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.


  1. Christine de Pizan has some discussion relevant to this on in part III, Chapter XVII. "It is against right and gentility to slay the one that gives himself up." Nor should the ransom be excessive. In Chapter XXIII, a prisoner who gives his parole may escape if he is treated inhumanely or threatened with death, or if the ransom demands are unreasonable.

  2. Closer to Charny's time, Froissart includes a denunciation of cruel German captors and their mistreatment of captives, comparing them to exemplary French captors:

    The same web page quotes Froissart in a different case depicting the execution of hostages after an agreement they guaranteed. F. has no comment on this somewhat different case.

  3. Christine de Pizan followed the Tree of Battles pretty closely in part III. That would bring you a bit closer to Charny's time.

    Practical men at arms may have had different ideas of what was proper, of course.