and had to justify and theorize it. In this case, too, their expertise in learning failed to impose their formulation--that only violence authorized by the clergy and directed towards enemies of the faith was legitimate--on an unquestioning audience. Chivalric writers and clerical writers sympathetic to them appropriated what they liked about the theory of ordines and the theory of crusade, adapting what was useful to their own purposes and discarding the rest. Witness the way that treatises on chivalry, right from the very beginning, appropriated the language of ordo and ordines to give the "order of chivalry" an undoubted predominance in the Christian community, save only for the formal respect due to priests for their unique sacramental role. Witness the way proper warfare of any kind was seen by knights as equal in worth to expeditions to the Holy Land or against other unbelievers, equally pleasing to God.

Kaeuper continues to be interested in the end of the self-justifying, consciously Christian knightly identity and devotes his final chapter to "writing the death certificate for chivalric ideology." Here he provides the reader with a fuller and more convincing analysis of the death of medieval knighthood than he did in Chivalry and Violence, although it is not entirely satisfying. Kaeuper offers up several factors that contributed to the "death of chivalry." He suggests that since after the Reformation the penitential economy of the Middle Ages no longer made sense in much of the Christian West, its logic no longer could be appropriated to depict the well-armed professional warrior as a member of an autonomous Christian ordo. At the same time various developments made it easier to see knights as servants of the State (the Prince?) than as members of an international brotherhood, while the state became the source of all honor (a view seen, for instance, in the sixteenth-century biography of the Chevalier Bayard). It would have been interesting and useful if Kaeuper had said more about the tension between the ideas of knights as members of a "national" state (or subjects of a Sovereign) and knights as members of a class that transcended boundaries and allegiances. Admittedly he said quite a bit on this subject, but one feels that there is more to be said. It would have been interesting to see Kaeuper engage with the recent work of Crouch and Keen on the evolution of European ideas of nobility.

This book is well and entertainingly written, and is well-presented and designed. The University of Pennsylvania Press is to be congratulated for being willing to include the large bibliography and the extensive (and rich) scholarly apparatus that add much of value to Kaeuper's presentation. One can no longer take these things for granted, even from academic publishers. Also remarkable is the inclusion of a striking thirteenth-century illustration of an armored knight about to fight a phalanx of vices. It is reproduced on both the cover and the frontispiece, providing the reader with one incomplete but color reproduction plus one complete in black and white. This allowed the author to present a striking image to his reader, in a way that makes vivid some of the symbolism relevant to his argument. These things cost money and are sometimes skimped on; in this case the money was well spent.

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Friday, December 04, 2009

Squires or esquires?


Here is an experiment in polling your potential audience, expert and amateur.

I am currently writing a book on 14th century military affairs. I talk a lot about "squires" or "esquires." I am not sure which word to use.

The early 14th century was a period when "squire/esquire" went from meaning "a military servant, usually lightly armed" to meaning "a lesser gentleman warrior" of the kind who had substantial equipment and might have been a knight bachelor in an earlier era. At least this seems to have happened in the Anglo-French world. Although there seem to have been a few squires/esquires hanging around in the mid-14th century who were not considered gentlemen, my sources show that they mostly were gentleman, quite distinct from other military servants like sergeants or valets, even when the latter had some armor and were considered effective fighters.

I am very interested in hearing from you about which word seems more suitable to you, and why. I would appreciate it if you answered in my comment section here, rather than on Facebook.

I would appreciate expert opinion, but if you consider yourself an ordinary reader don't hold back.

Image:
goofy gamer squires.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Watching the chapandaz

The chapandaz are the players of buzkashi, or according to this Big Picture photo feature, "Only the best players, [who] get close to the carcass in the competition." This rider is watching the action -- will he dive into the melee?

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Something fun from Afghanistan

Truthfully, there is very little cheerful news out of Afghanistan, and I fear that if Obama goes ahead with the war there, it will ruin the American economy and destroy the American Constitution. More on that later.

However, I am a fan of the medieval tournament, and Afghans like some other Central Asians preserve a sport that must be a lot like the old melee combats of medieval Europe: buzkashi or (outside Afghanistan) kok-boru. Any good article about buzkashi will catch my attention and probably find its way into this blog.

When I was staying at an American hotel last week, I got a free copy of USA Today every weekday morning, and to my astonishment I found that it is better than it used to be, by a lot. The editors no longer seem to be completely allergic to substantial journalism. One of the more solid articles was this piece on buzkashi. A website called Newser ran an excerpt and added some new pictures.

Here's a taste of the USA Today piece:

Is the world ready for a sport played with a headless goat carcass?

Haji Abdul Rashid thinks it is and has big plans: corporate sponsors, television rights and beyond.

