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.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, February 22, 2010

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.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Book title needed

I am working away at a book about French military history in the 14th century, and I've just come to the realization that my planned title probably won't work out.

I was thinking of calling it Men-at-Arms, which goes nicely with my previous book Deeds of Arms. It is also appropriate because people holding the status of men at arms hold a key position in the mental universe of the document I'm working on. It's men at arms this, men at arms that, men at arms the third thing.

So if this is the case, why not use Men-at-Arms?

Well, there are two other books that already have the title. One is a general history of -- men-at-arms! I have never read it, but a former colleague of mine used it in his military history class, and he had a good instinct for what students might find accessible. My guess is that this book is used by a lot of profs. The other book is even worse news. Terry Pratchett has written a book of that name, and when you go to and put into words men at arms, you get screens worth of Terry Pratchett-related material before you ever find anything else.

So I hesitate to use what might be the most natural title in fear that potential readers will never find the book. Is this an unreasonable fear? If I am right, what might be a good replacement?

If you want to help me with this, let me tell you a little bit about the book's subject matter. in about 1350, a prominent French knight named Geoffroi de Charny was inspired or even asked by the King to put together a list of questions about how the law of arms, which regulated the relations between one night and another, applied to three knightly activities, jousting, tournaments, and war. Charny came up with some interesting legal problems, which are group of prominent French knights were to sort out. We don't know if this actually happened, but we have no answers to these problems, which is why most of you have never heard of Charny's questions. I am using the questions, however, to show what Charny thought was most important about the law of arms, as well as a number of other issues of honor and military science. Even with no answers, questions themselves stake out some interesting territory. I have already talked about the jousting and tournament questions in a book called Jousts and Tournaments. This book is about the much longer section of questions on war.

Given this, relevant subjects touched on by this book include: Royal reform of the French army, the Hundred Years War, the law of arms, Charny (increasingly well known among fans of chivalry), chivalry (but not as much as you might think).

I would like a title where the first phrase or main title is not obscure. There are too many academic books where a boring subject is disguised behind a title like this:
Long Words Bother Me: Winnie the Pooh and Heiddiger's influence on modern readers. Not a very successful disguise, is it? But people do this all the time. I don't want my very interesting book to look like this fortunately fictional monograph.

I appreciate all serious or hilarious answers. If it is just vaguely cute, though...

Image: the competition.

Labels: ,

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.

Labels: , , , ,

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.

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

Labels: , , , ,

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?

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


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...

Labels: , , , ,

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.

Labels: , , , ,

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.

Labels: , , , ,

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Another Charny question?

In my research and translation of Charny questions, I have been working mainly from the Michael Taylor (Chapel Hill) edition. Recently I've been looking more closely at the Belgian edition by Rossbach. Not only does the Rossbach edition have an answer to one of the questions, it has a question unknown to Taylor! If it were in the Taylor edition it would be war question 80A, and if Rossbach had included it in his edition as a confirmed part of the text, it would be question 121A. The fact that Rossbach did not include this question in his main text makes me think he doubted that it was genuine Charny. And after all only appears in one manuscript.

Here is my translation of the question:

Charny asks:

Men at arms fight in the field against their enemies and it happens that one of the men at arms of those who have the upper hand takes another man at arms and he who is taken surrenders to the one who is taken him and gives faith as his prisoner. But very soon the party of the prisoner has the better of it and defeats the others and takes the field, and the prisoner, who sees his party get the upper hand attacks his enemies and takes two or three of them and makes them swear to be prisoners and gives them a day [on which to pay ransom]. Those come on their day and demand of the captain of the one to whom they had sworn by the law of arms saying that they should not be held to be prisoners to him who on that day had [been?] a prisoner, notwithstanding that he is able dispute that because of the rescue he ought to be free; and the first one taken says that they are his prisoners, for he was rescued. And many good arguments are given on one side or the other. How will it be judged by the law of arms?
Note that this is the only Charny question where a captain or other authority figure is identified as presiding over a case by the law of arms.

Labels: , , , ,

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Word frequency in Charny's Questions on War

Courtesy of Wordle ( 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

Labels: , , , , , ,

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.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, September 24, 2009


I am writing a book on 14th- century men-at-arms based on Geoffroi de Charny's Questions on the joust, tournaments and war, especially the war section. As was the case in my 4th-year seminar last year, I am wrestling with terminology, especially the words "chivalry" and "knight." "Chivalry" as a word indicating an ideal or a standard of behavior is a tricky word, as David Crouch has shown in his Birth of Nobility recently, and Charny hardly ever uses that word, even in his Book of Chivalry. "Knight" is unique to English, and doesn't like other "chivalric" terms in other languages mean "horseman" or "warrior/soldier." I am going to have to be very careful in using "chivalry." I have an idea of how to proceed with the word "knight"-- use the words "chevalier" and avoid "knight," as much as possible. Avoiding an English term in a book almost entirely about Frenchmen should be reasonably practical.

