Friday, June 29, 2018

Franchise -- a 15th century definition of a knightly virtue

Professional scholars of chivalry and serious re-enactors alike sometime find it difficult to understand or explain why "franchise" (a term used in Roman times and the Middle Ages to indicate  the possession of political rights by citizens) is a chivalric virtue.

This past I discovered an early 15th-century explanation by a Belgian scholar and herald, Jean Courtois, known best by his professional name of "Sicily Herald."  (He would have counted as a Frenchman in his own time; he was called Sicily because he worked for the French-speaking king  of Sicily.)

The discussion of the virtue of franchise is the longest I know.  I have translated it for the numerous friends anxious to know more.
So if you have worked on the "Franchise Problem" and not been satisfied, here is a contribution by an expert (Sicily, not me).
Here we speak of franchise and liberty in the conflict with servitude.
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Bottom of Form
A knight rightfully should be chosen from a very noble and free status, franchise is of great excellence and praise which well knows how to direct as touched upon above. Properly speaking, the free person cannot suffer to endure serfdom. Now, according to the teaching of philosophers, there are two kinds of serfs, that is to say serfs by nature and serfs by law. And to understand which are the serfs by nature, they are the ones who lack intelligence, excellence, effectiveness, reason and judgment: and these people must be led and governed by virtuous and prudent wise men. This thing can be proved by the soul which is immortal and perpetual, as everyone knows, which, according to reason and law, ought to govern the body; and the body, which is mortal and corruptible, ought by reason to obey the soul; and so as to things which according to reason virtue must proceed and have authority and power over the vices. Serfs by law are those who are taken in battle. For anciently the victors were able to keep in perpetual servitude those who they had vanquished. For this reason franchise falls from his condition into bondage, shame and disgrace, cowardice and the weakness of his body and all reproaches generally to be a serf according to the law. For a noble knight should entirely prefer to be slaughtered and suffer death, rather than  his prince or country should receive shame, dishonor, or destruction, by the weakness of his body, nor that his person lives in reproach, nor also in servitude to his enemy. For that reason his condition of franchise is bounteous, generous, liberal, and loves honor, and above all things he hates the arrogant and flatterers, felons and covetous, and cannot bear to endure their conduct, concealed malice, or indolent manners. But from its nature, it spares the weak, the poor and the small people, and has pity, and so loves the commonwealth; and the condition of franchise all good knights are held to their power to guard widows, orphans, the small people, and innocents from outrage, force and violence in the public places, cruel and malicious, as was said above.
Full bibliography to be added.  The book that contains the text is in Google Books and the title is "Parties ine'dits de l'oeuvre de Sicile" edited by P. Roland, Mons, 1867.

 

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