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?


  1. Bob Vence12:03 am

    #57... The captor's cohorts violated the parole of the prisoner, and besmirched the honor of the captor, the prisoner is under no obligation to re-surrender himself, nor should the captor ask as his party violated the terms he promised. Now however it would be the height of chivalry for the prisoner to resubmit himself, even though he is under no obligation to do so.

    #58... The original prisoners gave their parole... That those they gave it to were later made themselves prisoner should not matter. If not, why bother to request or grant parole? Such would lead to all being killed.

  2. Kirk Poore5:08 pm

    In both of these cases the captors deny the right of legitimate rescue (as opposed to escape via subterfuge, traitorous behavior, or other dishonorable act.) The question 57 prisoner is exposed to attack by his captor’s allies, and could have been killed if the prisoner’s friends had not arrived. Thus the original captor should give up his claim. The captor’s friends could have provisionally accepted the prisoner’s word, subject to validation. In addition, as “property”, the prisoner is subject to recapture by his friends without compensation.

    The question 58 prisoners are also free. Those original captors who have fled have abandoned their prisoners and have no further claim. The possessions of those who remained and were captured themselves are forfeit to the victorious forces. This would include not just their horses and arms, but also their prisoners.