Exception: for an English-speaking audience, you can't call the Knights of the Round Table anything but "the Knights of the Round Table," no matter what Edward III and his best Angl0-French buddies may have called them.

Another point of usage: Charny wrote a verse treatise on the life of arms called Livre Charny. I and other people I know usually have Englished this as The Book of Charny. But it occurred to me the other day that the real English title ought to be Charny's Book. A real "duh" moment, that may give us some real information on the chronology of Charny's writing career. Don't you think that this would be an appropriate title for your first rather than your second or third work, if your name was Charny?

Image: I am running out of good pictures that evoke Charny. This sticker is associated with the town of Charny in Quebec. See here.

Labels: ,

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.

Labels: , , , , ,

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Problems and disasters -- and a piece on India's democratic achievement

Sometime in the last few years I came to the conclusion that one's life may usefully be divided into two parts, one where you're beset with a few or many problems which just seemed to soak up all of your time. This is most of your life. Then something really bad happens and that's it.

If this is a useful insight, it means you better enjoy the times when you have lots of problems.

Right now is one of those times for me. Not including family commitments that right now are taking up a certain amount of time and energy -- e.g., a trip to the Big Smoke (Toronto) and back in one day--I have got a lot on my plate. Just this week on the scholarly front, I wrote and had an abstract accepted for a major conference (the creative energy for one day used up, admittedly to good purpose), and then got an acceptance of a chapter I proposed for a book on the history of democracy, just as I was finally writing about, rather than reading and rereading material about, 14th century men at arms for my book on Charny's questions. That acceptance qualifies as a problem because the chapter, on ancient India's democracies, must be done by September 30th.

These are problems, you say? Stop whining, Muhlberger, you say; better yet, stop showing off! You have (you might rightly say) three good projects on the burner. And you are on sabbatical.

All too true. I am just concerned that something might get burned, or undercooked, on that stove. From where I sit, there don't seem to be too many working days before September 30th.

Problems, problems. But at the moment, no disasters.

I have to admit that I'm very pleased to be included in this book, which is entitled The Secret History of Democracy. Anyone who has read this blog for a while knows that I am interested in current democratic movements. It may be less obvious that I have tried, generally working with Phil Paine, to see democracy as not something restricted to just a few countries in the modern era. I have a World History of Democracy website, which you are welcome to visit; to get a taste of my particular perspective on world history and democratic history, see the short excerpt of a paper I gave in Delhi in April 2005 that I've put it at the end of this post. There is plenty of room to disagree with me or ask for clarification. That is what the comment section is for.

Imagine the world in 1900.

Informed observers examine the prospects of four important regions over the upcoming century: Germany, China, Russia, and India. Which would be picked as the most likely to succeed? And which has, in retrospect? Restrict the criterion of success to “lowest casualty count,” to my mind a more sensible criterion than per capita GDP. Who comes out ahead?

I think it is inarguable that, even keeping in mind the tragedies of Partition, the consequent wars on the subcontinent, and many other incidents of violence and disorder, that the casualty count has been much lower in India than in the other three. This alone is a significant fact of 20th century world history. But of equal importance is the explanation for that fact. Indian aspirations for democracy, and Indian implementation of democratic institutions deserve the credit. Again, do the thought experiment. Take away the aspiration, take away the implementation, what would the subcontinent look like today?

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Geoffroi de Charny to the courtesy phone!

So we can get him to comment on this slam by an anonymous clerical lawyer against Joan of Arc for claiming divine revelations. Aimed at Joan, there is plenty of sting left for other men-at-arms.

... if the mission of this young girl is prophetic, she should be a person with excellent saintliness and [have] a divine soul inside her; and it would seem indecent that such a person should transform themselves into a secular man-at-arms.

The writer is mainly talking about Joan dressing as a man, but I think old Geoffroy would take offense anyway; unless, of course, he too got distracted by the clothing. Readers of his Book of Chivalry will have to admit that this would be possible.

Taylor, ed. Joan of Arc: La Pucelle, page 117.

Labels: , , , ,

Monday, April 06, 2009

Calling all Charny fans...

The Vatican appears to endorse the Templars-Charny-Shroud of Turin connection.

The "Geoffroy de Charney" mentioned in the Times article is the uncle of the Geoffroy who wrote The Book of Chivalry.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, January 07, 2008

Back to the Middle Ages: the Mail-shirts

It's been a while since I posted anything on the Middle Ages, so here goes.

