Sunday, December 08, 2013

Knightly humility

One of the most notable  characteristics of the medieval knight was his pride, pride that made him unwilling to back down from a challenge; pride that could lead  to serious trouble through overreaching.

Sometimes, however, pride was disavowed and humility was paraded before a given knight's audience. An interesting example of how lords and high ranking warriors, men full of justifiable pride in their accomplishments and family connection – we should think – end up talking poor can be found in the Chronicle of the Good Duke.

The incident took place at the tail end of the siege of Mahdia in North Africa, a place that the French attackers simply called "Africa." There'd been a lot of fighting around this desirable city, with the French and Genoese scoring some victories but not even coming close to taking the city. In other words the confrontation was going nowhere and it was time to go.

The good Duke Louis of Bourbon decided to take counsel from his chief men and his Genoese allies.
"Sire, the city is marvelously strong as you see it is very well supplied with men; there are these Kings with very great troops who in our opinion will not move to the field and for nothing that you can do will they give battle. And they put us in delay to make us eat up all our food. Also in our ships is neither siege engines nor rock throwers nor any engine to take to the wall; our siege tower is burnt and the falcon beaks are exhausted so we don't know what to say about this."

 The Duke said "there is only one thing more to do" and so the Genoese spoke about the matter to the other patrons of Genoa and the captains of the galleys came to seek a treaty with the Africans ... The Duke of Bourbon put all the chivalry French and English together to know whether this treaty was honorable or not. And standing in the Council there were the Duke of Bourbon who wished that the souldich d'Estrau -- who was one of the oldest of the Army and one of the most valiant knights one could find --should speak first and be asked his advice about it; the souldich said that there was no reason that he should speak about it first and he had not seen anything in this time that however you it was going to speak loyally that which he knew of it, and that when he had seen like this in his time according to which he did not wish to praise himself facing that this was the most remarkable thing he had found himself during his life, to have awaited in the field against the power of three Kings for two and half months assailed the town, before them without having sent remedy and since have gone to attack their tents, throwing them out by force,  this is a much greater thing than the greatest battle that one could ever see. And about the treaty the souldich said further "that which those of Africa offer, it is also as honorable as if the town had been taken for you put them in truce and in servitude which they were not able to refuse even in the presence of all their power."The souldich said further,"I who am nothing but a poor Chevalier, I hold this thing as honorable as though I had been in three battles"  

After the souldich, Jeannicot d'Ortenie an Englishman one of the valiant Knights known anywhere said he held to the opinion of the souldich d'Estrau that certainly he did not know about it except to repeat it. Afterwards the Lord of Clifford chief of the English came, who said when asked that he held to the statement of the the souldich and that was the opinion of the English. So it happened after that the Duke of Bourbon asked the advice of count of Eu who told him "Sire it appears to me that the things that have been done are so great and good up to now and the treaty so honorable you ought not to refuse it."
After the Lord of Couci spoke who said plainly to the Duke, "Monseigneur, the voyage is so grand and so honorable for you and for all those have been on it and one cannot say better about such power as of the three Kings and the great things which you have done. For they did not dare defy you, they have lost every day and  you have had the advantage moreover have taken their lodgings from them, this amounts in honor to a good battle, and it is a bad defeat for them.  After you have the treaty, so grand, by which they are so strongly enslaved whereby you are able to leave honorably as though you had taken the town. And with such power as you see before us and also, Monseigneur, your people have a lack of supplies, and there are at it many diseases from which you may lose many, because or you have been there too long; and it will be a remaining without reason for you have the best treaty that now is possible to have for you and your company." Afterwards the judgment of the Count of Eu was asked who said that after the Lord of Couci he had nothing to alter. Also the sire of Granville, who held their opinion and the sire of St. George, the sire of Castillon and all other chevaliers which there were many.

It seems to me that this is a very ambiguous situation. Has the expedition been a failure or success? The Duke of Bourbon asked around the leading lights of his Army hoping for their seal of approval on his behavior -- everyboy knows he has to leave -- which he gets. But note that they seem to be somewhat reluctant to put all their prestige behind the Duke's plans and accomplishments. So you have extremely experienced and high ranking warriors saying, "I think we accomplished a lot… But what do I know, humble Chevalier that I am?

No comments:

Post a Comment