Tuesday, June 09, 2020

A surprise development

Two days ago I finished the first draft of the 13th century poem, Le Tournoi de Chauvency. As you can probably tell from the title, Le Tournoi is an account of a tournament. It's quite an entertaining piece, and one of the few detailed descriptions of a medieval tournament. But it has a few problems. There has been only a translation from Old French into modern French, by Dominique Henriot-Walzer, and so it is inaccessible to most readers.

A good few years back I decided to do something about this, in so far as I could. My knowledge of Old French is weak, and so a translation from OF to modern French wasn't practical. But I thought that a translation of Henrit-Walzer's French version into English might produce something that would allow Anglophones, at least, to enjoy Le Tournoi. This would be no great work of scholarship, but it would allow jousting fans of all sorts to get a taste of the High Medieval tournament, and meet the participants, the audience, and the organizers.

(Note: this is one of the great periods of jousting, though the question “Will a jouster read?” has yet to receive a definitive answer.)

Two days ago I shared my pleasure at getting close to this goal with my many correspondents. The next day, I found an announcement from Boydell and Brewer that they were publishing (Nov 2020) an English translation of not only Le Tournoi but another tournament account, The Romance of Le Hem.

What to do? Clearly the B&B book is going to be superior to my translation in a number of ways:
  • We can only hope that Nigel Bryant's French is better than mine :-)
  • His book will contain two texts rather than one
  • It will contain a scholarly apparatus
I think, however, that I will go ahead with my translation because I am willing to publish it very cheaply.

Real scholars will use the Bryant translation (at least I hope so), but  people who might be interested in the text but won't spend $65 on it will have this alternative.

Chivalry, the treatment of non-combatants and women

 I have had trouble with the formatting of this post.  Here's another attempt.


The eminent military historian John Gillingham wrote an article "Surrender in Medieval Europe: An Indirect Approach," which appeared in the book How Fighting Ends: A History of Surrendered. H. Afflerbach and H. Strachan (Oxford U. P. 2012).  I found it Academia.edu.  It's one of several articles on surrender, the origin of non-combatant status, and chivalry by Gillingham.  He has a lot of provocative things to say about the development of war.

Here are some excerpts of Gillingham's arguments:
 My subject ... is the narrower one of warfare in the field during the first seven hundred years of the ‘Middle Ages’, roughly from the fifth to the twelfth century. Some of the most fundamental developments in the history of war in this part of the world took place towards the end of these seven centuries: the discontinuance of the ancient practice of enslaving prisoners, the emergence of an effective notion of non-combatant status and the growth of the practice of ransom - all developments relevant to the still unwritten history of surrender....
I shall distinguish two main phases characterised by two very different cultures of war...
Phase  One. In this phase warfare typically involved the killing of men in battle, and after battle the enslavement of the defeated, especially their women and children. Later lawyers called this bellum Romanum, but contemporaries were probably more familiar with it as the Old Testament model of war.  As is well known, this appears to be the conduct of was characteristic of Homeric Greece and of many early societies.  In Phase One, surrender appears to have been shameful and very rare. 
Phase Two. In this phase of warfare, the ‘common’ soldier was in greater danger than the powerful; the rich had a better chance of being spared and held to ransom. For the first time in history, non-combatant immunity existed in the sense that although enemy soldiers might intend to ruin civilians economically by destroying or taking their wealth, they no longer went out of their way to kill or enslave them,
The shift from Phase one to Phase two marked one of the most important developments in the history of war. It occurred at different times in different regions. Hence Gerald de Barri’s explicit statement (made c. 1190) that in his day in French-style warfare the custom is to take prisoners and ransom them, but in Welsh and Irish warfare to massacre and cut off heads.
If  Phase One is the Old Testament, Phase Two represents the Age of Chivalry, including its much mocked care for damsels in distress. In Phase Two women might be raped or seized and threatened in order to extort money from their husbands or fathers, but on the whole that sort of conduct was regarded as reprehensible by those men who wrote about war or who held high military command. In Phase One, by contrast, the capture and enslavement of women and children was ‘not the occasional excess of the lawless…..not a cause for shame but, if successful, a source of pride.’
 Few medieval authors noticed the shift, but one who at least referred to it was Honoré Bouvet. In L’arbre des batailles he expressed his conviction that wars in hisday were carried on with greater restraint than in the past: ‘nowadays we haveabandoned the ancient rules of making slaves of prisoners and of putting them todeath after they have fallen into our hands’. Instead ‘by written law, good custom andusage, among Christians great and small, there exists the custom of commonly taking ransom from one another.
So, did chivalry mean more to warriors of the Central and Late Middle Ages than historians have been willing to grant?

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