Thursday, August 22, 2013

Boucicaut the younger, another medieval nut case

Boucicaut the younger, as readers of my book Deeds of Arms know, was one of the most prominent fighters of formal combats in the late 14th century. He was, for instance, one of the three French champions at St. Inglevert. His performance as a bold champion raised his profile to the point that he was made a marshal of France, a high command position, by the age of 25. Some people thought him a great hero, obviously, and in his later life there was an entire book written to show that he was an exceptional figure. But I've always thought that he was a military disaster for France, since he was one of the commanders in two of the greatest defeats France suffered on either side of the year 1400, the battle of Nicopolis and the battle of Agincourt. Seems that the people associated with the Chronicle of the Good Duke shared my doubts, back in 1429. See this passage from the account of the crusade to North Africa, just after St. Inglevert. happened that Boucicaut took his turn at the watch, which was always ordered between the Army and the Saracens. Boucicaut was a chivalrous man who went to seek a skirmish where he was, through some interpreter asking whether there was any Saracen who wished to combat him on foot or horse. They replied no. Then Messire Boucicaut asked that if they wished to perform arms 10 against 10 or 20 against 20 he and his company would be ready. So the Saracens responded no, not if the Kings their Lords did not want them to. When Boucicaut saw their refusal he said to them that he would fight in a secure field, 20 Christians versus 40 of their Saracens. As long as this conference lasted it was ordained that they should not make war on each other. And scarcely were these Christian and Saracen negotiators together this astounded the Duke of Bourbon, the Lord of Couci, the count of Eu, the souldich of Estrau, and the other barons, for the whole Army ran to this assembly so that the Lord of Couci, the Count of Eu and others, who saw the Army taking leave of its senses, said to the Duke of Bourbon, “Monseigneur, the people run like beasts over there with Bouicaut and they are not able to keep guard and it seems to us that if you do not order some to retreat, things will turn out badly for us.” Then replied the Duke of Bourbon: “I can’t then send a better message, I’ll go there myself.” So he asked for a mule he always had...
So the Duke mounted his mule left his tent and went off with the people of his household. It was not long before more than 300 gentlemen were following him. The Saracens saw that the Duke of Bourbon whom they recognized by his coat of arms, came to join Messire Boucicaut with many men at arms, and began to retreat towards their tents, and Boucicaut and those with him to chase them. And Boucicaut who saw the Duke of Bourbon coming, gave himself over to pride and chased the Saracens more boldly and the Duke of Bourbon with his company went after to bring about a retreat. When Boucicaut was at the tents, the Moorish Kings and their Saracens put themselves in formation for battle outside their lodgings, and Boucicaut put himself in battle formation with his, awaiting the Duke of Bourbon and those who came with him. And the Duke of Bourbon caught up with those whom he wished to make retreat, and he very violently spoke to Boucicaut, concerning his great follies.

In some of the accounts of deeds of arms I've read there is lurking behind the heroic account a group of people who think that a given deed was presumptuous and foolish. Here the critics come out in the open. It would be interesting to know what "chivalrous" meant to the author and his audience.


  1. Wonderful passage, I've seen this little tug and pull concerning deeds in the middle of mellees in our little society, with similar arguments. Thanks for posting it!

  2. I've always considered John Holland as the foolish and presumptuous one, and almost had a crush on Boucicaut. Well, dear Boucicaut, it's over!! I will find somebody taller than you!!!! T_T