"We want it to become an Olympic sport," says Rashid, who heads the Buzkashi Federation.

To understand how ambitious — even crazy — this is, consider the game. Buzkashi, which means "goat grabbing," is a violent sport with virtually no rules. Players, called chapandaz, gallop at breakneck speed over a dusty field, fighting over a dead animal without a head.

Buzkashi is undergoing a renaissance in Afghanistan since the Taliban regime was ousted from power by U.S. forces in 2001. There are more games, players and spectators than ever before. Rashid says he has already contacted some Olympic officials.

Once dominated by powerful warlords or tribal leaders, buzkashi is attracting a new generation of businessmen who are using the game to meet contacts and get clients, explains Said Maqsud, who owns a Kabul-based security company that employs more than 1,000 people.

"That is a new concept," Maqsud says. "Now businessmen like me can be involved."

Rashid knows the game needs to be standardized to export the sport, played principally in Afghanistan and some Central Asian countries. Previous efforts to impose consistent rules have gone nowhere.

The game has no rounds or time limits. Galloping horses regularly spill off the field, sending terrified spectators running for safety. Some games are played with 12-man teams; others are scored individually with hundreds of horses careening around the field.

"It's very violent," says Maqsud, who also has seven buzkashi horses. "Animal rights activists wouldn't like it."

A spokesman for the International Olympic Committee, Mark Adams, said he was not aware of any overtures from buzkashi officials. He said there might be concerns that the sport is not widely known and has no governing body that regulates it.

"I'm not sure it's a universal sport," Adams said.

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

4000+

Now that I'm back from a family trip to Oklahoma, I've managed to push chapter 2 of Men at Arms up past the 4000 word mark. Wish me luck for tomorrow...

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Slogging forward

Despite the international plot to keep me away from Men at Arms, I am up to 3000 words on Chapter 2. Of course, family business now takes me away from the book, but it's the kind of thing that can't be helped.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

1000 words today!

That's 1000 words on the book I promised to write during this sabbatical! I feel that I'm finally getting my teeth into it.

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Thursday, November 05, 2009

Sabbatical score so far -- updated

Since classes ended in April, I have completed the following academic projects:

Reviews:
  • Charles Kurzman, Democracy Denied (Journal of World History, accepted for fall 2010)
  • Mark Pegg, A Most Holy War (Michigan War Studies Review, now available online)
  • Richard Kaeuper, Holy Warriors (The Medieval Review, submitted and accepted)
Article:
  • "Republics and Quasi-Democratic Institutions in Ancient India: Their Significance Today," for the forthcoming book The Secret History of Democracy (a rethinking and recasting of an earlier web-published article; forthcoming next year; submitted and accepted)
Not bad, but these projects and some family health problems have slowed progress on the book I'm supposed to write; a scrappy first draft of Chapter 1 is all I have written so far, though I have also partly revised the translation of the crucial text.

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Monday, November 02, 2009

Christ as tourneyer

I have just finished reading this new book, Holy Warriors: The religious ideology of chivalry, by Richard Kaeuper, and I'll have much more to say about it later. Right now I just want to point out an interesting quotation that shows how one medieval warrior, writing a spiritual autobiography, visualized what he saw as the ideal knight's resemblance to Jesus.

The warrior was Duke Henry of Lancaster, also known as Henry of Grosmont, one of Edward III's best generals in the Hundred Years War. Here is what Kaeuper says on page 41:

Duke Henry sometimes wonderfully reveals his chain of thought, if indirectly. In discussing how the tears shed by the Blessed Virgin will wash the wounds of his own wretched body he comes to nasal wounds, a topic which puts the realist in him in mind of the blows that struck Christ's nose during his scourging. He comments, in all piety, that Christ's nose must have looked like that of a habitual tourneyer, and that his mouth must have been discolored and beaten out of shape. Here he writes with the voice of experience. Warming to his topic, he says that indeed Christ did fight in a tournament -- and won it, securing life for humanity. As a strenuous knight, his conception of imitating Christ readily turns to this martial version of the savior and his role.
Image: the cover of the book, which can be seen better at Google Books.

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Sunday, November 01, 2009

Word frequency in Charny's Questions on War

Courtesy of Wordle (http://www.wordle.net/) I made a word cloud showing what words Charny used in his war questions. Click on the image to see the Wordle at proper size.

I am not surprised that "Charny" and "arms" are big; but I am rather taken aback by the size of "prisoner" and the near invisibility of "knight."

