Friday, February 23, 2007

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.

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