Monday, May 25, 2015

A review of my book Charny's Men-at-Arms: Questions Concerning the Joust, Tournaments, and War. Wheaton, IL: Freelance Academy Press, 2014. Pp. viii, 111. $24.95. ISBN: 978-1-9374390-5-7

From The Medieval Review

Muhlberger, Steven. Charny's Men-at-Arms: Questions Concerning the Joust, Tournaments, and War. Wheaton, IL: Freelance Academy Press, 2014. Pp. viii, 111. $24.95. ISBN: 978-1-9374390-5-7.

Reviewed by Peter W. Sposato

Indiana University Kokomo

Charny's Men-at-Arms: Questions Concerning the Joust, Tournaments and War is the latest in a series of important contributions made by Steven Muhlberger to the historical study of medieval chivalry. Muhlberger's previous publications have focused generally on "deeds of arms" (faits d'armes), whether in the guise of "chivalric sports," such as tournaments and jousts, or the bloody business of war. [1] In Charny's Men-at-Arms, Muhlberger continues his investigation of these major chivalric themes by focusing on a series of questions composed in the early 1350s by Geoffroi de Charny, a famous fourteenth century French knight. Charny's intended audience for his Questions were the members of the French royal chivalric Order of the Star: all strenuous, professional practitioners of chivalry. [2] Charny was himself a strenuous knight, who through his personal prowess and honorable conduct both on and off the battlefield climbed, during the course of a long and distinguished career, to the upper echelons of the chivalric hierarchy in France. As Muhlberger powerfully argues, however, Charny should be seen not only as a practitioner, but also as a "theorist of the life of chivalry," a "professor and follower of chivalry...[who] set out first and foremost to praise, to define, and to teach chivalry" (9, 14). Indeed, in addition to composing The Questions Concerning the Joust, Tournaments, and War, he also wrote the Livre de chevalerie (Book of Chivalry) and the Livre Charny (Charny's Book). [3] Thus, unlike many contemporary writers on chivalry, he not only talked the talk, he decidedly walked the walk: participating in tournaments; commanding soldiers in battle; and fighting with distinction in numerous engagements during the Hundred Years War, including at the battle of Poitiers (1356) where he was killed defending the Oriflamme (the sacred battle banner of France).

Charny's Questions are therefore crucially important to our understanding of chivalric mentality and the practical application of chivalric ideas in Late Medieval France in particular, and Europe in general. Muhlberger successfully makes the case for the importance of Charny's Questions in the very first line of his introduction, writing "The Questions Concerning the Joust, Tournaments, and War is a lost classic work of European chivalry. It is the only record we have of a dramatic occasion when crucial questions on the nature of war and the proper conduct of the warrior's life--one definition of chivalry--were posed to an audience of experts, professional men-at-arms of rank and influence" (1). Indeed, Charny's Questions deal with major issues that arose in the three main contexts in which strenuous men-at-arms (i.e. men of rank and status who lived the "life of arms") operated: jousts, tournaments, and war. (14) The Questions, one hundred and thirty four in number and divided into three categories (jousts, tournaments, and war), range from the practical ("Charny asks: Knights joust with steel lances in an emprise. One knocks the other to the ground with a stroke of his lance. Will the one who has knocked the other to the ground and out of the saddle win the horse? How will it be judged by the law of arms?" [88]) to the abstract ("Charny asks: When should a battle be called a battle and why that rather than something else?" [90]). By offering such a broad array of questions, Charny highlights both the formal and the informal rules that governed chivalric conduct, while also providing historians with a sense of the motivations, ideals, and behaviors that underpinned the chivalric lifestyle.

