Monday, May 17, 2010

Some things I learned from the Chronicle of the Good Duke, 1

Not everyone could be at the International Congress on Medieval Studies last week, one so there are millions, yea billions of human beings who missed the paper I gave as part of the military history program. A few of those people might even be interested in the paper. Eventually, rewritten and retitled, it will appear in the Journal of Medieval Military History. But in the meantime, I will share with my faithful readers a couple of insights that I've gained from the work to date.

My subject was a fifteenth century chivalric biography called the Chronicle of the Good Duke, written in the year 1429 but recounting events of the previous century, largely as seen by an old knight named John de Châteaumorand, an old follower of the good Duke, Louis of Bourbon. John remembered Louis with a great deal of affection, because he had gotten his own start in the military life under the duke. In the first third of the Chronicle, there are a number of anecdotes that allow us to understand bonds of loyalty and love that could exist between Lord and follower.

One passage that is a particular favorite of mine shows how closely John, a young man entrusted to carry the Duke's pennon, identified with his master. Furthermore, it shows us that the older John felt that the honor of the Duke's retinue depended on the honor of the Duke and vice versa. Châteaumorand's prominent part in a stirring victory is depicted in a way that subordinates his personal identity to that of his leader and collective identity of his leader's armed retinue. Châteaumorand identifies himself in this rather long passage with the ducal pennon or banner that he carries; further, he makes sure the reader knows that he was just one of many worthy members of the retinue, all of whom had part in this victory and the honor that derived from it:

And there the Duke of Bourbon, having seen his knights and the squires of his household and country, and men at who appeared to sustain all contingencies destroy the palisade and garrison and pass through by force, was overjoyed. And during this melee, the pennon of the Duke of Bourbon, which John de Châteaumorand always carried, passed through the breach in the palisade, with those who followed him. Then the English …did not know what to do, outside of retreating into the fort; and as they retreated, the pennon rushed forward with the valiant men; and in this retreat … out of the English who ran away were killed and taken a good fourscore of the better men at arms from inside… And while [the English] retreated from certain lodges which were high up, to go to their fort, the pennon of the Duke of Bourbon with the people of his household charged them so close that as [the English] entered the tower, the pennon of the Duke of Bourbon rushed among them very well accompanied, so that those Englishman were not able to close the door of the tower, and so they surrendered to the one who carried the pennon of the Duke of Bourbon. And the prisoners surrendered to him […] and the very strong place was delivered. And in this way the pennon of the Duke of Bourbon with his companions [their names are listed] and five or six others of the household of the Duke of Bourbon, with his pennon, headed over to the other tower where they found already in front of it a great party of people of Auvergne who were climbing up there, and the lord of Montmorin, who was a valiant knight, and who had a fine company, and Geraud, lord of Laqueuilhe, accompanied by good people and who was a valiant man, the lord de Lafayette and others who had advanced by the advice of the lords and who had held very close to the English when they had arrived there so that the English could not flee. But when the English saw that the pennon of the Duke of Bourbon approached them, Captain Nolimbarbe surrendered with all of his companions to the Duke of Bourbon. And so was La Roche Senadoire taken, without a word of a lie.

In a bit I'll blog about another incident where the good Duke's honor and that of his faithful men are closely identified.


  1. I need to refer a good friend of mine here. Military history, indeed history in general, is one of his great passions.

    Excellent post, Steve.

  2. Great stuff. I love the kind of auto-metonymy you identify here.

  3. Stunningly interesting stuff. Thank you.