I've been thinking about Charny's unanswered Questions on War (1350s) and what they tell us about knights and men at arms -- especially men at arms. To help interpret Charny's text I've been casting about for other documents that will help me interpret Charny's eccentric material. One obvious one is the ordinance of arms that Charny's royal patron, John II of France, issued about the same time.

King John was trying to recruit a better army by raising the pay he was offering; at the same time he defined what kind of status, armor, and horse that various types of warriors would have to have to qualify for the new wages. As a result, his ordinance says something about the terminology used to describe warriors.

The ordinance divides warriors into gens d'armes (men at arms) and gens d'pie' (men on foot). Then the ordinance spends a deal of time discussing the first group. It's clear that gens d'armes to John, his commanders and accountants, were cavalrymen, and well-armored ones at that.

The gens d'armes are also divided into four groups: bannerets, knights, esquires, and vallets. All are expected to have horses and equipment, including the vallets, a term used for servants, though not necessarily low-born ones.

Later on, the same armed and mounted group called gens d'armes earlier is redivided into two groups: gens d'arms and haubergeons ("mail-shirts"). And these paired groups are referred to together repeatedly, in a way that makes clear that they have similar equipment and responsibilities.

In the mid-14th century, Charny tells us, the term gens d'armes was a general one that included many men who were not of knightly rank (or maybe even esquires' rank) but depending on their capabilities might be as good as knights. Am I wrong to think that in the 1350s there were a lot of warriors hanging around who might be seen as either "servants" or "men at arms" dependening on the situation, but whose most obvious attribute was the fact that they had "mail-shirts?" And as a result, such men were commonly called "mail-shirts," even by the king when he was speaking as a legislator?

Image: From the site of GDFB, who will sell you a habergeon.

[Click on the label "Charny" below for more posts on Charny's Questions; or you can click on my book Jousts and Tournaments and acquire for yourself the most detailed discussion of the text.]

Labels: , , ,

Monday, November 12, 2007

Steve Muhlberger speaks at NU on Wed. Nov. 14, 1 pm, Rm A222

You are invited to attend the Nipissing University Research Lunch, Food For Thought.

Date: Wednesday, November 14
Time: 1:00 – 2:00pm
Room: A222

Steven Muhlberger, Department of History will speak on Noble Warriors or Good Soldiers: Conflicting Views of the Role of the 14th-century Man-at-arms.

King John II of France. Why? Come and find out!

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, July 20, 2007

Combat of the Thirty against Thirty: Cheaters?

I have just finished reading for the second or third time Maurice Keen's first book, The Laws of War in the Late Middle Ages (1965). It is a testament to what a brilliant, well-trained scholar with access to the most important archives and libraries can do. Forty years later, I am unaware of any comparable book on the subject. (I'd be glad to hear of another.)

The book's title, as Keen might admit if asked, is a bit of a misnomer, at least if one is interested in the later Middle Ages themselves. The Laws of War has quite a bit to say about medieval theory and practice as a prelude to the more modern era, from Grotius on, when a recognizable "law of war" developed. The emphasis, however, is on the law of arms, which in some respects was quite a different beast. The law of arms visualized a world where Christian warriors of noble background were the protagonists in war -- not just sovereigns as later on, and the focus of the law of arms was the rights of those warriors. I've discussed this myself in the books Jousts and Tournaments (an analysis of Charny's questions about the law of arms concerning those two "sports") and Deeds of Arms (on late 14th century formal combats); see the sidebar on the home page of this blog if you are interested in the books.

Reading Keen's book again reawoke a couple of question about the famous Combat of the Thirty (against Thirty) in Brittany in the early 1350s. Two garrisons, one pro-English, one pro-French (the majority of the 60 being Bretons in any case) challenged each other to a straight-up fight in which there would be 30 on a side, no more, and no one would run away, but rather stay to be captured (for ransom) or killed. The pro-French side won, and writers in Brittany and around Europe praised them for their fortitude (in contrast for instance with the French who ran away at Poitiers a few years later).

It's a famous episode of chivalry, which many people take to mean war pursued fairly and honorably.

I've always had my doubts that the combat was as fair as modern observers would like to think. First there is the matter of the guy on horseback. The pro-French side won, when things looked grim, when one of their members mounted a horse and broke up the tight infantry formation the English had adopted and which seemed impenetrable to their opponents. It seems to me that bringing in a horse late in the game would not be "best practice" today; and indeed, as I showed in Deeds of Arms even at the time fans of the event may have thought that this was a bit dicey.

Another thing that has bothered me for a while is the return of some of the pro-French captives to the fight when the man who captured them, the opposing captain Brandebourch, was killed. This is noted without comment in a Breton account of the episode as if nothing were more natural -- the man was dead, those who had surrendered to him were free of any obligation.