Wordle: Charny's Questions on War

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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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Saturday, September 19, 2009

Geoffroi de Charny, VIP

Those of us who have read and enjoyed Geoffroi de Charny's 1350s treatise The Book of Chivalry quite naturally think that he was a pretty important guy. But while writing the introduction for my book Men at Arms it really hit home to me how an extraordinary a figure he was.

In evaluating the past it is sometimes hard to avoid overrating people who wrote or were written about in surviving, high quality works. Plato's had lots of followers; but what would you think if you were in a position to meet him in 4th century BC Athens? Just another "I am not a sophist" rich boy crank? (Am I giving away too much here?)

So in thinking about Charny I have sometimes leaned towards thinking that he was a sometimes-tiresome pedant whom the other knights and courtiers used to tease by asking him hard questions about chivalry, and then not listening to his sometimes overlong answers. That could be Charny.

However, looking closely at the not-very-extensive evidence for his life, I have come to the conclusion that not too many people ever ignored G. de C.

First, everyone agrees that Charny started out as an "obscure" knight and not a rich one. His early campaigns, starting around the age of 30 (in other words, not a raw kid), saw him leading a small retinue made up only of squires. He himself was a bachelier who did not quite dare to call himself a chevalier and the title does not seem to have been offered him for some years. He may have had a certain amount of good will among the more important people due to old family connections, but as William Marshal had found out earlier, this does not reliably pay the bills.

Nonetheless, consider these facts. Starting about 1347-8, Charny was given high command on the northern front (the region of Calais), a role he played off and on until fall of 1352. At one point he was called Captain General of the wars of Picardy and the frontiers of Normandy, a pretty exalted title and a pretty exalted role. Correct me if I am wrong, but this is the kind of position you might put a prince in. If you, as king, had a good reliable prince.

Another fact: When in the course of his duties Charny was captured and carted off to England, the King of France (eventually) bought him back for 12,000 ecus, one heck of a lot of money when the French crown was strapped for cash and always on the lookout for ways to save money. My conclusion: King Jean II felt he desperately needed Charny back.

Finally, the clincher. In the mid-1350s, the King's cousin Charles the Bad of Navarre, a man who thought he had as good a claim to the French throne as Jean, was making a lot of trouble, relying on his royal descent, his strong position in strategic Normandy, and his natural talent for intrigue. He was hard to handle -- that family conflict thing, acted out by two guys with crowns on their heads. When this touchy situation had to be resolved, who did Jean send to talk to Bad Charles? Who got to hear all the dirty secrets of the dynasty retailed? Well, a whole delegation, but among them was the formerly obscure Geoffroi de Charny.

You see what I mean.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Freelance

Michael Quinion is a freelance etymologist, whose entertaining and learned e-mail newsletter on word origins and word usage I've read for years. I hope he won't mind this extensive quotation from this week's issue:

Q. A Web site says: "Freelancers can trace their job title back to
Sir Walter Scott, who introduced the term in his 1819 novel,
Ivanhoe. His 'free-lance' characters were medieval mercenaries who
pledged their loyalty (and weapons) to lords and kings, for a fee."
As a freelance translator my curiosity is aroused. Is this
etymological story correct? Perhaps it could provide an entry point
for one of your excellent articles. [Steve Dyson, Lisbon]

A. We are so used to being told that "freelance" did derive from
medieval mercenaries in just this way that the story brings one up
short disbelievingly. But it's correct. The word is not recorded
before Sir Walter Scott introduced it in that book.

This is its first appearance:

I offered Richard the service of my Free Lances, and
he refused them - I will lead them to Hull, seize on
shipping, and embark for Flanders; thanks to the bustling
times, a man of action will always find employment.
[Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott, 1819. "Free", of
course, means "unbound", not "without cost".]

It's one mark of the huge influence that Scott had in his lifetime.
He has quite gone out of fashion these days but in his time he was
a famous and widely read writer (Henry James later remarked that
Scott had made the nineteenth-century English novel possible). He
also invented the historical novel, of which Ivanhoe is a classic
example.

He's credited with either popularising or inventing many words and
phrases, to the extent that he is marked as the first user of more
than 700 in the Oxford English Dictionary and he lies third behind
the Bible and Shakespeare in innovation in that work. He's recorded
as the first user of, to take a few terms at random, Calvinistic,
blood is thicker than water, clansmen, cold shoulder, deferential,
flat (meaning an apartment), Glaswegian, jeroboam, lady-love, lock,
stock and barrel, Norseman, otter hunt, roisterer, Scotswoman (in
place of the older Scotchwoman), sick-nurse, sporran, weather-stain
and wolf-hound. He also introduced his readers to many obscure old
terms, especially from the Scots language and from chivalry.