Equally important is the reformative nature of Charny's Questions, which Muhlberger highlights and deftly places into the larger historical context, namely the efforts of King Jean II of France to restore order in his kingdom and to turn the tide of the Hundred Years War. Muhlberger argues the ultimate purpose of Charny's Questions, given the strong reform currents found therein and the timing of their composition, was to buttress such royal initiatives and, importantly, future royal legislation "on matters of arms" (22). No doubt Charny envisioned the Questions as a means to reform and reinvigorate his fellow men-at-arms who had thus far failed to fulfill the sacred function associated with their divine ordo: to protect the French people through their prowess and bravery. Given the clear importance of this work, it is striking that Muhlberger provides in Charny's Men-at-Arms the first and only complete translation of the Questions into English. [4]

Muhlberger has done both scholars and students a great service by adeptly translating the Questions, but Charny's Men-at-Arms is much more than a simple translation: it is also an informed and insightful historical study of the Questions, of the values and attitudes that underpinned them, of the larger historical context in which they were composed, and of their intended audience. Indeed, Muhlberger's study penetrates far beneath the surface of these questions to shed considerable light on the author, the cultural milieu that shaped him, and the social circles in which he operated. Muhlberger's analysis is concise and intelligent, providing insight into Charny's Questions as they relate to a multitude of significant topics, including the nature of chivalry, the laws of war, royal ordinances on war (like King Jean II's Reglement pour le gens de guerre [issued April 30, 1351]), and theoretical treatises on war (like those of Giovanni Legnano and Honore Bouvet). Similarly insightful is Muhlberger's analysis of Charny's Questions relating to "chivalric sport" (Chapter 3: "Charny's Jousters and Tourneyers"), the practical and legal concerns about chivalric conduct in war (Chapter 5: "What Men-at-Arms Worried About"), and honor (Chapter 6: "Honor and the Lore of Chivalry"). Considering the complexity of these topics and the quagmire of scholarship associated with them, Muhlberger deserves praise for adding a great deal to the discussion. Finally, readers, especially students, will also appreciate Muhlberger's efforts to make sense of Charny's tricky terminology (Chapter 4).

There can be little doubt that Charny was a prominent practitioner and theorist of chivalry in his own time and that his writings are crucial to our modern understanding of the dominant ideology that shaped the mentality and lifestyle of the medieval warrior elite. Therefore, it is all the more remarkable that Charny's Questions, which "can be read as a reflection of the priorities and opinions of one of the most experienced and renowned warriors of his time," has been largely neglected by other scholars (23). Fortunately, such an important work on medieval chivalry has been very well served by Muhlberger's translation and study. Indeed, Charny's Men-at-Arms makes an important contribution to the historical study of medieval chivalry, chivalric sports, and warfare. Muhlberger's analysis is succinct and approachable, making it accessible to students, while still providing enough scholarly rigor and insight to earn the approbation of seasoned historians. Charny's Men-at-Arms will undoubtedly facilitate considerable discussion and future research.

------ Notes: 1. Prominent among Muhlberger's other publications on chivalry are: Jousts and Tournaments: Charny and the Rules for Chivalric Sport in Fourteenth-Century France (Union City, CA: Chivalry Bookshelf, 2002); Deeds of Arms: Formal Combats in the Late Fourteenth Century (Union City, CA: Chivalry Bookshelf, 2005); Royal Jousts at the End of the Fourteenth Century (Wheaton, IL: Freelance Academy Press, 2012); The Combat of the Thirty (Wheaton, IL: Freelance Academy Press, 2013); The Twelve of England (Wheaton, IL: Freelance Academy Press, 2013).

2. Other important studies of Charny include: Craig Taylor, Chivalry and the Ideals of Knighthood in France during the Hundred Years War (Cambridge University Press, 2013); Richard Kaeuper, Chivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe (Oxford University Press, 1999); idem, Holy Warriors: The Religious Ideology of Chivalry (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009); idem and Elspeth Kennedy, The Book of Chivalry of Geoffroi de Charny: Text, Context, and Translation (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996).

3. In addition to the facing page translation listed above (op. cit., n. 2), see also the slimmed down version: Kaeuper and Kennedy, A Knight's Own Book of Chivalry: Geoffroi de Charny (University of Pennsylvania, 2005).

4. The questions concerning tournaments and jousts were translated and studied in Muhlberger's Jousts and Tournaments: Charny and the Rules for Chivalric Sport in Fourteenth-Century France (op. cit., n. 1).

1 comment:

  1. Correction: I am not the author of The Twelve of England (Wheaton, IL: Freelance Academy Press, 2013), which was written by Noel Fallows of the University of Georgia. I am the editor of the Deeds of Arms series in which The Twelve of England appears.