The problem is that as Keen shows, that was not standard practice. If you had surrendered, even if you were rescued, you were obliged to satisfy your captor. If your captor died, his heirs inherited his rights in you.

So were these captives cheating?

It's possible that in this earlier stage of the development of the law of arms, ransom law worked differently than later, or it worked differently in Brittany, something of a wild frontier.

But I don't believe it.

The other possibility that occurs to me is that the captives were exploiting a loophole. The usual thing that happened after the immediate surrender was that a written contract setting terms for ransom was drawn up at the next opportunity. Here, that had not taken place yet. Perhaps the captives used that circumstance to justify in their own minds that a real capture hadn't been consummated. Their friends and their Breton neighbors didn't object, and we actually have no idea what anyone in England thought.

Finally, it should be said that there was a lot of room for sharp practice in medieval chivalry; your own view of what your honor (= reputation) required might give you more or less room to play with the rules -- and the men at the Combat were mostly pretty modest men.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Jarbel Rodriguez's Captives and their Saviors in the Medieval Crown of Aragon

At the Medieval Studies congress in Kalamazoo last month, this book caught my eye and I picked it up. Even paid for it! My interest grows out of my current study of Charny's Questions
on War, which include many on capture and ransom of legitimate combatants ("men at arms") and their rights of the two parties. Rodriguez here talks about something different here: how common it was for Christians and Muslims to enslave each other along the religious frontier in Spain and the Mediterranean, how cruel conditions were, how expensive and unlikely ransom was, yet how important the relief of captives was as a policy for important institutions like town governments, religious institutions, and royal government. Rodriguez talks primarily on the basis of documents from one Christian kingdom, the Aragonese confederacy, but makes it clear that these things worked both ways and capturing and ransoming affected all parts of the society he studied. There is a lot more written on this subject, but this was a good introduction to a big topic.

Both literary works and documents make it clear that in many medieval wars, even when there was no difference of religion to justify enslaving, non-combatants were taken for the purpose of ransoming them back.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Military Q&A in 16th century Italy

Some of my readers know that I'm very interested in the Questions composed by the mid-14th century French knight Geoffroi de Charny on the law of arms. I've translated the questions on jousting and tournaments in a book called -- oddly enough -- Jousts and Tournaments (see sidebar) and I want to work this summer on his questions on war, a more challenging project.

Two things are notable about Charny's Questions. First, they have no answers. This leaves us wondering whether all or most of the issues were really debatable, and he was looking for answers, or whether it was more of a training exercise for the high-ranking French knights who were his audience.

The second noteworthy thing is that though Charny conceived of his questions as cases in "the law of arms," they don't concern issues that many of us would expect to be treated in a discussion of "the laws of war." There is next to nothing in the "war" questions concerning matters such as discipline, proper equipment, pay, things that later medieval monarchs who issued ordinances for their armies were demonstrably interested in. Charny's "laws of arms" are almost exclusively concerned with the rights of "men at arms" -- fully equipped and trained warriors, respectable men -- in dealing with each other.

So Charny's Questions are an odd and provoking composition. What the heck was he up to, and how did his ideas fit into the current thinking about war and warriors?

One of the challenges of interpreting Charny is finding other documents that are in some way
comparable. This month, however, I stumbled across something really neat -- another set of military questions from about two centuries after Charny. Questions that have answers!

Of course, they are quite different from Charny's questions in many respects. My Italian is rather slow and rusty, but this appears to be a set of questions posed by one " sig. Gio. Battista Dal Monte" to prospective captains who wished to work for the Republic of Venice. The questions concern tactics and the management of armies, and are followed by "suitable answers" that a good captain would presumably offer.

Neat, eh?

I am very interested to hear from anyone who can identify the " sig" GBDM.

Oh, the source of this document is Ercole Ricotti, Storia delle compagnie di ventura in Italia, Torino, 1847.

Labels: ,

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Charny's Questions on War, #86: Chivalric fantasy

