Thursday, May 19, 2011

That beautiful destrier

In Charny's Questions on Tournaments, there is a case proposed to Charny's audience about a knight who brings a beautiful destrier to a tournament and decides not to ride it. An unarmed man gets on the destrier and rides out past the lists and all over the field, until some other tourneyers drag him to the goal post, knock him off, and take the destrier as a prize. The knight who brought the destrier to the tourney objects. Who is right?

At least, that's how I (and some others) think the question should be interpreted. Grammatically the question is such a puzzle that it stops learned philologists and scholars of medieval French in their tracks, and leads them to propose desperate measures, for instance, that there are words missing, either from the edition or from the original text in the manuscripts. I can well believe they are right about this, but it leaves me in an awkward position to explain how I arrived at my published translation, when I do publish one. At least I will know that had I spent my life studying Old and Middle French, I'd be in much the same situation.

I am deeply grateful to all the people who wrinkled their skulls over this problem to help me out. Generosity still reigns in medieval studies.

Image: Not exactly the destrier visualized by Charny.


  1. This question stumped me as well. I felt Charny's point was the bad form displayed by the knight, who brought the destrier but then decided not to ride. Presumably he did so after surveying the field, perhaps thinking his chances were not good. So, if the destrier then gets taken to the field by someone who is unhorsed, should he lose the destrier as punishment for bringing it and not risking it in the first place.

  2. It is an awesome destrier pictured!

    A bit jouncy, though, I suspect.

  3. Here's my reading: the unarmed man rides into the middle of the field, completely beyond the stakes. (Perhaps he is unable to control the horse). The men that take the horse are taking the legalistic position that anyone on the field is fair game.

    There's a somewhat similar dispute in the 1380 judicial duel between Katrington and Anneslie in Holinshed:

    He being thus called thrise by an herald at armes, at the third call did come ar|med likewise; and riding on a courser trapped with traps imbrodered with his armes, at his approching to the lists he alighted from his horsse, lest according to the law of armes the constable should haue cha|lenged the horsse if he had entered within the lists. But his shifting nothing auailed him, for the horsse after his maister was alighted beside him, ran vp & downe by the railes, now thrusting his head ouer, and now both head & breast,The earle Bucking [...] claimeth [...] horsse. so that the earle of Buc|kingham, bicause he was high constable of Eng|land, claimed the horsse afterwards, swearing that he would haue so much of him as had appeared ouer the railes, and so the horsse was adiudged vnto him.

  4. Brilliant, Will. Now if we could have such a good conclusion to the grammatical problem.