Monday, April 29, 2013

Men at arms' hostility to archers – more from the Chronicle of the Good Duke

Have you ever heard a cliché so often that you begin to doubt that it could possibly be true?

One such cliché for me is the hostility of men at arms in the late Middle Ages to archers and crossbowmen. Men at arms being of course mounted well armored soldiers who in a different era would be called knights.

Today I was reading the Chronicle of the Good Duke Louis of Bourbon, a fascinating account written in the 15th century about one of the best French war leaders of the late 14th century, and his retinue. While doing so I ran across this story which tends to lend credence to the cliché:

They [Duke Louis and his men]went before a place called le Faon, which...was strongly assailed, and it was not taken that day, besides only the low court, where there were many good men wounded; for there was  a Cordelier [A Franciscan friar]  who did marvels of shooting from a rock thrower, to the point that he killed four gentlemen, and one said that he was the strongest arbalester in Poitou. And the next morning the Poitevins and Bourbonnois assailed the donjon, and there was a fierce assault and strong one, and those of the tower defended themselves, and the Cordelier was shooting but they [Louis's men] fought in the manner so that it was taken by good assault and they killed so many of the men inside, with the exception of the Cordelier-arbalester who had taken his habit and had fled to the monastery. And then everyone in the army demanded to know where the Cordelier was: and it was said that he was in the church on his knees before the altar. And so Messire Jean de Roye ran there because the Cordelier had killed in shooting one of his squires, and Jean took the Cordelier with his habit and went to hang him from a tree, concealing himself well so that the Duke of Bourbon should not know of it.

It is left as an exercise for the reader to figure out what Duke Louis's men thought was most offensive about this archer.


  1. Um...killing a squire?

  2. Interesting, but might it not have been the fact that the bowman was a friar, rather than because he was a bowman, (as well as the loss of the squire) that caused Sire Jean to act so harshly.

  3. I guess nobody likes a poser, not even back then, and a churchman who participates in warfare might be considered untrue to his profession, and therefore not accorded the privelege of sanctuary. The Friar of course not be subject to de Cordelier's jurisdiction, and he would have done it secretly in order to avoid problems with the church judicial system. OTOH, church militant orders were common so I can't really see why that would be relevant..perhaps it really WAS a distaste for an archer who shoots then hides behind the skirts of mother church....