86. Charny asks:

There are two cities which are at war with each other and in each there is a garrison of a hundred men at arms, all good companions and skilled men. And near these two cities is a good city that is not at war, but which has in it as many handsome and lively damsels as in any city one knows. So it happens that each of the men at arms in the two cities for their virtues has a ladylove who pleases him in this good city and it seems to each of them that his ladylove is the best and most beautiful of them all. So it happens that that the ladyloves of the companions in one of the two cities send letters to them and make it known that they should come the next day to them to amuse them and dance and lead a good life. And the companions get up early in the morning and wish to take part in the great joy, celebration and welcome which is made for them. It is hardly necessary to speak of how each one in her own right jokes, talks, sings, and dances all day and all night so very honorably as ladies ought to know how to for those who are their friends. And when the morning comes the companions wish to arm for their departure, but the ladies do not permit any to give them a hand in arming except themselves, and each of them helps the one she loves best. And at their departure each lady has kissed her own friend and given him a ring or other jewel and they beg them to fight well for the love of them. And the men give their oath by St. John and then go. So it happens that the ladies and ladyloves of the other companions know of the good time which the others have had; so they each wrote in their own hand a letter to their friends telling them that they should come to them and they will enjoy such a good time that they will leave them well content and that the ladies are well prepared to put on such a good time as was ever done. The companions of the other city mount up, completely armed, happy and in great joy to go to their ladies, because of the good news they have just received. So they go into the field and when they come to the city they see the companions who are coming from their ladies. So they ride against each other to fight. Of which party would you prefer to be, as having a better will to fight well?

Labels: ,

Charny's Questions on War, #80 and #81: Subversive behavior?

I confess that I can't see how anyone but the absconder in #81 would think that his behavior had "good reason" -- not if any of the "good men at arms" ever expected to be saved by ransom, or to collect one.

80. Charny asks:

Men at arms have fought against each other until one of the parties is defeated. It happens that one man at arms takes as prisoner a man at arms of the defeated party, and guards him as he can to save him. And then comes a man at arms of the same party and acquaintance of the one who has taken the prisoner and says he will kill the prisoner. The one who has taken him tells him that the prisoner has surrendered to him and tells and entreats him not to kill him. The other does not believe him, and kills him. The next day the one who has captured the prisoner takes the one who killed him as his prisoner and takes him without any (further?) defiance and puts him to ransom for as much as he can. And the other says as an excuse that the first cannot take him or ransom him in this manner, while the one who has taken him says he will do it. How will it be judged by the law of arms?

81. Charny asks:

A man at arms takes another in a set battle and tells him, “Surrender,” and the other answers, “I won’t because I am the prisoner of such and such,” and gives a name. And the one who arrested him says, “Give me your faith that you are the prisoner of the one you name.” And the other gives his faith that such is the case, and the other frees him. When evening comes those to whom it is known that he was the prisoner of the other speak to him [i.e. the first captor] and this one knows nothing of it, nor has he taken the prisoner, nor even seen him during the whole day in which he [the actual captor] took the prisoner, and so he demands his surrender. And the prisoner says no and that he only did it to save himself. Many good arguments are given on one side or another. How will it be judged by the law of arms?

Labels: ,

Charny's Questions on War, #78 and #79: Say "coward" and start a riot

What was Charny aiming at when he composed this pair of questions?

78. Charny asks:

Since some contend that when a man at arms who is captured in the field, armed in a besoigne and the man at arms says “I surrender” or gives his faith, that this ought to be a reproach of cowardice to him, how can he be captured and keep his honor and without reproach?

79. Charny asks:

Since I do not understand when a man at arms surrenders himself into the hands of his enemies in a besoigne arrestee in what way he can say the words, “I surrender,” which will not be considered cowardice, I ask to be enlightened, for I don’t understand it.

A besoigne or besoigne arrestee is a kind of battle ("affair" or perhaps "set-piece battle"). And Charny himself had been captured and ransomed twice in his previous career. Still, these alternative formulations of the same issue seem pretty provocative.

Labels: , ,

Friday, February 23, 2007

Charny's Questions on War, #74 and #75: Sharpsters and scofflaws

Again, it's interesting to think of these as bits of a screenplay.

There are a number of questions about what constitutes a valid surrender.

The man on the left above is the valet or varlet.

74. Charny asks:

A man at arms has taken another in war; it happens that the master has set a certain ransom with the agreement of the prisoner, either to pay on a set day or to return to his captivity on that day. And one of the party of the prisoner's master takes himself to the master as pledge to pay for the prisoner or instead of him surrender himself on the set day. And in the meantime it is made known by the counsel of the pledges that the prisoner is divested of all his heritage, all that he had, into the hands of his heirs. And then the pledge leads back the prisoner on the agreed day and asks the prisoner's master that he be released from his status as pledge. The master says no, for he has not fulfilled his captivity as he agreed to do. Many good reasons are given on either side. How will it be judged by the law of arms?

75. Charny asks:

Men at arms encounter each other and fight until one of the parties is defeated. It happens that one man at arms of party with the upper hand takes a man at arms of the defeated party and says to him, "Surrender to me!" And the man at arms says "I surrender to you," and gives him his sword; and the one who has captured him gives him to one of his valets to guard and this companion goes to fight with the others. Then another of those who have the upper hand comes and finds the prisoner which the valet of the other companion is guarding and demands from him whose prisoner he is, and the prisoner responds, "So and so of your party." The man at arms asks if he has given his faith, and the prisoner replies that he has not given any faith, at which the companion says that he will kill him if he does not swear to be his prisoner. And this one takes his oath as a prisoner and takes him away despite the valet. And when evening comes the companion who first took him without faith being pledged demands his prisoner; the other who has his faith says no. Many good arguments are given on either side. How will it be judged by judgment of arms?