There was a slightly earlier term, "free companion", which appeared
in 1804 in a translation of the fourteenth-century chronicles of
the French historian Jean Froissart about the Hundred Years War.
Scott uses this, too, in the same book:

A knight who rode near him, the leader of a band of
free companions, or Condottieri, that is, of mercenaries
belonging to no particular nation, but attached for the
time to any prince by whom they were paid.
[Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott, 1819.]
Start looking into chivalry, at least if you are an Anglophone, and you can hardly avoid the man.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Back

I spent two weeks at the SCA's Pennsic War 38 near Pittsburgh. Due to scheduling conflicts I did not participate in the Passage of the Beautiful Pilgrim (see below), nor see the first Pennsic re-enactment of the Combat of Thirty against Thirty to actually include 60 participants.

Fortunately, Will McLean has provided links to photos and videos of each. Here is a video shot by Brad Hrboska and produced by Andrew Lowry:


The laughter on the soundtrack is probably a re-creation of the Breton peasants laughing at the sight of 100-Years-War men at arms killing each other instead of harassing or killing them.

As a witness of and participant in many SCA combats, I was impressed by how the modified rules produced a more prolonged re-creation, rather than the very quick ones that standard SCA rules usually do.

My participation this time was restricted to the mass battles:

Eccentric medieval historian relaxes between battles:

Don't cross this guy!

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Meet me at the Pas of the Beautiful Pilgrim

I will not be blogging for the next couple of weeks. If you are going to the SCA's Pennsic War, drop by this event and say hello to the Duke of Burgundy:

A Recreation of the Pas de la Belle Pelerine

To be held at Pennsic in the Green List, August 3rd, 2009 from 2-5 PM, hosted by the Company of S. Michael

The servants of the Belle Pelerine will hold a passage of arms, meeting all comers in single combat for a push or throw with lance or spear followed by an agreed number of blows with axe or sword. If the comer touches the shield of Lancelot, if either champion falls or is unable to continue they will give a brooch, gem or jewel of whatever value they wish to their opponent's lady. If they touch the shield of Palamedes they are not so bound. Weapons will be provided if needed. Also, there will be group combats with rebated weapons as often and as long as the ladies wish.


The Letter of the Belle Pelerine (the Beautiful Pilgrim)

Summary: a knight rescues a lady beset by brigands. She is on pilgrimage but fears to continue without escort. The knight offers to accompany her, but must acquit himself of a deed of arms first. The beautiful pilgrim asks for valiant knights and others of martial prowess to challenge her rescuer so that he may be freed to protect her on her pious journey.

To all excellent, high and powerful princes and princesses, barons, lords, ladies and gentle knights, who, in their grace, come to read these letters, my recommendations and kind greetings. I, who am called by many the Belle Pelerine, had occasion to become informed of high festivals in the city of Rome. I made preparations to take the road to go there. Because of my weakness, and because I was scarcely accustomed to endure great pains, I went forward by short journeys, doing my devotions at those holy places that could be found on my route. As I made my way in this manner fortune lead me near the sea, near the borders of a high and nearly impenetrable forest, within which pillagers and robbers of the sea were lying in wait, and they came with wild ferocity against me and my companions.

And I certainly believe that we all would have been slain or taken prisoner had it not happened that a knight riding nearby heard the noise and came hastily against the robbers, and by his free generosity delivered me and my company from their hands. And sorely tried by the affray, I fell to the ground as though struck down.

Then the knight lifted me up and took me sweetly in his arms, saying “My dear lady, you have nothing to fear. Take heart and be comforted, by God’s mercy you have been delivered from your enemies. If it please you I will lead you to a good town and a secure place nearby”.

And when he had said this, and I had recovered myself a little and was able to speak I thanked him from my heart for the great courtesy and kindness he had done me.

And I began to think seriously about the peril and danger I was in, considering the way I had yet to go was long, narrow and perilous, and equally that to return to my country with my pilgrimage uncompleted would be grievous and very displeasing. Weeping, I said sir knight, today I am the most troubled gentlewoman in the world, and I don’t know what to do”

And when he heard that he sweetly told me that if he could offer me any counsel, or do anything that the body of a knight could honorably accomplish, he would spare nothing to do it. When I heard him speak so freely and make such graceful offers I disclosed my affairs to him, and how I had come from my country to do pilgrimage, and how I still had a long way to go on a perilous road, and saw the great peril and danger in returning to my country, and how I had no certain safe conduct. I hoped he could supply that, for the love of God and for the pity that all gentle knights ought to have for ladies in distress. And by his courtesy to escort and guide me during my pilgrimage, which as I have said I had great devotion to perform.

