Sunday, November 28, 2010

How Charny uses the term "honor" in his Book of Chivalry

An excerpt from something I am tinkering with:
Charny most often uses the term to mean "military achievement that leads to higher status or reputation," or occasionally "military effectiveness." Recall that Charny's three books all treat the life of arms as an ascent from the least difficult to the more difficult, and in his most developed presentation of this argument in the Book of Chivalry, he shows the life of arms as an ascent from one type of honor or honorable achievement to greater honor associated with more difficult challenges:
When God by his grace grants [aspirant men-at-arms] frequent success in jousting, they enjoy it, and their desire to bear arms increases. Then after jousting, they learn about the practice of arms in tournaments, and it becomes apparent to them and they recognize that tournaments bring greater honor than jousting for those who perform well there. Then they set out to bear arms in tournaments as often as they can. ..Their knowledge increases until they see and recognize that the men-at-arms who are good in war are more highly prized and honored than any other men-at-arms. It therefore seems to them from their own observation that they should immediately take up the practice of arms in war and in order to achieve the highest honor in prowess, for they cannot attain this by any other form of armed combat.1
In that passage we see honor as, first, something that is given to worthy men-at-arms by those who recognize their worth, second, as something which is gained by those who strive for it, and third, as something that derives ultimately from God. Honor can also refer to military effectiveness, or the success that comes in warfare to those who "learn the true way to practice the military arms until they, on every occasion, know how to strive towards the most honorable course of action, whether in relation to deeds of arms in relation to other forms of behavior appropriate to their rank."2 All of these usages of honor have a close direct connection to skill, courage and success in combat, and it is such usages that dominate the Book of Chivalry.
1 BoC, 101-3.

2 Ibid., 101.


  1. This is a powerful idea. I underlined the section in my own copy years ago. It turns some reenactment ideology on its head.

  2. Anonymous5:03 pm

    That's really interesting. What I'm finding in my study of trials by battle from a somewhat earlier period is that the concept is inverted. Honour, as in the right to respect from one's peers, is a prerequisite for being allowed to engage in formal combat at all. Only boni homines or legales homines were allowed to participate in judicial duels, while people with vaguely defined disreputable character had to use other modes of proof.

    The French legal historian Claude Gauvard has written quite a bit about honour and reputation. Have you seen the section on the subject in her book De grace especial? Link here:

    Ariella Elema