Labels: ,

The answers to Charny's Questions

Before posting a couple more of Charny's Questions I thought I'd briefly discuss where we might find the answers to them.

We won't find Charny's answers. The manuscripts indicate that Charny drew up his case studies to present to King John II of France and his ill-fated Order of the Star. We don't know if he actually did present them at the single formal meeting of the Order, or whether they were actually discussed and answers determined. If the answers were determined, were they meant to reform or establish authoritative doctrines for France? Again, we will never know.

We are not completely in the dark about what some later writers and legal authorities thought were the right answers to some of the questions. The easiest source is Maurice Keen's 1965 book, The Laws of War in the Late Middle Ages; as always, a very fine piece of work. He discusses many common disputes of the era with reference to the Questions and other legal sources. If you go to the trouble of ordering for yourself your own copy of Michael Anthony Taylor's edition of the Questions (Ph.D Thesis, University of North Carolina; text in Middle French without a translation, English commentary), you'll see that Taylor references Keen's work and Keen's conclusions in regards to some of Charny's cases in his footnotes.

More adventurously, you can dig through primary sources yourself. One later 14th century source is Bouvet's (Bonet's) Tree of Battles, which is another legal discussion of problems of war and its regulation. Fortunately it is in English. Another French source from slightly later is Christine de Pisan's Book of Deeds of Arms and of Chivalry, which is definitely a reformist text interested in the training of skilled and disciplined soldiers, which means it has a quite different emphasis than Charny's works, which are interested in producing brave and dedicated men at arms -- and defining their legal privileges. Still, Christine is worth reading.

My friend and fellow enthusiast Will McLean has pointed out to me a set of sources not yet fully used to cast light on Charny's Questions: the Black Book of the Admiralty, an English source which contains a few army ordinances from around 1400. These should be very useful as showing what some kings and captains thought the law of arms meant for their armies, two or so generations after Charny.

If anyone knows of other useful sources I'd be glad to hear about them.


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Charny's Questions on War, #63 and #64: More prisoners

One wonders here whether there's a contrast between what men at arms were expected to do when they were in the "master's" position, and what they actually did. And how does the prisoner in #63 find a competent court to rule?

63. Charny asks:

A man at arms puts another to ransom to be paid over three or four installments; and the prisoner promises to do all in his power fulfill it, or to return. The prisoner comes at the first term and pays up; at the second term he returns to prison because he can't pay. The master imposes a very big ransom which he did not impose before the prisoner wasn't able to pay the second installment. The prisoner says that his ransom ought not to increase. Many good arguments are given on either side. How will it be judged by the law of arms?

64. Charny asks:

A man at arms holds another as his prisoner and makes him give his word that he will not leave a house where he will put him without permission. And then it happens that the master becomes angry with his prisoner and strikes and beats him. After this the prisoner escapes and goes his way. His master claims him; the prisoner says no. Many good arguments are given on either side. How will it be judged by the law of arms?

Labels: ,

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Charny's Questions on War, #57 and #58: Prisoners and Ransoms

Here are two more of Charny's questions (explanation below) on the practice of taking prisoners for ransom:

57. Charny asks:

Men at arms encounter each other and fight. One of the men at arms in one party takes one from the other side, and that one surrenders himself as prisoner by his good faith, if the other protects him from death; and the one who takes him promises him and then leaves him unguarded. So it happens that some of the men at arms of the same party as he who took the prisoner find this prisoner and tell him that if he does not surrender he will die, and he answers that he has surrendered to one of their party and gives his name. They don't believe him and strike him and wound him in many places and want to kill him if he does not surrender, and from this fight the prisoner is rescued by his party and is led off to safety. The one who first captured him requires him to come to him as a captive according to the faith which he gave; and the other says that he is not required to do so. Many good arguments are given on either side. How should the men at arms judge the case?

58. Charny asks:

Two captains of war are in the field against each other and fight. One of the parties has the better of it at the beginning, so that those in this party take ten or twelve prisoners. In the end it happens that the party of the prisoners rally and attack the others and defeat them entirely and take possession of the field and recover all the other prisoners taken at the beginning. And so those who took the first prisoners that they should come and be their prisoners; some of those who took the first prisoners are taken themselves and some have gone. It was said to the first prisoners: "Swear to be my prisoner," and so they did it and should not be contesting this captivity. The first say that they are not required to go, and the others say that they are. There are many good arguments. How should it be judged by the law of arms?