The knight thought a bit and he answered “My dear lady I have no wish to refuse you but there is something I must do first and that done, if it please God I will not fail you. I would be shamed and dishonored if I failed to go the whole way with you, guarding and defending you against anything that might occur. My dear lady, I must warn you that in truth I have undertaken a vow, by my faith, which I may not put aside, for first I must accomplish a deed of arms. This is to guard a passage near the tower of Beau-Jardin on the road between Calais and St. Omer in Picardy in the diocese of Thereimance, which was once called the place of Beau-Jardin and is now called the Green List. Which passage I have the intention to guard and will guard if it please God on the Monday the third of August from two by the clock until five, to deliver all gentlemen and knights come of a noble line of a deed of arms declared in certain chapters which shall follow. And, my very dear lady, if it is your pleasure to rest in this country after the travail which you have suffered, I will be ready, once my enterprise is accomplished, to undertake to lead and conduct you wherever you wish and do you all the honor that I may, as I wish to do what pleases you well.”

And at that, when I had heard the sweet words of that knight and thought of the great danger that I had been in. And how, if I had no good safe conduct, I could not avoid great danger. And I, considering that the response of that knight was courteous and his offers gracious I thanked him humbly and remained at his convenience.

And so, very excellent, very high and very powerful princes and princesses, barons, lords, ladies, and gentle knights, I the aforesaid pilgrim am now in a strange country in great trouble and displeasure and greatly wishing to do my pilgrimage. And I will not be able to do without the aid of that knight who has undertaken to lead me on my voyage unless he is able to accomplish his deed of arms.

And so I address myself to your good grace and beg you in all humility as a gentle woman who is in perplexity, and can do nothing without your nobility and franchise. In kindness to the ladies may it please you to give leave and license, and what is more, encouragement to the noble knights of your courts, countries and lordships, by their courtesy, to shorten my voyage by delivering that knight of his enterprise of arms, according to the chapters which will follow.

And also to you, valiant knights, I sweetly beg, for the honor of your ladies, that it please you to do so, and in doing this you will win honor and true renown. And you will always be held in prayers to God and I will pass on your good renown and that of all knights who wish to take pains to acquire it, and I will make known their noble and valiant courage and the love and honor which they bear for their ladies. And that knight requires and also will assure you that nothing will be done in this enterprise out of hate, envy or ill will for anyone and hopes that no one would think the contrary. But instead this is done to occupy themselves and to assay the noble estate of chivalry. The deed will also be done to have the acquaintance and knowledge of good and valiant knights from foreign lands in hopes to know better their valor.

And at present the knights does not wish to be named. but to put aside any doubt or questions that he is unable to perform such occasion I certify in truth that he is drawn of a noble line and of a powerful house and without villainous reproach and that he will be found in this place arrayed on the day declared in the chapters to do and accomplish that said enterprise if it please God. And finally I pray to the high and powerful prince the count d’Estamps that by his good grace it will please him to put the seal of his arms on these present letters and on the chapters of the said enterprise of arms which I shall further declare.

Chapters of the enterprise of arms of the knight who has undertaken to escort the noble lady who they call the Beautiful Pilgrim

First, the said knight, by the good will, leave and license of the very high, very powerful prince and his very redoubted master, my lord the duke of Burgundy, Brabant and Lembourg, will be present in person, the third day of August, in a passage or place near the tower of Beau-Jardin, on the road between Calais and Saint-Omer, in Picardy in the diocese of Teruanne, once called the Tower of Beau-Jardin and now called the Green List. And with God’s help he will guard that passage or place from the hour of two by the clock until five. And by that place will be hung a shield, argent with three bends gules, signifying the shield that was born in his time by the valiant knight Lancelot of the Lake, who was loyal and happy in arms. And near that shield will be a pollaxe and a sword, and a horn such as huntsmen are accustomed to carry in the chase.

Item: and near that shield will be another of checky sable and argent with two Saracens’ swords crossed gules which are the arms of the good knight Palamedes who always sought in his time to acquire a lady bearing arms and searching for adventures and near that shield there will be a pollaxe and a sword.

Item : Near that the said knight will have a pavilion set up where there will be at that time a king of arms or herald accompanied by pursuivants of arms who will do their office in the way afterwards declared.

Item: to better declare the present enterprise of arms of the said knight his intention is that all knights, gentlemen of names arms without villainous reproach who have the desire and wish to do arms, except for the subjects and servants of my lord of Burgundy if it is their good pleasure to touch one of the two shields that is to say the white shield with the three bends gules and the axe or sword or both or the shield checky of argent and sable and the axe or sword or both they will be held to furnish to the knight of the pilgrim the arms which will be afterwards declared and they will not be able to accomplish them in one or the other manner if they have not first touched one of the two shields aforesaid.

