Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The brutal men at arms of the Good Duke

Faithful readers and good friends know that I've been working for a while on a translation of the Chronicle of the Good Duke, a French biography of the Duke of Bourbon dating from about 1429. The events covered by the Chronicle are actually older than that. One of the most interesting things about this document is that it was written by a young person consulting with a prominent man at arms of the Duke of Bourbon's retinue, whose memory stretched back half a century and more. The man at arms was Jean de Châteaumorand, who understandably had a high opinion of his former master and his compatriots who fought the wars against the English back in the golden days of chivalry. In Châteaumorand's telling they were a pretty neat bunch and there were lots of good stories about their worthy deeds in the French wars and elsewhere. I currently have a collaborator on this project, Phil Paine, whose Middle French is much better than mine. He sent me up page of corrections recently that contained a very interesting story that shows the men at arms of the Good Duke in a less flattering light.
The Duke of Bourbon and the Poitevins left there, and they went before a place called le Faon, which was not encircled by trenches,where it would have water. And so the place was strongly assaulted, but it was not taken on that day, except only the lower courtyard, where many good men were wounded. For there was there a Franciscan who was wondrous at firing the arbelest, with which he killed four gentlemen, and he was said to be the finest arbelister in Poitou, and well provisioned [with amunition]. And on the next day, the Poitevins and Bourbonnois assailed the keep in a fierce and strong assault, and those within defended themselves, and the Franciscan let fire [again], but it was such an energetic effort that the fortress was taken, and many men killed within, save for the Franciscan-arbelester, who had removed his habit and fled to his monastery. And then the whole army asked “where is the Franciscan?”, and it was alleged that he was in the church, on his knees before the altar. And so Sir Jean de Roye hastened there, because the Franciscan had killed, by his shooting, one of his squires. And he took the Franciscan, along with his habit, and went to hang him from a tree, doing so circumspectly, so that the Duke did not know about it. And the Duke of Bourbon left le Faon.
Here we see a course of action approved by the entire army but which other people might see as disgraceful. The killing of the Franciscan might harm the Duke of Bourbon's reputation so Châteaumorand is careful to say that the Duke knew nothing about the hanging of the clerical Archer. Why might others disapproved? The telling of the tale makes it clear that the Franciscan was taken out of church and hanged. It looks to be that privileges of the clergy both in the case of the Archer and the church he was found in had been violated. Other observers could see this as an atrocity or a war crime. But John the Châteaumorand, Jean de Roye and the rest of the Army were angry and felt truly justified in hunting down and hanging the Archer. Very likely they saw the Archer as stepping outside of his role as a clergyman and taking on illegitimately the role of the combatant. He was trying to have things both ways, combatant and privileged noncombatant. The may be something more to it. It's well-known that men at arms did not see archers as their equals, even if they took part in combat as part of organized armies. It could be that Châteaumorand and his friends saw the archer as a low class sharpshooter who had no right to be so effective and kill their friends.


  1. Hows the book of the Good Book coming? Any release date? I like this kind of post a lot. Cheers!

  2. The project is progressing rather slowly, for a number of reasons. I hope when it is done to flog it to somebody like Penguin Classics, and promoting that project may take some time. Have you heard of the book series "Tales from Froissart?" It is full of good stories ar, which why I have published volume one under the name "On the Road in the Hundred Years War." Amazon Canada or Amazon.com, e-book or paperback.
    Thanks for the review.