Labels: ,

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Charny's Questions on War, #54 and #55: Men at arms on horseback

I wrote about the background to Charny's 14th century case studies on the rules governing "men at arms" a few days back. Here's two more unanswered questions. I like to visualize the events, or better yet the arguments that resulted.

54. Charny asks:

A captain of a city has retained a gentleman at the wages of a foot sergeant. So the captain and the people under him agree that all who take profit from their enemies will put into the common booty for the men at arms to share, and that and the footmen will have a share of it, but less than the men at arms. So it happens that the men at arms and the footmen of this garrison sally out against their enemies and kill and take and gain a great deal. The gentleman who is at the wages of a footman has found a horse and is mounted on that day with the others who are well armed. When they have returned they share the booty; and this gentleman demands the share of a man at arms, and the men at arms say no. Many good arguments are given on either side. How will it be judged by the law of arms?

55. Charny asks:

The captain of a place leaves it and rides out against his enemies, and he has made an ordinance that all should share in the booty in common whatever they gain. And they ride until they see their enemies. So the captain orders that all should dismount to fight on foot against their enemies; many dismount and many remain on horseback. Those who are on foot with their captain attack their enemies and defeat them. When it comes to the defeat, those on horse join those on foot who have already defeated the enemy. When evening comes, those on horse demand a share of the common booty, and those who are on foot say no. How will it be judged by the men at arms?

Just what were those mounted men at arms doing, in #55, before they rejoined those on foot?

Labels: ,

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Charny's Questions on War, #37

Faithful readers know I am interested in Charny's Questions on the Joust, Tournaments and War. For newcomers, these are cases put forward by a mid-14th century French knight for his peers to debate. The unifying theme of the vast majority is how would the law of arms, the rules and customs that regulated respectable fighting men, apply to a possible dispute.

Unfortunately for us, we don't have Charny's answers.

I'd certainly love to have an answer to this one:

37. Charny asks:

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 (manieres) without being killed or taken, without being reproached. How can this be and what are the seven ways?

Your suggestions are welcome.


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Charny's Questions on War, #31

Another question posed in the 1350s by the French knight Geoffroi de Charny:

31. Charny asks:

A captain of men at arms rides out in the field and orders some of his scouts to see the situation of his enemies who are in the field; and there are a sufficient number of these scouts. And at the approach of their enemies one party of their enemies pursues them faster than they can go; and the scouts retreat from their enemies and are able to retreat without loss. So there are some of the scouts who turn back and meet their enemies, and perform arms like good people should; and others retreat to their captain and make their report. Which of these are to be more valued and praised: those who went back to their lord or those who are captured?

Labels: ,

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Encounter, affair, battle in Charny's Questions, part 2

Looking again at the questions, I find more that are relevant to the problem I discussed in this earlier post:

16. Charny asks:

Two captains are in the field to fight and there is a great number of men at arms on either side. And so one of the captains and his people are defeated. And the other captain who has overcome him has killed his people, taken a great number of the defeated and gained horses and plenty of other goods. And when the evening comes none consider this to be a rencontre, besoigne or bataille . How can this be and what should it be called?

28. Charny asks:

There is a battle (bataille) 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?

29. Charny asks:

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?

30. Charny asks:

There is a battle as above in which many men at arms of the defeated party depart and go away. Some consider that these have gone on their honor without being defeated; and many others consider that those who have gone are defeated. How can this be?

I am sure you will all find this clears things up immensely!

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Encounter, affair, battle in Charny's Questions

Charny's Questions have no answers. Sometimes you can guess the answer, but other times lacking illumination from another source, it's near impossible to figure out what he means.

Here's a puzzle that someone learned in military history or Old or Middle French literature may able to help with. How does one distinguish between a rencontre, a besoigne, and a bataille? Just an idea of where to look would be very useful.

Here are my translations of the relevant "War" questions.

13. Charny asks:

There are three types of combat in the field. One is called a rencontre (encounter). How is it called a rencontre and why, for some say that a rencontre takes place between a thousand men at arms or more on one side and the other? And if one party fights and defeats the other and takes possession of the field, if it is not called a besoigne (affair) nor a bataille (battle), how should it be designated, then?

14. Charny asks:

Men at arms are in the field, and a thousand men or more fight; and one party defeats the other and takes possession of the field. And it is said that it was nothing but a besoigne (affair), halted as it was by nightfall, and should not be called a rencontre or a bataille . How should it be designated?

15. Charny asks:

When should a bataille be called a bataille and why that rather than something else?