Item: to put aside the doubts of those knights coming from distant countries that they might not be satisfied in their enterprise if there is a great number of knights who have touched one of the two shields, the one who has touched first will have first place in the arms and consequently the others according to the order in which they have touched the shields according to the report of the king of arms and herald which will put down in writing the name of the knight and when he has touched the shield.

Item: so that the comers need not fear that a solitary knight might be vanquished or prevented by unforseen difficulties from satisfying them before they can accomplish their enterprise, the knight of the enterprise will be accompanied by certain companions calling themselves pilgrims arrayed and prepared to defend the passage.

Item: and if there is any knight of the condition aforesaid desiring to do arms and to accomplish the enterprise and adventure and wishes to touch one of the shields on the day of the Passage of Arms he may come to the place and sound the horn between the hours of two and five by the clock at which sound there will come the king of arms or herald who will demand the name of the knight and the time at which he has come and afterwards he will say “Very noble knight, I and my companion are ordered by my master who has undertaken the escort of the Belle Dame Pelerine who God give honor and joy, to warn and inform you and other noble knights of what they must do if they touch the shields of the enterprise which you see here.”

“In truth no knight may be received to do the arms which pertain to the shield argent with bends gules if he does not have a lady or demoiselle in love who by her grace has retained him as a servant.”

“However, any other knights may undertake and accomplish the arms that pertain to the shield checky argent and sable.”

Item: no lord or knight may perform the arms pertaining to both shields, but must choose one or the other.

Item: and if a knight has sounded a horn and touched the axe he will be held to encounter the knight of the dame pelerine for the following arms: to meet on foot for a throw or push of the lance, whichever better pleases the knight of the dame pelerine and following that to fight with a pollaxe until xvii strokes are struck and set on by one of the two knights. And the said knight of the Dame Pelerine shall provide the lances and axes to do this, both alike, of which the foreign knight will have his choice.

Item: If it happens, which God forbid that either of the knights doing these arms is carried to earth, touching it with hand or knee, or is disarmed or otherwise unable to continue, before the number of strokes is performed in that case the arms will be held to be accomplished and another knight will be allowed to commence his deed if it please him.

Item: And if he touches the sword he will be bound to do the arms which follows; which is to say to come together on foot for a throw of the lance such as the knight of the Beautiful Pilgrim will give and will bear to that place, two alike, of which the foreign knight will take his choice. And after that throw they will fight with the sword, of which the knight of the enterprise will also provide two alike, so that xix strokes are done and accomplished and if either in fighting is carried to earth or disarmed or otherwise unable to continue the arms will be held to have been accomplished as aforesaid.

Item, any champion who has undertaken the arms of Lancelot’s shield and is carried to earth or otherwise unable to continue will be bound to give to his opponent to give to his lady a brooch, ring, jewel or gem.

Item: In fighting neither of the knights may lay hands on the other but only fight with weapons under pain of being blamed and dishonored.

Item: If there are any princes dukes or counts or their children who are not yet knights that would be pleased to come and give succor to the said dame pelerine for the honor of their ladies in consideration of the high lineage and they will be received as though they were knights. And further, any other gentlemen without reproach who are not yet knights but who please the ladies by their nobility and high resolve shall be likewise accepted to perform their enterprise.

Item, there will be in that place certain ladies willing to accept noble knights and gentlemen as their servant who wish to undertake the shield of Lancelot. And further, if there is a champion that is unable to provide the token required if they are unable to complete the arms of the shield of Lancelot, the ladies of their grace will provide it.

Item: If there are any knights squires or gentlemen besides those which have touched one of the two shields or who have completed their enterprise, who would have the pleasure of exercising themselves in arms, they will find in that place during that time a certain number of gentlemen who will be equipped to furnish those who wish and require for the love of their lady group combat in the field or across the barrier, with rebated weapons of six feet in length or less. And these combats will occur as often and for as long as it please the ladies.

Item: there shall be a rich prize provided for the champion that shows the greatest prowess, and for the one that makes the bravest, noblest and most courteous entry upon the field.

Item: If there is any difficulty doubt or obscurity concerning the content of the present chapters of the said enterprise of arms, the aforesaid knight who has undertaken the escort of the dame pelerine retains the right to interpret and clarify the same.

And at the humble and instant supplications of my pilgrim aforesaid, the very excellent and very powerful prince my lord the duke of Burgundy and of Brabant and my very redoubted lord has been declared to be the judge of these arms and the performance of the said enterprise and of his grace and goodness he has taken the charge of holding the place secure as well as all other duties pertain to a judge.

