Sunday, December 26, 2010

Excerpt from the Abstract: Outrance and Plaisance

Abstract: Outrance and Plaisance (an excerpt)

Will McLean “Outrance and Plaisance” in Journal of Medieval Military History 8 (2010): 155-170

Modern writers on medieval deeds of arms often use the term à outrance to describe combats fought “using the normal weapons of war” and à plaisance to describe combats using “specially modified weapons with sharp edges removed or blunted”.

However, during the 15th century, when the terms were most often used to describe contemporary deeds of arms, writers in Burgundy, France, Spain and England used the terms very differently. Sharp weapons of war and blunt weapons could be used in both sorts of combat. Instead, arms à outrance were distinguished by the willingness of the champions to fight until one side or the other was captured or killed, unless the judge or judges stopped the fight. This could happen either in the context of a judicial duel or a high stakes combat by mutual consent.

Arms à plaisance were less extreme, and would typically end as soon as an agreed number of blows were struck, or as soon as a combatant was carried to the ground.

The author quotes contemporary accounts of the extraordinary combats that 15th century writers described as à outrance. They show what happened in the rare cases when they were fought to the finish, as well as the less uncommon fights that were halted or proposed but not accepted. He also quotes 15th century accounts of a more limited combat à plaisance that was nonetheless fought with sharp weapons.

Combats à outrance were extraordinary events and their potential to end in legalized homicide presented the judges with a dilemma. Their response gives a measure of how extraordinary these combats were. In deciding whether and how far to allow deeds of arms to proceed under their control, rulers struck a delicate balance among competing goals: displaying their own power, fairness and authority, gratifying noble subjects, entertaining the populace and maintaining good order in their realm.
The complete abstract is here.

Image:  some are still at it.

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