Update: See this later post for more relevant questions on this terminological issue.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Charny's Questions on War, #71

Many of Charny's Questions on War concern the proper relations between prisoners taken in war and their captors, who were entitled to demand a ransom. This question might be subtitled, is a prisoner a slave?

71. Charny asks:

A man at arms has made another his prisoner in proper warfare. So they agree that the prisoner’s ransom is to be paid at a certain time if the prisoner is able, and the prisoner remains near his master under his oath without any other captivity. So one day the master comes to the prisoner and swears on the holy gospels and similar things that if he does not pay his ransom at the term, when the term is past that the master will cut off his head. And about this time news comes to the prisoner that he will not be able to pay his ransom. So he begs his master to lengthen the term and the master is not willing and swears as before. What ought the prisoner do? Is he able to go without evil reproach?

The picture is of Boethius in prison, a different situation to be sure.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, November 12, 2006

One of Charny's Questions on War

Back in 2001-2 I translated and interpreted Charny's Questions on the Joust, Tourneys and War, which I eventually turned into the Chivalry Bookshelf title Jousts and Tournaments (see sidebar for a link to the publisher).

Charny was a French knight of the first half of the 14th century, an active campaigner, a commander of armies, and man who was of some influence in the court of King Jean II. King Jean inherited a losing war from his father, Philippe VI, and one of his efforts to turn things around was the foundation of an early royally-sponsored order of chivalry, the Order of the Star.

In connection with a meeting of the Order, Charny wrote three sets of questions, concerning "the law of arms" as it applied to the three characteristic activities of "men at arms," jousting, tournaments, and war. Some of these questions were philosophical, most were technical discussions of subjects like the proper running of a tourney or the rules governing ransoms, but all of them were raised for discussion without any answer being provided. And indeed for most of them it is difficult to see that there would have been an unambiguous or generally accepted answer. (Charny several times says after outlining a case, "many good reasons are given on either side," or some similar phrase.)

I sometimes think that if there were answers given, this would be among the most famous texts on chivalry, but as it is it's pretty obscure, indeed not properly published or easily available even to scholars. I've done something to make the jousting and tournament questions more accessible, and now I'm going to try to do the same for the more numerous and difficult war questions.

Here's a preview as I start reviewing my draft translation, one of several questions that opens up a whole range of new possibilities. Who would have imagined this scenario would even be a debating point?

85. Charny asks:

A hundred men at arms are in the field all prepared to fight against a hundred others, all of them as good and as well mounted as they are, and the horses on either side are completely armed, and well covered, because they have promised to fight on their horses as long as their horses can last, if they are not killed at the hands of their enemies, and without any advantage from deceit. One of the parties does not have any weapons except for their hands, but they have good spurs on their feet; those in the other party each have a good sword in their hands but no other weapons, but they have no spurs and can’t get any. Which of these would you rather be?

Comments welcome.

I've borrowed the beautiful modern depiction of a 14th-century tournament from the Heraldry Society of Scotland.

Try clicking on the image for a bigger version.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Geoffroi de Charny speaks!

Not a lot of medieval knights wrote books. One of those who did was Geoffroi de Charny, who fought in the first phase of the Hundred Years War and died at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356.

Charny was an unusual character. For one thing, he was the first recorded owner of the Shroud of Turin. (Above you will see a picture of the church at Lirey in France that Charny originally built to house the Shroud.) For another, he wrote not one but three books touching on chivalry. One of them, a down-to-earth consideration of the rules for peaceful and warlike chivalric deeds, I partially translated in my book Jousts and Tournaments. A more important work, The Book of Chivalry of Geoffroi de Charny, has been edited by Richard Kaeuper and translated by Elspeth Kennedy. There is a cheaper edition with less scholarly apparatus under the title A Knight's Own Book of Chivalry.

That's a very good title, actually. Charny, who had a very active military career, was recruited by the king of France, Jean II, to write about chivalry for the king's own knightly order, the Order of the Star. When he did so, he just let it rip. It is unlikely that Charny picked up a pen and wrote the books himself. He likely dictated to a secretary. The Book of Chivalry in particular, if read aloud, gives you the sense, accurate or not, that this is what he really was like when he held forth about important subjects among "men of worth."

You can imagine this man as your commander on the battlefield very easily when you read stuff like this: one should be dismayed at the thought of undertaking great deeds, for the above-mentioned men of standing tell us truly that those who have the will to achieve great worth are already on the way to great achievement. And they speak the truth, for because of their great desire to reach and attain that high honor, they do not care what sufferings 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 that one does, the less is one proud of oneself, and it always seems that there is so much left to do.
Inspiring? I think that this has something to say even to those not very impressed by knights and chivalry, not to mention war...

Labels: ,