And if it happens because of the high and great affairs of my lord duke he is not able to be present in person he has declared that it shall be done as aforesaid and promised by the high and powerful prince the count of Charolais his son, or by any of my lords his nephews.

And we, John of Burgundy, count d’Estamps and lord of Dourdan at the request of the noble and honored lady the Beautiful Pilgrim, to honor all ladies and to give greater certainty to all the things written above, and likewise that no one may doubt that the knight that has undertaken to escort that beautiful pilgrim will be able to perform his duty in the present enterprise, if it please God to defend against any encumbrance or lawful bodily injury, we have affixed the seal of our arms this day, July the IVth in the year of grace MMIX.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The humble knights of the Temple


For those who found the conclusion of this post rather cryptic, here is what Bernard of Clairvaux said in his treatise In Praise of the New Knighthood about the new Knights Templar. This was something of a promotional "press release" meant to aid recruiting and fundraising:

AND NOW AS A MODEL, or at least for the shame of those knights of ours who are fighting for the devil rather than for God, we will briefly set forth the life and virtues of these cavaliers of Christ. Let us see how they conduct themselves at home as well as in battle, how they appear in public, and in what way the knight of God differs from the knight of the world.

In the first place, discipline is in no way lacking and obedience is never despised. As Scripture testifies, the undisciplined son shall perish and rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, to refuse obedience is like the crime of idolatry. Therefore they come and go at the bidding of their superior. They wear what he gives them, and do not presume to wear or to eat anything from another source. Thus they shun every excess in clothing and food and content themselves with what is necessary. They live as brothers in joyful and sober company, without wives or children. So that their evangelical perfection will lack nothing, they dwell united in one family with no personal property whatever, careful to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. You may say that the whole multitude has but one heart and one soul to the point that nobody follows his own will, but rather seeks to follow the commander.

They never sit in idleness or wander about aimlessly, but on the rare occasions when they are not on duty, they are always careful to earn their bread by repairing their worn armor and torn clothing, or simply by setting things to order. For the rest, they are guided by the common needs and by the orders of their master.


Image: Bernard

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Friday, July 17, 2009

xkcd.com on chivalry

The Old Pilgrim says: Knights, do your own sewing, or better yet, somebody else's

Philippe de Mezieres (14th century):

The army chief must abstain from overeating and drinking and from public luxury... Remember Godfrey de Bouillon at the siege of Antioch. He was sitting on the ground in a little tent mending a saddle belonging to one of his squires when messengers arrived from the Sultan of Egypt. The Count of Toulouse, the Duke of Normandy and the Count of Flanders begged him to receive the embassy in state. Godfrey said he was more concerned that his Squire's horse should not be chafed by the saddle than he was with the Sultan's emissaries. So the latter were brought to Godfrey, who received them briefly but courteously. The Saracens, old and wise, were profoundly impressed and declared that this man would recapture Jerusalem.

Did Philippe take this idea that leading knights should sew in their spare time from Bernard of Clairvaux?

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Congress, 2009

Kalamazoo Congress, that is.

I had more enjoyment, intellectually and socially, this time around than I can remember -- and I am a great fan of the Kalamazoo get-together. When before have I picked all good sessions and all good papers? Whenever have I had so much good companionship? I am not complaining about previous experiences, not in the slightest!

My paper on arms and law in the 1350s had the good fortune to be part of the popular De Re Militari series, and it was well attended. The response made me think that when I do write my book on Charny's Questions on War, there will be a reasonable audience for the work. Reassuring! I am also to have an opportunity to speak on the subject of my choice in two years' time. By that time, perhaps, I will have a chance to reread "The Book of the Good Duke," and come up with something of general interest from it. (Some of you may laugh at that choice, but there really is such a book, and it's good.)

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Monday, March 02, 2009

This is what it was like



A hot moment in Kyrgyzstan's Kok-boru Presidential Cup.

I don't know what the rules of Kok-boru are, but if you like me have read the History of William Marshal, or even read about it, you just know that this is what the 12th-century tournaments recorded in that source were like.

From the Big Picture. And speaking of big pictures, click on the one above.

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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Resources for medieval deeds of arms

I have a great interest in jousts, tournaments and other deeds of arms, and so does Will McLean at A Commonplace Book. Recently he's had two posts of interests pointing to late medieval rules for such things, one showing the way to a recent scholarly article on 15th century German tournament rules, the other listing and excerpting some treatises on judicial duels.

Enjoy!

Image: jousting in the time of Emperor Maximillian.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Chivalry and religion in the Middle Ages

As we reached a natural pause in my seminar on chivalry, I asked my students what they have learned about the Middle Ages in the course so far. One of the more common answers (illustrated with specific examples) was that the importance of religion, even in this sphere where they had not necessarily expect to see it, had really made an impression. Now I am sure that all of these people were aware that religion was important in the Middle Ages, but having it demonstrated to them in concrete form and in detail made a big difference. This is one thing I love about seminars, where you can really get into the material.

Image: Galahad receiving the Grail from the Grail maidens, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (19th c.).

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Illustrations of knighting ceremonies, 15th century

Found through larsdatter.com, with thanks. Labelled with the name of the historical or legendary figure being knighted, and the date of the manuscript.


Jean II of France dubbing knights, 14th-15th c.:

Lancelot, c. 1400:


Galahad, c. 1400:


Robert the Devil, 1400-25:


Lancelot, 1405:

John II dubs knights, 1410-12:

Tristan , c. 1440-60:

Unidentified, mid-15th century:

William II of Holland, mid-15th century:
Galahad, 15th century:
Galahad, 1463:


Lancelot, 1470:


Lionel, c. 1470:


Galahad, c. 1470:


Garfin and Roboan,
fourth quarter of the 15th century:
Roboan knighted by the emperor, fourth quarter of the 15th century:

Philip the Fair, c. 1480:
Galahad, c. 1480:

Henry IV makes Richard Beauchamp a knight of the Bath, after 1483:



Henry IV makes Richard Beauchamp a knight of the Garter, after 1483:


Unidentified knights being dubbed by Charles VII, 1484 (2 ill.)
:

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Illustrations of knighting ceremonies, 14th century

Found through larsdatter.com, with thanks. Labelled with the name of the historical or legendary figure being knighted, and the date of the manuscript.

St. Martin, 1312-7:

Galahad 1330-40:

Galahad, 1380-5:


Jean II of France dubbing knights, 14th-15th c.:



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Friday, January 09, 2009

Illustrations of knighting ceremonies, 13th century

Found through larsdatter.com, with thanks. Labelled with the name of the historical or legendary figure being knighted, and the date of the manuscript.

Roland, 1240-50:
Offa, 1250-4 (by Matthew Paris):

Galahad, 1275-80:

Godfrey of Bouillon, 1275-1300:

Pride, 1275-1300:


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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Terminology of chivalry


For the second time in two years, I am teaching a seminar for fourth-year students entitled, simply, Chivalry. In the seminar we read a lot of primary sources discussing mounted warriors, vassals, men at arms, and so forth in an attempt to figure out what the knights of the Middle Ages were like, and how they were regarded and supposed to act.

There is a problem of terminology that bothers me a lot as as we work through the material, which is entirely in English translation. If we are trying to define "the medieval knight" and "knighthood" or "chivalry," what about the fact that the figure we call a knight in modern English was called in all of the relevant European languages either "a soldier (miles)" or "a horseman (chevalier or Ritter) or sometimes "a follower (vassal)?" How can we really discuss the evolution of this figure, in a practical or ideal sense, either one, unless we come to grips with the actual terminology? To my shame, I have yet to come up with a systematic answer to this problem, beyond discussing it in class where I feel the need, which is pretty often. I once thought that that would be enough, but I'm dissatisfied.

I am now fantasizing about a seminar where the modern English word "knight" can't be used at all, but where, depending on the original word, one must say "rider," " soldier," or "follower." The use of the word "chivalry" might be even more difficult...

I had a good close look at the Oxford English Dictionary before writing this post, and under the main entry for the noun "knight" I found no definition that reflects what students of medieval warfare often mean when they say "knight:" a mounted, fully armed and armored warrior. Surely it must be in there somewhere.

Image: a symbolic knight.

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

C.S. Lewis on chivalry and history


Two and a half years ago, early in my blogging career, I was preparing for the first presentation of the chivalry seminar for fourth-year students. One of the secondary sources I was considering using was C.S. Lewis's famous essay on courtly love. I remembered it being good, but I was taken aback by how lively and well expressed it was. I was inspired to include a quotation from the essay in one of my earlier blog entries. You can see the post here.

About a week ago, reviewing material for a new run-through of that chivalry seminar, I read the essay once more, and once again found it worthwhile. I was especially impressed by this passage, which is part of his discussion of the pioneering romance poet, Chretien de Troyes. I include it here for your enjoyment and contemplation

For him already 'the age of chivalry is dead'. It always was: let no one think the worse of it on that account. These phantom periods for which the historian searches in vain—the Rome and Greece that the Middle Ages believed in, the British past of Malory and Spenser, the Middle Age itself as it was conceived by the romantic revival—all these have their place in a history more momentous than that which com­monly bears the name.
Image: a courtly German knight, Der Schenk von Limpurg,from the early 14th-century Manesse Codex.

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